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On The Evolutionary Origin of Symbolic Communication.

ABSTRACT: The emergence of symbolic communication is often cited as a critical step in the evolution of Homo sapiens, language, and human-level cognition. It is a widely held assumption that humans are the only species that possess natural symbolic communication schemes, although a variety of other species can be taught to use symbols. The origin of symbolic communication remains a controversial open problem, obfuscated by the lack of a fossil record. Here we demonstrate an unbroken evolutionary pathway from a population of initially noncommunicating robots to the spontaneous emergence of symbolic communication. Robots evolve in a simulated world and are supplied with only a single channel of communication. When their ability to reproduce is motivated by the need to find a mate, robots evolve indexical communication schemes from initially noncommunicating populations in 99% of all experiments. Furthermore, 9% of the populations evolve a symbolic communication scheme allowing pairs of robots to exchange information about two independent spatial dimensions over a one-dimensional channel, thereby increasing their chance of reproduction. These results suggest that the ability for symbolic communication could have emerged spontaneously under natural selection, without requiring cognitive preadaptations or preexisting iconic communication schemes as previously conjectured.


PROVIDER: S-EPMC5056373 | BioStudies | 2016-01-01

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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