05 Aug Application of Romulus and Remus Hypothesis Can Help Autistic Children Improve Language Skills
MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Andrey Vyshedskiy PhD
Boston University, Boston
MedicalResearch.com: What gave you the idea for the paper?
Response: I have been interested in the physical properties of imagination since I was nine years old, and was involved in related research since my undergraduate studies. Having been trained in neuroscience, I set out to understand the neurological basis of imagination pertaining to the differences between humans and other animals. In 2008, after fifteen years of research, I allowed myself to speculate on the subject, and published the first edition of “On the Origin of the Human Mind.” From that period to the present day, I have continued to work on the same subject.
MedicalResearch.com: What is the current most prevalent theory about how recursive language developed?
Response: Noam Chomsky (2010) suggested that “roughly 100,000+ years ago, … a rewiring of the brain took place in some individual, call him Prometheus, yielding the operation of unbounded Merge, applying to concepts with intricate (and little understood) properties.” “Unbounded Merge” is similar to prefrontal synthesis (PFS) in its general idea, but we argue that Prometheus could not have evolved alone. He must have been using recursive language to talk to a companion before the age of five – the end of the critical period for PFS acquisition. Since at that time no adult was using recursive language, it follows that two or more children had to invent recursive language and use it to train their Prefrontal Synthesis. We call these children Romulus and Remus.
Dediu and Levinson (2013) present convincing evidence pointing to the acquisition of the modern speech apparatus by 600,000 years ago, but stop short of explaining the half a million-year gap to the acquisition of recursive language. The Romulus and Remus hypothesis explains this gap by the existence of two evolutionary barriers – one cultural and one genetic – that must have been overcome by our ancestors in just a few generations. This low probability event likely occurred around 70,000 years ago and resulted in what was in essence a behaviorally new species: the first behaviorally modern Homo sapiens. This newly acquired power for fast juxtaposition of mental objects in the process of PFS dramatically facilitated mental prototyping and led to fast acceleration of technological progress. Armed with the unprecedented ability to mentally simulate any plan and equally unprecedented ability to communicate it to their companions, humans were poised to quickly become the dominant species.
MedicalResearch.com: Do you think the paper will be seen as controversial?
Response: Of course it will. There are more hypotheses than scientists working in this field (since some scientists change their ideas from time to time). The Romulus and Remus hypothesis is one of few theories that fill in neurobiological details and generate testable predictions.
MedicalResearch.com: What will you be doing next to test your ideas?
Response: The Romulus and Remus hypothesis cannot be tested in extinct hominins, but can be applied to children who don’t naturally acquire full recursive language.
We realized that we can help these children acquire full language with PFS exercises. We packaged verbal and nonverbal PFS exercises into an app called Mental Imagery Therapy for Autism, or MITA, and made it available gratis in all app stores. Over 4,000 caregivers administered exercises to their children for over six months and reported their improvement quarterly. Compared to the treatment as usual group, 3 to 6 year-old children working with MITA exhibited greater improvement in language and communication. Improvement in language following PFS exercises is consistent with the Romulus and Remus hypothesis. The results are currently being prepared for publication.
Vyshedskiy A (2019) Language evolution to revolution: the leap from rich-vocabulary non-recursive communication system to recursive language 70,000 years ago was associated with acquisition of a novel component of imagination, called Prefrontal Synthesis, enabled by a mutation that slowed down the prefrontal cortex maturation simultaneously in two or more children – the Romulus and Remus hypothesis. Research Ideas and Outcomes 5: e38546. https://doi.org/10.3897/rio.5.e38546
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