I was reading Wikipedia just last night after viewing Cave of Forgotten Dreams on the origins of language, which the article proclaims is viewed by many[who?] as one of the hardest problems in science.
Noam Chomsky is a prominent proponent of discontinuity theory. "The views of Noam Chomsky on the nature of UG (innate universal grammar) have long been dominant within the field of linguistics, but they themselves have undergone marked changes from decade to decade" (Christiansen, 59).
He argues that a single chance mutation occurred in one individual on the order of 100,000 years ago, triggering the "instantaneous" emergence of the language faculty (a component of the mind-brain) in "perfect" or "near-perfect" form.
The philosophical argument runs, briefly, as follows: firstly, from what is known about evolution, any biological change in a species arises by a random genetic change in a single individual which spreads throughout its breeding group.
Secondly, from a computational perspective on the theory of language: the only change that was needed was the cognitive ability to construct and process recursive data structures in the mind (the property of "discrete infinity", which appears to be unique to the human mind). This genetic change, which endowed the human mind with the property of discrete infinity, Chomsky argues, essentially amounts to a jump from being able to count up to N, where N is a fixed number, to being able to count indefinitely (i.e. if N can be constructed then so can N+1).
It follows from these assertions that the evolution of the human language faculty is saltational since, as a matter of logical fact, there is no way to gradually transition from a mind capable only of counting up to a fixed number, to a mind capable of counting indefinitely.
The picture then, by loose analogy, is that the formation of the language faculty in humans is akin to the formation of a crystal; discrete infinity was the seed crystal in a super-saturated primate brain, on the verge of blossoming into the human mind, by physical law, once a single small, but crucial, key stone was added by evolution. It thus follows from this theory that language did appear rather suddenly within the history of human evolution.
Does anyone else find it weird that in Chomsky's view, the magic moment in human evolution is something that our computational mechanisms have possessed at least since Turing showed in 1937 that Turing machines equal the lambda calculus in expressiveness?
Or does Chomsky somehow secretly believe that the gene for human mental recursion is more supercalifragilisticexpialidocious than lambda calculus?
Freud and Chomsky share a unique gift in their capacity to make impressive technical accomplishments without uprooting or disturbing too much of the psychedelic wu underbrush.