Ok I spent a good chunk of yesterday watching Richard Dawkins's 5 1991 Royal Institution Christmas Lectures for Children "Growing up in the Universe" which is now conveniently found on the web. It is full of the sciency goodness that I have loved since I was a child, and, despite the title of the lecture series, is a bit more challenging than one might expect. The material, while presented in a straightforward manner, wasn't exactly 8th grade science, either. I found that quite provocative, actually, since many folks try to dumb stuff down for kids. I think Dawkins deserves credit for making the lectures interesting (with some, at times, dodgy props) yet challenging for the kids in the audience.
Through the series of lectures, Dawkins laid out the ideas about the origins of life, the influence of natural selection, designed vs. "designoid" things, how seemingly improbable structures such as the eye can evolve, and how we humans developed such big brains and what those big brains mean to our evolutionary status. I was particularly struck by the final lecture, which Dawkins explored the brain. While listening to it, I suddenly understood why he finds linguistic-based studies so problematic: he openly states that language is a dangerous thing. (One of the 3 dangerous things to humanity, the others being technology and our brains inherent ability to perceive patters or contain a virtual reality.) For Dawkins language can be easily manipulated and distorted to provoke certain behaviors (such as religion one would suppose). Dawkins also does not accept the notion that we make reality out of our world through language. He prefers some sort of virtual reality model as opposed to a linguistic model to who we understand the world. He specifically states that there is little scientific evidence to show that language existed before our brains expanded in size (although I wonder how he deals with the recently revealved language abilities of other primates) and only concedes that it might be possible that we might have evolved an internal monologue before we developed an dialog with our fellow human beings.
I think this where the impasse might be between the two fields: he discounts the influence of language, whereas linguistic philosophy makes it everything--at least as far as our perception goes. I also can certainly understand better now why he thinks that post-modernists are so dangerous: they are, in his opinion, willfully manipulating language into nonsense, and, therefore, willfully misinterpreting data.
Fair enough, but I would point out that the very thing he is attacking in linguistic phenomenology is the very "virtual reality" that he says we also have to be careful of. Language creates a reality that we narrate to ourselves. It shapes how we see the world. It influences what we do and how we do it. Language, indeed, is not an aberration of evolution but one of those peaks that Dawkins speaks of in his "Mount Improbable" analogy. It is how we make sense of this world and how we have achieved consciousness. Granted it is not everything in how we experience the world nor how we react to it, but it is the only means we have to work within the system and communicate with our fellow critters. In other words, there is no consciousness without language.
I still don't really get how Dawkins understands what our consciousness is.