I've revisited an edited/revised version of Lev Vygotsky's thinking and speech and enjoyed the emphasis on human beings not in possessing just the capacity for a practical intellect and speech but it is in their unity where we can use signs as a tools to manage our activity that distinguishes us.
Such that all humans are some general raw biological capacity but our abilities differ widely beyond our biological capacities because of how we've internalized tools of our actions.
Such a point is strongly made by Vygotsky in his emphasis on the practical intelligence and capacity for speech in apes which share a common ancestor with humans. That their lacking is the independence of the intellect from speech, the nature of their conscious is very proximal/direct and concrete.https://www.marxists.org/archive/vygotsky/works/words/ch04.htm
Animals even as smart as apes, tend to communicate affectively rather than in terms of ideas. We see such a tendency in many animals where they don't signify ideas and understanding to one another as much as they act in such as way as to evoke an affect. When an animal behaves in a way that alarms others to the presence of a predator, its more an instinctual chain reaction of affect in response to the alarm than it is an idea of the situation. It is also a special characteristic of humans that we have contextual thinking, such that words do not signify a simple and single thing as they can have many meanings, even opposite meanings dependent on the context.https://www.ethicalpolitics.org/ablunden/seminars/chat.htm
Using Sense and Memory
Let us look at the senses which Nature has given us, our seeing and hearing, which appears to be the very foundation of our communication, our language, our perception of Nature, and everything. In almost all respects, the senses of us human beings are inferior to those of our nearest relatives in the animal world, while tribal people appear to have superior senses to modern city dwellers. Equally, it is frequently observed that blind people have better hearing, and so on. Closer examination showed however, according to Vygotsky, that the raw power of all our senses is near to identical with those of people who live in the tribal way, close to Nature, and the hearing of blind people is in fact no more acute than that of sighted people.
This, despite the obvious superiority which anyone who investigates this question finds on the basis of casual observation.
Likewise, the senses of a child are fully developed at a very young age and may actually deteriorate after the age of 12.
The situation is the same with memory. Although an adult is capable of retaining and recalling a vast quantity of information, quite beyond what a young child is able to memorise, careful experiment aimed at measuring the mneme, the raw capacity of an organism to retain and recall an earlier sensual stimulus, demonstrates that this physiological property is more or less constant across all kinds of people, until approaching old age.
And yet, it is obvious that ability to remember, just like ability to observe is highly variable, both from person to person and across different cultures and age groups.
It is well known that Eskimos have many words for what we call just “snow”, just as we have many words for what an Eskimo would call “car”. However, it is not just a question of the relative weight given to different things in our vocabulary.
The other day I was lucky enough to find myself sharing a table after lunch with a visiting Shakespeare scholar, so I took the opportunity to question him about Shakespeare’s enormous vocabulary. He confirmed to me my suspicion that Shakespeare’s audience did understand his plays, and that audience was not an audience of literate people, but as is frequently depicted in movies, a rough-and tumble audience of common people of late 17th-early 18th century England. Shakespeare’s writings account for a huge proportion of the words found in today’s dictionaries.
The vocabulary of his characters and his audience was vastly greater than the spoken vocabulary of even a highly literate person of today. What has happened to that rich vocabulary?
Commonly, tribal people have a name for every single variety of plant and animal in their world, and different names for young and old, big and small ones, male and female, single ones as opposed to those in groups, standing ones as well as running ones.
Some of these words are still preserved in our language but are slipping out of use, like a gaggle of geese or a murder of crows, a quire of paper, a dozen eggs, and so on, and yet the same people lacked words like tree or plant.
We see a similar situation with counting. The Mongolian herdsman who knows of no number above 5, will know instantly if one of the hundred horses he is looking after goes missing. He doesn’t need to count them; a glance at the herd tells him one is missing.
Clearly, the herdsman and the tribal person use their natural gifts in an entirely different way from how we do. We have no time here to look at the pressures which have obliged people to change the way they use their natural powers. Suffice it to say that life delivers up problems which cannot be solved in the old way, and we have had to invent ways of overcoming them.
This really emphasizes the point about the development of human consciousness in its many facets such as memory, will, intellect as being a cultural-social development rather than something attributable to mere biology.
And it also flows into his later work on the concepts as spontaneous and scientific where there was empirical evidence for peoples activity taking on increasingly abstract or very practical sorts.
Such that the farmer in rural Kazahkstan has concepts that were very concrete where as the person who takes on very abstract works and education tends to subdue their empirical experiences to their abstract concepts.
Which is in fact the strength of education that giving guidance to children with concepts, even though they'll grasp them inadequately will provide the means for them to better grasp their experiences which are based in spontaneous concepts of life.
They'll be able to fill in very distant notions with their real life sense such that refugee takes on the connotations of their real life experience of being apart from family, from dealing with government bureaucracy, perhaps trying to get away from significant problems in one's life.
But in the end, if one were to witness a human confined to his raw biological capacity, one would likely see very little human about them other than their same biological features.