Where does language fit into our emerging picture of the plastic, environmentally exploitative, ecologically efficient agent? One useful way to approach this question is to consider language itself as a form of mind-transforming cognitive scaffolding: a persisting, though never stationary, symbolic edifice whose critical role in promoting thought and reason remains surprisingly ill understood.
In this chapter, I examine three distinct but interlocking benefits of the linguistic scaffold. First, the simple act of labeling the world opens up a variety of new computational opportunities and supports the discovery of increasingly abstract patterns in nature. Second, encountering or recalling structured sentences supports the development of otherwise unattainable kinds of expertise. And third, linguistic structures contribute to some of the most important yet conceptually complex of all human capacities: our ability to reflect on our own thoughts and characters and our limited but genuine capacity to control and guide the shape and contents of our own thinking.