Language and the Mind Revisited – The Biolinguistic Turn with Noam Chomsky
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Language and the Mind Revisited – The Biolinguistic Turn with Noam Chomsky

October 2, 2019


(soft music) – Almost exactly 35 years ago, I had the opportunity to
give several lectures here, same auditorium I think on the topic language and mind. And quite a lot has been
learned in the intervening years about language and the brain, hence the mind in the sense
in which I used the term then, the term mind, and mental and such terms. And those lectures, (audience member speaking off mic) Pardon. Aw, thank you. (all laughing) And we’ll continue to use them now, always nice to have a
friend in the audience. (audience laughing) I’m using these terms as
just descriptive terms for certain aspects of the world, pretty much on a par with
such descriptive terms as a chemical or optical
electrical, and so on. These are terms used to focus attention on particular aspects of the world that seem to have a rather
integrated character, and to be worth considering
for a special investigation but without any illusions that they cut nature at the joints. In those earlier lectures, I took for granted that human language can reasonably be studied
as part of the world, specifically is a property
of the human organism mostly the brain and for
convenience, I’ll keep to that. Both then and now, I’m
adopting what Lyle Jenkins in a recent book calls the
biolinguistic perspective, that’s the framework within which the approach to language that
I’m considering developed about 50 years ago. Also for convenience,
I’ll use the term language to refer to human language, that’s a specific biological system there is no meaningful question as to whether the
communication system of bees or what might be taught the Apes, or mathematics or music, there’s no question as to
whether these are languages or whether airplanes really fly or submarines really swim, or whether computers think
or translate languages, or other comparably meaningless questions many of them based on a misinterpretation of a important paper by Alan Turing little over 50 years ago in 1950, which has spawned a large and to my mind mostly misguided literature, explicitly, despite Turing’s
very explicit warning not to pursue that direction which has apparently been overlooked. From the bio linguistic perspective, language is a component of human biology more or less on a par
with mammalian vision or insect navigation, and other systems for which the best theories
that have been devised, attribute, computational
capacities of some kind, what’s in informal usage
sometimes called rule-following. So for example,
contemporary texts on vision describes the so called
rigidity principle, it’s formulated about
50 years ago as follows. That says if possible,
and other rules permit, interpret image motions as projections of rigid motion in three dimensions. In this case later work
provided substantial insight into the mental computations, that seemed to be involved
and when the visual system follows these rules in
informal terminology. But even for very simple organisms that’s no slight test. A great many issues remain
unresolved in these areas which are quite obscure even for insects. The decision to study
languages part of the world, in this sense should be
in my view uncontroversial but it has not been, on the contrary, the assumption that this
is a legitimate enterprise was rejected pretty
forcefully 50 years ago and continues to be rejected. Virtually all of contemporary philosophy of language and mind is based on rejection of the assumption. The same is true of what’s called the computer model of mind that underlies a good deal of
theoretical cognitive science denied in this case not only for language but for mental faculties generally. It’s explicitly denied, and the technical linguistic literature and what are called plate
mystic, accounts of language and also in a different way
denied by the conceptualism that was devised by the same authors inaccurately attributed to
many linguists including me. It’s also apparently denied
by many sociolinguists, it’s incompatible with structural, behavioral approaches to language. It’s a little to my surprise rejected by current studies of language
by leading neuroscientists most notably Terrence
Deacon and recent work which has been favorably received by eminent biologists,
again little to my surprise. The approach therefore
seems to be controversial, but I think the
appearances are misleading. A more careful look will show I think that the basic
assumptions are tacitly adopted even by those who strenuously reject them, and indeed have to be
adopted even for coherence. I’m gonna put aside this interesting topic of contemporary intellectual history, and I’ll simply assume that language can be studied as part of the world, continue in other words to pursue the biolinguistic approach that took shape about half a century ago, heavily influenced by ethology,
comparative psychology and intensively pursued then along quite a few different paths,
including much of the work that claims to reject the approach. Well, assuming that turn to some things that ought to be obvious. It can scarcely be denied
that some internal state is responsible for the fact, that I speak and understand some variety of what’s loosely called English, but not say Hindi or Swahili at the borrow and in fact adapt a traditional term, we can call this the state whatever it is, it’s internal to me, a state of the human faculty of language primarily a state of the brain. We can call each such state
an internalized language in the technical literature often called an I language for
simplicity I’ll call it that. It should also be uncontroversial, that the Faculty of language
has an initial state part of our biological endowment which permits a certain range of options, the attainable I languages. The Faculty of language
then is a special property that enables my granddaughter,
but not her pet kitten or chimpanzee to attain
a specific I language on exposure to appropriate data, data which her mind in some obscure way is able to extract from the booming, buzzing, confusion and to interpret as linguistic experience, that’s no slight task
nobody knows how it’s done but it obviously is. More accurately every infant acquires a complex of such states,
that’s a complication that I’ll put aside. The expectation that language is like everything else
in the organic world, and therefore is based on a genetically determined initial state, that it distinguishes say my
granddaughter from her pets that assumption has been called
the innateness hypothesis. And there’s a substantial literature debating the validity of
the innateness hypothesis. The literature has a curious character there are lots of condemnations
of the hypothesis, but it’s never formulated
and nobody defends. It’s alleged advocates
of, of whom I’m one, I have no idea what the hypothesis is. Everyone has some innateness
hypothesis concerning language at least, everyone who’s interested in the difference between
an infant and say her pets. Furthermore, the invented term innateness hypothesis is
completely meaningless, there is no specific innateness hypothesis rather there are various hypotheses, about what might be the initial
genetically determined state these hypotheses are of
course constantly changing as more is learned, that
all should be obvious. Confusion about these matters has reached such extreme levels, that it’s becoming hard even to unravel but I’ll put all that aside. The bio linguistic approach
takes mental faculties to be states of the organism. In particular, internal
languages, I languages that are states of the
Faculty of language. I’ll focus on language,
but most of what follows that should hold as well for
other cognitive faculties and in fact for far simpler organisms, say a bee communication
or navigation for example. Well, when we adopt this approach, several questions arise at once. The central one is to determine the nature of the initial
and attained States. And though the matter again
appears to be controversial I know of no serious alternative to the thesis that these are in substantial measure
computational states, whether we have in mind insect navigation or what you and I are doing right now. Again, that’s held to be controversial but since there’s no alternative ideas I don’t understand why. It’s held to be controversial for humans it’s not held to be controversial for say, insect navigation but the
questions about the same. Investigation of the brain in these terms is sometimes called psychological, and it’s contrasted with
investigation of term in terms of cells chemical processes, electrical activity and so on
that’s called physiological. These are again terms of convenience, they don’t have any sharp boundaries, chemistry and physics were distinguished in pretty much similar
way, not very long ago. So, the formulas involving
complex molecules that we now study in school. These were pretty
recently considered to be, I’m quoting merely
classific story symbols, that summarize the observed
course of a reaction. The ultimate nature of
the molecular groupings was held to be unsolvable, and the actual arrangement
of atoms within a molecule if that even means anything, was never to be read into the formulas. I’m quoting from a standard
history of chemistry. Keiko Leong whose structural
chemistry paved the way to eventual unification of
the chemistry and physics, he doubted that absolute
constitution of organic molecules could ever be given, his own models his analysis of valency and so on were to have only an instrumental interpretation
as calculating devices. The actually large parts of physics were understood in the same
way, by prominent scientists including the molecular theory of gases even Bohr’s model of the atom. In fact, only a few years before physics and chemistry were
united in Linus Pauling’s account of the chemical bond, America’s first Nobel
prize-winning chemist, dismissed talk about the
real nature of chemical bonds as in his terms metaphysical twaddle, this was nothing more
than a very crude method of representing certain known
facts about chemical reactions a mode of representation only,
just a calculating device. The rejection of this skepticism
by a few leading scientists whose views were incidentally condemned as a conceptual absurdity, that paved the way to
the eventual unification. These are fairly recent debates, this is talking about the 1920s. These fairly recent debates
in the hard sciences, I think have considerable relevance for today’s controversies
concerning computational theories of cognitive capacity, that’s
from insects to humans. Important topic, one that
discussed a little bit elsewhere and I think deserves a good deal more attention than its received. Well, with the biolinguistic
approach in place, this framework in place, we wanna discover the relationship between psychological states and the world as described in other terms. We want to know how computational states are related to neuro physiological states, states of the brain were represented in them and one terminology. We also want to find out
how these mental states relate to the organism
external world, as for example when the motions and noises
produced by a forager be direct others to a distant flower, or when I talk about
a recent trip to India or when I say that I recently read Darwin’s Dissent of Man,
referring to a book, all of this is called intentionality and philosophical jargon. The broad issues were raised prominently at the end of the decade of the brain, which brought the last
millennium to a close. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences and at the end of the millennium year 2000 published the volume to mark the occasion, that summarized the current state of understanding in these areas. The guiding theme of the
volume was formulated by a distinguished
neuroscientist Vernon MountCastle in his introduction to the collection. It is in his words, the
thesis that things mental indeed minds are emergent
properties of brains, though these emergences are
not regarded as irreducible but are produced by principles
that control the interactions between lower-level events, principles we do not yet understand. That same thesis has been
put forth in recent years as quoting as an astonishing hypothesis of the new biology, a radically new idea in the philosophy of mind, the bold assertion that mental phenomena are entirely natural and caused by neuro physiological
activities of the brain, opening the door to new and
promising inquiries and so on. Contributors to the
American Academy volume, were for the most part quite optimistic about the prospects for
overcoming the remaining gaps between psychological and
physiological accounts. Mountcastle’s phrase, “We
do not yet understand.” Reflects that optimism suggests
we will soon understand. Wilson wrote that, “Researchers
now speak confidently “of a coming solution to
the brain mind problem.” Similar confidence has been
expressed for half a century including announcements
by prominent scientists, Nobel Prize winner in one case that the brain, mind problem
has already been solved. We may recall usefully similar optimism shortly before the unification
of chemistry and physics. So in 1929, Bertrand Russell
who knew the sciences well, he wrote that chemical
laws cannot at present be reduced to physical laws. In his phrase at present,
like Mountcastle’s word yet expresses the expectation, that the reduction should take place in the course of scientific
progress, perhaps soon. Now, in the case of physics and chemistry it never did take place, and what happened was something different and totally unexpected. Namely, unification of a
virtually unchanged chemistry with a radically revised physics. And it’s hardly necessary
to stress the fact that the state of understanding and achievement in these areas, 50, 80 years ago was far beyond
anything that can be claimed for the brain and
cognitive sciences today, which oughta give us pause. The American Academy volume reviews many important discoveries, but the leading thesis
should arouse our skepticism. And not only for the reason
that I just mentioned, another reason is that the
thesis is by no means new. In fact, it was formulated
and virtually the same words two centuries ago, late 18th century, by the eminent chemist Joseph Priestley. He wrote that properties of mind arise from the organization
of the nervous system itself, and those properties termed mental are the results of the organical
structure of the brain, just as matter is possessed of powers of attraction and
repulsion that act at a distance contrary to the founding principles of modern scientific revolution from Galileo to Newton and Beyond. Half a century before Priestley, David Hume had casually described thought as a little agitation of the brain, and shortly after the French
philosopher, physician Gabonese wrote that the
brain must be considered a special organ designed
to produce thought as the stomach and the intestines are designed to operate
the digestion, the liver, to filter bile and various glands to prepare salivary juices. Lemetri, he had similar proposals, they were suppressed at the time but they’re well known today. A century later, Darwin
asked rhetorically, why thought being a secretion of the brain should be considered more
wonderful than gravity which is a property of matter. Actually, these and many other conceptions developed from an inquiry, into what was called thinking matter in part developed from
what’s sometimes called by historians of philosophy
Locke’s suggestion, John Locke’s suggestion. That is, his observation in his words that God might have chosen
to super add to matter a Faculty of thinking, just as
he annexed effects to motion which we can in no way
conceive motion able to produce the theological apparatus, may well have been for self-defense. So Locke’s correspondent suggests. By the late 18th century, the thesis was widely
regarded as inescapable. Newton had demonstrated
to his considerable dismay that matter does not exist, in the sense of the Galilean revolution and of the scientists of his
own day and his own sense. That being the case, the mind-body problem could no longer even be formulated, at least in anything
resembling the classical form. Current formulation, as
seem at best to restate the problem of unification
of psychological and physiological approaches, and to do so in highly misleading terminology. There was no mind-body problem, any more than there was a
chemistry physics problem in the 1920s. Unification of Newton’s discoveries led to, they really left
no coherent alternative to the conclusion that was
drawn by Hume Priestley, others and rediscovered today in
pretty much the same terms. But with the problem of emergence, as unresolved as it was two centuries ago and that includes the
question whether this notion, with its reductionist connotations is even the right notion,
maybe it’s the wrong notion, as proved to be the case
for chemistry and physics. The traditional mind-body problem is often ridiculed as a problem
of the ghost in the machine but that’s misconception. Newton exorcized the machine, he left the ghost completely intact. A similar observation
is made very recently by two physicists Paul
Davies and John Griffin concluding a book of theirs,
called the Matter Myth. They write that during the triumphal phase of materialism and mechanism in the 1930s, that Gilbert Ryle
derided, mind-body dualism in a pithy reference to the mind part, as the ghost in the machine. But already when he coined
that pithy expression in the 1930s, the new physics was at work undermining the materialist worldview on which Ryle’s philosophy was based. By the end of the 20th
century they continue, we can see that Ryle was
right to dismiss the notion of the ghost in the machine, not because there is no ghost but because there is no machine. Their point is correct,
but the timing is off by at least two centuries, actually three. Although, it did take some time for Newton’s demolition of what was called at the time, the mechanical
philosophy, the belief that the world is a machine, it took a little time for that to enter scientific common sense. Newton himself was well
aware of the conclusion and far from pleased by it. He regarded his own
conclusion as an absurdity that no serious person could entertain, and he sawed away around
it to the end of his life as did prominent scientists of his day, and much later always in vain. Over time, it just came to be recognized that Newton had not only
effectively destroyed the entire materialist, physicalist conception of the universe, but he had also undermined the
standards of intelligibility on which the early Scientific
Revolution was based. The outcome is familiar at
least in history of science, it was described very well in the classic 19th century history of
materialism by Friedrich Longa. He pointed out that scientists
have accustomed theirselves to the abstract notion of forces, or rather a notion hovering
in a mystic obscurity between abstraction and
concrete comprehension. A turning point in the
history of materialism that removes the surviving
remnants of the doctrine far from the ideas and concerns of the genuine materialists
of the 17th century, and deprives them of any significance. That too is now a virtual truism, at least among historians of science. One of the founders of
the modern discipline Alexandre Corre he wrote 40 years ago that a purely materialistic
or mechanistic physics is impossible, and we
simply have to accept that the world is constituted of entities and processes that we
cannot intuitively grasp. The problems of emergence and unification take on an entirely new form,
in the post-newtonian era. A form that’s furthermore
unstable, changing as science comes to
accommodate new absurdities as they would have been
regarded by the founding figures of the Scientific
Revolution including Newton. And I know of no reason to suppose that the process has come to an end. It’s worth pointing out that
the only part of our knowledge or what we take to be knowledge, for which we can claim much confidence is our mental world, that is
the world of our experience. As reflective beings,
humans try in various ways to make sense out of this experience. One part of this effort is
sometimes called folk science when it’s conducted in a more systematic, careful, controlled way we
nowadays call it science. One standard conclusion
of contemporary science, is that each organism,
humans in particular reflexively develop what
ecologists call and unveiled the particular mode of constructing an interpreting experience
given the data of sense, it’s quite different for us
and for bees for example. Furthermore, there is
no great chain of being in fundamental respects, insects have richer experience
and more sophisticated ways of dealing with it for action, using it for action than humans do. Among other standard
conclusions of modern science, are those that Priestley and many others drew the conclusions
they drew centuries ago, about thinking matter reiterated at the end of the decade of
the brain, just two years ago, that without notable change
or maybe surprisingly without much awareness that
its revival, not innovation and that its revival of something that was taken to be
an unavoidable truism, two centuries ago for quite good reasons. Given the lack of a
positive determinant account of the non mental part of the world of the world, what sometimes
called the physical world. Talk of the hard part of
the mind-body problem, recent years that’s been taken to be consciousness conventionally. That talk of that kind
is misleading at best, if it’s even meaningful. It may not be, sometimes the problem is not very clearly
posed, that is it’s posed in terms of questions to which we can’t even of wrong answers. So for example, there’s no sensible answer to the question, what is it like to be me? Or, what is it like to be a bat, and quoting Thomas Nagle’s famous paper. There are no bad answers to that, they’re no good answers, none at all. Formal semantics inquiries, often take the meaning of a question to be the set of propositions
that are answers to it. And if that is at least
a condition on meaning, then it follows that if there
are no sensible answers, the question has no meaning. Even when legitimate questions are posed, we don’t have any good
reason as far as I can see, but to suppose that they
are intrinsically harder than lots of other problems,
say the problems posed for our understanding by quantum mechanics or cosmological theories of
an infinity of universes. Or for that matter by
the properties of motion. We don’t have any reason that I know of, to question the opinions
of Newton, David Hume, and other not inconsiderable figures who in various ways
reached Locke’s conclusion that motion has effects
which we can in no way conceive motion able to produce. Even before Newton puzzlement
about motion was profound his precursors or William Petting described springing or elastic motion as the hard rock in philosophy, philosophy means what we call science. The obscurity was so
great, Robert Boyle felt as to prove the existence
of an intelligent author or disposer of things. Even the skeptical Newtonian Voltaire felt that the impenetrable
mysteries of motion proved that there must be a God, who gave movement to matter
rather like Locke suggestion. One cannot say that the
hard problem was solved, it was just abandoned in the course of a significant revision of
the enterprise of science, that is the recognition that
in some fundamental sense the world is just unintelligible to us, and that we have to reduce
our sights to the search for intelligible theories, that’s something quite different. And even that goal has
been strongly contested by prominent physicists. For example, in the critique
a century ago of atomic theory or even of the idea that physics should go beyond establishing
quantitative relations between observable phenomena. The significance of that shift, should not be underestimated, it was recognized soon enough
for example by David Hume who wrote that in his words, “Newton’s discoveries reveal the obscurity “in which nature’s ultimate
secrets ever will remain.” These mysteries of nature
as Hume called them, referring to the phenomena of motion. Will remain beyond our cognitive reach, perhaps we might speculate,
he didn’t for reasons that are rooted in the
biological endowment of the curious creature,
that alone is able even to contemplate these questions. Well, I did talk a little bit about these topics 35 years ago, and what’s happened since
including incidentally my own belated self-education
inclines me to believe that what I said then,
should be reiterated much more forcefully,
and in much greater depth and with much more explicit connections drawn to contemporary discussions about problems of language and mind. Well, let’s return to
the narrower question of emergence of mental
aspects of the world, or perhaps the development of an account of the non mental world that
can be unified with them if the physics, chemistry
model turns out to be accurate. The scale of the gap that remains and the very dubious grounds
for the general optimism about overcoming it, are
revealed very clearly in the American Academy symposium that reviewed the state of understanding at the end of the millennium. One leading specialist on vision who was toward the optimistic
end of the spectrum, and nevertheless reminded the reader that how the brain combines the responses of specialized cells to indicate a continuous vertical line, is a mystery that neurology has not yet solved. Or even for that matter how one line is differentiated from others
or from the visual surround. Sameera Nzeki, the AAAs journal American Association for advancement of
science, journal science. A year ago they devoted an issue to neuroscience. The summary article was
co-authored by Eric Kandel, Nobel laureate, it was subtitled Breaking Down Scientific Barriers to the study of brain and mind. The article covers a lot
of interesting ground but it ends up with the conclusion that the neuroscience of
higher cognitive processes is only beginning, it’s surely beginning from a higher plane than was constructed by Descartes who was in many ways, the founder of modern neuroscience but nonetheless, it’s still beginning. Fundamental questions remain beyond even dreams of resolution. That includes those
that were traditionally considered at the heart
of the theory of mind, such as for example at
choosing some action or even thinking about doing so. There’s been very valuable work about the narrower questions. For example, how an
organism executes a plan for integrated motor action, say how a cockroach walks
or how a person reaches for a cup on the table. Well, let’s return to
the narrower question of emergence of mental
aspects of the world or perhaps the development, of an account of the non mental world that
can be unified with them, if the physics chemistry model
turns out to be accurate. The scale of the gap that remains, and the very dubious grounds
for the general optimism about overcoming it, are
revealed very clearly in the American Academy symposium that reviewed the state of understanding at the end of the millennium. One leading specialists on vision who was toward the optimistic
end of the spectrum, and nevertheless reminded the reader that how the brain combines the responses of specialized cells to indicate
a continuous vertical line is a mystery that neurology
has not yet solved, or even for that matter how one line is differentiated from others
or from the visual surround, Sameera Nzeki the AAAs
Journal American Association for advancement of
science, journal science, a year ago they devoted
an issue to neuroscience. The summary article was co-authored by Eric Kandel Nobel laureate, it was subtitled Breaking
down Scientific Barriers to the Study of Brain and Mind. The article covers a lot
of interesting ground but it ends up with the conclusion that the neuroscience of
higher cognitive processes is only beginning, it’s surely beginning from a higher plane than
was constructed by Descartes who was in many ways the
founder of modern neuroscience, but nonetheless it’s still beginning. Fundamental questions will remain beyond even dreams of resolution, that includes those
that were traditionally considered at the heart
of the theory of mind. Such as for example choosing some action or even thinking about doing so. There’s been very valuable work about the narrower questions. For example, how an
organism executes a plan for integrated motor action. Say how a cockroach walks, or how a person reaches
for a cup on the table. But no one even raises the question of why the person or the
cockroach executes one plan rather than some other one, that question is raised only
for the very simplest organisms single-cell organisms. In fact, the same is true
even of a visual perception which is often considered
a passive process. A couple of years ago, a few,
two cognitive neuroscientists one a colleague of mine,
published the review of research on a problem that was posed in
1850 by Helmholtz, his words. “Even without moving our eyes
we can focus our attention “on different objects at will, “resulting in very different
perceptual experiences “of the same visual field.” There’s been interesting work on that but the phrase at will points to an area that’s beyond serious empirical inquiry, it remains as much of a mystery as it was for Newton
at the end of his life when he was still seeking
what he called a subtle spirit that lies hidden in all bodies, and that might without absurdity account for their properties
of attraction and repulsion, the nature and effects of light sensation and the way members of animal bodies move at the command of the will. These are all comparable
mysteries for Newton that perhaps even beyond our understanding he thought like the principles of motion, and the classical problems
of the theory of mind at least since Descartes, who incidentally also regarded them as possibly beyond human understanding. Even if we restrict ourselves
to the study of mechanisms, the gaps are quite substantial. One of the leading
cognitive neuroscientists Randy Gallistel pointed out recently, that we clearly do not understand how the nervous system computes, or even the foundations
of its ability to compute even for the small set of
arithmetic and logical operations that are fundamental to any computation. He happens to be talking about insects but obviously extends beyond. In another domain, one of the founders of contemporary cognitive
neuroscience Hans-Lukas Teuber. He introduced an important
review of perception and neurophysiology, by writing that, it may seem strange to
begin with the claim that there is no adequate
definition of perception, and to end with the admission that we lack the neurophysiological theory. Though this was the
most that could be said. Now, it’s true that that was 40 years ago and there were dramatic discoveries, right at the time that
he was writing and since. But I suspect that Tueber who’s since died would have expressed much
the same judgment today. Tueber also outlined a standard way to move towards addressing
the problem of unification. He explained that his purpose in reviewing the perceptual phenomena and offering a speculative psychological
account of them was because this may suggest directions in which the search for
neural basis of perception should proceed, namely by
clarifying the assumptions that those neural basis must satisfy. Now, that’s a classic approach, along with the restriction
of the scientific enterprise to more modest goals, namely
intelligibility of theories rather than of the world. Another consequence of Newton’s demolition of the hopes of the Galilean revolution, for a mechanical conception of the world. Another one was recognition
that scientific inquiry is gonna have to be local
in its expectations. Overarching unification, may take place but perhaps over a long term, and in ways that can’t be anticipated. The 18th century English
chemist Joseph Black set the tone for
subsequent scientific work by recommending that chemical affinity be received as a first principle, which we cannot explain any more than Newton could explain gravitation, but let us defer accounting
for the laws of affinity till we have established
such a body of doctrine as Newton has established concerning the laws of gravitation. And chemistry in fact
proceeded along that course, separating itself
increasingly from physics. Physics followed Newton’s admonition that nature will be comfortable to herself and very simple, observing
a few general principles of attraction and repulsion that relate the elementary particles of which all matter is constituted more or less in the way
that different buildings could be constructed from the same bricks. The goal was therefore to
understand to quantify, to reduce the whole of
nature to simple laws as Newton did for say astronomy. I happen to be quoting Arnold Thackeray in his history of Newtonian matter theory, and the development of chemistry. He goes on to say “This
was the compelling, “the enticing, indeed the
almost bewitching goal “of much work pursuing
the thoroughly Newtonian “and reductionist task of uncovering “the general mathematical laws “which governed all chemical behavior.” There was a distinct chemical tradition, followed the path that was
outlined by Joseph Black Lavoisier Wallace
founded modern chemistry, that tried to keep neutral
probably to avoid controversy. But his own work helped to found
the separate chemical track Dalton abandoned and entirely the Boyle, Newton corpuscular theories of matter. He adopted the radically different view that matter could exist
in heterogeneous forms with varied principles. His approach, Thackeray writes
was chemically successful and therefore enjoyed the
homage of the history, unlike the philosophically more
coherent if less successful reductionist schemes of the Newtonians. By the end of the 19th century, the fields of interest of
chemists and physicists had become quite distinct, including a standard history of chemistry. Chemistry dealt with a world consisting of some 90 material elements, with many and varied
principles and properties, while physicists handled a more
nebulous mathematical world of energy and electromagnetic waves that were perceived in light radiant heat, electricity, magnetism,
later radio waves and x-rays the chemists matter was
discrete and discontinuous, the physicists energy was continuous and the gap appeared unbridgeable. Meanwhile, chemists developed
a rich body of doctrine achieving chemistry’s
triumphs in isolation from the newly emerging science
of physics, Thackeray again. As I mentioned the isolation,
ended only recently in a completely unanticipated
way, not by reduction, but by unifying a
radically revised physics with the bodies of doctrine
that chemistry had accumulated which had in fact provided
important guidelines for the reconstruction of physics, basically towards this
point about perception, and that’s happened often
in the history of science and we cannot know
whether something similar might be required for unification of the study of brain and mind, if assuming that to be a task that is within our cognitive reach, and that we don’t know either. Well, I’ve already
suggested and will repeat that there are interesting
and important parallels between the debates concerning
the reality of chemistry up to the unification which
was just 65 years ago. And current debates in
the philosophy of mind about the reality of the constructions of psychological approaches. The former debates, chemistry physics they are now understood to
have been totally pointless, based on serious misunderstanding. We simply have no grasp of reality other than what our best
explanatory theories can provide. If they happen to be
computational theories, okay that’s reality. My own view, I’ve discussed it elsewhere, is that current debates
very much alive right now, are also largely pointless and for essentially the same reasons, this includes central
topics of philosophy of mind and theoretical cognitive science, which those of you in the
disciplines will recognize or even in the general literature. Well considerations of the
kind that I’ve been reviewing these were in the background of the so called cognitive
revolution of the 1950s, at least for some of the participants. Although it was unknown at the time, in many ways the shift of perspective brought about by the cognitive revolution actually recapitulated the
first cognitive revolution of the 17th century, that includes the focus
on vision and language in the latter case adopting
the bio linguistic approach that is shifting the focus of attention from phenomena like behavior
and its products, say texts. Shifting from that to inner mechanisms that enter into producing the phenomenon. Now, that’s a shift but
it’s actually a shift that was taken in the 17th century. Notice again then there was
regression for a long time. Notice again that that
shift still leaves us a long way from the problems of action, that’s a vastly different matter. I’ve myself often quoted though Hume from Humboldt’s aphorism, that the core problem
of the study of language is the infinite use of finite means, so it was a leading concern of Cartesian philosophy before him, and a problem that
really couldn’t be posed very clearly at least
until the mid 20th century that when the concepts of
recursive generative procedures that was fully clarified. These procedures
constitute the finite means that are put to infinite use, but it’s important to be aware I don’t think I’ve stressed this enough. It’s important to be aware that despite quite a lot of progress in understanding the means, the means that are
employed for infinite use the question of how they are used, is scarcely even addressed
and it was that question that was the fundamental
one for Descartes Humboldt and other early modern figures, and again those questions
aren’t even addressed for say insects, let alone humans. It’s reasonably clear that the
human capacity for language is what’s called a species property, that is biologically isolated
in essential respects and close to uniform across the species. That actually seems less surprising today than it did not long ago, in the light of very recent discoveries about the very limited genetic variation among humans as compared
with other primates, suggests that we’ve all descended from a very small breeding group, maybe 100,000 years ago. So, humans are basically identical from the point of view have say, an outside biologist looking at us. The bio linguistic approach
adopted from the start, what has been called quote, the recently published encyclopedia of cognitive neuroscience, what’s called the norm
these days in neuroscience, the modular view of learning, that is the conclusion that in all animals learning is based on
specialized mechanisms instincts to learn in specific ways happen to be quoting
Randy Gallistel again, “These organs within the
brain,” as he calls them, “Perform specific kinds of computation “in accordance with specific design. “Apart from extremely hostile environments “the organs change state
under the triggering “and shaping effect of external factors, “they do so more or less reflexively “and in accordance with internal design.” That’s the process of learning, although growth might be
a more appropriate term avoiding misleading connotations
of the term learning. The language organ the Faculty of language fits that pattern, the normal pattern. according to the best theories we have each attainable state of the system each I language, is a computational system that determines, generates
in the technical sense. Infinitely many expressions
each of these expressions is a store of information, about sound and meaning which is accessed by performance systems. The properties of the I language, result from the interplay
of several factors, one factor is individual experience which selects among the options that are permitted by the initial state. A second factor is the
initial state itself, which is a product of evolution. And a third factor is general properties of organic systems, in this
case computational systems incorporating it’s reasonable to expect principles of efficient computation. The general picture involving
crucially the third factor, is familiar in the study of
organic systems generally this classic work of Darcy
Thompson and Alan Turing on organic form and morphogenesis is an illustration the topic currently and contemporary biology. One example, current example
that might be suggestive in the present connection, present context is recent work by Christopher Juniac mathematical biologists at Maryland who’s been exploring the idea that minimization of what he calls wire length, as in microchip design
should produce what he calls the best of all possible brains. And he’s tried to explain in these terms, the neuroanatomy of nematodes, one of the simplest and
best studied organisms and also various pervasive
properties of nervous systems such as the fact that the brain is as far forward as
possible on the body axis, wants to try to show
that that’s just property of efficient computation based
on wire length minimization. Well one can trace interest
in this third factor general properties of organisms, back to a Galilean intuition
namely Galileo’s concept that in his words, “Nature is perfect.” From the tides, to the flight of birds and it’s the task of the
scientist to discover in just what sense this is true. Newton’s confidence that
nature must be very simple, which I quoted, that
reflects the same intuition. However obscure it may be that intuition about what Ernest Pickle
called nature’s drive for the beautiful, has
been a guiding theme of modern science since
its smart modern origins and with a Galilean revolution, perhaps even its defining characteristic. It’s hard to say exactly what it is but that it’s a guiding
intuition is not a doubt. Biologists however have tended
to think rather differently about the objects of their inquiry. Very commonly, they adopt
what Francois Jacob, the Nobel laureate his image of nature as what he called a tinkerer, which does the best it can
with the materials at hand often a pretty rotten job,
as human intelligence seems to be keen on demonstrating about itself. One well-known contemporary biologist Gabriel Dover British geneticist, he concludes in a recent book that biology is a strange and messy business and perfection is the
last word one could use to describe how organisms work, particularly for anything
produced by natural selection. Though of course produced only in part by natural selection as he emphasizes, and as every biologist
knows and to an extent that can’t be quantified
by available tools. Well, we just don’t know which of these conflicting
intuitions is more accurate, the Galilean intuition
or say Jacob’s intuition. And we will not know
until we know the answer, and they seem very remote those answers. The same author Gabriel Dover writes that “We are nowhere near relieving
our deepest ignorance “about the biological world around us.” Now, he goes on to
reserve his sharpest words for those who seek to give
scientific respectability to complex behavioral phenomena and humans that we cannot even begin
to investigate seriously. He calls that a sign of
intellectual laziness at best, and shameless ignorance at worst when confronting issues
of massive complexity which far exceed the reach
of contemporary science. He gives some examples but
for charity, I’ll ignore them. The long-term goal of
investigating the third factor that is the role of general
properties of organisms in determining the Faculty of language, and the states that can
attain internal languages, that goal was actually
formulated in the early days of the bio linguistic turn, but it was put aside as unfeasible and attention focused
on the first two factors experience and the initial state. In technical terminology that’s called the problems of descriptive
and explanatory adequacy, and the latter is the question
of how the initial state enters into determining the transition to the final state, the state attained. The earliest attempts 50 years ago, to replace traditional or
structuralist accounts of language by generative rule systems,
revealed very quickly, that very little was known about the sound and meaning
and structure of language and that huge problems
had been unwittingly swept under the rug, rather as in the days when it was assumed that bodies fall to their natural place. As has often been the case, one of the hardest steps in
the development of the sciences is the first one namely to be puzzled by what seems so natural and obvious. To gain some realistic sense
of what had been overlooked was an enormous task
in itself, even more so in the light of the recognition that the apparent complexity
and diversity of languages that was very soon discovered, just had to be an illusion. The reason for that conclusion
is a standard one in biology namely as in the case of
other organs of the body. Experience can play
only a very limited role in determining the state that’s obtained in this case the attained I language. So, even a young child has mastered a rich and highly articulated system of sound and meaning and structural properties. that goes far beyond
any evidence available, and that’s shared with
others who have different but also highly restricted experience. So, it has to be the case,
that the initial state plays an overwhelming role,
in determining the language that the child attains
in all of its aspects. Experience surely has a role of triggering and shaping role, as in
the case of other organs, but it has to be a limited one. So, there’s no reason
to suppose that language and other higher mental
faculties depart radically from everything known
in the biological world. The task was to show that
the apparent richness and complexity and diversity
is in fact an illusion, that all languages are
test to the same mold and that experience
serves only to set options within a fixed system of principles, all determined by the initial state. Much as in the case of
other biological systems. Well, a great deal of the
research the last 40 years in these areas has been
driven by a kind of tension between descriptive and
explanatory adequacy, that is the tension between the search for true theories of I
languages the attained state on the one hand, and a true theory of the invariant initial state of the language or again on the other. The invariant initial state is the topic of what’s come to be
called Universal grammar, it’s adapting a traditional
notion to a quite a new context. The search for a descriptive adequacy like a true theory of Hungarian, that leads to complex intricate theories of particular constructions
and particular languages differing from one another. In contrast, the search
for explanatory adequacy seeks to find the common ground from which the existing
languages and all possible others arise given the data that are
structured is experienced, by the operations of the initial States, again in some unknown manner. The first proposals from the 1950s suggested that the initial state, the topic of universal grammar. That the initial state
provides a kind of a format for rural systems in their organization, and a procedure for
selecting one instantiation of the format over another, in terms of its success in capturing authentic linguistic generalizations and empirical notion that incorporates also a kind of a theory internal version of standard best theory considerations. The rules themselves at the beginning were adaptations of informal
traditional notions, which had proven to be utterly inadequate when they were subjected
to close examination. So that meant for
example rules for forming relative clauses in Hungarian or passives, or in Japanese or positives and the Romance languages and so on. The general approach did
offer a kind of solution to the core problem of
the study of language, sometimes called in the literature, the logical problem of
language acquisition that is how does the initial state map constructed experience,
to the final state. But as was emphasized, that
solution holds only in principle because in practice the
conception was unfeasible because of the astronomical
computational demands. Well, from about 40 years ago attempts were made to reduce
the scale of the problem by seeking valid general principles that can be abstracted
from particular grammars and attributed the
universe grammar meaning to the initial state of the
language faculty leaving residue that might be more manageable. Actually some of those
proposals were kind of proposals that were then being explored. I reviewed in the lectures
here 35 years ago, after that time, by then already there was some progress after that time then considerable progress, but it still left the tension unresolved. That as the general picture was somehow fundamentally defective, there was no true
solution, feasible solution to the logical problem
of language acquisition. Well, a possible resolution
of the tension was reached after a good deal of
effort about 20 years ago, with the crystallization
of a picture of language that marked a very sharp break from a long and rich tradition of tracing back to
classical Indian and Greece, is sometimes called the
principles and parameters approach that dispenses entirely
with the core notions of traditional grammar notions, like grammatical construction
or grammatical rule. From this point of view, categories such as a relative
clause or passive construction are understood to be real enough, but only as taxonomic artifacts. So for example, aquatic organisms which would include say
dolphins, trout, eels and some bacteria it’s a category but not a biological category. The phenomena, the phenomenal
properties of these artifacts result from the interaction
of invariant principles of the initial State, Faculty of language with parameters that are
finite number of parameters fixed in one or another way. It would incidentally follow that there are only finitely
many possible human languages apart from idiosyncrasies
and choice of lexical items, and even these are sharply constrained. That means that the problem
of unfeasible search is eliminated it’s a major
conclusion if correct. The conception has now been applied to typologically different languages of just about every known kind, it’s led to many discoveries
a host of new questions that were never before contemplated sometimes suggestive answers. This principles and parameters approach is an approach, it’s not a theory. Within the general approach,
there are many diverse theories there is actually a very good introduction to the topic just published by Mark Baker, called Atoms of Language
he himself has made major contributions to the approach, that he’s been working
primarily on languages that appear to be at opposite ends of the spectrum of
typological possibilities, picking that on purpose of course. Mohawk and English that’s the pair that he studied most intensively, trying to show that
although they are about as different phenomenally
as two languages can be, there in reality virtually identical apart from very small
changes in a few parameters, so that’s a Martian observer who views humans as we
view other organisms, would conclude that they’re
essentially identical dialectal variants of the same language. There’s been extensive
work of a similar character carried out worldwide with
quite revealing results. One major program funded
by the European Union is studying the vast number
of languages in Europe, huge number in fact misleadingly called, things like German and Italian and so on though they’re totally
different languages. Included by those in
those characterizations and it’s happening being
done elsewhere as well. I don’t wanna suggest that the
approach has been established that’s very far from true, but it has been very successful
as a research program as a stimulus to empirical
and theoretical inquiry that progress towards
the goals of descriptive and explanatory adequacy,
has far surpassed anything that precedes, that not
only in depth of analysis of particular languages, but also in the range of
typologically different languages that have been investigated. And also a new areas
of linguistic structure that had barely been explored before. Related fields such as the
study of language acquisition have also been completely revitalized within a similar framework, they now look totally unlike anything that
was around 20 or 30 years ago. There are some important
steps towards convergence although it’s certainly gonna
be a long and difficult course even if the approach turns out to be more or less on the right track, we’re far from having a clear idea of what the principles and
parameters actually are. But I think it’s fair to say
that the study of language in the last 20 years, has
moved to an entirely new plane. Well, I wanna pick up
these topics tomorrow and then move on to the issues, particularly the role of the third fact there are general properties of organisms and say something about that. And then to move on to the work called the questions of intentionality, now that is the question of
how language now understood within the by linguistic framework relates to the rest of the world. (audience applauding) – Professor Chomsky has agreed
to take a couple of questions that were submitted by the audience. Since these questions were submitted at the beginning of the lecture, they may not have been part
of what’s covered today, it might be a sneak preview of tomorrow. “Do you still believe that
the human language faculty “evolved all at once in a
sudden evolutionary leap? “Doesn’t this conflict
with the general finding “that evolution is gradual?” – This idea sometimes
called the monster mutation was invented as far as I’m
aware by Elizabeth Bates, and has been repeated
by many other people, that’s been attributed
to me for some reason I haven’t got the slightest idea why, I’ve never said a word about it. And I have no idea whether it’s true nor does anyone know anything
about these topics in general. Why it was invented, why it was attributed to me
you can try to figure out. The fact of the matter is no one knows anything about these things, even for much simpler questions. So for example there, one well-known fact about biological organisms is they all you know
above the level bacteria, they all seem to have essentially the same body type, same body forms. And it’s now kind of
understood how that works certain regulatory genes
have been master genes have been discovered
that create the forums and it just runs through the
whole organic world of animals. Well very recent work, actually
a couple of papers in nature just a few weeks ago, show laboratory experimental work that shows how this might have happened in one monster mutation. Well, okay maybe maybe not. There’s recent work about the
evolution of the human brain articles in science a couple of weeks ago, suggesting in fact that one
small mutation took place which suddenly led to
explosion of brain cells. Maybe, maybe not these are you know, I don’t have anything to
say about these matters, I just repeat what’s in
the technical literature. But why this conception
was attributed to me is a total mystery as far as I know. – I hope this is not at
the same you like it, so do you still question again. “Do you still view language
as self-contained module “that is independent of
other cognitive systems? “Wouldn’t it be simple to
assume that language ability “is grounded in the same
cognitive mechanisms “as other forms of human cognition?” – Well, I take for granted
that the human language, I mean it’s kind of like asking whether the visual system is distinct from other systems of the body. Of course it isn’t or
say the immune system. Of course, it’s not distinct
from the rest of the body like you can’t cut the immune system out and leave the rest of the
body, I mean it’s impossible. Every subsystem of the body that’s isolated for a particular inquiry is isolated because it has a kind of an integrated character, and you think you can
learn something about it. It doesn’t mean that it’s in a little box that you can pull out, right? So the immune systems in every cell, but it’s still a system. And presumably the same is
true of the language faculty. I mean, it’s brings together,
many different components which come from all over the place, for example the language faculty what you and I are now doing, makes essential use of
the delicate architecture of the bones in the middle year, okay. They’re terrific for wonderfully designed for understanding language. Of course they evolved for reasons having absolutely nothing
to do with language, they evolved from the
fact that they apparently that the skulls of early mammals
about 160 million years ago were getting bigger,
and as they got bigger blowing in the reptilian
jaw started migrate and for mechanical reasons apparently, it ended up in the middle of the ear which turns out to be great for language. And the same is true of, it could, I mean the computational principles that are at the core of language, and we might discover that those are the same computational principles that are used by insects for navigation, if we did that the fascinating discovery, would mean that it’s one of the things that was recruited to
form the language faculty. The idea that the language
faculty is isolated from other cognitive systems just makes no sense at all, can’t be. I mean we use the language
faculty to express our thoughts to think to ourselves to communicate, to have and communicate
attitudes, to perceive the world. Of course, it’s integrated
with the entire collection of cognitive faculties
and other faculties. Again, the interesting question that should be asked about that question is why it says do I still believe, because nobody could
possibly believe this. There’s a huge mythology
about these things which has been developed. It’s kind of characteristic of studies of human higher mental faculties. They are pursued at a
level of irrationality that is just hard to deal with. In fact centuries ago, the hard sciences were dealt with in a similar way, but we should be able to escape from that. – [Moderator] Have your
views regarding poverty of the stimulus change in
light of these studies? – There are no such studies. (audience laughing) All studies show what
everybody knows in advance, that the amount of data available for language acquisition
is extremely small. This notion of poverty of
stimulus is a little bit like what I call the
innateness hypothesis. Everyone believes in poverty of stimulus, not only for language but for everything. There was a certain
embryo once upon a time that turned into my granddaughter okay. Why didn’t it turn into a worm let’s say? I mean is it because of
the nutritional input? Like what a different nutritional input to the cell have turned it into a worm? Well you know, nobody even
takes questions seriously they’re so idiotic. What is assumed automatically
by every scientist is what’s called poverty of the stimulus, in the case of language. It’s considered controversial in the case of human mental faculties, but taken for granted
without even any discussion throughout the rest of biology
because it’s so obvious. I mean it cannot possibly be that what you and I are now
doing, is based on early or for that matter late
input for the environment because there isn’t any, virtually none. In fact, it’s easy to demonstrate that the things that even a young child do have a statistical level that is barely at the point of noise
in an actual discourse. The point is kind of obvious, there’s nothing to discuss about it. Everyone agrees that there
is poverty of the stimulus, the only question is well
what is the initial state that in fact, first of all
structures data as experience which is no trivial task, and then takes that experience
and almost instantaneously and reflexively as Gallistel points out, constructs an attained
state, that’s the problem. Somebody has some ideas
about it, be my guest it’s a great topic. – [Moderator] You have
suggested that human beings possess a language acquisition device, is this device a real
entity or a metaphor? – Well, kind of like asking
whether the genetic endowment that leads to an immune system is a real system or a metaphor. I mean we end up doing
what you and I are… Well, let’s go back to my granddaughter and her imagined pet chimpanzee. Let’s suppose that the two of them are exposed to exactly the same data okay. One of them ends up doing what you and I are now doing, the other one does nothing. Suppose that she also happens
to have a pet bee, okay. Well, the pet bee and my granddaughter exposed to the same visual data in the case of the bee, it’ll end up with a complicated intricate
system of communication, the humans can’t possibly duplicate it’s way beyond their cognitive capacities to communicate the distance and height and quality of a flower,
humans simply can’t do that but the bee does it reflexively. Well, observing facts like that, every scientist just takes for granted, there’s something special
about my granddaughter, or the bee and the chimpanzee which uses the same data to end
up in very different states. And unless it’s miracles, that has to do with
their genetic endowment. So, therefore we can talk about a language acquisition device a chimpanzee call acquisition device, a bee communication acquisition device these aren’t metaphors, these are just descriptions
of sub components of an organism which
you try to understand, there’s nothing metaphoric about them and there really should be
nothing controversial about them. I mean unless one thinks that the bee, the chimpanzee and my granddaughter should end up the same
way with the same data, unless anybody thinks that, then the answer should be obvious. – [Moderator] Is there any
evidence of evolutionary change in the historical record
of human language? – No, that’s why I mentioned
before the current, at least current understanding is that there’s extremely little
genetic variation among humans as compared with other primates. Meaning which can only, is taken to mean that we’re basically all kind of cousins coming from the same small
breeding group not very long ago like a 100, 1,000 or 200,000 years is essentially nothing
in evolutionary time. There’s been no time for any evolution nobody knows exactly when
language got into the picture, but probably about the same time roughly plus or minus a 100,000 years. And there’s been just no time for any evolutionary change to take place, that’s why say my granddaughter and don’t know why I’m focused on her. But my granddaughter if she’d grown up say in Tokyo, would be
talking perfect Japanese because she’s genetically identical to the kids who grow up in Tokyo, as far as this capacity or probably just about
every capacity is concerned. So then if that’s true, there
can’t have been evolutionary any meaningful evolutionary change in the history in the
brief history of language, it’s just way too short. – [Moderator] Now this is the last, and it’s a very open-ended question so feel free to ignore
it or do what you like. “what details are results
of current neuroscience “bear on your current biologically
based language theories.” – Well currently neuroscience is providing some new ideas, not so much neuroscience as new techniques, for example imaging, brain imaging is providing rather interesting suggestive results you know FMRI and things like that. You don’t exactly what to make of them because you know these are investigating systems that are just not understood on the basis of signals that
are detected from the outside. Some of the results are
quite in a way startling, so for example Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, just recently a couple of
months ago published a paper by Laura Patito, an investigator who’s was in Montreal now and Dartmouth. She apparently has seems to have shown that sign language, the
deaf children who use sign, the neural centres that are
involved in processing the sign are close to identical,
as far as you can tell, identical with those of hearing infants who are processing auditory input. That’s a very surprising result. I mean a little less surprising than it would have been 20 years ago because work has shown that these systems are very similar in many
structural respects. But that there neurally
represented in the same place is quite interesting, if it’s true it would mean that whatever
our Faculty of language is it’s probably independent of modality, sensory modality, some
analytic computing system that could use one modality or another. The fact that say vision and hearing end up analyzed in the same place is a little bit surprising, because of what’s known
about the projection of sensory systems into the cortex. But that kind of inquiry
is pretty interesting and suggestive, and there is
work of that kind coming along. As for neuroscience itself, remember that very little is known. I mean, I quoted the encyclopedia, the current edition of
the MIT encyclopedia of cognitive neuroscience is pointing out that we do not understand
the neurophysiology of even the most elementary computations, that are used throughout the animal world, say for insect navigation. Even the simplest ones,
the neurophysiology is completely obscure. When you try to get to human language you’re off in some in
outer space somewhere. It’s an important problem maybe
someday it’ll be understood, but it’s pretty remote. – [Moderator] Well, thank you very much for a most stimulating lecture. (audience clapping) (upbeat music)

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  1. Chomsky may be brilliant but he is a poor speaker does he not know how to use his voice to keep people awake?

  2. I hope you're only asking what I mean by the comparison.

    "biolinguistics – the study of relations between physiology and speech"

    Newspeak is the elimination of selected words/elements for the false goal of making speech easier, quicker, less cumbersome. The idea being speech should come from the ease of the mechanics of speaking it instead of from the expression of complex ideas.

    The problem being the elimination of complex ideas (dissent & original thought) from mainstream discussion.

  3. ~12:50 he goes on about how the boundaries of psychological investigations of the brain versus physiological ones are somewhat fluid ( or "convenient")- then he launches into a tangental discussion of blurring of the boundaries of physics and chemistry- one would think that giving an example of what he's talking about (psychological approaches vs. physiological ones) would have been more germane.
    When he's talking politics he's very lucid- what's wrong? why can't I understand one paragraph?

  4. A few of the questions seemed to come from people who disagree with Chomsky's theories. They must be some of the Searl dick suckers from Cal.

  5. @Diosibundo
    Should I keep waiting for that example of Palin's comments on this subject? Or should I accept your silence as an acknowledgment that you were just bullshitting in a lame attempt at an insult? A canned one, at that.

  6. @Diosibundo
    "I refudiate that remark!"
    –Don't you mean "I resemble that.. nyuk-nyuk-nyuk!"
    "my crib notes are runniing"
    –Yours and Diane Feinstein's.

  7. @danski86 YEah… I think it was an overlap of the tape. I mean it was an exact reptition of every word for like a minute. I don't think he's that robotic,

  8. boilinguistics has failed so spectacularly and stunted the development of the field of linguistics. People are afraid to challenge chomsky because he deals in character assassination. Look up "The Linguistics Wars" by Randy Allen Harris. Interactionism can explain how language actually works, biolinguistics cannot. Syntactic deep structure doesn't exist, but chomsky is too invested in this. I think linguistics will only progress once chomsky dies.

  9. Either i got lost or he repeated about 5 minutes of his speech at 38:00. Honestly I wish I was capable of following his train of thought through his sometimes detailed examples. I will have to go to the books so I can get a sense of continuity. Thanks for posting this.

  10. @stoprainingonme He was a truly brilliant linguist. Unfortunately he used his skill at this to fool a lot of people with his lies designed to undermine freedom and to promote marxism.

  11. @cryptickripke But the genetic or bio-genetic correlates imprinted and symbolically represented as universal grammar is perfectly meaningless without affect preverbal emotional signaling which has to do with millions of years of non-human and human primate Nurturance based infant/caregiver practices. Language, e.g., as the manipulation of verbal pattern recognition (symbols) that only have social prominence (meaning) in the exchanges of shared symbols of a particular culture will not emerge

  12. spontaneously. Let us take non-typical developing children, such as autism, where the pre-verbal levels or two-way emotional signaling have not or insufficiently developed, along with ideation of symbolization, symbolic play apart from fixed representation). Only when that develops, and as developmental therapist who works with this population, will the pragmatics of expressive language usage, or syntactic pragmatically meaningful utterance become possible. Translation: It is not genes but

  13. Nurturance based practices (over millions of years or rekindled through deepening affect-based relationships) that allows the hierarchical convergence of meaning, translation and usage to happen. Self-contained imprinted modules in the brain (the bio-genetic bete machine -bio-genetic modular language faculty) is a BIG fallacy.

  14. @cryptickripke The pragmatic or meaningful use of language/communication, the ability to create novel sentences requires, granted lots of potential (i.e. a genetic substrate, a brain/nervous system, fully developed pharynx and larynx). But it is nurturance based practices over the course of millions of years of non-human to human primate nurturance based practices that led to "spoken language". What appears to be evolutionary predetermined faculty is quite otherwise. Human babies are….

  15. ..essentially born six months premature. Billions of neurons; a few primitive reactive circuits and primitive emotional (all or nothing responses). What is REQUIRED for this process to evolve is, yes, that little thing call nurturance. Language does not happen until the child acquires through lots of back and forth emotional dyadic signaling (engagement); vagus nerve come in here, as it is connected to the pharynx, larynx, vestibular receptors and facial gestures; It is only once the child

  16. attains proficiency from caregiver/child engagement; affect gesturing somatic and facial, which then allows for a mediation if you will or hemispheric coordination between the the executive functions (prefrontal cortex, ideation, motor planning and execution) and the more primitive limbic system (e.g., amygdala, all or nothing reactions) that allows for representional ideas (symbolization) or free-standing ideas apart from fixed modalities of perception (all or nothing). At that point language

  17. (pragmatic arrangement of novel sentences) becomes possible. This follows the evolutionary past of our ancestors. Obviously you are not caught upon in primate language studies since Nim Chimpsky. Look at the last two decades of work with Bonobos (Sue Savage Rumbaugh); they have the language pragmatic equivalency of advanced 7-8 year olds. Also look at the work of Dr. Stanley Greenspan/Stuart Shanker 2004 First Idea., which essentially CHANGES the entirety of the nature/nurturance controversy.

  18. @cryptickripke Ah! But they do vary. It is called potentiation to actualization. You cannot separate Any bio-genetic substrate from the social-emotional environment. It will not produce. It does not produce and it is an illusion of Deus ex machina. Formula is nice but it does NOT produce actualization. Knowing the chemical composition and geographical locale of pigment that compromises a Rembrandt to him or her will not be given the title of artist let alone paint by number child, lol

  19. @cryptickripke What you brilliantly fail to understand is that CODE is meaningless; syntax is meaningless without all the preceding developmental levels of engagement that are required. Hence a developmental systems theory approach that make UG "invariably interesting" but a more explicated and glorious form of 19th C. phrenology. Not only will he not speak Russian; the placement of nouns and verbs (vis a vis UG will be along the lines of an autistic child) Not only will he not speak…

  20. Russian, "Colurless green ideas sleep furiously" will make PERFECT SENSE, as what is required for the organizational meaningful pragmatic use which cannot be separated or teased our from function, or it can for purposes of argument, counting angels on a pin, but how utterly and pathologically distorted!

  21. @cryptickr. Pardon moi! For the exasperation but it perchance may be bode well to stir thine tides of potential non-reflective syntax and mental-emotional agility. This sounds like the knee bone is connected to the thigh bond the thigh bone is connected to the hip bone… I am coming from a SYSTEMS THEORY perspective. We do not deny genetic faculty but syntax like planets without certain certain ingredients will remain Lifeless. Word-order flow however potentially embedded REQUIRES …..

  22. affect to bring it to life. There are no "mechanisms" as such defines or homonculous sitting in the center of the pineal gland winding the gears of the body.Syntax, semantics, pragmatics are separated for purposes of reductionistic theorems. In reality cannot be parsed as such (analogous the atom, atomus cannot be separated into subatomic particles). Interpenetration (Heisenberg's principle will do) NOT of parts but in part (tongue in cheek) where we enter the system for purposes of description.

  23. Halfway through his lecture Prof. Chomsky mentions the ecological concept of "umwelt" and again alludes to it in his answer about a "language acquisition device" and talks about the differing responses to a flower that his granddaughter, a chimp and a bee might have. The implication being that different species are hard-wired toward divergent bio-semiotic cues. Please someone correct me if I'm missing something, but isn't this putting the cart before the horse? Language emerges from biology.(?)

  24. @atreyu1210 Wouldn't any kind of "language acquisition device" require language, as a functional component? This would seem to be supported by the difficulty feral children have in acquiring language. It seems a bit of a chicken and egg problem in that language and it's generative functions are interdependent. At least up to a point.

  25. I have a similar problem, pause the video when you need to and note key terms and statements. Then I find it becomes easier to follow.

  26. What does the woman say at the end?
    thanks for a most …humiliating… lecture?
    I don't understand quite well, someone?

  27. "Humans are basically identical"

    An IQ difference of 20 points. Evolutionarily that is an undetectable difference, caused by the most minute genetic difference. And yet, in terms of human society, that difference is profound, especially when dealing with large groups.

    Compare this to having the capacity for tool-making and/or speech, which may be significant on the scale of an evolutionary biologist, while 20 IQ points are not.

  28. Sorry, but the point goes to the following: for many decades people have fought over the possibility that the environmental input is enough to explain children competence of languaje. He is just saying that there are inherited components to it.

  29. @Jason Hops zzz again what is this white race you type of? European? last I checked Not only are their the few english speaking countries but theres also Spain and the middle east that bother you alot. Well since you didnt know skin color can be altered by the sun (or lack of) what happens if you managed to live in "White" only town and you or someone you actual care about start to develop a tan and become the darkest person there and then preceded to me made fun of and mistreated..would that make life better?

  30. Optimism,I think,has nothing to do with being in High morale.optimism is a sense which related to both inner experienced psychology and the based-on predictions. but High morale is a matter of Hormones produced to represent a functionality of biology and physics,but not the psychology which is caused and resulted.

  31. Chomsky references the unification of physics and chemistry in this talk and often in other talks and written works. I'm not familiar with this unification and would like to learn more. Can anyone recommend a good book, a sort of overview for someone with a good general science background but not any depth in chemistry, that describes this unification, what the issues were, how they were resolved,…?

  32. Chomsky seeks to heal the breach between the idea that life is messy and the fact that language seems to be perfect. He makes fun of those who take this breach to mean language is not biological: what else could it be, a miracle? Instead, he suggests we must revisit our most basic ideas of life and living systems in order to unify them with the theory of language.

  33. Chomsky always worries me by the things he does not mention, like the Hidden Markov Model of speech (a very misleading name) and how this relates to the question of context and top-down-influence that Cognitive Psychology has documented so well (eg. "he's got a shoe" vs. "he's going to shoot").
        In another talk he failed to make any reference to the axioms of set theory where these would have supported the point he was making. He never mentions machine learning or co-variance in general, and seems to stick by his original idea of "poverty of stimulus", despite the book by Adele Goldberg showing how her children applied co-variance to learning aspects of language, by making phonological generalisations between rather different phoneme sequences.    For example, eatEN has a deal of resemblance to kissED . This idea of "how can a child possibly learn language from the buzz of confused noises around it" seems ridiculous. Babies are very short-sighted and can recognize only their mother's face. Her lips move and she makes sounds. Clearly all mammals have to learn the noises that their particular mother makes, or they can end up starving. How else would a penguin chick re-unite with its mother after she has spent months at sea.
       So the baby will apply co-variance and generalisation initially only to what mother says, and she speaks in a restricted subset of language that linguists call "motherese", so his hypotheses are more often correct, compared to hearing speech on TV, for example.
      What the human appears to do, and chimpanzees don't, is to learn that different sequences of phonemes form labels for entities and actions. Here the work of people like Baddeley on short term memory and the "phonological loop" probably becomes important. I would suggest that we have a longer loop than other primates, but although  I don't know, my argument would lead to experiments that might decide the matter.          We generate different phonemes by pressing the tongue against different parts of the roof of the mouth, changing the shape of the tongue, and making different sounds with our vocal chords. If a chimpanzee is unable to do these sorts of things, he can never relate the internal state of his vocal organs to the words that he hears, either from himself or from another. And analogies between phonemes cannot form the basis of his co-variance calculations. T)EN and ED have great similarity if you concentrate on the position of your tongue, and are tuned to recognise mirror-images.  
       Chomsky seems to inhabit a different world, totally unrelated to the disciplines that would allow him to further refine and filter his theories. Pinker seems to me to be in contact with that world.

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