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Berlinski on Chomsky, Ideological Orthodoxy, and Peer Review

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(January 3, 2004) Linguistics in the US is now controlled by a single satrap and his school — Noam Chomsky at MIT. No one placed him in a position of power; and no one — not me, for sure — questions his brilliance or the remarkable nature of his work; nonetheless, Chomsky and his students and associates have placed a literal strangle-hold on linguistic research in the US, amassing for themselves all of the available prestige. When on very rare occasions, the satrap proposes to question doctrines held further up the Mandarin ladder, he is promptly rebuked. The process is interesting to observe; it is, in fact, fascinating. I happen to know that Chomsky has long been a skeptic about Darwin’s theory of evolution. I have heard the skepticism from close friends; it has never been a secret. Nonetheless, there was Chomsky in a recent issue of Science, affirming vigorously his commitment to natural selection and speculating that perhaps only one genetic accident was needed to introduce human beings to the benefits of recursion. I was astonished to read this, and using my own faithful moles, quickly confirmed what I had in any case suspected: Chomsky wrote the wretched thing to get the pests off his back. The pests in question: Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins. The point in question: not even a satrap as powerful as Chomsky is quite capable of holding his own against the immense force of ideological orthodoxy. None of this is conscious; and no threat beyond ridicule is at work. Much the same thing happened to Irving Segal, a very great MIT mathematician, and a powerful critic of Big Bang cosmology. Segal was a tough and powerful figure at MIT, largely indifferent to ridicule and supremely confident of his own abilities. When he could not be brought down by ridicule, he was brought down instead by peer review, his access to the PNAS denied. I’ve seen the confidential peer reviews. On the one hand, they are just as one would expect: devoid of arguments; and on the other, they are profoundly sad.


I think you all are way off on this Chomsky thing. He comes out of tradition in Evolutionary Biology that traces back to biologists like D'arcy Wentworth Thompson, author of "On Growth and form,' who believed in laws of development that were at there core based on the principles of physics (Stephen Jay Gould came out of a similar vein). He feels that simply saying the mind evolved by natural selecttion isn't enough; he wants to know why it has the particular structure it has, which he feels will lead to physical principles. The idea that Chomsky is bowing to pressure - give me a break! This is the same guy who defended the free speech rights of the holocaust denier Faurrison and went to jail for protesting the Vietnam War. The one thing he doesn't do is back down when he thinks he's right, especially not against half-wits like Dennet. Remember that Dennet spent a whole chapter of 'Darwin's Dangerous Idea' trying to refute Chomsky's (and John Searle's) views on language to no avail. As far as I've read, Chomsky hasn't changed his views. Chomsky might be skeptical of gradualism, but I doubt he is a closet ID supporter.

LowenheimSkolem, Finally printed Baker’s article and read it—remarkable! Thanks for putting us on to this. Think maybe I’ll order one of Baker’s books. Arguing from his field he reaches the same conclusion as the philosopher Angus Menuge (Agents Under Fire): the Creative Aspect of Language Use (CALU), i.e., Agency, is a primitive that does not “supervene” on mechanism. The burden of proof is on the materialists. If free will and consciousness have a materialist explanation then come up with a theory. Don’t just say these “emerge” from very complex machinery. The autonomous syntax of 40 years ago has shrunk to little more than the neurological ability to routinize patterns. Pronominalization, voice, reference, topicalization, back-grounding/foregrounding, tense/aspect/modality ... so much of what syntax does is functional and now consigned to the CALU ... along this line you might have a look at T. Givón’s “Context as Other Minds” (http://www.iscid.org/bookstore.php). Rude
Introns are sequences of nucleotides, are they not? bFast
"How do introns resist it? They are just sequences of amino acids like exons." Introns aren't sequences of amino acids, only exons code for proteins. Some introns contain elements such as functoinal RNAs, also introns are involved in Nonsense-mediated Decay, which was the topic of another thread. Chris Hyland
Yes jerry, if it doesn't mutate much it probably has a function. But introns usually do show higher mutation rates. However, higher mutation rates can mean two things: (1) no function; (2) directional selection for diversity, such as in some genes related to the immune system (high diversity -> recognize more parasites). To most introns probably (1) applies. Raevmo
Since this thread is badly off topic, I have a question relative to the recent comments of introns, thermodynamics etc. If a sequence of the genome such as introns does not mutate over time does this mean that it must have some function? Otherwise, this sequence should be subject to rm. Since it remains the same, ns must be operating along with the rm to eliminate changes to the sequence and keep it constant. Since ns only operates on things that influence survivability, it should mean that these sequences are important for survival and changes in them inhibit viability or reproduction. jerry
In the following article: http://genomebiology.com/2006/7/5/R41 "Introns are under less selection pressure than exons, and consequently, intronic sequences have a higher rate of gain and loss than exons." I am not saying introns don't mutate. I am saying that the fact they are under 'less selection pressure' indicates that they posses some sort of resistance to RM+NS, which after all is simply entropy. After all, the entire genome (and evertyhing else) is subject to entropy. How do introns resist it? They are just sequences of amino acids like exons. Collin DuCrâne
A#1, Collin, I gave a short blerb describing what I understood an intron to be. Am I basically correct in my understanding? Collin DuCrane, "Intron information, however seem to be impervious to RM+NS." Are you saying that introns don't mutatate? I have been looking for a numerical system within DNA. Let me explain. One of the simplest forms of evolutionary software deconstructs an object, say an airplane, into a bunch of tuneable parameters. One parameter may be the wingspan, another the wing's thickness, a third may be the height of the tail. Each of these parameters can be represented by a number. The numbers can be grouped into an array. The code works something like this: we start with a reasonably functioning array of numbers. We make a bunch of copies, say 1000. In each copy, we randomly twiddle one of the numbers by a little bit. We take our results, and simulate the flight characteristics of the resulting airplane. 90% or so of the "poor performing" arrays are eliminated, and replaced by copies from the top 10%. We then re-mutate, and do the whole thing again. The results are quite impressive. Improved airplane designs can be had by this simple algorithm. Now, if there were a digital system hiding in DNA, where a random mutation caused a tweaking of a value; if that value was a "limiter" which determined the number of proteins of a particular sort belonged at a particular place in the body; the reslult would be very similar to the algorithm above. I have wondered if introns may possibly play such a role. How, exactly, do the introns produce a numeric value? Well, I can think of a thousand different ways. Maybe its just a count of the number of a particular nucleotide within the intron, who knows. From what you (and others) know about introns, could they possibly play such a role? Is there some other mechanism within DNA that plays a very numeric role in the development of organism? Lets just say that if I were designing a machine that would be able to use random mutations to adapt to real situations, I would have such a numeric scheme in my design. bFast
FuzzyHead, if you have not read other items from Berlinski, you owe it to yourself to read a few of his delightful pieces. I would start with: http://www.veritas-ucsb.org/library/berlinski/deniable.html and http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=view&id=3209&program=CSC%20-%20Scientific%20Research%20and%20Scholarship%20-%20History%20and%20Philosophy%20of%20Science%20-%20MainPage Eric Anderson
In all the known universe, all things, including information are subject to entropy and the laws of thermodynamics, and must change over time. If there exists any unchanging phenomena in the universe, there must be a cause for that, and that cause must be from outside the laws of thermodynamics, which came into effect at the moment of the Big Bang. Collin DuCrâne
bFast, I certainly do not intend to confuse anyone, if I did, I apologize. ID can be likened to the 'Altar of the Unknown God'. ID does not accept RM+NS as a biogenesis, refutes post-modern methodological natrualism, and seeks to show that Evolution is bunk. This is a far cry from identifying the 'designer' or creator. Knowing that we are created is not the same as knowing the Creator, but at least it is a strong argument against athiesm. RM+NS has become a biogenesis in the Evolutionist tradition. Darwin's Origin of Species places RM+NS where traditionally a divine creator would be expected. Exon information has an elasticity under environmental RM+NS influence. RM+NS is basically biological entropy, which the genome overcomes by adaptation. Intron information, however seem to be impervious to RM+NS, which I just characterized as entropy. Everything is subject to entropy, by the laws of thermodynamics. But the information encoded by introns seems to be conserved, as though it were expressed from 'outside' sphere of RM+NS influence, meaning outside the laws of thermodynamics. The role of introns is mysterious. If nothing else, the observation that these introns seem to have anti-entropy properties (RM+NS sheilded?) has extreme impact on the Evolutionist tradition which claims that RM+NS created life and is master over all of it. That 'tradition' discards introns as 'junk'. Introns do not prove the identity of the creator, but they certainly could be considered to be his signature or copyright. Legally, this alone should be enough to chase the egg-poachers out of the hen-house. I will check out ISCIDs, as you suggested, and try to be more illustrative in my writing. Collin DuCrâne
Barry, You asked about the Berlinski video. I got it at ARN. The link is http://www.arn.org/arnproducts/php/video_show_item.php?id=47 jerry
"It would be nice to have an atheist come out against Darwinism because the attack would then not be associated with religious motives." How about the very Berlinski of whom we are speaking? He once said his only religous impuluse is to have a good time as often as possible. Although I'm not sure "against" is the right word; maybe "highly skeptical" captures his attitute better. BarryA
Colin DuCrane,
Because introns do not respond to RM+NS pressure, they are outside of the ‘Dawkin Sphere’ in which RM+NS is enthroned as a biogenesis. If introns actually have a generative function, not only is RM+NS dethroned by first-causes, the throne itself disappears from the Darwinist tradition, and … KALAM!! The Dawkin Sphere collapses like so much flying spaghetti.
You are definitely talking about something that sounds interesting here. However, I am not able to follow. So far, what you are saying is sounding all too much like, "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously." 'Sounds good, but doesn't quite mean something. Could you please clarify. Why do you say, "because introns do not respond to RM+NS pressure"? You said, "If introns actually have a generative function, not only is RM+NS dethroned..." What would it mean for introns to actually have a generative function? Why would this dethrone RM+NS? I must admit, my understanding of introns is painfully limited. I understand that introns are segments of DNA that are stuck between coding genes (coding for protien) and sometimes stuck within the gene definition itself so that when the gene is made, segments (introns) must be skipped over to assemble the complete gene and generate the protein. Is that about correct? I also understand that there is growing evidence that introns play some role in the generation of an animal's phenotype, but exactly what role is a little unclear. Is that also correct? This actually seems like a technical discussion more suited to ISCID's brainstorms than to this environement, and especially this thread, however here it is. bFast
This is a bit off the topic, but I sat there looking at the title and saw the name Berlinski. I am in the process of reading his book "A Tour of the Calculus". Great book in understanding calculus better. I never had any context to figure that this was a good book, except that it came from my Calc prof a few years ago. Now I can connect the name to something else about him. FuzzyHead
Sorry, “Manufacturing Descent: Bill Dembski on Science”? I think I am starting to suffer from a blogohol overdose - enough for today. Collin DuCrâne
I don't know if this was posted already, but I will post it anyhow... http://www.uncommonknowledge.org/900/924.html Mats
PS: There is an overview of an old documentary called "Manufacturing Dissent: Noam Chomsky on Journalism" here: http://www.zmag.org/chomsky/interviews/9501-journalism.html How about an new documentary called "Manufacturing Descent: Bill Dembsky on Science"? Collin DuCrâne
To put Chomsky into the context of Information Theory, there is a paper: http://www.cis.upenn.edu/~pereira/papers/rsoc.pdf This has bearing on formalized a measure of complexity for information, something that Shannon's theories alone do not achieve, rather Shannon gives us measures of entropy, which at first glance might seem to be the inverse of complex order, but Claude himself warned against this. (1) Colorless green ideas sleep furiously. (2) Furiously sleep ideas green colorless. Chomsky's famous example above illustrates the split. Since Shannon's theories are based on probability of occurence to measure the entropy of signals, both of the above 'signals' would be considered to contain zero information. But, obviously 1) is grammtically correct, and hence contains generative or pattern or meta information. Obviously, detecting the distributions of symbols within instantiated signals is not the same as detecting their generative classes (the meta-data required to generate the signal grammars). Going back to the argument that RM+NS could be ID in disguise (ok, a cheap gorilla suit), if genomic intron data could be shown to contain measurable generative information, we would have an extremely strong argument that RM+NS is not a biogenesis. Because introns do not respond to RM+NS pressure, they are outside of the 'Dawkin Sphere' in which RM+NS is enthroned as a biogenesis. If introns actually have a generative function, not only is RM+NS dethroned by first-causes, the throne itself disappears from the Darwinist tradition, and ... KALAM!! The Dawkin Sphere collapses like so much flying spaghetti. QED. Collin DuCrâne
Chomsky is an atheist. So why is it so surprising that he takes the party line here especially when the consequences might be severe. It would be nice to have an atheist come out against Darwinism because the attack would then not be associated with religious motives. He does support certain religious efforts however, because he has recognized that a lot of good has originated with religious people but not because he himself believes in religion. jerry
On the topic of Linguistics: Folks on here should ABSOLUTLY check out this article by Mark Baker entitled "The Creative Aspect of Language Use and Nonbiological Nativism." Here's the link: http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~mabaker/CALU&nonbio-nativism.pdf Baker is a linguist at Rutgers, and emerged from the MIT program mentioned above. I had the pleasure of seeing him present this paper at a small seminar last summer. Essentially he's arguing for a certain sort of innateness, manifested in the CALU, that does not hinge on metaphysical naturalism (ala Pinker et al) and is not "cashed out as biology in the manner characteristic of evolutionary psychology." Also, I have a general question about this post: Is there anything of Chomsky's IN PRINT that would lead one to believe he is skeptical about NDE? I'm not calling the report above into question, rather, I am just wondering if anyone has noticed any subtle or overt skepticism in Chomsky's enourmous corpus. LowenheimSkolem
Once I heard a big gun Darwinist claim that Chomsky opposes Darwin because Darwinism is racism and Chomsky doesn’t want to be racist. And so his biological innatism provides a materialistic equivalent for the breath of life [נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים] of Genesis 2:7 and let’s us off the hook from having to deal with the Darwinian gradualism that separates man and beast. There’s also the rumor that Zellig Harris once told Chomsky to go into radical politics if he wanted to be famous. Whether or not the rumor is true there is the radical politics and fame beyond that of just about any other intellectual dead or alive. What most folks outside the field don’t know is that a considerable spectrum of linguists (Roman Jakobson, Joseph Greenberg, Dwight Bolinger, T. Givón, etc.) has been working quietly and productively for a long time outside the Chomskian paradigm, and that Chomsky himself has repudiated nearly all his linguistics. By the way, where do I go to read Berlinski’s piece? Rude
I don't get it. So what's the deal with Chomsky? He tentatively supports ID; then he viciously attacks it. He shows skepticism toward Darwinian evolution; then he voices his support for it. Is he genuinely confused, or does he just lack a spine? Berlinski seems to think the latter, and I'm inclined to agree. crandaddy
The Darwin takes aim at yet another hapless civilian target. Here is a short article about 'Malignant Design' by Chomsky: http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=9086 Chomsky exists to poke holes in doctrine. He is like an armour piercing shell. Maybe he could figure out a way to show that RM+NS is actually proof of Intelligent Design. Or at least he could blow that intron early-late decoy out of the water. Collin DuCrâne

Thts fnny. Cmmntrs r hr fr yr wn msmnt.

thght y wld jst dlt t, bt n, t's ll s msng t y.

Myb 'll s y fr my wn msmnt smdy.

Thr's mr thn n wy t skn ct.

Sm hv tls tht y dn't hv.

Th wrst crtc s nt ncssrly n nmy.


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