academic freedom Intelligent Design language Mind News

Human language: After Wolfe on Chomsky, Everett finally speaks for himself

Spread the love

Kingdom of Speech.jpgReaders will recall Tom Wolfe’s The Kingdom of Speech, a defense of the fundamental difference between language as we know it and the squawks, moos, and gibbers we hear outside. Wolfe defended linguist Daniel Everett against the Colossus of MIT, Noam Chomsky.

Now Everett himself offers some thoughts at Aeon:

In 2005, I published a paper in the journal Current Anthropology, arguing that Pirahã – an Amazonian language unrelated to any living language – lacked several kinds of words and grammatical constructions that many researchers would have expected to find in all languages. I made it clear that this absence was not due to any inherent cognitive limitation on the part of its speakers, but due to cultural values, one in particular that I termed the ‘immediacy of experience principle’.

Although I realised that what I had written might be controversial, I was unprepared for the sheer number of academic papers, books and ad hominem attacks on me that have raged now for more than a decade provoked by that article. According to the different extremes in this debate, I am either an irrelevant, mistaken charlatan (Chomsky, in the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo, February 2009) or an ‘instant folk hero’ who knocked all the wind from Chomsky’s work on universal grammar as no one before had ever done (Wolfe, in Harper’s Magazine, August 2016).

Daniel Everett.jpg
Daniel Everett

It is likely that initially my work was picked up by the media because it was considered a problem for the core ideas of a man whom The New York Times sensationalistically labelled ‘the most important intellectual alive’, ie Chomsky. Looking back now, it is astounding that the point that has so inflamed my academic critics was my claim that the Pirahãs lacked subordinate clauses. More.

Daniel Everett, meet Judith Curry. You and she may not agree on linguistics or climatology, but you could perhaps savour a brew together on post-fact science, and its hordes of devotees.

refer to text
Judith Curry

About her finally leaving academic life over the inability to extract fact from politicized climate data, commentator Mark Steyn writes,

Unlike us media blowhards, Judith Curry did not sign up for this. All she wanted to do was to be free to follow where the science leads. And, because the science leads away from Michael E Mann and his cartoon climatology, she has been subject to a vile campaign of character assassination by him and his creepy little coterie. Were she to demand the same right he asserts – to sue over insults – Mann would be in deep water. Fortunately, unlike him, she understands the concepts of free speech and open debate.

Everett probably did not sign up for persecution at the hands of Chomsky devotees either, especially because most of them were probably motivated not by arid controversies in linguistics* but by Chomsky’s lifelong involvement in progressive politics. Or as Everett puts it, “Thousands know Chomsky not because of his linguistic work but because of his political writings. For some, his intellectual authority on politics is believed to derive ultimately from his brilliance in inventing a theory in linguistics that is intellectually on a par with Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.”

Chomsky’s theory of language, as will be evident to the reader of Everett’s piece, is on a par with Darwinism. A theory about nothing but itself about how things happen. We could leave it out and nothing would change except the air would be cleaner. Not that Everett says this, of course.

Indeed, as a gentleman, Everett attempts to defend Chomsky from his greatest enemy (himself), but is quite unable to defend him from his friends.

We must hope that science, in general, can be defended from them.

* Note: Does anyone really believe that the use of subordinate clauses is the distinctive feature of human intelligence or language?

See also: In Spanish paper, Tom Wolfe calls “Theory of Evolution” a fairy tale?

Andrew Ferguson reviews Wolfe’s Kingdom of Speech at Commentary

Tenured professor calls it quits (Barry Arrington on Judith Curry).


post-fact scienceA scientist on the benefits of a post-truth society

Follow UD News at Twitter!

2 Replies to “Human language: After Wolfe on Chomsky, Everett finally speaks for himself

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    Although the purported evidence for human evolution is far more illusory than most people realize,,,
    Although the purported evidence for human evolution is far more illusory than most people realize, it is interesting to note exactly where leading Darwinists themselves honestly admit that they have no real clue how a particular trait in humans could have possibly evolved.

    Leading Evolutionary Scientists Admit We Have No Evolutionary Explanation of Human Language – December 19, 2014
    Excerpt: Understanding the evolution of language requires evidence regarding origins and processes that led to change. In the last 40 years, there has been an explosion of research on this problem as well as a sense that considerable progress has been made. We argue instead that the richness of ideas is accompanied by a poverty of evidence, with essentially no explanation of how and why our linguistic computations and representations evolved.,,,
    (Marc Hauser, Charles Yang, Robert Berwick, Ian Tattersall, Michael J. Ryan, Jeffrey Watumull, Noam Chomsky and Richard C. Lewontin, “The mystery of language evolution,” Frontiers in Psychology, Vol 5:401 (May 7, 2014).)
    Casey Luskin added: “It’s difficult to imagine much stronger words from a more prestigious collection of experts.”

    Best Selling author Tom Wolfe was so taken aback by this honest confession by leading Darwinists that he wrote a book on the subject. Wolfe provided a précis of his argument:

    “Speech is not one of man’s several unique attributes — speech is the attribute of all attributes!”
    – Wolfe

    “Speech is 95 percent plus of what lifts man above animal! Physically, man is a sad case. His teeth, including his incisors, which he calls eyeteeth, are baby-size and can barely penetrate the skin of a too-green apple. His claws can’t do anything but scratch him where he itches. His stringy-ligament body makes him a weakling compared to all the animals his size. Animals his size? In hand-to-paw, hand-to-claw, or hand-to-incisor combat, any animal his size would have him for lunch. Yet man owns or controls them all, every animal that exists, thanks to his superpower: speech.”
    —Tom Wolfe, in the introduction to his book, The Kingdom of Speech

    In other words, although humans are fairly defenseless creatures in the wild compared to other creatures, such as lions, bears, and sharks, etc.., nonetheless, humans have, completely contrary to Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ thinking, managed to become masters of the planet, not by brute force, but simply by our unique ability to communicate information and, more specifically, infuse information into material substrates in order to create, i.e. intelligently design, objects that are extremely useful for our defense, shelter, in procuring food, furtherance of our knowledge, and also for our pleasure.

    And although the ‘top-down’ infusion of immaterial information into material substrates, that allowed humans to become ‘masters of the planet’, was rather crude to begin with, (i.e. spears, arrows, and plows etc..), this top down infusion of immaterial information into material substrates has become much more impressive over the last half century or so.

    Specifically, the ‘top-down’ infusion of mathematical and/or logical information into material substrates lies at the very basis of many, if not all, of man’s most stunning, almost miraculous, technological advances in recent decades.

    Here are a couple of articles which clearly get this ‘top-down’ infusion of immaterial information point across:

    Here is one by Peter Tyson
    Describing Nature With Math By Peter Tyson – Nov. 2011
    Excerpt: Mathematics underlies virtually all of our technology today. James Maxwell’s four equations summarizing electromagnetism led directly to radio and all other forms of telecommunication. E = mc2 led directly to nuclear power and nuclear weapons. The equations of quantum mechanics made possible everything from transistors and semiconductors to electron microscopy and magnetic resonance imaging.
    Indeed, many of the technologies you and I enjoy every day simply would not work without mathematics. When you do a Google search, you’re relying on 19th-century algebra, on which the search engine’s algorithms are based. When you watch a movie, you may well be seeing mountains and other natural features that, while appearing as real as rock, arise entirely from mathematical models. When you play your iPod, you’re hearing a mathematical recreation of music that is stored digitally; your cell phone does the same in real time.
    “When you listen to a mobile phone, you’re not actually hearing the voice of the person speaking,” Devlin told me. “You’re hearing a mathematical recreation of that voice. That voice is reduced to mathematics.”

    Recognising Top-Down Causation – George Ellis
    Excerpt: page 5: A: Causal Efficacy of Non Physical entities:
    Both the program and the data are non-physical entities, indeed so is all software. A program is not a physical thing you can point to, but by Definition 2 it certainly exists. You can point to a CD or flashdrive where it is stored, but that is not the thing in itself: it is a medium in which it is stored.
    The program itself is an abstract entity, shaped by abstract logic. Is the software “nothing but” its realisation through a specific set of stored electronic states in the computer memory banks? No it is not because it is the precise pattern in those states that matters: a higher level relation that is not apparent at the scale of the electrons themselves. It’s a relational thing (and if you get the relations between the symbols wrong, so you have a syntax error, it will all come to a grinding halt). This abstract nature of software is realised in the concept of virtual machines, which occur at every level in the computer hierarchy except the bottom one [17]. But this tower of virtual machines causes physical effects in the real world, for example when a computer controls a robot in an assembly line to create physical artefacts.
    Excerpt page 7: The assumption that causation is bottom up only is wrong in biology, in computers, and even in many cases in physics, ,,,
    The mind is not a physical entity, but it certainly is causally effective: proof is the existence of the computer on which you are reading this text. It could not exist if it had not been designed and manufactured according to someone’s plans, thereby proving the causal efficacy of thoughts, which like computer programs and data are not physical entities.

    What is more interesting still, besides the fact that humans have a unique ability to understand and create information and have come to dominate the world through the ‘top-down’ infusion of information into material substrates, is the fact that, due to advances in science, both the universe and life itself are now found to be ‘information theoretic’ in their foundational basis.

    Renowned physicist John Wheeler stated “in short all matter and all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and this is a participatory universe”.

    “it from bit” Every “it”— every particle, every field of force, even the space-time continuum itself derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely—even if in some contexts indirectly—from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, bits. “It from bit” symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has a bottom—a very deep bottom, in most instances, an immaterial source and explanation, that which we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment—evoked responses, in short all matter and all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and this is a participatory universe.”
    – Princeton University physicist John Wheeler (1911–2008) (Wheeler, John A. (1990), “Information, physics, quantum: The search for links”, in W. Zurek, Complexity, Entropy, and the Physics of Information (Redwood City, California: Addison-Wesley))

    In the following article, Anton Zeilinger, a leading expert in quantum mechanics, stated that ‘it may very well be said that information is the irreducible kernel from which everything else flows.’

    Why the Quantum? It from Bit? A Participatory Universe?
    Excerpt: In conclusion, it may very well be said that information is the irreducible kernel from which everything else flows. Thence the question why nature appears quantized is simply a consequence of the fact that information itself is quantized by necessity. It might even be fair to observe that the concept that information is fundamental is very old knowledge of humanity, witness for example the beginning of gospel according to John: “In the beginning was the Word.”
    Anton Zeilinger – a leading expert in quantum mechanics:

    In the following video at the 48:24 mark, Anton Zeilinger states that “It is operationally impossible to separate Reality and Information” and he goes on to note, at the 49:45 mark, the Theological significance of “In the Beginning was the Word” John 1:1

    48:24 mark: “It is operationally impossible to separate Reality and Information”
    49:45 mark: “In the Beginning was the Word” John 1:1
    Prof Anton Zeilinger speaks on quantum physics. at UCT – video

    Vlatko Vedral, who is a Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford, and who is also a recognized leader in the field of quantum mechanics, states,

    “The most fundamental definition of reality is not matter or energy, but information–and it is the processing of information that lies at the root of all physical, biological, economic, and social phenomena.”
    Vlatko Vedral – Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford, and CQT (Centre for Quantum Technologies) at the National University of Singapore, and a Fellow of Wolfson College – a recognized leader in the field of quantum mechanics.

    Moreover, besides being foundational to physical reality, information, as Intelligent Design advocates are constantly pointing out to Darwinists, is also found to be ‘infused’ into biological life.

    Information Enigma (Where did the information in life come from?) – – Stephen Meyer – Doug Axe – video

    Complex grammar of the genomic language – November 9, 2015
    Excerpt: The ‘grammar’ of the human genetic code is more complex than that of even the most intricately constructed spoken languages in the world. The findings explain why the human genome is so difficult to decipher –,,,
    ,,, in their recent study in Nature, the Taipale team examines the binding preferences of pairs of transcription factors, and systematically maps the compound DNA words they bind to.
    Their analysis reveals that the grammar of the genetic code is much more complex than that of even the most complex human languages. Instead of simply joining two words together by deleting a space, the individual words that are joined together in compound DNA words are altered, leading to a large number of completely new words.

    Biophysics – Information theory. Relation between information and entropy: – Setlow-Pollard, Ed. Addison Wesley
    Excerpt: Linschitz gave the figure 9.3 x 10^12 cal/deg or 9.3 x 10^12 x 4.2 joules/deg for the entropy of a bacterial cell. Using the relation H = S/(k In 2), we find that the information content is 4 x 10^12 bits. Morowitz’ deduction from the work of Bayne-Jones and Rhees gives the lower value of 5.6 x 10^11 bits, which is still in the neighborhood of 10^12 bits. Thus two quite different approaches give rather concordant figures.

    “a one-celled bacterium, e. coli, is estimated to contain the equivalent of 100 million pages of Encyclopedia Britannica. Expressed in information in science jargon, this would be the same as 10^12 bits of information. In comparison, the total writings from classical Greek Civilization is only 10^9 bits, and the largest libraries in the world – The British Museum, Oxford Bodleian Library, New York Public Library, Harvard Widenier Library, and the Moscow Lenin Library – have about 10 million volumes or 10^12 bits.” – R. C. Wysong

    ‘The information content of a simple cell has been estimated as around 10^12 bits, comparable to about a hundred million pages of the Encyclopedia Britannica.”
    Carl Sagan, “Life” in Encyclopedia Britannica: Macropaedia (1974 ed.), pp. 893-894

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    It is hard to imagine a more convincing scientific proof that we are made ‘in the image of God’ than finding both the universe, and life itself, are both ‘information theoretic’ in their foundational basis, and that we, of all the creatures on earth, uniquely possess an ability to understand and create information, and, moreover, have come to ‘master the planet’ precisely because of our unique ability infuse information into material substrates.

    Perhaps a more convincing evidence that we are made in the image of God could be if God Himself became a man, defeated death on a cross, and then rose from the dead to prove that He was indeed God.
    But who has ever heard of such overwhelming evidence as that?

    Resurrection of Jesus Christ as the ‘Theory of Everything’ – Centrality Concerns – video

    Shroud of Turin: From discovery of Photographic Negative, to 3D Information, to Quantum Hologram – video

    Astonishing discovery at Christ’s tomb supports Turin Shroud – NOV 26TH 2016
    Excerpt: The first attempts made to reproduce the face on the Shroud by radiation, used a CO2 laser which produced an image on a linen fabric that is similar at a macroscopic level. However, microscopic analysis showed a coloring that is too deep and many charred linen threads, features that are incompatible with the Shroud image. Instead, the results of ENEA “show that a short and intense burst of VUV directional radiation can color a linen cloth so as to reproduce many of the peculiar characteristics of the body image on the Shroud of Turin, including shades of color, the surface color of the fibrils of the outer linen fabric, and the absence of fluorescence”.
    ‘However, Enea scientists warn, “it should be noted that the total power of VUV radiations required to instantly color the surface of linen that corresponds to a human of average height, body surface area equal to = 2000 MW/cm2 17000 cm2 = 34 thousand billion watts makes it impractical today to reproduce the entire Shroud image using a single laser excimer, since this power cannot be produced by any VUV light source built to date (the most powerful available on the market come to several billion watts )”.
    The ENEA study of the Holy Shroud of Turin concluded that it would take 34 Thousand Billion Watts of VUV radiations to make the image on the shroud. This output of electromagnetic energy remains beyond human technology.

    Verses and Music:

    Genesis 1:26
    And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

    John 1:1-4
    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, and that life was the Light of men.

    Colossians 1:15-20
    The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Leave a Reply