Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Tom Wolfe 1931-2018


Tom Wolfe was the author of The Kingdom of Speech, in which he doubted a fully natural origin for human language.

From Deirdre Carmody and William Grimes at the New York Times:

In the end it was his ear — acute and finely tuned — that served him best and enabled him to write with perfect pitch. And then there was his considerable writing talent.

“There is this about Tom,” Mr. Dobell, Mr. Wolfe’s editor at Esquire, told the London newspaper The Independent in 1998. “He has this unique gift of language that sets him apart as Tom Wolfe. It is full of hyperbole; it is brilliant; it is funny, and he has a wonderful ear for how people look and feel. More.

From Ed Driscoll at PJ Media re The Kingdom of Speech:

The Kingdom of Speech generally follows the outline of The Painted Word and From Bauhaus to Our House. Here, at age 85, Wolfe is still hunting the biggest of big game—the Bernstein-esque (or even god-like) figures of Noam Chomsky and Charles Darwin himself.

Making a documentary on intelligent design in 2008 slammed many doors shut on economist/pundit Ben Stein’s part-time Hollywood career as a deadpan commercial pitchman and TV guest star. Perhaps as a result, given what sacred cows Darwin and Chomsky are in the intertwined worlds of leftwing academia and pop culture intellectualism, Wolfe knows he needs to walk a fine line.

Or as Wolfe writes in The Kingdom of Speech after comparing Darwin’s The Descent of Man to Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, after noticing both men certainly did a lot of anthropomorphizing of primitive animals, “Kipling’s intention from the outset was to entertain children. Darwin’s intention, on the other hand, was dead serious and absolutely sincere in the name of science and his cosmogony. Neither had any evidence to back up his tale. Kipling, of course, never pretended to. But Darwin did. The first person to refer to Darwin’s tales as Just So Stories was a Harvard paleontologist and evolutionist, Stephen Jay Gould, in 1978. Orthodox neo-Darwinists never forgave him. Gould was not a heretic and not even an apostate. He was a simple profane sinner. He had called attention to the fact that Darwin’s Just So Stories required a feat of fiction writing Kipling couldn’t compete with. Darwin’s storytelling power soared in The Descent of Man precisely where it had to, i.e., in accounting for this perplexing business of language.” More.

Darwin, unlike Kipling, has career ruin to offer, via his followers, to aspiring scientists who step out of line. Wolfe had the guts to understand that and proceed.

In The Kingdom of Speech, he said,

By now, 2014 [when Chomsky’s critic Everett appeared], Evolution was more than a theory. It had become embedded in the very anatomy, the very central nervous system of all modern people. Every part, every tendency, of every living creature had evolved from some earlier life form—even if you had to go all the way back to Darwin’s “four or five cells floating in a warm pool somewhere” to find it. A title like “The Mystery of Language Evolution” was instinctive. It went without saying that any “trait” as important as speech had evolved… from something. Everett’s notion that speech had not evolved from anything—it was a “cultural tool” man had made for himself—was unthinkable to the vast majority of modern people. They had all been so deep-steeped in the Theory that anyone casting doubt upon it obviously had the mentality of a Flat Earther or a Methodist. (pp. 253–54) More.

Requiem aeternam dona ei

See also: Tom Wolfe on how speech let humans rule planet: Yet no one has any idea how language started.

Tom Wolfe: What we think we know re evolution wrong


Scientific American: Chomsky largely overturned It’s hard not to see this in relation to Tom Wolfe’s recent The Kingdom of Speech, where he sends up Chomsky along with Darwin.

The Kingdom of Speech - by Tom Wolfe 1. A brief book that is not so much about Speech as it is about toppling false prophets. We learn a great deal about the sordid intrigue that made Darwin the historic personality he is while keeping the lowly “fly catcher” Wallace in semi-obscurity. One hundred fifty years later, a somewhat parallel story develops between Noam Chomsky, the false prophet of speech evolution and Daniel Everett, the new “fly catcher” that (unlike Wallace) opposes the false prophet and begins the process of toppling him. Chomsky’s dogma captured on tens of thousands of pages or more and his cultural clout still holds as of today due to an army of followers built over decades and dependent on this dogma. But the damage has been done: Everett with one single study on the Piraha people has invalidated Chomsky’s conclusions. 2. Tom Wolfe’s irony cuts merciless into the dearest beliefs of the Evolutionary myth: a. We learn about the parallels between the evolution myth and Native American Creation myths. Yes, Evolution is nothing more than a Creation myth. b. “…the littlest creature (or “four or five” of them)…” points out the absurdity of this claim. Why one? Why four or five? Why make this utterly unsupported claim? c. Evolution is Cosmogony myth and not Science as the theory fails all five tests for scientific hypothesis: Observed? Replicated? Falsifiable? Predictive power? Illuminates other areas of science? “In the case of Evolution…well…no…no…no…no…and no”. d. Darwin’s “Just So Stories”, and “my dog” argument, especially in “The Descent of Man”. e. Dobzhansky’s synthesis of moribund Evolution theory with Genetics to revive the former, and his too categorical claim that "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution". f. Chomsky’s 2014 statement that “The evolution of the faculty of language largely remains an enigma” after decades of “knowing” language down to the math. 3. Language is important of course, and perhaps even “the most powerful tool invented by people, not innate and not biologically evolved” as the author concludes, but more important Take-Aways are the doubts cast on the very sacred and very inflexible, and ultimately very unscientific beliefs of the Evolution supporters. Furthermore, the amount of supporting literature and time passage have built an imposing structure around the concept of Evolution, but this structure rests on a very flimsy base at best and will likely come crumbling down sooner or later – the higher the structure, the more spectacular its demise. Nonlin.org
I was never a big fan of Tom Wolfe, but The Right Stuff was an amazing book. NASA and the government portrayed the Mercury astronauts as all American, clean cut heroes. Wolfe made them human, warts and all. But still people to be admired. The portrayal of John Glenn was amazing. On one hand, a caricature of the Dudley Do-Right Christian who wouldn’t say sh@t if his mouth was full of it. But on the other hand, a man who earned and deserved respect because he lived it every day of his life as opposed to giving it a superficial patina. Allan Keith
The study that motivated Wolfe to write "The Kingdom of Speech" was this one:
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.” http://www.evolutionnews.org/2014/12/leading_evoluti092141.html
To which Wolfe remarked,,,
Language Is a Rock Against Which Evolutionary Theory Wrecks Itself - Michael Egnor September 19, 2016 Excerpt: "The most fundamental questions about the origins and evolution of our linguistic capacity remain as mysterious as ever," [the authors] concluded. Not only that, they sounded ready to abandon all hope of ever finding the answer. Oh, we'll keep trying, they said gamely... but we'll have to start from zero again. One of the eight was the biggest name in the history of linguistics, Noam Chomsky. "In the last 40 years," he and the other seven were saying, "there has been an explosion of research on this problem," and all it had produced was a colossal waste of time by some of the greatest minds in academia.” - Tom Wolfe http://www.evolutionnews.org/2016/09/language_is_a_r103151.html
In the introduction of his book, Wolfe lays his argument out as such,,,
“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, for our pleasure, etc... 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.
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. http://fqxi.org/data/essay-contest-files/Ellis_FQXI_Essay_Ellis_2012.pdf
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: http://www.metanexus.net/archive/ultimate_reality/zeilinger.pdf
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 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3ZPWW5NOrw
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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aA-FcnLsF1g 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. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/11/151109140252.htm “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
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.
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.
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? Video and verse:
Quantum Mechanics, Special Relativity, General Relativity and Christianity - video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4QDy1Soolo 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.
The Right Stuff is awesome. Andrew asauber

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