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When Noam Chomsky flirted with not being a Darwinist

Noam Chomsky portrait 2017.jpg
Noam Chomsky 2017/sigma, Creative Commons

Linguist Noel Rude (Native American languages) writes,

Recently listened to “Noam Chomsky speaks about Universal Linguistics: Origins of Language” on YouTube. The talk was at Winona State University in Minnesota on March 20, 1998. This is about 20 years back, and the man could more comfortably sound like an ID person than he could now. He is a Cartesian, meaning that for all practical purposes he accepts the mind-body distinction, that is, that human language is creative yet operates within the parameters of grammar that is innate. Yet he says there is no physical-mental distinction because there is no physical. Newton’s law of gravitation–an attractive force at a distance–is as mystical and unexplainable as the telekinesis of a psychic (if such exists).

I think he’s right. We know a lot less then we think we do.

Chomsky concedes, likely as a bone to the Darwinistas, that much in biology is poorly designed (the spine, for ex.). But human language, he says, evinces “optimal design”. A lot of what he says here has since been disputed and even ridiculed–and Chomsky has his failings–but he is brilliant and the notions expressed here have not been disproved.

In the Q & A afterwards, someone asked about grammatical “case”–y’all may remember me waxing ineloquent on this–on how the only way to deal with it cross linguistically (universally) is to admit that the basic components within the clause are consciousness and agency. How is it that Chomsky, so good on linguistic creativity, on the inadequacy of stimulus-response, etc., is seemingly unwilling to admit to the vast amount of work on case (grammatical relations) that is disconcerting to the materialist.

Listen to him and see him demolish materialism.

Note: Noam Chomsky’s widely publicized concerns about media manipulation (2002) may have been a bit of a distraction. The internet changes everything. The manipulation is still there but the hands under the puppets don’t necessarily work the same way now.

See also: Noel Rude on Tom Wolfe’s The Kingdom of Speech wherein Wolfe attacks Chomsky It doesn’t sound like either of them is a Darwinist at heart but allowing the trolls to know that just now would be pretty foolhardy.

@Bob O'H, true, but the effectiveness of machine learning is inexplicable on materialistic terms. A) Most bitstrings have no structure, thus are unlearnable. The fact there is so much learnable structure in our world is inexplicable. B) Chaitin's incompleteness theorem means most algorithms cannot learn most structures. The fact we effectively match algorithms to structured problems is inexplicable. EricMH
EricMH - machine learning??! I can assure you my computer doesn't have a soul. Bob O'H
It'd be interesting to look at just how many fields are best explained by non-naturalistic premises. Other candidates are: - psychology - sociology - neuroscience - philosophy - mathematics - theology - history - anthropology - machine learning - software engineering EricMH

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