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Mind-body problem-Chomsky/Nagel

by bohm2
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apeiron
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Feb4-12, 05:52 PM
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It's Chomsky's emphasis on just recursion alone that seems hard to swallow, I think. But I'm pretty sympathetic to Chomsky's argument against adaptionalism and his emphasis on physical constraints as argued here:
The Boeckx article is a good read. Nice on the philosophical history. Amusing in the conceit that the minimalist program may discover general cognitive primitives - making Chomskian linguistics again the heart of the cogsci revolution!

The point is that either/or approaches here are always going to distort the science. It is quite clear that adaptationalism can't be "everything". But then neither can rationalism. Instead, these are the two extremes that then allow a complexity to arise between them (the usual systems point of view).

So that is my problem with Chomsky - the extent to which he tries to make it all about rationalism (which leads to his programmatic rejection of E-language, mutterings about hopeful monsters, vague utterances about "other factors", etc). And equally it is why I would have a problem with SR behaviourism, or Dawkins/Dennett style neo-Darwinism. People are always splitting into opposing camps (representing the thesis and antithesis) and so failing to model the synthesis - the actual way extremes get mixed to form the resulting system.

So language evolution (and the saltatory mental change it created in H.sap, as Boeckx agrees) is going to be a mix of rationalist and empiricist factors - formal and material causes. This is just what systems are.

The question then is what are the forms that constrained language evolution? And have the Chomskyites identified the right targets for research?

Generally Chomsky's big thing has been hierarchical organisation (as the deep "cognitive" structure behind the "superficial" surface structure of the linear sentence).

But I keep pointing out that the hierarchy is not special to language. It is in fact the most general kind of organisational form. Hierarchical causality underpins the whole of reality in the systems view. And it certainly is the general form when it comes to brain architecture. So of course hierarchy is a big and foundational aspect of language, but it is not specific to language. It was not what was new when language first evolved!

Evo-devo suggests other targets for the significant change perhaps. At least, evo-devo as Boeckx understands it - the kind that focuses on self-organised criticality and edge of chaos type dynamical phenomenon. So maybe the essential rational form is something like Kauffman's autocatalytic sets?

Well yes, this kind of "Turing constraint" is important to the evo-devo approach. Creative self-organisation and dissipative structure are exactly the kind of potentials that life harnesses. This level of chemico-physical form is the raw material of biotic systems. But Boeckx is completely missing the more important realisation of theoretical biology - the still higher laws of form described by semiotics, modelling relations theory and the epistemic cut. All that Santa Fe brand complexity stuff, and Prigogine dissipative structure stuff, is a theory of nativist form for the physico-chemical realm of nature. Life/mind depends on a still more highly specified level of form.

The key, as I've said plenty of times, is the ability to construct constraints. Life/mind has semiotic mechanisms like genes and words (and in a lesser way, membranes, pores, axons, spikes) that can harness the Santa Fe/Prigogine/Turing style dynamical emergence. So if we are talking about embracing rational laws of form as a rightful part of science here, then that is what semiotics is about. It identifies the thing that is actually new and so marks a sharp evo-devo transition between the non-living and the living, the mindless and the mindful.

Semiotics is not the only candidate for the forms that define bios of course. The Bayesian paradigm has also emerged as something that seems very central to understanding life, and more especially mind. It captures the anticipatory aspect of any semiosis, and also roots the semiosis in something concretely measurable - information/entropy.

So there is a natural convergence going on there at the moment. Anticipation and constraint go together because a reduction in surprisal is dichotomously also a maximisation of behavioural variety. That is, the better you get at predicting the world, the more tightly defined become its surprises, and so in turn the more precisely you can learn the something new it takes to refine your future predictions.

Anyway, this illustrates - Boeckx's point - that none of us are naked adaptationalists here. It is basic to the systems' point of view that we must also identify the laws of form. But the system's POV also stresses that the laws of form are themselves a hierarchy. There are some very general laws (like hierarchical organisation), and then the more specified ones that identify the essential transitions, such as the kind that produce phase transitions in condensed matter physics, or separate life from non-life.

So what of language evolution? What, if anything, are the essential novelties that led to that saltatory change? What are its specific rational forms?

Recursion is not special to speech. But a strong separation between what Chomsky calls E- and I-language is. So it is in fact the relationship between the two that should be the focus of attention. It is the semiotic interaction that arises between the hierarchical (holistic) organisation and the serial (digitally-constained) expression that is the key. This is the justification for vocal tract/phonology arguments about language evolution. The first thing that had to happen was exactly this kind of serial constraint on hierarchical output.

But there is more. The step from phonology to semantics is the tricky one. And it contains the further question of whether this step was achieved mainly by genetics or by cultural learning. Although in fact - from a "laws of form" perspective - this does not really matter so much. The answer is that it is going to be a bit of both most likely. And either way, it is the organising form that matters, not the material, the medium, in which the change became encoded - biological or cultural evolution. If you are indeed embracing rationalism, then the nature vs nurture dichotomy has even less force because the action lies now somewhere more "Platonic".

Now there are two aspects to the semantics of speech - the way words, mere noises, encode meanings. And in good systems fashion, one is local, one global. Or one lexical, one syntactical.

So you have the lexical. Words, through associative learning, come to stand for particular meanings - they are symbols that reliably constrain our state of thought (or more properly, given a Bayesian perspective, constrain our state of expectation). A word like "cat" or "blue" exerts a top-down boundedness on our current thinking. And then words can be freely combined to construct even more constrained states of thought - as of course the mimimalist program recognises with its focus on the operation of merge.

So part of UG is this "universal lexicon", this ability to construct bottom-up the states of mental constraint, Bayesian expectation, that normally, in animals, only exists as top-down hierarchical organisation.

That is a genuine evolutionary novelty. It is not completely novel because, as said, genes also do the semiotic trick of constructing constraints. But it does seem a purer, less restricted, form of semiosis, or symbolism. And it may have its own completely novel aspects. Well, that is the kind of research question that can be posed once it is accepted that we are indeed exploring the laws of form, and their hierarchical complexification.

But then there is the global aspect of semantics - which the minimalist progam would appear to hope to cover with the operation of move. And this is the way that there is organising meaning at the level of sentences. Or as Chomskyites would prefer to see it, I-language.

To cut a long story short, my view is that the saltatory step here was the evolution of subject-verb-object sentence structure. Because what this did was encode the notion of efficient cause. It created the crisp mental habit of reducing reality to statements of cause and effect logic - tales of who did what to whom.

The animal mind is holistic in modelling reality. It does of course pick out efficient cause - that is what SR Behaviourism was all about. But it only does this in a contextual or situational fashion. So efficient cause remains entangled with an accompanying set of material, formal and final causes so far as the animal is concerned. A symbol like the ringing of a bell only has a meaning in a particular context (which includes final causes like whether you happen to be hungry or not, as well as other aspects of context like a history of reward in a similar experimental set-up).

So - again as Boeckx recognises - the new trick was to be able to break out of the animal mode of thought by being able to construct generalisations. Generalised models of efficient causality.

The question then arises whether this Rubicon step was a matter of biological or cultural evolution? The key thing is that this is a rational principle (what could be more rational than going back to Aristotle's foundational analysis of causality?). So what matters here is to identify it as the general crucial novelty in the human story. But then the question of whether the step was genetic or memetic is a valid subsidiary research question of interest to the paleolinguist.

So does the brain seem innately wired for subject~object distinctions? Or is the formal idea of efficient cause - the Newtonian idea that there is always a pusher and a pushee - just extremely learnable because the brain was preadapted to making long-range phonal connections?

I think the current evidence suggests that the brain is genetically more general purpose, and the habit of forming subject-verb-object structure sentences was a pretty sudden cultural invention. It crystalised a way of viewing and remembering the world that was so powerful that the small group of H.saps who developed it, took off and never looked back. Though as a meme, no reason why it would not have spread through social contact and migration.

So to sum up, rationalism is as essential to the full evolutionary view taken by systems science and theoretical biology as empiricism. The holistic view of causes demands that we seek the laws of form - the universal constraints of reality - as much as its fundamental materials, the stuff out of which complexly ordered realities get constructed.

There is then going to be a hierarchy of the laws of form. There is an emergent story in which simplicity develops into complexity. And novelties in form, in the nature of constraints, will mark the major observed transitions.

As we agree, the animal/human transition is a major one. So we should expect novel constraints to be one half of the explanation (the other half being the material/effective causes beloved of neo-Darwinism).

Chomsky certainly puts forward candidates for these novel forms. First UG, then principles and parameters, now the minimalist program. But Chomsky has always been hamstrung by his rationalist prejudices. He wants it to be the whole story (which become Platonism). And it has caused him to miss the aspects of formal organisation which are in fact the critical ones when it comes to life/mind. ie: the semiosis, the serial constraint, the epistemic cut, the Bayesian prediction.

But from an evolutionary perspective, we would expect to see a phonology-first emergence of a formal organisation (the serial constraint on hierarchical output) because otherwise how else could the necessary biological pre-adaptations be explained? The evolution of the vocal tract demands a theory, it can't be treated as a hopeful monster, and even a spandrel is pretty limp (the whole spandrel concept is weak, like all Gould's proto-evo-devo work really - again Boeckx is on the mark there).

Then the jump from phonal machinery to semantic/semiotic mechanism is a short one, in terms of further material change at least. But quickly revolutionary in terms of formal change of course. Suddenly H.sap had the machinery to construct words and sentences. To locally constrain states of thought to exact meanings, and to globally organise states of thought so that they articulated statements of efficient cause.

Suddenly you had a rational being (oh the irony!). Humans with the mental habit of viewing absolutely everything through the universal prism of cause and effect logic. And likewise, finding it hard not to reduce everything to just this one notion of cause.

The reason that there are not many systems scientists about is that the very tool of human thought - our SOV-based language - works against thinking in any other more holistic fashion.

And even the rationalists - those claiming to be investigating the laws of form - are still thinking in terms of efficient cause. Chomskyian UG is typical in talking about how hierarchical structure gets constructed from the bottom-up (when the brain itself is decomposing vague intentions into crisp hierarchical states of organisation, working from the top-down - again, the Bayesian view where global expectations constrain the information processing).

The very terms that Chomsky chooses - like I-language - betrays this basic misorientation. He sees the deep structure, ie: the global constraints of hierarchical form - as "inside". But to be more global - to be contextual and situational - the I-language has to be in fact "outside", larger in scale. It is a small but significant terminological confusion. It already sets a field on the wrong path.

Boeckx also gets things back to front with his hopeful claim that the minimalist program will prove to be foundational to the evo-devo rationalist project generally. The paleolinguistic question is certainly right at the heart of things - it is where material complexity, in the form of the human mind, is indeed the most complex. And a specific theory of the formal novelties is going to be required.

But it is hardly then foundational. Quite the reverse. Systems science, condensed matter physics, dissipative structure theory and other modelling discourses are going to provide the more general laws of form here. Then paleolinguistics has to pick up the story of the further specific laws that emerged at the crucial saltatory transition of grammatically-structured speech.
apeiron
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Feb4-12, 07:40 PM
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Quote Quote by bohm2 View Post
Bickerton also hi-lites some problems with treating language as evolving out of prior means of communication or social interaction, etc.
You equate cultural change with evolution or do you mean something different? Consider Bickerton's argument:
I find Bickerton to be both usefully clear and quite disingenuous in his paper.

There is of course no actual argument made against cultural evolution here. And semiosis spells out just why words are like genes (as rate independent constraints on rate dependent dynamics). So human cultural evolution is literally evolution in the broad view taken in theoretical biology. There is a memory mechanism, a serial/digital code.

Even if you don't believe this, you at least have to make the actual argument, which Bickerton is not doing.

Same with many other parts of Bickerton's paper. For instance, he insists it is impossible for gradual change to cause sudden change. And yet has he never heard of gases turning into liquids turning into solids due to steady incremental temperature or pressure changes?

Faced with saltatory change, phase transition stories are thus precisely what we should be looking for - the sudden emergence of new global constraints in a system.

What do they say about drunks looking for their lost keys under lamp posts? If your models of causality are as scientifically limited as Bickerton's, then you are indeed going to fail to find what you seek.

[Edit: I should add that Bickerton is wrong to claim that biological evolution has stopped - remember this earlier discussion? http://www.physicsforums.com/showpos...postcount=312]
bohm2
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Feb4-12, 10:39 PM
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[Edit: I should add that Bickerton is wrong to claim that biological evolution has stopped - remember this earlier discussion? http://www.physicsforums.com/showpos...postcount=312]
Yes, he should have been more precise and say there's no gross evolutionary changes, particularly with language. So, take a human infant from any part of the planet today or over the past ~50,000-100,000 years and bring them up in today's society. Do you think they would have any problems in learning the local language, going to school, etc? Are there any differences between the different world cultures with respect to lingustic abilities?

I'm sympathetic to Steven Pinker's quote here:
the universality of complex language is a discovery that fills linguists with awe. This is a primary reason for suspecting that it is “the product of a special human instinct rather than purely cultural invention.” Language then, unlike other cultural developments, is always highly sophisticated. “There are Stone Age societies, but there is no such thing as a Stone Age language.” He quotes anthropological linguist Edward Sapir, who declared, “When it comes to linguistic form, Plato walks with the Macedonian swineherd, Confucius with the head-hunting savage of Assam.”
The thing that is kind of interesting to me and also confuses me is this Peirce quote by Chomsky in the 1960s:
Man is "provided with certain natural beliefs that are true" because "certain uniformities prevail throughout the universe, and the reasoning mind is itself a product of this universe. These same laws are thus, by logical necessity, incorporated in his own being"...He held that innate limitations on admissible hypotheses are a precondition for successful theory construction, and that the “guessing instinct” that provides hypotheses makes use of inductive procedures only for “corrective action,” Peirce maintained in this lecture that the history of early science shows that something approximating a correct theory was discovered with remarkable ease and rapidity, on the basis of highly inadequate data, as soon as certain problems were faced; he noted “how few were the guesses that men of surpassing genius had to make before they rightly guessed the laws of nature.” And, he asked, “How was it that man was ever led to entertain that true theory? You cannot say that it happened by chance, because the chances are too overwhelmingly against the single true theory in the twenty or thirty thousand years during which man has been a thinking animal, ever having come into any man’s head.”...Continuing with Peirce: “Man’s mind has a natural adaptation to imagining correct theories of some kinds.... If man had not the gift of a mind adapted to his requirements, he could not have acquired any knowledge...
Now, at first one would think that Chomsky is agreeing with Peirce, especially because he did/does believe that evolution of our higher cognitive structures like language/math/science may not be explained by natural selection alone but require as yet not understood physical principles/constraints/laws, etc. but he doesn't. For he writes:
But the fact that the mind is a product of natural laws does not imply that it is equipped to understand the laws or to arrive at them by "abduction". There would be no difficulty in designing a device (say, programming a computer) that is a product of natural law, but that, given data, will arrive at any arbitrary absurd theory to explain these data.
apeiron
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Feb5-12, 01:28 AM
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Are there any differences between the different world cultures with respect to lingustic abilities?
Surprisingly little given the degree of genetic change - which again suggests that the logical heart of language is more cultural than biological. SOV is more of an idea than a trait.

I see you instead want to insist that the genes involved in language/cognition must be then the part of the genome that in fact has remained stable in the face of continued change elsewhere.

But where is the evidence for that? And more tellingly, would a Chomskyite now have to argue that language/cognition is under strong selective pressure - sufficient to stabilise it at some pre-50kya setting? Or instead, that as a hopeful monster event, this part of the genome somehow got stuck, immune to further selective tuning?

Either way, the more you try to load onto the genetic basis, the more troubling the fact of continued evolution of the rest of the human genome must be. If our digestion, skin colour, muscle fibre composition, etc, are all easy to evolve, then why did cognitive abilities get frozen? What was stopping runaway improvements in working memory, critical learning periods, etc?

On the other hand, if the invention of SOV modelling of efficient causality was a one-time game changer, then it makes more sense that continued genetic change has not seen much change in base cognitive ability.

Quote Quote by bohm2 View Post
The thing that is kind of interesting to me and also confuses me is this Peirce quote by Chomsky in the 1960s:
I believe he says Peirce seems right about this ability of abduction, but his explanation of it does not hold.

And I agree. As already discussed, Peirce returns to his Unitarian roots and gets too mystic, touched by the finger of god, at this point.

But Chomsky's purpose is to then use this "mystery of abduction" to suggest that evolution works occasionally in a similar fashion - making its inexplicable abductive jumps in genetic design, its hopeful monsters, that are not random leaps in the dark but instead intelligent and fruitful guesses.

It is baloney. But there you are. Chomsky is pretty much all alone when it comes to his hopeful monsters view of genetics.
bohm2
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Feb5-12, 02:46 PM
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Just to return to the mind-body problem here's an interesting quote from Penrose that seems in tune with Eddington's/McGinn's arguments:
(If) the phenomenon of consciousness (or mental experience) can arise only in the presence of some non-computational physical processes in the brain...(then)...one can presume...that such (putative) non-computational processes would also have to be inherent in the action of inanimate matter, since living human brains are ultimately composed of the same material, satisfying the same physical laws, as are the inaminate objects of the universe. We must therefore ask two things. First, why is it that the phenomenon of consciousness appears to occur, as far as we know, only in or relation to brains-although we should not rule out the possibility that consciousness might be present also in other appropriate physical systems? Second, we must ask how could it be that such a seemingly important (putative) ingredient as non-computational behaviour, presumed to be inherent-potentially, at least-in the actions of all material things, so far has entirely escaped the notice of physicists? No doubt the answer to the first question has something to do with the subtle and complex organization of the brain...with regard to the second question, we must indeed expect that vestiges of such non-computability should also be present, at some indiscernible level, in inaminate matter...For physics to be able to accomodate something as foreign to our current physical picture as is the phenomenon of consciousness, we must expect a profound change-one that alters the very underpinnings of our philosophical viewpoint as to the nature of reality.
Shadows of the mind
http://books.google.ca/books?id=gDbO...usness&f=false
apeiron
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Feb5-12, 06:11 PM
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Just to return to the mind-body problem here's an interesting quote from Penrose that seems in tune with Eddington's/McGinn's arguments:

...No doubt the answer to the first question has something to do with the subtle and complex organization of the brain....we must indeed expect that vestiges of such non-computability should also be present, at some indiscernible level, in inaminate matter...
Yes, some things have been clarified. Generally, our models of reality have to deal with both substance and form as fundamental issues. Reductionism does this by talking about local materials which have inherent properties, while the holistic or systems view of reality talks about local degrees of freedom in interaction with global bounding constraints.

So a panpsychist is reductionist in seeking an explanation to something "higher order" like complexity or mind in terms of the micro-scale properties of the material realm, while the equivalent systems project is pansemiosis - the search for the ultimately simple, yet essentially scalefree, description of the "localised degrees of freedom in interaction with global constraints" relationship.

Penrose starts out acknowledging the importance of formal cause - global organisation - but his thinking quickly collapses into the search for some panpsychic property of matter.

His "non-computability" is of course the same as Peirce's abduction in talking about the ability of minds to think holistically about causality. Computability is again just the world according to SOV logic - modelling in terms of efficient causality, simple deterministic cause-and-effect. And the "non-computable" part of thought is the abductive jump to general principles, such as axioms, which then can be tested against reality for their pragmatic value. Humans can cope with vagueness or indeterminacy as a starting point for forming a systems view of what is going on. Turing machines can't.

Penrose - a card-carrying Platonist - does try to make some kind of systems sense of the issue with his "three worlds/three mysteries" model of metaphysics. He creates a self-closing circle of the three realms of form, material and mind. He says each arises from some small part of the prior and then fully encompasses the latter. So mind arises from a small part of total material possibility, form arises from a small part of total mental possibility, and materiality arises from a small part of total formal possibility. You go round in a circle with each realm having a restricted starting point that then unfolds into a new species of causal action.



So this is beyond dualism, and is a triadic story (like Popper, and of course Peirce/hierarchy theory).

As a grand metaphysical view, it has the interesting ring of truth to it perhaps. It seems superficially attractive.

But consider what is actally going on. First it fails completely as a causal model. It is not telling us in what way each realm creates the next - in either a constructive or constraining fashion.

And then it only works at all by confounding the human creation of formal concepts (ie: epistemology, the modelling relation) with the actual existence of formal cause (ie: an ontological acceptance of the downward causality due to constraints). And also of course by accepting an ontological dualism of the mental and the material.

So (as befits a topologist ) he posits three ontic realms - formal, material, mental - then glues them into a circle by an illegal splicing of the formal realm. The mind's epistemic generation of mathematical models gets discretely twisted into the ontic concept of formal causality so that the connection can be made back to the material realm.

Confused? Penrose certainly is.

The Peircean or systems view does it differently. All arises out of the one-ness (firstness) of vagueness, then via dichotomistic separation (secondness) becomes the triadic causal relationship of a hierarchy (thirdness).

So it is a developmental view rather than the circular or Ouroboros logic Penrose uses. And it is a causal view because you end up with global constraints in interaction with local degrees of freedom (as the formal and material "realms"). And then you get reality itself as that which arises due to the action of this causality on a ground of raw potential, or vagueness. So reality is just whatever crisply exists within the constrasting limits of upwards and downwards causes. And this reality spans the gamut from the simple to the complex.

Something further is then required to explain this spectrum. Which is where some kind of thermodynamics must come in. Complexity is tied to the dissipation of gradients. Negentropy is the partner of entropification.

Which gets us back to pansemiosis - the story of how constraints get constructed. This is something that happens over all scales, from the simple to the complex. And the "realm" of mind is semiosis at its most negentropic, at its most complex. The reductionist question that Penrose wants to ask then comes down to an understanding of semiotic mechanism - what is the "least" form it takes. When the material world is being organised by downwards constraint, what is the simplest possible example of this kind of interaction?

As said, reality has gone through some phase transitions so far as semiosis is concerned. You have a step from genomic to memetic semiosis. And an even bigger one from a-biotic to biotic semiosis (as in the step from non-living dissipative structures such as gyres to living ones such as cells). The project for pansemiosis is then to define the essential causal mechanism in a way so general that it can encompass all these complicating transitions.

Panpsychism? Well that has only ever proved to be a cul-de-sac of metaphysical thought. An easy and tempting path for the reductionist to head down. But it is a blind alley, leading nowhere.

Penrose tries to suggest there is a magic door out of this cul-de-sac - his topology cut-and-splice trick with epistemology/ontology which rotates you through human modelling and back out into formal cause behind the concealing cloak of a "third Platonic realm".

Shazzam, a theatrical wave of the wand, and you are stumbling blinking again into the street marked Materialism, ready for your next go-around of his Ouroboros coil.

A systems theorists instead says there are no "local properties", only a top-down restriction on degrees of freedom that thus creates degrees of freedom of some definite kind. The material "realm" is just as much an emergent aspect of reality as the global constraints which constitute "Plato's Heaven".

Which is not a bad thing, because all definite things are emergent in the systems view.
bohm2
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Feb5-12, 10:51 PM
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I never understood what is meant by the Platonic world. I always considered abstract objects like mathematical objects as mental stuff. So when Penrose writes this quote for me this seems more an argument for mathematical objects being innate and mental stuff:

There is perhaps something mysterious, however, in the fact that we do seem to know instinctively what the natural numbers actually are. For as children (or adults) we are provided with just a comparatively small number of descriptions as to what 'zero', 'one', 'two', 'three', etc., mean ('three oranges', 'one banana', etc.); yet, we can grasp the entire concept despite this inadequacy. In some Platonic sense, the natural numbers seem to be things that have an absolute conceptual existence independent of ourselves. Notwithstanding such human independence, we are able intellectually, to make contact with the actual natural-number concept from merely these vague and seemingly inadequate descriptions.
I mean except for being quite specific, this isn't different than the way internalists like Chomsky treat linguistic concepts:
The cognitive revolution of the 17th century also led to inquiry into the nature of concepts, with important contemporary implications, also insufficiently appreciated. Aristotle had recognized that the objects to which we refer in using language cannot be identified by their material substance. A house, he pointed out, is not merely a collection of bricks and wood, but is defined in part by its function and design: a place for people to live and store their possessions, and so on. In Aristotle’s terms, a house is a combination of matter and form. Notice that his account is metaphysical: he is defining what a house is, not the word or idea “house.” That approach led to hopeless conundrums. The ship of Theseus is a classic case that may be familiar from philosophy courses; Saul Kripke’s puzzle about belief is a modern variant. With the cognitive turn of the 17th century these questions were reframed in terms of operations of the mind: what does the word “house” mean, and how do we use it to refer. Pursuing that course we find that for natural language there is no word-object relation, where objects are mind-independent entities. That becomes very clear for Aristotle’s example, the word house, when we look into its meaning more closely. Its “form” in the Aristotelian sense is vastly more intricate than he assumed. Furthermore, the conundrums based on the myth of a wordobject relation dissolve, when viewed from this perspective, which I believe has ample empirical support...In all such cases, there is no mind-independent object, which could in principle be identified by a physicist, related to the name. As we proceed, we find much more intricate properties, no matter how simple the terms of language we investigate. As Hume and others recognized, for natural language and thought there is no meaningful word-object relation because we do not think or talk about the world in terms of mind-independent objects; rather, we focus attention on intricate aspects of the world by resort to our cognoscitive powers. Accordingly, for natural language and thought there is no notion of reference in the sense of the modern philosophical tradition, developed in the work of Frege, Peirce, Russell, Tarski, Carnap, Quine, and others, or contemporary theorists of reference: “externalists,” in contemporary terminology. These technical concepts are fine for the purpose for which they were originally invented: formal systems where the symbols, objects, and relations are stipulated. Arguably they also provide a norm for science: its goal is to construct systems in which terms really do pick out an identifiable mindindependent element of the world, like “neutron,” or “noun phrase.” But human language and thought do not work that way.
It's not surrprising that Chomsky thinks the two are related:
Nonetheless, it is interesting to ask whether this operation is language-specific. We know that it is not. The classic illustration is the system of natural numbers. That brings up a problem posed by Alfred Russell Wallace 125 years ago: in his words, the “gigantic development of the mathematical capacity is wholly unexplained by the theory of natural selection, and must be due to some altogether distinct cause,” if only because it remained unused. One possibility is that it is derivative from language. It is not hard to show that if the lexicon is reduced to a single element, then unbounded Merge will yield arithmetic. Speculations about the origin of the mathematical capacity as an abstraction from linguistic operations are familiar, as are criticisms, including apparent dissociation with lesions and diversity of localization. The significance of such phenomena, however, is far from clear; they relate to use of the capacity, not its possession. For similar reasons, dissociations do not show that the capacity to read is not parasitic on the language faculty.
Some simple evo-devo theses: how true might they be for language?
https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q...gO76OQ4A&pli=1

To be honest, the more I read on this stuff, the more I'm persuaded by both the internalist and nativist view.
apeiron
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Feb6-12, 12:13 AM
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I never understood what is meant by the Platonic world. I always considered abstract objects like mathematical objects as mental stuff.
But that quote from Penrose says the opposite.

In some Platonic sense, the natural numbers seem to be things that have an absolute conceptual existence independent of ourselves.
Even if the ontic status of the natural numbers (and other mathematical forms) is "conceptual", he is still claiming an ontic and not an epistemic distinction.

And I don't actually disagree with the idea that forms objectively exist in some fashion (as well as also having a separate epistemic existence as the models humans may create of them).

Rather what I was drawing attention to was the way Penrose does make the mistake of mind/matter dualism, that he does confuse the epistemic and the ontic in his characterisation of the "Platonic mathematical world" so as to set-up his triangular circuit, and he fails to take a systems-style view of the relationship between form and substance, such as for example Aristotle's doctrine of hylomorphic form.

The Aristotlean approach differs in crucial details, such as the fact that the only forms that "objectively exist" are the ones that are indeed materially possible. Penrose explicitly says that he sees all mathematical truths as "objectively existing", even if only a limited subset then are materially incarnated in the "physical world".

So these are not just minor quibbles.

You say you view abstract objects as just mental creations. That is fine as an epistemological view. We would say concrete objects - energy, particles, charge - are just as much free creations of the human mind.

But Platonism is about ontology. And it is just as big a metaphysical claim to say abstract objects don't exist as to assert they do. Neither view is uncontroversial. And a major part of the systems view is showing how forms can objectively exist as "constraints".

Calling them abstract objects creates the problem that it sounds as though you want to grant them material existence. But that is exactly - dichotomously - what they mustn't have. So instead we give them a name that makes it clear in what sense they exist. Ie: in the fashion of global constraints.

Quote Quote by bohm2 View Post
To be honest, the more I read on this stuff, the more I'm persuaded by both the internalist and nativist view.
I'm delighted.
apeiron
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Feb7-12, 12:36 AM
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Chomsky really confuses me. Peerhaps you can clarify....

A house, he pointed out, is not merely a collection of bricks and wood, but is defined in part by its function and design: a place for people to live and store their possessions, and so on. In Aristotle’s terms, a house is a combination of matter and form.
Yes exactly. An object has four causes. There are its locally constructive causes - the material and the effective. Then there are also its global constraints, its top-down causes, of the formal and final.

Notice that his account is metaphysical: he is defining what a house is, not the word or idea “house.” That approach led to hopeless conundrums. The ship of Theseus is a classic case that may be familiar from philosophy courses; Saul Kripke’s puzzle about belief is a modern variant.
Err, how is the ship of Theseus a problem here? Especially from the lexical point of view?

If the essence of a word is to act as a constraint on our thoughts, on our mental imagery, then the word for house should in fact be tied most to the notions of form and purpose.

A ship that has been completely rebuilt (effective cause) of new material (material cause) is still a ship precisely because neither the form (formal cause) nor purpose (final cause) have been affected.

Being pedantic, you might not say it is materially the same ship. But that is being pedantic because it is in fact the same ship in terms of the global constraints that prevail.

And if we were to actually start naming the materials from which it has been (re)constructed, then again - because words operate as constraints - we would talk about materials with some specific form and purpose, such as planks, or nails, or canvas, or pitch.

Pursuing that course we find that for natural language there is no word-object relation, where objects are mind-independent entities. That becomes very clear for Aristotle’s example, the word house, when we look into its meaning more closely. Its “form” in the Aristotelian sense is vastly more intricate than he assumed.
I am really lost here as I don't see in what sense Aristotle was assuming the form of a house to be something simple. As a label for a form, it is certainly very general. Other words, like cottage, castle, or condo, would conjure up a more specific mental image. So what point is Chomsky trying to make?

Furthermore, the conundrums based on the myth of a wordobject relation dissolve, when viewed from this perspective, which I believe has ample empirical support...In all such cases, there is no mind-independent object, which could in principle be identified by a physicist, related to the name.
It sounds like Chomsky believes that objective existence now has to be reserved for the material and effective causes of objects. Yet the Aristotelean view clearly states that the formal and final causes are equally much part of what is objectively real about an object. If they were lacking, the object could not in fact exist. There would be nothing for words to label.

It is not as if a house or ship is a house or ship because our minds are supplying their form and purpose, while the real world supplies their matter and the constructive actions?

As we proceed, we find much more intricate properties, no matter how simple the terms of language we investigate.
Yes, no matter how finely we divide reality, there always has to be all four causes, so there is always formal and final cause to constrain matter to have its definite "properties".

As Hume and others recognized, for natural language and thought there is no meaningful word-object relation because we do not think or talk about the world in terms of mind-independent objects; rather, we focus attention on intricate aspects of the world by resort to our cognoscitive powers.
No, lost again. I don't see how this follows from Aristotle's doctrine of hylomorphic form.

Accordingly, for natural language and thought there is no notion of reference in the sense of the modern philosophical tradition, developed in the work of Frege, Peirce, Russell, Tarski, Carnap, Quine, and others, or contemporary theorists of reference: “externalists,” in contemporary terminology.
OK, externalism is bad. Though I would wish for some actual definition of what Chomsky means by the term - what kind of objective fact does the word refer to?

And if he wants to deny Peirce's position on symbols - the idea that a physical token can stand for a semiotic relation - then I would like to see the working out here.

These technical concepts are fine for the purpose for which they were originally invented: formal systems where the symbols, objects, and relations are stipulated. Arguably they also provide a norm for science: its goal is to construct systems in which terms really do pick out an identifiable mind independent element of the world, like “neutron,” or “noun phrase.” But human language and thought do not work that way.
I see the claim, I just don't see anything but the claim. There is no working out provided. Perhaps you can provide it?
apeiron
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Feb7-12, 04:07 AM
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Reflecting further on the opinion expressed by Chomsky, I see that it nicely clarifies the essential claims of semiosis.

As I have noted, semiosis as used in systems science to explain life/mind boils down to the ability to construct constraints. This is the essential novelty that makes a difference. The capacity to harness natural physical processes by controlling their boundary conditions.

And human language is an example of this.

The mind already exists. The brains of animals have evolved to model reality very effectively. It has its own tale of semiotic mechanism based on neurons, synapses, spikes, etc. But as Behaviourism realises, the brain responds holistically. Its responses are situational, contextual.

Language then adds a new dimension to thought by supplying a way to construct states of mental constraint which abstract away the here and now. We can explore the what ifs, the might have beens, the never weres - the realm of rational speculation.

And then we can see that constraint - downward causality - is about form and finality. That is its essence. So that is also why our lexicon (and other "languages" like maths) deals primarily with the form and finality of the objects that furnish the world. Form and finality are naturally the basis for our semantics.

So this is the epistemological story: the lexicon is a collection of constraints that can be applied to the mind, and deals with the forms and purposes of the world. Effective cause is then embedded in syntax - language is based on sentences with a cause-and-effect structure. Material cause is then absent in the language system.

Well, of course it exists in the effort and noises we have to make to speak. There has to be a materiality to the act of speaking (and even thinking via our inner voice). But the energetic cost is zeroed in the same way that the hardware of a computer uses energy to compute, but it is designed so it does not care what it is computing. Every computational step costs the same, so in that way the material cost drops out of the equation. The software runs oblivious as the material effort involved is reduced to a constant factor.

And then there is the ontological situation. Back out in the real world, all four causes are fully and holistically at play. The material cost has to be included as part of the dynamical package.

From all this, you can better see why Chomsky is expressing a standard confusion about the nature of language and mathematics.

To simplify the situation (because it is complex), it is tempting to think that what exists "out there" is just the material and effective cause. And what exists "in here" is the formal and final cause necessary to complete the idea of an object.

So ontology is just the material realm, the bottom-up causality. Objectively objects are just a construction of substance.

And epistemology - our modelling of the world - then employs the immaterial notions of form and finality to make sense of the world. These things don't really exist. We just invent them.

That is a simple but incorrect view. The objective world in fact needs all its causes to exist. And the fact that the lexicon is a way to construct constraints (ie: supply what it takes to produce mental experiences of objects) is not the whole story of language (as Chomsky makes it out).

As said, effective cause gets encoded in syntactic habit (and it is revealing that Chomsky always sidesteps the issue of SOV structure, wanting to keep people focused on recursion, or merge - ie: the construction of hierarchically organised states of constraint).

And material cause is still part of the mental deal - even if it is there in the sense of being shrunk to zero so as to set up the epistemic cut which separates rate independent information from rate dependent dynamics in a semiotic system.
bohm2
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Feb8-12, 01:28 AM
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OK, externalism is bad. Though I would wish for some actual definition of what Chomsky means by the term - what kind of objective fact does the word refer to? And if he wants to deny Peirce's position on symbols - the idea that a physical token can stand for a semiotic relation - then I would like to see the working out here.
I posted his arguments before but here are some quotes:
The traditional conception of language is that it is, in Aristotle’s phrases, sound with meaning...Aristotle’s maxim should be inverted: language is meaning with sound, a rather different matter.

I cannot end without at least mentioning another extremely serious problem, which has been barely addressed. A computational procedure requires certain atoms of computation-in our case, a lexicon of minimal elements. But even the simplest of these pose fundamental problems: how do they relate to the mind-external world?

There are two aspects to the question: meaning and sound, the latter ancillary, if the reasoning above proves accurate. For sound, the answers lie in articulatory and acoustic phonetics. The problems are difficult. They have been studied intensively for many years, yielding some answers but leaving many outstanding problems. What about meaning? A standard answer for the core cases is provided by referentialist doctrine: the word cow picks out cows, maybe by a causal relation, and so forth. Something like that seems to be true for animal communication. Symbols appear to relate to physically identifiable external or internal states: motion of leaves elicits a warning cry (maybe an eagle coming); “I’m hungry”; etc. Nothing remotely like that is true for even the simplest elements of human language: cow, river, person, tree-pick any one you want.

There are inklings of that understanding in classical philosophy, in Aristotle’s Metaphysics, particularly. It was considerably enriched, with a shift from metaphysics to epistemology and cognition, in the 17th and 18th centuries, in the work of British neo-Platonists and classical empiricists. They recognized that there is no direct link between the elementary elements of language and thought and some mind-independent external entity. Rather, these elements provide rich perspectives for interpreting and referring to the mind-independent world involving Gestalt properties, cause-and-effect, “sympathy of parts,” concerns directed to a “common end”, psychic continuity, and other such mentally-imposed properties. In this respect, meaning is rather similar to sound: every act of articulating some item, say the internal [ta], yields a physical event, but o one seeks some category of physical events associated with [ta].

Similarly, some (but by no means all) uses of the word river relate to physically identifiable entities, but there is no category of such entities identifiable in principle by a physicist investigating the mind-external world. In David Hume’s phrase, summarizing a century of inquiry, the “identity, which we ascribe” to vegetables, animal bodies, artifacts, persons and their minds, and so on-the array of individuating properties-is only a “fictitious one,” established by our “cognoscitive powers,” as they were termed by his 17th century predecessors.

Most of this has been forgotten, unfortunately, but there is strong evidence that it is basically correct. Once, again, failure to be puzzled is a serious error. If so, these elements so fundamental to human language and thought reveal another vast chasm between humans and other animals. They pose a huge problem for evolutionary biology, and a comparably huge Poverty of Stimulus problem. The What, How, and Why questions raised by these systems are virtually unexplored. Their origins remain entirely unknown, and if Lewontin (1998) is correct, perhaps never will be known.
Language and Other Cognitive Systems. What Is Special About Language?
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/1...41.2011.584041

Collins also discusses this internalist position here:

Methodology, not metaphysics: Against Semantic Externalism
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/1...09.00172.x/pdf

And this is another review:

Language as Internal
http://portal.uam.es/portal/page/pro...s_Internal.pdf
bohm2
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Feb8-12, 10:41 AM
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If you want a more populist treatment, there is Terrence Deacon's new book - Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter.
This is a critical (sarcastic?) piece from Chomsky talking about Deacon's earlier book:
Still another approach is outlined in a highly regarded book by neuroscientist Terrence Deacon (1997) on language and the brain. He proposes that students of language and its acquisition who are concerned with states of a genetically determined "module'" of the brain have overlooked another possibility: "that the extra support for language learning,'' beyond the data of experience, "is vested neither in the brain of the child nor in the brains of parents or teachers, but outside brains, in language itself.'' Language and languages are extrahuman. "Languages have evolved with respect to human brains''; "The world's languages evolved spontaneously'' and have "become better and better adapted to people,'' apparently the way prey and predator coevolve in the familiar cycle. Language and languages are not only extrahuman organisms but are outside the biological world altogether, it would seem. Infants are "predisposed to learn human languages'' and "are strongly biased in their choices'' of "the rules underlying language,'' but it is a mistake to try to determine what these predispositions are, and to seek their realization in brain mechanisms (in which case the extrahuman organisms vanish from the scene). It is worse than a mistake: to pursue the course of normal science in this case is to resort to a "magician's trick'' (Deacon 1997: chap. 4). I have been giving quotations, because I have no idea what this means, and understanding is not helped by Deacon's unrecognizable account of "linguistics'' and of work allegedly related to it. Whatever the meaning may be, the conclusion seems to be that it is a waste of time to investigate the brain to discover the nature of human language, and that studies of language must be about the extrahuman and apparently extrabiological-organisms that coevolved with humans and somehow "latch on'' to them, English latching on some, Japanese to others. I do not recommend this course either; in fact could not, because I do not understand it.
Linguistics and Brain Science
http://www.chomsky.info/articles/2000----.pdf
apeiron
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Feb8-12, 09:27 PM
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This is a critical (sarcastic?) piece from Chomsky talking about Deacon's earlier book:
This seems more like Chomsky being unable to think of a good argument against the biosemiotic perspective and so resorting to the rhetorical trick of "I don't even understand."

It is one way to preserve your belief system, but pretty pathetic.

There is of course nothing particularly difficult to follow in Deacon. Some of his papers might be worth a read.

For example, this is a clever paper on the origins of life - life getting started as the most primordial interaction between self-assembling molecular construction and constraint. As an alternative to the usual RNA world story it is pretty good.

http://anthropology.berkeley.edu/sit...006_Deacon.pdf

Then there is this one that perhaps should bring home how the Chomskyian perspective is quite shockingly defective in regard to the whole information theoretic revolution in science.

Language is supposed to be all about communication, right? The meaning of messages? Shannon/Weaver got to the heart of this with the reciprocal notions of information and entropy. The basic semiotic story of the interaction of two worlds - the computational and the (thermo)dynamic - was established right there. Yet Chomsky lives off in his own little world out of contact with the central thrust of science.

Sketching the general premise of semiotics/epistemic cut thinking, Deacon notes...

Consider the concept of “patriotism.” Despite the fact that there is no specific physical object or process that constitutes the content of this word, and nothing intrinsic to the sound of the word or its production by a brain that involves more than a tiny amount of energy, its use can contribute to the release of vast amounts of energy unleashed to destroy life and demolish buildings (as in warfare). This is evidence that we are both woefully ignorant of a fundamental causal principle in the universe and in desperate need of such a theory.

http://anthropology.berkeley.edu/sit...ngFromInfo.pdf
Clearly, the story is about the interaction of the internal and the external, to use Chomsky's jargon. And both are "real" (they have to be for there to be a causal interaction rather than the disjoint dualism and frank panpsychic mysticism which you get from following Chomsky's route to its natural conclusions).

Deacon makes the useful point that information gains its supra-causal power by being able to represent what does not in fact exist. It can talk about the not-A (when the material world can only be the A). You can see how this immediately knocks the props out from under supervenient notions of emergence popular with reductionists. The absence of things is precisely what cannot emerge via bottom-up constructive causes. Only top-down constraints can limit reality so that some things are definitely not there.

Ultimately, the concept of information has been a victim of a philosophical impasse that has a long and contentious history: the problem of specifying the ontological status of the representations or contents of our thoughts. The problem that lingers behind definitions of information boils down to a simple question: How can the content (aka meaning, reference, significant aboutness) of a sign or thought have any causal efficacy in the world if it is by definition not intrinsic to whatever physical object or process represents it?

In other words, there is a paradox implicit in representational relationships. The content of a sign or signal is not an intrinsic property of whatever physically constitutes it. Rather, exactly the opposite is the case. The property of something that warrants calling something information, in the usual sense, is that it is something that the sign or signal conveying it is not. I will refer to this as “the absent content problem .” Classic conundrums about the nature of thought and meaning all trace their origin to this simple and obvious fact.
Deacon here makes the argument that information theory is about the semiotic interaction between two realms and Chomskyian-like claims that physical information can be intrinsically meaningful, absent of their interpretive contexts, is a corruption of the foundational work.

The danger of being inexplicit about this bracketing of interpretive context is that one can treat the sign as though it is intrinsically signifi cant, irrespective of anything else, and thus end up reducing intentionality to mere physics, or else imagine that physical distinctions are intrinsically informational rather than informational only post hoc, that is, when interpreted.
Deacon rounds off that paper by making a claim particularly relevant to the OP....

Like so many other “hard problems” in philosophy, I believe that this one, too, appears to have been a function of asking the wrong sort of questions. Talking about cognition in terms of the mind –brain – implying a metaphysically primitive identity – or talking about mind as the software of the brain – implying that mental content can be reduced to syntactic relationships embodied in and mapped to neural mechanics – both miss the point.

The content that constitutes mind is not in the brain, nor is it embodied in neuronal processes in bodies interacting with the outside world. It is, in a precisely definable sense, that which determines which variations of neural signaling processes are not occurring, and that which will in a round-about and indirect way help reinforce and perpetuate the patterns of neural activity that are occurring. Informational content distinguishes semiosis from mere physical difference. And it has its influence on worldly events by virtue of the quite precise way that it is not present.

Attempts to attribute a quasi-substantial quality to information or to reduce it to some specific physical property are not only doomed to incompleteness, they ultimately ignore its most fundamental distinctive characteristic.
So this is another way of talking about the significance of global constraints - the role of not-A in shaping the material world. It is the kind of sophisticated systems thinking we just don't get from a Chomsky (or a Nagel when it comes to that).

A third paper Chomsky could be reading and understanding is http://anthropology.berkeley.edu/sit...n_PNAS2010.pdf

Language is both a social and biological phenomenon. The capacity to acquire and use it is a unique and distinctive trait that evolved in only one species on earth. Its complexity and organization are like nothing else in biology, and yet it is also unlike any intentionally designed social convention. Short of appealing to divine intervention or miraculous accident, we must look to some variant of natural selection to explain it. By paying attention to the way Darwin’s concept of natural selection can be generalized to other systems, and how variants on this process operate at different interdependent levels of organism function, explaining the complexity of language and the language adaptation can be made more tractable.
Deacon is funny on Darwin's own adaptationalist dilemma...

In a letter he wrote to Asa Gray shortly after the publication of On the Origin of Species (2), he admits that “the sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me feel sick!”
But we know how that turned out....the early version of the singing ape hypothesis of language evolution (has Chomsky ever offered good arguments against it? Or again, is it too complicated for his understanding )....

In his book The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (11)— which is typically referred to by only the first half of its title—Darwin argues that language and other human traits that appear exaggerated beyond survival value can be explained as consequences of sexual selection. So, for example, he imagines that language might have evolved from something akin to bird song, used as a means to attract mates, and that the ability to produce highly elaborate vocal behaviors was progressively exaggerated by a kind of arms-race competition for the most complex vocal display.
Deacon sure understands Chomsky though....

The appeal to pure accident, e.g., a “hopeful monster” mutation, to explain the evolution of such a highly complex and distinctive trait is the biological equivalent of invoking a miracle.
And it is difficult to see what is so hard to understand about the Baldwin effect and niche construction theory...

...“niche construction” theory (28) argues that, analogous to the evolution of beaver aquatic adaptations in response to a beaver generated aquatic niche, a constellation of learning biases and changes of vocal control evolved in response to the atypical demands of this distinctive mode of communication. To the extent that this mode of communication became important for successful integration into human social groups and a critical prerequisite for successful reproduction, it would bring about selection favoring any traits that favored better acquisition and social transmission of this form of communication.

Unlike Baldwinian arguments for the genetic assimilation of grammatical and syntactic features of language, however, the niche construction approach does not assume that acquired language regularities themselves ever become innate. Rather it implicates selection that favors any constellation of attentional, mnemonic, and sensorimotor biases that collectively aid acquisition,
use, and transmission of language.

Although this could conceivably consist of innate language-specific knowledge, Deacon (23, 27)
argues that this is less likely than more general cognitive biases that facilitate reliable maintenance of this extrinsic niche.
As Deacon argues, a modern neurodevelopmental approach to the brain finds no problem with the idea of social information structuring the brain's functional architecture - the critical period of language learning is after all one of the most striking findings in the field.

And we can see by Chomsky's failure to engage at this level of hypothesis that he really just is past his sell by date. He does not have the basic grounding where it is required now.

Although slight tweaks of this species-general brain architecture likely play important roles in producing the structural and functional differences of different species’ brains, a significant contribution also comes from selection-like processes that incorporate both intra- and extraorganismic information into the fine-tuning of neural circuitry.
Likewise, it is indefensible that Chomsky keeps trying to handwave away the fact of memetic or cultural evolution. How can it not be the case?

But language evolution includes one additional twist that may in fact mitigate some fraction of what biological evolutionary mechanisms must explain.Language itself exhibits an evolutionary dynamic that proceeds irrespective of human biological evolution. Moreover, it occurs at a rate that is probably many orders of magnitude faster than biological evolution and is subject to selective influences that are probably quite alien from any that affect human brains or bodies.

Darwin recognized this analogical process, although he did not comment on its implications for human brain evolution. “A struggle for life is constantly going on amongst the words and grammatical forms in each language. The better, the shorter, the easier forms are constantly gaining the upper hand, and they owe their success to their own inherent virtue” (ref. 11, p. 91).
Chomsky fusses about computational optimality. Darwin had already talked about how natural selection would achieve it.

As Deacon remarks (and it is a quite critical point of evolutionary logic)....

So as brains have adapted to the special demands of language processing over hundreds of thousands of years, languages have been adapting to the limitations of those brains at the same time, and a hundred times faster.
And then the balanced conclusion from someone who understands what he is talking about....

Language is too complex and systematic, and our capacity to acquire it is too facile, to be adequately explained by cultural use and general learning alone. But the process of evolution is too convoluted and adventitious to have produced this complex phenomenon by lucky mutation or the genetic internalization of language behavior.
Chomsky talks in simplicities and mysteries. The field of language evolution has already moved on to much more sophisticated modelling.
bohm2
#482
Feb8-12, 11:30 PM
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The field of language evolution has already moved on to much more sophisticated modelling.
What is that modelling based on? Do brains fossilize? Can one tell from old fossilized skulls alone whether a particular brain had the capacity for language? Is there even agreement on what language is? Look through our posts. Unless I'm mistaken, I didn't think we've progressed much with respect to understanding the evolution of language. Everyone can tell nice stories (to back their particular biased philosophies/viewpoints) but that's about it, unless I'm mistaken? And I've tried to read most of the recent papers on this topic some of which I posted above. A recent paper by the same authors I listed before on skull size (but now discussing the effects of culture on human evolution) came out recently. But even here I see no hint of anything that explains how one gets language in the first place but I suppose that depends on what one takes language to be.
The study suggests that this divergence is also independent of the Xavánte's geographical separation from other population groups and differences in climate. According to the team of experts, the combination of cultural isolation and sexual selection could be the driving force behind the changes observed. To conclude their study, the authors hypothesize that gene-culture co-evolution could in fact be the dominant model throughout the history of the human evolutionary lineage.
Cultural Diversification Also Drives Human Evolution
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases...1222161213.htm
apeiron
#483
Feb9-12, 02:24 AM
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What is that modelling based on? Do brains fossilize? Can one tell from old fossilized skulls alone whether a particular brain had the capacity for language? Is there even agreement on what language is?
I don't understand. The papers you are citing themselves make strong claims that would rule out any talk of modular language evolution of the kind Chomsky favours. So yes, there is plenty of both data and theory. And on a lot of things, I hear more agreement than dispute.

So...

The study calls for a reinterpretation of modern human evolutionary scenarios. As the lecturer Mireia Esparza explains, "Evolution acts as an integrated process and specific traits never evolve independently."
And...

To conclude their study, the authors hypothesize that gene-culture co-evolution could in fact be the dominant model throughout the history of the human evolutionary lineage.
On the one hand you have Chomsky who does not actually do experiments and rambles on about rationalism and hopeful monsters. On the other you have people doing field work and having to respond to data.

It is your choice which conversations you pay closer attention to.
apeiron
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Feb9-12, 04:52 AM
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Speaking of the need to ground theory in experiment, this has become an active approach...

Language evolution in the laboratory/Thomas C. Scott-Phillips and Simon Kirby
http://data.cogsci.bme.hu/public_htm...orlangevol.pdf

And note the rationale....

We need to consider exactly how individuals interacting in dynamic structured populations can cause language to emerge. Once we have a better general understanding of the mechanisms of social coordination and cultural evolution, gained from the type of experimental work reviewed here, then we can combine this with models of biological evolution to gain a more complete understanding of the evolution of language. The latter without the former will inevitably give a distorted picture of the biological prerequisites for language.
ie: start with a proven theory of E-language so as to define what I-language actually needs to explain. Contrast this empirical approach with Chomsky's rationalistic approach where he argues from logic what he thinks must be the case, then spends all his time having to fend off the contrary evidence.

A few examples of the many empirical challenges to Chomsky....http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases...0119133755.htm

Many prominent linguists, including MIT's Noam Chomsky, have argued that language is, in fact, poorly designed for communication. Such a use, they say, is merely a byproduct of a system that probably evolved for other reasons -- perhaps for structuring our own private thoughts.
As evidence, these linguists point to the existence of ambiguity: In a system optimized for conveying information between a speaker and a listener, they argue, each word would have just one meaning, eliminating any chance of confusion or misunderstanding. Now, a group of MIT cognitive scientists has turned this idea on its head. In a new theory, they claim that ambiguity actually makes language more efficient, by allowing for the reuse of short, efficient sounds that listeners can easily disambiguate with the help of context.
And another study that contradicts the Chomskian claim that self-talk is genetically innate....http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases...1227142537.htm

The results suggest that even after children learn language, it doesn't govern their thinking as much as scientists believed.
"It is only over the course of development that children begin to understand that words can reliably be used to label items," he said.
And as for the Chomskian claim that culture does not evolve....http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases...0109100831.htm

Historically, scientists believed that behavioural differences between colonies of chimpanzees were due to variations in genetics. A team at Liverpool, however, has now discovered that variations in behaviour are down to chimpanzees migrating to other colonies, proving that they build their 'cultures' in a similar way to humans.
Or the Chomskian claims about major brain reorganisation....http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases...0228124415.htm

An area of the brain involved in the planning and production of spoken and signed language in humans plays a similar role in chimpanzee communication, researchers report.
Or again on the claim that self-talk is genetic....http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases...0124200103.htm

Teaching children with autism to 'talk things through in their head' may help them to solve complex day-to-day tasks, which could increase the chances of independent, flexible living later in life,
Or that there is a poverty of stimulus issue and so statistical learning can play no part in the habit of grammar....http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases...1209150156.htm

New research from the University of Notre Dame shows that during the first year of life, when babies spend so much time listening to language, they're actually tracking word patterns that will support their process of word- learning that occurs between the ages of about 18 months and two years.
It is just really hard to look at actual language research - chosen here from a trawl of recent headline findings - and not find problems for the Chomskian view.
bohm2
#485
Feb10-12, 09:03 PM
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A lot of the stuff you posted has been debated ad nauseaum on many linguistics forums, etc. I thought these were 2 of the more interesting blogs on language log on this related topic. I haven't read it fully because I like to print it out and I ran out of ink.

On Chomsky and the Two Cultures of Statistical Learning
http://norvig.com/chomsky.html

Norvig channels Shannon contra Chomsky
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3172

Straw men and Bee Science
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3180

Also here's an interesting blog by T. Deacon with comments that include Deacon and Derek Bickerton. This post by Deacon kind of surprised me:
Surprisingly, despite our many disagreements about innateness, I find some resonance in Noam Chomsky’s periodic suggestion that some of the complexity of grammar may have emerged from general laws of physics analogous to the way that the Fibonacci regularities exemplified in the spirals of sunflower seed and pine cone facets emerge. Natural selection has “found a way” to stabilize the conditions that support the generation of this marvelous regularity of growth because it has important functional advantages. But natural selection didn’t generate it in the first place, geometric regularities that can become amplified due to center-out growth process are the ultimate source (as has now been demonstrated also in growth-like inorganic processes). I also agree that flexibility CAN be an adaptive response to a variable and demanding habitat, but not necessarily. And I hope I have shown that there is another mechanism potentially available to explain some of the complexity (both neurologically and functionally) and some of the flexibility, besides natural selection and innate algorithms.
On the Human: Rethinking the natural selection of human language
http://onthehuman.org/2010/02/on-the...uman-language/
apeiron
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Feb10-12, 10:37 PM
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Quote Quote by bohm2 View Post
A lot of the stuff you posted has been debated ad nauseaum on many linguistics forums, etc.
Well, given these six empirical findings that seem to directly contradict Chomsky's prejudices, what do these linguistic forums, etc, conclude about them exactly?

Quote Quote by bohm2 View Post
I thought these were 2 of the more interesting blogs on language log on this related topic. I haven't read it fully because I like to print it out and I ran out of ink.
Yes, more people who don't seem too impressed with Chomsky...

So how could Chomsky say that observations of language cannot be the subject-matter of linguistics? It seems to come from his viewpoint as a Platonist and a Rationalist and perhaps a bit of a Mystic. As in Plato's analogy of the cave, Chomsky thinks we should focus on the ideal, abstract forms that underlie language, not on the superficial manifestations of language that happen to be perceivable in the real world. That is why he is not interested in language performance. But Chomsky, like Plato, has to answer where these ideal forms come from. Chomsky (1991) shows that he is happy with a Mystical answer, although he shifts vocabulary from "soul" to "biological endowment."

Since people have to continually understand the uncertain. ambiguous, noisy speech of others, it seems they must be using something like probabilistic reasoning. Chomsky for some reason wants to avoid this, and therefore he must declare the actual facts of language use out of bounds and declare that true linguistics only exists in the mathematical realm, where he can impose the formalism he wants. Then, to get language from this abstract, eternal, mathematical realm into the heads of people, he must fabricate a mystical facility that is exactly tuned to the eternal realm. This may be very interesting from a mathematical point of view, but it misses the point about what language is, and how it works.
Quote Quote by bohm2 View Post
Also here's an interesting blog by T. Deacon with comments that include Deacon and Derek Bickerton. This post by Deacon kind of surprised me:
Why is it surprising that Deacon cites evo-devo views?


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