Friday, December 7, 2012

A New Yorker Birthday Card

Gary Marcus wrote up a piece on Chomsky in the New Yorker in honor of Chomsky’s 84th birthday. It’s a useful piece, as these things go, though I could not help feeling that Gary threw in some back-handed compliments, snide asides and less than charitable character judgments so as to retain his bona fides as an impartial commentator.  The New Yorker is not a great admirer of Chomsky’s (see e.g. the execrable MacFarquhar piece cited in Gary’s birthday greeting or its rather silly coverage of Everett’s “discoveries” in Pirãha that purportedly demonstrated that the UG thesis is false) and it seems that even if one comes to praise Chomsky in the pages of the New Yorker it is important bury him a little in the process.

What character traits emerge (mainly towards the middle-end of the piece)? It seems that he is “relentless” (in a good sense, i.e. the pursuit of “linguistic truth”) but also “maddening,” “not a particularly good listener,” “aims to win every argument,” is “contrarian” (i.e. likes odd arguments, “the odder the better”),  “unfairly” “dismissive,” speaks “flippantly,” is a mission sanctioning “guru,” who abuses “a kind of first-mover advantage” that he enjoys even in areas in “which he is not an expert.”  Frankly, not a very flattering picture.[1] Maybe Gary thinks that the warts add authenticity to the portrait he limns and thus reinforces his overall judgment that Chomsky deserves his intellectual leadership given his “wisdom to pose the right questions.” Maybe.

Chomsky has indeed played a very large role in Linguistics as well as other areas of cognitive science and philosophy. He has done so by, as Gary noted, asking the right questions as well as outlining plausible routes to answers.  But Gary does not mention Chomsky’s usual technique for gaining an audience. He has done this by repeatedly uncovering the (often unrecognized) presuppositions that have dominated a line of inquiry and by arguing at length and in detail that these are far from evident, indeed often false.  Doing this often involves rejecting conventional wisdom and goring prized oxen.  This never goes down well, but not because Chomsky is rude or dismissive or a bad listener or relentless or a guru or a lover of odd arguments, but because he thinks that some widely accepted intellectual views are WRONG, and he almost always has numerous reasons for thinking so. This really can be infuriating (believe me I know) as nothing wounds the amour propre of your average scientist/academic/intellectual than to have it cogently argued that your work is either wrong or (worse) wrong-headed.  Chomsky has made such arguments on myriad topics repeatedly and at great length.  Whether he is a good listener or not (in my experience he listens just fine), he is an excellent reader, critic and correspondent.  He may be dismissive of semantics, but this comes along with several 100 pages of reasons why.  He may not be an expert in evolution, but he has written extensively on why he thinks that much research on the topic is bunk (Lewontin, somewhat more of an “expert” (?), concurs (c.f. his chapter in the 'Invitation to Cognitive Science' vol 4) and is even harsher), same with data mining, on why performance (processing dynamics) studies are less likely to advance his interests in UG than other kinds of investigations, etc.  What Gary leaves out of his profile is the seriousness with which Chomsky takes the intellectual positions he strongly disagrees with.  He pays his adversaries the courtesy of taking their ideas very very seriously, something that is considerably less true for many of his critics who are often satisfied with criticizing rather bad caricatures of his views (e.g. Norvig, Everett, Quine).

Though I believe that Gary’s character summary is inaccurate, I do agree with one of his overall points: Chomsky can be infuriating. However, what makes him annoying beyond belief are not his character peccadillos but (i) the fact that he so often right and even when incorrect, not far off target and (ii) that his views come backed with mounds of well reasoned arguments.  This really is infuriating, and for that, linguistics, cognitive science, and philosophy owe him a big “thank you.”


[1] Also not one that I find accurate, but that’s another matter.


  1. Dear Norbert,

    Everybody's entitled to their opinion. (Dan Everett saw the piece as hagiography). Perhaps each reader will have to come to his or her own interpretation.

    What I do know is that your interpretation is a very long way from what I intended - I was actually shocked to read it -- and it seems to derive from a selective reading of tiny subset of paragraphs in the longer essay. To take but one example, someone who read your post above without reading my original piece might be surprised to see how the word "relentless" was actually used, vi.z in the supremely favorable context of delivering one of the highest compliments to a scientist one can imagine. Here's the full context:

    "Nine academics out of ten never change their mind about anything; most (though there are salient exceptions, like Wittgenstein) lock into a position earlier in their careers and then defend it to the hilt. Chomsky, in contrast, has never stopped critiquing his own theories with the same vigor with which he has criticized others. For fifty years, his search for linguistic truth has been relentless."

    The reader who relied on your post might haee been similarly surprised to learn that I gave Chomsky even higher praise when I wrote that

    "Chomsky took an ancient and seemingly imponderable question—about nature versus nurture—and turned it into something that is actually testable."

    Finally, lest there been any doubt as to my admiration (despite what flaws I felt must be reported honestly), I urge you to reread the final paragraph.

    "Sometimes I think of my whole career since as a kind of penance, still trying to wend my way through the philosophical stage that Noam had set. None of the questions Chomsky has posed has yet been fully answered, to his satisfaction or to anybody else’s, but no scholar of the mind has ever been more influential. Chomsky may not always have the right answers. But he has always had the wisdom to pose the right questions".

    I haven't just put my money where my mouth is, I've put my whole career there.

    In short, I'm surprised that you read the piece as you did; it's not certainly how I intended it. (As for the few negative bits, I wasn't going for color, I was going for veracity. The essay passed through many eyes before it was published. I asked a mutual friend (and fellow Chomsky admirer) that I know you have great respect for read the harshest bits carefully, and he suggested no revisions.)

    -- Gary Marcus

  2. Your right about different opinions and I am sure that you did not intend to sound like (IMHO) you did. That was part of my point. To be evenhanded (at least in the New Yorker) it is essential to uncover character flaws of various types (extremely competitive, bad listener, dismissive) "that must be reported honestly" so that one can praise the achievements, which I have no doubt you do admire. BTW, I believe I noted that you did in fact admire Chomsky's achievements and that "relentless" was attributed to his pursuit of truth. That said, the picture that emerges was, in my view, not terribly nice and apart from the fact that I thought it inaccurate as well, not particularly useful. It was gossip at best and diminishing at worst. But that, as you noted, is my opinion.

    More to the point: you made it sound like Chomsky's noted opinions stemmed from shortcomings of character rather than intellectual evaluation. This I found particularly unbecoming. His views of semantics, for example, come backed with 100s of pages of argument over 40 years of discussion. So too his views on the other topics you mentioned. The piece could have taken these on, rather than attribute his lack of appreciation to various peccadilloes of character.

    Let me end with two more points: First, why exactly do these character flaws require discussion for the sake of honesty? Were I to discuss your work (much of which I really like) would I have to include for the sake of honesty a discussion of what I think of you as a person? Would I have to canvass opinions from others about your annoying ticks? I hope not. These opinions have no place in this sort of discussion. Gossip is fun, but I consider it a kind of private somewhat naughty enjoyment, not one to share with the world at large. Second, I would be happy to vet all your future writing on this topic. I think the friend you consulted fell down on the job.

  3. Thanks for this post. Do you have recommended references on Chomsky's views/assessments of research into the evolution of language, aside from his piece with Hauser?

  4. Chomsky's views of language evolution research are expressed in many post 2000 publications:
    New Horizons, 2000. pp. 65-66, 73-74
    On Nature and Language, 2002, pp. 77-81; 138-151
    Cartesian Linguistics, 2009 edition, pp. 32-34 [that is McGilvray explaining Chomsky]
    Of Minds and language, 2009, pp. 19-30, 38-41
    and most detailed in Science of language, 2012, too many pages to list really, i discuss his view here and give many citations with page references

  5. Though not by Chomsky, I would add Lewontin's chapter in the 4th volume of the Invitation to Cognitive Science. I am pretty sure that Chomskt would endorse the skepticism articulated therein.

    1. yes, you are absolutely correct, Chomsky stresses his agreement with Lewontin whenever he writes about language evolution e.g.: "Lewontin has a paper coming out ...about how difficult - just on the basis of population genetics - about what it would take for natural selection to have worked" [Chomsky, 2012, p. 58]

      And then there is of course the scepticism of Fodor& Piattelli-Palmarini [2010] "What Darwin got wrong" which Chomsky endorses...

    2. Where does Chomsky endorse F&P-P?

    3. Note I said he endorses the skepticism those two express agains natural selection [not everything they write]. That is what he means by 'his [=Fodor's] instincts are right' [Chomsky 2012, p. 58] and the endorsement by McGilvray in the same volume p. 279 underscores it. There are also references in several recent papers. But hey YOU are the Chomskyan - you tell me

    4. I'm only very casually familiar with F&P-P's claims, but as far as I recall they argue that there's something incoherent about the notion of natural selection per se. I don't think Chomsky ever claimed anything like that, or at least I haven't seen it in print. Perhaps you were jumping to conclusions here...?

    5. I had the [mis]fortune to give a commentary on Fodor's work back in 2008 when he gave a keynote introducing it and had to become quite familiar with it. The notion of natural selection he construes is incoherent indeed. The problem is that besides him not too many people hold this view of natural selection. So he mainly demolishes a strawman. Chomsky is one of the very few people who argue that natural selection cannot account for language evolution. The merge mutation 'just happens' in his story and there are a couple of "arguments" if you want to call them such against evolutionary explanations: Norbert mentioned Lewinton [who does not agrue against evolution but claims we may never be able to figure out how it happened. It is in flavour similar to Chomsky's the bee-communication argument,], Then there are a bunch of arguments against natural selection playing a crucial role: the dolphins argument, the snowflake argument and a few equally unconvincing others.

      Chomsky has made great contributions to linguistics but his evolutionary speculations are better left undiscussed. I think I had already mentioned this in another post: for minimalists interested in language evolution the book to read is: Fitch, W. T. (2010) The Evolution of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. You [pl] may even want to invite Fitch to write a guest post for you...

    6. I don't believe that many have actually come to terms with the actual argument made in Fodor& Piattelli-Palmarini [2010] . I have tried to sketch what I take the argument to be here:
      If this is the argument, then I believe it to be better than generally accepted to be. At any rate, Chomsky himself is very cautious about these F&PP's views and I would hesitate to attribute anything very concrete to him regarding their argument. The reconstruction above is mine, not Chomsky's.

      Last point: For Chomsky the addition of 'merge' is a mutation. I may be wrong about this, but simple mutations are part and parcel of the theory of natural selection. So having this as part of one's story does not strike me as particularly exotic. Whether it is true is another question, but many evolutionary explanations piggy back on a random mutation introducing options heretofore unavailable.

    7. Christina: see, that's the problem. Your post shows that you really don't understand Chomsky very well or even seem to be reading him very closely, and yet you feel the need to articulate your rants against him here and on LingBuzz. There must be some kind of destructive urge behind this, otherwise I really don't see how anybody could be so clueless yet eager to criticize.

      You write above:

      "Chomsky is one of the very few people who argue that natural selection cannot account for language evolution. The merge mutation 'just happens' in his story and there are a couple of "arguments" if you want to call them such against evolutionary explanations: Norbert mentioned Lewinton [who does not agrue against evolution but claims we may never be able to figure out how it happened. It is in flavour similar to Chomsky's the bee-communication argument,], Then there are a bunch of arguments against natural selection playing a crucial role: the dolphins argument, the snowflake argument and a few equally unconvincing others."

      There are so many things wrong in this paragraph, I don't even know where to start. Your statement that Chomsky claims that "natural selection cannot account for language evolution" is both incomplete and wrong. What's true is that Chomsky is skeptical about natural selection having left any significant mark on the design of what the HCF paper calls FLN -- and that's a very narrowly defined aspect of what we commonsensically call "language" (I'll grant you that you're not the only one who fails to understand this). Once you get to the interface of FLN and what HCF call FLB you will already find Chomsky suggesting that connecting narrow syntax to performance systems probably involved some evolutionary tinkering, certainly on the externalization side.

      So much for Chomsky's view that "natural selection cannot account for language evolution." About Merge having "just happen[ed]", what does this even have to do with Chomsky's views on natural selection? Chomsky has never said (and certainly doesn't believe) that this is sufficient to "account for language evolution" (whatever one means by "language"). Mutations happen, and selection may or may not act on them. Chomsky is simply with Darwin here. And as for a "snowflake argument," I haven't heard one from Chomsky. (I know what you're alluding to, of course, but if you had actually read Chomsky properly you'd know that the snowflake remark is no "argument," certainly not one against NS.)

      You cite Lewontin -- again, what does this have to do with the point at issue? Lewontin expresses skepticism towards the idea that we'll be able to learn much about the evolution of cognitive capacities, and Chomsky shares this skeptical conjecture. In what way does this mean or even suggest that Chomsky has a problem with NS?

      My advice for the future: read carefully before you criticize. I know I'm not the only one who's tired of reading these ill-informed, half-baked attacks on Chomsky.

    8. Yes, you're not the only one, Dennis. Just a few sketches from Christina’s Potpourri, a sort of ideologically driven textual analysis of a Chomsky’s popular science book:

      Noam Chomsky: “...probably 99.9% of [language] use is internal to the mind …
      Christina Behme: No evidence supports the claim that 99.9% of language-use is internal. It seems to be based on Chomsky’s introspection. Further, showing that language is currently used mainly for internal thought does not rule out its having originally evolved for communication.

      Noam Chomsky: It’s perfectly true that language is used for communication. But everything you do is used for communication. – your hairstyle, your mannerisms …
      Christina Behme: Presumably Chomsky is unaware of fellow humans who do not do everything for communication.

      Noam Chomsky: Every animal down to ants has a communication system.
      Christina Behme: Chomsky’s categorical claim requires that there are no animals without communication system. What and to whom would an endoparasite Taenia saginata communicate …

      Noam Chomsky: The Norman Conquest had a huge effect on what became English. But it clearly had nothing to do with the evolution of language - which was finished long before the Norman Conquest. So if you want to study distinctive properties of language - what really makes it different from the digestive system ... you’re going to abstract away from the Norman Conquest.
      Christina Behme: If, when studying L1, one should abstract away from the whole mass of data of interest to the linguist about L1, the same logic would hold for L2....Ln. So one would have to abstract away from everything of linguistic interest about all languages to uncover the nature of language and explain how it differs from digestion.

      We may talk to ourselves in less than 99.9% cases, however, if it is 95 or even 90, does it matter? Perhaps those who score low should think about it.

    9. Thanks for the constructive criticism. I note you cite from an older version of my paper so you may want to read the latest version
      A few points: First, whether I like Chomsky or not, I acknowledge he has not only made amazing contributions to linguistics but also a command of English that I never can hope to attain. So he is capable to express himself clearly and he knows the implications of the language he uses probably better than most of us. Norbert has told me he does not intend to mislead. So I take very seriously what he writes and what the implications of his words are.
      Now, to take some of the examples above: If instead of "Every animal down to ants has a communication system" he had said: "Most animals down to ants have a communication system", no one would take issue. If instead of " “...probably 99.9% of [language] use is internal to the mind …" he had said: “...most of [language] use is internal to the mind …", no one would take issue. As Norbert says, for the argument it does not matter what the actual percentage is or even if it is the same for all speakers. So why would he make incorrect claims [every animal] or claims that imply he has done some statistical analysis [99.9%]? He can safely assume that most people take him seriously without such embellishments and if anything it reduces is credibility. But reducing his credibility can hardly be his goal…

      As for me not understanding F&P; I am always open to learn but please provide specifics about what I am not understanding. In the meantime I suggest I understand them better than, apparently, Chomsky understands the view of others regarding language evolution:

      There are a lot of [theories of language evolution] but there’s no justification for any of them. So for example, a common theory is that somehow, some mutation made it possible to construct two- word sentences; and that gave a memory advantage because then you could eliminate this big number of lexical items from memory. So that had selectional advantages. And then something came along and we had three word sentences and then a series of mutations led to five...finally you get Merge, because it goes to infinity. (Chomsky, 2012, p. 15).

      You can of course prove that the theory he sketches here is common and find examples of people who have proposed it. That I was unable to [and that people who work on language evolution had some very unkind words for anyone proposing someone may hold such a theory] should not detract you.

      Finally the only substantial point i can make out above is about mutations. Norbert is again right that mutations happen all the time. But that is not the problem, the problem is that they need to be passed on to one's offspring and then to the offspring of the offspring etc. etc. When you procreate sexually there is a 50% chance that even the most wonderful mutation does not get passed on to your offspring. So since [according to Chomsky's story] the mutation happened only to ONE individual "Something happened in a person that that person transmitted to its offspring" [Chomsky, 2012, p. 13], s/he had better a bunch of kids so at least one of them 'inherited' the mutation. But even then chances are slim it 'spreads' through the breeding group - unless it confers a huge advantage. But assuming that one single mutation could do that is more selectionist than Dawkins who is elsewhere portrayed as making no "contribution to scientific rationality". (Chomsky, 2012, p.105)

    10. I believe that Chomsky does believe it would confer a huge advantage as it would greatly enhance the CI system even in the absence of any ability to communicate. This, btw, was a proposal originally advanced by Francois Jacob, I believe at the Royaumont Conference. Jacob noted that anything that would enhance planning and thinking even without the capacity to communicate would be greatly advantageous. I don't know if he is right, but he appears to have the biological bona fides.

      Chomsky makes a second point: that if this was really advantageous and it occurred in a small breeding group then it might have spread quickly. I take the latter to be pretty standard speciation stuff of the Mayr-discussed variety. However, if this is a problem as C suggests, then the idea that language could arise as a by-product of communication is a doubly difficult problem for it takes at least two to do this. If the odds are long that it happened once in one ancestor and spread then they are really really long that it happened twice at the same time in two and spread. That's Chomsky's argument, a I understand it and it seems not bad to me (an admitted tyro in such matters).

  6. There's an excellent comment by Charles Reiss in the comments section underneath the article, quoted below. I think he's right: most of the confusion about and hostility towards Chomsky's linguistics is due to a failure to understand the central notion of I-language (and unfortunately that's true even for some linguists that would call themselves 'Chomskyans').


    One of the crucial ideas in Chomsky's work is well-understood by Marcus, but not stressed in this piece. It is the "I-language view" that locates language inside the mind/brain--"I" is for internal, individual, (and intensional). There is no polite way to say this: both Norvig (mentioned by Marcus) and Deacon (mentioned in the comments) clearly do not understand what Chomsky is studying. Norvig keeps referring to statistical properties of "English" in his essay, but according to the I-language approach such a thing does not exist. I'll leave you with that infuriatingly cryptic remark. If you are interested, "I-language" is explained at length in Chomsky's 1986 Knowledge of Language, as well as in the essays in New Horizons in the Study of Language and Mind (2000). (I have commented on Deacon and written about I-language in my co-authored textbook on the topic, just released in a 2nd edition, Isac and Reiss 2008/2013 I-language: An Introduction to Linguistics as Cognitive Science--there is lots of discussion of the term in the writing of Chomsky and other linguists.) Norvig also completely misinterprets Chomsky's use of the related term "mentalistic". The emerging field of the neuroscience of language could not exist if language were not a property of minds/brains. This contrasts with Norvig's tacit treatment of language as a property of texts and communities, a commonsense notion that science has left behind. I would have liked to see Marcus take Norvig to task for such a basic error.

    Read more:

  7. I agree with you completely that there exists a lot of confusion about what Chomsky IS studying. In the commet by Charles Reiss you cite we read:

    "I-language view" that locates language inside the mind/brain--"I" is for internal, individual, (and intensional). There is no polite way to say this: both Norvig (mentioned by Marcus) and Deacon (mentioned in the comments) clearly do not understand what Chomsky is studying."

    If Chomsky studies internal language, we should expect him to do brain research and work on whatever he holds the language organ takes to be, NOT on the grammatical structure of expression [like the complex examples Norbert said in another post cannot be accounted for by computational models]. Poverty of the Stimulus Arguments would be superfluous if Chomsky would study how the input triggers one I-language in the child. But you [pl] defend [I think the term Norbert used was love?] POSA because [allegedly] they show that examples that would allow learning from the available evidence are either non existent or vanishingly rare. Another point of agreement with Norbert: the logic of Chomsky's POSA arguments has never changed - so there certainly is continuity in his work - it is just not work on internal language. To be clear I do not deny that there are interesting interaction with developing brains and linguistic input - I am just not aware of any brain research done by Chomsky that lead him to postulate say "Merge" . From what I can tell Chomsky's study of what he calls E-language has led him to INFER properties of I-language. But, please prove me wrong and provide some specific references of Chomsky's work on brains [Reiss' formulation implies that Chomsky himself works on internal language so please no reference to the work of say Angela Friederici. I am aware of HER work but while she's a great gal she is not Chomsky]
    In the meantime, there is a new quite detailed paper available on work that Chomsky has been doing:
    You may not agree with all the details and/or interpretation but i think it is pretty obvious that this is not work on brains...

    1. I think this sentence reflects a common error: "From what I can tell Chomsky's study of what he calls E-language has led him to INFER properties of I-language." The error is to equate appeal to EXTERNALIZED UTTERANCES as sources of data with "study of E-language". I am pretty sure (well, I am positive---see section 2.4 of KoL) that Chomsky dismisses the E-language approach in KoL as unable to give coherent results. This does NOT mean that he dismisses appealing to data, externalizations of sentences. But like I said, this is a common misreading---I have even encountered it among philosophers who attended Chomsky's course at MIT, so maybe it needs to be made more clearly.

  8. Christina, I wonder what has neuroscience to do with the POS argument. If it's wrong, why then cats, monkeys and ants (not to mention tapeworms) can't learn English? More generally, would you kindly give a few examples of what neuroscience has contributed to our knowledge of the language competence so far?

  9. I did not consider you such a dualist C. If minds are brains and brains are minds then investigating the structure of either investigates the structure of both. Chomsky investigates the properties of minds, which, given the identity thesis, means he is investigating the properties of brains.

  10. Three points:
    1. I never said POSA are wrong. They are indirect: we can [at least in principle] record the complete input a child receives and we can record her output. We compare input and output and see there is a difference. We INFER something located in the brain must account for the difference. If we could "look" directly at the brain we could "see" what in the brain accounts for the difference and would not need to rely on the inference.
    2. If you are interested in contributions of neuroscience I recommend you read the relevant journals. Asking a philosopher seems rather odd. I have never claimed I work on I-language. But, according to Charles Reiss, Chomsky does. If so he should be working on brains, on individuals etc. But to the best of my knowledge this is not what he does. In fact he stresses again and again that we are barred from experimenting on human brains. And he emphasizes the need to abstract away from individual differences to arrive at general principles. So he works neither on internal nor on individual language...
    3. The dualism question is interesting indeed. I think nowadays we have very few honest dualists. Chomsky certainly tried his best to make dualism acceptable by stressing the difference between linguistic behaviour and linguistic competence. Now lets not get too technical here and, for argument's sake, accept the strong identity thesis [that minds are brains]. Then like brains minds have physical properties [location in space, weight, chemical composition, etc.] If there is nothing else that linguists can study, it would imply sentences have to have those properties as well. Lets not worry about mass or chemical composition of the famous sentence "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously". WHERE is it located? In Chomsky's brain? In your brain? On the screen of my computer? If we accept the type/token distinction we can say that tokens of the sentence can be located in those and other places. But types do not have physical properties hence we cannot locate them in one speakers brain or on a piece of paper. So my question for you: do you deny the type/token distinction?

  11. Ad 2: It's you, Christina, who claims that Chomsky "works on I-language" and hence "he should be working on brain". That's why I believed you were able to give a couple of relevant examples of how had the study of the brain contributed to our understanding of the language faculty.

    Ad 3 The issue of the mind/brain duality and type-token distinction has little to do with each other and even less with "the difference between linguistic behaviour and linguistic competence". Some of us have stored the sentence "Colorless green ideas .." in their memories. It's physically instantiated there. As far as we have (roughly) the same informational background, we may hope the stored sentences to be more or less the same. This sameness may be what makes types. Of course, even it has physical bases (though these are processes rather than things). But I'm no philosopher, maybe I'm just kidding.

  12. Re 2: It is not me but Chomsky who makes such claims. One of many examples where he says so:
    "The biolinguistic perspective views a person’s language as a state of some component of the mind, understanding ‘mind’ in the sense of eighteenth century scientists who recognized that after Newton’s demolition of the only coherent concept of body, we can only regard aspects of the world ‘termed mental’ as the result of “such an organical structure as that of the brain” Chomsky (2005: 2)
    If the mental is "the result" of the "organical structure of the brain" and language is some state of this we ought to study the brain - if we do Chomskyan linguistics If you believe this is not the way to go you should take up the issue with Chomsky not with me.
    About 3, I certainly hope you were kidding. There is no point to discuss your joke. In case it wasn't a joke you may find it helpful to read : and

  13. Re 2: That's right, however, the following inference, which sounds illogical to me, is yours:

    Chomsky "works on I-language" and hence "he should be working on brain"

  14. C, a small point: Chomsky is not, so far as I know, a dualist. He adopts the view that minds are identical to brains. Mental properties are brain properties at the right level of description. So investigating minds and its properties IS investigating brains and theirs. In this sense Chomsky does study brains. You seem to think that only those who study the wetware are studying the brain. This is a dualist position, not one Chomsky adopts.

    Re where sentences live: mental tokens on this view must have physical realization, though as you are well aware the mapping might be very complex (it surely is). Right now we don't know what that mapping is, but any non-dualist believes that it exists. I have often wondered whether this "commitment" is serious. What would we have said if chemistry did not reduce to physics? Would we have cared? At any rate, Chomsky is not a dualist and so he believes that linguistic tokenings have neural realizations. What these are is anybody's guess. But then again, we know very little about how brains realize most mental operations and so I am not particularly worried by this right now.

  15. It turns out I was not particularly clear. My apology to Chritina an my thanks to Norbert.

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