vendredi 19 novembre 2021

Understanding Reality | Noam Chomsky



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uh donald davidson in a paper called a nice derangement of epitaphs epitaphs uh said uh or basically argued that there's no such thing as language and um i've always sort of thought that you probably you may not want to admit it but on some level or leather you probably agree with that right no in fact i think he ended up contradicting himself i think there's some discussion of it in here or somewhere if you look at the end of the paper it turns out he's presupposing that there is a notion of language in the technical sense technical sense of an internal generative procedure that relates sounds and meanings and so on uh he says there's no notion of language in another sense the sense of some community property or whatever well okay first of all i don't think that's true it's just it's not a scientifically usable sense but i think the paper is just rife with confusions i've written about it so you think there are such things as languages yeah yeah like there's such an informal like there's such things as the meaning of life you know and i understand it when people ask what's the meaning of life so yeah there's such a thing as the meaning of life there's such a thing as the financial crisis in argentina you know there are all kinds of things in the world but if you want to proceed to understand what you and i are doing those notions just don't help you've got to look at it differently the way we look at primates and other primates in fact well let me read a quote from something you wrote recently okay you say i doubt that people think that among the constituents of the world are entities that are simultaneously abstract and concrete like books and banks or that have the amalgam of properties we discover when we explore the meanings of even the simplest words like river person city etc you think the average person doesn't believe in this technical question okay it's a question if you try to figure out what a person's folk science is you know how people think the world is actually constituted of entities which is not do i talk about books of course we talk about books we talk about the meaning of life and so on right but if you ask people well you know how do you think the world really works that's probably that's no science like you go to some other community and you try to figure out what what's their idea about how the world works like maybe the classical greeks thought apollo pulls the sun through the sky or something that's their folk scientific picture of how the world works right that's a hard topic you can't just do armchair philosophy about it that's why ethno scientists have to work you know and when they work what they if i think if they worked on people like us instead of just talking about it in a you know in the common room they would discover that our folk science yours in mind does not include entities that are simultaneously abstract and concrete and does not include entities like the meaning of life that doesn't mean we can't talk about i'm sure we talk about them all the time but we don't at least i don't and i presume other people don't think of them as constituents of the way the world operates these are we don't do that when we're talking to each other informally now that sounds a little bit more moderate than than what you've said elsewhere here's a passage from i believe this is from new horizons we say in the domain where questions of realism arise in a serious way in the context of the search for laws of nature objects are not conceived from the peculiar perspectives provided by the concepts of governments that's absolutely right see but there's several different enterprises you have to distinguish here and i don't i don't think it's more or less moderate it's about a different topic when you're trying to understand something about the nature of the world you and i anybody you start with some kind of what's called folk science almost every society we know has some picture of the way the world works which is more or less commonly shared if you try to do this more reflectively and carefully and you know bringing in other criteria and probably being bringing in other cognitive faculties we don't know that for sure but i suspect it then it becomes the enterprise of science which is a different enterprise and a peculiar one it's not folk science it's science that works in other ways this comment has to do with our culture in which the enterprise of science is understood right our you know intellectual culture and in that when we try to find out how the world works we discard the concepts of common sense very quickly but it sounds to me here like what you're saying is that the only things that are real right are the things that science tells us are real so that sounds like what you're saying here is that well this table isn't real but maybe you know real is an honorific term okay you can use it any way you like i mean to say that if i say something is true and then i add well it's the real truth i'm not saying they're two different kinds of truth the truth and the real truth i'm just emphasizing what i said and the term real is basically used honorifically uh so yeah you can use it honorifically in various ways if we're trying to find out the way the world works and to really understand it in the manner of the sciences we very quickly give up common sense notions if we're carrying out folk science you know less reflectively probably using different cognitive faculties we also give up common sense notions but in different ways well you can say a lot of i mean claims about something being honorific like real being honorific i mean uh alan gibbard for example has argued that terms like rational are honorific or moral are honorific well i don't agree with that i think real is quite there but what's the difference in these cases though because i think rationality is something that we can understand and morality is something real and it's part of us and we can try to figure out what it is we can try to figure out what our moral faculties are we understand something about what rational action is uh but about reality we have to ask what we're talking about right if we're talking about reality in the enterprise of trying to discover the way the world works in a physics department or a linguistics department or whatever common sense notions are irrelevant if we're trying to explore our intuitive understanding of the way the world works common common sense notions are relevant but we discard them if you have if you're using it in a more informal way like is the meaning of life uh real yeah sure okay well look there's there's a sort of space between ethnoscience and science right and common sense and all of those and it's been explored by philosophers for for two thousand five hundred years and it's called metaphysics right no that's different okay so that's that's that is a question about science is a branch of science right ethanol science is the branch of science that tries to figure out what people's beliefs are about the way the world works right metaphysics is not i understand that but do you think that metaphysics is impossible no science is metaphysical okay good let's talk about what the world is made of all right so but then the question is why do you think that science gets to claim what's real now let me give you an example so in the scientific image vaseline frosten is a scientific anti-realist so he says the things posited by science quarks etcetera are not real but mid-sized earthbound objects are real now you've got the flip side of that right i don't have any side because i don't think the word real is sensible enough to use and they're all real in different senses if you're trying to understand the way the world actually works whether you're a bus von frassen or you or me we're going to go to the scientists because they tell us how the world really works if we're interested in exploring people's common sense beliefs we'll go to the ethno-scientists well let's see what they described what if we're interested in something like whether there are events or whether there are properties or whether there are neurological sums or something well let's take events which plays a prominent role in modern semantics right so here you can ask a lot of different questions for one thing you can ask whether in say davidsonian semantics where there's a lot of or anything that developed from it event based semantics whether the things what whether what are called events are internal to the mind or outside the head right i think they're internal to the mind can't they be both well they could but then we're asking another question right if we're asking well how do these things that are internal to the mind relate to something in the outside world we'll say okay let's take a look at what you mean by an event so for example is the american revolution an event yeah it was an important event in history does that event include the fact that the man who the indigenous population called the town destroyer took off a little time in the middle of the revolution to destroy the iroquois civilization is that part of the event called the american revolution well not when you study it in school you know uh you want to find out about that event you got to you probably the iroquois remember uh the ones who are left or you've got to look at a serious scholarly history then you find out that one part of what was going on in the event that we call the american revolution was a side operation in 1979 to wipe out the iroquois civilization so that the colonies could expand if they got rid of the british well is that part of the event or isn't it well you know here come hard questions about what we're really going to call events in the outside world and those questions don't have answers because they are you know they're highly dependent on our interests our perspective our goals you know all kinds of factors so i don't think we're going to find external events in any sense worth pursuing for investigation external events just be complicated objects that can be anything you like but it is is what is the town destroyers exploit part of the american revolution or isn't it well that event it's not your choice but there's no answer yeah but now it sounds like you're saying that well i have representations of events right the representation representations you have representations i have representation because there's some which we formally call events right but now one might ask what on earth is a it's not a representation of see that's a mistake that comes from a philosophical tradition the way the term represent is used in the philosophical tradition it's a relation between an internal object and an external object exactly it's not the way it's used either in ordinary speech or in the sciences so when when a perceptual psychologist say that talks about an internal representation of you know a cube or something they don't have any cube there they're talking about something that's going on in the head in fact what they may be studying and usually are studying is a relation between things like kistoscopic presentations and internal events there's no cube but nevertheless they talk about it an internal representation i mean the concept internal rep there's a long discussion in here the concept internal representation is used in the sciences and i think that's ordinary speech too in ways which don't involve a relation between an internal thing and an external thing and that derives from a particular interpretation of the theory of ideas you know which said well ideas represent something out there yeah i should interject anyway i should say that that's not the interpretation of the theory ideas that were given by the people who used it so like say hume for example uh i quote him in there what he he raises a serious empirical question uh he says is a it's about the nature of uh um the terms he uses the identity that we ascribe to things meaning how do we individuate things right and he asks the question well is this a peculiar nature common to the thing or is it what he calls fictitious uh a construction of the mind right and he says fictitious there is no entity there is no common nature there's no nature common the thing there's a construction of the mind which we used to talk about the world it's not going to be anything i mean he was not an idiot he was not an idealist not here he's saying we interact he believes there's an external world out there there's a coffee cup on the table and so on but he says that the he's talking about the individuation of things how we organize things how we construct their picture of the world right and that involves the way our minds work uh and that doesn't mean the world isn't there you know it's just what his predecessors call their cognoscative powers which use the data of sense to construct an account of the world and he's saying well you want to look at the identity of thing the identity that we ascribe to things like what makes us call something a book or an event and so on he's saying what's fictitious in the sense that it's a construction of the mind based on the data of sense that's not an idealist position in fact that's the position of modern science because people will call you a crypto idealist then they're misunderstanding what idealism okay let me there's an issue that i wanted i wanted to get to here and this involves the thing we mentioned about representations and whether representation requires there being something that it is a representation of now in a very important and somewhat influential book by saul kripke there's a revival of the sort of wittgensternian argument but about rule following let me just read the relevant passage here so in that book kriebke says if statements attributing rule following are neither to be regarded as stating facts nor to be thought of explaining our behavior it would seem that the use of the idea of rules and competence in linguistics needs serious reconsideration even if these notions are not rendered meaningless and i know you've i've written written on that knowledge of language crucial word is if right okay and beyond and the fact is that in a way in the sense in which the term rule is used in for thousands of years in fact in the study of language it's not the kind of rule he had in mind so if somebody if you read a book you know you study latin let's say or you studied it a thousand years ago they would have a rule that tells you you know when to use the ablative case or something that's not a rule in wittgenstein sense it's a description of a part of the language right so the questions about rule following just don't arrive but we don't need to get hung up on rules and so forth that's what he's talking about i understand that but in a certain sense he's talking about any sort of computational state but there so take take just a computer right forget about human beings for a second see computers are different stories right okay let's just

why aren't these questions asked about insects right i mean insects when you study insects you attribute to them computational states right is that a problem i mean is it not real like if you say that an insect is doing you know is determining the position of the sun as a function of the time of year and time of day and here's the computation it's using isn't that why isn't that science uh that would be but the argument would be that the reason you can get away with that is because you're talking about what it's the the the representations that you're attributing to the insect are externalistically anchored and that is you couldn't do it unless the you had an investment it's not true you could do it in an experimental situation in which you have a light and in fact if you knew how to do it you could do it by stimulating the external sensory organs of the insect it would all be interior and there's there's enough to be a sun there no it's just that yeah you're talking about it the way it happens actually in the real world but the same thing with you would say the same thing in an experimental setting where you don't have an external world because you're talking about the internal construct computations of the insect on the occasion right of sins notice doesn't matter what's out there notice the shift there though because you went from saying uh you you went from saying you don't need the sun in the experimental setting to say and you you don't say this you could run the experiment in a world that didn't have the sun and that's a different story right now it's not a different story the point is if you look at what insect scientists are studying they're studying what 17th century philosophers used to call the constructions of the mind on the occasion of sense right now it happens that in the world that they're looking at uh the occasions of sense happen to be related the fact that there's something 93 million miles away but the study could go on as if it's what hillary called a brain in a vet and the studies are internalist uh because we don't know anything else to study but this is disputed right i mean there is this dispute about david maher right i mean there's two stories on this tyler burge and and martin davis for example argue that mars sort of fraught with externalists sort of yeah but they're just misreading him okay i mean in fact the uh i have to know more personally but i'm sure if he was here he would say this if you look at the informal exposition in more in mars vision let's say book vision you look at the informal exposition in order to motivate what he's doing he says well you know imagine you know an elephant or something or anything like a stick figure and you're trying to you try and you we we want to know how that thing out there is interpreted by the visual system as you know some three-dimensional object however if you look at the experiment the experimental procedures of mar they didn't have elephants out there in fact what they were using was the kistoscopes and if they so they were having you know dots on screens and if they had known how to stimulate the optic nerve they would have done that when you go from the informal exposition to the actual science you see that like everything else it's a study of the internal nature of the beast and in fact you know in they would have loved to get to the point where they could tell you something about how you identify a you know an elephant but they're never anywhere near that however even if they did it wouldn't matter whether the elephant is there or not it would matter what sensory what's the occasion of sense again the 17th century formulation of this was i think quite appropriate on the occasion of sense the cognoscative that sounds archaic but the cognoscative powers of the mind construct complicated internal structures which have all sorts of properties and gestalt properties you know what hume later called the uh identity that we ascribe to things and so on and that looks correct and that's the way modern science looks at it the fact that the informal expositions uh talk you know to sort of motivate what you're doing talk about identifying objects on the outside that's fine but you have to know how to distinguish informal expositions from the actual scientific program and if you look at the actual program they never looked at things outside aside froam the kistoscopic images because they're as close as you can get to the occasion of sins



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Noam Chomsky 


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Avram Noam Chomsky[a] (born December 7, 1928) is an American linguistphilosophercognitive scientisthistorian,[b][c] social critic, and political activist. Sometimes called "the father of modern linguistics",[d] Chomsky is also a major figure in analytic philosophy and one of the founders of the field of cognitive science. He holds a joint appointment as Institute Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Laureate Professor at the University of Arizona, and is the author of more than 100 books on topics such as linguistics, war, politics, and mass media. Ideologically, he aligns with anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism.
Born to Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants in Philadelphia, Chomsky developed an early interest in anarchism from alternative bookstores in New York City. He studied at the University of Pennsylvania. During his postgraduate work in the Harvard Society of Fellows, Chomsky developed the theory of transformational grammar for which he earned his doctorate in 1955. That year he began teaching at MIT, and in 1957 emerged as a significant figure in linguistics with his landmark work Syntactic Structures, which played a major role in remodeling the study of language. From 1958 to 1959 Chomsky was a National Science Foundation fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study. He created or co-created the universal grammar theory, the generative grammar theory, the Chomsky hierarchy, and the minimalist program. Chomsky also played a pivotal role in the decline of behaviorism, and was particularly critical of the work of B. F. Skinner.
An outspoken opponent of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, which he saw as an act of American imperialism, in 1967 Chomsky rose to national attention for his antiwar essay "The Responsibility of Intellectuals". Associated with the New Left, he was arrested multiple times for his activism and placed on President Richard Nixon's Enemies List. While expanding his work in linguistics over subsequent decades, he also became involved in the linguistics wars. In collaboration with Edward S. Herman, Chomsky later articulated the propaganda model of media criticism in Manufacturing Consent and worked to expose the Indonesian occupation of East Timor. His defense of freedom of speech, including Holocaust denial, generated significant controversy in the Faurisson affair of the 1980s. Since retiring from MIT, he has continued his vocal political activism, including opposing the 2003 invasion of Iraq and supporting the Occupy movement. Chomsky began teaching at the University of Arizona in 2017.
One of the most cited scholars alive,[19] Chomsky has influenced a broad array of academic fields. He is widely recognized as having helped to spark the cognitive revolution in the human sciences, contributing to the development of a new cognitivistic framework for the study of language and the mind. In addition to his continued scholarship, he remains a leading critic of U.S. foreign policyneoliberalism and contemporary state capitalism, the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, and mainstream news media. His ideas have proven highly influential in the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist movements, but have also drawn criticism, with some accusing Chomsky of anti-Americanism.


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