Exclusive AMA w Noam Chomsky on Jung Wittgenstein and Gödel


Theories of Everything with Curt Jaimungal


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Noam: I'll tell you,   if we have a minute, a short anecdote.  (Sure.) I had an old friend of mine who was a   really great philosopher, one of the most  outstanding. He used to also teach undergraduate   great ideas courses - freshman courses which go  from the Greeks to the present on everything,   and we were walking across campus once, I was  walking him over to his class and I said, “How   can you teach a course that covers everything?”  He says, “Well I just start the course by saying,   “Ask me anything.”” (Chuckles) Curt: Intro   Many of you are likely new to this channel, and  as a brief introduction my name is Curt Jaimungal.   I'm a filmmaker and have a background in  mathematical physics - particularly the   theoretical end of what are called Grand Unified  Field Theories. This channel is dedicated to   interviewing intellectuals on cognitive science,  consciousness, philosophy, psychology as well as   of course math and physics, as I delve into the  variegated inner workings of the universe with a   heavy emphasis on keeping it technical rather than  simplifying. This is the third time I was blessed   enough to speak with Noam Chomsky, and I thought  that we take a different angle than the political   nature of our previous conversations and instead  open this up to an AMA an “Ask Me Anything,”   and cold questions from the audience, as well as  professors. According to Noam this was the first   ever AMA he's done, but a quick Google search  shows that he did conduct one with Reddit about   eight years ago, so I think he simply forgot. But  either way, it went so well that we far surpassed   the 30 minutes we had scheduled and will likely  be doing another one in 2021. I'm also joined   by my colleague Peter Glinos who has a background  in evolutionary biology, history, and philosophy.   This is probably the most academic conversation  with Noam in years - at least in video form.   It's scholastic, clinical, straight to the point  because you're here for Noam, not me. So, enjoy!   I'll ask you some questions from professors  first, and then we'll get on to general audience   questions. OK.   Professor Rebecca Goldstein, professor of  philosophy, asks, “I would love to hear   Noam Chomsky expatiate on what he thinks the  implications of Godel’s Incompleteness Theorems   are, both in terms of mathematical realism, and  in terms of our mathematically knowing minds.”   I don't think there's any clear answer to  that question. The technical aspects of the   theorem are understood - within a particular  language of sufficient richness, you can't   establish the truth of expressions within  that language. If you want to establish truth,   you're going to have to keep going up and up an  endless hierarchy of richer and richer languages.   But we can understand it, so it's comprehensible.  So, that’s as far as our understanding goes.   But what it tells us about the world  - anything outside about the world,   really goes back to the much simpler question:  what does arithmetic tell us about the world?   Where are the numbers? They’re not in our  minds. There are truths about the numbers,   just the plain, natural numbers, which we somehow  grasp. But what are the things that we are   grasping? Is it something in a Platonic universe?  Is it something in a mental construction?   I don't think there are any satisfying  answers to these questions.   Are there any implications from Godel’s  Incompleteness Theorems to linguistics?   No, I don't think so. Linguistics does  involve formal computational systems,   but they are sufficiently elementary  so that these questions don't arise.   And if they did it wouldn't matter. So, they  arise in physics which uses all of mathematics,   but doesn't interfere with the physicist.   Professor of neuroscience Anil Seth says, “I  wonder - given what I perceive as a longstanding   skepticism of scientific progress in  the understanding of consciousness,   whether Chomsky has seen any promising  shift toward good ideas in this domain.”   It's worth thinking about it for a moment. In  recent years, consciousness has been called   the “hard problem,” the real serious  problem of philosophy and science.   We might look at a little bit of history here.  If we go back to the 17th century there was a   hard problem - it was motion. Motion was what was  called the hard rock in philosophy – philosophy   meaning science. We can't comprehend it. Turns  out, it was right. We couldn't comprehend it,   and we still don't comprehend it - not in  the sense in which Galileo, Leibniz, Huygens,   Newton, the other great founders of modern  science wanted to understand things.   For them, intelligibility and understanding  meant constructing a mechanical model for it.   And mechanical model meant something with gears  and levers and cranks and so on. Something like   what was being produced all over Europe at  that time by highly skilled artisans, amazing   people with their imitations of human beings, duck  digesting, the fountains at Versailles, and so on.   And what was called the mechanical philosophy,  meaning mechanical science, that was the   basis for the scientific revolution, held that the  entire world must be a massive machine of the sky.   There was a problem of explaining motion  within that system - that was the hard rock.   Then Newton came along and said  it's hopeless. Newton’s theory   crucially involved [?] forces that cannot be  captured within the mechanical philosophy.   Newton didn't believe it. He spent the  rest of his life trying to overcome it.   He regarded it as an absurdity that no person  of scientific intelligence can possibly accept.   Leibniz and others agreed. They accused him  of reintroducing the occult properties of the   despised Neo-scholastics. And he didn't disagree.  Now that's why his Principia is a mathematical   theory, not a physical theory. He was crucial on  that. I don't have a physical explanation; I just   have something that works. So, we can understand  the theory, but we cannot grasp what it's talking   about. What's important, just to keep it brief,  is that the hard rock in philosophy was abandoned.   It was recognized that we cannot comprehend, we  cannot gain an intelligible universe modeled that   meets our standards of intelligibility. So, it  was abandoned, and science just reduced its goals   to finding intelligible theories. I  think the same is true of consciousness,   and many other things. We just abandon the search  for an intelligible universe. We try to find   intelligible theories that will account for the  phenomena and in that respect, there's progress in   understanding consciousness. So, there are better  theories about some of its properties and so on,   and that's the most that we can aspire to. We're  not going to achieve for this hard problem what   we haven't achieved for other hard problems.  It's an illusion. It was correct to give up the   search for intelligible account of motion and  move on to develop theories which explain it,   onto relativistic theories and theories of  gravitons, or whatever you like. We don't   have an intelligible concept of the universe  in the sense of Newton and Galileo, so I think   the answer to the question about consciousness is  let's find out more about it and develop some kind   of theoretical account of what it. And I think  there’s quite a lot to say about that. One thing   which we could go into is that almost  everything in our mental lives is   beyond the reach of consciousness.  Consciousness picks up little bits and fragments   of what our mental life is about. There’s a lot to  say about that, but let's go on to your question.   So either in the field of linguistics  or in the field of conscious mind,   do you believe that we're working off a Ptolemaic  model based on a particular assumption, what   do you believe that assumption is, what do you  think are the consequences? The Ptolemaic model   was able to account for too many phenomena. It  was able to account for the phenomena that exist,   but if all sorts of different things had  been true, you could build epicycles and   epicycles and describe them. It was basically  abandoned, partly for that reason, and partly   because there was much simpler model. And  that's the way science works. There may be   systems that are so rich they could account for  anything if you fiddle with this and that. Those   are the wrong systems. We want the systems that  account for what is. That exclude what isn't. OK.   That's the way we try to understand things.  So Ptolemaic model was never really refuted.   You could always adjust it somewhere or another to  deal with whatever came along. But the excessive   richness and the extreme complexity led  it to be simply abandoned in favor of   much simpler theories that attempt to account  for what there is, while excluding what isn't.   Professor of philosophy Daniel Bonevac asks,  “Infinitival phrases are common but rarely   analyzed in semantics literature. To take one of  your famous examples, the students want to visit   Paris, the students want blank. (I'm assuming  this has to do with “want-to/wanna-contractions.”)   What kind of thing goes in the blank  from a semantic point of view?”   In things like wanna-contraction? You have a famous example:   “The students wanna visit Paris. And then, the  students want blank. What goes in that blank?   Well, that has to do with consciousness. There is  very good evidence that what goes on in your mind   is, if you say something like, “who do you  want to meet?” let's say. That’s what comes   out of your mouth that goes into your ear, but  what's going on in your mind is an expression   (actually a much more abstract expression) but  something like, “who do you want who to meet?”   “Who do you want who to read the book?” and  that who in the middle there, is preventing   wanna-contraction. When you say, “Where do you  wanna go?,” there's nothing there in your mind.   It’s just “want to,” not “want who to.” So, they  differ in their, in what's happening inside your   mind. It's more complex than this but that's the  core property. So, it’s one good example of how   we're not conscious of what's going on in our  minds. That's what's going on our minds. We have   evidence of it from a lot of sources, one of them  is wanna- contraction. So that just tells us we   can't introspect into what's in our minds - lots  of things going on. When you and I are talking,   there's massive mental computation going  on, all of it totally ahead of the reach of   consciousness. We get little bits and fragments  here and there and we call that consciousness.   And this is a particular example of it. Actually,  before pushing it to hard I should make clear that   this explanation is only very partial. If you look  further there's much more complicated properties.   But I think that's the basis of it.  A simple account is in the case of   “what do you wanna do?,” what's in your mind  is “what you want to do,” and “who do you want,   who do you wanna read the book” it's  “who do you want who to read the book?”   So therefore “want” and “to” were not adjacent  in your mind, and they don’t contract.   Again, that's the first step, basically  indicates the kind of thing that's going on.   Professor Chomsky, the following question  comes from Joseph Velikovski of Newcastle. So,   there have been some developments in evolutionary  biology in the field of memetics, which are   different units of culture - behaviors that we  pass down from one generation to the next. They’ve   evolved. They follow evolutionary algorithms. It  was popularized by Dawkins. Now when we look at   memetics, there is a philosopher Daniel Dennett  who posits that for understanding language,   or in the quest to understand language, you can  use memetics to understand certain linguistic   algorithms. That is to say that language evolves  in the same way that biological cultures evolve,   gene cultures evolve. I was curious if  you've heard of the field of memetics,   and if you had any opinions on that field. Well, this proposal that you mentioned   has a number of problems. One problem is that  it doesn't give an explanation for anything.   Try to give an example. Take the example  that was just given. Does it say anything   about wanna-contraction? No. Does it say  anything about anything else about language?   No. That's one problem. The other problem is that  we have some evidence about evolution of language,   and it doesn't seem to work anything like  that. We don’t have a lot of evidence,   but we have some… could run through it. Just to give a counterpoint, or an example, to   defend memetics for a bit, take for example the  phenomena we notice when we have expats living in   a colony, and the development of their language,  versus the development of language in a meme.   So, I'll give a very concrete example. Take  the English, and then the American colonists.   The American colonists spoke Rhotic English and  over time the mainland population of English,   the English that we know the people in Britain  speak, it evolved into the Queen's English,   while the colony population has  sort of maintained Rhotic English.   We notice a similar type of phenomena  with the French and the Quebecers,   the Chinese and the Strait Chinese of  Singapore. Well, a very similar thing happens   in biology in population dynamics. In fact, if  you have a population, a mainland population,   and you take out different individuals from that  mainland population and you put them on an island,   the mainland population will evolve at a faster  rate than the island population. And they’ll sort   of be, not stuck out of time… They don't totally  stop evolving, neither biology nor linguistic,   but it's an example of an evolutionary  algorithm that seems to hold with linguistics.   Except that has nothing to do with evolution.  We have to distinguish evolution from change.   Languages change all the time, but there's  no linguistic evolution. Evolution means   something that's happening basically to your  genetics, to your DNA. That's evolution. And   there's pretty good evidence that there has  been no evolution of the language faculty   for a couple hundred thousand years. This  is a common misunderstanding, but change   is not evolution. The American colonists  and the British who stayed in the mainland   had the same language faculty; it hadn't changed.  if you had taken an American colonist child   and raised him in London, he’d speak exactly like  the people in London, and conversely. In fact,   if you take an American kid today as an infant  and you raise him in a tribe in the Amazon, he'll   speak their language perfectly. The reason is, as  far as we know, there has been no evolution of the   language faculty ever since language emerged.  And for that there's fairly good evidence.   We know from genomic evidence that humans  began to separate roughly 150,000 years ago   (at least that much, maybe earlier, but that's  the earliest that’s been traced.) When you take   the people who separated, basically the Khoisan  people in Africa, they have the same language   faculty that we do as far as anyone knows. There's  just no evidence for that effect. What I said   about raising an American infant in the Amazon,  as far as we know that's true quite generally,   so there's literally no evidence that the language  faculty has evolved at all since language first   emerged. Which is not very surprising. These  are very short periods of evolutionary time.   200,000 years in evolution is an instant. I think we're confusing the tree with its   fruits. That is to say the mechanisms of evolution  - genetics -haven't necessarily (well they have   changed as well, just as the language faculty over  time has changed at one point, but we were well at   one point over a grand scale and descendants  from amphibians, when we evolved at some point   to have language. So, the language faculty if is  intrinsic to us would have had to evolve at some   point. But my point is that for both cases, the  island population and the mainland population,   the mechanism of evolution, i.e., genetics,  is the same. The linguistic evolution,   i.e., the linguistic faculty for the Americans  and the Bostonians and the English was the same.   But the software has changed,  has evolved, in both cases.   That’s just like saying that my language is  different from your language. Which it is.   I speak differently than you do. But we have  the same language faculty. It's a serious   mistake to confuse evolution with change.  Now it might be that some of the phenomena   in change have a sort of an analogy to things that  happen in evolution. But that's just an analogy.   It's a totally different process. The  evolutionary change involves genetic change.   A change in the way people behave - for all kinds  of reasons that changes. So, in fact we can talk   about language evolution, and there is work on  that, but these other things are just the study of   language change which may have some loose analogy  to things that happened within evolution.   Andres Zuleta asks, “Are there extra-linguistic  experiences, and how can we justify them if   we can only express them through language?” Well, I have extra-linguistic experiences. You can   ask what do you do? So, for example if I’m trying  to decide how should I go to work this morning.   There’s a number of different ways I could go. So,  I can visualize them in my mind. I say, “If I take   this road…” I don't say it. It just goes through  my mind in imagery. If I go on this road, I'll run   into a traffic jam over here. So, if I go that way  something else will happen. All of this is just   visual imagery. I could articulate some of it, but  much of what is going on I can't even articulate.   It's just a lot of complicated computation  about how to do things. Well, is that thought?   That's a terminological question. We might  bear in mind famous paper by Alan Turing, the   paper that initiated the field of artificial  intelligence, his famous 1950 paper on   machine thinking - can machines think? He starts  off by pointing out that the question whether   machines can think is too meaningless to deserve  discussion. He didn't go on to explain why,   but it's pretty obvious why. It’s a terminological  question. It's like asking, “Do submarines swim?”   “Do airplanes fly?” If you want to look at it that  way, yeah, they fly. Airplanes fly. Do you want   to look at a different way? Yeah, people  fly when they jump too high. Actually,   some languages express it that way. But these are  not substantive questions. We have a notion of   linguistic articulated thought. That's a pretty  clear notion. We understand to a certain extent   the mechanisms that construct it. That create it.  It encompasses the kind of thought that’s used in   inference, in reflection, in planning, and so  on. There are other things going on in our minds   which we can call thought if we want  or we can call them something else,   but they are of a different character. You could  say the same about the - there happen to be two   loveable canines - I can't use the word or  there'll be a race under my desk – they have   something like thoughts- maybe 10 or 15 of them  - and I can list them very quickly by some words   or some actions. But they can't do the kinds of  things that we do with language. They can't plan,   they can't reason, they can't imagine  circumstances and ask how they would act in them,   as far as we know at least. So, do they have  thoughts? It’s a terminological question.   So, this question is from (if I'm  pronouncing it correctly) Rivulet.   “Then is language the substance of ideas, or  merely the communicative apparatus? In other   words, can a thought or idea exist in the brain  without it being capable of verbal articulation?   Can a thought or idea be perceived/recognized  only if it has been verbally articulated?”   Very similar to one of the questions before. That's pretty much back to the proceeding point.   There are things that go on our mind -- my  reaction to the particular shade of the color   red -- is that an idea? Well, for David Hume  it was an idea. Can I express it in words? No.   So, I think we're in the domain of terminology.  You can call it an idea if you want. You can call   it a vivid impression if you want. But can we  articulate it? Loosely, but not exactly. I can't   convey to you my exact impression when I look at  the color of the wall behind you. I can't convey   it in words. So, do I have an idea of what it is?  It's a matter of how we want to use the word idea.   You go back to the way in which the word idea  developed in modern philosophy and science.   The term idea for somebody like say Descartes was  just an entity in the theory of mind. A sentence   could be an idea. A phrase could be an idea. An  impression could be an idea. It’s a theoretical   entity within the framework of some theory of  mind. It's kind of like particle in physics.   Physicists can't really tell you – in fact there  are big debates about what a particle is - but   whatever it is it's some entity which has a  certain place within a theoretical framework,   an explanatory theoretical framework.   Aro Own asks, “Eric Weinstein has suggested  that similar to the property of language,   we might have a Chomskyan pre-grammar for  religious belief built in. For this reason,   Weinstein continues to engage in Jewish ritual  that is attending synagogue services and so on,   while nevertheless being an atheist,  at least identifying with atheism.   Does Chomsky agree with Weinstein's appropriation  of Chomsky's theory for the domain of religion?”   That’s not really a theory; it’s a suggestive  analogy. So, there's some structured or   religious belief in practice of course.  We could work out what that structure is,   both for particular religions and probably for  religious belief in general. There are probably   universal properties that are part of our nature  which show up in different religious practices.   When we work out these structures, and the rules  that they follow, will they have anything like   the properties of human language? That's a serious  question. You can't answer it until you've worked   them out. Chances are, maybe some could have  loose connections, but probably not much. There   are interesting investigations about other systems  that appear to be cultural universals, and about   how they relate to our language. For example,  for 40 years now, ever since Leonard Bernstein's   Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard, there  has been serious inquiry into structural and   algorithmic relations between the structure of  music, at least classical music (tonal classical   music,) and the structures of language. And  there are some interesting ideas about that.   Another relevant question is  actually one that Rebecca Goldstein   sort of brought up. What about arithmetic? It’s a  very interesting question. This is a question that   much engaged Darwin and Wallace at the  origins of the theory of evolution.   They were very puzzled and debated the fact  that all humans have arithmetical capacity.   They didn't know that for a fact, but they  assumed it, and it's apparently true. It’s   just part of our nature to understand that  there are infinitely many natural numbers, that   when you add them, it works this way not some  other way, and so on. That seems to be part of   universal human nature. And they were very puzzled  by that because it couldn't possibly have been   selected, since it was never used. It's only been  used in a tiny recent period of human history,   so how could it be there? Wallace thought you  had to invent some other evolutionary process   beyond selection, and Darwin didn't accept  that, but they never had an answer. Well,   one possible answer which we can now formulate  (don't know if it's true) is that it could be   that our arithmetical knowledge (not the  numbers - that's a different question, but our   knowledge of arithmetic) could  be an offshoot of language.   Turns out, if you take the most elementary  principles that yield linguistic structures,   and you reduce them to their absolute minimum  (a lexicon, which contains one element)   you get the successor function, and something like  addition. So, you get the rudiments of arithmetic.   And it's possible that the reason  we have knowledge of arithmetic   is because we have language, and that  this is just an offshoot of it.   Another idea that's been developed is that at some  point in human evolution, probably roughly around   the time that Homo-sapiens emerged, there was  a slight rewiring of the brain which provided a   computant, and a mechanism of computation  of discrete Infinity…recursive functions   that recursively generate an infinite  number discrete Infinity of structures.   And that this was then applied in language and  applied in arithmetic may be applied in music,   some think it was applied in moral systems.  Well, these are all researchable topics.   But when we go back to Eric Weinstein's question,  in the Jewish tradition, his and mine, Judaism is   pretty much a religion of practice, and not so  much a religion of belief. There are things,   prayers where we say, “I believe,” but that's not  the core of the religion. A religious serious Jew   like my grandfather, for him, Judaism was his  whole life. But it was the rituals. If you’d   asked him, “Do you believe in God,” he wouldn't  know what you're talking about. These are the   prayers that I perform, these are the rituals  I carry out. It goes on all day, all my life,   and that's who I am. It’s the array of religious  practices. Do you believe this and that – Yeah,   I suppose so, but it's kind of on the side. Jack McGreevy asks, “I was actually wondering   if you could ask him about Philosophical  Investigations, which was released in Chomsky’s   mid 20s. Was he familiar with it? Did it in any  way to inform his development of the concept   of linguistic competence, the intuitive knowledge  of a language possessed by its native speakers?”   Well, I knew about the investigations as  soon as they appeared and had in fact read   The Blue and Brown Books as soon as they  appeared, so I was familiar with the ideas.   They had an influence, but not direct. There  were ways of looking at things which were   illuminated by Wittgenstein’s rather  aphoristic approach. His actual proposals,   concrete proposals, in The Blue and Brown  Books again, in The Investigations, about how   language is acquired, just don't make any sense  at all. So, they had no influence. (Why not?)   Because language doesn't work at all  like that. (Can you explain?) Well,   I’ve actually written about it. If you look at  these, he talks about how language developed…A   couple of people are together. One of them points  to it rock and says “rock,” and the other one   says a “rock,” and then they develop a language  that way. It's just not even remotely like that.   That's just off the spectrum of discussion.  None of these things happen. That's not the way   language develops at all. In fact, the concepts  in our mind, you can easily show, are much richer   than anything that's presented. They're kind  of elicited by phenomena, but a rich system   quickly evolves. But on the other hand, when you  look at, say, Wittgenstein’s account of how you   should think about language, like if you want to  know the meaning of a word you should look into   how it's characteristically used- that may give  you some insight into the meaning of the word-   now that's a valuable insight. In fact, it appears  my own work. My own early work from the early   1950s basically adopted it - use theory of meaning  – of roughly a Wittgensteinian style. It was   actually more seriously influenced by the Oxford  philosophers of the same period. John Austin,   Peter Strawson, Gilbert Ryle had rather similar  views which I found more compelling and helpful.   While we’re on the topic of Wittgenstein, do you   make anything of his private language  argument? is there any relationship between   that and your idea of “I-languages” or Idiolect? Well, somebody who's interested in Wittgenstein’s   private language argument should first  ask “What is it? What’s the argument?”   There's a huge literature about it, and  there's no consensus on what the argument is.   Take a look, say, at the Stanford Encyclopedia  of Philosophy, a major serious source.   Look up Wittgenstein - private  language. You won't find the argument;   What you'll find is a lot of exegesis  about what the argument is supposed to be.   I don't think anybody can actually formulate  clearly what the argument is supposed to be.   At least I can't, and I haven't  seen it from anyone else.   But did it influence I-language? No. I-languages  is just, the term “I-language,” I introduced in   order to clarify terminological confusion. In  the early years of generative grammar, the term   “grammar” was used with systematic ambiguity.  It was used both for the linguists’ theory   and for what the theory described. It was used  for the object being described, and for the theory   about that object. So, I suggested in the 1980s,  since this was causing a lot of confusion,   that we should make a terminological change: keep  the term “grammar” for the linguists’ theory,   which is pretty much in accord with traditional  usage, and for the object being described,   call it “I-language,” where “I”  usefully in English can suggest   internal, individual, and intentional (in the  sense of a function in intention - not intention   in the sense of Carnap - sometimes confused. A  function in intention is the actual function, not   the set of pairs that it relates, but the way in  which it relates them. So, if you do arithmetic   one way and I do it a different way, that we have  different functions in intention, same function in   extension. So, we're interested in a function in  intention - what is actually is, what's actually   coded in the brain. So, it's internal, individual,  intentional, coded in the brain somehow. Our   grammars are efforts to develop theories about it.  (But that had nothing to do with Wittgenstain.)   Joe Siro asks, “If mental events are  causally predetermined to physical events,   (which themselves are attached to volition,) what  does the data say about the relationship between   conscious volitions and unconscious wiring, in  relation to the problem of freedom of the will?   What does linguistics say about this? Linguistics doesn't say anything.   But there is a question about decision and choice,  and consciousness of decision and choice. And   there is experimental work – the famous Libet  Experiments from 30 or so years ago - which show   that there's a gap of couple hundred milliseconds  between a decision and conscious awareness of the   decision. Now they don’t talk about complicated  things like what we're doing, like making up   sentence. It’s not that. Just simple things  like, say, lifting your finger. So, suppose I   decide I'm going to lift my finger. Well, it turns  out that the musculature, and the instructions   to it are already being implemented before I'm  consciously aware of having made the decision.   What does that tell you about free will? Nothing.  Just puts it back a little further. It says   the conscious decision is maybe already  determined. But what about the decision?   No, actually the sciences tell us essentially  nothing about this. What the sciences tell us   is we can't explain it. What we can account for  is things that keep to determinacy and stochastic   processes - randomness basically. So, if it's  within the framework of stochastic processes and   deterministic processes, we can develop theories.  Well, is freedom of choice within that framework?   That's the question. But the sciences don't answer  it. They can just say, “we can't handle it.”   There are some kind of exotic arguments in  quantum theory and relativistic physics.   There is an argument that actually time is  reversible, has no particular direction,   could be going in another direction. For example,  if an observer makes a measurement in the   split experiments, it's determining the waveform’s  collapse, and it's becoming a particle. Well, we   could go in the other direction in principle. So,  the collapse of the waveform could have preceded   the decision to make a measurement. Does that tell  you there's no free will? I don't really think so,   but it's kind of an argument, and it’s about the  only kind of arguments there are. The rest is just   saying basically we can't handle it. So, if you  think that the sciences are complete, then there's   no free will because it doesn't fall within  the framework of determinacy and randomness.   But the question is are they complete? That's the  question of free will. When you look at the study   of voluntary motion, turns out there is extensive  neurophysiologic study of voluntary motion.   There's a recent article by two of the leading  scientists who work on it - Emilio Bizzi and   Robert Ajemian. It is a state-of-the-art article  on what we understand about elementary voluntary   motion. It appeared in Daedalus (Journal of the  American Academy of Arts and Sciences) where   they go through what we've learned about it, and  they kind of end up by saying, as they put it,   fancifully, that we're beginning to understand  the puppet, and the strings, but we have nothing   to say about the puppeteer. I can't say anything  about decisions. It’s a fact - just can’t. So,   you can believe what you like. We actually all  believe that we are free to make decisions. I'm   sure you believe it. I believe it. We could all  be deluded, but there's no evidence that we are.   Boris Costello asks, “Is mathematics itself the  domain of all languages, including of course,   the natural and biological language?” Well, there's a sense in which   mathematics is the language of all sciences.  They all work within a mathematical framework.   But mathematics itself it doesn't tell you how an  ant navigates, Right? If you want to study how an   ant navigates, you’re going to use mathematics.  But from mathematics, you can't deduce how an ant   navigates. These are the tools we can  use to describe whatever there is.   And it's the same with language. I  mentioned before that language is based on a   computational procedure which generates an  infinite number of structured expressions -   hierarchically structured expressions - which  in fact, can express thoughts, or can be   sent off to some sensorimotor system to be  externalized. That's the core of language. Well,   when you begin to describe that system  of course you’re using mathematics.   You're using at least elementary recursive  function theory, theory of computation, and   more when you proceed. But the mathematics itself  doesn't give you the answers to the questions   any more than it does for a bee navigating. Noam, I loved your book on anarchism, and   in it you talk about the relationship  between freedom [and] language, and one   of the questions I have for you in that sort  of frame is, is language created from the top   down - sort-of guardians of language who create  it, or is it being created from the bottom up?   We have to distinguish between two concepts  which actually you mentioned before,   possession of language and use of language. It’s  a distinction that goes back to Aristotle. He made   a distinction between possession of knowledge  and use of knowledge. A special case of it is   possession of language, use of language. In modern  terms it's called competence and performance.   Now going back to your question, there is free  generation. The language you possess is based on   the principle of free creation. The theory of  your language, which is a generative grammar,   enumerates the possible structures that express  thoughts, and are interpretable in your language.   But that's not creative action. Creative action  takes place in performance. So, what you and I   are now doing is in fact a pretty high level of  creation. You and I are regularly now producing   new expressions - maybe new in our experience,  maybe new in the history of the language.   They are appropriate to the circumstances in which  were functioning, but they're not caused by them.   There's nothing in what I'm looking at  that causes me to make this sentence,   as far as we know. Now we're back to the  free will question. But as far as we know   these are performances that are appropriate  to circumstances, but not compelled by them.   I’m basically quoting Descartes. Just to clarify, this individualized   language emerges internally, so when  you're saying it's a creative element,   it comes from a creative element within us, and  that this is the ultimate germ of language?   Well, only in the sense in which having arms  and legs comes creatively from within us. We are   designed - our genetic endowment designs us  - to have arms and legs instead of wings,   and it develops through an ontogenetic process.  It's affected by the environment of course,   by your nutritional level, by your level  of exercise, by all sorts of other things,   but basically, we're going to have arms and  legs unless there’s some very serious pathology.   And the same is true of language.  It just develops. It grows.   Noam, in the past you've critiqued social  construction, as when you're talking about   Bakunin’s red bureaucracy, for having the idea  that you can mold human beings into a particular   image, that there wasn't a sort of  nature that would fight back in some way.   It's they're not completely plastic. Do you  believe that this is part of that nature,   and the reason why human beings can't  be molded into a certain shape?   That's a fair question. It's been asked  for centuries. There is a rich tradition,   basically Cartesian origins in many  ways, that leads to classical liberalism.   Take leading figures in the classical liberal  tradition like Wilhelm von Humboldt, and   Rousseau and others who I mentioned. They argued  that we have at the core of our individual nature   what was sometimes called a kind of an instinct  for freedom. And they argue that it's linked to   the creativity of language. This is speculation  of course. You can't prove anything like this.   But there is a creative aspect  to human linguistic performance,   the kind of creative aspect I mentioned. The  speculation is [that] this is inherent to   human nature, and any social system that  constrains or restricts human creative   impulses and independence is illegitimate. Out  of that you derive classical liberal ideas,   anarchist ideas, and their later development and  so on. But if you want to prove it, there's no   proof. It's just conception of what human beings  are like, ideas about what language is like.   The next question is, “I'm curious if you have any  opinions on Carl Jung's work, such as the persona,   shadow archetypes, and is there a relationship  between what's archetypal, and universal grammar,   in the sense that there is an intrinsic structure  that gives rise to patterns of experience.”   Well, I was interested in Jung's work  occasionally, and wrote about it a little,   but mainly because of an interest in studying  the question of unconscious mental activity.   By unconscious I mean inaccessible  to consciousness. There’s plenty of   unconscious things that are accessible. You  can bring them out and think about them.   Freudian psychotherapy is based on the idea that  you can elicit them by the proper means. But   what about inaccessible consciousness? In the  whole history of thinking about this subject,   I have had a hard time finding  any clear examples of looking into   inaccessible unconscious mental activity. Jung  is one of the few exceptions. His archetypes are   not accessible to consciousness, at least as I  understand what he’s writing. They are somehow   there, they frame what we do, the way we look at  things, but we can't find them by introspection.   Well, if that's the case, if that’s the correct  interpretation of Jung, and their tradition, then   he might be an unusual, close to unique  exception to the beliefs that what’s unconscious   is accessible to consciousness. That’s  almost a dogma of modern philosophy.   With some philosophers it is a doctrine.  To Van Quine, John Searle, and others,   it’s a principle that if it's a  mental act, it has to be accessible.   So, one of our favorite anarchists, George Orwell,  writes in 1984 about how Winston only has those   cubic inches, or cubic centimeters, inside of his  skull, where he has freedom. And I can't help it   relate that to what you're talking about, with  this internal language that's within us, that's   inaccessible. Is there a way that that challenges  systems of power - as it did in 1984 - if you   notice that when you look at history? We don't have any neurophysiological or   other empirical evidence for it, but  there is the evidence of history and   experience. That's the kind of evidence that  Rousseau, Humboldt and others drew from.   I think we can make the case that humans  have always been striving for freedom,   and resist constraints on their activity. Now this  can be suppressed, and there are very interesting   cases of it. So, take something in our ordinary  experience - getting a job. Suppose you're out   of work, you don't have anything to eat, you look  for a job. It's considered a wonderful thing to   get a job. It wasn't always that way. If you go  back to the origins of the Industrial Revolution,   mid 19th century, take a look at the literature.  The working-class literature that was very rich   working-class literature. There was political  discussion. The idea of having a job was   considered a totally intolerable assault on  elementary human dignity and human rights.   Why should you be subjected to a master? Why  should anybody spend most of their waking hours   following orders given by a totalitarian  ruler? That's what having a job is. It means   you're following the orders of a master. And in  the early stages of the Industrial Revolution   this was regarded as not really different from  slavery. In fact, it was called wage slavery.   It was different from slavery only in that it  was temporary, until you could become a free   independent human being again. That was the slogan  of the major working-class organization, the major   one in American history, Knights of Labor.  It was the slogan of the Republican Party.   Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party held that to  be subordinate to a master and under wage labor is   intolerable – can’t be tolerated. Now that's  been beaten out of people’s heads over 150 years,   but I don't think it's far below the surface,  and I think it can be elicited. And there are   many other cases like that. It’s the kind of thing  that Gramsei talked about when he discussed how   hegemonic common sense captures people  and imprisons them and gets them to   not comprehend their own natural instincts  and desires. For a revolutionary,   the first step is to try to unravel these  kinds of constraints on thinking that make us   automatically obedient and subservient,  instead of asking, “Is that right?”   Slavoj Zizek talks about the revolutionary  elements within the phrase, “I'd prefer   not to.” I'm curious if you have handy words or  phrases, that have a revolutionary element, that   we have forgotten, that we should learn again. This is one. The idea that you should be subjected   to a master during your almost all your waking  hours, I think that is intolerable. I think   American workers and the Republican Party were  quite right in condemning this in the early   stages of the Industrial Revolution.  And I think we can work to overcome it   very concretely. Worker-managed  industries, for example.   Professor, you're famous for Chomskyan grammar  (well you should be famous for it, it bears your   name.) Do you mind telling the audience, what's  the difference between the original conception of   Chomskyan grammar/universal grammar, and how you  conceive of it now. That is, how did it change?   Well, it begins around 1950 with the first efforts  to construct generative grammars that did give a   recursive enumeration of the expressions of the  language with their structures assigned to them.   That's late 40s -1950, and you have to  look a little bit at the background.   The background at the time was that linguistics  was what was called a taxonomic science.   It's based on procedures of analysis  which you apply to a corpus of material,   and these procedures identify the elements of the  corpus, and their arrangement and organization.   And that taxonomy completes the subject. But  there's no explanation. There was a conception of   what language is - the conception is it's a system  of habits and training. If there is anything new   it's by analogy. Well, generative grammar took off  in a different direction. I should say at first,   I thought it was just a hobby. A personal hobby  can't be right because it's totally different   from everything else. Over the years, the hobby  became the thing that I thought was the field.   It was within what later came to be  called the bio-linguistic framework,   that is, regarding a language as what we  were talking about before, an “I-language.”   It's a trait, it's a property of you that  you speak a variety of English, not a variety   of Tagalog. A property of you coded in your  brain. And one crucial element of this property   is that it does generate an infinite number of  expressions, each of which captures a thought,   each of which could be externalized in one or  another sensorimotor modality. Well, as soon as   this enterprise was begun it was immediately  discovered that we don't know anything.   It was thought before that everything is known.  Just apply the procedures and you get the answers.   Turned out, as soon as he started writing  generative grammars, you didn't understand   a thing. There were problems and puzzles  everywhere. So, the first task was to try   to construct a theoretical apparatus rich enough  so you could at least describe the data that was   pouring out as soon as you began to study language  this way. So, the devices were extremely rich.   It was understood that that couldn't be right. The  reason it couldn't be right is two reasons. Within   the bio-linguistic framework you have to meet the  conditions of learnability and evolvability. You   have to account for the fact that a child acquires  this system on the basis of very limited data.   You also ultimately have to account for the fact  that somehow it evolved. And a very rich, complex   system just doesn't meet those conditions. So, the  basic theoretical work over the past 70 years has   been to try to move towards systems elementary  enough so that they could have evolved, but yet   rich enough in consequences so they can  account for learnability. We now know that   these problems of learnability and evolvability  are much more serious than was assumed in 1950.   The work in generative grammar set off a  lot of research into language acquisition,   and that work has shown that a 2or3-year old child  has basically mastered almost all of the language.   They don’t exhibit it in their performance,  but you can show it by experimentation,   what they understand, and so on. So, that  means the problem of learnability is extreme.   There have also been by now careful statistical  studies of the actual data available to children,   and it turns out to be very sparse. There's a lot  of sentences, but the same words repeated over and   over. And you don't even get many bigrams, let  alone trigrams. So, the problem of learnability   is extreme. The problem of evolvability is also  extreme. We’ve alluded to this. It seems that   language evolved in a very brief period. Roughly  at the time of the appearance of Homo sapiens,   2 to 300,000 years ago. Before that there's  no significant archaeological evidence of   symbolic activity altogether. After that there's  pretty rich evidence, and as I mentioned,   there’s good evidence that humans began  to separate not long after they'd emerged,   apparently with the same language faculty.  All of this pretty strongly suggests that   language evolved in a brief period of time, an  evolutionary period of time. So that means it   had to be simple enough so that it could have  evolved, has to be rich enough so that it can   account for the knowledge that’s attained on  very limited data. That seemed like a real   conundrum. But theoretical work has been aimed  at trying to overcome these problems, and also   the lingering problem in the background, that on  the surface, languages seem to differ very much,   which can't be true if these other things hold.  Well, in the recent couple of decades there's been   the first real progress, I think, in solving  this conundrum - finding systems simple enough so   that they could have evolved very quickly but yet  rich enough in their consequences so that you can   explain fundamental properties of language with  no learning. And, as for the variety of languages,   it seems to be more and more converging on a  conclusion that that's probably superficial. It   has to do with the way language is externalized.  Think of your laptop. Your laptop might have a   program in it for say multiplication. But  the laptop can be attached to any printer.   The program doesn't care - you can use any printer  that is around for the program to be printed.   Externalization of language is kind of like  a printer. The internal system doesn't care   what printer you use - could be sound, could  be sign, could be touch. The internal program   stays the same. And it seems that the apparent  variety of language is mostly in the printing,   in the way it bridges the sensory motor  system. What's internal seems to be   very restricted. May even turn out that it's  uniform for all languages. Could turn out. Can't   show that now, but it's moving in that direction.  So, I think that's the direction in which research   is developing. I should say, not many linguists  are really interested in these questions.   (Why not?) They’re practitioners. Like biologists.  Not a lot of biologists work on molecular biology.   Take a look at the articles on research papers in  science. Most of them are descriptions about what   this organism does in these circumstances. That’s  the overwhelming mass of the field. In fact,   you go back 50 years and that was practically  the whole field. There wasn't very much more. But   it’s the same here. These are special  interests. Do you want to find genuine   explanations for things, meaning satisfying the  conditions of learnability evolvability, and   dispensing with the variety? If you're interested  in that, that's core theoretical linguistics.   And there, there is (happens to be my personal  interest) but there, there has been significant   progress, I think. (There’s not much time  but if there was, we could talk about it.)   Alright, Professor, do we have time for two  more questions? So, Peter will ask a question,   and I'll ask one more question. In that case, I just want to say,   a lot of what you talked about also  reflects in the field of memetics,   when it comes to, you mentioned, how linguistics  was taxonomical at first; it was just   categorizing things. And the same is true when  it comes to the field of biology until you get   the universal theory, like Darwin's evolution.  I just think that for linguistics, you've found   genetics of linguistics, that is to say the  mechanisms that underlie linguistic patterns   through language instinct and etc. But I still  think that the software, the words we choose,   follow evolutionary and memetic algorithms  to differentiate it from change,   to differentiate it from change. In order for  something to evolve, it has to be hereditable,   meaning it can be passed down from one  generation to the next. We're not talking   genetic heritability - people don't intrinsically  know Spanish, or what have you. Not beyond a   language instinct. It has to be heritable. It  has to vary from one generation to the next.   So, you have to have mutations of it, different  states, different iterations. And then, lastly,   it has to be selected, for or against. And by that  we don't mean by some higher power, but that it's   increasing or decreasing in its use. And to me,  words, memes, behaviors follow these evolutionary   conditions and therefore evolve. Are organic. I think it's clearer if we drop the word evolve,   which means something in biology, and use the  word change. There's a lot of detailed study   and investigation of how languages change. A  lot of research into that that has got many   results. But it doesn't use these analogies, and  speculations don't really contribute to it.   The critical difference between evolution and  change is that it's iterative from generation   to the next, that it can be passed on. No, that’s not the difference. The difference   between evolution and change has to  do with whether your genome changes.   OK, so I'll ask a question. There are two, and  then you can choose which one you want to answer.   Do you have any thoughts as to the unreasonable  effectiveness of mathematics in physics? (I'm   sure you've heard of that.) And then the other  one is actually for me. This channel, as we were   talking about before we started, this channel is  about theories of everything. I'm interested in   the theoretical ends of physics, and possibly  even merging consciousness with physics with   the fundamental laws of nature. And perhaps part  of the problem is that the way science is right   now. It's not complete, as you made reference  to. But the problem could also be something   else which I have no idea about. I'm curious,  do you have any advice for me, essentially?   Well, as for the unreasonable effectiveness of  mathematics, I think that's Herman Weil - nobody   knows. There are some theories that say  the universe is just a mathematical object.   It's one of the ideas in physics, so of course  mathematics will be very effective in dealing   with it. It's just a mathematical object.  You can believe that or not. But basically,   nobody has any idea. Certainly, I don't. On what  you should do, I think first we should recognize   that we are organic creatures. We're not  angels. OK? There's a kind of a dogma,   doctrine if you like, that humans can understand  everything. Somehow, maybe. Maybe not.   What we can understand is based on our intrinsic  nature. Our intrinsic nature yields scope   to what we can achieve. But anything that  yield scope most automatically yields limits.   So, our capacity to, say, run, allows us to  run, but it also prevents us from flying.   That's true of intent intrinsic systems.  So, it's very possible, if we're not angels,   that if we're just organic creatures like the  rest of the universe, that our intrinsic nature,   cognitive nature, allows us to comprehend and  understand certain things, but it will never   allow us to comprehend others. They’re  just outside of our cognitive nature.   This idea is sometimes ridiculed as  mysterianism. To me it looks like truism.   It's saying, yes, we're organic creatures, so  we're going to be like other organic creatures.   I can't navigate the way an ant can, because  it has intrinsic capacities that I don't have.   And I think that may well be true of our  cognitive nature. We don't know. You can   decide what you want. But as to the advice,  the only advice is press it as far as possible.   See how much you can understand. If you  can link up theories of consciousness with   fundamental physics, fine. That doesn't mean  we're going to grasp consciousness in the way that   some philosophers want to grasp it. What is it  like to be a bat, you know? Can I understand what   it's like to be you? No, I can't I never will.  That's just not an answerable question. But can   I understand what makes you a conscious being?  Can I come to understand why your consciousness   only picks up tiny fragments of what's going  on in your mind? Yes, that we can understand.   The question about “wanna-contraction” was a  small example of that. We can come to understand   what's going on in your mind that you're not  conscious of, and can't become conscious of.   These are all topics that can be studied. You  can learn more about them. Maybe we'll find out   where there rooted in our neurophysiology. All of  that's open to investigation. How far it can go,   you don't know. You don't know. There's no way  of predicting where science can reach.   Thank you, Professor. I appreciate your  time and please thank your wife as well.   There was one question this person had, if can  I say it, and if it's too long to answer then we   just forget it and I cut this part out. It seems clear that there's a place for   neologisms, in fact you've coined  a few yourself. But it seems like   there's now the invention of terminology  with morality attached to it. For example,   changing the word Latino to Latin X comes  with it the connotation that if you don't   use the word Latin X (hopefully you're familiar  with that if not I can give another example)   then you're an immoral person. Now do these  neologisms have a different characteristic   to them - other than someone neutral words like  idiolect or cyberspace? That is, will they last   longer or shorter, do they promote more peace or  harm, is there something different about them?   (And it's not just political correctness because  I'm sure there are religious examples as well.)   We have an intrinsic nature. It offers  opportunities to do new things, put constraints   on what they are. Same is true for moral nature.  Undoubtedly our moral nature has an innate basis,   otherwise you could never acquire a  cultural or moral system in the 1st place.   Same problem of poverty, a stimulus.  Something has to be in there internally.   And that's going to offer scope for  what you can do and put limits on it.   From then on you can just go on to  explore and try to determine the facts.   But you can't project them by pure thought.  You have to find out what they are.   OK, you got to get going. Thank you so much (Thank  you.) I'll let you know how the video goes.   Thank you. Thank you, my friend.