On Human Nature and Human Progress with Noam Chomsky Video The Psychology Podcast

[Music] welcome to the psychology podcast where we give you insights into the mind brain behavior and creativity i'm dr scott barry kaufman and in each episode i have a conversation with a guest who will stimulate your mind and give you a greater understanding of yourself others and the world we live in hopefully we'll also provide a glimpse into human possibility thanks for listening and enjoy the podcast [Music] today it's great to have noam chomsky on the podcast gnome is a public intellectual linguist and political activist he's the author of many influential books including manufacturing consent the political economy of the mass media and his latest with robert poland climate crisis and the green new deal the political economy of saving the planet chomsky is also known for helping initiate and sustain the cognitive revolution his laureate professor of linguistics the university of arizona and institute professor emeritus at mit thanks so much for making time to chat with me today gnome glad to be with you just had to take care of a dog is the dog okay yeah i'm just trying to horn in i'm trying to shut him up down just down it's okay if if uh if he or she wants to participate in the podcast that's fine with me she usually calms down and gets under the desk excellent well so i'm a cognitive scientist by training so i i'm and i'm one of the things i'm really fascinated with is the is the history of of the field that i work in and i had the great pleasure of working with and being mentored by herb simon for instance who uh was one of the ones who helped uh form this cognitive revolution as well and and i was wondering if you could we could trace a little bit um you know in the 60s 50s how did your work um you know when linguistics intersect with the other work going on during that cognitive revolution the time work on decision making and uh and marvin minsky's work how did all this stuff coalesce that that epic can you take me back to the 50s 60s right now well i knew herb simon and marv minsky more most of my life we were colleagues so the uh it was one of the strains that one of the core elements of the what's called the cognitive revolution i don't like the term particularly but one of the core elements of course is language now the other core element was vision a couple of other things and so we all knew each other my own work was on uh trying to construct uh theoretical accounts that would account for the capacity of humans to do what we're now doing it's core problem of the cognitive sciences what's the nature of the capacity how can an individual acquire it during their lifetimes in fact during their early childhood and ultimately how could such a system evolve those are the core problems of the study of linguistics beginning around 1950 that's a pretty sharp break from uh structural linguistics which had quite different goals and aspirations i've actually uh written some about these years if you if you want me to send you something that'd be great yeah just i have your emails that would be really great yeah so when did you first make contact with behaviorism and what was your like immediate gut reaction when you first encountered that that body of work and and the notions of uh sort of the stimulus response way of thinking about behavior knew about it from childhood but the real encounter was when i moved to cambridge i came to harvard as a grad student in 1951 uh that i was basically studying philosophy so i was a student of band coins mainly and he was one of the chief exponents of skinnerian you know rigid form of behaviorism and skinner's william james lectures had just appeared a couple years ago later became his book on language but and the drafts were very widely read and it was influential in part because of coins advocacy and park it just did fit the tenor of the times very well so it was kind of a bible when i got there uh you look at say george miller's first early books not the later ones they're pretty strict behaviors uh it was even you know some of his early experiments were considered rather shocking and sounds kind of obvious yeah showing that uh you could understand a word better if it was in a sentence than it was in if it was in isolation which shouldn't happen on uh what should happen on rigid behaviors browns is that you're the first word of a sentence then there's a certain probability for the next one and kind of like what's done with deep learning today and by the time you got to the end of the sentence you can barely guess what the word is because the probabilities go down but of course the results are exactly the opposite as you hear the sentence you can guess the last word none of this works but that was some of his early work and it was considered quite surprising by the mid 50s george had significantly changed and became one of the founders of cognitive science but when i got there in 51 this was orthodoxy along with a couple other things that happened uh claude shannon had come along with information theory the shannon and weaver book with weavers kind of popularization and extension of the technical ideas was another bible cybernetics was another signal detection radio engineering was another and they all kind of converged into a euphoria of which skinner and behaviorism was a central part a sense that we're cracking the last frontiers when fricken watson came along 53 that sort of enhanced the idea that we're now moving to a new era it's called unified science in which we'd be able to we had the tools to deal with the problems that were called problems of mind and psychology there were a couple of us who thought this was all nonsense three in fact two three grad students my friend morris halley who i worked with till the end of his life and eric lanternberg who also a grad student he went on in later years to found modern biology of language but the three of us just didn't believe any of it we thought it made no sense we began reading european comparative ecology tinberg and lawrence others uh looked at comparative psychology work and i i i was introduced by a friend mark shapiro and art historian suggested i should read carl ashley's serial order behavior which was a very important article back in around 1950 it's just not the props out of the whole behavior system nobody knew it i mean neurologists knew it was in the neuroscience literature but psychologists and others are totally unaware of it but i i wrote about it for the first time in a review of skinner's verbal behavior at the press 1957 but that i think was the first mention of it in the general psychology cognitive science literature uh so that these were things that we were eric went on to start writing articles on he was doing a good deal of work at the time on various aberrant forms of linguistic behavior he was studying pathologies uh early studies on use of sign cognitive deficiencies and language and neural deficiencies and this went on to become his biology of language book very very important book biological foundations of language but at first it was essentially the three of us then george miller got interested linked up with jerry brunner who was yeah he injured formed the uh cognitive science group at harvard spent a year there i was working quite a lot with george miller in the mid 50s books couple articles together taught together and so on and it then it just kind of expanded linked up to some extent with the early work in artificial intelligence eric simon simon and newell um or minsky and mccarthy and by the early 60s and become kind of fairly i can't say integrated because there are a lot of internal disputes but interlinked approach to many questions the euphoria by then had pretty much dissipated you get a you can get a good sense of it by reading yahushua bar hillel's uh essays around 1965. he's an israeli logician who was a regular visitor to orally research love electronics at mit which was kind of the center of most of it and at first he was very much a partisan of the euphoric popes but by the mid-60s he he was a close personal friend also back from about 1950 but he had pretty much come around to agreeing with the skeptical approach and wrote some retrospectives about it which are quite interesting and knowledgeable around the mid-60s i can get a sense from his work that's kind of what it was like in the early days in cambridge there was no linguistics i was practically the only linguist the roman jakobson was there but from the european tradition but there were no american linguists i i i i was in fact about the only person there was an american linguistics tradition in fact a consensus but it was uh quite different in character it was it was described its proponents described as a taxonomic science set of procedures which you could apply to any corpus of data it would identify the elements and their distributional arrangement that was linguistics that's basically my own background this was quite different so what was it like you know was there a great excitement in the air did you feel like you were you were leading a revolution at the time or was it only in retrospect that you realized it was a revolution well myself i thought it was just a personal hobby i took for granted that the consensus of american linguists had to be on the right track and this was a totally different approach but it was my own then a couple of others got interested in it by by the mid 50s we felt that we were pursuing something that should displace the linguistic consensus and as i say none of us agreed with the uh none of us means three or three of us with the uh behaviorist dogmas that were rampant at the time but never you know the question wasn't is it a revolution but is this the right way to pursue things gradually i learned that there were antecedents as i say we were reading a european ethology which had some similarities and i began looking into the history a little further learned that there were much earlier tradition that had been totally forgotten uh some of that so my own view in retrospect that this you might call this the second cognitive revolution turns out in the 17th century the time of the origin of modern science a lot of things of this kind were happening they didn't have the what they lacked and what we had was the theory of computation didn't come along until mid 20th century so there were no tools for trying to explore the kinds of questions that they were raising but it went back to galileo as contemporaries they they recognized something very significant it wasn't discovered later until i wrote about it in the mid 60s and almost nobody knows it now either but in fact if you look back the uh the early founders of modern science like galileo were just amazed by what they regarded as the most astonishing remarkable fact in the world that with a few dozen symbols we could construct in our minds infinitely many thoughts and even conveyed to others who have no access to our minds the innermost workings of our minds galileo for example thought that the alphabet was the most stupendous of human inventions because it enabled this miracle to take place and of course it was understood that the alphabet was just representing some system in the mind which does the same thing and they did develop a tradition of what was called general and rational grammar through the 18th 17th 18th centuries which tried to develop these ideas but lacking the theory of computation there was no way to formulate it sure how do you formulate a computational process that captures these capacities by the mid 20th century like when i was a student i was studying logic and recursive function theory and you could you could see that that offered that modern recursive function theory and theory of computation provided the tools in which you could proceed to develop computational systems which gave a recursive enumeration of the expressions of a language basically expressions of thought and you could find and also provided means by which this could be translated into the mapped into sensor remote motor outputs and inputs so you could link it to perception production learnability how could it be acquired all these questions i'm on the agenda yeah i'd love to double click there for a second on this idea of innateness and this idea of learnability um what was unique about what you did was it was certainly not saying that learning doesn't matter at all in the process but the learning of the language seemed to operate in a way that almost the language of the word learning doesn't seem to to really conform to what psychologists had tend to think of as as learning during that time it didn't seem to operate by those same sort of principles i was wondering how your thoughts on this have evolved over the years especially in light of arthur rieber's work for instance on implicit learning showing that artificial grammars can be learned that uh we are not uh sort of hardwired i'm not a big fan of that phrase but you know what i mean hardwired to have uh that specific uh rule structure but we perhaps maybe like through to statistical learning we can um learn languages and so there's a lot less built in than maybe we once thought and i'm wondering how you what your current thinking of that is all of these results are negative they show you can't do anything if you can do i mean if you if you have a bunch of super computers running and huge amounts of data and do a lot of statistical analysis you can come close to approximating a set of phenomena like you can come pretty close to approximating the sentences in the wall street journal that's of zero scientific interest if you did a ton of statistical analysis of chemical experiments let's say you know people mixing things in the laboratory and so on you could get a fair approximation to what they're actually doing would that tell you anything about chemistry nothing it's a game it's a way of selling a propaganda for ibm you know or for google these days but it tells you absolutely nothing about the nature of the system and the way it's acquired and learned that human beings don't a two or three year old child has mastered the basis of the language we now know from statistical analysis the data available to a child that is extremely impoverished i mean sounds like the child is hearing millions of sentences but when you take into account such elementary facts as zip's law you know you know this the rank frequency distribution and it turns out that almost everything you barely even hear in biograms let alone trigrams uh so from the what's back in the this is what's there was a problem that was understood in the early 50s called poverty of stimulus yeah how do you go from the impoverished stimuli available to the rich knowledge attained it was obvious in the early 50s this is a major problem by now we know it's a much worse problem far worse than was assumed because it because now by now we have extensive studies first of all of the data available we don't have to guess anymore and extensive studies of acquisition of language none of that existed at the time and it turns out that at about the earliest age you can start testing the kids already have very rich knowledge which goes way beyond what they produce this is work that's going on for 50 60 years since so the problem of poverty stimulus is overwhelming now the deep learning approaches have no problem they have basically as much data as you want vast amounts of data huge amounts of computing capacity and with that what they get is kind of what you'd get if you did what i just suggested i looked looked at or take takes an example closer to language suppose that you did a deep learning studies of the communication system of bees okay you could get a fair prediction probably pretty good predictions of what bees do you know they start going out of the hive they wander around they find a flower or they they they have the capacity of dead reckoning so they go straight back to the hive they waggle their wings and the other bees start fluttering around when they go to the flower would that tell you anything about bee communication nothing you know it's not what one fish was doing it's not what other bee scientists do they want to find out how it works the fact that you can kind of approximate the phenomena just tells you nothing you can look at the phenomena without approximating well you know i'm thinking of these implicit learning paradigms that i administered in my dissertation like serial reaction time learning or artificial grammar learning this formed a core basis of my dissertation i was really interested to the extent to which there's individual differences where people can soak up the probabilistic rule structure of something it unconsciously you know without their conscious awareness and i found that people um or some people are better at it than others but overall you know most people i debriefed them afterwards i said did he notice that 15 of the time this sequence it followed this sequence 85 of the time it followed that sequence and that you got faster at uh the reaction time for the 85 percent and they had no idea you know consciously that they learned these things and these were artificial you know languages these are not yeah you know something that evolved and so do you think that's telling us anything about how much is built in versus how much is not built in because i think it might i think it does tell us something tells you something about human cognition but i think it's a mistake to use the word artificial languages nothing to do with languages i mean these are data sets that have may are constructed to share some of the superficial properties of languages but it tells you absolutely nothing about how language is acquired certainly not acquired this way i mean as i say if you take a look at the actual data available to children you don't even get a lot of diagrams let alone trigrams and this is not there because what you're what the kid is hearing mostly is the function words the and of and so on and then you look at the rank frequency distribution it goes very sharply down and tails off into a long tail so i mean there's there's some statistical learning but very much at the margins you know so there's nothing wrong with the experiments they're studying they're interesting things to study about cognition and of course everything goes on unconsciously like you and i have absolutely no awareness of the rules that we're following in this conversation way beyond the levels of consciousness i mean people are deluded to think that what we call inner speech is somehow our thinking processes absolutely not what we call inner speech is a pale reflection of the externalized form of what's going on in our minds uh and if you actually think about it it's just bits and pieces of fragments our construction of sentences in our minds is vastly more quick than what we call inner speech and you can see it very simply by just doing things like reading out loud which is much slower than reading you can read a page in a fraction of the time and understand it of reading it all well because the externalization is just very much slowing everything down there's all kind of stuff going on in our minds we can study it the way we study be communication from the outside that can't intersect into it it's totally beyond the level of consciousness how do you link some of this to modern day behavioral genetics what do you think of the field of modern day behavioral genetics and you know obviously those tools weren't available to you when you first when you first started in the field and i was worrying sort of what your your own sort of thinking about about that is in terms of what it tells us about a neatness well you know it tells us on its important field because it's an important field for biology but it's very far from accounting for even much simpler traits than language there was a lot of enthusiasm when the genome project came along about all the things that were going to follow from it but what we've mainly learned is you haven't a clue how instructions in the dna turn into an organism i mean even just figuring out how you get protein folding you can barely do by now that's an area where ai has made some contributions but that's remember that's the bare beginning of what makes uh an organism it's it's so it's good to study these things we should study simple traits not a very complex trait like language which is going to be way out of sight for any such investigations or intelligence whatever intelligence is what do you think intelligence is well all i can tell you is that i for about 60 years was on admissions committees for graduate courses at mit which has pretty high standards you can pick maybe five percent of the applicants and they're all very highly qualified i can't remember once when anybody ever suggested looking at iq nobody cares it's totally irrelevant that's not the kind of thing you look i'm sure you find the same thing i mean you've been on commission on admissions commissions yeah do you ever look at iq well you know sat is a proc is a correlated with iq very very highly right so subconsciously if we look at sat or indirectly or are we selecting for iq i don't know about you but we looked at s.a.t as a kind of a marginal phenomenon of some interest for example if if some kid applicant is just always you know top flight in every area and the sat we regarded that as kind of negative probably means it has no no special interests and no ingenuity and creativity if you get somebody who does very well in some areas and very poorly in others you want to take a second look maybe there's some maybe there's some spark there that makes him too creative work and put aside things he's not interested in so it's something but uh i don't think it's much of a criterion of course if somebody's score is very low in everything you'd think well probably not qualified yeah so it sounds like you're challenging this idea of general intelligence as being um the most important or even important at all for college admissions and um what about life more broadly you know if you can find something okay i don't think it's a very interesting characteristic what's interesting or for the you think take a look at i mean we i've had many years to look back i'm sure you have to not as many as you yeah not as many but when you look back and you asked all of these kids who came in to mit were very highly qualified some of them had very distinguished careers did a lot of exciting work uh others just did routine uh technical work you know perfectly competent but like it has a brook a brick here and there to which you know if you look back it's pretty hard to find the distinguishing characteristics actually i was in the society of fellows at harvard which is a very uh highly selective three or four year research graduate fellowship no duties or responsibilities and that's a very uh they tried to have very high standards for selection but occasionally look back and try to do the same judgments and same story you can't tell these are really matters of character in many ways more than technical more than mental ability i mean you can have somebody who's a you know a math genius but will never discover anything this just doesn't have the right right characteristics yeah i really i really appreciate that and you know even creativity we've you know we find a distinction our research between creativity and intelligence you know i'd like to talk about creativity a little bit because this is a topic that um that you've talked about in in other uh you know sort of in even a political sort of way in terms of um what societies can help us thrive and and uh are most likely conducive to autonomy and human freedom and and and creativity how do you define creativity like how do you even conceptualize that such a word i wouldn't try to define it the only terms you can really define are within well-grounded explanatory theories so if you're working in physics you can give a technical definition of energy within the framework but if you were to ask me how i define energy in ordinary life i can give you some descriptive description but no no definition there are definitions outside of very narrow sectors of carefully constructed theoretical systems but creativity we is the ability to first of all it's the ability to be puzzled by things you have to start with that there are uh infants have that capacity they're puzzled by everything they're constantly asking questions it can't stop is it annoying you know how to what's this how does that work you know if you're a parent that drives you bananas they want to the world's very puzzling strange they won't understand it that's driven out of people's heads in many ways part by the educational system part in other ways but there are some people who retain it and in fact if you look at the great moments of history of science that's pretty much what they were so take say the scientific revolution 17th century the great science that really changed science radically uh it basically was based on being puzzled galileo its contemporaries were just dissatisfied with the what were called explanations of things so why do balls fall to the ground well it was an explanation that's their natural place they're attracted to the earth they didn't regard that as an explanation as soon as they began looking at it they found that we don't really understand and in fact all that was believed turns out to be wrong like it was universally taken for granted that a heavy lead ball fall faster than a small lead ball galileo showed i thought experiments incidentally never carried any experiments by thought experiments ingenious thought experiments this can't be the case and that's what happens when you're puzzled appealing people are willing to question orthodoxy not just to accept it because that's what everybody says but to be to want an argument for it to challenge it sometimes it's right you get convinced sometimes you see it's just dogma and behaviorism was like that it was just dogma as soon as he began to look at it carefully totally fell apart but it's hard to do that there were people who did like lashley for example and over ignored but if enough people do it they begin to interact they start to try to work out real answers they keep finding flaws in their own answers address those then you get creative work but how to pick it up among people can't say i'd like to take a moment to talk about our sponsor better help is there something interfering with your happiness or preventing you from achieving your goals for quite a lot of us right now during this coronavirus pandemic we are struggling with our most fundamental basic needs such as our needs for security connection 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know do you remember that that conversation you have with foucault does that ring a bell that that legendary conversation you know i remember of course yeah yeah i mean obviously you do i'm joking but it's a it's a very uh well uh watched video and and debate but i'm just very interested in the discussion you had with him about about creativity you two seem to have very differing views of uh what the essential question there is for for how society should be organized and and and issues of the role of justice for creativity i was wondering if your thoughts about that have have changed over the years i mean as i understand foucault's position at least from what i got out of the discussion and reading his work he doesn't seem to think he seems to think that everything just is a matter of who has more power than others so it's a matter of distribution of power and if you want to take a political position say at that time he was a pretty committed sort of french-style marxist malice so we're on the side of the proletariat and we want them to win and if you ask as i did ask if you look back at the debate suppose it turns out that the what the proletariat will institute is uh inhuman destructive cruel and so on does that mean we oppose it he said no it's just a matter of which side you're on there's no right or wrong there's no questions of justice there's no basic human nature just which power system picks takes control that may be a caricature i'm not sure but that's what i understood his position to be but i understood it as well i totally reject that i think there's fundamental human nature we don't understand much about it but we can try to discover it my uh my sis guess partly from experience partly from study partly from wish fulfillment is that the goal of human beings is to be free and independent a creative not controlled by others pursuing their own free and independent interests this is the basic enlightenment position it's what you find in your show humboldt other great figures of the enlightenment and it's the origins of classical liberalism just been forgotten us the reason for example why working people in the 19th century early industrial revolution were bitterly opposed to a wage labor regarded as a fundamental assault on human dignity and human rights in fact that was a very standard position at the time was in fact a slogan of the republican party that wage-slavered wage labor or what they call wage slavery is no different from slavery except that it's temporary not the graham lincoln and in fact that's the whole classical liberal tradition goes way back to the greeks and the romans a modern idea that having a job is a good thing but i think that the tradition is probably right that people don't want to be subject to masters i don't care whether the masters are the central committee or the the corporate sector felt the same thing but that's a guess about human nature can't demonstrate it today yeah it's a really good point i'm trying to think a lot about the modern day you know the social justice movements we're seeing today with black lives matter and there's i don't know if you're familiar with the term woke or wokeness and there some people criticize wokeness and then uh i'm trying to think you know do you ever hear anything from some of the arguments coming from what some would call woke sort of denying a human nature um and and and you know because a lot of them really are big fans of foco you know do you ever do you have any criticized criticisms of maybe some of the um methods used um in modern day social justice movements that have moved us away from the classical liberal sort of ideal well i think they don't understand the classical liberal ideal they can regard the classical liberal ideal as modern capitalism it's very far from that they do and even sometimes maybe view it as um modern day conservatism you know what modern-day conservatism in my view is extreme authoritarianism it's called libertarian in the united states is almost fascism it's the most extreme form of subordination to power it's just subordination to private power and uh that's even worse than subordination to the state i mean if you're like if you have a job in a factory say let alone an amazon warehouse you're under for most of your waking life you're under the kind of control that stalin couldn't have dreamt of like stalin couldn't tell you that at three o'clock in the afternoon you have five minutes to go to the bathroom and uh you gotta wear these clothes and not some other clothes and this isn't the best you have to take when you're moving from here to there i mean people let alone an assembly line which is kind of control that no dictator could even dream of or a person working at a cash register just totally turned totally into automaton under total control of an authority i mean that's an extreme form of authoritarian control we now one of those dogmatic questions kind of like behaviorism in 1950 is that this is a good thing as i say in the early industrial revolution this was regarded as totally intolerable assault on basic human rights now it's considered the highest thing in life i can get a job at flipping hamburg you know that's it i think that's so what you're saying about there's no there's there are a lot of people like foucault and many others who say there's no human nature yes that's first of all it's insanity it's like saying we're no different from cats i mean it's insane you know of course there's a human nature what they mean is something different they mean what they probably mean which makes sense is that the particular social forms and arrangements in which we are integrated are subject to change now that's correct that seems reasonable but it's not going to turn us into into insects it's not going to give us an insect visual system it's not going to turn us into creatures that are incapable of language i mean we have a nature and in fact it's very rigid and strict within it there are variations and social and cultural and other arrangements that lead to variations i mean take say the visual system since we just think of the classical experimental work uh hubel and weasel for example on human vision a male end vision i mean what they show is that early very early modification of the visual system striat vertex can lead to radical changes in the phenotype and the outcome that appears um it doesn't happen with us because we all have about the same visual experience but if there was a mangler around who could stick electrodes into our visual cortex or control the stimuli that we see we'd have totally different visual systems at the as adults maybe no visual system a cat as they showed if you deprive a kitten of structured uh visual stimuli for the first couple of weeks of life it's essentially blind the the analytic systems just degenerate okay that means and it's kind of the same as speaking different languages but the point is you can't change a mammalian visual system into an insect visual system with compound eyes that's mammalian nature within mammalian nature there's a lot of possible options within human nature there's a lot of possible options and it's the options that interest us as human beings we take for granted what's common to us it's kind of like sports like when you go to the olympics you don't you don't see a competition and walking across the room does anybody do that you see competitions and things that humans are no good at at all like pole holding so if you go way to the edges of human competence you'll start to find differences among people but the overwhelming mass of competence is just shared well i agree i mean this idea of there being a common human nature and a shared common humanity sometimes i feel like it gets at odds with the massive divisions we see today through identity you know political identities being the first and foremost thing that um is the most important thing about a person these days or um or uh uh or gender identity you know uh you know the the use of linguistics right now is um very interesting in how we see a proliferation of gender pronouns you know uh far beyond the uh the sex uh biological sex binary you know uh what what do you what do you uh what are your thoughts on on this and and how we can um balance the need to want to appreciate someone's personal identity and the things that divide us but while at the same time not forgetting that there is a common humanity there is a common human nature that that you're talking about well first of all let's let's try to take the standpoint of a an alien observer who looks at us the way we look at frogs okay uh that alien observer would say they're all identical there are minor variations between them right around the extreme periphery just as if we look at frogs we say frogs frog but if you really started looking closely at different frogs you'd find slight differences in the way they do things well as a frog you're interested in the differences they don't care about the fact that we're all frogs that you just take for granted yeah interested in what's a little bit different between this frog and that drug but from the point of view of us looking at frogs so minor you can't even see it now it's the same with this what pronoun you use from the point of view of the nature of humans is so marginal you need a microscope to detect it but for human life that's what matters but we don't care we don't even pay attention to the fact that we're all fundamentally humans that we just take for granted what's interesting to us in our lives is these very slight differences around the edges do you say everyone thought he was here or do you say everyone thought they were here or something it's worth thinking about for human life and it's important so for example look i wouldn't like it if people called me a kite let's say i mean i don't think there should be a law against it but i certainly wouldn't like it i wouldn't like it either i wouldn't like it either and it's the same and if some woman feels she's being slighted if you say he when you mean anybody okay i can understand that too and you adjust to it so you don't expect people to walk around talking about and knickers and walps and so on that's already internalized recently incidentally you go back not very long it was normal speech even even writing one of my favorite articles from uh i think it's forbes magazine the main business journal back in around 1930 was uh 32 early 30s when i was a kid it was a it was fortune magazine had a front page cover saying the whops are unwhopping themselves meaning mussolini is doing a good job so the whopps are unwhopping themselves wow i don't think you'd say that now no i don't think so so there's a a positive you know this the use of linguistics to help us um with an appreciation of differences and um respecting uh the uniqueness of an identity is uh can be a positive thing in changing uh you know in inequality in a society is that what you're saying except that i would call it linguistics just like uh i wouldn't call it physics if i adjust the books on my desk so they don't fall it's true it's physics but i don't have to go to a physicist to find out about it i mean and it's the same same in this case linguistics isn't going to tell you anything about whether you should say the walks are unwhopping themselves okay i can describe it but give the rules for it it's not going to tell you whether to do it or not but just like a physicist isn't going to tell me how to adjust the books these are parts of human life which are way beyond the sciences of their comprehension us but yes it's a it's a topic you have to be concerned about and i think you know you have to have to ask yourself seriously should we uh burn down the city of washington because george washington was a slave owner okay i'm sure you can find some people say we should i don't think so these are the judgments you have to make as a human being living in a complex society so what do you think of the uh the the black lives matter movement right now and um and and uh and race being uh top of consciousness because i saw an interview you did about five years ago where you made a really good point about how uh races and and slavery it's it's a core part of huma of of our history as a country americans but it's not as big a part of our consciousness and now it's becoming you know and now it's really in our consciousness and i was wondering some of your thoughts on that now five years later there's been a big change in the last few years among certain parts of the society not the society in general society in general is very racist it shows up in all kinds of ways a large part of the trump book for example is coming from deeply white supremacist circles circles that don't feel themselves as racist like i have black friends you know but just think the country is a white christian country and it has to stay that way that kind of white supremacy is very widespread and but on the other hand there is a change in consciousness in many circles you can see it in the reaction to the george floyd murder blacks have been murdered for a long time this reaction was quite different spontaneous enormous in scale way beyond anything in american history and widely supported at around 60 support a lot of solidarity sensible goals it was a very striking phenomenon led by black lives matter organizers with many others coming in uh well that's one sign of serious changes want to see another sign take a look at this morning's new york times there's a very good op-ed by eric foner fine historian uh calling for abolition and what he's calling for is abolition of criminal labor mostly black uh he's a historian of abolitionism reconstruction civil war and so on he points out that the 13th amendment of banning slavery had a qualification that said forced labor is legitimate as a punishment that as he discusses was the opening that the south used to constitute slavery and he says we still have it today in private prisons where convicts are forced to work for ridiculously low wages for profit says we should really move on to abolition you wouldn't have had that op-ed a couple of years ago it's a sign of the increasing consciousness and awareness of the really black history that is our actual dark crush cruel history that's part of our legacy and we've never grown out of it part of it the extermination of the indigenous populations and other part of it and these are things that are gradually seeping into consciousness not anywhere near enough so there are holocaust museums all over the country try to find out how many museums there are for slavery nation of indians yeah i thought that was a good point you made that point in that interview five years ago that you don't see and i don't think we there there has been many more slavery museums in that five years so that was a really good point so in some sense we're making progress and social progress and in lots of ways you're you're very pessimistic about uh the future you've called trump you know our our current president right now the worst criminal in human history that's that's a pretty big that's a pretty big deal why more so than like hitler did hitler devote his energies to trying to destroy the possibility of human life on earth to try to maximize the use of fossil fuels and to eliminate the regulatory system that provides some mitigation is condemning the human species to extinction are we going to survive another couple of if in the next few decades if we don't deal with the elimination of fossil fuels it's we can be very confident that we'll have passed irreversible tipping points practically 100 of climate scientists agree on this i think it's a good point but you know what i'm concerned about is you know trump did win there were a lot of people who did vote for him their primary the people that voted for him their primary concern um you know a lot of them were poor you know they were concerned about their own lives they're concerned about what they're going to do and i think you know i'd love to get your thoughts how we can get the democrats to actually focus on reducing economic inequality in meaningful ways so they can bring on board and convince the poor and uneducated people to stop voting for you know the next trump you know or even trump four years from now you know what what can what can we do as democrats well i think that's right but we should separate it from the former question is trump the most dangerous criminal in human history i think that's worth considering and i think the evidence for it is overwhelming every time i say it i say here's an outrageous statement very outrageous statement ask yourself if it's true okay and nobody wants to think about it so we turn to something else but i think it's pretty important okay but let's put it aside so what can the democrats do well that's a very pertinent question in fact we've just seen what happens when they don't do anything so take the november election there's been a lot of there are areas of the country that voted for trump that haven't voted for a republican for a hundred years unless it's been a good deal of discussion of it like south texas mexican american area it's an oil economy hadn't voted republican since harding a lot of them voted for trump even some counties went for him the reason what they heard from the their sources fox news the white house whatever they get their information from what they heard is biden wants to take away your job destroy your community uh destroy your businesses uh devastate your families don't vote for him vote for trump who says i'm gonna keep your jobs keep your families keep the oil production working and so on that's what they heard now if the democrats were a political party that was had any concern for the general population instead of being committed to wall street and rich donors and the wealthy professional classes if that were the case they'd have had organizers down in south texas saying look it's a fact that we're going to have to get off the oil-based economy there's just no debating that that's like debating the weather as a fact we have to face it now here's the way we can face it we can face it with feasible sustainable measures which will give you better jobs better lives better communities happier existence here's the way to do it but they didn't do that no okay so there's the answer question you don't you don't break through the propaganda yeah that's what's going gonna happen that's definitely one answer do you see any potential backlash from focusing too much um going too far left and that kind of being the main democratic uh talking points you know in terms of race and gender uh do you see any any potential problems with making that too much the central focus you can i'm in the atmosphere in many universities it's by now toxic cancer culture are you referring to cancer culture what's called cancer well it goes way beyond that it's uh the disdain for people who use the wrong pronoun say that's a lot of young people in the universities feel they're walking on eggshells if i say the wrong thing or do something slightly the wrong way then it's a tragedy gotta be you know i won't be killed but you have to be expelled from the society yeah and if you go that far you're doing completely the wrong thing totally so it's possible to take important issues and to destroy them and by just not handling them like what i said before somebody came along and said let's burn down washington uh that's you know maybe you can make an argument for it that's not the way to deal with the world not a sensible way what are your thoughts about defunding the police depend well that's an interesting case if you if you just use the slogan defund the police you're giving an enormous gift to the far right and pick it up and run with it they love it these guys want to take the police out of your community so that black criminals can come in and rob your house you want that now suppose he did it sanely the way many of the organizers did the way bernie sanders did the way uh alexandria ocasio-cortez did she was asked what do you mean by defund the police and her answer was just go into any white suburb that's what we mean by defund the police using drugs you know pick them up beat them up take them to jail and incarcerate them you deal with it sensibly through community services you have the police when you need them but they're not supposed to be involved in community service operations family disputes overdoses mental health issues those are not these issues that's community service i think the police are in favor of that kind of defunding uh bernie sanders did the same said yeah that's what we want we want police freed from obligations that are none of their business or just a burden and in fact are probably 90 percent of what they do unless fund let's have better pay for police so it's a more uh desirable profession people are better trained and have them focused on police work but the things that should be done like they're done on a white suburb they should be done everywhere i i lived in a suburb of boston i'll just give you an example the uh we were away for the summer and some neighbors called us up and said somebody broke windows in your house so we came back to see what happened yeah it turned out somebody had broken in so we called the lexington police and they came over and first thing they said is look in your medicine cabinet we looked in our medicine cabinet and yeah somebody had gone through it taking some stuff out and they said this is kids in the neighborhood we know who they are but we're not going to send them to jail it's up to their parents and the community to discipline them and put them on the right path that's the way to deal with it i didn't want them to go to jail i suppose it was a black community you know what happened so when ocasio-cortez says defund the police means make it look like a white server that's a message that makes sense okay yeah and that goes that transcends the slogan you know this just just a superficial you know just to fund the police you know without any nuance or yeah yeah i agree well thank you for for giving me your point on that you know i am wondering what's the biggest thing you were wrong about and changed your mind over in your career a lot of things uh i mean in in academi professional work uh scientific work all the time yeah right now i'm right in the midst of an article which gets it just works on problems that i didn't notice in earlier things which are totally wrong and have to be fixed um that happens every day so in scientific work it's just that's what work is find mistakes you correct them you move on in uh social political domains not very much i still believe pretty much when i believed as a young teenager i mean there are individual there are individual things that are wrong like uh next day the vietnam war which i devoted a lot of my life to i started in the early 60s when it was very unpopular but no that was much too late it was started 10 years earlier but nobody even heard of it by the early 60s it was already getting out of control there are things like that whoa i have one final question i want to be very respectful your time you have grandchildren right great grandchildren great grandchildren okay i can't see one of them's in japan i can't travel can you see them on skype or on the screen or something like that they don't know it's me i i was just wondering if you could give advice to your great grandchildren you know for the life that they're going to grow up to to live in 50 years from now you know and when you probably won't be here who knows you may you may be here but you know what what sort of advice for them and then you know that can that can just uh apply to to any young person listening to you right now who really values and treasures your your thoughts well i never really really gave any advice to my children they didn't ask for it and i didn't give it i do get a lot of letters from young people these days asking for advice and what i usually say is the only advice i know is if anybody tries to give you advice put it aside figure out for yourself what kind of life you want and how to lead it there's no general answers to how you should live no rules there's cliches you can give the cliches but it's really up to you you have to create your own life but if you're an activist if you're aspiring academic you want to make the world a better place you know surely you have some bit of of advice you could give to people hanging on your every word here i can repeat the cliches they can figure them out for themselves okay fair enough uh just want to thank you so much for this chat but also just inspiring me in my own career and uh and uh being uh such a legend good very very pleased to talk to you bye have a good one [Music] thanks for listening to this episode of the psychology podcast if you'd like to react in some way to something you heard i encourage you to join in on the discussion at the psychologypodcast.com that's the psychologypodcast.com thanks for being such a great supporter of the show and tune in next time for more on the mind brain behavior and creativity