This is Karthik Durvasula's Typepad Profile.
Join Typepad and start following Karthik Durvasula's activity
Join Now!
Already a member? Sign In
Karthik Durvasula
Recent Activity
I just saw this blogpost - Thought it might interest you , but didn't know how to let you know, so I posted it here. P.S. - I do like Jason Goldman as a science write/reporter very much. His posts are very well thought-out and clear, in my opinion. ------------------ BLOGGER: Thanks. I'm happy to have readers point out other things on the Internet.
Toggle Commented Sep 4, 2011 on Chimp Generosity at Babel's Dawn
If I am reading this correctly, your preferred story of linguistic evolution is via the Baldwin Effect. A lot of linguists are sympathetic to this point of view (Pinker and Jakendoff being vocal supporters of it). However, it needs to be acknowledged that just like the other two approaches/views you mention (a genetic leap vs. primarily cultural evolution), the coevolution/baldwin effect view point has some very troubling aspects to it. In fact Christiansen and colleagues have some papers arguing against coevolution [Here's a ref:]. The crux of their argument is that there needs to be temporary stability for each step of coevolution to occur; however, the coevolution scenarios sketched miss exactly that requirement. So, even though co-evolution is theoretically possible, the time-line AND stages usually proposed are not sufficient. One way out, of course if to expand the time-line (as you do in many places) and say in fact that the process started much earlier and lasted much longer than we normally presume it to. This would still leave us to figure out the intermediate stages that allow the possibility to unfold. Whether the stages are sufficient for an account of modern language, and whether they are realistic/supportable or not are the main issues for this line of thinking. Of course this also means we find a new hero to credit with the "great (sociological/cultural) leap forward" that seems to have happened around 50k years back, instead of language, i.e., if you grant the sociological/cultural leap the status of a fact. P.S. - from my discussions with (some) generative linguists, many seem to be unwedded to any one of these evolutionary possibilities given that there are serious issues in identifying which of them is the correct view. Which is one of the things that led Chomsky and many others, for a long time to avoid, the issue of how language evovled at all, and instead concentrate on the "let's have a linguistic theory first" approach. This silence on the part of generativists has been intrepreted as a nod towards a massive genetic jump that accounts for all universal properties of languages (related to phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics...); however, in reality, it appears to be that most acknowledge that there seems to be no clear path to distinguish between the many possibilities.
Toggle Commented Aug 29, 2011 on What Makes Humans Tick? at Babel's Dawn
@Jerry Moore: I won't argue with the first half of your comment because it appears to be your opinion. I can add this much though: this is NOT an opinion shared by modern theoretical linguists, who see the work as in fact very-well laid of theoretically. Re your question: the Phillips camp, as far as I know, will be one of the last people to think of language "as some attribute of speech practice". Their view is more about how to study language - which is by taking theoretical entities seriously, and testing them (than the rather mundane task of defining what language is - which is mostly a pop-science issue to a professional theoretical linguist. (Disclaimer: I do acknowledge, it appears to be an important question for anthropologists). The second comment about "graphemic mismatch" and how it relates to "phonemic mismatch" seems to be way off the mark. I am guessing you are referring to the Mismatch Negativity (MMN) experiments conducted by the Phillips et al. MMN as an MEG/EEG paradigm has a relatively long and respectable history in the brain-imaging literature, and what Phillips et al do is to say if you extend the logic of MMN, you should get to abstract phonological represntations, which they go ahead and show. Not only do their experiments have a sound theoretical (linguistic) footing, their experimental paradigm (MMN) and their linking hypothesis all flow very nicely out of what we think we know about MMN's- which is what makes their result especially awesome! To be quite honest, I can't imagine that you have honestly read the papers carefully and come to the conclusion. I almost wanna believe there is some trolling here (in Jerry Moore's name). But, if you really are Jerry Moore, and you honestly believe that the second part of your comment is evidence-based, then I can tell you that you are neither with most (if not all) experimental neurobiologists nor with most (if not all) theoretical linguists on this matter - and this is from a person who has participated in both kinds of research, not a non-professional linguist.
Toggle Commented Aug 25, 2011 on Does Language Exist? at Babel's Dawn
good luck!
Toggle Commented Aug 23, 2011 on Babel's Dawn in Stores at Babel's Dawn
All right, the unnecessarily antagonist tone of point (5) was probably not helping the discussion, and if anything would distract everyone from the meat of the matter. I apologise for it.
Toggle Commented Aug 22, 2011 on Does Language Exist? at Babel's Dawn
6) I also refers the readers to the work of Bill Labov (UPenn), and Charles Yang (Upenn) who have shown that even the incredible sociolinguistic variation apparent in natural languages is amenable to a generative framework. As they argue, not only is it "amenable", it is in fact best accounted for in such a fashion.
Toggle Commented Aug 22, 2011 on Does Language Exist? at Babel's Dawn
1) This is not Chomsky's theoretical claims we are talking about; It's an entire field's theoretical claims. ("...unfortunately shrink the work of the whole enterprise to a single man") 2) I am not sure if the last two commenters are showing sarcasm; if it is, that is unfortunate and shows the view point of an uninformed person. If it is not sarcasm and instead an genuine interest, my current comment is irrelevant, and I commend the interest. 3) The wonderful research work I refer to is the work of Colin Phillips (UMD), Alec Marantz (NYU), Pylkannen (NYU), David Poeppel (NYU) and their many past/present students; who have not only shows deep syntactic hierarchies as proposed in generative linguistics, but also shown evidence for "island constraints" which were first developed way back in Ross's dissertation in the late 1960's and have been a very productive venue of research in the generative syntax paradigm since then. 4) The work by Bill Idsardi (UMD), Aditi Lahiri (Oxford) and many others arguing for evidence of abstract phonological representations thru very sophisticated neurobiological techniques techniques. 5) I do want to point out that by defining language as broadly as many on this blog, and by making it almost synonymous with just any communication system, a lot of the discussion remains in a mushy, almost unscientific, even untestable, area. There is a tonne of evidence for both the viewpoint I referred to earlier on and theoretical claims developed since the mid 50's. If you are not aware of them but still think you are holding a nuanced theoretical position, then I am afraid you should be reading more journals and fewer blog posts.
Toggle Commented Aug 22, 2011 on Does Language Exist? at Babel's Dawn
"They are not just assertions. Chomsky's physics envy is promising, but he shouldn't pretend we have masses of experimental data that justify all his idealizatiions." This is just false. There is a tonne of work that is published regularly in theoretical linguistics journals that supports the position. Furthermore, there is really interesting work from Univ. of Maryland and NYU amongst others that is very strongly theory-inspired experimental work (EEG, MEG, FMRI, behavioural experiments) that is adding a wonderful new dimension to the theoretical claims. I am afraid you aren't aware of these developments, and arguing from a position of ignorance. It is one thing to have a difference in opinion, and another thing all-together to discredit a whole methodology based on an incorrect "assumption" of a lack of evidence. I repeat an earlier comment that you often succumb to common folklore about the generative linguistic paradigm, and unfortunately shrink the work of the whole enterprise to a single man. And this is the crux of the difficulty.
Toggle Commented Aug 9, 2011 on Does Language Exist? at Babel's Dawn
I just happened to see this in SciAm. I thought it would be an interesting read, as a continuation to the discussion of "abstract algebra" in linguistic theorising - Again, I am not saying there cannot be another way of doing things. A lot of people in the biological/psychological sciences have adopted non-formal approaches. However, as I pointed out in an earlier blogpost, the one scientific methodology that has given us incredible returns in the physical sciences is that of abstraction (from the absolute data), and formalisation of problems. If one wants to go against the established trend, one may do so, but they have to show convincing reasons for doing so. ============================== BLOGGER: Physics envy has been a regular part of the history of science and has paid off well. Lavoisier used it to create modern chemistry, and Lyell brought its standards to geology. But they didn't try to pretend that they could just apply physics idealization wholesale. Every physics idealization can be justified by masses of experiments. They are not just assertions. Chomsky's physics envy is promising, but he shouldn't pretend we have masses of experimental data that justify all his idealizatiions.
Toggle Commented Aug 8, 2011 on Does Language Exist? at Babel's Dawn
I have given you some flak before for misunderstanding/miquoting Chomsky's words. I have to say this review was very fair and balanced. And I really enjoyed reading it; and seeing exactly where you disagree. I have read Mortensen et al's work (a couple papers, not all of it :)), and from what I can see they make a few predictions which to me are most probably incorrect. If you ever do a review of their work (or perhaps you already have, and I missed it), I will definitely comment and let you know which parts I disagree with. :) @Janet: About "They seem to want language to be a form of abstract algebra without a purpose/function such as communication" - I think the simple point one needs to see is at some level scientists are looking for systematicity. If X doesn't have a system...there is nothing to be studied. And something that is systematic can always be reduced to "abstract algebra". If you cannot reduce it to that, then you cannot study it. The curious truth is that there are things we cannot study scientifically even if we know they exist.
Toggle Commented Aug 1, 2011 on Does Language Exist? at Babel's Dawn
To add to this: there is also a debate about the validity of generative syntax findings/methodology with many psychologists who don't seem to understand it. Almeida and Sprouse (2011) run standard psycholiguistic experiments on ALL the sentences covered in Adger (2003) introductory syntax book, and show that they get the same qualitative results as linguists have gotten thru their standard elicitation methods. Therefore, the data on which the theories are constructed are equally beyond reproach. Finally, I see a part of your argument in the subtext as "I don't understand it, therefore it couldn't be right". And if this is indeed the basis for rejecting the theory, then there is something wrong. You either properly understand it and then reject it, or not understand it and have nothing to say. To not understand it and reject it would be tantamount to pseudoscience. There have to be better arguments than that if one is to reject a whole tradition of scientific inquiry.
Toggle Commented Jul 19, 2011 on Reconsidering Recursion at Babel's Dawn
1) "Rejecting performance-based evidence on the grounds that competence is what matters, and frequency-based evidence on the grounds of other “arguments,” and user-based evidence on what is acceptable, ensures that a priori reasoning won’t be challenged. No data need apply." The issue at hand is not whether performance based evidence is applicable to theory construction or not. In the end we only have performance based indicators. The issue at hand is, how do we visualize it so as to maximize the simplicity of our theory; and thereby maximize our understanding of what's happening. Also important is how much weight do we put into any performance factor. The the unsettling answer as Chomsky has repeated too many times is that no one performance indicator is the holy grail. As recent experiments in psycholinguistics show, some performance measures give conflicting results; in which case, which one do we believe? And weirdly, the answer is it is not "data first"; it is "theory first" - we believe those performance indicators that lead to theoretical explanation/elegance. If you don't like this answer and I am sure many psychologist don't, then one needs to provide another pathway to choosing between conflicting performance data. Btw, no one said "competence is all that matters". Competence is all that matters to study the "systematicity" underlying language; because that is by definition what competence is. It is not to say, performance factors are not important or nonexistent. Again this is something that was extremely clearly laid out in Chomsky's dissertation and in Chomsky (1965) 2) Furthermore, you can give a few sentences off-hand and claim a certain (semi-formal) representation of those structures. However, any theory awaits confirmation through repeated support. The kinds of structures frequentists and even you seem to be proposing are things people discarded very early on in the generative syntax literature because they have no explanatory power; nor can they actually account for the phenomena that have been raised as things that need to be accounted for. This is where I stress the foundational documents in the field have raised these issues about 60 or so years back, and have given it a thorough discussion. My personal favorite is Chomsky 1965 - Aspects to a theory of Syntax. Chomsky very nicely raises and answers the questions that you are raising. And if you read it carefully, you see that there is almost no option but to do what is being done in generative syntax. Again you are welcome to dispute the theoretical claims of generativists (as opposed to the methodology), but you can't dispute it until you have an account for the data that supplants theirs. And the kind of data they deal with is far more sophisticated than just a couple sentences (again, I mean no offense, just clarity); because ultimately, the important goal is to understand the system that producing the complexity of sentences observed and acceptable in natural languages. To argue against the frequentivist and rather superficial approach, one needs to just go back to probably one of the oldest famous sentences in generative syntax: (1) "colorless green ideas fly furiously" This sentences and any collocation of its subparts is going to have a zero frequency. The sentence doesn't even make sense. However, nearly every undergraduate I have taught in my intro. to linguistics classes over the years has said there is something "English-like" about it. The question at hand is what knowledge has he/she depended on to come to the conclusion, for it is surely not frequency. Contrary to this no one thinks "green ideas colorlessly furiously fly" is very "English-like" (Note: Justin pointed to a similar example). Both are zero frequency, so why do we have a difference in judgements? Clearly, there is a system beyond what can be observed in the performance; and it is this system that generative linguists are after. 3) "metaphysics always drives me a bit mad" I am afraid I can't help you with this one. What both Justin as I have pointed out is that if one were to go about constructing a theory of numbers, one would do exactly what is being done in generative syntax (in fact, historically, that is what was done). What you call "metaphysical thinking" has been at the bottom of rationalist/deductive theories of science since the beginning (I refer you to Tarki 1946. Introduction to Logic and to the Methodology of Deductive Sciences; though it is more about mathematical theory than anything else). At the core is the assumption for such a view (clearly "metaphysical" in your sense), that the object of inquiry has a "system"; and the system needs to be factored away from various external influences. This is the Gallilean method. For example, when Galileo studied objects falling to the earth; the "performance factors" (air resistance…) would never have permitted him to directly infer that the system causing it had the same influence on all objects irrespective of mass/weight - this is because the various external influences would always have shown different falling rates - he clearly wasn't privy to vacuum chambers back then. It is the "metaphysical" thinking of perceiving a system behind the madness that led Gallileo to present a theory that was not a reflection of reality as we observe it; but a description of it in the abstract. As far as I am concerned, if one doesn't share this assumption that there is a distinct system behind natural phenomena that can interact with other systems (be it gravity or language), and we don't try to describe it in the abstract, the whole venture of science becomes incoherent. The history of science is replete with countless examples of exactly the same process, which I am sure you as someone very familiar with the topic can immediately vouch for, on some introspection. 4) @Justin: "'I can count to 10 and stop, therefore a discrete infinity isn't the crucial property of the human numerical faculty.'" Yup, I think you raised the logical fallacy in the argument precisely.
Toggle Commented Jul 19, 2011 on Reconsidering Recursion at Babel's Dawn
Justin you get what the generativists have been pointing out for ages. Very well put! Two more comments: 1) About "No editor or schoolmarm would accept it under any other circumstances, and any theory of language that accepts it as a possible sentence does not care about how the humans produce or follow sentences." This is an unfortunate statement. What schoolmarms or editors think is right should have little place in detailing linguistic theories. We have seen time and again (as LanguageLog points it out) how mistaken these people are. And as far as editors and "likely say that the reader gets lost in the details" is concerned, editors are far less concerned with the faculty of language anyway, and far more concerned with the maximal comprehension of language under the constraints that the environment and other production processes impose on the human system. This is hardly what a generativist calls the "language faculty". 2) About "the maximum number of nested dependencies was three (though this was very rare) and that in spoken language, multiple nested dependencies are practically absent. This suggests that '[f]ull-blown recursion creating multiple clausal center-embeddings is not a central design feature of language in use.'" This is equally unfortunate. The authors have at the very basis of their argument, a frequentist argument. If there is one argument that has been thoroughly argued against in generative syntax, it is the argument from frequency. To still use it as a basis for our understanding of the language faculty is no better than hanging on to behaviourism in it purest form. lol! In extending Justin's discussion of competence vs. performance. Let's say the limit on sentence depth in observed language/corpora is 3 or 4. No matter what ur pet theory of this fact is, it will inevitably boil down to a performance factor - either working memory limitation as in the classic view or attentional factors as in your view (although, honestly I don't see what it means to say attentional span independent of working memory). That is, there is an independent (non liguistic) explanation for this fact. Therefore, the simplest model of the language faculty that doesn't duplicate explanations makes no reference to sentence depth. This is the essence of the argument. Proper scientific methodology regarding avoiding duplication of explanation, force us to admit that there is no known limit on the depth of a sentence in the language faculty. The limits in the performance can already be explained thru other mechanisms. And this is the crux of the competence/performance divide. The argument at some level is identical to why there are an infinite number of integers. No matter what text of mathematics or numbers, you will see only a finite list of numbers. But, we don't want to say the system of maths in general or that in our heads somehow details just the finite list. The real reason for this is that we can account for the finiteness in the lists to the fact that any physical material that records numbers is likely to be finite in character. That is, there is an independent explanation (performance factor) that accounts for the finiteness of the observation. Our theory of maths in general or in our heads is much cleaner/simpler if we don't account for the finiteness, and indeed go after the boundlessness/infinitude. I do want to say no one is arguing against numbers. You can see a positive discussion of probability and frequency in the foundational document of generative linguistics (chomsky's dissertation). The issue here is on what structures/representations are numbers or probabilities or frequency calculated over. (I have conflated the three terms cos this is a very general audience) ----------------------------------------------------- BLOGGER: It’s great to see some comments from the generative group, although their metaphysics always drives me a bit mad. Rejecting performance-based evidence on the grounds that competence is what matters, and frequency-based evidence on the grounds of other “arguments,” and user-based evidence on what is acceptable, ensures that a priori reasoning won’t be challenged. No data need apply. Here’s a good example of metaphysical thinking, “the fact that the more nested a sentence becomes, the more difficult it is to understand, entails nothing about the language faculty.” Passing over the interesting verb “entails” I’m left wondering what test we can do determine the nature of the language faculty. Here’s another example, “The only known computational system that can make intelligible the semantic information in that sentence--or in most, if not all, of the sentences we're using--is one that has the property of recursion.” But the fact is the sentence is unintelligible as it stands. I suppose I could diagram it out, but I doubt that I could ever grasp these relationships whole the way I can instantly understand what’s going on all around when I read, “Peter told Jane that Jack is a liar.” But it turns out we don’t need recursion to understand this sentence. So perhaps we don’t need recursion to be understood, but we do need it to produce the unintelligible. Is that what you’re arguing?
Toggle Commented Jul 18, 2011 on Reconsidering Recursion at Babel's Dawn
@Janetk and Jerry Moore: I wasn't commenting on the blog but on the blog post and particularly the comment "That long list often inspires people to ask why anyone thinks language is exclusive to humans", as I quoted. My remarks seem very appropriate in this regard. So, I am not sure what you are getting at. Also, there is an irritating tic on the blog of constantly misreading/misquoting Chomsky that I have pointed out earlier. It doesn't help anyone to misunderstand the other's point of view. And crucially, I would be equally annoyed if Blair's views were to be caricatured by someone else (Full disclaimer: I disagree with Blair's interpretations of a lot of what the data he discusses means to our understanding of the evolutionary process of language). I should say the blog posts are very interesting and informative. The treatment of the actual data available appears to be fair to the best of my knowledge. However, I become at least a little skeptical of Blair's treatment of other people's viewpoints/hypotheses, if only because it is almost obvious that his treatment of Chomsky's views in many cases doesn't actually follow from Chomsky's actual writings (and parallelly, many generativists' views), and instead appears to be traceable to the popular folklore on what Chomkyan linguistics represents/claims. @Blair: I don't mean to insult you at all. We all succumb to folkloric viewpoints on theories/hypotheses that we have an instinctive distrust of. I only mean to raise caution for the sake of proper dissemination of knowledge. ------------------------- BLOGGER: Blogging requires a thick skin of sorts. I'm not insulted by being taken seriously. I'll say in my defense that I've actually read a fair amount of Chomsky and began the exercise many years ago expecting to be a disciple of the man.... But that is not to say I understand the guy. Anyway, KD, you keep pitching.
Toggle Commented Jul 13, 2011 on Hyena Vocalizations at Babel's Dawn
The discussion of whether "language is exclusive to humans is really a red-herring to a proper study of the topic of animal communications. For a professional linguist, language is the commucation system of humans. period. It is going to have some properties that are similar to/different from other communication systems. Just like "barking" is something dogs do. It's just a name given to a certain communication system. It makes no sense to say barking is not exclusive to dogs. That violates the very definition of the word. While there are similarities between language and other communication systems, the truism should be obvious when Chomsky says no other animal grows up to speak language therefore, they aren't capable of language. This just means, no other animal has the cluster of properties in their communication system that we do. It doesn't mean there are no commonalities. In fact, all the way from the 70's, Chomsky's been saying that probably the only qualitative difference at some level of discussion between language and all other natural animal communication systems is that of recursion. Again, this could be incorrect, but this is a very specific testable hypotheses. Re "That long list often inspires people to ask why anyone thinks language is exclusive to humans." No one (at least, no one serious) is saying only humans possess a communication system. The issue of language being human is almost a matter of definition for the sake of scientific progress. If we aren't clear about the object we are trying to study, we just can't make progress.
Toggle Commented Jul 12, 2011 on Hyena Vocalizations at Babel's Dawn
very nicely put!
Toggle Commented Mar 29, 2011 on Finding the Truth in a Story at Babel's Dawn
Yes, I totally agree with this post, and this is what I was trying to say earlier. However, the reason wonder is usually the first step is simply cause it is the "motivation". The three aspects of science as I see it are really, motivation, theory and data (facts). And all three are independently necessary. Two points though: 1) This is more of a quibble: motivation need not be "wonder". There was a lot of good science done in the name of God, not because the people were awed by nature itself, but because they wanted to understand God better. 2) About "Maybe it isn't passed on from generation to generation. Maybe each generation invents language for itself"...yes, this was the view of language learning espoused by many from at least Jakobson (1941), Chomsky (in the 50's) ... and it is the model of language acquisition in the generative grammar framework. And Jakobson (1941) talks about a host of other older researchers with similar notions about language acquisition. That particular book is a revelation as to how sophisticated the ideas floating around were, even before the "cognitive revolution".
Hi Janet, No, that's not what I said. Simply put, empiricism is not the same thing as "empirical science'. Rationalist, empiricist, mixed approaches ... are all approaches to science and are all "empirical science". "Empirical" in "empirical science" means "evidence-based" or "dependent on experimentation". While, "empiricism" refers to (inductive) inferential theorising. The terminological overlap is unfortunate, but it is what it is. As far as the brain is concerned, I maintain my earlier claim. There is a tonne of information about the brain, but we have no clue as to why the brain behaves the way it does. If you think "information = knowledge", then I guess you won't agree with me; but if you think "understanding = knowledge", then you will see the problem I am raising.
Toggle Commented Feb 20, 2011 on Machines Ain’t Animals at Babel's Dawn
I did want to say, I am not out to "defend" the generativist position. I would be equally offended if someone caricatured your position to the point of making tangential/contrary claims. I enjoy the facts/data and discussion you present on this blog. They are thought-provoking, to say the least. But the, at least, palpable agenda of generative-grammar-bashing is especially embarrassing in the face of the misunderstandings.
Toggle Commented Feb 16, 2011 on The Evolution of the Vocal Tract at Babel's Dawn
I challenge you to provide one quote from the generativist camp that actually says this. :) "If you want to agree with the generativists and the archaeologists who argue that speech is at most only a hundred thousand years old". Not one generative article "argues" for this position, if only because it makes no difference to understanding the formal/mathematical properties of language as it exists today Futhermore, for a generativist, language and speech aren't (necessarily) the same thing. There is a lot more to language than speech. The argument is always made by defining language as a system of communication with increased vocal control, and then it is said that the generativist claim is provably falsifiable. But, as definied by any generative linguist worth his salt, language is way more than that - it is a system of communication with very specific mathematical and operational properties. And to be honest, it hardly makes any difference to the generativist argument when language evolved. It is just speculation on their part, and is always acknowledge as such - and the only evidence provided for the speculation is usually the great social change that is observed (or claimed to be observed) around 50K years. However, the theory itself suffers no consequences from a change in the date. I have noticed this for a long time on this blog, there is a lot of invective/abuse thrown at the generative position, yet it appears to me that the understanding is based on reading secondary literature on the topic, and not the primary literature. On reading the primary literature, I am not sure there is anyway in which one could come to the conclusions that you state on your blog. It would be equally pointless of one to read your opinions from someone who doesn't understand them and then make fun of your ideas. It seems to be scientifically irresponsible.
Toggle Commented Feb 16, 2011 on The Evolution of the Vocal Tract at Babel's Dawn
a note to add to (3) from the previous post: Experience allows us to entertain at best previously suppressed hypotheses - perhaps suppressed because of a disbelief in their plausibilty, for whatever reason. It doesn't generate the hypothesis itself. For example, experience can equally well mislead as it leads - classic inductive inference mistakes. It is the rational, not experiential side, which has to ultimately decide between the hypotheses. Hence, experience is both a good thing and a bad thing, but knowledge is garnered only by reflecting on the plausible hypotheses, NOT through the experience to analogy. There is a strong flavour of "empiricism" to your statements. They amount to saying, if given enough data/facts, we can figure out the truth, and this has been shown repeatedly to be a misunderstanding of how to proceed with knowledge accumulation. A classic lesson is available from neurobiological investigations: we have an incredible amount of facts about the brain, yet we have NO understanding of it, by which I mean, why it does what it does/how it does it - exactly cos more facts don't equal more knowledge.
Toggle Commented Feb 16, 2011 on Machines Ain’t Animals at Babel's Dawn
1) I kinda see all evolutionary accounts of language as "just so" stories. I don't think I have seen one that is robust and allows a mechanistic implementation. Most depend on some sort of "functional explanation". However, this is NOT an explanation in the true evolutionary sense, because ultimately evolution thru natural selection is a non-functional explanation of how things are the way they are. This is why it is important to ask "why?" not just "how?" when theorising about evolutionary origins of anything, including language. The Minimalist programme sets before it, exactly this agenda. A caricature of the programme does no one any good, let alone lambasting it based on a severe misunderstanding of it. 2) This is false analogy: "Consider this parallel argument: flight ... evolvability should be a central constraint on aeronautical theorizing" The right analogy would be "flight in biological species is a biological object that came into existence in the evolution of birds, bats, and insects; therefore, evolvability should be a central constraint on theorizing about biological flight " And you will see that evovability is a central concern for the scientist concerned with the workings of the mechanism. 3) The following statement amounts to claiming serendipity is the only route to knowledge: "That's the way the knowledge runs—from experience to analogy." If this were the case we would have NO knowledge about abstract fields like Mathematics, cos in most cases the math preceded the experiential use/recognition of the concept - Fourier Transforms to mention one amongst the many. Even in the sciences, non-experiential predictions are routinely made. I don't quite understand your claim. If you had said, experience is "a way to understanding" - I might agree with you, but it cannot the only way (although, a stricter rationalist would disagree even with that).
Toggle Commented Feb 16, 2011 on Machines Ain’t Animals at Babel's Dawn
Hi, I have returned after a long time to give you an important quote - cos I suddenly remembered it :). One of the passages you mentioned was from Chomsky 1988; it in fact proposes exactly what you ask for - a sort of adaptationist story of the language faculty. Here is the link to the google reader and the relevant pages are 167-170. Your quote is on pg. 167, but taken in context, it has a very different effect from what it has when it stands by itself. I repeat, Chomsky's views on the evolutionary story ARE NOT that it is impossible to account for it in evolutionary terms, it is that while one could come up with a story, none are convincing or realistic. His own story of tying it to the number faculty has been consistent since the 1970's as I told you earlier. I hope this myth that Chomsky is anti-evolutionist is busted. It just isn't the case. LINK:,+Cambridge:+M.I.T.+Press,+1988&source=bl&ots=c3pFsHOcvy&sig=3YBrPVwoySOwy9DMTX3V9H4N3vk&hl=en&ei=GYtbTfy7IMaltwfKxYCxCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CB0Q6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=%22even%20to%20imagine%20a%20course&f=false
Karthik Durvasula is now following The Typepad Team
Feb 16, 2011