Macchars don’t wear sweaters

Ye to had hi ho gayi Chomsky ki

Posted on: November 16, 2010

While I was doing my Chomsky post last night, I chanced upon a new video, that kept me up for most of the night. It is a BBC video interview about Linguistics with Chomsky, his field of expertise. The first thing that struck me is the lucidity with which this subject of mind boggling complexity was discussed.

Linguistics is a study with far reaching implications for almost every sphere of human endeavor in addition to Language – Science, Philosophy, Music, Maths.

What I could understand of Chomsky’s theories is as follows. Humans have an inborn genetic endowment, which helps them quickly acquire language. This is evident from the fact that in-spite of the extreme paucity of experience, humans achieve a high degree of competence in language. And we can use this ability to create totally new structures, thoughts, and concepts which are accessible to other humans. Therefore, there is an underlying genetic endowment, or structure, that guides and determines our understanding of language, and concepts formed through language.

A further implication of this is, that since everything is guided and determined by this structure, our ability to form concepts is also limited by this structure. Which implies, our understanding of the universe is limited by this structure, and there are areas which are forever inaccessible to us. This immediately sets limits to Science.

As the interviewer pointed out, this is similar to Kant’s conclusions, according to whom the mind is not a passive recipient of stimuli from an external Universe, but actively participates in forming a coherent picture of the Universe. Space and time are not attributes of the Universe, but attributes of the mind to structure and order the stimuli which come from the Universe. The dark and mysterious Universe-in-itself is forever inaccessible to humans.

In addition to the faculty of language, the mind seems to have other inbuilt endowments, common to all humanity, which are not learned from experience – Maths, Music, Science (the seeming ability to unravel the universe) (Humor?). New structures are constantly built in these areas, and are accessible to all other humans.

Chomsky goes on to say that he does not believe that these mental faculties came to be through selective evolution. Many of these abilities don’t seem to have a clear survival advantage, so are most likely subsidiary effects of other evolved abilities.

These set of universal mental endowments can be roughly taken as the “human nature”, and one can speculate that our sense of right and wrong, and even justice could be embedded embedded in this human nature.



2 Responses to "Ye to had hi ho gayi Chomsky ki"

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”..opening lines of Bible

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