Saturday, May 10, 2008

Brief note on Chomsky...

Decade of the Mind III
(Image from Great Ape Trust)

Not feeling well this morning . . . headache, unsettled stomach, general listlessness. Not not a hangover.

Anyway, due to my condition and also because I have a presentation coming up in a couple of hours, this will be short. I want to post a follow-up to my post on Ben Hale in "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings..." Ben's father, one of my high school friends from the Ozarks, informed Ben that I had mentioned him in a blog post and had commented on his literary interests, including his interest in creative writing as well as his novel-in-progress about a sentient, speaking chimp.

Ben was 'cool' with that, it seems, so Pete sent me Ben's report on his attendance at a symposium titled "Decade of the Mind" held in Des Moines, Iowa at the Great Ape Trust, where Ben met several primatologists and neuroscientists, including Bill Fields, director of bonobo research at the Great Ape Trust, who took an interest in Ben after learning about the upcoming chimp novel. This led to a long conversation touching on several topics, including the state of research on language acquisition among apes:
Anyway, one of the most odd and striking things about being at this symposium was how relatively few people were there. Everybody who's seriously interested in this sort of research was there -- which only amounted to about 20-30 people. At one point when I was talking to Bill Fields I asked him about how many scientists in America are researching ape language acquisition, and he said, "Me and Duane, and Duane just retired." He said that language acquisition experiments with animals were really hip in the 60s and 70s (like John Lilly's experiments with dolphins), but that this sort of research was run out of town by Noam Chomsky and B.F. Skinner (Noam Chomsky seems to be universally reviled among primatologists) -- and now hardly anybody does it anymore because it's so difficult to get funding for it.
Interesting. I wonder if this was an unintended effect of Chomsky's linguistic theories or if the man played a more intentional role.

That's all for today.

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At 11:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A thought experiment:

Which is more difficult -- teaching a chimp to speak or teaching Chomsky to make sense?

I can't decide, perhaps because one can't actually discern the greater or lesser likelihood of two impossibilities.

Still, I'm open to suggestions.

At 11:52 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

The answer probably depends upon what topic Chomsky is talking about.

I once heard Chomsky deride the 9/11 conspiracy theories that argue for US Government involvement in the attacks. I thought that he made sense on that topic.

Of course, he HAD to deride such theories because he needed to defend his argument that 9/11 was an attack planned and carried out by enemies of the American 'Empire'.

So perhaps he wasn't making as much sense as he seemed.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:37 AM, Blogger A.H. said...

Glad you are still writing away. I keep looking to see if there are any Milton posts--the great man's 400 year birthday. But that aside. I remember my days of Chomsky and transformational grammar...I felt like a primate struggling with language! Too esoteric for me.

At 6:49 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Good to hear from you again, Eshuneutics. I've not been teaching Milton lately, so I have few new thoughts. This summer, I'll try to write an article, which usually sparks a few posts.

Michael Bauman, however, has written quite a lot about Milton...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Remember the calendar Jeffery.

Has it been 400, three hundred and sixty five day years?

Will it be that Sunday or the Sunday following next years' Passover?

Heck I don't know, it's likely been Determined.


At 2:25 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yeah, I'll have to calculate that stuff again.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:28 PM, Blogger Al-Ozarka said...

"Not not a hangover."

Umm, uh...liguistically...just what are you telling us, Jeffery?

At 4:18 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Greeting from Colo USA! Thanks for the follow-up, Jeff; I'll alert Ben accordingly. I'm not much of a Chomsky-weight at all (my controversial super-genius affections run more toward E.O. Wilson than Noam, probably because he's easier to understand, and a good solid Southerner to boot!). Ben recently turned me onto a totally stunning topic described well in this 4-07 New Yorker article: . It's about a very primitive deep-Brazilian tribe called the Piraha (stop me if you've already heard this...well, I guess you can't, so anyhow...) who exhibit several linguistic characteristics that cause Noam serious heart-burn, from what I can glean. Enjoy, and thanks for the blogs, and I hope you're feeling better at this point--

Charley (Pete) Hale
Lafayette, CO

At 4:32 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Daddio al-Ozarka, I reckon that my expression wasn't a properly formulated grammatical construction, as Chomsky might say.

But what can one expect from a big ape like me...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:43 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Pete, with all your technical genius, you still don't know how to embed links?

Here, I'll do it for you: "Recursion and Human Thought."

Thanks for the link, though, and I'll take a look at the article, but I probably won't be capable of understanding it to a depth that would clarify Chomsky's cause for heartburn.

Jeffery Hodges

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