Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

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Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby NoShips on March 12th, 2017, 3:29 am 

A few months ago, yours truly and several other members got embroiled in a mishmash of threads on the topic of "evolutionary theory" (hereafter ET), and, in particular, my own dissatisfaction thereof. Among my litany of animadversions were:

(1) Predictive impotence -- ET, as far as I can see anyway, yields few or no non-trivial, non-vague predictions or retrodictions.
(2) Explanatory vacuity -- those most able to evolve ... um, evolve
(3) Circularity -- the theory seems to me (and fellow naysayers) riddled with vicious circularities
(4) Vagueness -- There appears to be no consensus on precisely what ET is. For example, does Gould's punctuated equilibrium constitute a rival to ET? Or is punctuated equilibrium properly seen as a part of ET? The lack of any definitive formulation defies all attempts at refutation, even before we bring to bear the philosophical considerations militating against the doctrine of naive falsification that bedevil any scientific theory.
(5) The hostility to criticism evinced by ET's overzealous votaries, doubtless a reaction to religiously-motivated skepticism, but which nonetheless I do not detect in other branches of science, and find disturbingly inimical to the spirit of modest scientific fallibility.


I had tried, to little avail I fear, to persuade our members that there do exist a small, though nonetheless significant, cabal of scholars who, like myself, find ET inadequate; either on grounds of factual inaccuracy (e.g., mismatch of fossil record with Darwinian processes, inability of Darwinian processes to perform the duties incumbent upon them, etc), or plain vacuity and vagueness (i.e., ET is compatible with any observation; nothing is ruled out).

The list of anti-ET conspirators contains such luminaries as Jerry Fodor (philosopher), Michael Denton (biologist), David Berlinski (polymath), NoShips (castaway), and ... wait for it ... Noam Chomsky (pianist).

I ushered Chomsky into our previous skirmishes, since judging from my own desultory reading over the years, his attitude to Darwinian/neo-Darwinian models of evolution might, as I see it, best be described as lukewarm. At the time, though, I was only able to adduce one quote, viz:

"In fact, the processes by which the human mind achieved its present stage of complexity and its particular form of innate organisation are a total mystery, as much so as the analogous questions about the physical or mental organisation of any other complex organism. It is perfectly safe to attribute this development to "natural selection," so long as we realise that there is no substance to this assertion, that it amounts to nothing more than a belief that there is some naturalistic explanation for these phenomena. The problem of accounting for evolutionary development is, in some ways, rather like that of explaining successful abduction. The laws that determine possible successful mutation and the nature of complex organisms are as unknown as the laws that determine the choice of hypotheses."


As I recall, my suggestion that the aforementioned free-thinking macrocephalic and cunning linguist might be hostile, or at least apathetic, to ET was met with some incredulity by at least one member (waves to Eclogite :-) ). To this effect, I now add a few quotes from a book I'm currently ensconced in, "The End of Science", by Scientific American staff writer John Horgan: a collection of his interviews over the years with a cocktail of scientific and philosophical luminaries:

"But Chomsky has never been comfortable with Darwinian accounts of human behavior. He accepts that natural selection may have played SOME role in the evolution of language and other human attributes. But given the enormous gap between human language and the relatively simple communication systems of other animals, and given our fragmentary knowledge of the past, science can tell us little about how language evolved. Just because language is adaptive now, Chomsky elaborates, does not mean that it arose in response to selection pressures. Language may have been an incidental by-product of a spurt in intelligence that only later was coopted by for various uses" - Horgan (p 151)

It seems, then, that whatever other misgivings Chomsky may harbor regarding ET, his own hypothesis of an innate language organ requires a saltation, nay an exaptive saltation (is that an oxymoron? a contradiction? --anyway, all of a sudden we got really smart), that Darwinian-based models forbid. Moreover...

"The problem, according to Chomsky, is that 'Darwinian theory is so loose it can incorporate anything they discover'." (also p 151)

... which ("looseness") exactly mirrors my own view: Anything is compatible with ET; nothing is ruled out. So,

(i) Thoughts, corrections, criticisms, glazed doughnuts welcome

(ii) What does ET rule out, if anything? (I'll need to know what ET is first, of course). Because, like Chomsky, I'm afraid anything we observe is simply absorbed effortlessly by the ET faithful, much as those Bible Bashers remain unsurprised by pretty butterflies, as they are unfazed by children with cancer. Is compatibility not an execrably low standard for evidence?

(iii) I've noticed recently that (at least some) Americans pronounce mirror as mee-ror. Can you stop doing that, please? It's annoying. :-)
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby Lomax on March 12th, 2017, 8:10 am 

This smacks of argument from authority (and Chomsky is a linguist, not an evolutionary biologist), and I don't tend to give Chomsky the free pass others do, but before we proceed, to answer your point (ii): you still haven't addressed the examples we gave you before. I suggested (a la Haldane) rabbits in the precambrian; Biowizard suggested DNA divergence between related species, even in the face of phenotype convergence. Your answer in both cases was "I don't believe you that these would be taken as evidence against ET", which you already conceded is both an unfounded and circular argument in itself. For my part I would want my own arguments against ET not to suffer the defects I allege ET to have.
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby Braininvat on March 12th, 2017, 10:56 am 

(post beginning with "ok lemme sober up" and all following removed)
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby NoShips on March 12th, 2017, 10:58 am 

Sigh, Brain, why did you do that again? I don't recall being offensive. Never mind
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby Forest_Dump on March 12th, 2017, 11:00 am 

Some of the ideas of Jerry Fodor might be worth some SOBER thought but I would have to find out a bit more.
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby NoShips on March 12th, 2017, 11:02 am 

Forest, if you can coherently state his objection, we can talk
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby NoShips on March 12th, 2017, 11:05 am 

And you did insult me.
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby NoShips on March 12th, 2017, 11:05 am 

Where are impartial mods when I need 'em? As if I need 'em
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby NoShips on March 12th, 2017, 11:19 am 

I accept drunkenness. But you still still don't see that point. Let me try again....


Imagine an airport sniffer dog... ok?

What is it supposed to do? Find drugs? Let's call a herion sniffer. Ok? Let's also suppose that herion is coextensive with whatever you like... ammonium bags... Wherever you get an ammonium bag you get heroin.

With me so far?

No the dog yells, as some drug smuggler (or was it an ammonium bag smuggler) tries to sneak through...

Does the customs official know what he wants? Ans: Yes

Does the dog know what he wants? Ans: yes

Does your theory know the difference? Ans: no

Now you might say, "oh silly, you drunk, he wants the drugs"

And this drunk asks "How would you justify a claim like that?"

Intension would do it (artrificial breeding and all that). Laws might might do it... but then laws of fitness are massively contextually sensitive.


Jerry Fodor is as smart as they come. I stayed up all night for several days trying to get this, Got it eventually.
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby Braininvat on March 12th, 2017, 11:26 am 

Here's impartial:

You are at an online philosophy forum, which has certain rules of discourse. One of them is not to post 6-8 short posts meandering around your lack of sobriety, personal issues, cajolery of others to get a rapid response, off-topic one-liners, etc. You weren't offensive, you were just undermining discourse. Posts removed. Get over it.

You say something. ONE POST.

Someone else says something. ONE POST.

You reply. ONE POST.

They reply. ONE POST.

This is not the Internal Soliloquy Forum. Just respect that and we're fine.
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby NoShips on March 12th, 2017, 11:28 am 

Noted, Brain. Sorry. So a hug is out of the question?

See ya tomorrow.
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby Forest_Dump on March 12th, 2017, 11:49 am 

So far what I see is just a complaint that ET doesn't answer every question. I certainly agree, for example, that natural selection may not fully explain language and the reason the King James Bible sounds an awful lot like the language of Shakespeare. So what? Antibiotics don't work on viruses or my ability to predict hockey scores. Antibiotics do work on some bacterial infections and natural selection actually works very well to explain why that is changing. You or anybody else got anything better?
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby NoShips on March 12th, 2017, 12:25 pm 

Forest_Dump » March 13th, 2017, 12:49 am wrote:So far what I see is just a complaint that ET doesn't answer every question. I certainly agree, for example, that natural selection may not fully explain language and the reason the King James Bible sounds an awful lot like the language of Shakespeare. So what? Antibiotics don't work on viruses or my ability to predict hockey scores. Antibiotics do work on some bacterial infections and natural selection actually works very well to explain why that is changing. You or anybody else got anything better?


Oh for goodness sake, Forest, last time we had this conversation you were telling me we had ET to thank for Flu vaccine. Then I mentioned Edward Jenner who was working on vaccines before Darwin was born. Remember?
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby NoShips on March 12th, 2017, 12:38 pm 

And by the way, no one answered my question: what can ET not absorb and leave smiling?

Ans: Nothing

Seriously, gentlemen (and Brain tee hee), isn't a good theory supposed to rule in certain observations and rule out others?
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby NoShips on March 12th, 2017, 12:41 pm 

People tell me (Dawkins, ugh) ET is well tested. Can someone tell me one of these tests?
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby Forest_Dump on March 12th, 2017, 12:42 pm 

NoShips wrote:Oh for goodness sake, Forest, last time we had this conversation you were telling me we had ET to thank for Flu vaccine. Then I mentioned Edward Jenner who was working on vaccines before Darwin was born. Remember?


Oh for goodness sake, NoShips, do you think the scientific improvements made to flu shots administered now are locked into the state of knowledge Jenner had to rely on? Are you not aware that the composition of these flu shots is based on epidemiology which takes into account predictions of which mutations will spread in current and future populations (since predictability is vital due to the lag time in manufacturing and distribution in getting vaccines into people before the disease spreads. That is ALL ET. And I was referring to the fact that medicine resistant strains are on the increase because of natural selection resulting in the preferential survival of strains that are resistant to antibiotics so the antibiotics don't work as well any more. That is pure 100% natural selection in action. Once again, as with the Berlinski rehash of Paley's watchmaker analogy, you are about 200 years out of date.

NoShips wrote:As I said, you guys get religious about this vacuous shite.

I ask again, what do we have ET to thank for?


Once again, you got anything better?
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby NoShips on March 12th, 2017, 12:49 pm 

Forest_Dump » March 13th, 2017, 1:42 am wrote:
NoShips wrote:Oh for goodness sake, Forest, last time we had this conversation you were telling me we had ET to thank for Flu vaccine. Then I mentioned Edward Jenner who was working on vaccines before Darwin was born. Remember?


Oh for goodness sake, NoShips, do you think the scientific improvements made to flu shots administered now are locked into the state of knowledge Jenner had to rely on? Are you not aware that the composition of these flu shots is based on epidemiology which takes into account predictions of which mutations will spread in current and future populations (since predictability is vital due to the lag time in manufacturing and distribution in getting vaccines into people before the disease spreads. That is ALL ET. And I was referring to the fact that medicine resistant strains are on the increase because of natural selection resulting in the preferential survival of strains that are resistant to antibiotics so the antibiotics don't work as well any more. That is pure 100% natural selection in action. Once again, as with the Berlinski rehash of Paley's watchmaker analogy, you are about 200 years out of date.

NoShips wrote:As I said, you guys get religious about this vacuous shite.

I ask again, what do we have ET to thank for?


Once again, you got anything better?



So what you're telling us is that those viruses most able to resist elimination will tend to ...um, resist elimination?

Do you seriously not see circularity here, friend?

May I ask you in advance about the future viruses? I covered this with Eclogite and Bird-Eating spiders. Remember?

Are you here to take credit for victories gained and remain silent till ...um, your theory comes through again?

Make a prediction now... *poke*

Ok, I will... All stuff, viruses included, will tend to do well, if they have a proclivity to .. er, do well

Do you REALLY not see the vacuity in this?
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby NoShips on March 12th, 2017, 12:56 pm 

"Hey!! Another victory for natural selection. All the stuff that doesn't do well... didn't do well"

Sigh!

Got anything better?
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby NoShips on March 12th, 2017, 1:05 pm 

Guess what? Those most able to win Oscars grabbed a few. Those others were flushed away.

Can't you see natural selection in action?

And as for next year's winners... I haven't the foggiest who they are, but it's exactly what what my theory predicted.
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby Forest_Dump on March 12th, 2017, 1:46 pm 

NoShips I get very tired of having to wade through all your vacuous drivel but I will focus on a couple of things:

NoShips wrote:So what you're telling us is that those viruses most able to resist elimination will tend to ...um, resist elimination?

Do you seriously not see circularity here, friend?


Your lack of science literacy is showing through clearly. First, viruses and bacteria are not the same which is why antibiotics do not work on viruses. In fact, bacteria are more closely related to us, elephants and trees than they are to viruses even though both are very tiny.

Second, whether it is or just sounds circular to you, selection, whether "natural" (i.e., in the state of nature) or otherwise has been tested multiple times and is easy enough to do that you could even do it yourself. Take any population, isolate it, and weed out (i.e., kill) any variant you don't like before it becomes sexually mature and what is left survives. How is that tough to figure out? Take a population of bacteria and expose it to antibiotics and those bacteria that survive the exposure will be those that are better able to survive exposure to antibiotics. Is that circular? I suppose. So what? Now if that ability to survive exposure to antibiotics is somehow written into or cantained within the DNA then it will be transmitted to the next generation. (Of course the caveat for more complicated life forms is that it has to be written into the DNA of the gametes in order to be passed on to the next generation.)

Predictions into the future are tougher primarily because they require more time to test to see if they will come true. But since we are on the topic, there were predictions made about antibiotic resistant bacteria, namely that antibiotic resistant bacteria would be more common through time and even more common in environments where there was exposure to varying amounts of antibiotics. So, scientists who wanted to find and study antibiotic resistant bacteria went out and looked for them downstream from some American chicken farms because chicken farms feed antibiotics to chickens constantly and it was suspected (predicted) that the antibiotics would leach into the water and bacteria naturally present in the water would be exposed to increasingly diluted amounts of antibiotics, killing off the weaker variants and letting the stronger variants (in terms of ability to resist antibiotics). Guess what - they founds far more antibiotic resistant bacteria than they had predicted. Oooops. Does that count as a fail?
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby NoShips on March 12th, 2017, 2:15 pm 

Thank heavens I have Noam on my side. He must be as dumb as me. Goodnight Forest *kiss*
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby Forest_Dump on March 12th, 2017, 2:31 pm 

I have to admit that I have never read Chomsky. Coincidentally I ran across a book in a used bookstore that was a "best of" tome, for 50 cents, no less, but passed on it (but did pick up Rosseau's Social Contract and a couple of fairly classic books on chess). I might have if I had known he had aything interesting to say on evolutionary theory (and I have to admit that I don't have that much interest in linguistics, only some passing interest if and when it comes up elsewhere). Perhaps, when you do sober up, you could provide a brief, coherent account of what Chomsky has to say on ET that has more value than, say, my amateurish thoughts on linguistics.
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby Lomax on March 12th, 2017, 7:49 pm 

In a way it's a shame NoShips's armada of posts (sailing on the wine-dark sea) was deleted, because he complimented my cheekbones (which of course I got from my ancestors) and I take my compliments where I can get them. Most of this ocean has been covered already, but rifling through the forum garbage, I found NoShips's objection to my point about arguments from authority, in which he compared Einstein (office clerk who knew about theoretical physics) to Chomsky (linguist who knows about everything, according to his fans). Because I am generous we can put aside the fact that Einstein had a PhD in physics, or that he could prove his point with math (which, regardless of whether Haldane can, NoShips and his intellectual references cannot). The point is that nobody - or at least, no ship - is even trying to claim that Chomsky is knowledgeable in this field. His arguments are not what is being invoked. The fact is that Chomsky is a smart guy, and that fact alone will not do. B.F. Skinner was a smart guy too, and they can't both be right about everything. It doesn't matter that Chomsky is smart, or that NoShips is, or that Forest is, or that BiV is. All that matters is the arguments. They are the wind in the sails.
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby NoShips on March 12th, 2017, 8:56 pm 

[quote="[url=http://www.sciencechatforum.com/viewtopic.php?p=318162#p318162]All that matters is the arguments. They are the wind in the sails.[/quote]

Quite so, you with the cheekbones. Unfortunately no one seems have addressed mine. E.g. What does ET rule out? How can a saltation of the kind demanded by Chomsky's language organ be reconciled with ET? (hint: Steven Pinker tries hard to do just that in "The Language Instinct")
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby Lomax on March 12th, 2017, 8:59 pm 

NoShips » March 13th, 2017, 1:56 am wrote:Quite so, you with the cheekbones. Unfortunately no one seems have addressed mine. E.g. What does ET rule out?

I am pouting at you right now Mister Ships. I already gave an example, and so did Biowizard (his, I think, was superior) and I referred to both of them at the start of this thread. I do not see why Chomsky's "language module" has to be the product of saltation, by the way, any more than the eye does.
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby NoShips on March 12th, 2017, 9:09 pm 

Lomax » March 13th, 2017, 9:59 am wrote:
NoShips » March 13th, 2017, 1:56 am wrote:Quite so, you with the cheekbones. Unfortunately no one seems have addressed mine. E.g. What does ET rule out?

I am pouting at you right now Mister Ships. I already gave an example, and so did Biowizard (his, I think, was superior) and I referred to both of them at the start of this thread. I do not see why Chomsky's "language module" has to be the product of saltation, by the way, any more than the eye does.



Erm, Biowizard has not contributed to this thread as far as I can see... which is not very far.

You mean that pesky rabbit again? I responded to that, but I believe it was left on the editing floor.
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby Braininvat on March 12th, 2017, 9:11 pm 

Why does a largely disproven conjecture (the language organ, Universal Grammar) have to be reconciled with anything? There was never any actual evidence for saltation as regards a language module or instance of language. The Piraha research of Everett, and others, has stripped away the false patina of authority that Chomsky had. There's no gene or set of genes for speech, just genes for more basic cognitive skills that permit inventiveness and novel strategies for survival. Let's try these gestures, let's chip these rocks and see what that makes, let's try vocalizations when our hands are full of spears and we need to communicate while hunting, etc. There is no "organ." Chomsky may or may not have figured this out by now, but he is pretty much irrelevant to ET. We didn't evolve language, we made languages. Words are artifacts.



"cheekbones....which of course I got from my ancestors...." (snicker)
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby NoShips on March 12th, 2017, 9:14 pm 

Braininvat » March 13th, 2017, 10:11 am wrote:Why does a largely disproven conjecture (the language organ, Universal Grammar) have to be reconciled with anything? There was never any actual evidence for saltation as regards a language module or instance of language. The Piraha research of Everett, and others, has stripped away the false patina of authority that Chomsky had. There's no gene or set of genes for speech, just genes for more basic cognitive skills that permit inventiveness and novel strategies for survival. Let's try these gestures, let's chip these rocks and see what that makes, let's try vocalizations when our hands are full of spears and we need to communicate while hunting, etc. There is no "organ." Chomsky may or may not have figured this out by now, but he is pretty much irrelevant to ET. We didn't evolve language, we made languages. Words are artifacts.



"cheekbones....which of course I got from my ancestors...." (snicker)



Exactly! No evidence for or against. In a nutshell, we haven't a clue how it came about. Kinda handy though for seducing mods with Lorenesque cheekbones.

Furthermore, whether Chomsky is right about modularity, or whether language is part our (um, yours then) general purpose cognitive machinery... Darwin doesn't help a jot. Unless you wanna build a bonfire and sing Irish folk songs. Which sounds just fine to me.
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby Lomax on March 12th, 2017, 9:20 pm 

NoShips » March 13th, 2017, 2:09 am wrote:Erm, Biowizard has not contributed to this thread as far as I can see... which is not very far.

Come on now - how could I have referred to it at the start of the thread if it were a point he made in this thread?

You got a laugh for "Lorenesque", though.
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Re: Chomsky and Evolutionary Theory

Postby NoShips on March 12th, 2017, 9:21 pm 

Lomax » March 13th, 2017, 10:20 am wrote:
NoShips » March 13th, 2017, 2:09 am wrote:Erm, Biowizard has not contributed to this thread as far as I can see... which is not very far.

Come on now - how could I have referred to it at the start of the thread if it were a point he made in this thread?



Hey, stop threatening me! Oh, you said "thread". Sorry. So was it the lagomorph with a candlestick in Pre-Cambrian strata or not?
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