A familiar trope of cognitive science, linguistics, and the philosophy of psychology over the past forty or so years has been the idea of the mind as a modular system-that is, one consisting of functionally specialized subsystems responsible for processing different classes of input, or handling specific cognitive tasks like vision, language, logic, music, and so on. However, one of the major achievements of neuroscience has been the discovery that the brain has incredible powers of renewal and reorganization. This "neuroplasticity," (...) in its various forms, has challenged many of the orthodox conceptions of the mind which originally led cognitive scientists to postulate hardwired mental modules. -/- This book examines how such discoveries have changed the way we think about the structure of the mind. It contends that the mind is more supple than prevailing theories in cognitive science and artificial intelligence acknowledge. The book uses language as a test case. The claim that language is cognitively special has often been understood as the claim that it is underpinned by dedicated-and innate-cognitive mechanisms. Zerilli offers a fresh take on how our linguistic abilities could be domain-general: enabled by a composite of very small and redundant cognitive subsystems, few if any of which are likely to be specialized for language. In arguing for this position, however, the book takes seriously various cases suggesting that language dissociates from other cognitive faculties. -/- Accessibly written, The Adaptable Mind is a fascinating account of neuroplasticity, neural reuse, the modularity of mind, the evolution of language, and faculty psychology. (shrink)
A major flaw of the book is its failure to note Wittgenstein’s role in destroying the mechanical or reductionist or computationalist view of mind. These continue to dominate cognitive science and philosophy, in spite of the fact that they were powerfully countered by W and later by Searle and others. -/- There is much talk of W’s use of terms like “grammar”, “rules” etc. but never a clear mention that they mean our Evolved Psychology or our genetically programmed innate behavior. (...) There are references to Baker and Hacker's works and to Malcolm Budd, but none to many standard W refs such as ter Hark, Johnston, and especially to the searchable Intelex CDROM and online sites of his complete works, nor to Searle, and none to the vast literature of evolutionary psychology. -/- Many sections of the book are reasonably successful in describing W’s work but there is much aimless wandering and many mistakes and confusions. These will hopefully be obvious to those who read the above and my other reviews as I cannot recount more than a few of the hundreds of critical comments I made in my two readings of this book. A major flaw, common to most writing in the behavioral sciences, is the lack of awareness of the S1/S2 two selves or two systems of thought mode of describing personality that W pioneered (though nobody noticed) and a failure to be clear about nature/nuture issues. The fast, automatic perceptions, ‘rules’ and behaviors of S1 are mushed together with the slow conscious dispositional thinking, believing and rule following of S2 and neither are clearly or consistently distinguished from arbitrary cultural behaviors. -/- Like all authors until very recently, they fail to give Wittgenstein’s last work “On Certainty” the prominent position it deserves, and likewise fail to take advantage of the powerful dual systems of thought framework. Nor have they adopted the useful extensions of Wittgenstein’s work made by John Searle. So, I first lay out a framework for intentionality (behavior) and then provide some detailed comments. This book is a reasonable first attempt to bring W’s pioneering work on higher order thought to the attention of psychology but it has many failings and needs a thorough rewrite. -/- Those wishing a comprehensive up to date framework for human behavior from the modern two systems view may consult my book ‘The Logical Structure of Philosophy, Psychology, Mind and Language in Ludwig Wittgenstein and John Searle’ 2nd ed (2019). Those interested in more of my writings may see ‘Talking Monkeys--Philosophy, Psychology, Science, Religion and Politics on a Doomed Planet--Articles and Reviews 2006-2019 3rd ed (2019), The Logical Structure of Human Behavior (2019), and Suicidal Utopian Delusions in the 21st Century 4th ed (2019) . (shrink)
Before commenting on the book, I offer comments on Wittgenstein and Searle and the logical structure of rationality. The essays here are mostly already published during the last decade (though some have been updated), along with one unpublished item, and nothing here will come as a surprise to those who have kept up with his work. Like W, he is regarded as the best standup philosopher of his time and his written work is solid as a rock and groundbreaking throughout. (...) However his failure to take the later W seriously enough leads to some mistakes and confusions. Just a few examples: on p7 he twice notes that our certainty about basic facts is due to the overwhelming weight of reason supporting our claims, but W showed definitively in ‘On Certainty’ that there is no possibility of doubting the true-only axiomatic structure of our System 1 perceptions, memories and thoughts, since it is itself the basis for judgment and cannot itself be judged. In the first sentence on p8 he tells us that certainty is revisable, but this kind of ‘certainty’, which we might call Certainty2, is the result of extending our axiomatic and nonrevisable certainty (Certainty1) via experience and is utterly different as it is propositional (true or false). This is of course a classic example of the “battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by language” which W demonstrated over and over again. One word- two (or many) distinct uses. -/- His last chapter “The Unity of the Proposition” (previously unpublished) would also benefit greatly from reading W’s “On Certainty” or DMS’s two books on OC (see my reviews) as they make clear the difference between true only sentences describing S1 and true or false propositions describing S2. This strikes me as a far superior approach to S’s taking S1 perceptions as propositional since they only become T or F after one begins thinking about them in S2. However, his point that propositions permit statements of actual or potential truth and falsity, of past and future and fantasy, and thus provide a huge advance over pre or protolinguistic society, is cogent. As he states it “A proposition is anything at all that can determine a condition of satisfaction…and a condition of satisfaction… is that such and such is the case.” Or, one needs to add, that might be or might have been or might be imagined to be the case. -/- Overall, PNC is a good summary of the many substantial advances over Wittgenstein resulting from S’s half century of work, but in my view, W still is unequaled once you grasp what he is saying. Ideally they should be read together: Searle for the clear coherent prose and generalizations, illustrated with W’s perspicacious examples and brilliant aphorisms. If I were much younger I would write a book doing exactly that. -/- Those wishing a comprehensive up to date account of Wittgenstein, Searle and their analysis of behavior from the modern two systems view may consult my article The Logical Structure of Philosophy, Psychology, Mind and Language as Revealed in Wittgenstein and Searle (2016). Those interested in all my writings in their most recent versions may download from this site my e-book ‘Philosophy, Human Nature and the Collapse of Civilization Michael Starks (2016)- Articles and Reviews 2006-2016’ by Michael Starks First Ed. 662p (2016). -/- All of my papers and books have now been published in revised versions both in ebooks and in printed books. -/- Talking Monkeys: Philosophy, Psychology, Science, Religion and Politics on a Doomed Planet - Articles and Reviews 2006-2017 (2017) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071HVC7YP. -/- The Logical Structure of Philosophy, Psychology, Mind and Language in Ludwig Wittgenstein and John Searle--Articles and Reviews 2006-2016 (2017) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071P1RP1B. -/- Suicidal Utopian Delusions in the 21st century: Philosophy, Human Nature and the Collapse of Civilization - Articles and Reviews 2006-2017 (2017) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0711R5LGX . (shrink)
This paper discusses the role that appeals to theoretical simplicity have played in the debate between nativists and empiricists in cognitive science. Both sides have been keen to make use of such appeals in defence of their respective positions about the structure and ontogeny of the human mind. Focusing on the standard simplicity argument employed by empiricist-minded philosophers and cognitive scientists—what I call “the argument for minimal innateness”—I identify various problems with such arguments—in particular, the apparent arbitrariness of the relevant (...) notions of simplicity at work. I then argue that simplicity ought not be seen as a theoretical desideratum in its own right, but rather as a stand-in for other desirable features of theories. In this deflationary vein, I argue that the best way of interpreting the argument for minimal innateness is to view it as an indirect appeal to various potential biological constraints on the amount of innate structure that can wired into the human mind. I then consider how nativists may respond to this biologized version of the argument, and discuss the role that similar biological concerns have played in recent nativist theorizing in the Minimalist Programme in generative linguistics. (shrink)
Thomas Reid distinguished between natural and artificial language and argued that natural language has a very specific sort of priority over artificial language. This paper critically interprets Reid's discussion, extracts a Reidian explanatory argument for the priority of natural language, and places Reid's thought in the broad tradition of Cartesian linguistics.
We present a series of arguments for logical nativism, focusing mainly on the meaning of disjunction in human languages. We propose that all human languages are logical in the sense that the meaning of linguistic expressions corresponding to disjunction (e.g. English or , Chinese huozhe, Japanese ka ) conform to the meaning of the logical operator in classical logic, inclusive- or . It is highly implausible, we argue, that children acquire the (logical) meaning of disjunction by observing how adults use (...) disjunction. Findings from studies of child language acquisition and from cross-linguistic research invite the conclusion that children do not learn to be logical—it comes naturally to them. (shrink)
Ever since Chomsky, language has become the paradigmatic example of an innate capacity. Infants of only a few months old are aware of the phonetic structure of their mother tongue, such as stress-patterns and phonemes. They can already discriminate words from non-words and acquire a feel for the grammatical structure months before they voice their first word. Language reliably develops not only in the face of poor linguistic input, but even without it. In recent years, several scholars have extended this (...) uncontroversial view into the stronger claim that natural language is a human-speciﬁc adaptation. As I shall point out, this position is more problematic because of a lack of conceptual clarity over what human-specific cognitive adaptations are, and how they relate to modularity, the notion that mental phenomena arise from several domain-speciﬁc cognitive structures. The main aim of this paper is not to discuss whether or not language is an adaptation, but rather, to examine the concept of modularity with respect to the evolution and development of natural language. . (shrink)
Linguistic competence, in general terms, involves the ability to learn, understand, and speak a language. The nativist view in the philosophy of linguistics holds that the principal foundation of linguistic competence is an innate faculty of linguistic cognition. In this paper, close scrutiny is given to nativism's fundamental commitments in the area of metaphysics. In the course of this exploration it is argued that any minimally defensible variety of nativism is, for better or worse, married to two theses: linguistic competence (...) is grounded in a faculty of linguistic cognition that is (i) embodied and (ii) whose operating rules are represented in the brains of human language users. (shrink)
The enigma of the Emergence of Natural Languages, coupled or not with the closely related problem of their Evolution is perceived today as one of the most important scientific problems. The purpose of the present study is actually to outline such a solution to our problem which is epistemologically consonant with the Big Bang solution of the problem of the Emergence of the Universe}. Such an outline, however, becomes articulable, understandable, and workable only in a drastically extended epistemic and scientific (...) oecumene, where known and habitual approaches to the problem, both theoretical and experimental, become distant, isolated, even if to some degree still hospitable conceptual and methodological islands. The guiding light of our inquiry will be Eugene Paul Wigner's metaphor of ``the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in natural sciences'', i.e., the steadily evolving before our eyes, since at least XVIIth century, ``the miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics''. Kurt Goedel's incompleteness and undecidability theory will be our guardian discerner against logical fallacies of otherwise apparently plausible explanations. John Bell's ``unspeakableness'' and the commonplace counterintuitive character of quantum phenomena will be our encouragers. And the radical novelty of the introduced here and adapted to our purposes Big Bang epistemological paradigm will be an appropriate, even if probably shocking response to our equally shocking discovery in the oldest among well preserved linguistic fossils of perfect mathematical structures outdoing the best artifactual Assemblers. (shrink)
Fiona Cowie's book What's Within: Nativism Reconsidered offers an important critical assessment of nativist views of the mind. She provides an account of what nativism consists in, and discusses prominent nativist views of concept acquisition and language acquisition. In the latter case, she also offers an empiricist alternative to Chomskyan nativist accounts, and claims that the main arguments for an innate language faculty—one that embodies Universal Grammar—don't work. We provide an overview of her position, focusing mostly on her views about (...) natural language, and argue that she has underestimated the power the poverty of the stimulus argument and consequently has underestimated the advantages of nativist models of language acquisition. (shrink)
This chapter examines two different views of universal grammar. Most linguists assume that universal grammar is underspecified — providing us with an incomplete grammar to be elaborated by learning. But the alternative is that it is overspecified — providing us with a full range of possible grammars from which we select one on the basis of environmental input. Underspecification is now the dominant view in the developmental sciences, and is often treated as the null hypothesis on grounds of greater possibility, (...) parsimony, and simplicity. The chapter questions whether the underspecification view is really feasible and whether it is more parsimonious than the overspecification view, drawing on examples from certain African languages. It also shows that the perplexity evoked by overspecification theories disappears if language has a concealing purpose as well as a communicating purpose, similar to a code. (shrink)
Prinz (Perceptual the Mind: Concepts and Their Perceptual Basis, MIT Press, 2002) presents a new species of concept empiricism, under which concepts are off-line long-term memory networks of representations that are ‘copies’ of perceptual representations – proxytypes. An apparent obstacle to any such empiricism is the prevailing nativism of generative linguistics. The paper critically assesses Prinz’s attempt to overcome this obstacle. The paper argues that, prima facie, proxytypes are as incapable of accounting for the structure of the linguistic mind as (...) are the more traditional species of empiricism. This position is then confirmed by looking in detail at two suggestions (one derived from recent connectionist research) from Prinz of how certain aspects of syntactic structure might be accommodated by the proxytype theory. It is shown that the suggestions fail to come to terms with both the data and theory of contemporary linguistics. (shrink)
EVERY speaker of a language knows a bewildering variety of linguistic facts, and will come to know many more. It is knowledge that connects sound and meaning. Questions about the nature of this knowledge cannot be separated from fundamental questions about the nature of language. The conception of language we should adopt depends on the part it plays in explaining our knowledge of language. This chapter explores options in accounting for language, and our knowledge of language, and defends the view (...) that individuals’ languages are constituted by the standing knowledge they carry from one speech situation to another. (shrink)
Enquiries into the possible nature and scope of innate knowledge never proceed in an empirical vaccuum. Instead, such conjectures are informed by a theory (perhaps only tacitly endorsed) concerning probable representational form. Classical approaches to the nativism debate often assume a quasi-linguistic form of knowledge representation and deliniate a space of options (concerning the nature and extent of innate knowledge) accordingly. Recent connectionist theorizing posits a different kind of represenational form, and thus determines a different picture of the space of (...) possible nativisms. (shrink)
This volume features work on learning by researchers in various disciplines who share an interest in the systematic study of cognition and in the study of the formal and semantic aspects of language acquisition. A recurring theme is that language learning involves the acquisition of certain competencies and the formation of a system of beliefs which are significantly underdetermined by the linguistic and nonlinguistic inputs available to the learner. Theories of language learning must confront the epistemological problem of how it (...) is possible to induce and fixate a belief-system on the basis of exposure to limited data. A typical strategy in dealing with this problem has been to specify various types of formal and empirical constraints on linguistic and conceptual development in terms of specific hypotheses about the character of what is learned and about the kinds of resources and strategies available to the learner. Most of the contributions in this volume are concerned with the specification and evaluation of such constraints. (shrink)
The idea that innateness can be understood in terms of genetic coding or genetic programming is discussed. I argue that biology does not provide any support for the view that the whole-organism features of interest to nativists in psychology and linguistics are genetically coded for. This provides some support for recent critical and deflationary treatments of the concept of innateness.