Category Archives: The Biolinguistic turn – Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky – The biolinguistic turn lecture notes – part eleven

The phenomenal properties of these artifacts result from the interaction of invariant principles of the initial state (=the faculty of language) with a finite number of parameters fixed in one or another way. It would incidentally follow that there are only finitely many possible human languages apart from idiosyncrasy and choice of lexical items. And even these are sharply constrained. That means that the problem of unfeasible search is eliminate, its a major conclusion if correct. The conception has now been applied to typologically different languages of just about every known kind.

It lead to many discoveries, a host of new questions that where never before contemplated, sometimes suggested answers. This princibles and parameters approach is an approach. Its not a theory. Within the general approach there are many differse theories. There is actually a very good introduction to the topic by just published by Mark BakerAtoms of language. He himself made major contributions to the approach. He is been working primarily on languages that appear to be at opposite ends of the spectrum of typological possibilities. Picking that on purpose of course. Mohawk and English, thats the pair he studies most intensifly trying to show that altough they are about as different phenomenally as two languages can be they are in reality virtuall identical apart from very small changes in a view parameters. Thake say a Marsian observer who views Humans as we do other organisms would conclude that they are essentialy identical. Dialectical varience of the same language.

There is been extensive work of a similar character carried out worldwide with quiet revealing results. One major programm funded by the European Union is studying the vast number of languages in Europe. Missleadingly called things like German and Italien and so on thoe the where totaly different languages. Included by this characterisations. And its beeing done elsewhere as well. I dont wanna suggest that the approach has been established. That is very far from true but it has been very succsessful as a research program. As a stimulus to empirical and theoretical inquiry. Progress towards the goals of descriptive and explanatory adequacy has far surpass anything that preceeds. Not only in depth of analysis of particular languages but also in the range of typological different languages that have been investigated and also new areas of linguistic structure that had barrely bin explored before.

Related field, such as the study of language aquisition, have also been completely revitalized within a similar framework. They now look totaly unlike anything that was around 20-30 years ago. There are some important steps towards convergence altho its certainly gonna be a long and difficult course even the approach turns out to be on the right track. We are far from having a clear idea of what the principles and parameters actually are. But I think it is fair to say that the study of language, in the last 20 years, has moved to an entirely new plane.

I wanna pick up these topics tomorrow and then move on to the issues, particlary the third factor – general properties of organisms. And then to move on the questions of intentionality. That is the question of how language now understood within the biolinguistic framework relates to the rest of the world.


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Noam Chomsky – The biolinguistic turn lecture notes – part nine

The long term goal of investigating the third sector – that is the role of general properties of organisms in determining the faculty of language and the states it can attain (internal languages) – was actually formulated in the early days of the biolinguistic term but put aside as unfeasible. Attention focused on the first two factors, experience and the initial state in technical terminology = the problems of descriptive and explanetory adequacy.

The latter is how the initial state enters into determining the transition to the final state – the state attained. The earliest attempts, 50 years ago, where to replace traditional or structualist accounts of language by generative rule systems revealed very quickly that very little was known about the sound, meaning and structure of language and that huge problems had been unwittingly swept under the rug. Rather as in the days when it was assumed that bodies fall to their natural place, as has often been the case, one of hardest steps in development of the scientist is the first one. Namely to be puzzled by what seems so natural and obvious and to gain some realistic sense of what had been overlooked was an enourmous taks in itself.

Even more so in the light of the recognition that the apparent complexity and diversity of languages that was very soon discovered just had to be an illusion. The reason for that conclusion is a standard one in biology. Namely as in the case of other organs of the body, experience can play only a very limited role in determing the state thats attained. In this case the attained I – language even a young child has mastered a rich and highly articulary system of sound and meaning and structural properties that goes far beyond any evidence available and its shared with others who have different but also highly restricted experience. So it has to be the case that the initial state plays an overwhelming role in determining the language that the child attains in all of its aspects. Experience surly has a role in triggering and shaping role as in the case of other organs. But it has to be limited one.

So there is no reason to suppose that language and other higher mental faculties depart radically known in the biological world. The task was to show the apparent richness and complexity and diversity is in fact an illusion. That all languages are cast to the same mold and that experience serves only to set options within a fixed system of princibles all determend by the initial state. Which is the case of other biological systems.

Well. Great deal of research of the past 40 years in this areas has been driven by a kind of tension between descriptive and explanatory adequacy. That is the tension between the search for true theories of i-languages, the attained state on one hand, and the true theorie of the invariant initial state of the language organ on the other. The invariant initial state is the topic of whats come to be called “universal grammar”. It is adapting an traditional notion to a quiet a new context. The search for descriptive adequacy, like a true theory of Hungarian, that leads to complex intricate of particular construction and particular languages different from one another. In contrast the search for explanatory adequacy seeks to find the common ground from which the existing languages arise given the data that are structured as experience by the operations of the initial states. Again in some unknown manner.

The first proposals from the 1950s suggested that the initial state – the topic of universal gramma – provides a kind of a format for rule systems and organisations and a proceedure for selecting one instantiation of the format over another in terms of its succsess in capturing authentic linguistic generalizations and empirical notion that incorporates also a kind of a theory internal version of standard best theory considerations. The rules themselves, at the beginning, where adaptations of informal traditional notions which had proven to be utterly inadequate when they where subjected to close examination. So that meant, rules for forming relative clauses in Hungarian, or passives in japanese, or causatives in the romans languages.

The general approach did offer a kind of solution to the core problem of the study of language. Sometimes called in the literature the logical problem of language acquisition. That is how does the initial state map constructive experience to the final state. But as was emphasized, that solution holds only in princible. Because in practice the conception was unfeasible because of the astronomical compuational demands. Well, from about 40 years ago attempts where made to reduce the scale of the problem by seeking valid general prinicbles that can be abstracted from particular grammas and attributed to universal gramma, meaning to the initial state of the language faculty. Leaving a residue that might be more manageable.

Actually some of those proposals where kind of proposals that where then beeing explored and I reviewed in lectures here 35 years ago. After that time the considerable process took off but it still left the tension unresolved. That is the general picture was somehow fundamentally defective. There was no true solution, no feasible solution to the logical problem of language acquisition. A possible resolution of that tension was reached after a good deal of effort about 20 years ago with the crystallization of a picture of language. It marked a very sharp break from a long and rich tradition, tracing back to classical india and greece. Sometimes called the Prinicbles and Parameters approach that dispenses entirely with the core notions of traditional gramma, notions like gramatical construction, or grammatical rule. From this point of view, categories such as a relative clause or passive construction are understood to be real enough but only as taxonomic artifact. So, f.e aquatic organisms – which would include say dolphins, trouts, eels, and some bacteria. Its a category but not a biological category.

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Noam Chomsky – The biolinguistic turn lecture notes – part eight

Notice again that that shift still leads us a long way from the problems of actions. Thats a vastly different matter. I have myself often quoted Wilhelm von Humboldt’s aphorism that the core problem of the study of language is the “infinite use of finite means”. It was a leading concern of Cartesian philosophy before him and a problem that really could not be posed until the mid 21th century when the concept of recursive generative proceedures was fully clarified. These proceedures constitue the finite means that are put to infinite use. But its important to be aware, I don’t think I stressed this enough, that despite quiet a lot of progress in understanding the means, means that are employed for infinite use, the question of how they are used is scarcely even addressed. And it was that question, that was the fundamental one for Descart, Humbold and other fairly modern figures. And again those questions are not even addressed for insects led alone humans.

Its reasonably clear that the human capacity for languages, whats called a species property, that is biologically isolated in essential respects and close to uniform accros the species. That actually seems less suprising today than it did not long ago in the light of very recent discoveries about the very limited genetic variation among humans as compared with other primates suggestes that we have all descended from a very small breething group maybe a hundred thousands years ago. Humans are basically identical from the point of view an outside Biologist looking at us. The biolinguistic approach adopted from the start what has been called, I quote the recently published encyclopedia of cognitive neuro science, “the norm these days in neuroscience, the modular view of learning, that is the conclusion that in all animals learning is based on specialised mechanisms, instincts to learn in specific ways” Randy Gallistel again. These organs within the brain perform specific kinds of computation in accordance with specific design appart from extremely hostil environments. The organs change state under the triggering and shaping effect of external factors. They do so more or less reflexively and in accordance with internal design. Thats the process of learning although growth might be a more appropriate term, avoiding misleading connotations of the term learning. The language organ, the faculty of language fits that normal pattern. According to the best theories we have, each attainable state of the system (i language) is a computational system that determines, generates in a technical sense infinately many expressions.

Each of this expressions is a store of information about sound and meaning which is accessed by performance systems. The properties of the I-language resold from the interplay of several factors. One factor is individual experience which selects among the options that are permitted by the initial state. A second factor is the initial state itself which is the product of evolution. And a third factor is general properties of organic systems. In this case computational systems incorporating and its reasonable to expect princibles of efficient computation.

The general picture involving crucially the third factor is familiar in the study of organic systems generally. The classic work of D’Arcy Thompson and Alan Turing on organic form and morphogenesis is an illustration topic currently in contemporary biology. One current example might be suggestive in the present context. There is recent work by Christopher Cherniak, Mathematical Biologist in Meryland, whos been exploring the idea that minimization of wire length – as in microchip design- shall best produce the best of all possible brains. And he has tried to explain in this terms the neuroanatomy of nematode – one of the simplest and best studied organisms. And also various pervasive properties of nervous systems. Such as the fact that the brain is as far forward as possible on the body axis. He wants to try to show thats just a property of efficient computation based on wire length minimization.

Well, one can trace interest in this third factor -general properties of organisms- back to a Galilean intuition, namely his concept that “nature is perfect” from the tide to the flight of bird. And its the task of the scientist to uncover in just what sense this is true. Newtons confidence that Nature must be very simple reflects the same intuition. However obscure it may be that intuition about what Ernst Haekel “Natures drive for the beautiful” has been a driving theme of modern science since its modern origin with the Galilean Revolution perhaps its defining characteristic.

It is hard to say exactly what it is, but that its a guiding intuition is not in doubt. Biologist however have tended to think rather differently about the objects of their inquiry. Very commonly they adopt what Francois Jacob, Nobel Laureate, image of nature is what he called a tinker – which does the best it can with the material at hand. Often a pretty rotten job as human intelligence seems to be keen on demonstrating about itself.

One well known contemporary Biologist, Gabriel Dover, British geneticist. He concludes in a recent book that “biology is a strange and messy business and perfection is the last word one can use to describe how organisms work particulary anything produced by natural selection.” Doe of course produced only in part by natural selection as he emphasizes, and this any biologist knows, and to an extend that cannot be quantified by available tools.

Well, we just dont know which of these conflicting intuition is more accurate – the galilean intuition or say Jacob’s intuition. And we will not know until we know the answer. And they seem very remote as answers. The same author, Gabriel Dover, writes that “we are nowhere near relieving our deepest ignorance about the biological world around us” he goes on to reserve his sharpest words ” for those who seek scientific respectability to complex behavioral phenomena in humans that we cannot even begin to investigate seriously”. He calls that “a sign of intellectual laziness at best and shameless ignorance at worst” when confronting issues of massive complexity which far exceeds the reach of contemporary science. He gives some exambles but for charity I ignore them.

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Noam Chomsky – The biolinguistic turn lecture notes – part seven

The goal was therefor to understand, to quantify to reduce the whole of nature to simple laws as Newton did; for say Astronomy. Arnold Thackray on his History of Newtonian Matter Theory and the Development of Chemistry said that “this was the compelling, this was the enticing, indeed the almost bewitching goal of much work. Pursuing the thornily Newtonian and reductionist task of uncovering the general mathematical laws which govern all chemical behavior.”

There was a distinct chemical tradition, followed the path that was outlined by Joseph Black who more or less founded modern chemistry and tried to keep neutral probably to avoid controversy. But his own work helped to found a separate chemical track. John Dalton abandond and entirely Newton corpuscular theory of matter. He adopted the radically different view that matter could exist in heterogeneous forms with very princibles. His approach Stackly writes “was chemically successful and therefor enjoyed the homage of history unlike the philosophically more coherent if less successful reductionist schemes of the Newtonians’.”

By the end of the 19th century, the fields of interest of chemists and physicists had become quiet distinct, quoting a standard history of chemistry “chemistry dealt with the world consisting of some 90 odd material elements with many and very principles and properties while physicists handled a more nebulous mathematical world of energy and electromagnetic waves that where perceived in light, radiant heat, electricity, magnitism later radiowaves and x-rays. The chemists’ matter was discrete and discontinuous, the physicists energy was continuous. And the gap appeared unbridgeable. Meanwhile chemists developed rich body of doctrine achieving chemistries triumphs in isolation from the newly emerging science of physics. As I mentioned the isolation ended only recently in a completley unanticipated way, not by reduction but by unifying a radically revised physics with the bodies of doctrin that chemistry had accumulated. Which had in fact provided important guidlines for the reconstruction of physics, basically Tubers point about perception.

And thats happen often in the history of science and we cannot know wether something similar might be required for unification of the study of brain and mind. Assuming this to be a task within our cognitive reach. And yet we dont know either.

Well, I have already suggested and will repeat that there are interesting and important parallels between the debates concerning the reality of chemistry up to unification which was just 56 years ago and current debates in the philosophy of mind about the reality of the constructions of psychological approaches. The former debate (chemistry and physics) – They are now understood to have been totaly pointless based on serious missunderstanding.

We simply have no grasp of reality other than what our best explanatory theory can provide. If they happen to be computational theories, ok, thats reality. My own view, I discussed it elswhere, that current debates very much alive right now are also largly pointless and for essentially the same reasons. This includes central topics of philosophy of mind and theoretical cognitive science. Which those of you in the discipline will recognize.

Considerations of the kind that i have been reviewing, these where in the background of the so called cognitive revolution of the 1950s, at least for some of the participants, althou it was unknown at the time. In many ways the shift of perspective brought about by the cognitive revolution actually recapitulated the first cognitive revolution of the 17th century. That includes the focus on vision and language, in the latter case adobting the biolinguistic approach. That is shifting focus of attention from phenomena like behaviour and its products, say texts to the inner mechanisms that enter into producing the pheonomena. Thus a shift, but its actually a shift that was taken in the 17th century. There was regression in a long time.

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Noam Chomsky – The biolinguistic turn lecture notes – part six

The American Association for Advancement of Science Journal, devoted a year ago an issue to Neuroscience. The summery article, which was coauthored by Eric Richard Kandel Nobel Laureate, was subtitled “Breaking down scientific barriers to the study of brain and mind”. The article covers very interesting ground but ends up with the conclusion that the neuroscience of higher cognitive processes is only begining. Its surely beginning from a higher plane than was constructed by Descartes who was in many ways the founder of modern Neuroscience. But non the less it is still the beginning. Fundamental questions remain beyond even dreams of resolutions. That includes those that where traditionally considered at the heart of the theory of mind. Such as for example, choosing some action, or even thinking about doing so. There has been very valuabel work about narrower questions, f.e. how an organism executes a plan for integrative motor action – how a cockroach walks or how a person reaches for a cup of the table.

But no one even raises the question of why the person or the cockroach executes one plan rather than some other one. That question is raised for the very simplest organisms, single cells organisms. In fact the same is true even for visual perception which is often considered a passive process. A couple of years ago a few cognitive neuroscientists, one a college of mine, published a review of research on a problem that was posed in 1850 by Humhold “even without moving our eyes we can focus our attention on different objects at will resulting in very different perceptual experiences of the same visual field”.

There is been interesting work on that but the phrase “at will” points to an era thats beyond serious empirical inquiery. It remains as much of a mystery as it was for Newton at the end of his life when he was still seeking what he called a “settle spirit that lies hidden in all bodies and that might without absurdity account for their properties of attraction and repulsion, the nature and effects of light, sensation and the way members of animal bodies move at the command of the will.” These where all comparable mysteries for newton perhaps even beyond our understanding he thought. Like the princibles of motion and the classical problems of the theory of mind at least since Descartes who incidentally also regarded them as possibly beyond human understanding.

Even if we restrict ourselfs to the study of mechanisms the gaps are quiet substantial. One of the leading Neuroscientists Randy Gallistel pointed out recently that “we clearly do not understand how the nervoussystem computes or even the foundation of its ability to compute even for the small set of arithmetic and logical operations that are fundamental to any computation”. He happens to be talking about insects but it obviously extends beyond. In another domain one of the founders of contemporary cognitive Neuroscience, Hans Lukas Teuber.

He introduced a n important review on perception and neuropysiology by writting “it may seem strange to begin with the claim that there is no adquate definition of perception and to end with the admission that we lack a neurophysiological theory”. Althou this was the most that could be said. Its true that that was 40 years ago and there where dramatic discovery right at the time that he was writting and since. But i suspect that Teuber would have expressed much the same judgment today. Teuber also outline the standard way to move towards adressing the problem of unification. He explains that his purpose in reviewing the perceputal phenomena and offering a speculative psychological account of them was because this may suggest direction in which the search for neural basis of perception should proceed. Namely by clarifying the assumption that those neurol basis must satisfy. Thats a classic approach along with the restriction of the scientific enterprise to more modest goals namely intelligibility of theory rather then of the world.

Another consequence of the demolition of the hopes of the Galilean Revolution for mechanical conception of the world, was recognition that scientific inquiry is going to have to be local in his expectations. Overarching unification may take place but perhaps over a long term and in ways that can’t be anticipated. The 18th century english chemist Joseph Black set the tone for subsequent scientific work by recommending that chemical affinity be received as a first princible which we cannot explain anymore than Newton could explain Gravitation but let us defer acounting for the laws for affinity until we have established such a body of doctrine as Newton has established concerning the Laws of gravitation. And chemistry in fact preceeded along this course separating itself increasingly from physics. Physics followed Newtons admination that Nature will be conformable to herself and very simple observing a few general principles of attraction and repulsion that relate the elementary particles of which all matter is constituted. More or less in a way different buildings can be constructed from the same bricks.

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Noam Chomsky – The biolinguistic turn lecture notes – part five

In fundamental respects, insects have richer experience and more sophisticated ways of dealing with it for action than humans do. Among other standards conclusion of modern science there are those that Priestley and many others drew centuries ago about thinking matter reiterated at the end of the decade of the brain, just two years ago without notable change or maybe surprisingly without much awareness that its revival not innovation. And thats it revival of something it was take to be unavoidable truism two centuries ago for quiet good reasons given the lack of a positive determinate account of the non mental part of the world, what is sometimes called the physical world.

Talk of the hard part of the mind-body problem, in recent years thas been taken to be conciousness conventionally. That talk of that kind is missleading at best. If its even meaningful. It may not be. Sometimes the problem is not quiet clearly posed, that its posed in terms of questions to which we can’t even think of wrong answers. So for example, there is no sensible answer to the question, what is it like to be me? Or what is it like to be a bat in Thomas Nagel famous paper. There are bad answers to that there are no good answers. Formal semantic inquiries often take the meaning of a question to be the set of propositions that are answers to it. And if that is at least a condition on meaning, than it follows that if there are no sensible answers, the question has no meaning. Even when legitimate questions are posed we dont have any good reason as far as I can see to suppose that they are intrinsicly harder than lots of other problems. Say the problem is posed for our understanding by quantum mechanics or cosmological theories of an infinity of universes or for that matter for the properties of motion.

We dont have any reason that I know of to question the opinion of Newton, David Hume and other not inconsiderable figures who in various ways reached Locks’ conclusion that motion has effects which we can in no way conceive motion able to produce. Even before Newton, puzzlement about motion was profound. His precursor Sir William Paddy described springing or elastic motion as the hard rock in philosophy. Philosophy means what we call science. The abscurity was so great, Robert Boyle felt, as to prove the existence of an intelligent author or disposer of things. Even the Skeptical Newtonian Voltair felt that the “impenetrable mysteries of motion proved that there must be a god who gave movement to matter” rather than Locks suggestion.

One cannot say that the hard problem was solved. It was just abandoned in the course of a significant revision of the enterprise of science. That is the recognition that in some fundamental sense, the world is just an unintelligently to us. And that we have to reduce our sights to the search for intelligible theories. Thas something quiet different. And even that goal has been strongly contested by prominent physicists. For example in the critique a century ago of atomic theory or even of the idea that physics should go beyond establishing quantitative relations between observable phenomena. The significance of this shift should not be underestimated. It was recognized soon enough, f.e. by David Hume who wrote that “Newtons discoveries reveal the obscurity in which Natures ultimate secrets will remain”.

These mysteries of nature, as Hume called them, refering to the phenomenon of motion will remain beyond our cognitive reach. Perhaps we might speculate he didn’t for reasons that are rooted in the biological endowment of the curious creature that alone is able even to contemplate these questions.

Well, I did talk about these topics 35 years ago and whats happen since including incidentally my own delayed self-education inclines me to believe that what I said then should be reiterated much more forcefully and in much greater depth and with much more explicit connections drawn to contemporary discussions about problems of language and mind.

Well lets return to the narrower question of emergence of mental aspects of the world or perhaps the development of an account of the non mental world that can be unified with them if the physic-chemistry model turnes out to be accurate. This scale of the gap that remains, and the very dubious grounds for the general optimism about overcoming it are revealed very clearly in the American Academy Symposium that reviewed the state of understanding at the end of the millennium. One leading specialist on vision who was toward the optimistic end of the spectrum never the less reminded the reader that how the brain combines the responses of specialized cells to indicate a continuous vertical line is a mystery that neurology has not yet solved. Or even for that matter how one line is differentiated from others or from the visual surround.

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Noam Chomsky – The biolinguistic turn lecture notes – part four

Half a century before Priestley, David Hume had casually described thought as “a little agitation of the brain” and shortly after the French philosopher physician Cabanis wrote that the brain “must be considered a special organ designed to produce thought as the stomache and the intestine are designed to operate the digestion, the liver to filter foil and various glance to produce salivary juices”. A century later Darwin asked rhetorically “why thought beeing a secretion of the brain should be considered more wonderful than gravity which is a property of matter”. Actually these and many other conception developed from an inquiry from what was called “thinking matter“, in part developed from what sometimes called by historians of philosophy John Lockes’ suggestion, that is his observation that “god might have choosen to superadd to matter a faculty of thinking just as he annexed effects to motion which we can in no way conceive motion able to produce”. The theological apparatus may well have been for self defense as Lockes. correspondance suggests.

By the late 18th century the thesis was widely regarded as inescapable. Newton has demonstrated to his considerable dismay that matter does not exist in the sense of the galilean revolution and of the scientists of his own day and his own sense. That beeing the case, the mind – body problem could not even be formulated, at least in anything resembling the classical form. Current formulation seem at best to restate the problem of unification of psychological and physiological approaches and to do so in highly missleading terminology. There was no mind – body problem anymore than there was a chemistry physics problem in the 1920s’.

Newtons discoveries lead to no coherant alternative to the conclusion that was drawn by Hume, priestly and others and rediscovered today in pretty much the same terms. But with the problem of emergence as unresolved as it was two centuries ago. That includes the question wether this notion with its reductionist connotation is even the right notion, maybe is the wrong notion as proved to be the case for chemistry and physics.

The traditional mind-body problem is often ridiculed as a problem of the “ghost in the machine”. But this is a misconception. Newton exercised the machine, he left the ghost completely intact. A similar observation has made very recently by two physicists Paul Davis and John Gribbin concluding in a book of theirs, the matter myth, they write that “during the triumphal phase of materialism and mechanism in the 1930s, Gilbert Ryle derided mind-body dulism in a pity reference to the mind part as the “ghost in a machine”. But already when he called the pity expression in the 1930s the new physics was at work undermining the materialist world view on which Ryle’s philosophy was based.

By the end of the 20th century they continue “we can see that Ryle was right to dismiss the notion of the ghost in the machine not because there is no ghost but because there is no machine”. There point is correct but the timing is of by at least two centuries, actually three, althou it take some time for Newtons demolition of the mechanical philosophy – the believe the world was a machine. It took a little time for that to enter scientific common sense.

Newton himself was well aware of the conclusion and far from pleased by it. He regarded his own conclusion as an absurdity that no serious person could entertain. And he saw away to the end of his life as did prominent scientist of his day and much later always in vain. Over time it came to be recognized that Newton had not only effectively destroyed the entire materialist physicalist conception of the universe but he had also undermined the standards of intelligibility on which the early scientific revolution was based. The outcome is familiar in the history of science. It was described very well in the classic 19th century history of materialism by Manuel deLanda. He pointed out that “scientists have accustomed themselves to the abstract notion of forces, or rather a notion covering in mystic obscurity between abstraction and concrete comprehension”. A turning point in the history of materialism that removes the surviving remanence of the doctrine far from the ideas and concerns of the genuin materialists of the 17th centuries and deprives them from any significance. That too is now a virtual truism at least among historians of science. One of the founders of the modern discipline, Alexander Koyre, he wrote 40 years ago that “a purly materialistic or mechanistic physics is impossible and we simply have to accept that the world is constituted of entities and processes that we cannot intuitively grasp”.

The problems of emergence and unification take on an entirely new form in the post newtonian era, a form that is furthermore unstable, changing as science comes to accommodate new absurdities as they would have been regarded by the founding figures of the scientific revolution including Newton. And I know of no reason to suppose that this process has come to an end. It is worth pointing out that the only part of our knowledge, or what we take to be knowledge, for which we can claim much confidence is our mental world. That is the world of our experience. As reflective beeings humans try in various ways to make sense out of this experience. One part of this effort is sometimes called folk science. When its conducted in a more systematic careful controlled way we nowadays call it science.

One standard conclusion of contemporary science is that each organism humans in particular reflexively develop, what ethologists call an umwelt – a particular mode constructing and interpreting experience given the data of sense. This is quiet different for us and for bees for example. Furthermore there is no great chain of being.

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