log in

Noam Chomsky's 2012 lecture, "The machine, the ghost, and the limits of understanding"

Luke Breuer
0001-01-01 05:00 UTC

Noam Chomsky's 2012 lecture, The machine, the ghost, and the limits of understanding

0:45 Isaac Newton and his studies of mind
1:45 talks about ridicule of 'mysterianism'—the "absurd notion" that there are some things that the human mind cannot grasp—e.g. David Albert, David Deutsch
2:20 this belief is at variance with Enlightenment thinkers
2:33 David Hume's "History of England", chapter on scientific revolution
2:55 "Hume concluded that Newton's greatest achievement was that while he seemed to draw the veil from some of the mysteries of nature, he showed at the same time the imperfections of the mechanical philosophy and thereby restored nature's ultimate secrets to that obscurity in which they ever did, and ever will, remain."
4:17 "The mechanical philosophy wanted to dispense with occult notions—neo-Scholastic notions of forms flitting through the air or sympathies and antipathies and other such occult ideas."
5:56 "The mechanical philosophy was shattered by Newton as Hume observed. And with it, went the notion of understanding of the world that the scientific revolution sought to obtain. And the mind-body problem also disappeared, and I don't believe has been resurrected, though there is still a lot of talk about it. Those conclusions were actually pretty well understood in the centuries that followed; they've often been forgotten, today."
6:25 "John Locke had already reached conclusions rather similar to Hume's. He was exploring the nature of our ideas and he recognized: "Body as far as we can conceive, is able only to strike an effect body in motion according to the utmost reach of our ideas is able to produce nothing but motion." These are the basic tenets of course of the mechanical philosophy. They yield the conclusion that there can be no interaction without contact, which is our common sense and intuition."
7:38 "Very young infants can recognize a principle of casualty through contact, not any other way; if they recognize causality they seek a hidden contact somewhere. Those in fact appear to be the limits of our ideas, of our common sense. The occult ideas of the Scholastics—or of Newton, of Newtonian attraction—it goes beyond our understanding and is unintelligible, at least by the criteria of the scientific revolution. Very much like Hume, Locke concluded therefore that we remain in incurable ignorance of what we desire to know about matter and its effects; no science of bodies is within our reach. He went on to say that we can only appeal to the arbitrary determination of that all-wise agent that has made them to be and operate as they do, which is wholly above our ability to understand and conceive."
10:15 Descartes said that we might not have the resources to understand the "normal use of language"—using it creatively that is appropriate to situations but not caused by them (very important)
23:00 confidence by bleeding edge neuroscientists/philosophers that we will find out how mind emerges from brain
46:00 "body" and "physical" are meaningless, ever since Newton (or Locke?) couldn't make sense of "body"
1:02:00 materialism never matched up with nature
1:04:15 infants will invent mechanical cause if causation is hidden (and they know it often is)
1:06:00 philosophers tend to want to say things about human intelligence that we cannot even say about insects
1:08:00 what about using genetic engineering to advance human cognitive capacity? Chomsky says that we'd have to understand what we're doing, and we can't even understand them about insects
1:12:00 how do you know that we do not know? (limits of human understanding)