The second half of my interview with world-renowned political activist, linguist, cognitive scientist, philosopher author, MIT Professor emeritus Noam Chomsky.
Photo by Rob Kall
Thanks to Don Caldarazzo for help editing the transcript.
And here's the link to the audio podcast: Exclusive: Rob Kall Interviews Noam Chomsky: America in Decline, US Operating Procedures for Blocking Democracy
Rob: "Station ID (WNJC 1360 AM, the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show)" My guest tonight is one I'm very excited to have back - he's a world renowned political activist, linguist, cognitive scientist, philosopher, author; he's MIT Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky. Welcome to the show!
Rob: What level do you think economics and marketing are at, compared to"
Noam: Not even in the same ball park.
Rob: Are you talking about pre-Copernican?
Noam: All.. Look, it's not a criticism. The reason why physics and chemistry make significant progress is that they're dealing with artificially simple systems. So physics makes huge progress, because it really isn't dealing with what's going on in the outside world. Like, physicists don't take video tapes of what's happening in the outside world and try to construct physics from it. It's concerned with extremely simple systems understood within the highly abstract context of sophisticated experiments. And doing that, you can make really enormous progress - tremendous intellectual achievements. But, if a physicist gets to, say, a molecule that's too complicated, they hand it over to chemists. And if it becomes too complicated for the chemists, they hand it over to the biologists, and if it's too complicated for them, they hand it over to the historians or sociologists. And of course, as you move to higher and higher levels of complexity, you (quite naturally) get less and less fundamental understanding. That's almost automatic. So it's not that deep understanding is inconceivable, it's just going to be a lot harder. And when we talk about those issues of unification that you were quoting in connection with the sciences, or the shift from teaching engineering to teaching basic science, remember that's very recent, after literally thousands of years of intensive study and progress.
Rob: And, you know, you mention in that same article -- and frankly that article grabbed me, because my first encounter with you was back in the early 70s as a psychology major reading about psycholinguistics. And so I think of you, not just as an activist, but of course as a scientist. You mention in that article, and I quote, "At some point in human evolution, and it's apparently pretty recent given the archeological record (maybe the last hundred thousand years), a computational system emerged which had new properties that other organisms didn't have, that has kind of arithmetical type properties"" Now, you were talking about language acquisition skills there, I think.
Noam: It's language"go ahead, sorry.
Rob: Just to wrap up the question; others have written about how small changes in language, like the onset of writing, or the beginning of the Gutenberg press, have had -- like people like Leonard Shlain and Walter Ong - they've explored how these changes have had major effects on how people function in our culture. I'm just curious; now we have the internet, and with this it's massively changing things, I really think that it had a big effect on the Occupy Wall Street Phenomenon. I'm asking, so, we go from one hundred thousand years ago, a computational system emerges, and arithmetical brain properties, and language, and writing, and now we have the internet, and where do you see us all moving with this as humans, so we don't kill ourselves with our intelligence?