Distinguished Visiting Humanist: Noam Chomsky

Distinguished Visiting Humanist: Noam Chomsky


[student question] What do you think really the change, in the Arab Spring, the revolutions that happened recently? Do you think that opened some other doors? [Noam Chomsky] A lot of activism it comes from young people, often college students and there’s a reason for that. I mean a college student is, at the time of life when they’re probably the most free in their entire life. They’re with a group of people who you can interact with which is the way ideas develop and are created. It’s kind of the optimal situation for engagement, serious consideration of issues and and activism.
Young people want something significant in their lives. Younger people often kind of spear head activists engagements so I think there’s a lot that we can do. The human species is in a historically unique situation. We have to decide right now whether our grandchildren are going to have a decent world to live in. I mean we’re entering a period of severe,
the likelihood of extremely severe damage to the basis for human life. The artic ice melts, a lot of the world’s under water. We’re facing that right now. The other danger is nuclear war. The most striking fact about the whole election, in my opinion, is that the major issues that we face are bearly being mentioned. On the Republican side not at
all. On the Democratic side a couple of phrases here and there. I might add that it’s very commonly argued that there are no limits to human intelligence. We’re radically
different from any other organism that’s ever existed and it’s primarily because of the emergence, sudden emergence of this capacity that you and I are now using so linguisters, at best, scientists who are
trying to figure out with this is. What’s it’s nature and how’s it used? How did it evolve? Language has changed but they don’t evolve and what evolved is something different namely the capacity
for language. The problem of what’s going on when you produce a sentence is way beyond our capacity to understand and there’s something almost miraculous about it. The language capacity that has evolved
is a generative system that yields an infinite array of structured expressions that
constitute thought. I think we know a lot about its nature and it’s structural properties. We know a fair amount about general principles that hold for all languages. The problems of how language is used is it I think a total mystery.

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