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Jon Hellevig
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Book reviews


From time to time I want to draw attention to one or another book or publication of importance.


01.05.2010

THE CASE AGAINST NOAM CHOMSKY -
MENTAL PROCESSING

I announce my new books The Case Against Noam Chomsky and Mental Processing (May 2010). These are volume one and two of the series A Biological Philosophy and are published together in one cover. The books are about philosophy, cognitive psychology, and linguistics.

Breaking with traditional linguistic thinking, I stress the need to distinguish between speech (the biological ability to speak) and language (the social practice of speaking). Up till now this distinction has not been made (although hinted at by Saussure, only to be misunderstood by his successors). As long as this distinction is not made, linguists will continue to entangle what is biological with what is social about linguistics, although totally different considerations pertain to the one and the other sphere. Linguistics as a study of words (their parts and inclinations as well as grammar and syntax, i.e. the observed language practices) does not bear on the study of how speech is biologically produced and its relation to cognitive psychology. To take a case in point: linguists talk about "evolution of language," not understanding that it is speech (or more correctly, the ability to speak) that has evolved, while language (which merely represents perceptual abstractions that we form of the social practices that have ensued from individuals exercising this ability) cannot be said to have evolved. - When confusing speech and language in one, linguists project back to the biological body/brain all the ideas they have formed of the social practices of speaking. This is why many labor under the erroneous belief that these social practices would somehow have to be innate features of the biological apparatus that, as they think, "produce language" (or that they were innate features of a Chomskyan "language faculty"). But the exchange of expressions and interpretations through imitation in human communication cumulates to social practices, human cultures, of which the social practice of verbal behavior (speaking), or language practices, is the supreme manifestation. Both biological and social phenomena are reflections of expressions and interpretations. The continuous repetitive and imitative interactions between human cognitive expressions and interpretations amount to social practices, to all what we understand as human culture, and the material achievements of human culture.

The paradigm shift that I propose entails the need to distinguish between genetically determined biological abilities and socially determined skills which we may acquire given the abilities; in this context, the necessity to distinguish between the biological ability to speak and the skills to participate in various language practices (colloquially: the skills to speak "a particular language").

Having made this distinction, I arrived to the conception that speech represents interpretation of feelings and language is the social practice of speaking (social practice of verbal behavior or, language practices). Language, represents the perceptual abstractions we form of the memory of actual speech (as we experience it in general), or the memory traces of such behavior (both physical traces, e.g. in form of texts, and "traces" in form of the latent memory of past stimuli).

The realization that speech (and indirectly and ultimately all language) represents interpretation of feelings leads to immense consequences for linguistics and all social sciences. Now we should realize that all ideas that have ever been expressed are the results of an individual interpreting his feelings in the background of the learned social practices for expressing feelings. By expressing in speech (or more generally, by verbal behavior) an interpretation of his proper feelings an individual contributes to social practices. In human interaction, all the individual expressions of feelings lead to a continuous exchange of expressions and interpretations, which through the effects of competition and interaction cumulate to form all social practices and the material traces that reflect them. The feelings are in turn functions of mental processes (high-speed and complex neural processes) in response to an individual interpreting its environment (which occurs in every moment of life). The resulting feelings thus represent a mental, cognitive, dimension of the organic homeostatic system. In higher level mental processes feelings become conceptualized cognitive feelings which on the level of the human organism are expressed by a range of bodily expressions and ultimately by speech, which thus represents interpretation of feelings. - Interpretation of feelings, then, is the link that connects the biological with the social, and this connection yields a unified theory of natural and social sciences.

I present this book as a case against Chomsky in view of a number of considerations. Mr. Chomsky is the most famous (some would say notorious) contemporary linguist and he also, as I do, discusses linguistics in relation to cognitive psychology. But as Chomsky's theories (in all their historical versions) are entirely inadequate and permeated with a number of fallacious assumptions, they offer a perfect contrast to mine. This juxtaposition should help the reader to identify the merits and shortcomings of both. The brand recognition that Chomsky's theories enjoy and the perfect contrast they offer to mine was then what motivated me to build the case against Chomsky. To give an idea of the discussion, I will list some of the main fallacious assumptions on which Chomsky's theories are founded:

  • The thingly fallacy. Perhaps the most fundamental erroneous assumption under which Chomsky labors is the fallacy to treat language and linguistic notions such as words and sentences as if they were some kind of thingly, material, entities. This instead of understanding that they are only perceptual abstractions we have formed by way of observing social practices, which practices in themselves do not have any kind of material existence. Chomsky does not understand that what exists must demonstrate mass and energy. - All these perceptual abstractions correspond merely to the results of mental processing of cognitive feelings at any given moment of time. The perceptual abstractions cease to exist the moment a person shifts his attention to other issues, to other ideas. Due to the effects of social practices, people may sometimes form similar perceptual abstractions, but fundamentally these perceptual abstractions are unique and private to the person whose mental processes produce them.
  • Chomsky's pseudo-biology and speculation in abstraction. By his pseudo-biology, I refer to the false biological ideas that Chomsky in the traditions of linguistic alchemy gives out as real facts of nature. Chomsky falsely considers that 'language' (the social practice) could possibly be studied as an object of nature, not realizing that it is speech that is a manifestation of biological cognitive processes.
  • A characteristic trait of this abstract pseudo-biology, and Chomsky's entire theories, is the failure to distinguish what is biological from what is social. This also entails the failure to distinguish between abilities and skills.
  • Most directly the above fallacy entails the failure to distinguish between speech (the biological ability to speak) and language (the social practice of speaking). Chomsky blends all considerations pertaining to speech and language in one and assumes they all represent language. This language of his, he essentially (and unconsciously) conceives of as a social practice, but thinks that this social practice is an innate biological "faculty" of a "brain/mind," which entity then must be studied with the methods of his abstract pseudo-biology. - I note that speech is a biological phenomenon, while language is a social practice.
  • The conceptual method. Chomsky does not recognize that all phenomena of life correspond to biological processes or manifestations (reflections) of these processes. As a result of ignoring the real biological processes, Chomsky cultivates the conceptual method of science. This is a form of aesthetics where a scholar announces how he regards the various concepts of science and claims that by an artful manipulation of these concepts scientific truths could possibly be revealed.
I have copied here below the annotation and abstract of my book so as to give an overview of the ideas I present. - I shall note, that this book offers quite new solutions to old philosophical and linguistic problems, issues that have been central to philosophy from the ancient Greeks up to our times. It also provides first time ever, I would like to think, a unified theory of natural and social sciences showing how the social dimension of life represents reflections of quite biological phenomena.



Jon Hellevig
New York, May 2, 2010

PRODUCT DETAILS:
  • Paperback: 544
  • Publisher: Russia Advisory Group (May 2010)
  • ISBN XXX
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.3 x 2.6 cm
  • Electronic version available (PDF)
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ANNOTATION

ABSTRACT

03.12.2006

Franz Kafka: "The Trial"

Franz Kafka: "The Castle"

Roberto Calasso: "K."

I am very much influenced by Franz Kafka. I consider that I have to a great extent interpreted the same feelings that Kafka wrote about. Kafka is timeless. Kafka can be read anytime by anybody. In the same way that we can look at a piece of art many times over again, we can also read Kafka’s book again and again. – As a good aid to understanding Kafka, and also as a book on its own right, I recommend Roberto Calasso’s book on Kafka: K.

For me the timeless symbolic language of Kafka expresses the same thoughts that I interpret in my book Expressions and Interpretations.

Kafka and the law (PDF file)

Anna Politkovskaya - Twilight_of_an_Idol (PDF file)



Click here to download free PDF file



Click here to download free PDF file



Click here to download free PDF file

© 2018 Jon Hellevig