13.0452 Pinker's model

From: Humanist Discussion Group (willard@lists.village.virginia.edu)
Date: Tue Feb 29 2000 - 06:51:13 CUT

  • Next message: Humanist Discussion Group: "13.0453 more on the Met algorithm"

                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 13, No. 452.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

       [1] From: Stephen Ramsay <sjr3a@busa.village.virginia.edu> (15)
             Subject: Pinker

       [2] From: Patrick Durusau <pdurusau@emory.edu> (40)
             Subject: Re: the real and usefully false

             Date: Tue, 29 Feb 2000 06:44:38 +0000
             From: Stephen Ramsay <sjr3a@busa.village.virginia.edu>
             Subject: Pinker


    I think that when it comes to Pinker, it's much more than the exigencies
    of writing for a non-specialist audience. Even when he's writing to
    specialists (of which I fancy myself one), he still ends up saying that
    the thermostat is a conscious being. :)

    > Yesterday I encountered this astonishing passage in Steven Pinker's new
    > book, Words and rules: The ingredients of language (London: Weidenfield and
    > Nicolson, 1999):

    Stephen Ramsay
    Senior Programmer
    Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities
    Alderman Library, University of Virginia
    phone: (804) 924-6011
    email: sjr3a@virginia.edu
    web: http://www.iath.virginia.edu/

             Date: Tue, 29 Feb 2000 06:45:43 +0000
             From: Patrick Durusau <pdurusau@emory.edu>
             Subject: Re: the real and usefully false


    In your recent remarks on Pinker's book, Words and rules: The ingredients of
    langauge, you criticize him not clearly stating that he is describing a
    MODEL of
    langauge usage and not the mechanisms underlying language. Or as you stated:

    > The basic problem, it seems to me, is not that he might deceive someone
    > into thinking that we actually had discovered what happens when we make
    > sentences (as opposed to coming up with a useful, even powerful way of
    > thinking about how we make sentences). That is a problem, and surely some
    > will be thus deceived, and it would have been a simple matter to prevent by
    > putting in a qualifying phrase here and there.

    I am sure all the easily deceived people appreciate the efforts of this list to
    keep them from being lead astray. ;-) What I am uncertain about is how much
    effort we should devote to qualifying every positive statement about our
    research as a model, hypothesis, etc. Trained specialists in any discipline
    some issues are uncertain or complex and evaluate them as such. As a lay reader
    of the latest advances in astrophysics for example, I assume that some of the
    statements are probably not as certain as they might sound. But knowing it is a
    lay treatment I realize that it cannot present every possible caveat or caution
    and yet hold the interest of a lay audience. (Pinker could answer your direct
    criticism by inserting model every 3 or 4th paragraph but that is not your real
    objection to the work.)

    > But the bigger problem is
    > his success-orientated way of thinking, the drive toward solutions at the
    > expense of better questions -- a drive that is perhaps responsible for the
    > omission I object to? Perhaps, as a result of his work and that of others
    > we'll have a really fine linguistic processor that benefits us in all sorts
    > of ways, but scholarship, understanding won't be as well served.

    I am not sure what you are describing as the "success-oriented way of thinking,
    the drive toward solutions at the expense of better questions...." Perhaps you
    could give examples of "success-oriented way(s) of thinking" versue "better
    questions." I am sure we all have what we consider to be "better questions" but
    how can I agree or disagree with your assessment unless I know what "better
    questions" are at stake?


    Patrick Durusau
    Society of Biblical Literature

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Tue Feb 29 2000 - 07:01:17 CUT