6 Mechanism and Linguistic Creativity . Descartes’ model for science. Experience plays a crucial role. Methodology Based on models and mechanisms . Mechanism Avoidance of any recourse to the occult or mysterious (e.g.: the analogies used are clocks, fountains, …).
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Based on models and mechanisms.
Avoidance of any recourse to the occult or mysterious (e.g.: the analogies used are clocks, fountains, …).
He is the first cause, the initial trigger.
Division of labour.
To understand a phenomenon is to understand how it occurred in accordance with the simple and universal principles of Cartesian physics.
This contrasts with the theological doctrine that God created a ready-made universe.
God’s creative power is nonetheless required to set up the initial system and triggers all their initial motions to the various parts of matter.
The chief way to understand the bodily movement is the nervous system.
Neural activity is conceived along mechanical lines: nerves are pipes trough which the fast-moving vapour (the “animal spirit”) moves, inflate the muscle and causes movement.
In the case of non-human animals the model of the machine is all we need to investigate and understand their observed movement and behaviour.
The difference between humans and animals rests on the presence of consciousness/soul/mind.
Animals lack the res cogitans (the mind).
Contrary to the received view, there is no evidence that Descartes hold the thesis that animals do not suffer (i.e. do not have feelings).
An animal could be a machine with feelings.
(See Cottingham 1978 “Descartes Treatment of Animals”)
1. Animal are machines
2. Animals are automata
3. Animals do not think
4. Animals have no language
5. Animals have no self-consciousness
6. Animals have no consciousness
7. Animals are totally without feelings
There is no evidence in Descartes’ writing that he defended it.
On the contrary, there is evidence that he denies it in so far as he claims that animals have fear, hope, joy.
Humans cannot be explained in purely mechanical terms because of linguistic creativity.
The capacity to understand a language is species-specific.
And language can be sensation-free … : important distinction between an utterance (language) and a cry.
This is one of the lessons of Cartesian linguistics.
Human beings (unlike animals) can think and express their thought in language because humans are endowed with a “rational soul”.
But the soul is immaterial; it is not something which derives from the structure/function of our brain. It is implanted in each human being by God.
Is loquitur qui suo loco quodque verbum sciens point et is tum prolucutus, cum in animo quod habuit extulit loquendo
[the one who is capable of speaking places each word on its place and expresses a proposition when in talking one expresses what one has in one’s soul] (Varron [Roman philosopher], De Lingua Latina VI 56)
It should help to distinguish a thinking mechanism from a non thinking one.
Turing (1950) asked the question whether machines can think.
“The Turing Test” is often used to refer to some kinds of behavioral tests for the presence of mind, or thought, or intelligence in allegedly minded entities.
E.g. a box with a computer inside vs. a box with a person inside having to reply to some questions posed by an experimenter outside the box.
No machine can compose and understand sentences the way we do.
In two rooms a Chinese and a non-Chinese speaker answering questions coming from outside the room. The non-Chinese is capable, following instructions on where to go and what to take when such sign comes in, to give out the right papers/answers (she passes the Turing Test). Yet, she doesn’t understand Chinese.
Linguistic competence doesn’t resume to mere syntactic manipulation.
It is true that, since my decision to doubt everything, it is so far only myself and God whose existence I have been able to know with certainty. (Fourth Meditation; CSM II: 39)
The Touring Test should help. And Descartes anticipated it.
I made special efforts to show that if any such machines had the organs and outward shape of a monkey or of some other animal that lacks reason, we should have no means of knowing that they did not possess entirely the same nature as these animals; whereas if any such machines bore a resemblance to our bodies and imitated our actions as closely as possible for all practical purposes, we should still have two very certain means of recognizing that they were not real men.
The first is that they could never use words or put together signs as we do in order to declare our thought to others. For we can certainly conceive of a machine that it utters words corresponding to bodily actions causing a change in its organs (e.g. if you touch it in one spot it asks what you want of it, if you touch in another it cries out that you are hurting it, and so on). But it is not conceivable that such a machine should produce different arrangements of words so as to give an appropriately meaningful answer to whatever is said in its presence, as the dullest of men can do.
Secondly, even though such machines might do some things as well as we do them, or perhaps even better, they would inevitably fail in others, which would reveal that they were acting not through understanding but only from the disposition of their organs. For whereas reason is a universal instrument which can be used in all kind of situations, these organs need some particular disposition for each particular action; hence it is for all practical purposes impossible for a machine to have enough different organs to make it act in all the contingencies of life in the way in which our reason makes us act. (Discourse of the Method; CSM 1: 139-40)
Humans must be capable of linguistic creativity from a very early age, independently of education, culture, etc. (see poverty of the stimulus argument).
As such linguistic creativity must be innate.
Descartes, like Leibniz, recognized the existence of innate ideas, while Chomsky postulates UG.
[T]he ideas of being and thought in no way originate in the senses. Instead, the soul has the faculty to form them from itself, although often it is prompted to do so by something striking the senses, just as a painter can be brought to produce a canvas by the money promised him, without our thereby being able to say that the money was the origin of the painting. (Arnauld & Nicole 1662: 29)
It is thus false that all our ideas originate in the senses. On the contrary, one can say that no idea in the mind originates in the senses, although motions in the brain, which is all the senses can bring about, may provide the occasion for the soul to form various ideas that might not have been formed without this occasion. (Arnauld & Nicole 1662: 30)
The general features of grammatical structure are common to all languages (are universal) and reflect certain fundamental properties of the mind.
The Port Royal grammar/logic, for instance, is not the study of a particular languagebut the study of the way our mind organizes our thought/ideas.
It is the study of our reasoning and the latter is independent of a particular language: it is universal.
[R]easoning is not a collection of names according to a convention depending entirely on human fancy, but a solid and practical judgement about the nature of things by considering ideas in the mind that people chose to mark by certain names. (Arnauld & Nicole 1662: 28)
Chomsky develops a theory based on these (Cartesian) assumptions.
A sentence like:
(1) The little cat is on the mat
is represented as:
Det AP N V P NP
The little cat is on the mat
S = Sentence; NP = Noun Phrase; VP = Verb Phrase; Det = Determiner; AP = Adjectival Phrase; N = Noun; V = Verb; P = Preposition.
What does it represent?
‘To represent’ is a two terms relation. It must represent something to someone.
This seems to suggest that the one entertaining this representation is consciously aware of it or that one can attain it by some introspective exercise.
To avoid these problems (linked to the problem of intentionality) Jackendoff proposes an intentional-free terminology.
Instead of representation, one can talk about cognitivestructure, instead of symbol of cognitiveentity, and so on.
the functional characterization of the “data structures” stored and assembled in the functional-mind in the course of language use.
the functional characterization of the use of these data structures in the course of language perception and production.
how the data structures and the processes that store and assemble them are realized in the brain.
For Descartes it falls short to explain linguistic creativity.
E.g.: It cannot explain how we build sentences.
It can explain animal (and human) bodily behaviours/ movements and functions, but it cannot explain human’s mastery of language.
Hence Cartesian dualism, for the capacity of using language transcends the mechanic movements of the body.
Automata/robots could never arrange words in order to transmit new thoughts: they lack language creativity. They can never understand new sentences either.
The impossibility of a mechanistic explanation of language creativity leads Descartes to postulate a (species specific) entity, the mind (a thinking substance/res cogitans) playing the role of the creativity principle, while the mechanical principle account for body movements and function.
With the abandon of contact mechanics (from Newton on) the motivation for thinking of the mind and mental operations as separate from the body and its function also disappears.
It is only the capacity to innovate (linguistic creativity) which constitutes evidence of the minds and the evidence that others have minds.
To show that other beings are not automata (zombies) suffices to show that they are capable of linguistic creativity.
Humboldt (1836) characterizes language as energy.
As such it is an activity rather than a product. Language qua activity must make potentially infinite uses of finite means (like the Cartesian the stress is on linguistic productivity).
To do so language must rest on a generativeprinciple which is mostly fixed and which provides the scope of linguistic production.
It concerns the way we characterize this generative principle, i.e. how do we construe this generative grammar (Humboldt did not raise it).
Linguistics (within a rationalist framework) will address this question.
In its normal use language is independent from external stimuli and/or internal states and it is not restricted to practical communicative functions.
As such it helps the Cartesians (dualists) to explain the existence of other minds, i.e. that others are not complex robots, animals or zombies.