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A New Understanding of Mental Disorders A Theory of Feelings Addictions Memory and the Self"Intimate" Violence against Women1001 Solution-Focused Questions101 Healing Stories101 Things I Wish I'd Known When I Started Using Hypnosis50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God8 Keys to Body Brain BalanceA Brief History of Modern PsychologyA Conceptual History of PsychologyA Conceptual History of Psychology: Exploring the Tangled Web A Cooperative SpeciesA Guide to Teaching Introductory PsychologyA History of Modern Experimental PsychologyA History of Psychology in AutobiographyA History of Social PsychologyA History of the BrainA History of the MindA Hole in the HeadA Matter of SecurityA Mind of Its OwnA Natural History of Human ThinkingA Place for ConsciousnessA Short Introduction to Promoting Resilience in ChildrenA Social History of PsychologyA Stroll With William JamesA System Architecture Approach to the BrainA Theory of FreedomA Very Bad 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Body Shapes the Way We ThinkHow the Mind Explains BehaviorHow the Mind Uses the BrainHow to Change Someone You LoveHow We ReasonHow We RememberHughes' Outline of Modern PsychiatryHumanHuman BondingHuman Reasoning and Cognitive ScienceHume’s Moral Philosophy and Contemporary PsychologyHypnotismHysteriaiBrainIdentifying Hyperactive ChildrenIdentifying the MindiDisorderImagination and the Meaningful BrainImitation and the Social MindImpulse Control DisordersImpulsivityIn an Unspoken VoiceIn Defense of SentimentalityIn DoubtIn Search of HappinessIn the Wake of 9/11Individual and Collective Memory ConsolidationInner Experience and NeuroscienceInner PresenceInside the American CoupleIntegrated Behavioral Health CareIntegrating Evolution and DevelopmentIntegrating Psychotherapy and PharmacotherapyIntegrity and the Fragile SelfIntellectual DisabilityIntelligenceIntelligence, Destiny, and EducationIntentions and IntentionalityInterdependent MindsInterpreting MindsInto the Minds of 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ControlMotivational Interviewing: Preparing People For ChangeMovies and the MindMulticulturalism and the Therapeutic ProcessMultiplicityMuses, Madmen, and ProphetsMy Family AlbumMyths about SuicideNarrative IdentitiesNarrative PsychiatryNarratives in PsychiatryNaturalizing Intention in ActionNature and NarrativeNature Via NurtureNeither Bad nor MadNerveNeurobiology and the Development of Human MoralityNeurochemistry of ConsciousnessNeurodiversityNeuroethicsNeuroLogicNeurological Foundations of Cognitive Neuroscience Neuroscience and PhilosophyNo Child Left DifferentNo Two AlikeNot By Genes AloneNot Much Just Chillin'Not So Abnormal PsychologyNurturing the Older Brain and MindOn AnxietyOn Being an Introvert or Highly Sensitive PersonOn Being HumanOn Being MovedOn Deep History and the BrainOn DesireOn KillingOn Nature and LanguageOn PaedophiliaOn PersonalityOn the Frontier of AdulthoodOn the Origins of Cognitive ScienceOn The Stigma Of Mental IllnessOnflowOpen MindsOpening Skinner's BoxOrigin of MindOrigins of PsychopathologyOther MindsOut of Our HeadsOut of the WoodsOvercoming Depersonalization DisorderPanpsychism and the Religious AttitudePanpsychism in the WestParenting and the Child's WorldPassionate EnginesPathologies of the WestPatient-Based Approaches to Cognitive NeurosciencePediatric PsychopharmacologyPeople Types and Tiger StripesPerception & CognitionPerception beyond InferencePerception, Hallucination, and IllusionPersonal Development and Clinical PsychologyPerspectives on ImitationPhantoms in the BrainPhenomenal Concepts and Phenomenal KnowledgePhenomenology and Philosophy of MindPhilosophical Foundations of NeurosciencePhilosophical MidwiferyPhilosophy and HappinessPhilosophy of PsychologyPhilosophy, Neuroscience and ConsciousnessPhrenologyPhysical RealizationPhysics in MindPieces of LightPlaying with FirePositive PsychologyPositive PsychologyPostcards from the Brain MuseumPostpsychiatryPosttraumatic Stress DisorderPoverty and Brain Development 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Psychology: An IntroductionTheory of AddictionTheory of MindThings and PlacesThink CatThink Confident, Be ConfidentThinking about AddictionThinking and SeeingThis Emotional Life: In Search of Ourselves...and HappinessThought and LanguageThought in a Hostile WorldTo Have and To Hurt:Toward an Evolutionary Biology of LanguageToward Replacement Parts for the BrainTrauma and Human ExistenceTrauma, Tragedy, TherapyTreating Attachment DisordersTreating Self-InjuryTreating Self-Injury: A Practical GuideTrue to Our FeelingsTrusting the Subject?Understanding and Treating Borderline Personality DisorderUnderstanding ConsciousnessUnderstanding ParanoiaUnderstanding PeopleUnderstanding TerrorismUndoing Perpetual StressUnlock the Genius WithinUnsettled MindsUnstrange MindsUnthinkingUnthoughtUs and ThemViolent PartnersVirtue, Vice, and PersonalityVision and MindVisual AgnosiaWarrior's DishonourWe Who Are DarkWednesday Is Indigo BlueWelcome to Your BrainWhat Do Women Want?What Dying People WantWhat Have We DoneWhat Intelligence Tests MissWhat Is an Emotion: Classic and Contemporary ReadingsWhat Is Emotion?What is Intelligence?What Is Mental Illness?What Is Thought?What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite What the Best College Students DoWhat the Dog SawWhat We Know about Emotional IntelligenceWhat We Say MattersWhat's Wrong With Morality?When Boys Become BoysWhen Perfect Isn't Good EnoughWhen the Impossible HappensWhen Walls Become DoorwaysWho's Been Sleeping in Your HeadWho's in Charge?Why Humans Like to CryWhy Love MattersWhy Lyrics LastWhy People CooperateWhy People Die by SuicideWhy Sex Matters: A Darwinian Look at Human BehaviorWhy Smart People Can Be So StupidWhy the Mind is Not a ComputerWhy Us?Why We LieWhy We LoveWhy We SleepWider than the SkyWilliam James at the BoundariesWilling, Wanting, WaitingWittgenstein And PsychologyWomen and Child Sexual AbuseWorking MindsYoga and PsychologyYou Are What You RememberYoung Minds in Social WorldsYour Brain on CubsYour Brain on FoodYour Brain on Food: How Chemicals Control Your Thoughts and Feelings,Your Brain on YogaYour Child in the BalanceZombies and Consciousness
On Nature and Language makes me wonder how editors and publishers go about
choosing the titles for collections like this one. While this volume does
include essays that discuss language, nature and the relationship between the
two, this title doesn't capture the full scope of the selections collected
here. In fact, the essays don't have either thematic or stylistic unity. The
parts of this collection make a natural whole because they were all produced as
part of Chomsky's visit to the University of Siena in November 1999. Thus, I
would suggest that "November 1999: A Month in the Life of Noam
Chomsky" might have been a more accurate title with greater market appeal.
This book might serve as a partial introduction if paired with some
other text. The collection consists of five independent contributions; I will
discuss each in turn.
The first essay is an introduction by the editors.
The essay gives a short synopsis of the evolution of Chomsky's approach to
language from the introduction of the universal grammar through parametric
models to the minimalist program. The editors assume a fair degree of
familiarity on the part of readers with concepts in technical linguistics and
abbreviations are used without explanation. Any reader who could read this
essay without significant effort probably would learn little from it. Chomsky
has written more accessible introductions to his work in linguistics at various
points. Language and the Problems of Knowledge, for instance, provides a
very readable introduction to the principles and parameters period. This essay
is the only part of the book that reads like a textbook or monograph; the other
contributions were all produced for particular occasions and need to be read as
The second contribution is "Perspective on
Language and Mind", an address that Chomsky gave when he received an
honorary degree from the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa. The lecture
discusses the scientific approach to language and mind through the history of
science with special reference to the marquee figures: Galileo, Descartes,
Newton and Darwin. The story that Chomsky tells doesn't have any major
surprises, but it is very readable and challenges many of the assumptions that
American undergraduates, for instance, tend to have about Newton and the significance
of the Newton's theories for our understanding of materialism and reductionism.
Viewed in historical context Newton was not a radical champion of either
position. In my experience, contemporary undergraduates have a tendency to
and the Brain" begins by covering much of the same material as the first
Chomsky written article, but this time with footnotes. The essay then moves to responding to
various positions about the role of linguistics in mapping the relation of mind
and brain. This discussion is not a straight historical summary. The common
feature of the positions considered in this essay is that they are all, to some
extent, responses to Chomsky’s own work. Chomsky’s commentary on figures like
Hauser, Deacon and Pinker is more interesting the less detached it is from his
own work. Obviously, the article is too
short for any sort of sustained response to any of these writers but the
discussion does provide a decent overview of some important discussions of the
recent past, focusing mostly on the mind-brain relationship. Chomsky
articulates a moderate viewpoint about the prospects for near future
breakthroughs in naturalistic explanation of language. There are many hopeful
prospects for future development, but some positions have been oversold and
considerations from the history suggest that skepticism about future
developments is always healthy.
"An interview on Minimalism" is an odd
entertainment. The discussion isn't especially accessible, both because of the
interviewer's tendency to drop concepts and abbreviations into the discussion
without explanation and because the dialog has the pacing and coherence of a
casual dialog. The informal and sometimes unfocused discussion reads as if
Chomsky were having coffee with some former graduate students. For instance,
when faced with the shortest and most important question in the dialog
"What kind of empirical discovery would lead to the rejection of the
strong minimalist theory?," Chomsky's answer is a short meditation on falsifiability
that never addresses the question. His answer seems to be that the minimalism
thesis is a normative principle to which theories should aspire and has not
been consistently achieved. So long as the minimalism thesis continues to
generate new and interesting research, Chomsky's not going to reject it. This
is despite, he claims, the apparent conflict of most empirical evidence
collected so far. However, in answer, to the next question he does mention
conditions under which the thesis would be
"just the wrong theory".
The spontaneous answer to the question was not the most cogent answer to
the question about falsifying minimalism, but given some time to think the
answer did emerge, just like in an ordinary conversation. At several places
illustrations from either history or biology are used for which the details
weren't immediately available at the time of the interview. It's not a good way
to necessarily learn something about linguistics but this isn't a text book or
a monograph. The discussion does provide an interesting look at one aspect of
Chomsky's month in Siena.
Secular Priesthood and the Perils of Democracy" is a political essay of
the sort that has made Chomsky's name synonymous with a certain type of
skepticism aimed at trends in American government and public life. This essay
suffers from the same narrowly defined target audience as many of Chomsky's
political writings. Readers who already share his commitment to democracy,
equality, and fairness will find much of the evidence compelling, but what
about those who subscribe to some notion of a well managed society run by
elites (the secular priesthood)? Persons with these positions really exist,
I've run into them far too often, and they tend not to find a dismissive
quotation of their position to be terribly convincing. Considering the
importance that these elites tend to have an increasing role in our democracy,
it became important to be able to speak to them as well as about them.
continuing interest in Chomsky's views on the various subjects that he has
influenced so profoundly. Hence, an eclectic compilation such as this one makes
for an interesting read. I wouldn't recommend it as a general introduction to
Chomsky's writings or to answer questions about "who is Noam Chomsky?"
However, it is an interesting read for those who like to keep up to date on the
current positions of one of today’s most important public intellectuals.
© 2003 Paul Bohan Broderick
Bohan Broderick, Department of Philosophy, Kent State University, OH.
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