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Mechanism and Linguistic Creativity 1 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, …).
2 I should also like to be noted that in attempting to explain the general nature of material things I have not employed any principle which was not accepted by Aristotle and all other philosopher of every age. So this philosophy is not new, but the oldest and most common of all. I have considered the shapes, motions and sizes of bodies, and examined the necessary results of their mutual interaction in accordance with the laws of mechanics, which are confirmed by reliable everyday experience. (Principles of Philosophy 200; CSM1: 286) God: He is the first cause, the initial trigger.
Theology vs. Physics: Division of labour. 3 Genetic/Evolutionary Approach
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 readymade 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.
4 The man/animal distinction Automatic machines
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 fastmoving vapour (the “animal spirit”) moves, inflate the muscle and causes movement.
In the case of nonhuman 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).
6 [B]y distributing the animal spirit to the muscle, make the parts of this body move in as many different ways as the parts of our bodies can move without being guided by the will, and in a manner which is just as appropriate to the objects of the senses and the internal passions. This will not seem as all strange to those who know of many kinds of automatons, or moving machines, the skill of man can construct with the use of very few parts, in comparison with the great multitude of bones, muscles, nerves, arteries, veins and all the other parts that are in the body of any animal. For they will regard this body as a machine which, having been made by the hands of God, is incomparably better ordered than any machine that can be devised by man, and contains in itself movements more wonderful than those in any such machine. (Discourse on the Method; CSM I: 139)
7 Indeed, one may compare the nerves of the machine I am describing with the pipes in the works of these fountains, its muscles and tendons with the various devices and springs which serve to set them in motion, its animal spirit with the water which drives them, the heart with the source of the water, and the cavities of the brain with the storage tanks … when a rational soul is present in the machine it will have its principal seat in the brain, and reside there like the fountainkeeper who must be stationed at the tanks to which the fountain’s pipes return if he wants to produce, or prevent, or change their movements in some way. (Treatise on Man; CSM I: 1001) 8 Animals and Feeling
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”)
9 Seven Thesis to be distinguished
1. Animal are machines
2. Animals are automata
3. Animals do not think
4. Animals have no language
5. Animals have no selfconsciousness
6. Animals have no consciousness
7. Animals are totally without feelings 10 The controversial (monstrous) thesis often attributed to Descartes is the seventh (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. 11 Linguistic creativity Why not HommeMachine? Humans cannot be explained in purely mechanical terms because of linguistic creativity.
The capacity to understand a language is species
And language can be sensationfree … : important distinction between an utterance (language) and a cry.
12 In fact, none of our external actions can show anyone who examines them that our body is not just a selfmoving machine but contains a soul with thoughts, with the exception of spoken words, or other signs that have reference to particular topics without expressing any passion. … Now it seems to me that the use of words, so defined, is something peculiar to human beings. Montaigne and Charron may have said that there is a great difference between one human being and another than between a human being and an animal; yet there has never been known an animal so perfect as to use sign to make other animals understand something which bore no relation to its passion; and there is no human being so imperfect as not to do so, since even deafmutes invent special signs to express their reason why animals do not speak as we do is not that they lack the organs but that they have no thoughts. (Letter to the Marquis of New Castle, 23 Nov. 1946; CSMK III: 303)
13 But though I regard it as established that we cannot prove there is any thought in animals, I do not think it can be proved that there is none, since the human mind does not reach into their hearts. But then I investigate what is most probable in this matter, I see no argument for animals having thoughts except this one: since they have eyes, ears, tongues and other senseorgans like ours, it seems likely that they have sensation like us; and since thought is included in our mode of sensation, similar thought seems to be attributable to them. … 14 But in my opinion the main reason for holding that animals lack thought is the following. Within a single species some of them are more perfect than others, as humans are too. This can be seen in horses and dogs, some of which learn what they are taught much better than others; and all animals easily communicate to us, by voice or bodily movement, their natural impulses of anger, fear, hunger, and so on. Yet in spite of all these facts, it has never been observed that any brute animal has attained the perfection of using real speech, that is to say, of indicating by word or sign something relating to thought alone and not to natural impulse. Such speech is the only certain sign of thought hidden on a body. All human beings use it, however stupid and insane they may be, even though they may have no tongue and organ of voice; but no animal do. Consequently this can be taken as a real specific difference between human and animals. (Letter to More, 5 Feb. 1649; CSMK III: 3656)
15 Linguistic competence is stimulusfree
This is one of the lessons of Cartesian linguistics. Humans vs. Animals: Linguistic Creativity
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.
16 [W]e can also know the difference between man and beast. For it is quite remarkable that there are no men so dullwitted or stupid—and this includes even madmen—that they are incapable of arranging various words together and forming an utterance from them in order to make their thoughts understood; whereas there is no other animal, however perfect and wellendowed it may be, that can do the like. This does not happen because they lack the necessary organs, for we see that magpies and parrots can utter words as we do, and yet they cannot speak as we do: that is, they cannot show that they are thinking what they are saying. On the other hand, men born deaf and dumb, and thus deprived of speechorgans as much as the beasts or even more so, normally invent their own sign to make themselves understood by those who, being regularly in their company, have the time to learn their language. 17 This shows not merely that the beasts have less reason than men, but that they have no reason at all. For it patently requires very little reason to be able to speak; and since as much inequality can be observed among the animals of a given species as among human beings, and some animals are more easily trained than others, it would be incredible that a superior specimen of the monkey or parrot species should not be able to speak as well as the stupidest child—
or at least as well as a child with a defective brain—if their soul were not completely different in nature from ours. And we must not confuse speech with the natural movement which express passions and which can be imitated by machines as well as by animals. (Discourse of the Method; CSM 1: 1401)
18 Syntax For Descartes, like the Stoics, syntactic arrangement is the sine qua non of linguistic capacity as it is manifested in humans. (cf. Chomsky’s UG)
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) 19 Turing Test
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. 20 Descartes anticipated the Turing Test.
No machine can compose and understand sentences the way we do. Chinese room (Searle)
In two rooms a Chinese and a nonChinese speaker answering questions coming from outside the room. The nonChinese 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.
21 Zombies? From Descartes’ method of doubt it follows that he comes to know only himself and God.
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) Thus how do we come to know that others are not zombies? The Touring Test should help. And Descartes anticipated it.
22 There are two ways to distinguish between real human beings and merely automata:
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. 23 First test.
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. A machine doesn’t pass Turing Test. 24 Second test.
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: 13940) A machine lacks linguistic creativity.
25 Cartesian Linguistics Linguistic Creativity
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.
26 PortRoyal Grammar and Logic
[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)
27 Central Point of Cartesian Linguistics
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 language but 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.
28 This art does not consist in finding the means to perform these operations, since nature alone furnishes them in giving us reason, but in reflecting on what nature makes us do. (Arnauld & Nicole 1662: 23)
[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) 29 Chomsky (1965. Aspects of the Theory of Syntax)
Chomsky develops a theory based on these (Cartesian) assumptions. A sentence like:
(1) The little cat is on the mat
is represented as:
30 S NP VP Det AP N V P NP Det N 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.
31 It is often assumed that such structure is the mental representation of the sentence. 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. 32 Ray Jackendoff (2002. Foundations of Language. OUP)
To avoid these problems (linked to the problem of intentionality) Jackendoff proposes an intentional
Instead of representation, one can talk about cognitive structure, instead of symbol of cognitive entity, and so on. 33 The study of human language capacity divides into: Theory of competence the functional characterization of the “data structures” stored and assembled in the functional
mind in the course of language use.
Theory of performance
the functional characterization of the use of these data structures in the course of language perception and production.
Theory of neural instantiation
how the data structures and the processes that store and assemble them are realized in the brain.
34 [T]o speak of a language [e.g. English] in linguistic is a bit like speaking of a species in biology: one acknowledges that members of a species are not genetically identical; and cases sometimes arise where what is apparently one species shade off imperceptibly over geographical range into another. Does that mean there are no species? Some biologists think so. But as long as we regard the termas a convenient first
approximation, there seem no arm in it. (Jackendoff 2002: 35
35 The Mechanistic Conception and Language Creativity Mechanistic Explanation
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.
36 Language is what differentiates humans from animals. 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.
37 Linguistic creativity is species specific: stimulus free Dualism qua Mechanistic Necessity
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.
38 The problem of other minds Other Beings
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. 39 Romanticism
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 generative principle which is mostly fixed and which provides the scope of linguistic production. 40 Substantial Question
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. 41 Main Points of Cartesian Linguistics Creativity In its normal use language is independent from external stimuli and/or internal states and it is not restricted to practical communicative functions. Language is the mirror of mind
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.
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- Fall '07
- Descartes, linguistic creativity