John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Tue, 5 Dec 1995 08:06:47 +0900

Edwina Taborsky writes,

>>Jana doesn't seem to like deep structures; I feel they are a vital
factor of all life-forms. Chomsky has his 'competence' as a longterm
'level of order' which guides the transformation of energy
(cognition) into short-term 'performance'expressions. Using this same
format, of an awareness of a longterm logic-of-ordering that guides
short-term expressions...comparisons can be made with such as:
Bakhtin chronotope and genre dialogic act
Peirce thirdness firstness, secondness
Aquinas Active Intellect Passive Intellect
Aristotle same..agens intellectus intellectus possibilis
Foucault archive, episteme words, perceptions
Bourdieu habitus daily expression
Greimas figurative model discursive

And what about David Bohm (physics) with his explicatio becoming
implicatio? order enfolding within an actuality. And
Prigogine (chemistry) with his concept of order and 'dissipative
structures'? There are many more; it's hardly unique to any of the Levi-Strauss. It is simply an awareness that there are
factors within life that contribute to both continuity and
dissolution. These forms of behaviour are quite oppositional to each
other, but are both necessary for a healthy organic entity (whether
cell or society).<<

We must, I think, take issue with what Edwina says. To me, at least, this
remark is a wonderful example of rampant analogy, a literal triumph of feeling
over form that seriously misconstrues what Chomsky was about.

Yes, one can read Chomsky as yet another case of authors who have looked for
"deeper" realities "behind" the apparent surface of things. To stop here or,
worse yet, wander off into "healthy organic" unities, is to miss the key
points, i.e., HOW Chomsky set about trying to relate deep and surface
structures. His method puts him firmly in the camp of a long philosophical
tradition of rationalists who seek to create a universal metalanguage in terms
of which everything possible to say can be said. The relation between the
"deep" metalanguage and the "surface" Babel of natural languages is seen to
consist in permutations and combinations of logico-deductive relations. If
successful, the project would be analogous to Euclid's reduction of plane
geometry to "deep" axioms and rules o f inference which give rise to an
infinity of "surface" theorems or Whitehead and Russell's attempt to do the
same for all of number theory in _Principia Mathematica_.

There are, of course, good reasons to suspect that the project is ultimately
misguided. The Goedel proof shows that a formal system of the necessary
complexity must include true statements that cannot be demonstrated within it.
Efforts to model natural language processing using computers have shown that
Chomsky's approach inevitably leads to combinatorial blowup, i.e., an explosion
of possibilities so vast that conversation would insistantly grind to a halt if
this were the way the mind works. Someone is sure to mention the later
Wittgenstein, whose _Philosophical Investigations_ are a watershed in
philosophy precisely because he rejects his earlier attempt to recast
philosophy on strictly logico-deductive lines in _Tractatus Philosophicus_.

But enough is enough. What all this hand-waving and name-dropping adds up to
is the simple proposition that gross analogies often conceal as much or more
than they help to reveal--and here to conflation of Chomsky with folks doing
very different things.


John McCreery