Last week, Samuel Jay Keyser told us about how he watched a wrecking ball destroy his old MIT office and shared his reactions to that experience. In this week's recording, Jay reads an excerpt from Chapter 2 of Mens et Mania. Like last week, there's also a brief Q&A with Jay about this recording below.
You say, “No matter. The book will rise again.” What have you learned from your past years in the sciences that makes you think this?
My comment was meant to convey my faith that science will ultimately arrive at the truth, at least insofar as the human mind is capable of coming to grips with the truth.
Do you believe that we will develop a better way of “seeing” the abstract in the near future?
I hope so. I think that there are a lot of frontiers where we need a better way of seeing. Why, for example, is the universe expanding at a faster rate? You would think gravity would be slowing it down. Is it because of the dark matter? Perhaps dark matter is just a figment of our ignorance. Or take the brain. How is the most commonplace notion, say, of a coffee cup actually encoded in the neuronal structure of the cerebrum? I think these, and many other problems, are going to require a new way of seeing things abstractly.
What do you think the “adolescent science” of linguistics is competing with?
I don’t think it is competing with anything other than itself. My reference to linguistics as an adolescent science was meant to indicate that there is still so much we don’t know—for example, how linguistic knowledge is represented in the wetware of the brain—that the science itself is unable to offer us very little guidance in knowing what the right next step is. This is in sharp contrast to physics where the foundations are so secure that it is virtually impossible for physicists to publish nonsense. The agreed upon fundamentals of the field won’t let them. I am hopeful that once we understand how the brain encodes linguistic knowledge, many of the fundamental questions will be decided once and for all. Then the field will grow up.