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Complexity and language


Waardenburg's syndrome
Gerald Edelman Scientist
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And these... these individuals are born with blue eyes, although they're brown-skinned and they are congenitally deaf and everybody knows they're deaf, and they form colonies in which they mime... is that how you pronounce the word, or is it meem? They mime with each other but they don't have any syntax as sign language does. Once you teach them sign language they have language, but before that they don't. And so it's rather interesting to say, well, then you mean they're not human, they don't have memories, etc.? Of course they do, but they certainly don't talk in the way we're talking and they cannot refine concepts in the way we're refining. So I believe the issue of this language problem, which is one of the really outstanding problems of our time, is how you connect up the assignment of value, emotion, self, and meaning to a token, whatever it is. And the second problem is one that Mr Chomsky... although I think he's wrong, Mr Chomsky at least identified, and that's the problem of syntax, which is an essential for true language.

US biologist Gerald Edelman (1929-2014) successfully constructed a precise model of an antibody, a protein used by the body to neutralise harmful bacteria or viruses and it was this work that won him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1972 jointly with Rodney R Porter. He then turned his attention to neuroscience, focusing on neural Darwinism, an influential theory of brain function.

Listeners: Ralph J. Greenspan

Dr. Greenspan has worked on the genetic and neurobiological basis of behavior in fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) almost since the inception of the field, studying with one of its founders, Jeffery Hall, at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, where he received his Ph.D. in biology in 1979. He subsequently taught and conducted research at Princeton University and New York University where he ran the W.M. Keck Laboratory of Molecular Neurobiology, relocating to San Diego in 1997 to become a Senior Fellow in Experimental Neurobiology at The Neurosciences Institute. Dr. Greenspan’s research accomplishments include studies of physiological and behavioral consequences of mutations in a neurotransmitter system affecting one of the brain's principal chemical signals, studies making highly localized genetic alterations in the nervous system to alter behavior, molecular identification of genes causing naturally occurring variation in behavior, and the demonstration that the fly has sleep-like and attention-like behavior similar to that of mammals. Dr. Greenspan has been awarded fellowships from the Helen Hay Whitney Foundation, the Searle Scholars Program, the McKnight Foundation, the Sloan Foundation and the Klingenstein Foundation. In addition to authoring research papers in journals such as "Science", "Nature", "Cell", "Neuron", and "Current Biology", he is also author of an article on the subject of genes and behavior for "Scientific American" and several books, including "Genetic Neurobiology" with Jeffrey Hall and William Harris, "Flexibility and Constraint in Behavioral Systems" with C.P. Kyriacou, and "Fly Pushing: The Theory and Practice of Drosophila Genetics", which has become a standard work in all fruit fly laboratories.

Tags: Noah Chomsky

Duration: 1 minute, 1 second

Date story recorded: July 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008