Einstein used to imagine interesting solutions to old puzzles all the time, but upon investigation they would come apart. He would joke about how “the devil” had him going for a few days, before he got wise and gave it up. The past two posts have discussed a radical paper by a philosopher, Don Ross, in the September issue of Language Sciences (paper here). It turns out that many long-standing puzzles can be explained if we accept Ross’s solution, but many old ideas and trusted observations seem to argue against it. So, has the devil been giving the blog a run for its money the past few weeks?
For this blog the key points of interest in Ross’s paper are:
- In humans there is a disconnect between sensory input and motor output that makes our actions uncertain.
- The solution to this disconnect is the creation of a culture (virtual and real artifacts) that can cue our behavior and orient us toward the world.
- Language is the foremost feature of this cultural solution.
If this idea is not a devil’s joke, we are in for many more upheavals of thought. Neither Noam Chomsky’s metaphysics nor Stephen Pinker’s psychology can endure if this alternative account takes hold. On the other hand, Ross’s proposal remains theoretical and could be a will-o-the-wisp. It must be tested.