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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2002
  • Online publication date: September 2012

3 - Language and the brain


The right way to address the announced topic would be to review the fundamental principles of language and the brain and to show how they can be unified, perhaps on the model of chemistry and physics sixty-five years ago, or the integration of parts of biology within the complex a few years later. But that course I am not going to try to attempt. One of the few things I can say about this topic with any confidence is that I do not begin to know enough to approach it in the right way. With less confidence I suspect it may be fair to say that current understanding falls well short of laying the basis for the unification of the sciences of the brain and higher mental faculties, language among them, and that many surprises may lie along the way to what seems a distant goal – which would itself come as no surprise if the classical examples I mentioned are indeed a realistic model.

This somewhat skeptical assessment of current prospects differs from two prevalent but opposing views. The first holds that the skepticism is unwarranted, or more accurately, profoundly in error, because the question of unification does not even arise. It does not arise for psychology as the study of mind, because the topic does not fall within biology, a position taken to define the “computer model of mind”; nor for language, because language is an extra-human object, the standard view within major currents of philosophy of mind and language, and also put forth recently by prominent figures in neuro-science and ethology.