Varoufakis/Chomsky video and transcript

April 26, 2016, LIVE from the New York Public Library,, Celeste Bartos Forum

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Good evening, we don’t have anyone to introduce us, so I’ve been asked to kick off by saying firstly that isn’t this wonderful that we are all here just to subvert the notion that nothing good can come out of the public sector? (laughter) Noam.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, the fact that I’m here, barely, actually has a relationship to that comment. I came from Boston, my wife and I came from Boston, it took seven hours, and any society that hasn’t been smashed by neoliberal policies of the kind you describe, it would have taken maybe an hour and a half, two hours. (laughter) There is a train, the pride of the public sector, which I took for the first time in 1950, and it’s about fifteen minutes faster now than it was then, (laughter) when it makes the schedule, which is a chancy situation, so we decided to come by airplane and spent most of the afternoon on the runway.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Well, Noam, what shall we talk about?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, we can talk about the neoliberal assault on the world’s population in the last generation, which you’ve written so brilliantly about.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: What strikes me given the last quite eventful year of my life, what really strikes me is the major disconnect between the philosophy and ideology of neoliberalism and that which I encountered when negotiating, inverted commas negotiating, when being dictated by the greater good of the neoliberal international financial establishment. Think about it. If you take the great libertarians, the great neoliberals, who castigate all tax-funded activities, and you consider the reason why I’m here today and I’m not still the minister of finance of Greece. Why? It’s because I refused another hundred billion smackers, dollars, of tax-backed loan to my insolvent government, which the creditors insisted that I should take.

NOAM CHOMSKY: The three-year loans.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: It’s astonishing, so here it is, here you have the international monetary fund, the European Central Bank, and the European commission insisting that our bankrupt state takes on another hundred billion, under conditions that guarantee we will not be able to repay the taxpayers of Europe that will be granting us that money, and that comes from neoliberals, who supposedly are against all tax-funded loans to government, and who supposedly believe that an insolvent entity doesn’t have the moral right to take on more loans.

NOAM CHOMSKY: But as you point out, what is it, 90 percent of those loans go to French and German bankers.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: That was the first loan. This loan it would go from the one pocket of the creditors to another pocket of the creditors so they would maintain the pretense that Greece was not bankrupt. But effectively what I’m trying to say is the intense hypocrisy of the neoliberal establishment, which is not really even interested in sticking to its own neoliberal ideology. This is just nineteenth-century power politics of crushing anyone who dares stand up to them and say a simple word, “No.”

NOAM CHOMSKY: But I think that’s actually traditional. One of the paradoxes of neoliberalism is that it’s not new and it’s not liberal.


YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Exactly. Exactly.

NOAM CHOMSKY: If you look at what you describe is a form of hypocrisy but the same is true of saying that we should not support tax-funded institutions. The financial sector is basically tax-funded.


NOAM CHOMSKY: You recall the IMF study of the leading American banks, which determined that virtually all their profits come from their implicit government insurance policy, cheap credit, access to higher credit ratings, incentives to take risky transactions which are profitable but then if it’s problematic, you guys pay for it, or just take the basis of the contemporary economy, which actually I’ve been privileged to see developing in government-subsidized laboratories for decades. MIT, where I’ve been since the 1950s, is one of the institutions where the government, the funnel in the early days was the Pentagon, was pouring in money to create the basis for the high-tech economy of the future and the profitmaking of the institutions that are regarded as private enterprises. It was decades of work under public funding with a very anticapitalist ideology. So according to capitalist principles, if someone invests in a risky enterprise over a long period and thirty years later it makes some profit, they’re supposed to get part of the profit, but it doesn’t work like that here. It was the taxpayer who invested for decades. The profit goes to Apple and Microsoft, not to the taxpayer.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Indeed, indeed. If you take an iPhone apart, every single technology in it was developed by some government grant, every single one.

NOAM CHOMSKY: And for long periods.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: And some of them by government grants from other countries, like WiFi from the Australian Commonwealth.

NOAM CHOMSKY: And it’s—you see an interesting picture of it from a place like MIT, or other major research institutions. So if you walked around the building where I work fifty years ago, you would have seen electronic firms, Raytheon, ITech, others, IBM, there to essentially rob the technology that’s being developed at public expense and seeing if they can turn it into something applicable for profits. You walk around the institution today, you see different buildings, you see Novartis, Pfizer, other pharmaceutical, big pharmaceutical corporations. Why? Because the cutting edge of the economy has shifted from electronics based to biology based, so therefore the predators in the so-called private sector are there to see what they can pick up from the taxpayer-funded research in the fundamental biological sciences, and that’s called free enterprise and a free-market system. So speak of hypocrisy, it’s pretty hard to go beyond that.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Quite right. This hypocrisy is fundamental to the whole enterprise culture of capitalism from 250 years ago.

NOAM CHOMSKY: From the beginning.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: I mean the whole notion that there can be a market system which is at an arm’s length separated from a state, which is the enemy, is the sickest joke in the history of humankind. If you think that this narrative of private wealth creation which is appropriated by the big bad wolf, the state, on behalf of trade unions and the working class that need a social welfare net, is just a preposterous reversal of the truth that wealth is being created collectively and appropriated privately but right from the beginning. I mean, the enclosures in Britain would never have happened without the king’s army and without state brutality for pushing peasants off their ancestors’ land and creating the commodification of labor, the commodification of land which then gave rise to capitalism. Just half an hour ago, we were being shown, some of us, the magnificent collection of maps of the city of New York in this wonderful building and you could see in one of the maps of Alabama, the precise depiction of the theft of land from Native Americans, the way in which it was parceled up, commodified. Now that would never have happened without the brutal intervention of the state and created the process of privatization of land and therefore of commodification.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Actually one of my favorite passages from Adam Smith is where he gives advice to the new colonies, to the newly liberated colonies, as to how they should pursue sound economics, which is pretty much what the IMF tells the third world today. What he said is the advice was you should concentrate on what was later called comparative advantage, produce agricultural products, you’re good at that, export furs, fish, and so on, but don’t try to produce manufacturing goods, because Britain, England has superior manufacturing goods, so therefore you should import them from England, they’re good at that, you’re good at cotton and corn. Incidentally, the cotton was hardly by free enterprise. And you should certainly not try to monopolize the resources that you have, and if you pursue those practices, then everybody will be better off, economic theory proves that.

Well, the United States happened to be free of English control so therefore they were able to do the opposite, just as England had done. High tariffs to block English goods, enabled them to create a textile industry, the beginning of the industrial revolution. Later in the century a steel industry blocking superior British steel, and right up to the present, as I’ve mentioned, with high tech.

As far as monopolization is concerned, the United States made a major effort to monopolize the basic resource for the early industrial revolution, namely cotton. That’s the oil of the nineteenth century, and the U.S. had most of it, not all of it, and the conquest of Mexico, which was not exactly by free enterprise, was largely undertaken to try to contain, to gain a monopoly of cotton which would overcome the major enemy in those days, which was Britain. Britain was the big force, the enemy, and the Jacksonian presidents, Tyler, Pierce, the mid-nineteenth century, their position was that if we could monopolize cotton, we could bring England to her feet, that way we could really defeat them. Didn’t quite make it, but made a lot. Incidentally, that effort was what Saddam Hussein was charged with in 1990, the charge was ludicrous, but the charge was he was going to try to monopolize oil and bring us all to his feet, which was crazy, but the U.S. try to monopolize cotton and that’s part of the way in which power shifted from England to the United States, and I think that’s a pretty good record of the way sound economics has worked over the years.

There have been places where sound economics was applied, liberal policies. It was called the third world and it’s not an accident. You take a look at the global south. One country developed, Japan, the one colony that was not colonized. Take a look at East Asia, the tigers of East Asia, with one exception, the one that was conquered by the United States, 1898, with a couple hundred thousand people killed and stays semicolonized, not part of the Asian Tiger explosion of industrialization. The pattern is just uniform but somehow hasn’t entered economic theory. I wonder why. You’re an economist.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Well, the reason why it never entered economic theory is because economics in universities was—began to evolve from the 1950s onwards as the queen of the social sciences, and what gave discursive power and monopoly power within the academic environment to economics was the claim that it was the only social theory which was peddling universal truths to be proven by mathematical means and it succeeded, so when a sociologist, an anthropologist, and an economist applied for a grant, it was always the economist who got it on the basis of this discursive monopoly.

However, in order to close the model mathematically, the only way to solve the equations is by making assumptions that distance the model from really existing capitalism. So for instance you have to assume that there’s no time and there’s no space, because if you allow time to interfere with your model, or space to enter, you end up with indeterminism. In other words, you end up with a system of equations that cannot be solved or that have an infinity of possible solutions and then you have no predictive power. You can’t say, “well, this is what’s going to happen.”

So you have a very interesting inverse Darwinian process. The more successful economists were at creating models that said precisely nothing about capitalism, the greater their success in the academy, so they became the opposite of the public intellectuals that you’ve been writing about. They create wonderful abstractions, aesthetically pleasing models that I spent quite a few years studying in the same way that you go to a museum and you look at a piece of abstract art but you don’t expect to find the truth of capitalism in its form. So this is the interesting sociology of knowledge within the economics profession.

But then there is a parallel shift, the end of Bretton Woods, which unleashed banking. Remember, Roosevelt made sure that in the Bretton Woods Conference, which designed the postwar—the first postwar phase between the 1940s and 1971, 1973. He had stipulated that one kind of person should not be allowed into the Bretton Woods conference. You know who these people were. Bankers. Not one banker attended the Bretton Woods Conference and that was at the explicit order of FDR.

NOAM CHOMSKY: And it showed.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: So you had boring banks between 1944 and 1971, but after 1971 and we can discuss why that is, suddenly banking was unleashed and their capacity effectively to mint private money became unlimited and essential to the second postwar phase of global capitalism, of American capitalism, of American hegemony. During this unleashing there was a need for a theoretical and ideological cover, so I don’t blame my fellow economists for pulling the trigger that created so much devastation in 2008 and before that and after that, but I blame them for providing the economic, the mathematical models, the sermons which steadied the hand of the financiers and allowed them to believe that what they were doing was perfectly okay, consistent with science, provable mathematically that it was riskless, and therefore allowed them the mental and emotional strength to do a lot more damage than they would have done otherwise.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Actually one of the more interesting moments in the history of science and scholarship was actually in 2008. For, as you know, for decades economists had been claiming with extreme arrogance that they completely understood how to control and manage an economy. There were fundamental principles, like the efficient market hypothesis, rational expectations, and anyone who didn’t accept this was dismissed as a kind of a, some strange kind of moron. The whole system collapsed, the whole intellectual edifice collapsed in a most amazing fashion and had no effect on the profession.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: None at all. Well, it did have. It had the effect that sometimes when we’re driving on a freeway, and I usually go well above the speed limit, condemn me if you will, and I get stopped by the police, for the next twenty minutes I drive below the speed limit, but it doesn’t last for more than twenty minutes. After a while, I just go back to where I was. This is exactly like the economics profession. They had a brief moment of—


YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Some, some or at least of being a bit humble and keeping their heads under the parapet for a bit, but then within twenty minutes they forgot about it and they carried on teaching the same rubbish to their students. But what is interesting, Noam, is two small points. It’s not that the economists went headlong into this mathematicized religion, because that’s what it is, a religion with equations and a bit of bad statistics. What happened was two things.

Firstly, there was a kind of ethnic cleansing of anybody that had retained their wits about the economy. So there were economists who challenged this view and who were simply not reproduced by the system. They never got the grants, they never got the PhD students, their PhD students never got lectureships, never got assistant professorships. So there was a purge of this type. The second, which is a far more interesting phenomenon, is that the wonderful minds that created the general equilibrium models, the highest, the popes of the Catholic Church, were not believers. So take for instance Ken Arrow. Ken Arrow is, you know, and Gerard Débreu, they are the ones that, John Nash, they established the mathematical theorems upon which all this hypocrisy is based.

Now, these people, Ken Arrow, I remember in the early 1990s, he was giving a talk at NYU. There were about twenty people. It was a highly mathematized paper. Okay, so he was enthusiastically going through the equations and one of the professors there interrupted him at some point and said, “Professor Arrow, equation 3.3 reminds me of the argument in favor of this kind of taxes opposed to that kind of tax,” and Ken stopped him immediately and said, “My dear boy,” he was a bit condescending, I think rightly so, he said, “You are confusing that which is interesting with that which is useful. (laughter) This is interesting. If you try to apply it to anything real, it is dangerous.”

So the gurus, the popes, understood that this theory was examining a postcapitalist world, a world without labor markets, a world without the, you know, labor exploitation, without monopolies, without even the slightest of capacities to alter prices on the behalf of employers, of entrepreneurs, of conglomerates, a world without firms. Because what is a company? A company is a market-free zone, it’s a hierarchy, it’s a small Soviet Union with Gosplan and central planning. If you look at Google, if you look at Microsoft, that’s what it is.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Then you have Coase’s theorem, that’s a big help.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Yes, but the Coase’s theorem is taught for five seconds and then forgotten, in order to—to make them feel that they’ve said something about the reason why firms exist. But then in those models that produced the macroeconomic policies that were applied even under Clinton, especially under Clinton, there are no firms, there is no times, no firms, no space, everybody resides at the same point in space, so that there are no costs of transport or anything like that, so imagine a world in which economic policy is predicated upon models that assume there is no time, space, firms, profit, or economic event.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Or monopolies.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: It’s time to get really scared.

NOAM CHOMSKY: You know, there’s a question that I’m sure you know the answer to from your own experience which has kind of puzzled me about contemporary economists. It has to do with the IMF and your experience as Greek finance minister. From what I could see from the outside, it looked as if the IMF economists were pretty harshly criticizing the austerity policies of the troika, but the IMF itself was strongly supporting them. What was going on in there?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Well, this is exactly what was happening and is happening to this very moment. Wikileaks leaked a wonderful conversation between my old friend Poul Thomsen who made his name by crushing the Greek economy and as a result being promoted to IMF chief in Europe, (laughter) and a Romanian lady going by the name of Delia Velculescu. Read this exchange, just read it, it came out a few weeks ago, Wikileaks, go and look at it. It’s fantastic, because they’re telling the truth, and they’re telling exactly what you’re saying. They are admitting that which they—Poul Thomsen and I had this conversation.

The first time I met the IMF chief in Europe was in a hotel in Paris, and I was elected with a mandate to negotiate a debt write-down for the Greek debt against the troika of lenders, against the wishes of the creditors, but at the same time, because I had a mandate to negotiate, not to clash, with the creditors. I was prepared to clash if I had to, but my intention was not to clash, my intention was to come to an honorable agreement between us. Because I knew that the German government had a very serious political problem going to the federal parliament in Berlin, to the Bundestag, and admitting that the money they had given to the Greeks was not money for the Greeks but for the Deutsche Bank, and therefore that they were never really expecting to get it back, so this is why we are going to give the Greeks a restructure. That’s what Mrs. Merkel should have said to the Bundestag, but of course this is not something she could have said and remained chancellor of Germany.

So I knew that the Germans had a political problem admitting to what they had done, in the sense of having given money to the Greeks so that effectively the German taxpayer and the Slavic taxpayer, because they spread the risk like good financiers do to the other Europeans. Effectively they were bailing out their banks a second time in twelve months. Of course I knew that and I was trying to find a formula that would allow our debt to become more manageable and less toxic for the Greek people while at the same time achieving a kind of political arrangement with Berlin that would make it palatable for them to say yes to it.

So first meeting with Poul Thomsen I come to him with a proposal for a kind of debt swaps, financial engineering, that Wall Street is very good at. Not the kind of thing the one expects from a left-wing minister of finance, but I wanted to make things work at that point, not so much to go and clash with him. Do you know what he said? “This is too mild. We need to take a large chunk of your debt and write it off, immediately.” I said, “Well, that’s music to my ear, Poul. How are you going to convince Wolfgang Schäuble to do this?” “This is a problem, you know, but we’ll find a way.”

So at this level of bilateral discussions even with the leadership of the IMF, you got the idea that they understood what they had done. They knew that they had done a nasty deed. They were subterfuging with what they had done. There was a bailout for banks presented as solidarity to a suffering nation and they were trying to do something about it. But then when it came to the final settlement, as creditors, they stuck to one another, they remained loyal to one another. They spread the rumor that our government was putting forward impossible demands, that we didn’t want to reform, that we had no proposals.

We came to them with financial engineering proposals from Wall Street, they had nothing to suggest except for the signals that they were emitting. But I think that the most important discussion I had was with somebody really high up in the IMF. The name will not be mentioned. Higher up than Poul Thomsen, you can imagine.


After ten hours of negotiations when we got into the nitty-gritty, these were extremely boring meetings with aides, with advisers, with experts, with committee on pensions and another committee on VAT, in the end we ended up together and we had a discussion, confidential discussion, tête-à-tête. I heard the following words, “Yanis, of course you’re right. These policies we’re trying to impose upon you can’t work.” I thought, “Oh, no.” I don’t know whether you have this. You probably don’t, you’re Noam Chomsky, you wouldn’t. I’m less experienced in this game of clashing with powers that be at that level.

And deep down, if I think, if I psychoanalyze myself, I really wanted to think that the adults know what they are doing, and that I am a child that is recalcitrant, kicking and screaming, but deep down, the adults, the people in power, at the top of the IMF, know what they are doing, and my complaints and protestations, maybe they are not completely accurate. Maybe they know more than I think they do, but when these big people turn around to me and say, “You’re right, it can’t work. What we are trying to impose on your nation can’t work. But, Yanis, you must understand we have invested so much political capital in this program, we can’t go back, and your credibility,” my credibility, “depends on accepting it.” I think that answers your question.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, how do they—how do the participants in the troika deliberations react to the technical papers that are coming out from the IMF economists saying, their own economists, Blanchard, others, saying, these policies of austerity under recession are just destructive.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: It’s very simple. They ignore them.

NOAM CHOMSKY: What do they say?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: In the Eurogroup, these were never mentioned. I mentioned them. I quoted chapter and verse from their own statisticians and economists, like Olivier Blanchard and those people. I quoted. There was also a remarkable study from the IMF showing that the liberalization of labor markets, the removal of the protection of labor, of trade union protection, of trade union rights, protection from unfair dismissal and all that, that that in the end is counterproductive when it comes to competitiveness and productivity. The IMF came out with this in the spring of 2014. A beautiful report. It could have been written by a progressive economist from the New School.

NOAM CHOMSKY: What exactly did it conclude—what did it conclude exactly?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: It concluded that these labor market reforms that the IMF had been pushing down the throat of countries from Africa to Asia to Europe, they don’t work, they do not enhance competitiveness, especially when investment is acute. Which is always my argument. So I quoted that as well in the Eurogroup. I might as well have been singing the national anthem of Sweden. (laughter) It was exactly the same thing. Because you’ve got to understand that these meetings are quite brutal. They have already decided what they are going to do. The ministers are treated like vermin by their own minders and by the representatives of the troika. Something very few people know is that the Eurogroup is actually led by the troika, not by the finance ministers, the elected representatives of the nations. So you’ve got the head of the Eurogroup, who is usually, let’s face it, appointed by Dr. Wolfgang Schäuble. Then next to him there is the real ruler of the European Union, a gentleman named Thomas Wieser, nobody’s heard of him, he holds the real power.

NOAM CHOMSKY: What is his position?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: He is the head of the Euro Working Group, which is the cabinet under the Eurogroup.

NOAM CHOMSKY: The nonexistent group.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: They are the shadow cabinet of the nonexistent Eurogroup. And this gentleman has been around now—

NOAM CHOMSKY: How does the Eurogroup get established? You don’t discuss this in your book, you just say it’s there.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: I think it just sprung out, out of the shell like, you know, Aphrodite in Cyprus. (laughter) Look, when we created in our infinite wisdom, a common currency and we had a common central bank but without a state to correspond to this central bank, and with a couple states that did not have a central bank, because that common central bank was created on the proviso that it would not come to the assistance ever of any of the states of which it would be the central bank. They decided that well, every now and then, these finance ministers of these nations that now don’t have a central bank but have created a common central bank should get together and discuss economic policy to coordinate. This is how it emerged. It’s not in any treaty. Do you know how I found that out?

NOAM CHOMSKY: So the Eurogroup consists of the finance ministers?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Yes, well, that was the initial idea, the finance ministers, and one of them chairs it. Before Dijsselbloem, who is now the president, it was the head of the largest tax haven in the world, Luxembourg, a certain Jean-Claude Juncker.

NOAM CHOMSKY: The United States is getting close.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Not as badly as Luxembourg, not as badly as Luxembourg.

NOAM CHOMSKY: A couple of states are getting there.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: It’s close but not as bad—

NOAM CHOMSKY: Not at that level.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: But ever since this Eurozone, which by the way the euro is a carbon copy of the gold standard of the 1920s. It was created in the image of the gold standard of the 1920s. So you know what happened to the gold standard of the 1920s. It gave rise to the roaring twenties, to immense financialization, immense concentration of industrial power, funded by the consolidation of the financial sector and then Wall Street 1929.

NOAM CHOMSKY: And enormous inequality.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Of course enormous inequality which is the result of this easy private money minting by the financial sector and when the chickens came home to roost in 1929, the common currency of that era, the gold exchange standard, collapsed, started fragmenting, very soon, the Germans hated the French, the French hated the Germans, everybody hated the Greeks, (laughter) and we descended into the abyss of the 1930s and 1940s.

After our generation’s 1929, which took place in 2008, guess what happened? The gold standard started fragmenting, it was called the euro in Europe, and very soon after that, the Germans started pointing moralizing fingers at the Greeks, the Greeks remembered the Nazi occupation, everybody hated the French, and we are now in a state of disintegration where refugees are the problem.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Actually you should bring up 1953, the London Agreement.


NOAM CHOMSKY: Which most people don’t know about, that’s rather critical maybe you want to say a few words about that?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Of course. But let me just complete the story about the Eurogroup. I’ll just tell you the story about how the Eurogroup doesn’t exist in law. By the way, one more point, after our country started failing—

NOAM CHOMSKY: Is it inconsistent with European law or just orthogonal to it?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: No, it doesn’t exist in law.

NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s kind of orthogonal, no connection.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: It’s outside the framework of European law.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Now, do its decisions impact—how do its decisions impact—

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: It makes all the important decisions that determine the future of Europe. Every single one of them.

NOAM CHOMSKY: How are those decisions transmitted to the official decision-making bodies, to the Brussels bureaucracy?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Oh, yes! What happens is first there is the Eurogroup meeting, and then afterwards there is an Ecofin meeting. The Ecofin meeting—Ecofin does exist. It’s the meeting of all the European Union finance ministers, including the ones who are not using the euro. So George Osborne from Britain is there, the Danish finance minister is there, and what happens is it’s a rubber-stamping process. So whatever the Eurogroup has decided, Ecofin says, “okay, we’ll do it.” There is never any debate.

NOAM CHOMSKY: No debate. No debate.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Let me tell you, this is quite interesting. How I came to understand that this is a paralegal group. At some point, the troika inside the Eurogroup, because it’s not just the finance ministers, it’s the IMF, Lagarde is sitting there, Thomsen is sitting there, the European Central Bank is sitting there, the Commission is sitting there, they set the scene and then the vermin, us, the finance ministers, simply nod, happy.

NOAM CHOMSKY: And the IMF has no reaction to the Eurogroup decisions?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Well, it’s in the Eurogroup, the IMF is part of the Eurogroup. It’s astonishing, isn’t it?

NOAM CHOMSKY: So they’re represented in the Eurogroup.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Well, let me give you an example. When the ultimatum was presented to me on the 25th of June, on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, and what that meant was that if I said, “No, I’m leaving it,” our banks would have been closed, as they were, five days later. So that’s a pretty powerful ultimatum, it’s like making me an offer that I can’t refuse, even though we refused it. For a while.

NOAM CHOMSKY: For a while.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Until we caved in and then I resigned. But this is interesting. I was presented with this ultimatum. It comprised three chapters. One was the fiscal policy that we would have to follow for the next twenty years. Interesting. It’s interesting given that our mandate from the Greek people was only for four years.

NOAM CHOMSKY: This is spelled out.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Spelled out. In black and white, what the primary surplus should be, what the tax take should be, what measures we should use, what the VAT rate should be in order to get that primary surplus. Chapter 1. Chapter 2—

NOAM CHOMSKY: And this is specifically for Greece.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Only for Greece.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Has there been something similar for Spain, or Italy?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Yes. Portugal. This colonization is at full blast. It started with Greece, all bad things start with Greece. (laughter) And then they spread out. Greece is the laboratory of misanthropy.

NOAM CHOMSKY: How do they deal with France?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: France of course is a final destination.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Is that beginning, to give orders to France?


NOAM CHOMSKY: That is. From the Eurogroup.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Noam. The beauty of those five, six months in power. Power. Not, what power. In office—

NOAM CHOMSKY: Watching power.


YANIS VAROUFAKIS: In office. The beauty of it was, you know, we academics all our lives we theorize about things. Okay, we try to get evidence, but we theorize. During those five months I didn’t have to theorize, and to answer your question about France, at some point I was having a very interesting conversation. I had many interesting conversations with the finance minister of Germany, Dr. Wolfgang Schäuble, at some point when I showed him this ultimatum and I said to him, it’s a long story, but I’ll cut it short.

I said to him, “Would you sign this?” I said, “Let’s take off our hats as finance ministers for a moment. I’ve been in politics for five months. You’ve been in politics for forty years, you keep barking in my ear that I should sign it. Stop telling me what to do. As human beings. You know that my people now are suffering a grave depression. We have children at school who faint as the result of malnutrition. Advise me on what to do, don’t tell me what to do, as somebody with forty years, a Europeanist, somebody who comes from a democratic country, Wolfgang to Yanis, not finance minister to finance minister.”

To his credit, he looked out of the window for a while, and he turned to me and he said—Well, the question that I’d actually asked him was, “Would you sign this?” And he turned around and said, “As a patriot, I wouldn’t.” Of course the next question was, “So why are you forcing me to do it?” He said, “Don’t you understand? I did this in the Baltics, in Portugal, in Ireland, you know. We have discipline to look after, and I want to take the troika to Paris.”

NOAM CHOMSKY: He said that.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Yes, so I don’t need to theorize. It starts with Greece. Greece is a pipsqueak country, it’s not that important. With that small problem you impose these unsustainable loans, which give creditors huge power and then you start cutting, cutting, cutting, because the final intention, and I try to explain this in this book, is to curtail the Parisian elite’s long-standing ambition to usurp the power of the Deutsche Mark for the purpose of expanding the French nation-state’s reach and control of Europe.

NOAM CHOMSKY: And also I presume for the Bundesbank to be able to control the French budget.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Absolutely, not so much the Bundesbank, but the finance minister himself. And I don’t blame the Germans for that. If you go back to 1992, when the euro was first created, the Maastricht Treaty, to convince the French to vote for it, the French conservative newspaper Le Figaro had a headline that was offensive to human beings. It read, as an encouragement to the French to love the Maastricht Treaty, “Maastrict,” and underneath, “A New Versailles Treaty without a shot being fired.” Now that is offensive to the German people, it is offensive to anyone who understands the pain of the Second World War. It is offense to all well-intentioned human beings.

NOAM CHOMSKY: And do you think French elites actually believed that at Maastricht?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Absolutely. And this was the intention. The goal in 1965, in response to a journalist, who asked him don’t you worry that with this European Economic Union, Germany is going to become the powerful country here, and his response was, “They’re going to be the horse and we are going to be the carriage driver.” It’s clear.

NOAM CHOMSKY: The Brussels bureaucrats.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: The French graduates of the great Grandes Écoles who would be populating the Brussels bureaucracy. We should not be anti-German, anti-French, we just must understand that the elites of Europe have made a complete and utter mess of the project of European union.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Yes but when you get to Maastricht, the French elites still believed that they were controlling German power in the Maastricht Treaty?


NOAM CHOMSKY: That’s pretty astonishing.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: It’s an astonishing error on their part. But so was the German elite’s estimation that—Helmut Kohl for instance, who was a Europeanist, who was a federalist deep down, that you create a currency union first and when it gets in trouble, the political union would follow. What an error. When you create a gold standard and it starts fragmenting, you’re not going to end up with a political union, you’re going to end up with an abyss. You’re going to end up with Le Pen in government in France, the Golden Dawn in Greece, the AfD there in Germany and the fragmentation.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Do you think he understood say Nicholas Kaldor’s prediction?



YANIS VAROUFAKIS: No. None of them did.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Including Kohl?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Including Kohl. He didn’t understand it and he didn’t believe it. He really genuinely thought and in a rather simpleminded manner that we are creating this monetary union. Its fragmentation is going to bring about humungous costs for Europeans, so our successors, when this fragmentation begins, must fix it by creating a political union. Well, yes, they must, but they are not doing it. And they are not doing it because they are falling prey to this self-reinforcing negative feedback mechanism between authoritarianism and bad austerity policies.

NOAM CHOMSKY: How did the Fed respond to Maastricht?



YANIS VAROUFAKIS: It is interesting. Remember Alan Greenspan was not the most astute of central bankers.


NOAM CHOMSKY: He was in some ways. He understood why the economy was working so well. Remember his testimony to Congress where explained how magnificent the economy was that he was administering. He said it was based on growing worker insecurity.


NOAM CHOMSKY: That was a good remark.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Yes, so he was a real class warrior, but he did not understand finance.


YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Unlike Paul Volcker.

NOAM CHOMSKY: But he understood power.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Yes, he understood power, but Paul Volcker, his predecessor, understood both power and the pitfalls of overreliance on markets.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah, okay, so what was the reaction to Maastricht by the Fed?


NOAM CHOMSKY: None? They didn’t pay attention?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Yeah, there was—well, I did not know of any substantial reaction. I haven’t seen any, I’ve done some research, they were just going along. They would be making comments about the specifics, technicalities, but not any—Paul Volcker did make some very interesting comments.

NOAM CHOMSKY: What was his reaction?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: All very critical. He was very critical of the lack of checks and balances and shock-absorbing mechanisms. But Alan Greenspan and the Fed under Alan Greenspan indulged in autolobotomy regarding these structural aspects of global capitalism.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Actually I want to bring up the 1953 story. That’s quite critical.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Well, it’s part of a broader story of American hegemony after the Second World War, which has two dimensions that are of course interwoven. One is the Cold War story, which is a very important story, and the increasing authoritarianism of the United States after Truman.


YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Beginning with the Truman Doctrine, again, Greece, remember, everything bad starts in Greece, like the Cold War, which began in the streets of Athens in December 1944, not in Berlin, then spread to Berlin, with the first attempts by the CIA, successful attempts, to overthrow governments that they considered inimical to the interests of the global empire. Like the Mosaddegh government, then later our government. I grew up in the dictatorship that the CIA managed to create before the Pentagon had its own coup with the generals.

You know, there was a wonderful race between the Pentagon on the one hand and the CIA as to who was going to stage the Greek coup in 1967 first, and they were working quite separately from one another, the Pentagon with generals and the king, the CIA with the colonels, and the colonels got in first, they were more agile, so they moved in first, then you had Pinochet, you had the Latin American brutality and so on, so that’s one story. We all know about American imperialism post 1944.

But the second dimension, which is much more interesting and much more benign. Because if you look at—it starts with Bretton Woods, an attempt to prevent by the New Dealers in power, and by some very good people, to prevent another Great Depression in the states. The great fear of course was in 1944, they could see that the war would end, they could see that the wonderful factories that were churning out the aircraft carriers, the tanks, the bullets, the jeeps, and so on, even if they were reconfigured to produce white goods and cars and consumer durables, there would not be sufficient demand within America for all those products that these factories could potentially make, so eventually they would scale down investment at a time when the American GIs, the American soldiers would be coming back from the front and that would spear—and they called it “the 1949 moment,” they feared that the 1949—that twenty years after 1929 there would be another crash.

NOAM CHOMSKY: The famous dollar gap.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Exactly. So they sat down and designed a magnificent global plan to prevent this from happening. They also knew—there was the Cold War of course, there was the pressing agenda of making sure that Europe doesn’t fall to the communists and Asia doesn’t fall to the communists, so the two dimensions were combined and the global plan of which the Bretton Woods system was just one part, entailed just to put it as succinctly as I can, the following characteristics and dimensions.

Europe would be dollarized, so that Europeans could buy the gleaming cars and the gleaming aircraft and washing machines from Westinghouse and so on and so forth that America would not be able to absorb on American soil. Europeans were in ashes after the war, so they needed to be dollarized. So they would be allowed to recreate all their own currencies, but their currencies would be pegged to the dollar, effectively they would have the dollar in different form. And that was a fixed-exchange-rate regime.

It was very similar to the gold exchange standard but with a very great difference. The New Dealers who had felt the Great Depression in their bones, most of them, if you look at their biography, had actually suffered during the Great Depression, and they were very keen to avoid it again, understood that what was missing in the gold exchange standard, was a system of surplus recycling, of taking surpluses from jurisdictions where they were being created through a political mechanism and siphoning them in the form of productive investments or some kind of investment into the deficit areas, in order to be able to generate the income in the deficit areas that were necessary to keep purchasing stuff from the surplus countries, so the surplus countries could remain surplus countries, like America for instance. To keep recycling surpluses and deficits to maintain this global plan. If you think about the—This is an extension of the New Deal.

NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s worth bringing out the role of reconstructing Germany—


NOAM CHOMSKY: —in this system, which was quite critical.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: I have looked at Senate papers from 1946 talking exactly about that, because this global plan had to rely on a European pillar and an Asia pillar, and they had to have a strong European currency and a strong Asian currency to act as shock absorbers. There are these amazing documents where they say, “American capitalism is going to going to go through a spasm like capitalism always does,” that shows a kind of understanding that today on the last twenty years is absent from policymakers. So they could see that there would be a recession.

And the question that we’re asking, if we only have one currency after the war, because Europe was destroyed and we would be dollarizing them. If we only had the dollar, any crisis in the dollar zone, in America, would be transmitted very quickly both to Asia and Europe and maybe those shocks would be magnified instead of being dampened. So we need shock absorbers, we need the European currency and the Asian currency that would do the shock absorbing. But in order for those currencies to be sufficiently strong they would have to have—

NOAM CHOMSKY: They’d have to be subordinate—

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Industry. Industry.

NOAM CHOMSKY: And crucially subordinate to the dollar. Not—

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Exactly. Exactly. So they would have to be net exporters in their vicinity. Germany within the rest of Europe, Japan within China.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Within the global system managed and run—

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Within the global system under the tutelage—

NOAM CHOMSKY: That’s the Keynes/White dispute.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: The Battle of Bretton Woods, which is an amazing episode in intellectual and financial history. At that point the problem they had when they were thinking about this in 1946, late ’45, early ’46, is they already had agreed with the French to turn Germany into a pastoral land, to deindustrialize Germany. So they had to go back to the French and say, “We changed our minds,” and they did, and they offered them a bargain. “You will agree to the reindustrialization of Germany. You will agree to a write-down of German debt, otherwise the German economy will never be able to recover if it is in a dark cloud of unsustainable debt. And in return what we’re going to give you is the leadership of Europe.” This is the goal idea, that they are the drivers of the carriage and Germany is the horse that powers it, and indeed this is what happened. If you think of—where is the OECD? It’s in Paris. What is the OECD? The OECD is a relic of the Marshall Plan. So the French were distributing Marshall aid in Europe. Think about Brussels. Brussels was completely and utterly designed by the French elite.


YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Think about the IMF. Why is Christine Legarde the managing director of the IMF? Why was Strauss-Kahn the manager —this is still the relic, the leftover of this deal with the French and the Germans. Interestingly, so going to ’53. Fifty-three is where the Americans grabbed the heads of the British, of the French, of the Italians, and of the Greeks, incidentally, and banged them together and said, “You are going to write down German debt.” So Greece was owed money by Germany that it throws off so that Germany could reindustrialize in the 1950s.

NOAM CHOMSKY: And that illustrates the title of your book. The French got something in return, the Greeks didn’t, the weak suffer as they must.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Yes, indeed. But of course I always like to leave a degree of optimism hanging in the air (laughter) so you may have noticed that my book ends with—the title ends with a question mark, and the emphasis is on the question mark and the dedication is to my mother and it says that my mother would have slaughtered with immense kindness anyone who dared say that the weak suffered what they must. And even the original expression comes from Thucydides in the History of the Peloponnesian War, when he recounts as an Athenian—remember, Thucydides is an Athenian historian and soldier and general who is recounting the story of when Athens sent a fleet with troops, the marines, the Athenian marines, to the island of Melos to crash the local society, the local city-state. Why? Because Melos refused to take sides in the cold war, or actually the hot war at the time, between Athens and Sparta. And Athens had its own NATO in the archipelago of the Aegean and it was very worried that if the Melians were allowed to be independent, then the rest might get ideas that they want to exit NATO, the NATO of the time, so they sent the troops to crush them. And there is this interesting meeting when the Athenian generals meet the Melian representatives, delegates to announce to them, but you know, your life is over, surrender quietly and we will sell you as slaves. If you resist, we are going to crush you. And the Melians gave them a Kantian argument that you should never treat human beings as a means to an end, you should treat them as an ends in themselves. Not exactly but more or less this.

NOAM CHOMSKY: They hadn’t read Kant yet, remember.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Of course, but it was more or less that kind of Kantian argument. You should treat those in a position of weakness in the same way you would want to be treated in a position of weakness, because one day you will be in a position of weakness, as of course the Athenians of course did become—

NOAM CHOMSKY: Very soon.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Shortly afterwards when they lost the war to Sparta, and the Athenian general responded, no, you’ve got it just wrong, the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must. But Thucydides is telling us this story in order to allow us to criticize it. Thus the question.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, I think the real optimistic element in the book is the Condorcet quote about power really being in the hands of the masses if they take it.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: In the mind of the masses.

NOAM CHOMSKY: In the mind, and in fact that goes back to and he was probably quoting David Hume, who in “The First Principles of Government” makes that point very clearly. He says it’s surprising to see the easiness with which the great mass of the population is subordinate to their governors, because power is in the hands of the governed, and if we inquire into the means by which this wonder is achieved we see that it is by consent alone that the powerful are able to govern. Meaning that if the governed refused to consent, to use your words, the game is over.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. And I and Danae, my wife, we felt that on the third of July last year. And that was a magnificent moment. Because you’ve got to remember our government won the election in January 2015 with a mandate to speak truth to the powerful, to say no to them and, “do your worst, we are not accepting any more of your toxic loans under conditions that will shrink our economy and our people further.” And we won this election, but because of the system of disproportional representation, we won government with 36 percent of the vote. The previous governing party received something like 25 percent, so we had enough seats in parliament to form a government, but that’s 36 percent of the vote, and we had the whole media of Greece and the world completely and utterly, militantly against us.

We had the central bank, third day I was in my office, the president of the Eurogroup visited me to say, “Either you accept the existing policies,” the ones we were elected to challenge, “or your banks will be closed within a month.” So this is the—you can’t be weaker than that. We did have a strategy, we did have a secret weapon, we can talk about this later when we open this up, but when they closed our banks down, I believed that it was just a matter of days before our support would wane. And we had called for a referendum to support us to carry on fighting.

So remember, we had only won 36 percent. The banks were closed, people didn’t have access to their money. Pensioners were fainting in line in front of closed banks to get some money out in order to feed themselves. The press is bombarding, terrorizing people in their living rooms on their television sets, saying to them that if they went with us against the troika, Armageddon is going to come, and we’ll be expelled from the universe, not just Europe. (laughter) And those crazy, magnificent Greeks gave us 62 percent. Why? Because the one deficit they could not bear was the deficit of dignity. And they had a Condorcet moment.


NOAM CHOMSKY: So what happens to Greece now?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Well, unfortunately, that very night of the referendum, our government, my prime minister, surrendered.


YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Well, to answer your question. That surrender meant that that we have the worst possible combination. We have a neoliberal ideology with completely anti-neoliberal policies. They increased the corporate tax rate, they increased the VAT rate, they increased the income tax rate, they reduced pensions, they reduced wages. So they did—

NOAM CHOMSKY: Even harsher conditions than the ones you refused.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Even harsher conditions. The Greek economy is fading, all business plans are going haywire, in a sense remember “liquidate, liquidate, liquidate” under President Hoover, Mellon, I think was the name of the U.S. treasury secretary that said that. That is what’s happening. Complete liquidation of Greek business, the Greek state, and the Greek people. And all that is happening in the context of the nineteenth-century gunboat diplomacy, the purpose of which is not so much Greece, it is how to keep France, Spain, Portugal.

After my prime minister’s surrender on the 13th of July, he signed the document of surrender, and you know what happened, the Spanish right-wing prime minister came out of the room wielding this document like this in front of the cameras, and speaking in Spanish to the Spanish media he said, “this is what you get if you vote for the Syriza of Spain,” for Podemos.


YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Well, thankfully, the Spanish voted him out but didn’t vote Podemos in, so they now have a hand parliament in Spain, no government.

NOAM CHOMSKY: No government.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Well, actually that’s much better than having that government.

NOAM CHOMSKY: So what do you think the future is for the peripheral—when you say “liquidate,” do you mean liquidate into German hands primarily?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: No what I mean is, what’s going to happen is there’s going to have hundreds of thousands of small businesses, people who will lose their shops, they will lose their pharmacies, they will become homeless, they will leave the country, with their kids, who are well educated, they will go to Germany, they will go to Spain—Spain, no, because the Spaniards are leaving—they will come here, they will go Canada, they will go to Australia, they will go to South America, somewhere to find a way of making ends meet. You are going to have the liquidation of households with foreclosures and foreclosures in Greece are worse than here, because here you can take the keys to your house and go to the bank and say, “Take it. Bye.” In Greece, you can’t do that. Even if you lose your house, you still have the debt, you carry it with you, like Mephistopheles walking around with hell around him, you are walking around the world with that same debt, even though you no longer have the house.

NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s kind of like student debt here.


YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Exactly. So in answer to your question, what is now the prospect of progressive politics and of hope in Greece? I think that now we had a window of opportunity in Greece to reboot this loan agreement and to reboot Europe, because had we succeeded there, then it would have really spread to Spain and to Italy and throughout the rest of Europe, we missed that. This is why I and some other utopians and recalcitrants throughout Europe, we have created what we call DiEM, the Democracy in Europe Movement, with our manifesto that Noam Chomsky signed, making me the happiest person in Europe.


For the same very simple reason, I think we are in a 1930 moment. Shortly after the collapse of Wall Street, the great financial crisis, and just before the slide into a postmodern abyss of xenophobia, misanthropy, failed economic policies, austerity, debt deflation that will become a major source of uncertainty, of misanthropy, of pain and unnecessary not just for Europe but for the rest of the world. Allow me at this point, I have a pin that I’ve brought with me for DiEM to give to you which I am wearing, and this is a bit of propaganda for our Democracy in Europe Movement, and I can’t not give this to Noam Chomsky since he signed our manifesto.


NOAM CHOMSKY: Thank you very much.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: And I’m being signaled to that we have to open this up to Q and A.

NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s a good point, good point.

Q: Mr. Chomsky, Mr. Varoufakis my question is about European integration policy, the then and now. We know that in 1992 the leaders of the day signed the Maastricht Treaty, which stipulated those convergence criteria to measure well, I guess, the similarity between economies such that if they were able to fulfill those criteria, they qualified for the initial round of euro membership. Are EU policymakers only looking at those criteria now, those deficit criteria, or are they looking at other measures of integration given what we know about what’s—is that their only policy focus?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Well, let me say that they never looked at those criteria. These were bogus criteria. Greece didn’t meet those criteria. Italy didn’t meet those criteria. Far from it. The criterion was 60 percent of debt over GDP as a maximum. Italy had 100 percent. But of course the whole point of creating the Eurozone was in order to stop Fiat producing cars that would remain competitive vis-à-vis Volkswagens through devaluation of the lira. So they needed Italy, so they violated their own criteria. They just ignored them, and they brought Italy, Greece in. And you know how Greece got in? We had some smart people in the finance ministry, in the central bank of Greece, and they copied exactly the same tricks that they used to let Italy in. They said, “Well, we know what you’ve been up to. So if you let Italy in, we were doing the same tricks, we will present the same data, so either you have to kick the Italians out or allow us in as well.” So this is how we got caught up.

You’ve got to understand that it’s a very hypocritical concept, the whole thing, the whole process, so it was never a question of integration, really. It was a question of expanding the limits of predatory financialization. What did Greece have to offer the Eurozone? Can I tell what we had? We had no oil, we had really—we were not a traditional colony that had natural resources to—what we brought to the Eurozone was a population with minimal debt and a lot of equity. Because Greeks loathe debt. My parents’ generation didn’t have credit cards, personal loans, mortgages. They worked for thirty years, put some money aside, borrowed some money from an aunt or an uncle and bought a house, okay? So we were a dream come true for German and French bankers. We had a Protestant almost ethic in terms of debt, and there was very little debt. And a capacity, once extended, once the Deutsche Mark was extended to Greece, okay, we had the capacity to borrow and borrow and borrow on the basis of very sound collateral.

So this edifice was never designed to sustain an economic crisis. You know which were the two countries that violated the Maastricht criteria first, before anybody else? Germany and France. So these rules were written not to be respected, but were written to be used as a club by which to beat the weak and the ones who dare speak out against the irrationality of the system.

Q: Thank you.



 Q: Hello. My question is for Mr. Chomsky. In the past you’ve been very critical of the way in which the West has engaged in political and economic imperialism around the world behind closed doors, kind of smoke and mirrors. How do you believe that transparency and democratizing the Eurozone—

NOAM CHOMSKY: And democratizing the Eurozone.

Q: How it will kind of affect or possibly deter this behavior?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, actually one of the things that Yanis discusses in his book is that the Eurozone—in the Eurozone, democracy has declined arguably even faster than it has in the United States. During this past generation of neoliberal policies there has been a global assault on democracy, that’s kind of inherent in the principles. And in the Eurozone it’s reached a remarkable level. I mean, even the Wall Street Journal, hardly a critical rag, (laughter) pointed out that no matter who gets elected in a European country, whether it’s communist, fascist, anybody else, the policies remain the same. And the reason is they’re all set in Brussels, by the bureaucracy, and the citizens of the national states have no role in this, and when they try to have a role, as in the Greek referendum, they get smashed down. That’s a rare step. Mostly they are sitting by passively as victims of policies over which they have nothing to say, and what Yanis said about the Eurogroup is quite striking. This is a completely unelected work group. Not in any remote way related to citizens’ decisions, but it’s basically making the decisions, the choices and decisions. That’s even beyond what happens here. Here it’s bad enough, but that’s more extreme.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Let me add to this just to clarify something. Actually I will go further than Noam about Europe. The European Union doesn’t suffer or the Eurogroup from a democratic deficit. It’s like saying that we are on the moon and there is an oxygen deficit. There is no oxygen deficit on the moon. There is no oxygen, full stop. (laughter)And this is official in Europe.

At my first Eurogroup, as the rookie around, I was given the floor to set out our policies and to introduce myself, which is nice, and I gave the most moderate speech that I thought it was humanly possible to make. I said, “I know that you are annoyed I’m here. Your favorite guy didn’t get elected, I got elected, I’m here, but I’m here in order to work with you, to find common ground, there is a failed program that you want to keep insisting on implementing in Greece, we have our mandate, let’s sit down and find common ground.” I thought that was a pretty moderate thing to say. They didn’t.

And then after me, after I had expounded the principle of continuity and the principle of democracy, and the idea of having some compromise between the two, Doctor Wolfgang Schäuble puts his name tag forward and demands the floor and he comes up with a magnificent statement, verbatim I’m going to give you what he said, “Elections cannot be allowed to change the economic policies of any country.” (laughter) At which point I intervened and said, “this is the greatest gift to the Communist Party of China, because they believe that too.” (laughter)

Now, while I was in there at the twelve Eurogroup meetings that I attended before I resigned, I noticed in those very lengthy, incredibly intense and depressing sequences of discussions, some of them lasted more than twelve hours. The room was full of cameras, microphones, you know, these screens, we had thirty of them, we were in the same room with people and I was watching them on television. Because, you know, this is the power of the screen. You don’t watch the person speaking, you watch him on the screen, or her. Yeah?

And at some point it hit me, “We don’t need a revolution here, somebody in the control booth just press a button and connect all these cameras to the Internet.” Just imagine if that were to happen, huh? You don’t need a treaty change, a constitution, a revolution, nothing. Somebody just press a button, like in a science fiction movie, you press a button and suddenly have a new universe. What would happen? Would Schäuble say this? I don’t know, maybe he would, but you know what, it would make a difference for the Germans, the French, the Portuguese, to hear him say those words, instead of reading the Financial Times where people like Peter Spiegel were simply saying that Yanis Varoufakis was resisting reform in his country and he demanded more money for it. So transparency is everything. It’s a first step. It’s a huge revolutionary step that takes nothing more than the press of a button so this is why on our side again, I’m a salesperson here tonight.

In, there’s a transparency in Europe now campaign where we’re demanding the livestreaming of all these meetings. We’re demanding that the ECB publishes its minutes. (applause) We’re demanding that all the TTIP negotiating. Do you know that as the minister of state for finance in Greece in order to look at the TTIP documents of the negotiations between the European Union to which I was a finance minister and the United States I had to sign a nondisclosure agreement? In other words, the price of looking at those documents was that I promised not to tell my electorate. So if you can, get into our site and sign the petition for transparency. It’s a small step, just to make it difficult for them. Even if they have to answer the question why are they not livestreaming the meetings, that’s a small step, because you are putting them in a difficult position.

PAUL HOLDENGRÄBER: I just want to say that we are also livestreaming, (laughter)and that I’m not going to tell you how many questions we’re going to take, but we’re going to end at 8:59, so next question.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: 8:59, you and your precision.


Q: Hi, it’s a little bit follow-up question to the previous one to Varoufakis. You wrote that Wolfgang Schäuble wants to kind of have a superminister of all of the Eurozone. Nonelected, will just kind of decide on national—that’s his plan. But I’m just wondering what do you propose instead because sometimes it’s a bit unclear to me if you also want kind of a superminister, just an elected one, or if you want more power taken back to the national countries? And also—

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: You have a second question?

PAUL HOLDENGRÄBER: Just one question.

Q: But also just that Eurozone, if you want to keep the euro in the long term or if it should be maybe slowly—

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: It’s the same question.

Q: Yes.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Let me be brief. What Schäuble wants and I know that because he’s written about it and we’ve discussed it, is a semblance of federation where the Eurogroup becomes a—he doesn’t feel good that it’s not legal. He wants to legalize it. And he wants to turn the president of the Eurogroup the fiscal leviathan of the Eurozone. He doesn’t call him that, but he wants him to be if you want the fiscal representative of—or the treasurer, the treasurer of the Eurozone. But he wants to give this person a tiny little budget, tiny federal budget, 1 percent of GDP, nothing, in other words, and the main function of this person will be to have a veto power over national budgets.

Now this is a monstrous notion. Let me give you an example. On the one hand you have a parliament, the French National Assembly, voting in a budget. OK? The budget of the French government is 50 percent of GDP; half of the economy of France is controlled by the state. Now you’re going to have a fiscal overlord in Europe, that has a 1 percent budget, in other words has absolutely no capacity to affect surplus recycling within Europe and stabilize European capitalism, but he is going to have—I was going to say he or she but we know it’s going to be a he, don’t we? He is going to have the right to veto the budget that National Assembly of France voted. And why? To keep countries within the fiscal constraints of the Maastricht Treaty, which has so spectacularly and abundantly failed.

And let me give you an example of why this is just mad, and makes absolutely no sense, even from a neoliberal perspective. Take Ireland, Ireland before 2008 was the blue-eyed boy or girl of the international neoliberal Washington consensus. They had turned their markets so elastic that they, you know, they resembled the circus. They had a debt-to-GDP ratio of 25 percent. Half that of Germany. They were never above budget, they had a surplus, actually they had a surplus in their, they call it their federal budget, I call it their state budget. So they were the model country, the model citizen of the neoliberal mantra, okay?

Now, of course, if you look at what was happening in the private sector, they had gone crazy with, there was a frenzy of indebtedness like here in Wall Street and so on and so forth. The moment the credit crunch begun after Lehman Brothers, the developers went bust, the developers’ loans to the Anglo-Irish Bank and the various other shady banks in Ireland went bad, they became nonperforming, those banks immediately became insolvent, and then the president of the Central Bank, a certain Mr. Jean-Claude Trichet, called the Irish prime minister, “transfer all the losses of the private sector onto the public books, onto the taxpayers, or else, or I will close down your banks.” Remember that happened to me a few years later too. And at that point suddenly Irish publish debt went from 25 percent to 120 percent.

Now, what would the fiscal overlord do then? Nothing. Would he veto this? No, because it was the Central Bank’s direct directive that pushed all the losses of the private sector onto the taxpayer. So this system that Dr. Schäuble is proposing is just an attempt to legitimize the illegitimate current informal system. It has absolutely no capacity to stabilize European capitalism. The only thing it will do, it will formalize the current impasse.

You’re asking me what I want. I would like a federal democracy. I would like a European parliament, I would like a federal government with a substantial budget and proper surplus recycling and I would like to have a European Union constitution that is fifteen, twenty pages and not written by a failed former president of France that scripts the preface, that happened 2005, beginning with the rights of capital. You knew that one, didn’t you? That there was an attempt to write the European Union that began, the preface, the bill of rights was all about the rights of capital. You can’t make it up.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Schäuble’s comment about elections.

Q: Hi, first of all, I’m very honored to be here in front of both of you. I wanted to ask a quick question for Yanis. To what extent do you agree with the notion that the Greek government was caught in a tragic circumstance, and they did what their options allowed them to do at the time, given that the other option might have been an exit from the euro combined with the refugee crisis that they have now. And for Mr. Chomsky, I wanted to ask a little bit your evaluation on the Bernie Sanders phenomenon in American politics and how do you evaluate that for the future of American politics?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Sorry, say it again?



YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Bernie. You start with Bernie.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, Bernie Sanders is an extremely interesting phenomenon. He’s a decent, honest person. It’s pretty unusual in the political system. (laughter) Maybe there are two of them in the world. (applause) But he’s considered a radical, an extremist, which is a pretty interesting characterization, because he’s basically a mainstream New Deal Democrat. His positions would not have surprised President Eisenhower, who said, in fact, that anyone who does not accept New Deal programs doesn’t belong in the American political system. That’s now considered very radical.

The other interesting aspect of Sanders’s positions is that they’re quite strongly supported by the general public and have been for a long time. That’s true on taxes, it’s true on health care. So take, say, health care. His proposal for a national health care system, meaning the kind of system that just about every other developed country has, at half the per capita cost of the United States and comparable or better outcomes. That’s considered very radical, but it’s been the position of the majority of the American population for a long time. So if you go back say to the Reagan—Right now, for example, latest polls about 60 percent of the American population favor it.

When Obama put forward the Affordable Care Act, there was you recall a public option, but that was dropped. It was dropped even though it was supported by about almost two thirds of the population. You go back earlier, say to the Reagan years, about 70 percent of the population thought that national health care should be in the constitution because it’s such an obvious right, and in fact about 40 percent of the population thought it was in the constitution, (laughter) again because it’s such an obvious right. And the same is true on tax policy and others.

So we have this phenomenon where someone is taking positions that would have been considered pretty mainstream during the Eisenhower years, that are supported by a large part or from a considerable majority of the population, but he’s dismissed as radical and extremist. That’s an indication of how the spectrum has shifted to the right during the neoliberal period, so far to the right that the contemporary Democrats are pretty much what used to be called moderate Republicans. And the Republicans are just off the spectrum. (laughter) They’re not a legitimate parliamentary party anymore.

And Sanders has the—significant part of the—he has pressed the mainstream Democrats a little bit towards the progressive side. You see that in Clinton’s statements. But he has mobilized a large number of young people. These young people who are saying, “look, we’re not going to consent anymore,” and if that turns into a continuing organized mobilized, mobilized force, that could change the country. Maybe not for this election but in the longer term.


YANIS VAROUFAKIS: I’m going to answer your question by saying, and I hope you don’t consider this to be too harsh a judgment of your question. I will say that embedded in your question is the most toxic form of TINA, of the proposition that there is no alternative. The idea that in the end we had to surrender because the alternative would be worse effectively denigrates the 62 percent of Greeks who ordered us not to surrender. And it denigrates those of us who actually won government, because if what you said is right, we wouldn’t leave. We walked in there and thought that with the power of our rationality and the force of our personality we would convince the troika of lenders to be kind to us, we were relying on the kindness of creditors. No, we were not naïve. From 2012 to 2013 I had long conversations with our team, the team that eventually became the negotiating team, the government, the inner cabinet, the war cabinet as we called it, and we were talking about how are we going to respond to the threat of bank closures that would happen on the first day of our government. And we had worked out a plan of what our retaliation would be. I won’t bore you know, we don’t have the time, I have spoken about this extensively, we would have to haircut the bonds that the ECB held that were in Greek law. It was perfectly simple to do it and we would not end up as Argentina because it was Greek law, the ECB would have to come to a Greek court to contest it, they would not be dragging us to Luxembourg to London or to New York and that would have crippled QE, it would have brought down with a very high probability the euro, so if they closed down our banks, we had a weapon by which to retaliate. We were planning a parallel payment system in case the banking system was in disrepair, could not be used for transaction.

We had that agreement. It’s the only reason I stood in front of the Greek people and asked them to vote me in. I didn’t ask them to do this in order for me to go in there and go in to the Eurogroup and give nice speeches and hope for the best. And we did not see this through. To say that it was inevitable that we would surrender and that the alternative would be worse is effectively to confirm that there is no alternative to barbarism, and I shall not confirm this.

Q: Thank you.


PAUL HOLDENGRÄBER: If this would be okay for you, may I suggest that we take, we bundle three questions together and so you ask three brief questions, you ask one question, you ask one question, and that gentleman there asks one question, and the others of you there I applaud you for being so hopeful.


Q: Thank you very much for this conversation and I would like to ask my question to both of you. You have discussed the situation in Spain and we have just found today that after four months without being able to form a government there will be new general elections on the 26th of June so my question would be which would be your message in this critical juncture in the battle of ideas in Europe for the Spanish people and also for Podemos? Thank you.

PAUL HOLDENGRÄBER: Question number 1. Question number 2?

Q: Yes, thank you for a fascinating evening. Austerity is bankrupt. It’s bankrupt empirically, it’s bankrupt intellectually, it continues to be imposed on the people of Europe. You have framed this tonight as primarily a political conflict, primarily between Germany and France. Can’t we interpret this as an agenda by people who have no particular political or national allegiances to impose Reagan- and Thatcher-style capitalism on the core of Europe, including Germany, what happens to German pensions at the end of this game?

PAUL HOLDENGRÄBER: And the last question.

Q: My question was concerning some of the other peripheral countries in Europe—Ireland, Spain, and Italy and their national governments did not support you last year during the crisis. Now would you comment on that and also what do you think the prospects for those countries are now, economically?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, the message for the people of Spain I think should be this,(applause) that’s what they should be voting for, and they can achieve it. Go back to David Hume. Power is in the hands of the people if they don’t consent, and that’s critical.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: I have nothing to add to this. I’ll try to combine with the last question, because what applies to the people of Spain applies to the people of Italy, to the people of France but indeed also to the people of Germany, and that brings us to the other question as well. We’re in it together.

The notion that Europe is split between north and south and that north is populated by all the ants whereas the grasshoppers have congregated to the south and to Ireland is a very strange idea. There are ants and there are grasshoppers everywhere. What happened before 2008 was the grasshoppers of the south and the grasshoppers of the north got together into a splendid alliance of debt-driven frenzy. They were the bankers. They were the spivs, they were those who predicated their growth on transfers from the European Union budget to create motorways that went to nowhere, Olympic Game sites in Greece, and so on and so forth, and they became fabulously rich. This was the alliance of the grasshoppers. The ants were working very hard and were finding it very hard to make ends meet during the good times. And then when the grasshoppers’ empire collapsed, it was the ants of the north and the ants of the south that had to bail them out, and it’s time for the ants of the north and the ants of the south to unite in Europe to change that crazy regime.


PAUL HOLDENGRÄBER: Any final words?


YANIS VAROUFAKIS: I want to pay my respects to this institution, and I want to thank you and to your staff—I met some of them before—for the diligence and the dedication and the enthusiasm. If only our rulers had a modicum, a percentage, a small percentage to public service, the world would have been a much better place.

PAUL HOLDENGRÄBER: Continue, continue a little more. (laughter) Thank you very much!



Chomsky et al. Debate sobre el desarrollo y límites de la Inteligencia Artificial en el MIT

Artificial Intelligence symposia at MIT 2013

Keynote Panel: The Golden Age: A Look at the Original Roots of Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Science, and Neuroscience
Entrevista de Yarden Katz, sobre el tema de la Inteligencia Artificial , en The Atlantic, a Noam Chomsky

20/06/13 Noam Chomsky on Where Artificial Intelligence Went Wrong – Yarden Katz – The Atlantic 1/27
YARDEN KATZ NOV 1 2012, 2:22 PM ET

An extended conversation with the legendary linguist

Graham Gordon Ramsay
If one were to rank a list of civilization’s greatest and most elusive intellectual
challenges, the problem of “decoding” ourselves — understanding the inner
workings of our minds and our brains, and how the architecture of these
elements is encoded in our genome — would surely be at the top. Yet the diverse
fields that took on this challenge, from philosophy and psychology to computer
science and neuroscience, have been fraught with disagreement about the right
In 1956, the computer scientist John McCarthy coined the term “Artificial
Intelligence” (AI) to describe the study of intelligence by implementing its
essential features on a computer. Instantiating an intelligent system using manmade
hardware, rather than our own “biological hardware” of cells and tissues,
would show ultimate understanding, and have obvious practical applications in
the creation of intelligent devices or even robots.
Some of McCarthy’s colleagues in neighboring departments, however, were more
interested in how intelligence is implemented in humans (and other animals)
first. Noam Chomsky and others worked on what became cognitive science, a
field aimed at uncovering the mental representations and rules that underlie our
perceptual and cognitive abilities. Chomsky and his colleagues had to overthrow
the then-dominant paradigm of behaviorism, championed by Harvard
psychologist B.F. Skinner, where animal behavior was reduced to a simple set of
Noam Chomsky on Where Artificial
Intelligence Went Wrong

20/06/13 Noam Chomsky on Where Artificial Intelligence Went Wrong – Yarden Katz – The Atlantic 2/27
associations between an action and its subsequent reward or punishment. The
undoing of Skinner’s grip on psychology is commonly marked by Chomsky’s 1967
critical review of Skinner’s book Verbal Behavior, a book in which Skinner
attempted to explain linguistic ability using behaviorist principles.
Skinner’s approach stressed the historical associations between a stimulus and
the animal’s response — an approach easily framed as a kind of empirical
statistical analysis, predicting the future as a function of the past. Chomsky’s
conception of language, on the other hand, stressed the complexity of internal
representations, encoded in the genome, and their maturation in light of the right
data into a sophisticated computational system, one that cannot be usefully
broken down into a set of associations. Behaviorist principles of associations could
not explain the richness of linguistic knowledge, our endlessly creative use of it,
or how quickly children acquire it with only minimal and imperfect exposure to
language presented by their environment. The “language faculty,” as Chomsky
referred to it, was part of the organism’s genetic endowment, much like the
visual system, the immune system and the circulatory system, and we ought to
approach it just as we approach these other more down-to-earth biological
David Marr, a neuroscientist colleague of Chomsky’s at MIT, defined a general
framework for studying complex biological systems (like the brain) in his
influential book Vision, one that Chomsky’s analysis of the language capacity
more or less fits into. According to Marr, a complex biological system can be
understood at three distinct levels. The first level (“computational level”)
describes the input and output to the system, which define the task the system is
performing. In the case of the visual system, the input might be the image
projected on our retina and the output might our brain’s identification of the
objects present in the image we had observed. The second level (“algorithmic
level”) describes the procedure by which an input is converted to an output, i.e.
how the image on our retina can be processed to achieve the task described by
the computational level. Finally, the third level (“implementation level”)
describes how our own biological hardware of cells implements the procedure
described by the algorithmic level.
The approach taken by Chomsky and Marr toward understanding how our
minds achieve what they do is as different as can be from behaviorism. The
emphasis here is on the internal structure of the system that enables it to
perform a task, rather than on external association between past behavior of the
system and the environment. The goal is to dig into the “black box” that drives
the system and describe its inner workings, much like how a computer scientist
would explain how a cleverly designed piece of software works and how it can be
executed on a desktop computer.
As written today, the history of cognitive science is a story of the unequivocal
triumph of an essentially Chomskyian approach over Skinner’s behaviorist
paradigm — an achievement commonly referred to as the “cognitive revolution,”
though Chomsky himself rejects this term. While this may be a relatively
accurate depiction in cognitive science and psychology, behaviorist thinking is far
from dead in related disciplines. Behaviorist experimental paradigms and
associationist explanations for animal behavior are used routinely by
neuroscientists who aim to study the neurobiology of behavior in laboratory
animals such as rodents, where the systematic three-level framework advocated
by Marr is not applied.
In May of last year, during the 150th anniversary of the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology, a symposium on “Brains, Minds and Machines” took place, where
leading computer scientists, psychologists and neuroscientists gathered to
discuss the past and future of artificial intelligence and its connection to the
The gathering was meant to inspire multidisciplinary enthusiasm for the revival
of the scientific question from which the field of artificial intelligence originated:
how does intelligence work? How does our brain give rise to our cognitive
abilities, and could this ever be implemented in a machine?

20/06/13 Noam Chomsky on Where Artificial Intelligence Went Wrong – Yarden Katz – The Atlantic 3/27

Noam Chomsky, speaking in the symposium, wasn’t so enthused. Chomsky
critiqued the field of AI for adopting an approach reminiscent of behaviorism,
except in more modern, computationally sophisticated form. Chomsky argued
that the field’s heavy use of statistical techniques to pick regularities in masses of
data is unlikely to yield the explanatory insight that science ought to offer. For
Chomsky, the “new AI” — focused on using statistical learning techniques to
better mine and predict data — is unlikely to yield general principles about the
nature of intelligent beings or about cognition.
This critique sparked an elaborate reply to Chomsky from Google’s director of
research and noted AI researcher, Peter Norvig, who defended the use of
statistical models and argued that AI’s new methods and definition of progress is
not far off from what happens in the other sciences.
Chomsky acknowledged that the statistical approach might have practical value,
just as in the example of a useful search engine, and is enabled by the advent of
fast computers capable of processing massive data. But as far as a science goes,
Chomsky would argue it is inadequate, or more harshly, kind of shallow. We
wouldn’t have taught the computer much about what the phrase “physicist Sir
Isaac Newton” really means, even if we can build a search engine that returns
sensible hits to users who type the phrase in.
It turns out that related disagreements have been pressing biologists who try to
understand more traditional biological systems of the sort Chomsky likened to
the language faculty. Just as the computing revolution enabled the massive data
analysis that fuels the “new AI”, so has the sequencing revolution in modern
biology given rise to the blooming fields of genomics and systems biology. Highthroughput
sequencing, a technique by which millions of DNA molecules can be
read quickly and cheaply, turned the sequencing of a genome from a decade-long
expensive venture to an affordable, commonplace laboratory procedure. Rather
than painstakingly studying genes in isolation, we can now observe the behavior
of a system of genes acting in cells as a whole, in hundreds or thousands of
different conditions.
The sequencing revolution has just begun and a staggering amount of data has
already been obtained, bringing with it much promise and hype for new
therapeutics and diagnoses for human disease. For example, when a conventional
cancer drug fails to work for a group of patients, the answer might lie in the
genome of the patients, which might have a special property that prevents the
drug from acting. With enough data comparing the relevant features of genomes
from these cancer patients and the right control groups, custom-made drugs
might be discovered, leading to a kind of “personalized medicine.” Implicit in this
endeavor is the assumption that with enough sophisticated statistical tools and a
large enough collection of data, signals of interest can be weeded it out from the
noise in large and poorly understood biological systems.
The success of fields like personalized medicine and other offshoots of the
sequencing revolution and the systems-biology approach hinge upon our ability
to deal with what Chomsky called “masses of unanalyzed data” — placing biology
in the center of a debate similar to the one taking place in psychology and
artificial intelligence since the 1960s.
Systems biology did not rise without skepticism. The great geneticist and Nobelprize
winning biologist Sydney Brenner once defined the field as “low input, high
throughput, no output science.” Brenner, a contemporary of Chomsky who also
participated in the same symposium on AI, was equally skeptical about new
systems approaches to understanding the brain. When describing an up-andcoming
systems approach to mapping brain circuits called Connectomics, which
seeks to map the wiring of all neurons in the brain (i.e. diagramming which nerve
cells are connected to others), Brenner called it a “form of insanity.”
Brenner’s catch-phrase bite at systems biology and related techniques in
neuroscience is not far off from Chomsky’s criticism of AI. An unlikely pair,
systems biology and artificial intelligence both face the same fundamental task of
reverse-engineering a highly complex system whose inner workings are largely a
mystery. Yet, ever-improving technologies yield massive data related to the
system, only a fraction of which might be relevant. Do we rely on powerful
computing and statistical approaches to tease apart signal from noise, or do we
look for the more basic principles that underlie the system and explain its
essence? The urge to gather more data is irresistible, though it’s not always clear
what theoretical framework these data might fit into. These debates raise an old
and general question in the philosophy of science: What makes a satisfying
scientific theory or explanation, and how ought success be defined for science?
I sat with Noam Chomsky on an April afternoon in a somewhat disheveled
conference room, tucked in a hidden corner of Frank Gehry’s dazzling Stata
Center at MIT. I wanted to better understand Chomsky’s critique of artificial
intelligence and why it may be headed in the wrong direction. I also wanted to
explore the implications of this critique for other branches of science, such
neuroscience and systems biology, which all face the challenge of reverseengineering
complex systems — and where researchers often find themselves in
an ever-expanding sea of massive data. The motivation for the interview was in
part that Chomsky is rarely asked about scientific topics nowadays. Journalists
are too occupied with getting his views on U.S. foreign policy, the Middle East,
the Obama administration and other standard topics. Another reason was that
Chomsky belongs to a rare and special breed of intellectuals, one that is quickly
becoming extinct. Ever since Isaiah Berlin’s famous essay, it has become a
favorite pastime of academics to place various thinkers and scientists on the
“Hedgehog-Fox” continuum: the Hedgehog, a meticulous and specialized worker,
driven by incremental progress in a clearly defined field versus the Fox, a
flashier, ideas-driven thinker who jumps from question to question, ignoring field
boundaries and applying his or her skills where they seem applicable. Chomsky is
special because he makes this distinction seem like a tired old cliche. Chomsky’s
depth doesn’t come at the expense of versatility or breadth, yet for the most
part, he devoted his entire scientific career to the study of defined topics in
linguistics and cognitive science. Chomsky’s work has had tremendous influence
on a variety of fields outside his own, including computer science and philosophy,
and he has not shied away from discussing and critiquing the influence of these
ideas, making him a particularly interesting person to interview. Videos of the
interview can be found here.
I want to start with a very basic question. At the beginning of AI,
people were extremely optimistic about the field’s progress, but it
hasn’t turned out that way. Why has it been so difficult? If you ask
neuroscientists why understanding the brain is so difficult, they give
you very intellectually unsatisfying answers, like that the brain has
billions of cells, and we can’t record from all of them, and so on.
Chomsky: There’s something to that. If you take a look at the progress of
science, the sciences are kind of a continuum, but they’re broken up into fields.
The greatest progress is in the sciences that study the simplest systems. So take,
say physics — greatest progress there. But one of the reasons is that the
physicists have an advantage that no other branch of sciences has. If something
gets too complicated, they hand it to someone else.
Like the chemists?
Chomsky: If a molecule is too big, you give it to the chemists. The chemists, for
them, if the molecule is too big or the system gets too big, you give it to the
biologists. And if it gets too big for them, they give it to the psychologists, and
finally it ends up in the hands of the literary critic, and so on. So what the
neuroscientists are saying is not completely false.
However, it could be — and it has been argued in my view rather plausibly,
though neuroscientists don’t like it — that neuroscience for the last couple
hundred years has been on the wrong track. There’s a fairly recent book by a
very good cognitive neuroscientist, Randy Gallistel and King, arguing — in my
view, plausibly — that neuroscience developed kind of enthralled to
associationism and related views of the way humans and animals work. And as a
result they’ve been looking for things that have the properties of associationist
“It could be — and it has
been argued, in my view
rather plausibly, though
neuroscientists don’t
like it — that
neuroscience for the
last couple hundred
years has been on the
wrong track.”
developed kind of
enthralled to
associationism and
related views of the way
humans and animals
work. And as a result
Like Hebbian plasticity? [Editor’s note: A
theory, attributed to Donald Hebb, that
associations between an environmental
stimulus and a response to the stimulus can
be encoded by strengthening of synaptic
connections between neurons.]
Chomsky: Well, like strengthening synaptic
connections. Gallistel has been arguing for years
that if you want to study the brain properly you
should begin, kind of like Marr, by asking what
tasks is it performing. So he’s mostly interested in
insects. So if you want to study, say, the neurology
of an ant, you ask what does the ant do? It turns
out the ants do pretty complicated things, like path integration, for example. If
you look at bees, bee navigation involves quite complicated computations,
involving position of the sun, and so on and so forth. But in general what he
argues is that if you take a look at animal cognition, human too, it’s computational
systems. Therefore, you want to look the units of computation. Think about a
Turing machine, say, which is the simplest form of computation, you have to find
units that have properties like “read”, “write” and “address.” That’s the minimal
computational unit, so you got to look in the brain for those. You’re never going
to find them if you look for strengthening of synaptic connections or field
properties, and so on. You’ve got to start by looking for what’s there and what’s
working and you see that from Marr’s highest level.
Right, but most neuroscientists do not sit down and describe the
inputs and outputs to the problem that they’re studying. They’re
more driven by say, putting a mouse in a learning task and recording
as many neurons possible, or asking if Gene X is required for the
learning task, and so on. These are the kinds of statements that their
experiments generate.
Chomsky: That’s right..
Is that conceptually flawed?
Chomsky: Well, you know, you may get useful information from it. But if what’s
actually going on is some kind of computation involving computational units,
you’re not going to find them that way. It’s kind of, looking at the wrong lamp
post, sort of. It’s a debate… I don’t think Gallistel’s position is very widely
accepted among neuroscientists, but it’s not an implausible position, and it’s
basically in the spirit of Marr’s analysis. So when you’re studying vision, he
argues, you first ask what kind of computational tasks is the visual system
carrying out. And then you look for an algorithm that might carry out those
computations and finally you search for mechanisms of the kind that would make
the algorithm work. Otherwise, you may never find anything. There are many
examples of this, even in the hard sciences, but certainly in the soft sciences.
People tend to study what you know how to study, I mean that makes sense.
You have certain experimental techniques, you have certain level of
understanding, you try to push the envelope — which is okay, I mean, it’s not a
criticism, but people do what you can do. On the other hand, it’s worth thinking
whether you’re aiming in the right direction. And it could be that if you take
roughly the Marr-Gallistel point of view, which personally I’m sympathetic to,
you would work differently, look for different kind of experiments.
Right, so I think a key idea in Marr is, like
you said, finding the right units to
describing the problem, sort of the right
“level of abstraction” if you will. So if we
take a concrete example of a new field in
neuroscience, called Connectomics, where
the goal is to find the wiring diagram of very
complex organisms, find the connectivity of
all the neurons in say human cerebral
they’ve been looking for
things that have the
properties of
“I have to say, myself,
that I was very skeptical
about the original work
[in AI]. I thought it was
cortex, or mouse cortex. This approach was
criticized by Sidney Brenner, who in many
ways is [historically] one of the originators
of the approach. Advocates of this field
don’t stop to ask if the wiring diagram is the
right level of abstraction — maybe it’s not,
so what is your view on that?
Chomsky: Well, there are much simpler questions. Like here at MIT, there’s
been an interdisciplinary program on the nematode C. elegans for decades, and
as far as I understand, even with this miniscule animal, where you know the
wiring diagram, I think there’s 800 neurons or something …
I think 300..
Chomsky: …Still, you can’t predict what the thing [C. elegans nematode] is
going to do. Maybe because you’re looking in the wrong place.
Yarden Katz
I’d like to shift the topic to different methodologies that were used in
AI. So “Good Old Fashioned AI,” as it’s labeled now, made strong use
of formalisms in the tradition of Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell,
mathematical logic for example, or derivatives of it, like
nonmonotonic reasoning and so on. It’s interesting from a history of
science perspective that even very recently, these approaches have
been almost wiped out from the mainstream and have been largely
replaced — in the field that calls itself AI now — by probabilistic and
statistical models. My question is, what do you think explains that
shift and is it a step in the right direction?
Chomsky: I heard Pat Winston give a talk about this years ago. One of the
points he made was that AI and robotics got to the point where you could
actually do things that were useful, so it turned to the practical applications and
somewhat, maybe not abandoned, but put to the side, the more fundamental
scientific questions, just caught up in the success of the technology and achieving
specific goals.
So it shifted to engineering…
Chomsky: It became… well, which is
understandable, but would of course direct people
away from the original questions. I have to say,
myself, that I was very skeptical about the original
work. I thought it was first of all way too optimistic,
it was assuming you could achieve things that
first of all way too
optimistic, it was
assuming you could
achieve things that
required real
understanding of
systems that were
barely understood, and
you just can’t get to that
understanding by
throwing a complicated
machine at it.”
required real understanding of systems that were
barely understood, and you just can’t get to that
understanding by throwing a complicated machine
at it. If you try to do that you are led to a
conception of success, which is self-reinforcing,
because you do get success in terms of this
conception, but it’s very different from what’s done
in the sciences. So for example, take an extreme
case, suppose that somebody says he wants to
eliminate the physics department and do it the
right way. The “right” way is to take endless
numbers of videotapes of what’s happening outside
the video, and feed them into the biggest and
fastest computer, gigabytes of data, and do complex
statistical analysis — you know, Bayesian this and
that [Editor’s note: A modern approach to analysis
of data which makes heavy use of probability theory.] — and you’ll get some kind
of prediction about what’s gonna happen outside the window next. In fact, you
get a much better prediction than the physics department will ever give. Well, if
success is defined as getting a fair approximation to a mass of chaotic unanalyzed
data, then it’s way better to do it this way than to do it the way the physicists do,
you know, no thought experiments about frictionless planes and so on and so
forth. But you won’t get the kind of understanding that the sciences have always
been aimed at — what you’ll get at is an approximation to what’s happening.
And that’s done all over the place. Suppose you want to predict tomorrow’s
weather. One way to do it is okay I’ll get my statistical priors, if you like, there’s a
high probability that tomorrow’s weather here will be the same as it was
yesterday in Cleveland, so I’ll stick that in, and where the sun is will have some
effect, so I’ll stick that in, and you get a bunch of assumptions like that, you run
the experiment, you look at it over and over again, you correct it by Bayesian
methods, you get better priors. You get a pretty good approximation of what
tomorrow’s weather is going to be. That’s not what meteorologists do — they
want to understand how it’s working. And these are just two different concepts of
what success means, of what achievement is. In my own field, language fields, it’s
all over the place. Like computational cognitive science applied to language, the
concept of success that’s used is virtually always this. So if you get more and
more data, and better and better statistics, you can get a better and better
approximation to some immense corpus of text, like everything in The Wall
Street Journal archives — but you learn nothing about the language.
A very different approach, which I think is the right approach, is to try to see if
you can understand what the fundamental principles are that deal with the core
properties, and recognize that in the actual usage, there’s going to be a thousand
other variables intervening — kind of like what’s happening outside the window,
and you’ll sort of tack those on later on if you want better approximations, that’s
a different approach. These are just two different concepts of science. The second
one is what science has been since Galileo, that’s modern science. The
approximating unanalyzed data kind is sort of a new approach, not totally,
there’s things like it in the past. It’s basically a new approach that has been
accelerated by the existence of massive memories, very rapid processing, which
enables you to do things like this that you couldn’t have done by hand. But I
think, myself, that it is leading subjects like computational cognitive science into a
direction of maybe some practical applicability… engineering?
Chomsky: …But away from understanding. Yeah, maybe some effective
engineering. And it’s kind of interesting to see what happened to engineering. So
like when I got to MIT, it was 1950s, this was an engineering school. There was a
very good math department, physics department, but they were service
departments. They were teaching the engineers tricks they could use. The
electrical engineering department, you learned how to build a circuit. Well if you
went to MIT in the 1960s, or now, it’s completely different. No matter what
engineering field you’re in, you learn the same basic science and mathematics.
And then maybe you learn a little bit about how to apply it. But that’s a very
different approach. And it resulted maybe from the fact that really for the first
time in history, the basic sciences, like physics, had something really to tell
engineers. And besides, technologies began to change very fast, so not very much
point in learning the technologies of today if it’s going to be different 10 years
from now. So you have to learn the fundamental science that’s going to be
applicable to whatever comes along next. And the same thing pretty much
happened in medicine. So in the past century, again for the first time, biology had
something serious to tell to the practice of medicine, so you had to understand
biology if you want to be a doctor, and technologies again will change. Well, I
think that’s the kind of transition from something like an art, that you learn how
to practice — an analog would be trying to match some data that you don’t
understand, in some fashion, maybe building something that will work — to
science, what happened in the modern period, roughly Galilean science.
I see. Returning to the point about Bayesian statistics in models of
language and cognition. You’ve argued famously that speaking of the
probability of a sentence is unintelligible on its own…
Chomsky: ..Well you can get a number if you want, but it doesn’t mean
It doesn’t mean anything. But it seems like there’s almost a trivial
way to unify the probabilistic method with acknowledging that there
are very rich internal mental representations, comprised of rules
and other symbolic structures, and the goal of probability theory is
just to link noisy sparse data in the world with these internal
symbolic structures. And that doesn’t commit you to saying anything
about how these structures were acquired — they could have been
there all along, or there partially with some parameters being tuned,
whatever your conception is. But probability theory just serves as a
kind of glue between noisy data and very rich mental
Chomsky: Well… there’s nothing wrong with probability theory, there’s nothing
wrong with statistics.
But does it have a role?
Chomsky: If you can use it, fine. But the question is what are you using it for?
First of all, first question is, is there any point in understanding noisy data? Is
there some point to understanding what’s going on outside the window?
Well, we are bombarded with it [noisy data], it’s one of Marr’s
examples, we are faced with noisy data all the time, from our retina
Chomsky: That’s true. But what he says is: Let’s ask ourselves how the
biological system is picking out of that noise things that are significant. The retina
is not trying to duplicate the noise that comes in. It’s saying I’m going to look for
this, that and the other thing. And it’s the same with say, language acquisition.
The newborn infant is confronted with massive noise, what William James called
“a blooming, buzzing confusion,” just a mess. If say, an ape or a kitten or a bird or
whatever is presented with that noise, that’s where it ends. However, the human
infants, somehow, instantaneously and reflexively, picks out of the noise some
scattered subpart which is language-related. That’s the first step. Well, how is it
doing that? It’s not doing it by statistical analysis, because the ape can do roughly
the same probabilistic analysis. It’s looking for particular things. So
psycholinguists, neurolinguists, and others are trying to discover the particular
parts of the computational system and of the neurophysiology that are somehow
tuned to particular aspects of the environment. Well, it turns out that there
actually are neural circuits which are reacting to particular kinds of rhythm,
which happen to show up in language, like syllable length and so on. And there’s
some evidence that that’s one of the first things that the infant brain is seeking —
rhythmic structures. And going back to Gallistel and Marr, its got some
computational system inside which is saying “okay, here’s what I do with these
“It’s worth remembering
that with regard to
cognitive science, we’re
kind of pre-Galilean, just
beginning to open up
the subject.”
things” and say, by nine months, the typical infant has rejected — eliminated
from its repertoire — the phonetic distinctions that aren’t used in its own
language. So initially of course, any infant is tuned to any language. But say, a
Japanese kid at nine months won’t react to the R-L distinction anymore, that’s
kind of weeded out. So the system seems to sort out lots of possibilities and
restrict it to just ones that are part of the language, and there’s a narrow set of
those. You can make up a non-language in which the infant could never do it, and
then you’re looking for other things. For example, to get into a more abstract
kind of language, there’s substantial evidence by now that such a simple thing as
linear order, what precedes what, doesn’t enter into the syntactic and semantic
computational systems, they’re just not designed to look for linear order. So you
find overwhelmingly that more abstract notions of distance are computed and
not linear distance, and you can find some neurophysiological evidence for this,
too. Like if artificial languages are invented and taught to people, which use linear
order, like you negate a sentence by doing something to the third word. People
can solve the puzzle, but apparently the standard language areas of the brain are
not activated — other areas are activated, so they’re treating it as a puzzle not as
a language problem. You need more work, but…
You take that as convincing evidence that activation or lack of
activation for the brain area …
Chomsky: …It’s evidence, you’d want more of course. But this is the kind of
evidence, both on the linguistics side you look at how languages work — they
don’t use things like third word in sentence. Take a simple sentence like
“Instinctively, Eagles that fly swim”, well, “instinctively” goes with swim, it
doesn’t go with fly, even though it doesn’t make sense. And that’s reflexive.
“Instinctively”, the adverb, isn’t looking for the nearest verb, it’s looking for the
structurally most prominent one. That’s a much harder computation. But that’s
the only computation which is ever used. Linear order is a very easy
computation, but it’s never used. There’s a ton of evidence like this, and a little
neurolinguistic evidence, but they point in the same direction. And as you go to
more complex structures, that’s where you find more and more of that.
That’s, in my view at least, the way to try to discover how the system is actually
working, just like in vision, in Marr’s lab, people like Shimon Ullman discovered
some pretty remarkable things like the rigidity principle. You’re not going to find
that by statistical analysis of data. But he did find it by carefully designed
experiments. Then you look for the neurophysiology, and see if you can find
something there that carries out these computations. I think it’s the same in
language, the same in studying our arithmetical capacity, planning, almost
anything you look at. Just trying to deal with the unanalyzed chaotic data is
unlikely to get you anywhere, just like as it wouldn’t have gotten Galileo
anywhere. In fact, if you go back to this, in the 17th century, it wasn’t easy for
people like Galileo and other major scientists to convince the NSF [National
Science Foundation] of the day — namely, the aristocrats — that any of this
made any sense. I mean, why study balls rolling down frictionless planes, which
don’t exist. Why not study the growth of flowers? Well, if you tried to study the
growth of flowers at that time, you would get maybe a statistical analysis of what
things looked like.
It’s worth remembering that with regard to
cognitive science, we’re kind of pre-Galilean, just
beginning to open up the subject. And I think you
can learn something from the way science worked
[back then]. In fact, one of the founding
experiments in history of chemistry, was about
1640 or so, when somebody proved to the
satisfaction of the scientific world, all the way up to
Newton, that water can be turned into living
matter. The way they did it was — of course,
nobody knew anything about photosynthesis — so what you do is you take a pile
of earth, you heat it so all the water escapes. You weigh it, and put it in a branch
of a willow tree, and pour water on it, and measure you the amount of water you
put in. When you’re done, you the willow tree is grown, you again take the earth
20/06/13 Noam Chomsky on Where Artificial Intelligence Went Wrong – Yarden Katz – The Atlantic 10/27
and heat it so all the water is gone — same as before. Therefore, you’ve shown
that water can turn into an oak tree or something. It is an experiment, it’s sort of
right, but it’s just that you don’t know what things you ought to be looking for.
And they weren’t known until Priestly found that air is a component of the world,
it’s got nitrogen, and so on, and you learn about photosynthesis and so on. Then
you can redo the experiment and find out what’s going on. But you can easily be
misled by experiments that seem to work because you don’t know enough about
what to look for. And you can be misled even more if you try to study the growth
of trees by just taking a lot of data about how trees growing, feeding it into a
massive computer, doing some statistics and getting an approximation of what
In the domain of biology, would you consider the work of Mendel, as
a successful case, where you take this noisy data — essentially counts
— and you leap to postulate this theoretical object…
Chomsky: …Well, throwing out a lot of the data that didn’t work.
…But seeing the ratio that made sense, given the theory.
Chomsky: Yeah, he did the right thing. He let the theory guide the data. There
was counter data which was more or less dismissed, you know you don’t put it in
your papers. And he was of course talking about things that nobody could find,
like you couldn’t find the units that he was postulating. But that’s, sure, that’s the
way science works. Same with chemistry. Chemistry, until my childhood, not
that long ago, was regarded as a calculating device. Because you couldn’t reduce
to physics. So it’s just some way of calculating the result of experiments. The
Bohr atom was treated that way. It’s the way of calculating the results of
experiments but it can’t be real science, because you can’t reduce it to physics,
which incidentally turned out to be true, you couldn’t reduce it to physics
because physics was wrong. When quantum physics came along, you could unify
it with virtually unchanged chemistry. So the project of reduction was just the
wrong project. The right project was to see how these two ways of looking at the
world could be unified. And it turned out to be a surprise — they were unified by
radically changing the underlying science. That could very well be the case with
say, psychology and neuroscience. I mean, neuroscience is nowhere near as
advanced as physics was a century ago.
That would go against the reductionist approach of looking for
molecules that are correlates of…
Chomsky: Yeah. In fact, the reductionist approach has often been shown to be
wrong. The unification approach makes sense. But unification might not turn out
to be reduction, because the core science might be misconceived as in the
physics-chemistry case and I suspect very likely in the neuroscience-psychology
case. If Gallistel is right, that would be a case in point that yeah, they can be
unified, but with a different approach to the neurosciences.
So is that a worthy goal of unification or the fields should proceed in
Chomsky: Well, unification is kind of an intuitive ideal, part of the scientific
mystique, if you like. It’s that you’re trying to find a unified theory of the world.
Now maybe there isn’t one, maybe different parts work in different ways, but
your assumption is until I’m proven wrong definitively, I’ll assume that there’s a
unified account of the world, and it’s my task to try to find it. And the unification
may not come out by reduction — it often doesn’t. And that’s kind of the guiding
logic of David Marr’s approach: what you discover at the computational level
ought to be unified with what you’ll some day find out at the mechanism level,
but maybe not in terms of the way we now understand the mechanisms.
And implicit in Marr it seems that you can’t work on all three in
parallel [computational, algorithmic, implementation levels], it has
to proceed top-down, which is a very stringent requirement, given
that science usually doesn’t work that way.
Chomsky: Well, he wouldn’t have said it has to be rigid. Like for example,
discovering more about the mechanisms might lead you to change your concept
of computation. But there’s kind of a logical precedence, which isn’t necessarily
the research precedence, since in research everything goes on at the same time.
But I think that the rough picture is okay. Though I should mention that Marr’s
conception was designed for input systems…
information-processing systems…
Chomsky: Yeah, like vision. There’s some data out there — it’s a processing
system — and something goes on inside. It isn’t very well designed for cognitive
systems. Like take your capacity to take out arithmetical operations..
It’s very poor, but yeah…
Chomsky: Okay [laughs]. But it’s an internal capacity, you know your brain is a
controlling unit of some kind of Turing machine, and it has access to some
external data, like memory, time and so on. And in principle, you could multiply
anything, but of course not in practice. If you try to find out what that internal
system is of yours, the Marr hierarchy doesn’t really work very well. You can
talk about the computational level — maybe the rules I have are Peano’s axioms
[Editor’s note: a mathematical theory (named after Italian mathematician
Giuseppe Peano) that describes a core set of basic rules of arithmetic and natural
numbers, from which many useful facts about arithmetic can be deduced], or
something, whatever they are — that’s the computational level. In theory,
though we don’t know how, you can talk about the neurophysiological level,
nobody knows how, but there’s no real algorithmic level. Because there’s no
calculation of knowledge, it’s just a system of knowledge. To find out the nature
of the system of knowledge, there is no algorithm, because there is no process.
Using the system of knowledge, that’ll have a process, but that’s something
But since we make mistakes, isn’t that evidence of a process gone
Chomsky: That’s the process of using the internal system. But the internal
system itself is not a process, because it doesn’t have an algorithm. Take, say,
ordinary mathematics. If you take Peano’s axioms and rules of inference, they
determine all arithmetical computations, but there’s no algorithm. If you ask how
does a number theoretician applies these, well all kinds of ways. Maybe you don’t
start with the axioms and start with the rules of inference. You take the
theorem, and see if I can establish a lemma, and if it works, then see if I can try
to ground this lemma in something, and finally you get a proof which is a
geometrical object.
But that’s a fundamentally different activity from me adding up
small numbers in my head, which surely does have some kind of
Chomsky: Not necessarily. There’s an algorithm for the process in both cases.
But there’s no algorithm for the system itself, it’s kind of a category mistake. You
don’t ask the question what’s the process defined by Peano’s axioms and the
rules of inference, there’s no process. There can be a process of using them. And
it could be a complicated process, and the same is true of your calculating. The
internal system that you have — for that, the question of process doesn’t arise.
But for your using that internal system, it arises, and you may carry out
multiplications all kinds of ways. Like maybe when you add 7 and 6, let’s say, one
algorithm is to say “I’ll see how much it takes to get to 10” — it takes 3, and now
I’ve got 4 left, so I gotta go from 10 and add 4, I get 14. That’s an algorithm for
adding — it’s actually one I was taught in kindergarten. That’s one way to add.
But there are other ways to add — there’s no kind of right algorithm. These are
algorithms for carrying out the process the cognitive system that’s in your head.
And for that system, you don’t ask about algorithms. You can ask about the
computational level, you can ask about the mechanism level. But the algorithm
level doesn’t exist for that system. It’s the same with language. Language is kind
of like the arithmetical capacity. There’s some system in there that determines
artificial-intelligence-went-wrong/261637/?single_page=true 12/27
the sound and meaning of an infinite array of possible sentences. But there’s no
question about what the algorithm is. Like there’s no question about what a
formal system of arithmetic tells you about proving theorems. The use of the
system is a process and you can study it in terms of Marr’s level. But it’s
important to be conceptually clear about these distinctions.
It just seems like an astounding task to go from a computational
level theory, like Peano axioms, to Marr level 3 of the…
Chomsky: mechanisms…
…mechanisms and implementations…
Chomsky: Oh yeah. Well..
..without an algorithm at least.
Chomsky: Well, I don’t think that’s true. Maybe information about how it’s
used, that’ll tell you something about the mechanisms. But some higher
intelligence — maybe higher than ours — would see that there’s an internal
system, its got a physiological basis, and I can study the physiological basis of
that internal system. Not even looking at the process by which it’s used. Maybe
looking at the process by which it’s used maybe gives you helpful information
about how to proceed. But it’s conceptually a different problem. That’s the
question of what’s the best way to study something. So maybe the best way to
study the relation between Peano’s axioms and neurons is by watching
mathematicians prove theorems. But that’s just because it’ll give you information
that may be helpful. The actual end result of that will be an account of the
system in the brain, the physiological basis for it, with no reference to any
algorithm. The algorithms are about a process of using it, which may help you get
answers. Maybe like incline planes tell you something about the rate of fall, but if
you take a look at Newton’s laws, they don’t say anything about incline planes.
Right. So the logic for studying cognitive and language systems using
this kind of Marr approach makes sense, but since you’ve argued that
language capacity is part of the genetic endowment, you could apply
it to other biological systems, like the immune system, the
circulatory system….
Chomsky: Certainly, I think it’s very similar. You can say the same thing about
study of the immune system.
It might even be simpler, in fact, to do it for those systems than for
Chomsky: Though you’d expect different answers. You can do it for the
digestive system. Suppose somebody’s studying the digestive system. Well,
they’re not going to study what happens when you have a stomach flu, or when
you’ve just eaten a big Mac, or something. Let’s go back to taking pictures
outside the window. One way of studying the digestive system is just to take all
data you can find about what digestive systems do under any circumstances, toss
the data into a computer, do statistical analysis — you get something. But it’s not
gonna be what any biologist would do. They want to abstract away, at the very
beginning, from what are presumed — maybe wrongly, you can always be wrong
— irrelevant variables, like do you have stomach flu.
But that’s precisely what the biologists are doing, they are taking the
sick people with the sick digestive system, comparing them to the
normals, and measuring these molecular properties.
Chomsky: They’re doing it in an advanced stage. They already understand a lot
about the study of the digestive system before we compare them, otherwise you
wouldn’t know what to compare, and why is one sick and one isn’t.
Well, they’re relying on statistical analysis to pick out the features
that discriminate. It’s a highly fundable approach, because you’re
claiming to study sick people.
“There’s no reason to
assume that all of
biology is
computational. There
may be reasons to
assume that cognition
Chomsky: It may be the way to fund things. Like maybe the way to fund study
of language is to say, maybe help cure autism. That’s a different question
[laughs]. But the logic of the search is to begin by studying the system abstracted
from what you, plausibly, take to be irrelevant intrusions, see if you can find its
basic nature — then ask, well, what happens when I bring in some of this other
stuff, like stomach flu.
It still seems like there’s a difficulty in applying Marr’s levels to
these kinds of systems. If you ask, what is the computational
problem that the brain is solving, we have kind of an answer, it’s sort
of like a computer. But if you ask, what is the computational
problem that’s being solved by the lung, that’s very difficult to even
think — it’s not obviously an information-processing kind of
Chomsky: No, but there’s no reason to assume
that all of biology is computational. There may be
reasons to assume that cognition is. And in fact
Gallistel is not saying that everything is in the body
ought to be studied by finding read/write/address
It just seems contrary to any evolutionary
intuition. These systems evolved together,
reusing many of the same parts, same
molecules, pathways. Cells are computing
Chomsky: You don’t study the lung by asking what cells compute. You study
the immune system and the visual system, but you’re not going to expect to find
the same answers. An organism is a highly modular system, has a lot of complex
subsystems, which are more or less internally integrated. They operate by
different principles. The biology is highly modular. You don’t assume it’s all just
one big mess, all acting the same way.
No, sure, but I’m saying you would apply the same approach to study
each of the modules.
Chomsky: Not necessarily, not if the modules are different. Some of the
modules may be computational, others may not be.
So what would you think would be an adequate theory that is
explanatory, rather than just predicting data, the statistical way,
what would be an adequate theory of these systems that are not
computing systems — can we even understand them?
Chomsky: Sure. You can understand a lot about say, what makes an embryo
turn into a chicken rather than a mouse, let’s say. It’s a very intricate system,
involves all kinds of chemical interactions, all sorts of other things. Even the
nematode, it’s by no means obviously — in fact there are reports from the study
here — that it’s all just a matter of a neural net. You have to look into complex
chemical interactions that take place in the brain, in the nervous system. You
have to look into each system on its own. These chemical interactions might not
be related to how your arithmetical capacity works — probably aren’t. But they
might very well be related to whether you decide to raise your arm or lower it.
Though if you study the chemical interactions it might lead you into
what you’ve called just a redescription of the phenomena.
Chomsky: Or an explanation. Because maybe that’s directly, crucially, involved.
But if you explain it in terms of chemical X has to be turned on, or
gene X has to be turned on, you’ve not really explained how
organism-determination is done. You’ve simply found a switch, and
hit that switch.
“Why do cells split into
spheres and not cubes?
It’s not random mutation
and natural selection;
it’s a law of physics.”
and such under these circumstances, and do something else under different
But if genes are the wrong level of abstraction, you’d be screwed.
Chomsky: Then you won’t get the right answer. And maybe they’re not. For
example, it’s notoriously difficult to account for how an organism arises from a
genome. There’s all kinds of production going on in the cell. If you just look at
gene action, you may not be in the right level of abstraction. You never know,
that’s what you try to study. I don’t think there’s any algorithm for answering
those questions, you try.
So I want to shift gears more toward evolution. You’ve criticized a
very interesting position you’ve called “phylogenetic empiricism.”
You’ve criticized this position for not having explanatory power. It
simply states that: well, the mind is the way it because of
adaptations to the environment that were selected for. And these
were selected for by natural selection. You’ve argued that this
doesn’t explain anything because you can always appeal to these two
principles of mutation and selection.
Chomsky: Well you can wave your hands at them, but they might be right. It
could be that, say, the development of your arithmetical capacity, arose from
random mutation and selection. If it turned out to be true, fine.
It seems like a truism.
Chomsky: Well, I mean, doesn’t mean it’s false. Truisms are true. [laughs].
But they don’t explain much.
Chomsky: Maybe that’s the highest level of
explanation you can get. You can invent a world — I
don’t think it’s our world — but you can invent a
world in which nothing happens except random
changes in objects and selection on the basis of
external forces. I don’t think that’s the way our
world works, I don’t think it’s the way any biologist
thinks it is. There are all kind of ways in which
natural law imposes channels within which selection
can take place, and some things can happen and other things don’t happen.
Plenty of things that go on in the biology in organisms aren’t like this. So take the
first step, meiosis. Why do cells split into spheres and not cubes? It’s not random
mutation and natural selection; it’s a law of physics. There’s no reason to think
that laws of physics stop there, they work all the way through.
Well, they constrain the biology, sure.
Chomsky: Okay, well then it’s not just random mutation and selection. It’s
random mutation, selection, and everything that matters, like laws of physics.
So is there room for these approaches which are now labeled
“comparative genomics”, like the Broad Institute here [at
MIT/Harvard] is generating massive amounts of data, of different
genomes, different animals, different cells under different
conditions and sequencing any molecule that is sequenceable. Is
there anything that can be gleaned about these high-level cognitive
tasks from these comparative evolutionary studies or is it
Chomsky: I am not saying it’s the wrong approach, but I don’t know anything
that can be drawn from it. Nor would you expect to.
You don’t have any examples where this evolutionary analysis has
informed something? Like Foxp2 mutations? [Editor’s note: A gene
that is thought be implicated in speech or language capacities. A
family with a stereotyped speech disorder was found to have genetic
mutations that disrupt this gene. This gene evolved to have several
20/06/13 Noam Chomsky on Where Artificial Intelligence Went Wrong – Yarden Katz – The Atlantic 15/27
mutations unique to the human evolutionary lineage.]
Chomsky: Foxp2 is kind of interesting, but it doesn’t have anything to do with
language. It has to do with fine motor coordinations and things like that. Which
takes place in the use of language, like when you speak you control your lips and
so on, but all that’s very peripheral to language, and we know that. So for
example, whether you use the articulatory organs or sign, you know hand
motions, it’s the same language. In fact, it’s even being analyzed and produced in
the same parts of the brain, even though one of them is moving your hands and
the other is moving your lips. So whatever the externalization is, it seems quite
peripheral. I think they’re too complicated to talk about, but I think if you look
closely at the design features of language, you get evidence for that. There are
interesting cases in the study of language where you find conflicts between
computational efficiency and communicative efficiency.
Take this case I even mentioned of linear order. If you want to know which verb
the adverb attaches to, the infant reflexively using minimal structural distance,
not minimal linear distance. Well, it’s using minimal linear distances,
computationally easy, but it requires having linear order available. And if linear
order is only a reflex of the sensory-motor system, which makes sense, it won’t
be available. That’s evidence that the mapping of the internal system to the
sensory-motor system is peripheral to the workings of the computational
But it might constrain it like physics constrains meiosis?
Chomsky: It might, but there’s very little evidence of that. So for example the
left end — left in the sense of early — of a sentence has different properties from
the right end. If you want to ask a question, let’s say “Who did you see?” You put
the “Who” infront, not in the end. In fact, in every language in which a wh-phrase
— like who, or which book, or something — moves to somewhere else, it moves to
the left, not to the right. That’s very likely a processing constraint. The sentence
opens by telling you, the hearer, here’s what kind of a sentence it is. If it’s at the
end, you have to have the whole declarative sentence, and at the end you get the
information I’m asking about. If you spell it out, it could be a processing
constraint. So that’s a case, if true, in which the processing constraint,
externalization, do affect the computational character of the syntax and
There are cases where you find clear conflicts between computational efficiency
and communicative efficiency. Take a simple case, structural ambiguity. If I say,
“Visiting relatives can be a nuisance” — that’s ambiguous. Relatives that visit, or
going to visit relatives. It turns out in every such case that’s known, the
ambiguity is derived by simply allowing the rules to function freely, with no
constraints, and that sometimes yields ambiguities. So it’s computationally
efficient, but it’s inefficient for communication, because it leads to unresolvable
Or take what are called garden-path sentences, sentences like “The horse raced
past the barn fell”. People presented with that don’t understand it, because the
way it’s put, they’re led down a garden path. “The horse raced past the barn”
sounds like a sentence, and then you ask what’s “fell” doing there at the end. On
the other hand, if you think about it, it’s a perfectly well formed sentence. It
means the horse that was raced past the barn, by someone, fell. But the rules of
the language when they just function happen to give you a sentence which is
unintelligible because of the garden-path phenomena. And there are lots of cases
like that. There are things you just can’t say, for some reason. So if I say, “The
mechanics fixed the cars”. And you say, “They wondered if the mechanics fixed
the cars.” You can ask questions about the cars, “How many cars did they
wonder if the mechanics fixed?” More or less okay. Suppose you want to ask a
question about the mechanics. “How many mechanics did they wonder if fixed
the cars?” Somehow it doesn’t work, can’t say that. It’s a fine thought, but you
can’t say it. Well, if you look into it in detail, the most efficient computational
rules prevent you from saying it. But for expressing thought, for communication,
it’d be better if you could say it — so that’s a conflict.
And in fact, every case of a conflict that’s known, computational efficiency wins.
The externalization is yielding all kinds of ambiguities but for simple
computational reasons, it seems that the system internally is just computing
efficiently, it doesn’t care about the externalization. Well, I haven’t made that a
very plausible, but if you spell it out it can be made quite a convincing argument
I think.
That tells something about evolution. What it strongly suggests is that in the
evolution of language, a computational system developed, and later on it was
externalized. And if you think about how a language might have evolved, you’re
almost driven to that position. At some point in human evolution, and it’s
apparently pretty recent given the archeological record — maybe last hundred
thousand years, which is nothing — at some point a computational system
emerged with had new properties, that other organisms don’t have, that has kind
of arithmetical type properties…
It enabled better thought before externalization?
Chomsky: It gives you thought. Some rewiring of the brain, that happens in a
single person, not in a group. So that person had the capacity for thought — the
group didn’t. So there isn’t any point in externalization. Later on, if this genetic
change proliferates, maybe a lot of people have it, okay then there’s a point in
figuring out a way to map it to the sensory-motor system and that’s
externalization but it’s a secondary process.
Unless the externalization and the internal thought system are
coupled in ways we just don’t predict.
Chomsky: We don’t predict, and they don’t make a lot of sense. Why should it
be connected to the external system? In fact, say your arithmetical capacity isn’t.
And there are other animals, like songbirds, which have internal computational
systems, bird song. It’s not the same system but it’s some kind of internal
computational system. And it is externalized, but sometimes it’s not. A chick in
some species acquires the song of that species but doesn’t produce it until
maturity. During that early period it has the song, but it doesn’t have the
externalization system. Actually that’s true of humans too, like a human infant
understands a lot more than it can produce — plenty of experimental evidence
for this, meaning it’s got the internal system somehow, but it can’t externalize it.
Maybe it doesn’t have enough memory, or whatever it may be.
Graham Gordon Ramsay
I’d like to close with one question about the philosophy of science. In
a recent interview, you said that part of the problem is that
scientists don’t think enough about what they’re up to. You
mentioned that you taught a philosophy of science course at MIT
and people would read, say, Willard van Orman Quine, and it would
go in one ear out the other, and people would go back doing the same
kind of science that they were doing. What are the insights that have
20/06/13 Noam Chomsky on Where Artificial Intelligence Went Wrong – Yarden Katz – The Atlantic 17/27
been obtained in philosophy of science that are most relevant to
scientists who are trying to let’s say, explain biology, and give an
explanatory theory rather than redescription of the phenomena?
What do you expect from such a theory, and what are the insights
that help guide science in that way? Rather than guiding it towards
behaviorism which seems to be an intuition that many, say,
neuroscientists have?
Chomsky: Philosophy of science is a very interesting field, but I don’t think it
really contribute to science, it learns from science. It tries to understand what
the sciences do, why do they achieve things, what are the wrong paths, see if we
can codify that and come to understand. What I think is valuable is the history of
science. I think we learn a lot of things from the history of science that can be
very valuable to the emerging sciences. Particularly when we realize that in say,
the emerging cognitive sciences, we really are in a kind of pre-Galilean stage. We
don’t know what we’re looking for anymore than Galileo did, and there’s a lot to
learn from that. So for example one striking fact about early science, not just
Galileo, but the Galilean breakthrough, was the recognition that simple things are
Take say, if I’m holding this here [cup of water], and say the water is boiling
[putting hand over water], the steam will rise, but if I take my hand away the
cup will fall. Well why does the cup fall and the steam rise? Well for millennia
there was a satisfactory answer to that: they’re seeking their natural place.
Like in Aristotelian physics?
Chomsky: That’s the Aristotelian physics. The best and greatest scientists
thought that was answer. Galileo allowed himself to be puzzled by it. As soon as
you allow yourself to be puzzled by it, you immediately find that all your
intuitions are wrong. Like the fall of a big mass and a small mass, and so on. All
your intuitions are wrong — there are puzzles everywhere you look. That’s
something to learn from the history of science. Take the one example that I gave
to you, “Instinctively eagles that fly swim.” Nobody ever thought that was
puzzling — yeah, why not. But if you think about it, it’s very puzzling, you’re
using a complex computation instead of a simple one. Well, if you allow yourself
to be puzzled by that, like the fall of a cup, you ask “Why?” and then you’re led
down a path to some pretty interesting answers. Like maybe linear order just
isn’t part of the computational system, which is a strong claim about the
architecture of the mind — it says it’s just part of the externalization system,
secondary, you know. And that opens up all sorts of other paths, same with
everything else.
Take another case: the difference between reduction and unification. History of
science gives some very interesting illustrations of that, like chemistry and
physics, and I think they’re quite relevant to the state of the cognitive and
neurosciences today.

YARDEN KATZ is a graduate student in the Department of Brain and Cognitive sciences at MIT,
where he studies the regulation of gene expression in the developing nervous system and in
150 Years of Misunderstanding the Civil
20/06/13 Noam Chomsky on Where Artificial Intelligence Went Wrong – Yarden Katz – The Atlantic 19/27
Ollddeesstt Coommuunniittyy Shhaarree _ _
Brad Arnold • 8 months ago
HMM is the ticket – hierarchical pattern recognition processing based upon evolutionary
neural nets. This is how the neocortex works. Check out Mind’s Eye. Like most
conventional views of reality, the belief that strong AI was high hanging fruit was wrong.
Shirk your anthropocentric bias – the Singularity is coming.
“There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would
mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.” — Albert Einstein, 1932
“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” – Ken Olson,
president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977
3 _ 10 ”
Jus tin Colley • 8 months ago
Great interview- but the review of Skinner was in 1959, when Chomsky was still a relative
2 _ 1 ”
Daniel W ac hs s toc k • 8 months ago
“In fact, in every language in which a wh-phrase — like who, or which book, or something –
– moves to somewhere else, it moves to the left, not to the right.”
He said what?
I think the more you look, the fewer rules/laws of cognition you find.
2 _ 2 ”
Mairead _ Daniel Wachsstock • 8 months ago
I immediately thought of that same example.
What puzzles me is that Chomsky obviously knows it too, so something got
scrambled somewhere, but what?
_ 2 ”
Charles Butler _ Mairead • 8 months ago
“The horse raced past the barn fell”
In English, this is written, “The horse that raced past the barn fell”.
Chomsky’s example is pijin.
_ 1 ”
Mairead _ Charles Butler • 8 months ago
Or possibly “the horse [that was] raced past the barn, fell”, since
“race” can be used transitively or intransitively.
1 _ 1 ”
Charles Butler _ Mairead • 8 months ago
That too. In any regard he presented English speakers with a
sentence written in pijin. No surprise they didn’t get it. Pijins are
fairly incomprehensible to outsiders.
_ ”
Mairead _ Charles Butler • 8 months ago
I don’t quite see why you regard it as pidjin (I mistakenly read what
you wrote as “pinyin” at first because of the lack of the usual “d”)
The sentence seems like unexceptional English, to me. Cf “The car
driven past the barn stopped”, “The aircraft flown over the boat
landed”, etc.
2 _ ”
m w _ Mairead • 8 months ago
I think C is saying that the examples need disambiguation which is
computationally inefficient (it may take a second to do it using
context) and that language evolves to reduce that by making the
alternate forms more common and preferred eg by putting in ‘that’.
I think C believes that language evolved as thought –computation–
and was then used as communication and shows it earlier
computational bias.
“What it strongly suggests is that in the evolution of language, a
computational system developed, and later on it was externalized.”
20/06/13 Noam Chomsky on Where Artificial Intelligence Went Wrong – Yarden Katz – The Atlantic 20/27
computational system developed, and later on it was externalized.”
And he says,
“That’s evidence that the mapping of the internal system to the
sensory-motor system is peripheral to the workings of the
computational system. ”
“And in fact, every case of a conflict that’s known, computational
efficiency wins. The externalization is yielding all kinds of
ambiguities but for simple computational reasons, it seems that the
system internally is just computing efficiently, it doesn’t care about
the externalization.”
This is his anti-reductionist argument which he takes to be a
critique of AI and a suggestion about its slow progress as a theory
of mind.
_ ”
Mairead _ m w • 8 months ago
Eeeek! Of course, thanks. I got temporarily derailed by the
language itself rather than the computational aspects of decoding it.
_ ”
Mairead _ m w • 8 months ago
Furrfu, I got derailed again!
The original issue was Chomsky’s statement, quoted in part by
Daniel Wachsstock, that wh-phrases move to the left, not the right.
Daniel and I both thought of the contradictory “he said what?” in
which it moved to the right as an alternative to “what did he say?”.
Unlike the hard-to-parse one about the horse where at least one
backtrack is needed, “he said what” gets decoded immediately,
possibly a few milliseconds faster than the one that uses the Saxon
But Chomsky had to have known that example, so what happened?
Did he forget something, was he misquoted, are we missing
something, or, you should excuse it, what? 🙂
_ ”
KR _ Charles Butler • 7 months ago
Or: “The horse raced past the barn that fell.”
_ ”
Twiddly Dee _ Charles Butler • 2 months ago
You guys, seriously: there is an entire field of syntax and generative
grammar that studies these questions and studies them quite well.
You’re making elementary mistakes in how you are trying to
undertake these thought processes. You can’t just Plato your way
to understanding the complexity of syntax.
_ ”
Barbara H Partee _ Daniel Wachsstock • 8 months ago
That’s not movement to the right; that instance of “what” didn’t move at all. Your
example is a so-called “echo-question” – a kind of question that usually comes
right after something the other person said, and you either didn’t hear a part of it,
or you’re surprised and maybe asking for repetition to confirm that you heard right.
But the “what” will be wherever in the sentence a corresponding non-whexpression
would have been — e.g. “He took WHAT with him?”, “Those butterflies
migrate HOW far every year?” “You gave your mother-in-law WHAT for
7 _ ”
Mairead _ Barbara H Partee • 8 months ago
I’m not sure it’s clear –it’s certainly not clear to me– what Chomsky
means by “moves”. If it feels clear to you, Barbara, could you explain it?
_ ”
Aethelberht _ Mairead • 8 months ago
Consider a sentence like “John claimed that Mary likes Bill.” You
20/06/13 Noam Chomsky on Where Artificial Intelligence Went Wrong – Yarden Katz – The Atlantic 21/27
now ask the question: “Who did John claim that Mary likes?” “Who”
appears at the left edge of the sentence, but is the object of the
verb “likes”, and hence should instead show up all the way at the
right edge of the sentence. In the question, “who” appears even to
the left of another verb, ‘claim,’ and its subject, ‘John’.
It is this sense of movement — the deviation in the actual position of
the wh-word from its expected position based on what noun the
question is actually referring to — that Chomsky uses.
If you’re forming an analogous question about John, you’d
say: “Who claimed Mary likes Bill?” In this case, there’s no
“counterexample” to Chomsky’s claim like Daniel’s such that the
wh-phrase is moved to the right, like “Claimed that Mary likes Bill
Cases like Daniel’s isn’t a counterexample because it patterns with
a separate type of question sentences (called echo questions, as
1 _ ”
Mairead _ Aethelberht • 8 months ago
It is this sense of movement — the deviation in the actual position of
the wh-word from its expected position based on what noun the
question is actually referring to — that Chomsky uses.
Why would it be expected? Most other languages don’t encode
much meaning in word order. “Mary hit the ball” and “the ball hit
Mary” have two completely different meanings in English despite
having the same NVN construction.
But that’s not so in, e.g., Russian (Mariya pobila ball, ball pobila
Mariya) because the meaning is encoded in each word, not their
order. So where would the expectation come from?
That’s where I stumble over what he might mean. (I’m quite
convinced that he’s “a great improvement over his successors”, so
I’m happy to believe that any lack of understanding is in me, not
_ ”
Aethelberht _ Mairead • 8 months ago
There’s a logical fallacy in your argument: Just because Chomsky’s
claim is narrower than you’re taking it to be doesn’t make free order
languages a counterexample to it.
The claim is: IF a language has wh-movement from an expected
position, THEN the movement is to the left. How can a language
that fails to satisfy the “if” conditions refute Chomsky’s claim?
Russian is said to be a language where wh-questions are formed
in-place. English on the other hand has both the movement-type
wh-questions as well as the in-place type. It is only the former
which Chomsky is interested in. “Where would the expectation
come from [in Russian]?” is as meaningless a challenge as “He
said WHAT?” in English — assuming that there really is no
expectation of syntactic order in Russian.
Which leads me to the second issue: free word order is an oftmentioned
but much exaggerated claim about language. The World
Atlas of Language Structures only classifies 14% — 189/1377 — of
languages as “lacking a dominant word order.” Many languages
1 _ ”
Memory Palac e • 8 months ago
Today’s neuroscientist trying to build AI is like a blind man at a painting exhibition, feeling
the canvases to try to learn how to paint, but not even knowing if the art is figurative or
RobertSF • 8 months ago
I think a lot of this going around about AI misses the point. We don’t have to understand
how the brain works to build an AI that is good enough for our purposes. We don’t have to
build an AI that mimics the human brain at all. Our vehicles don’t walk like humans nor like
20/06/13 Noam Chomsky on Where Artificial Intelligence Went Wrong – Yarden Katz – The Atlantic 22/27
build an AI that mimics the human brain at all. Our vehicles don’t walk like humans nor like
horses. Our submarines don’t swim like fish, and our airplanes don’t fly like birds.
We don’t need human-like AI to seriously disrupt our world. Whenever the idea of AI threat
comes up, people start cracking the inevitable jokes about Skynet and robotic overlords.
But all that’s needed to disrupt our world is “machine intelligence,” that is, logic that solves
specific tasks.
Consider the ATM and the interactive phone call handler. They are hardly intelligent, yet
they essentially eliminated the jobs of bank teller and PBX operator. Look at IBM’s Deep
Blue chess-playing computer. Completely dumb, yet no human can beat it. Deep Blue
can’t put millions of people out of work, but other machine intelligences can.
Within a decade, we can expect American retail to go 90% self-checkout, putting 90% of
the people who ring stuff up for a living out of work. That’s about two million people. Now
think of Google driverless technology. It probably won’t become widely used in passenger
cars but instead it will disrupt the trucking industry.
Don Gilmore _ RobertSF • 8 months ago
Yes, agreed, and all very useful tools, and practical examples, but this too misses
a point or two: (1) we want better answers to mysteries such as consciousness,
self-awareness and how our brains work; (2) if you build something without
understanding it, there will be unintended consequences; (3) all these tools you
mention, how does that ever lead to a system that can re-design itself towards an
even better system that can re-design itself better, etc. until a singularity happens?
I’d hate for a singularity to occur without human understanding.
RobertSF _ Don Gilmore • 8 months ago
(1) we want better answers to mysteries such as consciousness, selfawareness
and how our brains work;
I think that’s part of the misunderstanding. AI is technology, not science.
When the Wright Brothers developed their airplane, they weren’t looking to
discover how birds flew. In fact, our understanding of aerodynamics is still
imperfect, but the technologists leave that to the scientists to figure out. As
long as the thing gets in the air and stays there, the technologists are
happy. Likewise, if the AI can drive a car, interpret an X-ray, or answer
random plain-language questions, the technologists will be happy.
I’m rather skeptical of any singularity happening any time soon. There’s no
need for it. Once machines totally displace labor, there will be little need to
go further, even if research here and there continues.
Consider automobiles. Almost any car can go 90 mph, and many can go
100 mph and even 120 mph, but that’s about where we stopped. If you
spend a boatload of money, you can get a car that does 150 mph and even
250 mph, but it will be of little practical value. And then you have the people
who design cars — virtually wheeled rockets — that can briefly do 800 mph
on the Great Salt Lake sand flats, but that’s just to prove that it can be
done. We’re never going to see those cars roll off a Honda assembly line.
Sean Allen _ RobertSF • 8 months ago
I think actually that you’re espousing the misunderstanding.
Certainly there are practical technological applications of AI that is
not modeled on human thought.
But for you to say that there isn’t a science of AI is restrictive and
sophomoric. The pursuit of understanding our cognitive process is
a science, and artificial intelligence modeled on our own intelligence
is both a tool and product of that science. It is certainly more
ambitious, and it would be rewarding in other ways than current AI
Riad Awad _ Sean Allen • 7 months ago
if you have a dictionary then you can look for “science” and see if it
apply to AI. years before anyone knew anything about AI there were
many “artificials”, like “artificial heart”, “artificial kidney”, and
20/06/13 Noam Chomsky on Where Artificial Intelligence Went Wrong – Yarden Katz – The Atlantic 23/27
many “artificials”, like “artificial heart”, “artificial kidney”, and
“artificial intelligence” was named after those. the science that deal
with heart and kidney is: Biology, but the people who made the
artificial heart were technicians, and they didn’t have to know
anything about the heart itself, but only what it does.
the day when anyone will know how to imitate human brain will be
the last day of humanity, for simple reason, that while artificial
heart, kidney, lung are tool that replace natural organs for a short
period and thus save their lives, AI is a tool to replace the humans
jmaurobu _ Don Gilmore • 7 months ago
I agree as well that we have built machines to achieve our known, purpose
defined needs but we have missed the bigger question and bigger potential
that Chomsky is driving for.
We are essentially taking that “brute force” approach to AI, which is we
take a huge sampling of inputs (search results, or data points) and then
filter it with huge processing power in order to achieve our objective, to
return a result based on predefined conditions (2nd level). Why this is
useful in “simple machines” like a guide missile of a CNC router, it doesn’t
allow for the machine to do anything that hasn’t been predefined in its
program, the way an animal or human can react to a situation it has never
encountered before or solve a problem it has never faced before.
If we continue to develop machines in this manner, and they one day
surpass us or at least become such an integrated part of who we are, we
then circle back to Platonic ideas of there not being such a thing as a new
or novel idea, that all ideas have existed before and you are only coming
across them for the first time for you as an individual but not for you as a
James Smith _ RobertSF • 8 months ago
There would never be driverless big rigs lmao. AI is coming a long way and it long
ago surpassed the intelligence of your average republican but it still has a ways to
go to become mainstream.
RobertSF _ James Smith • 8 months ago
You don’t say why there would never be driverless big rigs, unless you
think “lmao” is a logical argument.
Driverless technology is already being tested on California and Nevada’s
roads, streets, and highways. They’ve already logged more than 150,000
miles without a single accident, not even a tap on someone’s bumper,
which is a lot better record than most of us have. Why do you think they’re
doing that if they don’t intend to use it?
randc raw • 8 months ago
Great article Mr Katz. Thanks!
In my opinion, the goal of AI research is not now nor has ever been to understand how the
brain works nor is it to build a model of brain function. Like Chomsky’s grammar
hierarchy, AI proposes and implements informatic models that recognize patterns in
observed data. Then it processses those patterns to infer meaning and utility toward
achieving some goal. Then it reacts in a manner that brings it closer to the goal, thereby
behaving “intelligently”. It’s as unnecessary to demand that the “intelligence” process
ground itself in a biological substrate as it is to demand that the participants in an
academic debate on the merits of war must first have fought in a real battle, or must
express themselves using predicate logic, in order to produce a valid argument.
As I understand Dr Chomsky, we should approach AI by first investigating biological
mechanisms to derive scientifically grounded first principles of cognition. Only then will we
have the materiel needed to propose a model of cognition that’s expressive enough to
guide us to a scientific grounding of cognition. I don’t know that he’s wrong. Several
wizened roboticists have suggested personal experience to be essential to gain full
appreciation for the meaning of concepts (the grounding problem). I do think it’s
unnecessarily biased to suggest that a biologically grounded first principles approach to
20/06/13 Noam Chomsky on Where Artificial Intelligence Went Wrong – Yarden Katz – The Atlantic 24/27
Uncle_Fred _ randcraw • 8 months ago
I agree that basic, useful A.I. can be generated from statistical computational
methods. The applications for this type of software are enormous, and include
speech to text, Auto-navigating systems like Google Drive and also, search
However, the interface aspect will benefit from an emphasis on Chomsky’s
mechanisms approach. Studies show that humans interact best with other
socialized humans. This is why most people respond uncomfortably to visual and
audio representations of A.I. If we could determine the mechanisms behind the
how human intelligence operates, software responses could climb out of the
“uncanny valley.”
On the biological side, bridging the gap between mechanical computation
substrates and their human equivalents might allow us to program software more
effectively. It could dramatically improve efficiency, thus reducing power
consumption and hardware size if we understood brain computation better.
I see applications for all means tackling this problem, but statistical methods will
probably achieve product ready results quicker than the others.
ThomasVeil _ randcraw • 8 months ago
I don’t see why it has to be an “either/or” – and not even Chomsky says that we
should stop one approach for the other.
His point in linguistics is that language in humans is not created by a mere
statistical analysis – but there is rather some innate principle. And just obviously, if
we figure that principle out, then we can create much better AI for language.
By extension a similar problem applies to the other fields.
And not to forget that figuring out how our brains really work is also just
philosophically and scientifically a great goal in itself.
Patric k Kerr • 8 months ago
Great interview. I wonder if the “Turing Test” style arithmetic slip-up was kept in there
deliberately, to convince us that Chomsky is human after all.
For the record, 6 + 7 = 13 🙂
Cris tina • 8 months ago
I fully agree with Mr. Chomsky and in fact I am a bit more radical. Computer is a machine
for syntactic processing. Adding many layers of syntactic procedures does no make
semantics. Intelligence requires semantics. My statement is that who argues for AI in fact
did not understand yet what a computer is, its capacities and limitations.
Mairead _ Cristina • 8 months ago
It’s true that, except for toy domains like Shrdlu’s, we don’t yet know how to
represent the world knowledge that underlies semantics.
But there doesn’t seem to be any reason why it will always be so (except if we go
extinct because politicians continue to play status games rather than heeding
Mama’s warnings). And if we can represent it, we can certainly write programs to
use and refine that representation.
Jon Hardy _ Cristina • 7 months ago
I be to differ. Semantics or meaning arise by comparison, or references to other
things (words, objects, experiences). They are essentially pointers to other
pointers, an infinite syntactic process. The capacities and limitations of a
computer are simply in lack of the infinite.
Monic a Anders on • 8 months ago
There is a third approach to AI besides the Classical (Model-based) and the Statistical
(Model-weak) and that is to go all the way to Model Free Methods as the basis. Using
these it is possible to implement a good domain independent algorithm for Saliency,
which enables such an AI to do Reduction on its own, which is what Intelligence is really
20/06/13 Noam Chomsky on Where Artificial Intelligence Went Wrong – Yarden Katz – The Atlantic 25/27
which enables such an AI to do Reduction on its own, which is what Intelligence is really
about. For more, google for “Reduction Considered Harmful”, “Artificial Intuition” or
“Syntience links”.
proletaria • 8 months ago
Chomsky is a hack. He knows nothing of the field about which he is being interviewed.
This is the liberal version of O’Riley debating the existence of god. He sounds like an
absolute moron. Unfortunately, just like the angry irishman in that debate, he will come off
looking great to the hordes of unthinking followers who parrot his every stupid breath.
Diego _ proletaria • 8 months ago
Get lost.
Riad Awad _ proletaria • 7 months ago
thank you, at last i found someone saying something of value, but chomsky is not
an exception, he rather is the rule, in a society where truth is taken from authority
instead of taking authority from truth.
“A foolish faith in authority is the worst enemy of truth.” said Einstein
blackylawless _ Riad Awad • 7 months ago
Shut up!
blackylawless _ proletaria • 7 months ago
You’re post must be for the wrong article or interview. You’re a neo-Nazi hack,
whose claptrap is intended for one of Chomsky online Z-Magazine Chomsky
interviews, or online interview with Amy Goodman.
As Buck says below, “Get lost!”
Scram. Take a hike!
sansculottes _ proletaria • 5 months ago
Actually, if the question were “How can one get middle-aged white males to sit
through commercials” O’Rielly would be the one to ask. That’s his core
competency, and I recognize his talent, even if I detest his politics. Chomsky is
one of the greatest linguists alive, whether you think the state of Israel ought to
exist or not.
Albin • 8 months ago
Interesting. Good to see Chomsky back on his core competencies. It reminds me a bit of
the chess engine question, whether to try to develop grandmaster algorithms / heuristics
or use sheer computing power to run through all available possibilities for each move.
Mark Stocket _ Albin • 8 months ago
That’s a great comparison.
Gues t • 8 months ago
Absolutely fascinating!
When I had my children, I decided to embark in a little experiment of my own… I wanted
my children to be perfectly trilingual, and I read plenty of the scientific literature on the
subject, in particular Noan Chomsky’s ideas about universal grammar and the language
acquisition device. The task was not as straight forward as I thought due to a “general”
language acquisition delay in one of my children, and a learning disability in the other due
to ADHD. Still, I think I have succeeded so far with two languages, while the other is in
“stasis”. I still manage to teach one of my children how to read in the third language in only
5 minutes with the right phonetics and diction even though there was an accent.
All this was particularly difficult because I’m a single parent, and there was no way to keep
a separate set for each language. I figured that if I could make my children relate words in
different languages to the same object they would be able to learn the three at the same
time, and I think that has worked for the most part. However, words in different languages
may or may not have one-to-one correspondence, but the kids seem to get that. Here,
there’s the environmental issue because words are highly tuned to a particular

20/06/13 Noam Chomsky on Where Artificial Intelligence Went Wrong – Yarden Katz – The Atlantic 26/27
there’s the environmental issue because words are highly tuned to a particular
environment and culture, and this is where language acquisition may have some blind
spots. There was also a more ‘biological’ side of language acquisition that had to see with
Olive • 8 months ago
Absolutely fascinating!
When I had my children, I decided to embark in a little experiment of my own… I wanted
my children to be perfectly trilingual, and I read plenty of the scientific literature on the
subject, in particular Noan Chomsky’s ideas about universal grammar and the language
acquisition device. The task was not as straight forward as I thought due to a “general”
language acquisition delay in one of my children, and a learning disability in the other due
to ADHD. Still, I think I have succeeded so far with two languages, while the other is in
“stasis”. I still manage to teach one of my children how to read in the third language in only
5 minutes with the right phonetics and diction even though there was an accent.
All this was particularly difficult because I’m a single parent, and there was no way to keep
a separate set for each language. I figured that if I could make my children relate words in
different languages to the same object they would be able to learn the three at the same
time, and I think that has worked for the most part. However, words in different languages
may or may not have one-to-one correspondence, but the kids seem to get that. Here,
there’s the environmental issue because words are highly tuned to a particular
environment and culture, and this is where language acquisition may have some blind
spots. There was also a more ‘biological’ side of language acquisition that had to see with
Tony _Materna • 8 months ago
Being a cofounder of a neural
network technology company in the mid 1980s, I have been startled and
disappointed at the lack of progress in developing “brain-like”
machines. 25 years later, there are still no commercial neural net based products.
The conclusion I have reached is
that there is more going on in the brain than just the strengthening of synapses.
It seems likely to me that the brain is
using quantum effects to create consciousness. If that is in any way correct, then
attempts to create ‘artificial intelligence’ will continue to be stuck where
they have begun. We will not be able to
make significant progress until we have mastered the construction and operation
of quantum computers.
Samuel H. Kenyon _ Tony_Materna • 8 months ago
So let’s get this straight. Your company and other companies failed to productize
neural nets, therefore consciousness is directly dependent on quantum effects.
Sorry, but I’m missing the logic here.
Tony_Materna _ Samuel H. Kenyon • 8 months ago
Dear Sam,
My argument is not that because artificial neural networks
have failed to produce anything useful, that leads ipso facto to the
conclusion that the brain is using quantum effects.
What I was saying is that after a quarter century of study
and development with nothing in the way of useful, i.e. commercial, results,
the hypothesis that the brain is solely or mainly using synaptic
strengthening to encode and process information may be insufficient.
Undoubtedly synaptic strengthening is some part of the brain’s signal
processing and sensor fusion, but it does not appear to lead to “thinking”,
consciousness, or any result that beats traditional signal processing or
probability analysis. Something else must be necessary to make the
existence proof we have, our brains and consciousness, work.
What else can that be? The limitations of neural networks do not point us
An alternate hypothesis can be formulated, and has been. Roger Penrose
20/06/13 Noam Chomsky on Where Artificial Intelligence Went Wrong – Yarden Katz – The Atlantic 27/27

Copyright © 2013 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All Rights Reserved. CDN powered by Edgecast Networks. Insights powered by Parsely .

Noam Chomsky modelo de propaganda y los cinco filtros en la fabricación del consenso

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”; title=”Clase 5 Chomsky Y La Propaganda” target=”_blank”>Clase 5 Chomsky Y La Propaganda</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”; target=”_blank”>Marco Avalos</a></strong> </div>

teoría de Chomsky sobre la información y medios de comunicación:materiales sobre manufacturing consent, necessary illusions
En el artículo publicado hace unos seis años en el diario mexicano El Financiero, la periodista María Elena Rivera hace referencia a planteamientos hechos por Stephen Hasam en los que vemos el modo de funcionamiento que caracteriza a los medios de comunicación dentro de lo que Noam Chomsky define como la corriente principal que tiene como función fabricar el consenso. Es un tema al que la filosofía crítica, materialista, ha prestado atención pero que no debe ser dejado a un lado siempre que haya que analizar o discutir acerca de los modos en que nos llega la información sobre temas cruciales en el terreno de la Economía, la Política, y demás asuntos que atañen a nuestra vida social en tiempos de globalización

Un trabajo de utilidad, en este sentido de fabricación del consenso sobre el caso del grupo español PRISA en este enlace,%20n.%202,%202008/10-%20NuriaAlmiron_P_.pdf

Trabajo útil para ver el modo de ejercitar el modelo de propaganda o manufacturación de consenso en el diario norteamericano The New York Times en este enlace (en inglés)

Acerca de varios casos empíricos sobre el manufacturing consent el enlace siguiente nos permite acceso a contenido sobre información y censura, disponible en español

El control de la información en el caso de la BBC británica
en el siguiente enlace

Casos varios sobre la relación entre propaganda comercial y noticias en la televisión norteamericana, estudios de caso enel enlace que sigue

Lo que parece una paradoja, acaso no lo sea. Me refiero al hecho de que enlas universidades, se encuentran trabajos acerca de los modelos ideales de prácticas del periodismo, como es el caso de este texto Es decir: da la impresión de que se permite trabajar sobre los ideales de un periodismo veraz, siempre y cuando se haga tan sólo en las facultades de periodismo, no en la vida real, fuera de esos recintos de formación escolástica donde las haya, de los informadores en el seno de las democracias formales del presente. Los periodistas preparados ad hoc para fabricar las ilusiones necesarias

Sobre lo esencial de la teoría de Chomsky y Herman acerca de la fabricación del consenso pongo un párrafo del artículo cuyo enlace sigue–.pdf
Those with power will try to keep it, and those with power in capitalist
societies are primarily political elites and corporate conglomerates. Existing
institutions – including the universities and governments as well as the media –
function mainly to protect the interests of society’s elite. This does not require
conspiratorial coordination, simply rational pursuit of perceived self-interest. In
protecting those interests, many millions of people are killed through repressive
violence and denial of the means necessary for survival despite the fact that the
world has more than enough resources to meet the basic needs of all. Through the
social sciences and humanities and related careers such as journalism
, people often
learn to be obedient and then to produce obedience in others. This is rewarded with
inclusion and advancement deeper into the elite. The greater the internalisation of
the elite perspective, the more that obedience will feel like freedom and lack of

On the whole, social science research gravitates towards innocuous
work or directly anti-democratic work
, that is, research which assists elite control of

Modelos de información adecuados por y para el Departamento de Defensa de los Estados Unidos. Un ejército imperial debe tener sus propios fabricadores de consenso y de ilusiones, como parece bastante lógico,sin duda

Un estudio de caso FUENTE ( disponible en español por cortesía de la edición mexicana de Le Monde Diplomatique ) Multimedia, más “rendimiento” y menos información
Los periodistas “multiusos”
del Chicago Tribune

Eric Klinenberg. Verlo en el siguiente enlace

Entrevista a EdHerman sobre las tesis de Manufacturing conset,The political Economy of Mass Media en el enlace a la revista Monthly Review–.htm

La influencia de los medios de comunicación sobre los individuos en el seno de las democracias del presente,
recomendado por ASINCRO

María Elena Rivera
Jueves 4 de noviembre de 2004 El Financiero México DF

La tele, poder incuestionable de control social

¿Cuál es hoy el poder real de los medios de comunicación?, ¿cuál es la influencia que tienen sobre los individuos?, ¿hasta dónde contribuyen a construir la realidad social y personal? EL FINANCIERO platica con diferentes especialistas sobre estos temas frecuentes de la comunicación, quienes sentencian que los tiempos del neoliberalismo reclaman enfoques poco ortodoxos de análisis.
-De acuerdo con Noam Chomsky y otros teóricos, hoy, los medios de comunicación son megaconsorcios; por lo tanto, lo que se dice en ellos (aunque evidentemente hay excepciones) refleja los intereses corporativos de la empresa. Todo lo que vaya en contra de sus intereses y de sus publicistas es incompatible con el medio -afirma Stephan Hasam, profesor investigador del Departamento de Educación y Comunicación de la UAM-Xochimilco.
Para Enrique Guinsberg, psicólogo, comunicador e investigador del Departamento de Psicología de la misma casa de estudios, la relación de los medios con el poder económico y político en México es “absoluta”.
-Los medios siempre han sido fuente de poder, han estado vinculados a él -dice Guinsberg-. Es sabido que mantener un periódico, una emisora de radio o televisión es privilegio de unos cuantos. Hoy, medios y poder son prácticamente lo mismo. El modelo neoliberal concentra la riqueza en cada vez menos empresas y los medios no son una excepción. En México existen algunas estaciones de radio alternativas y publicaciones distintas a las grandes empresas; pero, ¿qué poder tienen frente a la penetración de los universos mediáticos absolutamente dominantes? Su peso real hay que verlo en diferentes niveles. Uno: el económico; pero más allá de los grandes negocios, el poder es otro: formar a la opinión pública.
Pero al otro lado de la propiedad de los medios, ¿cuál es la incidencia real del poder mediático en la opinión pública?
Luis Razgado, coordinador del Departamento de Comunicación de la UAM-Xochimilco, define: “Los medios tienen una influencia innegable, pueden influir en la generación de una opinión. Su impacto es importante, pero más bien desde un punto de vista económico y político que desde hacer prevalecer cierta ideología.”
En este sentido, Marisela Soto, investigadora y docente de esa universidad, asegura que “los medios no son ya medios”, intermediarios, sino “agentes directos que se adjudican la autoridad de educar y moralizar de acuerdo con el discurso del grupo en el poder”. Por dar un ejemplo, cita: “Hay cierta censura en las publicaciones pornográficas, que se venden en bolsas oscuras; pero mientras esto ocurre, en los medios hemos visto las imágenes de los cuerpos destrozados por la guerra en Irak. Si eso no es pornografía, entonces, ¿qué cosa es? No lo sé, pero no se censura. Hay aquí una veta interesante de discusión de cómo se va significando y resignificando el cuerpo, ahora, en la sociedad. Es escandaloso que los cuerpos violentados y mutilados sean exhibidos. ¿Quién dice qué cuerpo es el que se tiene que ver y cuál no?”
La moral social
Para Razgado, los medios tienen un impacto económico y político importante, pero no como mecanismo para erigir una moral social. “Existen otros factores que influyen en la moral: la familia, la experiencia, la educación, etcétera. Todo esto construye una especie de filtro que rechaza o deja pasar ciertos mensajes mediáticos, que aquí no tienen un papel predominante. Más que moldear una moral social, pueden influir en la generación de una opinión”, asegura.
En cambio, Enrique Guinsberg asevera que los medios son instrumentos que marcan pautas de moral y también son reflejo de lo social: “El poder reside en formar a la opinión pública. La gente sigue al poder e, incluso, llega a adquirir posturas que van contra sus propios intereses, aunque tengan que enfrentar una serie de obstáculos.”
-¿Contribuyen los medios a erigir la moral de las sociedades?
-Los medios no son omnipotentes, sino expresión de un universo cultural en todo sentido -responde Guinsberg-. La revolución sexual fue producto de un conjunto de circunstancias que no crearon los medios, pero que sí potenciaron. ¿Por qué hace unos años era imposible ver algo sexual, como las infidelidades en las telenovelas, y hoy es lo más común? Porque los medios se adaptaron a un cambio social, lo mostraron y hoy se ve como una situación normal.
-¿A qué se refiere cuando dice que los medios de difusión masiva contribuyen a moldear al sujeto funcional?
-Primero, a los medios los llamo de difusión porque su uso dominante es precisamente eso: difundir. Por otro lado, toda sociedad tiene un objetivo básico, absolutamente primario: formar al modelo de individuo que permita el mantenimiento de esa sociedad. Si el capitalismo no crea un sujeto acorde con él, desaparece. Hoy, el poder no sojuzga a sangre y fuego. El control social es que la gente piense como el poder desea, con todas sus variantes. Siempre ha habido instituciones que cumplen ese papel, como las iglesias, o la escuela, con una ideología determinada. Hoy son los medios, de una forma incuestionable.
Guinsberg calibra la situación así: “Cerca de 97 por ciento de la población mexicana tiene televisión; la prensa casi no se lee. Sabemos que en los dibujos animados y en las telenovelas hay todo un código ético, moral, ideológico, que responde claramente al poder en general.”
-Pero usted habla de procesos psicosociales en la recepción de contenidos y mensajes cargados de sentidos culturales, ¿puede explicar esto?
-El problema de la recepción es muy complejo. No obstante, hace unos diez o 15 años comenzó una moda en los estudios comunicológicos en torno a este proceso. Antes, con gran influencia estadounidense, las teorías hablaban de que los sujetos recibían mensajes y automáticamente los asimilaban. Después se empezó a ver, con toda razón, que el sujeto no es pasivo, sino activo. Lo que yo aporto es que a pesar de que vivimos una época que aún privilegia las disciplinas de forma aislada, hoy se tiene que hablar de una interdisciplinariedad o transdisciplinariedad. Los comunicólogos no saben psicología y lo reconocen; y, al revés, los psicólogos no saben comunicación. Una psicóloga de niños admitió una vez que no podía trabajar si no conocía los programas infantiles de televisión. ¿Por qué? Porque la terapia se hace con juegos y los niños juegan a ser los personajes de la televisión.
Lo psicopatológico,
sin embargo, se mueve
-Mi contribución -continúa Guinsberg- es aclarar qué elementos psíquicos existen en el ser humano que permiten la recepción de los mensajes. Para dar un ejemplo muy claro: todos sabemos que la mayor parte de los programas de televisión tiene que ver con dos ejes básicos: sexualidad y violencia, que no casualmente son lo que Freud llama pulsiones. El ser humano es inevitablemente reprimido. La mayor parte de sus deseos están cancelados porque la cultura los prohíbe. El no matarás es una prohibición universal, salvo en las guerras. Pero el deseo de la gente de matar o de agredir, existe. Y lo mismo pasa con la sexualidad, donde la mayor parte de la gente está frustrada.
“El aspecto sexual se puede proyectar en los medios en la medida en que cada vez hay una sociedad más libre, o mal liberada, a mi juicio. La mayor parte de la gente no vive una vida sexual liberada; es más una apariencia. ¿Por qué existe el Viagra? Porque soluciona problemas de impotencia. Por otro lado, la carencia de un auto último modelo y cosas así hacen que la frustración sea mayor. ¿Por qué hay depresión? Porque la gente está profundamente insatisfecha. Y no hablo de la gente con profundas carencias económicas, me refiero fundamentalmente a los sectores medios y altos. La depresión es producto de un narcisismo desenfrenado. Hoy, la gente está enajenada, convertida en un ajeno.”
Un ejemplo está en la cesión de la verdad a los medios, enfatiza. “Jacobo Zabludowsky era el padre bueno, conocedor. Se decía: «Lo dijo Jacobo» o «lo dijeron en la tele», como si ésta fuera una instancia absoluta de conocimiento. La gente se entrega a otros precisamente por sus propias carencias. Los procesos de recepción se apoyan y lo hacen muy bien, sin duda, en esas necesidades, en carencias, esencialmente psíquicas.”
-¿Cómo encajan los medios en los conceptos freudianos de principio de la realidad y principio del placer?
-El psicoanálisis plantea que hay un proceso de conversión en el ser humano -dice Guinsberg-. Y aunque parezca abrupto lo que digo, el niño no es un ser humano sino un animalito que tiene las condiciones para lograrlo; pero debe pasar por un proceso de socialización. Esta premisa se resume en esa frase famosa de Freud: el paso del principio del placer al principio de la realidad. Al niño, la escuela le empieza a dar elementos fundamentales de realidad y la familia también. Pero antes que otra cosa se los da la televisión.
-¿Hasta dónde llega esta influencia?
-Los países y sus gentes son cada vez más ricos o más pobres. Según la ONU, una de cada tres personas vive con menos de uno o dos dólares diarios; la gente sabe esto y, sin embargo, no reacciona. Los medios han logrado que asimile el modelo neoliberal.
Una reflexión ética
Entonces, ¿cuál es el papel de los medios o los periodistas independientes ante esta realidad?
Stephan Hasam responde: “El problema en México es que la gente no lee. El tiraje de los medios impresos de información es mínimo, no así el de las historietas. La pregunta sería cómo enfrentar ese problema, cómo tratar de adecuar la producción de prensa escrita de alta calidad a la realidad social. Si uno piensa que el tiraje de un libro que no sea un best-seller no es mayor que en la época de Gutenberg, deja mucho que pensar sobre el país. Y si el presidente de la República le dice a la población que no lea el periódico, es una tragedia.”
En varios países, incluso en el corazón de Estados Unidos, existen medios independientes que se sostienen por la garantía de sus suscriptores. También hay ejemplos contundentes de trabajo individual periodístico, responsables éticamente, que han roto con los parámetros del poder, sostiene Hasam.
-En Alemania, apenas terminada la Primera Guerra Mundial -afirma-, Ret Marut, que en México fue conocido como B. Traven, publicaba El ladrillero, que se contraponía al periodismo de dominación. En Estados Unidos, I. F. Stone, al ver censurado su trabajo en las empresas para las que trabajaba, decidió fundar su propio semanario, IF Stone, el cual producía absolutamente solo, y generaba algunos cuantos terremotos políticos durante la guerra de Vietnam. El periodismo de Stone era muy parecido al que hacía Gregorio Selser, de quien conocemos su honradez y trayectoria. No hay pretextos para quien quiera ser un periodista íntegro.

Y para terminar este tema, creemos importante ver lo que respondía Noam Chomsky a The Guardian, en la revista Z Magazine FUENTE

Chomsky Answers Guardian
By Noam Chomsky

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Noam Chomsky’s ZSpace Page

This is an open letter to a few of the people with whom I had discussed the Guardian interview of 31 October, on the basis of the electronic version, which is all that I had seen. Someone has just sent me a copy of the printed version, and I now understand why friends in England who wrote me were so outraged.

It is a nuisance, and a bit of a bore, to dwell on the topic, and I always keep away from personal attacks on me, unless asked, but in this case the matter has some more general interest, so perhaps it’s worth reviewing what most readers could not know. The general interest is that the print version reveals a very impressive effort, which obviously took careful planning and work, to construct an exercise in defamation that is a model of the genre. It’s of general interest for that reason alone.

A secondary matter is that it may serve as a word of warning to anyone who is asked by the Guardian for an interview, and happens to fall slightly to the critical end of the approved range of opinion of the editors. The warning is: if you accept the invitation, be cautious, and make sure to have a tape recorder that is very visibly placed in front of you. That may inhibit the dedication to deceit, and if not, at least you will have a record. I should add that in probably thousands of interviews from every corner of the world and every part of the spectrum for decades, that thought has never occurred to me before. It does now.

It was evident from the electronic version that t was a scurrilous piece of journalism. That’s clear even from internal evidence. The reporter obviously had a definite agenda: to focus the defamation exercise on my denial of the Srebrenica massacre. From the character of what appeared, it is not easy to doubt that she was assigned this task. When I wouldn’t go along, she simply invented the denial, repeatedly, along with others. The centerpiece of the interview was this, describing my alleged views, in particular, that:

….during the Bosnian war the “massacre” at Srebrenica was probably overstated. (Chomsky uses quotations marks to undermine things he disagrees with and, in print at least, it can come across less as academic than as witheringly teenage; like, Srebrenica was so not a massacre.)

Transparently, neither I nor anyone speaks with quotation marks, so the reference to my claim that “Srebrenica was so not a massacre,” shown by my using the term “massacre” in quotes, must be in print – hence “witheringly teenage,” as well as disgraceful. That raises the obvious question: where is it in print, or anywhere? I know from letters that were sent to me that a great many journalists and others asked the author of the interview and the relevant editors to provide the source, and were met by stony silence – for a simple reason: it does not exist, and they know it. Furthermore, as Media Lens pointed out, with five minutes research on the internet, any journalist could find many places where I described the massacre as a massacre, never with quotes. That alone ends the story. I will skip the rest, which also collapses quickly.

More interesting, however, is the editorial contribution. One illustration actually is in the e-edition. I did write a very brief letter in response, which for some reason went to the ombudsman, who informed me that the word “fabrication” had to be removed. My truncated letter stating that I take no responsibility for anything attributed to me in the article did appear, paired with a moving letter from a victim, expressing justified outrage that I or anyone could take the positions invented in the Guardian article. Pairing aside, the heading given by the editors was: “Fall out over Srebrenica.” The editors are well aware that there was no debate or disagreement about Srebrenica, once the fabrications in their article are removed.

The printed version reveals how careful and well-planned the exercise was, and why it might serve as a model for the genre. The front-page announcement of the interview reads: “Noam Chomsky The Greatest Intellectual?” The question is answered by the following highlighted Q&A, above the interview:

Q: Do you regret supporting those who say the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated?

A: My only regret is that I didn’t do it strongly enough

It is set apart in large print so that it can’t be missed, and will be quoted separately (as it already has been). It also captures the essence of the agenda. The only defect is that it didn’t happen. The truthful part is that I said, and explained at length, that I regret not having strongly enough opposed the Swedish publisher’s decision to withdraw a book by Diana (not “Diane,” as the Guardian would have it) Johnstone after it was bitterly attacked in the Swedish press. As Brockes presumably knew, though I carefully explained anyway, there is one source for my involvement in this affair: an open letter that I wrote to the publisher, after editors there who objected to the decision, and journalist friends, sent me the Swedish press charges that were the basis for the rejection. In the open letter, readily available on the internet (and the only source), I went through the charges one by one, checked them against the book, and found that they all ranged from serious misrepresentation to outright fabrication. I then took – and take – the position that it is completely wrong to withdraw a book because the press charges (falsely) that it does not conform to approved doctrine. And I do regret that “I didn’t do it strongly enough,” the words Brockes managed to quote correctly. In the interview, whatever Johnstone may have said about Srebrenica never came up, and is entirely irrelevant in any event, at least to anyone with a minimal appreciation of freedom of speech.

The article is then framed by a series of photographs. Let’s put aside childhood photos and an honorary degree — included for no apparent reason other than, perhaps, to reinforce the image the reporter sought to convey of a rich elitist hypocrite who tells people how to live (citing a comment of her own, presumably supposed to be clever, which will not be found on the tape, I am reasonably confident). Those apart, there are three photos depicting my actual life. It’s an interesting choice, and the captions are even more interesting.

One is a picture of me “talking to journalist John Pilger” (who isn’t shown, but let’s give the journal the benefit of the doubt of assuming he is actually in the original). The second is of me “meeting Fidel Castro.” The third, and most interesting, is a picture of me “in Laos en route to Hanoi to give a speech to the North Vietnamese.”

That’s my life: honoring commie-rats and the renegade who is the source of the word “pilgerize” invented by journalists furious about his incisive and courageous reporting, and knowing that the only response they are capable of is ridicule.

Since I’ll avoid speculation, you can judge for yourselves the role Pilger plays in the fantasy life of the editorial offices of the Guardian. And the choice is interesting in other ways. It’s true that I have met John a few times, much fewer than I would like because we both have busy lives. And possibly a picture was taken. It must have taken some effort to locate this particular picture, assuming it to be genuine, among the innumerable pictures of me talking to endless other people. And the intended message is very clear.

Turn to the Castro picture. In this case the picture, though clipped, is real. As the editors surely know, at least if those who located the picture did 2 minutes of research, the others in the picture (apart from my wife) were, like me, participants in the annual meeting of an international society of Latin American scholars, with a few others from abroad. This annual meeting happened to be in Havana. Like all others, I was in a group that met with Castro. End of second story.

Turn now to the third picture, from 1970. The element of truth is that I was indeed in Laos, and on my way to Hanoi. The facts about these trips are very easy to discover. I wrote about both in some detail right away, in two articles in the New York Review, reprinted in my book At War with Asia in 1970. It is easily available to Guardian editors, because it was recently reprinted. If they want to be the first to question the account (unlike reviewers in such radical rags as the journal of the Royal Institute, International Affairs), it would be very easy for a journalist to verify it: contact the two people who accompanied me on the entire trip, one then a professor of economics at Cornell, the other a minister of the United Church of Christ. Both are readily accessible. From the sole account that exists, the editor would know that in Laos I was engaged in such subversive activities as spending many hours in refugee camps interviewing miserable people who had just been driven by the CIA “clandestine army” from the Plain of Jars, having endured probably the most intense bombing in history for over two years, almost entirely unrelated to the Vietnam war. And in North Vietnam, I did spend most of my time doing what I had been invited to do: many hours of lectures and discussion, on any topic I knew anything about, in the bombed ruins of the Hanoi Polytechnic, to faculty who were able to return to Hanoi from the countryside during a lull in the bombing, and were very eager to learn about recent work in their own fields, to which they had had no access for years.

The rest of the trip “to Hanoi to give a speech to the North Vietnamese” is a Guardian invention. Those who frequent ultra-right defamation sites can locate the probable source of this ingenious invention, but even that ridiculous tale goes nowhere near as far as what the Guardian editors concocted, which is a new addition to the vast literature of vilification of those who stray beyond the approved bounds.

So that’s my life: worshipping commie-rats and such terrible figures as John Pilger. Quite apart from the deceit in the captions, simply note how much effort and care it must have taken to contrive these images to frame the answer to the question on the front page.

It is an impressive piece of work, and, as I said, provides a useful model for studies of defamation exercises, or for those who practice the craft. And also, perhaps, provides a useful lesson for those who may be approached for interviews by this journal.

This is incidentally only a fragment. The rest is mostly what one might expect to find in the scandal sheets about movie stars, familiar from such sources, and of no further interest.

Noam Chomsky

Russel,Orwell,Chomsky Conferencia en el College de France

Interesante conferencia de Jacques Bouveresse en el Collège de France, en la que habla sobre racionalidad,verdad y democracia. Como referentes los filósofos Chomsky,Orwell y Russel. El video está en francés…