Rackham Auditorium

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Boy in Burns Park Elementary School Choir T-shirt addresses packed auditorium. Older guy behind him drinks a bit of water. [photo]

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  1. July 11, 2013 at 11:00 pm | permalink

    Hey, I know that kid! He’s top-notch. What was he addressing?

  2. July 11, 2013 at 11:02 pm | permalink

    (Wait, is that older guy behind him you know, that one older guy who was supposed to be at Rackham tonight? You never think of him drinking water. I assumed he subsisted on his convictions.)

  3. July 11, 2013 at 11:07 pm | permalink

    At the conclusion to the Q&A for Chomsky’s lecture, when it was declared by the host to be wrapped up, cheering from the audience managed to cajole the host and Chomsky to field just one last question. That’s why the young man got a chance to ask the question. The sense of his question was this: When you read a book, it’s the same book as everyone else is reading, but everyone will have different ideas in their heads from reading the book – so why is that? Chomsky’s answer was longer.

  4. July 12, 2013 at 4:27 pm | permalink

    I thought it was worth sharing a transcript (from imperfect audio) of the question and answer.

    Zolan Baptista: So … [audience laughter, applause], when you read a book, you kind of process thoughts in your head that allow you to see what’s happening in the book. And I was wondering: Everyone has a different perspective of the characters or the scene, everyone has a slightly different perspective. And I was wondering: Why? [applause]

    Noam Chomsky: You and a lot of other people! It’s an interesting question. And there’s some, like in most of the sciences, there are little pieces of it that have been studied. One interesting case, maybe some of you know something about this, is autism. It turns out that autistic children commonly, they may be, there are known cases where an autistic kid will be mesmerized by children’s cartoons. They’ll watch them over and over again, the same cartoon, and not understanding anything, literally not understanding. Because the kid can’t understand why the characters are acting the way they are. Like why is this character running away? I’m not afraid. Why is that character afraid? And the ability to – it’s called theory of mind, nobody knows what that means [audience laughter] – but the ability to gain the perspective of someone else, which in normal children is around three or four, is when kids start showing signs of theory of mind, we’ll call it. But autistic children often don’t have it. That’s why people who are autistic sometimes seem to be oblivious to the way you think and feel. They don’t know when you want to talk to them, and when you don’t want to talk to them. They can’t interpret your experiences as being different from theirs. And you see it, like was described, in the inability to watch a cartoon, or read a book – because when we do it, when normal people do it, you’re just imposing a lot of rich knowledge and structure on the little bits and pieces that you’re seeing. The bits and pieces that you’re seeing are kind of hints. What you read is kind of a hint, and you add a kind of a rich interpretation and array of knowledge to it. That’s why you can read the same book over and over again and get more, get a richer experience each time, or a movie or anything else. And the extreme example is what I quoted earlier [inaudible], so it’s an interesting question, and it’s only barely understood. Bits and pieces are researched. But you’ll find out about it!

  5. By Timothy Durham
    July 13, 2013 at 8:41 am | permalink

    I met Chomsky a couple years ago and spent about 2 hours with him (among others). He was so unlike what I expected that the experience has really stayed with me. An extremely welcoming, nice guy and interested in (or listens to) what you have to say. I think his detractors should try to get a chance to meet him.

    In my opinion, his “liberal” reputation is merely an accumulation of well thought out and thoroughly researched conclusions rather than anything political at all. Like Steven Colbert says, “Facts have a well-known liberal bias.”