Noam Chomsky
Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Noam Chomsky on Love: “Life’s Empty Without It”

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The MIT linguistics professor on life without his wife.

Noam Chomsky

Noam Avram Chomsky was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 7, 1928. He attended the University of Pennsylvania where he studied linguistics, mathematics, and philosophy. In 1955, he received his Ph. D. from the University of Pennsylvania, however, most of the research leading to this degree was done at Harvard between 1951 and 1955.  Since receiving his Ph. D., Chomsky has taught at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he now holds the Ferrari P. Ward Chair of Modern Language and Linguistics.

Among his many accomplishments, he is most famous for his work on generative grammar, which developed from his interest in modern logic and mathematical foundations. As a result, he applied it to the description of natural languages.

His political tendencies toward socialism and anarchism are a result of what he calls "the radical Jewish community in New York." Since 1965 he has become one of the leading critics of U.S. foreign policy. He published a book of essays called American Power and the New Mandarins which is considered to be one of the most substantial arguments ever against American involvement in Vietnam.


Question: What is love?

Noam Chomsky:  I just know it's—has an unbreakable grip, but I can't tell you what it is.  It's just life's empty without it.

Question: Who would you like to meet and spend time with 

Noam Chomsky:  I have to say, the people who really impress me, when I have a chance to meet them, are people whose names nobody will ever hear.  So, for example, in Southern—let me give you a personal, very personal example.  A couple of months ago, I learned that extremely poor peasants in Southern Columbia, whose lives were being destroyed, in part by US run chemical warfare, called fumigation, which destroys their agricultural lands and communities.  And in part just by the terror of the Columbian state and the, by now terror of the guerrillas that they're caught in the middle of, really miserable people.  They just planted a forest in memory of my wife, who died a couple of months ago.  That's one of the most moving things I've ever experienced.  I've actually met some of them.  I did go down and—but couldn't do much—I couldn't do anything for them, I just listened to horrible testimonies.

But these are people with real—and they're all over the world, with real human feelings, commitment, concern, a suffering beyond what we can imagine, but willing to do something for someone else they've never met.  And you find things like that all over the place, here too.  Some of the most moving experiences I've had are just in black churches in the south, during the civil rights movement, where people were getting beaten, killed, really struggling for the most elementary rights.  Just asking for the congressional amendments during the Civil War, asking them to be implemented.  Not particularly radical, but quite a battle, it continues like that.  These are the really impressive people, in my view.

Recorded on: Aug 18, 2009