People We Love: Noam Chomsky

3000+ people waited for the opportunity to see Noam Chomsky tonight in Centennial Hall. He is an -ist many times over (e.g., linguist, anarchist, cognitive scientist, activist) and also a philosopher and historian. Chomsky, who is a professor from the prestigious private research university, MIT, visited to talk about access to education.

Photo by Donna Coveney

I’ll admit, I was dazed in the beginning. Three distracting thoughts kept returning to me:

Distraction #1. Chomsky’s introducer called him (rather officially) the third most quoted person in the world after Freud and Plato. Could this be so? Chomsky has written over 100 books about generative and universal grammar, language acquisition devices and the Chomsky hierarchy. My mind started reeling with the possibilities of who I had presumed was the third most quoted if not Chomsky… If Plato was a student of Socrates, then wasn’t Socrates ahead of Chomsky? And what about actors such as Clark Gable and Marlon Brando and Clint Eastwood and Harrison Ford. Is this list limited only to scholars? My friend Tim suggested Tim Tebow, who in turn, quotes Jesus Christ a lot. And yet, Jesus (if applicable) is fourth at best.

Distraction #2: Chomsky took to the stage. I huffed at my lenses, squeaked them against my sweater so that I could see him, kind of huddled behind a distant podium. We were in the last row, having just barely made the 1200-person cutoff. I had a similar experience when I went to see Obama in Pittsburgh in 2008. If it weren’t for his live image on the screen, it might as well have been an audio recording. As Chomsky began his lecture, members of Occupy Tucson broke out into a mantra. He waited patiently for them to finish and said that he couldn’t quite hear them, but he was sure that it was important. Sarcastically? He continued on with his second sentence, leaving me to wonder what was that first thing he had meant to say?

Distraction #3: I was sitting just two seats away from my friend Noam Dorr. I started thinking about how up until this year, I had never been in the presence of a Noam ever. And now, I was hear watching a Noam while sitting with a Noam, and I just thought it was lovely the way that cosmic forces had conspired against this absence in my life in such a big way tonight. One out of every 63,837 people in the United States are named Noam so the chances of being in a 1200-person room with two Noams is… well, pretty rare, I would say. I don’t do math after midnight with the exception of counting pages left until bedtime, but you can imagine the level of profundity I’m working with here. I wondered if Dorr was named after Chomsky, or if it was just coincidence. I wondered if there were intellectual parents somewhere in the United States that had named their child Noam or even Chomsky. I wondered if Noam Dorr was thinking about these things. Of course not, he was listening. I wondered if Noam Chomsky was thinking these things. Of course, he wasn’t. He was talking.

For the remainder of the lecture, I was focused, rapt by one of the premiere thinkers of our time. If you missed the event or were sitting by a Noam of your own (three? no way!), here are a few of the thoughts that Chomsky shared with us: 



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