synaptic selves and Etch-A-Sketches

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Tue 03 May 2005 - 23:31:25 GMT

  • Next message: Chris Taylor: "Re: synaptic selves and Etch-A-Sketches"

    I've been starting into Joseph LeDoux's _Synaptic Self_ which is so far an invigorating read, since he seems to know what he's talking about (cough, cough) and I hope to soon be able to compare his view of "the synaptic self" with that of Blackmore's "selfplex"
    (akin to one of those memome thingies Juan Delius talks about) and Anthony Stevens's archetypal viewpoint of "the self".

    There's a point in LeDoux's book where he asks "Are synapses enough?" which seems to rely implicitly upon the necessary versus sufficient causation dichotomy. He's not too explicit in his answer, maybe he unravels it during the book, but it seems he implies that synapses are necessary for "the self" but in pointing to other factors, perhaps not sufficient...

    He gives Gould's exaptation concept fair treatment when discussing ev psych and recommends Rose and Rose's _Alas Poor Darwin_. BTW in his new book _The Future of the Brain_ curmudgeony Steve Rose says that the nematode *C. elegans* has a nervous system of exactly 302 cells. I'm pretty sure he's knowledgable on the topic prominent neuroscientist that he is.

    That makes me wonder again where Aunger was going with the aside about the "32 hard-wired neurons of the sea slug", especially given how he confused the generic name *Aplysia* with the common general name "nematode" earlier. Could he have dropped the zero between the three and two of the nematode's neural endowment (302) and misattributed it to the sea slug or are there a specific set of 32 *Aplysia* neurons (out of around 20,000 total) he's talking about? Nematodes are less neurally endowed, it would seem, than sea slugs anyway. Thus, could we assume the sea slug would stand a better chance of having a neuromeme slithering through its synapses than the nematode?

    I think I commented on the notion of anamnesis earlier with regard to what Aunger had said about evoked culture early in his book. Well LeDoux had me thinking about the same thing when he talks about the hardcore selectionist versus instructionist debate where someone named Niels Jerne (LeDoux, page 73) said that
    "learning consists of being reminded of what is already in the brain." Is that anamnesis or what? Add the quasi-biblical fall from EEA grace when we started doing maladaptive stuff like studying books instead of procreating and using contraception and we've got a semblance of ev psych gone haywire :-)

    Since I agree with Aunger on the 'transmission happens' argument for culture, I think this nativism in extremo is going way too far. Yes there's some innateness to learning, but the nativists seem to be taking things to extremes. I subscibe to the Etch-A-Sketch theory that genes provided us with architectures (or Etch-a-Sketch modular thingies), but these are written upon by experience. The slates aren't totally blank (but perhaps Pinker doth protest the SSSM too much). Perhaps cultural transmission is when you use someone elses "Etch-A-Sketch" as a model for what you will draw upon your own. Anyone having tried drawing on one of these contraptions knows how you're constrained by the way the dials work (IIRC one goes vertical the other horizontal). The analogy is apt.


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