Re: Comments on McCrone's "The Ape That Spoke" (was Re: What's in a

Bill Benzon (
Fri, 18 Jul 1997 17:41:28 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Fri, 18 Jul 1997 17:41:28 -0500
From: (Bill Benzon)
Subject: Re: Comments on McCrone's "The Ape That Spoke" (was Re: What's in a

Dave Gross:
>Some of these abstractions are extremely precise and constitute our more
>concrete memories (corresponding to "grandmother" cells or collections of
>cells in the brain -- cells that only are activated when, for instance,
>you see your grandmother).
I think grandmother cells have been pretty much abandoned. Back in the
late 60s or early 70s Charles Gross of Princeton was doing unit studies of
the macaque visual system an found one neuron which responded most strongly
to a silouette of a monkey's paw -- an event which may have contributed to
thoughts of grandmother cells. I wrote to Gross in the late 70s & he told
me he's never found another such cell and I don't think any have been
reported in the literature. I think there is concensus on the notion that
the percept of grandmother, for example, is stored across many cells & that
any given cell stores information about many percepts. Still, somehow or
other we do manage to recognize grandmother.

>This model suggests that language is a way of creating a verbal symbol
>that is associated with this cascade in such a way that the symbol itself
>will fire the cell-assembly of the associated abstraction; and that the
>firing of the cascade that terminates with the abstraction will have the
>effect of reinforcing its connection to its verbal symbol. Our species
>uses this ability to tag abstractions as a way of searching through
>long-term memory and making complex plans.
Chapter 8 of Ulric Neisser's "Cognition and Reality" gives an account of
speech which bears some similarity to this. My little doggie story derives
from this chapter.

>Perhaps it is these cascading neural nets that constitute the "body" of
>the meme; while the associated word, phrase, body-language, technique or
>whatever is just a seed or spore.
But "just" is such a dismissive word. Without those seeds, the "memes"
would be forever "locked" in this or that brain.

However, for the sake of argument, let's assume we have 2 individuals,
Tweedledum and Tweedledee, who are biological twins and psychologically
almost identical. Let's not worry about how this psychological identity
came about; let's just assume it. Now, one of the little bits of discourse
each is familiar with is a verbal formula that goes like this: "X is when
Y" where X is a term and Y is a definition of X. For example: "Charity is
when someone does something nice for someone else without thought of an

So, Tweedledum comes up with a new idea, which is the idea of, for example,
the meme. So T-dum formulates an assertion like: "A meme is when...." All
of the terms in the definition are for ideas which T-dum already has in his
arsenal, and so does T-dee. But "meme" is a new term. The combination of
terms which defines "meme" is new to T-dum and, presumably, to T-dee as
well. But, by this little device of definition, it is possible to assign
meaning to a new term by relating it to a novel combination of old "memes"
and to communicate that meaning to someone else, providing, of course, that
they already know the meanings of the terms used in the definition.

In this way, the use of mere seeds can nonetheless have profound effects.

William L. Benzon 201.217.1010
708 Jersey Ave. Apt. 2A
Jersey City, NJ 07302 USA

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