Re: Xtra!

Fri, 11 Sep 1998 09:24:52 -0400 (EDT)

Subject: Re: Xtra!
Date: Fri, 11 Sep 1998 09:24:52 -0400 (EDT)

In reply to Aaron:

> No, I certainly do not think of the brain as an overgrown RAM.

> I have not set out to propound a theory of how "memory
> items" or "mnemons" are stored in the brain, nor do I have to.

I think you do, because the mnemons have such a peculiar structure, ie.
'awareness of statement x', 'belief in statement x'. You are asking us
to posit these things as instantiated memory items. You can't just
walk away and say that you have no theory of psychology. You are
making all sorts of statements with social psychological ramifications.
In order to do this you have to have a psychological theory in which to
ground them.

> My statement is comparable to an epidemiologist saying that *if* a person
> has one copy of a virus or a trillion copies, that person still counts as
> only one host.

No, it is absolutely not comparable, because an epidemiologist is
dealing with things that we actually know (since the time of Pasteur)
to be things which are actually really instantiated in their hosts. To
paraphrase another list contributor, 'if you do the host/parasite talk,
you must do the host/parasite walk'.

> The epidemiologist can make this statement without
> knowing
> how many copies of a virus the host typically has, or knowing anything
> about what tissues it infects, how it infects them, whether it is a DNA or
> an RNA virus, etc. Much epidemiology can still be done without knowlege of
> such details. Indeed, much epidemiology can be done without even knowing
> whether an infectious agent is a virus or not.

But epidemiology is based on a knowledge base which says roughly:
Contagious diseases are caused by parasitic transfer of some sort. You
have no such equivalent knowledge base. The epidemiologist knows that
some coherent physical thing, be it virus, bug or even prion is at the
root of the problem. What is the infectious agent in your model? A
thought? The house is built on sand.

> It is just as legitimate for a thought contagion memeticist to leave the
> neurological details of information storage to the neuroscientists as it is
> for an epidemiologist to leave the molecular biology of a viral infection
> to the virologists.

No, it is legitimate for a social/behavioural contagion memeticist to
do this, and in that case there may not even be any replicating neural
information storage. If you are going to have infectious brain
structures you need to explain them.

> It is clear now that you would put understanding
> how
> the brain functions as a prerequisite to doing any work on thought
> contagions.

For thought contagion, yes, but not for social/behavioural contagion.
You cannot do work on thought contagion, since you cannot see or
measure a thought. You can do work on social and behavioural
contagion. What _you_ actually do is to take behavioural data and then
'explain' it using 'thought contagion'. This does not clarify, but
clouds the issue, since you are taking a nice empirical cake and icing
it with unverifiable, unfalsifiable opinions.

> To me, this looks like the sort of stalling tactic
> (progress
> retarding tactic) for which American lawers are famous. It also appears
> that this is why you dropped the word "If" from my sentence.

If you want to play the lawyers game, then be specific, what are you
accusing me of?

> I'd suggest reading
> a basic logic text to find out just what you can and cannot infer from an
> "if" statement.

Oh, this is just too much! I have kept my contributions to a civilised
level, and I respectfully (although that is hardly the appropriate word)
request that you do the same.

The whole point of lists like this one is to widen the area of
discourse so that academics cease to live in an ivory tower and
laypeople can contribute to areas they were previously excluded from.
If you are going to insinuate that I am ignorant of basic logic, then I
shall cease to debate with you. I am beginning to realise why the
ivory tower was built in the first place.

To return to the 'discussion':

> Mike comes very close to demanding that a detailed neurological theory of
> memory preceed any discussion of human memory content.

That, I think, is a reasonable suggestion.


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