Re: On Gatherer's behaviourist stance

Mario Vaneechoutte (
Fri, 11 Sep 1998 15:08:43 +0200

Date: Fri, 11 Sep 1998 15:08:43 +0200
From: Mario Vaneechoutte <>
Subject: Re: On Gatherer's behaviourist stance

Bill Benzon wrote:

> Mario Vaneechoutte wrote:
> > Ton Maas wrote:
> >
> > > Mario wrote:
> > > >Is thinking or talking to myself behaviour? It is my impression that social
> > > >psychologists tend to deny that thinking even exists, since it results in no
> > > >observable behaviour or artefact. It is an illusion. Am I right? Than I
> > > >have to
> > > >disagree with this kind of reasoning.
> > >
> > > Thinking or talking to yourself is not only behavior, it is
> > > _communication_. After all, it is entirely possible to discover something
> > > "new" (previously unknown to you) by simply talking/thinking to yourself.
> > > There really is no fundamental difference. Information can be effectively
> > > defined as the difference which makes a difference
> > Well, I would call this behaviour and communication as well. I fully
> > agree. But if I understand correctly, then Derek, Bill(?) and Paul (who
> > can be considered to be representative for social psychologists) would
> > clearly dismiss this as behaviour, because it is not observable. Or at
> > least they would say that it cannot be studied since it cannot be
> > observed by physical behaviour.
> Talking to oneself is certainly observable. And one can use EEG, PET, fMRI, etc.
> to get observations about brain activation while a person is thinking. Further, a
> good deal of cognitive psychology has been done useing something called protocol
> analysis. A person is asked to perform some cognitive task and to do it while
> "thinking out loud" as much as possible. They're tape recorded or even video-taped
> and their words are transcribed and analyzed for clues about how they go about
> solving the problem.
> Bill B

OK. But these would not be valuable techniques according to Paul and Derek, since
observing brain activity by e.g. PET scan is not observable physical behaviour.

Also, scanning brain activity can show the general activity of thinking but will
reveal nothing (thus far, but who knows what the future will bring) about the content
of the thoughts (your last sentence indicates there is progress in that direction). I
would agree with Derek and Paul that this does not tell us much at the moment.

Interestingly, we are beginning to be good at detecting attitudes, as is possible by
lie-detectors. At least we can notice - by measuring galvanic skin response e.g. -
that certain gestures, signals, words, ideas evoke(s) emotional response in persons,
even in the subconscious (which will nevertheless influence once 'logically'
constructed attitude).

But, before all the above is misinterpreted as me wanting to reduce memetics to
neuroscience, let us not forget that the discussion actually started around the
proposal of Derek to reduce memetics to behaviour studies and material artefacts.
My stance is that thoughts are constantly influenced by artefacts and behaviours and
that behaviours and artefacts are constantly influenced by thoughts. Culture is as
well inside one's head as it is out there. It is a continuum. I maintain that the
reduction of memetics to one side or the other (internal or brain only, or, external
or environment only) implicitly leads to its failure of understanding how culture


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