Re: On Gatherer's behaviourist stance

Bill Benzon (
Fri, 11 Sep 1998 10:33:15 -0400

Date: Fri, 11 Sep 1998 10:33:15 -0400
From: Bill Benzon <>
Subject: Re: On Gatherer's behaviourist stance

Paul Marsden wrote:

> Bill Said
> >Talking to oneself is certainly observable.
> It all depends on what you mean by talking to oneself. Can thinking be
> correlated to electro-chemical activity in the brain? Yes of course. Are
> specific thoughts themselves represented by specific electrochemical
> patterns (the language of thought, say mentalese) in the brain? Of course
> not, because there is no one in there to read them, - thoughts are
> functional and not essential patterns.

I don't follow. Part of this is mere semantics, whether we should be talking
about thoughts or sensations or feelings or desires or images, etc. It's all
mental stuff. But what's this distinction between functional and essential
patterns? I have problems with this particular formulation: "Are
specific thoughts themselves represented by specific electrochemical patterns
(the language of thought, say mentalese) in the brain?" My problem is with the
introduction of "represented by". You seem to be thinking of thoughts as
Platonic essences that need to be represented by something or another. Thoughts
are "represented by" electrochemical procsses. They are implemented in those
processes; thinking is an electrochemical process.

> >Further, a good deal of cognitive psychology has been done using 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 analysed for clues about how they go
> about
> >solving the problem.
> As far as I was aware, protocol analysis is used to build *functional*
> models of problem-solving activity, and cog psych. does not confuse this
> with specific physiochemical representations in the brain.

It's been a long time since I looked at any of that stuff and it never really
was my cup of tea. But, some folks are purely pragmatic about it and make no
claims about what's going on in side people's heads. They're interested in
creating an expert computer system to perform some particular job. But other
folks surely do claim that models they build using protocols as evidence
represent something that is really going on inside people's heads. They may not
confuse these models with physiochemical reprsentations in the brain, but they
do claim to be modeling real mental processes.

In general, what goes on inside brains and heads is really difficult to figure
out. And so it's perfectly reasonable to undertake investigations that don't
depend on this or that particular view of these matters. I don't see why
memeticists can't go a lot of good work dealing with observable behaviors and
artifacts. But sooner or later, explaining those behaviors and artifacts is
going to have to involve what goes on inside people's heads.

Bill B

William Benzon
Senior Scientist
Meta4 Incorporated
33-41 Newark Street
Hoboken, NJ 07030 USA
voice: 201.656.0906
fax:   201.656.0901
home page:

=============================================================== This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing) see: