Re: On Gatherer's behaviourist stance

Paul Marsden (PaulMarsden@email.msn.com)
Fri, 11 Sep 1998 16:41:10 +0100

From: "Paul Marsden" <PaulMarsden@email.msn.com>
To: "memetics" <memetics@mmu.ac.uk>
Subject: Re: On Gatherer's behaviourist stance
Date: Fri, 11 Sep 1998 16:41:10 +0100

> 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.

Bill replied

>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?

Sorry, if I wasn't being clear. I'm simply following the peripheral
functionalist philosophy of mind (a la Dennett) line that thoughts aren't
real things but rather a functional model of black box processes that
correlate input and output. Thoughts have no essential qualities - they are
not real things they are heuristic devices.

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.

I'm not, but the whole thought contagion metaphor relies on memes being
internal things with an essence, to quote Lynch

MEME. Noun. A memory item, or portion of an organismís neurally-stored
information, identified using the abstraction system of the observer, whose
instantiation depended critically on causation by prior instantiation of the
same memory item in one or more other organismsí nervous systems.
("Sameness" of memory items is determined with respect to the
above-mentioned abstraction system of the observer.)

"You seem to be thinking of thoughts as Platonic essences that need to be
represented by something or another"

No, that is precisely what I am trying to debunk. They cannot be Platonic
essences - because that leads down the path of infinite regress or dualism.
But such an assumption (i.e. thought contagion as a noun, with discrete
ontological closure) is implicit in those who want to model external
behaviour to thoughts to internal behaviour. It just doesn't work, it is a
confusion of categories. My frustration with mental memetics is that it
makes no sense to look for thoughts qua specific brain activity in terms of
things (i.e. contagions like Aaron, OR processes) -its like trying to
measure the colour blue with a ruler. Then when we try to model the colour
blue in terms of length, breadth etc in dubious formalisms seems we're in
Mickeymouse territory.

>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 representations in the brain, but
they
>do claim to be modelling real mental processes.

Precisely it is just a model and has nothing to do with what is occurring in
the brain, so it makes no sense to talk of them as internal mnemons or
whatever - they are not internal at all they are abstract models.

Paul Marsden
Graduate Research Centre in the Social Sciences
University of Sussex
e-mail PaulMarsden@msn.com
tel/fax (44) (0) 117 974 1279

Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission:
http://www.cpm.mmu.ac.uk/jom-emit/

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