Re: Xtra!

Aaron Lynch (
Fri, 11 Sep 1998 13:12:59 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Fri, 11 Sep 1998 13:12:59 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: Xtra!
In-Reply-To: <>

At 09:24 AM 9/11/98 -0400, Derek Gatherer wrote:
>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.

Awarenesses and beliefs are only a subset of the possible mnemons. Nothing
about my paper suggests that awarenesses and beliefs are the only possible
kinds of mnemons. A learned fear of guns and learned hatreds for any of
various minorities can be analyzed as mnemons. I use a very broad
definition of "memory." The question of which mnemons one identifies and
chooses to study is up to the abstraction system of the observer, which
allows a wide range of theories of cognitive, personality, and social
psychology to be used. I do not posit any kind of concrete neuron structure
of mnemons.

>> 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'.

Pasteur had no idea what a virus was, except that it was too small for him
to see. He nevertheless was able to conclude that contracting cow pox
conferred protection against small pox. In modern times, the early
hypothesis that AIDS was caused by a virus was supported at first only by
epidemiological data. I fully welcome the ongoing work in neuroscience, but
continue to assert that useful study of propagating memory items can be
done right now.

>> 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.

Epidemiology at 150 years certainly has an extensive knowledge base upon
which to rely. The infectious agent in my model is identified more
abstractly than by turning on the electron microscope: it is infectious
information, stored in brains. Likewise, you cannot turn on the microscope
and see a computer virus as one particular kind of structure.

>> 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.

Here you go inventing another concept and attributing me. I do not talk
about "infectious brain structures." Period. If YOU want infectious brain
structures, then it is YOU who has to explain them. I also suggest you
consider the implications of dropping the word "if" from the preceeding

>> 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.

The brain-based existence of "thoughts," or "subjectively perceived
information" as Rogers calls them, is the strongest scientific theory
available explain recurrences of behaviors in the individual. It explains,
for instance, why I can tie my shoe today after ceasing this behavior for
24 hours. If the existence of such brain-based informational entities is
scientifically necessary, as it is, then they are legitimate objects for
further scientific reasoning and ultimately investigation on the population


>> 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.

Ok, forget the logic book, and kindly explain to me anew how you infer a
definite statement about brain architecture from the conditional statement
"If a mnemon resides very redundantly in someone's brain, that person still
counts as only one host and one mnemon instantiation." The method of
inference you used in your paper was to simply drop the inconvenient word
"If," a move that I find to be at least as "uncivilized" as referring
someone to a logic text.


>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.

No, the neuroscience of memory would never have gotten underway if it were
not for the prior observations leading people to conclude that there even
exists such a thing as memory content.

And now for Tim Rhodes' remarks:
At 05:35 AM 9/11/98 -0700, Tim Rhodes wrote:
>Aaron Lynch wrote:
>>>> "If a mnemon resides very redundantly in someone's brain, that person
>>>> counts as only one host and one mnemon instantiation."


>[another snip]
>>No, the above paragraph again contains the word "if." It therefore does not
>>assert even *that* a person has two functioning brain hemispheres, let
>>alone anything about redundancy of information content. I'd suggest reading
>>a basic logic text to find out just what you can and cannot infer from an
>>"if" statement.
>I think the one of the problems Derek and I are having with your logical
>"IF"s is that "IF"s are conditionals: If X, then Y. One can build
>wonderfully intricate, facinating theories based on IF-X-THEN-Y, but you
>still have to prove that X is the case or else its all just so much amusing,
>colorful hogwash. (Like, "_If_ our lives are ruled by angels and demons,
>then... " for instance. Some interesting constructions have been based on
>this premise, but all of them worthless since they can never prove their

>You seem to offer a wide range of "IF"s and construct a truly impressive
>house of cards based on those "IF"s, but you'll exuse us if some of us don't
>feel comfortable moving into that house until you give us some proof that
>your conditionals are being met.
>_IF_ you're going to base your theory on a conditional, _THEN_ the
>responsiblity falls upon you to prove that conditional before we can accept
>the theory.

Proving the conditional does not require proving the antecedent, and it is
a fallacy to assert otherwise. The argument is not over the truth value of
my conditional, "If a mnemon resides very redundantly in someone's brain,
that person still counts as only one host and one mnemon instantiation."
The argument is about whether you or Gatherer can infer that I have
asserted the antecedent in that conditional merely by asserting the
conditional. My conditional statement is simply part of the definitions of
terms such that individuals never count as a mnemon's "host" more than once
at a time.

I have a perfectly good reason for using the conditional in the case cited:
some readers come to the subject with specific theories of how information
is stored in the brain. It therefore needs to be clarified to those who
posit multiple copies of neurally stored information that each person
counts as no more than one host of a mnemon, regardless of possible
redundancies of storage in the brain. The paper as a whole is not "a house
of cards" built on mere conditionals.

--Aaron Lynch

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