Re: On Gatherer's behaviourist stance

Aaron Lynch (
Mon, 14 Sep 1998 12:49:02 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Mon, 14 Sep 1998 12:49:02 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: On Gatherer's behaviourist stance
In-Reply-To: <>

Readers may be confused by Gatherer's sudden and complete change of the
subject line, which on the one hand makes it seem as though he answered my
post of 9/11/98, while at the same time making it harder for readers to
locate just what I actually said. The post was under the heading "Re:
Xtra!" which was formed by dropping the (no longer relevant) "Brodie
Defends Lynch" part from a thread heading that Gatherer had launched.

Derek has, in effect, dodged the matter of misattributing a key assertion
to me by way of quoting the antecedent of a conditional statement out of
context, removing the conditional's consequent clause and the words "If"
and "then."

It took several rounds of back and forth postings just to confront this
particular blunder to the point where Derek ultimately dodges the issue. By
comparison, the effort it takes to make a misleading quotation is minor.
Unfortunately, the situation reminds me of "debates" between creationists
and evolutionists, where the creationists can churn out sophistries faster
than the evolutionists can answer them.

Aaron Lynch writing (9/11/98):
"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."

At 11:00 AM 9/14/98 -0400, Derek Gatherer wrote:
>On Fri, 11 Sep 1998 13:12:59 -0500 Aaron Lynch <> wrote:
>> 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.
>So if the mnemon does not constitute a 'concrete neural structure', or
>is not in some way dependent on 'concrete neural structure' then how is
>it 'instantiated' (as you say) in the brain?

Here, then, is Gatherer's next misattribution: While I do refuse to posit
any kind of concrete neuron structure of mnemons, I do not say that such
structures do not exist. And I absolutely do not say that it "is not in
some way dependent on 'concrete neural structure.'" I merely do not
*define* the mnemons I discuss in terms of such specific structures--though
I leave open the possibility that neuroscience could some day allow for the
definition of at least some mnemons in terms of neural structures.

Consider the situation of 1000 computers each using different hardware.
They might all nevertheless have copies of "the same" program "Eudora 4.0"
in their memories. The program is always physically instantiated, but is
not *defined* in terms of the physical details of its storage. With brains,
we may have a situation where the "hardware" may be different in each
individual person, yet likewise have copies of "the same" information in
multiple individuals.

> The 'abstraction
>system of the observer' is not an answer, as _my_ abstraction
>system has no influence whatsoever over what is in _your_ brain.

Assuming that I am not swayed (through communication) by your abstractions,
your abstraction system only affects the ways in which you consider some
information in my brain to be "the same as" information in someone else's

>'If a mnemon resides very redundantly in someone's brain....'
>So it does reside in the brain? Or are you saying that a mnemon might
>not reside in the brain?

No, I am not saying that a mnemon might not reside in the brain, or more
precisely, the nervous system. It is instantiated only in the nervous
system, usually if not always, in the brain.

>Whether it resides in many copies or one copy
>or in both hemispheres etc. is not your central point.

Agreed. You should never have attributed to me an assertion that a meme
"resides very redundantly in someone's brain."

> Throughout your
>article you state that mnemons 'reside' or are 'instantiated' in
>brains, that individuals are 'hosts' to these mnemons. How?

I have already stated that I do not know the details of how the brain
works, any more than Pasteur knew the details of how one could host a virus.

>You also say: 'the principle abstractions manipulated with
>memetics theory are memory abstractions or mnemons'. Memory must
>have a neural basis, but you now seem to seek to deny that you
>require 'any concrete neural structures'. Without such a structure
>how could your mnemon 'reside' or be 'instantiated' in the brain?
>This, I submit, constitutes a contradiction of what you have written.

The "contradiction" arises only by misattribution. I simply do not "seek to
deny that I require 'any concrete neural structures.'"

>> Pasteur had no idea what a virus was, except that it was too small for him
>> to see.
>An irrelevant point, since Pasteur knew that there were physical
>infectious agents. He had taken great experiemntal pains to
>demonstrate them. His puzzle with the virus was that it was beyond his
>range of visibility. He still examined it within the paradigm of
>transmissible physical agents causing disease. We have no
>equivalent paradigm.
>> He nevertheless was able to conclude that contracting cow pox
>> conferred protection against small pox.
>That was Jenner actually, but never mind...

I stand corrected on the specific virus. Pasteur worked with a rabies
vaccine, Jenner on small pox. Pasteur still did not know what a virus was.

>> I fully welcome the ongoing work in neuroscience, but
>> continue to assert that useful study of propagating memory items can be
>> done right now.
>Again the assumption is made that there are 'propagating memory items'.
>> 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.
>Ah! so again it _is_ 'stored in brains'. Using a 'concrete neural
>structure' perhaps? Remember a 'concrete neural structure' is the
>thing that you 'do not posit'. So how then is it stored? What
>other mechanism do we have for storing things in brains?
>I said before: "If you are going to have infectious brain
>structures you need to explain them."

Again, I do not posit infectious brain structures. A computer virologist
does not posit "infectious RAM structures" (or infectious disk structures,
computer structures, etc.) either. He may, however, define his topic in
terms of infectious memory items, provided that he clarifies (as I have)
that "memory item" is to be identified more abstractly than in terms of
such physical details as microscopic wiring diagrams.

>to which you replied:
>> Here you go inventing another concept and attributing me. I do not talk
>> about "infectious brain structures." Period.
>Oh yes you do. Period.

This is starting to look like a "yes I do," "No I don't" argument. Anyone
who wants to can look in my writings for "infectious brain structure(s)."

>You talk above about 'propagating memory items', elsewhere
>about 'thought contagions'. Now to me a thought must be a manifestation
>of a brain structure. A contagion is an infection. So you do not talk
>about 'thought contagions'? You can't say that you don't talk about
>'infectious brain structures' and then turn round and talk about
>'thought contagion' and 'propagating memory items'. Make your mind up

I clarify again: "thoughts" and "memory items" as I use the terms are not
defined as brain structures even though, as abstractly defined entities,
they are always instantiated in brain structures. The specific brain
structures do not need to be identical between individuals counted as
having "the same" abstractly defined memory item.

>The only escape from this is for you to deny that thoughts are anything
>to do with brain structures (now that I look forward too....), or to
>start splitting logic about the difference between an infection and a
>contagion, or perhaps there is a third option available to you which is
>to retreat to some abtruse analogy from quantum physics (I predict
>you'll go for the latter. The mystical attributes of the
>'abstraction sysyem of the observer' and their influence over
>what is stored (but wait, non-neurally) in brains...).

Here, you display an eagerness to attribute arguments to me even before I
make them.

>> The brain-based existence of "thoughts," or "subjectively perceived
>> information"
>Ah! Thoughts _are_ brain based! But not with 'concrete neural
>structures'? Now that is a real puzzle!! But otherwise 'Thought
>Contagion' = Brain-based infection?
>but wait....
>> I do not
>> talk
>> about "infectious brain structures." Period.
>What are you talking about then?

I am talking about information that is more abstract than specific brain
structures, but which is *instantiated* in brain structures. Brain
structures are the substrate of the information, but brain structures are
not being transferred person to person. The specific brain structures that
store knowledge of the English alphabet, for instance, might *never* be the
same from person to person, even though the "alphabet" is the same person
to person.

>> 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."
>This mnemon is 'residing' in the brain.... you say it here and at
>numerous other points in your article..... you want it to 'reside in
>the brain' but not to have a 'concrete neural structure'

You have dodged the issue of how you got a definite from a conditonal.

>Behind your smokescreen of quibbles, the deeply contradictory nature of
>your model still requires explanation (and again yes, you are obliged
>to defend it).

So instead of answering how you got a definite from a conditional, you
dismiss the matter as a "quibble." Asked to defend the logic in YOUR paper,
all you can do is dismiss the request as a "quibble"?

--Aaron Lynch

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