Re: On Gatherer's behaviourist stance

Tue, 15 Sep 1998 09:44:11 -0400 (EDT)

Subject: Re: On Gatherer's behaviourist stance
Date: Tue, 15 Sep 1998 09:44:11 -0400 (EDT)

On Mon, 14 Sep 1998 12:49:02 -0500 Aaron Lynch <> wrote:
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.

If that was the effect, it was purely unintentional. I doubt if
readers are confused.

> 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."

I don't understand all the fuss you are making over this. There is no
way that my trimming of your sentence effects it meaning. You believe
that mnemons of the form 'awareness of x' are instantiated in the brain
(I don't). This is not something you hypothesize but something you
state firmly. You hypothesize that they may also be redundantly
instantiated (needless to say I reject that as well). I disagree with
you on both counts. It in no way affects the logic of my paper.

> 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.

There is absolutely no way, short of a complete and total revision of
all existing neuroscience and linguistics, that the kind of structures
you posit for your mnemons, eg. 'awareness of statement x' etc, will
ever be defined. As Chomsky has shown, and indeed as commonsense
shows, we can understand an infinite number of sentences. We can
understand sentences we have never ever heard before. There is no way
that this would be possible if awareness of those statements had to be
instantiated in the brain in any form, neural or otherwise. We can
also produce an infinite variety of sentences. There is no way we
could do that if we had to instantiate them as awareness mnemons. It's
as simple as that. Language, both in its production and comprehension,
is not a process of storage/retrieval. That was the whole basis of the
Skinner-Chomsky debate in the late 50s.

> 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.

Again a retreat to the computer analogy....... I'm not going to repeat
all the arguments against it . We're going round in circles.

> 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
> brain.

That is no basis for any scientific endeavour since it would enable any
observer to abstract anything he/she wanted. Presumably that is the
basis you choose to 'extract' mnemons of 'awareness of x' etc. My
opinions on whether the information in your brain is the same as in
someone else's brain is a totally inadequate starting point.

> 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.

But we do know enough about linguistics to know that mnemons
(brain/neural/mental instantiations however defined) of the type
'awareness of x' are impossible. Now I know that some of the
contributors to this list are not exactly fans of Chomsky, but it is
generally accepted (and with good reason I would say) that Chomsky won
the debate with Skinner in the 1950s. If you are going to have mnemons
of the form 'awareness of x' then you are asking us to discard the
generally accepted results of that debate.

AJ Ayer says in 'Philosophy in the 20th Century': 'Chomsky's main
achievement is not so much in what he maintains, as in what he refutes'
(inexact quotation, I don't have the book to hand). The system you
propose has already been refuted, and over 40 years ago!!!!!

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

This is important, because you must (you absolutely and utterly must)
justify how you can posit instantiation of the form 'awareness of
statement x', given that such mnemons represent such a radical
overturning of all linguistics since the mid-1950s. This is such an act
of iconoclasm that you have to justify it in as much detail as

Perhaps you fail to realise just the magnitude of your act. It is for
this reason that you must try to be as precise as possible. You wish
to remain agnostic about the issue of neural pattern-encoding of
mnemons. That would be fair enough if you were just making a general
point, but you have gone into territory where you are required to
justify yourself more fully.

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

You've already made the observer abstraction system argument in your


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