Re: On Gatherer's behaviourist stance

Aaron Lynch (
Tue, 15 Sep 1998 10:50:52 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Tue, 15 Sep 1998 10:50:52 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: On Gatherer's behaviourist stance
In-Reply-To: <>

At 09:44 AM 9/15/98 -0400, Derek Gatherer wrote:


>> 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.

It is unfortunate that you do not even understand the problem. Again, here
is what I actually said in that sentence: "If a mnemon resides very
redundantly in someone's brain, that person still counts as only one host
and one mnemon instantiation."

>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.

There are ways of lifting clauses from sentences so as to preserve meaning,
and ways that distort meaning. You took the latter course. (The sentence in
question was not about awarenesses.)

>> 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.

I do not specifically say that "awareness of statement x" will ever be
definable in neural terms. The mnemons defined in directly neural terms
*might* only be ones unlike any that I have discussed. I will deal with
your infinity fallacy in a formal reply to JoM-EMIT.

>> 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.

It looks like I have merely omitted my earlier caution statement: that the
above discussion does not imply any isomorphism between brain and computer

>> 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.

It is indeed possible for any observer to abstract anything he/she wanted.
The *usefulness* of such abstractions still needs to be evaluated on a case
by case basis, however. I made this point in my paper.

>> 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
>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.

Here we have a bald declaration of "impossibility." I say that if you have
any memory of anyone ever saying "bee pollen invigorates," and comprehend
the statement, then you are aware (even if subconsciously) of that statement.

>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!!!!!

Your paper was a good enough opportunity to refute my conceptual framework.
Are you saying now that you left an important refutation out, even though
you knew about it? I find no references to Chomsky in your paper.

>> 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.

The only incompatibility with linguistics that you mention in your paper is
based precisely on misattributions. One of these misattributions is the one
you got by lifting just the antecedent clause from a conditional statement.
The other misattribution comes from conjuring on your part, while claiming
that it was I who "conjures up images of vast memory banks of mnemons
encoding 'awareness of statement x.'" Nothing in my work implies "memory
banks." Nor do I imply that awarenesses of statements are somehow
central--I merely indicate that awareness of a statement must be and can be
differentiated from belief in a statement.

"Lynch (1998, Section 4) would have us believe that the unexpressed meme:
`resides very redundantly in someone's brain', but again this conjures up
images of vast memory banks of mnemons encoding `awareness of statement x',
not a view of the architecture of the brain that is very consonant with
current thinking in either neurobiology or linguistics."

--Aaron Lynch

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