Re: On Gatherer's behaviourist stance

Wed, 16 Sep 1998 09:09:44 -0400 (EDT)

Subject: Re: On Gatherer's behaviourist stance
Date: Wed, 16 Sep 1998 09:09:44 -0400 (EDT)

On Tue, 15 Sep 1998 10:50:52 -0500 Aaron Lynch <> wrote:

> I do not specifically say that "awareness of statement x" will ever be
> definable in neural terms.

Indeed, and you have reinforced this emphatically over the last
several of your posts. But you _do_ claim that it can be
instantiated as a mnemon, that is, as a stored memory item of some
sort. _That_ is what is contrary to Chomsky. There are no stored
linguistic entities. Hence my 'infinity fallacy' as you call it.

> The mnemons defined in directly neural
> terms
> *might* only be ones unlike any that I have discussed.

I don't follow that. Over the last few posts I have attempted to force
you into admitting that mnemons must be neurally instantiated, and you
have consistently refused. The position you take is that they are
abstractly instantiated (this is also something I don't think is
tenable - if something is _in_ there then it must be concretely
realisable in some way, but we've had that argument and it is not
the point here).

The point here is that you posit storing of some kind of thing which is
simply not stored _in any way at all_ (abstractly or otherwise).
To have it as stored requires a demolition of Chomsky.

> It is indeed possible for any observer to abstract anything he/she wanted.

What? I'm flabbergasted! I can't believe you mean this. Don't
tell my students this. Teaching them scientific method is
difficult enough without having them believe thay can
subjectively abstract anything they want!!

> The *usefulness* of such abstractions still needs to be evaluated on a case
> by case basis, however.

Okay then. We've just done that for mnemons 'awareness of
statement x' and they fail the test. Pity they're your central

> 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.

Here we see the dangers of an overdeveloped subjective abstraction
system. The result of this is inevitably the conclusion that, as you

> It is indeed possible for any observer to abstract anything he/she wanted.

We are not 'aware of statements' in anything other than a crude
folk psychological sense. We are _not_ aware of statements in any
storage retrieval sense, as Chomsky showed.

> 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.

Well my 'infinity fallacy' (as you call it) is a straightforwardly
Chomskian argument, and is in fact the very same argument he used
against Skinner (slightly modified for present purposes). I did
explicitly say, as you quote me:

> "...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."

When I refer to current thinking in linguistics I assume that everybody
will immediately think of Chomsky. He is, after all, the third
most cited author of all time, and I am sure that you have read
him extensively. If I were to refer to DNA I wouldn't cite Watson
and Crick because like Chomsky they are part of the intellectual

In any case, I rather assumed that you would have recognised my
infinity argument as Chomskian.

Now of course I would never say to you, "I suggest you go away
and read Chomsky", because I know that you as an educated man,
must have done so. The question is, why do you choose to reject
him in such an offhand manner?

> The only incompatibility with linguistics that you mention in your paper is
> based precisely on misattributions.

No, that one is based on what you have been so determined to claim
is a misattribution. You've been so busy trying to find any small
flaw you can, that you've neglected to pay attention to my
arguments. The infinity argument is a linguistic one. And indeed
my argument about 'having' and 'not having' memes is a piece of
very traditional and simple 'ordinary language' analysis in the
spirit of Austin (I feel no need to cite him either).

> Nothing in my work implies "memory
> banks."

I think it does. You have after all stated that mnemons are
stored in memory. You have produced a 'calculus of mnemon
instantiations' where individuals are represented as strings of
stored items eg. ABC~DE~F etc. If that string gets very big, I'd
say our small store of memory has become a memory bank.

> Nor do I imply that awarenesses of statements are somehow
> central

Well in that case I wonder why you choose them as your central
examples. The churchgoing, abortion and bee pollen examples all
revolve around this awareness/belief dichotomy.

> --I merely indicate that awareness of a statement must be and
> can be
> differentiated from belief in a statement.

Well, no, you state that both are stored, but you don't say how.
The 'how' either requires a neurobiological answer, which you
decline to give, or an more abstract answer which deals with
Chomsky. Skinner was a intellectual colossus by any standards,
arguably one of the geniuses of the 20th century, but even he had
to back away from Chomsky's simple self-evident logic. You
want to refute my 'infinity fallacy'? I'd be interested to see if
you can do any better than Skinner.


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