Associative learning versus imitation (was Re: no subject)

Steve (
Thu, 15 Oct 1998 05:55:59 +0800

Message-Id: <>
Date: Thu, 15 Oct 1998 05:55:59 +0800
From: Steve <>
Subject: Associative learning versus imitation (was Re: no subject)
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At 07:16 PM 10/13/98 +200, Ton Maas replied to Nick Rose's post (which I
missed due to computer problems).
At 01:48 PM 9/23/98 -0400, Nick Rose wrote:
>>>Nick Rose said
>>>PS: I still think we'd be better off with Cloak's
>>>definitions ;)
>>Paul Marsden said
>>Agreed, but I don't you think that Cloak account
>>undermines the putative distinction between imitation and
>>"ordinary learning" (which I don't think I accept anyway).
>>Can't "ordinary learning" could be understood as the
>>imitation of i-culture ...
>By 'ordinary' learning I mean things like classical and
>operant conditioning. None of these 'ordinary' learning
>mechanisms involve _imitation_ (they arise/are shaped
>whithin One organism) - thus they don't involve _imitation_
>of i-culture.

In terms of cognitive processes, is there a real difference between
classical and instrumental conditioning? Are conditioning and imitation
different? Or are they different manifestations of a more general principle?

Does it not make sense to regard imitation as a subset of conditioning?

In the context of the aforementioned, the associative properties of
consciousness imply:
1) Classical conditioning - fire is associated with pain when we put our
hand onto a burning log, and it is a conceptualisation that does not need
to be "learnt" (or... does it? The field of biosemiotics might present an
alternative viewpoint).
2) Instrumental conditioning - we learn to associate money with its
rewards, and this compels us to work.
3) Imitation is associative. By imitating social norms, we avoid the pain
of embarassment that comes with making a faux pas, and we learn to
appreciate the rewards that come with having friends, who are more likely
to accept us when we behave appropriately. When we imitate, we draw
associations between the imitated behaviour and its meaning. More
importantly, imitation is part of a deep, expansive and complex web of
associations that connect our identities with language with body with
culture. Learning language is associative. The mind-body relationship is
associative. How we are influenced by role models is associative.

If we assume that the above-mentioned different modes of human learning
arise from the collective behaviour of neurons in human brains, then a
logical extension is to try to work out what neurons are doing. Is their
role relegated to "switching" circuits to create neural nets? Or is there
something else? Do neurons also "conceptualise"? Can we regard the brain as
a culture of neurons participating in shared conceptualisations (analagous
to human cultures, or the global internet)?

I have at hand an article by E. R. Kandel and R. D. Hawkins that was
published in the 1992 issue of the Scientific American (Mind and Brain).
They have shown and experimentally demonstrated that a neuron also learns
by association. The implication I infer is that a neuron is capable of
associating different neural-level experiences together to create gestalts
of neural-level meaning.

Thus, at the neural level (as a neuron interprets its warm, wet world), are
there any significantly different categories of associative learning
appropriate to a neuron? Or is all learning, when reduced to the neural
level, simply associative? Do the human-level categories of learning
(associative, instrumental, imitation) have any bearing whatsoever on the
manner in which a human's resident neurons learn (associatively)?

What I am getting at is this. If *all* learning for any organism (including
a neuron) is associative, where the concepts that are conceptualised are
inextricably bound up with the mind-body relationship (neurons with
neuronal bodies conceptualise different meanings to what humans with human
bodies do), then surely, trying to draw distinctions between classical
conditioning versus instrumental conditioning versus imitation is an
arbitrary social construct that obscures from our view the far more
general, universally applicable principles of cognition.

Stephen Springette

Newton's Laws of Emotion:
There can be no complexity without simplicity

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