Re: Memes and associative learning in neurons

Steve (
Tue, 03 Nov 1998 23:38:15 +0800

Message-Id: <>
Date: Tue, 03 Nov 1998 23:38:15 +0800
From: Steve <>
Subject: Re: Memes and associative learning in neurons
In-Reply-To: <>

At 09:53 AM 11/3/98 -0500, Derek wrote:
>On Tue, 03 Nov 1998 10:32:48 +0800 Steve <> wrote:
>> Nonetheless, this does
>> not alter my original position - which is based in my assumption that
>> autopoiesis requires individual organisms within a colony (neurons in
>> brain) to make choices that benefit their ecology (the brain) while
>> "rewarding" the neurons for their complicity.
>Of course, but this is just a restatement of the basic question, 'why
>have multicellularity?' This is a question that has been fairly
>satisfactorily answered (by Dawkins among others).

Not to me it hasn't. I think that one of the more peculiar questions that
periodically pops up, that I've seen raised by others from similar schools
of thought is "what is the purpose of consciousness?" I'm never too sure
what this question, in the *sense* that it is asked, implies - are they
wondering if the "purpose" of consciousness is to support the selfish gene?
But then, what is the purpsoe of the selfish gene? Seriously... Like those
who believe that God created the world. Who, pray tell, created God?

>> In order to be able to > do
>> this, I argue, neurons need to be able to associate experiences at some
>> basic level. And this association of experiences is the key to attributing
>> meaning to events - hence the relevance of biosemiotics and memetics.
>You're going to need some evidence for this one. If I argue the
>opposite view (playing Devil's advocate) that all neurons 'need' to be
>able to do is fire at the appropriate time and at the appropriate
>level, how could you counteract that argument? Brains associate
>experiences, but neurons don't (certainly not individually...).

And *you're* going to need some evidence for this one. Fact....
single-celled organisms (and that includes neurons) are alive. What does it
mean to be "alive"? What are some axioms we might apply to living entities?
I'll provide one (playing devil's advocate)... all living entities make
choices from their ecologies (I anticipate that you'll instantly disagree
here, because you'll probably be basing your assumptions in some sort of
biological programming/genetic determinism). The fact is, that
single-celled organisms are alive. A neuron is a single-celled organism.
When you assert that neurons don't associate experiences, you're simply
parroting a dogma that has no foundation in fact.

Ok, let's say you argued the opposite veiw that all neurons 'need' to be
able to do is fire at the approrpriate time and at the appropriate level.
I'll argue that it is impossible for an assemblage of neurons to function
in this manner. The reason being that it is too improbable to be able to
sustain constructive dynamics in a system where participant entities
(genetically programmed, no less!) are not "motivated" in some way....
well, to be more specific, plainly ridiculous. For starters, how do they
*get* to the right configuration (and please don't tell me that it's all
programmed in the genes)? Look at the complexity of a human city, that has
all the analogous characteristics of a living entity. Such complexity is
possible only because the human participants constituting the Great Beast
are players in a network of rewards and punishments. They are *motivated*
in some way, to play the game. If a city's people werne't motivated in the
right, culturally appropriate manner, there would be no city.

>> How then, are memes related to the associative properties of cognition? Is
>> associativity the fundamental principle of which all other cognitive
>> processes (such as imitation) are manifestations?
>> (According to my definition of meme, a
>> meme is anything that can be conceptualised within the mind of any organism
>But this is precisely where the problem lies. These subjective states
>are not replicators (and even if they were they're not quantifiable,
>a big problem for any Barthian 'dream of scientificity').

But imitation of concepts leads to the replication of concepts. Imitation
is a subset of conceptualisation.

>replicators we can have no _evolutionary_ theory. You can have a
>theory of mind but it won't be an evolutionary one. In any case, I
>think you are proposing to resurrect phenomenology.

I wasn't aware that phenomenology was unfashionable. If it is, then so
what? Just because some people disagree with phenomenology does not
constitute proof that it is wrong. Heidegger's ideas are certainly relevant
in my reasoning, and his philosophy is alive and well and doing the rounds.
If it is not relevant to the view of life you work with, then perhaps we
should simply agree to disagree.

Why bring back

Well.... forgive me for being politically incorrect, but just maybe, he had
some relevant ideas? And if they don't fit with you, they certainly do with
me. So what?

>> - thus, my body parts and their actions are also memes)
>Is there anything which isn't a meme in your theory? Pardon me if this
>seems to be flippant. It isn't intended to be so. I just worry that
>your net is cast so wide it will catch virtually anything.

The world of genetic determinism, one that assumes the brain to be some
sort of biological computer, is a highly improbable one. It is analogous to
our current notions of the big bang (multiple universes, etc) and born of
the same lifeless beast. The multiple universe version explains away the
awesome improbability of life through the anthropic principle. That is,
sure life is improbable, but we (the awesome improbability that we are) are
here to witness our inevitability. But you see, I'm tackling all this from
a completely different angle, with my basis being that life is inevitable.
This changes the rules. It confronts the improbability of perfectly (but
arbitrarily randomly) designed organisms that just so happen to have the
right lung capacity, just the right kidney comgination, the right, perfect
eyesight, etc to make them function efficiently in their ecologies. It's
just too improbable. The assumption base I am working from is that life is
inevitable, and we need to establish some sort of foundation consistent
with this assumption. We need to confront those issues that just don't gel.
And no amount of hand-waving asserting that it's all programmed in the
genes is going to convince me otherwise.

>> From the September
>> 1992 issue of Scientific American, A. R. and H. Damasio write:
>I won't reproduce the quote from these authors, but how is it relevant
>to memetics? I have no quarrel with what they say, I just dispute its
>application to an evolutionary theory of culture.

The excerpt that I quoted was to illustrate the nature of
conceptualisation. I wanted to draw attention to its associative
properties. I particularly wanted to illustrate that conceptualisation is
more than just the replication of memes, and that the mind-body
relationship was an inextricable part of the process and is itself memetic.
This is important, because I then wanted to make inferences as to the
manner in which neurons might conceptualise at a considerable simpler level.

>> A sentence that carries with it a specific meaning or conceptualisation is
>> a meme. And so is each word of which it is comprised. As is each letter of
>> each word. And so on. The word "red" has its association with blood, red
>> sunsets, danger, the letter "r" (as we might recall from primary-school
>> days, "a" is for "apple", "d" is for "dog", "r" is for "red"), etc.
>I accept that text/sentences replicate[s] in a way. But it is the text
>on the page which is replicating. But it is a large leap from that to
>saying that replication of text is the same as replication of the
>subjective associations of that text.
>> How far can this subdividing of memes continue? How about at least to the
>> neural level? Neurons specialising in "longness" or "redness" or "motion"
>> are, I propose, participants in simpler, more essential, neural-level
>> meme-cultures.
>But were and what are these neurons? This is 'grandmother neuron'

Say what? I don't understand your question. They're appropriately located
in the brain (!?) Neurons (in the visual cortex, for example) have their
specialisations, one of which is related to length, another to
darkness/brightness (or some other simple standards), etc. Where's the

>> The only way that complex colonies of neurons can emerge, I propose, is if
>> each neuron made choices from its ecology. These choices are subjective,
>> they are contextual and they are associative. The neuron's interpretation
>> of the world is achieved through its bodily senses (via its synapses),
>> hence, it too, has a mind-body relationship.
>Sorry, just can't buy this. How can an individual neuron have a
>mind-body relationship? How can an individual neuron be 'subjective'?

It is difficult, if not impossible, to *prove* that principles of
associative conditioning apply to neurons to enable them to subjectively
"interpret" their warm, wet worlds (and just as impossible to *disprove*
it, I might add). We can try to reason that they do so, but we want
something more concrete. And so we do the next best thing - let's
"approximate" the dynamics of associative conditioning in some sort of
simulation. Sure, we won't be able to *prove* the neural subjectivities and
whether or not they have their own simple conceptualisations. But we can
infer that if neurons *appear* to function according to principles of
associative conditioning, then perhaps we should consider the possiblity
that this implies that they have to *conceptualise* their warm, wet worlds,
at some basic level. And the excerpts by Barto and Mobus provide evidence
that neural nets that approximate associative conditioning dynamics
actually work, thereby implying at least that living neurons might also
function according to associative rules of cognition.

>> What I am getting at is
>> that
>> conceptualisation is the stuff of life
>Ah! Panpsychism! or am I wrong????? You're a panpsychist? Do you
>think there is 'something it is like' to be neuron?

Your interpretation as to what I must be thinking is based in the
secular/anti-secular view that argues along the lines that there are angels
or there are no angels. The mindset that believes in angels is naive. The
mindset that asserts that there are no angels does so on terms it shares
with the believers and, is just as unworldly. For ultimately, both are
wrong, both see the world in simplistic terms of black or white. But the
world is more complex than that. It's the Christian-fundamentalist versus
secular-conformist thing - they deserve each other.

>> its principles are fully
>> general
>> and applicable at all levels.
>Yes, I think you are a panpsychist.

That's your term. It's a part of your language and your world. It has no
relevance to mine.



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

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