Layman's question on the biology of Long-term memory.

Glen M. Sizemore gmsizemore2 at yahoo.com
Wed Apr 17 11:11:04 EST 2002


Mat: I concur wih Sizemore upthread about RAM or hard drive-like storage not
being a particualrly helpful metaphor.

Glen: No real meanings of storage - "drive-like" or not - are helpful in
understanding behavior, the brain, or brain/behavior relations.

Mat: As it seems to me, after reading quite a bit about the subtleties of
synaptic modulation a more gneral point can be made. It is unhelpful to
associate any particular cellular or network level function with an (almost
arbitrary) division of higher cognitive function.

Glen: the notion of "higher cognitive function" is itself utterly flawed -
you seem to hint at this.

Mat: It happens all the time e.g. LTP=memory, Schizophrenia=Dopamine
Receptor or NMDA receptor, Depression=Serotonin Receptor. I think it is a
fallacy to mix levels like this.

Glen: Exactly. But I believe the problem stems from a treatable illness: all
fields of scientific inquiry that are concerned with behavior, human or
otherwise, has been sickened by psychology and its lopsided development. It
has elaborate theories, and a well developed set of experimental techniques,
but it has failed to employ analyses of its concepts. Notions like
"cognitive maps," "stored memories," "brain langauge," etc. etc. etc. are
not theories, nor are they the experimental protocols by which they are
"measured." The are bad concepts, and a conceptual analysis reveals this. A
good example of an area of psychology that is obsessed with conceptual
analysis is the experimental analysis of behavior.



Mat: Given that the brain has presumably evolved, then it is not designed.
It did not suddenly decide that it needed a memory function so LTP was
created. Instead, higher cognitive function is the emergent activity of the
whole host of complex regulaory pathways that exist in the brain. What
evolution has done is to increase the variety of interactions and changes
that can occur in the brain in reponse to the world, which has consequently
allowed the development
of more complex higher function. However, to separate out any particular
mechanism and say 'this celllar process does this cognitive function' is
wrong.

Glen: Basically, I am in agreement. Again, though, I would argue that the
phrase "higher cognitive function" is virtually worthless. Further, although
I am comfortable with the notion of "emergent properties" I am not sure
about the accuracy or importance of statements like: "Instead, higher
cognitive function is the emergent activity of the whole host of complex
regulaory pathways that exist in the brain. What evolution has done is to
increase the variety of interactions and changes that can occur in the brain
in reponse to the world, which has consequently allowed the development of
more complex higher function." I think I'm sort of with the spirit of your
comment, but I guess I would question the reference to "regulatory
pathways." This brings to mind the brain's role in the function of
maintaining the internal milieu (in ways that don't include behavior -
otherwise we would already be talking about behavior) like (non-behavioral)
thermoregulation and so forth. But almost upon the emergence of anything
that we might call a "brain" at all, it almost certainly had a role in
regulating the organism's commerce with the environment. Anyway, I think the
thing that slightly bothers me about this statement, though, is its
vagueness. I think this is born of your reaction to the conceptual morass
that is psychology and the rejection of all but the most vague references
(like "higher cognitive function"). What has to be discovered can be put
succintly.........

Much of the complexity of the behavior of organisms would be explained ("in
terms of" brain function) if we could say how it is that spontaneous
movements are blended and sequenced by their consequences (reinforcement)
and how it is that the resulting behavior comes to occur in environments
similar to those in which it was reinforced. Basically, how does response
differentiation and stimulus discrimination occur under the impetus of the
sorts of contingencies that make up the organism's environment? Of course, I
mean "how does" this stuff occur because of brain activity - a great deal is
already known about these processes at the emergent level (i.e., the
behavioral, not "cognitive" level). A next step would be to clearly specify
how individual units are built up only to "collapse" into larger units (as
when individual discriminated operants suddenly become all part of one
generalized discriminated operant).

"mat" <mats_trash at hotmail.com> wrote in message
news:43525ce3.0204161200.6ea171b1 at posting.google.com...
> I concur wih Sizemore upthread about RAM or hard drive-like storage
> not being a particualrly helpful metaphor.  As it seems to me, after
> reading quite a bit about the subtleties of synaptic modulation a more
> gneral point can be made.  It is unhelpful to associate any particular
> cellular or network level function with an (almost arbitrary) division
> of higher cognitive function.  It happens all the time e.g.
> LTP=memory, Schizophrenia=Dopamine Receptor or NMDA receptor,
> Depression=Serotonin Receptor.  I think it is a fallacy to mix levels
> like this.  Given that the brain has presumably evolved, then it is
> not designed.  It did not suddenly decide that it needed a memory
> function so LTP was created.  Instead, higher cognitive function is
> the emergent activity of the whole host of complex regulaory pathways
> that exist in the brain.  What evolution has done is to increase the
> variety of interactions and changes that can occur in the brain in
> reponse to the world, which has consequently allowed the development
> of more complex higher function.  However, to separate out any
> particular mechanism and say 'this celllar process does this cognitive
> function' is wrong.





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