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

mat mats_trash at hotmail.com
Thu Apr 18 05:00:24 EST 2002


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

Well, flawed maybe since psychologists seem to make aribtrary
distinctions between different 'functions' when I would regard it as a
whole.  But I do think the notion of an emergent property of neural
circuits is valid

> 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.

I agree that the more protracted and abstract notions in psychology
are not really of much use in neuroscience.  However, cognitive
neuroscience is very valuable, especially in fields such as vision
research.  You have to ask what function of the brain you are
investigating.  Its all very well discerning the detailed functions of
neural tissue, but if you can't relate it to behaviour and
consciousness then it doesn't go far enough

> 
> 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.........
> 

I think you may have misunderstood me a little.  When I use the phrase
'higher cognitive function' I am not trying to refer to psychological
notions more just the general conept of 'mind' 'consciousness'
'behaviour' etc..  I do not think they can be detached.  Further, when
I said 'regulatory pathways' I was not refering to anything such as
thermoregulation or neuroendocrinological axes. Instead, what I meant
was that evolution has delivered us with a highly complex set of
molecular interactions in the brain, that are not supposed to work in
any particular way, but have increased the subtlety and complexity of
our possible interactions with the world. A prime example are
neurotrasnmitter receptors.  Neurotransmitters in and of themselves
can do very little, however evolution as produced a host of different
receptors which mediate their action.  Further, each receptor often
has several slightly different variants.  Thus what evolution has done
is continually expand the range of events that can happen within our
brain, the end result of which is to give rise to complex behaviour.




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