Mat's reply to me (Glen; was "Layman's question..."

Glen M. Sizemore gmsizemore2 at
Tue Apr 30 15:03:39 EST 2002

I have to start a new thread sometimes instead of replying in the usual
fashion, because of certain news-server issues.

> > Glen: the notion of "higher cognitive function" is itself utterly
flawed - > > you seem to hint at this. > > Mat: 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: It is not
"distinctions" that are the problem; the problem arises when > one makes
distinctions for phenomena that are related, and fails to make >
distinctions among unrelated phenomena. Just because something is an >
"emergent property" does not mean that it, itself, does not have "parts." >
But how are we to make distinctions among behavioral phenomena? You seem not
> to recognize the problem, or you have a simplistic view of this issue. I
get > the impression that you think studying the nervous system qua nervous
system > contains the solution; it does not. One must first clearly
delineate the > subject matter to be addressed (that is behavior) and
describe its "parts." > Only then can one make any headway in understanding
how the brain and > behavior are related.
Mat: Mat: I do not think that making arbitrary distinctions between
behaviours is any way to understand the nervous system.

GS: Neither do I. The distinctions I am talking about are not arbitrary.
They are the result of rigorous experimental delineation. The distinctions
allow one control over the subject matter in a scientific sense. Anything
that one says about the relation between brain and behavior must respect the
behavioral facts - there is no other way.

Mat: There is no reason to suppose that particular behaviours map
isomorpically to any particular neural circuit.

GS: I never said they did. I am talking about delineating behavioral
processes that underlie behaviors that appear very different. Somehow
neurophysiology must be consistent with this, but the notion of a
"particular neural circuit" is simplistic, though, ultimately, the notion of
circuitry is not so bad - its just that the circuitry exists at multiple

Mat: Further, looking for the bit of the brain that makes the animal do this
would more than likely blind us to the bigger picture

GS: Once again, "bit of the brain" is your phrase, not mine. My dear sir,
understanding how the brain mediates the effects of the environment, IS the
bigger picture.

> > Mat: 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 >

> > Glen: Needless to say, I disagree. Most of the advances in behavioral >
neurobiology are due to advances in computers, recording techniques, new >
highly specific compounds etc., and have nothing to do with cognitive >

> err in vision research, knowledge of image masking, binocular rivalry,
blindsight etc etc, which have all been the discoveries of 'cognitive'
scientists, are extremely useful.

GS: It is these phenomena as empirical data that are important, and they are
important because anything that one says about the physiology of vision
cannot produce an outcome inconsistent with the behavioral facts. This has
nothing to do with the concepts of cognitive psychology.

> Mat: 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: ????? Perhaps you didn't read my post. It was all about the
problem of > making contact between the brain and behavior. We cannot do
this because of > most of psychology's pitifully ridiculous concepts.
Knowledge of > neurobiology qua neurobiology tells one nothing about what
concepts are > useful in the science of behavior, whose findings must be the
proving ground > for neurobiological theories of behavior.

Mat: You are a behaviourist no? There is more to it than behaviour.

GS: A well developed argument!

> > Mat: 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..

> > GS: Sorry, I don't know what you are saying here. You sort of appear to
be > saying that "higher cognitive function" is a useful term because all it
> refers to is "mind," "consciousness," and "behavior!"

Mat: Partly yes. I am not that interested in finding out wich exact part of
the brain mediates this little part of behaviour, because I don't think such
a research program will work.

GS: You are assuming that you understand the kinds of distinctions I make
about behavior. You talk with impunity about "this little part of behaviour"
as if this somehow sheds light on how I fractionate behavior. Indeed, the
implication I smell here is that you are saying that I am defining
behavioral units as specific movements. I am not (but, nonetheless, one must
eventually be able to say how it is that the organism or its parts come to
make certain movements). The way I fractionate behavior is much broader than
this and has to do with the function of behavior. Thus, a rat pressing a
lever "for food" and one pulling a chain "for food" are more similar than a
rat pressing a lever "for food" and a rat pressing a lever "for shock" even
though the latter pair looks more similar. You would be more intellectually
honest if you would try to understand what I am talking about rather than
attributing to me positions I do not hold.

Mat: I am personally more interested in understanding how neural circuits
give rise to more complex electrical activity, and eventually what type of
electrical activity correlates with behaviour, thought, consciousness.

GS: Already spoke to this issue.

> Mat: 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. >

> Glen: This strikes me as little more than word salad and obfuscation. It
is > unfortunate that you chose to delete the last portion of my post which
is an > example of a reasonably accurate, and relatively succinct
description of > what we should be working on.

Mat: lol. you just gave a definition of behaviourism. Very limited in scope
and possibility of discovering anything useful.

GS: Another well developed argument, Mat.

Mat: All I said in the above comment was that many people keep on trying to
assign higher functions to cellular level structures such as receptors and
other molecules whereas I believe that is fallacy.

GS: I already dealt with your misattributions.

Mat: Higher function (including behaviour) can only be comprehended in terms
of the emergent properties of networks and circuits.

GS: I repeat, anything one says about the brain and behavior MUST be
consistent with behavioral facts such as that the consequences of behavior
alter the probability of that behavioral unit in the future. The behavior
tends to occur in the presence of stimuli similar to those in which it was
reinforced etc. etc. etc. etc. These are not arbitrary facts they are facts
that can be used to control the behavior of individual subjects.

Mat: What evolution has done is provided the complexity for high degree of
variety in these emergent properties such tha we have complex behaviour,
thought etc... Its just as much word salad as yours of course, s id anything
specualtive. But mine is much less obfuscatory! are you denying that thought

GS: Salad anyone? No, I am not denying that "thought" occurs. Where
precisely do I say that? However if you go looking for the correlates of
"thought" you will find only behavior and its correlates.

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