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Bennett and Hacker: Village Idiots or Philosophers?

David Longley David at longley.demon.co.uk
Wed Feb 11 06:59:51 EST 2004

In article <fa69ae35.0402110159.5a3eee8f at posting.google.com>, Eray 
Ozkural  exa <erayo at bilkent.edu.tr> writes
>"AlphaOmega2004" <OmegaZero2003 at yahoo.com> wrote in message 
>news:<2b87008a9fd70789cb534988f584011a at news.teranews.com>...
>> I think the conceptual error these guys make is that one cannot explain the
>> psychological terminology by reference to neuropsychological concepts.
>> These are *all* bona fide *ways* of conceptualizing a space that is
>> multi-dimensional in the broadest sense.  TO think one can divorce the
>> psychological from the neuropsychological is non sense.
>The problem with these authors is that they have published the book in
>2003, while it seems to me it should have been published around 1930s
>or 1940s when Wittgenstein was worshipped by many. Ah, still the
>church of Wittgenstein thrives I guess, and I pity that I'm not a
>priest and true believer (in God) from time to time. Anyway, you get
>the idea. If it weren't for an absolute conviction in the truth of
>what Wittgenstein said and his followers, there wouldn't be such a
>book. That's an important point.

The important point is that there *are* serious *theoretical* or 
conceptual confusions in "Cognitive Neuroscience". Much of neuroscience 
is 'just' careful anatomy, biophysics, chemistry, histology etc etc and 
even some of the behavioural work is clearly sound and useful science. 
The problem is that in "Cognitive Neuroscience" some seem to use the 
complexity of the domain almost as a blank cheque to write whatever they 
want - and because it can't be tested, or begs all the questions being 
asked in another lab (often just down the corridor!), no end of nonsense 
is written and published. The "storage" point has been covered here, but 
there are others.

You may well think you know what "memory" is. I suspect most people 
posting to this group know how flip-flops, registers and RAM cells work. 
They also probably know how Turing Machines, ALU's and modern CPU's 
work. Given that, why might some such folk be concerned about the usage 
of the computer as a model or metaphor in neuroscience or behavior 
science? That's the point you need to try to tell *yourself* that you 
may not fully understand.

>Note also that the authors have written some serious non-sense. In
>particular, this one:
>  "It is wrong, *conceptually* wrong, to suppose that memory is always
>of the past, or to think that memories can be *stored* in the brain in
>the form of the strength of synaptic connections (Kandel, Squire,

I don't know what they are specifically talking about here, but it might 
just be that what's sometimes presented as "retrieval" or "recollection" 
of specific events is not, as reported, what has actually happened - at 
least not in that configuration. See what I have said (and illustrated) 
elsewhere about intensional contexts. This *is* odd stuff!

>As a computer scientist, I know very well what "memory" is, and *that*
>our intuitive notion of "memory" coincides with the technical term of

How do you know that? It is this sort of 'certainty' which easily breaks 
down when you look *carefully* into how these notions are actually used 
in different contexts. It may just be that you're being so loose in your 
association that it seems this way to you, ie that you are attributing 
carelessly. The problems tend to become even more apparent when one 
actually does practical work in these areas. Note - one of the authors 
is an *accomplished* neuroscientist and I suggest you have a look at one 
of his earlier books:


>*and* furthermore that it also corresponds to "memory" in
>neural associative memory models, etc. That is to say, there is *no*
>conceptual mistake. And I also direct your attention to the stupid
>blurb about "the past". Oh, memory is not of the past, great, then
>perhaps it is of future? Trust me, this is non-sense. I agree with the
>authors in that a good philosopher must be able to distinguish sense
>from non-sense, but so must a scientist and from both perspectives
>their statement is pure non-sense.

This, as I say, may simply reflect your limited knowledge of how the 
term "memory" is used/misused by different people. I think one only 
really starts to get a headache over the usage of the term when one gets 
down to dealing with the practicalities. In Computer Science, like it or 
not, one tends to operate from the Intentional Stance, even when one is 
working with CPU architectures. You are, in effect, relying on how one 
naturally thinks when fabricating or working with the technology - 
(albeit not when programming perhaps) just as one does when one works 
with film, video, TV etc. The actual components can be dealt with in 
physical, extensional terms, but when considering how they are put 
together, you take the Intensional Stance as an assumption - ie the 
technology is tailored to fit - ie to sell - by being humanly usable!

>That's why I think they sounded more like village idiots than
>philosophers when they said such things. They say even sillier things
>about computationalism as Pierre demonstrated, you can knock down
>their arguments with a single analogy.

You have this unfortunate propensity to disparage what you don't 
understand. When Glen and I criticise we are *not* doing that. I've 
commented elsewhere on how intolerance of what one does not understand 
is just one element of a class of behaviour which, whilst all too human, 
is odious none the less..

>Eray Ozkural
David Longley

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