Questions on the Nature of memory, personality, etc.

David Longley David at
Mon May 17 14:52:10 EST 2004

In article <85d56b27.0405171036.199dd941 at>, Robert 
M?rtin <robertmaertin at> writes
>In article <85d56b27.0405161400.1eac5c3a at>, Robert
>M?rtin <robertmaertin at> writes
>>>GS: Well..I don't know what you have in mind by "limitations." These
>>>technologies are ok, but what is really troublesome is that
>>>which areas are transiently more active when people or animals do
>>>things (and defining what they ARE doing is an issue) doesn't get
>>>anywhere, really, at least not in isolation. The problem is that we
>>>have a good idea how physiology mediates behavioral function. If you
>>>collected fMRI data from now 'til doomsday, you still wouldn't know.
>>>Okay. The problem about functional imaging techniques like fMRI or
>>>is that they measure metabolic activity indirectly and with a huge
>>>delay. They have a nice spatial and a poor temporal resolution. As
>>>cannot do electrophysiology in humans, you have to rely on these
>>>coarse mesurements. If you are trying to correlate higher cognitive
>>>functions like speech processing with these data, then you are
>>>throwing around with big words and make big assumptions without
>>>ground. Those studies are generally regarded to be suspicious.
>>>We don't know how physiology mediates behaviour... If you had read
>>>what we're researching on... well what everybody is working on :
>>>is it.
>>>GS: Now this is really interesting stuff. Do you know of O'Regan and
>>>They're behaviorists only they don't know it.
>>>YES. I'm familiar with their works. I'm also familiar with the
>>>successful works of Paul Bach-y-Rita. I like both. Of course tehy
>>>behaviourists, too. But at least their theories work and
>>>devices work as well.
>>>GS: Well, I would have to agree. But it isn't "cognitive science;"
>>>unless you can tell me what "cognitions" are.
>>>GS: And what, exactly, is human cognition?
>>>My God. I am interested in attentional mechanisms, conscious
>>>perception, binding, exploratory motor behaviour, visual processing,
>>>attention for action, response selection, emotions... I think
>>>definition I look up on the internet... this would be quite a good
>>>share of "cognition". And if this does not suffice in your eyes...
>>>GS: Let's far you have talked about behavior, and you have
>>>about physiology..nope...I don't see any cognitions, do you?
>>>GS: Does it have anything to do with
>>>"human behavior?"
>>>Sure thing. You can't regard the brain detached from the body.
>>>External physiological reactions go hand in hand with certain tasks.
>>>E.g. saccades, nystagmus, ANS activity. We act therefore we are. Of
>>>course you have to have a look inside the black box and predict and
>>>explain what you see.
>>>GS: Let me ask you this: Do we see the world, or do we see a copy
>>>whatever sort) of the world "in our brain?" Do you talk about
>>>retrieval at all?
>>>There are retinotopic mappings of various forms to be found in the
>>>brain. However, I think that the world acts as an outside memory. I
>>>think you know the discussions. This is my opinion. No, I don't talk
>>>about storage and retrieval at all. These terms are very biased
>>>towards the good old computational metaphor of mind. But it might
>>>be due to the fact that I'm not working on memory processes right
>>>GS: In my opinion, the cognitive "science" movement is the worst
>>>ever happened to psychology, philosophy, AI, behavioral
>>>anthropology etc. I think it might have also been responsible for
>>>Do you remember the part about "not productive". This is heading
>>>nowhere. Sry.
>>>GS: You're welcome. BTW, do you know the German word that translates
>>>to "the
>>>soul of the nervous system?" It starts with "R" - something like
>>>Sorry. Sounds funny... but I never heard it before and can't think
>>>a single word describing "the
>>>soul of the nervous system". BTW: reumarch... sounds like a dutch
>>>. . . . . ..
>>>To make it short. You want to an explanation and a definition of
>>>cognition. You want it without behavioural experiments. These are
>>>futile because we "don't know how physiology mediates behaviour".
>>>You want cognitions... NOW ! Well... why isn't there anybody looking
>>>for cognitions ?
>>>There are people looking for attentional effects, for conscious
>>>perception, action selection, cortical plasticity, memory processes,
>>>emotions. And then they use electrophysiology, imaging techniques
>>>behavioural paradigms to find out "how physiology mediates
>>>And you ask : Where is the cognition in there ?
>>>If terms like, attention, conscious awareness, action selection not
>>>comensurable with your big picture of human cognition... well these
>>>tiny little terms we try to explain are exciting enough for me.
>>>And if contemporary methods in neuroscience contain too much
>>>behaviourism for you... well, so be it.
>>>Here are short replies to the last posting... but I don't think
>>>heading for a solution here.
>>>I think we should discontinue this discussion. Please

<Longley Writes:>
>Is this a language problem here Robert ? Reading this exchange I kept
>asking myself what was going on. You began (a few posts back) by
>asserting that you were a hard nosed eliminative materialist. I saw
>(who, as a radical behaviorist, is at least a "kissing cousin" in this
>respect) probing just how deep that eliminativism actually went. There
>are far too many fakes around in "cognitive neuroscience" who
>appropriate anything that looks socially desirable and just end up
>espousing a hideous pseudo-intellectual eclecticism which amounts, in
>view,  to something far worse (logically incoherent and empirically
>unfalsifiable) than honest (but misguided) mentalism. At times (in
>some of your responses), you seem to come close to doing just this,
>your pleas for Glen to stop probing make it look like you just don't
>want to have your weakness exposed <g>.

<Martin Writes:>
>I'm sorry. So Glen does not mean the term "behaviourist" to be an
>insult ?
>I thought he was intimidating O'Regan and A Noe... which I admire.
>And that makes many of his questions clearer to me.
>Yes... might have been a language problem...
>So : Glen critizises that I claim to do cognitive science and be able
>to explain "cognition"
> even though I do only behavioural experiments combined with
>You think it's an utopian idea to look for such an ill-defined and
>powerful thing like "cognition" ?
>I thought by asking "where is cognition" you wanted to show how futile
>it is to make neuropsychological experiments not aiming at the
>explanation of the big picture of "higher cognitive functions".
>I thought you were being sarcastic when you called O'Regan and Noe
>behaviourists and when you alluded to behavioural components of
>Okay. If this is the case, I do agree. Then this has been a
>misunderstanding from my side.
>Very Sorry about this.
>Did I get it right this time ?

It's all got a bit confusing that's for sure <g>

Glen certainly wouldn't use the word "behaviorist" as an insult. He is a 
Skinnerian Radical Behaviorist.

He did say that he thought O'Regan & Noe's BBS paper was a good one. The 
point was that O'Regan did not seem to fully appreciate the extent to 
which he was saying things which were basically Skinnerian (so I 
e-mailed O'Regan him and told him).

This sort of problem seems to be endemic in contemporary "Cognitive 
Science", and this is a rather important point to try to get clear. It 
is *not* a trivial, partisan, matter. There are many people out there 
who are just misleading others about the nature of Radical Behaviorism 
whilst also making quite absurd claims about what they are doing in the 
name of "cognitivism". This has led to a pernicious rise in the level of 
gibberish in neuroscience and other disciplines over the years. Beware. 
It seems to be getting worse!

This is why both Glen and I have (independently) emphasised the 
importance of conceptual analysis. Glen represents the Skinnerian 
Radical Behaviorist approach of Behavior Analysis. I (endeavour to) 
faithfully represent Quinean Evidential Behaviorism. There may be no 
fundamental difference worth noting, although you can't assume that Glen 
would endorse all that I say. Having said that, I don't think there's 
much if anything that I've seen him post that strays from the solid 
empirical evidence generated by those working in his austere field (i.e. 
you can trust him, and potentially benefit from his criticism, I would 

David Longley

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