Questions on the Nature of memory, personality, etc.

Lester Zick lesterDELzick at
Wed May 19 11:47:01 EST 2004

On Tue, 18 May 2004 23:27:29 GMT, "Glen M. Sizemore"
<gmsizemore2 at> in sci.cognitive wrote:

>[. . .]
>>Okay... perhaps that does not sound like something you may call
>>"Cognitive" Science. But it sure is interesting.
>>GS: Hi Robert,
>>Just a few comments on the above: all of psychology, and neurosciences that
>>have as their focus whole-animal behavioral preparations, manipulate the
>>environment and measure behavior. The ploy of non-behavioristic psychology
>>since the late 1940's has been to "operationalize" mental terms (like
>>"attention," "fear," "belief," etc. etc.). That is, one manipulates the
>>environment and measures behavior, but claims that one is "really"
>>manipulating something else, i.e., the mental "thing" that is being
>LZ: Sure, this is a reasonable observation. Except that behaviorism does
>exactly the same thing in different terms. Behaviorism operationalizes
>everything measured as behavior, just using different referrents. And
>neither discipline defines or explains those referrents mechanically
>except by reference to other equally ambiguous terms of the same genre
>with equally disastrous intellectual and scientific consequences.
>GS: Not much of this makes any sense. Sorry. If you can say it in a way that
>isn't gibberish, I might be able to respond.

How about if I just say that behaviorism's referrents are purely
objective and defined and explained in relation to one another in
purely objective terms whereas those of cognitive science, as far as
I understand it, uses subjective referrents in addition to objective
referrents for behavioral definitions, descriptions, and explanations.
So that your complaint that cognitive science operationalizes mental
effects is no more warranted than a complaint that behaviorism
operationalizes mental effects by claiming they are really objective.
The only difference is that cognitive science doesn't claim that
mental effects are necessarily well defined as objective phenomena.

>Nothing could have been more disastrous, and the price
>>paid is mainstream psychology, which I do not even regard as a science -
>>because science is actually a balance between facts, theories and concepts;
>>and mainstream psychology is utterly devoid of any careful analysis of
>>concepts (cf Machado et al "Facts, Theories, and Concepts: The Shape of
>>Psychology's Epistemic Triangle). The hallmark of mainstream psychology
>>most of behavioral neuroscience) is that "any term is OK as long as there
>>an operational definition." The problem is that the way mainstream
>>psychology partitions behavior is misguided. That is, they lump things
>>together that should be separate, and they classify as different things
>>are similar.
>LZ: Why shouldn't any term be OK for experimental purposes as long as
>there is an operational definition?
>GS: Well, that's the million-dollar question. And you have given the
>fifty-cent answer.

Yes, and it's fifty-cent answer I'm enormously proud of considering
that no one else has given any answer at all apart from categorical
speculative assertions. There rest of the million is just in escrow.

>LZ: The real question is should the
>experimental analysis of sentient behavior[.]
>GS: What is ".the experimental analysis of sentient behavior?" You accuse
>behaviorism of using ambiguous terms (in one of the few sentences that make
>sense) and you bandy about a word like "sentient?" But, anyway, you had the
>"real question" before.

Well, at your request I defined sentience for you a few days ago. I
use the phrase "experimental analysis of sentient behavior" to avoid
your penchant for reserving the simple "experimental analysis of
behavior" unto behaviorism alone. 

>LZ: [.]accept behaviorism's view
>of the way behavior should be classified, lumped together, and
>partitioned, or should it accept that of cognitive science?
>GS: BTW, what is behaviorism's view of how behavior should be classified,
>lumped together, and partitioned?

Aha! I don't need to know that in order to know its terminological
referrents and means of classification are all objective. And that is
what matters. Behaviorism has no way to judge subjective referrents
and that is all that counts with respect to how behaviorism classifies
lumps, and partitions behavior.

>LZ: Your main
>complaint seems to be that it accepts the latter and not the former.
>And in the absence of any mechanical relationship for the dependency
>between experimental manipulation and behavioral measurement, there is
>no way to tell because all terminological references are speculative.
>GS: Sorry, this is mostly gibberish again, Lester. On the one hand, you seem
>to admit that there IS a relationship between experimental manipulation and
>behavioral measurement. It is good that you admit this because it is exactly
>what is undeniable about the hard-headed empiricism of behavior analysis.
>But if you admit that there IS a relationship, then the "terminological
>references" can't be all that "speculative."  But, again, like most of the
>stuff you say, it is nearly incomprehensible.

No, come on, now, Glen. It's perfectly intelligible to you when it
suits your purposes. I've never denied there is a relationship between
environmental manipulation and behavioral manipulation. What I deny is
the significance and interpretation of that relationship. You can't
state the nature of the dependency between environmental manipulation
and behavioral measures. Neither can cognitive science. And until such
time as someone can, the exact significance of the relationship cannot
be determined. That's why terminological references are speculative
and not because they entail objective referrents exclusively or
subjective components as well. We don't and can't know these kinds of
answers until we can explain the nature of the dependency between
environmental manipulation and behavioral measures.

>>                   For example ask yourself, "What is the connection
>>"attention" and "stimulus control" and "conditioned reinforcement?" or
>>another way: "What are two ways in which the term "attention" is used and
>>what known behavioral processes are involved?" Hint: Sometimes "attention"
>>merely refers to the fact that behavior may be controlled by only certain
>>features of some stimulus (i.e., shape rather than color etc.) and the
>>animal is said to "pay attention" to one aspect. On the other hand, the
>>is sometimes a reference to subtle aspects of behavior that function to
>>enhance the behavioral effect of the stimulus. These may ultimately be
>>related, but one thing is certain - "attention" is all about discriminative
>>stimuli and conditioned reinforcers. For example, Skinner loved the
>>"observing procedure*" because he felt that it was essentially an
>>amplification, so to speak, of what the cognitive people were referring to
>>as "attention." But "attention" remains some mysterious "executive
>>in modern cognitive "science" but it is behavior, and it is behavior that
>>easily examined. Why don't more people know this? What I'm saying is that
>>behavioral neurobiology should be wedded to the experimental analysis of
>>behavior but, instead, it has aligned itself with cognitive "science," and
>>has gone off in search of phlogiston and the vis-anima. People like O'Regan
>>and Noe are refreshing, but in the same breath that they dismiss the ghosts
>>of cognitive psychology they trash behaviorism or, at least, what they
>>perceive to be behaviorism (more on O'Regan and Noe, below).
>LZ: In the end what makes the mentalist operational referrents more
>palatable is that cognitive science knows the mechanical definitions
>of its terminological referrents are open ended whereas behaviorists
>pretend those of behaviorism are not and that behaviorism represents
>the one true gospel for those engaged in the experimental analysis of
>sentient behavior.
>GS: Surprise surprise! Mostly gibberish again.

Gibberish cloaked in the veil of truth again. I should ask you for an
exact definition of gibberish, but what's the point since you know it
when you see it. If you prefer to lock yourself in to some form of non
sentient explanation for sentient behavior, there is nothing to add.

>LZ: That's the whole problem in a nutshell. If you or
>other behaviorists want to pretend that behaviorism has all the
>answers you're going to have to identify the mechanical nature of the
>dependency between the independent variables of environmental
>manipulation and dependent variables of behavioral measurements
>GS: You have said this many, many times, but that doesn't make it true (to
>the extent that it is even comprehensible). Behavior analysis does NOT seem
>to have to "identify the mechanical nature of the dependency between the
>independent variables of environmental manipulation and dependent variables
>of behavioral measurements explicitly." given that that phrase can even be
>made comprehensible. Behavior analysis directly demonstrates control over
>the subject matter by manipulation of independent variables. It demonstrates
>relationships and allows one to predict and control behavior - at least to
>some extent, and to an extent that seems mostly unrivaled in psychology.

All of which may be true to a limited extent in therapeutic contexts.
But it was your contention to MM that experimental analysis of
behavior represents the correlation of behavioral measures as
dependent variables to environmental manipulations as independent
variables. So I would just ask how you know this if you cannot explain
the nature of the dependency involved?

I've said this many times because you by-and-large evade answering
this obvious question. You claim you are measuring dependent variables
as a function of independent variables but you can't state the nature
of the dependency you are measuring. So how do you know you are in
fact measuring the right thing and not just some will-o-the-wisp? And
until you or someone else can state the nature of this dependency, we
will all just be guessing. And cognitive guesses are as good as your
guesses but a lot more plausible. Your basic contention is that the
appearances of sentient behavior are only the result of objective
environmental manipulations. And there is no special reason to accept
this guess as credible since the only demonstrable thing that is done
by anyone with environmental manipulation is to train but not explain
behavioral faculties. 

>LZ: And until that is done people will choose terminological
>referrents they feel describe the situation most accurately, claims
>and speculative arguments to the contrary notwithstanding.
>GS: I have a different explanation as to why people choose "explanations"
>couched in "mental" terms.

Undoubtedly a vast right wing conspiracy.

I see it merely as a more plausible paradigm succeeding a less
plausible paradigm for the elucidation of sentient behavior. Just
intellectual evolution and survival of the fittest. No conspiracy.

Regards - Lester

More information about the Neur-sci mailing list