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[Neuroscience] Re: Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience

Matthew Kirkcaldie via neur-sci%40net.bio.net (by m.kirkcaldie At removethis.unsw.edu.au)
Fri Dec 1 21:51:27 EST 2006

Gentlemen, please!

Surely you are arguing different points.  Isn't the "mereological 
fallacy" a catchy term for the fact that the boundary of "brain" as the 
source of behaviour is far blurrier than is typically acknowledged?  If 
we consider LTP at a given synapse as part of some change made to the 
organism by experience,  how much of the organism do we need to consider 
in order to contextualise the change correctly?  Do we consider the 
hippocampus?  Both hippocampi?  The forebrain?  The CNS ending at the 
dura?  The CNS plus whatever PNS elements contributed to the experience?  
The receptors?  The body part which held the receptors?  The entire 
organism?  There isn't really a sensible point to draw a boundary in 
this continuum.  However, when we say "the brain is the source of 
behaviour" or statements to that effect, it implies a distinction 
between what's in the "brain" and what's not, and that the causation is 
an action of the first category and not the second.

Since there is no universally defensible "line" to be drawn in the 
continuum between a single synapse and the organism-as-a-whole, one 
could consider it a "mereological fallacy" (mereological with a small 
"m", if you like, meaning "concerned with the relationship between parts 
and wholes of things", rather than the formal systems dealing with 
part-whole relationships) to pretend that there was a discrete "part" of 
the organism which caused the behaviour.

Thus we could say that things "in the brain" could be critical in 
producing behaviour as observed, but simultaneously acknowledge that 
it's erroneous to pretend that this "brain" is a distinct part of the 
organism, and has a behaviour which is distinguishable from the 
behaviour of the organism as a whole.

To me this suggests that the views of Mat and Glen can be simultaneously 
true without conflict, since one addresses the notion of where behaviour 
is triggered, and the other is concerned with not pretending that this 
is somehow separate from what the organism does as a whole.

Now I expect you will both attack me instead!  Still, I'd like to know 
your reactions and whether this is a reasonable paraphrase of your views.

      Cheers, MK.

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