[Neuroscience] Re: Wherefore art thou Neuron Code?

Glen M. Sizemore via neur-sci%40net.bio.net (by gmsizemore2 from yahoo.com)
Tue Apr 3 11:32:51 EST 2007

"r norman" <r_s_norman from _comcast.net> wrote in message 
news:n66313lovgrk2hu76f4ot0a55e9qte5nd5 from 4ax.com...

On Mon, 2 Apr 2007 18:47:00 -0400, "Glen M. Sizemore"
> <gmsizemore2 from yahoo.com> wrote:
>>"r norman" <r_s_norman from _comcast.net> wrote in message
>>news:mdm213tbel5su02cbsca2l1brkeeb2pa3o from 4ax.com...
>>> On Mon, 2 Apr 2007 14:07:26 -0400, "Glen M. Sizemore"
>>> <gmsizemore2 from yahoo.com> wrote:
>>>>"Entertained by my own EIMC" <write_to_eimc from ozemail.com.au> wrote in
>>>>news:461109ff$0$15007$5a62ac22 from per-qv1-newsreader-01.iinet.net.au...
>>>>> "Glen M. Sizemore" <gmsizemore2 from yahoo.com> wrote in message
>>>>> news:4610ed18$0$24160$ed362ca5 from nr2.newsreader.com...
>>>>> <snip>
>>>>>> The general point to be made is that, in many, many cases in
>>>>>> neuroscience, behavior hasn't been broken down into the right
>>>>>> analytical
>>>>>> units - that is, the conceptual structure inherited from mainstream
>>>>>> psychology is, literally, nonsense.
>>>>> You obvously both have a valid point AND get to feel good by making 
>>>>> it.
>>>>>> Note that, despite Kandel's careless
>>>>> > language, "habituation" is conceptually clean.
>>>>> IOW, it is a concept you can understand.
>>>>No, I mean that when you take time to carefully analyze it, it isn't
>>>>like the storage and retrieval metaphors and 99% of the other junk that
>>>>characterizes cognitve "science."
>>> I was wondering where you were coming from about that.  In straight
>>> neurobiology (an actual science, not the "cognitive" type),  Kandel's
>>> habituation is a  specific phenomenon with a specific and justly
>>> Nobelish level mechanism behind it.
>>I'm well aware of that. But the notions of storage and retrieval have been
>>troublesome and, say what you will, his graduate-level textbook is full of
>>that stuff, as well as other rather specious concepts. I can talk about 
>>stuff without a single metaphor and the reason is that I have been trained
>>to see the danger of silly concepts. The problem is, perhaps, not so acute
>>when we are talking about habituation, classical conditioning, and 
>>but things rapidly get out of control. And the fact is that the people in
>>neuroscience that are interested rather directly in behavior are 
>>cognitive. Many of them think they are looking for knowledge in the brain.
>>The mereological fallacy is the rule in most of neuroscience that tries to
>>make direct contact with behavior. Science is difficult enough when one is
>>ultra careful with language, and it becomes nigh on impossible when one is
> I come from the side of neurobiology that deals directly with behavior
> -- but it is invertebrate behavior where tracing complex patterns of
> activity directly to the activity of identified neurons is the rule.
> Perhaps Kandel, from the same school (except he was a slimy -- working
> with molluscs instead of the more noble crunchies -- working with
> arthropods) led him to make rather overbroad extensions to that
> strange and minor group of animals with a hole running down the length
> of their nervous systems.  Certainly he was very roundly criticized
> from the outset, about fifty years ago, now, about how his dedication
> to gill withdrawal in slugs had nothing at all to do with "real"
> behavior that some overreaction would be expected.

I'll grant that that is an interesting take on some of the behavioral- and 
cultural-level variables operating on Kandel's behavior. I'm not sure we're 
completely on the same page here, though. I failed to mention something when 
you gave me the opening, so I would like to remedy that. You said: "Kandel's 
habituation is a specific phenomenon with a specific and justly Nobelish 
level mechanism behind it." My reply contained no sins of commission but did 
contain one of omission; habituation is also a BEHAVIORAL mechanism. It is, 
thus, one of the things that must be explained. It is the name applied when 
reflexes (or elicited behavior if one wants to see "reflex" as only "brief 
and simple") diminish in intensity upon repeated elicitation, and the 
diminution is relatively long-lasting. It is, of course, frequently called 
the simplest kind of learning. It is also called a kind of memory. Now, I'm 
not arguing that it isn't a kind of memory, I am arguing that "memory" is 
the stepping stone in the creation of one of the most monumental conceptual 
disasters in science. If habituation of the gill-withdrawal reflex (GWR) is 
an example of memory why, then, there must be a representation. And to get 
even more silly (but remember, it ain't my view) it must be a representation 
of whatever Kandel poked the gill with. A representation of the pokey-thing 
is stored and retrieved when it does its pokey thing again. The foregoing is 
obfuscation of the highest order and worth a chuckle, but it is just as 
inappropriate when a baby's looking response (toward a speaker) habituates 
to "ba" but not "pa." There is no copy of "ba" in its brain that can be 
consulted so the little nipper can decide whether to look or not (here the 
"executive decision" wouldn't come from the PFC- probably more like a 
mid-level file manager that lives in the hippocampus), and studying the 
underlying physiology is not a matter of "finding out how the brain 
understands phonemes" or some such nonsense. And it is just as inappropriate 
when I recall a figure in a paper and draw it on a blackboard (the relevant 
behavioral mechanisms don't include habituation, though). The indoctrination 
into this point of view requires special training to combat, and Kandel 
simply did not have it. Little wonder (and no offense meant), there's only a 
few thousand people in the world that ARE prepared to argue these conceptual 
issues. Whether Kandel could see the silliness of the view and chose to talk 
as he did about "memory" and "storage" and "retrieval" and, ultimately, 
"representation" for some sort of PR campaign designed to enhance the 
attractiveness of his slimies, or he was under the impression that "as long 
as you define your terms, you are ok," (the more likely scenario - this is 
the legacy of mainstream psychology's take on Bridgeman's "operationism"), 
the cognitive conceptual structure exerts a hegemony over mainstream 
psychology and the large part of neuroscience that it has corrupted. 
Occasionally people like Kevin O'Regan or Bennett and Hacker appear on the 
scene and make a little splash (or not) but the disastrous conceptual 
scheme, wrought by the cognitive continuation of animism, is unabated. But, 
you know, I don't have very strong feelings one way or another. :)

Anyway, in closing, the solution has always been with us, and that solution 
is behaviorism with its overarching obsession with conceptual analysis. 
Habituation is real, the storage of memories is not; classical conditioning 
is real, but nothing is retrieved. Operant conditioning is real, but 
intentions are not, and it is more than a harmless facon de parler. The 
simple effects of repeated presentation of stimuli, classical conditioning, 
operant conditioning - these things are real, fundamental behavioral 
processe,s and they go far in explaining behavior at the behavioral level, 
and it is they, rather than knowledge, intentions, beliefs, etc. etc. etc. 
etc., that must be explained at the physiological level. But, as I said, I 
don't really have strong feelings on the matter.



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