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[Neuroscience] Re: Wherefore art thou Neuron Code?

Glen M. Sizemore via neur-sci%40net.bio.net (by gmsizemore2 from yahoo.com)
Tue Apr 3 13:37:33 EST 2007

"r norman" <r_s_norman from _comcast.net> wrote in message 
news:ps0513hq9j3tdccfr5d2fmkbc89ps8usl4 from 4ax.com...

> On Tue, 3 Apr 2007 12:32:51 -0400, "Glen M. Sizemore"
> <gmsizemore2 from yahoo.com> wrote:
>>"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 
>>>>>>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 
>>>>troublesome and, say what you will, his graduate-level textbook is full 
>>>>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 
>>>>to see the danger of silly concepts. The problem is, perhaps, not so 
>>>>when we are talking about habituation, classical conditioning, and
>>>>but things rapidly get out of control. And the fact is that the people 
>>>>neuroscience that are interested rather directly in behavior are
>>>>cognitive. Many of them think they are looking for knowledge in the 
>>>>The mereological fallacy is the rule in most of neuroscience that tries 
>>>>make direct contact with behavior. Science is difficult enough when one 
>>>>ultra careful with language, and it becomes nigh on impossible when one 
>>> 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 
>>completely on the same page here, though. I failed to mention something 
>>you gave me the opening, so I would like to remedy that. You said: 
>>habituation is a specific phenomenon with a specific and justly Nobelish
>>level mechanism behind it." My reply contained no sins of commission but 
>>contain one of omission; habituation is also a BEHAVIORAL mechanism. It 
>>thus, one of the things that must be explained. It is the name applied 
>>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, 
>>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 
>>disasters in science. If habituation of the gill-withdrawal reflex (GWR) 
>>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 
>>of whatever Kandel poked the gill with. A representation of the 
>>is stored and retrieved when it does its pokey thing again. The foregoing 
>>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 
>>when I recall a figure in a paper and draw it on a blackboard (the 
>>behavioral mechanisms don't include habituation, though). The 
>>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 
>>few thousand people in the world that ARE prepared to argue these 
>>issues. Whether Kandel could see the silliness of the view and chose to 
>>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 
>>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. 
>>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 
>>is behaviorism with its overarching obsession with conceptual analysis.
>>Habituation is real, the storage of memories is not; classical 
>>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 
>>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.
> I agree fully.  I, too, get a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach
> whenever I talk about  habituation of gill withdrawal in Aplysia
> having some really significant bearing on what we really mean by human
> learning.

Well, without getting (too) long-winded again, I am saying that habituation 
of the GWR does have something to say about human-level behavior, at least 
in a certain sense. Once again, "habituation" has the advantage of being a 
real behavioral process. On the other hand, finding a neuron that fires 
whenever a suitably-experienced mouse comes upon anything that can be used 
as a nest is a fact, but it is said to be "a breakthrough in understanding 
how the brain develops concepts." No, it is fact of probable importance in 
the eventual physiological understanding of stimulus control - more 
specifically, it is a fact of probable importance concerning how individual 
response classes* lose their individuality (under the impact of adding 
additional exemplars into the contingencies) and become the sort of broad 
response class that we call "a concept." It is a fact of probable importance 
concerning how physiology mediates the effects of environmental 
contingencies on behavioral response classes. To say the former (i.e., "a 
breakthrough in how the brain forms concepts" or whatever) is to formulate a 
science around a category error and to ask questions that cannot, 
ultimately, be given coherent answers.

*Here the designation of a response class encompasses the notion of a 
stimulus class as well.

>Still, it is an important illustration of mechanisms behind
> neural plasticity.  And trans-synaptic facilitation starts to approach
> associative learning.  What else do we have to go on to explain
> cellular mechanisms of memory?

I agree except I would say "What else do we have to go on to study the 
physiology of the fundamental conditioning processes?" [Though habituation 
is not usually called a kind of "conditioning".] In closing, I would say 
that conditioning explains memory phenomena, not the other way around. And 
it is a way to explain the myriad of phenomena said to be "kinds of memory" 
within a framework that encompasses the behavior of all organisms with a few 
core concepts. Kandel's work is not about "memory" it is about habituation. 
STM experiments (in humans and otherwise) are not about "memory" they are 
about operant conditioning where some more-or-less specific response is 
learned that is repeated or endures during the "retention interval" and then 
it is that behavior that exerts stimulus control over the response at the 
end of the retention interval. Much of neurobiology is a failure, not only 
because the behavior of vertebrates (especially mammals) is complex, but 
because it has invited the elevation of folk-concepts to scientific 
concepts, and that just doesn't work. There is habituation (as well as 
sensitization), there is Pavlovian conditioning, and there is operant 
conditioning. That's all there is. It is easy to say that, and it is true, 
but the processes are enormously complex and concatenate to form exceedingly 
complex behavior. But the goal of science is simple: Formulate the laws of 
habituation, classical conditioning and operant conditioning at the 
behavioral level, and then explain how physiology mediates these behavioral 
functions. Though I prefer pigeons, rats and monkeys, the invertebrate stuff 
is of enormous importance because it has the potential of being conceptually 
clear (it is a real behavioral process, not a category error) and clean (of 
course, not if we say that the gill poke is stored), the range of phenomena 
is circumscribed, and the physiological system is simple enough to make some 
kind of real sense out of it. More long-winded than I had hoped but there 
you have it.




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