non-commutativity in the brain

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Tue Apr 4 11:52:51 PDT 2000

Les wrote:

>4.) and yet, if the article i posted about yesterday is at all true
>(which curiously, you didn't really comment on at all, cause you're
>busy telling us how __easy_ this is for you), then we have some kind of
>non-commutativity processing in the brain that can handle this kind of
>hard case. and more interesting is that we do it, yet when we theorize
>about it, its very hard to understand. and i thought that was an
>interesting thing to add to the discussion on brains and math and all

Interesting. What is called "consciousness" must be a tiny part of the total neuron firings. Much of information gets effectively & efficiently processed by our brains without it ever entering into "consciousness." To me, this fact militates against the Chomsky thesis that "deep" grammar is innate (from which Steven Pinker took off into a fundamentalist adaptationist direction) and favors the Gould-Lewontin anti-adaptationist argument that language may well be an accidental by-product of big brains. What feels "innate" is what is learned effortlessly without an awareness of being taught.

Evolutionary psychologists like Steven Pinker are committed to the idea of "modularity." They argue that:

***** Human behavior and mental operations can be divided into a relatively discrete set of items, or mental organs. (In one prominent study, for example, authors designate a "cheater detector" as a mental organ, since the ability to discern infidelity and other forms of prevarication can be so vital to Darwinian success-the adaptationist rationale.) The argument for modularity flows, in part, from exciting work in neurobiology and cognitive science on localization of function within the brain-as shown, for example, in the precise mapping, to different areas of the cerebral cortex, of mental operations formerly regarded as only arbitrarily divisible by social convention (production of vowels and consonants, for example, or the naming of animals and tools).

Ironically, though, neurobiology and evolutionary psychology employ the concept of modularity for opposite theoretical purposes. Neurobiologists do so to stress the complexity of an integrated organ. Evolutionary psychology uses modularity to atomize behavior into a priori, subjectively defined, and poorly separated items (not known modules empirically demonstrated by neurological study), so that selective value and adaptive significance can be postulated for individual items, as the ultra-Darwinian approach requires. (Stephen Jay Gould, "Evolution: The Pleasures of Pluralism," _NYRB_ 26 June 1997) *****

The difference between nuerobiology and evolutionary psychology that Gould notes -- especially in how the concept of modularity gets employed in each program -- seems important to me.


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