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Re: [ontolog-forum] Mirror neurons in language use

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 19 Jan 2010 13:01:21 -0500
Message-id: <4B55F371.8020602@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Rich, Gary, and Ravi,    (01)

The neuroscientists have done an enormous amount of very good work,
and the amount of detail is accumulating rapidly.  However, they
readily admit that the amount that they still don't know is vastly
more than what they do.  Many of them also make various speculations
that go beyond the data.  Some of the speculation is confirmed by
later research, but some is later refuted or qualified.    (02)

Rich cited the following note, which states some interesting work
by an important neuroscientist:    (03)

http://www.ted.com/talks/vs_ramachandran_the_neurons_that_shaped_civilization.html    (04)

A lot has been written about "mirror neurons", and I'm sure that
they are critical to much of human thinking.  But Ramachandran goes
beyond the data.  In particular, he relates them to the so-called
"Great Leap Forward", when humans "suddenly" acquired the ability
to do symbolic thinking.  That time, which is often estimated around
50,000 to 100,000 years ago, rules out the Neanderthals, who split
off from Homo saps about 300,000 years ago.    (05)

Since there is no evidence of writing beyond a few thousand years
ago, the evidence for the so-called "symbolic thinking" is extremely
indirect, such as beads, painting, and other non-utilitarian artifacts.
But note the following article:    (06)

    New research suggests Neanderthals weren't stupid    (07)

Excerpt:    (08)

    Neanderthals used makeup and jewelry, challenging the idea that
    they were cognitively inferior to early modern humans, according
    to research published in the _Proceedings in the National Academy
    of Sciences_. Radiocarbon dating by researchers at Oxford University
    suggests that pigment-stained and perforated marine shells were
    almost certainly used as pendants by Neanderthals in Spain 50,000
    years ago.    (09)

Following is an article with more detail about their way of life:    (010)

    Britain’s last Neanderthals were more sophisticated than we thought    (011)

Some people say that mirror neurons are critical to empathy, but
others have reported strong evidence for an understanding of death
and empathy for individuals who are dying or recently dead in
chimpanzees and elephants.  Even cats and dogs show that they know
when their humans or their kittens and puppies are in trouble.    (012)

The following note is also very interesting, but the title suggests
far more than the data:    (013)

    Scientists crack brain's codes for noun meanings    (014)

Excerpt:    (015)

    As the researchers report today in the journal PLoS One, the
    three codes or factors concern basic human fundamentals:
    (1) how you physically interact with the object (how you hold
    it, kick it, twist it, etc.); (2) how it is related to eating
    (biting, sipping, tasting, swallowing); and (3) how it is related
    to shelter or enclosure.  The three factors, each coded in three
    to five different locations in the brain, were found by a computer
    algorithm that searched for commonalities among brain areas in how
    participants responded to 60 different nouns describing physical
    objects. For example, the word apartment evoked high activation
    in the five areas that code shelter-related words.    (016)

That is *not* cracking the code.  They discovered evidence that
the associations in the brain link the same kinds of things that
AI programs have been linking for the past half century.  It's
always nice to know that we've been on the right track, but that
bit of data doesn't tell us whether the brain uses LISP, Prolog,
graphic images, or holograms.    (017)

In evaluating neural evidence, it's important to recognize that
important studies have been made since the 19th century.  Wars
have been excellent sources of data:  the symptoms of patients
with gunshot wounds are evidence about the function of damaged
areas of the brain. It's not a coincidence that the associations
of language with Broca's area and Wernicke's area were discovered
after the war of 1870 between France and Germany.    (018)

Those old guys weren't stupid.  The new guys on the block have
much more precise instruments, and the fMRI scans let them look
at how Broca's area and Wernicke's area light up when people
are talking or listening.  That's interesting, but it still
doesn't tell us how neurons encode information.  In fact,
the phrase "neural encoding" is no more enlightening than
Aristotle's "affections (pathêmata) in the psyche".    (019)

John Sowa    (020)

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