Jack Orbach (1999) Neuropsychology and Neurophilosophy. Psycoloquy: 10(052) Lashley Hebb (3)

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PSYCOLOQUY (ISSN 1055-0143) is sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA).
Psycoloquy 10(052): Neuropsychology and Neurophilosophy

Reply to Robinson on Orbach on Lashley-Hebb

Jack Orbach
Department of Psychology
Queens College
Flushing, NY



Are Lashley's and Hebb's Neuropsychological theories really theories? Do they solve any neurophilosophical problems?


cell assembly, central autonomous process, engram, equipotentiality, Hebb, Hebbian learning, Lashley, localization, memory trace, nativism, reverberatory circuit, Vanuxem Lectures
1. Many thanks to Daniel N. Robinson (1999), respected historian of psychology, for his thoughtful, scholarly and generous review of my book on Lashley and Hebb (1998). Let me begin with my conclusion: I must reluctantly agree with him that, despite the conceptual tinkering by the two titans of twentieth century neuropsychology, the Snark is still a Boojum.

2. As for their theoretical concepts -- non-sensory control of behaviour, the central autonomous process, mechanisms of attention and the importance of the reverberatory circuit in the cerebral cortex -- Robinson argues that there is a long and rather robust pedigree behind each of these central ideas. Names include David Hartley, Robert Whytt, Marshall Hall, Alexander Bain, and David Ferrier, all of the British contingent. My story, for the most part, did not cover events prior to the twentieth century, nor did I make any effort to go back to the pre-experimental period. I was certainly not trying to be exhaustive in assigning priorities to these ideas, and I plead guilty to Robinson's charge of errors of omission.

3. In his review, Robinson once again expresses the view that cell-to- cell activity in the cerebral cortex is not to be contrasted with putative neural fields, but is the source of them. I don't believe that this possibility was ever entertained by Lashley (ibid., 280-281).

4. Robinson points out amusingly that Lashley and others entertained the possibility that laboratory rats were not endowed with pattern vision. This opinion was based on the failure of rats to discriminate visual patterns in the Yerkes box. But it was Lashley himself who corrected this view by introducing a new testing apparatus -- the jumping stand.

5. Robinson raises the question of whether the conceptual notions offered by Lashley and Hebb can be dignified by calling them theories. I myself am guilty of doing so. Witness the title of my book, "The Neuropsychological Theories of Lashley and Hebb." But if I follow Robinson's meaning, it seems to me that Lashley himself was aware of the limited nature of the conceptions he had to offer. Referring at the end of his career in 1957 to his interference-pattern conception of cortical activity, he said, "I have used the analogy of interacting waves on the surface of a lake... The analogy is far-fetched, but I believe it is a closer representation of the events in the nervous system than is the classical notion of stable reflex paths" (ibid., 11).

6. Finally, how successful was Lashley as a philosopher with regard to the mind-body problem? He was certainly not trained as a philosopher, nor did he ever represent himself as one, and I believe we should not think of him as a philosopher. His speculations led him to the problem of the privacy of sensations and ideas, and this in turn led him to conclude that the single attribute of mind that is knowable is its organisation. "What sort of stuff is organized, mental or physical, is both irrelevant and meaningless" (ibid., 287). I don't think that Lashley's speculations have carried us significantly closer to a resolution of the mind-body problem.


Orbach, J. (1998) (Ed.) The Neuropsychological Theories of Lashley and Hebb. University Press of America

Orbach, J. (1999) Precis of: The Neuropsychological Theories of Lashley and Hebb. PSYCOLOQUY 10(23). ftp://ftp.princeton.edu/pub/harnad/Psycoloquy/1999.volume.10/ psyc.99.10.029.lashley-hebb.1.orbach http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/cgi/psyc/newpsy?10.029

Robinson, D.N. (1999) Precis of: The Snark Is Still a Boojum. PSYCOLOQUY 10(45). ftp://ftp.princeton.edu/pub/harnad/Psycoloquy/1999.volume.10/ psyc.99.10.045.lashley-hebb.2.robinson http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/cgi/psyc/newpsy?10.045

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