Jack Orbach (2000) Lashley's Writing Style. Psycoloquy: 11(016) Lashley Hebb (11)

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PSYCOLOQUY (ISSN 1055-0143) is sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA).
Psycoloquy 11(016): Lashley's Writing Style

Reply to Amit on Orbach on Lashley-Hebb

Jack Orbach
Department of Psychology
Queens College
Flushing NY, 11367



Amit's enthusiasm for Lashley's writings on neuropsychological theory is noted and discussed.


cell assembly, central autonomous process, engram, equipotentiality, Hebb, Hebbian learning, Lashley, localization, memory trace, nativism, reverberatory circuit, Vanuxem Lectures
1. My book on the two titans of twentieth century neuropsychology, Lashley and Hebb (Orbach 1998, 1999), reviews their theoretical contributions. It was written for an audience that included not only those who, like me, were still graduate students in 1949 when Hebb published his monograph, but also those of a younger generation who did not read Lashley's contributions as they were being made. I tried to show that Lashley, the senior and mentor, anticipated by some eleven or twelve years Hebb's use of Lorente de No's reverberatory circuit to sustain neural activity in the cerebral cortex after the stimulus had terminated, as in motivation and thinking (i.e., Lashley, 1938). Lashley's suggestions went largely unheeded by the neuropsychological community before Hebb popularised the cell assembly in his 1949 monograph.

2. Why was Lashley unheeded? In my view "Lashley's writing was often dry, obscure and narrowly focused. It had none of the excitement generated in Hebb's monograph and little of the clarity of expression needed to capture the fancy of his audience" (Orbach, 1999, p.12). Furthermore, "Lashley's evident shortcoming was that he was not prepared to explore the broad implications and multitudinous applications of the reverberatory circuit for neuropsychological theory as Hebb did, and this is precisely what made Hebb's neurologizing in 1949 so tantalizing" (p.5). These comments reflect the perspective of the reader of fifty years ago who had not yet had the opportunity to read Hebb's remarkable monograph.

3. In his thoughtful, generous and informative review, Amit (2000) writes on this matter, "Reading Lashley for the first time, I find his style and scope intoxicating. Indeed, his arguments are so powerfully phrased that they tend to convince even where they completely miss the point." (para 2) What a reaction! I can only say "bravo!" to Amit. It is now fifty years since Hebb's exciting elucidations involving the Central autonomous process appeared. With that background, Lashley apparently becomes much more understandable and engaging. I am pleased that I was able to resurrect Lashley's later writings for neuroscientists like Amit, who didn't have the pre-Hebb experience of reading Lashley as my graduate student colleagues and I did. I believed that Lashley's later writings were certainly worth another examination, and Amit's enthusiasm justifies my belief.

4. Lashley himself indicated that he was aware of his shortcomings as a writer. In my book, I quoted from a personal letter in which Lashley congratulated Hebb on the occasion of the publication of the monograph: "Although I am still unconvinced of your arguments and disagree with many of your conclusions. . . I feel a real admiration for the book. It is an exceedingly thoughtful and stimulating treatment with a broad outlook and literary style I envy." (p.55)

5. Like many contemporary neuroscientists, Amit continues to believe, as Hebb did, that change in resistance at the synapse is the neural explanation for learning. And again, like Hebb, he believes in a strict localisation of function in the cerebral cortex. I admire Amit's parting shot: "The final verdict is not yet in. But it can already be said with reasonable certainty that if Hebb's paradigm is rejected, Lashley's picture will not provide the alternative. Despite its great elan and imagination, it lacks constructive elements." (para 8) I am inclined to agree.


Amit, D. J. (2000) Hebb versus Lashley: The Practitioner's Case. Review of Orbach on Lashley-Hebb. PSYCOLOQUY 11(008). ftp://ftp.princeton.edu/pub/harnad/Psycoloquy/2000.volume.11/ psyc.00.11.008.lashley-hebb.10.amit http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/psyc-bin/newpsy?11.008

Hebb, D.O. (1949) The Organization of Behavior. New York: Wiley.

Lashley, K. S. (1938) Experimental analysis of instinctive behavior. Psychol. Rev. 45, 445-471.

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

Orbach, J. (1999) Precis of: The Neuropsychological Theories of Lashley and Hebb. PSYCOLOQUY 10(029). ftp://ftp.princeton.edu/pub/harnad/Psycoloquy/1999.volume.10/ psyc.99.10.029.lashley-hebb.1.orbach http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/psyc-bin/newpsy?10.029

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