The collective body of institutions and traditions, material artefacts, regulations and procedures, *habits, rituals, and beliefs, created over time by a society or a group, and usually transmitted, both implicitly and explicitly, from one generation to another.

Cultura in Latin meant tilling and husbandry, and cultor was a planter, inhabitant, and worshipper of gods (Cassell's Concise Latin dictionary 1966). In modern society, the agricultural connotations of culture are largely gone, but the sense of belonging to a physical or virtual niche remains; some kind of worshipping, be it religious or secular, is also often retained. So versatile are the uses and implications of 'culture', that dictionaries give up on defining it in a comprehensive manner. 'Culture' is widely discussed from different points of views in anthropology, sociology, archaeology, history, political science, critical theory and aesthetics, philosophy, ethology, and sociobiology (Kroeber and Kluckhohn 1963).

Three aspects of culture should interest us in the context of the present discussion. The first is culture as a process and vehicle for the transfer of information by behavioural means. This involves a number of channels, such as instruction via "observational learning, or cultural artefacts. A common manifestation of culture is "collective memory. The two, although related, should not be confused. Members of a group can share a collective memory but belong to separate cultures. Culture also includes material artefacts as well as contemporary institutions, regulations, and beliefs that do not necessarily make it into the collective memory of the group. Furthermore, certain social species in addition to "Homo sapiens are said to display rudiments of culture (Bonner 1980; Whiten etal. 1999; "birdsong, "monkey), but it is doubtful whether the members of any of these species share even a rudimentary collective memory, in terms of sets of historical narratives and beliefs.

The two other aspects of culture that are of interest to us here relate to certain anthropological and sociological aspects of the concept. More specifically, to science, of which brain and memory research are a prominent part, as a culture, and to the interaction of this culture with the rest of culture.

For Geertz (1983), culture was the 'webs of significance (man) himself has spun' and in which human beings are 'suspended'. These webs are composed of multiple types of threads, some material, some mental. In the world of science, 'culture' is hence the physical, procedural, intellectual, and emotional milieu, or 'webs of significance', in which scientists are entangled during most if not all their waking hours, and frequently also during the rest of the day. The notion that there are two intellectual cultures, that of scientists and that of 'literary intellectuals' or 'humanists' (Snow 1963), has turned over the years into a given in popular discourse on modern society. The question can be raised whether the split in the intellectual community is indeed so deep; whether it is inherently so or due mostly to mutual laziness; and, moreover, whether it is static. But clearly, in daily life, scientists do have their typical dialects, "methods (not necessarily generalizable to many facets of life), rituals, and worries, which altogether justifies their classification as members of a separate culture. Furthermore, within science, many separate subcultures could be discerned, according to the discipline and subdiscipline.

As far as the scientific culture in general is concerned, one of the most intriguing issues is indeed its interaction with society at large. This has been the topic of numerous novels and movies, too many of which depict the scientist as a dangerous lunatic or a weirdo at best (Haynes 1994). The interaction of science and society, including its potential futuristic outcome, has occasionally been the topic of works of letters composed by distinguished members of the scientific culture (e.g. Haldane 1923; Skinner 1961). And, of course, it is also the subject matter of serious academic work (for an introductory selection of scholarly themes and stands, see Olby et al. 1990; for a provocative point of view, see Midgley 1992; and for a recent view concerning the unwritten science-society 'contract', see Gibbons 1999).

But there is another aspect to the culture of science, which usually gains less publicity. This is the inner workings of scientific culture itself. Occasionally, a best-seller allows the public to glimpse at the modus operandi of the scientific community (e.g. Watson 1968). In recent years, unfortunately, a few fraud scandals and greed-driven rivalries have also attracted much attention. The truth, as every practising scientist knows, is less heroic and more complicated than depicted by egocentric accounts that make it to the book-of-the-month shelf (for a few refreshing exceptions, see Brenner 1997; Weiner 1999; also some of the chapters in Hodgkin et al. 1977).

The culture of any scientific discipline, memory research no exception, could be depicted as a collection of conceptual, pragmatic, and ritualistic attributes that are partially shared with other scientific disciplines. They range from the philosophical to the mundane. The philosophical include, among others, the elementary, universal sets of the scientific methods and "criteria. These themselves are cognitive + cultural constructs. Being so, and to the justified dismay of scientists, these tenets of the scientific culture are a recurrent target for vicious attacks by the so-called 'postmodernists', who seem to capitalize on the inherent fallibility of the senses and the cognition of the human individual, yet utterly ignore the built-in safeguards that the scientific "system as a whole has painstakingly devised to hold a grip on reality, as well as the great successes of science and technology (for minute glimpses into these issues, see Midgley 1992; Gottfried and Wilson 1997). Other attributes of the scientific culture are on the more mundane side and include laboratory practices and rites (Lynch 1985, 1988; Pickering 1992), extensive overtime, lengthy seminars, international meetings, workshops, lecture and poster habits, manuscript and reviewer routines, worries about priority ("scoopopho-bia), etc. Whoever wishes to taste these facets of the scientific culture and never did, is cordially invited to mingle with the crowd in the yearly meeting of the American Society for Neuroscience (> 25,000 participants, a sure prescription for agoraphobia). And then there are those more specific elements of the culture of memory research that break down into further subdisciplines or, better, subcultures—those of the physiologists and their electrodes, the molecular biologists and their clones, the geneticists and their mutations, the psychologist and their "subjects, the neurologists and their "amnesics, the computational people and their "models, etc., etc.

In addition to the differences in training and occasionally in the "zeitgeist, and to the idiosyncratic esprit de corps and folklore, a major obstacle to intercultural and sometimes even to intracultural communication is the language barrier. Not only is the scientific jargon incomprehensible to the nonscientists, it is also frequently gibberish to scientists from other disciplines (for an informative scale of language obscureness see Hayes 1992). In this respect, there are two steps that scientists could take to facilitate mutual understanding and gain from it. First, it would be nice to stop using all these nonstop awkward acronyms without explaining them; they certainly turn into a mission impossible any attempt to follow seminars or read papers, even in the so-called general interest journals. How many neuroscientists can even dare to understand a sentence such as 'Kir6.2 produces K-ATP in the absence of SUR1'?1 And is 'CSBs-CSAs-USs ISIs in DMTS' better? Second, it might be useful to recall what Socrates said to Meno (Plato, Meno, 79c,d):

'Socrates: ... Does anyone know what a part of a virtue is, without knowing the whole?

'Meno: I suppose not.

'Socrates: No, and if you remember, when I replied to you about shape just now, I believe we rejected the type of answer that employs terms which are still in question and not yet agreed upon.

'Meno: We did, and rightly.

'Socrates: Then please do the same.'

Selected associations: Birdsong, Collective memory, Homo sapiens, Observational learning, Paradigm

'For another example related to the molecular neurobiology of learning, see ZENK in 'immediate early genes.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment