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July 1, 1968


JAMA. 1968;205(1):40-41. doi:10.1001/jama.1968.03140270064014

Does a biologist use metaphor or does he make positive statements when he speaks of molecular memory, immunological competence, or enzymatic substrate recognition? Are all these attributes of consciousness merely convenient figures of speech, or are they assertions of an anthropomorphic belief? Do molecules in fact remember? Do enzymes recognize their prey? Do cells possess a type of knowledge essentially similar to that manifested by human beings?

These are not idle questions. If remembering and learning are fundamentally physical processes—as reductionist philosophy would lead us to believe— then it is worthwhile to chop up a "trained" flatworm and feed it to one "untrained" in the hope of transferring acquired knowledge, or grind up brains of one animal and inject it into another, or even take a crack at senile human mentation by injecting RNA. These experiments would be patently absurd if memory were regarded as a phenomenon distinct from physical