- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Skinner, the master of puppets?

Posted by: Piper on February 08, 19100 at 10:15:46:

In Reply to: Stopping with the 'reinforcement schedule' crap posted by Barry Stoller on February 08, 19100 at 00:24:14:

: Well, Piper, I applaud your perseverance.

: You have found Skinner saying something inconsistent with Skinnerianism (there are other examples). However, the OVERALL message should not be discredited by turning up one or two of his exceptional errors.

: : So again if somebody is looking to piss somebody off or make them act in certain ways then punishment CAN according to Skinner DO these things, albeit he thinks that it is not a particularly efficient way of shaping behaviour (i.e. controlling people).

: That's right. Not particularly efficient. Therefore your statement 'punishment doesn't work, no matter how effective skinner thought it was' clearly MISREPRESENTED Skinner.

Piper: Yes, I think that phrase did misrepresent Skinner. I was careless in letting it slide through.

: Nice researching there, Piper, nonetheless.

Piper: HMMMM, not trying positive reinforcement here are we Barry?

: : BTW Barry, I think reinforcement is a nonsense deigned to attempt to make psychology deterministic and thus scientific.

: Well, the whole behaviorist movement was an attempt to take psychology out of the parlor rooms where charlatans defrauded the idle rich and to put it in the laboratories where human behavior could be studied in the hope of studying behavior on a scientific basis for the benefit of people. Obviously, the promise was not met! But to say, as Chomsky (and Rand) did, that Skinner was interested in controlling people or denuding them of their autonomy was a blatant falsehood.

Piper: Well, strictly speaking Skinner couldn't have thought anybody capable of autonmously controlling anybody else, after all on a proper reading of Skinner the controller is only a vehicle of control, as much subject to control as those he controls.

However I am not sure Skinner fully recognised this. After all in Walden 2 he advocates a species of rational control, as opposed to arbitrary control. But if Frazier is the rational controller, then who is controlling him, except for chance? So as you can see it breaks down.

Of course the way most people would look at the control exerted by Frazier in Walden 2 is to see it as a totalitarian regime. But Skinner didn't see it this way. To his way of thinking not to control people would be to leave them to the mercy of chance and just as subject to control (in an arbitrary form).

For Skinner, freedom was merely retaining a 'personal sense' of freedom, even though all our actions are higly controlled. Thus in Walden 2, people are allowed to 'choose' to do whatever they want. But they are not 'free' in the populuar sense of the word because it is Frazier who allows them to do what is best for themselves and the community.

But this begs the question, as i said earlier of 'how does Frazier know what is best', when he is apparently guided only by arbitrary forces. He is the master puppeteer, but himself is a puppett whose strings are being pulled by caprice.

All this can i think lead us to conclude that Skinner's conception of how man could be productively controlled was fundamentally flawed.

I do not think one can deny that Skinner was interested in controlling people.

You are right however to say that psychology has not come far. The 'science' of human behaviour seems forever bogged down in methodological arguments. I think the excuse that psychology is a 'young science' is amongst the poorest apologies ever given. Yet they strive on looking for generalities in human behaviour, working with the assumption that behaviour must be deterministic in the same way as the natural sciences. Of course it must! If it were not then where would all these academic psychologists be? (Unemployed i would suppose.)

: And that's why I responded so 'aversively' to your post; because you were trying to associate Skinner with punitive sanctions.

Piper: I meant only to associate Skinner with the idea that human behviour is ultimately controlled (and controllable).

: : Why does a pigeon raise its head in a Skinner box to get food? Is it because such behaviour has been reinforced? Or is it simply because the pigeon EXPECTS IT? The latter i suspect.

: The pigeon 'expects it' BECAUSE the pigeon's behavior has been reinforced. You seem to want observation to be the initiating agent of behavior. We look for nothing until we have been conditioned to look.

Piper: If you only have a single reponse unit then what is the cause? (you can't say it is the food as this is in the future and the future cannot be the cause of the present)

Once you have observed a whole series of responses then you can say that the food is the cause (this is what Skinner calls operant conditioning).

So operant conditioning is just a conceptual slight of hand to make something that is in the future (the food) a cause.

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