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Re: Skinnerian behaviorism

Sep 13, 1997 07:59 PM
by Tim Maroney

>Perhaps I am very much mistaken about Skinner, but didn't his work
>demonstrate the we are totaly controlled by our environmet? And, I also
>believe that he had stated that we have no free will. Are you saying
>that these ontological remarks were just musings and not confirmed
>results of his research?

That's pretty much it, and I'm also pointing out that he had a personal 
mystical interest in meditation (at least late in his life) that to me 
would tend to cast the "dogmatic materialist" model into doubt. Remember 
that there are Eastern traditions that also deny the reality of thought.

I have not actually read Skinner's popular books but I have heard a 
number of summaries of their contents. In my psychology education I 
studied only the science of behaviorism and it seems quite different. His 
contributions to philosophy and political science have not interested me 
enough to read them, but I do think the methodology of behaviorism has 
led to some very good science and to significant advances in our 
understanding of humans and other animals.

Where Skinner was really wrong was in thinking that the inner life 
necessarily remains beyond the scope of scientific measurement and the 
field went through this paradigm shift when the cognitive methodologies 
came to the forefront in the 1960's and 1970's. The cognitive revolution 
has been a good thing as well, though some its metaphors often get 
strained or are tied too closely to the contemporary state of computer 
science. (The thing about mental imagery not being accepted as a 
cognitive model before most computers got bit-mapped displays was 
especially embarassing.)

Biological psychology has also made tremendous advances inward in the 
last few decades and it's remarkable how well the nervous system's 
specialized functions are being localized today. I do not see these 
developments as being in conflict with mysticism; in many ways it is 
mysticism undergoing a phase shift into a science. Yoga is widely studied 
with modern methods and there are dozens of papers in peer-reviewed 
journals showing its effects under controlled experimental conditions, 
for instance.

Tim Maroney

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