Scientists 'locate' intelligence

David Prince deprince at
Mon Aug 28 01:36:32 EST 2000

Glen: It is my turn to be confused. Actually, my
comment was not meant as "ironic"(I'm not sure
what that would mean here - I think the English
word you are looking for is "facetious") or as
"...sincere agreement with the difficulty of the
task..." (if the "task" is a neurobiological
understanding of operant conditioning, even though
you have my agreement here). My comment was
meant as praise for what appeared to be your
recognition of the overwhelming importance of the
process (of operant conditioning) in understanding
complex human behavior, but I see the praise was
probably premature.

David: Actually he used the term "Operant Conditioning" which I see as quite
a victory considering most people do not distinguish a difference between
Operant Conditioning and Classical Stimulus Response explanations.
Therefore, your praise resulted in his use again of the term, which in turn
raises awareness of the fact that there is a difference between the work of
Dr. Skinner and Dr. Watson/Dr. Pavlov. Further, it has caused me to point
this out yet again. You can never underestimate the power of positive

Glen: It is true that the term "operant conditioning" is
simply a name given to a set of observations, but
there is a sense in which it is an explanatory
mechanism. This is the same sense in which "natural
selection" is an explanatory mechanism even if no
reference is made to the "underlying mechanism."

See? Or is it necessary for me to educate you?

David: Please educate me: How is any scientific theory not simply a name
given to a set of observations?

Glen: At least you recognize the lawful nature of the
experimental analysis of behavior (EAB), but most
behaviorists that I know do not claim that operant
conditioning cannot be understood in a
neurobiological sense.

David: In fact, it looks like that the study of behavior could be an
indication of how the brain works. It is interesting to me that we
distinguish a difference between body, mind, and brain. I see them all as
the same thing. A body is a brain in motion. A mind is a brain. A mind is a
body. From what I have read of neural networks, parallel processing, and
pathway strengths, the process is the same for the creation of a new neural
pathway as it is for a new behavior. The outside mirrors the inside and the
inside mirrors the outside. I do not see how it could be else.

Glen:They do, however, usually claim that behavior qua behavior can be
understood at its own level.

David: And I do not see a problem with this. We study Geography seperately
from Geology. The tectonic plates cause the land rise from the sea, but that
does not help me get to the beach. Behavior in and of itself is worthy of
study. If we can modify behavior, then we can eliminate crime. That does not
rule out other forms of Behavior Modification as a logical supplement to
Operant Conditioning. However, as Glen has pointed out, it becomes tiring to
continually justify your field and your studies to people who have no idea
what your field is about, and what it is you study.

Glen: Your argument is internally inconsistent. The
EAB does, in fact, generate laws, and laws do more
than predict - they allow one to control one's subject

David: Damn right. We can control behavior.

Sergio: It's necessary to develop explanations which
are reasonably intertwined and coherent with other
theories, from other fields.

David: Behaviorism is reasonably intertwined and coherent with other
theories, from other fields. How is it not? If you are looking within the
discipline of psychology as Glen's following analogy would suggest, then I
would point out that Carl Rogers noted his own use of positive reinforcement
and asserted its usefullness. My point is this: in the development of any
scientific field, we see a progression of theories such that each new theory
is capable of explaining all the facts accounted for by prior theories, and
more. For instance, relativity explains all of Newtonian mechanics, and goes
further. In Behaviorism we don't speak of hunger, we speak of food
deprivation. We have observed that in the presense of food deprivation, an
organism's behavior can be more easily modified using food as a reinforcer.
It is true, this does not provide a satisfactory explanation of the state of
food deprivation that you call hunger. But neither does any other method
that does not use empiricism to gather data about the event it is attempting
to explain. Neuroscience and Biology could easily fill these gaps in our
Behavioristic explanations, but I have to point out that it is by employing
the same methodology that we use: the Empirical Methodology.
    However, we still use Newtonian mechanics every day because it works
well enough to be very usefull and isn't as complicated to use as Einstein.
Why should I have brain surgery performed on my dog, when I can just throw
him a little beef when he acts right? However, as Glen has pointed out,
sometimes a theory is so poor that it needs to be discarded. Let us be done
with Anal Retentive, Hierarchies of Needs, Logotherapy, Drives, and
Cognition! Let us focus instead on what can be observed. If you want some
results, you better. You might be tempted to argue, "Why not throw out
behaviorism in favor of neuropsychology?" I don't have a problem with that,
if you will come over and perform the brain surgery on my dog. Behaviorism
works, and is easy to implement.

Glen: Behaviorism is not a methodology but, rather,
a philosophy that holds that behavior qua behavior is
the proper subject matter of psychology. It seeks to
explain complex behavior, at the level of behavior, in
terms of the facts uncovered by an experimental
analysis, which emphasizes direct demonstrations of
experimental control of the behavior of individual
subjects. It is, thus, true that behaviorism is
associated with a particular kind of methodology,
but it is so much more, as is evident in such works
as Science and Human Behavior (Skinner, 1957) and
Verbal Behavior (Skinner, 1957).

David: Sometimes I am moved to tears by the fact that the empirical
methodology has brought about the same teachings as the Buddha and Jesus

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