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Old 08-15-2003, 08:49 AM
sherlock100N is offline
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Skinner Boxes


In high school back in the 60's I dated the daughter of a psychologist who was a devotee of Skinner. She and her two brothers were raised in air cribs. Like Skinner's daughter they apparently suffered no ill effects, except my attempts at 'behavior modification' on his daughter were unsuccessful -- not that they were all that successful on other high school girls either.
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Old 08-15-2003, 09:59 AM
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It was mentioned in an aside that George Orwell chose the title to his book 1984 by reversing a couple of the digits in the year 1948. While I have heard this as speculation before, is it in fact certain?

I have also read that Orwell originally titled his book 1980, as that was the year his son would be the age he was in 1948, and then changed it to 1982, thinking that had more of a "ring" to it, before settling on 1984.

Orwell is said to have been a fan of the novels of G. K. Chesterton. I have seen speculation that he chose the title 1984
because Chesterton's first novel, The Napoleon of Notting Hill, was published in 1904, and was said to be set eighty years in the future.

Incidentally, nowhere in the novel does it say that the story is actually set in 1984; rather, Winston Smith thinks that the year might be 1984 according to the old way of reckoning, but he can't be sure.
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Old 08-15-2003, 11:01 AM
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I was surprised the column Whatever became of B. F. Skinner? had no reference to rocking-horse shit.
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Old 08-15-2003, 11:23 AM
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Didn't Skinner train pigeons as bombardiers at one point? I thought I read where he trained them to identify map locations and peck at bomb release buttons in remote-controlled aircraft.
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Old 08-15-2003, 12:56 PM
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In a Psychology class I was told that Skinner's star fell in the early 60s after Noam Chomsky published work indicating that human brains were made to learn languages (a phenomenon he called "deep structure"). Also, we were taught that before that time Skinner's work had led to an emphasis on behavioural outcomes in therapy, which translated into a huge number of lobotomies being carried out on psychiatric patients.
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Old 08-15-2003, 01:36 PM
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I don't know that Skinner's work led directly to large numbers of lobotomies being performed (most of those were done in the 1940's/early 1950's, when Skinner was still in the early part of his career). I was an undergraduate psych major in a very behaviorist (Skinnerian) psych department at a leading university in the early 1970's. Even then, many of us could see the sheer inadequacy and silliness inherent in trying to describe the entire realm of human experience in behviorist terms (I eventually was driven into physiological psychology because it seemed more scientific to me). Cecil was wrong to dismiss Freud's work as quackery; Freud was a pioneer in the field. Freud was someone who was wrong about a number of things but also someone who got it right at least some of the time, which is not all that bad for someone who virtually invents a new field (in this case, psychology). Furthermore, Freud inspired others who made major contributions (such as Jung), which is a pretty standard pattern in evolving fields of science. Still, there have always been pretty big holes in the "scientific" aspects of psychology. I remember that back in the 1970's, most psychological experiments were conducted using college freshmen as the subjects. I don't know if that's still the case, but back then, college freshmen were hardly a representative sample of the population as a whole. In those days, a much smaller percentage of the population attended college, so by confining the experiments to a wealthier, better-educated, and smaller segment of the general population, researchers conducting such experimentation could easily be attacked as being unscientific in their methods. Over the years, I've come to conclude that the brain is an enormously complex organism that is influenced strongly by genetics, environment, early childhood experience, and possibly even spirituality. Simplistic theories (like behaviorism) are simply inadequate.
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Old 08-15-2003, 02:37 PM
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I would think a psych major would know that Freud invented psychiatry and psychanalysis, two parascientific fields rife with quackery, not psychology.

There is nothing unscientific about using college students as subjects. Researchers just need to take into account that their sample population might not be a good model for other groups, like USian society at large, USian elderly population, the world population, Swedish sumo wrestlers, etc.

Behaviorism is basically Occam's razor taken to an extreme. Exclude all that you cannot observe in behavior. If you cannot observe it in behavor, it's not testable, and therefore, not scientific. However, we can now (and really always could to some extent) observe what does go on inside the brain during thought. Postulating and then testing the physiological aspects of the mind can undoubtably be done with scientific rigor.

Even postulating things like the unconscious mind and more ephemeral aspects of though can be scientifically valid if the theory is useful (basically passes Occam's test where the theory makes things simpler than without) and is testable. Unfortunately, Freudian concepts like the ego, id, etc. do not stand up in a scientific framework.
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Old 08-15-2003, 03:38 PM
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Behavioural community


I think that I read that the idea for Twin Oaks was the book "Walden Two", but that they didn't manage to attract behaviourists nor psychologists; therefore, Twin Oaks are NOT based on that book by B.F. Skinner. However, there is a community which is based on behavioural science, Los Horcones near Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico. Their website is http://www.loshorcones.org.mx/ . They do, however, state that they are based on behavioural science, not on the book. I only know about them from reading their website.
(I spell "behaviour" with "our" because I'm Canadian)
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Old 08-15-2003, 04:17 PM
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I had the honor of doing a workshop with the incomparable Marion Breland Bailey shortly before her death. She and her first husband, Keller Breland, were graduate students of BF Skinner when he was at the University of Minnesota. (I'm guessing that he later went to Harvard, as Cecil said he spent his entire career there.) She was the author of "The Misbehavior of Organisms" as well as one of those who helped to train the pidgeons in WWII.

They showed the pidgeons arial photographs, and trained them to peck the target building. They were then loaded into bombs. The bombs had screens which showed the target. The pidgeons would peck, as trained, on the target building. The screen was wired to indicate to the bomb which way it needed to move to get the target into the center of the screen. Tests showed the system to be highly reliable. I believe it was never used because the airforce had figured out how to do it by machine before the pidgeons were trained.

Marion was quite entertaining. She told me that Keller was originally from Mississippi and never liked MN winters. He was caught in the infamous Armistace Day Blizzard, and when he got home he informed her they were moving south. They drove until they got to Hot Springs, AR, where Keller said it was warm enough, and they stayed there.

They established a business, I belive it was called Animal Behavior Inc. They trained animals of all kinds. At one point chicken acts were popular at county fairs, and they trained almost every troupe. They trained dogs, cats and horses for movies. They trained dolphins for the navy. Their most interesting move was to train cats for the CIA. The cats were surgically implanted with microphones, and could be moved from place to place by listening agents. They trained ravens to fly in windows and take pictures of any papers on a desk, open file drawers and take pictures, etc.

After Keller died, Marion married Bob Bailey, a long time trainer with the company. He was involved in most of what I described above. They spent several years running what were known as "Chicken Camps," where people learned to use operant conditioning on chickens, with the premise that if you can train a chicken you can train anything. These were primarily attended by dog trainers from all over the world, but also by corporate training managers, educators, and others.

The principles of operant conditioning do work, on any animal with a brain stem. (This isn't to imply that there is nothing else going on in the human head.) You have to have a reward that the subject wants, and/or a punishment that the subject wants to avoid, and clearly mark the behavior in question. It isn't easy with people, because trainers tend to get emotionally involved, and lose sight of the behavior in the flow of words and feelings. Marion and Bob raised a combined family that was huge, my memory says 12 kids, although I could be wrong. Marion told me there is no essential difference between training a dolphin and training a child. When the dolphin goes out into the ocean on a several hundred mile mission, it is totally free to swim off somewhere else and totally ignore what it has been taught. When a teenager leaves home with a group of friends, he or she is totally free to run off and ignore everything his/her parents have ever said. All of their kids turned out great, as, she said, did Skinner's daughters.

Marion died a coupld of years ago, just after my "Chicken Camp." She was a classy, lovely person who advanced the understanding of operant conditioning through constant application and careful, scientific observation. I'm honored to have met her.
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Old 08-15-2003, 10:14 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by The Punkyova
Their most interesting move was to train cats for the CIA.
I always knew there was something ominous about cats....
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Old 08-16-2003, 08:09 AM
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I'd like to point out another application of Skinner's research. Casinos and slot machines.

Pull the handle, wait, nothing.
Pull the handle, wait, nothing.
Pull the handle, wait, win a couple of coins.
Pull the handle, wait.......etc.
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Old 08-16-2003, 10:14 AM
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I, uh, think the slot machine pre-dated Skinner's research.

Although the introductory psych textbook I had in college did use slot machines as an example of operant conditioning.
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Old 08-16-2003, 12:41 PM
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Wundt came before Freud and did much more to stablish psychology as a science than Freud.
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Old 08-16-2003, 05:42 PM
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From what I read here air cribs are basically big boxes on wheels. The idea seems to be for the infant to develop by itself without input from mum, dad or siblings. Can anyone supply more info on them?
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Old 08-17-2003, 11:31 AM
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Skinner Box

Just thought this link might be useful even though nobody started crying "manipulating bastard" yet.

The crib is not there to isolate the child but to give it a protected enviroment. People aren't expected to put a baby in there and forget about it. It's a crib like any other. Parents will play with the child and feed it. But when it's tired it will have a safe place to go back to, one where the child can learn about how he/she can change the enviroment through its actions.
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Old 08-17-2003, 11:52 AM
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I went to college at MIT in the early '70s. Chomsky was our hero, so his arch-nemesis, Skinner, was the butt of many jokes. Finally, I decided to find out why. After falling asleep trying to read "Beyond Freedom and Dignity", I read "Walden Two" and thought it pretty cool. Later that year, I saw "A Walden Two Experiment" by Kat Kinkade, in a Harvard Square bookstore window, bought it, read it, and wrote to Twin Oaks, the Virginia commune whose first 5 years are described in the book. I wanted to see this place!

That was 1973. Twin Oaks was founded in 1967, and I first visited in 1974. By then, the only traces of Skinner's Walden Two were the communal child-rearing program (now defunct) and the "planner-manager" government, a sort of reverse democracy, where the leaders are not elected, but the members of the community wield an effective veto power (consensus-style) on the decisions of those leaders. Since members who take on the role of Planner don't get any material benefit, but lots of headaches, and very little actual power, it does not attract despots.

I lived at Twin Oaks 1978-1979 and 1986-1990. It was not easy, not an escape from "the real world" (think of the interpersonal dynamics of a marriage, and multiple by 2, and keep multiplying, and multiplying....), but I loved the alternative life we made for ourselves there, and if I were to list my best friends of the last 30 years, most of them would be people I lived with at Twin Oaks. I still love them.
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Old 08-17-2003, 05:31 PM
Wendell Wagner is offline
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Hideous Claude writes:

> In a Psychology class I was told that Skinner's star fell in the
> early 60s after Noam Chomsky published work indicating that
> human brains were made to learn languages (a phenomenon
> he called "deep structure").

Not exactly. Chomsky's work was a reaction against Skinner, but you've misunderstood "deep structure." There were a couple of different claims being made by Chomsky. One was that it's not sufficient in understanding the structure of a sentence to look at its "surface structure" (the tree structure of the sentence, sort of like diagramming it). Chomsky was deriving the surface structure by transformational rules from a deep structure, another tree structure that conceptually preceded it. (Later he modified his claims in ways that I can't go into.) A second claim made by Chomsky was that there are constraints within the human mind that regulated what kind of language it's possible for a human to learn.

The first paper I did for a linguistics grad course was one in which I attempted to show that tree structures are not sufficiently general for understanding the structure of sentences. I claimed that it was necessary to use more general network structures with the elements connected in more complicated ways. I titled this paper "Beyond Treedom and Twignity."
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Old 08-18-2003, 01:46 AM
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"Beyond Treedom and Twignity."

Ouch. Thank you.

Would this paper be available at a typical college library?
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Old 08-18-2003, 05:55 AM
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It was just a paper for a course, not a published paper. There was never any copy of it other than the one I typed up. I don't even know whether my copy is buried somewhere among my stuff.
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Old 08-18-2003, 07:56 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by SpectBrain
I'd like to point out another application of Skinner's research. Casinos and slot machines.
If only we had an image of a rat in a box playing with a slot machine with a scientist peering in over the edge...
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