B.F. Skinner

Your comment (8-15-2003)concerning B.F. Skinner that “His insistence that internal mental states and processes didn’t exist because they couldn’t be measured was simplistic” is a common misperception of the radical behaviorism founded by Dr. Skinner. His assertion is not that these internal states did not exist, but that they could only be observed by the person experiencing them. Further, although this poses a measurement problem, there was no reason to believe that these phenomenon were not explainable by principals of behavior similar to those responsible for more objectively observable behavior. That is, just beacuse only one person could observe it did not make it magical, just harder to study.

Welcome to the SDMB, Edneufl.

A link to the column you’re commenting on is appreciated. Providing one can be as simple as pasting the URL into your post, making sure to leave a blank space on either side of it. Like so: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/030815.html

No, technically speaking, this makes it non-scientific because it is inherently incapable of objective study.

Or are you suggesting that there is a way that an outsider can indeed study states that “could only be observed by the person experiencing them”? If you are, how is this accomplished and what data is available? If no data is available - and Cecil does say “his philosophical musings were unsupported by data” - then what scientific validity is possible?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I had had the following impression of Skinner’s work: that the internal workings of the mind might exist but that they were irrelevant. That is, you could base psychlogy on a purely behavioral level, without delving into any “black box” theories of how the mind works. Sort of a reaction to some of the more imbecilic claims of Freudianism.

I think you are both correct. Although limited accessibility makes “internal behaviors” difficult to observe and measure, it does not mean a prior that those behaviors are controlled by different processes. Skinners behaviorism to me is a Radical behaviorism (in the sense of fundemental, through going) in that the fundamental principal is that there is a orderly relationship between behavior and the environment, and it is the quest of science to understand those relationships.

To me, Skinners view is that the problem of limited ability to measure and observe private events does not give a scientist license to create a construct such as “The Mind” as an explanation. These explanatory fictions can be useful as theories or models but when they become the explanation itself, scientific progress is halted.

It would be an extraordinarily convoluted, if not downright impossible, process for someone to read the works of B. F. Skinner not as if he had written them as a person acting with intentionality and beliefs but rather as a purely reactive organism responding to stimuli; and probably a contradiction in terms to consciously experience those writings not as a conscious self with ‘freedom and dignity’ etc but instead as the purely reactive organism that he says you are.

So there’s a sort of intentional subtext. Not in the sense of “he intentionally has a subtext” but in the sense that “there is a subtext here with regards to intentionality”. And that would be that he is a person writing to an audience of other people suggesting the efficacy of studying yet other people (populations) as if they purely reactive organisms.

If it is our goal to predict and explain their behavior, we do not need to concern ourselves with their intentions and goals, but only with the stimuli to which they have been exposed. But yeah, we assume that we, the researchers, and/or those who commission research, have intentions and goals for which such a study would prove useful.

As a mechanism for understanding one’s self, it’s as useless and as impractical (and impracticable) as absolute solipsism. You can approach study-subjects in this fashion, but necessarily and unavoidably from an Us vs Them dichotomous (and objectifying) stance.

It ain’t The Everyday World as Problematic.

duplicate post