Animism is bustin' out all over, reviews

[From Rick Marken (941102.0915)]

Bruce Abbott (941031.1500 EST) says:

In Traditional Reinforcement Theory (I'll call it TRT), reinforcers not
only alter the probability of behavior, they also serve to MAINTAIN it.

Bill Powers (941101.0740 MST) replies:

It's very hard for me to get past this -- pardon me -- animistic language.
You have to admit that this sounds as if the reinforcers, the little bits
of kibble or the little drops of water, have some ability to initiate an
effect on behavior (and now to maintain it), all by themselves.

Tom Bourbon (941102.1630) replies to the same comment:

Ouch! I know you are presenting a summary of TRT, but it hurts to see
"scientists" savage the language that way. TRT writers portray inanimate
objects as agents, embued with the functional properties of living control
systems. I know that way of writing is part of the TRT tradition, but by
that practice the TRT community looks downright animistic.

Hmmm. TRT animistic. Where have I heard that nonsense before? :wink:

Bill Powers (941101.1150 MST) re: Rick Marken (941101.1100) --

Your explanations and discussions of the E. coli effect are clear; they
would work if the listener knew something about control theory...
it's very unusual for a person who believes in a different theory (and
believes that it explains behavior correctly) to stick with control theory
long enough to become equally expert at using it.

Yes, indeed. Especially when people notice that control theory not only
differs from their current favorite theory but that it challenges the very
foundation on which that theory is built. All theories in conventional
psychology are built on the same foundation -- the cause-effect model. S-R
type theories are based on the idea that external events cause behavioral
responses; reinforcement type theories are based on the idea that
consequences select (cause) future behaviors; cognitive type theories are
based on the idea that mental plans, processes or computations cause
behavior. PCT shows that all these apparent cause-effect relationships are
side effects of the process of control.

While cause and effect exist in a control loop, they are hooked together
in such a way that a new kind of phenomenon emerges -- the phenomenon of
control or purposeful behavior. The essense of the phenomenon of control is
the maintenance of perceptual variables in specified states. The behavior of
a control system can refer to either the actions that control perceptions or
to the controlled perceptions themselves; in either case, the behavior of a
control system is not an effect of causal processes; it is the control of
perception (where have I heard that before?).

Conventional psychologists have generally been able to debate their
theoretical differences with great civility. Cognitive theorists scoff
at reinforcement theorists who scoff right back; reinforcement theorists mock
S-R theorists who think cognitive theorists are out to lunch. But the
competition that I have seen has always involved mutual respect. I think this
results from the fact that conventional psychologistys of every theoretical
strip share the same basic assumption; that behavior is a cause-effect

However, civility and mutual respect often break down when conventional
psychologists wrestle with PCT. This is a particlar problem when conventional
psycholgists realize, consciously or unconsciously, what PCT is about. This
is nicely revealed in Bill's anecdote about Janet Spence:

Janet Spence it was. She was a nice lady, until I sent that first
paper to Science (12 years after I'd left her classes). She was one
reviewer of it, and she said that the paper on the face of it didn't
belong in a scientific journal; it was an insult to science. Her review
was so nasty that the editors sent me a copy of her comments (not then
customary) with a remark that this represented a rather extreme reaction

I think Janet Spence clearly understood, albeit unconsciously, what Bill was
saying in this article: if control theory is right, then it's the end of
psychology as we know it. If I were the chairman of the Department of
Psychology at UT with a long history of research in conventional psychology,
a huge reputation built on the results of that research and a late husband
who was an icon of the psychological establishment, I'd probably have written
a nasty review of Bill's article too.

Sam Saunders (941101.1715 EST)--

I suppose it is incumbent on me to render the above [verbal descriptions of
reinforcement models of E. coli] in a working simulation.

Bill Powers replies:

Yes. Go ahead and try it, by all means.

I second that emotion.