Arthur?

[From Rick Marken (951204.1500)]

Bruce Abbott (951204.1550 EST) --

Now wait a minute. Let's back up a bit. First, I don't define a reinforcer
as a value of the controlled variable (and neither, I believe, do you).

I'd be happy to call it that. What would you call it?

Maybe you could call it what George Harrison calls his haircut: Arthur.

Best

Rick

[Martin Taylor 951205 13:10]

Powers, Abbott, Marken (various)

Rick Marken (951204.1500)

Bruce Abbott (951204.1550 EST) --

Now wait a minute. Let's back up a bit. First, I don't define a reinforcer
as a value of the controlled variable (and neither, I believe, do you).

I'd be happy to call it that. What would you call it?

Maybe you could call it what George Harrison calls his haircut: Arthur.

I find this whole discussion of reinforcement to be getting weirder--perhaps
that's what Rick means by this comment. Here's another attempt to muddy
the haircream.

Let me preface this by disavowing any expertise in animal experimentation.
My formal exposure to reinforcement theory occurred for a short time nearly
40 years ago, when people still talked about Hull, and what follows is based
mainly on what has been posted recently here.

As I read the flow of messages, everyone seems to be talking about one
control system. Aren't there two ordinarily independent ones, linked
by the role of the experimenter/apparatus as a component of the
subject's environment? Sometimes I can't even distinguish in the messages
between the control system whose error is reduced by the "reinforcement"
and the control system whose actions change "as a consequence of the
reinforcement."

An experimenter observes that some definable action (e.g. pecking at a key)
occurs with some baseline frequency or probability, but when the action is
"reinforced" it occurs with higher frequency or probability (or lower, if
the reinforcement is "negative"). As far as I can determine, that's a fair
description of the reinforcement process, isn't it?

"Reinforcement" occurs when something is presented to the animal that is
not a normal part of the behaviour being reinforced (!?*& This is such an
unnatural way of talking *&#%). The reinforcer might be food, but the
reinforced actions might be pecking at a key when it is illuminated and
not when it isn't. The key (!) point is that there is nothing in the usual
environment of the subject that makes the reinforced actions connect with
the reinforcer. Pigeons in the wild don't have to go around looking for
illuminated keys to avoid starving.

Let's try to get back to PCT-talk. The reinforcer clearly is an element
of some controlled perception. Let's imagine that to be hunger-satiation.
A reinforcer affects the feedback path for the "reinforcement-controlled-
perception" in that if a pellet is perceptible than hunger can be reduced
(satiation increased) by pecking at the pellet, but if there is no pellet
the pecking action will have no influence on the H-S perception. The
apparatus does not disturb the H-S perception by putting a pellet into
the pigeon's view. But unless there is a pellet in view, an error "too
much H, not enough S" cannot be influenced by anything the bird does.
So the role of the reinforcer is to provide an environmental feedback
path for the perception that the experimenter has disturbed (e.g. by
not allowing the bird to feed as much as it would have liked prior to
the experiment).

The experimenter is interested in some action X, that normally does not
influence the birds H-S perception. To "reinforce" X, the experimenter
sets up the bird's environment so that when it performs action X, the
bird sometimes becomes able to reduce the H-S error, whereas it cannot
do so (or is less able to do so) when it doesn't perform X.

The EFFECT of reinforcement is on the control system(s) that use(s) action X.
The PROCESS of reinforcement seems to be very like that of reorganization,
though I don't see it as necessarily the case that the "reinforcing" (H-S)
control system needs to involve an intrinsic variable. I could see, for
example "access to money" as being a suitable "reinforcer" for actions
like "Screwing up the bolts on the car passing down the assembly line."

Whether this comes anywhere close to being right about what reinforcement
is or does, surely it has to be true that there are two normally separate
control systems involved.

I think I'd find Arthur a little easier to take if he could keep his hair
from getting entangled in his beard.

Martin