B:CP course Week 2

[John Kirkland 2013.07.12]

Chapter 1: Dilemmas of behaviorism.

The chapter starts with a declaration that the book
represents a break from traditional psychologies and then goes on to describe
behaviorism as the traditional psychology from which the book breaks.

  1.  Was
    

the use of “behaviorism” as the representative of “traditional
psychologies” too restrictive? Hint: Read the whole first paragraph
carefully.
******Focusing on behaviouriosm is a convenience, this is representative of a general philosophy that nothing moves until pushed, or levered into action.

I was bemused to note the requirements of a valid experiment seemed to resemble what Rick was suggesting in the 2009 paper, of adjusting/selecting a range of potential variables one at a time until the cause had been identified. Of course their aims are different (external causes versus internal/perceptual control) but there did seem to be some methodological resemblances, at least to an observer.

  1.  There
    

is a lot of talk about psychological experimentation in this chapter. What
is the relevance of the problems of experimental psychology to the theory
to be described in the book? Hint:
What is the underlying model of experimental psychology as described in
this chapter.
Physics envy, copying what is perceived to be ‘good’ science with a controlled experiment which, ironically, has nothing to do with control of perception. In conventional terms it matters not a jot that any participant/subject in a psychology experiment has a gram of what’s generally called humanity. Perhaps we could consider all pseudo-sciences as a crime against humanity.

I was reminded of Mowrer’s reaction to SR. Check the first paragraph of the following. It could have been written by Bill. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08856559.1954.10533678?journalCode=vzpg20#.Ud5v2qxmNw0

  1.  The
    

final part of the chapter finally broaches the idea of what is missing
from the model of behavior accepted by “traditional psychologies”:
purpose. How, according to this chapter, have psychologists dealt with
purpose? Hint: Look to the environment.
Is this chapter located in ‘the environment’? If not, then where is it? So, why did I read it: course credit? being told to? out of curiosity? Being paid to do so? Wanting to seem clever? These, and many other reasons, are all ‘purposes’. Note that word ‘because’ = ‘be-cause’.

  1.  What
    

are the dilemmas referred to in the chapter title?
These boil down to an ambivalence between getting on with establishing one’s career by adopting and accepting at face-value a tradition *and not bucking the system (a paradigm no less) on the one hand, and of knowing this is codswallop on the other because there is more to life than environmentalism dictates.

···

“What a piece of work is man…”

BTW, in my view the only place where change is likely to occur is from: a. graduate students – where are they? Or, b. those whom have nothing to lose, like retirees, – where are they? I was fortunate as a graduate student with a halo effect (cute accent) attending a well-known US university: I never thought there was anything to lose either then, or since. Confucius didn’t say: the longest fall begins with the first stumble.

The chapter quote which resonates with me: (page 7, para 4): “If an organism is seen to be altering its behavior in an environment that is full of disturbances in such a way as to keep producing the same final result, one might be tempted to think that the organism intends to produce that final result and is simply varying its outputs as necessary so as to keep that final result happening over and over. It seems as if there is purpose in behavior” (Comment: For those who recall Stephen Pepper- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1338844/pdf/jeabehav00033-0099.pdf -, this is not mechanism it is contextualism. Let’s get PCT out of the classic mechanistic rut mentioned in this chapter.)

[Martin Taylor 2013.07.11.07.57]

  1.     Was the use of “behaviorism” as the
    

representative of “traditional psychologies” too restrictive?
Hint: Read the whole first paragraph carefully.

  1.     There is a lot of talk about
    

psychological experimentation in this chapter. What is the
relevance of the problems of experimental psychology to the
theory to be described in the book? Hint: What is the underlying model of
experimental psychology as described in this chapter.

  1.     The final part of the chapter
    

finally broaches the idea of what is missing from the model of
behavior accepted by “traditional psychologies”: purpose. How,
according to this chapter, have psychologists dealt with
purpose? Hint: Look to the environment.

  1.     What are the dilemmas referred to in
    

the chapter title?

Bill deals with his perception of the intellectual environment of

the time. That perception differed from how he would have preferred
to see the intellectual environment, the book being one of his
control actions. In in answering the questions, I find it hard to
deal with what I read to be Bill’s perception, while ignoring my own
different remembered perceptions of that time (for me, late 1950s).
However, I will try.

1. The question seems to be about whether his perception was correct

about the “real world” intellectual environment of the time, which
is something nobody can know. The only way I can answer it is from
my own memory of my perceptions at the time, primarily by making two
observations:
(1) When I started work in 1960 with a new Ph.D. in
psychology, my boss was the President of the Canadian Psychological
Association. At the time, under his direction, the Association was
making an (ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to persuade Universities
that nobody should take undergraduate psychology if they wanted to
do graduate work in research psychology, because they would spend
the first two years unlearning whatever they thought they knew. (I
didn’t – until I completed my Master’s, my education was as an
engineer).
(2) In my experimental work I tried to make sure that all the
subjects had about the same level of understanding of what they were
trying to do (place a dot on an index card where they remembered
seeing one on a card they had just turned over), and I allowed them
to revise what they had done (take a new card and do it over) if
they felt they had done it wrong. In class I had been told that
standard practice was to give the identical instructions to all the
subjects, which seemed wrong to me. My supervisor encouraged me to
continue as I felt proper, agreeing with my discomfort with “same
instructions for everyone”.

Two aspects of this seem compatible with PCT, though the control

idea never occurred: firstly, as an experimenter I wanted to
perceive that each subject had the same purpose, and secondly, the
subjects could correct what they perceived as not conforming to
their reference value for the dot placement.

The upshot of this and other experiences lead me to think that

though Bill’s description of the intellectual environment may fit
his experiences in undergraduate psychology, his comments on the
universality of the approach constitute an unjustified
extrapolation. So yes, it was too restrictive.

2. The underlying model of behavioural psychology is that of

Laplace, who said that if he knew the positions and motions of
everything in the Universe, he could predict its entire future.
Likewise, if a psychologist knew all the inherited characteristics
of a person and all the data that had entered the person’s sensors
during a lifetime, the psychologist would know what the person would
do after any future specified sensory input. Both would probably be
correct, were it not for the fact that in both cases to “know” for
the purposes of prediction requires infinite precision. Since in
neither case is infinite precision available, the apparent fallback
position was to try to partition the Universe or the behaviour of
the person and examine each small segregated part as though it could
be isolated. Although such isolation is impossible, both in the case
of the Universe and of the person, nevertheless it was thought that
by use of statistics the performance of the segregated part could be
measured despite the varying effects of external influences.

This usually works pretty well for the Universe, as the influence of

passing stars on the orbits of a planetary system (for example) is
usually (but not always) very small. It does not work well for a
system as integrated as a human brain. Accordingly, a two-pronged
approach was developed, the first being to try to enhance the
isolation of the system under study by replicating the experimental
situation as precisely as possible, and then by using statistics
remove the effects of the unknown external influences (thereby
making it hard to generalize from the lab to the real world).

Control, as Bill recognized, is the way the person eliminates the

effects of these “unknown external influences”, not only those from
within the integrated brain, but also those from a highly variable
environment. Control accepts all of the physical constraints implied
by the Laplace-prediction model and says “* All of this is true,
but you forgot something. You don’t need to know all of those
infinite details if you know something is under control. All you
need to know is what is being controlled (which we can call the
‘purpose’ of the controller, and the ability of the controller* .”
Because isolation from external influences is what control does, the
results of lab experiments suddenly become precise, and furthermore,
consideration of control immediately allows generalization from the
laboratory to the everyday environment.

3. Bill says psychologists have dealt with purpose by finding ways

to imagine how what seems like purposive behaviour is actually
behaviour driven by environmental conditions, not by anything within
the organism. [Comment: this seems to contradict the idea that
behavioural psychologists assumed that the behaviour was caused by
both the state of the organism and the state of the environment.]

4. I'm not clear what Bill means by "dilemma". It usually means that

there are two choices with little reason to prefer one over the
other. If he had used the word “problem”, I would answer that the
more precisely the experimental conditions are arranged so as to
avoid the effects of external and internal unknown influences, the
more the results apply only to those experimental conditions, and
the less one can say about what they mean for real-world behaviour.
Maybe this is the dilemma – does the psychologist want to talk
about something with real-world relevance or does she want to get a
statistically significant result? If “purpose” (i.e. control) is
explicitly excluded from consideration, you can’t have both.

···
Them's my thunks.

Martin