Bad Behaviorists?

From Tom Bourbon [950803.0025]

[From Bill Powers (950801.1710 MDT)], writing in reply to:


Tom Bourbon [950801.1652] --

Bill P.

I could have unloaded on you, too. Not that that makes me right. I just
feel queasy about hurling generalizations around about a whole class of
psychologists, when we're communicating with one guy who is a member of
that class and is obviously not like this evil (and imaginary) image of
the Bad Behaviorist. Take people one at a time, I say. Don't judge them
by their labels, I say, any more than you'd judge them by the color of
their skins.

I'm sorry you thought I did otherwise. That certainly wasn't my intent when
I was expressing what I clearly labeled as my personal opinion that direct
work on identifying controlled variables would be a good thing.

I've though a lot more about that exchange. It really bothered me that I
might have come across as lumping all behaviorists (Bruce Abbott included)
in a pile and kicking them around like a soccer ball. I wasn't even trying
to do that with people like Timberlake and Staddon. To the contrary, when I
was teaching I often used those people as examples of behaviorists who went
against the edicts of more strict radical behaviorists like Skinner -- they
tried to create models, in a field where models were often characterized as
another form of "mentalism," an appeal to some kind of "internal structure,"
as an explanation of, or cause of, behavior. Among their many other sins,
they sometimes used the idea that there were "set points" (somewhat
analogous to reference signals) for certain behaviors. Ideas such as those
were not welcomed by many of their colleagues.

In the early 80s, in one series of papers in the _Journal of the
Experimental Analysis of Behavior_ (JEAB), Timberlake wrote about "behavior
regulation and learned performance." He used the idea of set points. The
first paper appeared in 1983, with Hanson as Timberlake's co-author. In
1984, Timberlake wrote a second paper in JEAB, in which he tried to allay
what he called the "misapprehensions and disagreements" the earlier paper
stirred up in the EAB community. The second paper was accompanied by the
comments of six reviewers. I recall that many of those comments looked very
much like the ones we often receive for manuscripts on PCT. In his reply to
the reviewers, Timberlake thanked them and the editors for allowing him to
publish the second paper, even though they did not agree with many,
"important aspects of it."

In the 80s, Timberlake and Staddon included references to Powers and CST
(the old name for PCT) in their discussions of different kinds of models.
What they were doing was dramatically different from the work of most of
their peers in the EAB community. I respected them then, and I do now, for
their integrity in the face of heavy fire. At the same time, I disagreed
with their idea that animals control their "behaviors," or outputs. I still do.

Now an EAB person, Bruce Abbott, has taken the _real_ plunge and tried to
use the PCT model for control of _perceptions_. What's more, he has done so
in full view of all the world -- or at least the little part of the world
that looks in on this net. If I respected, but disagreed with, what
Timberlake and Staddon were doing in the 80s, think of how I must feel about
what Bruce is doing now.


Signing off, for a little while.

This message is being sent open loop -- I haven't received csg-l mail on a
regular basis for the past fews days. On top of that, I haven't been able
to dial up my server since Wednesday morning, 1 August. As soon as I can
get on line, I'll send this mail, then set csg-l to "no mail." Trying to
get back into the conversation under these conditions is no fun. Besides,
it's time to put the medical-school episode behind me for good. Within a
day or so, I will be back on, with a new address from a commercial provider.
Given the uncertainties about where Betty and I will live in the future, my
only permanent address will be a virtual one. I sort of like that idea.