[From Fred Nickols (970909.2015 EST)]
Bruce Abbott (970908.1305 EST)
Consider the following theoretical statements:
(1) The fish approach the blob on the bank because they have received food
in the past when approaching the blob on the bank.
(2) The fish approach the blob on the bank because this is the way they
control for the delivery of food.
Are these actually incompatible statements? Is one correct and the other
incorrect? My answer is "no" to both questions. The first describes the
so-called "reinforcement" effect and requires a knowledge of the fishes'
history of experience; the second describes the result: a functioning
I have a sense of what BruceA is trying to do and I am sympathetic (BillP
seems similarly inclined and RickM does not). It is not my intent to join
in that discussion; I'll leave it to the experts and trust I will be able to
follow it closely enough to derive something from it. However, I would like
to raise some issues related to the tag end of BruceA's posting (see above).
Both statements include the word "because." In the first statement, the use
of because attributes bank-approaching behavior to the past experience of
receiving food. In the second statement, the use of "because" attributes
bank-approaching behavior to controlling food delivery.
I tend to view what we're dealing with here as a loop, a cycle of events, a
circle, not a straight line. Find for me the starting point of a circle.
Better yet, this group loves the rubber band experiment a great deal. Find
for me the starting point of a rubber band.
I'm no scientist, but it seems to me that we human beings act to control the
perceived consequences or effects of our behavior. In turn, it also seems
to me that the perceived consequences of our behavior have an effect on the
reference structures against which we attempt to control our perceptions.
It's what we ancient Navy fire control technicians used to call a "rat-race"
loop. (Thank you, Ford Instrument Division of Sperry Rand Corporation for
the MK47 MOD6 electro-mechanical analog fire control computer!)
I'm not as up on Skinner as I once was, and it's been 22 years since I read
B:CP, but for me the big difference between Bill Powers' and B. F. Skinner's
views of the world is essentially this:
Skinner shied away from speculating about what went on
inside the organism and stuck with trying to formulate
a view of behavior that was predicated on what could be
observed externally, independently of what was going on
internally. The shortcomings of treating the organism
as a "black box" need no comment from me. In Skinner's
formulation, the behavior loop is open. Stretched out
as a straight line, beginning of course with stimulus,
it reads S-->R-->R (stimulus, response, reinforcement).
Bill Powers articulated a full-blown theoretical view of
what was going on inside the organism and how that relates
to what goes on outside as well. It is clearly a closed-
loop view of behavior.
Personally, I think that the behaviorists' view and the B:CP view fit better
than RickM will ever admit and not nearly as well as BruceA would like them
to fit. Language is only a surface difficulty; there are very different
views of the world at work in the Skinnerian and B:CP perspectives. Fitting
them together is a chore I'll gladly leave to BruceA because he's trying to
pull off a win-win game in an area where the other players are bent on a
win-lose outcome. In my experience, that leads to neither; it leads instead
to a lose-lose outcome.
So, y'all keep up the debate and the discussion; I'm profiting from it, even
if I can only half follow it most of the time. In the meantime, I'll remind
myself from time to time that we're dealing with competing explanations of
behavior and let it go at that (Remember: I'm not a scientist...)