[From Bruce Abbott (970320.1425 EST)]
Rick Marken (970320.0730 PST)]
Bruce Abbott (970319.1920 EST)
I've taken a look at Rick's JAVA demos and have a couple of
comments to make.
Hmmm. Why am I thinking this is not going to be unrestrained praise;-)
Because you've already read the rest of the post, that's why.
I will be happy to purge the word "handle" from my
write-ups wherever it occurs. Could you please tell me where you found it?
In the write-up accompanying one of the demos. Don't recall which one.
First, in reinforcement theory, consequences don't "select
Gee. I thought Skinner's "Selection by consequences" article in _Science_
(the one that suggested the title for my demo -- and paper) was about how
consequences _select_ responses? I guess Skinner didn't understand
reinforcement theory, eh? Sure wish you had explained it to him, Bruce.
That's "by" as in "by means of," not as in "by someone," as if a consequence
were a thing that could purposefully select. Skinner didn't need the
explanation, you do.
Second, how movement away from the target can be considered
reinforcement in the demo is beyond my understanding.
Well, all my teachers in graduate school (know-nothings like David Premack)
told me that a reinforcing consequence is one that increases the probability
of the response that produces it. In the demo, if dot movement away from the
target is the consequence of a key press, the probability of another press
is higher than if the consequence of a key press had been dot movement toward
The reason the liklihood of a press increases is that having the dot move
away from the target is aversive, given that you are attempting to make it
move toward the target. A response that terminates an aversive stimulus
will be reinforced (negative reinforcement). Responses that occur when the
dot is moving away tend to replace the aversive stimulus with one that is
not so aversive (moving away less rapidly), or is attractive (moving toward
the target). Such changes are reinforcing, according to the theory.
Guess you must have skipped class when Premack discussed about that part.
Rick and Bill and I went over this rather thoroughly a couple of
years ago, and I was able to prove via computer simulation that
a _correct_ reinforcement-based model converged on the target
just as the control-system model did.
As I recall, we all agreed that your "_correct_ reinforcement-based
model" was just an arcane version of a control-system model.
No, what we all agreed on was that the reinforcement process embodied in
that model ended up producing a negative feedback relationship, so that it
functioned as a control system. And that being the case, it showed that
reinforcement theory, as I applied it to this situation, could indeed
produce the right sort of behavior, contrary to your claim that it could not.
To put it bluntly, Rick's description of the reinforcement model
and his "demonstration" of its behavior in this situation is
But other than that, Mr. Skinner, how'd you like the demo;-)
Other than that, it was great! And I'm eagerly awaiting your next demo, in
which you prove that Darwinian evolution is wrong by showing how all those
"fossils" are natural rock formations, except for the more recent ones of
still-extant species, which of course are the bones of animals drowned in
the Great Flood.
Now before anyone thinks that I am defending reinforcement theory,
Well, if you were "prosecuting" (rather than defending) reinforcement
theory then this was the worst exhibition of prosecutorial skills
I've seen since the OJ trial;-)
You are sadly mistaken, my old friend. If you want to be taken seriously by
the scientific community, you should demonstrate that you've done your
homework and can criticize opposing theories on proper grounds as opposed to
oversimplifications of them. As I am interested in having PCT taken
seriously, I see your demo as an embarrassment that will only make that task
I don't think that PCT is so weak that it can demonstrate its
advantages over reinforcement theory only by misrepresenting
Well, we certainly agree on this!
O.K., then DO something about it.
Rick, how about giving that demo the pitch? Pretty please?
Thank you Bruce! I'm honored. This is the best response to my demos yet.
I consider a demo a success when I see a conventional psychologist
walking away from it muttering things like "straw man" or "he doesn't
understand the theory" or "so what".
Too bad for you -- and PCT. I'm no "conventional psychologist" in your
sense of the term, but by throwing me into that category you give yourself
permission to ignore my advice, and indeed, use it as it were some kind of
_proof_ that you've scored a "hit." Come on, Rick, think about what you're
saying. It doesn't make any sense.
But I am kind of disappointed that you don't want me to pitch any of the
other demos. How about the "S-R vs Control" demo. Surely you take exception
to my claim that the input in this task is _not_ the cause of the outputs.
I mean we're talking about the foundations of scientific psychology here.
And how about the "Behavioral Illusion" demo. Surely you take exception to my
claim that this demo shows the futility of trying to understand behavior
using conventional IV-DV methods. I mean, this is about textbook contracts,
Bruce. Big _bucks_ are at stake;-)
That's right Rick, I have an ulterior motive. Why, I should be ashamed of
myself! All this for a few lousy bucks. Yep, ya got me. I've been
terribly frightened that PCT is going to come along and ruin it all for me
-- the girls, the penthouse apartment, the flashy cars -- so I've tried
everything in my power to discredit it, even to the point of spending a full
year pretending to do research on perceptual control systems. (You didn't
think the data I sent you every week were real, did you?) I'm just surprised
that it's taken you so long to see through me. Now if you'll excuse me,
I've got to get back to making money, and planning my next attack.