Skinnerian Animism: Even the Box was a Controller

[From Rick Marken (941020.2245)]

Bruce Abbott (941020.1815 EST) to Tom Bourbon (941019.1000) --

Demonstrating control over behavior in EAB means identifying
variables that, when manipulated, can be shown to alter the behavior
in predictable ways. Usually the experimenter does not view himself
or herself as controlling; rather it is the environment that does the
controlling.

And such an experimenter would object to being classed, along with
the forest people of New Guinea, as an "animist" (one who believes
that objects such as rocks and trees are alive and have souls) even
though this is precisely what he (or she) is -- a "Skinnerean animist".
The idea that "it is the environment that does the controlling" means
that the environment has the purpose of having an animal produce some
particular behavior; it implies that the environment will alter its
actions as necessary in order to get the animal to produce the desired
behavior. This is obviously ridiculous but is must be what such
experimenters mean because they are comparing the controlling done
when the experimenter is not present ("environmental control") to
that done when he is (plain old human control?).

In fact, while the environment influences behavior, it doesn't control
it. A schedule of reinforcement influences the way an animal can get
food; but the schedule doesn't control what the animal does to get
it. The schedule won't change itself , for example, in order to
maintain some level of behavior in the animal. If an animal who has
responded at high rates on a VI schedules suddenly starts responding at
low rates (because some sneaky bleeding-heart liberal animal hugger
like me came in and fed it surreptitiously) neither the schedule, the
apparatus nor anything else in the environment (except, possibly,
another control system -- the exasperated experimenter) will do
anything in order to restore the higher response rate.

Once you understand control, you realize that the only difference
between the operant experimentalist and the New Guinea forest native
is the lab coat.

Best

Rick