Skinner's bombers; bombing Skinner

[From Bruce Abbott (960810.1015 EST)]

Rick Marken (960809.0845) --

Unlike B. F., the generals and admirals may have understood that the pigeons
were controlling their perception of the two-dimensional representation of
the ship's position relative to the target; so the generals knew that the
pigeons could be easily replaced by a very simple, reliable and inexpensive
control system.

Rick, if this were true they would have used one. Although inertial
guidance systems were available (e.g., V2 rocket), their accuracy was as
nothing compared to that of the visually-guided pigeon system. Radar-guided
anti-aircraft systems were making their appearance, but systems that could
discriminate and accurately target objects on the ground were still far into
the future.

R.M. Holston (960808) --

Skinner was a great man

What was great about him? He made arcane a simple principle that was known to
every animal trainer in the universe (that you can control behavior with
contingent rewards),

No animal trainer in the universe had ever applied the scientific method to
their art. Your statement has the same ring as that of many others who wish
to trivialize scientific research with the dismissive "they only showed what
everyone already knew," and as such is a blatantly unfair assessment.
Although I disagree with Skinner on important points, I can still appreciate
his accomplishments, not the least of which is his rejection of group-based,
discrete-trial methods in favor of the single-subject, free operant (continuous)
approach to the study of behavior. Now what OTHER theorist with whom we are
familiar has emphasized the importance of studying continuously varying
quantities in the individual subject? Hmmmm, let me see . . .

Another of Skinner's strong points was his willingness and ability to put
his theoretical and empirical knowledge to work to solve practical problems.
The guidance project is but one example of many.

he mistakenly concluded that this was consistent with
his existing belief that the environment _controls_ behavior,

Yes, but not in the way you think. Skinner did NOT believe that stimuli
caused responses. Put THAT in your CPU and process it! (I'll bet you can't.)

And, of course, we have the ever-present CSGNET confusion about that little
word "control" to contend with. What Skinner meant by "control" and what we
mean here by "control" are different concepts. When Skinner said that A
controls B, he meant that manipulating A results in predictable changes in
B, as when flipping the light switch turns on the lights. In the sense that
Skinner used the term, the environment _does_ control behavior, period. In
PCT we call these environmental influences "disturbances."

Chris Cherpas (960809.1117 PT) --

Thanks for the references and quotations, Chris. My own knowledge of
Skinner's work had come from secondary sources; now I can look up the originals.