Skinner's Goals

[From Rick Marken (950711.2250)]

Bruce Abbott (950711.2120 EST) --

Skinner did not believe there were no such things as wishes,
purposes, intentions, only that they could be explained by
environmental contingencies (past and present),

He believed this because he had no idea what purposeful behavior
(control) was. He was able to have his cake and eat it too by describing a
non-purposeful model of behavior and saying that it "accounted for"

Bill P. --

If behavior is determined by environmental contingencies, that
means your behavior, too. If you want to be completely consistent in
your theoretical views, you must dismiss all prescriptive statements
and simply wait for the environment to shape your behavior as it

Bruce A.

No, it does not tell you that goals are figments of the imagination, but
that they are products of your biology, your history of experience, and
your current environment, and that you should appeal to the latter
rather than to goals to explain your behavior.

If you actually mean this (and you are not playing devil's advocate)
then it is more evidence that you don't understand the difference
between equilibrium and control. Both of these phenomena look like
goal-oriented behavior. But only one, equilibrium, can be explained by
an external causation model (or any kind of cause-effect model).
Skinner saw no difference between control (like keeping oneself fed)
and equilibrium (like the resting state of a pendulum). If behavior
produced a result that LOOKED LIKE a goal, then Skinner saw it as a
goal-oriented behavior.

It's not the correct view in that it omits the fact that goals can be
represented quite mechanistically and that such a representation
(model) generates mathematically precise predictions as to how the
organism will behave under given specified conditions relating to
that goal.

This is only PART of why it is not the correct view. The reinforcement
model is not the correct view becuase it cannot achieve goals in the
sense that it cannot CONTROL. It might be possible to develop
reinforcement models (like chaotic attractor models) that reach some
equilibrium state and return to it after a transient disturbance. But
reinforcement models cannot control; only a control model controls.

But whatever it is, Skinner's view doesn't imply that he can't have
the equivalent of wishes, desires, and goals, and act on them. If that
were an implication of Skinner's view, it would have been
abandoned long ago.

Skinner's view DOES imply that he can't have the equivalent of
wishes, desires, and goals. Everyone who might have seen this
implication of Skinner's view failed to do so because they were as
clueless about control as Skinner himself. PCT shows what it means to
control and how to see when organisms are controlling. PCT makes it
possible for people to do what they should have done long ago --
abandoned external causation (and all other cause-effect) models of
goal-oriented behavior (control).

If a "goal" is just the final or equilibrium state of some variable (like
the final position of a raindrop at the end of its trip down the window
pane) then Skinner's view DOESN'T imply that he can't have goals. If,
however, a "goal" is the reference state of a controlled variable, then
Skinner's view definitely implies that he can't have a goal and act to
achieve and maintain it.

Bill P.

Skinner's humane leanings are in direct conflict with his intellectual
understanding of how behavior works. There is no way out of it.

Bruce A.

This is directly equivalent to stating that because evolution is blind,
the breeding of animals (artificial selection) is impossible. Simply

Not quite. What Bill said is directly equivalent to saying that if animal
breeders behaved according to Skinner's theory they could not breed
animals by selection. According to Skinner, animals breeders don't do
any selecting; the environment does it all.