Starting point

[From Bruce Abbott (2000.12.05.1940 EST)]

Bill Powers (2000.12.04.0433 MST) --

Here is a first cut at constructing an objective report on what we observe:

1. The rat deprived of food acts in a variety of ways which move it around
its cage and occasionally result in the depression of a lever that delivers

2. As food continues to be delivered and consumed, the rat's behavior
changes so it moves around the cage less and spends more time near the
lever. The frequency of lever presses increases, and the amount of other
behavior decreases.

3. Eventually, the rat spends most of its time in the vicinity of the
lever, pressing it and consuming the food that is delivered.

4. When the consumption of food has increased to near the free-feeding
level, assuming that is possible, the activity near the lever decreases and
other behaviors occupy more of the total time. The food consumption falls
off for a while, as does the lever-pressing. From then on, bouts of
pressing/eating alternate with periods in which other activities take place.

5. Over the long term, and when circumstances allow, the rat consumes about
the same amount of food it eats when food is freely available; the average
amount and manner of lever-pressing is that which, given the design of the
apparatus, produces that amount of food.

I could go on, but this represents most of what I have learned from
watching and hearing about rat behavior in Skinner boxes. If I've said
anything counterfactual, I trust it will be corrected until we have a
description that everyone can agree is truthful at least in the simplest
common cases. Also, if I've introduced anything that is explanatory in
nature, and thus theoretical, I trust that others will catch it and strike
the parts that are not strictly observational.

There are details missing in this account that would be required in order to
empirically distinguish alternative models. Precisely how does the rat's
behavior change once the feeder starts to cough up food pellets? Do those
changes display any observed relationship to what the rat was doing when the
feeder operated on previous occasions, or do they simply depend on the
amount of food consumed? There are also other observations that will be
needed for a full test of models. Example: what happens when we disconnect
the feeder? It may turn out that these observatons are crucial for
determining the adequacy of alternative models.

I hope that it would not be possible to deduce from the terminology whether
Bill Powers or Bruce Abbott or any person supporting a particular
explanation offered this description. This is what I mean by calling this
description "objective" -- it reflects, to the extent possible, no
framework of explanation, and thus could be used as a starting point by
anyone proposing a framework. In particular, it favors neither the
behavioristic approach nor the PCT approach (if it does, I hope that others
will correct that fault).

Does this sound to everyone like a good way to start looking for a
resolution of our disputes?

Except for the concern noted above, it looks O.K. to me as a starting point.

Bruce A.