Taking theories seriously; LeEdna's posts

[From Bill Powers (950905.0830 MDT)]

Hans Blom (950904b) --

     It's ALL perception (and even that is a perception). All we can
     have of "reality" -- whatever that may be -- is our perceptions
     (and our stored, processed perceptions -- i.e. our internal models
     based upon those perceptions). Pretending otherwise isn't science.

I think we have to be careful not to translate "it's all perception" to
mean "everything is optional." We can recognize that the reason most
people see colors in the world of experience is that we have human
sensing equipment and neural processors, so color is indeed a perception
and not a property of the outside world. However, almost all of us have
color-perceiving systems that are so similar that what we learn about
one person tells us something about how most others perceive. When some
individuals seem to experience colors differently, we can track down the
reason to certain missing elements of the perceptual system. If you
perceive the world in two colors, you do not have an option to perceive
it in three colors.

Moreover, we can compare our perceptions of the world obtained through
different kinds of sensors and make models of the world that are
consistent with appearances from different points of view. Often we have
to change the models, and sometimes there are several models that seem
to work equally well, but this does not mean that we can adopt any old
model that appeals to us and get a consistent system. If we do science
right, there are many constraints on an acceptable model, an acceptable
way of perceiving the world. In fact, science consists largely of trying
to devise experiments -- interactions with reality -- that will remove
options about how we might interpret our experiences.

It's very easy to interpret "it's all perception" to mean "I have a
right to my own way of seeing the world." From there it's a short step
to saying "Any theory is as good as any other theory" and from there to
saying "The universe is whatever I believe it is." It's true, of course,
that the universe _anyone_ experiences is determined by the way that
person has become organized to perceive (insofar as there is any
choice), but it does not mean that all possible ways of perceiving are
equally viable or workable. Even in your own model, Hans, there is a
tendency to converge toward some final set of parameters, and while
there is some range of parameters that will work, there is an immensely
wider range that will not work. And I suspect that the more accurate you
want the final control to be, the narrower is the range of workable

As Rick has explained, "taking a theory seriously" means testing it as a
consistent way of perceiving the world, and that means a consistent way
of perceiving oneself in the world. If a theory says that thinking,
beliefs, wants, and so on have no causal importance, then to treat that
theory consistently you have to look at your own experiences and see
that your own thoughts, beliefs, wants, and so forth have no causal
importance -- including _all_ of those things, not just the ones that
happen to be convenient to look at that way.

B. F. Skinner was never able to accomplish this; he always had to
reserve some little corner of himself as a place where he could have
intentions, desires, plans, and so on without negating them by his own
words. It was from this corner of himself that Skinner could propose
that we adopt a scientific program of arranging contingencies IN ORDER
TO CREATE A BETTER SOCIETY. He was simply unable to step back from his
position far enough to see that his own basic article of faith -- that
all causes lie in the environment -- made a mockery of that goal. There
are no goals; there are only consequences. Any chance shift in the
environment could make Skinner vocalize about creating a WORSE society,
or paint himself blue and dance around stones, or anything else that
people have done. Skinner was forever telling us what we _should_ do
instead of what we _are_ doing -- but by his own theory, what we _are_
doing is all we _can_ do.

I claim, as Rick does, that Skinner simply didn't take his own theory
seriously. If he had, he would have realized that he was advocating
behaviors other than those that the environment had already dictated,
and doing so in terms that had no meaning inside his own theory.

Skinner failed to do the one thing that every scientist must do, at some
point, with regard to important premises. He failed to ask "Is the
environment REALLY the final determinant of behavior?" His entire system
was based on the assumption of environmental determinism, yet never once
that I know of did he ever put that assumption to any kind of test
designed to challenge it. His whole attitude toward this assumption was
one of advocacy. No matter what the evidence, his only concern was to
find a way of describing the evidence so the environment still appeared
to be in control. This approach might qualify Skinner as a religious
leader, or a politician, or a salesman, but it does not qualify him as a


LeEdna Custer via Ed Ford (950905) --

Le, we are all very grateful for your long and illuminating report on
the way you're applying Ed's system. And Ed, you are heroic to have
typed it all for us to read.

I'm particularly glad to see a program for teachers coming along that
will be a regular feature of the program. Kavalic's outline is very
reasonable sounding. Your methods for involving the students in
formulating the rules take away a lot of the arbitrariness that bothered
me; the kids must feel that they had an influence on the final result.

     Bill, I don't know where you went to school, but where I went there
     was nothing like this.

You're SO right. I've been trying to explain that I'm not complaining
about the program, or saying it's just the same old system I went
through. My only criticisms have been about the way it sometimes SOUNDS
when Ed describes it. Ed explains that kids go to the Social Skills Room
and make plans because their privilege of being with their friends has
been taken away and this is how they can get it back. That's just the
old way of doing it: punishment and reward. But that's not how you
actually do it. Your whole approach avoids making that connection,
avoids making it work like punishment and reward. All I want is to get
rid of descriptions that make the program sound much different from the
way it really is.

Maybe as time goes by I'll find better ways to express what's been
bothering me. In the meantime, I have only admiration for the way the
program is shaping up. The main thing you've done is to fill in a wealth
of practical detail to give meaning to the theoretical generalizations.

     We DID A PROGRAM ASSESSMENT WITH THE STAFF, identified weaknesses
     and did provide ongoing training. The program was re-energized
     before staff had moved very far from the process. Obviously, I was
     not clear in stating these things had already taken place.

That's how a good control system is supposed to work: it takes action
when the error gets noticeable, not waiting until it gets big enough to
cause serious problems. That way, drastic action is never needed. Sorry
I didn't understand you correctly.

     We will begin with discussions of creating our own community. What
     do students think community is, what would their ideal community
     look like, feel like, sound like?

So you're really starting at the top, the system concept level, aren't
you? You could even make the hierarchy more explicit. A system concept
arises out of sets of principles and determines what principles will be
adopted. The principles arise out of sets of specific rules, and the
rules are chosen to support the principles. I think you're already
talking about these things.

     An additional benefit for students in a learning community that
     consistently follows these guidelines is their consistency with
     brain research that demonstrates students remain "upshifted" for
     learning. (ITI - The Model).

Take that "brain research" with a grain of salt. I sympathize with the
idea, but there's really no brain research that has the kind of literal
connection with behavior that's implied.

In fact, there are specific items in the Brain Based Learning prospectus
that need to be taken with a grain of salt:

     3. The Search For Meaning Is Innate: ....Lessons need to be
     generally exciting and meaningful and offer students an abundance
     of choices....

The only problem is, what is exciting and meaningful to a given person?
Excitement is not in the materials but in the recipient, and meaning is
a connection to a person's own experiences. We have to watch out for
"one size fits all" thinking: I presented an exciting and meaningful
lesson -- why weren't you excited, and why didn't you get "the" meaning?

     4. The Search For Meaning Occurs Through Patterning: ....Learner
     are patterning, or perceiving and creating meanings, all the time.
     For teaching to be effective, a learner must be able to create
     meaningful and personally relevant patterns....

"Patterning" is a word that can mean almost anything, and so means
almost nothing. Couple it with "meaning" and you haven't said much,
although it sounds good.

     5. Emotions Are Critical To Patterning: The environment needs to
     be supportive and marked by mutual respect and acceptance.

I can see that emotions are part of a pattern, but if they're critical,
and the person isn't having the right emotions, what should we do about

Well, I don't want to quibble. Most of the ideas there seem fine to me,
it's just that I hate vague and fuzzy terminology.
Along with Marc Abrams and others, I would like to hear more about
difficulties with the system, particularly the "other school" where
there seem to be more difficulties getting the program off the ground.
Best to all,

Bill P.

From Marc Abrams (950509.2345

  "William T. Powers" <POWERS_W@FORTLEWIS.EDU> writes:
[From Bill Powers (950905.0830 MDT)]

This approach might qualify Skinner as a religious
leader, or a politician, or a salesman, but it does not qualify him as a

Please Bill, don't denegrate Sales people that way. :wink: