The Naked Emperor II

[From Bruce Abbott (950701.1140 EST)]

Rick Marken (950626.0900) --

The E. coli demo was aimed at showing that people can respond systematically
even though the reinforcing consequences of their responses are random.
Reinforcement, which says that responding is selected by consequences,
predicts that people will respond randomly if the reinforcing consequences of
their responses are random. The results of this experiement clearly reject
the predictions of reinforcement theory.

But the reinforcement theorists would not accept this failure of prediction;
their theory MUST be true. So they used a trick to make it seem like
reinforcement theory could produce systematic results when consequences are
random. They did this by identifying a consequence of responding that is NOT
randomly related to reponses (change in direction after a response) and
declaring that this consequence is the "real reinforcer" when, in fact, their
own theory would REJECT it as a reinforcer.

Unfortunately, I fell for this trick and accepted the reinforcement
theorists' pseudo- reinforcer (change in direction after a response) as a
reinforcer. So I then showed that if change in direction after a response
is made to be randomly related to responses (by biasing the probability of
the direction of movement after a response) the reinforcement model again
predicts random dot movement. Again, the actual result, with a human
subject, is systematic responding, not the random responding predicted by
reinforcement theory.

So even using the pseudo - reinforcer as the reinforcing consequence of
responses, the prediction of reinforcement theory (random responding with
random reinforcement) fails. To my knowledge, this failure was simply ignored
by the reinforcement theorists.

The fact of the matter, however, is that the original E. coli experiment
rejected reinforcement theory clearly and decisively.

Rick Marken (950628.0900) --

It's amazing that there has never been ONE little boy in the EAB community -
- in the entire psychological community-- who was willing to say that the
Emperor of reinforcement has no clothes.

Yes, I remember that story. Let's see, as I recall, it went like this...

And the little boy pointed at the Emperor and exclaimed, "Look, Daddy, the
Emporor has no clothes!!!"

"The boy is RIGHT!" the crowd yelled in unison, "he's not wearing a STITCH!"

The Emperor's humiliation provided just the excuse the Emperor's enemys were
looking for: how could a man with such a demonstrated lack of sound
judgment continue to lead the country? The Emperor was overthrown and in
his place was installed the one person in the country with the ability to
perceive the Truth and tell it like it was: the little boy.

The years passed and the little boy grew manhood. He learned the ways of
the court and behaved as a true Emperor of his People. Yet all was not
well. Some of his subjects remembered what the new Emperor had done as a
little boy to the old Emperor. It was true, they said, that the old Emperor
was not perfect, but he didn't deserve the treatment he had received. Some
said that he was, in fact, wearing _some_ clothes (his underwear); others
went so far as to assert that he was wearing all of his clothes, but that he
had put them on backwards. They said that the Old Emporer was aging and
that this had contributed to his confusion and to the inconsistencies that
had become apparent in some of his statements. Yet despite these problems,
he had been a good Emporer, had imposed order in the county where before
there had only been chaos and confusion, and had deserved to be retired with

One day the new Emperor was attending to his ceremonial duties in the public
square. As he was reading his prepared speech a dark figure suddenly
emerged from the crowd and, dodging the guards, snatched the Emperor's robes
and disappeared into the multitudes on the opposite side of the square,
leaving the Emperor naked. The crowd gasped: his Argument was exposed for
all to see.

Standing on the podium absolutely bereft of cover, the Emperor could see
that he was naked, and he could see that the crowd could see that he was
naked. There was nothing left to do but admit it. But this was no ordinary
Emporer--this was the same man who as a little boy had demonstrated his
superior powers of perception. He turned to the microphone.

"My fellow subjects," he said, "it may appear to you that I am naked, and
that my Argument is exposed for what it is. For a few moments I myself
thought that I was naked, and that my Argument was exposed. However, I now
realize that my first thoughts were wrong, that I allowed the incident which
occurred just a short while ago to convince me that I was now naked. I am
not. I had momentarily forgotten that my fine robes concealed, not my naked
body, but a regal set of clothes made of the finest silks and linens and
stitched with thread of gold. Do you not see these find clothes now
adorning my regal body?

For a long moment there was silence. Then a voice from the crowd said "Yes!
Yes, I see them! They are fine, fine clothes!" Another voice, then another
chimed in, until the whole crowd was buzzing with positive comments about
the Emporer's new clothes. How could they have thought that their Emperor
was naked? Why, it was now absolutely clear that he had his Argument covered.

Clear, that is, to everyone except a few of the old subjects, who still
remembered the old Emperor, and to one little boy, who whispered to his
father, "But Daddy, he's not wearing any clothes!"