Thorndike's Purposeless Cat

[From Rick Marken (951031.1330)]

Well, I don't seem to receiving anything from CSG-L but my operatives tell me
that my posts are being posted; they also tell me that Bruce Abbott replied
to my " mush all the way down" post, viz.

Bruce Abbott (951030.1845 EST) --

you forgot to finish your answer: the requested explanation is missing.

I didn't give my answer because I wanted YOU to explain what's wrong with
Thorndike's analysis of the behavior of the cat in the puzzle box. Bill
Powers and I explained what's wrong with Thorndike over a year ago. By
explaining the problems with Throndike yourself, you can show how much you've
learned in the last year about the nature of purposeful behavior.

There is plenty of fodder in you description of Thordike's work for an
excellent critique based on an understanding of the nature of behavior. Here
are some examples:

Eventually, apparently quite by accident, the cat happened to make the
required movement (e.g., push against a pole sticking up in the center of
the box) and the door flopped open.

the cat was slowly coming to emit the required behavior a little sooner

Thorndike stuck fairly close to his observations when trying to account for
the change in behavior.

Thorndike's latch mechanism required a behavior that was not very likely.

Thorndike reasoned that a particular event--getting out of the box and into
the food--had an effect on the behavior it reliably followed (bumping the
rod), and this effect was to increase the probability of that behavior in
the situation in which it had occurred.

He envisioned that this consequence of the cat's behavior automatically and
mechanically strengthened an associative connection encoded somewhere in
the cat's brain, so that the stimulus conditions identifying the situation
now were able to potentiate this particular behavior a bit more strongly
than before.

But what sort of consequences would have this effect? Thorndike suggested
that the consequence must qualify as a "satisfying state of affairs" TO THE

Only after many "strengthenings" would the probability of the behavior be
elevated to the point where it would be the most likly thing the cat would
do, and thus most likely the thing the cat would do first.

The details concerning how all this is accomplished physiologically in the
nervous sytem are lacking, but Thorndike's explanation is clearly a
mechanistic one and is consistent with the empirical evidence.

Mostly it is a description of what is observed to happen.

And don't forget to let me know whether I can look forward to seeing a
detailed description of the Test in the next edition of that research methods
text. You sure wouldn't want to be teaching those kids the same old cause-
effect BS, now, would you?