Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Re: [evol-psych] What is "behavior"? What is "actions"?

Expand Messages
  • Phil Roberts, Jr.
    ... You left something out: ...Watson was a a brilliant polemicist, and for him at least behaviorism was a revolt. But against what? Against the former
    Message 1 of 54 , Sep 2, 2004
    • 0 Attachment
      John A. Johnson wrote:

      > On Tue, 31 Aug 2004 19:24:45 -0600 Jay Feirman wrote:
      >
      >
      >>Why do ethologists
      >>want the definition of behavior to be purely descriptive or phenomenological
      >>and the cognitive and evolutionary psychologists want to add other
      >>properties into the definition? What would change in cognitive or
      >>evolutionary psychology if behavior was just defined descriptively? Or, is
      >>this just a dominance issue with each field of study trying to get the other
      >>field of study to use its definition?
      >
      >
      > I would say it is a dominance issue. In this entire thread on definitions
      > of behavior and actions, I didn't see much recounting of the history of
      > power struggles on this issue amongst schools of psychologists and
      > philosophers. I would like to recall a very small portion of that history.
      >
      > John B. Watson revolutionized psychology when he declared that psychology
      > is the study of observable behavior rather than mind, and Watsonian and
      > Skinnerian behaviorism dominated psychology in the United States from the
      > 1920s through 1960s.

      You left something out:

      ...Watson was a a brilliant polemicist, and for him at least
      behaviorism was a revolt. But against what?

      Against the former schools of thought, as any revolutionary
      would say. But Paul Creelan (1974), analyzing Watson's
      personality, has suggested that he was revolting agains much
      more worn-out mentalism. Watson was raised by a devoust
      Baptist mother, to be a minister. Before he could go to
      Princeton Seminary, however, his mother died. Instead he went
      to the University of Chicago, an urban university and the
      heart of American functionalism, where he met an entirely
      different atomosphere. He was interested in psychology but
      had trouble acting as an intropsective subject. Eventually
      HE HAD A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN. After recovering, HE PREFERRED
      ANIMAL SUBJECTS TO HUMAN ONES (Leahey, 'A History of
      Psychology').


      I remember my first introduction to behaviorism in the fifth grade.
      I also remember being somewhat in awe of how clean and neat it
      was. By the seventh grade, however, I was already aware that this
      cleanness was purchased at the price of ignoring everything about
      myself that was most urgently in need of understanding, the muddy
      morass of human emotion, ego-related emotion in particular. And
      you didn't have to be a genius to realize that science isn't
      built upon data that is publicly observable, but rather data
      that is INTERSUBJECTIVELY REPRODUCIBLE (repeatable experiments,
      etc.). So the whole thing was built on what was either a lie or a
      misunderstanding any junior high school student should have been
      able to figure out.

      Like you, I believe a great deal of the momentum behind behaviorism
      has been due to the fact that "Psychologists are perenially insecure
      about their status as scientists" (Leahey, 'A History of Psychology)
      in which "science functions as a kind of security blanket
      desperately clutched as a talisman against doubt" (Koch, 'A Study of
      a Science'). How else do you think folks like Gleitman ('Psychology')
      and Cosmides and Tooby ('The Adapted Mind') could get away with
      supposedly definitive books on human psychology that don't contain a
      single reference to feelings of worthlessness, self-esteem, self-worth,
      etc.

      This having been said, I think it is also important to understand that
      there actually is a problem with introspection, and that the failure
      to properly identify what this problem is has itself contributed to
      the behaviorism's momentum, as I have commented upon in my synopsis
      on this matter (URL below):


      A Defense of Introspection (synopsis)

      Facilitated by the isomorphism heretofore apparent
      within classifications of natural objects (e.g., atoms of
      oxygen), verification in science is not so much a matter of
      public demonstration as A MANIFESTATION OF OUR COLLECTIVE
      FAITH IN INTER-SUBJECTIVE REPRODUCIBILITY (e.g., replicating
      an observation or experiment). As such, there would seem
      little reason in principle for treating a scientist's introspective
      observations of the private events within his own mind as
      methodologically inferior to so-called empirical observations
      of physical events, SO LONG AS THEY CAN PASS THE
      MUSTER OF REPRODUCIBILITY. Ah! But there's the rub.

      Unlike oxygen, honey bees and Mustang convertibles, in humans
      there is a considerable amount of individualization, no doubt
      resulting from nature's increased reliance on imagination and
      judgement (reasoning). But since this is an order problem rather
      than a privacy problem, the solution is, not to banish introspection,
      but to differentiate (stratify) between the more evolved
      individualized features (specific reasoning, specific higher
      emotional behavior, etc.) and the more mechanical,
      isomorphic processes lower in the evolutionary scheme of things
      (perception, fear, anger, etc.). Once accomplished (e.g., Diagram
      I), the individualization can then be dealt with by applying
      corresponding amounts of abstraction and generalization to
      those features (both thought and behavior) where
      individualization can be presumed to be most rampant (Diagram
      II). For example, individualized conclusions for why one selected
      product A over product B could not serve as a data base, whereas
      feelings of anger, worthlessness, etc. (enduring structures)
      could.


      Diagram II

      The Domains of Credibility

      pertaining to the kinematics
      (thought and behavior)
      of systems at the holistic
      level of description


      ^
      ^ | n
      more evolved | o
      functions c | n
      (individual- r | c
      ization) e | r
      physical events d | e psychical events
      less evolved (behavior) i | d (thought)
      functions b | i
      (isomorphism) l | b
      v e | l
      v | e


      IIa. Behaviorist/Positivist Conception




      highest degrees of generalization in descriptions
      statements, theories, etc. about member of a class
      ^
      ^ least credible (gradient)
      more evolved - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
      functions
      (individual- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
      ization) physical events psychical events
      - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
      less evolved (behavior) (thought)
      functions - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
      (isomorphism)
      v - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
      v most credible (gradient)

      highest degrees of specificity in descriptions
      statements, theories, etc. about members of a class


      IIb. Revised Conception



      --


      PR

      'Rehabilitating Introspection'
      http://www.fortunecity.com/victorian/dada/90/rehabint.htm
    • Phil Roberts, Jr.
      ... Ahmen! A seminal paper in the cognitive science revolution was A. M. Turing s, Computing Machinery and Intelligence in which he proposed his famous
      Message 54 of 54 , Sep 6, 2004
      • 0 Attachment
        John A. Johnson wrote:

        >
        > John B. Watson revolutionized psychology when he declared that psychology
        > is the study of observable behavior rather than mind, and Watsonian and
        > Skinnerian behaviorism dominated psychology in the United States from the
        > 1920s through 1960s. When the computer provided an alternative paradigm for
        > the emerging cognitive perspective in the 1960s, psychologists began
        > talking about the hypothetical behavioral events that might be occurring in
        > the black box between stimulus input and behavioral output. This led to
        > funny definitions in psychology textbooks; one of my favorites is
        > "Psychology is the study of overt and covert behavior" ("covert" referring
        > to unobservable events in the brain, not the activities of spies).
        > Psychologists, with their historical worries about their scientific
        > inadequacy, hoped that use of the seemingly objective word "behavior" would
        > somehow substantiate their discipline. The behaviorist legacy is still with
        > us and is evident each time someone defines behavior (overt or covert) as a
        > *response* to the environment. Even the apparently counter-revolutionary
        > cognitive perspective in the 1960s assumed that behavior begins with
        > "inputs." S->R psychology lives.
        >

        Ahmen! A seminal paper in the cognitive science revolution was
        A. M. Turing's, 'Computing Machinery and Intelligence' in which
        he proposed his famous 'Turing test', i.e., if it makes physical
        sounds like a duck its a duck. While I can appreciate the
        appeal of an approach that attempts to reduce the study of the
        mind to an engineering problem, particularly given psychology's
        history, its one that harbors and/or reinforces a belief that
        seems to me to be a tad bit naive. This is the underlying
        assumption, call it physical romanticism if you like, that the
        success of physical science constitutes a vindication of some
        variation on the theme of mechanistic materialism:

        Premis: 'Physical science has proceeded at the speed of
        light while psychology has remained a basket
        case.'
        Conclusion: 'Mechanistic materialism is "true"'.

        There is, of course, another conclusion every bit as plausible
        which is rarely given much credence:

        Premis: 'Physical science has proceeded at the speed of
        light while psychology has remained a basket
        case.'
        Conclusion: 'Psychical science is harder to do, initially at
        least (e.g. the individualization problem).

        I've attended a few cognitive science oriented conferences and,
        trust me, dualist leanings are right up there with child pornography.
        So, even though I agree with you that the interminable persistence of
        behaviorism in its many guises has a great deal to do with the
        insecurity of its practioners, I suspect the real reason is because
        IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN A METAPHYSICS (mechanistic materialism)
        MASQUERADING AS A QUEST FOR COGNITIVE RECTITUDE going all the way
        back to the days of logical positivism. No wonder its so hard to
        put a dent in this crap. ITS A FRICKIN' RELIGION complete with
        a succession of popes (Pope James, Pope B. F., Pope Dan, etc.),
        sanctified rituals (statistical surveys, fixation with Humean
        constant conjunctions, falsificationism, word salads aimed at
        eliminating qualia, etc.) and SINFUL THOUGHTS (e.g., dualism,
        indeterminism, etc.):

        ...Everybody loves truth, but scientists are iconoclasts who
        also hate authority.

        Worse than taking falsifiability as the mark of science is taking
        psychology to be typical of science. Its near-total eschewal of
        explanatory hypotheses rules it out. Despite its interesting-
        sounding name, its subject matter isn’t even the mind. Psychologists
        just note regularities in behaviour, which is nothing like science.
        And that's why it's so boring.

        A while ago, there was a discussion on this list about whether
        traditional academic psychologists should allow evolutionary
        thinkers in to its hallowed halls. I think that gets things in
        reverse. Evolutionary thinkers should consider whether WE should
        tolerate psychologists in OUR midst. I say NO! Let's give
        traditional psychologists the boot. Get them the hell out! They
        are corrupting evolutionary thinking with their eschewal of
        explanatory hypotheses, their childish obsession with numbers
        and statistics, and their incredibly naïve methods. (Jeremy
        Bowman, ev psych egroup, 6/24/4).


        PR
      Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.