Blog Rating

Selected Books by Edmund Blair Bolles

  • Galileo's Commandment: 2500 Years of Great Science Writing
  • The Ice Finders: How a Poet, a Professor, and a Politician Discovered the Ice Age
  • Einstein Defiant: Genius vs Genius in the Quantum Revolution

« New Biolingusitics Blog | Main | Rhymes of Ancient Mariners »



Dear Babel, what would be wrong with taking to task, say 150 of years of Darwinisn, not biology, as you state?? I agree with you that the choice and discussion of 'operant conditioning" was rather weak, to say the least. But I dont agree that they didnt bring up a cogent analysis of the pitfalls of taking "natural selection" at face value-which is the main point, I see. To end: why mention Wallace's paper if the book was about Darwins' mistake(s) ? Which really arent: he couldnt know what we know now right??
BLOGGER: I'll stick with "biology." . !50 years of scientific work can always turn out to have been down the wrong path. Still, it's more likely that the doubters are wrong.

I'll have more to say about their book. But their analysis of operant conditioning seemed to me worth noting and discussing.

Raymond Weitzman

I take issue with a number of remarks, sometimes belittling ones, made by the blogger with respect to Skinner’s views of behavior and operant psychology. Both the blogger and the readers of this blog should carefully read Skinner’s article “Selection by Consequences” and not just the abstract to get a fuller view of the relation between natural selection and operant behavior. In addition I would strongly recommend reading the section in the book The Selection of Behavior—The Operant Behaviorism of B. F. Skinner: Comments and Consequences, which is devoted to Selection by Consequences. In this section you will find Skinner’s article and comments by a number of scholars from a variety of fields, along with Skinner’s replies to their comments. Below I quote from his replies that pretty much rebut some of the blogger’s own comments. Page citations are all from this book.

1. Regarding your unwarranted claim that Skinner had “physics envy” and modeled his “theory of psychology”—actually a theory of behavior—after Newtonian mechanics,

From “Selection by Consequences:”

“ As a causal mode, selection by consequences was discovered late in the history of science—indeed, less than a century and a half ago—and it is still not fully recognized or understood… The facts for which it is responsible have been forced into the causal pattern of classical mechanics, and many of the explanatory schemes elaborated in the process must be discarded.” (p. 15) (Note: emphasis added.)

“An example of the attempt to assimilate selection by consequences to the causality of classical mechanics is the term “selection pressure,” which appears to convert selection into something that forces a change.” (p. 16)

Skinner’s reply to Kenneth Boulding:

“Operant conditioning is not quasi-mechanical. It is, as I point out in my paper, the clearest evidence we have of the process of selection by consequences.” (p. 27)

Skinner’s reply to Alexander Rosenberg:

“I would certainly reject any “attempt to assimilate selection by consequences to the causality of classical mechanics.” Selection is responsible for novelty, but as something new comes into existence the structures involved obey the laws of classical mechanics.” (p. 60)

Skinner’s reply to Michael T. Ghiselin:

“I am not sure that Ghiselin is characterizing my position as “the automaton theory of behavior,” but automaton suggests the classical mechanical causal mode, which I am suggesting is not applicable.” (p. 42)
2. Regarding your insinuation Skinner’s paper “Selection by Consequences” (1981) was written to prop up operant psychology by associating it with natural selection at a time when supposedly “Skinner’s prestige sank very low,”

Skinner’s reply to Robert C. Bolles (any relation?):

“Bolles gives 1956 as the date of the first observation between operant conditioning and natural selection, but in 1953 in Science and Human Behavior (p. 430) I wrote: “We have seen that in certain respects operant reinforcement resembles the natural selection of evolutionary theory. Just as genetic characteristics which arise as mutations are selected or discarded by their consequence, so novel forms of behavior are selected or discarded through reinforcement.” And I went on to say that “[t]here is still a third kind of selection which applies to cultural practices…[a] practice modifies the behavior of members of the group. The resulting behavior may affect the success of the group in competition with other groups or with the nonsocial environment.” (p. 24]

The comments to this entry are closed.

Bookmark and Share

Your email address:

Powered by FeedBlitz

Visitor Data

Blog powered by Typepad