There are many explanations that can be used to help people understand the Behaviorist Point of View. Some are very factual, others argue towards practical concerns, and still others are highly philosophical. This is the first in a series of posts trying to show these styles of explanation in compact and easy-to-digest form. Feedback is welcome. Because of a guest lecture I must give soon, the first post will focus on outlining operant and classical conditioning. The order is not meant to imply that this should be the first thing you tell someone about behaviorism, nor to imply that it is the most convincing line of explanation.
How to Explain Behaviorism, version 1:
Operant and Classical Conditioning
Operant and classical conditioning are two different ways in which organisms come to reflect the order of the environment around them. They are not perfect processes and they certainly cannot explain facet of human and non-human behavior. That said, they are surprisingly reliable processes, and they can explain much, much, more about human and non-human behavior than anyone would have thought before extensive study of those processes began.
Here I am, flipping through Holt's Animal Drives and the Learning Process: An Essay Towards Radical Empiricism (1931). The book is not at all perfect. Some parts are long-winded, overly concerned with then-emerging-arguments which might now seem dated, and the volume as a whole exudes Holt's frustration with his contemporaries and the direction in which they were moving psychology and philosophy. That said, the good parts still exude penetrating insight. The first chapter is about "Physiology Versus Verbal Magic" and the final chapter about "The Organism as a Whole." Here are some passages from the first chapter which, though antiquated in vocabulary, are still worth critiques of contemporary psychology:
There is much confusion over what it means to be a behaviorist. This is largely due to silly posturing by Big Names over the past 100 years ago. Rather than work to develop the theory and implications of behaviorism based on broad first principles, researchers developed their own niche specializations, and then each declared "Behaviorism" to be "What I do." I don't want to dwell on this history here, but rather present a sketch of how behaviorism should be understood.
So, there I was, pre-tenure at a schizophrenic part-research-university, part-liberal-arts-college, part-trade-school, with a disabled wife and two young girls... and I figured I had enough time on my hands to start a blog. Probably not the smartest move, but it has gone pretty well so far.
FixingPsychology is just over two-years old, and this is the 100th post. With some feverish periods and a few dry spells, that means I have kept surprisingly close to a post a week, on average. Even better, I think very few of them sucked. In honor achieving this arbitrary, but culturally-significant, number, I have cleaned things up a bit (making sure every post had labels, adding a word cloud to the right side bar, etc.) and decided that a short retrospective was in order....
Who is reading the blog? What are they reading? Are there any bigger picture or themes? What might a reasonable reader expect in the next hundred posts?
The Adjuncts vs. Professors conundrum has been on my mind. In a recent post, I talked about why it should be hard to compare what adjuncts bring to a classroom with what research-active professors bring to the classroom. I avoided the really tough talk in the last article, and I will avoid it here as well. However, I hope to lay some groundwork, inspired by a recent story. The story involves a woman who died at 83, having taught French for 25 years at Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The context of the story, as usually presented, is that Duquesne is not letting its adjuncts unionize and, due to the lack of a union, the woman died without proper healthcare and neigh homeless. The details of the story are sketchy; as in, they are only loosely sketched out anywhere I have found them. Where were social security and medicare? How does a college stop the organization of a well-mustered union? Etc. All that aside... while I do not think I am a heartless troll, I have trouble fully sympathizing with those who feel that the woman should have been entitled to more from Duquesne than she received. The plights described in the sketched version of the
woman's story are NOT unique to adjunct professors, it is a trait that
many members of Expertland share:
Recently Michael Turvey became an inaugural recipient of the Association for Psychological Science's Mentor Award. This is a much deserved honor.
Because I argue with Michael at meetings, and have posted things here about how I think his approach differs from Gibson's, many seem to have the impression that I do not like Michael. To the contrary, I like him, and have the greatest respect for his role in holding ecological psychology together, in advancing its science, and in training its proponents. I argue with him because he is brilliant and he has a clear position that he hold confidently - there is no better class of person with which to clarify your ideas. I get the impression he enjoys our interactions as well, at least as occasional diversions. If nothing else, he is generously tolerant of my impertinence.
This award is all the more encouraging to me, as I often hear people talk as if being a good scientist and being a good educator are incompatible goals. Michael proves otherwise, with tremendous success as a researcher, a graduate student adviser, and a classroom instructor.