A blog about problems in the field of psychology and attempts to fix them.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Briefer Course, Revised (Part 2)

Given that Holt is known to be the most philosophically sophisticated of the early behaviorists, it may seem sacrilegious that he was considered to revise one of James's texts.  James is widely revered, where he is revered, for his deep and dynamic descriptions of experience, such as his discussions of the stream of consciousness; he is also well known for the James-Lang theory of emotion; and behaviorists are supposed to be ill-equipped to deal with "experience" and "emotion". Given that Holt's goal was to create a book that connected with James's later, and lesser known, works, however, the situation might not be as grim as it initially seems. As I have argued elsewhere, James's work can be seen as a proto-behaviorism, with the implications mostly hidden in his early textbooks. What modifications would Holt have made to the premier textbook of the time? What framework would the students of the next two decades have been presented with?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Briefer Course, Revised (Part 1)

I am currently revising a Cheiron talk from two years ago (time flies), to present at EPA this coming Saturday. This was planned, in part, to force me to work on the paper, probably for History of Psychology or the Journal of the History of Behavioral Sciences. The subject matter is the long-pursued effort to revise William James's Psychology: A Briefer Course, which reigned for more than 20 years as the most commonly used textbook for introductory psychology classes.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

More on a better behaivorism

There have been many attempts to define Radical Behaviorism. Most attempts are in terms of inclusion and exclusion, i.e. what radical behaviorists talk about, and what they do not talk about. More often definitions focus on solely on exclusion, providing a negative definition in which behaviorists are defined based on what they don’t do, rather than on what they do. However, this minimizes the profoundness of the approach. A simple, positive definition is: Radical behaviorists claim that all questions about psychology are questions about behavior. One is tempted to say something like “all interesting questions about psychology”, but that is unnecessary, as the converse of the above claim is also made: All questions that are not about behavior are not about psychology. These claims are historic and inclusive; the behaviorist is not trying to redefine psychology, rather to point out what psychology has always been. Thus, behaviorists are not, as is commonly believed, trying to deny the existence of phenomenon typically handled by psychology. Quite to the contrary, they are trying to argue the traditional questions can only be answered through careful observation and analysis of behavior.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Notes towards a better Radical Behaviorism

I have some notes, and some small sections in several published papers, about better ways to think about radical behaviorism. This material came together for the first time in the introduction to my 'theory of mind' talk at WCALB. I will probably put together a shortened version of that talk for the International Journal of Comparative Psychology, which often publishes focus sessions from the conference. However, I would like to develop the introduction more elaboratly for one of the general psychology outlets, such as American Psychologist, or Perspectives on Psychological Science. Trying to invoke something like the "hard problem" of consciousness (see here, or here), in comparison to the many "easy problems", I claim there is a virtually unknown "strong challenge" of behaviorism, in contrast to the "weak challenges" with which we are all familiar.

The strong challenge, to be explained below, is what originally made behaviorism interesting as an approach, but the field of psychology has almost completely avoided it for the past 100 years. Further, the strong challenge points directly to the long-missing piece of the puzzle in creating a naturalistic, non-dualistic, scientific, psychology. It is for lack of dealing with the strong challenge of behaviorism that cognitive neuroscience is moving (albeit slowly) towards a state of crisis. Here is the gist:

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

WCLAB recap

The talk at WCALB went well. It was a very small group of people, which was a bit awkward, but overall very nice. I spent a while talking with Herb Terrace, had some nice interactions with Stephanie LaFarge, who had been Nim's human mother. I also got to have some great conversations with
  • Francys Subiaul (who does very interesting studies in apes and human children down at George Mason),  
  • Cody Brooks (who does cool rat work over at Denison; classical conditioning using alcohol as a reinfoncer, with implications for reducing relapse in addicts ).
  • Cameron Buckner (who does some interesting philosophy of psychology work at down at the University of Houston)