From: "Phil Roberts, Jr." 
Date: Mon, 06 Sep 2004 16:41:22 -0400
Subject: Re: [evol-psych] What is "behavior"? What is "actions"?

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
   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
   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)
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 J. B., Pope B. F., Pope Dan (Dennett), 
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 naive methods. (Jeremy
     Bowman, ev psych egroup, 6/24/4).


               Rehabilitating Instrospection
   A Procedure for a First Person Psychical Science