From: "Phil Roberts, Jr." 
Date: Thu, 02 Sep 2004 13:28:09 -0400
Subject: Re: [evol-psych] What is "behavior"? What is "actions"?

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

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,

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
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)

                                  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  - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
  (individual-   - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
   ization)         physical events              psychical events
                 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
   less evolved       (behavior)                     (thought)
   functions     - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
       v         - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
       v                       most credible (gradient)

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

                             IIb. Revised Conception



                  Rehabilitating Introspection
       A Procedure for a First Person Psychical Science