Home | VISION & THE ILLUSION OF THE GHOST IN THE MACHINE--JK | WHY THE BRAIN IS NOT LIKE A COMPUTER--JK | THOUGHT AND THE ILLUSION OF A GHOST IN THE MACHINE--JK | Free Will and Free Won't --American Scientist | BIOFIELD THEORY: PHYSICS CONTRA SPIRITUAL ENERGY | Quantum Quackery | Dr. Deepak Chopra's secrets of enlightenment | HOCUS FOCUS | CREATIONSTS FAILED EXAMPLES AGAINST EVOLUTION | Creationism, Their Mind is on Vacation | Homeopathy: Its history , its folly | Psychics, Police Departments Evaluations | "What the #$*! Do We Know": popular pseudoscience film reviewed | Christian Science, a religion that practices faith healing | NOSTRADAMUS: His Prophecies--Randi | Edgar Cayce, Cult Figure & New Age Prophet--by believer | Mayan Calendar and the End of Time





Upon reading, while a graduate student in philosophy, Science and Human Behavior by B. F. Skinner’s, I within a few pages understood that behaviorism provided the bridge between brain states and human behavior--a bridge without the very problematic purposive analysis.  Skinner shows how applying the simple conditioning units, one can describe complex behavior.  It was like the discovery of Chapman’s Homer;[i] I now saw human behavior with a new depth, and for assorted reasons behaviorism fit into the scientific understand of the nature of things.  The combination of these two was and is most compelling.  Six months were required for me to cast of the old and use this analytic tool with proficiency.   Mysteries and half explanations vanished for me. 

Consider our lofty conception of freedom as it applies to the explanation of evil & good:  The common conception of behavior is that a person is able to rise above his genetic inheritance (unless severely psychotic) and environmental conditioning to choose what he does, and thus to choose to do evil and good acts.  Under the common conception we are not brothers to the cat, for we can choose.  However there are two problems with this conception, one of explain what a contracausal choice is without creating a capricious inner self.[ii] Second, if all we are is a physical being, then how is it possible that our brain acts contracausally?   Neither of these has been satisfactorily answered.  With behaviorisms the two questions do not arise.  Thus we do not choose to do good and evil.  We are complex brothers of the cat—after all our brains are essentially similar.

The cat by playing with a bird until death is not choosing capricious, or choosing to do evil.  Hitler didn’t capriciously choose to do evil, he had certain beliefs about the Jews, about Germany and its destiny, and about god, and his rational process came to the conclusion that it was good to exterminate the Jews—for similar reasons we exterminate misquotes:  in pursuit of the greater good.  But deliberation adds only complexity to behavior; it doesn’t make it contracausal.  We are brothers of the cat, and just as it is inappropriate to evil to the cat, so too to is it wrong to ascribe the same to Hitler.  Harm is harm, not evil. 

The concept of evil is the product of a spiritual belief concerning human behavior. The cat because of an instinct and a variety of accidental conditions entail the playing with the bird.  Accidental conditions would be the lack of hunger, the feeling secure in the plays where it is tossing the bird, lack of other cats in the area which might which might want a share of the feast, and past engaging in such behavior without unfortunate consequences.  As brothers of the cat, we too engage in acts based on instinctual proclivities, environmental conditions, and past consequences (history of conditioning). 

     It is objected that we think—and cats don’t.   B.F. Skinner pointed out that thinking is silent whispers, and in his book Analysis of Verbal Behavior, he shows how conditioning accounts for the development of verbal behavior, and how this behavior can be analyzed.  We have a layer of complexity, we can give verbal responses when questioned about the hunting of ducks, and we have silent whispers concerning this behavior.  Our verbal behavior, when appropriate, uses logical analysis, but that does not create a contracausal mind that decides to blast ducks today.  What we think of is like what we say and do:  they are caused by a complex process within the brain based on past conditioning, neurotransmitters, and genes.  We are no freer than the android and the cat in selecting actions.    The brain is an organic computer.

          Words, thoughts, and hand movement are like in kind; they occur and we observe them.  Like words, thoughts just pop into the mind.  We observe them just like we observe the hand rising for a glass of water.  Do this thought experiment, imagine that you are from another solar system and you come to earth.  Your first observation is that of three Yanamono natives of the Brazilian rainforest hunting a tapir.  Then you observe a jaguar also hunt a tapir.  You would conclude that the humans make complex sounds and its affect upon behavior, and thus are capable of greater complexity of behavior.  You would also conclude that the humans are essentially similar to the Jaguar.        

      It is objected that a listing of conditions in which I choose to dine out including my past history doesn’t allow a determination of what I will do.  This objection reveals the extraordinary complexity involved in a causal analysis of behavior.  The complexity of analysis does not entail the impossibility of analysis.  “Oliver Lodge one asserted that ‘though an astronomer can calculate the orbit of a planet or comet or even a meteor…, neither a biologist nor any scientific man can calculate the orbit of a common fly’.”[iii] Behaviorism is an analysis of behavior which does not require the preeminence of the mind in the analysis of behavior.

      The mind is just a way we talk about the silent whispers.  There is no soul wherein the mind resides.  The essay on vision illusion explains why it appears to us that there is a soul in the machine:[iv]  a thinking mind, for which the eyes are the receptor and the brain is the screen.  A similar illusion exists between silent whispers and the thinking mind.  The recognition of these illusions is fundamental to understanding the tenacity of the soul belief and of cognitive psychology.

     Behaviorism provides insight not just into learning to speaking, learning to see (see link above), but into all aspects of behavior.  Their classical example of slot machines being in kind like the variable reinforcement of a pigeon in a skinner box is but one of many profound examples.  Behaviorism answer why we don’t do what or training in logic, morals, and prudence reinforce.  The short answer is that such training which strengthens those aspects of behavior having to do with rational guidance (conditioning) was insufficient to overcome the assortment of reinforcers which have resulted in the imprudent behavior.  It is not a weakness of the will, not a lack of desire to do that which is right, but rather a complex interplay of past conditioning and present reinforcers.  And though these patterns are complex and, given a persons history spanning decades, not sufficiently recorded; there is detailed experimental delineation of various facets of conditioning so as to prove that the various relationships between reinforcers and behavior reveal the underlying processes. 

            Behaviorism had risen in the 60s and 70s to the preeminent analysis of behavior taught in universities, and then gradually declined.  Cognitive psychology now fills the most-taught spot.  This is not because of any fundamental inadequacy uncovered, and in fact cognitive psychologists admit to and use behaviorist techniques; however, they claim the uniqueness of purposive behavior and the need thus for a cognitive analysis in addition to a behavioral analysis.  This shift just so happens to coincide with the resurgence of religious belief with its soul/mind.  Such psychologists thus use a theory of psychology which utilizes their mind presupposition.  Any in so far as they engage in this mind/volition analysis they are in the 19th century quagmire.  Cognitive psychologists do not accept as adequate and sufficient behaviorism because it denies the existence of mind; viz., and analyzes it as a linguistic fiction, and their results thus suffer. 

Whether or not you believe in a soul and a hereafter, behaviorism opens doors of perception.  One can still believe in mind and thought processes, and also hold that conditioning patterns affect the probability of choices.  The application of behavioral principles shapes behavior.  There is no better way to open this door of reality than to study Ellen P. Reese’s The Analysis of Human Operant Behavior, which appears in a series of modular “self-selection” textbooks on general psychology.  Unfortunately the work is out of print and its seventy-five pages are beyond my resources in time and priorities for setting it upon the web.  Short of this there are a number of fine introductory textbooks including my former professor’s G. S. Reynolds, A primer of Operant conditioning, which though out of print is available through Amazon.com--the 2nd edition is preferred.     

            If any of you acknowledge me as a sort of intellectual mentor, than please take this recommendation seriously:  for behaviorism is to prudent, rational control of behavior as logic is to becoming a skeptic about the beliefs of the common herd. 





Understanding self-harmful behavior, an insight that makes the good within a better master of capricious conditioning process


       A telling test of a theory of human psychology is how well it accounts for self-harmful behavior.  How is one to analyze the behavior that produces obesity, pernicious drug abuse, gambling addiction, religious fanaticism, child abuse, and the many other activities that clearly a rational person could not do.  How can these behavior be analyzed in a substantial way; viz., a way that doesn’t reduce to (1) willed it, (2) liked it, (3) fulfilled a strong drive, and (4) resolved internal conflicts by doing it. The first three accounts are trivial.  We drink because we are thirsty; viz., we do what we will.  (1) To explain obesity in terms of willing it adds scant little to our understanding of that behavior.  (2) To eat more calories per year more than one burns because one enjoys/likes eating again only restates what is assumed.  Our ordinary understanding of excessive eating, religious fanaticism, and gambling addiction is that these are activities which against the background of comforts and discomforts of daily life, they are sufficiently enjoyable so that the person cannot place reasonable limitations upon the behavior.[v]  (3) To say that a person has an exceptional strong drive for sex, for food, for gambling, and for religions is again to say what is implied by the very behavior and thus does not add anything substantive to our understanding, for this explanation is a restatement of being willing to do those things.  It follows that a person who behaves in these ways excessively has an excessive drive for those things.[vi]  To say Johnny has an eating problem implies statements about willing, enjoyment, and drive.   Finally, (4), to claim that conflict or stress produce the problem behavior is merely to say that environmental conditions effect the will.  This is not informative because every obese person and every compulsive gambler has stress and conflicts.  Stress is so pervasive and general that reference thereto adds nothing significant to the explanation.  Ordinary explanations are ordinarily empty of insight. 

            Unfortunately most therapist rely heavily upon ordinary concepts in their treatment of behavior, this has produced embarrassing results for the therapist—though only a few specialists were aware of how naked the therapist is.[vii]  In the 19th century (and before) psychologist developed mind-based explanations of behavior, and like the dog chasing its tail they went in circle for centuries.  It was in response to these empty, verbal approaches that at the beginning of the 20th century a group of psychologists began working on an experimental foundation for behavior.  Experience the scientific revolution, they believed that psychology could benefit from becoming more scientific, a thing not possible with the in vogue mind-based language.  Out of this experimental approach, of which Watson and Pavlov were major contributors, behaviorism was developed essentially through the insights of B.F. Skinner which were published in Behavior of Organisms, 1938.  The discrete units of behavioral units described by operant and respondent (Pavlovian) conditioning go beyond the mind to reveal a program running in the background that gives insight as to why Johnny can’t read, Timmy is obese, and Mary follows the horses.  Behaviorists look exclusively to the environment in order to analyze the program running in the background--the fore ground being the verbal thoughts (silent whispers).  Utterances and silent whispers about diet are just another type of behavior associated with Tom’s excessive eating.  Verbal behavior is in the foreground, very accessible, but past history is mostly lost and the effects of complex interactions are difficult to analyze.  The behaviorist approach knocks off the pedestal verbal behavior; it becomes just another piece of behavior, some of which very helpful, some of which very misleading, and much of which is of minor importance. 

            The program running in the background which causes Tom to overeat is the result of a long and very complex pattern of conditioning (at the bottom of this page is the relevant section from my article on diet techniques describing the main reinforcers that have produced Tom’s obesity).   Though Tom’s rational side convinces him of the desirability for him to preserve his health, to have a loving relationship with his wife, to be physically fit, to be physically attractive, and to increase his social acceptance, the program running in the background prevails.  THIS IS THE INSIGHT:  conditioning creates the forces which determine Tom’s behavior as much as a simple training program determines his dog’s behavior when food is the immediate reinforce following standing on his hind legs when signaled to do so.  The principles are essentially the same for the simple and the complex.  Each behavior is a product of conditioning. 

            Parents use conditioning at home to make their children behave, and schools (which they call schooling work upon making the students skilled in rational analysis among other things.  Even after 13 years of public school and the results of good parenting, Tom still hadn’t obtained sufficient insight into behavior and sufficient rational training so as to manipulate the other environmental reinforcers and control his weight.   

Not engaging in the numerous types of grossly imprudent behavior is a result of both training and chance.  Chance is demonstrated by the assortment of behavioral problems common to man and that inheritance is generally irrelevant.  The pattern of reinforcement that creates a gambling problem, can in another environment reinforce sufficient a totally different sort of behavior.  Training is relevant because fat parents reinforce obesity, gamblers gambling, and substance abusers reinforce the like.  Studies done of adopted siblings show that genetics is not involved.  Obesity is much more common because food is a stronger reinforcer than gambling, though both relieve boredom, have social reinforcers, etc.  Training in rational skills reduces the chances of these problems:  of those who obtain a PhD few are obese.[viii] 

Because there is an association with prudent behavior and extensive, quality education, it can be assumed there is a causal relationship—a point that the ancient Greek philosophers emphasized.  Plato began the discuss by raising the question ‘Can virtue be taught?’  And each of the 4 major schools of philosophy answered that extensive education can instill not only important expertise and a love of wisdom.  Held as most important were skills in science, and rational analysis including its application in moral philosophy.  One freed the student from the superstitions and fears of spiritual world, the other gave the student the ability to analyze complex issues of life and also a much greater ability to follow the dictates of reason. Through a long series of observations concerning the enduring pleasures, these philosophers concluded that those who were virtuous were happier than those with few virtues.  To understand ethical foundation for the virtues the student needs considerable analytic skills.  The student of the Greek philosophers will realizes that ataraxia[ix] is the highest of pleasures for it lasts the longest and has the fewest of associated discomfort.  For to maximize Ataraxia the student will learn to be able to be satisfied with modest possessions, to live away from the crowds, and to be honorable in dealings with others.  In the after word are 4 paragraphs from The Love of All Things:  A Foundation for Ethics which develops further this topic.  The Greek answered in the affirmative, yes we can make better citizens by having teachers such as Plato, Aristotle, Zeno of Ellis, and Epicurus. 

       Education affects the program running in the background, and not merely as a result of direct conditioning (similar to the example below relating to food), but also by improving upon and strengthening the logical analysis program.  The ancient world was full of spirits and gods who at time brought terrible afflictions.  The fear was much greater (reading Washington Irving Sleepy Hollow, where the woods becomes a frightful place because of spirits).  To counter act these fears the students learn the scientific explanation of the nature of things.  Diseases, storms, and such were not due to offending the gods are the invocations of a priest, but natural events.  A person skilled in science automatically does not fear the demonic incantations of a priest or neighbor.  Education in science has evaporated the world of spirits and the fears that are associated with such a world.  Likewise the extensive training in logical analysis, science, and ethics will illuminate the moral path to the good life.  And just like science curing superstition, this moral illumination will cure self-harm, and immoral harm to others. 

        There are general three ways of minimizing imprudent behavior.  One by having the spirit of philosophy; two, by altering the environment, principally in ways to provide alternate activities which compete with the imprudent behavior; and three by reducing the reinforcers that support the imprudent behavior.  Knowing which reinforcers are maintaining the imprudent behavior allows one to plot circumstances in which those reinforcer are either missing or reduced. 

         The shift by a therapist from trying to change the silent whispers about the obesity problem—as, e.g., cognitive psychologists do--to one where the focus is on the reinforcers, this accounts for why behavioral techniques work so much—as demonstrated by controlled studies—better than therapies focusing on the mind.  Moreover, by dismissing as an illusion mind created by silent whispers, and focuses on environmental causes, one will gradually begin to see repetitive patterns of conditioning that shape certain types of imprudent behavior.  Spotting these patterns enables the behaviorist to better predict behavior, and in a positive way alter behavior.  With ethics and a love of philosophy, the skill of a behaviorist makes people good parents.  Without these pieces in place, the parent falls within the norm of the common herd.[x]  The mind is a linguistic entity; reinforcement is operational defined, and its effects under various schedules and conditions have been widely measured.   The choice is between endless word filigrees and scientific psychology. 


[i]  Chapman was the first to translate into English the Iliad of Homer, a great relief to those who went to college.  This relief was mentioned in a sonnet by Percy Shelly on Balboa’s first seeing the Pacific Ocean.

[ii]  What is it that decides contrary to causal factors?  To act contrary to what is expected, simply entails that given the complexity of the process, it is like predicting the weather, probabilistic.  Rare weather events are not contrary to laws of nature, nor or rare and unlikely choices contrary to its physical foundation—though there are those who want to claim that a god caused the weather event and a soul the mind event.  If it is truly contrary, then it is capricious, like the flip of a coin.  If the choice is not capricious but done by an entity free to act independently of genes and experience, say a soul or mind, then how does the soul/mind choice in a way that is not capricious.  Moving the choice process out of the brain does entail a rational choice free that is not deterministic and yet at the same time not capricious.  Either the choice is capricious or determined.  In the brain it is like process based upon past history (which determines neural pathways), neurotransmitters, and genes; outside the brain in the mind/soul there is no scientific evidence as to what happens—nor for that matter scientifically valid evidence for a soul.  No one has been able to locate either the mind or the soul and measure it. 

[iii] B.F. Skinner, Science and Human Behavior, The Free Press, New York, 1953, p. 21-21.

[iv] Some avoid the soul word, and substitute mind.  Yet they say that there is something that goes on in the mind that is quite different than and not reducible to brain states.  Must that not be soul states, otherwise it would be as I argue reducible and thus ultimately an illusion. 

[v]  A standard and correct criticism of these explanations turns upon infinite regress.  Does the will enjoy food so much that it can’t help but over eat?  And what inside the will/soul within the brain produces this strong pleasure, a homunculus?  To say something occurs in the mind is to create a regress, a removal of the cause to a new site.  The site of mind, or will, or volition, or soul adds nothing.  What causes the mind to do these stupid things?  Is there a mind within the mind?  Shifting an explanation to an imaginary, internal black box is not insightful. 

[vi]    The rare exceptional case when a genetic condition produces the behavior, such as the extremely where cases where a genetic defect creates a continual hunger for food. In 1950 in the Jackson Laboratory in Maine discovered a mutant mouse that grew to 3-times normal weight.  A strain of these mice was bred, and the mutation was labeled obese.  For such people and animals this mutation prevents the brain from detecting leptin.  Leptin is a hormone produced in the fat cells which effects the physiological changes that create what is reported as being hungry.  This clinical example is distinguished from the typical behavior cases.  The typical case of obesity is not a lesser, less-full blown form of the latter.  Talk therapy and other methods of conditioning have scant affect upon this with genetic conditions.  The two are fundamentally different. 

[vii]  In 1980 I did in an upper division psychology course a survey paper on the success of purposive based therapies, in which the studies in which there were a control group.  In general the results were about the same for the group seeing a practicing psychologist or psychoanalyst and that of the control group consisting either of no talk therapy, or talk therapy from a student without training in techniques of therapy.  I still have that paper, and things haven’t improved.  .

[viii] Of the over 20 professors in the department of Temple University and the University of Manitoba, there was exactly one who was over 25% above the lean body weight.  Portliness was rare among professor at the 4 universities and colleges that I attended and worked in over a period of 11 years.   

[ix]  There usage is greater than the English meaning of calmness of mind, for the term refers to prolonged happiness that comes from being in balance with the world, from enjoying simple pleasures, and from contemplation of good things. 

[x] Lucian of Samosata, a very entertaining and perceptive public lecturer used this descriptive phrase in Hermotimus.  I have spent many a pleasant hour reading the works of Lucian.  .




Why it is so difficult for humans to follow the dictates of reason and do the very obviously prudent things?  The remaining discussions are designed to shed light on human behavior and the obesity phenomena.  It is one thing to set down the techniques of weight reduction (as I have done in the previous sections); it's another to implement them.  There are deeper reasons for gaining weight, reasons deeper than the afore described taste of food, social setting, and peer conditioning.  There are deeper answers than: “The obese person eats to much, has bad eating habits, and is week willed.”  It is the deeper reason that I am about to set out.  There is a better way to understand animal/human behavior.  Insight is power. 

There is a relationship between behavior and environment.  In the previous section I went into social reinforcement;[i] that is an obvious example of how environment influences eating behavior.  The pattern of reinforcers that create the behavior problem is far from obvious.  Many of the reinforcers are mild.  Think of vectors forces (as in vector algebra) deciding the direction of an action.  Only with humans, the types, and intensity of forces are hidden in the complex and long history of the person (compared to the laboratory, young pigeon).  Further complexity is added by the biological inheritance that establishes the proclivities to respond in certain ways to stimuli.  However, a listing of the events that reinforce (for the following example) Tom’s problem behavior is instructive.

Consider the example of Tom’s drinking a pint of milk and eating the last half of a Maria Callander’s cherry pie for an evening snack.  Tom will, being lactose intolerant, have a gas attack, later energy from the sugar in the pie, prevent the negative reinforcer of hunger, and deprive others of the pie.  He likes the kidding he gets about his great appetite.  Moreover, this evening there is nothing interesting going on, so he agreed to watch on television a movie with his wife.  Adding the desert to his large meal insures that he will feel tired during the film, and thus be less bored.  Moreover, about the time the movie is over, the sugar from the pie will take effect, and he will have energy to work on several business correspondences, an activity he will find more enjoyable than to continue to watch television.  By depriving others of the pie, he is expressing hostility in a subtle way, which is mildly enjoyable.  A similar pleasure is derived from the foul odor caused by his lactose (milk sugar) intolerance.  His wife will become annoyed and they will quarrel some, a thing that will break up the monotony of the movie.  And he likes the taste of cherry pie, and the milk to wash it down.  The list goes on:  the activity of eating the pie and milk during the beginning of the movie is a mildly reinforcing distraction from a film that bores him.  He will sleep sounder this night following a second snack.  These are the principle reinforcers that occur that evening.

  There are other long-term ones.  Given Tom’s dislike of physical exertion, being obese permits him to avoid such exertion.  Given their less-than-loving marriage, being physically unattractive yields subtle reinforcements.  Man by instinct will strike out against the source of both adversive stimuli and the cause for the blocking of the obtainment of pleasures.[ii]  In this case his wife, being physically unattractive and poor in bed are two subtle ways of disappointing his wife, and thus they add to the vector algebra of his obesity.  By far the greatest long-term reinforcer is the effect of weight upon his physical energy level.  A large percentage of our society at least several times a week take substance (alcohol, valiums, marijuana, etc.) that reduce their energy level; food in quantity does the same, as also does obesity. It is these long-term and the prior mentioned short-term reinforcers that are stronger than the prudent rational reinforcement that would come from properly managing his weight. 

Many small, some long term, others like breaking wind, short-term contribute to the total of reinforcement Tom gets from eating more than he burns off.  While Tom could easily, if challenged cease from any of the weak reinforcers such as the silent but chocking farts he makes near his wife, or the consumption of the last slice of cherry pie.  He cannot overcome at the same time the collection of these reinforcers.  They result in Tom eating more than he burns.  Changing the pattern of reinforcers, so that he would obtain those associated with a person of normal weight is like climbing over a mountain to get out of a valley.  Tom is in the valley of obesity and he can’t escape its pattern of reinforcers to get onto the other side and be one of the beautiful people. 

[i]    A positive reinforcer is operational defined as a thing that will increase the frequency of the behavior that follows it (the converse for a negative reinforcer).  Operant conditioning (the production of new behavior) is the result of reinforcers.  For example, “adult social reinforcement has been used to condition smiling at four months, vocalization at three months, and milk has conditioned head turning at four months.”  In The Analysis of Human Operant Behavior, Ellen P. Reese, p. 13.  Reinforcers and the process of operant conditioning are the building blocks of complex behavior.

[ii]   The use of adversive stimuli is the way a baby manipulates its parents to attend to its needs and to entertain the baby.  When hungry, she cries.  Much of social training indirectly deals with suspension of this behavior.  Adults do the same but in lesser degrees.  Being bored by a conversation, we say something inflammatory, argumentative, changes the topic, or simple ignore the speaker.



There is a triad of concepts that can vastly improve the quality of your life.  This was the argument made by the first philosopher, starting in 600 BC with Thales of Mellitus; and this argument is still valid.  They asked the question “What ought one to do in order to live the good life.”  First, it is have the intellectual skill to understand the complex arguments in support of the complex solution to this question.  To this end there are two on illogical arguments.  Moreover, half of the over 300 articles at skeptically.org are didactic, and thus through exercise they improve the analytic process.  Just as mathematic is the queen of science (Gauss), ethics is the queen of social science (JK); on the queen are two.  They are much more than a set of homilies such as the Golden Rule and Categorical Imperative, for the development here of utilitarian ethics answers in a progressive way the question of what good is? —a problem that Socrates struggled with.   Progressive in that utilitarianism doesn’t merely affirm the reader’s existing set of commonly held beliefs, but leads to conclusions that promote the good life as understood by the Greek philosophers.  The third part of this triad concerns doing what is right.  The Greek philosophers started with an education that stressed logic, so that one could be much better than those of the common herd.  Aristotle defined man as a rational animal.  The goal stressed was to have a marriage of these two qualities so that one could live the good life.  Behaviorism provides an insight so as to improve the marriage of parts education and moral philosophy.