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This is a pdf document written by Eleanor White, former host of the Road To Freedom podcasts on Shoestring Radio.

BEYOND FREEDOM & DIGNITY by B.F. Skinner

BOOK REVIEW BY TOM BUTLER BOWDEN - AVAILABLE AT:  http://www.butler-bowdon.com/BF-Skinner-Beyond-Freedom-And-DignityBeyond

Freedom & Dignity
(1971)
BF Skinner

One of the most controversial figures in the history of psychology, the name 'BF Skinner' still has the power to create controversy. Recently, the book Opening Skinner's Box (Lauren Slater) revived the story of the great psychologist's infant daughter having been raised in a sterile enclosed plastic crib - which in later life turned her insane and led to her suicide.

In fact, Deborah Skinner was alive and well and living in London, and in a newspaper story recounted a happy childhood and devoted father. The crib was designed to free up infant movement, and had done her no harm. Her father's actual term for it was a 'baby tender', but it had been confused with the apparatus used in his experiments with animals, the 'Skinner box'.

The subtext of most Skinner stories is that he saw humans as no different to animals, and to some extent this was true. Even as a young psychology graduate student he had rebelled against what he saw as the romantic idea that human action was the result of inner emotions, thoughts and drives (the 'psyche'). Rather, as Pavlov's work had indicated, humans should be analyzed as physical beings interacting with their environment.

Yet in his theory of 'operant behavior', Skinner went beyond Pavlov. Humans were not simply reflexive machines, but also changed their actions according to the consequences of their behavior. This philosophical distinction allowed for the incredible variety of human difference, while allowing adhesion to the behaviorist line that humans were basically creatures of their environment.

John B Watson may have been Behaviorism's founder, but Skinner became its most famous exponent, partly because he was a brilliant experimenter (pigeons were to Skinner as dogs were to Pavlov) but also because he could write. His combination of technical skill and a desire to see the big, philosophical picture was unusual, the result being esteem by his peers and the production of best-selling books that made people think.

In the United States, Beyond Freedom & Dignity was controversial from the start, and it is no wonder: not only did it say that the ethos of the individual, upon which America rested, was philosophical hogwash, but that the ethos would end up destroying the planet.

A technology of behavior?

The book was written at a time when issues such overpopulation and nuclear war seemed a terrible threat. The very survival of the species seemed at stake. What could be done?

While Skinner noted that it was natural to try to solve the world's problems by advances in technology or science, real solutions would only emerge when people's behavior changed. Having contraceptives was no guarantee that people would use them; access to more advanced agricultural techniques does not ensure their use. Problems are caused by people, yet it is not enough to create a better relationship between people and technology, or even to personalize technology. Rather, what was needed was a 'technology of behavior'.

Skinner noted how little psychology had advanced compared to physics and biology. In ancient Greece, people's understanding of what made them tick was as good as their understanding of how the universe worked. But today, while our knowledge in the hard sciences has moved ahead leaps and bounds, our understanding of ourselves is no greater.

Surely, though, human behavior is different to the hard sciences? We are, after all, talking about inner wishes and wants, philosophies of life, the mystery of human action and so on. Yet Skinner noted that many of the questions that have been successfully answered in physics, biology and other sciences were no easier than those relating to human behavior, it is just that the instruments developed to analyze or measure have taken on a corresponding complexity.

Creating a new psychology

Skinner believed that the modern science of psychology looked for the causes of behavior in the wrong place, and was therefore fundamentally in error.

We no longer believed that people are possessed by demons, Skinner noted, yet psychology was still based on the view that our behavior is determined by 'indwelling agents'. In Freudian psychology, for instance, the actions of one human body are driven by the interaction of not one but three of these inner elements (the id, the ego and the superego). The medieval alchemists attributed to each person a mystical 'essence' that shaped behavior, and today we believe in something called 'human nature' which is said to move us. In today's psychology, and indeed in the larger culture, we do not even question the idea that action stems from inner intentions, purposes, and goals. The result is that we are told all the world's problems boil down to changing inner attitudes: overcoming pride, lessening the will to power or aggression, increasing self-respect, creating a sense of purpose and so on.

Yet for Skinner, all such conceptions of human beings were 'prescientific'. Physics and biology long ago gave up the idea that objects or animals are driven by an 'inner purpose', yet we still say that a nonphysical feeling is said to 'cause' a physical act of aggression. It is a given that states of mind cause behavior. This 'mentalism', as Skinner called it, meant that behavior is not studied in its own right. Behaviors are just seen as symptoms of the 'fascinating drama' going on in the mind, where the real issues lie. In literature, he noted, what a person does is almost always attributed to ideas, motivations or feelings, while in economics, theology and political science, their actions are always explained in terms of attitudes, intentions and beliefs.

But Skinner's revolutionary idea was that after 2500 years of this mentalism, maybe we should begin to look at behavior on its own and not as a byproduct.

Psychology of environment, not mind

Skinner notes that if we ask someone why they went to the theatre, and they say 'I felt like going' we accept this as an explanation. However, it would be more accurate to know what has made her go in the past, what she has read or heard about the play, and any other environmental factors that led to her decision to go. We think of people as 'centers from which behavior emanates', when it is more accurate to see people as the end result of the influence of the world upon them, and their reactions to the world. We don't need to know about a person's state of mind, feelings, personality, plans or purposes in order to study behavior. To know why people act as they do, Skinner suggested, all we need to know is what circumstances caused them to act in a certain way.

Before Darwin, the natural world was just the setting for the birth, life and death of beings.

But Darwin's great observation was that the environment was responsible for the variety of life, through the mechanism of natural selection. Skinner's argument was that we cannot take human behavior out of this context and make man an exceptional case. Our environments are not simply the setting for our self-willed actions, but shape us into what we are. We change the course of our actions according to what we learn is good for us (our survival) or not so good. We believe we act autonomously, but it is more accurate to observe that we act according to what 'reinforces' our actions. Just as a species prospers or withers depending on how it interacts with and adapts to its environment, so the person we are is the result of our interaction and adjustment to the world we have been born into.

The traditional view of humankind is that a person is a free, autonomous force. There are 'influences' on him, but on the whole he is a self-causing entity. We hold fast to such a romantic and ideological view because we don't want to accept the idea of 'predictable man'. This would make us too like an animal or a machine.

Yet we only have the idea of the autonomous person because behavior is a mystery. When you create a scientific analysis of behavior (behaviorism), this mystery dissolves. The result is that individual people cannot be blamed as much for what they do, but neither can they be held up as heroes.

Better environments, not better people

What is meant by Skinner's title, 'Beyond Freedom and Dignity'? He acknowledges the 'literature of freedom' which has been successful in the past at inspiring people to rebel against oppressive authorities. These writings naturally link control and exploitation of humans with evil, and escape from that control as good. But Skinner found something missing from this simple equation: the fact that we have actually designed our societies to involve many different forms of control that are based on aversion or inducement instead of outright force. Most of these more subtle forms of control people are willing to submit to because they ultimately serve their own social or economic ends. For instance, millions of people hate their jobs, yet they stay because of the consequences of not working; they are controlled by aversion rather than force - but controlled nevertheless.Nearly all of us live in communities, and to maintain themselves communities require a certain amount of control. Would it not be better to admit that we are not as free and autonomous as we would like to believe, to be open about choosing the forms of control which we will submit to? Why not get scientific about the forms of control which are most effective? This is the essence of behaviorism.

Skinner's emphasis on the environment as the cause of behavior seem so affronting because – he admitted - it seems to lessen our dignity or worth as individuals. As a species we like praising achievements, but will only give credit when the causes of a person's behavior are a mystery. How could this person have done this great thing, performed this great act, we wonder? A work of literature is praised to high heaven, but a potboiler, considered to be 'formulaic' is sneered at. The more we can discern a 'cause' of behavior, the less likely we are to commend the person. One is seen as heroic to the extent that he or she is not seen to be simply the product of an environment, but a cause unto themselves.

Punishment, according to Skinner, is a clumsy way of dealing with people who have not understood and reacted properly to society's larger goals. A better way is to change behaviors by reinforcing alternative courses of action. You can't give people a purpose or intention, but you can make some behaviors more attractive, and others less so. Given the massive shaping power of the environment, Skinner writes, it is a much better use of a culture's resources to “proceed to the design of better environments rather than of better men”. You can't change a mind. You can only change the environment that may prompt a person to act differently.

Links in a chain

Skinner's point was that we spend a huge amount of energy upholding the ethic of individualism, when as a species we could achieve more focusing more on the type of environmental situations that product remarkable achievement. He did not deny that there were great people who had made remarkable contributions, but he believed we would create more such people not through an ethic of triumphant individualism, but through creating more conducive environments. This sounds like a communist or Utopian viewpoint, but suspend judgment for a minute and it is easy to find evidence of its truth.

Skinner puts it in these terms: “Although cultures are improved by people whose wisdom and compassion may supply clues to what they do or will do, the ultimate improvement comes from the environment which makes them wise and compassionate”. What we consider 'traits of character' are really the culmination of a history of environmental reinforcement.

In short, Skinner believed we had put human beings on a pedestal. While Hamlet was made to say of man, 'How like a god!', he also notes Pavlov’s observation of us, 'How like a dog!'. Skinner felt we were more than a dog, and marveled at the complexity of human beings and their actions – yet he also said we were no different than dogs in being able subjects of scientific analysis. While poets, writers, philosophers and authors had long celebrated the inner motive that guided the human self, Skinner’s clinical definition was: “A self is a repertoire of behavior appropriate to a given set of contingencies”. But what about things like conscience and morality? Skinner has this to say: “...man is not a moral animal in the sense of possessing a special trait or virtue; he has built a kind of social environment which induces him to behave in moral ways”.

Although Skinner believed that each person was unique, down to every fiber of their body, he also felt this was missing the point. The individual was a stage in a process that began a long time before he or she came into existence, and would continue long after they had gone. Within this larger context, was it not foolish to make a lot of noise about 'individuality'? Surely it was more productive to see ourselves as a link in a long chain, shaped by our genetic history and environment, but also with the capacity to shape that environment in turn.

Final word

Beyond Freedom & Dignity attracted a lot of controversy when published, as it seemed to undermine the ethic of personal freedom that makes America what it is. But were Skinner's ideas really that dangerous?

Freedom is a wonderful idea, but cultures and communities, by their very nature, require a dense apparatus of control to survive. Skinner described the evolution of a culture as “a kind of gigantic exercise in self-control”, which was no different to the way that an individual person organizes their life to ensure their continuing existence and prosperity. Control was therefore a fact of life; his point was that it was possible to create cultures in which there were less aversionary controls such as the threat of punishment, and more positive ones that people freely agreed to. This was the scenario sketched out in his fictional Utopian classic Walden II. On the surface it sounds like early communism, but the key difference is that communist ideology was built around a misplaced faith in human nature. In contrast, behaviorism aimed to scientifically analyze how humans really acted; any culture deriving from its ideas would not be built on a vain hope but observable facts.

One of Skinner's fascinating points, which perhaps has much relevance for out times, is that cultures who put freedom and dignity above all else, who take the 'romantic' view of psychology concerning the freedom of the inner man etc. risk being surpassed by other cultures which put their survival first. Countries may pride themselves on being 'right', but such inflexibility  does not always guarantee a future.

If you have always firmly held to an Ayn Rand-like belief in personal responsibility, free will and the primacy of the individual, Skinner may cause a revolution in your thinking. Did he actually believe the idea of the individual should be abolished? No, simply the 'inner person' who is said to heroically manipulate their environment to their ends. We don't change man by being scientific about him, Skinner pointed out, any more than Isaac Newton's analysis of a rainbow lessened its beauty.    

While Skinner remains unfashionable, his influence across a range of areas has been major. In time the popular view of him as the cold man of the lab is likely to change to reflect the reality of someone who knew there was too much at stake to gamble with ideologies and romantic ideas of man. In aiming to find a scientific basis for improving our lot he was a genuine humanitarian.

 

 

Source: 50 Psychology Classics: Who We Are, How We Think, What We Do. Insight and inspiration from 50 key books (Nicholas Brealey, London & Boston), Tom Butler-Bowdon.

1996

 

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1996 by Gloria Naylor

This fictionalized memoir of the award-winning author, Gloria Naylor, tells a story of a massive covert surveillance operation perpetrated against her by an official of the U.S. government. This domestic spying both destroys the peace and tranquility of the writer s home and raises serious questions about the use of surveillance and technology by the government. 

The Body Electric: Electromagnetism And The Foundation Of Life by Robert Becker

The Body Electric By Robert Becker, Gary Selden
 
Book Description

 

"The Body Electric tells the fascinating story of our bioelectric selves. Robert O. Becker, a pioneer in the filed of regeneration and its relationship to electrical currents in living things, challenges the established mechanistic understanding of the body. He found clues to the healing process in the long-discarded theory that electricity is vital to life. But as exciting as Becker's discoveries are, pointing to the day when human limbs, spinal cords, and organs may be regenerated after they have been damaged, equally fascinating is the story of Becker's struggle to do such original work. The Body Electric explores new pathways in our understanding of evolution, acupuncture, psychic phenomena, and healing."

harpercollins.com

The Singularity Is Near

"Viking Press | In The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, Ray Kurzweil presents the next stage of his compelling view of the future: the merging of humans and machines. Kurzweil refers to this as “The Singularity,” and describes it as “…a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed.”

In The Singularity is Near, Kurzweil postulates that we are already in the very early stages of this transition, and that within just a few decades, life as we know it will be completely different. As Kurzweil explains, “The Singularity will represent the culmination of the merger of our biological thinking and existence with our technology, resulting in a world that is still human but that transcends our biological roots. There will be no distinction, post-Singularity, between human and machine nor between physical and virtual reality. If you wonder what will remain unequivocally human in such a world, it’s simply this quality: ours is the species that inherently seeks to extend its physical and mental reach beyond current limitations.”

http://www.kurzweilai.net/the-singularity-is-near 

Angels Don't Play This Haarp


Angels Don''t Play This HAARP, book cover

Angels Don''t Play This HAARP
Advances in Tesla Technology
by Dr. Nick Begich and Jeane Manning

Angels Don't Play This HAARP : Advances in Tesla Technology by Dr. Nick Begich and Jeane Manning is a book gaining wide publicity throughout the United States having been featured on hundreds of radio programs, news reports and television programs. This book was named one of the most important books of 1996 by Project Censored : The News that Didn''t Make the News. The book is the subject of talk radio programs six to twelve times a month on both national and regional programs. The book is in its third english printing since being released in September, 1995. Translations were released in Japan and Germany in 1996.

The U.S. Military''s first target is the electrojet: a river of electricity that flows thousands of miles through the sky and down into the polar icecap. The electrojet will become a vibrating artificial antenna for sending electromagnetic radiation raining down on the earth. The U.S. military can then "X-ray" the earth and talk to submarines. But there''s much more they can do with HAARP. This book reveals surprises from secret meetings.

Imaginary Weapons by Sharon Weinberger

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51S-05VCFlL._SL500_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-big,TopRight,35,-73_OU01_SS500_.jpg
Imaginary Weapons - By Sharon Weinberger
How did a fluke experiment in 1998, involving a used dental X-ray machine and a dubiously obtained sample of radioactive material called hafnium, become the Pentagon's number one pet weapons project within five years? And why did this occur in spite of objections from the nation's top scientists? In Imaginary Weapons, Sharon Weinberger-no stranger to harebrained military schemes from her years covering the Pentagon-takes us on a wild ride through the hidden underworld of official fringe science in America.

Controlling the Human Mind by Nick Begich

Earthpulse Press Publications
 

ISBN 1-890693-54-5

This is the Century of the brain and the mind. The technologies that have advanced, under cover of secrecy and national security, now have the power to either enslave us or free us to our higher potentials. These technologies will impact our consciousness itself and as a result require an invigorated public debate, in the light of day. At the same time, there is hope and great possibility in these areas of science. The first part of this book deals with the sinister side of Controlling the Human Mind with the second part exploring the possibilities that are emerging with new brain and mind enhancing technologies. The greatest threats and the greatest possibilities reside within the core of who we are and what happens in the center of our minds, the seat of our souls. This is the most important book yet released from the research efforts of Dr. Nick Begich

"The best deterrent that we have against acts of terrorism is to find out who is conspiring, who has the material, where they are getting it, who they are talking to, and what are their plans. In order to do that, in order to interdict the terrorists before they set off their weapon, you have to have that kind of intelligence-gathering capability, but it runs smack into our constitutional protections of privacy. And it's a tension which will continue to exist in every free society - the reconciliation of the need for liberty and the need for law and order....that once these weapons start to be exploded people will say, “Protect us. We're willing to give up some of our liberties and some of our freedoms, but you must protect us.” And that is what will lead us into this 21st century, this kind of Constitutional tension of how much protection can we provide and still preserve essential liberties."

Secretary of Defense William S.  Cohen, Defense Viewpoint, December 1, 1998
 
"One can envision the development of electromagnetic energy sources, the output of which can be pulsed, shaped, and focused, that can couple with the human body in a fashion that will allow one to prevent voluntary muscular movements, control emotions (and thus actions), produce sleep, transmit suggestions, interfere with both short-term and long-term memory, produce an experience set, and delete an experience set. It would also appear possible to create high fidelity speech in the human body, raising the possibility of covert suggestion and psychological direction...Thus, it may be possible to 'talk' to selected adversaries in a fashion that would be most disturbing to them."

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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