Association for Behavior Analysis International

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2012 Theory and Philosophy Conference

Event Details

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Invited Symposium #6
CE Offered: PSY/BACB
What Counts as Behavior?
Sunday, November 4, 2012
8:00 AM–10:30 AM
Zuni Ballroom
Area: TPC; Domain: Theory
Discussant: Raymond C. Pitts (University of North Carolina Wilmington)
CE Instructor: Raymond C. Pitts, Ph.D.

What Counts as Behavior?

The Molar Multiscale View of Behavior
WILLIAM M. BAUM (University of California, Davis)
Abstract: Behavior is not movement; to define behavior, we may first ask why behavior exists at all. According to evolutionary theory, behavior exists because organisms interact advantageously with the environment. Accordingly, behavior consists of getting a job done or performing a function. Examples are courtship and foraging. This definition implies that behavior must be temporally extended, because interaction with the environment cannot occur at a moment but only through time. The phrase "momentary behavior" is an oxymoron. Behavior is extended in time by its nature (i.e., by necessity). An analog to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle applies: at a moment, uncertainty of function is maximal, while uncertainty of structure is minimal; with longer periods of observation, uncertainty of function decreases, while uncertainty of structure increases. This principle applies to all behavior, including lever presses and key pecks. The principle implies also that, because activities take time, behavior entails time allocation. When choice is defined as time allocation among activities and that activities of shorter scale are nested within activities of longer scale, we conclude that all behavior entails choice and that all behavior is choice.
William M. Baum received his bachelor of arts degree in psychology from Harvard College in 1961. Although originally a biology major, he switched to psychology after taking courses from B. F. Skinner and R. J. Herrnstein in his freshman and sophomore years. He attended Harvard University for graduate study in 1962, where he was supervised by Herrnstein, and received his Ph.D. in 1966. He spent 1965–66 at Cambridge University, studying ethology at the Sub-Department of Animal Behavior. From 1966–1975, he held appointments as postdoctoral fellow, research associate, and assistant professor at Harvard University. He spent 2 years at the National Institutes of Health Laboratory for Brain, Evolution, and Behavior and then accepted an appointment in psychology at the University of New Hampshire in 1977. He retired from there in 1999. He currently has an appointment as associate researcher at the University of California, Davis and lives in San Francisco. His research focuses on choice, molar behavior/environment relations, foraging, and behaviorism. He is the author of a book, Understanding Behaviorism: Behavior, Culture, and Evolution.

Science and Control of the Behavior Stream Versus Freedom and the Free Operant

CHARLES P. SHIMP (University of Utah)

Abstract: Three categories of behavior analyses can be identified, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Skinner popularized a "molecular" category with his demonstrations of how to manually and powerfully shape new behaviors out of an individual behavior stream. A "molar" category involves a previously shaped activity, often a "free operant," which is assumed to be sufficiently stable so that its average rate or average duration of occurrence can be meaningfully computed, usually in order to study how reinforcement strengthens the stable response or activity. Molar analyses can be conducted independently of any known behavior stream such as when James Q. Wilson and Richard J. Herrnstein analyzed average national crime rates. This category historically derives in part from Skinner's interpretation of Ernst Mach's philosophy of science. A third category integrates molecular and molar analyses. It automates shaping to create new behavioral patterns with specified quantitative properties and shows how shaping and strengthening processes of reinforcement interact to define and control behavior. It more precisely controls behavior than the first and second categories and thereby sharply restricts "freedom,"which requires abandoning Mach's philosophyand more closely resembles science as commonly understood.

Charles Shimp was raised in a musical family. He attended The Ohio State University, Brown University, Stanford University, and recently retired after 43 years of working in the Psychology Department at the University of Utah. Currently, he is enjoying life in the astonishing geological diversity and beauty of Utah. His interests include his own personal mental life and its relation to the mental lives of others, listening to and performing music, and interacting with family and friends. He sees the science of behavior as having unprofitably divided between analyses of "shaping" and "strengthening," neither of which by itself can define nor explain behavior. The problem with independent analyses is that shaping and strengthening processes continuously interact. He says if he were younger, he would automate the shaping and strengthening of ever more complex behaviors such as undistracted and focused driving, writing and talking, and composing and performing music. He would even try to control the behavior streams of scientists when they talk about what science is because the verbal behavior that contributes much to the culture of behavior analysis is currently based on fragile, empirically unexamined assumptions. Dr. Shimp suspects learning how to control scientific behavior will shed light on the nature of behavior analysis, freedom, and the experience of beauty.



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