Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


42nd Annual Convention; Downtown Chicago, IL; 2016

Event Details

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Symposium #469
Consciousness: Taking the Debate Forward
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
11:00 AM–11:50 AM
Zurich E, Swissotel
Area: TPC/VRB; Domain: Theory
Chair: Jay Moore (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee)
Discussant: Philip N. Hineline (Temple University - Emeritus)
Abstract: What is consciousness, or more specifically, what occasions use of the term, “consciousness”? Behavior analysts broadly agree that it is an aspect of verbal behavior, which immediately sets them at odds with many in other disciplines (e.g., philosophy, neuroscience) who assign it a very different status and frequently assert that the behavior-analytic could never capture the “essence” of consciousness, and perhaps that no scientific account could. On closer inspection, however, behavior analysts do not agree amongst themselves on the critical issues around the nature and status of private events in characterizing consciousness. As agreement on this may be critical if we are to influence the wider debate about consciousness, this symposium brings together several researchers with diverse views within behavior analysis and seeks to identify key issues and, as importantly, areas where empirical research in the experimental analysis of behaviour or from other non-cognitive traditions can take the debate forward.
Keyword(s): consciousness, private events, relational-frame theory, teleological behaviorism

List, List, O, List! The Escape From Telelogical Behaviorism

M. JACKSON MARR (Georgia Tech)

The word "consciousness" has many meanings, but that characterizing a "self-descriptive repertoire" is probably the most behaviorally tractable. Skinner, principally in Verbal Behavior (1957), provided a plausible account of how such a repertoire might be established and maintained. But, for some, this meaning of consciousness seems quite constrained in that it fails to capture what might be deemed "immediate experience"—a far more elusive notion—but one engendering a huge literature filled with mystery and even anguish over the seeming impossibility of mere matter, that is, a brain, manifesting such a miracle. The key concept said to embrace this mystery is "qualia," an utterly incoherent notion. The real mystery is why anyone ever believed such an idea was needed. Rachlin, in his book The Escape of the Mind, appears to assume that those who argue for a role for private events in a science of behavior must attribute qualia to at least some of these events. This is wrong. This presentation will attempt to respond to his critique of "Marr's list" as well as other tenets of "teleological behaviorism."


Can We Make Data-Driven Decisions in the Consciousness Debate?

JULIAN C. LESLIE (Ulster University)

In recent times, some behavior analysts have ventured, and others may have been dragged, into the multidisciplinary debate on the nature of consciousness. The main question for behaviour analysts is whether within the field we can do experimental analyses of questions about consciousness that meet our standards of evidence. One of the best candidates for conceptual research in this area is work done by Hineline and colleagues and there are links between that and the relatively large body of empirical research on relational frame theory. One question posed in this paper will be, does relational frame theory generate findings that begin to provide a behavioral account of consciousness? Another strategy is to examine the conceptual and empirical work of others who reject the implicit cognitivist consensus that human behavior can only be explained by causal mental events. Some of these are the intellectual heirs of J J Gibson, and some of their work, sometimes termed embodied cognition, will be reviewed,




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