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B. F. Skinner (1904 – 1990) was an American psychologist and inventor of the operant conditioning chamber which demonstrated reinforcement of behaviors. The consequences of an act affect the probability of its occurring again.
B. B. Skinner quotes
The amateur doesn’t appreciate the need for experimentation. He wants his experts to know.
It is a mistake to suppose that the whole issue is how to free man. The issue is to improve the way in which he is controlled.
We must delegate control of the population as a whole to specialists—to police, priests, teachers, therapies, and so on, with their specialized reinforcers and their codified contingencies.
The consequences of an act affect the probability of its occurring again.
The way positive reinforcement is carried out is more important than the amount.
Society attacks early, when the individual is helpless.
If you’re old, don’t try to change yourself, change your environment.
Some of us learn control, more or less by accident. The rest of us go all our lives not even understanding how it is possible, and blaming our failure on being born the wrong way.
I did not direct my life. I didn’t design it. I never made decisions. Things always came up and made them for me. That’s what life is.
We can achieve a sort of control under which the controlled, though they are following a code much more scrupulously than was ever the case under the old system, nevertheless feel free. They are doing what they want to do, not what they are forced to do. That’s the source of the tremendous power of positive reinforcement– there’s no restraint and no revolt. By careful cultural design, we control not the final behavior, but the inclination to behave– the motives, desires, the wishes.
The only way to tell whether a given event is reinforcing to a given organism under given conditions is to make a direct test. We observe the frequency of a selected response, then make an event contingent upon it and observe any change in frequency. If there is a change, we classify the event as reinforcing to the organism under the existing conditions.
Society already possesses the psychological techniques needed to obtain universal observance of a code — a code which would guarantee the success of a community or state. The difficulty is that these techniques are in the hands of the wrong people–or, rather, there aren’t any right people.
The world’s a poor standard. any society which is free of hunger and violence looks bright against that background.
Promising paradise or threatening hell-fire is, we assumed, generally admitted to be unproductive. It is based upon a fundamental fraud which, when discovered, turns the individual against society and nourishes the very thing it tries to stamp out. What Jesus offered in return of loving one’s enemies was heaven on earth, better known as peace of mind.
Each of us has interests which conflict the interests of everybody else… ‘everybody else’ we call ‘society’. It’s a powerful opponent and it always wins. Oh, here and there an individual prevails for a while and gets what he wants. Sometimes he storms the culture of a society and changes it to his own advantage. But society wins in the long run, for it has the advantage of numbers and of age.
It is not a question of starting. The start has been made. It’s a question of what’s to be done from now on.
But restraint is the only one sort of control, and absence of restraint isn’t freedom. It’s not control that’s lacking when one feels ‘free’, but the objectionable control of force.
Your liberals and radicals all want to govern. They want to try it their way– to show that people will be happier if the power is wielded in a different way or for different purposes. But how do they know? Have they ever tried it? No, it’s merely their guess.
The tender sentiment of the ‘one and only’ has less to do with constancy of heart than with singleness of opportunity.
Men build society and society builds men.
We do not choose survival as a value, it chooses us.
The majority of people don’t want to plan. They want to be free of the responsibility of planning. What they ask for is merely some assurance that they will be decently provided for. The rest is a day-to-day enjoyment of life. That’s the explanation for your Father Divines; people naturally flock to anyone they can trust for the necessities of life… They are the backbone of a community–solid, trust-worthy, essential.
It is a surprising fact that those who object most violently to the manipulation of behavior nevertheless make the most vigorous effort to manipulate minds.
A scientist may not be sure of the answer, but he’s often sure he can find one. And that’s a condition which is clearly not enjoyed by philosophy.
Society attacks early, when the individual is helpless. It enslaves him almost before he has tasted freedom. The ‘ologies’ will tell you how its done Theology calls it building a conscience or developing a spirit of selflessness. Psychology calls it the growth of the superego.
Considering how long society has been at it, you’d expect a better job. But the campaigns have been badly planned and the victory has never been secured.
If freedom is a requisite for human happiness, then all that’s necessary is to provide the illusion of freedom.
The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do.
No one asks how to motivate a baby. A baby naturally explores everything it can get at, unless restraining forces have already been at work. And this tendency doesn’t die out, it’s wiped out.
The only geniuses produced by the chaos of society are those who do something about it. Chaos breeds geniuses. It offers a man something to be a genius about.
Education is what survives when what has been learnt has been forgotten.
A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying.
We shouldn’t teach great books; we should teach a love of reading.
Any stimulus present when an operant is reinforced acquires control in the sense that the rate will be higher when it is present. Such a stimulus does not act as a goad; it does not elicit the response in the sense of forcing it to occur. It is simply an essential aspect of the occasion upon which a response is made and reinforced. The difference is made clear by calling it a discriminative stimulus.
In the traditional view, a person is free. He is autonomous in the sense that his behavior is uncaused. He can therefore be held responsible for what he does and justly punished if he offends. That view, together with its associated practices, must be re-examined when a scientific analysis reveals unsuspected controlling relations between behavior and environment.
We admire people to the extent that we cannot explain what they do, and the word ‘admire’ then means ‘marvel at.
The strengthening of behavior which results from reinforcement is appropriately called ‘conditioning’. In operant conditioning we ‘strengthen’ an operant in the sense of making a response more probable or, in actual fact, more frequent.
The position can be stated as follows: what is felt or introspectively observed is not some nonphysical world of consciousness, mind, or mental life but the observer’s own body. This does not mean, as I shall show later, that introspection is a kind of psychological research, nor does it mean (and this is the heart of the argument) that what are felt or introspectively observed are the causes of the behavior. An organism behaves as it does because of its current structure, but most of this is out of reach of introspection. At the moment we must content ourselves, as the methodological behaviorist insists, with a person’s genetic and environment histories. What are introspectively observed are certain collateral products of those histories.
In this way we repair the major damage wrought by mentalism. When what a person does [is] attributed to what is going on inside him, investigation is brought to an end. Why explain the explanation? For twenty-five hundred years people have been preoccupied with feelings and mental life, but only recently has any interest been shown in a more precise analysis of the role of the environment. Ignorance of that role led in the first place to mental fictions, and it has been perpetuated by the explanatory practices to which they gave rise.
A person’s genetic endowment, a product of the evolution of the species, is said to explain part of the workings of his mind and his personal history the rest.
The speaker does not feel the grammatical rules he is said to apply in composing sentences, and men spoke grammatically for thousands of years before anyone knew there were rules.
The juvenile delinquent does not feel his disturbed personality. The intelligent man does not feel his intelligence or the introvert his introversion.
Except when physically restrained, a person is least free or dignified when he is under threat of punishment, and unfortunately most people often are. [Debt is putting one’s self into voluntary slavery and threat of punishment.]
The consequences of an act affect the probability of its occurring again. This seems like such an obvious statement, and yet it is quite recent. Skinner made clear just how people are influenced by events that condition their later behavior.
Except when physically restrained, a person is least free or dignified when he is under threat of punishment, and unfortunately most people often are. Debt is putting oneself into voluntary slavery and threat of punishment. This is obvious and yet the majority of Americans are in credit card debt. I am wondering what impact the new book Scarcity will have on clarifying these problems to help people have more reasonable control of their time, their money and their freedom.