9. How does Skinner describe the current (at that time) practice of studying and learning about human behavior?
Skinner begins this chapter by describing the current (at that time) practice of studying and learning about human behavior. The practice was centered on psychology, with emphasis on theories about human behavior based on observation and experimentation. Skinner sees his work as having a great deal in common with psychology and philosophy, especially Herbert Feigl’s approach to understanding biological phenomena like those involved in perception or memory.
One of the first things Skinner does in this chapter is to describe the current (at that time) practice of studying and learning about human behavior. He defines psychology as “the science which studies mental states, cognitive processes, and behavioral interactions” and philosophy as “the systematic study of general issues pertaining to being or existence.”
Skinner then points out that while they come from different fields of thought, psychology and philosophy are directly related to one another because they share many similar goals: “The purpose of both disciplines is an investigation into what there is in the mind-body relation; what it means for an event to be related or independent; whether determinism holds good or not.”
In other words: You can’t understand yourself without understanding your environment – but also vice versa.
The practice was centered on psychology, with emphasis on theories about human behavior based on observation and experimentation. The main goal of psychologists was to discover patterns in the thoughts, feelings and actions of people.
Psychology is a science that looks at how we think, feel and act. It’s not magic or fortune telling; it’s an attempt to understand human behavior by observing what happens when people are presented with certain situations (such as an experiment).
Skinner’s work was based on theories about human behavior. He based his ideas on observation and experimentation, as well as psychology and philosophy.
Skinner’s work was also very much in line with other behavioral psychologists at the time, including Thorndike and Pavlov.
Skinner was a philosopher first and foremost, not an experimental psychologist. He was interested in the behavior of organisms (humans included) and how it could be explained. His theories were based on the idea that all behavior is either operant or instrumental: operants are actions that function to produce some change in their environment; instruments are actions that function to maintain or increase their current state of affairs. For example, if you’re trying to fly through the air by jumping off a cliff, your behavior as another person watching may seem like it is “operant” because it leads directly toward achieving your goal (being able to fly). But as soon as you land safely on solid ground again–or even before then–your behavior becomes more like an instrument for staying grounded than for gaining airborne status: Your goal has changed from flying away from danger into staying safe in order not only survive but also continue living your life happily ever after!
Skinner was a philosopher first and foremost, not an experimental psychologist. His work can be seen as a continuation of methods from the past, but with unique insights into how humans learn and behave.
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