(urth) 5HC : Skinner, Turing

Jim Raylor rjraylor at yahoo.co.uk
Thu Feb 3 07:08:02 PST 2005

There seems to be an allusion on these threads that
B.F.Skinner may bear some similarity to the father of
Number Five in 5HC. 

As a first year Psychology student at Exeter
University in the 1970's I was a rampant
anti-behaviourist, based on commonly held
misconceptions, some of which have been aired here.
By my third year, my views had changed, helped by a
series of tutorials with Professor Reid, the Head of
Department, a keen behaviourist who was personally
acquainted with Skinner.
William James focus on Psychology as the study of
human consciousness had some unfortunate consequences.
Soon Freud, Jung et al. had created rich and exotic
topologies of the human mind, though differences of
opinion were evident and apparently irresolvable.
Is a pipe a male or female symbol?
Pioneers of behaviourism such as Watson and Pavlov
were attempting to put psychology onto a more
scientific focus, by concentrating on observable
behaviour and repeatable experiments.
Skinner's experiments were generally far more humane
than those of the neurologists who sacrificed their
subjects to measure changes of state in their brains.
Possibly his greatest contribution to humanity is his
demonstration that rewards are for more effective in
conditioning behaviour than punishments.
I am not saying he was a saint. For example, during
the war he advocated the use of trained pigeons to
guide missiles, perhaps though this is preferable to
the use of Kamikaze pilots. 
He did create an artificially enhanced environment for
his second daughter and spent considerable time
observing and influencing her behaviour, which I see
as nothing more sinister than the actions of a devoted
parent. By all accounts she is a successful and well
adjusted academic who continues to support her
father's ideas. At university, the rumour was that she
had gone mad after being treated as an experimental
subject by her wicked father and was hospitalised!
Skinner did not entirely deny the relevance of
internal states (is the pigeon hungry?), but found
objective work-arounds in most cases (Take a pigeon at
95% of its previously established normal body weight).

Turing's approach also focused on observable inputs
and outputs, though he had a more mathematical and
abstract notion of internal state than was formerly

For what it is worth, I do find the apparent
references to these individuals in 5HC to be more than


I am not a number I am a free person!

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