Do WE Have Inner World? Are WE Mere Machines? (Behaviorism)

Uploaded 9/15/2023, approx. 27 minute read

Are we imminent creatures or are we transcendent creatures?

Woah, woah, woah, you all say. Can't you hold off with the ten dollar words until at least after the introduction? I can.

En Ich hel, bon bon im, en bon bon not. My name is Sam Vaknin, I am the author of Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited. I am a former visiting professor of psychology and currently on the faculty of CIAPS, Commonwealth for International Advanced Professional Studies, Cambridge United Kingdom, Toronto, Canada, an outreach programme in Lagos, Nigeria. I can sing it in my sleep by now.

And before you fall asleep, let's embark on this torturous path ahead of us.

How we machines, are we devices?

So if we specify all the operational parameters, we can capture our essence exactly like we would specify, for example, the engineering specs of a television set or a laptop. By specifying the architecture of a laptop, we are definitely capturing the essence of a laptop.

Is it the same with human beings? If we were to specify the anatomy and physiology and neurochemistry and biochemistry of a human being, would we capture the essence of a human being? What about pain? What about pleasure? What about colors? What about emotions? What about moods? And what about my wine? How do we capture these?

And this is possibly the greatest debate in psychology to this very day.

On the one hand, there are the schools of psychology that insist that there is a demon in the machine. There is something inside the machine that is distinguished, distinguishable from the machine, is not the machine.

This is dualism, mind-body.

And there's a group of schools waning and waxing with time, known as behaviorism or functionalism and so on and so forth.

Currently in psychology, we are somewhere in between with a tilt, with a tendency towards the latter because psychology pretends to be a science, claims to be a science. It's actually a pseudoscience, but okay, claims to be a science.

And of course, if we reduce human beings to the sums of their parts, an attitude known as reductionism, if we reduce human beings to biochemical interactions and pathways, to hardware, to wetware, to software maybe, if we reduce human beings to all these elements and components and put them together and get a human being, then this is science.

This is what science does. Science disassembles and then reassembles in novel ways which provide new insights, predictions, the ability to falsify the theory.

Today I want to focus on just a disclaimer. I firmly belong to the former camp. I do not believe human beings can be reduced to mere atoms and molecules and chemical compounds and electrical currents.

No, I don't believe that. I think we're missing on something very important. It is metaphysical maybe. It's not ontological. It's not physical. It's not chemical.

But there is something there. And I'm not referring to consciousness, which hitherto no one succeeded to define, nor am I referring to the mind, nor am I referring to our subjective experience of who we are, of our environment, of what's happening.

I'm not referring to any of these. None of these things is scientific. None of these things has any ontological status, any real status in reality. None of these things can be discussed intelligently, exactly like the question, does God exist?

There's no way to answer this question. So why bother?

I sit back in my chair and I laugh when I see all these eggheads and giants of intellect debating consciousness having failed to define consciousness to start with.

So no, I'm not referring to all this. I'm referring to the simple fact that we are unable to capture the totality of humanness, of being human, resorting only to objective, observable phenomena and substances.

How do I know that we fail to capture?

Because we fail to capture, for example, human experience.

So there is some gap. There is some problem. It needs to be bridged somehow. Maybe emergentism, maybe epiphenomenalism, maybe quantum mechanics, maybe a theory in physics that has yet to come. Maybe it's not a theory in physics, maybe a new resurgence of metaphysics. We are headed that way. I think physics is going to be replaced by metaphysics.

But be that as it may, there is a systemic failure in capturing the essence of being human.

And I'm going to review today one of the most magnificent, glorious failures ever known as the School of Behaviorism.

Let's start with Chicago. Where else?

The Chicago School was a school of psychology that emerged at the University of Chicago in the early 20th century.

Psychologists such as John Dewey, James Angel, Harvey Carr and others, they were the leaders of this school.

This approach was known as functionalism. And it was a derivative of something called act psychology, which I'll explain in a minute.

Act psychology was first proposed by France, one of my most favorite philosophers. It was an attempt to redefine psychology by introducing into it Darwinian evolution.

Mental activities serve an adaptive biological function. And this biology should be the focus of psychology, said the scholars in the Chicago School.

But to understand the Chicago School more profoundly and more fundamentally, we need to resort to Brentano.

Brentano came up with the concept of intentionality. Intentionality is a characteristic of an individual's act that requires the individual to have goals and desires and standards to select behaviors that are in the service of obtaining these goals, means to an end, and to call into conscious awareness a desired future state to imagine or even dare I say to fantasize into daydream.

So there's been huge debates where whether A is sufficient, A and B, B and C, never mind all that, never mind all that. Everyone agrees that intentionality is something to do with individuals, that it takes into account some kind of goal or end point and then tailors, tailors actions to attain the goal.

Now in my work, in my work on self-states, I'm using intentionality as a regulatory mechanism which determines which self-state will take over in any given environment. I also use intentionality in my work in philosophy and phenomenology which you can find on my nothingness channel.

I've also done work in hermeneutics and other fields. We're not going to it right now.

Okay, so intentionality.

Okay, what is act psychology?

Act psychology is a philosophical and psychological approach. It's based on the proposition that the content of psychological processes is not the same as action. Acts, actions do not reflect and are not definitely are not part of a psychological process. These are totally separate functions.

So I don't know, you see color. When you see color, you perceive the visual content, you perceive the image, but the act of seeing color is not because you perceive the image or perceive the visuals. These two are totally separate.

Acts, mental representation, transformation, judgment, emotions, they're all acts, they're all forms of action. Acts are the proper subject of psychology, not content, not the content of psychological processes, but the outward manifestations.

Emotions are outwardly communicable. We can communicate emotions. Judgment leads to action.

Physical representation is intimately linked with an external object, ask any narcissist.

So these are the legitimate targets of psychological inquiry. And this is of course in stark contrast to the very beginning of psychology.

Wilhelm Wundt emphasized introspection and conscious content so did to a very large extent Freud and Jung and others.

So act psychology was a rebellion, an insurrection against the content oriented approach of psychology up to that point.

People like Wundt and Freud and so they said we need to study the content of psychological processes and then we will understand the individual.

And act psychology said we need to study the actions of individuals and then we will understand individuals.

Actions, not only operational actions like drinking and eating and doing other unmentionable things, but actions like emotions. Everything that is observable, everything that is communicable, everything that leads to operational action, such as judgment. All these can be studied by psychology, manipulated in a laboratory, subject to the design of studies and so on and so forth.

Content is not. Content is composed of the actual thoughts, images and emotions that occur in conscious experience.

So these are solipsistic. We have no access to these things. You cannot access anyone else's mind. You have to rely on self-reporting and self-reporting can be fallacious, even not intentionally fallacious as Freud had discovered with his extension of the work on the unconscious.

People sometimes lie or confabulate or prevaricate or reframe or falsify their internal landscape, not because they are malevolent or goal oriented or psychopathic or just because they have, for example, defense mechanisms.

So the study of content, according to behaviorism, act psychologists and so on, the study of content is impossible. It's exactly like asking is there God? You cannot access the mind of another person.

So this can never be a science. Anything that relies on self-reporting is doubtful and should not be construed as a science, said the act psychologists.

Content psychology is an approach to psychology that is concerned with the role of conscious experience and the content of that experience.

But this kind of structuralism is erroneous. It has no foundation.

Can you really measure someone's pain? Are you sure that when someone says grin, he means the same thing as you do? When someone tells you I love you, does he experience the same emotion as you do? Does he experience any emotion at all?

Maybe it's an Android. Maybe it's some kind of artificial intelligence from the future. There's no way to tell.

And reliance on self-reporting is not good science to use a British understatement.

Imagine, for example, psychological tests administered to narcissists and psychopaths. Really, seriously, are you real? Are you for real?

And this, unfortunately, is the mainstay of current clinical psychology when we diagnose psychology, when we try to determine if someone is a psychopath, we ask him questions.

And sometimes we ask people around him who are terrified, terrorized by it.

And when we want to determine if someone is a narcissist, we ask him questions and we rely on the honesty of these people and the veracity of their responses.

Are you kidding me? So there are serious problems with content psychology and to a very great extent there's a problem with structuralism.

Structuralism was the first school of psychology. It pretended to be a science. It claimed to be independent of philosophy.

Psychology used to be a part of philosophy and still is a part of philosophy in many, many universities in the world.

But the structuralists insisted the psychology is actually much closer to physics. There is a dynamics of the mind, psychodynamics.

You can analyze the mind, psychanalysis. It's a science.

So structuralists started the father of structuralism is of course, what else? A German Wilhelm Wundt.

But he was preceded by Edward Bradford, teaching Schindler and others.

So it's a study of mental experience. It's the investigation of the structure of such experiences through systematic programs of experiments.

But unfortunately, all these experiments rely on introspection and consequently on self-reporting. It's self-defeating and nonsensical.

Structural psychology is nonsensical because it violates the intersubjective problem. It does not provide an answer to the intersubjective problem.

How do I know that your mind is the same as mine? And even worse, how do I know that you have a mind at all that you're not some kind of sophisticated simulation the way narcissists and psychopaths are?

Content psychology led us down the garden path, convincing us that we can study, for example, narcissists and psychopaths using the same tools that we use when we study healthy normal people.

It's not true. It's not true.

So the study of human behavior expanded, psychoanalysis for example, expanded. And it affected cultural studies. In the 1960s and 1970s, it was a big thing.

The concepts underlying content psychology permeated, as I said, cultural studies, but also for example, linguistics. There was Ferdinand de Saussure in Switzerland and so on and so forth.

And so de Saussure, for example, maintained that language is a closed system that must be approached through the detail of its internal structure.

So he came up with linguistic signs and reference and so on and so forth.

And it was suspiciously similar, suspiciously similar to many of the things that Freud had said.

It was disguised content psychology. The meaning of the language was grounded in a totally abstract system, which is defined by contrast between elements.

And then there was the work of Claude Levi Strauss and so on and so forth.

Okay, those of you who are interested can look up structuralism and structural ideas in semiotics, in linguistics, in culture studies, post-culturalism and so on and so forth.

I will not go into all this.

Content psychology had an enormous impact on literature, on the arts and so on and so forth.

But it is false. It is not and can never ever be a science. It cannot even be not only a science, it cannot even be a good taxonomic system, classificatory system, because it assumes that we have access to that which is inaccessible, inaccessible, in principle.

So what's the alternative? Behaviourism?

The alternative is to say, well, we can't penetrate the inside of the human mind. Let us focus on the outside of the human mind, on the shell, on the facade, on the appearances.

And this is where functionalism comes in.

Functionalism is a psychological approach.

The functionalist view mental life and behavior in terms of active adaptation to the environment, to the challenges and opportunities posed by the environment.

Functionalism was developed, as I said, in the University of Chicago by Dewey, Angel, Carr and others at the beginning of the 20th century. It was a revolt against structuralism. They said we do not need to dissect states of consciousness. We do not, we should not attempt to study mental content. We should focus on activities.

Functionalism, act psychology, Bruentano as the philosopher, Dewey and others as the psychologists, they emphasize the causes and consequences of human behavior. They combined the physiological and the psychological.

Physiology, anatomy, they are indisputable. They are 1000% observable, dissectable, analyzeable.

So start with something certain, start with a certainty, start with an object that is universally agreed on and take it from there.

Developed a psychology that relies on a physiology and grounded in the scientific method, objective testing, theorizing, hypothesis generation, predictions, testing predictions, falsifying theories and so on and so forth.

The functionalist said psychology is about survival. We need to consider psychology as a survival art. We need to ask ourselves what practical problems can psychology solve.

The functionalists were very much like viewers on YouTube, you know, so how to cut it short, get to the point, tell me what to do and so that's functionalism.

Right? There's an evolutionary continuity said the functionalist between animals and humans and so we can improve on human life by studying evolution, by studying evolutionary adaptations.

This was the forerunner of some elements in evolutionary psychology.

Okay, functional psychology and this led directly to the topic of today's lecture which is behaviorism actually preceded the Chicago school. It was first promulgated in 1913 by John Watson.

Watson studied objective observable facts. He derided and mocked subjective qualitative processes. Feelings? No way. Motives? Get out of here. Consciousness? Bullshit.

I tend to agree by the way. To make psychology a naturalistic science, Watson proposed to limit it to quantitative events, stimulus, response relationships, effects of conditioning, physiological processes, human and animal behavior, laboratory, experiments and investigations, objective measures, numbers, controlled conditions, control groups, statistics.

Behaviourists considered the mind not as a proper topic of scientific study.

This is to say what is the mind? Can you define what is a mind? If you say that the mind is a collection or the sum total or the aggregate of mental events, what are mental events? If you say that mental events are the subjective experience of whatever, some process, what is subjective? Who is doing the subjective? Who is experiencing the mental events?

Mental events, the mind, the individual, the self, they are not independently verifiable. Therefore, they can never be scientific, said the behaviourist and I fully concur.

Behaviourism therefore was an outgrowth of functionalism.

And like everything, it immediately divided in three parts.

There were three schools of behaviourism.

The first one is known as methodological behaviorism. It considered the existence and reality of conscious events, but contended that the only suitable means of studying these events scientifically was via their expression in behavior.

So, methodological behaviorism studied behaviors and then interpolated, oh, I don't know how to call it, back extrapolated, the underlying mental events.

So, if you see a behavior, you can then somehow derive or deduce the underlying mental process that has led to the behavior.

To my taste, methodological behaviorism is anything but methodological because it connects objective replicable observations, replicable potentially observations, with abstract concepts that have no agreed upon definition and definitely no objective existence.

They are subjective. Processes of the mind are subjective. You have your processes. I have my processes.

We can never share these processes. I can never grant you access to my processes.

So, we can't discuss mental processes as objective entities that give rise to observable behavior.

I think it's a self-defeating proposition. I think methodological behaviorism is self-contradictory.

Then there is radical behaviorism. It's the view that behavior, rather than consciousness, rather than the contents of consciousness, behavior is the only proper topic of study of psychology as a science.

So, classical behaviorism, John Watson's behaviorism, neo-behaviorism, they are not the same as radical behaviors.

People are often confused, even scholars, often confused.

Radical behaviorism was proposed by B.F. Skinner, equally as famous as Watson. It emphasised the importance of reinforcements and the relationship of reinforcements to behavior.

So, the environment determines the behavior via reinforcement.

And today we know in the study of narcissistic abuse, and so on, we have intermittent reinforcement. This comes from radical behaviorism.

Skinner did not deny the fact that all of us have what he called private events. No one can deny the reality of thinking, feeling, imagining, emotions, and so on. Who can deny that? Who can deny experiencing things? No one can deny that.

But these are private events. Skinner came tantalizingly close to contradicting Wittgenstein as I do in my work.

I insist that there are private languages. Wittgenstein was wrong, in this respect, rarely wrong. There are private languages, and private languages are used internally to describe private events, but private languages and private events are hermetically sealed and inaccessible and indescribable and cannot be proved even in principle. So, they can never be the subject of science.

Thinking, feeling, imagining are irrelevant. They are not the causes of behavior, but private stimuli, private events that function, perhaps, according to the same set of laws as public stimuli, but we don't know. We can't be sure of this. So, this gave rise to the ideas of behavioural analysis and so on and so forth and descriptive behaviour, which I'll discuss in a minute.

Skinner was a much deeper thinker than Watson. Skinner introduced the schism, the break, between public and private, and how the private is not necessarily, or it cannot be proven that it is, the foundation of the public.

What we see outside, actions, choices, decisions, behaviours, even communicated emotions, and what we see outside is not necessarily directly, invariably, unequivocally, unambiguously linked to internal processes which are private events, using a private language never communicable to anyone outside the individual.

It's as if the individual is a microcosmos, it's a universe sealed totally from the outside. It's a highly solipsistic view of our internal experience.

And then there is an interface or a bridge between the sealed solipsistic individual and other sealed solipsistic individuals. This bridge could be language, this bridge could be action, this bridge could be communication of emotions, for example, this bridge could be judgment that leads to action. These are bridges, but never confuse the bridge with the castle.

Behaviour analysis is the decomposition of behaviour into its component parts or processes. It's based on experimental analysis of behaviour.

Behaviour is a subject matter for research, not an indicator of underlying psychological entities or processes.

Behaviourism rejects this because it says it's not scientific and can never be scientific. I fully agree.

So behaviour is studied by itself. The behaviourists don't make any assumptions about what's happening inside you. They observe what you're doing, they observe your choices, your decisions, your judgments, your emotions, they observe you and they make no assumption and they construct no hypothesis and they build no theory as to who are you really, what's going on inside your mind that you even have a mind. They don't go inside. They are totally preoccupied with external appearances and the study of external appearances.

So behaviour is the only legitimate study subject, study topic.

The emphasis is on interactions between behaviour and the environment and this is known as applied behavioural analysis, also developed by Skinner.

So how to do that, how to probe this connection between behaviour and environment experiments and we have experimental behavioural analysis.

It's an approach to experimental psychology that explores the relationships between particular experiences and changes in behaviour.

So your experience changes, your environment changes, new people enter, old people exit, sun goes up, sun goes down, government changes, laws and rules, pandemics, I mean environment constantly shifts like a kaleidoscope and you react to your environment behaviourally. The changes in your behaviour reflect information about the changes in the about the transformation of the environment.

The behaviour of individuals is the critical factor, not group averages, not populations.

It is very little known that actually behaviour is reject the concept of cohorts or populations.

The statistical analysis is very lopsided and unique because they emphasise individuals, contingencies, reinforcement, instrumental responses and these can be studied only in individuals.

The applied behavioural analysis, also known as ABA, by the way used a lot with autism spectrum disorder.

Applied behavioural analysis is an extension of Skinner's behavioural principles, operant conditioning and so on.

By the way there's a video that I've made recently about conditioning, how the narcissist uses conditioning. It's intimately linked to behaviourist concepts.

So when you take the study of behaviour, the analysis of behaviour and you apply it to practical settings, that's normally applied behavioural analysis.

Variations of applied behavioural analysis are used clinically. Behaviour modification, you heard of it? That's applied behavioural analysis. Behavioural therapy, yes, applied behaviour analysis.

The treatment of abnormal and problematic problems nowadays actually relies much more on behaviourism than on, for example, psychoanalysis.

And the third school is known as descriptive behaviourism. Descriptive behaviourism again was espoused by Skinner. It suggested that the study of behaviour should limit itself, actually psychology should limit itself, to a description of behaviours of organisms, the conditions under which these behaviours occur, the effects of these behaviours on the environment. He said we should map these interactions and if we do, that's the maximum we can know about the psychology of individuals. That's it. We can't penetrate further than that. If we do attempt to penetrate further than that into the mind, into consciousness, into the unconscious, into this is literature, this is speculation, this is not science.

And I couldn't agree more. I've been saying it for decades. I agree fully.

Theoretical explanations in terms of underlying biological and hypothetical psychological processes should be avoided. This led indirectly to the emergence of the school of neo-behaviourism.

Neo-behaviourism is an approach to psychology influenced by logical positivism in philosophy, philosophy of science especially. It emphasizes the development of comprehensive theories and frameworks of behavior. For example, Clark Hall, Hul, Edward Tolman.

So these scholars developed huge frameworks, comprehensive theories of behavior, limited to behavior, not internal mental processes, not the unconscious, not consciousness, not ego, not id, not the self, not in such states, none of this.

They focused on behavior but they created an exceedingly comprehensive, profound and fundamental kind of periodic table, if you wish. And they constructed these theories based on empirical observational behavior and the use of consciousness and mental events as explanatory devices.

So the observations, the science, psychology is focused exclusively on behavior.

However then, if you wish, in neo-behaviourism you can speculate on mental events as explanatory devices.

The standing of observations versus speculation is not the same. The focus is firmly on experimentation, observation, falsification of theories, generation of hypotheses and so on.

In short, the scientific method.

However, you can engage for the fun of it in a bit of depth psychology, if you wish. You can engage in an attempt to construct a theoretical model of mental events. The same way we, for example, in physics, use dark matter or dark energy or quarks.

So neo-behaviourism is very different to classical behaviorism because it allows for the use of mentalistic concepts and explanations.

Sigmund Koch said that neo-behaviourism replaced classical behaviorism as the dominant 20th century program for experimental psychology as early as 1930. In the 1950s it fell out of favor, but it is seeing a re-emergence and resurgence right now.

So what's the answer? Are we devices? Are we mere machines? Or is there something more to it?

Well, of course the answer is both. We are definitely machines, but we are self-reporting machines, machines which report on internal states.

Where the problem arises is that there is no way to ascertain, no way to verify whether our self-reporting is true or false.

So where behaviorism and psychoanalysis and every sort of psychodynamic theory and all psychology agree is that we are devices. There is hardware, there is software, there is brain, we are devices, we are machines, but we are very unique machines because we are machines whose output is not only behavioral, not only observable actions, but whose output is also self-reporting.

Where everything breaks down and hell breaks loose is that we can't verify these self-reports. So that's where the behaviorists say don't rely on these self-reports, they are not scientific. They can even be false, they can even be maliciously, malevolently false, misleading on purpose. You never know.

While other psychologists say if we aggregate many many many individuals, hundreds, thousands of individuals, this will cancel out the liars and the manipulators and the narcissists and the doctors and other people. And we're going to get a true picture.

Self-reporting of cohorts of populations issomething you can rely on. It does reflect something internal, some private language, some private event. It reflects some reality in there. It has an ontological status.

This has to do with the principle of plenitude and so on.

I'm not going to all this. It's philosophically very shaky ground.

And that's why I keep saying in many of my videos that psychology can never ever be a science.

It's a magnificent edifice, a work of literature incomparable.

Science, allow me a benevolent smile.

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