Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Do you have free will?

I was wanting to write an upcoming paper in my Psychology class on memorization techniques.  I was getting excited about it, and have spent hours searching for an appropriate study in a peer reviewed journal that relates to Psychology.  Excited about how I would have all this cool memory information to share on the blog.
BF Skinner,  photo use granted by Wikipedia.

Then tonight in a class on operant learning, we learned about B.F. Skinner.  He was a behavioral psychologist that worked on theories of reinforcement and punishment.  There is positive reinforcement, adding a positive stimulus to increase the frequency of a behavior.  There is negative reinforcement as well, taking away a negative stimulus to increase the frequency of a behavior.  On the flip side, we have positive punishment, adding a negative stimulus to decrease the frequency of a behavior.  And negative punishment, taking away a positive stimulus to decrease the frequency of a behavior.

His experiments used pigeons.  They were placed in "Skinner Boxes" after being slightly starved for a bit.  They would be rewarded with food when they pecked at a small disc on the wall.  The best rate of increased frequency of behavior was found when a varied ratio of reinforcement was used.  You give the reinforcement (food) at a varied rate of how many times the desired behavior was demonstrated.  Sometimes after five pecks, sometimes after 2, sometimes after 15.  This is, interestingly enough, the same rate used in slot machines.  The frequency of the behavior increases rapidly, and the chances of it ending (or extinction of the behavior) is low.

The other thing about Skinner is that he believed we have no free will.  He said that we think we have free will, when in fact, that is an illusion we create for ourselves.  We are completely products of what behavior was reinforced, and what was not.  Think about it.

You have no free will.

My choosing to do this blog.  The fact that Amy choose memorizing poetry.  You choosing to get online, clicking on the link to this blog.  Even what I choose to write, all of it is not really a choice at all, just acting out a behavior that has been reinforced in our past, so we continue to do it.

There is a simplicity about it, as a fellow student put it this evening as a debate arose in class.

"It's clean," she said, "They say in science, it's the simplest things that are often the ones that are true."

"Parsimony," my teacher offered.

Psychology Wiki defines it as such, "In science, parsimony is preference for the least complicated explanation for an observation. This is generally regarded as good when judging hypotheses. Occam's Razor also states the "principle of parsimony"." (I do not vouch for credibility of the website.)

In its simplicity, parsimoniousness, it seems like an easy thing to wiggle out of in a debate.  And I heard that Skinner was indeed, not a man you would want to argue with.  Hmmm, has Skinner met my son?  It also reminds me of other people, dogmatic people, that seem to not even listen to what you are bringing up.  They keep going back to the simple explanation they believe in, and restating it.  You insert your brilliant original thought (right, not out of free will, mind you) and they repeat their concise, susinct line yet again.

I am not saying what I believe, but I do think I have been inspired to write my paper on something different than memorization. There I am being operantly conditioned, I suppose.

Doh, Skinner.

I wonder if he write any poetry?



Melissa Baumgart and Amy Baranski said...

Melissa, does Skinner believe we are capable of reason? - Amy

Melissa Baumgart and Amy Baranski said...

and how does he explain/describe the origin of behavior? - Amy