Sunday, May 2, 2010

Dr. Lanza reinvents B.F. Skinner

Dr. Lanza has published another article on Huffpo, this time on the nature of consciousness or something like that. I’ve become so tired of his rambling that I have to admit I don’t bother reading his articles very carefully. However, as I scanned the article one part jumped out at me:

“Years ago I published an experiment (Science, 212, 695, 1981) with Harvard psychologist B.F. Skinner (the "father" of modern behaviorism) showing that like us, animals are capable of 'self-awareness.' We taught pigeons to use a mirror to locate a spot on their body which they couldn't see directly. Although similar behavior in primates is attributed to a self-concept, it's clear there are different degrees of self-awareness.“

Back in the 70’s I studied psychology. At that time Skinner was still somewhat in vogue and I learned a fair amount about his point of view, enough to know that the idea of Skinner publishing a paper that claimed “that like us, animals are capable of 'self-awareness” makes about as much sense as Richard Dawkins publishing a paper that claimed the fossil record proves that God created the Universe in seven days 6,000 years ago. So I posted the following comment:

Commented May 02, 2010 at 14:32:08 in Living
“IMO Dr. Lanza is misrepresenting his work with Skinner. B.F. Skinner is the founder of behaviorism. A mostly discredited view of experimental psychology that postulated that any discussion of internal states such as self awareness were not legitimate topics for scientific study. He would NEVER conduct a study "showing that like us, animals are capable of 'self-awareness.' " He thought the concept of self awareness wasn't scientifically valid for humans let alone animals. Although I couldn't find the paper Dr. Lanza mentioned I did find a summary. It included the sentence:
"Although similar behavior in primates has been attributed to a self-concept or other cognitive process, the present example suggests an account in terms of environmental events."

I.e., Skinner was not at all postulating that animals are self aware, rather he was trying to demonstrate that behavior that might be attributed to self awareness could in fact be explained by "environmental factors". Essentially the opposite of what Dr. Lanza claims.”
And Rationalist replied with the following very relevant comment:

Rationalist replied on May 02, 2010 at 15:29:44
“Dr. Lanza, is also making false, scientifically refuted claims about the nature of material reality.
Folks are so eager to hear a non-physicist medical doctor pontificate about particle physics - yet they would never consider having a particle physicist operate on their body.
Particles are not created by observation at all. That is a misunderstanding of what has been known in physics for a hundred years, and continually verified by experimentation.
There is no evidence of the universe consisting of anything but material matter, and all matter is comprised of material particles. The unfortunate use of the term "wave function" to model behavior at the subatomic, or "quantum" level, in order to account for differences from the macro, or Newtonian physical level, has led to this New Agey pseudo-scientific misinterpretation of the "dual nature of matter". People with the resume Dr. Lanza touts should, and likely do, know better, yet perpetuate this mystical mumbo-jumbo.”

My comment and Rationalist’s reply both got posted. They made it through the censor bot. Rationalist posted other very relevant comments and I replied to them. In fact, and this reinforces my feeling that although I don’t believe in God if I’m wrong and she does exist she has a sick sense of humor, after i replied to one of Rationalist’s comments saying something like (unfortunately didn’t save this comment)

“At least we should give Lanza or whoever is moderating his comments credit, usually critical comments don’t make it through”

After that comment, several of my and Rationalist’s comments disappeared. This is an example of what I think is the worst about the censorship on the Huffington Post. There was nothing in any of my comments or the comments of Rationalist that could be considered remotely obscene, off topic, or personal attacks. My comment was about as relevant as you can get. I was making an argument that the author had fundamentally misrepresented his research. You can’t get much more relevant than that. Even if I was wrong (I don’t think i was but for the sake of argument) the proper way to reply to my comment was for the author or his representative to show me I was wrong. If they couldn’t or didn’t want to bother basic rules of intellectual honesty required them to leave my comments in place.

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