Some Halfway Digested Thoughts About Behaviorism and Not Doing Your Research

According to a randomly chosen journal entry from April of 2012, I read this book called Rush: Why We Thrive in the Rat Race while standing in a second hand book store. It was apparently an invigorating read that changed the way I looked at life for at least three hours.

So I looked into it. I downloaded the free sample on iBooks and took some good notes. Up until I got to the part where he said (paraphrased): “this is the kind of thinking that led BF Skinner to raise his daughter in a box and claim it was a successful experiment!”

Well, I don’t know much about BF Skinner, but I did read Beyond Freedom and Dignity and I don’t remember anything about that either except for this idea that we can’t control ourselves, really, we can only control our environment.

In Rush, I came across a passage about Stalin being influenced by somebody named Boas who apparently wrote something to the effect that people are just waiting to be shaped, and there is nothing innate in man. So Stalin was like, well, I’m as good a dictator as anyone else, why shouldn’t I shape them?

And then I was thinking how you could say Soviet Russia was an attempt to control the environment and thereby control the behavior of the people in the environment.

I don’t know what I’m talking about, clearly.

I often think of Beyond Freedom and Dignity when someone is trying to start a new diet or when I’m trying to be “productive” or something like that. I always think, “oh, to be successful you have to control your environment, rather than focusing on actually controlling your day to day actions, since you will probably be at the mercy of whatever baser whims you generally find yourself at the mercy of unless you somehow eliminate the ability to engage in those…”

What?

I don’t know, like say if you didn’t want to eat potato chips, you’d better not trust yourself to not eat potato chips, better to control your environment by burning every bag of potato chips that you own.

Well, who knows. I guess they didn’t have many potato chips in the Soviet Union.

Today in America we saved some daylight and we lost an hour of sleep.

But that isn’t the point I wanted to make.

The point is, BF Skinner’s daughter wasn’t raised in a box as an experiment and Skinner never presented the alleged experiment to the world as successful. Here’s the Snopes article which talks about the rumor that this line was inspired by and how it’s not factual.

So I was going to buy Rush and re-read it, but when I saw this factual inaccuracy for the sake of hyping up his point, I was turned off. I have a tendency to believe anything that is written down, so I have to be careful to avoid hyperbole in books.

But that aside, I will try to make sense of the notes I took and see if they can be of any use to us.

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