The Behavior of Organisms

“The important advance from this level of explanation that is made by turning to the nervous system as a controlling entity has unfortunately had a similar effect in discouraging a direct descriptive attack upon behavior. The change is an advance because the new entity beyond behavior to which appeal is made has a definite physical status of its own and is susceptible to scientific investigation. Its chief function with regard to a science of behavior, however, is again to divert attention away from behavior as a subject matter. The use of the nervous system as a fictional explanation of behavior was a common practice even before Descartes, and it is now much more widely current than is generally realized. At a popular level a man is said to be capable (a fact about his behavior) because he has brains (a fact about his nervous system). Whether or not such a statement has any meaning for the person who makes it is scarcely important; in either case it exemplifies the practice of explaining an obvious (if unorganized) fact by appeal to something about which little is known. The more sophisticated neurological views generally agree with the popular view in contending that behavior is in itself incomprehensible but may be reduced to law if it can be shown to be controlled by an internal system susceptible to scientific treatment. Facts about behavior are not treated in their own wright, but are regarded as something to be explained or even explained away by the prior facts of the nervous system. (I am not attempting to discount the importance of a science of neurology but am referring simply to the primitive use of the nervous system as an explanatory principle in avoiding a direct description of behavior.)”

Skinner (1938)

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