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Henry D Schlinger Jr., Ph.D. - Can We Act to Save the World

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Henry D. Schlinger Jr. received his PhD in psychology from Western Michigan University. He is currently professor of psychology at California State University Los Angeles. Dr. Schlinger has published nearly 70 scholarly articles and commentaries in over 25 different journals. He has also authored or co-authored 3 books. He is frequently invited to give talks all around the world on various aspects of the behavioral sciences. This is what I do for a living, and I have being doing it for a living for many years, that is, talking to groups of people; they’re called students, and I never stand behind a podium. So I’m going to walk around, plus it’s the only way I can see my slides. So the title of my talk is 'Can We Act to Save the World?' I decided, when I was first invited by Roxanne to present, I thought about: should I present a motivational talk or an academic talk? And, I think Abby gave you the motivational talk; fortunately I decided on the more academic talk. Because, one of the things that attracted me to Jacque and Roxanne and The Venus Project, is their understanding that without a science of human behavior, without an understanding of why we do what we do, that none of the vision of The Venus Project will ever be realized. So we can have all the technology, we can have all of the… all of the rhetoric, but until we understand why we do what we do, as we’ve seen for hundreds if not thousands of years, we won’t change. The title of my talk comes from an article by the behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner, called ‘Why We Are Not Acting to Save the World.' And I’m going to talk a little bit about that. (Oops…How can I go back Kevin?) Okay. So, before I actually begin, I want to thank Jacque and Roxanne, first of all, for inviting me to visit The Venus Project in December, and I want to thank Roxanne for inviting me to present at this very special occasion. It’s an extreme honor for me to be able to help celebrate Jacque’s 100th birthday, and I hope that I’m able to contribute in some small way to, not only on his vision, but our collective desire to see change made. (Yeah, I’m gonna have to walk up here and read this.) So, I summarized this from The Venus Project website. What determines our behavior? The environment. Similarly to all other living creatures, our behavior is determined largely by the factors in our environment. The combination of influences throughout our lives builds our character. From the time our biological senses started to develop, different environmental influences have an impact on us, altering our behavior. Early childhood development determines behavioral health in adults. Behavioral habits in adults. The culture we live in reinforces the habits that we acquired while growing up, and many undesirable behaviors are just products of long exposure to detrimental environments. Well of course I couldn’t agree with that more, but that’s a general assumption that I hope many of us share, that is that the environment determines our behavior. But I’ve been studying this and working on this for more than 25 years, and what I want to do today is to describe for you how a behavioral science approach answers some of the questions about why we behave. I’m not going to offer too many answers about what we should do, because those are the much more difficult answers, or questions to ask. So this is just by way of an outline. First I’m going to talk about Skinner’s article 'Why We Are Not Acting to Save the World.’ I know Jacque met Skinner at one time I believe, they at least communicated, and Skinner wrote throughout his life, often, about what is wrong with culture, and how we can change human behavior. But later in his life Skinner became pessimistic. And I’m going to talk why he became pessimistic. And there’s an irony to his pessimism, even though for much of his life he was very much the optimist. I’m then going to talk a little bit about what behavior science is, otherwise known as behavior analysis. I’m going to address the question of why we behave, and finally I’m going to talk about behavior analysis or behavior science, and the good life, that is: can we achieve the vision that Jacque and Roxanne and many of us in this room have for a sustainable future? So, the title of my talk is 'Can We Act to Save the World?' Well, one question we want to ask is: what do we mean by the world? This is not what we mean by the world. This world will be doing just fine. That’s what we mean by the world. So we’re very—people are… are they waving to themselves? I don’t know. People are very— we’re very egocentric and arrogant, with good reason, and I’ll explain a little bit why. As the great social philosopher George Carlin stated: “The planet has been through a lot worse than us, been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drifts, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles, hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids, and meteors, worldwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages, and we think some plastic bags and aluminum cans are going to make a difference? The planet isn’t going anywhere. WE are. We are going away. Pack your shit folks! We’re going away. And we won’t leave much of a trace either, maybe a little Styrofoam. The planet will be here and we’ll be long gone. Just another failed mutation, just another closed-in biological mistake an evolutionary cul-de-sac. The planet will shake us off like a bad case of fleas.” By the way, I for one miss George Carlin. [Applause] But I have to admit that, like George, and Skinner later in his life, I’m not optimistic. I’m pessimistic, and somewhat cynical. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a little ray of optimism, otherwise I wouldn’t be here. And there are two things, maybe three things, that give me a ray of optimism. One is the behavior science that I’m schooled in, because I believe if everyone understood it— and I don’t mean just everyone in this room, but I mean everyone— then we might able be use it to change our behavior to save ourselves from ourselves. The second ray of optimism comes from Jacque and Roxanne, and The Venus Project, because I see in what they’ve done, as Abby mentioned, a window by which we can hopefully open up and let in some fresh air and change things. And the third, I don’t have a picture of him, but the third is my 5-year old son. And whatever pessimism or cynicism I had, lessened considerably when he was born, and every day that I spend with him, lessens even more. So, partly I do it for him. Now I mentioned Skinner. I can’t think of a single psychologist, or maybe intellectual in the past 100 years that’s been more misrepresented and misunderstood than B.F. Skinner. So it’s not my job to rectify that but I want to talk about the fact that, as I mentioned earlier, he had for decades addressed the same issues that The Venus Project has addressed. First, in his novel 'Walden Two,' which was published in 1948. Now, in Walden Two, Skinner— it was a fictional, it’s a novel, so it’s fictionalized— Skinner designed a community based on behavioral principles. And many people called it a utopian community, but it really wasn’t a utopian community, it was an experimental community. And there’s a big difference. Because as Skinner wrote in his book, practices were not immutable. Practices were seen to be changed if they needed to be changed. One of the problems with our culture is that we have no way by which to assess whether what we do works or not, and so we keep doing the same stuff over and over again, especially the stuff that doesn’t work. So, an emphasis on experimentation was critical. In 1982 he wrote an article, which I mentioned, titled 'Why We Are Not Acting to Save the World.' I’m going to talk about that article. In ’85 he wrote an article titled 'What is Wrong with Daily Life in the Western World.' And much of which he cited as being wrong, Jacque and Roxanne and others in this room have also talked about. By then, by the way, he was beginning to be pessimistic. So I want to talk a little bit about his article because I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We know that there are lot of problems caused by human behavior. And by the way, let me just say this, because I’ll mention this several times: The problems aren’t with the human mind, they’re not with human will, they’re not with human motivation. Those things are not real things. Those things are made up constructs. The problem is with what we actually do. So, these aren’t all of them, these are just three of the main ones. Overpopulation is obviously a huge problem. As a result of that, we are exhausting our critical resources, the ones that we would need for a resource-based economy. And as a result, the Earth grows steadily less habitable, for humans and for many other species. So why are we not doing more? Especially since we’ve made extraordinary progress in all kinds of scientific technologies: space exploration, genetic engineering, electronic technology. Well, what are some traditional explanations for why we are not doing more? I already mentioned them. People say we’re not doing more because we lack resolve. We lack the will. Somebody in the video said that, I think. Or we’re just not motivated. But you see, those aren’t real things. Those are not scientific concepts. You can’t find will power or resolve or motivation. Those are words that we made up. Right? So traditional explanations, while they sound good and they match with the way we’ve been raised, which is we’ve all been raised as Cartesian dualists, they match the way we’ve been raised so we don’t really question them. But of course, they can’t be good explanations because they haven’t solved any problems. So here are some problems Skinner cited. A minor one is: how do we affect a future that isn’t here? That’s, that’s not really unresolvable, because the future is… now, and then the future is now, so… But this is a more difficult one. How can we be affected by a future that isn’t here? You can tell people all kinds of bad stuff that’s gonna happen as a result of climate change, or as a result of other things. But telling them about it— the future is not here: it cannot come back into the past and affect the present. That’s a very difficult problem. Skinner also mentioned the fact that we are hostages to our genetic history. What did he mean by that? Well I’m going to get a little bit more technical. What he meant is that evolution has given us susceptibilities to be reinforced by things, which in the short run are very pleasant and pleasurable, in the long run they’re very detrimental. There's a few. [On slide: Salt, Sugar, Sex, Violence, Drugs] Obviously, in our evolutionary history, we needed salt. We needed sugar. Right? We needed sex, if we wanted to pass on our genes. Harm to others obviously evolved, just as it does in many other species, to protect young, to guard against predators, etc. The drugs part is a little different because we’ve evolved certain receptor sites in the brain that are sensitive to external agents, but they’re also caused, they’re also stimulated, by internal agents. So what’s the problem with these things? The problem is a problem which I’ll come back again and talk about, and that is the difference between immediate versus remote consequences. The immediate consequence of ingesting sugar or salt, or having sex, or doing drugs, or even hurting somebody, are very powerful reinforcers. That means we will engage in the same behavior to produce those things. I don’t need to convince you all of that. You all like your chocolate, you like your salty stuff, I assume you like your sex, and those of you who ingest drugs you probably like those too. This is a serious problem. This is a serious problem because in order to solve problems related to these things, we need to bring remote consequences to be more immediate. That’s a very difficult problem to solve. So, what are some traditional solutions? By the way when I use the word traditional, that means not good, okay? Warn people of the potential consequences. This is what we do all the time: we warn people of the potential consequences. By the way, this is what parents do with little kids. And, by the way, it doesn’t work, okay? And then as an alternative we give them advice about what to do instead. Don’t run out into the street and play, rather play in the front yard, okay? I hear and see parents doing this with 3-year old kids. The 3-year old kid has no clue what the parent’s talking about. This doesn’t work with kids, it doesn’t work with adults. Maybe a few adults, but most adults it doesn’t work with. So we obviously need another solution. As Dr. Phil says, “How’s that working for you?” Okay? I don’t watch Dr. Phil but I do like this line, because it’s not working. Now just like Jacque and others in this room, Abby for instance a few minutes ago, Skinner called out governments, religions and capitalistic systems. But, Skinner pointed out from a scientific perspective that those systems too have evolved and been selected. They’re not the result of some mad genius, or a madman somewhere. These systems mete out both negative and positive consequences in our culture. For example, money and goods: those are immediate reinforcers that these systems use to induce people to work for a future beyond their own. But it’s not a future of us, it’s a future for business and industry. Their justification is said to be “Well you have more abundant production and distribution of stuff.” And as Abby pointed out and others, you know, we like our stuff. Without those so-called justifications, governments, religions and capitalistic systems would not be able to maintain their control. However, suppose the futures of governments, religions and capitalistic systems were congruent with the future of the species, well we wouldn’t be here today, would we? Our problems would be solved, because they have the resources and wherewithal to do that. But it doesn’t behoove them— I mean it doesn’t behoove us, or them for that matter—to do that. This is from Skinner. “Governments, religions and capitalistic systems, whether public or private, control most of the reinforcers of daily life. They must use them as they have always done, for their own aggrandizement. And they have nothing to gain by relinquishing power. Those institutions are the embodiments of cultural practices that have come into existence through selection.” I’ll talk about what that means in a second. “But the contingencies of selection for those systems are not congruent with, or are in conflict with, the future of the species.” So let me talk about what he means by selection. Skinner wrote an article called 'Selection by Consequences.' The first kind of selection by consequences is biological evolution. Obviously, in biological evolution, when individuals come into the world with traits that are beneficial in a given environment, then they live long enough to pass on those traits to their offspring; that’s how genes evolve. The term “selection” refers to the fact that living long enough to pass on your genes, selects those genes for future generations, assuming the environment doesn’t change. Skinner, who is one of the main discoverers of operant conditioning, applied this metaphor of selection to the individual. So the individual’s behavior is also selected by its consequences. Every time you behave, it produces a consequence. Now I’m not using the word consequence the way my dad used it when I was growing up. Like “If you don’t behave, you’re gonna get the consequence.” I just mean anything that behavior produces, all the products of behavior. If I had more time with you I could convince you of this, but I’ll just tell you now: Every single thing you do your entire life, produces consequences. And those consequences determine whether you continue to do those things or whether you don’t continue, in a very simple way. The third level of selection, of the metaphor of selection, has to do at the cultural level. So, when we talk about governments, religions, capitalistic systems, they have evolved culturally. There’s a hint of it in the documentary, but obviously they have evolved and they’ve been selected for. The contingencies that have been created are favorable for those things to continue. So, in our effort to think about how to change that, we need to think about what are the cultural contingencies for those institutions. So, possible solutions. Well, Skinner’s solution is to turn to science, the same as Jacque and Roxanne. Skinner believes that we need to find scientists who are uncommitted to governments and religions. Now there are some who are committed to them, but many are not. For Skinner, scientists can give us the best picture of the future and, in fact, we’re living it right now. Because climatologists and climate scientists are giving us a very accurate picture of what the future will be like, because the future is here. You live in (many of you, not all of you) many of you live in Florida, and you know that, by the year 2100, you’re gonna have to move. Florida's going to be underwater. It's already under water. I live in California. We need your water, okay? So we already—the future is already here, with respect to that. For Skinner, however, the scientists that we need to turn to are behavioral scientists. So, I’m here to tell you that we already have the science needed to design a world that will take our genetic nature into account, whatever that genetic nature is, and correct many of the miscarriages of evolution. It’s called behavior science. Also known as behavior analysis. Now, Skinner also pointed out that you can’t simply impose a new system on the world. You can’t impose things on the world; that will produce counter-controlling resistance. Nor could any new alternative escape selection by consequences either. Because any new practice that we install would appear as a variation only to survive if it contributed to the strength of the group. So, keeping in mind this notion of selection. Now Skinner ended his article with a story. Here’s our story. If the evidence survives, visitors from outer space may someday reconstruct a curious story. “The Earth was a small planet, but it proved suitable for life. At some point, atoms came together in a molecule that, under just the right circumstances, reproduced itself. Random variations in the structure of that molecule made reproduction possible under less favorable circumstances. Cells evolved and then organs, organisms, and species. Interchanges with the environment became more and more complex. In one species, Homo Sapiens, the vocal musculature came under operant control, and people began to talk to each other and exchange experiences. Elaborate cultural practices evolved, among them science and technology. Unfortunately, they were used to support genetic dispositions that had evolved at an earlier stage. Because food was reinforcing, people raised, stored and distributed vast quantities of it. Because moving about was useful and exciting, they invented trains, cars, airplanes and spaceships. Because good things could be taken from other people and then needed to be defended, they invented clubs, guns and bombs. Because they wished to avoid ill health, and the threat of death, they practiced medicine and sanitation. They lived longer, and their numbers increased, and they took over more and more of the Earth and brought it under cultivation. They consumed more and more of its irreplaceable resources. In the struggle for what was left they began to build weapons so powerful they could bring life on Earth to an end.” Perhaps you can understand why Skinner became pessimistic later in his life. But he did offer two possible solutions, two possible endings for the story. Here’s the first one; this is the more pessimistic one. "A few people saw the danger and worried about it, but their proposals conflicted with the practices that were supported, not only by immediate and hence more powerful consequences, but by the out-of-date moral and ethical principles that had been invented to justify them." Here's the more optimistic ending. "Those who saw the danger began to study human behavior with the methods of science. They turned from observing what people had done up to that time, to observing what people did under carefully controlled conditions, that is, experimentation. A science and a technology of behavior emerged. Better cultural practices were designed, and the species survived for many thousands of years." I left that part off. Now, the author Paul Chance in 2007, noted that toward the end of his life and career, B.F. Skinner became pessimistic about our ability to use behavior science to solve the problems facing us. Now why was that ironic? It’s ironic because he’s the one who helped develop the behavioral science, and it’s the thing that made him most optimistic throughout most of his career. It's hard to imagine but he discovered that you can get organisms to behave exactly as you want them to by arranging their environment. That’s got to have been a very powerful thing for someone to see. And once you see that you think, oh my gosh, we should be able to apply this culture-wide and get people to change their behavior. So, there’s the irony. Now I want to just list 5 of these things, 5 of the aspects of behavior science that Skinner helped discover, that made him pessimistic. The first one I’ve already mentioned, that is, immediate consequences outweigh delayed or remote consequences. This is perhaps the big one. We all behave for the immediate consequences of our behavior. All of us. Very few of us behave for remote consequences, and when we do, it means that others have made other immediate consequences contingent on the behavior, so that we could… reap the ultimate consequences. So for example, if you eat bad food, high in cholesterol, high in fat, high in sugar, whatever, then you run the risk of developing serious conditions. But you might have a group, or parents, or friends, who reinforce healthier eating on your part. Now the healthier eating, for the most part, is not as tasty as the bad eating. But you don’t do it for the good taste, you do it because you have a group around you that reinforces that. If someone tells you, you know, if you keep eating that chocolate cake and those cookies, you know, you might get diabetes. Well, when’s the diabetes? First of all, it’s not probable, it’s not 100% probable, so you might not get it. You know, the old story, "My granddaddy smoked 3 packs of cigarettes till he was 100 and…" you know. Yeah, well that’s true for a very few people. But most people who smoke 3 packs of cigarettes aren’t around to talk about it. But it’s a remote consequence, okay? So this is probably the most powerful one. If we’re going to redesign the culture we need to find other consequences that can mediate that delay. Consequences for the individual outweigh consequences for others. We are selfish individuals. We are genetically selfish. You are here, not for any purpose in the future, you are here… Well, I’ll tell you a story. My mother, she doesn’t ask me these questions any more, but she said to me “Why am I here? What’s my purpose?” And I said “Well mom, you really want to know? I said “you’re here because your parents had sex.” [Laughter] “No, that’s not what I mean. I mean what’s my purpose?” I said “Well, you know mom, you’ve already served your purpose. You’ve reproduced yourself 3 times, okay?” So, that’s not what she meant obviously. That’s why she doesn’t ask me these questions anymore. [Laughter] But… consequences for the individual outweigh the consequences for the others. If you’re going to redesign a culture, you need to redesign it so that people behave… we’re all going to behave selfishly, but we need to behave so that what reinforces us also benefits others. There are plenty of people who do that but many people who don’t. Coincidental events often strengthen ineffective behavior. Prayer is a good example. Now, we all know I think in this room that prayer doesn’t do what people think it does, right? But sometimes people pray, and very very occasionally, the thing they pray for comes for pass. And they go “See? I prayed that she would live, and she lived.” She had faith, you know: "Terminal cancer, and the doctors gave up hope and I prayed, and somehow it happened (you know) so my prayer must have worked." Of course they never remember the thousands of other times they prayed, and nothing came to pass. But the problem is that these are coincidental events that people ascribe meaning to. Susceptibility to social reinforcement can incline us toward extreme views. I had a picture of Donald Trump. I was wondering a month ago when I started working on this talk, whether I would be able to use him as an example I’m sorry to say that I am able to do that. Is Donald Trump really an evil fascist? I don’t think so. Donald Trump says stuff, and he has for a long time. The more ridiculous, outlandish, crazy, provocative stuff he says, the more the people cheer. And of course the media also contributes to it as well. I guarantee you if he got up in a room like this and no one was here, he wouldn’t talk that way. If no one paid attention to him, he would stop talking that way. So—and he’s just an example, right? We have plenty of examples of people with extreme views, and their extreme views aren’t because they’re bad or evil or whatever, it’s because they get attention for it. And finally, the use of aversive control tends to reinforce the behaviors who use it, the behavior of people who use it. Whenever a parent uses aversive control, which means threats, you know, punishment, to get kids to behave, the parent's behavior is reinforced because the kid behaves. So we need to design a culture or a world where using that kind of control does not reinforce the people who use it. So is there hope? Or is there even time? The only hope that Skinner held out was winning over a substantial number of influential people— educators, writers, journalists, scientists and scholars— who might then pressure policy makers to take effective action. But as the bleak view that Abby gave us, that’s obviously not gonna happen. And the fact that we’ve failed in doing so is perhaps even further support for Skinner’s view, and for his pessimism. But I want to tell you, as I told you before: the more we know about behavior science, the more likely it is we can change. So, let me talk about what behavior science is. Before I do that, let me talk about some problems standing in the way of accepting behavior science. And now I’m talking more to you… directly I think. Because even though you all, we all share a vision in this room, we all grew up in the same culture that taught us about behavior. First, we all think we know and understand behavior. I have a PhD in psychology. I have 3 degrees in psychology. As was mentioned in the introduction, I’ve published experimental work with nonhumans, with kids, with adults. I’ve written theoretical articles in a variety of different journals, I published 3 books, I’m invited to talk all over the world. I’m not bragging, I’m telling you that, when I am in a conversation with somebody about human behavior and they ask my opinion, which is an educated opinion I would hazard to say, they frequently go “Well, I don’t agree with you.” Or “That’s your opinion.” Now imagine if I were an astrophysicist, and someone asked me about the recent discovery of gravitational waves predicted by Einstein’s theory. And I told them and they said “Oh well that’s cool, that’s your opinion, I don’t think that’s what really happened.” [Laughter] Nobody would do that. But, when you’re an expert on human behavior, everybody is equal. Everybody’s a psychologist. I’m sure you all know this. And I don’t even have to tell people what I do, to hear about this. Why is that? Because nobody pretends to be an expert in chemistry, physics or biology. We all pretend to be experts in, maybe the thing that’s more complicated. First, we all behave. We seem to have intimate and personal knowledge of our own behavior. If you ask somebody why she or he did something, she can sort of introspect and look at what she was thinking or whatever and tell you that. Also, we’ve been told things about behavior ever since we could talk. The culture teaches us through our parents, about behavior. One of those things is we have free will. I spoke it to skeptics conference in 2005. Now skeptics, I thought were skeptical, right? But I discovered that they’re only skeptical of obvious things, like UFOs and astrology, and stuff like that. The stuff that I’m skeptical about they’re not skeptical about, because they all believe in free will. But we’ve been told that we have free will. We’ve been told that we can make our own decisions and are responsible for our own behavior. "Pull yourself up by your boot straps." Obviously, because I’m telling you this it means I disagree with all of this. As I said, compare this to physics, chemistry and biology. Nobody who doesn’t have a degree in those things would ever pretend to be an expert and yet we’re all experts in human behavior. This is one of the hurdles that people like me have to contend with. So, what is behavior science? Behavior science, behavior analysis, is a natural science, just like chemistry, physics and biology. It’s concerned with the description, prediction and understanding of behavior. Not mental events, behavior, in its own right (I’ll explain that in a minute) as a function of environmental variables and based on quantitative empirical evidence, that is, experimentation. Now there are three assumptions of behavior science that I just want to go over briefly. And by the way these are assumptions that contradict the way many of us were raised. The first one is physicalism, which basically says: everything in the universe is physical. And you might go, yeah, I agree with that. But you see, you were all raised as dualists. That is, you believe you have minds and bodies. Some of you think your mind is your brain but most of you think your mind is something else: some kind of intangible nonmaterial thing that makes you do things. And we have all kinds of expressions in our vocabulary that talk about the mind. “In my mind, I was doing…” Well where is that? Was that like, next to your bathroom? In my mind, you know? Explanations of behavior then, have to point to physical events. They can’t point to mental events. Number 2: determinism. The assumption of determinism is that behavior is lawful and orderly. And it’s caused by physical events. Now a lot of people go “Behavior can’t be a lawful and orderly because we’re all different.” Well snowflakes are all different too. And yet the causes of snowflakes are exactly the same, okay? So, the fact that we behave differently doesn’t mean that the causes of our behavior are different. That contradicts the notion of free will, by the way, and as I tell my students, whom all believe in free will, at least until they have me, they say “Well yeah, I believe that some of my behavior’s determined and some of it I can choose freely.” And you know what I tell them? “You got to pick a side.” It’s like being pregnant. You can’t say “I’m kind of pregnant,” okay? It’s like, you’re either pregnant, or you’re not. It’s just black or white, right? You had to pick a side. I've picked my side; it’s determinism. My students, not so sure. Explanations of behavior then must not only point to physical events, they must also point to those laws that have been discovered. The third assumption is one called parsimony. That is, descriptions and explanations of behavior must make the fewest assumptions. Explanations then, must be parsimonious. One in my favorite examples, a child throwing a tantrum. I’m assuming you’ve all seen children throw tantrums in stores, right? On multiple occasions, maybe some of you were those children. Maybe some of you still throw tantrums. So here's a child who throws a tantrum, the parent takes the child into the store, the child says “I want candy,” the parent says No, the child starts screaming and crying, and throwing things. So you go up to 3 people and you say “Why is that child doing that?” Person number 1 says “Well it’s obvious, she’s possessed by demons. [Laughter] And those demons are making her do that.” And so you get to person number 2, and that person says “No, no, no, that’s not it. Her id is so powerful that her poor weak ego can’t stand it, and the super ego was never developed, so she’s completely id-dominated.” See, you all didn’t laugh as much at that one. And yet that one is no better than the evil spirits one. And the third person goes “No, no. She tantrums because she gets candy.” Now, a parsimonious description or explanation must point to the fewest assumptions. The one of those explanations that makes fewest assumptions is that one that says, she tantrums because she gets candy. The other ones make assumptions, many assumptions. Now can we prove that she’s not possessed by demons? No. Can we prove that her id is overpowering her ego? Nope. Can we prove the candy causes her tantrum? Yes. I’ve done it lots of times with parents. And the reason you can prove it is because the candy is physical, and the tantrum is physical; they’re both observable, you can do something about them. What are the traditional views about why we behave? I’m sure many still hold this: behavior comes from "within you." We behave because of what we think, feel, want, wish, decide, intend and desire. Or, because of certain traits we have, like intelligence, aggression, shyness, creativity, integrity. Or because of our genes and our brains. Hopefully after today you will be, at least question these notions. By the way these things, they’re just words: intelligence… integrity, shyness, they’re just words, they don’t exist anywhere. If you say she does something because she’s intelligent, as Jacque said, show me the intelligence, right? It’s just in her behavior that leads you to say that she’s intelligent. And again, we freely choose our own behavior. Some people go “I know I choose my own behavior; I don’t believe it’s free.” But you don’t even choose your own behavior. I call this as a naive philosophy, that many of us have. It's taught to us by parents as kids, but then it’s codified by the social sciences: psychology, sociology, criminal justice, etc. The culture buys in to these traditional views. And one of my points today is as long as we continue to accept that behavior comes from within the individual, we will never be able to figure out how to change our behavior in time to save ourselves. I’ve talked about explaining behavior. Most traditional explanations are faulty. I’ve given you a little example there. They're faulty because they point to mental or cognitive events and not physical events. If you want to explain behavior scientifically you have to point to a physical event that can be observed. Okay? They don’t point to laws of behavior, and they’re not parsimonious. Because you might say “She scored really high in that test because she's so damn bright!” And that sounds good. But that’s no better than evil spirits or demons. Because you can’t see the intelligence, and you can’t see the evil spirits. You better find some other physical explanation for why she does well in school versus somebody else. Scientific explanations, on the other hand, must point to physical events that can be observed independently of the behavior. Genes, by the way, would constitute physical events that can be observed independent of behavior, and it’s certainly true that genes contribute to our behavior. But genes—there is no single gene for individual behaviors. The human genome project, before it came out, people thought “Well they’re going to find out humans have millions of genes,” because we always thought we were the best and the brightest on the planet. We must have the most genes. Guess how many genes we have, anybody know? About 26,000. That’s pretty humbling. Now, those 26,000 genes do pretty incredible things. Wheat has more genes than humans does…humans do. But, genes are certainly physical and observable so they constitute, at least, part of the scientific explanation. People nowadays like to talk about the brain. Mostly people who have no clue about the brain. Very few people who know about the brain talk this way but we all talk—“Oh my amygdala was” you know "kind of acting up." "The executive function”— it’s like: what are you talking about? Are you a neuroscientist? No. But it is true that the brain is a physical event and there’s no question that the brain mediates every single thing we do. That’s the only thing that we have that’s completely accessible, observable, and changeable without an incredible technology, and we can do it right now: the environment. So, what’s the behavior analytic view about why we behave? First of all, we study behavior in its own right. In other words, it’s not an index or a reflection of a mental event or a cognitive event, or feelings, or anything like that. You take what you got, right? Now that’s not to say that all behavior is observable, some of it is unobserved, but we still consider it behavior. Behavior, in its own right, as caused by environmental events. This is an expression I like to give my students. You might recognize this as a paraphrase of an expression that Bill Clinton used in the 1992 presidential election. I don’t need to give the whole story, some of you are old enough to remember, but the expression was “It’s the economy, stupid.” So I paraphrased it “It’s the environment, stupid.” Because it is! It’s the environment that results, that caused you to have the genes you have (it’s your evolutionary environment), and it’s your learning environment from the time you were born that produced the behavior that you have now. The main law that behavior science uses is something called the law of effect, or reinforcement. That’s as…the most succinct parsimonious description I can give— 6 words: Behavior is determined by its consequences. I mentioned this earlier. Everything you do produces a consequence. When I push the button correctly on this device here, and my slide progresses, then that reinforces my behavior. I’m likely to push the same button in the same way. If by accidentally push a different button, and I lose it, then I’m less likely to do that. I don’t determine whether I’m going to push the button. This determines whether I’m going to push the button correctly. And that’s okay. I’m not depressed by that. I’m not depressed by giving over control of my behavior of button pushing to this device. And by the way, the chair determines that you’ll sit in it, and the water bottle determines that you’ll twist the cap off and drink from it, and I can go on. So let me go back to the child throwing the tantrum. Because the child’s behavior is determined by its consequences and so is the parent’s. So, here’s just a brief little thing here. So here we have the child’s behavior, and here you have the parent’s behavior. (I’m gonna go over here so Jacque can see.) This is very simplistic. But here we have, the child is in the store with the parent, the child asks for candy, the parent says No, the child throws a tantrum. What does the child get? Candy. Now, you might say, well— because I know, how I feel about children like that in public. I hate those kids. Shut that kid up! What’s wrong with that kid? You know? You know what? There’s nothing wrong with the kid. The kid is behaving exactly as she or he should be behaving. If you could only get food by tantruming, guess what? That’s what you would do. And by the way, if you think tantruming is something that all kids do, you’re wrong, they don’t. If you think it’s something that’s… a stage that all kids go through, you’re wrong. If you take a kid and put them on a desert island all by themself, they will never ever tantrum. I’ll let you think about why. But there are two actors on this stage; that’s the child behavior. By the way that stands for positively reinforcing consequence; that means the next time the child and the parent are in the store, the child's going to do the exact same thing. The parent is in the store with the child and the child starts tantruming. What’s the parent do? They give candy. What do they get? Quiet. The child stops tantruming. So, the parent and the child, you would predict, will do the same thing over and over again. And they do. And it gets worse between the two. Some of you may know. I don’t need to tell you that. My point with this example is this. Both the parent and the child’s behavior are completely determined by the consequence. I’ve worked with a lot of parents, many of them have children who cry or tantrum in various places, and if you stop giving the child candy, guess what? The child will stop tantruming. Do you need to talk about what the child feels, what the child thinks, what the child expects? Nope! You stop giving them the candy, they will stop tantruming. Sometimes parents ask me what to do when their little princess comes home from preschool and says the F word. Because you know how parents react, right? “Oh, don’t say that, it’s a bad word!” Right? Now, look it from the child’s perspective. Children like cartoons, they like dramatic things. So they come out with some word, they have no clue what it means, and what do they see you do? Behaving like a cartoon character. And guess what? They use it again and again. So I tell parents, if your child comes home from preschool and says a bad word, pay it no attention. “(Gasp!) Well, how will they ever learn that it’s not an appropriate word to say?" Because they won’t say it again if they don’t get attention. That’s how they’ll learn. Parents have a hard time understanding that. Behavior is determined by its consequences. So, how can we achieve the good life? Well I would have to say the natural sciences have done their share. Psychology has failed. Why has psychology made such little progress? One, a continued adherence to dualism. They still talk about mind and mentalism, and cognitive events. I don’t talk about them anymore. Do I use them in a casual conversation? Sure. Because I’m a human. Right? But in scientific conversation, I make no mention of them. And they lack a true experimental methodology. As I mentioned earlier, and as I believe Is implicit in the philosophy of The Venus Project, you have to have experimentation at all levels to figure out what works. In fact, all of the research centers that they’ve designed into The Venus Project, that’s what they do. So there needs to be one for human behavior, a research center for human behavior. Behavior analysis, behavior science, is the exception. It is not dualistic. We study behavior in and of itself. And it has already discovered laws of behavior. Now there’s an applied branch of behavior analysis, which has always improved the lives of many people, by offering practical solutions to many behavioral problems. And in a very simplistic way, by reducing problematic behaviors and increasing healthy productive behaviors. Now, I’m not going to read this list, I just put it up. This is just from one volume of one of our journals. This is just a list of topics that have been changed by applying the laws of behavior. That’s just in one volume of one journal. Now, if we’re able to change all of those behaviors, and many many more, then that’s what gives me a little optimism that we might be able to apply it more culture-wide. But behavior analysis can be used even more widely in society to create conditions that will encourage people to flourish. What does it mean to flourish? It means to grow and develop in a healthy vigorous way, especially as a result of a particularly favorable environment. I’m going to go through this quickly because I’ve probably overused my time. But here would be 3 simple steps in behavior analytic approach to get people to flourish. First you have to identify the behaviors that you want people to do. In other words, these are behaviors that would lead us to say that someone is virtuous, or helpful, or caring. Because helpful, caring, moral, those are just words. You can’t observe them, right? But you can observe the behavior that lead us to SAY that people are helpful and caring. Describe the behaviors in terms that at least two people can observe. That makes it scientific. 2nd. Create an environment to increase the likelihood of virtuous behavior. The technology derived from the science of applied behavior analysis involves altering individual’s environments to promote healthy productive behaviors, and to reduce unhealthy unproductive ones. By the way, as I mentioned in the video, by environment I don’t mean the house you grew up in, the parents you have, the school you went to. I mean all the stimuli that affect your behavior at a given moment. That means your environment changes moment to moment. It means that your environment is inside you as well as outside you because there are stimuli inside your body, like pain. It also means that no two people can have the same environment. Even if you're physically conjoined identical twins, you cannot have the same environment. Now the traditional notion of environment is much simpler. But it’s also an ineffective one. This is a much more complicated one, but much more effective. 3rd step: Use experimentation to confirm that behavior did in fact change. How often do you— you go to a therapist and you leave and you say “How are you doing?” “Well I think I’m doing better.” “Well, you mean you don’t know?” “No, I feel a little bit better.” Right? Or you go to the chiropractor. (which by the way— Well, don’t get me started on chiropractors.) “Yeah, I’m doing good, I’m doing good!” right? “Do you have to go back next?” “Oh yeah, I go every week.” Well!—What’s the point, right? It's supposed to fix you, right? There should be some way of telling whether you are different or not, other than you own self-report. Experimentation is the hallmark of all sciences, including the science of behavior, and its technological application. So here’s a vision of the good life, that we’ve already seen. It’s just one vision; seems like a good one to me. This is from my visit to The Venus Project. But the good life, a life of virtuousness, a sustainable Resource-Based Economy, will not happen unless or until we understand why we do what we do, and we can arrange environments to change what we do. That’s why I think I’m here today, and why I was included in the video. As Skinner said, “Either we do nothing, and allow a miserable and probably catastrophic future to overtake us, or we use our knowledge about human behavior to create a social environment in which we shall live productive and creative lives, and do so without jeopardizing the chances that those who follow us will be able to do the same.” So I believe that between my 5-year old and The Venus Project, and a behavior science, that we can actually begin to achieve that. Thank you very much. [Applause]

Video Details

Duration: 49 minutes and 30 seconds
Year: 2016
Country: United States
Language: English
Producer: The Venus Project
Director: The Venus Project
Views: 135
Posted by: ltiofficial on Apr 30, 2016

Henry "Hank" Schlinger talks about the science of behavior and explains why more cohesive and sustainable social conditions are difficult when a majority of people are uninformed about the factors that shape our attitudes & conduct.

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