Feedback: Beyond Behaviorism

Science  26 Jan 1973:
Vol. 179, Issue 4071, pp. 351-356
DOI: 10.1126/science.179.4071.351


Consistent behavior patterns are created by variable acts, and generally repeat only because detailed acts change. The accepted explanation of this paradox, that "cues" cause the changes, is irrelevant; it is unsupported by evidence, and incapable of dealing with novel situations.

The apparent purposefulness of variations of behavioral acts can be accepted as fact in the framework of a control-system model of behavior. A control system, properly organized for its environment, will produce whatever output is required in order to achieve a constant sensed result, even in the presence of unpredictable disturbances. A control-system model of the brain provides a physical explanation for the existence of goals or purposes, and shows that behavior is the control of input, not output.

A systematic investigation of controlled quantities can reveal an organism's structure of control systems. The structure is hierarchical, in that some quantities are controlled as the means for controlling higher-order quantities. The output of a higher-order system is not a muscle force, but a reference level (variable) for a lower-order controlled quantity. The highest-order reference levels are inherited and are associated with the meta-behavior termed reorganization.

When controlled quantities are discovered, the related stimulus-response laws become trivially predictable. Variability of behavior all but disappears once controlled quantities are known. Behavior itself is seen in terms of this model to be self-determined in a specific and highly significant sense that calls into serious doubt the ultimate feasibility of operant conditioning of human beings by other human beings.

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