Saturday, May 9, 2020

The Time B.F. Skinner Got Erich Fromm to Subconsciously Do the Tomahawk Chop

David Gordon, during a discussion of Robert Nozick's take on praxeology, provides us with this fascinating tale:
In brief, operant conditioning deals with rewards and punishments as a way to modify behavior, in a way that need not involve the subject’s purposeful action. A funny example comes from [B.F.]Skinner’s autobiography A Matter of Consequences:
On a scrap of paper I wrote "Watch [Erich] Fromm’s left hand. I am going to shape a chopping motion" and passed it down the table to [Halleck Hoffman]. Fromm was sitting directly across from the table and speaking mainly to me. I turned my chair slightly so that I could see him out of the corner of my eye. He gesticulated a great deal as he talked, and whenever his left hand came up, I looked straight at him. If he brought the hand down, I nodded and smiled. Within five minutes he was chopping the air so vigorously that his wristwatch kept slipping out over his hand.
This brings to mind the time a very important person was giving a lecture to a group of about 50 of us.

I was sitting in the second row and didn't acknowledge him unless he was standing right in front of me, then I would look up, give him a business-like smile and nod.

By the end of his talk, he was delivering his talk completely in front of me and looking at no one else.

Try it sometime.


1 comment:

  1. Politics seem to work in much the same manner. No matter the candidates promised purposeful action, once elected the rewards and punishments by special interest groups modify his behavior without involving his promised purposeful action.