The Structure of Learning: From Sign Stimuli to Sign Language

The Structure of Learning: From Sign Stimuli to Sign Language

The Structure of Learning: From Sign Stimuli to Sign Language

The Structure of Learning: From Sign Stimuli to Sign Language


Drawing together research and theory in ethology and psychology, this book offers a clear and provocative account of the ways in which living organisms learn. Throughout, the authors' focus is on the importance of operational definition.

In lively prose, describing experiments in enough depth to involve readers in the drama of experimental method, they recount the history of scientists' attempts to answer basic questions, and show how one study builds on another. Although they present the major traditional positions, they demand that readers examine actual evidence, recognize weaknesses, and consider alternatives.

This critical process leads to the delineation of a bottom up, feed forward model in contrast to the traditional top down, feed backward one. Recent research in robotics and fuzzy logic suggests ways in which artificial as well as living systems pursue bottom up, feed forward ethological solutions to practical problems. The authors' extended discussion of their exciting work teaching sign language to chimpanzees vividly illustrates the application of the basic principles of learning elucidated in the book.


Throughout history, people have believed in mumbo jumbo: in ghosts, voodoo dolls, and witches who could make rivers run backward and pull the moon down from the sky. People have believed that pouring vinegar on door hinges cured headaches, that pentagrams neutralized demons, and that applying a toad to a woman's breast speeded up alchemical reactions. Even today, people believe in spoon-bending, channeling, astrology, the healing power of pyramids, clairvoyance, communication with the dead, and abduction by extraterrestrials. Polls in the 1980s showed that 23% of Americans believed in reincarnation. Polls regularly show that less than half of Americans who graduate from U.S. colleges and universities accept the theory of evolution.

How to tell science from mumbo jumbo? Honest scientists admit that there is a certain amount of mumbo jumbo in most science and a certain amount of science in most mumbo jumbo. Separating the two is a matter of evaluating evidence. This book emphasizes the rules of evidence in a field of intersection between psychology and animal behavior. Scientific rules of evidence only lead to relative answers. All scientific evidence may be flawed but some evidence is more flawed than other evidence. This book aims to show how the difference between poor evidence and better evidence, though always relative, is well worth the effort.

Books that offer an encyclopedia-style compendium of current theory and research are often truly valuable introductions to a field.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.