Cognition, Creativity, and Behavior: Selected Essays

By Robert Epstein | Go to book overview

explained by the mythical "self-concept." The only impressive thing about chimpanzees and children is that they can acquire the second repertoire--albeit quite slowly--without explicit training. This is a matter of sensitivity to contingencies. That is how man and the great apes differ from other organisms, which should surprise no one.


CONCLUSIONS

Praxists have never really met the cognitivists' challenge because in restricting our research to simple behaviors and simple stimuli, we have ignored most of the complex phenomena that they investigate daily. Cognitivists and developmentalists have not found useful answers because they have not asked the right questions. There is little value in trying to determine what a mental structure looks like or how it grows. We achieve a more effective understanding by discovering how the behavior of an organism, both inside and out, is determined by environmental histories and genetic endowments, and ultimately, how changes in behavior are mediated by the body. A model of problem solving is no substitute for a determination of how genes and the environment produce effective behavior. A specification of deep structure or rules of transformation can't tell us where these things come from or how to put them into someone when they seem to be lacking. Attributing insightful behavior to insight is uninformative. Attributing behavior said to show self-awareness to a self-concept tells us nothing.

The time has come for praxists to answer the challenge by bringing complex behavior into the laboratory--in a sense, by giving the freely-moving organism a little more freedom to move.


NOTES
1.
"Praxics"--a blend of "physics" and "praxis," the Greek for "to behave"--is a term I and others now use for the study of behavior. "Behaviorism," properly speaking, is the name of a school of philosophy. For a fuller discussion of this terminology, see Chapter 18, this volume.
2.
Catania ( 1979) justifiably makes the same point about the word "learning."
3.
The rationale for using pigeons in such experiments is given at length elsewhere (e.g., Chapter 12, this volume). Carefully constructed simulations of complex human behavior with nonhuman subjects can provide "plausibility proofs" of the role that certain environmental histories play in the emergence of the behavior. In some cases more definitive research cannot be conducted, usually for ethical reasons. The plausibility of such simulations rests on five factors: the topography of the behavior, the function of the behavior, the structure of the organism, the generality of the behavioral processes invoked, and evidence that humans have had the relevant histories. Not all of the studies referred to in the present paper meet these criteria.
4.
There is a previous report of spontaneous imitation in pigeons ( Zentall & Hogan, 1976). In that report, however, the observing animals were technically not "naive," since they had been hopper-trained, and the observed effect was small. There are perhaps

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