Neurobehavioral Plasticity: Learning, Development, and Response to Brain Insults

By Norman E. Spear; Linda P. Spear et al. | Go to book overview

21
The Enigma of Reinforcement

Karl H. Pribram Stanford University Radford University, Virginia

All of my days in the laboratory have been rewarding. I cannot imagine a more fascinating or more interesting life than struggling to find out how the brain works. (p. viii)

Theories must be evaluated on the basis of whether they make sense of the facts to be explained. (p. vii )

-- Isaacson ( 1974)

For the better part of this century, psychology has prided itself on becoming scientific. Impetus came from technical behaviorism: The scientific study of behavior allowed precise descriptions to be made of functional relationships between an organism and its environment in terms of the behavior generated by that relationship. Descriptive functionalism reached its zenith in learning theory, and especially in operant behaviorism, the operational descriptions of the behavior of organisms.

I believe the time is ripe for a new departure and suggest that, under the leadership of neuropsychology, we embark toward what might best be called dynamic structuralism. Descriptive functionalism set the stage, leaving us with a series of problems that cannot be resolved at the purely descriptive level. These problems demand new approaches that are bound to redefine the very terms that made up the cores of theory in the functionalist approach. Reinforcement is one such term.

At a UNESCO-sponsored meeting on the topic of Brain and Human Behavior held in Paris, B. F. Skinner presented one of the best talks I had ever heard him give. He declared that after much thought, he had come

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