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62 Inspiring Quotes by B. F. Skinner

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Wikipedia Summary for B. F. Skinner

Burrhus Frederic Skinner (March 20, 1904 – August 18, 1990) was an American psychologist, behaviourist, author, inventor, and social philosopher. He was a professor of psychology at Harvard University from 1958 until his retirement in 1974.

Considering free will to be an illusion, Skinner saw human action as dependent on consequences of previous actions, a theory he would articulate as the principle of reinforcement: If the consequences to an action are bad, there is a high chance the action will not be repeated; if the consequences are good, the probability of the action being repeated becomes stronger.

Skinner developed behaviour analysis, especially the philosophy of radical behaviourism, and founded the experimental analysis of behaviour, a school of experimental research psychology. He also used operant conditioning to strengthen behaviour, considering the rate of response to be the most effective measure of response strength. To study operant conditioning, he invented the operant conditioning chamber (aka the Skinner Box), and to measure rate he invented the cumulative recorder. Using these tools, he and Charles Ferster produced Skinner's most influential experimental work, outlined in their book Schedules of Reinforcement (1957).

Skinner was a prolific author, having published 21 books and 180 articles. He imagined the application of his ideas to the design of a human community in his utopian novel, Walden Two (1948), while his analysis of human behaviour culminated in his work, Verbal behaviour.

Contemporary academia considers Skinner, along with John B. Watson and Ivan Pavlov, a pioneer of modern behaviourism. Accordingly, a June 2002 survey listed Skinner as the most influential psychologist of the 20th century.

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Longer Version:

Society attacks early, when the individual is helpless. It enslaves him almost before he has tasted freedom. The 'ologies' will tell you how its done Theology calls it building a conscience or developing a spirit of selflessness. Psychology calls it the growth of the superego. Considering how long society has been at it, you'd expect a better job. But the campaigns have been badly planned and the victory has never been secured.


--B. F. Skinner

Longer Version:

No theory changes what it is a theory about. Nothing is changed because we look at it, talk about it, or analyze it in a new way. Keats drank confusion to Newton for analyzing the rainbow, but the rainbow remained as beautiful as ever and became for many even more beautiful. Man has not changed because we look at him, talk about him, and analyze him scientifically. ... What does change is our chance of doing something about the subject of a theory. Newton's analysis of the light in a rainbow was a step in the direction of the laser.


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Longer Version:

We shouldn't teach great books; we should teach a love of reading. Knowing the contents of a few works of literature is a trivial achievement. Being inclined to go on reading is a great achievement.


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