Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


43rd Annual Convention; Denver, CO; 2017

Event Details

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Invited Paper Session #313
CE Offered: PSY

A Fictional B. F. Skinner

Sunday, May 28, 2017
5:00 PM–5:50 PM
Hyatt Regency, Centennial Ballroom D
Area: PCH; Domain: Theory
Instruction Level: Basic
CE Instructor: Richard Gilbert, Ph.D.
Chair: Edward K. Morris (University of Kansas)
RICHARD GILBERT (Independent Scholar)
Richard Gilbert has had several jobs over a long working life, including high-school teacher and university professor, government scientist and elected politician, journalist and consultant on transportation and urban issues. His main formal qualifications are a fifty-year-old Ph.D. in experimental psychology and long-time registration as a clinical psychologist in Canada's Province of Ontario. He's done no substantive work in psychology for decades. He's spent some of his retirement years revisiting matters that preoccupied him during the 1960s and 1970s through writing a novel, Skinner's Quests. In the 1960s, his research and teaching had focused on behavior analysis, shifting in the 1970s to behavioral pharmacology and work with human subjects. He served on the editorial board of the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior from 1971 to 1976. He ceased being a full-time researcher and teacher in 1976 when he was elected to the first of six terms as a local and regional politician in Toronto. Richard Gilbert has produced fifteen non-fiction books, the latest being the second edition of Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight without Oil, written with political scientist Anthony Perl. He's produced several hundred articles on a wide range of topics, some published in academic journals, more in professional and popular publications.

Skinner's Quests describes a fictional odyssey by a young B. F. Skinner to England in 1939. His two quests were prompted by philosopher Bertrand Russell and involved Russell's protégé Ludwig Wittgenstein. The intellectual quest was to redirect Wittgenstein's changing analysis of language toward something Russell would find palatable. The political quest—undertaken for the White House —was to provide insights about the behavior of Adolf Hitler, who had been at high school with Wittgenstein. Skinner went chiefly to meet Sigmund Freud, near death in London after moving from Vienna in 1938. He had cited Freud often, with more admiration than agreement. Skinner met several other characters of historical importance, including Alan Turing. He also had numerous encounters with entirely fictional characters. Some were romantic. Some were merely social. Some had a sinister edge that reflected the time of his travels, one of modern history's most fraught periods. I'll describe the novel's provenance and possible achievements, and set out some of the behavioral issues examined in the novel. These mostly concern verbal behavior and are often presented within an evolutionary framework. I'll show how the backdrop of Europe's unsettling politics of the time was used to enrich the discussions of behavioral issues.

Target Audience:

Behavior analysts interested in the history of behavior analysis, its conceptual foundations, and the B. F. Skinner biography.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) describe factual and counter-factual history; (2) describe the history of behavior analysis relevant to Skinner's contributions; (3) describe Skinner's relationship with Freud and with Wittgenstein; (4) describe Skinner's biography circa 1939.



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