Look out for the dirty baby

Back and forth swings the pendulum. It is remarkable that Baars can claim that “many scientists now feel that radical behaviorists tossed out the baby with the bathwater” while not being able to see that his own efforts threaten to be an instance of the complementary overshooting–what we might call covering a nice clean baby with dualistic dirt . Yes indeed, radical behaviorism of Skinner’s variety fell from grace some years ago, with the so-called cognitive revolution, to be replaced by a sort of cognitivistic behaviorism that has plenty of room for inner processes, for talking to yourself, for mental imagery, for hunches, feelings, pains, dreams, beliefs and hopes and expectations, but only so long as these are understood to be physical (“informational” or “computational”) processes that could be accomplished by the machinery of the brain. It is an interesting speculative question whether William James would have been a wholehearted cognitivist, or whether he would have insisted that what he meant by the stream of consciousness had to be sharply distinguished from the streams of mere information-manipulation discernible in the activities of cortical subsystems, etc., etc. Making a home for consciousness in the brain, for a distinction between unconscious information-transformations and conscious ones, for instance, is now the work of many hands in many fields (See, e.g., Dennett, 2001, and the other essays in the special issue of Cognition devoted to the cognitive neuroscience of consciousness). The main methodological principle of this research is one shared with the radical behaviorists: only intersubjectively accessible data are to be admitted in this natural science of consciousness. If that allegiance, by itself , counts as ‘behaviorism,” then we should all be behaviorists, and indeed the very researchers Baars cites (Singer, Ericsson and Simon, Hilgard, Crick, and Edelman) scrupulously and unapologetically are behaviorists in this minimal sense. They interview their subjects, under controlled conditions, and take their reports seriously–but not as infallible guides to their subjects’ subjectivity..
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