Skinner Should Have Meditated
Behaviourism’s big problem is that it refers to the skin as the border of the person. This makes all the “internals” eerie thingies, subject to mentalist blabla that, from that external perspective, can never be understood. Therefore, Skinner always argued that the enactor is the “speaker”, thoughts being mere stimuli and unrelated to will.
However, the border of skin as identity is the most basic and primitive that any organism can assume, starting from one-celled organisms. Whereas the primary function of learning appears to be the reduction of arbitrariness of behaviour (within the limits set by biology and resulting instincts), there are emergent effects.
As soon as tool use is turned inward and abstracted by language, awareness cannot only be turned towards the external world, but also to thoughts. As soon as one becomes aware of thoughts, one is no longer identified with a speakere. Becoming aware of thoughts inadvertently reduces identification to that of a thinker, as thoughts become objectified and thus excluded from the definition of I. From that point onwards, there is a thinker acting, and speech is no longer a stimulus response, but a means of communication and indication (signalling). Before that point, vocalizations may count as a conditioned stimulus.
The chain does not end here. Skilled meditators (and some constructivists like Maturana) noted, that once one has resided long enough as a thinker, one becomes aware of the thinker. With that step being constructed, one no longer is the thinker, but the observer of a thinker. This role of an observer has long been argued by introspective methods like Advaita-Vedanta, Dzogchen, or people around Buddha. Nothing mysterious about it. It’s a simple consequence of refining awareness, turninng it towards more subtle phenomena around the locus of experience.
Many of Skinner’s theories may have been elaborated in a better way if he had acknowledged that the persona is not the ultimate place of identification, but identification can become way more subtle than that. As a consequence to cognitive advancement, with that subtler identification, the enactor also changes.
Criticising: Pérez‐Álvarez, M., & García‐Montes, J. (2006). Person, behaviour, and contingencies (an aesthetic view of behaviourism). International Journal of Psychology, 41 (6), 449–461.
They also got that wrong.