October 7, 2015
This writing is my eleventh response to “The Unit of Selection: What Do Reinforcers Reinforce?” by J.W. Donahoe, D.C. Palmer and J.E. Burgos (1997). To hammer home my message that we, no matter how much we talk, to our own detriment, ignore auditory stimuli, how we sound, but get carried away by visual stimuli, by what we say, here is another one of Skinner’s statements, which clearly indicates that he, like most of us, was conditioned by NVB: “I am not overlooking the advance that is made in the unification of knowledge when terms at one level of analysis are defined (‘‘explained’’) at a lower level.” (underlining added by me). Skinner, who is known to choose his words very carefully, didn’t and couldn’t write: ‘I am not deaf to’ the “advance that is made in the unification of knowledge”. Although he surely had a lot of SVB, he apparently had not enough of it to be able to write about the great importance of the sound of our voice in “the unification of knowledge.”
I think that Skinner would agree with me that the SVB/NVB distinction is worth exploring. He stated “I agree with Carmichael  that those concepts which do not make physiological formulation impossible and which are amenable to growing physiological knowledge are preferable, other things being equal, to those that are not so amenable (p. 440).” SVB does “not make physiological formulation impossible.” Moreover, is makes physiological experience possible. In SVB, the speaker obtains physiological, that is, experiential knowledge, which is both shared and agreed upon by the listener. Skinner is referring to this bi-directionality when he states that “neuroscience benefits from a science of behavior at least as much as a science of behavior benefits from neuroscience.” I like to rephrase that into ‘the speaker benefits from the listener at least as much as the listener benefits from the speaker.’ We can have SVB.
Instead of lamenting about the “potential benefits of the integration of behavioral and neural observation”, I propose the integration between the speaker and the listener, while we speak, because only that will make this “the integration of behavioral and neural observation” into a reality. Stated differently, due to the ubiquity of NVB, we haven’t been able to make much progress with the unification of the sciences. This is not at all surprising since scientists are mainly involved in writing and reading, but not in talking and listening. In other words, scientists as well as academicians and scholars are almost never astounded by what anyone says. They seem to have lost the ability to be amazed. However, behaviorists should take note of the fact that “Prior behavioral work had indicated that, in addition to temporal contiguity, putative reinforcing stimuli were effective only if, speaking nontechnically, the reinforcer was ‘‘surprising’’ (Kamin, 1968; Rescorla & Wagner, 1972) (underlining done by me). I find it fascinating how these authors are struggling trying to write something which obviously needs to be said.
Lack of surprise is characteristic for NVB, but SVB will once again fill us with wonder. SVB too can be defined as “surprise” and “may be given” the same “technical definition at the behavioral level as a discrepancy between the response evoked by the reinforcing stimulus (the unconditioned response, or UR) and the level of that same response in the environment in which the operant and reinforcer occur (the conditioned response, or CR) (cf. Vaughan).” Described here is that the voice of the speaker can induce positive affect in the listener’s body. Although many words are spoken this is a nonverbal phenomenon. The “surprise” experienced by the listener, is absence of NVB, that is, the induction of negative affect. In SVB there is attunement between the speaker’s experience and the listener’s experience; they experience the same response. Thus, SVB can also be explained as an experience in which the environment within the skin of the speaker is understood to be one with the environment that is within the skin of the listener. The oneness of the natural world can finally be accurately expressed in SVB.
Although behaviorists agree that “a putative reinforcer strengthens environment–behavior relations when there is a contiguous CR–UR discrepancy (Donahoe, Crowley, Millard, & Stickney, 1982; cf. Rescorla, 1968), problems have remained with “measurement of the CR and UR.” I think that this is caused by NVB. It can and it will be solved by SVB. Rather than correlating behavioral measures to “the underlying neural activity that mediates conditioning”, we can correlate SVB and NVB with sets of our own experiences which are either positive or negative. In SVB we have no complete, but definitely an increased access to our personal history of reinforcement which “mediates” our “conditioning.”
“General principles arise as inductions from the experimental
analysis of particular public observations.” I think behaviorists need to make inductions that are based on public listenings rooted in SVB, in which speakers listen to themselves while they speak. To make this happen, they must put a moratorium on their biased emphasis on public observations. In other words, behaviorists must stop visualizing.