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February 17, 2019

Last week, one of my professors from last semester and I beat the deadline for a proposal for UNCG's Undergraduate Research and Creativity Award. Since we don't know yet if we'll get the grant, I probably need to be vague about it (and not get my hopes up too much!). I'm still mentioning it here because I'm extremely excited about it. Without giving too much away, I can say that :

So, that has clearly been on my mind.

Skinner

Another idea that keeps messing with my mind is a summary of Beyond Freedom and Dignity by B.F. Skinner. I was shocked to find that a book from 1971 could mirror some of my own thoughts so well. Unfortunately it's apparently poorly written, and it's also from 1971 so it shows its age. While some of Skinner's conclusions specific observations about humans don't seem accurate to me, his core arguments seem consistent with the reality I've observed. Instead of Aristotle, as expected, most of my conversations with classmates end up stuck on Skinner.

Two comments from random users on goodreads help sum up the controversy I've observed among my peers:

Spencer Rich rated it one star, and wrote:

Easily ranks w/The Fountainhead as one of the worst poxes ever hoisted on humanity. Almost single handedly stole psychology from the hands of Jung, who had succeeded in giving creedence to the introvert and the play of fantasy in the inner life, Skinner reduces humanity to a succession of outward behaviors. And because when you're dealing with academia, you're looking at people who want things that are easily measured, Skinner and his ilk easily won out, leading to the Prozac-zombie state of the States and most of the Western world today. To be fair, perhaps Skinner has had a positive effect on education and inner-city renewal, but his dissolution of autonomous man, as he puts it, is vile. The other thing that bothers me about this book is how terribly it's written. Anyone with a good sense of English or logic could work out his methods without thinking. By placing his opinions between obvious facts, he makes his opinions appear as facts, i.e. "The sky is blue. Humans can be trained like guinea pigs. The grass is green." Or long paragraphs of substituting one set of phrases for his behaviorist terminology. Almost as horrible to read as Freud. But at least Freud was on the right track by mapping the subconscious. It wasn't until Jung and von Franz that psychology really came into its own. It's a vicious shame that it's been overrun by this Pavlovian charlatan.

Bschr1 rated it five stars, and wrote:

A refutation of the illusion that we have free will. Worse, to date noone that I have read has mustered any good counterarguments to Skinner. One of the most dangerous books in the English canon. You can't understand the political debate over the last 40 years about social programs unless you have mastered this text. You can't accept most people's simplistic religious beliefs once you have read this. Very scary stuff.

I'd like to see a 2019 version of the theory. It could be updated with current knowledge from genetics and psychology and written with a greater focus on value and cultural evolution.

Here's what I've been reading (these are mostly required reading for

my Ethics in the Computer Age class) Warning: some CNN links

Technology is killing jobs, and only technology can save them

Tech Leaps, Job Losses and Rising Inequality

How Technology Is Destroying Jobs

U.S. has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs since 2000

Technology could kill 5 million jobs by 2020

Inside China's Vast New Experiment in Social Ranking

Researchers Explore Emerging Memories for AI

Elon Musk: Free cash handouts 'will be necessary' if robots take humans' jobs