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Keeping a journal must be reinforcing, for Skinner has done so for lo these 30 years or more. Now, with the helpful editing of associate Robert Epstein, the world can read the ad hoc thoughts of the foremost spokesman of behaviorism. Well, not thoughts--given the behaviorist disallowance of mental operations. Covert speech. Descriptions of behavior. Rehearsals of action. The entries are brief, usually crisp, outspoken observations of his own and other people's behavior. All the elements of his philosophy and psychology are here: the core of operant conditioning, schedules of reinforcements, rewards vs. aversive outcomes, shaping behavior. (Skinner acknowledges that not until the Fifties was he ever able to throw out a page of typescript. He reasons that his prior writings were ""shaping behavior,"" aimed toward the final finished product.) One also feels that Skinner is like the philosopher who writes to convince himself of his rightness. Many of the entries underscore the universality of behaviorism. Sometimes this is instructive, as when Skinner observes parents offering candy to children on a train when they start to get disruptive--thereby reinforcing disruptive behavior. Often, too, Skinner will translate the statements of the Freudian, the hypnotist, or other practitioners--even novelists--into statements of verbal behavior and contingencies. In addition, we learn that Skinner likes Wagner--the music, not the man; that he reads Montaigne and Stendhal and Joyce; that he is an indefatigable cataloguer of verbal slips--recording them not for Freudian overtones, but in terms of chains of association. What it adds up to is a surprisingly sharp and well-rounded portrait of one of the pivotal figures of our time.

Pub Date: Jan. 12th, 1980
Publisher: Prentice-Hall