Sunday, July 26, 2015

Book Report

The book I chose to read was “Beyond Freedom and Dignity” by B.F. Skinner. The book was published in 1971, about two decades after one of Skinner’s other popular books “Walden Two”. The book covered a large variety of topics from punishment, alternatives, values, culture, and what it means to be human. He really focuses on the idea that with the advances in technology and knowledge of our biological being continues to improve we control our destiny as a species more than ever before. He talked extensively about the idea that we can build a more stable and successful society in the future as long as we understand human behavior.
This is where he talks about free will and gives a very different definition of what free will is compared to what I am used to seeing. He says that biological factors and your environment exclusively affect all human behavior over the course of your life. This shoots down any possibilities of divine intervention, free will, or any type of morality. This is an almost cold and mechanical idea of what life is like and it was definitely interesting to see his take on that. He backs this idea up with his psychological system known as radical behaviorism that is a three-step process that ends with classical conditioning (or learned conditioning). Skinner uses this almost mechanical outlook on life to point out that we, as a species, now posses the technology and knowledge to ensure a secure future for both ourselves and our environment and he believes that we will move towards that.
That last part was my favorite part of this book because I think it is the most interesting. Admittedly I have never been a huge Skinner fan from some of the things I have read by him in the past and his cold outlook on things isn’t something I normally agree with. However, when he mentions that we as a species are capable of ensuring a secure future he brings up a very valid point. In nature, life is in many ways a simple act of survival, and even as humans we face that experience sometimes such as Shackleton and his men did in the Artic that we are simply trying to survive. We instinctively will try and survive for the basic instinct of reproducing and ensuring a future generation, just as any other species of organism does. The interesting thing to see though is that since 1971 when this was published, we have moved farther and farther away from that idea and now live in a time where we seem to completely live in a state of ensuring happiness NOW and not the future, which is the opposite of what he felt would happen. Here is a video that I think shows the direction we are really heading which is so different from the one that Skinner describes which was to preserve life not destroy it like we do-

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