Publication 4369

Powers W. T. (1973) Feedback: Beyond behaviorism. Science 179(4071): 351–356. Fulltext at
Notes that consistent behavior patterns are created by variable acts and generally repeat only because detailed acts change. It is proposed that the accepted explanation that “cues” cause the changes is unsupported by evidence and is incapable of dealing with novel situations. The apparent purposefulness of variations of behavioral acts can be accepted in the framework of a control-system model of behavior. A control system, properly organized for its environment, will produce whatever output is required in order to achieve a constant sensed result, even in the presence of unpredictable disturbances. A control-system model of the brain provides a physical explanation for the existence of goals or purposes, and shows that behavior is the control of input rather than output. When a systematic investigation has discovered the controlled quantities, the related stimulus-response laws become trivially predictable and variability of behavior all but disappears. Within this model, behavior itself is seen as self-determined in a specific and highly significant sense that casts doubt on the ultimate feasibility of operant conditioning of human beings by other human beings.


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