The Global Skinner Box
by Phillip D. Collins ©, June 9th, 2005
In recent years, physicalistic philosophies of the mind seem to dominate both the scientific and academic communities. This paradigm equates mental states with brain states, thus reducing the concept of the “soul” or “spirit” to a metaphysical fantasy. This view seems to pervade modern psychology as well. Ironically, the word “psychology” is derived from the word psyche, which meant “soul” in the original Greek. However, imposing the metaphysical doctrine of materialism upon psychology, Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt would expunge the soul from the halls of psychological research and enshrine the primacy of matter. Several years later, B.F. Skinner would continue the materialist-physicalist tradition of psychology. Dubbed behaviorism, Skinner’s brand of psychology emphasized observable behavior as the primary indicator of mental states. Working from this premise, Skinner developed a “technology of behavior” by which human nature could be conditioned and manipulated. Skinner believed that, as desirable behaviors were promulgated within the human herd, the ideal society would eventually emerge.
Skinner presented his psychologically engineered Utopia as a roman a’ clef entitled Walden Two. Characterizing Walden Two as an innocuous fiction, Skinner stated: “The ‘behavioral engineering’ I had so frequently mentioned in the book was, at the time, little more than science fiction” (vi). Yet, “behavioral conditioning” was much more than science fiction to dark forces with dark intentions. Thanks to a $5,000 grant from a group called the Human Ecology Fund, Skinner was able to pay for the secretary and supplies he needed during the writing of Beyond Freedom and Dignity (Marks 171). When approached about the grant and its origins, Skinner claimed to have no memory of the contribution (Marks 171). However, he did make the slightly suspicious comment: “I don’t like secret involvement of any kind. I can’t see why it couldn’t have been open and aboveboard” (Marks 171).
When one examines the Human Ecology Fund closer, the reasons for the secrecy become clear. It was assembled in 1955 under the title of the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology, which would later change to the Human Ecology Fund in 1961 (Marks 159). For the sake of convenience, researcher John Marks simply calls it the Society. The Society itself was funded and controlled by the CIA “for studies and experiments in the behavioral sciences” (158). In addition to behavioral research, the Society also entertained a preoccupation with the occult: “No phenomenon was too arcane to escape a careful look from the Society, whether extrasensory perception or African witch doctors” (173).
The Society’s president was Harold Wolff, a neurologist involved in CIA research and operations (Marks 156). The vice president was Lawrence Hinkle, Wolff’s colleague from Cornell Medical College in New York City (Marks 135, 167). According to one long-standing CIA associate, Wolff was:
“…an autocratic man. I never knew him to chew anyone out. He didn’t have to. We were damned respectful. He moved in high places. He was just a skinny man, but talk about mind control! He was one of the controllers.” (Marks 161)
Evidently, the organization itself took on the character of its president. One of its board members, Adolf Berle, expressed concerns over the Society’s mind control projects:
“I am frightened about this one,” Berle wrote in his diary. “If scientists do what they have laid out for themselves, men will become manageable ants. But I don’t think it will happen.” (Marks 167)
Perhaps “manageable ants” was what the Society had in mind when it financed Skinner in his behavioral research. In Beyond Freedom and Dignity, Skinner candidly states:
What is being abolished is autonomous man–the inner man, the homunculus, the possessing demon, the man defended by the literatures of freedom and dignity.
His abolition has long been overdue. Autonomous man is a device used to explain what we cannot explain in any other way. He has been constructed from our ignorance, and as our understanding increases, the very stuff of which he is composed vanishes. Science does not dehumanize man, it de-homunculizes him, and it must do so if it is to prevent the abolition of the human species. To man qua man we readily say good riddance. Only by dispossessing him can we turn to real causes of human behavior. Only then can we turn from the inferred to the observed, from the miraculous to the natural, from the inaccessible to the manipulable. (189-91)
This, the vision of a “de-homunculized” and “manipulable” man, was probably what prompted the Human Ecology Fund’s $5,000 investment in Skinner’s research. When Walden Two was released, many critics saw “shades of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World” in Skinner’s fictional Utopia (Taylor 418). This analogy is very appropriate. Like its Huxlian kissing cousin, the roman a’ clef of Walden Two is a reality in the making. Serious credence has been given to Skinner’s behavioral theories. His methodology of behavioral tyranny has been employed in today’s educational system. Researcher Ian Taylor elaborates:
Nevertheless, the Skinner teaching techniques have been widely used for school children, although by use of a teaching machine rather than in a box with food pellets! In addition, by cooperation with drug companies, the effects of certain drugs to aid children with learning difficulties have been studied. Although new understanding has been gained, the whole idea of modifying human behavior in a purposeful way has not been an overwhelming success and the specter of crossing that fine line, from “aid” to “control” of tomorrow’s society in today’s classroom, has yet to become a total reality. (419)
Meanwhile, Skinner’s method has also been applied under the guise of therapy. Taylor explains:
The vision of behavioral modification still has its enthusiasts. For example, in 1978 Sobell and Sobell reported a program to modify the behavior of a group of twenty gamma alcoholics. In this they used the electric shock “punishment” technique. These researchers believed that behavior therapy would enable hard-core alcoholics to become social drinkers, rather than having to become total abstainers. The experiment was widely reported to be successful, and the United States government began to invest considerable sums of money into this new approach. However, an independent study of the same twenty patients in a ten-year follow-up showed a totally different picture with only one success. This is another scandal, and the most charitable conclusion would be that… the theory in the minds of the Sobells assumed greater importance than the facts. (419)
Skinner’s alter ego in Walden Two probably most succinctly voiced the rationale guiding such psychological engineering programs:
“I’ve had only one idea in my life–the idea of having my own way. ‘Control’ expresses it–the control of human behavior. …it was a frenzied, selfish desire to dominate. I remember the rage I used to feel when a certain prediction went awry. I could have shouted at the subjects of my experiments, ‘Behave! Behave as you ought!'” (271)
For Skinner and those who carry on his tradition, humanity is little more than a lab animal to be conditioned and controlled. This authoritarian mentality becomes all the more evident when Skinner states: “… Russia after fifty years is not a model we wish to emulate. China may be closer to the solutions I have been talking about, but a Communist revolution in America is hard to imagine” (Walden Two xv). In other words, the communism of mass murdering Red China is preferable to the Russian variety of communism. Why? The Russian communists did not go far enough.
Skinner concludes Walden Two with the following contention: “…in the long run man is determined by the state” (257). Of course, the omnipotent State was also the god of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. According to deceased researcher Antony Sutton: “Both Marx and Hitler have their philosophical roots in Hegel” (118). This is also the intended result of the methods employed by Skinner and his adherents: the obliteration of the individual and the apotheosis of the State. Such a goal synchronizes comfortably with the vision of the power elite, which might be one of the main reasons that Skinner’s methods have enjoyed widespread application today.
Of such a psychologically engineered society, C.S. Lewis writes:
…many a mild-eyed scientist in a democratic laboratory means, in the last resort, just what the Fascist means. He believes that “good” means whatever men are conditioned to approve. He believes that it is the function of him and his kind to condition men; to create consciences by eugenics, psychological manipulation of infants, state education and mass propaganda. Because he is confused, he does not yet fully realize that those who create conscience cannot be subject to conscience themselves. But he must awake to the logic of his position sooner or later; and when he does, what barrier remains between us and the final division of the race into a few conditioners who stand themselves outside morality and the many conditioned in whom such morality as the experts choose is produced at the experts’ pleasure? If “good” means only the local ideology, how can those who invent the local ideology be guided by any idea of good themselves? (81)
Indeed, when they speak of a psychologically engineered society, the “mild-eyed scientist” and the fascist mean exactly the same thing. They mean a socialist totalitarian society where the “many conditioned” are controlled by the “few conditioners.” In short, they mean a scientific dictatorship. Yet, humanity is not so easily reduced to a soulless amalgam of behavioral repertoires. Taylor explains:
As in the case of biological determinism (nature), behavioral determinism (nurture) also denies the free will, since this says, in effect, that we are simply a product of our environment rather than a product of our genes. Clearly, both factors are important, but even then the human psyche involves far more than mere machine response to a combination of biological and environmental circumstances. It would be extremely difficult for humanistic psychology, however, based as it is on evolution, to acknowledge a spiritual dimension to man; this opens up a philosophical minefield involving the destiny of souls, for instance… the committed humanist cannot accept such a view. (419)
Humanistic psychology’s rejection of the soul is a direct consequence of the field’s characteristic physicalism. Physicalism rejects the soul because it does not conform to the developmental framework of evolutionary theory. How does the soul, an incorporeal entity, spontaneously generate itself within the purely corporeal processes of evolution? Yet, simultaneously, evolution posits a similar concept of spontaneous generation. The only difference is that the evolutionary concept of spontaneous generation, dubbed “abiogenesis,” applies exclusively to physical organisms. This quasi-Gnostic doctrine of “self-creation” simply raises new questions. Moreover, like property dualism, it is no less mystical in character. In a universe where neo-Darwinism holds sway, what else is the organism but the veritable Kabbalistic golem?
Physicalists criticize substance dualism because it cannot demonstrate mental causality. Yet, paradoxically, their own empirical epistemology forces them to relegate physical causality to the realm of metaphysical fantasy. What is perceived as A causing B could be merely a consequence of circumstantial juxtaposition. Although temporal succession and spatial proximity are axiomatic, causal connection is not. Affirmation of causal relationships is impossible. Given the absence of causality, all of a scientist’s findings must be taken upon faith. Ironically, science relies on the affirmation of such cause and effect relationships. This is all one can deduce while working under the paradigm of radical empiricism. Thus, causality, mental or physical, does not provide adequate grounds for rejecting the possibility of substance dualism.
Moreover, the physicalist ignores the semiotic character of behavior. Physicalism contends that behavior provides the only adequate indicator of “mental states.” In fact, physicalism’s reductionistic metaphysics virtually obliterate the “mental state,” transforming it into a proverbial mirage imposed upon observable behavior by the percipient. However, observable behavior is not always an accurate indicator of “mental states,” as is evidenced by the complex undercurrent of connotative meaning beneath the surface of behavior itself. Nonverbal gestures can semiotically communicate messages beyond what a behavior ostensibly denotes. For instance, the right hand over one’s heart during the Pledge of Allegiance semiotically gesticulates towards more abstract and intangible concepts… patriotism, Americanism, etc.
Perhaps physicalism’s greatest drawback is its inherent scientism. Scientific America journalist Michael Shermer describes scientism as:
…a scientific worldview that encompasses natural explanations for all phenomena, eschews supernatural and paranormal speculations, and embraces empiricism and reason as the twin pillars of a philosophy of life appropriate for an Age of Science. (no pagination)
Scientism is, in essence, a form of epistemological imperialism. It stipulates the imposition of physical science upon all fields of inquiry. Those items and factors that fail to conform to the rigid parameters of scientific exactitude are automatically precluded. Thus, scientism concerns itself exclusively with quantifiable entities. Researcher Michael Hoffman recapitulates:
The reason that science is a bad master and dangerous servant and ought not to be worshipped, is that science is not objective. Science is fundamentally about the uses of measurement. What does not fit the yardstick of the scientist is discarded. Scientific determinism has repeatedly excluded some data from its measurement and fudged other data, such as Piltdown Man, in order to support the self-fulfilling nature of its own agenda, be it Darwinism or “cut, burn and poison” methods of cancer “treatment.” (49)
This doctrine of “scientific determinism” is not to be confused with legitimate science. Hoffman effectively makes this distinction:
Science, when practiced as the application of man’s God-given talents for the production of appropriate technology on a human scale, relief of misery and the reverential exploration and appreciation of the glory of Divine Providence as revealed in nature, is a useful tool for mankind. Scientism is science gone mad, which is what we have today. (49)
In hopes of avoiding the ostensibly disjunctive relationship between natural and metaphysical phenomenon, scientism bestows absolute primacy upon naturalism. Anything that defies or falls outside of the realm of naturalistic explanation is selectively disregarded. Of course, the soul is one such unfortunate element. As a result, it is relegated to the realm of abstraction and metaphysical fantasy.
Such fetishization of science was a hallmark of Enlightenment humanism, which would result in the bloodbath of the French Revolution. It also underpinned the political and economic doctrines of both Nazi Germany and communist Russia. Scientism remains at the core of socio-political Utopianism. In turn, socio-political Utopianism remains at the core of all governmental aberrations. When extended beyond its legitimate fields of application, science becomes a rigid template to which even the most complex of entities, like man, must conform. Historian Richard J. Sutcliffe states:
In the last hundred years or so, “scientific” views of history have become increasingly popular, for humanity as a statistical whole is thought of as being subject to analysis and prediction. In this thinking, once the motivations of the masses could be measured and tabulated, their response to economic or technological stimuli could be accurately predicted. Appropriate technology and education could then be adapted to engineer and control the desired society. Such theories are popular among both political rightists and leftists, neither of whom realize that they are advocating the same kind of society–a sort of “scientific totalitarianism” or “technocratic dictatorship.” (No pagination)
The doctrine of man playing god reaches its nadir in the philosophy of scientism which makes it possible the complete mental, spiritual and physical enslavement of mankind through technologies such as satellite and computer surveillance; a state of affairs symbolized by
the “All Seeing Eye” above the unfinished pyramid on the U.S. one dollar bill. (50)
Contemporary totalitarianism is the outward expression of scientistic hubris. Every scientific dictatorship of the 20th century has attempted to reduce the complex creature of man into a quantifiable entity. Physicalism, which is scientistic at its core, is guilty of the same crime. Preoccupied with quantifiable entities, it precludes qualia. In overlooking qualia, it overlooks axiomatic values. Freedom and dignity, which are qualitative elements of the human condition, are eventually jettisoned because they are incompatible with the dominant criteria.
The scientistic view of man as an easily “measured and tabulated” entity is best illustrated by Skinner’s “box” experiment. Also dubbed the “Heir-conditioner,” Skinner’s box “enabled the environment to be controlled while the subject’s behavior could be studied in terms of the conditioned reflex” (Taylor 418-19). Cloistered within this artificial environment, the subject’s behavior was manipulated through a system of rewards and punishments (418). Skinner was so confident in the effectiveness of this system of behavioral modification that he made his infant daughter spend the first two years of her life in the conditioning box (419). His efforts to commercially market the “Heir-conditioner,” however, were met with failure (419).
Yet, the power elite continue to carry out agendas of behavioral tyranny that closely parallel those of Skinner’s. In fact, the society they are shaping is analogous to one enormous Skinner box. This is made evident by the social phenomenon of authoritarian hierarchicalization. Researcher Daniel Pouzzner expands on this phenomenon:
When a superior determines to encourage, discourage, demand, or forbid among his subordinates a mode of action, thought, or awareness, those modes will tend to be encouraged or discouraged among everyone below him in the hierarchy. If that superior is a nuclear establishment leader, then these modes will tend to be encouraged or discouraged throughout most of society. In this case, only those not within the conventional hierarchy of civilized society escape the brunt of the behavioral tyranny. (17)
The power elite, who occupy the highest layers of societal strata, selectively deter or promulgate certain modes of thought and behavior. Ideational contagions emanating from those above are diffused and infect those below. Pouzzner continues:
Authoritarian hierarchicalization is a memetic amplifier for people in higher echelons, and an attenuator for those in lower echelons. The memetic gain factor is not intrinsically correlated with the actual memetic aptitude of each individual; whatever characteristics favor ascension to higher echelons are the characteristics common to those positioned for high memetic gain factors. The characteristics are arbitrarily dictated by those who are already in the upper echelons of the hierarchy, and once those who exhibit them have ascended, the characteristics are themselves efficiently spread through society. (17-18)
In this sense, Skinner’s behaviorism and its theoretical progenies represent a form of alchemy. On a macrocosmic level, society begins to tangibly enact the occult dictum of “As above, so below.” Meanwhile, the hidden alchemists continue to construct their global Skinner box.
- Skinner, B.F. Beyond Freedom and Dignity. New York: Bantam Books, 1972.
- Hoffman, Michael. Secret Societies and Psychological Warfare. Coeur d’Alene, Idaho: Independent History & Research, 2001.
- Lewis, C.S. Christian Reflections. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1967.
- Marks, John. The Search for the Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Control. New York: Time Books, 1979.
The Architecture of Modern Political Power: The New Feudalism. 17 May 2002
- Shermer, Michael. “The Shaman of Scientism.” Scientific American. 2002 June
- Skinner, B.F. Walden Two. 1948. New York: Macmillan, 1976.
- Sutcliffe, Richard J. The Fourth Civilization: Technology Society and Ethics. 2003
- Sutton, Antony. The Secret Cult of the Order. Cranbrook, Australia: Veritas, 1983.
- Taylor, Ian T. In the Minds of Men: Darwin and the New World Order. Toronto: TFE Publishing, 1999.
About the Author
Phillip D. Collins acted as the editor for The Hidden Face of Terrorism. He has also written articles for Paranoia Magazine, MKzine, News With Views, B.I.P.E.D.: The Official Website of Darwinian Dissent and Conspiracy Archive. He has an Associate of Arts and Science. Currently, he is studying for a bachelor’s degree in Communications at Wright State University. During the course of his seven-year college career, Phillip has studied philosophy, religion, and classic literature. He also co-authored the book, The Ascendancy of the Scientific Dictatorship: An Examination of Epistemic Autocracy, From the 19th to the 21st Century, which is
available online here.