Utopian Society Thinkers B. F. Skinner Part 1

About the famous utopian thinker and scientist B. F. Skinner and history of his planned utopia Walden Two.


B. F. SKINNER (1904- )

Burrhus Frederic Skinner is the leading proponent of behaviorism, a branch of psychology that likens human to machines, controlled by both natural and manipulated external environmental influences. Skinner believes that in order to better the world, we must concentrate on changing the social environment rather than people. The environment he seeks to achieve is one that, rather than punishing bad or unacceptable behavior, reinforces good behavior.

Since his college days, Skinner has been a rebel. When he left college, he decided to become a writer, encouraged toward this decision by poet Robert Frost. He first tried to live and work in his family's home in Susquehanna, Pa., then moved to Greenwich Village. But feeling he had nothing important to say, he gave up writing and went back to school, entering Harvard's graduate psychology program in 1928. He received his Ph.D. in 1931.

Skinner's work in conditioning animals, primarily rats and pigeons, through carefully planned schedules of behavior reinforcement gained him notoriety, as did the apparatus he designed for his conditioning experiments, the "Skinner box." The soundproof box has a lever inside that, when pressed by the animal subject, dispenses food. Through his methods, Skinner was able, for example, to teach pigeons to play Ping-Pong. He even developed during W.W.II a pigeon-controlled guided-missile system. However, when he began shifting the emphasis of his behavior-conditioning work to human society--stating that his findings were just as applicable to humans as to animals--he encountered strong opposition from many of his colleagues.

Skinner aroused a great furor when, in 1945, he designed a variation of his box and kept his infant daughter inside. This box, which he called an "air crib," was a glass cubicle that contained an ideal environment for the child. Germ filters and temperature and humidity controls did away with the need for blankets, clothing, and frequent baths. Skinner's daughter, Deborah, now in her early thirties, thinks the 30 months she spent in the air crib were beneficial.

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