Essay—Existentialism vs Bad Behaviorism (Issue 36)

Summary—This essay argues that there is a paradigm shift in the making going from behaviorism to existentialism.

Patient—Christopher Bek, Physician—Dr David Gibbs, 30 August 2003.  Psychotic—paranoid identification.  Believes government took his house as not listening to his theories.  Diminished ability to care for self.  No insight into illness.  Flight risk.  Becomes agitated when his beliefs are challenged.  Patient—Dr Gibbs, Physician—Dr Bek, 14 September 2003.  Psychotic as a result of being out of touch with innate reality.  Believes government is omnipotent.  Hysterically blind to evidence contradicting behaviorism.  Paranoia manifests itself as predatory assessments intended to subvert the truth.  Becomes aloof when his authority is questioned.

Bad Behaviorism—Watson and Skinner.  Behaviorism is the psychological theory based on the works of the psychologists John Watson (1878-1958) and BF Skinner (1904-1990).  The question that behaviorism asks is whether inner thought processes (ie. consciousness and self-awareness) exist or not?  Self-awareness is consciousness recoiling upon itself.  Watson did not deny the existence of these thought processes but insisted that they could not be studied because they are not observable.  Skinner in turn took behaviorism to its illogical conclusion by arguing that these thought processes do not exist at all.  He made the following a posteriori arguments in his 1971 book Beyond Freedom and Dignity “Consciousness.  Can you see it?  Measure it?  Pass it around?  Then how is it different than something that does not exist at all?”  Skinner also wrote that “Many anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists have used their expert knowledge to try and prove that man is free, purposeful and responsible.  This escape route is slowly being closed as new evidence of the predictability of human behavior is discovered.  Any personal exemption from complete determinism is being revoked as the scientific analysis of individual behavior progresses.”

Bad Behaviorism.  Behaviorism is the psychological discipline that supports experimental procedures to study observable behavior.  Behaviorism dominated psychology for the first half of the 20th century.  In failing to recognize existentialism, behaviorism becomes the standard cognitive model.  I would argue that behaviorism is still in play today.  Behaviorism formulates its own models of behavior based on laboratory experiments (ie. a posteriori models) instead of by mathematics and ontology (ie. a priori models).  According to the Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia “Behaviorism has led to the formulation of a stimulus-response theory of psychology.  It has influenced psychology by replacing the machine-driven notion of stimuli-responses with a functional model that accentuates the meaning of conditions for patients.  It has introduced a research method for the experimental study of patients.  Behaviorism has currently replaced the mechanical concept of stimuli-responses with a functional concept emphasizing the meaningfulness of stimulating conditions to patients.”  According to Donald Palmer “Behaviorism is the theory that only observable, objective features of human activities need to be studied to provide an adequate scientific accounting of behavior.”

Existentialism—Kierkegaard.  Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) and Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) bookended the philosophy of existentialism.  Those existential philosophers in between include Nietzsche, Heidegger and Camus.  Kierkegaard built the bridge between Hegel and existentialism.  Hegel argued that the self only exists by being recognized by another being.  This was in direct conflict with Kierkegaard who claimed that the self only exists by being aware of itself.  Ontologically speaking, this is known as self-awareness.  Kierkegaard was also influenced by Hegel’s brand of metaphysics—ie. beyond physical—eg. consciousness.  Kierkegaard believed that reality is subjective.  This was confirmed by both relativity theory (1905) and quantum theory (1925).  For Kierkegaard and Sartre philosophy was a passionate way of life.  Kierkegaard insisted on the importance of subjective action in responding to arguments.  Acting on the principles of the self is crucial for arriving at truthfulness.  Comprehending a situation from someone involved in the situation is better than an argument for the truth put forth by an objective observer.

Existentialism—Sartre.  According to Jean-Paul Sartre existentialism is a philosophy for the Superman whereby existence precedes essence.  Consider a pen for example.  First came its essence then came its existence—ie. essence precedes existence.  In organized religion the Everyman is also described by the essence precedes existence scenario.  Conversely, the Superman arrives on the scene (ie. existence) and then creates his essence—ie. existence precedes essence.  The question is does God define man’s essence or does man define his own essence?  The Superman has total freedom and total responsibility while the Everyman has no freedom and no responsibility—other than to behave normally.  Sartre put it this way “The chief effort of existentialism is to face the implications for personal actions in a universe without purpose.  That man is personally responsible for what he is and what he does.  There are no values external to man and no given human nature which he is obliged to fulfill.  Man chooses his values and makes himself—and therefore may choose to be an entirely different person altogether.”

Existentialism.  According to the Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia “Existentialism is the philosophical movement emphasizing individual existence, freedom and choice that has influenced many diverse writers in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Because of the diversity of positions associated with existentialism, the term is believed to be impossible to define precisely.  Certain themes common to virtually all existentialist writers can however be identified.  The term itself suggests one major theme—The stress on concrete individual existence and consequently on subjectivity, individual freedom and choice.”  Webster’s Dictionary defines “Existentialism as a 19th and 20th centuries philosophy that is centered on the analysis of existence as not exhaustively describable or understandable in scientific terms.  It stresses the freedom and responsibility of the individual, the irreducible uniqueness of an ethical or religious situation.  Existentialism emphasizes subjective experiences (eg. anxiety, guilt, dread and anguish) of individuals.”

Existentialism vs Bad Behaviorism.  The Freudian cognitive model makes the ego or consciousness the decisionmaker who must choose between the internal values of the inward id, self or soul and the external authority of the superego or the government.  Behaviorism chooses the superego while existentialism chooses the id.  Behaviorism is the psychological theory employed throughout Canada contending that all human activity can be known through visible behavior and appearance—thereby denying the existence of consciousness and the possibility for self-awareness.  Whereas the id exists in the eternal-now, the superego merely exists in the now and persists by mimicking the id thereby fooling the ego.  Behaviorism demands the ego submit to the baseless authority of the superego.  Existentialism uses the id as a sounding board to provide a moral basis for decisionmaking.  By not specifically arguing for existentialism, the government effectively makes behaviorism the default.  A lie of omission is still a lie.

Hysterically Blind.  Ontology is a branch of metaphysics that serves to identify the fundamental dimensions that constitute reality.  Ontologically speaking and according to EF Schumacher (1911-1977) “From a base of matter, man has the power of life like plants, the power of consciousness like animals and self-awareness which is the power of consciousness recoiling upon itself.  This power of self-awareness opens up unlimited possibilities for learning, formulating and accumulating knowledge.”  Behaviorism only recognizes matter while existentialism recognizes all four ontological dimensions being—matter, life, consciousness and self-awareness.  Psychosis is the mental disorder characterized by an impaired contact with innate reality.  The very definition of behaviorism denies any reality beyond material appearances—thereby making it a recipe for psychosis. 

Dr Gibbs and Dr Bek.  The 1980 movie Brubaker stars Robert Redford who went into a prison as an inmate.  After spending time as an inmate he exposed his true identity as the warden.  I have done the same thing by going into the healthcare system as a patient only to reveal myself as a doctor in that I have identified behaviorism as the cancer of modern medicine.  In the opening paragraph of this essay Dr Gibbs did his assessment of me and I did my assessment of him.  Dr Gibbs has also been my psychiatrist for the past five years.  I have given him copies of my essays and letters to the government.  I even gave him a copy of one of my favorite books in my library of five-hundred books which is entitled Irrational Man—A Study in Existential Philosophy (1958) by William Barrett.  I would argue that patients should be taught the fundamentals of this essay.  I would also argue for teaching about God, Christ, consciousness, self-awareness, souls, physics, metaphysics and mathematics.  Interestingly, Sir James Jeans (1877-1946) said God is a mathematician.

Conclusion.  Behaviorism is considered a psychological discipline.  Existentialism is considered a philosophical discipline.  I would argue that behaviorism should be considered a philosophical discipline.  This essay compares existentialism to behaviorism and argues that we are on the cusp of a monolithic paradigm shift going from behaviorism to existentialism.