A solution looking for a problem
just Jack @ 2007-07-23
Like Copernicus, Galeleo and Darwin, Skinner was verbaly crucified for what he discovered. Those who dismiss this book are the flat earth theorists and religious dogmatic right.
It was not Skinner's first choice to be a social scientist. He openly admitted that his discoveries were just that - Discoveries. At first most scientists have little idea of what thier discoveries mean. The lazer was first described as 'a solution looking for a problem' - its first imagined use to cut James Bond in half. Who would have dreamt that lazers would be used for delicate eye surgery to give people clear sight. In Walden II Skinner set about thinking what his discoveries could mean for individuals and societies.
The two principle characters of Walden II are Frederick and Burrhus. These are Skinner's two christian names. Walden II is an arguement that Skinner had with himself. Both sides robustly stated, it reveals both the confidence and doubts that Skinner had about the meaning and value of his discoveries.
Individuals and society always benefit from advances in science. The scientists who split the atom did not intend its use to be destructive and many campaigned against the atomic bomb. Skinner realised that the lottery is very effective way for governments to extract excessive tax from the poor. It must have been one of his worst nightmares that governments would do so. He must be turning in his grave at present British government's use of the lottery to pay for education. Skinner was a teacher and devoted part of his life to improving teaching.
Walden II was never a 'blue-print for living'. Taken as such it is inevitable inadequate, as discovered by those who have tried to 'live the experiment'. Written in 1948, it is now dated. Regretably no-one has since updated it, maybe because the reality is that we all live in a token economy.
Skinner's first career choice was to be a writer. He wasn't a very good one, but in Walden II he is surprisingly good for an academic. A radical thinker, it should be no surprise that Skinner should borrow the title of one of his literary heroes - Thoreau. Only a few have lived that utopia of the original Walden.
The world is not flat, man evolved and real social science can help us improve life and society. Ignorance is a prison without bars. It was centuries before Galeleo showed that Copernicus was right. A century has passed since Darwin's death. Many still do not want to accept evoluiton and many of those who do simply do not understand it, despite calling themselves Darwinians. It will be some time before society understands behavioural science, its full benefits and just how great a scientist Skinner was.
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