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Thought as action. Personal notes.

It seems to me claiming thought as action is a fairly obvious, intuitive thing to do. Along those lines, one might just as easily say some actions are intelligent--that is, they are done intelligently. It is not hard to see how certain tendencies towards action (and sets thereof) may manifest thought and intelligence. This, we might characterize as the rough outlay of behaviorism from its 'logical' days onward. It is troubling philosophers often have such trouble with this view as to find their only useful recourse to be laughter and unreasoned derision.

The apparently simple stance, 'To think is to act,' aligns with many classic and still vibrant religious and spiritual views throughout the world. As an explicit example, Jesus famously claimed to even be angry at another is (at least morally) equivalent to the act of killing that person. Whether that makes the claim more appealing to you is of secondary concern. The point is that world culture has been shaped in part by ideologies with at least an implicit belief in thought as action. Even so, accepting just this claim can cause troublesome ripples for many approaches.

Just how does American Pragmatism's positivist tack fair if they admit that thought is a type of action on takes or tends towards? Does our simple stance make us reductionists? Does it place thinking (without reference to neurology or the like) in the world? Might it bolster the cause of skeptics on a Cartesian reading? And so forth.

Going further, and buying into some behaviorist conception on the whole ends up answering or deny some few of these questions in what I find to be a satisfactory manner. However, it utterly destroys the underpinnings of the spiritual dualism so many people are desperate to cling to. What one places more importance on is perhaps a matter of personal values, but if it is, a rejection of one view may not give cause for hatred and fear of it, or disdain for it. Arational or irrational concerns are not good reasons, however much we may treat them as such.

It is important to note that in judging whether a person is thinking, has thought, is intelligent, or has some level of competence, we do not check for an immortal soul or an ethereal mind. We do not saw a person's head open and check to see if she has brains in there. We refer to her past, present, and likely actions--or give her some benefit of doubt based upon the actions of the bulk of humanity. Few of us are earnest solipsists, and even those who claim to hold such beliefs act as if they were dealing with something other than automatons in the course of their daily lives, and even in expressing or defending their solipsism. This despite our inability to see or grasp anything approximating a Cartesian mind, separate from the person, that is, the body.

It may be said that behaviorism places minds in the 'outside world', in acts, and even in abstract 'dispositions'. Some behaviorists might do just that, and even accept the characterization, though of I know of none so far who have been happy to do so. Still, the body is a part of the world--the dichotomy of inside and outside worlds is predicated upon a dualist view of existence, but even such a view places one's body and actions in the world. And as to one's actions, well, they belong to the persons performing them and have often been thought to perhaps make up some part of oneself. Tendencies, dispositions, are nothing more than likely actions, true counterfactuals which pertain to some individual based upon and due to his current or general state and situation. They are not otherworldy or ethereal. They can be actualised, and may be observed as such.

So simplified-behaviorism is at least more useful in daily life than (mind) dualism, better reflects standard practice, and is coherent with some of our more forceful and reasoned views on minds. Where's the problem?


  1. If we continue in our reductionism, what conclusions must we make? We, as behaviorists, radical or not, allow that all action, response, is preceded by cause via stimulus. So, if thought is behavior, what prompts thought. Usually it is some stimulus occurring outside of the individual -- although there are some in the heterodox psychology camp (ok, one main guy who is definitely a narcissist and has a grandiose delusional style; John Phillip Smith) that argue for inner-motivation being that driving stimulus. If it must be an outside stimulus, then what can we make of those people that learn to change their response-styles via intentional cognitive changes learned in cognitive restructuring skills training? Is it the therapist as stimulus that precedes these intentional responding patterns? What about the self-guided generalization that a client can achieve once therapy is over and they are not reminded by outside stimuli to respond a certain way? What about the problem of consciousness or is that a phantom of electricity in our brains?

    Back to the point -- if we reduce down to the most miniscule of eliciting stimuli, what is left? There must always be another *thing* to elicit response whether it be outside stimuli which prompts action as overt external behavior, internal cognitions, neurological changes in chemicals or electrical impulses, atomic changes in the shared electrons, gene expression, etc. etc. ad nauseum until -- what? What is left to be puppet master, controlling the entire system of possible stimuli in the meta-chain reaction from the beginning? What is the meta-stimuli?

    I have my own ideas about this, but they are pseudo-heretical to both psychology and religion.


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