C-5. The gift wrapping of the black box

Let’s look at five questions:
  • What is the black box?
  • What is inside the black box?
  • What should be inside the black box?
  • Where is the black box?
  • What has the black box become wrapped in?
The Behaviorists, intent on linking observable stimulus to overt response, had their own unique way of “looking outside the box.” In effect, they envisioned the behavioral problem – if there was one – as located between the situational problem and the behavioral solution (I) in what came to be known as the “black box.”

Their aim was to determine the order of things in behaviors with respect to, roughly, input and output. What went on inside the black box did not, they thought, make a discernible difference. (Other psychologists have, of course, thought differently. When the response, whether seen as behavioral solution or not, is communicative in act and content, inferences can be drawn and substantiated about cognitive behavior in the behavioral core (C-3)*.

Brain physiology now strives to establish what is in the black box – so to speak.But it focuses on body conditions and takes the limited position that functioning with respect to the behavioral problem can be accounted for by the brain’s structure. (Physiognomy gone inside the scalp but with much better detailed functioning?) This approach comes from a tradition that had already obfuscated the matter rather badly, as demonstrated by the infamous “mind-body problem.” This is a problem that is actually probably a bad question, and, as a question, it fails to adequately address a very real problem (III, VII). As a question, it is phrased in body terms and only asks whether it involves one body or two. The problem that it fails to handle is that of making and taking steps, which requires minding and moving capabilities. Substitute minding and moving for mind and body and both question and problem are made more comprehensible (VII).

The point that we would make, given the Nature of things, is that an equally appropriate question is not about what is inside the black box but about what should be inside the black box! Behavioral necessity, given the Nature of things, specifies needed functional capabilities (Topics VI to XI: requisites and imperatives), and we should set about developing them, and using those capabilities to invent tools and procedures to enhance those capabilities.

The black box, so to speak, belongs not between the situational problem and the behavioral solution but where the behavioral problem needs to be: independent of both (C-1). Then it can be freed of its baggage and opened up, addressed and the term eventually dispatched as no longer needed to refer to anything.

But technological development has tended, more drastically now with the computer and marketing, toward increasing capacity – more than capability — to accommodate greater choice. Decision making displaces problem solving as the modal behavior inside the black box. “Information” becomes uncertainty (more choices) in this decisional domain rather than directive of steps to make and/or take to solve a problem.

Decision making as the mind’s working focuses on available behavioral solutions – and sometimes on ways that the situational problem is presented. Thus the emphasis on marketing and persuasive communication as wrapping for the black box. (Perhaps it would help to conceive of the brain, like the heart, as a muscle, and pay more attention to behavioral capability – which decision making not only limits but wastes.) The wrapping obscures what is still an inadequate operating system: the human behavioral entity (See O; IV: Impediments). Decision making is not the whole difficulty. Logical causation has proved to be not up to the challenge of representing behavior’s consequentiality as process. Cause-effect, multiple causation, multi-factor (and so on) are no substitute for effect (verb) –> effect (noun). HOW is a ubiquitous problem – and logical necessity is no substitute for behavioral necessity as we attempt to deal with that problem. A complement, yes; but not a substitute.

*As noted previously (C-2: The behavioral core), the behavioral problem is to develop the minding and moving capabilities to meet our control – problem solving – needs.

(c) 2010 R. F. Carter