A Silly Poem About Contextualism and Behaviorism

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Behaviorism is Dead, Long Live Behaviorism
(A verbal painting)

Steven C. Hayes
University of Nevada

What we used to think of as Behaviorism died a few decades ago.
Well....in a way it died.
If a position is alive and doesn't know it, is it dead?
(Don't know. Think so.)

So....behaviorism died a few decades ago.

I'm not here to declare what is behaviorism and what isn't.
(Who cares? Do you?)

This is not about the ins and outs;
the haves and the have nots.
It's about the is and the isn'ts.
Its about getting clear.
It's about where we are.

Behaviorism was born in a rejection of introspectionism.
It was born in a naive embrace of reflexology and reductionistic biology.
It was born in operationism and positivism.
It was born in mechanical man.

Push, pull. Click, click. Push, pull. Click, click.

A psychological system of separate pieces.

"The stimulus."
"The response."

The parts, disconnected.

A psychological system of mechanical links.

Stamping in.

The hip bone's connected to the thigh bone,
the thigh bone's connected to the knee bone.

A psychological system of forces
to make the parts go.


Push down on de lever and de other end move.
Push down on de lever and de other end move.

See dat steamboat come roun' de bend.
Big wheel keep on turnin'.

Chug a chug. Chug a chug. Chug a chug.

But the machine had a flaw.

It was incomplete.

It didn't have....
A soul
er, a mind ....
er, a brain ....
that is ....

oh hell,
it didn't have a soul!

John B. said there wasn't one,
don't worry about it.

And then he said,
well maybe there was,
but forget about it.

And then he said,
well even if there was one,
a machine couldn't have one.

It wouldn't be proper.
What would the scientific neighbors say?

The behaviorists stuck to their agenda.
For awhile.

But the machine was incomplete.
So it didn't last.
It couldn't last.

"What's in the box, Daddy?”
“What's in the box, Daddy?"

Dirty little boys with their dirty little fingers.

One camp said,
We can fix it!
We can fix it!
Really, we can!
Stupid behaviorists!
We'll give it soul.

We'll engineer one!
It'll be great.

It'll have

huge memory banks,
the latest CPU,
(maybe two!),
parallel processing networks,
a 327 V8,
and fine Corinthean leather."

The irrational belief's connected to the thigh bone.
The schema is connected to the knee bone.

Push, pull. Click, click. Push, pull. Click, click.

But another camp said, not so clearly,
"There is no machine at all."

[Gasp from the audience.
What's the matter?
You don't believe in machine's souls?]

"It's all an interaction between whole organisms and context. There is no machine. No machine."

[Mindless bastards. Idiots. Why can't we look in the machine's box?]

"There are no hard and fast parts. No forces. No mechanical links."

[The machine won't like you taking out its soul, man. It won't like that at all.]

"It's a dynamic whole. We break it up, for our pragmatic purposes. Acts in context. History. Selection. Everything you actually see in the mind you can find there."

[How do these chumps think a complicated machine like ours can run without a soul?!]

Behaviorism was a motorcycle gang,
building the ultimate hog.

Bobby Behaviorism and his Maniac Mechanics.

But a better group of machine builders rebelled from within.
They put on new colors.
They got on their choppers.
They grabbed their computer metaphors.

And they blew the behaviorists away.


Except they're still the motorcycle gang,
building the ultimate hog.

Behaviorism died a few decades ago.
Well, in a way it died.
If a position is alive and doesn't know it, is it dead?

"Page 2."

The behavior therapists were the 6 year olds,
looking up to big brother ....
Wearing his old black leather jacket,
with colors faded,
dirty and torn.

The club was already disbanding.
But they were too young to know it,
or understand what it meant.

When they came of age most eventually realized that
the old club
was no more.

Some never did get the message.
Some said to hell with colors.
Some tried to mimic the colors of the new gang.
(Pathetic pretenders with their home made insignias.)

But the new gang didn't want them.
Not really.
Punk kids.

Besides, they were too busy having wet T-shirt contests at MIT.
An easy rider's girlfriend lifting her shirt
to the Nobel Committee
and asking
"Will these win a prize?",
"could I please win a prize?"

So behavior therapy is a disorganized gang now.
Some wear one set of leathers.
Some wear others.
Some wear none at all.

Everyone knows we need more unity to make a difference.
Everyone has a different solution.

Put aside the mimics, aping the new gang.

Most of the rest of the behavior therapists say
"to hell with colors.
Look at what it got the last generation.
We don't need a blueprint.
We'll figure it out as we go.
Empiricism will hold us together."

But where is it, my friend? Where's the progress?

Another line says we don't need an "ism" at all.
Behavior will hold us together.
But what's our task then?
Are we building a machine?
That's an "ism."
Are we not building a machine?
That's an "ism," too.

Now for a joke from your local sponsor.

The gang that said "there is no machine" and couldn't be heard,
That one?

They borrowed Bobby Behaviorism's old colors.
They say they're behaviorists, even radical ones.

Funny thing, though.
They get upset when people take Bobby's outfit seriously.

Well, what the hell did they expect?

That's my gang.
Those nutballs.
Those goombahs.
Those behavior analysts

So I wear the colors, out of loyalty I suppose,
though I think it was an insane decision.
Fred, are you listening?

This gang is about the only real source of philosophical vitality left in the "behavioral" community.
What they're up to is rarely appreciated,
hardly understood.

Be clear on one thing though:
They'll never produce the ultimate hog.

That's not their goal.

To those behavioral and cognitive therapists who are getting tired
of mechanical engineering,
I say,
this Bud's for you.
Come on over.
Take your shoes off.
Set a spell.

It's a funny situation.

The behaviorists died,
but they're still alive,
but they don't know they're behaviorists.

And a new group emerged,
with a new agenda,
antithetical to click, click.
They call themselves ...


Sigh a heavy sigh.
A heavy goddamn sigh.

Behaviorism is dead. Long live behaviorism.

Steven C. Hayes
University of Nevada