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The Double Life of B.F. Skinner: Inner Conflict, Dissociation and the Scientific Taboo against Consciousness

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B.F. Skinner was the voice of radical behaviourism for some five decades, fighting relentlessly against consciousness as a scientific question. While in public he always argued the case for behaviourism, in fact Skinner was deeply at odds with himself, as he reveals in several books. Surprisingly, as a college student he was deeply interested in becoming a stream-of-consciousness novelist. When that ambition failed, he reacted with a radical rejection of the conscious life. Decades later Skinner's inner struggle still continued, as his autobiography shows. Like a mystery novelist, B.F. Skinner again and again provides the clues to his own secret. Skinner's conflict about consciousness was not just a personal idiosyncracy. Behaviourism and its radical rejection of personal experience was a major theme of the twentieth century, and continues even today. Rejection of consciousness became a core belief for academic psychologists and philosophers in the English-speaking world, justifying their claim to standing among the physical sciences. Skinner's life suggests that radical behaviourism may be associated with psychological conflict and some degree of dissociation. It also raises questions about the cultural climate that celebrated the rejection of consciousness.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: The Neurosciences Institute, 10640 John Jay Hopkins Drive, San Diego, CA 92121. Email:[email protected]

Publication date: 01 January 2003

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