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Why Brains Are Not Computers, Why Behaviorism Is Not Satanism, and Why Dolphins Are Not Aquatic Apes

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Abstract

Modern psychology has, to all intents and purposes, become synonymous with cognitive psychology, with an emphasis on the idea that the brain is a form of computer, whose job is to take in sensory input, process information, and produce motor output. This places the brain at a remove from both the body and environment and denies the intimate connection that exists between them. As a result, a great injustice is done to both human and nonhuman animals: On the one hand, we fail to recognize the distinctive nature of nonhuman cognition, and on the other hand, we continue to promote a somewhat misleading view of human psychological capacities. Here, I suggest a more mutualistic, embodied, enactive view might allow us to ask more interesting questions about how animals of all kinds come to know their worlds, in ways that avoid the (inevitable) anthropocentric baggage of the cognitivist viewpoint.

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Correspondence to Louise Barrett.

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This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

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Thanks to Chris Newland for the invitation to present as a B.F. Skinner lecturer at the ABAI conference in Chicago 2015 and to Matthew Normand for inviting me to submit a paper, based on my talk, to this journal. Thanks also to Chris, Tim Hackenberg, Jon Pinkston, John Malone, Andrés García-Penagos, and Christina Nord for interesting discussions of the issues raised in this paper, Gert Stulp for helpful comments on an earlier draft, and Jessica Parker for editorial help. Funding for my work comes from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s Discovery Grant and Canada Research Chair programs.

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Barrett, L. Why Brains Are Not Computers, Why Behaviorism Is Not Satanism, and Why Dolphins Are Not Aquatic Apes. BEHAV ANALYST 39, 9–23 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40614-015-0047-0

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