B. F. Skinner

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Brain cells create ideas. Stress kills brain cells. Stress is not a good idea.
Richard Saunders
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Burrhus Frederic Skinner (1904-03-201990-08-18) was an American psychologist.


  • Society attacks early, when the individual is helpless.
    • Walden Two (1948), p. 95
  • The strengthening of behavior which results from reinforcement is appropriately called "conditioning". In operant conditioning we "strengthen" an operant in the sense of making a response more probable or, in actual fact, more frequent.
    • Science and Human Behavior (1953).
  • Let men be happy, informed, skillful, well behaved, and productive.
    • Freedom and the control of men (1955/1956). American Scholar, 25(1), 47-65.
  • Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.
  • The real question is not whether machines think but whether men do. The mystery which surrounds a thinking machine already surrounds a thinking man.
    • Contingencies of Reinforcement: A Theoretical Analysis (1969)
  • We admire people to the extent that we cannot explain what they do, and the word "admire" then means "marvel at."
    • Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1972)
  • A person who has been punished is not thereby simply less inclined to behave in a given way; at best, he learns how to avoid punishment.
    • Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1972)


  • I did not direct my life. I didn’t design it. I never made decisions. Things always came up and made them for me. That’s what life is.
  • Many instructional arrangements seem "contrived," but there is nothing wrong with that. It is the teacher's function to contrive conditions under which students learn. It has always been the task of formal education to set up behavior which would prove useful or enjoyable later in a student's life.
  • The way positive reinforcement is carried out is more important than the amount.
  • We shouldn't teach great books; we should teach a love of reading.

About B. F. Skinner

  • There are occasions when a worthless, insignificant book acquires significance as a scrap of litmus paper exposing a culture's intellectual state. Such a book is Beyond Freedom and Dignity by B.F. Skinner…. The book itself is like Boris Karloff's embodiment of Frankenstein's monster: a corpse patched with nuts, bolts and screws from the junkyard of philosophy (Pragmatism, Social Darwinism, Positivism, Linguistic Analysis, with some nails by Hume, threads by Russell, and glue by the New York Post). The book's voice, like Karloff's, is an emission of inarticulate, moaning growls—directed at a special enemy: "Autonomous Man."
    • Ayn Rand, The Ayn Rand Letter, Vol. 1, No. 8, January 17, 1972.

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