A Modest Proposal

Rhonda McDonnell rhonda_mcdonnell at hotmail.com
Sat May 4 18:39:20 EDT 2002

Hi Jim

You wrote:

>Perhaps you are right, but it seems to me S-R  operant  conditioning and
>classical Pavlovian conditioning both involve three elements that are 
>triadically in the same way as a symbol is triadically joined with both the
>object to which it refers and to the interpretor of that symbol. In the 
>of the symbol-object-intepreter we have a symbol that stands for an object
>to an interpreter.  In the case of Pavlovian conditioning we have a
>conditioned stimulus (say a bell) that stands for an unconditioned stimulus
>(say a piece of meet) to an interpreter (say a hungry dog).  Or, in the 
>of S-R conditioning we have a stimulus (say a bell) that stands for a 
>to an intrepter (say a lever pusher).  I don't see how this learning
>paradigm can be reduced to a series of dyadic chains of relations since it
>is crucial that the three events are joined for the learning to occur and
>none of the elements (stimulus, response or reinforcement) is simply the
>result of only one of the other elements occuring.
This answer of yours to my query concerning S-R solidifies my identification 
of you as being potentially in the Peirce camp regarding triadic behavior.  
Peirce used communication between man and dog as an example of triadic 
communication.  Percy didn't seem to agree with this, seeming to limit such 
communication to that between people or between humans and God.

ALso, if I remember my brief education in S-R theory, part of the point is 
that the behavior, the dog's salivating for example, occurs even when the 
transaction is stripped of its meaning--no food to be found. If it does, 
it's successful--the dog responds to the stimulus, not to the food. But it 
has no meaning for the dog if the food isn't present.  That may be why Percy 
refers to it as a chain of dyads.  The complete transaction doesn't have 
genuine symbolic meaning.

>OK, but does that mean that when one is thinking to herself or privately
>learning something new she is not engaged in symbolic formulation?

Formulation, yes, but until you communicate it through representation, is it 
triadic? In other words, at least for Percy, my understanding of triadic 
behavior is that it is, by its nature, concerned with representing what's 
been formulated through the symbolic structure of language.

Also, how much of our through is entirely independent? I only have my own 
inner workings to draw from, so I'm a bit limited, but much of my thought, 
if not all of it, builds upon and reacts to others. For example, I may 
observe some sort of interesting animal behavior while watching my 
neighbor's dog's antics. I may reformulate some of my thought of S-R, but 
that reformulation will in part depend on our conversation here. I may even 
send you a message to communicate my new thoughts, but whether I do that or 
not, those thoughts are part of the triadic experience we are having.

>I think one can communicate
>both with nature (a great teacher) as well as with other folks.  I think we
>live in a meaningful universe and that all learning is meaningful and
I'll agree with that, but I'm not sure it's triadic unless you engage in 
communication. At least, that's what Percy seems to say, but I'm not sure 
that Peirce would agree. I need to read more of Peirce.

>I don't know whether it is or not, but I was not deliberately trying to 
>a distinction between Peirce and Percy.

I confess that I was.  I don't think Percy's entirely agreed with Peirce on 
this issue, just as he didn't entirely agree with Kierkegaard concerning the 
religious stage.  Maybe that's part of why Percy called himself a thief, 
although Nikki and Dr. Ketner surely have a clearer idea of all this than I 

>I'm mostly just tossing these ideas out there in response to
>Nikki's invitation in hopes of joining with you and others in meaningful


>Of course I recognize that you may well be correct and that I am
>not only mistaken but being defensive to boot.  I usually am!

Since I have no formal training in psychology, I'm very well may not be 
correct, but thanks anyway.  For the most part, I'm just trying out some 
ideas, and think that others are doing the same. You didn't come across as 

Thanks for your thoughtful comments,


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