Suppose you have a child, and suppose that you want to educate this child as you see properly. As your role of educator is highlighted in this new interactional event in your life, your behavior in relation to the child becomes more instruccional, and you find yourself reinforcing or punishing arbitrary behaviors. Now that you are a parent, every day sets the occasion for new interactions with the growing child, and as any member of your species, you constantly adapt to the different changes in the environment, that in this case, is the constantly changing behavior of this tiny being.
But as you become aware, with daily experiences, of your new self-imposed role, you also start to desperately seek knowledge that helps you understand your odd-behaving child. In the library you stumbled upon “Human Behavior” from B.F. Skinner, and in it you find a revelation: humans are not driven by inner forces, but are constantly adapting to an ever-changing environment. You read on, fascinated by this materialistic proposition of human behavior, and discover that this is not only a condition of your species, but it seems that all organisms are in a constant interaction with their surroundings, making every behavior a function of its environment. As you become devoted to this theory and its philosophical implications, your quest for knowledge dramatically stops at this point and begins to move downwards, deepening into abstract notions of human behavior.
Now you have some knowledge, and your eyes do not see anymore a child that cries because of a whim. This child, as any other organism, acts in relation to many variables presented each day in her interactions with others. You have no choice but to declare yourself as equally responsible for your child’s tantrums. Whatever behavior she has, it is just a participating portion of a much complex event that involves yourself and many other environmental conditions.
Years pass and as your child grows, so does your library. As you now understand the initial issue from your new theoretical approach, the behavior of your child is not itself a thing but a concept, which embraces observable and not observable events. To behave is to respond to the interacting environment. Who behaves becomes a matter of subject of interest in the analysis. Akin to your child’s behavior, is the concept of human behavior, that involves her observable development as a human being and her unobservable experience as a human being.
B.F. Skinner has long pass and gone from your readings, and other streams of the same theoretical river, such as J.R. Kantor, have expanded your knowledge on the issue of human behavior. Now you have learned that a type of behavior, highly difficult to observe, is language. It is used as many things, but mainly as a tool to communicate and elaborate meanings of daily life. Now that your child speaks and thinks, i.e., uses human language, you know that in order to understand her behavior, there is another interaction that you must account for. Even further, you conclude that in order to do that, you must first realize that its not your “child’s behavior” what you are trying to understand, but rather, a constant interaction between a ever changing human organism and an environment.
As the years have passed by, you have heard many explanations from your child for her own behavior, that account for her ideals, values, and goals. But all her explanations seem to fail to settle your constant amazement on her life decisions. For your part, using your knowledge gathered since you started raising this child, you have realized the chaotic nature of the interactions between yourself and this young-adult along the time. But among the chaos, you pay attention to those words that she started using to describe most part of her living (speaking with others, expressing her feelings, making plans for the future, etc.)
At this moment you take a big breath to look back at the initial issue that put you on this conundrum. To arrive at the question of understanding your child’s behavior, you started by questioning your observable experiences with her through the lens of causality, and that took you to assume that anything (as her behavior) happens because of another thing (where you thought you would find an answer.) Later, you questioned the nature of the observable experiences, which brought you more questions, such as, can your child’s behavior be -sometimes- unobservable? And if so, is your child ever not behaving? or is she rather behaving constantly?
Those last questions kept you awake many nights. As you continued reading further into the philosophical stream of this theory, you found yourself diving in deep ontological issues. The cause-effect explanation was insufficient to explain current behavior. If the organism -as you now see it- is behaving at every moment in time, then there is no initial cause, that can account for present behavior. What your child does (mechanically or verbally) is not an effect of hidden causes, but a non-linear constant interaction. By imposing temporal restrictions you arrived at the rationale of thinking of past events causing present behavior. Reality presented itself to you in pieces, and thus, you naturally experienced reality in pieces.
But your experience does not constitute reality, and that was what you stumbled upon in this stream of the theory. Deeper ontological questions began to rise, and in the meantime your child became an adult. Now that she plans a life of her own, you look at her and see a complex organism that has altered her surroundings so significantly that can now interact with objects using language, and thus, using time. She plans ahead into the future, and learns from past experiences. And as she plans her life, you fall deeper and deeper into your readings. Until now you can sum up everything in a chain of ideas: if behavior is a concept that does not lends itself to be fully comprehended by the logic of causation, then to understand behavior one must not be bound to notions of past-present-future, as these notions are based on an apparent causality of events.
To put events in the past just because there are no longer in your observable experience seems now an arbitrary decision to make. Those past events of your child are interactions. Now you think of your child’s behavior as your child’s life itself. With every interaction, your child, as any other organism of her species, has adapted and thus changed. The interactions that you once labeled “past” are now seeing through your eyes as current changes in an organism much different from what it was in the beginning. The organism that you now see as an adult is all that there is, her past is her present changes. Past and future are words, with great significance, but still just words. And now you turn to those words and ask for their use. To understand your child’s behavior is to understand her through time? or her in time? And you wonder, are these questions still about my child’s behavior?