Thursday, June 5, 2008

Behavior or Behaviors?

The report in front of me contains this sentence:
His behaviors include property destruction, aggression to others, disrobing, noncompliance (drops to the floor), wandering, and food seeking.
Years past I would have cautioned the author of such a sentence to avoid "behaviors" as "behavior" is an uncountable noun. But I have grown weak. The tide has turned and "behaviors" now seems generally acceptable if one is speaking of particular types of behavior.

Language evolves. With enough time a language can become so different that the older version is incomprehensible to modern speakers.

Biological evolution is a very similar process. Yet creationists deny that an accumulation of small changes over time can add up to larger changes. I find this denial baffling.

I've developed a conditioned sense of exhaustion in response to the words "microevolution verses macroevolution." The words signal the presence of a vast mountain of wrong that must be removed stone by stone before there's any hope of useful conversation.

The defense of "species" against evolutionary change is so silly. It's like saying, "yes, you can go from red to red-orange or from red-orange to orange; but you can't ever go from red to orange!"


  1. I first heard "behaviors" from a bird trainer putting on a show at the zoo (or was it a theme park?). "We don't call them 'tricks', we call them behaviors."

    Parrots riding miniature bicycles sure looked tricky to me...

    Agreed on the micro/macro nonsense:
    "Science tells us all about the whole, wide, wonderful universe which, incredibly, fits comfortably inside this tiny little God Box I've constructed. He's in there, too."

  2. Years past I would have cautioned the author of such a sentence to avoid "behaviors" as "behavior" is an uncountable noun

    Yep. It needs to have a ‘u’ in it as well :P

    This isn’t just a comedy comment. Differences in spelling demonstrate your point that ‘language evolves’. As a teenager I had to wade through one of Chaucer’s Canterbury tales in the Middle English. I hated it at the time, but it did teach me that our methods of expression are ones of convention.

    It also made me understand that change is cumulative. This was because, although I realised that Middle English was hard, I was also relieved I wasn’t tackling Old English. I would have been able to understand even less of that.

    This is why I think that creationist mindset isn’t just a threat to science education, but arts education also. In fact all education. For example, you will never understand evolution if you cannot see how incremental changes add up. Also, you will never understand linguistics if you cannot see how incremental changes add up.

    With the people who want creationism taught in schools - it is although they deliberately want to sabotage children’s ability to move beyond concrete operational thought.*

    That is going to be a handicap in whatever you go on to study.

    This insistence on strict categorization and harshly delineated terms simply stunts brains: across fields.
    *I have for some time been considering the possibility that the some of the‘impossible to convince creationists’ are people who are cognitively incapable of understanding cumulative change or indeed any ‘shade of grey’.

  3. "This insistence on strict categorization and harshly delineated terms simply stunts brains: across fields."

    Nicely put.

    Back to "behaviors": Here in the US (can't speak for UK), I note that the word has absorbed negative connotations, much like the word "special," thanks to "special ed." Examples:

    "He's not going on the outing because he keeps having behaviors."

    Staff: What are you working on?
    Client: My behaviors.

    My favorite of these memes: the behavioral sandwich. The cafeteria at a facility I visit serves two entrees at mealtimes. For those disinterested in either, there's a tray with various sandwiches in plastic wrap - ham, roast beef, turkey, PB&J, salami, egg salad, and cream cheese with olives. That last one is unpopular with the kids (although I think it sounds tasty).

    When kids are being uncooperative they may be restricted to their cabin and unable to go to the cafe, so staff may bring back a sandwich for them.

    Until the clinical team cracked down, some direct care staff were intentionally grabbing the unpopular cream cheese sandwich for the incorrigibles. It became known as "the behavioral sandwich" as in:

    "After peeing on his roomate's Playstation, Joey's getting the behavioral sandwich for lunch."

  4. Oh dear, poor Joey!

    Mind you even as a kid I would have picked the cream cheese and olive, but then I used to love jellied eels.

    (I was strange).