Private events present a dilemma for behavior analysis. On one hand, their reality seems manifest; everyone thinks, senses, and feels. On the other hand, their privacy is problematic for a science of behavior, because one cannot observe them in another creature. Even if we allow that privacy is accidental-only the result of absence of technology-the problem remains, because private events in another creature can only be inferred and therefore are as hypothetical as any mental construct. We may clarify the problem by examining three examples: waiting, hearing, and pain. From these, we see that the problem arises when one asks what a person is doing at a particular moment. Behavior analysts have sometimes tried to distinguish one momentary activity from another by appealing to private events, a move no better than folk psychology. The solution to the problem appears when we see that the phrase momentary behavior is an oxymoron. Behavior is temporally extended by its nature, and asking what a person is doing at a moment is a pseudo-question, akin to asking how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Extended patterns of behavior produce observable, measurable, results. Applying this insight to the examples of waiting, hearing, and pain, we see how it removes the need to talk about private events at all.
Review Billy Baum’s biographical statement.