Can we use technical notation to help to achieve conceptual precision?

I was really happy to finally publish a paper first conceptualised in 2013, which I have worked on intermittently since. In some scientific fields, abstract ideas such as theorems, grammatical rules, and so on, are expressed using technical notation. In my own field of psychology, Relational Frame Theory (RFT) is a particularly useful approach to both explain and manipulate language and cognition with precision, scope, and depth. In the early days, researchers would use technical notation to describe the patterns of adaptive behaviour (called “relational framing”), but that has gotten lost as the field has become more practitioner-oriented and the experimental behaviour analysts have (alas, literally) been dying off. Having spoken to others who have gravitated to RFT over the years – especially the ones who aren’t so interested in ACT therapy – I noticed that a few of us have started to lament how efforts to achieve technical precision with basic experimentation have been sidelined by our colleagues and by other fields. We wanted to create a resource (i) for anyone who wants to revisit it, (ii) to remind people that there are still a few of us left who do basic experimental behaviour analysis, and (iii) to show our cognitive colleagues that the behaviour analytic tradition has indeed accounted for the complexity and generativity of language.

This paper is dedicated to my more senior friends, colleagues, and mentors who sacrifice sexy research in favour of doing more technical legwork.


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