Psychologist John B. Watson, father of behaviourism, considered humans mindless, plastic things. Dalrymple says his views were sectarian and dogmatic – and ultimately inhuman (subscription required):
There was something sinister about Watson and his acolytes. Watson himself believed that baby farms might be desirable, and regarded babies and children as infinitely plastic. He thought he could turn them into anything he wanted. For him human beings were but the sum total of their conditioning, and he ends The Ways of Behaviorism by answering the question of whether an adult can change his personality. The answer is maybe, though it would be onerous:
Possibly if we had absolute control over food, sex, shelter, if we had some great reconditioning laboratory where the individual could be brought for a year for rigorous study and experimentation, we might be able to undo for him in a year what home nurture had done for him in thirty years.
Among the evils of “home nurture” is mother love, every reference to which in this book is negative, being equated with smothering, stifling, and infantilising. Much better for babies to be in nice hygienic laboratories, where psychologists can blow air at their corneas and make sure that they develop no irrational fear of snakes.
Consciousness held no mystery for Watson, in part because he denied that it existed. All that mattered was behaviour, not what went on in minds (whose existence he also denied), though he does not explain why anything at all should matter if there is no consciousness and there are no minds.