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Lesson 85- Pavlov, Order and Freedom

As I ended my last program I was describing the major point of Aldous Huxley’s book, “Brave New World.” As I said, Huxley’s book takes the worst features of Communism and Capitalism and synthesizes them into a futuristic society where technology has become the dominant theme. Since technology is connected to the left lobe of the brain, Brave New World, like all dictatorships, is an example of what happens when the logical, order-seeking, structured left lobe loses its delicate balance with the artistic, creative, spontaneous right lobe. In other words, it is what happens when the delicate balance between order and freedom is upset. Too much order and we have a dictatorship. Too much freedom and we have chaos. And, as we will see, Brave New World is a prime example of what the famous historian, Will Durant, meant when he said “When freedom destroys order, the need for order will destroy freedom.” This is not only a great historical truth. It is a great psychological truth. And, I suspect, it is also a great spiritual truth. Before returning to my description of “Brave New World”, allow me to digress a little to discuss this eternal tension between freedom and order.

Libertines, like Hugh Heffner of “Playboy” fame and Larry Flint of “Hustler” fame, are fond of saying that people, like the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who want to censor their magazines are the enemies of freedom. They both claim that any restriction at all on speech or expression is a violation of the “freedom of speech” clause in the First Amendment of the Constitution. What amazes me is that hardly anyone challenges this statement. Perhaps the reason is because most people don’t have the foggiest notion of what the First Amendment says or how its “original intent” has been expanded and distorted by liberal court decisions.

Anyone who reads the First Amendment can clearly see that it applies to political speech and assembly. The men who wrote the Constitution had just come through an historical period in which the King of England and the Parliament had tried to prevent the colonist from holding meeting for the purpose of expressing their protests against the Crown. As a result, to guarantee the right to change their government that Jefferson wrote about in the Declaration of Independence, they included the First Amendment in the Constitution.  It reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

First of all, notice that the prohibition was against Congress, the legislative body of the central federal government, and it did not apply to the states who were left free to decide their own policies. It wasn’t until the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment following the Civil War that the Bill of Right in the federal Constitution became enforceable on the states. Second, since, at that time, the United States was composed of various Christian denominations, each of which was dominant in different states, it was saying that Congress was not to make any one of these denominations the national religion or to prohibit any of them from freely exercising their faith. Notice, nowhere does the amendment use the words “separation of church and state” which has become the dominant mantra used by secularists who want to exclude any reference to God by state agencies. And even if it did, God is a philosophical, as well as a religious concept, and thus to “separate church and state” does not translate into the “separation of God and state.” One can believe in God and yet not belong to any religion. Yet, the secularists try to insist that any reference to God necessarily indicates the state’s endorsement of a religion.

Third, notice that the freedom of speech, the press, and assembly are spoken of in the context of the right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” It’s a real stretch to think that the First Amendment was trying to protect Heffner and Flint’s right to publish erotic magazine or the right of pornographers. By the same token it is a real stretch to believe that the Second Amendment, which was created to guarantee the right of the states to maintain a militia in case they had to rise up militarily against an abusive federal government, was meant to guarantee the right of individual citizens to own Uzi sub-machine guns. Both liberals and conservatives are prone to interpret the Constitution beyond the “original intent” of its creators when it suits their interests.

Anyway, my point is that those who restrict freedom, contrary to popular opinion, are not the only threat to freedom. A less considered threat is those who abuse it through their irresponsible use of it. If Will Durant is correct about the testimony of history, unrestricted freedom ultimately leads to the chaos that creates the psychological environment in which people are willing to surrender it to any power that is capable of restoring order. Thus those who threaten or destroy the social order, threaten the very freedom that they used to do it because psychologically we, and animals in general, have a greater need for order than  for freedom and that is why Huxley and the Book of Revelation predict that an anti-Christ dictatorship will follow a period of disorder and catastrophes

To illustrate this, let me describe another experiment conducted by Ivan Pavlov, the Russian biologist, who discovered “conditioned reflexes.” In my last program, I made a passing reference to this and, for me,  this experiment is even more significant than the one in which he discovered that a dog could develop a reflexive response to the opening of a door once he made a connection between it and the arrival of food. This second experiment demonstrates how living things react to the changing conditions in their environment.

Pavlov placed a dog in an metal, meshed cage. In the right corner was a wire meshed chute with a trap door connected to the cage through which food was introduced. The floor of the cage was wired, like the floor in the Neo-Pavlovian Nurseries in Brave New World, to provide an electric shock. In the right corner, near the chute that provided food was a pedal that, when depressed, would open the trap door and allow the dog to get it.  In the left corner was another pedal which, when depressed, would stop the electric shock once it began.

The experiment involved the ringing of two bells. One was very low in tone and the other was very high. When the low tone bell sounded (BONG!), the dog had ten seconds to press the pedal in the left corner to prevent the shock altogether or to stop it once it had begun. When the high tone bell sounded (Bing!), the dog had ten seconds to press the pedal in the right corner to open the chute and get the food. If he failed to do this in ten seconds, the food was taken away. Perhaps you recognize this as an exercise in hedonistic motivation since the low bell represented pain and the high bell represented pleasure.

The dog was placed in the cage and the experiment began. The low bell sounded and ten second later the electric shock began. The crazed dog jumped haphazardly around the cage trying to avoid the shock. Eventually, he accidentally stepped on the left corner pedal and the shocked stopped. The experiment continued until finally, after numerous trials, the dog began to see the connected between the left pedal and the avoidance of shock.

When the high bell sounded, food was introduced into the chute on the right side of the cage. The hungry dog tried in vain to open the trap dog and each time, after ten seconds, the food was removed. Finally in his frantic sniffing and pawing, he accidentally hit the pedal in the right corner and the trap door opened. After repeated attempts, he finally saw the connection between the right pedal and the trap door that separated him from food. Now what does this have to do with order?

The word “order” could be defined as “predictable relationships” by which we mean that we are able to figure out the relationship between things in our environment that allows us to predict and anticipate future consequences. Thus, what the dog had succeeded in doing was to overcome the chaos that is part of every new environment where he was unable to predict and avoid consequences by bringing it into order.

Now Pavlov took the experiment to the next level. He raised the tone of the low bell and lowered the tone of the high bell. However, after some minor adjustments in his order system, the dog was able to continue to distinguish between the low and high bell.  Pavlov continued to raise the lower bell and lower the higher bell until he could no longer distinguish the difference between them. However, the dog, because of his keener hearing, was still able to distinguish the low bell from the high bell and continued to respond appropriately. But, eventually, the sounds, even though they were electronically different, were so close that even the dog’s ears could not tell the difference. At this point, the dog began to make mistakes. He stepped on the right pedal expecting to get food and, instead, received a shock. He stepped on the left pedal expecting to avoid a shock and instead missed his opportunity for food. At this point, the dog went insane. He entered a catatonic state in which he stood rigid and refused to respond to either bell. In other words, if reality had no predictable rule, he refused to play.

What does this experiment suggest? It suggests that all living things, including us, survive by adjusting to their environment and that as the environment changes they must continue to readjust. It also suggests that when the animal is unable to adjust biologically it dies and when it is unable to adjust psychologically, it loses its will to live and refuses to make the effort because it can’t discover any predictable patterns to guide its behavior.

In human terms, this is what the Swedish sociologists Durkheim found in his famous study of suicide. His conclusion was that the most widespread cause of suicide was a condition he called anomy that resulted when the rules of society broke down and people lost their will to live because, like the dog in Pavlov’s cage, they no longer knew what to expect whenever they acted. In other word, their world was in chaos and they didn’t know how to bring it back into order.

This, according to anthropologists, is what really killed off many of the Indian tribes. As their cultures broke down and the old ways disappeared, many of them couldn’t readjust to the ways of the Europeans. Thus, since they no longer “fitted in”, they began to drink heavily, their immune systems broke down making them more susceptive to disease and infection and the suicide rate rose.

It appears that a strong psychological sense of one’s identity may have some relationship to the body’s immune system and its ability to defend its biological integrity. Thus when the mind no longer defends who we are, the body also loses its ability to fight off foreign invaders.

Whenever I describe Pavlov’s experiment to my students, I always ask them whether the dog went insane because there was no order in his environment. Invariable, they say, “Yes!” and then I remind them that, according to Pavlov’s instruments, one bell was higher and the other was lower. If this was so, then what failed was the dog’s hearing and its ability to discriminate between the high and low bell. In fact, Pavlov’s ability to discriminate failed long before the dog’s did and, if we had used different dogs, they probably would have failed at different points depending on the sensitivity of their ears.

Thus we could conclude that the ability to discriminate between different stimuli or different factors is essential to the creation of an order system. People with simple powers of discrimination have simple order system and are easily confused. Those with more developed powers have more complex order systems and are harder to confused. But everybody, like Pavlov’s dog, will become dysfunctional when their ability to reorganize reality fails. The human mind needs order and if it can’t get it from reality, it will seek it in unreality.

For example, in the old cowboy movies the good guy wore a white hat and rode a white horse while the bad guy wore a black hat and rode a black horse. The message was simple: white equaled good and black equaled bad and like the low sounding and high sounding bells in Pavlov’s experiment, any child could tell the difference. However, life is never that simple and thus as we grow older our power of discrimination ought to grow. Thus, at the next level of discrimination, we might conclude that “good people are good” and that “bad people are bad.” In terms of discrimination, it is better than “white is good and black is bad” or vice-versa. However, it still isn’t sophisticated enough to help us to organize reality. At a still higher level of discrimination, we soon discover that sometimes “good people do bad things” and “bad people do good things.” This forces us to reorganize reality again and this time we arrive at an even higher level of discrimination based on actions rather than “color” or “people.” At this level, we begin to realize that it is actions that are bad or good and thus we are not able to judge people. Rather we should judge actions. This translates into we should love the sinner, who is a “mixed bag” of good and bad traits, and hate the sin. It also helps us to separate what is “good” in a person’s behavior and what is “bad” and by doing this we can help them separate one from the other.

For example, I once was having a discussion with a lesbian who was on the opposite side of the barrier at an abortion mill. She was a former Catholic and she said that the Church was wrong and insensitive because it didn’t accept the love that she and her partner had for each other. She didn’t understand why their love for each other was a sin. I said, “Well, first of all you have to know that the word “sin”, as used in the Bible” means to “miss the target or mark.” Then you have to understand that the Church doesn’t condemn your love for each other so long as you understand that love and sex are not the same thing. Love does not always involve sex: for example, parental love, brotherly love, platonic love etc… and sex does not always involve love: for example prostitution, rape, and lust. Thus, in order to understand the Church’s position it is necessary for you to distinguish between what the Church approves and what it opposes. The fact that you live in the same house with your partner is not a sin. Or that you eat meals together,  or share expenses, or watch TV or even sleep in the same bed. Two sisters often do the same things.  The sin does not occur until it moves to sexual behavior and then the Church opposes it because when members of the same sex are involved in a sexual act that God created for the reproduction of the species, they are “missing the target or mark.” In other words, they are sinning.

Do you see how the power of discrimination allows us to separate and tell the difference between what is “good and acceptable” and what is “bad and unacceptable”? Contrast this with those who condemn homosexuals as people rather than homosexuality as an action.

Those with simple powers of discrimination easily get confused and become frightened by any change that threatens their ability to order their reality. For example, my grandmother was born in 1886 and she lived to be 92-years-of- age. During her lifetime she saw many changes in technology and attitudes. When she was a little girl it was assumed that women wore dresses down to their ankles, didn’t smoke or drink, and never used vulgar language. If they did, they were properly criticized as being unladylike. Thus, whenever she saw another female violating the rules, she correctly condemned it and everybody supported her in her reaction. Then as times and attitudes changed, she would speak out against offensive behavior and, instead of receiving the support that she expected, she was condemned for being “old fashion.” Like Pavlov’s dog, she expected one response and got the opposite. After awhile, just like the dog, she stopped responding to anybody’s behavior because she didn’t know what the rules were anymore. As a result, she turned the other way no matter what was happening and said that it “was none of her business.” What happened to her is typical of what happens to everybody when they are involved in a culture that has lost its moral compass when “right and wrong” become reversed or are no longer clearly defined. This, according to Durkheim, is the beginning of anomy that, if it goes too far, leads to moral indifference or suicide. Young people, in particular, who, despite their protest against rules and regulations, become disoriented when there are none and, thus, become prone to suicide.

My grandmother used to solve her need for a clearly defined order by watching wrestling matches in the days when they were really morality plays involving “good against evil.” The “good guy” wore white trunks, was cleanly shaven, and handsome. The “bad guy” wore black trunks, was covered with hair and needed a shave, and looked ugly. The match always followed the same plot and, even as a child, I suspected that the whole thing was scripted. The “good guy” would come out and fight according to the rules. At first he would be winning and then suddenly the “bad guy” would get him in a headlock, and while turning the ”good guys” head away from the referee, the “bad guy” would rub his thumb on the inside of his waistband and then rub some type of blinding agent in the eyes of the “good guy.” My grandmother would scream at the referee who, for some reason, was never able to see what was apparent to everybody else. Half-blinded the “good guy” was unable to defend himself and the “bad guy” proceeded to destroy him. All the while, my grandmother was shouting her protests to the referee who continued to remain oblivious to the “bad guys” infractions of the rules. Then, just when it seemed like the “good guy” would lose, he would miraculously recover and use his secret grip or move to the defeat the “bad guy.” My grandmother would cheer and once again she was assured that she rooted for the “right thing” and it won.

Every week, the same story was retold in the wrestling ring yet my grandmother never grew tired of it, nor did she ever suspect that the whole thing was “fixed.” It was her way of recharging her batteries by reassuring her that reality still had a predictable order and that she knew how to properly respond to it. But her behavior reveals some deeper than this. It reveals that the human mind is an order seek organ and that it must have order or it will perish. Therefore, those who threaten order, threaten the environment in which our minds were made to function.

And yet we live in a world that is in flux where nothing has any guarantee that it will remain the same. In biology there is the term homeostasis which refers to the fact that there is a balanced order among the various organs and systems of the body. Whenever this balance is upset, the body fights to bring it back into order. The same is true about life. As changes threaten to upset the order of our lives, we struggle to bring it back into order by finding ways to synthesize the new with the old.

This, you might recognize is the function of the Hegelian Dialectic in which the Thesis that is challenged by an Antithesis finally resolves the conflict through a Synthesis which, by combining what is best in both, advances our order system to a higher level of integration. And that is how we, and life itself, move towards the “fullness of life” promised by Jesus in the Gospel.

However, there is no guarantee that every synthesis is progressive and that is the point that I was making in my last program in which I was describing Brave New World. Brave New World is a synthesis of what is worst in both Communism and Capitalism. Communism stresses order and thus the motto for Brave New World was Community, Stability, and Identity. It was a dictatorship that attempted to control every aspect or a person’s life from the cradle to the grave. And since it was a dictatorship, it represented the left side of the brain, with it fascination with order and structure.

From a Christian point-of-view this seems strange because in my previous talks, I  made a case for the left lobe being the Logos or Jesus that, according to John I in the Bible, is found in every human being. Yet, here is that same Logos creating a horrendous dictatorship. How could this be? The answer I think is as Hegel said, “Any idea or thing taken to its extreme becomes a bad idea.” The Trinity, which is God, is a dialectic relationship that is always in perfect balance. The creative, spontaneous, artistic genius of the Father, which represents freedom, is always in balance with the logical, structured, scientific genius of the Son, which represents order. However, humanity has trouble maintaining this dynamic tension between freedom and order and thus it is always moving from one extreme to the other.

When we swing too far towards the creative, artistic side our emphasis on freedom and rejection of any restriction leads to chaos. When we swing too far towards the logical, scientific side our emphasis on order and denial of freedom leads to a dictatorship.

Thus, as I ended the last program, I had just finished describing how Pavlovian conditioning was used to teach children to hate books and flowers but to love to go to the country. Your might remember that the Director explained to the students taking the tour that this was done to instill in them a love for the country but a hatred for flowers because, while their love for the country kept transportation workers employed, their love of flowers did not.  Therefore, they were taught to love country sports that required the purchase of expensive equipment. This, I pointed out, refers to one of the basic flaws in Capitalism that, because it has tied production and distribution together, can’t stop one without stopping the other. We are on an eternal treadmill of producing economic goods whether we need them or not because if we ever stop, we have no other way for people to earn the income they need to buy them.

However, Brave New World did not stop with the use of electric shock to implant in the mind a distaste for flowers based on negative reinforcement. They also had means of instilling positive reinforcement that motivated people to desire the things that the state wanted them to desire.

As Huxley explains in the book, in the period preceding Brave New World, the parents of Reuban Rabnovitch accidentally left the radio in his room on over night.  The Director explains:

“While the child was asleep, a radio broadcast program from London suddenly started to come through; and the next morning to the astonishment of his parents, he repeated word-for-word the program. The principle of sleep- teaching had been discovered; but many years were to pass before the principle was applied usefully.

    "The case of little Reuben occurred only twenty-three years after Our Ford's first T-model was put on the market." (Here the Director made a sign of the "T" and all the students reverently followed his example.) "And yet these early experiments were on the wrong track. They thought that sleep-teaching could be used to teach facts, whereas, it was far more effective in moral education which shapes attitudes. Moral education, which ought never, in any circumstance, to be rational. (based on facts rather than feelings.)”

Thus, as part of the brain-washing program designed to shape the children as willing slaves of the state, they were subjective to hour of suggestions and slogans through speakers under their pillows while they slept.

The Director led the students to the nurseries upstairs where a sleep-teaching lesson was taking place. Huxley writes:

“Just then they approached the dormitories where young children were kept. A nurse rose as they entered and came to attention before the Director.

    "What's the lesson this afternoon?" he asked.

    "We had Elementary Sex for the first forty minutes," she answered. "But now it's switched to Class Identity and Acceptance."

    The Director walked slowly down the aisle between the beds in which small children of Beta class lay sleeping. The tape recorded voice of a "sleep-teaching" lesson could be heard coming from beneath the pillows.  The Director halted, and bending over one of the little beds, listened attentively. At the end of the room a loud speaker projected from the wall. The Director walked up to it and pressed the switch.


    "Alpha children wear gray. They work much harder than we do because they're so very clever. I'm really awfully glad I'm a Beta, because I don't work as hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no! I don't want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They're too stupid to be able to read or write besides they wear blue which is such a beastly color. I'm so glad I'm a Beta... Alpha children wear gray...."


Then the Director said


                                                                                 "They'll have that repeated forty or fifty times more before they wake; then again on Thursday, and again on Saturday. A hundred and twenty times, three times a week for thirty months. The greatest moralizing and socializing force of all time. Like drops of water wearing away a hard stone till at last the child's mind is these suggestions, and the sum of the suggestions is the child's mind. And not the child's mind only. The adults mind too-all his life long. The mind that judges and desires and decides-made up of these suggestions. But all of these suggestions are our suggestions!" The Director almost shouted in triumph. "Suggestions from the state." He banged the nearest table. "It therefore follows..." A noise made him turn around. "Oh Ford!" I've gone and awakened the children."

It is interesting to note that the leaders of Brave New World realized that slogans repeated over and over again are far more effective in shaping values than are rational explanations based on facts. Consider for example the repetition of slogans like “different strokes for different folks!” These slogans and suggestions are directed at the right lobe of the brain, which, because it doesn’t censor and is suggestible takes them in without any critical evaluation.

Later in the book we are told that some of the suggestions implanted into the minds of the children are “Ending is better than mending” and the “less stitches the more riches” which were designed to keep consumer purchasing at a high level in order to keep the factories and their workers going. Once these suggestions were firmly implanted in the mind of the children, they would become part of the “throw-away” society that was necessary to solve the basic flaw in capitalism.

Of course, nothing like this could ever happen. No one could ever create a culture in which people were taught and motivated to throw things away rather than repair them in order to keep people working. Why if people ever did that, there would have a horrendous trash problem that would eventually deplete natural resources and pollute the earth.

Well, I see that my time is up. Here’s Dom!