Readers' Submissions

Ivan Pavlov’s Ellipse

  • Written by SAM
  • June 15th, 2011
  • 8 min read



Most of us have probably heard of Pavlov’s dogs during our school days. Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) was a Soviet Union scientist that came up with the concept of conditioned responses – and at the same time – created theoretical basis for brainwashing. According to Pavlov, through means of teaching (more clearly through conditioning) we can by using selected impulses get individuals to act accordingly with a response that is not part of his normal way to act.

The experiment that we might remember involved a bell chime that a dog learned to associate with hunger and food. Only by chiming the bell the hunger affect was introduced in the animal. At first, the dog didn’t salivate before it actually got some meat or food but when the connection between the bell chiming and food had been established, the dog salivated when hearing the sound. In the end the dog was salivating whether or not there was food available. Conditioned response had been achieved. In US of America Barrhus Skinner established so called behavioral school.

One might say that don’t try to explain things through the genetics that could be simply explained how people are brought up. This is directly linked to behaviorism. Behaviorism and social biology have disputed as long as there has been scientific psychology. Anyone ever practising martial arts knows the meaning and significance of behaviorism. Martial arts include education and a lot of practise as a relevant part of the learning process. Things are done and redone as long the knowledge and reactions are coming from the spine, as a reflex. As a matter of fact, military training and all the armies in the world are based on this.

But there are less known experiments on dogs that Pavlov tried. In the case of conditioned reflex or response it was obvious that if it was not constantly repeated it would disappear. It was also noticed that if it was used for punishment, it would result as learned helplessness. It can be argued that strong punishments and indifference against one’s children might result in this way. I want to remind that amongst Asian cultures, children are taught to behave and be obedient. At the same time, high results are expected from school. This obedience might be the reason why some Asians do great looking at their school numbers but outside a strict pattern they tend to be lost somehow. This is a particularly Chinese trait where parents tend to think that being strict and having a lot of rules and punishments and showing indifference when the child is not “performing” well somehow benefits their young ones.

And here is where we come to Pavlov’s Ellipse.

In this particular experiment the dog was conditioned to salivate every time it saw a circle. Next stage the dog was shown an ellipse but no food was given. Soon the dog started to see the difference between these two. After this, the poor dog was shown a series of ellipses that every next one reminded more and more of a circle. Finally, when ellipses had almost become circles, the behaviour of the dog changed drastically. It started to bark, show its teeth and completely refused to touch the meat on offer. During showing this series of ellipses the dog lost its ability to conditional response.

This is a clear case of cognitive dissonance. The dog has been conditioned to react a certain way to signal A and a different way to signal B. When signal A becomes signal B, the result is cognitive conflict and a mental breakdown. The dog becomes hostile and aggressive because it can not deal with this conflict. The reaction is hate and aggression.

The same applies to us humans. When conflicting signals – like promises broken – are given, the result is cognitive dissonance, hate, bitterness and sometimes mutiny. It can be seen when society gives conflicting signals to its subjects. Or just think of working life with eternal promises and hopes. And not to forget relationships…

A Western female is conditioned through feminism that she is somehow put down by Western males. Feminists have brainwashed them to believe this nonsense. There is a Grand Canyon-sized gap between the theory and reality. Just think about it, without the consent and freedom given to them by Western males the females could be in same situation as their sisters in Arab Muslim countries – considered as property of the owner. The Western males have agreed that both sexes are equal. Not so in many other societies. There is a definite cognitive dissonance related to the values of equality and how it is showcasing itself. The destiny and future of the Western politically correct male is a bitter one. Especially if he believes the brainwashing of PC feminists. His work is outsourced. He has been conditioned to be nice, work hard and be fair. In reality he is left alone in the cruel game of relationship chess and the guys that were not getting straight As at school pass him in promotion and get all the girls. This is due to the difference that being social and successful is NOT always about getting good grades and ticking all the right boxes. And besides, in my humble opinion there exists no such thing as empathy in a man’s world – at least when it comes to competing over a suitable girl. Love and war, you know.

Gregory Bateson found out in 1956 that psychopathic mother’s children had more schizophrenia. The children got more conflicting signals from their mother. It was impossible to determine whether their mother loved them or not. Lloyd deMause and Alice Miller have studied this further and according to them corporal punishment has the most disastrous effects. When a child asks why he has been hurt, he gets an answer: “It’s for your own good!” a cognitive dissonance and distrust against his own parents – and other people as well – is created. When one thinks all those occasions when I’ve witnessed the Thai people’s eagerness to punish their children physically this makes me think…

When a mother says that she loved the child but hits her or pushes away when the child seeks comfort, the mother changes the ellipse to a circle. She creates a conflict. In the reality she doesn’t love her child but only pretends to. Ignoring her child she gives a signal and the child is bound to have feelings of worthlessness. Child questions why the mother doesn’t love her? And if the mother doesn’t, how can anyone else love her? This internal conflict can create really screwed up children. Growing up with a mother like this is really a nasty case of Catch22.

If a child can’t trust his parents, who can he trust? If a member of society is getting similar confused signals, who can he trust? The same applies to relationships and employers. It is no co-incidence that urban environments are compared to jungles. Everyone on their own. Losers and winners. Winner takes it all.

Now someone might ask what this has got to do with Thailand and Stick’s website. A reasonable question since my approach is somewhat far-fetched. Some of the recent submissions have been sort of circulating around anger and non-acceptance of this and that type of (s)expats and riff-ruff and hi-sos. Especially I noticed with a sarcastic eye that one recent submission was from someone who put himself rather high in his own eyes. That didn’t stop him from putting down all other people that he felt were repulsive.

I have come to the conclusion that to bind somehow these submissions together we might use Pavlov’s Ellipse as a tool. We feel angry, betrayed, barking and wanting to throw stones at someone because we feel somehow that the promise of Thailand or Thais or love or whatever didn’t come to be what we expected. The high-sos see the fault in others they consider being low and dragging their ideal down. Someone betrayed in his relationship paints all Thais with the same brush as being treacherous, unreliable, blood-sucking, money-hungry vampires. And in a recent submission someone living with a working girl blames other farangs being abusive. This might be true but how about his own situation? Living with a woman that sells her body every night? Oh, come on. Wake up and smell the coffee! It’s about choices and not blaming someone doing “things” to her causing this and that. Does she really have to do that? No other choices for the two of you? People are not perfect but you are not always destined to choose the worst case scenario. You can willingly abuse yourself as well but don’t expect others to be very compassionate about it.

But these people have a common denominator. They feel somehow that “The Promise” was broken. Maybe the paradise had a snake after all. Maybe they really believed all that a bargirl whispered in their ears. Maybe their self image was flawed and they weren’t such a pillar of society as they thought. BTW, pillars of society don’t in my opinion demean others by verbal diarrhea. Or do they? Thailand can be a hard cracker to open and to live in a totally different society and culture is sometimes very consuming on many levels. I personally feel that Thais and foreigners don’t see things the same way. What might be a circle to a Thai might very well look like an ellipse to a foreigner. A paradox or dilemma created by cultural differences, perhaps?

Everyone might, before getting angry at someone else, ponder whether his own actions can be seen as wise, logical, based on truth and reality, openly discussed and scrutinized. Otherwise we just exploit the freedom to express ourselves and are guilty of taking an ellipse for a circle.

Our societies and relationships seem to run towards situation that we get more and more Pavlov’s Ellipses – both in public and personal lives. And the result is that we start to feel angry, bark and show our teeth. The ellipse has transformed into a full circle.


Stickman's thoughts:

Interesting.