Knee Jerk Reactions – reflex discussions redeux…

Hey there… this entry is parking more draft data from my ongoing discussion/investigation in the interplay of reflex, learning and instinct with an emphasis on BDSM responses. This will eventually be turned into a paper that will show up at The Estate, but feel free to read it in this form.

ed. note: You will get more of this if you read my previous post first: “We’re all just animals… thoughts on non volitional submissive response…

Continuing discussion of autonomic, sub cortical processing in relation to training…

Note: This text is far from complete in this form. The information here was initially presented as an email post to a mailing list and has been abridged for this entry. Don’t worry, all the content of this text is my one not taken from anyone on the list. Because of this I probably cannot accurately provide the other points of view involved in the discussion here. You should probably join the list if you want them.

Note2: You will get more of this if you read my previous post first: “We’re all just animals… thoughts on non volitional submissive response…

My purpose in posting it is to preserve it for myself as the basic for a update to my training essays over at The Estate and to solicit comments from anyone who cares to give me input.

Here is the header information from the original posting:

To: <[email protected]>
From: “soulhuntre” <[email protected]>
Date: Sun, 22 Sep 2002 23:22:07 -0400
Subject: RE: READ ME FIRST : Continued/altered 🙂 RE: Abject apology? Me? Now? Really? RE: [StrictlyDs] Re: Choosing submission/ was re: Real vs. Online

— Soulhuntre

[ in response to the assertion that Ockham’s Razor  indicates that the kneeling response will always be a simple example of conditioning under volitional control by a simplified chain of events…]

Except it isn’t functionally accurate for the situation I am speaking about… and it isn’t an accurate description of the phenomena that occurs at other times.

In fact, it is dangerously misleading to conclude that submissive response is always a result of a choice.

I could use your explanations to describe other phenomena too… but it wouldn’t be right 🙂

  1. Person goes to see a doctor
  2. doctor takes out a small hammer
  3. doctor explains that they will use this hammer to test the person
  4. doctor explains the procedure and the expected result
  5. doctor does the test, patient supplies the desired result to please the doctor
  6. patient gets a lollipop
  7. next time, patient does the same thing

Except it ISN’T true 🙂

Operant conditioning (OC) is really just a term for rewarding desired behavior (as opposed to classical conditioning) and while it does indeed have some usefulness as far as it goes in this discussion, it does not in fact have much to say about the mechanism the subject uses to handle the pairing.

Of course much of the work done with operant conditioning also belies the concept of choice in this discussion – as often the result is also not usefully considered a “choice” by the frog/tadpole/chicken or whatever.

Additionally, OC is not in any way contradictory to CPG (Central Pattern Generator) and motor-symphony concepts and theories; and to be honest for someone who claims to be enough of an expert to ridicule me I am surprised you think it is. OC can in fact be a mechanism for the creation of MS and CPG systems.

I have known a submissive who fell to her knees at the sound of an angry voice form a dominant she did NOT know, who was NOT talking to her. She had NOT been trained to respond in that manner and certainly not by that person. There was NO command to kneel… she heard his anger and fell to her knees in a defensive, submissive response. This can be usefully thought of as a CPG instinct – potentially as a result of earlier OC in unrelated areas of her life, but it is doubtful in her specific case.

Of course, the fact that she was rewarded with approval for this behavior by the unknown dominant WAS an example of a single OC event (a spontaneous action resulting in a reward) and no doubt re-enforced the CPG so that she was more likely to respond that way in the future.

There are a number of human skills and situations where the responses required are quite beyond the scope of simple operant conditioning with cortex involvement in the response.

For example a pilot of high performance fighter jets typically has a series of tasks to perform that are dramatically out of step with any CPG or reflex he was born with… so we can be fairly certain that any reactions involved in such flying are learned responses.

In such circumstances it is crucial to present the pilot with important information in a way they can process as quickly as possible and as accurately as possible… and there is adequate research into those mechanisms to allow us to draw some conclusions.

1) Even complex responses (in terms of motor control) can become extremely fast (sub 500 ms, well into the range where we will consider them to be reflex like… and well under the time of those involving volitional and cortical response) once the stimulus is linked to a response set (a CPG).

As an example it turns out that when you give a pilot a collision avoidance signal, it is MUCH better to provide it as a warning sound located in 3D space. The human mind can quickly locate that position and instruct the hand and foot to work together to turn the fighter plane in the opposite direction. This is NOT a volitional act, and the pilot will move the plane in that direction even if it is antithetical to survival.

We have all experienced this – it is a common cause of traffic accidents. On a crowded highway if you see an oncoming car you will reflexively move your vehicle away from that other car – even though you KNOW intellectually that doing so will put your car in the path of oncoming traffic. The response to move away is NOT a choice in any useful sense of the term. This example is useful because the twitch of the steering wheel is NOT the normal dodge reflex you were born with… that would be to duck or throw your body out of the way – a useless reaction when driving.

So, again, there is ample evidence that a learned, practiced skill (and that learning may well involve OC) can become a sub-cortical response that is outside of choice and volition.

Now, you and I can debate whether kneeling will ever approach the same degree of integration as the response of a fighter pilot; but the concept that all reactions above simple spinal short arc reflexes are a matter of choice is simply unsupportable in the face of ample evidence to the contrary.

You may want it to be true to support your ethical beliefs… but it is not true neurologically.

You would be better off to argue that while in some cases the response to an order may be (as a result of a CPG) a sub cortical response that there is rarely a circumstance where an over-riding volitional response could not react against that response.

In other words, while I could train someone to kneel on command she would be free to “catch herself” partway through the action and defy me. And I would agree that such a thing would be a potential outcome.

This leaves you open to argue on a larger scale that an action that is outside the realm of a short term simple response, or any action that is so complex it must involve cortical and volitional processing is open to evaluation and thus obedience is a choice.

In other words, I could train someone to pull a trigger of a gun on command to such a degree that there is no longer a volitional intercession between the order and the action – that does not mean that I could train hem to process a command like “go kill the neighbor” sub cortically.

Of course, there is an entirely separate debate to be had about cortical/volitional choice – but that is an issue of psychology, not physiology.

But that isn’t your continued assertion – you continue to assert that any action more complex that a simple spinal reflex is by definition a “choice” is simply false… and it is a falsehood with no evidence I know of to support it.

Can kneeling be a normal conditioned response? Of course. With either classical or operant conditioning we can give someone a kneeling response. However it is ALSO possible to take that response further, to actually construct a CPG/MS response that is sub cortical and below volitional control.

[ in response tot he assertion that the kneeling (and by extension all other) submissive responses are volitional by nature of the “operant conditioning” model of behavior ]

If you’re happy with volitional control of the response and the reaction time involved then you don’t need to go any further.

If you’re happy with dealing with extreme response falloff in the face of fairly minor emotional stress, or relatively minor environmental complexity then you don’t need to go any further.

But if you want to see how far you can push it, how fast you can get the reactions in the face of emotional factors and environmental confusion then an discussion of reflexes and how the interoperate with instinct, skills and training are needed.

What you left out of your example, what you consider extraneous is EXACTLY what I find interesting 🙂 Do we need to discuss CPGs and reflexes in the world you are used to working in with these reactions? Apparently not.

But we do need to in my world 🙂

[ in response to the introduction of MAP (modal action patterns) into the discussion as their interpretation of what I am asserting the kneeling response to be ]

Basically, we can divide human response into roughly 4 groups. Whiel the terminology of various models of human behavior changes they generally recognize at least three (shifting sets of three) of these four.

1) “true” reflexes. Extremely simple reflexes almost always processed exclusively in the spinal cord. These are obviously non-volitional.

(Example: pulling your hand out of a fire)

2) Sub cortical reflexes. These are reflexes that are connected through the lower segments of the brain and typically involve more complex stimulus but still have extremely simple responses. These are also non-volitional and are often lumped into group 1. (Example: flinching away from the sight of a fire).

3) Central pattern generators. These can exist in the spinal cord or in the brain and seem to involve complex motor co-ordination with compelex inputs and simple adaptability. In cats for instance the complex ability to take a step and adjust the foot position to shiftinf footing conditions seems to be a CPG. It is worth noting that in most documents a MAP is int his range, and not in the realm of (1) or (2).

4) Volitional action. This may be a habit but does in fact go through the volitional wiring of the brain.

[ they further gave a list of conditions I would have to satisfy to make kneeling a MAP. This one is that a MAP is common and invariant across all individuals in a  species ]

Actually, I can’t find any description of MAP that requires unvarying response across all members of a species. A typical example of the definition of a MAP is:

” The concept of a Modal Action Pattern (MAP) was introduced in preference to the concept of a Fixed Action Pattern (FAP) to emphasize the fact that although these behaviors are typical of a particular species, the exact way they are carried out can vary from one member of a species to another and from time to time within an individual, depending on external and internal conditions. Thus, rather than say that the behavior pattern is “fixed” we say that it has a certain central tendency or mode of occurrence.

A key point is that these MAPs can be simple or complex and how they occur can depend on the feedback from the external environment or from internal (physiological) conditions.”  – Chapter 2 – The Structure of Unconditioned Behavior

In other words, MAPS’s can be related to environment in complex ways and that complexity can arise in the MAP manifesting or not in similar situations according to subtle changes. It is possible to postulate an MAP as a special case of a CPG.

Even the thing you latch onto, that someone could “stop” the action if they were ready for it, as an indication of choice doesn’t help – because that is a quality that IS a part of the concept of an MAP and does not mean it is volitional.

[ in response to the contention that such an MAP (the one I am not arguing for) would require that all humans kneel before this dominants voice ]

No, I wouldn’t 🙂 If my contention is that kneeling in this person was a manifestation of a MAP I would actually only have to show that the preference in a person for a particular voice depended on a number of variables intimately tied to the MAP.

In other words, if I was arguing kneeling as an MAP then I would have to show that most humans tended to kneel in response to >A< voice, not particularly his voice.

Of course, I am not arguing that it is an MAP since there are other non volitional models to represent the kneeling response that are just fine being unique to an individual either through deliberate learned response or developmental factors.

An MAP worth arguing is a submissive response to another humans voice in toto… leaving the particularity of the response as a variation in the MAP (backing away, flinching. Lowering eyes and so on).

[ on the assertion that such kneeling would be a learned response (as in Pavlov) ]

Of course it does 🙂 The important issue for this person is that somewhere in her development the kneeling action was paired with defense or avoidance, possibly part of the mechanisms that normally bring us to “freeze” in the sight and sound of sudden danger. A CPG is sufficiently flexible for this to happen during development without specific BDSM training.

[ on the assertion that I am a clueless idiot – there is a lot of that in the latter part of the discussion (imagine) I only copy a small portion of it here as it is relevant ]

I am truly sorry you see it that way ::shrugs:: you are certainly welcome to do so. But you can yell and scream about it all you want and it won’t change a damn thing. The simple reality is this:

There is a theory and model of behavior that allows for the situation I described and it allows for it to be non volitional. You have not in fact provided any theory or evidence that precludes that – what you HAVE done is show alternatives that may also explain the response under most circumstances.

In other words, it could be one or the other and we both have theories and opinions on which it is.

If you have any specific information that would prove that such a response is outside the scope of a possible CPG then you are welcome to present it. Your attempts at simplifying the argument are of course valiant but the single factor you wish to cut out (an evaluation of her volition) is the key factor in the discussion.

APPENDIX A – Reference links

Chapter 2 – The Structure of Unconditioned Behavior

Selections from the Current Issue – French Helmet Visors Clear The Skies for Combat Pilots

Visual Expert Driver Reaction TimeNOTE: This is a brief summary/elaboration of the article, “‘How Long Does It Take To Stop?’ Methodological Analysis of Driver Perception-Brake Times”Transportation Human Factors, 2, pp 195-216, 2000. A full version of the article is available in pdf format.

operant conditioning – a illustrated definition

Some thoughts on simulating intelligence: Part I; the importance of spontaneous behavior – a usenet thread.

Operant Conditioning and Behaviorism – a historical outline

operant [email protected]