Sunday, June 10

Pavlov and his Dogs

A little while ago I believe I mentioned that I had an assignment for English that consists of me having to write a narrative intervention (short story that fits into) Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.  I just finished it, and I wanted to share it.  The point is to provide a new social or historical context to the novel while foregrounding the themes of the book.  I have based it around the idea of Neo-Pavlovian Conditioning.  

Pavlov struck the bell with the little hammer.  Just as he had predicted.  His triumphant smile bordered on incredulity and with an exultant swish of his lab coat, he spun to face his colleagues. 
 “Gentlemen, today you witness a great development in neurological science,” he declared, flourishing the bell like a Greek tragic hero.  “You have seen the result of successful behavioural conditioning.”  The small gathering applauded with exuberance, and he grinned even more widely.  “Let us not forget to reward our canine companions for their role in this discovery,” he said.  A dish of meat for the dogs. “The reward system!” Pavlov announced.  “By striking a bell when feeding the dogs, I have caused them to create a strong neural link between the sound and the food.  Thereby, they now hear the bell alone and salivate in anticipation for their minced meat.   Their reflexes have been manipulated!” A great success for science!  The hero had conditioned his dogs to salivate on command.  What a simple concept, yet so exciting.  What might the hero do next? 
The spectacle in the Neo-Pavlovian Conditioning Rooms of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre had invigorated the throng of students.  What a privilege!  Like so many sheep, they bustled after the Director, absorbedly scribbling in their note-books. 
 “That,” the director peered philosophically over his shoulder, “is a great triumph of modern science.”  The students scratched into their note-books: that is a triumph.  “It’s incredible that Ivan Pavlov himself could not see the significance of his discovery.”  He took the concentrated silence of the scribbling students as an invitation to continue with the lecture.  “Conditioning was first used many decades before the time of Our Ford.  Pavlov was only interested in using it for meagre things… like teaching his pets to perform tricks.”  He shook his head regretfully.  “So inconsequential.”  The students, shocked, shook their heads and wondered how could one limit such a powerful tool for such trivialities?  In their note-books: old dog, new trick.  
“You see,” the director continued sententiously, “Pavlov had no interest in the good of society.” 
The scientific minds departed from Pavlov’s laboratory in a swish of white coats and an academic creak of patent leather.   They would talk about this for months.  Pavlov took up his note-books, the bell, papers and pencils, and descended to his study.  As he drifted about the room, smiling, tidying, he humoured his little habit of reciting the Greek alphabet to clear his active mind.  Alpha.  He brooded over his desk with his back to the door.  Beta.  The sound of shoes on the stairs, heavy and slow.  Gamma.  Predatory; the bristles of grey hair on the nape of his neck stood up. 
 “Delta,” said the intruder.  
“Epsilon,” continued Pavlov, and he turned to face a deep-chested Russian man in his thirties.  The Soviet had strongly marked features and an attitude that denoted patient determination to achieve some inimical goal.    
“Excuse me, sir.  I am not free this evening,” Pavlov said shortly.  “Today’s Monday.  Perhaps tomorrow morning, then, in the parlour, I can see you-.” 
 “You will see me now,” the Soviet overruled him with an intense tone.  “This matter is of great consequence to yourself, as a scientist, and to the stability of our future world.  I recommend you listen.”  Pavlov cleared his throat and sat down, patiently, heroically. 
 “My research will not be used by Communism,” he declared.  The Soviet did not blink.  He replied, low, dangerous.  
“You knowingly limit your research to trivialities when it has the potential to benefit all of society.  Why stop at pets, when human beings will respond to similar conditioning?  If certain people liked or disliked certain things-.”  
“You would be reducing them to pets!” Pavlov shouted.  “It is against human rights.  My research is not about control.  It is about reflexes and the brain.” 
 “If we controlled reflexes, we could control society, tailor the likes and dislikes of the people so that everyone is content.  Stability is the ultimate goal.”   
“What is your proposition?”  
“You will lead the Soviet Union’s new regime of behavioural conditioning experiments.”  The Soviet’s face was deadpan. “You are mistaken.  I will not,” Pavlov replied.  The tragic hero waited.  “I have won this battle, sir.”  The Soviet nodded and silently exited the study. 
“We won the war,” the Director continued, and checked to make sure the flock of students still followed. “Pavlov could not stand in the way of progress.  Our scientists saw the potential in Pavlov’s discovery and began to condition human beings through a system of punishment.  Indissolubly wedding fear with books and so on, as you have seen today in the case of the Deltas.  It has been a huge success, and is a key to social stability.”  The students smiled at each other, simply happy to be a part of the excellent present.  What a privilege! 
Pavlov’s wife was woken up early on Tuesday morning by the peal of a bell.  Surprised to find her husband was not in bed, she went to draw the blind and gasped when she saw his four dogs roaming loose on the street, and the words burnt into the front lawn: welcome to the brave, new world.  No one could find him. 

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