Pavlov All Over Again

As soon as she hears the stick begin to pound on the stage she begins to cry.

I’ve been amazed lately at our ability as humans to have conditioned responses to external stimuli.

All week I’ve been incorrectly calling this “operant conditioning” but it’s really “classical conditioning” or “Pavlovian conditioning”. Where operant conditioning refers to changes you make to your behavior based on responses you get after a behavior, classical conditioning speaks to the involuntary responses you experience from a behavior that occurred before your response. Perhaps an example:

We just finished up a run of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe at our local community theatre. As most of you know, there is a scene during which the lion, Aslan, is killed in place of a boy named Edmund. Edmund has turned traitor and, therefore, his life is forfeit to the White Witch, the self-proclaimed “Queen of Narnia.”

If you know the story then you also probably know that this scene is an allegory to the death of Jesus.

We know this scene is coming without even having to be in the theatre to see it. The way it is depicted, there are sounds from offstage of the creatures in the White Witch’s army that start to swell. Cries and yells and … most dramatically … the pounding of a staff. Loud and impressive, a beat starts to form, like a drummer going before an army.

The interesting part here is that as soon as we start to hear the beat of the staff on the stage, my wife (a wonderful woman, who almost never gets emotional about anything) begins to cry. It’s not even something she can control. She knows the scene where the lion is killed is coming and she cannot hold back her tears. The “Great Cat” is killed and she weeps every time.

All from the beating of a staff on a stage that she doesn’t even see.

It’s Pavlov’s theory proven once again.

We, as humans, are extraordinary creatures who possess extraordinary abilities to experience extraordinary things. Involuntary responses to external stimuli being one of many. We are the children of an extraordinary God.

Don’t be so quick to stop at the idea that this is a psychological formula. I’ve been once again amazed at how we have been knit together. We have been created in such a way to be able to experience an amazing array of emotions, most of which we largely leave untapped. Some of which we can’t even control.

There is so much more depth to each of us than we can even imagine. I encourage you to never stop being amazed by what we can do. Never stop searching for the next layer of who you are. We are a great set of creatures created by the God who hung the stars in space. There’s no end to what we can find out about ourselves and the world around us if we would only take the time to look.