Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Really Fast Rats

When I was in college, we learned of the behaviorism experiments that were performed in psychology departments by those studying the stimulus-response mechanism. You probably know the ones I’m talking about.

In most cases, there was a box. In the box was a maze of walls that formed corridors with twists and turns and dead-ends that could be changed by the experimenter whenever he pleased. At one end of the maze was a little door. At the other end was a push-bar that, when pressed, released a spoonful of grain or something. The experimenter would send a rat through the entrance door and observe as he worked his way through the corridors, in and out of the dead-ends, back and forth through the twists and turns until he got to the push-bar. When he pressed the push-bar, of course, he got his reward.

The rat got better at this with each successive run. He figured out how to get to the push-bar without the deviations of the dead-ends or the confusion of the twists and turns. In fact, he would even run straight to the push-bar past the dead-ends even when they were opened into new corridors. The objective, after all, was the reward, the munchies at the end. No point in looking into new corridors … learning is not the objective, it was only here for the food.

I often wondered when they would try this stuff on people. What would they use as reward? Money? Sex? A “Rocky”-style celebration? I dreaded to think how little it would take to get me to respond properly.

Last night on the news, there was an intriguing little blurb about medical conditions associated with some video game involving guitars. My wife was interested in the medical conditions. I was interested in the film clips of the young people playing the game, since I had only heard about it before. The “guitar” is little more than five colored buttons on a fret bar, an up-down switch where one would strum the strings and a “waa-waa” lever on the body. Pretty simple actually. Apparently the player presses the buttons, flips the up-down switch, and jiggles the “waa-waa” bar in response to the video-music sequence displayed on a screen. The medical conditions were associated with hours of play as the participant tried to keep up with a faster and faster stream of programmed “notes” and actions.

My wife’s first reaction was “too bad that there are medical conditions associated with this.” My first reaction was, “Hmm. Really fast rats.”

Today’s Influences and Soundtrack:
Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth
George MacDonald, Phantastes
Michael Hedges, Aerial Boundaries
Jan Hammer, Themes From Miami Vice
Beethoven, Piano Sonatas