Social conditioning


Conditioning, noun: influencing, shaping, constraining, controlling; bringing something into a usable state by preparing, adapting, softening; changing behavior by rewarding or punishing each time an action is performed. We’re all familiar with Pavlov’s example of conditioning – by ringing a bell simultaneously with the feeding of test dogs, he trained the dogs to salivate at the mere ringing of the bell even if they could not see the food. Conditioning is easy to explain neurologically, as a biochemical response. The satisfaction of a bodily need or the discharge of an emotional tension leads to a release of hormones (like adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine in the case of fear, or dopamine and oxytocin in the case of pleasure), and to changes in the sensitivity of nerve cells. As an axon repeatedly fires to a cell, the cell is more easily stimulated each subsequent time because a neural pathway is established. An automatic reflex or unconscious response is formed, which is no longer subject to control by the will. Conceptually and emotionally, it’s more difficult to explain the complex conditioning of human behavior, since it begins to take shape before language and memory develop and has to be inferred backwards, from its effects. (more…)

New Year rituals and resolutions

Car horns are blaring in the distance, the sky is intermittently lit by small sparks firing off in anticipation, bodies on the streets are scurrying around in an agitated frenzy of last minute shopping, and most people I know are busy deliberating which event to choose for the compulsory festivities of the “big night.” After indulging, somewhat mechanically, in this repetitive, noisy ritual for decades, I began to reflect on the meaning of New Year’s Eve. Although I was convinced that it was a modern, semi-Christian ritual, some digging revealed its pagan origins. The earliest new-year-type celebrations occurred in Mesopotamia around 2000 BC, in the form of eleven-day festivities at the time of the spring equinox in March, which coincided, symbolically, with the season of rebirth. January 1st was adopted as a marker of the New Year in 46 BC, when Julius Caesar officially codified the 12 month solar-based calendar (it was already in place for some time, but not observed), replacing the ancient 10 month calendar that was based on moon cycles. The first month of the new calendar was displaced from March to the newly invented January, which derived its name from Janus, the god of gates and doors, who had two faces, one looking backwards and the other turned forward. (more…)