Not the sucrose we ordered II

(4 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

(this my long-winded continuation of a “review” of JM Greer’s Not the Future We Ordered, from a personal perspective).

To Recap, around the year 2000 was a great time for me.  I was scoring grants, doing manic work, the female grad students were kicking me around like a soccer ball (scoring junk goals on me all day long), had fantastically intelligent buddies, and was finishing my dissertation, and headed toward my third long-term major mentor of my choosing (the flagship teaching hospital in my beloved region of SF was merely icing on the cake).  Life could not have seemed better, because I was a true believer in what JM Greer calls our “civic religion of progress.”  

Not only was it personal progress through long, hard work, but I felt basic research was the right thing to do.  For me.  For society.  I wasn’t out to make money.  To paraphrase Pavlov, the revolution was not “out there” in politics or guns in the streets, the revolution was “in here,” in the lab.  The real revolution was intellectual.  The real revolution was an introvert. Pavlov is no one to sneeze at unconditionally.  He’s in the Pantheon of Greatest Scientists Ever, because he saw and demonstrated experimentally anticipatory salivation as perhaps the most powerful mental event ever known, which is learning from experience, and how it occurs through sheer association by contiguity: neurons that fire together wire together, to quote Hebb.  And if any Skinnerian “learning by consequence” believers walk into this bar, I will kick their asses from here to next Tuesday, and from week to week, and year to year.  We never learn as a specific consequence of our victories and failures. Rather, what is noticed becomes a signal for what is being done, to quote Big Edwin Ray G.

(as a side note, I’ll add that a fellow named Twitmeyer preceded Pavlov at the 1901 APA meeting by three years, showing that people would exhibit an anticipatory knee-jerk to the sight of a hammer blow to the knee tendon; I’ve heard that William James was in attendance, and failed to see the significance, which is nearly impossible to believe, but if true, and had he noticed, we would have been stuck with “Twitmeyerian conditioning” as opposed to “Pavlovian,” which is the more mellifluous.

Anyway, despite my anti-Skinnerian religion, I remained a true believer in Progress.  Technology, civics, human rights, law, basic accounting; yep, all a long historical arc bending toward truth and justice.  It went against most of what I knew about learning, or about evolution for that matter, but this is just the kind of irrational thinking JM Greer is up against.  People like me.

Next time, we’ll talk about my sucrose experiments.


  1. when I get around to making them.

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