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Conditionality and conditionalizing


Conditioning is of course very much related to the human condition and the way humans affect each other and their environment. The human condition is affected by two kinds of conditioning:
  1. factual conditioning: conditioning in which changes are taking place,
  2. hypothetical conditioning: conditioning consisting of the consideration of changes taking place.
While discussing the fundamental difference between these two forms I'll be using the term conditioning for factual conditioning and conditional conditioning or conditionalizing for the hypothetical kind.

The word condition, together with words like tradition, extradition, edition, etc. has come to us via Latin. These words are a combination of prefixes such as trans, ex, extra, con, etc. with the noun form of the Latin word dare which means "to give."

Taking that into account, the meaning of the word condition is "a given", something that "comes with" life.

In the evolutionary history of life, specifically in the evolution of humankind, hypothetical or indirect conditional conditioning is a rather recent arrival, and it can clearly be distinguished from the direct conditioning that we encounter in the world of inanimate objects, flora and fauna. Of course in the world of human nature there is much factual or direct conditioning taking place, but human conditioning is very often an if thing, it is very often conditional or "weak." In the world of nature conditioning is always a when thing, it is "strong."

Natural Conditioning
When a wet lump of clay gets heated up by the sun it dries up and becomes solid; the wet and pliable condition becomes a hard and dry condition... there are no doubts about it, one can count on it, it is direct and not negotiable. 

Human Conditionalizing
Human conditional conditioning on the other hand is "iffy."
Example 1:
When a child gets punished in order to entice the child to be more obedient or better behaving, that child will not necessarily become more obedient or better behaving.
Conditional, negotiable and unreliable elements are often part of the conditioning procedures humans use in their attempts to control each other and the world they live in.
Example 2:
"If you do such and such, I accept you in my life, if you don’t, I won’t." 
It is indeed possible that "such and such" gets done, but when the required action is seen as lacking the right intent, acceptance might be held back, or, even when the action gets done with the right intent, the promised acceptance might still only come grudgingly or… perhaps not at all.

As said before human conditional conditioning is a rather recent evolutionary occurrence, but already it is a skill that has been honed to a very high degree of perfection… or should we say: imperfection?
I'd like to suggest that this particular conditional conditioning procedure at an identifiable point in the course of human evolution turned into a less effective tool when its methods got mixed with the unnatural conditioning tools of punishment and reward, threat and promise in addition to a high degree of verbosity and an almost built-in unreliability in the application of its methods.

Rather than alleviating the human plight already characterized by suffering, these methods became the cause for more suffering.
If conditional conditioning in this de-natured format would’ve worked and produced the expected results, we should persist using it – by all means – but there is no proof of that. In fact the continuation and wider spread of human suffering is now glaringly visible in our lives, on our TV and computer screens and in our publications.
An audacious review and clean-up of the methods of human conditional conditioning seems in order.
"Human nature" is of course very much the result of the way humans condition each other, but considering that humans seem to have become the only mentally and emotionally suffering creatures in nature, it seems to me that the nature of "human nature" has now become that of the "de-natured human." 

Does this mean that we have to turn the clock back on thousands of years of human development? Of course not, rather, it is the other way around. We can restart the clock where it got stopped when the application of conditional conditioning became a tool to constrict, limit and even stop life rather than promoting and expanding it.

When we at first, as early humans began to condition each other and our environment, an additional novel mode of planned constructive conditional conditioning was discovered and applied (1). It flowed naturally from nature’s direct conditioning. But just as with any invention or discovery, the application of this new kind of conditioning showed that it could also have unfavorable side effects when it got mixed with the confusing language and misguided motivation that the unnatural and hypothetical conditioning tools of punishment and reward, threat and promise brought with them.

During the transition from the hunter-gatherer and nomadic society to the agricultural and husbandry one, one particular type of constrictive conditional conditioning took over from constructive conditioning with the sole intent to thwart the transition from one phase of human evolution to the next, challenging a natural process that initially happened to be a fortunate mix of natural direct conditioning and planned positive conditional conditioning.

This unfortunate constrictive intervention (as biblically recorded) jeopardized the natural evolution of humankinds' participation in the advance of evolution.

A closer look at "conditionality."

In normal day-to-day language, conditional sentences occur quite frequently and they can appear in varying formats most of which can be brought down to two specific forms, e.g.
  • "When this or that happens, then this or that will be the result," or
  • "If this or that happens, then this or that will be the result."
Usually the words "if" or "when" can be exchanged without altering the meaning of a conditional sentence very much, but in principle the difference in meaning between the two words is quite large. "When" of course means that the predicted result will happen sooner or later, while "if" means that it could possibly happen but… not necessarily.
It is this smallish looking but, as far as impact goes, large difference in possible effect, supplemented by a confusing and ill-intended use of conditionalizing language, that lies at the root of human deception and failure, and it culminated in the widespread manipulative use of authority in the games of power and thus became the cause of all human suffering.
Let me show some examples of the confusing use of conditional sentences. Although at this point the examples might not strike you as very consequential, you will hopefully see how the confusion that they exemplify can affect the clarity of human expression dramatically. Confusion can project far into the future of someone's life, very far indeed from the first instance of confusion when it was at first seriously and purposely applied.
  • When we consider a sentence like, "If you drop your glass of milk, the milk will be spilled," there is no doubt about a spill resulting from the dropping. The law of cause and effect is conclusive and dependable. That’s why a more correct version of this strong direct conditionality sentence would be, "When you drop your glass of milk, the milk will be spilled." 
  • Now compare this with, "If you drop your glass of milk again, you will be punished." Although it sounds just as conclusive, it actually is not. What if you dropped the glass of milk but nobody was around and it did not get noticed? You won't be punished! And even if it did get noticed and you were deemed punishable, it is quite possible that you found a way to get away with it unscathed, or it could be that the person who was supposed to do the punishing had a change of heart.
Although the initial threat of punishment sounds unavoidable in this type of hypothetical or weak conditionality, it is not dependable or reliable at all. In fact children pick up on this at an early age and learn how to organize their life around the lack of finality in the application of weak conditional conditioning.
This, together with the sometimes unfulfilled promises of reward that are also part of weak hypothetical conditionalizing, makes for a child that is bound to become skeptical, lacking in trust and quite likely itself also not to be trusted. In all likelihood such a child will use the same tactics down-line as well as up-line, eventually also manipulating the ones who applied these ways of conditioning to him or her in the first place.

Doesn't this go to the root of much, if not all negative and ineffective intervention and interference in human behavior? 

Notes:
(1)  As told in: "The Valley"  Please click here to read that autobiographical story illustrating this point.

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Comment by Ryan:
Yes, the child learns to avoid punishment and consequences. Ironically, to avoid the consequences, the child must learn to clean up their own mess, and thus repair the problem. The fear of punishment may also cause the child to accuse someone else and pass the punishment on to them, thus teaching "it is better to make others suffer than suffer yourself"
Totally justifiable since the child didn't do anything wrong and doesn't deserve to suffer. Thus the cause of suffering is once again, a superior punisher that has superior learning and knowledge on how to avoid responsibility and direct suffering to weaker less knowledgeable sufferers.

01 April, 2011

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