Cartesian Dualism: Say what?

9969462_orig“Dualism is closely associated with the philosophy of René Descartes (1641), which holds that the mind is a nonphysical substance. Descartes clearly identified the mind with consciousness and self-awareness and distinguished this from the brain as the seat of intelligence. Hence, he was the first to formulate the mind–body problem in the form in which it exists today.” Wikipedia

Did he/she say a mind-body problem? Yup. It’s as plain as the nose you imagine is at the end of your face. Meaning the mind/brain has specific responsibilities but does not work exactly as other organs. The liver doesn’t work like the left hemisphere of your brain so separate functions are common to all the various organs. Your mind isn’t really as completely in charge as you may think. Consider that if you wanted to prove that you had a nose through other senses you could simply touch it with your fingers. Without that touch or some other sense to give it information your brain could not, of itself, know that you had a nose. The various senses are capable of giving information to the brain that allows it to understand cause and effect and spatial relations. By itself it has many limitations. (Note: Descartes thought that the mind was something apart from the organ that we call the brain. Forgive me if I don’t agree and suffer through my use of the word brain as something that includes ‘the mind’.)

Sensory Awareness:
The senses also have different functions but may work separately or in conjunction with other senses. For instance, ironically, your nose cannot smell itself. You can’t see it very well, either. You only see it as a blur at the lower part of your peripheral vision. Attempts to focus on the nose merely cause headaches and you still don’t really get a good look at it. The best you can say is that you see something. Though scent and vision can’t really plainly describe your nose, the skin can. You can feel sensations generated by the skin on your nose or you can use another part of your body and get a double-shot of sensation by touching it. The nerves in your fingers will send a detailed description of your nose to your brain while the nerves of the skin on the nose give additional information.

The Brain’s Job:
The brain encapsulates and integrates all the knowledge gathered by the senses. It can create a spatial relationship that allows you to touch your nose with your eyes closed unless you are drunk. The mind’s conclusion is that the nose sticks out from the face in a particular spot. That is delineated by skin sensations and the absence of skin sensations. Move your finger one inch to either side of your nose. The absence of a touch tells the brain the width of your nose. Once those facts are stored, the mind “knows” that a particular spot locates the nose. Then you are less likely to bump it on things or more likely to be able to safely nuzzle with someone or get a good whiff of something through your nostrils. That also gives you the ability to wipe your nose when snot is running down your upper lip. You can’t see that, either, but your skin can feel it and your tongue can taste it if you are a small child. Your mind can then direct your fingers to grab a tissue and blot your nose, rub your nose or stick your finger in it. However, there is nothing supernatural about this process. The brain is simply the coordinator of some aspects of existence and your ‘mind’ is a lesser part of the brain. When healthy, it serves a purpose. If it is sick, it must be treated like any other organ – but we pretty much don’t follow that rule. That’s the body-brain problem. We don’t treat the brain and behavior with the same ethics and standards as the rest of the body. It always leads to problems. It often leads to tragedy.

Some Plain Differences: Medical Treatment vs. Behavioral Therapy/training
Before we get into details consider Splasher. He was a dog I pulled out of a deep and wide irrigation canal. Once in, they are almost impossible to escape and many dogs drown in them every year. (People too, including a police diver a few years ago.) He was about a year-and-a-half when I rescued him and died at 17. The last five years of his life splasherCropPoolhe got a thyroid pill, every single day. His body stopped making it and he needed an artificial additive to live to the ripe old age. In nature he simply would have died – though in nature he would have died in the canal. I pulled him out. I added a “treatment” that only happened once. What if he had the habit of intentionally jumping into canals? Should I have been expected to pull him out every time? Is there some reason I wouldn’t have? In case you missed it, being in the canal would have been lethal without my intervention. His dead thyroid gland would have caused him to not make it to 17 without thyroid meds. Oh, I also put about two grand into him for medical treatment after I rescued him from the canal. He had a large gash on an upper foreleg and his nails were worndec 033 down to bloody. On top of that he developed a gastro-enteric problem, likely from the scummy water he consumed in the canal. He was literally ‘sick as a dog.’ The choice available for his veterinary care contrasted dramatically from the norms of behavioral care. In essence, his behavior tried to kill him no differently than a bad heart could have killed him or an infection from being in scummy water. I physically plucked his body from the drink, saSplasherBednk a lot of cash into his medical treatment and kept him alive for over 15 years. My obligation to his physical health was obvious, as were the limits a veterinarian would use to make him healthy. What obligation did I have to his behavior?  If he wanted to go back into a canal to chase ducks, was I responsible for stopping that behavior? What limitations would be put on my efforts to keep his behavioral health? Why aren’t the two the same? Why would I treat the body with different standards than the brain? Ask Descartes.

More Examples:
To explain my statement that dualism always causes problems, consider these concepts that are regularly promoted or questioned. One is a suspicion of processes that need reapplication. For dog owners this usually ends up being something like this. “Do I have to use treats forever?” or “If I used a shock collar to teach a dog a reliable recall, will he have to wear it forever?” You can substitute head-halter, praise or choke chain and you will hear the same objections. OK. Splasher was hypothyroid. You can give him his thyroid medicine each day or his health will decline. Is that a problem? Nope. However, you will find that pet owners aren’t the only ones who hold a Cartesian view. Veterinarian behaviorists and behavior analysts are also victims of Rene’s foolishness.

Here’s a quote from the granddaddy of all behaviorists – B.F. Skinner. It’s from his much lauded book, Science and Human Behavior. Of the 400+ pages, only about 13 deal with the use of punishment but that is where his dualism shines like neon. He didn’t deal with punishment objectively opposed to positive reinforcement even if you simply count the pages in relationship to each other. However, he didn’t treat the two behavioral effects with the same standards – a clearly dualistic decision. Consider that his biggest complaint is a perfect example of dualism.

“More recently, the suspicion has also arisen that punishment does not in fact do what it is supposed to do. An immediately effect in reducing a tendency to behave is clear enough, but this may be misleading. The reduction in strength may not be permanent.”

The logical question that this statement prompts is, ‘so what?’ Food has to be reapplied to provide the body with nutrition. Water has to be reapplied to prevent cell death. More to the point, positive reinforcement has to be applied regularly and far more often than punishment to achieve behavioral success. If reapplication is a problem for behavior then it should be equally problematic for the body. Why? Because behavior is a physiological function of the body, like digestion, voiding the bladder and moving the skeletal system via nerve impulses sent from the brain to the muscles. Again, it’s one organism. No brain, no behavior. No behavior, no body. Consider my reference to touching your nose except when drunk. Put a specific drug in the body and the brain can stop functioning. Put the same drug in the body enough and the liver stops functioning. If a doctor is ethical for administering drugs to control OCD, why is a trainer/behaviorist bad for using punishment to stop aberrant behavior, including OCD? (Look here for a post specifically about that topic. One caution. Because punishment was a component in controlling her OCD, it will nonetheless be assumed that it was the only component. Nope. Much of solution was the balance between punishment and reinforcement. It was not, however, the result of psychotropic drugs…which have to be administered forever, by the way. There is no logical answer to this question – only a philosophical and ideological denial of reality. I can’t use punishment to stop OCD because the people who use drugs (less effectively, I might add) have no job if there is a better, organic, natural, evolutionary method.

A Fictional Dichotomy:
OK, let’s look at the kinds of fake dichotomies created by Dualism. How about those psychotropic drugs? Why is it ethical to modify brain chemistry – a physical act to control behavior – but not to apply punishment, a natural physiological function of the brain necessary for survival? How come the vet who cuts a dog wide open to remove a sock is ethical but using a shock collar to prevent the dog from ingesting the sock is opposed? That leads us to the all-or-I-oppose-it mentality.

All or nothing:
A common tool of dualists is to make things into all-or-nothing ultimatums. For instance, if I apply punishment and it needs to be reapplied to maintain the dog’s behavioral health it draws the Skinnerian criticism of reapplication. Unless I can make a perfect behavioral fix the process is attacked. This objection is never thrown at veterinarians. This belies the fact that the purpose of treatment, whether behavioral or medical, is most often to correct a problem by improving the condition. No criticism is given to a veterinarian that prescribes a medication for life. Splasher’s hypothyroidism is a good example. His body could not produce enough thyroid on its own so the medication made him healthier in that one regard. It didn’t fix his heart or give him the arteries of a two-year-old. Meaning I did not say the medication made him “healthy”, just healthier. There is no assumption that any medical treatment will make a condition perfect. There is no assumption that a medical or surgical treatment will solve a problem completely or forever. There is no assumption that a single mode of treatment will correct anything. A veterinarian is not limited to a single treatment protocol. Veterinary oncologists may use radiation, chemo or surgery or any combination of the three along with diet and exercise. They may use them in a sequence. They may change dosages or variations on medication. They may have to do more than one surgery.

The Cold, Hard Facts:
If statistics mean anything, a dog is more likely to die from jumping up on guests than it is to die from cancer. Meaning jumping on guests and cancer are both lethal, but jumping is more likely to be lethal. To treat cancer a dog can be tortured for weeks to months and the world smiles. If I can keep an animal alive with a harmless but temporarily scary procedure, how does that rank against chemo, radiation and surgery? Dualism ignores this logic and attacks any behavioral treatment that is not a panacea or uses aversive control. Dualist veterinary behaviorists are examples of Bernard Beruch’s famous quote. “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” In their case, the nails are drugs. They reserve the hammer for anyone who wishes to question their one-trick-pony solution. Just as a reminder, the psychotropic drugs have to be reapplied and rarely solve the problem. They are not given because they are the most effective way to control behavior. They are given because veterinary psycho-pharmacologists/behaviorists have cloaked themselves in the guise of medicine – where any form or treatment is protected from criticism. So, why do they attack aversive control that is actually more effective, has to be reapplied less often and causes no chemical side-effects like a permanently doped up dog? You can answer that for yourself. Take a hard look at a dollar bill and you’ll be on the right track. It’s a market strategy to demonize the competition  and preserve elevated status and cash. Though they claim to be scientists, they never do blind trials to prove effectiveness. Many of they drugs they used have never had any semblance of objective testing to prove they actually work. A “workup” with a vet behaviorist pretty much starts at a thousand dollars. That’s not the cure, it’s the merely the starting point.

There be Hypocrites Among Us:
If dualism was just a matter of innocent delusion it could be ignored. Dualists also have differing standards within the topic of behavior itself. They believe that “positive” solutions are acceptable and “negative” solutions are evil. Consider this quote about B.F. Skinner from the Association for Behavior Analysis International – and organization that he created.

Throughout his career, Skinner opposed the use of all forms of punishment; he advocated positive ways of changing behavior.

Once again we have a dualism – positive is good, negative is bad, regardless of results. This is the injection of another philosophy, normative hedonism, into the mix. In reality, behavior analysts, other behavioral scientists and modern “scientific” dog trainers oppose the use of aversive control and prefer ‘positive’ solutions, regardless of objective analysis of the actual effects of either. (Positive in the scientific sense denotes an increase in behavior. Negative denotes a decrease or end to a behavior.) How can someone prefer always increasing behavior as a solution to all problems? For some reason ‘positive’ experiences are always good and all that anyone needs to be behaviorally healthy. EG: There is an entire industry that offers ‘enrichment’ to zoo animals intended to make them comfortable in an austere, prison-like environment. How come all the enrichment is positive? How come some of those animals still display aberrant behavior from confinement? The answer makes sense to any non-dualist. Animals need to have their environment recreated or they go nuts. Fear is a part of surviving in nature. Zoos do not scare animals other than when treating their bodies. (the dualism of medicine vs. behavior) The problem is that fear triggers chemicals in the body that can actually lead to cell regeneration. Psycho-pharmacologists attempt to do that all the time and spend an inordinate amount of time talking about things like dopamine, adrenalin and cortisol. Here’s a thought. Nowhere in human society do we see people who are completely protected from stressful events that are happy and healthy. On the contrary, people who live a life of indolence and sloth end up whacky. Consider Lindsay Lohan as the poster child for this. You can add the older Elvis Presley, Howard Hughes, and every obese, spoiled dog that ever lived. These people and animals have nothing to fear. Ironically, that does not remove fear from their lives. The difference is that they experience low-level stress that is damaging over the long haul. Elvis is a great example of what relying on psychotropic drugs can do for someone who is relieved of periodic high-level stress. That brings us to arguably the most famous zoological park in the world, that shall remain nameless.

Consulting Work that Wasn’t: Behavioral enrichment that wasn’t.
I once was invited and paid to come to a major zoological park and review some of their acts and their animals. One of the beasts was an adult, female ocelot who lived alone in a nice cage about 40 feet by ten feet. She never used the whole cage. She stayed at one end and did a stereotypic dance. She would leap up about three feet and catch herself on the chain-link, bounce to the corner of the cage, dart along the fence line for a few feet and then start the whole process again – all day long. She was clearly mad. The director of behavior services showed the animal to me as a way of saying ‘see the magnitude of the problem we have here?’ I told him I could fix it. He asked how. I said that the use of aversive control followed by positive reinforcement and normal enrichment. I was proposing a ‘reset’ that would then lead to normal behavior. The methods they were using obviously didn’t work and had not brought about any healthful benefits for the animal. His reaction was equal to my saying that I wanted to set off a pipe bomb in a day-care. I was very clearly told that no punishment could be used to fix the animal. The way zoos handle such things is to wait until enough people complain or comment and then they put the animal “off-exhibit”. I saw several batches of those, too.

The person wasn’t saying what he said because he was an idiot. He was saying it because dualism and hedonism are so rife within our society that if a docent or visitor observed a behavioral procedure that caused any discomfort the place would be shut down in a fire-storm of criticism. The same is not true of a medical procedure on an exotic animal. That would be a perk for someone to brag that they helped with a root-canal on a male, silver back gorilla or an intestinal scoping of a cheetah. That is dualism in a nutshell. While animals and humans live in behavioral hell, dualist/hedonists block effective treatment and leave the animals to their fate. I find that to be the height or selfishness and callousness. I will close with a quote I received from a board certified behavior analyst in current practice.

“Here in my current position, I often struggle with years and years of ‘reinforcement’ procedures that still have my students breaking their own noses and requiring 2-person holds – often on a daily basis, and an absolute resistance to even discussing the possibility of using a punishment procedure.”

Now examine that report from the standpoint of dualism. The doctor who sets the broken nose, repeatedly, causes pain and, because the person is mentally impaired, fear. The nose heals and is broken again…and again…and again. The patient likely has relatives. If they asked if there was anyone who could stop the behavior, Rene Descartes doesn’t come to mind.







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