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Whose Decline And Fall? - Eysenck's Version Of Psychoanalysis

The Letter, Issue 18, Spring 2000, Pages 70 - 86


Liberato Santoro-Brienza

Man is a heap of contradictions. (F. W. Nietzsche)

According to Pavlov's experiments, behaviourally conditioned dogs salivate when stimulated by the ring of a bell - previously associated with meal-times and the simultaneous co-presence of food - even in the absence of food. An artificial stimulus triggers an established and reinforced nervous reflex. The ringing bell causes the dogs salivation, directly or without any mediation. There is an old joke that tells the story of two dogs meeting in Moscow. One of them - a former patient at Pavlov's laboratories - is well-nourished and healthy, the other pitifully emaciated and weak. The skinny and sickly dog asks the other: 'How do you manage to be so healthy? How and where do you find food?'. The reply is, of course, quite obvious - especially if you happen to be a behaviourist. 'Well - the other dog answers - it is really very easy ... Every day, at meal-time, I go to the Pavlov Institute, I am let in by the porter, and I start to dribble with great enthusiasm. Suddenly a conditioned psychologist arrives, promptly gives me lashings and lashings of food, and then rings a bell'.

In this story, as Umberto Eco comments ...

... the scientist reacts to a stimulus, while the dog establishes a sort of reversible relationship between salivation and food: it knows that to a given stimulus a given reaction must correspond and therefore the dog possesses a code. Salivation is for it the sign of the possible reaction on the part of the scientist. Unfortunately for dogs, this is not the way things are - at least within the framework of classical experiment: the sound of the bell is a stimulus for the dog, which salivates independently of any social code, [symbolic order] while the psychologist regards the dog's salivation as a sign (or symptom) that the stimulus has been received and has elicited the appropriate response.[1]

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