"My god, love is strong. You are mauled and you come crawling back. You are frozen, and yet still you seek heat from the same wrong source...There is only the dark side of truth, which is that they can kill us while they hold us. But again I find some beauty. The beauty is this: We are creatures of great faith. We will build bridges, against all odds we will build them--from here to there. From me to you. Come closer."
Opening Skinner’s Box @ Bristol Old Vic (Mayest 2016) Review

Opening Skinner’s Box @ Bristol Old Vic (Mayest 2016) Review

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‘How do we learn? Why do we believe in the unbelievable? Why do we keep doing things that hurt us?’ These are, among others, just a few of the questions which Improbable Theatre Company attempt to tackle in their Mayfest entry, Opening Skinner’s Box. Based upon the popular and controversial book by Lauren Slater, the play runs through ten of the most influential psychological experiments of the…

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   "Could Memory Pharmaceuticals, or one of its rivals, make [a memory removal] drug for humans? Tim Tully already has one in the works. If marketed, the drug could be used within twenty-four hours of a trauma, and it would delete your memory of the trauma, along with whatever else happened that day. Such a drug could be used for survivors of terrible events, terrorist bombings, plane crashes, vicious personal attacks. Such a drug would effectively obliterate the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder; post-trauma would be a pill, a pharmacological capsule of water from the river Lethe, where old souls in Hades go to erase their pasts.“

- Lauren Slater, Opening Skinner’s Box 

Opening Skinner's Box - Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century by Lauren Slater

“Do you use any drugs yourself?” I ask him, because he sometimes seems a little tilted. He says, “With special friends, I use acid. I don’t use it regularly, but it has provided me with the opportunity for profound self-understanding.” He pauses. I’m waiting. “Once,” he says, “I took some LSD and felt my head was in a dragon’s mouth, and when I looked down, my lower body was in another beast’s mouth and I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll just lie down and die.’ So that’s what I did. My heart seemed to stop beating. I knew not to fight the beasts. As soon as I stopped resisting, the monsters turned into a yellow bed of flowers, and I floated away. Since then I have not feared my mortality.”

“How long ago was that?” I ask him.

“Twenty-five years ago or so,” he says.

Well, I think that’s a pretty good advertisement for acid. Not only does it break you into Buddhism faster than you can crack the easiest koan, but it keeps you there without, apparently, much follow up.

I eye him, warily. As a psychologist I have worked in substance abuse facilities, and I have seen firsthand the powerful chemistry or craving. I’d like to dismiss Alexander as a pure propagandist, except there is this problematic, delightful, fascinating fact: Alexander has facts, in the form of his own ingenious experiments, to prove his theories and substantiate the studies he so likes to quote. You can resist him, or you can come with him, here and here and here, to the oddest places, where your assumptions die down and in their place, an open field - strange sorts of flowers, all of them unexpected.

Things grow steadily worse and it is disheartening to find that technology itself is increasingly at fault. Sanitation and medicine have made the problems of population control more acute. War has acquired a new horror with the invention of nuclear weapons, and the affluent pursuit of happiness is largely responsible for pollution.

“Although this was written in 1971, I might as well be reading a speech by Al Gore, or a Green Party mission statement from 2003.  It is true that further into the text Sinner says some troubling things like, "By questioning the control exercised by autonomous man and demonstrating the control exercised by the environment, a science of behaviour questions the concepts of dignity and worth."  But these sorts of fatements are buried in a text immensely pragmatic.   Skinner is clearly proposing a humane society policy rooted in his experimental findings.  He is proposing that we appreciate the immense control (or influence) our surroundings have on us, and so sculpt those surroundings in such a way that they "reinforce positively,” or in other words, engender adaptive and creative behaviours in all citizens.  Skinner is asking society to fashion cues that are most likely to draw on our best selves, as opposed to cues that clearly confound us, cues such as those that exist in prisons, in places of poverty.  In other words, stop punishing.“ Lauren Slater writes inOpening Skinner’s Box, emphasize mine.

There’s a lot to nitpick at Slater for.  She did after all write a memoir calledLying, but she also approaches B.F. Skinner in a way that popular psychology does not.  The legend of Skinner’s daughter raised in a box, the engineered behaviour of rats and pigeons - a man who believed that science could predict every human behaviour.  He sounds cold, doesn’t he?  But what Skinner had lived through was two world wars.  He had seen the nation’s science programs rocket through machines of war - building the better weapon.  And he had seen the nation’s home science move towards making the better household. 

Perhaps he thought - if we can invent a better weapon and a better home appliance, we can invent a better human.  Perhaps he was striving for a utopia.  And given his findings, that with the right sets of parameters (rewarding good behaviour, a literal treat for action - such as slowly getting a rat to turn in a circle based) humans could be programmed to notbe betterbut ratherbehave well.  That is the root of this behaviourism.

How do we learn?  How do we become addicted to things?  What shapes our world?  These are all forms of conditioning.  Skinner is the largest name inoperant conditioning(if you hear "classical conditioning” that refers to Pavlov and his slobbering dogs).  OC is basically being encouraged or punished to do something - cause/effect model, CC is action being paired with a natural occurring response more or less.  So if every time you reach for a cookie I slap you in the face, you will associate reaching for the cookie with being slapped in the face.  Alternatively, if every 5 minutes you don’t reach for the cookie I give you a mint, that becomes a paired association.  However, CC is more like youtensingright before I slapped you in the face - the reaction being paired with the action is the tensing + cookie, as opposed to the slap itself, because the tense is (most likely) an involuntary motion on your part.  MORE OR LESS, there is a lot of conditioning literature out there probably more accurate than reading a tumblr.

But the point is.  We don’t always consciously learn.  When we getfeedbackof some kind - a metaphorical slap to the face, someone yelling at us, someone giving us a dirty look, a poster telling us that we are fat, a poster telling us that all religious people are insane - our brains track this.  If we get highfived for a racist joke we are receiving positive reinforcement to be racist.  Experience builds learning, whether we think of it as learning or not.

I think Skinner was right in some ways.  But we can’t just expect to work towards behaving well - because we are so networked and so exposed to media, society, our parents, our schools, the television, the internetbecause of these thingswe need to be better as well.

The perfection myth is just that, a myth.  But the cliche of “you’re always learning” is quite true.  Imagine you use tumblr and feel great when you get a lot of reblogs - what has happened there?  A little positive reinforcement.  These kind of small examples are applicable for real life as well.

Think harder, be better.

Opening Skinners box is just loaded with quotes.

Did he not realize, at the very end, that the final act of life which is death, cannot be learned or otherwise overcome?

Can you really separate the significance of data from its proposed social uses? Can we consider just splitting the atom, and not the bomb and bones that followed? 

How did all this complexity get lost?

We apear to be entwined and must take responsibility for the strings that bind us.

I wonder if I am worthwhile.

Comedy and tragedy are inextricably intertwined, in sign, in symbol, in etymology.

A pill is so much more than a pill. It’s a point of punctuation. It breaks up the blurry long lines between this and that. Stop her. Start here. Begin.  

The Band-Aids soothe, even though we don’t know just what or where her wound is. 

Memories are the footprints we leave in our lives; without them we look back and see just a blank stretch of snow, or someone else’s signature entirely. 

Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century

Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century


(Source : Wikipedia)

Opening Skinner’s Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century, is a book by Lauren Slater

In this book, Slater sets out to describe some of the psychological experiments of the twentieth century. Controversially, the author also describes the urban legend that B.F. Skinner raised his child in a Skinner Box in a way which many perceived as being poorly researched and lending credit to a false claim.

Chapter 1[1][edit source | editbeta]

Throughout the chapter, Lauren Slater gives the impression that she is an investigator trying to solve the mystery of B.F. Skinner and his daughter whom people say had committed suicide. Slater has a way of putting Skinner on this sort of a pedestal that only a worthy man of great intelligence can reside. The chapter covers B.F. Skinner’s style of experimenting.  He was a behaviorist and “a man of real frigidity who slept in a bright yellow cubicle”. Slater also gives a little bit of background to Skinner and his early life.  He attended Harvard and fell in love with a woman named Yvonne, who later was to be his wife.  Skinner did not always want to be a psychologist; in fact, he wanted to be a novelist.  Skinner used to spend months in his mother’s attic “writing lyric prose.” After Skinner dove into the realm of psychology, he focused a lot on introspection and mentalist views. He wanted to see how subjects would react in different situations and he would observe their behavior.  Skinner wanted to expand on Pavlov’s saliva experiment, but he wanted more out of it.  In Skinner’s journal he wrote, “I began to become unbearably excited. Everything I touched suggested new and promising things to do”  This just shows the true passion Skinner had for learning new things and doing experiments. A common theme of Skinner’s experiments was that he would conduct experiments using rewarding gestures. For example, he would reward a bird whenever the bird would push a lever.  He found that using reward rather than punishment is much more effective in creating a particular type of behavior.  Also, Skinner found that irregularly rewarded a subject showed the most amount of commitment.  An example Slater uses is that a woman may not leave a mean boyfriend because on occasion, that boy just might be nice or call.  So that girl will hang on to that boy in hopes that someday he will call and be nice, even though he shows normal behavior of being a jerk. Slater ended the chapter with a segment about how she met with one of Skinner’s daughters.  She let him read some of his archives and even allowed her to see a piece of chocolate that Skinner himself had taken a bite of.


B. F. Skinner’s daughter Deborah criticised the book for its claims that she had been raised in a box and committed suicide. The book, indeed, mentioned such claims, but also rebutted them with an interview with Deborah’s sister, Julie Vargas. In an article for the Guardian, Deborah described the claims as “doing her family a disservice” and stated that she was a very healthy child growing up. Skinner’s daughter also described the truth behind the photographs which spawned the legend, namely that her father had developed a heated crib for her, later marketed under the name “Air-Crib”, which had been mistaken by the public for a Skinner Box.[2]

This happened, then that happened, then this happened

A sort of a time-line, informed by Wilting in Reverse, History History History, Lookout, and Opening Skinner’s Box

1931 / Scientist B. F. Skinner develops an operant conditioning chamber - a laboratory apparatus used to study animal behaviour, also known as Skinner’s Box.
1953 / Lauren Slater is born.
1956 / The Hungarian Uprising is unsuccessful and a comedy film about football is not released.
1978 / I am born.
1983 / Deborah Pearson is born.
1990 / The boy (sorry, young man) I sit next to in Opening Skinner’s Box is born.
1998 / I go to Budapest to teach English.
2004 / Opening Skinner’s Box by Lauren Slater is published.
2004 / I start helping out at a youth theatre in a converted church called the Hope Centre on Hope Chapel Hill in Bristol.
2006 / Sol is born.
2013 / My half-sister moves to Budapest to study.
2014, May / I watch Deborah Pearson perform The Future Show at Mayfest.
2014, Nov / Deborah Pearson visits Budapest and goes to many baths.
2015, May / I watch Stuart Bowden’s Before Us at Mayfest.
2016, April / I visit my sister in Budapest for her 21st birthday and don’t go to any baths, although I intended to.
2016, Thurs 19th May /  I watch Stuart Bowden’s Wilting in Reverse at the Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol.
2016, Fri 20th May / I watch Deborah Pearson’s History History History at the Cube Cinema, Bristol.
2016, Sat 21st May, 12:45pm / I meet Deborah Pearson whilst waiting to take part in Andy Field’s Look Out, and we talk about her show, and about Budapest, and how History History History feels like it’s a show that’s been carried around with her for a while.
2016, Sat 21st May, 12:55pm / I take part in Andy Field’s Look Out on Brandon Hill, Bristol, and meet Sol, who tells me about his vision for the future.
2016, Sat 21st May, 2pm / I watch Improbable’s Opening Skinner’s Box at the Bristol Old Vic and find myself sitting next to a boy (sorry, young man) who came to a youth theatre I helped run 10 years ago.
2016, Sun 22nd May, 3:30pm / I listen to Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour on Radio 6 Music and for the first time hear a song called Hope Avenue by I am Kloot. You can listen to it here.
2016, Sun 22nd May, 4pm / I start writing this.
2016, Sun 22nd May, 9.29pm / I finish writing this.
2016, Sun 22nd May, 10pm / I have a bath.
2016, Mon 23rd May / I add I am Kloot to the artist folder of my Spotify account.
2016, August / I go up Brandon Hill and remember Look Out.
2017 / Sol starts secondary school.
2017 / History History History tours internationally.
2018 / My half-sister’s course finishes and she leaves Budapest.
2018 / I return to Budapest for a reunion with the other people I spent time there with 20 years ago and we go to many baths.
2020 / According to Sol, there are lots of allotments in Bristol, and people grow cucumbers and tomatoes because they need to eat more healthily. The SS Great Britain has left Bristol and is on tour in Afghanistan.
2031 / Sol qualifies as an architect and sets out to turn all the disused factories in Bristol (and some of the factories that aren’t disused) into community centres.
2076 / I am 97. I tell Sol that if I’m still alive by now, I’m pretty decrepit and I’ve no idea who’s looking  after me. I miss having baths. There’s a button that when you press it the weather changes and everyone is an acrobat.
2085 / Stuart Bowden is dead. I am marooned on a distant planet that’s running out of water. Along with the planet’s other occupants, I head to a performance space called In the Moment, where I help bring Stuart back to life and get to take a look around a wood cabin called Eternity.