Punishment and Reward in Limited Awareness

In classical (Pavlovian) and operant (Skinner) conditioning, a subject learns to behave in a certain way through a system of punishments and rewards. In nature, an individual interacts with their environment in this way and learns how to adapt.

I must assume I can create wholeness within limitations. That’s to believe that if I do, have, and/or be enough limitation, I’ll achieve wholeness. That’s a world of hope. And a paradox!

I feel motivated to seek for and to validate more separateness. In the mastery of separateness I might then be initiated into the experience of wholeness. My service to my intention meant I could get a sense of wholeness as a reward.

Options

My only options in this dimension of separateness are how to defend it. Yet, I must seek separation to find wholeness by comparing them. Since I cannot attain the unattainable – I’ll settle for a substitute – an illusion of wholeness.

What if all that – environment, systems, and conditioning – is within me. As the perceiver of my universe, I might act/react as conditioner of my own behaviors. I may be more in charge of my world of limited awareness than I once thought!

I wonder if I develop much of my definition of wholeness by trial and error. Another way to learn is by observation, which allows for choice by association.

Trial and error development sounds a lot like conditioning. Freud observed that we tend to seek pleasure and avoid or escape pain. That’s a perfect setup for conditioning by punishment and reward in a system of learning by trial and error.

When I behave in compliance with my conditioning, I feel good – I get a dopamine blast as a reward, I feel whole. Conversely, I suffer a punishment for misbehaviors and feel separate.

Who applies that punishment or reward? Nature? My society? What if it is my own intention?

A Relationship Between Intention and Purpose

In my bubble of limited awareness, I have only one purpose in life: to fulfill an intention to be whole. This intention sets up a perception of lack forever seeking fulfillment.

Perhaps the first need that intention must satisfy in order to continue is its purpose. Intention sets up a structure in which it asks, “Why do I exist?” Purpose makes sense of the structure of intention with an answer in the format of, “…because…”

Intention and purpose set up a process that presents a lack and identifies what will satisfy it. Intention is like one side of a coin representing a deficit. And the other side, the purpose to complete it. In this way, each side of the coin serves as the complement of the other. Together, the two sides represent one coin.

Any action in service to a purpose is in service to an intention.

Seeing Both Sides of the Coin

In our coin example, only one side can be viewed at a time. For each side of a coin, there is a hidden other side.

Due to a limitation in attention, I can attend to only one thing at a time.  This is why I see one side of a coin and believe that’s all there is to it. This works to lock my awareness onto one side of the coin and lockout the other. Thus, eliminating the ambiguity.

An interaction between intention and purpose creates a process. That process results in a manifestation that gives a limited meaning to that interaction.

What am I NOT aware of in this intention? Why am I NOT aware of it?

For every intention, there is a purpose. For every what, there is a why. The flip side – for every purpose there’s an intention. And for every why there is a what. Due to this one-to-one relationship between intention and purpose, I might assume I can connect the dots.

I might assume I know an intention by looking at its manifestation. This assumes the reason why. Conversely, I might assume I know a purpose by looking at its manifestation – assuming the intention behind it. This is akin to looking at the heads side of a coin and assuming the other side is tails.

As a school kid, I lost a lot of lunch money to the kid who had a two-headed coin… Then, again…

What if there is no coin?

A Turf War Between Thought and Emotion

In my bubble of limited awareness every thought and emotion compete for attention and defend against oblivion. Where attention is the turf, every thought or emotion must struggle to win the turf. It’s a war over my attention. In this world, I can either think or feel – not both.

In such a world, instinct rules over reason in the struggle over attention. Basically, whenever there is a question in a situation, instinct wins. We’ve seen this in history where one side wins over the other when a contest over turf arises. Even today, we see turf wars between apparently competing interests. The belief is that only one should survive.

Results of War

I don’t think anyone would argue that war is destructive. Sure, good things can come out of war, but war itself is purely destructive. Someone may win, yet, even the “winner” sustains injury. Both sides in such a conflict lose something of value.

What if there was another way? That way would have to exist outside the arena of win or lose competition. For example, in an argument, the opposing sides might find a middle ground – a compromise. OR, both sides come to the realization that their interests are better served by cooperation – adding to each other. Such would require thinking beyond that of instinct where only self-interest matters.

Turf War in a Brain Metaphor

Perhaps we see this in metaphor in our own brains. My brain consists of a primitive portion and a new brain that represents an ability to think beyond instinct. That new part is slower to react, capable of considering multiple options, and capable of questioning. It’s that last bit, questioning, that really sets it apart.

Instinctive brain: Unquestioned competition => War => Loss or Gain

New brain: Questions competition => Cooperation => Loss and Gain

A turf war between concepts and how I feel about them results in confirmation of my belief in loss. Whenever I think my position is right and must win out, I’m working to validate that belief. This turf war will make loss more real to me, which will tend to promote more war.

Fighting and defending lead to validation of loss at the expense of the participants. Meanwhile, another way leads to connection and cooperation, thus promoting flow for all participants.

What if there is no turf?

Stuck in Certitude

In my bubble of awareness, nature appears to push life toward certitude and in the process, a sense of blind obedience arises. My sense of knowing how to survive comes from a confidence that runs a strictly automated cause/effect program.

From that perspective, certitude as an instinctive program governing all thought and behavior is associated with success. Yet, with all that certitude being applied towards success, why does death, suffering, and failure top the list of outcomes?

When I challenge a wild animal in its certitude, I could be inviting my own uncertainty. What if that wild animal is my unquestionable state of knowingness? Just how far will that certitude go to prove its rightness?

Getting Stuck in Certitude

Defense plays a part in stuckness. While defending what I’m attending, I’m blocking what I’m unaware of. Thus, my reactions are due to my extractions, unaware of my unawareness!

One is certain AFTER they are uncertain, aware after they are unaware, unstuck after they are stuck – not before. Becoming aware of my unawareness may be the first step in resolving the paradox.

Am I addicted to certitude?

Becoming aware of a stuck state of mind is useful in that it sets my mind into problem solving mode. However, my addiction to certainty might take me into using a known process to solve the problem of stuckness. That’s unlikely to work because it was probably that process that got me stuck in the first place!

In certitude, I’ll resist change. Why? Because I’m right! That can add to “the problem” of stuckness in unawareness.

What can I do to resolve the awareness paradox?

I might think I can resolve the paradox of defending unawareness with a process I’ve used before. That will probably be unsuccessful because previous defense is the default behavior – resulting in the current condition.

Instead, I may want to investigate a resolution process that feels risky to me. I risk my awareness by blocking an area of consideration I’ve actively defended against to protect myself. Fear may represent that risk and thus, act as a great indicator for which process to pursue.

For example, if I fear what I might find under hypnosis, then it might be useful in resolving my awareness paradox.

All or Nothing Thinking => Stuck!

Believing that change is impossible will tend to make it so. All or nothing thinking resists change because it sees change in terms of too large or not enough. Overwhelming or insignificant. Black or white. That is the very definition of stuck!

One strategy I might use is that of chunking, in which I take something apparently large and break it up into smaller pieces. Like eating the pie one bite at a time rather than trying to smash the whole thing into my mouth at once. Breathing is done one breath at a time.

In certitude, one might introduce a little doubt and consider new ways to think and behave…

Apathy, Correctness, and Conscious Choice

Can a belief be questioned? If so, can it be challenged? Could my belief in my unquestionable repetitive thoughts and actions become law which result in apathy? Could sure knowledge and ultimate confidence in a belief lead to so much defense of correctness I experience apathy? Thus, in my bubble of limited awareness, might apathy represent maximum resistance to awareness of change?

How can I become aware that I’m in apathy when apathy resists awareness? Is my belief in correctness worthy of examination?

“The unexamined life isn’t worth living.” (Sacrates)

The Socratic method is “a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presumptions.” Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socratic_method

From an individual perspective, how often do I question my thoughts and motives? From a social perspective, how often do others question my behaviors and views?

What if the reason few questions arise is due to apathy? Apathy is “a lack of feeling, emotion, interest, or concern about something. Apathy is a state of indifference, or the suppression of emotions such as concern, excitement, motivation, or passion. An apathetic individual has an absence of interest in or concern about emotional, social, spiritual, philosophical, or physical life and the world.” Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motivation

What if any emotion, feeling, interest, or concern is an indicator that I have sufficient energy to ask a question? Maybe that’s enough motivation to challenge the defense of my situation.  Thus, emotion may offer a way out!

How About A Catalyst

Things tend to stay as they are until acted upon by a catalyst (Newton’s first law of motion https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newton%27s_laws_of_motion). How might that catalyst appear?

The individual, society, etc. becomes preoccupied with its own correctness. That correctness then leads to its defense, which leads to a stronger stand against change. Resistance to change attracts more resistance. Thus, apathy would represent the highest level of defense – lowest level of awareness.

When resistance reaches a tipping point of awareness, a catalyst tips the cause towards change. In an atmosphere of apathy, any change in the apathetic condition would indicate the presence of a catalyst.

Change comes from outside the state of apathy to challenge the status quo. Catalyst!

The initial catalyst is questioning – the change appears in the answer, which then becomes the next cause. That cause may be to question why my emotions are giving me the feedback I experience about my choices.

This direction of questioning may be backwards from my present questioning. It may be that my emotions are telling me to question my choices. This approach to understanding my choices and the role of my emotions seems more proactive. Thus, leading me away from unnecessary emotional drama.

To arise out of the limited awareness of apathy, I may ask questions that might lead to change and a new causality – like:

  • What is my place in the universe?
  • How do I defend it?
  • Why must I defend it?
  • Who am I?