Saturday, July 24, 2010

Free Run, Hamsters and Learned Helplessness.

It has been a while since I posted, and also been a while since I felt the need to begin a blogpost with this line (as I have to every so often). I don't know whether it is a case of writer's block or what, perhaps not, but I had developed a complete aversion to even thinking about my blog, let alone posting. Albeit temporary, it had kind of left a weird block in my mind, where I would constantly feel the need to blog, but no desire to do it. This entry is essentially going to be a free run. I shall type whatever that comes to the mind, with an aim to empty it so that I can fill it with fresh new trash! Which brings me to the two words mentioned earlier - Need and Desire. How do we determine what is needed and what is simply desired? We face several situations where we feel we need to have something, but it really is nothing more than a desire. It is not just a need or desire for physical objects but also experiences, reply of certain experiences or maybe just new ones. Over a period of past few years, I have developed this rather annoying habit of "mind-watching". Annoying because after a while it happens automatically. This made me realise something. We are no different than a hamster on a treadmill. I think it is safe to assume this is a universal phenomenon and not just limited to myself. When we understand what makes us happy, we inadvertently tend to recreate or seek new opportunities which brings back that feeling of joy. When we understand what makes us sad, we tend to avoid or manoeuvre around things which cause this sorrow. Finally, when from past experience we categorise certain situations as those where we are helpless, we tend to assume our inability to overcome it and thus, stop taking efforts to come out of those situations. I remember from my IB time when I studied Psychology, that there is a phenomenon in behavioural theories called 'Learned Helplessness'. According to this, when we assume we can't help ourself, we can't. This is because we just don't try. This theory was proved by experiments which would be considered abominable today. The behaviourists got some rats into cages. The floor of the cage was connected to a battery pack and every few minutes the current would be passed through the metal floor. The poor rat would get slightly electrocuted and would run around looking for an escape. Being in a cage, there won't be any to be found. After repeated cycles of electrocution over a number of days or even weeks, the rat would then be put in another cage-like box but with an open gate on one side. The floor would be electrocuted again. However, the rat, having "learnt" that there is no escape, assumes there is no escape and suffers by self victimisation. It doesn't even look around to see if there is an escape this time, when there is one right behind it. Humans are similar I feel. We wallow in self pity due to this "learned helplessness" and give up. This is one thing. On close observation, one can see that our lives are really a series of events which repeat in a constant loop. The loop gets us in a soup, which is really imprisonment. People have these concepts of freedom. Some feel they are free when they have a lot of money, some when they can indulge in their senses indiscriminately, some feel freedom when they sleep or eat, others have an anarchist idea of freedom. No matter what our ideas of freedom are, isn't it really just that freedom we all seek? We all seek freedom in one way or another. Regardless of our backgrounds, cultures, upbringing, desires or ambitions, freedom is what we crave. I read a quote the other day, and it left a deep impression on my mind.

"The only man one needs to conquer is oneself, and the only freedom one should seek is from oneself. The self binds, and the self releases".

If we somehow just manage to step out of the treadmill, we realise that we can switch off this crazy loop, that is the real freedom. Not being enslaved by our own mind. If we learn to keep our balance in happiness and despair, we reach that state of freedom. Easier said than done, but not too hard with a bit of a "learned helpFULness".


Noor said...

You're finally blogging again. Yay!

this post reminds me of a story my teacher once told us in class about an elephant who is tied by a chain, and he'd always try to break free to no avail, until one day the owner makes it loose or opens it i dont remember, but the elephant no longer tries because in his mind there's no point.

and this summer ive been thinking alot about similar stuff, how we always blame circumstances and not ourselves, when right now nothing can stop us if we have the will and actually ACT upon it!

thank you for reminding me of that.
great stuff!

Anonymous said...

you thoughts are very profound. humans have an innate tendency to get stuck up on certain habits and falsely believe they cant get rid of it.