Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Love-Struck Behaviorist

[Given to me by another professor some time ago -- a submission by a ministry student commenting on what love is. -- brint]

I draw from personal experience for these thoughts and my own observations of some people whom I have been very close to for some years. I will call them Bill and Joan. Bill met Joan when he was in the first half of his third year of college. Joan was the proverbial ‘best catch’ on campus, with the males lined up to court or woo her. She seemed to have it all, with a figure, facial structure that models would kill for, and a 4.0 pre-med grade point.

Bill ,on the other hand, well, we could say he had a challenge or two. In those days, the label used was considerably less tolerant. He had/has diploid vision, with one eye permanently focused off to the left, one leg was a couple inches shorter than the other and a hunched walk. He did have intelligence, but otherwise this was not a match that looked very probable. Of course, this was immediately confronted with an additional problem. Bill fell head over heels for Joan, from first sight. She, on the other hand, really did not care if he existed.

Bill retreated and dug out some books. He spent hours in the university library, studying Voltaire and Skinner. From Voltaire he took the words, “Love is the product of habit, nothing less, nothing more.” From Skinner (and other behavioralists) he took variable conditioning techniques. He then enrolled into some of the same classes that Joan was taking the following year, so as to have access to her in person.

I will not say his campaign was entirely cold blooded, or without some emotion. But it was planned out to the last degree, literally written out on paper. Bill crafted a variable reinforcement schedule, straight out of B.F.Skinner.. He set to work, beginning with constant reinforcement followed by a progressively varied reinforcement schedule. It had some little hills and bumps in the road, like when Joan went back East for a week to see an old flame. She returned with a deep crush on the old flame, and Bill went back to work. Bill did a few minor adjustment to his patterns and the variable reinforcement schedule kicked in again.

To make a long story short, I will attend their 35 wedding anniversary this year! Through their time together, kids, house purchases, and now grandkids, Bill has kept the lessons of the reinforcement schedule in his eyes and focus. He still looks like something that a particularly mangy dog would have rejected. Joan is a raving beauty, even today. And they share a bond that I would like to bottle and use as an injection for the couples that I marry in an average year.


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