Posted on July 25, 2012 by James Kohl.
- Q. Could you elaborate more on your thoughts regarding operant conditioning and evolved free will?
A. Pavlovian / classical conditioning always takes place before operant conditioning can occur. The initial UCS: CS pairing involved the epigenetic effects of food odors or pheromones. The food odors or pheromones directly effect secretion of GnRH via a diet-responsive and pheromone-responsive neurogenic niche that also determines whether or not other hormone secretion driven by the neurogenic niche will be linked via operant conditioning to rewards associated with visual, auditory, tactile stimuli et al. None of these secondary associations, for example with the dopaminergic system, or even with oxytocin, can occur in the absence of olfactory/pheromonal conditioning of the GnRH directed response.
Meanwhile, we have people linking dopamine and oxytocin causally to behavior — all the while burying / disguising the cause and effect known to be common to all species via the common molecular biology. As I detailed using the honeybee model organism, nutrient chemicals are the first to classically condition cellular responses and gene expression that allows survival of individuals. Then, the metabolism of nutrient chemicals to pheromones controls reproduction and species survival. Only when the ecological niche contains enough nutrient chemicals, and pheromones control reproduction, does adaptive evolution allow for construction of the neurogenic niche that enables brain development in vertebrates and the hypothalamic neurogenic niche, which also enables construction of our socio-cognitive niche.
With construction of our socio-cognitive niche comes free will. We can choose to not respond to classically conditioned appetites for food and sex, but we either die of starvation, or leave no offspring. Those are serious consequences. But when we choose whether or not we respond to preferences that are operantly conditioned, we merely limit food intake or sexual experiences. Simply put, we can choose to avoid experiences that are not acceptable to society, like sex with a minor, but we cannot choose not to eat. Free will is obviously involved in many choices and so is operant conditioning, but classical conditioning of hormone responses to food odors and pheromones is initially involved in all other choices.
Retired medical laboratory scientist
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