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Shay’s Story

…here’s another of my not-stories. It has neither a plot, nor a point – it’s just something that I have heard, and liked enough to repeat (about a hundred times). I call it “Shay’s story”. If you are looking for the author, if there can be an author for something like this – it’s Shay. I only repeat (and restyle, and maybe add a word or two, and do my best to capture the magic, which this story holds for me.) So, Shay… Now a professor in one of the Israeli Universities, then a student, majoring in sociology, but he has to take some psychology courses too. Some Kant and some Freud, but some other schools too: like Gestalt, NLP, Cognitivism and Behaviorism. Hence the story. The one that he had read in his Behaviorism textbook and was so impressed, that he had to call me in the middle of the night, to tell me all about it. And I was impressed too. So I am telling it, and re-telling it, and maybe embellishing it a little, but it’s still the truth, the whole truth, just, maybe, sort of, not exactly, “nothing but the truth”. Behaviorism – just as the word suggests – means that for every human behavior, there is a reason, a trigger, and if you knew all the triggers, the prediction of the human behavior would be a done deal. And if you can predict, couldn’t you also influence? This is The Question of Great Importance, so experiments are conducted and data is collected. In one such experiment, a maze was built and rats were introduced to its ingress; as an incentive, at the heart of that maze was hidden a piece of cheese. The rats solved the maze and ate the cheese. Additional, more complicated mazes were created, and the rats solved them too. Mazes and rats were replaced, but each time the cheese got eaten. Hmm… Nice. But what does it tell us about people? After all, the idea was to learn about people, not rats. And after all – you don’t need brains to solve a maze – mold is doing it nicely too… So a bigger maze was built and student volunteers were drafted, with a dollar bill as an incentive. Students had shown greater aptitude than rats. They solved maze after maze – it looked like the harder the maze, the quicker it got solved (the fact that a one dollar bill was replaced with a ten dollar bill could be a factor). And then the cheese was removed from the heart of the rats’ maze and the money – from the students’ one. After several runs, the rats lost interest in the maze. The re-introduction of cheese did not re-kindle it. And students? They are still solving mazes (and there’s still no prize for their efforts.) And somewhere, some (yet) anonymous people in white coats are watching the mazes and writing papers. About rats, and people, and cheese, and about everlasting, not trigger-based, human hope.  

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