The Misadventures of Quinxy truths, lies, and everything in between!


The Pedagogical Role of Induced Temporary Unconsciousness

Could induced unconsciousness be an effective teaching tool?  Imagine a teacher could instantly induce temporary unconsciousness in a student; the specifics are unimportant, but just to prevent detracting speculation, let's imagine the student wore some sort of removable, remotely-controlled device operated by the teacher.  A press of a button and within one second the student would be safely asleep for 5 minutes.

Before you become outraged, this is meant to be a thought experiment, not a proposal for actually building such devices.  I am trying to explore the topic of how we learn and how our errors are corrected and our desires constrained. The ethical and technical issues are no doubt fascinating, but secondary.

Children want things they shouldn't want and attempt to do things they shouldn't attempt to do; that is their very nature. A child may want more candy than is reasonable, a toddler may repeatedly attempt to pull the tail on the cat, a teenager may attempt to sneak out of the house after midnight. Wherever possible the child's behavior should be corrected using traditional methods, including such basic tools as rewards, consequences, distraction, and reasoning.  But what of those with whom the traditional approaches fail to deliver results.  What if the child or adult in question is so defiant that they will not submit to the reasonable authority parents or teachers need to modify problem behavior?

This is what prompted me to wonder about whether unconsciousness could be instructive.  And my own conclusion was that I get it could.

Let's imagine a very simple situation.  Let's imagine a rescued dog who has extreme aggressiveness towards all other living creatures, human, canine, feline, squirreline, etc.  Let's imagine he is in an enclosed area and that the instant he sees a human walk into view he runs at them to attack.  Now imagine that every time he began the charge he was immediately rendered unconscious and returned the few inches he was able to move, back to his original location.  The dog would revive and the scene would be repeated.  I am not a behavior theorist, but it certainly seems plausible that the dog would begin to accept that his desire is wholly unfulfillable, and the synapses which connected from the sight of a human to the desire to attack would weaken their connection (at least in that context).  Animals and humans do persist in pursuing unfulfillable goals, but there is almost always an element of the pursuit that is "satisfying" in a psychological sense.  A dog which barks at the mail man through the mail slot may never actually get his chance to bite the mail man, but the dog presumably gets things out of the interaction, regardless.  The dog's anger at the mail man is probably rewarding in some senses; adrenaline is unleashed in the blood, the heart rate goes up, the monotony of the day is ended briefly, the natural urge to defend the home from potential threats is satisfied.  But if the activity was interrupted almost at the moment the thought begins to turn into action then all of the satisfying elements of the episode are removed and it would seem that the brain would be forced to alter its network of connections accordingly.

We may never know, of course.  Technology will not soon deliver such a device, and there may be myriad undesired psychological side-effects resulting from the use of such a device (which I might expect with significant use, since it would be making a rather frightening causal disconnect "normal").  Ah well, it's still fun to wonder what might be.

^ Quinxy