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Episode 261 Dr Joe Layng Private and Public Events Pt 1: Helen Keller

This is Part 1 of a three part conversation about public and private events with Dr Joe Layng. We’ve just finished up a four part series on Feldenkrais work. I think it is perfect that we’re following this series with Joe’s discussion of public and private events. In episode 259 Anita shared an ATM lesson with all of us. What you experienced from this lesson is what you experienced, but I have no way of knowing if that is anything even remotely related to what I experienced.

This is relevant and important especially when it comes to riding lessons where we are trying to translate into words a kinesthetic experience. Joe’s discussion of public and private events begins there and then carries us into a discussion of what is consciousness. He then asks: are animals aware?

Dr Layng has been our guest before. We’ve talked about contingency adduction, non linear analysis, the effect of schedules on social behavior, and degrees of freedom among many other topics. Most recently we did a series with Joe on Schedules of Reinforcement. Those are episodes 239 through 242. I suggest that you listen to episode 239 as well as this current series. That episode was a teaser for the conversation we are having on public and private events.

In this episode Joe talks about Helen Keller. Most of us know who she was through the movie “The Miracle Worker”. Helen Keller was born in 1880. When she was just 19 months old, an illness left her blind and deaf. Until she was seven years old she lived in a world without language. If you’ve watched “The Miracle Worker” you know the scene where her teacher Anne Sullivan spelled out water on Helen’s hand while holding her hand under a hand pump. The connection was made. These odd hand movements meant water. She could communicate!

In the clicker training world we often refer to this event as a Helen Keller moment. That’s the excitement you see in some animals when they suddenly understand what the click means. They can communicate! We call the sudden surge in activity, excitement. And we refer to these emotions as private events and we make a distinction between emotions and emotional behavior. One is a private event which we can’t see and the other is an observable public event.

Just when you think you’ve got this sorted, Joe throws a monkey wrench into our understanding by arguing that there is no difference between public and private events. In this episode he he begins a conversation that offers us an intriguing way of thinking about what we think is our reality.


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