vrijdag 28 oktober 2011

About 'feel'

Ik plak 'm ook even hier, m'n (engelstalige) antwoord op een discussie elders, over dat mensen die met leertheorie werken het 'gevoel' in de training zouden missen. Ik kreeg er nogal wat persoonlijke 'aha!'-reacties op, dus misschien helpt 't anderen ook.

Methods are belief systems: individual choices on how to get the same things done (in our case, the horse willingly cooperating). Regardless of the fact that there are numerous belief systems, all with their own vocabulary and emphasis, the way learning itself works doesn't ever differ.
Whatever YOUR explanation ('your' in general, not you) for it, it can always be brought back to learning theory, which is elegant in its simplicity and efficient in making people see what they actually do as in contrast to what they THINK they do according to their belief system.

'Feel' is one of those semantic sets, and i call it "elusive" because when people are asked to explain what "feel" is, they can't really explain - they fall back onto explaining mechanics anyway (i've been there! for instance, i translated Leslie Desmonds "Feel What? or What is Feel?" to Dutch for her 15 years go).
In that regard i totally agree with Bob Bailey (and if you don't know who that is i suggest you brush up your animal training history knowledge) who says "training is a mechanical skill". "Feel" is a word put on great mechanical skill: the mix of perception, muscle memory and perseverance.

Does that mean i feel any less for the animal i work with? Of course not! Does that mean i don't use the word "feel" when i teach people? Of course not! But, i teach them learning theory first, THEN MAYBE apply the word "feel" if they need it to translate the theory into their practice, to easier bridge the gap from where they come.
I firmly believe that being able to objectify your own handling and scrutinise it while omitting the use of blurry explanations greatly enhances the ethical awareness of your training. If people would stop using euphemisms to justify what they're doing, there wouldn't be any "reward training" advocating "polite assertiveness" with "carrot sticks" and the likes anymore - people would have to swallow the hard truth that they use an awful lot of positive punishment and have no clue on where reinforcement happens.

On the other hand, the rise of awareness about something like learning theory existing, makes all kinds of training methods incorporate vocabulary from learning theory in hopes to get some "scientifically proven" label on their method. I suppose that's a dark phase where we have to get through, and there always will be charlatans. It is thus vital that people learn to think simple and factual first, so they can look through all the mist spouting vocabulary out there. And get straight to the core of that real kinship with all life: that all passengers on this earth live, work, play and learn in similar ways.