We're all just animals… thoughts on non volitional submissive response… (repost)

The other trainers at The Estate are obviously my first line of discussion along with the other amazing people we have associated with us here in both official and unofficial capacities. – but it is always useful to look outside of that group to prevent myopia. Besides we all know what we mean, but it is also important to hear how it sounds to fresh ears.

If you have no urge to read the paper the short form is this: My paper is correct in the effects and methods it describes but the latest research on response and learning mechanism indicate a more clear picture of the mechanism’s involved.

Anyway, I did a quick edit of what I posted and put it up here. I sanitized it to remove anything that wasn’t mine to post here but there are still some vestiges of the ongoing discussion in the wording… you’ll have to muddle through. I’ll recap the points of the debate…

  • It was put forth that a submissive was always responsible for what they did in response to an order
  • It was further put forth that every act of submission was a choice, thus it was reasonable to hold them morally responsible for those choices
  • Obviously these assertions do not allow for the concept of a non choice submissive response, something I am deeply immersed in understanding and manipulating
  • The example in question for debate purposes was a submissive who knelt at the sound of a dominants anger or order, even if she has not been trained to that action to and by that person or any other. The contention of course were that she had the capacity not to kneel, thus it was a choice to do so.

If there is a MORE link follow it to see the whole text.

A discussion of autonomic, sub cortical processing in relation to training…

Note: This text is far from complete in this form. The information here was initially presented as an email post to a mailing list and has been abridged for this entry. Don’t worry, all the content of this text is my one not taken from anyone on the list. My purpose in posting it is to preserve it for myself as the basic for a update to my training essays over at The Estate and to solicit comments from anyone who cares to give me input.

Here is the header information from the original posting:

To: <[email protected]>
From: “soulhuntre” <[email protected]>
Date: Sat, 21 Sep 2002 12:23:55 -0400
Subject: READ ME FIRST : Continued/altered 🙂 RE: Abject apology? Me? Now? Really? RE: [StrictlyDs] Re: Choosing submission/ was re: Real vs. Online

— Soulhuntre

A common definition “reflex action” is an involuntary action not governed by the willful or conscious control of a person. Now, there are a lot of things worth discussing in this, but an example will help and the classic “knee jerk” reflex will do nicely.

The basic concept is that your knee will jerk from the correct type of blow, and that this reaction is physiologically outside your conscious control.

Reflexive actions happen along what is commonly known as a “reflex arc” and those arcs may or may not pass through the brain. Many do, and many do not. The smallest possible reflex arc would be one single sensory neuron, and one single motor neuron. Such a reflex arc would be “monosynaptic” and wholly and completely outside your ability to control in any way.

By far the overwhelming majority of our reflexes as humans are “polysynaptic” and involve a sensory mechanism to provide the stimulus through a chain of intermediate or “association” neurons.

In the simple cases I think we can agree without question… there are reflexive actions that simply do not involve the the brain… and these ARE testable and provable as it turns out. The reaction time for a short arc reflex is simply far shorter than a more complex reaction… and obviously orders or magnitude shorted than a simple learned response.

For example “spinal” reflexes involve stimulus/response mechanisms that do not pass through the brain at all. The response times are very small… and no amount of effort would suppress the reflex itself… though you COULD consciously counter-act the reflex itself by opposing it with muscular expenditure.

In other words, to use the “knee jerk” response, the knee will “jerk” no matter what you do… but your leg may not move if you have tensed the muscles up tightly enough to prevent that motion.

And herein lies the pathway to clear up ONE of our points of contention, and I am happy to do it by modifying my own terminology. In other words, I’ll clean up some sloppy terminology on my part 🙂

In looking back at my posts I do tend to use the term “control” or “prevent” a reflex. By this I meant that one could in fact prevent the reflexive action from happening – that you could with an expenditure of will if one was warned keep your leg from moving.

I can see where this would convey the impression that I was discussing the prevention of the reflex arc itself… that the conscious mind could insert itself into the functioning of short arc reflexes and prevent them.

Obviously, this is false 🙂

So now we can begin to unravel some of the confusion as to why you would discuss that such a mental interruption would indicate a degree of conscious choice – and I was not discussing that.

So, in the future I will endeavor to discuss that someone can with an exertion of will >suppress< the action of a reflex. This will indicate that the reflex arc response is still firing.

Exactly like the ability to keep the knee from jerking when one is expecting it – but it not something you can do when you are surprised or relaxed.

To branch off, it is important to note that the need to be ready BEFORE the tap on the knee goes to the core of the nature of a reflex. If you wait till you have been tapped and THEN try and stop the leg you will fail – the reflex arc is so much faster than your conscious action that you literally can’t catch it.

So let’s summarize so far:

Speaking to the obvious point of disagreement that a reflex can be controlled (at the reflex arc level) by conscious will… I’m sorry 🙂

My bad on the phrasing that indicated someone could prevent a reflex. What I was failing to convey was the concept that someone could – with preparation – prevent the manifestation of that reflex from the point of view of an outside observer.

Depending on who you read (there is some argument in the science world on the breakdown) humans are born with a number of these short arc reflexes. They are sometimes referred to as “inherited” reflexes.

Ok… go on:

Clearly, monosynaptic responses occur outside the brain in almost all cases, and as such have no applicability to our next point of contention … could the action of kneeling in response to audible or verbal stimulus be a “reflex”. In order to examine this, we obviously need to move past monosynaptic reflexes.

Importantly, there would have to be involvement of either auditory or visual stimulus… thus there would have to be involvement of at least some brain structures.

There are many polysynaptic reflex arcs that do NOT use the brain in any form. The Spinal cord itself is the primary pathway and aggregation mechanism. What is known as the “stretch reflex” is an example of this (the “knee jerk” reflex is in fact a manifestation of the stretch reflex). These could also not be triggered in response to a audio of visual stimulus as a “pure” reflex.

However, there is another class of polysynaptic reflexes, these occur in the brain itself sub cortically. Some things that ARE broadly considered “true” reflexes occur here in the lower structures of the brain… jumping at the unexpected sound of a loud noise or moving ones head to avoid getting hit with a thrown object.

I say broadly considered because there is a grey area in completely narrowing that down. The polysynaptic functions in this area are not easily mapped and the response time is longer than the simple reflexes but lower than most conscious responses… but we have no way of judging for 100% sure what numbers would definitively indicate a pure or true response and what would not.

Once again, so we all agree, a “true” reflex is one that is hard-wired. The neural pathways are arranged physically in such a way as to provide for the stimulus/response in an extremely automatic way.

The problem is, once we begin discussing sub cortical polysynaptic reflexes there is some dispute in the literature over how to tell exactly where true reflex ends and learned response begins.

Now, I chose my example with care, I specifically mentioned kneeling and not something more complex like assume a complicated position. And here is where I may have been less than clear in another way.


“mea culpa” #2 – what is “kneeling”?

In this discussion when I say kneel I mean, literally, to drop to ones knees. It is a simple, straightforward action with a minimum of demands of higher brain functioning – it is well within the range of behaviors the body is capable of handling almost exclusively within the autonomous system itself.

This is a crucial item… and one I probably did not clarify because >I< know what I mean dammit. It is important because clearly there is a upward limit on the complexity of response that could can exist even in this grey area of potential reflexes.

It is possible my postings indicated my belief that any arbitrary response could potentially be, or become a reflex. That is, of course, not the case 🙂

Now, whether we agree or not that this one (kneeling) IS, I wanted to make sure I as clear that not everything can be a reflex 🙂


Let’s recap:

  1. A reflex arc is, itself, outside conscious control… though with preparation the response may be dampened or counteracted.
  2. A reflex CANNOT be any arbitrary action. Even if it feels automatic, even if it is outside conscious control it is not always a reflex 🙂


Where does that leave us now?

With two remaining points of argument:

1) That kneeling in response to the actions or sound of a dominant may well be a “true” reflex.

The problem is that there are some problems that are generally accepted with the understanding of exactly where the neural pathway alterations associated with learning and those associated with a true reflex overlap.

I still contend that it is possible for the association with a voice or a sharp command may well become connected to the dodge/avoidance reflexology in such a way that dropping to ones knees is part of a reflex arc with the auditory input.

Now that I have had to write it out again (researching and writing this email took about 4 hours) the thing is – looking back on it that isn’t what I have seen. So while it is theoretically possible in my mind… I have to admit that I have been factually incorrect about what I have personally observed. Thus, my contention on the point of reflex will simply have to remain theoretical.

Taken as a whole, I think what I see in my training AND in the relationships I was referring two is a combination of and motor symphonies and central pattern generator theory.

So I’ll simply say that while I still feel that >A< response to drop to ones knees may be triggered by a audio stimulus it doesn’t really matter one way or the other.


2) That any action that can be prevented by an act of will is by definition a “choice”.

On this, I feel no need to change my stance. Even when we are dealing with “true” reflexes (and for now let is limit that term to only those that are clearly hardwired reflexes… keep it spinal if you want) it IS possible for someone to over-ride the manifestation of that response given enough warning. They can simply consciously issue an order to the appropriate muscle groups to prevent the reaction.

That does not make that reflex a “choice”. I can document this amply. If I TELL you that we are doing the knee jerk test you can simply prevent your leg from moving. If I catch you unaware (while you sleep) your knee WILL move.

The reflex of your knee jerking cannot be a “choice” … it cannot be because the impulse involved literally did not reach your brain… the reflex arc crosses your spinal cord only. In other words, being able to prevent the manifestation of a reflex under some circumstances does not in any way make the reflex subject to your “choice”.

Other examples exist: The fact that you can hold your breath does not make every respiration you take during the day a “choice” in any useful meaning of the term – and certainly not one that carries ethical weight.


So if kneeling isn’t a reflex, it’s a choice?:

Maybe, maybe not, it depends on the person and the situation.

There is a whole can of worms here to be dealt with some other time. Suffice to say that there are good indications that the human brain can and does for sub cortical behaviors and responses that are not involved directly in the higher order mechanisms that would indicate “choice” and potentially “consent”.

This means that there is ample and mounting evidence for the idea of being able to condition into someone a series of complex response mechanisms that are still outside their direct control or conscious choice mechanism. Potentially this work can help unify the link between conscious choice, hardwired “true” reflex and instinct.

It is important to be aware that this s much more than the traditional concept of “habit” and much more tied to a type of “mental muscle memory”. Ah well, you can find good reading here: http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/neuro/neuro00/

All in all, it makes much more sense to couch my discussions in terms of newer work – the theories and evidence involved are much more in keeping with my experiential evidence and fill in a number of the holes in the older work – I’ll probably use that terminology in the future 🙂

Anyway – I didn’t bother responding to the rest fo the post – I am pretty sure I covered it all here and it didn’t seem very flattering when I skimmed it. I have had 6 hours of sleep in the last 72 and I don’t think I could avoid being bitingly sarcastic.

Pardon the spelling/grammar errors… I am going to sleep 🙂

BTW – if anyone has any thoughts on the concept of motor symphonies and CPGs this would be the time to discuss them 🙂

APPENDIX A – Just funky stuff while we are talking about it…

As the child develops, while the neural pathways are forming another series of reflexes forms in response to learning and experimentation. A good example of this is the ability to move the eyes in a useful way, to focus on objects and so on. When children are born their innate control over their eyes is extremely bad – but it does shape up in the initial weeks and appears to be “written in” to the brain as a reflex. The reaction time is short (though necessarily longer than a monosynaptic reflex arc) and is not considered to be under conscious control.

In other words, children learn things that become reflexes – true reflexes that were not formed at birth.

While not yet definitively proven to exist in humans, we have no reason to believe that we are uniquely without the ability to pattern complex reflexes into our nervous system during development.

As an example while newborn kittens do not know how to walk and indeed need to learn (by experimentation) to do so that process imprints the walking reflexology deep into their nervous system In fact, one can demonstrate this by having cats with a severed spinal cord walk on a treadmill.

There is also some evidence that these spinal cord reflexes will alter over time, some primate experiments indicate that they may in fact alter in response to reward conditioning – even though they are not rooted in the brain at all. [1]

In other words, there is some initial evidence that points to the idea of true reflex pathways altering over time. It was partially this evidence that lead to the concepts of “motor symphonies” and “central pattern generators” to expand on and alter the simpler black/white view of reflex and conscious choice.

[1] “Do the Locomotion… Training the Spinal Cord to Improve Gait” – THE MIAMI PROJECT TO CURE PARALYSIS – Spring 2000, Vol. XIII, No. 1

APPENDIX B – Other links of interest

Classics in the History of Psychology — Pavlov(1927) Lecture 7 – This happens to include a fair amount of text from everyones favorite mind twister Pavlov. Specifically… “CONDITIONED REFLEXES: AN INVESTIGATION OF THE PHYSIOLOGICAL ACTIVITY OF THE CEREBRAL CORTEX / By Ivan P. Pavlov(1927) / Translated by G. V. Anrep (1927)”.

Neurobiology and Behavior Week 05 – “How useful are the nervous system concepts “motor symphony” and “central pattern generation” for better understanding behavior?”

Operant Conditioning and Behaviorism – a historical outline  – “Around the turn of the century, Edward Thorndike attempted to develop an objective experimental method for the mechanical problem solving ability of cats and dogs.”

(c) 2002 Soulhuntre.com