I have a dog whom I love very much, but she is a bit of a wimp. She has recently started whining late in the evening (much to my chagrin). The only remedy I have for this, aside from leaping out of bed and going to pet her on the head to calm her down, is to use a remote correction collar. I hate using this collar because it functions be delivering a static discharge which, while not damaging (I have tested it on myself), is painful. The principle is negative reinforcement: I am conditioning her to associate pain with her disruptive behavior, in the hopes that she find another way to behave in the evenings.
My problem with this is that, as an educator, I know that positive reinforcement is a better teaching tool than penalization. Moreover, I would feel a lot better if I could press a button and make my dog feel good when she is behaving well (instead of zapping her when she misbehaves, as I do now). I asked myself, why can't I buy a device which causes pleasure, not pain? I suppose its because we do not currently posses the technology to make such a device ... Imagine how effective it would be, though.
Humanity does posses the power, however, to condition itself this way. Neurotransmitters are little chemicals which the body releases at particular times, in response to particular triggers, which make us 'feel' certain ways. Dopamine, for example, makes people feel good and, if released in high enough quantities (say, during intense exercise), leads to a feeling of euphoria. While I can choose to exercise intensely, however, I cannot control the amount of dopamine released within my body; that was decided by my genetic makeup (and its environmentally influenced expression). To put this another way, I can choose to make good behavioral choices, like exercising, but the finger on the button which releases the euphoria causing reward is not my finger. Not intentionally, anyways.
The conclusion is that for some people, people who happen to release more dopamine than others during exercise, it is easier to develop a disciplines exercise regimen because they receive more rewards for physical activity. This may seem trivial, but consider people who, when compared to a hypothetical 'average' person, receive higher doses of various 'feel-good' neurochemicals when they do other things. I know people who become positively gleeful when they are enraged, or feeling violent, and I know that I, for one, receive what must be an inordinately high dose of glee from being in a sexual mood. My freind and I are, essentially, more prone to violent or sexual behavior (respectively) because we are fed higher rewards for these types of physiological arousal.
I feel a wave of euphoria when I see a pretty woman. I assume that not everyone feels this way, or there would be no room for puritanism in our society. I also know that it is perfectly normal for all people to be different, and exist on different bands of the neurochemical-behaviour spectrum. I feel this wave of good feelings, but experience with society has taught me to shut the feelings down and not let myself become distracted or preoccupied with sex when this happens. The problem is that, as (hopefully) many of you can sympathize, I also occasionally have uninvited sexual thoughts. I try to, as I said, shut these down, because it simply isn't appropriate to sexualize or objectivise all the people with whom I work and interact, but that pleasure button still gets pressed, and I feel uncontrollably good when I have a sexual daydream. This, whether I like it or not, reinforces the goodness of sexuality with a tangible reward: euphoria. I won't go deeper into my sexual feelings here, I am really only sharing to honestly illustrate a point.
My conclusion is that there are people in this world (and I am one of them) who are going around with invisible high-tech positive reinforcement collars on, and they do not have access to the reward buttons. Everyone's reward may be different, as may be their triggers, but ultimately this is a very strong illustration in my overall disillusionment in free will. How free is someone to become an athlete, as opposed to a violent person, when their genes play a significant role in determining their pre-dispositions.
I wonder ... is it possible to grab hold of our own remotes?