2 thoughts on “Pit of Despair

  1. John-Michael Gariepy

    Hey guys! Good show! I’m starting from the beginning and working my way forward.

    The experiments of Harry Harlow were pretty over the top and terrible. I would question any civilized society that felt torturing monkeys was okay. That said, you guys said no scientific advantage was gained from experiments like the Pit of Despair, and that just isn’t correct. Here… I’ll pull this paragraph forward from Mr. Harlow’s Wikipedia page:

    “The importance of these findings is that they contradicted both the then common pedagogic advice of limiting or avoiding bodily contact in an attempt to avoid spoiling children and the insistence of the then dominant behaviorist school of psychology that emotions were negligible. Feeding was thought to be the most important factor in the formation of a mother-child bond. Harlow concluded, however, that nursing strengthened the mother-child bond because of the intimate body contact that it provided. He described his experiments as a study of love. He also believed that contact comfort could be provided by either mother or father. Though widely accepted now, this idea was revolutionary at the time.”

    Granted, that quote needs a citation on Wikipedia. It’s tough idea to cite because I don’t think Harry thought of his experiments in this way, so you won’t find much of his input on the subject. That said, it was very common in the 19th century for well-to-do parents to leave their children with nursemaids and limit contact so that their children wouldn’t be coddled, and would grow up to be hardened, yet productive members of society. Harry’s experiments put the lie to that thought process. If humans were similar to monkeys, it would be reasonable to assume that removing love from a child’s life would weaken the child, not prepare it for an industrious life.

    So, terrible, yes. Useless? Far from it. It’s quite possible that his experiments save the lives of tens of thousands of humans, to be honest. That doesn’t make the experiments right, but it would be wrong to glaze over the facts.

  2. blake Post author

    Hey There!

    It’s been a while since I listened to the Pit episode, but I don’t remember tossing the results out the window (maybe we did, I remember us talking about the double edged nature of stuff like this).

    I agree with your assessment that a benefit was gained, so if we said that there was zero benefit, then we were probably inaccurate.

    There’s a good episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that covers a similar theme, I forget the title of the episode though.

    Thanks for listening! Hope you enjoy and we like to be kept honest.


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