Anyone who has studied Psychology 100 knows all about Pavlov and his dogs. For those who escaped: Pavlov was a Russian researcher who was studying salivation in dogs (who knows why). When he presented food to the dogs, they would salivate (which, for some unknown reason, he would measure). After a while, he noticed that the dogs would begin to salivate as soon as he came into the room – even before he presented the food. They associated him with food and his mere presence would get them salivating. This association is known as classical conditioning.
Those who lasted past first semester would have then been introduced to BF Skinner. Skinner built on Pavlov’s theory.
Skinner’s idea was that whilst we go about our everyday activities, we encounter reinforcers. Reinforcers have the effect of increasing the behaviour that occurred just before the reinforcer.
Think about how we train puppies… Every time he or she engages in a positive behaviour (eg, does wee outside), we reinforce the behaviour with a treat. This encourages the positive behaviour. But while this is all well and good, it is, actually, less than ideal. If you reward a behaviour continuously, once you cease rewarding the behaviour, it will stop.
Intermittent reinforcement is much more powerful. This may mean instead of a reward every time, the puppy gets a reward every third time, then perhaps two in a row, then maybe not until he has weed outside five more times. Think of that loyal dog sitting by the table waiting for a titbit. Every now and again, he gets something.
I found an interesting article explaining this is why we all, incessantly, check our emails. Checking email is a behaviour that has intermittent reinforcement. Sometimes, but not every time, the behaviour produces a reward – an interesting email. And because you can never tell which time you check your emails you will get the reward, checking all the time is reinforced, even if most of the time checking your email is pointless.
Making soap is just like that. You keep making soap because you think maybe, next time, it will be beautiful and just how you planned it, even though most times it doesn’t turn out right. Every now and again, just when you think it is time to give up, something wonderful happens so you make another batch.
Remember my Starry Starry Night soap? I was so excited when I unmoulded this soap. It was so beautiful and just how I planned it. The bars were lovely and hard and smooth and the colour was to die for.
But, alas, it was that ‘to die for’ colour that “did me in, ‘enry ‘iggins“. Even though I followed instructions on Indigo powder usage explicitly, it was far too much. The soap leaches blue big time.
Maus and I have been using it but it is even a little too blue for me. It doesn’t stain your skin or the wall tiles but it does stain the face washer. It is perfect for grey hair. I have been making Maus wash her hair with it. But, in the end, even I thought it was all too blue. My beautiful soap would have to be grated up.
This soap is not particularly beautiful but the white is lovely and smooth and I was able to use two of my Starry Starry Night bars. The main reason I made this soap was to test the white recipe. I had made it before and it behaved very well and I needed a good recipe with no glycerine rivers for a pièce de résistance I intended to make. Can you see how lovely and smooth it is?
This is my pièce de résistance. Look at that beautiful lace top, would you? You cannot believe my excitement when I saw it. It is picture perfect. The top is actually blue but, for some reason, looks more white in this picture.
This is the project for which I wanted the perfectly smooth white soap but look closely at the sides of the soap. It is all splotchy and crumbly. I did everything the same as I did with the previous batch and used a very safe fragrance. My only ideas are: the oils were too cool or I didn’t mix them enough. I was so concerned about over mixing. Perfect top, shit soap.
BTW, if you would like to know how I did the top, I followed Auntie Clara’s instructions as set out here.
And then there was this lot. This is my first attempt at transparent soap. I bought Catherine Failer’s book, Making Transparent Soap, and followed the instructions exactly. This is what happens when you follow instructions but don’t really know why or what you are doing.
Transparent soap is made by: first making some cold process soap, then cooking it until it has completely gone through gell phase (ie, it is completely neutral). You then add solvents (alcohol, sugar and glycerine) to dissolve the soap. The solvents are what makes the soap transparent. I ended up with a pot of hot bubbly soap and solvents that all bubbled out of the pot and down over the element. It was such a disaster. There was soap everywhere. Once you add the solvents, you have to tinker with them until the soap is transparent. I didn’t think it was worthwhile trying to adjust the solvents or wasting money on fragrance and colour. It was a disaster all round.
As it turns out, this soap, while not transparent, is perfectly good. And if it had a lovely fragrance and colour, I probably could have sold it.
This is my second try. The first try was such a disaster, I wasn’t even going to try again but remember the theory of intermittent reinforcement and those beautiful Starry Starry Night soaps? I thought I would give it one more try. This time it is pretty good. OK, it is not really transparent but looks and feels like glycerine soap. And it smells divine. The scent is so much stronger in glycerine soap than cold process soap because it is added after the soap has been cooked and neutralised so no strange chemical reaction happens. This is rose and it is so intense.
These are slivers I cut off the top to neaten it (I then cut them into flower shapes) and you can actually see through them! This is enough for me to get some green colour and apple fragrance and try again. You never know, if not the next time, maybe the time after, the soap will be perfect.