Essay // Psychoanalysis: History, Foundations, Legacy, Impact & Evolution

Mis-à-jour le Vendredi, 30 Avril 2021

Hampstead dpurb.com d'purb site Psychoanalysis

Photographie: Danny J. D’Purb © 2008

History and Background

In contemporary psychology, the psychoanalytic movement’s place is both unique and paradoxical. Focussing on the study of the mind as a “software” running on the brain as the “hardware”, psychoanalysis remains the only discipline that truly focuses on the mechanism and processes behind our thoughts. Unlike empirical behavioural science and other “cogno-sciences” that can be fairly barbaric and obstinate in the forced application of the rigid mathematical and reductionist systematic procedures embedded in the classic scientific method when dealing with an entity as complex and organic as the human mind; psychoanalysis has remained focussed in understanding human psychology by capturing it in all its details, depths, dimensions and linguistic aspects.

The scientific method although a proven mathematical approach to inquiries in the hard sciences [e.g. biology, medecine, physics, chemistry, astrophysics, material science, astronomy, etc], shows its limitations when used as a tool for psychological inquiry in the measurement of variables that are incredibly hard to measure such as emotions, values, motives, desires, libidinous intensity or dreams. It is also fair noting that humans are different from simple organisms, molecules or robots, hence psychoanalysis remains the only discipline focused on the mind [the software] assuming that most human beings have a physiologically healthy brain [the hardware].

However, modern sciences have discovered how abnormalities in the brain’s physiology due to birth defects or injury may result in behavioural problems linked to a deficient mind due to the defective brain [hardware] at its disposal. Hence, nowadays most good intellectuals in the field of psychoanalysis would likely be a better psychologist with an in-depth knowledge of the physiology of the brain, i.e. the major areas affecting core functions such as speech [Wernicke and Broca’s], vision [the occipital lobe], and motor abilities [parietal lobe], etc.

Cerveau & Fontions dpurb-com

This is because some psychological problems may on rare occasion be caused by brain injuries or physiological abnormality due to virus, trauma, stroke or injury. In those cases where such a scenario materialises, the psychotherapist may refer the patient to a neurosurgeon who may be more appropriate to inspect the extent of the problems on the defective brain [hardware] which may lead to a clearer perspective of the limitations being imposed on the mind of the affected individual and how it impacts processes such as the conscious, the preconscious and the unconscious [based on Sigmund Freud’s 1st ground breaking theory of mental life, the Topographic Model, which was also adopted by Jacques Lacan who argued convincingly that post-Freudian psychoanalysts had swayed too far from the fundamental concepts and turned psychoanalysis into a confusing genre].

However, as we are in the developmental stages of conception of the organic theory, a theory that takes the focus on the individual organism’s creative ability to another level, we are going to remain focussed on the mind. The organic theory was inspired by the brain’s magnificent ability to learn any age, and thus give the individual human organism the ability and freedom to define, create, redefine, recreate and shape itself based on its inherited and acquired abilities, desires and personal constructionist developments throughout its life – yes, the individual does have choices and these impact the person’s internal working model of mental life and the person as a whole along with his or her environment.

While psychoanalysis remains one of the most widely known schools of psychology it is perhaps not universally understood. The founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud is perhaps one of the most famous psychologist of the last century even if his chosen discipline, psychoanalysis, has little in common with the other schools of thought and psychology.

Psychoanalysis views the mind as an active, dynamic and self-generating entity, and this is in the German tradition of mental life [it was also a founding assumption for Jean Piaget as he developed his Theory of Cognitive Development in Children]. Freud saw psychoanalysis as a revolution of the mind that had to disturb the consciousness of the world, and viewed the unconscious as a reservoir of impulsive force repressed in the biological depths of the soul.

Exploding Raphaelesque Head - Salvador Dali (1951) dpurb d'purb website

Tête Raphaélesque Éclatée” par Salvador Dali (1951)

It is also important to note that Freud was trained in hard sciences, yet his system shows little appreciation for systematic and reductionist empiricism. As a physician, Freud used his observational skills to build his system within a medical framework, basing his theory on individual case studies. He did not depart from his understanding of 19th-century science in the effort to organise his observations, neither did he attempt to test his hypotheses rigorously through independent verification. As he testified, he was psychoanalysis and did not tolerate dissension from his orthodox views. Nevertheless, Freud had a tremendous impact on 20th century psychology, perhaps more importantly, the influence of psychoanalysis on Western thought, as reflected in literature, philosophy and art, significantly exceeds the impact of any other system and school of psychology.

 

The Active Mind

OrangeLightFlowers-dpurb-com-1200

Photographie: Danny D’Purb © 2012

Going back to the philosophical foundations of modern psychology in Germany during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, we found that the tradition of Leibniz and Kant clearly emphasised mental activity. This is in contrast to British empiricism, which assumed the mind to be a passive entity [such as a sponge that simply soaks in what is thrown at it]. The German tradition held the most logical and creative assumption that the mind itself generates and structures human experience in characteristic ways [being “active”]. Whether through Leibniz’s monadology or Kant’s categories, the psychology of the individual could be understood only by examining the dynamic, inherent activity of the mind.

Throughout the years, as psychology evolved into an independent discipline in the latter part of the 19th century under Wundt’s tutelage, the British model of mental passivity served as a guiding philosophy. Clearly, Wundt’s empiricistic formulation was at odds with German philosophical precedents, recognised by both Stumpf and Brentano. Act psychology and the psychology of non-sensory consciousness represented by the Würzburg School were closer to the German philosophical assumptions of mental activity than to Wundt’s structural psychology. The Gestalt movement encompassed these alternatives to Wundt’s psychology in Germany. Eventually, as the rational outcome guided intellectuals, Wundt’s system was replaced by Gestalt psychology, turning into the dominant psychology in Germany prior to World War II – one based on a model of the mind that admitted inherent organisational activity.

The assumptions underlying mental activity in Gestalt psychology were highly qualified, where construct for mind involves the organisation of perception, based on the principle of isomorphism, which resulted in a predisposition toward patterns of personal-environmental interactions. The focus on organisation meant that the way of mental processes, not their content, was inherently structured. In other words, individuals were not born with specific ideas, energies, or other content in the mind; rather, the organisational structure was inherited to acquire mental contents in characteristic ways. Accordingly, the Gestalt movement, while rightly rejecting the rigidity of Wundt’s empiricistic assumptions and concepts, did not reject empiricism completely [as a technique to study some basic and easily defined variables (such as traits) and their relation(s) to others]. Instead, the Gestaltists advocated a compromise between the empiricist basis of British philosophy and the German model of activity. Consequently, this opened psychological investigation to the study of complex problem-solving and perceptual processes.

Consistent with the Gestalt foundations, psychoanalysis was firmly grounded in an active model of mental processes, however it shared little of the Gestalt commitment to empiricism. Freud’s views on personality were consistent not only with the activities of mental processing suggested by Leibniz and Kant, but also with the 19th century belief in conscious and unconscious levels of mental activity. In acknowledging the teachings of such philosophers as Von Hartman and Schopenhauer [Read the Essay on our Review of “Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung”(The World as Will and Idea), Freud developed motivational principles that depended on energy forces beyond the level of self-awareness.

Schopenhauer

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860)

Moreover, for Freud, the development of personality was determined by individual, unconscious adaptation to these forces. The details of personality development as formulated by Freud are outlined below; however, is also important to recognise the fundamental basis of Freud’s thinking. Psychoanalysis is based on the implication of mental activity further than any other system of psychology. As a major representative of a reliance on mental activity to account for personality, psychoanalysis is set apart from other movements in contemporary psychology. In addition, psychoanalysis unlike the other branches of psychology, did not emerge from reductionist empirical research that stubbornly tries to apply mechanical scientific methodology to measure complex non-physical abilities; rather it was the product of the applied consequences of clinical practice [i.e. it was a force that was born on the field to treat mental problems as they surfaced throughout human history].

 

The Treatment of Mental Illness

Besides being the founder of the psychoanalytic movement in modern psychology, Freud is also remembered for his efforts in pioneering the upgrade in the treatment of mental and behavioural abnormalities, and was instrumental in psychiatry’s recognition as a branch of medicine that specifically deals with psychopathology. Before Freud’s works in attempting to devise effective methods of treating the mentally ill, individuals who deviated from socially acceptable norms were usually treated as if they were criminals or demonically possessed. Although shocking controversies in the contemporary treatment of mental deviancy appear occasionally, not too long ago such abuses were often the rule rather than the exception.

The treatment of mental illnesses was never a pleasant chapter in Western civilisation and it has been pointed out many times that abnormal behaviour is often mixed up with criminal behaviour as with heresy and treason. Even during the period of enlightenment during the European Renaissance, the cruelties and tortures of the inquisition were readily adapted to treat what we nowadays qualify as mental illness. Witchcraft continued to offer a reasonable explanation to such eccentric behaviour until recent times. Prisons were established to house criminals, paupers, and the insane without any differentiation. Mental illness was viewed as governed by evil or obscure forces, and the mentally ill were looked upon as crazed by such weird influences such as moon rays. Lunatics or “moonstruck” persons, were appropriately kept in lunatic asylums. As recently as the latter part of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the institution of for the insane in Utica, New York, which was progressive by the standards of the time, was called the Utica Lunatic Asylum. The name reflected the prevailing attitude toward mental illness.

Philippe_Pinel_à_la_Salpêtrière_dpurb_1200

“Dr. Philippe Pinel at the Salpêtrière”, 1795 by Tony Robert-Fleury. Pinel ordering the removal of chains from patients at the Paris Asylum for insane women

Reforms in the treatment of the institutionalised insane were slowly introduced during the 19th century. In 1794, Philippe Pinel (1745 – 1826) was appointed the chief of hospitals for the insane in Paris, and managed to improve both the attitude toward and the treatment of the institutionalised insane. In the United States, Dorothea Dix (1802 – 1887) accomplished the most noticeable reforms in the treatment of the mentally ill. Beginning in 1841, Dix led a campaign to improve the condition of indigent, mentally ill persons kept in jails and in poorhouses. However, these reforms succeeded in improving only the physical surroundings and maintenance conditions of the mentally ill; legitimate treatment was minimal. [Even today, in 2019, the US seems to have more people with eccentric behaviours and with questionable mental stability, for example, Donald Trump, who has been singled out as being mentally ill by more than one. See: (1) The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, (2) Trump Is ‘Mentally Ill’ Says Former Vermont Governor and Doctor Howard Dean, (3) American psycho? Donald Trump’s mental health is still a question, (4) Psychiatrist: Trump Mental Health Urgently Deteriorating & (5) Stanford’s Zimbardo asks: Is President Trump mentally ill?

Confidence in US

Around the world, favorability of the U.S. and confidence in its president decline / Source: Pew Research Center

The US has more women in prison than China, India & Russia combined

According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, nearly a third of all female prisoners worldwide are incarcerated in the United States of America. There are 201,200 women in US prisons, representing 8.8 percent of the total American prison population. / Source: Forbes

Most people in prison

Highest to Lowest – Prison Population Total / Source: World Prison Brief

Efforts to develop comprehensive treatments were plagued by various quacks, such as the pseudoscience developed by Mesmer that dealt with the “animal spirit” underlying mental illnesses [although it may be true today if expressed as a metaphorical description to some of the behavioural manifestations of some mental disorders in some individuals].

White Dogs & Tootsie Pops by Marie Hughes dpurb 1200

White Dogs and Tootsie Pops” by Marie Hughes

Similarly, the phrenology of Gall and Spurzheim advocated a physical explanation based on skull contours and localisation of brain functions – which was of course also wrong.

Gradually however, attempts were made to develop legitimate and effective techniques to treat emotional and behavioural abnormalities. One of the more productive investigations involved hypnotism and was pioneered by a French physician, Jean Martin Charcot (1825 – 1893). Charcot gained widespread fame in Europe, and the young Freud amazed by his abilities, studied under him, as did many other talented physicians and physiologists. He treated hysterical patients with symptoms ranging from hyper-emotionality to physical conversions of underlying emotional problems that the patient could not confront when conscious.

Jean Martin Charcot - dpurb1000

Une leçon clinique à la Salpêtrière (1887)” with Jean Martin Charcot in Front (A Clinical Lesson at the Salpêtrière) par André Brouillet à l’Université Paris Descartes

Another French physician in Nancy, namely Hippolyte Bernheim (1837 – 1919), developed a sophisticated analysis of hypnosis as a form of treatment, using underlying suggestibility to alter the intentions of the patient. Finally, Pierre Janet (1859 – 1947), a student of Charcot, used hypnotism to resolve the forces of emotional conflict, which he believed were basic to hysterical symptoms. However, it was Sigmund Freud who went beyond the techniques of hypnotism to develop a comprehensive theory of psychopathology from which systematic treatments evolved. Later, Jacques Lacan (1901 – 1981) would pulverise the tradition inherited from hospital medecine which consisted of displaying  a patient before an audience of practitioners or students and asking questions whose deeper meaning was supposed to escape the patient. The actors in this ceremonial, the patients, trained by years of confinement, actually produced all the symptoms that the masters of the asylum expected of them. Lacan shattered this clinic with his gaze in order to give a voice to the mentally ill. Jean-Bertrand Pontalis said:Lacan était extraordinairement courtois avec ses malades, les traitant pas du tout comme des patients d’asile – c’est la moindre des choses, mais ce n’est pas toujours le cas – comme des êtres humains et les amenaient peu à peu, créant une atmosphère de confiance, à les laisser parler très très librement. Pour l’anecdote, c’est assez savoureux, je me souviens qu’une fois il y avait une femme qui était paranoïaque qui se plaignait qu’on l’a suivi partout, « On me suit, on me suit, on me suit, on me suit partout… », Lacan à la fin lui dit, « Ne vous inquiéter pas chère madame, je vais trouver quelqu’un pour vous suivre » entendant par la, un médecin qui pourra lui traiter. Comme si lui-même, dans ces années-là était en train d’inventer et de s’inventer. Nous participions en accord avec lui en résonance avec lui à un mouvement inventif.” [French for: “Lacan was extraordinarily courteous with his patients, treating them not at all like asylum patients – to say the least but this is not always the case – like human beings and gradually, creating an atmosphere of trust, he led them to let them speak very, very freely. For the anecdote, it’s quite tasty, I remember that once there was a woman who was paranoid complaining that she was followed everywhere, “They follow me, they follow me, they follow me, they follow me everywhere…”, Lacan at the end said to her, “Don’t worry dear lady, I’ll find someone to follow you” hearing by this, a doctor who will be able to treat her. As if he himself, in those years, was in the process of inventing and inventing himself. In agreement with him, we were participating in an inventive movement in resonance with him.”]

 

A Biography of Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud for dpurb-com 1200

Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939) / Image: Freud Museum London

Since psychoanalysis as we know it today is hugely influenced by the foundations laid by Sigmund Freud, it is worthwhile to have an understanding about the major points in his life. Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939) was born on the 6th of May 1856 in Freiberg, Moravia, at that time a norther province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, today a part of the Czech Republic.

Freud was the eldest of 8 children, and his father was a relatively poor and not very successful wool merchant. When his business failed, Freud’s father moved with his wife and children [as many jews are accustomed to migrating to better places in the quest for a better life and income] first to Leipzig and then to Vienna when Freud was 4 years old. The young Freud remained in Vienna for most of the rest of his life, and his precocious genius was recognised by his family, and he was allowed many concessions and favours not permitted to his siblings. For example, young Freud was provided with better lighting to read in the evening, and when he was studying, noise in the house was kept to a minimum so he would not be disturbed.

Freud’s interest were varied and intense, and he showed an early inclination and aptitude for various intellectual pursuits. Unfortunately, Freud was a victim of the 19th century Jew-dislike which was obvious and severe in central and Eastern Europe after the numerous accounts of Jews being banished from places all over Europe due to their occult and violent religious practices on Christian infants [e.g. human sacrifices] along with their known habits in monopolising the majority of the press businesses to then distort news and heritage to their agendas and economic advantage.

However, although Freud was an atheist and more scientifically minded, his Jewish birth precluded certain career opportunities, most notably an academic career in university research. Indeed, medicine and law were the only professions open to Vienna Jews.

Freud’s early reading of Charles Darwin intrigued and impressed him to the point that a career in science was most appealing. The closest path that he could follow for training as a researcher was an education in medicine. Hence, Freud entered the university of Vienna in 1873 at the age of 17. However, because of his interests in a variety of fields and specific research projects, it took him 8 years to complete the medical coursework that normally required 6 years.

Eel

In 1881, he received his doctorate in medicine. While at university, Freud was part of an investigation of the precise structure of the testes of eels, which involved his dissecting over 400 eels. Later, he moved on to physiology and neuroanatomy and conducted experiments examining the spinal cord of fish. While at Vienna, Freud also took courses with Franz Brentano, which formed his only formal introduction to 19th century psychology.

Franz Brentano dpurb 1200

After waiting for Freud for about 4 years, his fiancée, Martha Bernays, a jewish girl from a business family and the grand-daughter of a famous Rabbi in Hamburg, married him. While she did not show great interest in Freud’s intellectual pursuits, her younger sister Minna became a very close intellectual partner of Freud. Carl Jung one of Freud’s intellectual ally who would become one of his firmest critic would even later say that he learned from Minna that Freud was in love with her and their relationship was very “intimate” – although we have no factual confirmation of such. She was so close to the young couple, that she moved in with them in the 1890s to set up was has been “jokingly” called a “ménage a trois”. As for Martha, she was also a charmer, intelligent, well-educated and fond of reading who as a married woman ran her household efficiently and was almost obsessive about punctuality and dirt. Firm but loving with her children, French analyst René Laforgue said that she spread an atmosphere of peaceful joie de vivre through the household. Shortly after Freud’s wedding, he recognised that a scientific career would not provide adequate income, since anti-Jewish sentiments were strong around Europe and this worked against Jewish advancement in academia even if Freud himself was not a practising Jew or had any religious sentiments. So Freud reluctantly decided to begin a private practice. Although the young couple were very poor in the early years of their marriage, Freud was able to support his wife and his growing family, which eventually included 6 children. The early years in private practice were very difficult, requiring long hours for a meagre financial reward that basically did not challenge him. Freud was also an atheist and did not want psychoanalysis to be seen as a purely Jewish endeavour, and his close network although were mainly Jewish later slowly grew to incorporate European intellectuals where some of the most significant would disagree with some of his assumptions and leave his circle after keeping only a few of his fundamental concepts about the theory of mental life.

During his hospital training, Freud had worked with patients with anatomical and organic problems of the nervous system. Shortly after starting private practice, he became friendly with Josef Breuer (1842 – 1925), a general practitioner who had acquired some local fame for his respiration studies. This friendship provided needed stimulation for Freud, and they began to collaborate on several patients with nervous disorders, most notably the famous case of Anna O., an intelligent young woman with severe, diffuse hysterical symptoms. In using hypnosis to treat Anna O., Breuer noticed that some specific experiences emerged under hypnosis that the patient could not recall while conscious. Her symptoms seemed to be relieved after talking about these experiences under hypnosis. Breuer treated Anna O. daily for over a year, and became convinced that the “talking cure”, or “catharsis”, involving discussion of unpleasant and repulsive memories revealed under hypnosis, was an effective method in alleviating her symptoms. Unfortunately, Breuer’s wife became jealous of the relationship; that would later be called positive transference of emotional feelings to the therapist”. This would later be explained as patients falling in love with the new object [in this case, the psychoanalyst] at which they redirect feelings and desires retained in childhood at characteristic stages of therapy. This looked suspicious to Breuer’s wife. As a result, Breuer terminated his treatment of Anna O. Freud was also very professional with his clients and never had any mistresses or took advantage of his female patients. In opposition to positive transference, the psychoanalyst may also face negative transference in treatment with patients, which refers to aggressive affects, definitions that would also be taken by Lacan who criticised Ego-psychology for defining transference simply in terms of a range of affects. Lacan explained that transference does not refer to any mysterious property of affect in patients, and even when it reveals itself under the appearance of emotion, it only acquires meaning by the virtue of that very precise dialectical moment in which it is produced; that is to say that transference with patients often manifests itself in the form of strong affects, such as love and hate, but it does not consist of such emotions, it is part of the structure of the intersubjective relationship of patients in praxis with the psychoanalyst at that very moment. Lacan saw the Symbolic aspect of transference, which is repetition, as a feature that helped the treatment of patients since it reveals the meaningful signifiers of the personal history of Subjects, while the Imaginary aspect (love and hate) during treatment acts as resistance to psychoanalytic praxis.

Jean Martin Charcot Treating Mentally Ill Women 1000 dpurb

Jean-Martin Charcot (1825 – 1893) / Charcot first began studying hysteria after creating a special ward for non-insane females with “hystero-epilepsy”. He discovered two distinct forms of hysteria among these women: minor hysteria and major hysteria. His interest in hysteria and hypnotism “developed at a time when the general public was fascinated in ‘animal magnetism’ and ‘mesmerization'”, which was later revealed to be a method of inducing hypnosis.
Charcot argued vehemently against the widespread medical and popular prejudice that hysteria was rarely found in men, presenting several cases of traumatic male hysteria. He taught that due to this prejudice these “cases often went unrecognised, even by distinguished doctors” and could occur in such models of masculinity as railway engineers or soldiers. Charcot’s analysis, in particular his view of hysteria as an organic condition which could be caused by trauma, paved the way for understanding neurological symptoms arising from industrial-accident or war-related traumas.

In 1885, Freud received a modest grant that allowed him to go to Paris to study with Jean-Martin Charcot for 4 and half months. During that time he not only observed Charcot’s method of hypnosis [which he never managed to master as Charcot did] but also attended his lectures, learning about the master’s views on the importance of unresolved sexual problems in the underlying causality of hysteria. When Freud returned to Vienna, he gave a report of his work with Charcot to the medical society, but its cold reception left him with resentment that affected his future interactions with the entrenched medical establishment and its rigid and reductionist methods at understanding and solving the problems of the mind.

Freud continued his work with Breuer on hypnosis and catharsis, but gradually abandoned the former in favour of the latter, being not very gifted with hypnotic techniques, but also for 3 major reasons regarding its effectiveness as a treatment with general applicability. First, not everyone can be hypnotised; hence its usefulness is limited to a select group. Second, some patients refuse to believe what they revealed under hypnosis, prompting Freud to conclude that the patient must be aware during the step-by-step process of discovering memories hidden from their accessible consciousness. Third, when one set of symptoms were alleviated under hypnotic suggestibility, new symptoms often emerged. Freud and Breuer were moving in separate directions, and Freud’s increasing emphasis on the primacy of sexuality as the key to psychoneurosis contributed to their break. Nevertheless, in 1895 they published Studies on Hysteria, often cited as the first work of the psychoanalytic movement, although it sold only 626 copies during the following 13 years – perhaps due to the lack of sophistication and interest in the workings of the mind at that particular point in history, or the level of the academic discussions that may not have been adequate for the intellect of the average mind at the time.

Freud’s preferred method of treatment, catharsis, involves engaging with patients and encouraging them to speak of anything that comes [occupies] their mind, regardless of how discomforting or embarrassing it might be. This “free association” took place in a relaxed atmosphere, usually on the classic psychologist couch in a reclined position to promote comfort. The main reason behind the logic of catharsis and free association is that – like hypnosis – it would allow hidden thoughts and memories to manifest in consciousness. However, in contrast, to the method of hypnosis, the patient would be aware of these emerging recollections. Another ongoing process during free association is “transference”, which involves emotionally laden experiences that allow the patient to relieve earlier, repressed episodes. Since the psychoanalyst is often part of the transference process [as mentioned earlier where the repressed emotions are often redirected onto] and is often the object of his patients’ emotions, Freud recognised transference as a powerful tool to assist patients in resolving sources of anxiety. Lacan proposed that it is important to also understand that although the existence of transference plays an important part for psychoanalytic treatment, it is not enough by itself, it is also necessary for the psychoanalyst to deal with the transference in a unique way, this is what differentiates true psychoanalysis from suggestion because the psychoanalyst refuses to use the power given to him by the transference. Lacan believed like any other interpretation, the analyst must use all his “art” in deciding if and when to interpret the transference and must above all avoid gearing his interpretations exclusively to interpreting the transference; the analyst must know exactly what he wants to achieve by such an interpretation and it should not rectify his patients’ relationship to the vague concept of “reality”, but instead maintain analytic dialogue. Transference is the displacement of affect from one idea to another and Freud viewed it as a positive factor that helps the progression of treatment since it provides a way for patients’ history to be faced in the immediacy of the present relationship with the analyst; the way patients relate to the analyst is revealing as they inevitably repeat earlier relationships with other meaningful others [especially those with the parents or parental figures] – this logic is underlined in the theory of attachment of John Bowlby. Jacques Lacan later remarked that if transference with most patients often manifests itself under the appearance of love, it is first and foremost the love of knowledge (savoir) that is concerned. Transference is the attribution of knowledge to the Other, the assumption that the Other is a Subject who “knows” [Le Sujet supposé savoir], and as soon as that “knowing” Subject appears, we have transference. Lacan used Plato’s symposium to illustrate the relationship between analysands (i.e. patients) and the analyst; Alcibiades compared Socrates to a plain box which enclosed a precious object, just as Alcibiades attributes a hidden treasure to Socrates so patients see the object of their desire in the analyst (i.e. “objet petit a” in Lacanian terms). The psychoanalyst must sometimes situate himself/herself as the substitute for objet petit a in the course of psychoanalytic praxis. Lacan also identifies the compulsion to repeat with the symbolic nature of transference, the symbolic determinants of all Subjects, and this helps the progression of treatment by revealing the meaningful signifiers of Subjects’ personal history; he also locates the essence of transference in the Symbolic and not in the Imaginary, although it clearly has powerful imaginary effects.

In 1897, Freud began a self-analysis of his dreams, which evolved into another technique important to the psychoanalytic movement. In the analysis of dreams, Freud distinguish between the manifest content [the actual depiction of the dreams] and the latent content, which represented the symbolic world of the patient. In 1900, he published his major work, The Interpretation of Dreams. Although it sold only 600 copies in eight years, it later went through eight editions in his lifetime. In 1901, he published The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, the book in which his theory began to take shape. Freud argued that the psychology of all people, not only those with neurotic symptoms, could be understood in terms of the unconscious forces in need of resolution.

When his reputation as a pioneer in psychiatry started to grow due to his prolific writings, Freud attracted admiring followers, among them was the notable Carl Jung. In 1909, G. Stanley Hall, president of Clark University, invited him to the United States to give a lecture series as part of that institution’s 20th anniversary. The lectures were published in the American Journal of Psychology and later in book form, serving as an appropriate introduction to psychoanalytic thought for American audiences.

As psychoanalysis was perceived as radical by the medical establishment, early believers form their own associations and found the journals to disseminate their competing views. However, Freud’s demand for strict loyalty to his interpretation of psychoanalysis led to some discord within the movement [perhaps for the betterment of the field itself as many branches kept the fundamental concept of unconscious (Id), pre-conscious (SuperEgo), and conscious (Ego) but fused other theoretical and scientific perspectives to explain and treat a range of mental illnesses]. Carl Jung broke away in 1914, so that by the following year, three rival groups existed within the psychoanalysic movement. Nevertheless, Freud’s views continued to evolve. Impressed by the devastation and tragedy of World War I, Freud came to view aggression, along with sexuality, as a primal instinctual motivation. During the 1920s Freud expanded psychoanalysis from a method of treatment for mentally ill or emotionally disturbed persons to a systematic framework for all human motivation and personality.

In 1923, Freud developed cancer of the jaw and experienced almost constant pain for the remaining 16 years of his life. He underwent 33 operations and had to wear a prosthetic device. Throughout this ordeal however, he continued to write and see patients, although he shunned public appearances. With the rise of Hitler and the anti-Jewish sentiments that arose with his campaigns with the National Socialists, Freud’s works were unfortunately singled out as they were not seen as a scientific endeavour but rather as a Jewish science, and his books were burned throughout Germany. However, Freud resisted fleeing from Vienna. When Germany and Austria were politically united in 1938, the Gestapo began harassing Freud and his family. President Roosevelt indirectly relayed to the German government that Freud is an intellectual who must be protected. Nevertheless, in March 1938 some thugs invaded Freud’s home. Finally, through the efforts of friends, Freud was granted special permission, but only after promising to send for his unsold books in Swiss storage so that they could be destroyed. After he signed a statement saying that he had received good treatment from the police, the German government allowed him to leave for England, where he died shortly after, on September 23, 1939.

 

An overview of the Psychoanalytic System based on Freud’s Research

Before our in-depth examination of psychoanalytic theory, it is important to recognise that the theory has an unusually broad focus. Psychoanalysis contains a theory of personality, but it also offers theoretical tools for understanding culture, society, art and literature. It is also a clinical theory that aspires to explain the nature and origins of mental disorders, and that is associated with an approach to their treatment. To give some more sense to Freud’s breadth, consider that he wrote on topics as diverse as the meaning of dreams and jokes, the origins of religion, Shakespeare’s plays, the psychology of groups, homosexuality, the causes of phobias and obsessions, and much more besides. Even as a theory of personality, psychoanalysis is primarily an account of the processes and mechanisms of the mind, rather than an account of individual differences.

In addition to its breadth of focus, the psychoanalytic theory has many distinct components that have also been modified and explored by a range of skilled psychoanalysts, making it hard to integrate into a single unitary model of the mind since they are inter-connected in complex ways.

Freud’s views evolved continually throughout his long career in the collective result of his extensive writings as an elaborate system of personality development. Personality was described in terms of an energy system that seeks an equilibrium of forces. This homeostatic model of human personality was determined by the constant attempt to identify appropriate ways to discharge instinctual energies, which originate in the depths of the unconscious. The structure of personality, according to the psychoanalytic model consists of a dynamic interchange of activities energised by forces that are present in the person at birth. This homeostatic model was consistent with the prevailing views of 19th-century science, which saw the mechanical relations of physical events studied by physics as the term of scientific inquiry. Freud’s model for psychoanalysis translated physical stimuli to psychic energies or forces and retained an essentially mechanical description of how such forces interact.

As the writings on the dpurb.com website are the foundations for the Organic Theory of Psychological Construction, we are going to be focused not on the later structural model which repositioned the Unconscious, Conscious and Pre-Conscious across the Id, Ego and SuperEgo, but with the first topographic model (1900 – 1905) adopted by both Carl Jung and Jacques Lacan. This model, has been more influential and is more flexible in accommodating competing view points about the structure of mental life across individuals.

The topographic model refers to the levels or layers of mental life. Freud proposed that mental content – ideas, wishes, emotions, impulses, memories, and so on – can be located at one of the three levels: the Conscious (later known as the Ego), the Preconscious (SuperEgo) and the Unconscious (Id), . It is important however, to understand that Freud use these terms to describe degrees of awareness and unawareness, but also to refer to distinct mental systems with their own distinct laws of operation. Unconscious cognition is categorically different from Conscious cognition, in addition to operating on mental content that exists beneath awareness. To convey this point, the three levels of the topographic model was referred to as the ‘systems’ Cs., Pcs., and Ucs.

Topographic Model_C_S_U_dpurb_1000

The Topographic Model


The Conscious (which would later be known as Ego with a partial unconscious side, and also “Le Moi” in Lacanian Theory)

Consciousness is merely the proverbial ‘tip of the iceberg’ of mental activity. The contents of the Conscious are simply the small fraction of things that the person is currently paying attention to: objects perceived, events recalled, the stream of thought that we engage in as a running commentary on everyday life. [This is the main focus of most other branches of Psychology such as Biological Psychology and Cognitive Psychology]

The Preconscious (which would later be known as the Super-Ego, le “Grand Autre” in Lacanian Theory)

Of course, not all of all mental life happens under the spotlight of awareness and attention. There are many things to which we could readily pay attention to but do not, such as ideas or plans we have set aside or memories of what we were doing last week or yesterday. Without any great effort these things or events, which in the present are out of consciousness, can be made conscious. Those form the domain of the Preconscious.

The boundary between the Conscious (Ego) and the Preconscious (Super-Ego) is a permeable one. Thoughts, memories and perceptions can cross without great difficulty according to the momentary needs and intentions of the individual. They also share a common mode of cognition, which in psychoanalysis is known as the ‘secondary process’. Secondary process cognition is the sort of everyday, more or less rational thinking than generally obeys the laws of logic.

The Unconscious (which would later be known as the Id, L’inconscient or the “Ça” in Lacanian Theory)

The Unconscious (Id) is perhaps one of the most celebrated theoretical concepts in psychoanalysis’ legacy. However, Freud did not invent or discover the unconscious as is sometimes claimed – versions of the unconscious had been floating around intellectual circles for some time – but Freud gave it a much deeper theoretical analysis than anyone before him. Freud distinguished between mental contents and processes that are descriptively unconscious and those that are dynamically unconscious. The descriptively unconscious simply exists outside consciousness as a matter of fact, and therefore include Preconscious material that can become conscious if it is attended to. Freud’s crucial contribution was to argue that some thoughts, memories, wishes and mental processes are not only descriptively unconscious, but also cannot be made conscious because of a countervailing force keeps them out of awareness. In short, mental life that is dynamically unconscious is a subset of what is descriptively unconscious, one whose entry to consciousness is actively thwarted. The Freudian unconscious corresponds to the dynamic unconscious in this sense.

Freud held that the Unconscious contains a large but unacknowledged proportion of mental life that operates according to its own psychological laws. The barrier between the Unconscious (Id) and the Preconscious (SuperEgo) is much more fortified and difficult to penetrate than the border between the Preconscious (Super-Ego) and Conscious (Ego). In addition, it is policed by a mental function that Freud likened to a “censor”. The censor’s role is to determine whether the contents of the Unconscious would be threatening / objectionable or socially unacceptable to the person if they became conscious. If the censor judges them to be dangerous in this type, the person will experience anxiety without knowing what caused it. In this case, these thoughts become wishes and so on, and will be normally be repelled back into the Unconscious, in a process referred to asRepression” [it is fundamental and very important to understand that Repression is something else than a conscious judgement which rejects and chooses]. Unconscious material, by Freud’s account, has an intrinsic force propelling it to become conscious. Consequently, repression required an active opposing force to resist it, just as effort is required to prevent a surf board made of white foam to rise to the surface when it is submerged in the ocean. Under the constant pressure of Unconscious material bubbling towards the Preconscious, the censor cannot possibly bar entry to everything. Instead, it allows some Unconscious material to cross over the barrier after it has been transformed or disguised in some way so as to be less objectionable and more socially acceptable. This crossing might take the form of a relatively harmless impulsive behaviour, or in the form of private fantasy, the telling of a joke, or in a slip of the tongue, where the person says something ‘unintentionally’ that reveals to the trained eye and mind the repressed concerns and wishes [such as that of a psychoanalyst – as Jacques Lacan proposed: repression can take the form of a metaphor and the skilled psychoanalyst must be able to decipher a chain of clues with a great deal of verbal dexterity where crossword puzzles may help in training. Lacan also viewed the Grand Autre (Preconscious/Superego) as the discourse of the Unconscious]. Psychoanalysis focuses on how phenomena such as these can be interpreted, the process that involves uncovering the unconscious material that is concealed within their “disguises” [i.e. forms].

To Freud, dreams represent a particularly good example of the disguised expression of the Unconscious wishes. They offered, he wrote, “the royal road to the Unconscious”. One reason for this is that during sleep, the sensor relaxes and allows more repressed Unconscious material to cross the barrier. This material, transformed into a less threatening form by a process referred to as the “dream-work, then takes the shape of a train of images in the peculiar form of consciousness that we call dreaming. It is believed, that each dream has a “latent content” of Unconscious wishes that is transformed into the “manifest content” (or dream narrative) of the experienced dream. In psychoanalytic praxis with patients, the interpretations of dreams takes the same road, but in reverse, in order to decode the transformations rendered by the dream work so as to bring out the latent content based on the manifest content. Freud described the “latent contents” as made up of “latent thoughts“, a term that was always used in the plural form and never precisely described, but the context of its usage seems to suggest that it connoted representations, affects, wishes and conflictual patterns that are all profoundly marked by infantilism and fantasy [e.g. having super powers and flying while dressed in a nylon costume]. Latent thoughts also contain whatever supplies the dream’s “raw material”: the days residues, somatic sensations, and excitations that directly impact instinctual impulses. The transformation carried out by the dream work has to allow the Unconscious wishes during the wake state to be fulfilled during the dream while concealing the elements of threat they contain. If the latent content is not concealed sufficiently through the “dream-work” process, the sleeper will register the threat and be awoken [sometimes in shock and sweat], and to avoid this shock the dream-work may alter the identities of the people represented in a wish, for example, if an individual has an Unconscious wish to harm a loved one, the dream work might produce a dream in which the individual instead harms someone else or in which the loved one is harmed by another person, neutralised in this way, the unconscious wishes find conscious expression in the dream. Freud explained that “latent thoughts” were generally preconscious; they are used by the dream work because they are a relay point and medium for unconscious cathexes [i.e. objects (or ideas) that have a quantity of psychical energy attached to them; to say that an object or idea is “libidinally” cathected means that it is charged with sexual energy deriving from sources internal to a patient’s psyche; the Id (Unconscious) or the instinctual pole of personality is said to be be the source all types of cathexes]. Dreams also showcase the distinct form of thinking that operates in the Unconscious: Primary processthinking, which unlike the secondary process than governs the Conscious (Ego) and Preconscious (Super-Ego), shows no respect for the laws of logic and rationality. In primary process thinking, something can stand for something else, including its opposite, and can even represent two distinct things at once. Contradictory thoughts can coexist and there is no orderly sense of the passage of time or of causation. Basically, primary process thinking captures the magical, chaotic qualities of many dreams, the mysterious images that seems somehow significant, the fractured storylines, the impossible and disconnected events. To Freud, dreams are not simply night-time curiosities, but reveal how the greater part of our mental life proceeds beneath the shallows of conscience.

Foundations of the later “Structural” model: concepts to consider and synthesise with the Topographic Model

We are now going to have a look at the later version of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory where the Unconscious [this time referred to as the Id] is still the fundamental concept, however decades later in 1923, another 3-way dissection of the mind was proposed. This time Freud called it the Psychic Apparatus and the 3-way dissection of the mind was defined in terms of distinct mental functions instead of levels of awareness and their associated processes.

Modèle_Structurel_Id(LeCa)_Ego(Moi)_SuperEgo(Surmoi)_IcebergModel_dpurb

The Structural Model of the Psychic apparatus

In original German, the terms Es (Id), das Ich (Ego) and Über-ich (Super-Ego) were used. As we take a look at these structures, it is important to remember that they were not proposed as real underlying entities, but rather as a sort of conceptual shorthand for talking about different kinds of mental processes. Our aim here is to synthesise the logical concepts of the Structural Model with the earlier Topographic Model of the Unconscious (Id), the Preconscious (Super-Ego) and the Conscious (Ego), however although it is convenient to talk about the Id, Super-Ego and Ego “doing” such-and-such or being “in charge of” so-and so, it is important to remember that they were not intended to refer to distinct sub-personalities within the individual.

The Id (Unconscious, das Es / Inconscient / Le Ça)

The Id [completely/dynamically unconscious] represents the part of the personality that is closely linked to the instinctual drives that are the fundamental sources of motivation in Freudian theory. According to Freud, these drives are chiefly sexual and aggressive in nature. On one hand we have the “life instincts” concerned with preserving life and binding together new “vital unities”, the foremost expression of this concern being loving sexual union. Opposed to these life instincts, on the other side, we have the set of “death instincts”, whose corresponding concern is with breaking down life and destroying connections, its goal is a state of entropy or nirvana, where there is a complete absence of any form of tension [motivation] – the most obvious form of these instincts were aggressiveness expressed inward towards the self or outward towards others. Freud proposed that these instinctual biological drives were powered by a reservoir of instinctual “psychic energy” grounded in basic biological processes; the sexual form of this energy was referred to as libido. Although the unconscious Id is a biological underpinning, its contents are manifested in psychological phenomena such as wishes, ideas, intentions, and impulses. These phenomena are therefore sometimes described as “instinct- derivatives”. Some of these phenomena are innate, whereas others have been consigned to the Id by the process of repression. All of the Id’s contents, however are unconscious. Freud proposed that the Id operated according to what he called the “pleasure principle” which states that the Id’s urges strive to obtain pleasure and avoid “unpleasure” without delay. Unpleasure results from increased accumulated excitation and pleasure results from its reduction. Lacan used the term “Jouissance” to describe an excessive quantity of excitation that has the potential to take the Subject to that extreme point where the erotic borders upon death and where subjectivity risks extinction; the “pleasure principle” tries to prevent such savage scenarios [To Lacan, the pleasure principle is a commandment — which can be phrased — “Enjoy as little as possible.” The pleasure principle leads the subject from signifier to signifier, by generating as many signifiers as are required to maintain at as low a level as possible the tension that regulates the whole functioning of the psychic apparatus]. One of Lacan’s contribution to the debate on feminity advances the concept of a specifically feminine jouissance which goes beyond the phallus: a jouissance of the order of the infinite like mystical ecstacy where women may experience this without being conscious about it. Therefore the pleasure principle serves to reduce tension and to return the psyche to a state of equilibrium or constancy. Pleasure, in Freud’s understanding, represented a discharge of libido or instinctual energy which is accompanied by a release of tension. The Id is not in contact with the rules or structures of individuals’ environment [i.e. the Symbolic rules of civilised society], but rather relates to the other structures of personality, the Ego & the Superego [conscience] that in turn must mediate between the Id’s raw instincts and the external world; immune from reality and social convention, the Id which is guided by the pleasure principle, seeks to gratify instinctual libidinal needs [that are simply biological] either directly through a sexual experience, or indirectly by dreaming or fantasizing. The latter, indirect gratification was called the primary process [governed by the pleasure principle] and has its own “rules” [e.g. allowing contradictions in logic] that differ from Ego functions and conscious thought. The exact object of direct gratification in the pleasure principle is assumed to be determined by the psychosexual stage of the individual’s development [as explained in 3rd part of the essay on The 3 Major Theories of Development], however the legitimacy and precision of this theory has been questioned and revised over the years and it gave way to the more empirical Theory of Attachment of John Bowlby. In short, the Id strives to satisfy its drives enabling immediate, pleasurable release of instinctual energy. It is the most primitive and least accessible structure of personality. As originally described by Freud, the Id is psychic energy of an irrational nature, and in the form of libido, it can manifest itself and be of a sexual character that is incestuous, uninhibited, savage, irrational and boundless, which instinctually determines unconscious processes. In psychoanalysis, this natural, wild and irrational urge is assumed to be present in all human beings. Elisabeth Roudinesco pointed out that Freud had distinguished that in humans it is the desire for incest and not the horror of it, that eventually leads individuals to forbid themselves from expressing it while also rejecting it; that is to say that in healthy, civilised and psychologically stable individuals with a well developed conscience [i.e. Superego] there is a respect for the symbolic laws that govern human relationships ethically [Lacan proposed that these symbolic structures are primarily governed by language] and which involve abiding by a structure that respects shared social values that sustain a functional human civilisation, i.e. the passage from raw and savage nature [Id] to civilised culture [Super Ego]. Many modern psychoanalysts believe that repression, masturbation and sublimation are inescapable in order to manage the raw and wild instincts of the Id and to channel them in more productive endeavours that are in the best interests of individuals and civilised society.

The Ego (Conscious & partially unconscious, Ich / Le Moi)

The Ego, is a mental function and complicates the picture of immediate gratification that the Id strives for. The Ego, a “psychic agency”, arises over the course of development as the child learns that it is often necessary and desirable to delay gratification. The bottle or breast does not always appear the instant that hunger is first experienced, and sometimes it is better to resist the urge to urinate at the bladder’s first bidding if one is to avoid the unpleasure of wet pants, embarrassment, and a parent’s howls of dismay. The Ego, often called the “executive” of personality because of its role in channeling Id [unconscious] energies into socially acceptable outlets [ego is believed to start developing between the ages of 1 and 2 as the child confronts the environment]. The Ego crystallises out this emerging capacity for delay, and in time becomes a restraint on the Id’s impatient striving for discharge. However, it cannot be an inflexible restraint. Its task is not to delay the fulfilment of wishes and impulses endlessly, but to determine when and how it would be most sensible or prudent to do so given the demands of the external environment at a particular time. It operates, that is, on the “Reality principle”, which simply requires that the Ego regulate the person’s behaviour in accordance with external conditions [at a given time or place according to certain rules or laws or conventions, and of course this changes as society redefines “reality” in terms of what it acceptable and not]. Freud emphasized that the Ego is not the dominant force in the personality [unlike Ego psychologists in the US state], although he believed it should strive to be. A famous statement of Freud regarding the goal of Psychoanalytic treatment is “Where Id was, there Ego shall be”. By his account, the Ego not only emerges out of the Id in the course of development – beforehand, the infant is pure Id [instinctive and irrational] – but it also derives all of its energy from the Id. Freud had a gift for metaphor, and he likened the Ego’s relation to the Id as a rider’s relation to a wilful horse. The horse [Id] supplies all of the pair’s force, but the rider [Ego] may be able to channel it in a particular direction. Fortunately, this “rider” [Ego] has a repertoire of skills at its disposal. Freud proposed that the Ego could employ a variety of “defence mechanism” in the service of the reality principle. These mechanisms come in a diverse range, and all represent operations that the Ego performs to deal with the threats to the rational expression of the person’s desires, whether from the Super-Ego or the external environment. These Ego defence mechanisms are common processes in everyday mental life, and many of them are carried out by the Ego unconsciously, showing that there is an unconscious part in the Ego. The Ego being governed by the reality principle, is aware of environmental demands and adjusts behaviour so that the instinctual pressures of the id are satisfied in acceptable ways, and the attainment of specific objects to reduce libidinal energy in socially appropriate ways was called the “secondary process” [the “primary process” being the Unconscious (Id)]. Some of the most well known defence mechanisms are denial, isolation of affect, projection, reaction formation, repression and sublimation.

The Super-Ego (Conscious & partially unconscious, Über-ich / Le Surmoi / L’Autre / Le Grand-Autre)

The differentiation of the structures of personality, called the Super-Ego, is believed to start appearing by the age of 5. In contrast to the Id and Ego, which are internal developments of personality, the Super-Ego is an external imposition. That is the Super-Ego is the incorporation of moral standards perceived by the Ego from some agent of authority in the environment, usually an assimilation of the parents’ views as the child develops – both positive and negative aspects of these standards. The Super-Ego’s emergence complicates the task of the Ego in regulating the expression of the Id’s impulses in response to demands and opportunities of the external environment. The Super-Ego represents an early form of conscience, an internalised set of moral values, standards, and ideals. These moral precepts are not the sort of flexible, evolving, reasoned, and discussable rules of conduct that we tend to imagine when we think of adult morality, however, instead they tend to be relatively harsh, absolute and punishing; adult morality as refracted through the immature and fearful mind of a child. The Super-Ego therefore represents the shrill voice of societal rules and restrictions, a voice that condemns and forbids many of the sexual and destructive wishes, impulses and thoughts that emerge from the Id. The positive moral code is the Ego ideal, i.e. a representation of behaviour for the individual to emulate. The conscience embodies the negative aspect of the Super-Ego, and determines which activities are to be taboo. Conduct that violates the dictates of the conscience produces “guilt” in healthy individuals. Hence, the Super-Ego and the Id are in direct conflict, leaving the Ego to mediate. The Ego now becomes the servant of three masters: the Id, the Super-Ego and the External Environment [Societal Rules]. It is now not enough to reconcile what is desired with what is possible under the circumstances because now the Ego also needs to take into consideration what is socially prohibited and impermissible. Instinctual drives must still be satisfied; which is a constant, however the Ego now attempts to satisfy them in a way that is flexibly “realistic” – that is, in the person’s best interests under current conditions – but also “socially” permitted. These prohibitions are often very unreasonable and inflexible, rejecting any expression of the drive with an unconditional “NO”, either because the moral structures of a particular “culture” are intrinsically rigid, atavistic or unsophisticated, or because the individual’s internalisation of these structures is simply black-and-white, without any grey area to compromise for an adequate and acceptable form of expression of the drive. Thus, the Super-Ego imposes a pattern of conduct that results in some degree of self-control through an internalised system of rewards and punishments.

Given the demands that it faces, the Ego can either find a way to express the Id’s desires successfully, or its attempts to arbitrate can fail. In this case, psychological trouble is likely to follow. If the Id wins the struggle, and the desire finds expression in a more-or-less unaltered and primitive form, the person may experience guilt or shame: the Super-Ego’s sign that it has been violated, and may also have to pay the price of a short-sighted, impulsive action. If on the other hand, the Super-Ego wins the struggle and dominates a person excessively, that individual may become overly rigid, rule-bound, uncreative, unquestioning, anxious and joyless. The forbidden desires may well go “underground” and manifest themselves in symptoms such as anxieties, compulsions or in occasional “out-of-character” impulsive behaviour or emotion.

Intrapsychic Conflict: the Roots of Personality

The major motivational constructs of Freud’s theory of personality was derived from instincts, defined as biological forces that release mental energy. Hence, from the account of the Unconscious (Id), the Conscious [and partly unconscious, Ego) and the Preconscious (Super-Ego), it implies that conflict within the mind’s opposing forces is inevitable, because the demands of society – or “civilisation” – are generally opposed to the natural instincts and drives of human beings. Indeed, intrapsychic conflict is one of the fundamental and defining concepts of psychoanalysis. Conflict within the mind is at the root of personality structure, mental disorder, and most psychological phenomena [e.g. artistic expressions of various forms]. The goal of personality is to reduce the energy drive through some activity acceptable to the constraints of the Super-Ego [Preconscious].

Freud classed inborn instincts to life (eros) and death (thanatos) drives. Life instincts involve self-preservation and include hunger, sex and thirst. The libido is that specific form of energy through which life instincts arise in the Id. The death instinct (Thanatos) may be directed either inwards, as in suicide or masochism, or outwards, as in hate and aggression. The notion that personality equilibrium must be maintained by discharging energy in acceptable ways, leads to anxiety which plays a central role. Essentially the view is that anxiety is a diffuse fear in anticipation of unmet desires and future evils. Given the primitive character of Unconscious (Id) instincts, it is unlikely that primary goals are ever an acceptable means of drive reduction; rather they are apt to give rise to continual anxiety in personality. Freud described three general forms of anxiety.

(i) Reality (or Objective) Anxiety
(ii) Neurotic Anxiety
(iii) Moral Anxiety

Reality or objective anxiety, is a fear of the real environmental danger [e.g. heights, depth, fire, etc] with an obvious cause; such fear is appropriate as it has survival value for the organism. Neurotic anxiety comes about from the fear of potential punishment inherent in the goal of instinctual gratification. It is a fear of punishment for expressing impulsive desires. Finally, moral anxiety is the fear of the conscience through guilt or shame in healthy individuals. In order to cope with anxiety, the Ego develops defence mechanisms, which are elaborate, largely unconscious processes that allow a person to avoid unpleasantness and anxiety-provoking events. For example, an individual may avoid facing anxiety by self-denial, conversion [whereby the anxiety caused by repressed impulses and feelings are ‘converted’ into a physical complaint such as a cough or feelings of paralysis], or projection, or may repress thoughts that are a source of anxiety into the unconscious. Many defence mechanisms are described in the psychoanalytic literature, which generally agrees that although defence mechanisms are typical ways of handling anxiety and maintaining a sense of psychological stability, they must be recognised and controlled by the individual himself/herself for psychological health. Lacan sees “defence” as being on the side of the Subject [being stable symbolic structures of subjectivity].

Denial

Refusing to acknowledge that some unpleasant or threatening event has occurred; common in grief reactions

Isolation of Affect

Mentally severing an idea from its threatening emotional associations so that it can be held without experiencing its unpleasantness; common in obsessional people

Projection

Disavowing one’s impulses thoughts and attributing them to another person; common in paranoia

Reaction formation

Unconsciously developing wishes or thoughts that are opposite to those that one finds undesirable in oneself; common in people with a rigid moral code

Repression

Repression is one of the most basic concepts in psychoanalysis. It involves repelling threatening thoughts from consciousness, to confine them in the unconscious.

Freud distinguished between: (i) primal repression [a “mythical” forgetting of something that was never conscious, an ordinary “psychical act” by which the unconscious is first constituted. Lacan saw this as a structural feature of language, its necessary incompleteness, the impossibility of ever formulating the “truth about truth” (because human language is limited and can never capture and completely express the Unconscious), the symbolic signifying chain of the unconscious where linguistic discourse originates];

and (ii) secondary repression [concrete acts of repression whereby some idea or perception that was once conscious is expelled from the conscious (E.g. motivated forgetting; common in post-traumatic reactions). Lacan saw secondary repression as a specific psychical act by which a signifier is elided from the signifying chain, it is structured like a metaphor and involves the return of the repressed, since repression does not destroy the ideas or memories but merely confines them to the unconscious, the repressed material is liable to return in distorted form, in symptoms, dreams, slips of the tongue, etc. To Lacan, it is always the signifier that is repressed, never the signified, which corresponds to Freud’s view that what is repressed is not the “affect” (which can only be displaced or transformed) but the “ideational representative” of the drive. Lacan proposed that repression is what distinguishes neurosis from other clinical structures – psychotics foreclose, perverts disavow and only neurotics repress]

Lacan maintained that it is very important not to confuse repression with the conscious judgement of a Subject that rejects and chooses.

Sublimation

The concept of Sublimation was first introduced by Freud in 1905 in his essays on Sexual theory. Sublimation is the act of unconsciously deflecting raw, irrational and uninhibited sexual and aggressive impulses/drives towards different, socially acceptable expressions and human activity [e.g. artistic creations, sports and intellectual work] that has no connection to sexuality but gets its power from the psychic energy in the sexual drive [la pulsion sexuelle]. Sublimation thus works as a socially acceptable escape valve for excess libidinal (sexual) energy which would otherwise have to be discharged in socially unacceptable forms [e.g. perverse behaviour] or in neurotic symptoms. This means that complete sublimation would spell the end of all perversion and neurosis. While Freud believed complete sublimation might be possible for some particularly refined or cultured people, Lacan pointed out that absolute/complete sublimation is not possible for human beings, [since all healthy humans with a healthy brain, a functional hypothalamus and sexual organs will experience sexual urges and feelings] and that perverse sexuality to satisfy the drive is possible and accessible (e.g. prostitution, perverse behaviour, private fantasies, etc) but must be sublimated because it is prohibited or badly viewed by civilised society and is also not in the individual’s best interests. Lacan follows Freud in emphasising the fact that the element of social recognition is central to the concept of sublimation, since it is only when the drives are diverted towards this civilised dimension of shared social values that they can be said to be sublimated. This dimension of shared social values allows Lacan to tie in the concept of sublimation with Ethics. [Note: Perversion to Lacan is not simply a savage and grotesque natural means of discharging the libido, but a highly structured relation (reaction) to the manifestation of the sexual drives [instinct/need], which are in themselves in the form of language in civilised people rather than simple biological urges/drives. Lacan also revised Freud’s initial view that sublimation simply involves the redirection of the drive to a different (non-sexual object), but explains that the initial object that the drive was directed at does not change but only its position in the structure of fantasy [for the Subject] changes, i.e. only the nature of the object to which the drive was directed changes not the object itself; this is made possible because the drive is “already deeply marked by the articulation of the signifier”. In the average psyche, the sublime quality of an object is thus not due to any intrinsic property of the object itself, but simply an effect of the object’s position in the symbolic structure of fantasy for a particular Subject.]

Table 1: A List of The Most Common Defence Mechanisms

Freud placed great emphasis on the development of the child because he was convinced that neurotic disturbances manifested by his adult patients had origins in childhood experiences. And as the last model proposed by Freud, the Genetic Model, explains, the psychosexual stages are characterised by different sources of primary gratification determined by the pleasure principle. Freud basically wrote that the child is essentially autoerotic. The genetic model has been previously described in the 3rd section of the essay, The 3 Major Theories of Childhood Development. [Please refer for more details]

However, the genetic model in psychoanalysis has been extensively revised and many of the concepts have given way to other theories [such as the Bowlby’s Theory of Attachment] nowadays that consider other sides in the development of personality. Other theories of peronality have also shown how personality continues to evolve and only stabilises around the age of 30. However, the genetic model of Freud laid the groundwork for other theorist such as John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth who based their guiding principles to uncover the theory of attachment on pre-oedipal developments first mentioned by Sigmund Freud. These attachment types have been discussed in the Essay, The 3 Major Theories of Childhood Development, and although it may not be completely true for all people, the logic behind the psychosexual stages should always be considered to some extent when analysing clients along with attachment types – not to forget to assess the self-reflective abilities of the person, since this has been proven to have more impact on self-adjustment related to adult personality, emotional intelligence and attachment types.

 

The Relationship between the Topographic Model and the Structural Model

It is important to assimilate the knowledge from the structural model and synthesise them with the topographic model. It can be seen that although the later model is conceptually distinct from the first model, they do map onto one another to some degree. The content of the Id, of course, lies firmly within the Unconscious, and is forbidden from entry to the consciousness unless disguised in the form of dreams, slips of the tongue, symptoms, and so on. However the Ego is not completely conscious unlike many ego psychologist may claim along with cognitive psychologist, as it has a strong Unconscious component, given that a great deal of psychological defence mechanisms are conducted instantly out of awareness, and hence is sometimes inaccessible to introspection by the patient – hence requiring a skilled psychoanalyst to guide therapy and treatment. The Super-Ego also has an Unconscious fraction, reflecting as it does and often “primitive”, and irrationally punishing through rigid morality – at least as much as it reflects our reasoned beliefs and principles. Although many concepts have been revised and alternative treatments relating to mental illness have also been devised by other schools of thought in psychology, the sheer complexity and uniqueness of the psychoanalytic system has formed a remarkable achievement. Indeed, Freud even had to invent new terminology to express his thoughts, and these terms have become an accepted part of our vocabulary.

Psychisme: Les théories de Freud ont-elles évolué? (2013)

Psychoanalytic Evidence: From the perspective of Empirical Methodology (Mainstream Science)

Freud ardently believed along with all good psychoanalysts that psychoanalysis is a science, not an empirical science, but a science of the mind that slices not with blades or questionnaires, but with concepts through the linguistic and philosophical realm of a patients subjective reality. It is also fair to consider that Freud himself was an accomplished biological scientist before he developed psychoanalytic theories. Biological ideas are interwoven in his work, as is his concepts of drive, instinct, and psychic energy. Nevertheless, the methods that he used to obtain evidence for the psychoanalytic theory were very different from the reductionist and empirical methods used by the government institutions, laboratory scientists or the statistical psychologists with their quantified questionnaires exploring basic “traits”. As an anatomist and physiologist, Freud made systematic observations of living and dead organisms, and conducted controlled empirical experiments. Hence, he must have come to the same conclusion as ourselves, which is, mental life cannot be fully explained by the mechanical explanations, although a lot can be learnt from understanding the physiology of the brain, but the “software” itself, that generates the mind, is an entity that empirical science comes short in terms of its methodologies. Hence, as a psychoanalyst, Freud introspected and speculated about his own mental life, and listened closely to what his patients told him during sessions of psychoanalytic therapy. It is quite clear, that dissecting an eel is completely different from dissecting a personality with all its complexities, and that observing the stream of one’s consciousness or another’s speech [i.e. discourse] is very different from conducting a controlled experiment with observable variables. So, psychoanalytic evidence is clearly unlike the evidence on which most “hard physical sciences” are based.

However, it is important to understand that the critique of psychoanalysis from the methodology of empirical science may not be rational. Because psychoanalysis was never intended to be a mechanical “hard” science, although it learns from neuroscience and cognitive-psychology of certain very basic aspects of the physiology of the brain and its functions. These questions about Empirically Supported Treatment (EST) came to the forefront of psychotherapy literature in 1993, when Division 12 of the American Psychological Association worked to publish a list of criteria for what constitutes EST (Chambless, et al., 1996; Task Force on Promotion and Dissemination of Psychological Procedures, 1995; Taskforce on Psychological Intervention Guidelines, 1995). A list of treatments were published that we empirically supported and very few psychodynamic treatments were included, nor were interpersonal or humanistic therapy included. Not surprisingly, these guidelines and list became anything but unifying for psychotherapists and psychotherapy researchers.

Freud Dessin

Westen, Novotny and Thompson-Brenner (2004) made some important critiques of the literature on ESTs. They noted that ESTs are often designed for a single, Axis I disorder, and patients are screened to maximise their homogeneity and to minimise their diagnostic comorbidity. Treatments are manualised and brief, and outcomes are assessed often by reductions in the primary symptom reduction for that particular disorder. Westen et al. suggested that EST researchers always tend to assume the following:

  • Psychopathology is highly malleable
  • Most patients can be treated for a single problem or disorder
  • Psychiatric disorders can be treated without much attention to underlying personality factors
  • Experimental methodology used to develop ESTs has ecological validity in clinical practice

Westen et al. (2004) basically contended that these assumptions are not valid, not to say wrong. There is considerable diagnostic comorbidity, making most patients ineligible to participate in EST research trials. There also is considerable stability of psychopathology of psychiatric symptoms, even after “successful” completion of EST. And clinicians of all theoretical orientations see patients well beyong the time allotted in treatment manuals (see Morrison, Bradley, & Westen, 2003; Thompson-Brenner, Glass, & Westen, 2003; Westen & Morrison, 2001 for an excellent review of these issues).

Norcross (2002a) offered an additional perspective on why the EST literature has been so controversial. First, he explained that EST research rarely addresses the fact “that the therapist is a person, however much he may strive to make himself an instrument of the patient’s treatment” (Orlinsky & Howard, 1977, p.567 as cited by Norcross 2002a). This idea has been demonstrate very well in empirical literature. For example, Wampold (2001) concluded in a meta-analysis of psychotherapy studies that the qualities of the therapist play a much stronger role in the outcome of treatment that does the treatment itself. Second, Norcross stated that therapy research has savagely neglected the important question of studying the therapy relationship. Instead, the focus has been more on the application and mastery of a technique (not a relationship). Third, who the patient is affects treatment outcome. As attention has been directed towards the study and implementation of psychotherapy techniques to different categories of disorders, small attention has been given to the patient characteristics that affect outcome, such as comorbid conditions, capacity for insight, and a history of interpersonal relatedness.

Psychoanalytic and psychodynamic therapies certainly are related to these issues. Analytic and Dynamic models of therapy are very focused on the behaviour and qualities of the therapist, with special attention to issues of the therapeutic alliance, neutrality, transference, and countertransference.

Freud's Couch at Freud Museum London

The couch that started everything: Freud’s psychoanalytic couch at the Freud Museum in London

It is important to also consider that one’s training in how to conduct psychoanalytic or psychodynamic psychotherapy is focused on how therapists present themselves and how patients respond to this. Such a focus automatically puts the therapeutic alliance at the centre of attention, something that has taken on more interest over the years (Fairbairn, 1952; Greenberg, 1986, 2001a; Pine, 1998; Stolorow, Atwood & Brandchaft, 1994; Wallerstein, 2002). Psychoanalysts have also recognised that the personality and qualities of the patient affect how therapy should be conducted (e.g., Gabbard, 2000, 2004); that is, one approach to working with patients does not fit all patients. Furthermore, many psychotherapists have been reluctant to allow their therapy relationships to be subject to empirical investigation (Bornstein, 2005), as a form of respect for the privacy of their clients, making it very hard to provide more objective data that the support the validity of psychoanalysis. In contrast, other schools of thoughts derived from the behavioural school and the medical fields have very willingly offered their data for empirical investigations.

Often accompanying this philosophical criticism regarding scientific testability is a factual criticism that psychoanalysts have seldom tried to test their theories scientifically. This criticism may have some truth to it, however many psychoanalysts have responded to the call for more scientific inquiry by asserting that it is unnecessary and that clinical evidence of the treatments curing mental illness of various types is quite sufficient.

FIGURE B - SUCESS RATES WITH ADULTS & CHILDREN

Success Rates of Psychotherapy with adults and children, and Therapy from other schools of thought [traditions] based on Effect Sizes from Meta-analyses / Source: dpurb.com

Other psychoanalysts have argued that scientific support for their theories is irrelevant. Psychoanalysis, they suggest, is not an empirical science, but a science of subjective experience and linguistic dissection, so it is inappropriate to judge it by the mainstream reductionist empirical scientific standards of modern day academia.

Many see psychoanalysis as a “hermeneutic” discipline, an approach to interpretation which is rather like a school of literary criticism or biblical scholarship. To them, psychoanalytic theory is a way to decipher mental life, an interpretative technique for uncovering meaning. Its goal, they say, is to understand psychological phenomena in terms of their underlying reasons rather than explaining them as objective science in terms of causes. Some have gone so far as to suggest that the goal of psychoanalytic understanding is not to ascertain literal or scientific truth – for example, what “truly happened in a person’s past to make them the way they are today” – but instead to formulate “narrative truth”, a story that gives coherent meaning to the person’s experiences [from their perspective in terms of what matters to them] (Spence, 1980).

LePromeneurSolitaire-dpurb-com-1200

Photographie: Danny D’Purb © 2018

What Jacques Lacan clearly meant by a complete reconstitution of a subject’s history as the aim of psychoanalysis, is that “history” is not a simple objective sequence of past events, but the present synthesis of the past as it is subjectively perceived and interpreted by the continously evolving Subject in his/her uniqueness. Lacan’s used the term après coup” [retroaction, i.e. how the present affects the past] and pointed out that linguistic discourse itself is structured by retroaction, since only when the last word of a sentence is uttered or read that the initial words gain meaning; with retroaction also comes “anticipation“, which refers to the way in which the future also affects the present, and like retroaction, anticipation also structures linguistic discourse, since the first words of a sentence are ordered in anticipation of the words to come. Jacques Lacan also pointed out how in the “psyche” [mind], present events affect past events [i.e. retroaction]; because the past is simply a set of stories in the mind of an individual that is edited and reinterpreted in the light of new experiences and information of the constantly evolving Subject in his/her uniqueness; most healthy individuals with desires, sculpt the stories of their past experiences to make it work towards their development; they take a particular perspective to extract meaning and significance from their past experiences [in terms of what matters to them and what does not] so that they contribute towards their development, progress and desires [See the Essay: The Concept of Self]. Lacan also pointed out that psychoanalysis is not concerned by what most empiricists would call the “real past” as an objective sequence of events devoid of subjective signification, but rather with the way these experiences exist in the psyche/mind of a particular individual and how he/she interprets (i.e. perceives) and reports them in order to find out what holds significance for a particular Subject and what does not.

We can thus conclude that there will always be something “uniquely special” about psychoanalytic evidence, for all its empirical flaws. A completed psychoanalytic treatment may sometimes [depending on the type of patient] occupy four or five sessions each week over a period of several years, amounting to perhaps 1000 hours in which the analyst listens closely to the patient’s innermost thoughts. These thoughts, often too intimate and raw to be shared even with loved ones, range widely over the patient’s personal history and lived experiences. They are recounted in a wide variety of mood-states and frames of mind. These millions of spoken words and feelings may not represent the kind of systematically and objectively collected data on which the scientific theory of personality [that the hardcore empiricist loves] can easily be built. However, it is hard to declare that the analyst does not understand the patient’s personality better than someone who might interpret the patient’s responses, dashed off in a matter of minutes, to a trait questionnaire. Indeed, there is something valuable about psychanalytic evidence, but it is very hard to build an empirical theory out of it since we are not dealing with matters of hard sciences [e.g. biology, medecine, physics, chemistry, astrophysics, material science, astronomy, etc], but the mind of human beings that embodies their whole existence and worlds.

 

Empirical Evidence for the Existence of Unconscious Processes

More and more psychoanalytic thinkers and sympathisers are starting to find creative ways to test psychoanalytic hypotheses in rigorous empirical ways to conform with academic science, despite all the difficulties that this involves. This research is now very extensive, and therefore difficult to summarise. However, a broad conclusion can be drawn from it: specific Freudian claims typically fail to receive experimental support but do work in treating mentally ill patients in clinical practice. What Freud learned from his clinical practice is that sexuality always involves a dimension of the impossibility of reaching “total” satisfaction for any Subject, and in order to achieve some satisfaction it is necessary to renounce total satisfaction, this renunciation is one of the references to the concept of “castration”, where castration is a condition for satisfaction. Castration refers to the separation installed by the Oedipal law in both sexes and thus is a requirement of civilised culture; it is the positive side of the prohibition of incest, this instinctual renunciation, is the structuring function in the resolution of the Oedipus complex and is necessary for all cultural achievement.

Freud elaborated three possible outcomes for the “castration complex/anxiety” in women: (i) a total repudiation of sexuality; (ii) the adopting of a masculine position and the repudiation of penis envy; and (iii) motherhood as a treatment of penis envy through the symbolic equation of penis equals child. As for males, Freud believed that the castration complex/anxiety serves to free the boy from the Oedipus complex; it is the prohibition of the primordial object [i.e. the mother(s) or mother figure(s)] and leads to a lack in individuals which will orient them to look elsewhere [i.e. go out into the world and seek a true partner], and in this way, desire is inaugurated; for a number of psychoanalysts however, the “castration complex” of Freud did not have the major structuring role in the construction of sexual difference and they instead turned to other explanations, such as biological and developmental theories.

The concepts of Penis envy [According to Freud, woman’s desire to have a child is rooted in the envy of the man’s penis. When a girl first realizes that she does not possess a penis, she feels deprived of something valuable (symbolically), and seeks to compensate for this by obtaining a child as a “symbolic substitute” for the penis she has been denied. Even though the girl may at first resent the mother for depriving her of a penis and turn to the father or father figure in the hope that he will provide her with a symbolic substitute (i.e. a child), she later turns her resentment against the father when he does not provide her with the child as substitute. Freud argues that penis envy persists into adulthood, manifesting itself both in the desire to enjoy the penis in sexual intercourse, and in the desire to have a child (since the father or father figure does not provide her with a child, the woman turns to another man instead). On this particular component of psychoanalysis, Lacan follows Freud, arguing that the child always represents for the mother a substitute for the symbolic phallus which she lacks (a type of lack known as “privation”). However, Lacan emphasized that the symbolic substitute for the phallus (i.e. the child) never really satisfies the mother; her desire for the symbolic phallus persists no matter how many children she has. The mother’s basic dissatisfaction and sense of privation is perceived by the child from very early on; the child realizes that she has a desire that aims at something beyond her dual relationship with him, the imaginary phallus. The child then seeks to fulfil the mother’s desire by identifying with the Imaginary phallus (or by identifying with the mother imagined as possessing a phallus, i.e. the phallic mother). In this way, the “privation” of the mother is responsible for introducing the dialectic of desire in the child’s life for the first time. Alfred Adler argued that the concept of “penis envy” should not be expressed literally but symbolically as women’s frustration at not being able to match male dominance in society, i.e. the phallus as representing male dominance in society. Karen Horney contested the claims of penis envy, which seems to suggest that some concepts may not apply to everyone, hence the wide scope of psychoanalytic theory to suit different developmental cases], Castration Anxiety and Repression, cannot be demonstrated easily through the simple methods used for mainstream science and empirical experiments in a laboratory, although some effort has been made. A study at the Harvard Medical School in Boston at the Massachusetts Mental Health Centre involving college aged women [ranging from 17 to 43 years old] and men [ranging from 18 to 23 years old] carried out by Rosalind Jones in 1994, tested the Freudian theory claim that the “natural” development of feminity involves the woman’s substitution of the wish for a baby in place of her original wish for a penis [i.e. penis envy]. In the study, the pregnancy message used was “Reproduction. The birth of a child. I should become pregnant. Entering my uterus. Entering my womb. I could become pregnant. To be fertilized. Becoming pregnant. The contraceptive field. To become pregnant. I could become pregnant, big with child”; the original penetration message was “I feel opened up. Things are getting through. It gets into me. I am opened up. Things are getting into me. I am sensitive. I feel things inside of me”; and the Revised Penetration message was “I feel opened up. He is getting through. He gets into me. I am sensitive sexy. I feel him moving into me. He is getting into me.” Consistent with Freud’s speculation about the phallic significance of pregnancy for women, Jones (1994) found that female subjects who were exposed to the subliminal pregnancy message produced significantly more phallic imagery responses to inkblots than did women in any other experimental conditions (p<.01).

Dreaming also does not seem to always preserve sleep by disguising latent wishes, and there is very little empirical evidence to back up the theory of Psychosexual stages, although it influenced the Theories of Attachment devised by John Bowlby. More “general” Freudian concepts however have often received a good deal of scientific support. There is today, plenty of evidence to suggest the existence of unconscious mental processes, for the existence of conflict between these processes and conscious cognition, and for the existence of processes resembling some of the defence mechanisms. Two illustrative studies can support his work. First, Fazio, Jackson, Dunton and Williams (1995) found that people who sincerely profess to having absolutely no racial prejudice can be shown to associate negative attributes with Black faces more than White faces in a laboratory task. This finding which has been replicated countless times by social cognition researchers, shows that the conscious attitudes of individuals may conflict with their “implicit” attitudes [unconscious]. Second, Adams, Wright and Lohr (1996) hooked male subjects up to a daunting instrument called the penis plethysmograph, which measures sexual arousal by gauging penile circumference. It was found that men who reported strong anti-gay (homophobic) attitudes demonstrated an increased arousal when shown videos of homosexual acts, whereas non-homophobic men did not. This finding seems to reveal some form of defence mechanism consistent with the psychoanalytic view that homophobia is a reaction formation against homoerotic desires. However, none of these illustrative studies can be considered as completely conclusive, and all have been controversial and subjected to various interpretations. For example, anxiety, shock, or anger rather than sexual arousal may have caused the increased penile blood flow of Adams et al.’s homophobic subjects.

These experiments prove that with enough creative ingenuity, some psychanalytic propositions can be scientifically tested. Doing so should contribute to the important task of sifting what is worth retaining in psychoanalytic theory for strict empiricists of the hard sciences.

Unconscious Processes: Integrating Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychodynamic Theory

In various ways, the evidence for the existence of mental processes that are outside of direct conscious awareness are apparent in every scenarios of life. Here are some examples:

  1. We sometimes cannot remember the name of a particular person of importance, only to be able to recall it hours or days later at a time and place when knowing the name is not required
  2. Despite one’s intention to offer some control over the process, dreaming appears to occur at its own timing and pace.
  3. On September 11, 2001, and the days following, many Americans watched hours of news report focussed on the same attacks on the United States. Although deeply upset by the contents, many individuals could not stop themselves from watching these videos, saying that it was as if something in them drew them to reports in spite of conscious awareness of disbelief and outrage
  4. Many patients who seek psychotherapy are unable to stop unwanted behaviours or interpersonal problems, despite conscious awareness of their harmfulness to them and their life. These problems range from relatively simple [e.g. drinking too much alcohol] to relatively complex [e.g. placing oneself in situations in which one is often taken advantage of or obsessing about one’s body image if certain kinds of fattening foods are consumed].

Soignez votre intestin, pour vous sentir bien d'purb dpurb site web

Other examples are evident too, simple exercises that can be easily performed. For example, consider when 3 lines are drawn in the shape of a triangle with the ends of each line however, not touching one another, leaving a small gap between all their extremities. We can come to realise that, depending on the space between the lines, the image is instantly perceived as a triangle by the individual, a triangle with missing edges; 3 lines that are coming together like a triangle, or just 3 lines at different angles.

When taking into consideration perceptual phenomena such as this [i.e. an example of the Gestalt principle of closure], it is evident that the mind does the following very quickly, without conscious awareness of how the process occurs, yet meaning and understanding are formed.

  • Takes in sensory information
  • Determines what the information is
  • Assembles the information in such a way that a percept or concept is formed
  • The percept or concept is “perceived” and “understood”

The evidence for the existence of unconscious processes is widely known in cognitive psychology. In a seminal paper in the American Psychologist, Shevrin and Dickman (1980) demonstrated how conclusions from the studies of selective attention, cortical evoked potentials, and subliminal perception provide support for the concept of an unconscious mind and posit that “no psychological model that seeks to explain how human beings know, learn, or behave can ignore the concept of unconscious psychological processes” (p. 432). They also noted that the initial stage for processing all stimuli occurs outside of consciousness and that it affects what is known consciously. This early stage is different in how it operates from conscious cognition, and conscious cognition necessarily occurs after considerable preconscious processing. Years, later, their conclusions and ideas appear to be no less true.

 

Empirical and Cases Studies Demonstrating Unconscious Processes

In studies of subliminal perception, which began in 1950s, the processing of unperceivable stimuli and its effect on behaviour has provided interesting results about the unconscious mind. Shevrin and Fisher (1967) subliminally presented participants with a picture of a pen and knee just prior to falling asleep. When they awoke from rapid eye movement (REM; dream stage) sleep, participants’ associations to their dreams were of a pen or knee or included less rational kinds of associations (a finding that had been well demonstrated in past sleep studies). These included words that sound like pen or knee, such as pennant, hen, or neither. In contrast, those who awoke during non-REM sleep, which had been associated with few dreams or dreams that were more rational, had associations such as penny (pen + knee) or related words, such as nickel and dime.

Shevrin (2006) noted that this study demonstrated that 2 levels of unconscious processing – irrational and rational – were taking place. He deduced that once inhibitions [e.g. defences] weaken – in this case, being awakened from sleep – more rational processes are overtaken by irrational ones. Surprisingly, the more irrational process observed in this study produced content similar to what was found in severe types of psychopathology: repetition and clanging. In a follow-up study with the same methodology, Shevrin (1973) presented participants with the same stimuli, this time while they were fully awake and more proximal to entering the sleep state. Again, they found a similar pattern of results in which the type of associations produced varied depending on when participants were awakened.

Even more interesting results were described by Shevrin and colleagues (Shevrin, 1988; Shevrin, Bond, Brakel, Hertel & Williams, 1996; Shevrin et al., 1992), who set out to demonstrate that unconscious and conscious processes operate differently. In these studies, patients were selected who had either pathological phobic reactions or extended grief. They were then assessed via interview, and 4 psychoanalysts listened to the interviews carefully. By way of consensus, the psychoanalyst researchers derived a conceptualisation of the core conflicts for each patient; then went on to select the patients’ words that they believed captured the patients’ conscious experience of the symptoms and words that represented unconscious conflict. These words along with unrelated words were then presented both subliminally and supraliminally to the patients, who were then asked to classify them as belonging together. Using event-related potentials to detect patients’ ability to classify or respond to words in similar ways, the researchers found that words representing unconscious conflicts were correctly classified only when presented subliminally and that the reverse was true for supraliminally presented words; they were correctly classified only when presented supraliminally. Here, we find some sense to Lacan’s deductions regarding the unconscious being structured like language and the linguistic dexterity that psychoanalyst should be able to handle to decipher and understand the fullness of the patient’s mind [conscious and unconscious].

Shevrin (1996) concluded, “…When [these studies are] taken in combination, [they] show that unconscious psychological causes affect consciousness in a qualitatively different way… and that unconscious conflict has an existence independent of the psychoanalyst’s inferences from conscious manifestations, an independence supported by brain correlates” (p. 591, italics in original). Shevrin also published reviews of research showing an association between subliminal perception and dreaming (Shevrin, 1986) and subliminal perception and repression (Shevrin, 1990).

In a more recent meta-analysis from more than 100 studies of subliminal perception, Weinberger and Hardaway (1990) found that psychodynamic material presented subliminally had a noticeable and predictable effect on behaviour, suggesting very clearly that unconscious processes affect overt behaviour. For instance, studies by Silverman and colleagues (Silverman, 1983, 1986; Silverman, Bronstein & Mendelsohn, 1976; Silverman, Kwawer, Wolitzky & Coron, 1973; Silverman, Lachman & Milich, 1982; Silverman, Ross, Adler & Lustig, 1978) found that subliminally presented messages of Oedipal content (e.g., “Beating dad is okay”) to male participants yielded more competitiveness in a subsequent dart-throwing game than non-Oedipal messages. [Note: Freud proposed that at the Oedipal stage, a competition between father/son and daughter/mother takes place, before it is resolved in the child gradually adopting the same-sex parent’s values as his/her own in the development of an early form of Conscience (Super-Ego/Preconscious)]

Bradley and colleagues (Bradley, Mogg & Millar, 1996; Bradley, Mogg and Williams, 1994, 1995) performed a series of studies in which words related to depression (e.g. misery, grief, despair) are subliminally presented to individuals who fall into 3 groups: those meeting the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) criteria for major depression, those with subclinical levels of depression and those operating as controls. They consistently found that on implicit memory tests, depressed and subclinically depressed individuals correctly identity words related to depression more often than those who are not depressed. Although their findings have not been consistently replicated for patients suffering with anxiety, studies with depressive patients suggest that a level of processing occurs below conscious awareness that increases individuals’ awareness of and identification of depressive material. Clinically, it would suggest that to effectively treat and manage depression, addressing issues related to unconscious sensitivity to depressive material is very important. Given the relatively high relapse rates for depression and other disorders that are treated with methods focussing more on conscious awareness – via cognitive and behavioural therapies (Westen & Morrison, 2001) – it seems that attention to unconscious processes has the potential to effectively address some depressive disorders.

Eagle (1987) provided support for the notion of unconscious processing in studies of perceptual illusions and dichotic listening, a type of selective attention task. For instance, in the Ames room experiment (Ittleson & Kilpatrick, 1951), the ceiling and floor were not parallel, and the 2 subjects stood either towards the front or back of the room. This led perceivers to believe that the people very different in size , despite the fact that they were not. In the dichotic listening task (Lewis, 1970), individuals heard 2 different messages in each ear but were trained to attend to just one of those messages. When asked to repeat what was heard in the trained ear, individuals had less of a reaction time in producing the words when the words in the other ear were semantically similar [the meaning was synonymous / it meant the same thing]. This means that, there was a facilitative effect on performance when a semantically similar word was processed (unconsciously) in the “unattended” ear.

Further studies of patients who have experienced brain injuries provide interesting clinical observations that support the presence of unconscious processes. Milner, Corkin and Teuber (1968) reported the famous case of a patient known as H.M., who had undergone surgery on his medial temporal lobes to control very severe seizures. We nowadays know that just below the this part of the cortex lies the hippocampus, which is considered as an important anatomical locus for learning new information and storing it in working and long-term memory. Because of the damage done to the medial temporal lobes by the procedure, H.M. failed to remember anything that was new to him past surgery. H.M. however could remember information if he rehearsed it, although it was quickly lost if he was interrupted.

One interesting consequence of this procedure was that H.M. appeared not to have lost all “affective” components of certain experiences. For instance, H.M. had the occasion to visit his mother, who was hospitalised. After leaving the hospital, he had no recollection of visiting her, although he had the idea that something may be wrong with her. H.M. experienced other events like this, demonstrating well that implicit learning was still occurring for “affectively charged” situations and that the unconscious effects of this learning could be identified in everyday life.

Later studies of unconscious affective processing have suggested that there are at least 2 neural pathways that process affective information (LeDoux, 1989, 1995, as cited in Westen, 1999). One of these pathways originates in the thalamus and transmit sensory information to other brain regions, whereby emotional meaning is attached to the information. The other pathway, also originating in the thalamus, sends the sensory information to the cortex, where higher levels of emotional processing and emotional meaning are executed.

Mark Solms has reported some exciting work on the effects of unconscious processes on commonly observed clinical syndromes (e.g., Solms, 2000a, 2000b, 2001, 2002, 2004). Solms has taken a very active role in recent times in integrating the findings of neuroscience and psychoanalysis, which has created a relatively new discipline of study known as neuro-psychoanalysis. An interesting set of case of studies has been provided (Solms, 2000a) on patients who have experienced a strike on the right temporal lobe in the region, where the middle cerebral artery lies. In these case studies, psychoanalytic theory and treatment is integrated into the neurological understanding of the deficits the patients are experiencing.

Right hemisphere syndrome is a neurological disorder consisting of 3 major symptoms: ansognosia, neglect and spatial perception and cognition deficits. Anosognosia is the indifference or outright denial of an illness, which in the present case was the loss of the use of the patient’s left arm and side. Neglect occurs when patients ignore their paralysed limb and side. Patients often feel disgust when they are compelled to attend to the left side of the body, sometimes experiencing a sense of revulsion.

The spatial and cognitive deficits observed consist of defective facial recognition, imperceptions of facial emotion, environmental disorientation, and various kinds of apraxia [the inability to complete an activity involving muscle movement]. There are various theories about the emotional deficit in patients with right hemisphere syndrome. One theory suggests that the stroke affects attentional arousal that is mediated through activity in the right perisylvian region of the temporal lobe, which consequently gives rise to anosognosia and neglect. Another theory has focused on the fact that the left hemisphere is more involved with positive emotional processing and the right with more negative emotional processing. Since, the right hemisphere is damaged in this case, anosognosia and neglect occur because there is little to no processing of negative effect in the right hemisphere. A final theory states that it is the right hemisphere that is dominant for the perceptual representation of bodily states, which include more somatic or visceral perceptions. When this part of the brain is damaged or compromised, the brain can only rely on past somatosensory representations of bodily states, which provide the patient that there is no deficit or problem.

Solms (2000a) described Mr.C., a 59-year-old engineer who experienced right hemisphere syndrome after complications from a mild stroke. Only part of the visual field of the patient was remaining and he would not attempt to compensate for it [i.e. neglect], and he also ignored sensory stimulation that occurred on the left side of his body [anosodiaphoria]. He ignored and minimised his paralysed left arm, referring to it as being “like a dead piece of meat, but not it’s just a little bit lame and lazy” (p.71). Other deficits existed due to right parietal damage.

Mr.C. was “aloof, imperious and egocentric” (Solms, 2000a, p.72). He seemed unconcerned about others and would sit blankly at times staring into space. However, on occasion he would burst into tears or look as if this were the case. These periods however, were brief yet stood in stark contrast to the emotional coldness that he often presented with. During one physical therapy session, Mr. C. was making very little progress in learning how to walk. The physiotherapist reported to the treating psychologist that Mr. C. seemed “indifferent to the errors he was making, and he simply ignored her when she pointed them out to him” (p.74). In a session next day, Mr. C. told the psychologist that the physiotherapist indicated that he had been making mistakes, sounding as if he was confession something. Then, he said that another therapist had asked him to do some activities with blocks but that he could not do it. At this point, the therapist replied to Mr. C.:

“…it was difficult for him to acknowledge the problems his stroke had left him with, but it seemed that he was now more able to see them. Mr.C., carried on… [saying] his physiotherapy was “okay” but that his arm had not progressed to the degree that he required. Then, at this point, he suddenly  withdrew from conversing… and began to exercise his left hand and arm with the right one. [The therapist] commented that is seemed as if he could not bear the wait, and wanted his arm to be completely better instantly… [He replied] “I just don’t want my left arm to get weak from non-use.” [The therapist then replied] perhaps it was too painful for him to acknowledge what he was on the verge of recognising a moment earlier – namely that his arm really was completely paralysed – and that the question of whether it would recover or not was largely beyond his control. This comment provoked an instantaneous crumpling of his face and a burst of painful emotion accompanied by pre-tearfulness. [Turning to the therapist] he said in desperation “but look at my arm [pointing to his left arm] – what am I going to do if it doesn’t recover? (pp. 74-75)

Solms (2000a) noted that this case demonstrates how unconscious material that was too painful to acknowledge was accessed through careful interpretations. Furthermore, the case example controverts the theory that these patients lack negative emotions or have no awareness of their bodies and their deficits. In Mr. C’s case, it is clear that implicit processes were at work and that the emotional response originated out of the complex, associative networks were formed by this patient’s unconscious processing of the painful loss of his bodily integrity.

Transference phenomena can also be better understood in the light of recent findings in cognitive psychology. To understand transference phenomena, Westen and Gabbard (2002b, pp. 103-104) highlighted important ideas in recent studies of cognitive processing.

  1. More representations consist of memory traces that are multimodal, which include semantic, sensory and emotional components.
  2. Representations of self and other exist as potentials for activation. Because there are potentials, they are subject to modification, which will interact with new knowledge, further developing the self and other representations.
  3. Memory networks consist of semantic, episodic and procedural knowledge, along with differing affects and motives.
  4. Unconscious procedures to manage emotions are defences and may be triggered outside of awareness. Co-occurring motives and affects may also be activated, such that the person may not be aware of either one or the defence being used.
  5. Conscious representation are some of many representations that get activated. Consciousness is a serial processing system, whereas multiple parallel processes get activated that are not available to consciousness.

As may be observed in these principles, Westen and Gabbard (2002b) suggested that transference phenomena represent a dynamic, ongoing process that occurs at the conscious and unconscious level. Because multiple cognitive events occur at one time, transference phenomena can be highly complex phenomena and can represent one of many possible reactions to the therapist, as well as other meaningful individuals in the patient’s life. In fact, multiple transferences can occur. For instance, a patient may feel particularly challenged by his work and may experience some feedback from his female supervisor about his recent difficulties with his job. Suppose the patient’s mother took great strides to help him whenever he felt frustrated in his school activities or work, such that he came to unconsciously expect her to provide assistance during challenging times. At work the patient may have experienced the supervisor’s comments as an invitation for help and assistance. Should no help be forthcoming, the patient would become irritated and disappointed with such a difficult supervisor. Likewise, suppose that this patient’s father was unavailable to help him. He may have to come to view male authorities as uncaring and disinterested in his plight. Thus, in his present treatment, the patient may find himself feeling scared and anxious towards his male therapist when talking about his recent disappointment with the supervisor. An exploration of his interaction with his supervisor may elicit anxiety in the patient towards his therapist whom he experiences as a disinterested and uncaring male. Likewise, he may feel very frustrated towards the therapist who is not willing to tell him how to manage his interactions with his supervisor, reflecting a maternal transference to the therapist who unconsciously should be offering help and assistance quickly and without much effort on the patient’s part.

 

The Psychoanalytic Account of Motivation

The account of human motivation, resting on sexual and death instincts, has been a big talking point for critics of psychoanalysis from the very beginning. Jung’s departure from the psychoanalytic movement was largely caused over disagreements over the motivational concepts. Jung questioned the centrality of sexuality and argued for the importance of spiritual motives. Alfred Adler on the other hand proposed a basic desire for social superiority and a “will to power”. Later writers within the psychoanalytic tradition also sought to expand the theory of motivation to include drives for mastery and competence, and for interpersonal relatedness.

In general, there has always been 2 major issues, the first is whether the sexual and death instinct are plausible sources of human motivation. Second, whether they are sufficient explanations of motivation, or whether additional motives that are not reducible to these drives are needed.

With respect to the first issue, it may be hard to deny [from a universal and organic standpoint] that sexual wishes and drives are powerful sources of motivation, especially if we include “sexual” desires as a part of loving relationships and for bodily pleasure. From a biological and evolutionary perspective it could not be otherwise, since reproductive success is the basic currency of individual genetic fitness, not to mention species survival [in all species including primates and mammals].

From this perspective, the psychoanalytic emphasis on sexual drives – an emphasis shared by no other personality theory – is a very strong point of the psychoanalytic theory, even if we are allowed to disagree and investigate some particular claims that may not apply to some individuals regarding the effects of the Psychosexual stages in childhood as proposed by Freud [which inspired John Bowlby’s Theory of Attachment], or discuss the other drives that are non-sexual [e.g. Romantic love and its expressions].

Romantic Love dpurb site web 2019.jpg

From the same evolution standpoint, a death instinct directed inwards towards self-destruction is questionable. However, this negative judgement on the death instinct, which is shared by many contemporary psychoanalysts, does not mean that we need to dispense with the idea of aggressive drives. Aggressiveness could be theorised not as a form of self-destructiveness, but rather as a way to strive for social dominance [among a particular frame, circle or group], i.e. to fend off “attackers” in defence of one’s own “territorial grounds” or to assert one’s personal choice or interest.

The second issue is whether sexual and perhaps aggressive drives are broad enough to capture the full range of human motivations. The answer, is clearly not. Since, we also have drives for achievement, approval, non-sexual relatedness, creativity, self-esteem, and so on? The other question is biologically-based motives that “push” us towards certain kinds of behaviour enough? Do future-oriented motivational concepts, like goals and personal ideals not “pull” us towards desirable endpoints? When these questions are raised, basic Freudian account of motivation may seem limited in their scope, leaving out motives that are socially shaped or personally determined. However, the issue is not so easily resolved, since psychoanalysts may agree that motivations beyond the instinctual drives are required to describe how our behaviour is guided, however it may still be argued that all these motivations are simply multiple layers of the very same instinctual drives. For example, achievement striving could be described psychoanalytically as a socially shaped motive that is underpinned and powered by aggressive urges [that are applied in different forms to achieve our goals, i.e. not in a physically violent manner, but competitively in multiple sophisticated social ways]. On the same note, creativity might be understood as a sublimated expression of individuals’ sexual drives [e.g. artistic creations], based on some unconscious desire for unifying and making connections that Freud saw as the hallmark of life instincts.

Victor Hugo La Musique

Traduction(EN): “What we could not say and what we could not silence, music expresses.” -Victor Hugo (1802 – 1885)

However, even if the claim that human motivation is ultimately based on a few instinctual drives that govern all living organism, it would still be more enlightening and accurate to patients to describe their motivation in a more complex way, i.e. expressed to meet the sophisticated and multi-layered human societies we live in. So, in the end there is no objective or empirical way to establish the question of motivation with a clear “true or false” – we will have to use logical reasoning and theories about what drives “life” forward.

Documentaire: L’invention de la Psychanalyse (1997)

The 2 Major Disciples of Psychoanalysis: Carl Jung and Jacques Lacan

The psychoanalytic movement was largely the invention of Sigmund Freud, and his influence far exceeds that of his early followers who subsequently tried to modify psychoanalysis. The major principles of psychoanalysis were redefined and reinterpreted until by 1930 the movement was fragmented into competing views. Nevertheless, those writers who departed from Freud’s speculation retain the basic model of psychoanalysis that conceived of personality in terms of an energy reduction system with three levels of awareness that is the conscious [that contains the Ego], preconscious [that holds the Super-Ego] and the unconscious [the wild Id]. The psychoanalytic movement has been very active since Freud’s death in 1939, and has led to many new theoretical developments influencing all schools of psychology rather than standing still as we have just covered regarding the reconciliation of some fundamental concepts with Cognitive psychology and Neurosciences.

Carl Jung (1875 – 1961)

Carl Jung

One of the most fascinating and complicated scholars of this century, Carl Jung (1875 – 1961) was born to a poor family in a northern Swiss village. He managed to gain entrance to the University of Basel and received a doctorate in medicine in 1900. Jung spent most of the rest of his life in Zürich, teaching, writing and working with patients. After reading The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900, Jung began corresponding with Freud and finally met him in 1907. Eventually he accompanied Freud to America in 1909, where he also lectured and introduced his own work to American audiences. However, Jung began to apply psychoanalytic insights to ancient myths and legends in search for the key to the nature of human psyche. Such independent thinking did not meet with Freud’s approval, and there is also some speculation that the Jung made a critical analysis of Freud’s personal life that may have contributed to tensions between them. Freud secured the post of the first president of the International Psychoanalytic Association for Jung in 1911, but by this time their rift was beyond healing. Finally, in 1914, Jung withdrew from the Association and severed all interactions with Freud due to the over-emphasis of the defining stages of infant sexuality among other aspects of pure Freudian theory. Jung continued his own interpretations of psychoanalysis and made several expeditions to study primitive societies in Western United States, Africa, Australia and Central America. His prolific writings on subjects ranging from anthropology to religion provided novel insights to age-old problems of human existence from the psychoanalytic perspective.

Jung’s “Analytical psychology” refined many Freudian concepts and emerged as the first major alternative to Freudian theory (1900); however, Jung retained Freud’s terminology [Unconscious, Conscious and Preconscious], and as a result the same terms often carry different meanings. Jung (1912) renamed the Id as the Personal Unconscious, the Ego as the Personal Conscious [although the term Ego also appears in some of Jung’s writings], and the Super-Ego as the Collective Conscious [although the term Persona also appears in some of his writings]. After that Jung’s (1912) analytical psychology also added the Collective Unconscious to Freud’s (1900) structure of personality which is part of the Id.

Jung, like Freud, believed that the central purpose of personality is to achieve a balance between conscious and unconscious forces within the personality. However, Jung described two sources of unconscious forces. What is the personal unconscious, consisting of repressed or forgotten experiences similar to Freud’s preconscious level. The contents of the Personal Unconscious [Id] are accessible to full consciousness. Jung’s Personal Unconscious held complexes, which were groups of feelings with a defined theme than give rise to distorted behavioural responses. According to Hall and Lindzey (1970), “… a [complex] is an organised group or constellation of feelings, thoughts, perceptions, and memories which exists in the Personal Unconscious” (p.82). Unlike archetypes [which reflect the cumulative experiences of the entire human race, Homo Sapiens], Complexes reflect each individual’s unique experience. For example, a boy who repressed negative emotions about his mother could become an adult with the complex, experiencing intense feelings and anxieties when images or stimuli associated with motherhood are encountered [because they are dominated by their mothers], for e.g. some mothers might offer nourishment only after – not before – their babies stop crying, thus communicating the unconscious message that the mother is all-powerful.

The second source of unconscious forces in to Jung’s theory, is the Collective Unconscious, more powerful source of energy that contains inherited contents shared with other members of a particular group, i.e. it consists of aspects of personality, common to all humans, that we have inherited from our ancestors. Jung here was talking about individual similarities and not differences in personality. As the personal unconscious has complexes, the collective unconscious has archetypes, defined as primordial images evolved from human beings primitive ancestry of specific experiences and attitudes passed on over centuries [after all humans did evolve from basic primates to the sophisticated beings were now are]. Hall and Lindzey (1970) define archetype as “…a universal thought form (idea) which contains a large element of emotion” (p.84). Although modern science has shown that direct environmental influences has more power in shaping the individual mind, some aspects may be retained from evolutionary psychology although it is important to consider the fact that human societies are constantly evolving in more ways than one. At the time that Jung devised his theory however, he listed such archetypes as birth, death, unity, power, God, the devil, magic, the old sage and the earth mother. As Weitz (1976) noted, according to Jung’s Analytical Psychology, archetypes equip humans to interact with particular aspects of their physical and social worlds in a particular manner, thus archetypes are adaptive from an evolutionary standpoint. For example, Jung (1912) contended that all humans possess a “mother figure” archetype that not only gives them readily accessible image of a generic mother at birth but also predisposes them to interact with their actual mothers in a particular manner [e.g. crying, sucking]. Solomon (2003) noted that in Jung’s Theory, collectively experienced archetypes provide basic themes around which personally experienced complexes are organised. For example, all individuals are born with a readiness to seek nourishment from their mothers (the mother archetype), some individuals may find that their mothers use this readiness against them (mother complex).

The notion of a collective unconscious in personality that provides the individual with patterns of behaviour fits well with Jung’s preoccupation with myths and symbols. Jung believed that the adequacies of a society’s symbols to express archetypal images are an index of the progress of civilisation. [e,g, the Ancient Greeks who after sophisticating their society through the evolution of their values, philosophy & educational system, saw peasants turn into conquerors, sculptors, poets and artists who even went on to colonise countries that later changed the history of those who colonised them in timeless ways / See: L’épopée de la Grèce antique (2016)].

Jung focussed on the middle years of life, when the pressures of sexual drives supposedly give way to anxiety about the more profound philosophical and religious issues of the meaning of life and death. By reinstating the notion of the spiritual soul, Jung argued that the healthy personality has realised the fullness of human potential to achieve self-unity and complete integration. According to Jung, this realisation occurs only after the person has mastered obstacles during the development of personality from infancy to middle age. Failure to grow in this sense results in the disintegration of personality. Accordingly, the person must individualise experiences to achieve a “transcendent function” by which differentiated personality structures are unified to form a fully aware self.

Both Jung (1921) and Freud (1905) wrote about libido, or psychic energy, that presumably fuels individuals’ behaviour, however Jung viewed libido in a less sexualised form. Jung redefined libidinal energy as the opposition of introversion – extraversion in personality, bypassing Freud’s extreme sexual emphasis. Extraversion forces are directed externally to the people and the environment, and then nurture self-confidence. Introversion leads the person to an inner direction of contemplation, introspection and stability. Jung (1921) believed that all individuals are capable of experiencing introversion as well as extraversion over time, however, individuals at any particular point in time may be characterised as experiencing either introversion or extraversion. The opposing energies must be balanced for proper psychological functioning, sensation, thinking, feeling and intuition. An imbalance between extraversion introversion is partly compensated for in dreams. Indeed, for Jung dreams have important adaptive value in helping the person maintain equilibrium. Jung has been praised for developing a dichotomy of flow of psychic energy [i.e. introversion vs extraversion] that has been recast as one of the major personality traits in various trait theories [for empiricists who believe the main focus should be the “conflict-free” conscious part of the ego, to which many basic concepts of Cognitive Psychology can be applied].

In addition to introversion versus extraversion as a pair of opposing directions of flow of psychic energy [i.e. inwards versus outwards], Jung (1921) postulated that thinking vs feeling and sensing vs intuition represent 2 pairs of opposing modes of adaptation and functioning.

As Jung grew older, his writings increasingly came to emphasise mysticism and religious experiences, domains usually ignored by mainstream empirical psychology. Out of all the early founders of psychoanalysis, Jung held views in sharpest contrast to those of empiricism. However, he offered a unique treatment of critical human issues that had not been systematically studied by psychologists and still remain in the realm of speculative philosophy. Perhaps Jung was more of a philosopher than a psychologist, nonetheless he provoked and confronted issues not readily accommodated in other systems of psychology.

Jacques Lacan (1901 – 1981)

Jacques Lacan

One of the most famous post-Freudian development, especially popular in Europe and South America, was initiated by the colourful French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. Lacan was the son of a successful oil and soap salesman from Paris. His mother was a firm Catholic and his younger brother entered a monastery in 1929.

The two early philosophical influences of Jacques Lacan were Spinoza & Nietzsche:

(i) Baruch Spinoza (1632 – 1677)

Baruch Spinoza dpurb site web

Traduction(EN): “Joy is man’s passage from less to greater perfection.” -Baruch Spinoza

Spinoza is known as the philosopher of nature and human passions who identified the concept of “God” and Nature. Spinoza proposes that wisdom is the intellectual love of the true God, immanent to reality [that is, scientific studies of Nature are to understand the forces that govern the creations of “God”, e.g., medicine, etc.]. Spinoza is considered a Cartesian, i.e. a disciple of Descartes. Spinoza believed in Ethics as a geometrical method that manifests the philosopher’s will to proceed in a rigorous manner, as mathematicians do; he strives to express in Ethics, in an objective manner, the fundamental essence of all things, in other words, the basis of understanding. In Spinoza’s philosophy, Ethics does not designate a moral code, but the true knowledge of the true concept of “God”, immanent to the world [which is said to be contained in the nature of a being and does not come from an external principle], the practical science of what is: a single substance, absolutely infinite, of which we are only modes. Spinoza’s concept of “God”, the object of Ethics, has nothing to do with that of the Judeo-Christian religion, a principle transcendent to the world – Spinoza does not believe in transcendence. So, we see oppositions to Nietzsche which Jacques Lacan also synthesized with his more modern theories of the psyche. Spinoza did not believe in transcendence and expelled any anthropomorphic representation of the divine [Note: Anthropomorphism is the attribution of characteristics of human behaviour or morphology to other entities such as gods, animals, objects, phenomena, even ideas]. God is nothing else but an absolutely infinite Being, composed of an infinity of attributes, a unique Substance [the Substance designating what is in itself and conceived by itself]. Therefore, God identifies Himself with this substance and designates the whole of reality or Nature, understood as the unity of things and the only Being to which realities relate: Deus sive Natura – God or Nature [a united and infinite nature]. Of this unique substance, of this Nature being one with God [although not interchangeable], human intelligence grasps only two Attributes, Extension and Thought (L’Étendue et la Pensée), the Attribute being defined by Spinoza as what the understanding perceives as constituting its essence. In this perspective, the particular objects of the world represent modifications of the infinite Substance that is Nature [i.e. God’s transcendence], in other words “modes“, that is, affections of this substance. Thus, each particular creature appears as a mode of God, as being in something else, by means of which it is conceived. This tripartition of Substance-Attribute-Mode allows us to grasp the meaning of the concepts of Nature-naturing (natura naturans or Nature-naturante) and Nature-natured (natura naturata or Nature naturée). Nature naturing for Spinoza is God himself, as he is in himself and conceived by himself, as the producer of all reality, i.e. as doing what nature creates/does. Nature natured is considered as everything that follows in the nature of God and his attributes, that is to say, everything that is produced by the Substance of God as he is in it through it. The problem with Spinoza’s system is that it was absolutely deterministic; the infinite attributes of God necessarily produce certain effects, and Spinoza assumes that nothing is given by chance in nature. In Spinoza’s magnum opus, The Ethics (L’Éthique), he speaks of absolute necessity, which has the meaning that everything is already determined by divine Nature to produce an effect [in modernity we know from empirical research that natural and environmental determinants combine to define humans]. Spinoza sees contingency [in other words, what cannot be] simply as a defect in our understanding, a lack of real knowledge. The essence of human nature lies in an active element in all of us that Spinoza calls “conatus”, the effort by which everything strives to persevere in its being, i.e. a natural inclination to strive toward preserving an essential being, where virtue/human power is defined by success in this preservation of being by the guidance of reason as one’s central ethical doctrine, with the highest virtue being the intellectual love or knowledge of God/Nature/Universe. When the “conatus” becomes self-conscious, it is called “desire”, which is therefore identified with “appetite” accompanied by consciousness itself. Thus, conatus and desire correspond to the dynamic affirmation of our being. We find here some link to Schopenhauer’s philosophical meditations about the “Will” and also Lacan’s focus on “Desire” being at the heart of psychoanalytic praxis. However in Spinoza’s reflections, human desires are modified by the intervention of external environmental causes, since we are subject to the action of forces to which we are bound, being all a part of Nature, and it is from this effect that passions are born, passive modifications of our being; this is linked to Lacan’s concept of “chaine signifiante” [signifying chain] which is the structural basis of the unconscious and the roots of linguistic discourse and speech. The two fundamental passions are sadness and joy from which the other passions derive: sadness is the passage to a lesser perfection, while joy is the passage to a greater perfection. Spinoza believed that man’s life is marked by the sad procession of sad passions [hatred, envy, jealousy, la mauvaise foi, etc.] which reduce man to a state of servitude, of passivity; this is where the philosopher comes in, whose responsibility it is to heal man from his sad passions: to make him maître (master) of himself.

Auguste Dumont - Génie de la Liberté (1836) Or dpurb site web

« Génie de la Liberté » par Auguste Dumont, 1836

In Spinoza’s philosophy, virtue is acquiring true knowledge of our passions through the right ideas and notions. Therefore, the virtuous discovers the dynamism that animates him, which allows him to regain the power of the conatus: to know reality and to reach the fullness of existence [Virtue and life are thus inseparable]. The wise man is therefore the one who reaches true knowledge and, in this way, achieves the fullness of existence. The wise man lives under the regime of reason, in this way the Spinozist citizen also finds the agreement and unity of his semblables (fellow men). Therefore, the state must be rationally created, because only the rational state opens the way to freedom, according to the laws of human nature, that is to say, aware of the infinite nature of humanity. Spinoza seems to be situated in the democratic thought where all have equal rights with total freedom of opinion, thus the destiny of free men, living under the regime of reason, in a free city, is outlined. By gaining access to la connaissance vraie (true knowledge), man again becomes a God for man. So, we can see that Spinoza is a rigid penseur de système (system thinker), allowing man to free himself from his illusions and find and accept his place in Nature. Spinoza’s philosophy is not only intellectual but also practical and truly powerful: wisdom is acquired through knowledge; joy is maintained through the search for good passions. Thus, man can persevere in his being.

(ii) Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)

Friedrich Nietzsche dpurb site web

Traduction(EN): “The greatness of man is that he is a bridge and not an end.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche is the philosopher of the “will to power”, conceived as creation and vital fullness, as the overwhelming affirmation of life. What is essential is our world as it is joy and will-power. As for the illusion of the afterworlds, Nietzsche hunts it down in all its forms. Nietzsche can be considered a moralist above all. It is clear that Nietzsche’s philosophy is one of the most complex thoughts, a complexity linked as much to his poetic and aphoric writing as to his refusal to situate himself clearly in the philosophical tradition, and we find this in Lacan who was also a literary and profound writer with a singular thought, a synthesis of several schools of thought, where the mediocre reader finds himself in the middle of a nightmare when trying to read it and may even start to question the level of his own intellectual abilities, his place and purpose in the universe. Unseizable, Nietzsche’s writings must be approached like a mountain, a slow progression. Nietzsche diagnosed the essence of the mortal crisis of our time: he described it, in its main characteristics, and in a quasi-clinical manner. He studied it at various levels and, in so doing, often announced with the greatest precision what was only beginning to emerge at the end of the nineteenth century; this fatal disease of modern times, ours, is nihilism, the reign of the absurd, of Nothing (“nihil”, as the etymology tells us). Nihilism or the absence of sense, makes becoming a purposeless process and all traditional ideals lose their value. Nihilism, this “Nothing” symbolizes the death of the Divine and the Suprasensible in man [Nietzsche’s death of God can be interpreted symbolically as the death of sensitivity and goodness in man]: we have killed him [the Divine], Nietzsche sometimes tells us, and darkness is now the lot of our world. This death of the Divine as seen by Nietzsche also announces a new dawn in our time: the coming of the “Last Man” which signifies the completion of nihilism. The “Last Man” designates the most despicable thing in this world: the one who is powerless to create and love, the individual totally enslaved and enjoying a programmed and petty “happiness” – he thus hops on the surface of the earth. Lacan, like myself, did not completely follow Nietzsche, but used some of the concepts of the German of the time and then refined them in the field of psychology for the twentieth century. Concepts of metaphysics are sometimes exaggerated in a negative way by Nietzsche, and the advances of our era make some of his views obsolete. One of Nietzsche’s exaggerations seems to be the origin of metaphysics, which he believed to be the by-product of the suffering and resentment of those unable to create positively, and which also engendered moral values [good and evil]. We see that Lacan did not take up everything from Nietzsche, but showed originality by relying on what was worth keeping in our modern world and which could be synchronized with his psychology based on the creative force of language in the Cartesian Subject [i.e. based on Descartes’ model: “Je pense, donc je suis”]. However, we still have concepts of Nietzsche that are in the name of positive creation, and the perfection of the individual and society, and they still have a place in modern philosophical thinking such as those of Jacques Lacan, which assimilate reason, logic, empiricism, metaphysics, genetics, and human and societal evolution.

La matière de leur création, de leur pensée ou de leur écriture dpurb site web

Credits: D.R / Centre Pompidou  “Le festival Hors Pistes dédié chaque année à explorer les images en mouvement et rencontrer celles et ceux  qui en font la matière de leur création, de leur pensée ou de leur écriture…” Source: FranceCulture, 2020

Lacan synthesized Nietzsche’s influence with the strong constructionist and linguistic logic of his pychoanalytic theory, which directs us towards a system of thought where sophisticated and civilised individuals orient, identify and group themselves by “psychical” understanding, connection and similarity, with language [i.e. the communicative discourse and/or speech] as a founding pillar, and not by the atavistic logic of the simple physical/biological illusions of the imaginary since this brings us, human beings, closer to animal psychology; the reasoning behind Lacan’s theory suggests that civilised individuals should see others as semblables [fellow men] not based on the physical but on the “psychical”, with a founding pillar being language; the individual should rise above the illusions of solidarity of the physical to embrace the psychical. This is avant-garde and synchronised with the reasoning of science and discoveries of the 19th century with the contributions of Darwin, Freud and Kant. Nietzsche’s inspiring concept is that of “The Will to Power” (Volonté de Puissance) which should not be interpreted by the simple mind as the appetite for power or the spirit of domination or competition, because this would be to conceive or understand it in a very restrictive or destructive way. To Nietzsche, “The Will to Power” is a set of essentially competitive impulses [in the “mediocre”], but also the very movement of creative transcendence [in the noble soul of the “aristocrat” – the term was used by Nietzsche in its essentially spiritual meaning to design the best, that in his times, were individuals from the aristocracy, being those who had a privileged access to the best teachers, institutions and collections of books, which has since changed into mostly vast, yet simple, inheritances of wealth and land; hence in our present society the “aristocrat” term could define the gifted and valiant mind with a wealth of knowledge, profoundly educated, cultivated, creative and consciously connected with the positive values of humanity and nature, i.e. with the ability to shape and have a lasting impact on generations]. This “Will to power” can also mean the struggle for life and also spiritual fullness and existential superabundance. “The Will to Power” is an ambivalent notion that cannot be reduced to its most superficial or trivial forms or manifestations; in its noblest dimension, it is a vital, plastic, destructive but also creative force [which seems to be connected to Shiva, the Hindu god, and Dionysus, his Greek equivalent in the phallic cult according to Alain Daniélou (See the Essay: History on Western Philosophy, Religious cultures, Science, Medicine & Secularisation)]. To understand the essence, it is the body of man [of the human being] that we must take as a reference point, for the body is wisdom and reason, which can be defined as intelligent dynamism, the organic faculty of understanding and thinking: every organism thinks and it is permissible to speak of an unconscious bodily thought [for after all, it is through the senses available from the different organs acquired through the multiple facets of the evolution of the human body that man sees, hears, discovers, smells, touches, tastes, reads, feels, expresses a wide range of emotions, learns, thinks, writes, creates and gains an understanding of human existence and the wider environment (i.e. the natural world), and adjusts to optimise his “psychical” experience].

Friederich_Nietzsche par Edvard Munch,1906

« Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche » par Edvard Munch (1906)

Nietzsche seems to rehabilitate the unconscious as a psychic reality beyond the clear and transparent grasp of oneself. The authentic “Will to Power” as affirmation and fullness reveals, within its creative superabundance, the true field of life and transcendence.

« Puisse chacun avoir la chance de trouver justement la conception de la vie qui lui permet de réaliser son maximum de bonheur. »

French for: « May everyone have the chance to find just the right conception of life that allows them to achieve their maximum happiness. »

– Friedrich Nietzsche

For Nietzsche, among the creations of life is, first and foremost, Art, which Nietzsche conceived in a much more global and dynamic form, where it becomes an invention of harmonious forms, a production destined to embellish the whole of human existence. Nietzsche conceals ugliness, he humanises or hides everything ugly. This set of materials and signs created by the artist who manifests an ideal of beauty is only an appendix of this production of forms that is art in general, this “ivresse de la vie”: a will to exist through harmonious forms. The field of creative life includes artistic activity, authentic work, and generally everything that concerns the positive edification of values: work, the shaping of all things, linked to joy, but does it differ profoundly from the miserable labour for gain? To the powers of life are also attached the authentic moral values, those created by the best,  “les maîtres(the masters) who are in the vital current of the “Volonté de Puissance” (Will to Power). Thus, Nietzsche’s thought is elitist: the beautiful creative individuality is opposed to the vile herd [the mass]. This “elitist” morality, i.e. this creative act, this triumphant affirmation of values, an affirmation that takes place in joy, is a thousand leagues away from the morality of the “slaves” [metaphor], which is linked to the resentment that gives birth to negative values and “la mauvaise foi” (nastiness, hatred, evil, etc.). What should the man in a world devoid of the divine values believe in? Believe in yourself, in your own power, free yourself from all dominant morality and ideology and follow your own path: become who you truly are and desire – this is what Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche would have said. Nietzsche calls for exceptional people to no longer be ashamed in the face of a supposed morality-for-all, which he deems to be harmful to the flourishing of exceptional people. He cautions, however, that morality, per se, is not bad; it is good for the masses, and should be left to them. Exceptional people, on the other hand, should follow their own “inner law”; a favorite motto of Nietzsche, taken from Pindar, reads:

« Become what you are. »

Le Voyageur contemplant une mer de nuages (Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer) Caspar David Friedrich d'purb dpurb site web

“Le Voyageur contemplant une mer de nuages” (Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer) par Caspar David Friedrich, 1818

In what he considered to be the zenith of his philosophical creation, “Also sprach Zarathustra” [Thus Spoke Zarathustra], Nietzsche portrays the path of a wise man who only addresses himself, a nomad who accepted the disappearance of the divine among men as a personal liberation, a being who freed his mind completely of the burden of ultimate truths, a hermit who did not need anyone anymore and who had overcome hatred and resentment, living in harmony with himself and the cosmic forces of nature: an Übermensch (un Surhomme/an Overman).

It is to be noted that “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, Nietzsche’s magnum opus, completely opposes and rejects the unscientific notion of a superior or pure group or organic composition (i.e. “race”), but instead focuses on the superior individual [organism] who can appear from anywhere as an agent and expression of the cosmic forces of nature.

Les Forces Cosmiques de la Nature: l’Océan (2020)

Yet, while there are no superior groups but only superior individuals, we may still reasonably argue that there are languages that are superior since they offer the ability to interact with a wider audience, but also because these languages offer an entry point and the gift of belonging by creating a social bond to the specific social environments they originate from; environments that may also be considered as superior if the way they are organised [i.e. philosophy, educational system, values, culture and government] lead to more chances of individual human development and life satisfaction, mainly due to the progressive outlook and heritage of their sophisticated and evolving institutions and the way they are managed. However, it is important to understand that any individual speaking in a superior language does not automatically lead to everything being said in that language to be worthy of consideration because while the communicative patterns (i.e. language) of human primates vary from regions, the IQ and creativity of the individuals do not, as the Organic Theory clearly states. Jacques Lacan also reached a fairly similar conclusion since he also distinguished the speaking Subject of the enunciation [i.e. how words are pronounced] from the Subject of the statement [i.e. the genuine message of the discourse], which suggests that in order to evaluate the true worth of any linguistic discourse, it is the genuine message that should be extracted; in other words, it should be translated in the appropriate language of the reader/listener so that its true value and meaning can be assessed.

Thus, individuals who intend to share their wisdom and contribute to the world’s development would have an advantage in adopting and mastering a communicative pattern (i.e. language) deemed superior by the fact that it comes with modern human values and is weaved in the fabric of a more refined and sophisticated intellectual, psychosocial, philosophical and artistic heritage [e.g. French, which is the most desired and most spoken second language in the UK and in Germany] since it would be understood by the wider audience of the civilised world, where the major intellectual and cultural evolution/revolution takes place. It was the French revolution, which had been heavily influenced by the movement of the Enlightenment [i.e. the 18th century intellectual movement of reason], that would secularise a number of Christian humanitarian values into the constitution, most notably the famous « Liberté, égalité, fraternité » [French for: “Liberty, equality, fraternity”], which is inspired from the free will of Christians, as the French philosopher Michel Onfray reminded. Equality [Égalité] is derived from the concept of equality before God, and brotherhood [Fraternité] is derived from the concept of the community of the ecclesia. Liberté [Freedom], of course, most people know what this means, which is the freedom to explore, to choose, to discover, to learn, to express ourself, to speak, to have open debates, to question, to propose, to love, to create, to live life fully within the limits of reason and respect for the mother psychosocial sphere. Hence, as French philosopher, Michel Onfray noted, we have a concept that was passed on from St. Paul to Robespierre and that went through the French revolution, where the new generation of French people secularised and embedded those values with the firm belief that “we have a universal world view; we want everyone to share our values of ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité!'”.

In 2021, Michel Onfray reminded that this led to a generation of French minds who think that we have to go out into the wider world, where the vast majority of people are, in order to share our good news with them, which is our universal human values of « Liberté, égalité, fraternité ». At the Assemblée Nationale, Jules Ferry stood for the idea of free, secular and compulsory school, and so, that school, we people of French heritage thought that we would give it to the whole planet. This created the wave “We are going to colonise”. Onfray pointed to the example of the colonisation of Algeria as one that shows the intention of the French to pass on their good ideas and values. Hence, when we look back at the historical wars of the French revolution, we come to realise that they were wars of ideological and intellectual colonisation. When we consider the German philosopher, Hegel’s passionate words about Napoléon, Hegel now comes across like a great collaborator for the French colonisation concept, as himself as an iconic German historical figure, described Napoléon’s conquering arrival in Germany as: “I saw the Emperor – this world-soul – riding out of the city on reconnaissance. It is indeed a wonderful sensation to see such an individual, who, concentrated here at a single point, astride a horse, reaches out over the world and masters it. Those words from Hegel were written in a letter to his friend Friedrich Immanuel Niethammer on the 13 October 1806, the day before the battle of Jena, which would be fought on the plateau west of the river Saale in today’s Germany between the forces of Napoleon and Frederick William III of Prussia, with the historic defeat suffered by the Prussian army subjugating the Kingdom of Prussia to the French Empire; the victory is celebrated as one of Napoleon’s greatest. It is quite ironic, because the great German, Hegel’s words admitted that the French heritage is superior to his own; and in 2021, the post-modern French philosopher Michel Onfray ironically suggested « on a juste envie de lui dire ‘mais enfin, et ton Allemagne ? » [French for: You just want to say to him, “But what about your Germany?”].

It may also be useful for the majority of anglophones and fellow English people out there who hardly know their own cultural evolution, to point out that there is French on the emblem of the British monarchy. The words, « Dieu et mon droit » have been the motto since the time of Henry V (1413 – 1422), and since those times old English is not the language of the English elite anymore which resulted to the use of words and expressions of French and Norman origin that are now widely used in the English language.

Anglais VS Français Habsburg d'purb dpurb site web

Traduction(EN): “The English language is a shotgun: the shot is scattered. The French language is a rifle that shoots bullets, precisely. » -Otto von Habsburg

Nietzsche rightly concluded that there are no superior groups, but only superior individuals that come from the wider human population and together these individuals constitute the force that shapes civilisation; this conclusion had unconsciously acknowledged what science would certify about a century later in 2018, as a genome-wide association meta-analysis in 267, 867 individuals identified 1,016 genes linked to intelligence, which is a highly heritable trait and a major determinant of human health and well-being (Savage, Jansen, Stringer et al., 2018). Before Nietzsche, no philosopher had placed so much emphasis on the individual perspective; he restored the existential mission of philosophy by detaching himself from all the irrational conventions of his time, abandoning lengthy theoretical papers to redact concise reflections on the way of living one’s own life. Nietzsche’s philosophy is centred around the personal sphere of the individual.

In modern times, with the advances of psychology, we can conclude that a superior psyche will include a superior understanding, judgement and vision as the French psychologist, Monique de Kermadec also pointed out regarding “l’adulte surdoué” [i.e. the gifted adult]. The criterion of authenticity always appears to be linked, in Nietzsche’s view, to the affirmation and creative power of life. Nietzsche uses the god Dionysus [whom the French orientalist Alain Daniélou connects to Shiva for his cycle of destruction and creation as an equivalent] as a symbol of life, the most overflowing being of life, who in Nietzsche’s thought embodies the process of “becoming” as destruction and creation; Dionysus is sensuality, the enjoyment of a force that destroys but also generates/creates. The term dyonysism refers to the identification with the principle of ecstasy and life. Thus arises the Übermensch (Overman/Surhomme) for Nietzsche, who faced with the death of the divine, nihilism and the “Last Man” [which designates what is most despicable in this world, the one who is powerless to create and love, i.e. the individual totally enslaved and enjoying a programmed and petty “happiness”, those who think that this symbolic death of the divine means nihilism and pure destruction], will have to face these despicable “Last Men”; one could therefore see the Übermenschen (Overmen/Surhommes) as agents of the divine rising to counter evil and the decline of the positive values of civilization; the concept of the Übermensch also seems to share some similarities to what Monique de Kermadec qualifies as l’« Adulte Surdoué » [The gifted adult].

Video: Monique de Kermadec : L’adulte surdoué : bien vivre sa douance (2012)

Freud Entouré par des Idiots dpurb site web

Traduction(EN): “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure you are not surrounded by idiots.” – Sigmund Freud

For Nietzsche, the earth is no longer in the hands of the divine, but in the hands of those despicable “Last Men,” and the outrage against the earth is now what is the most dreadful. Nietzsche fights against immorality in the name of immoralism, and shows us that the death of the divine is not enough to animate the world with a new morality, and that without the will to power [if it is animated by a weak will], “morality” can turn into nihilism [a nothing, or the absence of sense that makes “becoming” a purposeless process where all traditional ideals lose their value]. The construction of a new morality will be so superior to the old one that it calls, according to Nietzsche, new men, Übermenschen (Overmen/Surhommes), and this new morality will be precisely the “Will to Power”. In order to clarify the concept of Übermensch (Overman/Surhomme) let us clear up misunderstandings by explaining what the Übermensch (Overman/Surhomme) is not, here is a negative definition:

« All beings up to now have created something beyond themselves that is superior to them. What is the ape for man? That is precisely what man must be for the Übermensch (Surhomme/Overman) »

Nietzsche in his time was not an evolutionist, which has changed in our time, and therefore not in possession of the data on the genetics of Übermenschen (Supermen/Surhommes), he conceived of the emergence of the Übermensch (Overman/Surhomme) by the man who surpasses himself: a transcendental man who surpasses himself to become what he really is deep down.

Ubermensch Surhomme Superman dpurb site web

The notion of the Übermensch (Overman/Surhomme) is the backdrop of Nietzsche’s philosophy, it is from the Übermensch (Overman/Surhomme) that Nietzschean thought makes its entrance and all his other themes must be understood from this notion. Thus, to Nietzsche, by pushing back the forces of reaction, of simple negation, those linked to the “NO”, by surpassing himself towards those of life and positive creation, man transcends himself towards the Übermensch (Overman/Surhomme), towards a superior human type, free of mind and heart. The Übermensch (Overman/Surhomme) is for Nietzsche the meaning of the earth, the next term of evolution. It is also very important to avoid any misinterpretation of Nietzsche’s “Übermensch” (Overman/Surhomme) which has been wrongly caricatured over the years, it is not specifically or solely about the “blonde beast” of Germanic myths as it is often portrayed by ignorant and mediocre journalists and the masses. After Friedrich Nietzsche’s death, his sister Elisabeth became the curator and editor of Nietzsche’s manuscripts, reworking his unpublished writings to fit her own German nationalist ideology while often contradicting or obfuscating Nietzsche’s true philosophical orientation which were instead explicitly opposed to antisemitism and nationalism but promoted a more universal ideology. Through her published editions, Nietzsche’s work wrongly became associated with fascism and Nazism; 20th century scholars contested this interpretation of his work and corrected editions of his writings were soon made available. Nietzsche’s thought enjoyed renewed popularity in the 1960s and his ideas have since had a profound impact on 20th and early-21st century thinkers across philosophy—especially in schools of continental philosophy such as existentialism, postmodernism and post-structuralism—as well as art, literature, psychology, politics and popular culture. Nietzsche’s philosophy is thus organized around a few major concepts: that of the Übermensch (Overman/Surhomme), the Dionysian and, of course, the Will to Power.

Documentaire: Schmutte, H. (2016). Nietzsche : entre génie et démence. ARTE. [Notice: If the video cannot be viewed from your region, we recommend using HOLA VPN (Click Here, it is FREE!)]

Let us add, finally, the concept of the Eternal Return (any state of the universe returns periodically and this seems to be an intelligent metaphor that explains the state of matter in the universe, constantly being recycled and reshaped). Nietzsche thus (like Lucretia or Spinoza) drew a philosophy of joy, creation and vital fullness. Nietzsche celebrated life and stressed that the secret of the greatest enjoyment is to live intensely and dangerously. Today, Nietzsche’s work and intellectual contribution are considered as revolutionary for its time, however in the very beginning they were not appreciated and recognised for their true worth by his contemporaries; the philosopher struggled to live with his publications and found himself on the fringes of society without any income or fixed accommodation at 35 years old, which had turned out to be a point of no return for him after he put an end to his teaching activities, adopting a nomadic life and living in modest accommodations. An amazing achievement for Nietzsche was the fact that he was named professor even though he had not completed his thesis.

During Jacques Lacan’s studies at the Collège Stanislas he was introduced to the work of Baruch Spinoza & Friedrich Nietzsche, and draws from his years in uniform, the intimate conviction that the most violent psychological wounds and sufferings always arise within communities apparently subjected to the greatest normality. Lacan had felt misunderstood by his father, who had destined him to a business life. He thus enters the modernity of the twentieth century by way of an intellectual rebellion, eager to explore the essence of “madness” whose shadows he had perceived in his own family, Lacan turned to psychiatry. In 2001, Elisabeth Roudinesco said: “Il faut voir l’apport de Lacan comme un tableau moderne. Lacan n’est plus dans l’univers classique des représentations mais dans l’univers de la peinture moderne. C’est la peinture de Picasso par rapport à la peinture classique (…)  toute la modernité est passée.” [French for: “Lacan’s contribution should be seen as a modern painting. Lacan is no longer in the classical universe of representations but in the universe of modern painting. It is Picasso’s painting in relation to classical painting… all modernity has passed.”]

Lacan-carte d'étudiant.jpg

During the early 1920s, Lacan actively engaged with the Parisian literary and artistic avant-garde movements. Having met James Joyce, he was present at the bookshop where the first readings of passages from Ulysses in French and English took place, shortly before it was published in 1922. Lacan also had meetings with Charles Maurras, whom he admired as a literary stylist, and he occasionally attended meetings of Action Française (of which Maurras was a leading ideologue), of which he would later be critical on some aspects that he firmly disagreed and considered as outdated, such as the positivist sociology of Maurras which presents the subject as a simple product of his “milieu” [circle], derived from his culture which was even pushed to absurd extremes by Édouard Pichon to theorise about a “national unconscious”. Lacan was more avant-garde and perhaps unknowingly embraced future psychological advances of neuroscience by founding his logic on the thesis of German biologist and philosopher Von Uexküll who convincingly argued about the multitude of determining factors of the environment and not simply the basic evolution of species, but on the sophisticated elaboration of language [discourse / langage] which identifies the development of the individual psyche to a social structure.

In his famous “Rome Discourse,” Lacan stated: « Le symbolique, l’imaginaire et le réel, les trois registres par lesquels j’ai introduit un enseignement qui ne prétend pas innover, mais rétablir quelques rigeurs dans l’expérience de la psychanalyse, les voilà, jouant à l’état pur dans leurs rapports les plus simples. » [French for: “The symbolic, the imaginary and the real, the three registers through which I have introduced a teaching that does not claim to innovate, but to re-establish some rigour in the experience of psychoanalysis, here they are, playing in a pure state in their simplest relationships.] In that same discourse in Rome in 1953 addressed to the Société Française de Psychanalyse, Lacan denounced the way that the role of speech in psychoanalysis had come to be neglected by contemporary psychoanalytic theory, and argues for a renewed focus on speech and language. This remains one of the fundamental modification from Freudian conception: the human being is linked to language. The founding statement of Lacan’s theory defines psychoanalysis as a practice of speech and a theory of the speaking subject. Lacan asserted that psychoanalysis is distinguished from other disciplines in that the analyst works on the Subject’s speech [i.e. linguistic discourse], pointing out that Freud often referred to language when he was focusing on the Unconscious; after all language is the “talking cure” and is constitutive of the psychoanalytic experience. It would be impossible to understand the concept of “madness” without analysing the true reasoning behind it through language and to know if it is “madness” or subjective construction and interpretation that is stable in a particular Subject’s psychical realm. It is the emphasis on language [linguistic discourse] that is regarded as the most distinctive feature in Lacan’s theory which also criticises the way other forms of psychoanalysis tend to play down the importance of linguistic discourse and instead emphasise “non-verbal communication” of the analysand (e.g. body language, etc) at the expense of speech. To Lacan this is a fundamental error for the following main reasons. Firstly, all human discourse is inscribed in a linguistic structure [whatever the language]; even body language is a form of language with the same structural features. Secondly, the aim of psychoanalytic praxis is to articulate the truth of one’s desire in speech [i.e. linguistic discourse] rather than in other forms – the fundamental rule of psychoanalysis is based on the principle that linguistic discourse is the only way to the Subject’s “truth”. Thirdly, linguistic discourse through speech is the only tool and means of access that the psychoanalyst has, since no one can read minds. Any analyst who does not understand and master the way speech and linguistic discourse work does not understand psychoanalysis itself.

Lacan proposed that like the words uttered by God in Genesis, speech is a “symbolic invocation” which creates ex nihilo, “a new order of being in the relations between men.” Lacan distinguished “la parole pleine[full speech] from “la parole vide[empty speech] in 1953. La « parole pleine » [full speech] articulates the symbolic dimension of language; it is a speech that performs [qui fait acte]. La « parole pleine » [full speech] is defined by its identity with that which it speaks about, it is one full of meaning. “La parole vide[empty speech] is one that simply has signification. The aim of psychoanalytic praxis is to articulate “la parole pleine[full speech], which can be hard work; “la parole pleine[full speech] can be quite laborious (pénible) to articulate. The speech act also contains the essence of efficacious transference, which involves an exchange of signs that transforms both the speaker and the listener. Each time a man speaks to another in an authentic and full manner, we find in a true sense, “symbolic transference” – a process that takes place and changes the nature of the two beings present. The Symbolic dimension of language is that of the signifier and full speech, the true discourse of the Other [Big Other / Grand Autre / Superego], the Unconscious. The Imaginary dimension of language is that of the signified, signification and empty speech, the wall of language which interrupts, distorts and inverts the discourse of the Other [Big Other / Grand Autre / Superego]; Lacan proposed that language is as much there to be found in the Other [Grand Autre / Superego] as to drastically prevent us from understanding him. It is important to note that language has both a Symbolic and an Imaginary dimension; there is something in the symbolic function of human discourse that cannot be eliminated, and that is the role played in it by the imaginary [which is shaped by the Symbolic]. Psychoanalytic theory claims that speech is the only means of access to the truth about desire; a particular type of speech without conscious control termed “free association”. The ethics of psychonalysis enjoin analysands [patients] to recognise their own part in their sufferings, so that the psychoanalyst can then help them work through their problems and psychical barriers.

Lacan developed psychoanalytic theory in radically new directions that relied heavily on linguistic theory and other intellectual trends in the late 20th-century France, such as the structuralist movement. It was proposed that the Unconscious is structured like a language, so that its operations can be likened to linguistic phenomena [e.g. repression was likened to a metaphor]. Hence, to uncover unconscious material the psychoanalyst must decipher a chain of clues with a great deal of verbal dexterity. Lacan also held that the ego [le Moi], although conscious and able to orchestrate a wide range of operations, is not a complete organ of self-control as Ego psychologists from the US claim, but largely also an unstable and ultimately illusory sense of personal unity. To Lacan, our sense of wholeness is a fiction and our selves are profoundly “de-centred” around a tissue of identifications with people [and characters] we have known [directly or indirectly exposed to – this extends to the arts, fictional characters, mentors, etc].

Lacan’s (1973/1977) version of Psychoanalytic Theory pointed out that Ego Psychologists [e.g. Anna Freud, Heinz Hartmann, Erik Erikson] and Object Relations Theorists [e.g. Melanie Klein, Donald Winnicott and Ronald Fairbairn] had strayed too far from Freud’s original (1900, 1923) original version of psychoanalytic theory. This is even in direct contrast to Jacques Lacan’s own mentor, Ego Psychologist Rudolph Loewenstein who was also a close associate and collaborator of Ego Psychologist Heinz Hartmann.

« Pendant un certain temps, on a pu croire que les psychanalystes savaient quelque chose, mais ça n’est plus très répandu (rires). Le comble du comble, c’est qu’ils n’y croient plus eux-mêmes (rires), en quoi ils ont tort, car justement ils en savent un bout, seulement, exactement comme pour l’inconscient dont c’est la véritable définition, ils ne savent pas qu’ils le savent. »

French for: “For a while, you might have thought that psychoanalysts knew something, but it’s not very common anymore (laughs). The worst thing is that they no longer believe it themselves (laughs), in which they are wrong, because they know a bit of it, only, exactly as for the unconscious, of which this is the true definition, they don’t know that they know it. »

-Jacques Lacan, Conférence de Louvain, 1972

Lacan, however, seems to have set the record straight in accentuating the fundamental and widely accepted foundations of psychoanalysis by advocating a “return to Freud” [not Anna Freud’s (1923) version of Ego Psychology], but rather to Sigmund Freud’s Topographic Model of the 1900 that defined the mind into 3 levels of awareness, i.e. the Unconscious [Le Ça], the Preconscious [Le grand Autre] and the Conscious [Le Moi].

Rocha (2012) noted that Lacan (1973/1977) was especially concerned with the Unconscious [l’inconscient, le “Ça”, the “It”, the ID] as the “ideal worker” within individuals’ personality structures. In a 1973 television interview, Lacan famously argued that the Unconscious does notthink, nor calculate, nor judge; the unconscious simply works!” Lacan contended that like the ideal worker in a capitalist society, the Unconscious generates a product in compliance with rigid, hierarchical rules and regulationsin particular, the product of unthinking and unquestioning in the fulfillment of individuals’ desire – which seems like something psychoanalysis should address and change for a humane, intelligent and creative civilisation.

As for dreams, Lacan stressed that dreams are important products of the Unconscious [l’inconscient, le “Ça”, the “It”, the ID] that allow individuals tofeel” [at least during the sleeping state] that they have fulfilled their desire, however, dreams may also contain anxiety-provoking contents that individuals do not desire. As Meyer (2001) interestingly pointed out, in Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory, the problem of the Unconscious [l’inconscient, le “Ça”, the “It”, the ID] in finding expression is the problem of discourse with the “Other” [Le grand “Autre”, the big “Other”, Preconscious Superego in the domain of the symbolic]. Indeed, infants enter the world without knowing how to communicate their desire to caregivers via language, with its own rules and structure. It is also to be noted that in Lacanian Theory of Psychoanalysis, infants’ desire arises from the “loss and longing” that they experience when they are separated from their caregivers [especially their mothers or mother-figure in most cases] – precisely the person from whom the infants first learn early forms of basic communication [language] since the helpless infant’s needs are met after his/her various demands are expressed in sounds and specific actions. Waintrater (2012) also pointed out that in Lacan’s Theory, individuals’ desire are not solely tied to infantile sexuality. If anything, Lacan’s concept of unconscious desire complements John Bowlby’s (1969) concept of infants’ need for attachment. Lacan uses the term “Manque“, French for “Lack” which is always related to desire. It is a lack which causes desire to arise [desire is the metonymy of the lack of being (manque-à-être)], however the precise nature of what is lacking [i.e. symbolic lack] varies from one individual to another. In 1955, when the term “Manque (Lack)” first appears, it designates first and foremost “manque-à-être” [want-to-be] which is the “lack of being“, hence what is desired is “being”, i.e. not the lack of this or that, but the lack of “being” whereby the being exists, this lack of being [manque-à-être] is the heart of analytic experience and the very field in which the neurotic patient’s passion is deployed. An important distinction to be noted is between the lack of being [Manque-à-être / want to be] which relates to desire, and the lack of having [Manque-à-avoir] which relates to demand.

Distinction between Need, Demand & Desire

Need

In the context of this distinction, “need” comes close to what Freud referred to as “instinct” (Instinkt); that is, a purely biological concept opposed to the realm of the drive (Trieb), it is an appetite which emerges according to the requirements of the organism and which abates completely (even if only temporarily) when satisfied. The human subject, being born in a state of helplessness, is unable to satisfy its own needs, and hence depends on the Other [usually a role occupied by the mother in most cases] to help it satisfy them. In order to get the Other’s help, the infant must express its needs vocally; need must be articulated in demand. The primitive demands of the infant may only be inarticulate screams, but they serve to bring the Other to minister to the infant’s needs. However, the presence of the Other soon acquires an importance in itself, an importance that goes beyond the satisfaction of need, since this presence symbolizes the Other’s love. Hence demand soon takes on a double function, serving both as an articulation of need and as a demand for love. However, whereas the Other can provide the objects which the subject requires to satisfy his needs, the Other [usually mother at this stage] cannot provide that unconditional love which the subject craves. Hence even after the needs which were articulated in demand have been satisfied, the other aspect of demand, the craving for love, remains unsatisfied, and this leftover is desire.

The concept of a pre-linguistic need is thus merely a hypothesis, and the subject of this pure need is a mythical subject; even the paradigmatic need of hunger never exists as a pure biological given, but is marked by the structure of desire. Nevertheless, this hypothesis is useful to Lacan for maintaining his theses about the radical divergence between human desire [which is inscribed in the Symbolic order] and all biological categories; need is thus an intermittent tension which arises for purely organic reasons and which is discharged entirely by the specific action corresponding to the particular need in question.

Demand

Lacan argues that since the infant is incapable of performing the specific actions that would satisfy its biological needs, and hence Lacan bases the distinction on the fact that in order to satisfy his needs the infant must articulate them in language; in other words, the infant must articulate his needs in a “demand” [for them to be met by the mother who will perform the specific actions]. However, in doing so, something else is introduced which causes a split between need and demand; this is the fact that every demand is not only an articulation of need but also an (unconditional) demand for love. Now, although the Other to whom the demand is addressed (in the first instance, the mother) can and may supply the object which satisfies the infant’s need [e.g. the breast to satisfy the child’s hunger], she is never in a position to answer the demand for love unconditionally, because she too is divided. The result of this split between need and demand is an insatiable leftover, which is desire itself. It is this double function which gives birth to desire, since while the needs which demand articulates may be satisfied, the craving for love is unconditional and insatiable, and hence persists as a leftover even after the needs have been satisfied; this leftover constitutes desire. In the seminar of 1956-7, Lacan argues that the cry of the human infant — its call (l’appel) to the mother — is not merely an instinctual signal but is “inserted in a synchronic world of cries organized in a symbolic system.” In other words, the infant’s screams become organized in a linguistic structure long before the child is capable of articulating recognisable words.

Demand is thus intimately linked to the human subject’s initial helplessness. By forcing the patient to express himself entirely in speech, the psychoanalytic situation puts him back in the position of the helpless infant, thus encouraging regression.

“Through the mediation of the demand, the whole past opens up right to early infancy. The subject has never done anything other than demand, he could not have survived otherwise, an we just follow on from there.” However, while the speech of the patient is itself already a demand (for a reply), this demand is underpinned by deeper demands (to be cured, to be revealed to himself). The question of how the psychoanalyst engages with these demands is crucial. Certainly the psychoanalyst does not attempt to gratify all of the patient’s demands, but nor is it simply a question of frustrating them.

Desire 

Lacan follows Spinoza in arguing that “desire is the essence of man.” Desire is simultaneously the heart of human existence and the central concern of psychoanalysis. However, when Lacan talks about desire, it is not any kind of desire he is referring to, but always “unconscious” desire. This is not because Lacan sees conscious desire as unimportant, but simply because it is unconscious desire that forms the central concern of psychoanalysis. The aim of psychoanalytic praxis is to lead the patient to recognise the truth about his/her desire. It is only possible to recognize one’s desire when it is articulated in speech. Hence in psychoanalysis, “what’s important is to teach the subject to name, to articulate, to bring this desire into existence.” However, it is not a question of seeking a new means of expression for a given desire, for this would imply a expressionist theory of language. On the contrary, by articulating desire in speech, the patient brings it into existence.

“That the subject should come to recognise and to name his desire; that is the efficacious action of analysis. But it isn’t a question of recognising something which would be entirely given. … In naming it, the subject creates, brings forth, a new presence in the world.” [adds to reality what was previously not there through language]. This seems to have a link to Schopenhauer’s concept of the “Will” which he proposed can be understood through the potential of the human brain so that as it is kindled by a spark it brings the whole world as idea into existence [Freud was inspired by Schopenhauer and so was Lacan indirectly]; knowledge proceeds from the “Will” which here is “Desire” – knowledge that is either from the senses or is rational as it is destined to serve the will in its aim of expressing itself.

However, there is a limit to how far desire can be articulated in speech because of a fundamental “incompatibility between desire and speech; “it is this incompatibility which explains the irreducibility of the unconscious (i.e. the fact the the unconscious is not that which is not known, but that which cannot be known). “Although the truth about desire is present to some degree in all speech, speech can never articulate the whole truth about desire; whenever speech attempts to articulate desire, there is always a leftover, a surplus, which exceeds speech.”

It is important to distinguish between desire and the drives. Although they both belong to the field of the Big Other, hence are within the Symbolic field/order (as opposed to love which lies in the imaginary field/order but still has effects in the symbolic order, love requires reciprocity, but the drives only pure activity), desire is one whereas the drives are many. In other words, the drives are the particular (partial) manifestations of a single force called desire (although there may also be desires which are not manifested in the drives). There is only one object of desire, object (petit) a, which is represented in any object which sets desire in motion, especially the partial objects which define the drives [The “objet petit a” is the leftover behind the introduction of the Symbolic dimension in the Real, it denotes a surplus meaning and enjoyment which has no “use value” but persists for the mere sake of enjoyment; it is linked to the illusory/imaginary concept of semblance]. The drives do not seek to attain the objet petit a, but rather circle round it. The object (petit) a is not the object towards which desire tends, but that which sets desire in motion. It plays an increasingly important part in Lacan’s concept of psychoanalytic praxis, in which the psychoanalyst must situate himself/herself as the substitute for objet petit a, i.e. the cause of the analysand’s [patient’s] desire. The universal feature of desire is commonly evident in hysterics [hysteria has changed in appearance nowadays but has not disappeared], being people who unconsciously sustain another person’s desire and convert another’s desire into their own. So, in the psychoanalytic praxis/treatment of hysterics, the most important part for the psychoanalyst is to discover the place [i.e. not the physical or anatomical locality, but the psychical locality / The “Other” scene in Lacanian terms] from which the patient desires [i.e. the Subject with whom he/she identifies] and not simply the object of the patient’s desire. Desire is not a relation to an object, but a relation to a lack (Manque-à-être / Lack of being). A major point from Lacan’s discourse on desire is that desire is a social product constituted in a dialectical relationship [i.e. which is embedded in linguistic discourse] with the perceived desires of other subjects.

Alexandre Kojève, whose seminars were followed by Lacan and also other intellectuals de “premier plan” of the time such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Georges Bataille, Jean Hyppolite and  Raymond Queneau gave the example of the Oedipus complex to point out that desire is essentially desire to be the object of another’s desire; Kojève argued that this is illustrated for the first “time” during the Oedipus complex, when the young developing subject desires to be the object of the desire of the first “Other” in his life [which is usually the mother or a mother figure in most cases], when the subject desires to be the object of desire [symbolic phallus] of the mother. Lacan argues that the child must detach himself from the imaginary relation with the mother in order to enter the social world; failure to do so can result in any one of various peculiarities ranging from phobia to perversion.

One of Lacan’s most often repeated formulas is: “man’s desire is the desire of the Other [i.e. the Big Other/Superego].” This can be understood in many complementary ways, of which the following are the most important. Desire is for the thing that we suppose the Other desires, which is to say, the thing that the Other lacks. Hence, the subject desires from the point of view of “another”; the object of man’s desire is simply an object desired by someone else, which in most cases is the main reason why the object becomes desirable, and unfortunately not because of the natural quality of the thing in itself [Note: this is of course applicable to the common majority, since the consciousness of individuals with superior reflective abilities and philosophical values will likely lead them to perceive, think and behave differently].

Desire is essentially the “desire of the Other‘s [i.e. Grand Autre’s / Superego’s] desire”, which implies both the desire to be the object of another’s desire, and the desire for recognition by another. Desire is essentially a desire for recognition.

Lacan takes this idea from Hegel, to state:

Desire is human only if the one desires, not the body, but the Desire of the other. . . that is to say, if he/she wants to be ‘desired’ or ‘loved’, or, rather, ‘recognised’ in his/her human value. . . . In other words, all human, anthropogenetic Desire . . . is, finally, a function of the desire for ‘recognition‘.

On love and desire, the former is a metaphor, while the latter is metonymy; love is located in the imaginary order but generates effects in the symbolic order where desire is located. We do find some similarities between love and desire in Lacan’s work since it is assumed that both can never be fully satisfied [i.e. insatiable]. The structure of love as “the wish to be loved” is also identical to the structure of desire in which the subject desires to become the object of the Other’s desire. Love involves an imaginary reciprocity, since to love is also to wish to be loved.

Desire is metonymy, and hence a constant force which can never be fully satisfied [because humans tend to have other desires once one is achieved and also because Desire may not only arise from Lack but may also be a productive force in itself]. Desire is the constant ‘pressure’ which underlies the drives and keeps individuals moving forward towards progress [with the right choice(s) and/or the right guidance]. As Elisabeth Roudinesco said: “Lacan est un penseur sceptique et en même temps passionné, c’est-à-dire l’engagement, la possibilité de croire encore en quelque chose, c’est-à-dire au désir, existe, donc il ne faut pas désespérer le Sujet mais la seule chose qui peut compter c’est l’éthique du désir, puisqu’il ne nous reste plus que ça : ne pas céder sur son désir ; ça c’est l’héroïsme Lacanien.” [French for:Lacan is a sceptical and at the same time passionate thinker, that is to say commitment, the possibility of still believing in something, that is to say, in desire, exists, so one should not abandon the Subject, but the only thing that can count is the ethics of desire, since that is all we have left: not to give up on one’s desire; that is Lacanian heroism.”]

In order to achieve the desire for recognition all Subjects must impose the idea that they have of themselves on others (i.e. the rest of the humanity); this leads all individuals in a form of personal fight [which not necessarily violent, but rather a dialectical discourse] with the rest of humanity for recognition and pure prestige; Lacan argues that it is only by risking one’s life for recognition that one can prove that he is truly human. Lacan introduced « la dialectique du maître et de l’esclave », to use the metaphors “Master” and “Slave” to point out that human civilisation is only possible because we have those who direct (Masters/Maîtres) and those who receive directions (Slaves/Esclaves); civilisation would not be possible if it was composed of only masters or of only slaves, both are required and play a fundamental role in the advancement of civilisation. A Subject can both be a master and a slave, i.e. a master to one, but at the same time a slave for another in a different domain. To Lacan, the master signifier is that which represents a particular Subject for all other signifiers but can never represent the Subject completely since there is always some surplus which escapes representation.

The 3 Registers: Real, Imaginary and Symbolic

Firstly, the “Real” is not “reality”, and there is no “objective reality” because there is only a subjective “reality” that holds significance for any individual Subject, and this subjective reality takes shape by its knots with the Imaginary and the Symbolic register [both conceived from the Real, which also then ties itself to the 2 other registers] that the Subject identifies with linguistically. It is in this sense that Lacan is a formidable realist and ties himself to all the great Realist Schools of Philosophy. The Real is a domain outside the symbolic Subject, the Real is the domain of the inexpressible since it does not belong to language. The Lacanian “Real” contains the “Lack” which generally manifests itself in real nothingness. To indicate that something is lacking, requires the assumption that it is possible for it to be present, which introduces the Symbolic domain into the Real. The “Real” simply stands for what is neither symbolic nor imaginary and is never truly known; it is mediated by the 2 orders of the Imaginary and the Symbolic; thus while the Real is present, these uncanny objects are treated as alien, meaningless and reminders of the symbolic lack in the subject’s identity formation; and “lack” is what causes desire to arise, which leads to the Subject’s unique development and growth.

Lacan said:

« L’inconscient reste le cœur de l’être pour les uns, et d’autres croiront me suivre à en faire l’Autre (symbolique) de la réalité. La seule façon de s’en sortir, c’est de poser qu’il est le réel, ce qui ne veut dire aucune réalité, le réel en tant qu’impossible à dire, c’est-à-dire en tant que le réel c’est l’impossible, tout simplement . »

French for: “The unconscious remains the heart of the being for some, and others will believe they follow me to make it the Other (symbolic) of reality. The only way to get out of it is to pose that it is the real, which does not mean any reality, the real as impossible to say, that is to say as the real is the impossible, quite simply.”

Jean-Bertrand Pontalis who was psychoanalysed by Lacan, assisted to his presentations while also participating in the famous seminars that he transcribed the résumés. Pontalis said: “On est un peu perdu et on se dit c’est peut-être génial, c’est peut-être moi qui comprend rien, ça me rappelle que d’ailleurs Lacan disant – alors qu’il y avait au début de ses séminaire des gens comme Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean Hyppolite venait, Paul Ricœur et bien d’autres – je l’entends encore dire – peut-être pas s’adressant à eux mais l’auditoire en général : « Mais enfin, vous allez commencer à l’ouvrir votre comprenoire ? » Voilà, donc je ne peux pas dire que ça m’émeuve, parce qu’il a quand même un côté comédien même très comédien, il en remet un peu comme il en remettait dans sa vêture, avec ses vestes, ses cols Mao à l’époque et puis ensuite les fameux cigares torsadés.” [French for: We’re a bit lost and we say to ourselves that maybe it’s great, maybe it’s me who doesn’t understand anything, it reminds me of Lacan saying – while at the beginning of his seminars there were people like Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean Hyppolite came, Paul Ricoeur and many others – I still hear him say, perhaps not addressing them but the audience in general: “But finally, you will begin to open your understanding?” So I can’t say I’m moved, because he still has a comedian side, even very comical, like he used to portray with his clothes, with his jackets, his Mao collars at the time, and then the famous twisted cigars.”].

Jacques Lacan jeune.jpg

Jacques Lacan (1901 – 1981)

Christian Jambet explained how the real is “nothing”, but gets its subjective significance from knots with the imaginary and the symbolic register of the individual Subject: “Le nœud était là pour essayer de transmettre, pas simplement le réel comme vérité ou le réel comme indicible, mais le réel comme ce qui est là dans sa plus grande nudité et sa plus grande insignifiance. La chute d’une ficelle et en même temps son enroulement. Qu’est-ce qui reste quand ça se défait ? Un rien. Et en même temps que ce rien forme la chose la plus complexe, c’est-à-dire tous ces nœuds du langage ont quoi nous sommes pris et qui tissent notre vie.” [French for: The knot (Borromean) was there to try to transmit, not simply the Real as truth or the Real as unspeakable, but the real as what is there in its greatest nakedness and insignificance. The fall of a string and at the same time its knots. What remains when it unravels? A nothing, and at the same time this nothing forms the most complex thing, that is to say, all those knots of language that we are caught in and that weave our lives.”].

Lacan psychanalyse noeud-borromeen danny d'purb dpurb site web.jpg

Le Noeud Borroméen (The Borromean Knot or Chain) / We could refer to this figure as a chain since it involves the interconnection of several different threads. Although a minimum of three threads or rings [Real, Imaginary & Symbolic] are required to form a Borromean chain, there is no maximum number; the chain may be extended indefinitely by adding further rings, while still preserving its Borromean quality

Secondly, we have the Imaginary register/order which is the domain of the formation of the Ego in the mirror stage by identification with the counterpart [or specular image, i.e. the little other (petit autre)] and this dual illusory relationship between the Ego and the counterpart is characterised by narcissism and alienation. Lacan also accused the major psychoanalytic schools of reducing psychoanalysis to the imaginary domain where the Ego lies. Although the imaginary is structured by the symbolic, the Imaginary register is the dimension of the human subject which is most closely linked to animal psychology; this means that in man’s imaginary, the relation has deviated from the realm of human nature and shifted to the realm of image and imagination, deception and lure [sexual behaviour is especially prone to the lure in animals, which is straightforward]. The principal illusions of the imaginary register are those of wholeness, synthesis, autonomy, duality and similarity, which is in fact untrue and deceptive. Jean Baudrillard, born in the peasantry, who eventually became one of the great names of post-modern philosophy, known for his analysis of modes of mediation and communication, proposed the concept of « simulacre » [simulacrum] and hyperreality. Although those are not connected to Lacan, they are great examples to show how the mainsteam masses are constantly living in an imaginary reality that Baudrillard called “hyperreality”; he argued that to the masses, the reality of our world at some point becomes indistinguishable from just a simple representation of it; that representation, or “simulacrum”, becomes completely detached from reality and ends up being an illusion that is perceived as truth by the average minds of the masses. The inability of the average minds to distinguish reality from the simulacrum is what Baudrillard referred to as hyperreality” – a state of illusion he argued that the masses are constantly living in psychologically. The latter maintained that there is no truth, only a simulacrum of it, and most fail to tell the difference. Like Chomsky, Baudrillard believed that a large amount of social ills can be attributed to the mainstream media, specially in the post-modern world with the constant 24-hour news cycle.

Vladimír Takáč - Headline News d'purb dpurb site web

Headline News” par Vladimír Takáč (2013)

The philosopher noted that the mainstream media is the chief perpetrator in the creation of hyperreality – the press, to Baudrillard, distorts the truth to fit its motive – and the average minds [lacking in self-reflective abilities] who are ignorant of the misrepresentation, accept the hyperreality generated by the simulacrum as the truth; this leads to an illusion far from reality that the average minds perceive as reality. Being a figure of postmodern philosophy, in a state of hyperreality, truth to Baudrillard is hence a fluid concept that is more dependent on narrative, so any person can distort it – which clearly reveals its insignificance to individuals with self-reflective abilities.

For those who lack self-reflective abilities or have not developed them yet, it may be worth quoting Carl Jung, the psychoanalyst, who meticulously declared: “I am not what happened to me, I am what I chose to become.”

Carl Jung ce que je choisi de devenir d'purb dpurb site web

Traduction[EN]: “I am not what happens to me. I am what I choose to become.”

 

The Imaginary register/order is where the Ego operates and also generates its own illusions. In a well adjusted psyche of the individual with self-reflective abilities, those illusions are synchronised with the Subject, the Symbolic and his/her desires.

Thirdly, we have the Symbolic register/order [which is constructed largely via language and discourse] and which is one of the aspects of the Subject that is revealed via the individual’s dreams. The Symbolic register is the fundamental cornerstone for Lacan; the Subject’s relationship with the Symbolic is at the heart of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysts are essentially practitioners of the symbolic order [i.e. civilised culture and the symbolic are thus imposed on raw nature]. Lacan criticised the psychoanalysis of his day for ignoring the symbolic register and reducing everything to the imaginary order of the Ego, and this for Lacan is a betrayal of Freud’s most basic insights; “Freud’s discovery is that of the field of effects, in the nature of man, produced by his relationship to the symbolic order“. Lacan argues that it is only by working in the Symbolic field that the psychoanalyst can produce changes in the subjective position of the patient and foster progress and growth; these changes will also structure the illusions produced by the Ego [le “Moi”] in the Imaginary order, since the Imaginary is influenced by the Symbolic. As Elisabeth Roudinesco pointed out: “ces illusions existent, elles forment notre psychisme ; nous vivons dans un monde d’illusions, de représentations et qui nous marque à vie et qui resterons d’ailleurs” [French for: “these illusions exist, they form our psyche; we live in a world of illusions, of representations and which marks us for life and will remain so for the future…“].

Un monde d'illusions Elisabeth Roudinesco Jacques Lacan danny d'purb dpurb site web.jpg

We live in a world of illusions…” -Elisabeth Roudinesco, 2001

Hence, a well adjusted psyche will allow the Subject to generate the appropriate illusions in the imaginary register of the Ego [Le Moi] that are synchronised with the true Subject [i.e. true product of the Symbolic register tied by language(s)] and his/her desires which has its roots in and is structured by the “scene” [i.e. NOT physical or anatomical locality, but PSYCHICAL locality] of the Other [i.e. Big Other/Grand Autre/Superego] where language(s) and discourse originate. The well adjusted Imaginary of the Ego [le Moi] reflects the individual’s desires and unique personality, and contributes to growth since it allows the Subject to imagine creatively while regulating the wild desires of the Unconscious [ID / It / Ça / Inconscient] according to the symbolic laws of the Big Other [i.e. Grand Autre / Superego under the ID]. The balance between these 3 domains [ID – Superego – Ego] differs from one individual to the other leading to differences in personality.

Structural components [or registers/orders] of the Subject that are revealed via dreams are the Imaginary and the Real. Lacan argued that the psychanalyst’s interpretation of dreams can be viewed as analogous to a linguist’s translation of a language, unearthing the meaning that particular symbols hold for an individual [e.g. a client in psychotherapy or an individual seeking psychoanalytic guidance to enhance themselves]. Lacan noted that a specific difficulty that arises when psychoanalysts interpret the content of clients’ dreams is that, by the time the clients have awakened a large portion [if not most or all] of the dream has vanished, and this can be problematic if clients are reflecting on dreams that they experienced several year (decades?) ago. According to Lacanian Theory, Marder (2013) noted that dreams are oriented towards future interpretation, by dreamers themselves or by someone else (e.g. Psychoanalysts). Hence, truly important content are likely to survive clients’ transition from sleeping to waking states.

Lacan also pointed out as Stockholder (1998) noted, that Freud’s (1923) Structural model, i.e. the later version of his Psychoanalytic Theory with its dictinctions among Id, Super-Ego and Ego had distorded the true meaning of the first Topographic Model. And perhaps rightly observed, since the Ego which was meant to be conscious, revealed an unconscious element in its ability to instantly generate defence mechanisms outside the awareness of the patient, when before the function of the Ego was just one component present in the Conscious, i.e. the Ego [le Moi], was a part of the “Conscious”, as a level of consciousness and not assumed to be a distinct mental functions as part of the new 3 part dissection [ID, SuperEgo and Ego]. However, they can be synthesised and enhanced, as we are doing with Freud, Jung and Lacan along with other discoveries in the realms of Neuroscience and Cognitive-Psychology to explore the psychology of the singular organism and its powers of definition to a level that no other psychologist has attempted to before our endeavour.

Lacan’s theory relocates the ID [Ça / L’Inconscient / Symbolic], Super-Ego [Surmoi, Le grand Autre: the big Other / Symbolic] and the Ego [Moi / Imaginary order] across the Unconscious, Preconscious and Conscious.

The Subject: Uniqueness in the speaking being, le parlêtre

Although psychoanalytic praxis has powerful effects on the ego, it is the Subject, and not the ego, on which psychoanalysis primarily operates. Different from the ego, the Subject is a product of the symbolic Grand Autre, i.e. the “Big Other” [Superego under the influence of the ID]. The Subject means no more than “human being” and in 1953 Lacan establishes a clear distinction between the Subject and the Ego which remained a one of the most fundamental distinctions in his work.  Whereas the Ego is part of the imaginary order, the Subject is part of the symbolic.

Lacan distinguished between 3 kinds of subject. Firstly, we have the impersonal subject, independent of the other, the pure grammatical subject, the noetic subject, the “it” of “it is known that”. Secondly, we have the anonymous reciprocal subject who recognises himself in equivalence with the other (ego reflection / petit autre / little other). Thirdly and finally, we have the personal subject in his uniqueness completely constituted by the act of self-affirmation. It is the third sense of the term subject, i.e. the personal subject in his uniqueness that constitutes the focus of Lacan’s work, and this also seems to be in line with our philosophy of construction and singularity in the creation of the individual. Lacan’s subject is the “subject of the unconscious”, i.e. it is a product of the expression of the unconscious through the symbolic “Grand Autre” [Superego]. Lacan argues that this distinction can be traced back to Freud: “[Freud] wrote Das Ich und das Es in order to maintain this fundamental distinction between the true Subject of the unconscious and the Ego as constituted in its nucleus by a series of alienating identifications. A complex and unique domain such as the subject should not be objectified or reduced to a thing; “What do we call a subject? Quite precisely, what in the development of objectivation, is outside of the object.” References to language come to dominate Lacan’s concept of the subject from the mid-1950s on.

Au langage de son désir - Jacques Lacan

Traduction(EN): “To free his speech, the subject is introduced, through psychoanalysis, to the language of his desire.” – Jacques Lacan

It is very important however to distinguish the term “language” when reading the translations of Lacan’s work in English since the inexistence of some words in English make the translation from French inaccurate. Most importantly, in the French language we have two terms that both translate to “language” in English, these are the French terms “langue” [which refers a specific language, e.g. French or English] and “langage” [which refers to the prosody, expressive, grammatical and communicative structure of the language being used, the discourse of a particular Subject from any “langue” (specific language) since all “langues” (specific languages) come with different levels of structure, being a universal feature], it is the latter term “langage” referring to the general structure of the communicative pattern and linguistic discourse and not “langue” that is of interest to Lacanian psychoanalysis, i.e. the content of the discourse. So, it is important to note that in English, the term “language” in Lacan’s writings most often refers to  the French term “langage” [i.e. the structure and content of the communicative pattern or discourse] and not “langue”. Linguistic discourse (le langage) is a single paradigm of all structures and the basic units are the signifier; the unconscious is a treasury of signifiers in the Symbolic structured like language that finds expression to define the Subject where discourse becomes a social bond. Lacan distinguishes the Subject of the enunciation [i.e. how words are pronounced] from the Subject of the statement [i.e. the genuine message of the discourse] to show that because the Subject is essentially a speaking being (parlêtre), he/she is inescapably divided [i.e. by different forms of communicative patterns]. Language is a constantly evolving domain and not a nomenclature [i.e. not complete, sealed, strictly and methodically organised], beyond its use for conveying information, language is foremost an appeal to an interlocutor. In the early 1960s Lacan defines the subject as that which is represented by a signifier for another signifier; in other words, the subject is an effect of language and in philosophical “discourse” it denotes an individual self-consciousness; linguistic discourse is a mediating element that allows the Subject to attain his desired recognition from others [i.e. the rest of humanity] while creating a social bond; this perfectly illustrates Lacan’s thesis about the determination of consciousness by the Symbolic register. “The subject is a subject only by virtue of his subjection to the field of the Other [Grand Autre / Big Other / Superego / from the Symbolic register].”The philosophical connotations of the term “Subject” are particularly emphasised by Lacan, who links it with Descartes’s philosophy of the cogito: « Je pense donc que je suis » [I think therefore, I am] – “in the term subject . . . I am not designating the living substratum needed by this phenomenon of the subject, nor any sort of substance, nor any being possessing knowledge in his pathos . . . nor even some incarnated logos, but the Cartesian subject, who appears at the moment when doubt is recognised as certainty.” The fact that the symbol of the subject, S, is a homophone of the Freud’s term Es (‘Id’) illustrates that for Lacan, the true subject is the subject of the unconscious [i.e. the impact of the expression of the instincts and language of the unconscious through the SuperEgo/Big Other/Grand Autre on the subject and ego – which differs in individuals. Lacan forced us to admit that we all have mental automatism. We all have, deep inside us, this inner voice that will inhabit the language [or languages] with which we will speak. Perhaps a good example of the expression of the unconscious inner voice is through music, which Lacan saw as a fundamental language of our unconscious thoughts, and therefore the bearer of an enigmatic knowledge, i.e. a form of language that would therefore have a meaning, corresponding for example to that of the different emotions that satisfy the various states of mind and that possibly supports an imaginary form of communication]. In 1957 Lacan strikes through this symbol to produce the symbol $, the “barred subject,” thus illustrating the fact that the subject is essentially divided; the division of the subject by different forms of communicative patterns.

Niklos Koda Tome 7 Magie Blanche et Le spiborg - Mort et Déterré

Déssins: “Niklos Koda” par Olivier Grenson & “Mort et Déterré” par Jocelyn Boisvert et Pascal Colpron

 

L’Autre [Grand Autre / Big Other / Superego] as an early form of conscience from the Symbolic order/register & the mysterious origins and social bond of language [Speech / Linguistic discourse]

Lacan distinguishes between the Superego and the ego-ideal and argues that in most cases the primary function of the Superego is to repress sexual desire for the mother or mother figure in the resolution of the child’s early Oedipus complex and following Freud he also argues that the Superego is an early form of conscience that develops from the Oedipal identification with the father but also incorporates the maternal origins of an archaic form of the superego [conscience] derived from Melanie Klein’s thesis. Hence, Lacan proposed that in most people, the Oedipus complex is a process which imposes Symbolic structures on sexuality and allows the Subject to emerge – the imposition of culture on nature. When Lacan returned to the subject of the Superego [Grand Autre / Big Other] in his 1953-4 seminar, he located it in the symbolic order, as opposed to the imaginary order of the ego: the superego [i.e. Grand Autre] is essentially located within the symbolic plane of speech and has a close relationship with the “law” [law here does not refer to a particular piece of legislation, but to the fundamental principles which underlie social relations, i.e. a set of universal principles which makes social existence possible, the structures that govern social exchange, for e.g. gift giving or the formaton of pacts. Since the most basic form of exchange is communication [e.g. the exchange of words, the gift of speech], the symbolic “law” is fundamentally a linguistic entity/dimension, it is the law of the signifier. This law then is revealed with an order of language – the symbolic order itself. Lacan argues that the “law” is human because it separates man from other animals by regulating sexual relations that are among animals, unregulated. It is the law of the pleasure principle which commands the subject to “Enjoy as little as possible” and maintains the subject at a safe distance from the “Thing” (the forbidden object of desire), making the subject circle round it without ever attaining it because if the subject transgresses, it is experienced as suffering/evil – it is fortunate then that the thing is usually inaccessible and/or out of direct reach; the thing is impossible to imagine, it is unknowable and beyond symbolisation]. The “law” as such is a symbolic structure which regulates subjectivity and in this sense prevents disintegration of the wholeness of the individual’s psycheThe law of the superego however is believed to have a senseless and blind character of pure imperativeness and simple tyranny, so it is at one and the same time the law and its destruction, the Superego [only partially conscious] is thus the “big Other” which imposes a purely oppressive morality on the neurotic subject but also the will-to-enjoy and is related to the voiceThe big “Other” must be considered a locus in which speech is constituted, it is thus only possible to speak of the “big Other” as a subject in a secondary sense where a psychoanalyst may occupy this position and thereby “embody” the “Big Other” for a patient / analysand.

In arguing that speech originates not in the Ego or even in the Subject, but in the partially unconscious “Other” [i.e. Big Other / Grand Autre / Superego], Lacan is stressing that speech and language are beyond conscious control, they come from an other place/scene [i.e. psychical localities], outside consciousness, and hence “the unconscious is the discourse of the big Other” [i.e. the effect on the subject of speech that is addressed to that subject from elsewhere, by another subject (forgotten or unknown) from another “scene”, i.e. psychical locality] and belongs wholly to the symbolic order. As Christian Jambet pointed out, this means that the fragments of discourse that the individual will articulate has its roots in the big Other’s scene(s) [i.e. NOT physical or anatomical locality, BUT PSYCHICAL localities], which is precisely the treasure of signifiers where language – which is very real – is structured, along with the individual’s desires. In 1969, Lacan begins to use the term discourse to denote a “social bond” founded in language; an incredibly rational observation because there is nothing more social than language – the vital ingredient in any form of social activity. [Note: This leads to individuals not sharing anything in common with others in their direct geographical environment, because different individuals will be connected to different psychical localities.]

Parlez-vous Lacan

Gillett (2001) noted that, in Lacan’s view, language does not perfectly convey individuals’ desire to other persons, partly because individuals do not fully understand their own desire, and partly because language is an inherently social medium that can lead to misunderstanding as well as understanding between individuals and other persons. Language however is a very powerful social medium [as can be seen also from the essay, The Concept of Self]

Le Langage et la Réalité danny d'purb dpurb site web 1600.jpg

Traduction(EN): « There will always be something special about language because language creates reality. Language reveals the truth of the subject and adds to reality what was not there before. Hence, the difference between truth and reality is that truth adds to reality what was not there before. Empiricists who study traits should never forget that constructs would not exist if they had not first been created through language. Hence language, creates reality! » -Danny J. D’Purb

Jacques Lacan saw the unconscious [ID / Le Ça] as a structure of language whose formal logic unfolds in the manner of a Bach flute or a poem by Mallarmé and argued that the unconscious is structured like language. In the unconscious [i.e. the place where the treasure of signifiers is] as well as in the acquisition of language, individuals may follow rules regarding the use of symbols without having deliberately learned [and without having overtly been taught] those rules [something “special” and even “mystical” about language]. In addition the unconscious [like language] is regarded as a “network of signifiers”, a history of signifiers that shape the subject; the term signifier (le significant) referring to any symbol that is used [on its own, or in combination with other symbols] to stand in for, or to represent, something else [the signified – le signifié]. In conceiving the “big Other” as a place/scene, Lacan alludes to Freud’s concept of not physical or anatomical locality, but “psychical locality, in which the unconscious is described as “the other scene”. In Lacanian terms the “other scene” is the big Other. The term “scene” was used by Lacan to denote the imaginary but also symbolic theatre in which the Subject plays out his fantasy; a fantasy which is however firmly built on the edifice of the Real [i.e. the world] and shaped by the symbolic order. The scene of fantasy is a virtual space which is framed, similarly to the scene of a play which is framed by the proscenium arch in a theatre, whereas beyond the frame lies the “real” space where the world is. Lacan uses the notion of “scene” to distinguish between 2 processes: (i) Acting out, and (ii) Passing to the Act. Since, the scene is symbolic and built on the real, the process of “Acting Out” takes place within the frame, i.e. inside the scene and is inscribed in the symbolic order; whereas the process of “Passing to the Act” is an exit from the scene, a crossing over from the symbolic into the real. It is highly likely that the impact of the arts, education, exposure and personal development has an important role to play in the development of the partially unconscious “big Others” and “the other scene”. The greatest child psychologist of all time, Jean Piaget argued that all forms of social interaction [which also includes artistic exposure] in the process of learning play an important role in « cognitive growth ».

La Génération de la Culture Digitale dpurb

[FR] Au XXIe siècle, les industries des arts, de la culture et de l’éducation s’appuient principalement sur les médias numériques pour toucher des clients dans le monde entier / [EN] The industries of the arts, culture and education in the 21st century, mainly rely on digital outlets to reach customers across the planet

This also leads to the important question of the “use” of art. Art is a very lucrative business in the 21st century with the wide range of outlets available digitally to deliver the works to the consumer/audience; but what are we consuming? What is the effect that we look for when we fully process the artworks that we choose? What happens after complete psychical digestion by the different psyches among us? Art is used to mark history, to leave a trace, not of the events, but of the line of thought of those living at the time it is focusing on. Back to the fundamentals of philosophy, the famous quote “je pense donc je suis” [French for: “I think therefore I am”] from Descartes explains to us that man is gifted with a conscience unlike animals. It is because we are organisms with the ability to think that we are human beings. Spinoza argued that we all have a conatus, an identity that is unique to each of us; the horse runs, the human being thinks. It is hence essential to question oneself, to meditate on a particular topic or another in order to blossom and thrive as human beings. Art is praxis, like philosophy it is an activity that produces no added value and has no other purpose other than the “perfecting of the agent” as Aristotle put it – it is an activity that allows for this work of reflective meditation. In this sense, a painting cannot be considered as a mere decoration as it is not a question of finding it “beautiful” or “ugly”, but it implies a work of reflection and a particular mental visualisation. Of course, art does not speak to everyone. Serge Gainsbourg pointed out that we have 2 types of art: major and minor ones. Major art forms are those that only the trained mind can understand: architecture, painting, the classics and poetry; For example, this piece by the French philosopher and winner of the 1927 Nobel Prize in literature, Henri Bergson ( – ):

« L’état suprême de la beauté, c’est la grâce. Or, dans le mot grâce, on entend aussi la bonté. Car la bonté, c’est la générosité d’un principe de Vie qui se donne indéfiniment. »

– Henri Bergson

Then we have the Minor art forms, which are those that speak to everyone. It is obviously difficult to perceive, interpret and explore the knowledge, layers of meaning and wisdom in artistic literary compositions if we do not have a good vocabulary and a deep understanding of literary voice [i.e. tone and mood], linguistic style [i.e. Imagery, Simile, Metaphor, Personification] and aural imagery [i.e. Alliteration, Assonance and Onomatopoeia] ; similarly it would be hard to understand all the hard work behind the construction of a cathedral if we do not have any understanding of architecture, although nothing prevents us from appreciating its grandeur and contemplating it at length; this is also applicable to painting which is linked to a profound understanding of scales, light, reflections, shadows, colours, paints, textures and brush strokes. Going by Metry Sephora’s straightforward way to understand a work of art, we can firstly ask ourselves what it is about; what is the painter presenting to us? What do we see in the distance? Secondly, how is it all represented? [Techniques, colours, materials, movements] What do we see from up close and what feelings are elicited? Thirdly, it is about the moment the art work mirrors us. Sometimes we are already touched and are able to evade by imagining the setting presented to us, we reminisce about moments experienced and we reflect on a particular topic. In some other cases, the art work does not touch us and we have to question ourselves deeper, through the life of the artist; why did the artist represent this? What was going on in his/her life at that particular time? In what context did he/she realise it? What was the train of thought of the time?

Les Fenêtres [Windows] par Robert_Delaunay (1912)

“La Fenêtre” par Robert Delaunay. 1912 [de la série “Les Fenêtres”] / Musée de Grenoble

The above painting is “La Fenêtre” [The Window]” by the French painter Robert Delaunay (1885 – 1941) completed between 1911 and 1912 which is part of the series, “Les Fenêtres [Windows]“, which include 13 paintings inspired by the reading of “La loi du contraste simultané des couleurs” written in 1839 by Gustave Chevreuil; we know that the Delaunays created a cultural movement on their own and Blaise Cendrars (1887 – 1961) and Guillaume Appolinaire (1880 – 1918) were great admirers of their work which is part of the Cubist movement. This painting also inspired Apollinaire for his poem also entitled “Les Fenêtres” [Windows] where the writer tried to create a simultaneity between words as Delaunay does with colours. The painter seeks the original essence of colour, while the poet seeks the original essence of words. If we were to analyse this work, we could first observe the mixture and contrast of colours, it is not linear as a Mondrian art work, but still keeps a sense of organisation since the shapes do not spread in every direction, with different shades of blue and orange dominating the work. Secondly, we can conclude that it is rectangular and is a work of oil on canvas measuring 45.8 x 37.5 cm kept at the Musée de Grenoble and that the paint is smooth with movements executed naturally making it pleasant and relaxing to the eyes. Thirdly, based on the life of the painter we know that Robert Delaunay was part of a generation of avant-garde artists who were particularly prolific on the artistic scene between 1912 and 1914, representing the cubist and neo-impressionist movement, and that he was inspired by the scientific works of Chevreul on colours, by the work of Seurat and also that of Cézanne. At that time in the early 20th century, modern painting had tended towards abstraction, and in 1912 Apollinaire diagnosed the birth of a new pictoral art: “The new painters paint paintings where there is no longer a real subject”. By 1912, Delaunay had turned to orphism which led to the series of painting containing “La Fenêtre” [The Window]. More specifically orphic cubism had been distinguished from scientific cubism in 1912 by Apollinaire during the exposition of the Section d’Or, with the term orphism clearly linked to his poem “Orphée” (1908) which deals with pure poetry – a sort of “luminous language”. Another interpretation of this term is proposed: the name makes the analogy of the painting with music.

Peindre avec la musique DnP danny d'purb dpurb site web

Indeed, at the start of the 20th century, music represented modern art par excellence, perfectly abstract, therefore pure as a universal art form, with a totalising function. Music could unite all the arts, as in Wagner’s operas with the concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk [i.e. A total work of art characterized by the simultaneous use of many media and artistic disciplines, and by the symbolic, philosophical or/and metaphysical significance it holds. This use stems from the desire to reflect the unity of life]. Robert Delaunay and his wife indeed created a cultural movement around them, through works concentrated on the arrangement of colours on the canvas seeking pictorial harmony. We all have a conatus, for some it is art, for others it is literature, drama and poetry, readers out there should perhaps try to find theirs?

So, getting back to the big Other [SuperEgo / Grand Autre], it is is always “lacking” something for the subject and the mythical complete and perfect Other does not seem to exist. In 1957, when Lacan introduces the algebraic symbol for the barred Other (A), lack comes to designate the lack of a signifier in the Other [It is Lack that causes Desire to arise]. Lacan introduces the symbol S(A) to designate “the signifier of a lack in the Other. [Note that Lacan uses the term “Grand Autre” with capital A which here is referred to as the “Other” with capital O, i.e. the “big Other” and not the “petit autre” which is the reflection or projection of the Ego [counterpart and specular image] in the imaginary order referred to as the “other” or “little other”, “o” “petit autre” “a”.]

 

Lacanian Terms: L’Inconscient [Id], L’Autre [Grand Autre/Big Other/Superego] & Le Moi [Ego: its birth and the Mirror Stage]

To clarify Lacanian terms, firstly, we have the “inconscient“; being the unconscious ID in the domain of the symbolic which is the unconscious origin of the individual’s discourse, the symbolic “it” or “Ça” beyond the imaginary ego: man is lived and spoken by the unconscious “it” or “Ça”. Hence the phrase which Lacan frequently uses when discussing the unconscious ID, “it speaks” (le “Ça” parle). Hence, Lacan argued that the concept of the unconscious was badly misunderstood by most of Freud’s followers who reduced it to being “merely the seat of instincts“, and against this simplistic biological mode of thought Lacan argued that the unconscious is not simply the seat of instincts but is also and primarily linguistic because we can only grasp the unconscious when it is explained and transformed into words. One should see in the unconscious the effects of speech on the subject, as it is the determination of the subject by the symbolic order. The unconscious is a kind of memory in the sense of a symbolic history of signifiers [i.e. a treasure chest full of signifiers where discourse originates] that have determined the subject in the course of his/her life. Psychoanalysis involves unearthing the meaning that particular symbols hold for an individual. What this seems to suggest is that the unconscious absorbs a wide range of signifiers (signifiants) [that symbolise something else, “le signifié” or “signified” in a deeper exploratory sense] throughout the subject’s life and these later find expression and guide desires through the Superego [Grand Autre / Big Other / the symbolic discourse of the unconscious] and in turn symbolically shapes the imaginary creations of the Ego [Moi] and define the Subject according to his abilities to achieve his desires – the outcome differs depending on the subject’s individual creativity and intelligence.

Le Penseur par Auguste Rodin (1882) dpurb site

«Le Penseur» par Auguste Rodin (1882) représente un homme dans une réflexion profonde, semblant utiliser toute son intelligence pour résoudre un problème.

Since it is an articulation of signifiers in a signifying chain, the unconscious is a kind of knowledge (symbolic knowledge, or savoir) – an “unknown knowledge.” For the Cognitive-Behavioural mind, these signifiers may be considered as “stimuli” [received in different forms, e.g. visual, auditory, mental] however their reception and their responses are completely unconscious and generate effects in the depth of the mind [unconscious] that cannot be measured or seen [the nightmare of the empiricist]. Hence, the unconscious is the location of a chain of signifiers [that stand for something else in a signifying chain] that define the subject through the course of his/her life and where linguistic discourse originates.

We then have the “Moi”, which is the equivalent of the Ego, a formation in the imaginary order as opposed to the Subject [le parlêtre as explained above, which is the true product of the symbolic order]. The Ego is a méconnaissance [a failure to understand/recognise, which is also the structure of paranoiac delusions] of the Symbolic, the Ego is the seat of resistance and is structured like a symptom at the heart of the Subject, the human symptom par excellence, the mental illness of man. Méconnaissance is to be distinguished from ignorance: whereas ignorance is a passion for the absence of knowledge, méconnaissance is an imaginary misrecognition/misconstruction of a symbolic knowledge (savoir) that the Subject does possess somewhere. The structural homology between the ordinary constitution of the Ego and paranoiac delusions is what leads Lacan to describe all knowledge (connaissance), in both neurosis and psychosis, as “paranoiac knowledge.” Lacan also argued that the proponents of Ego-psychology betrayed Freud’s radical discovery by relocating the ego as the center of the subject. In opposition to this school of thought, Lacan maintains that the ego is not at the center, that the ego is in fact an object. ‘ The ego is a construction which is formed by identification with the specular image in the Mirror stage and is thus the place where the subject becomes alienated from himself, transforming himself into the counterpart. Malin (2011) pointed out that in Lacanian Theory, a major event in infants’ personality and social development is the mirror stage, when infants enter into language as a uniquely human form of interaction with all caregivers in the child’s environment [although infants are not likely to consciously experience language prior to age 2]. As Luepnitz (2009) noted, Lacan believed that infants often enter into language at a crucial point when they literally recognise themselves in a mirror, with caregivers [i.e. can include others such as teachers rather than direct parents] pointing to the reflection and approvingly saying to the infants, “Look, that’s you!” – even if infants are unlikely to remember the event in itself.

Rene Magritte - Not To Be Reproduced (1937)

“Not to be reproduced” by René Magritte, 1937

And as Hivernel (2013) noted, the 2 major outcomes of the mirror stage are the emergence of the Subject, a product of the symbolic order (i.e., individuals’ gradual awareness regarding their uniqueness) and the others (i.e. individuals’ gradual awareness regarding the rest of humanity, to whom they are connected to varying degrees). The other major outcome of the mirror stage is the birth of the Ego [Le Moi, the imaginary formation], and infants may experience joy at this moment, which occurs (and, in fact, is necessary) before infants can truly understand the power of symbols in language. However, one of the unfortunate outcomes of the mirror stage was that infants gradually begin to look outward, and not inward in search for identity; and such external orientation toward individuals’ own identity is doomed to fail.

Miyamoto Musashi danny d'purb dpurb site web

French for: “There is nothing besides yourself that can make you better, stronger, richer, faster or smarter. Everything is within you, everything exists. Do not look for anything outside yourself.” -Miyamoto Musashi

This seems to make perfect sense, even from the objective perspective that the Organic Theory of Psychical Construction, i.e., any organism whose reality or sense of it is based on the geographical mental conditioning of a group of organisms [about 4 or 5] will have a limited perspective of reality and lack a wider outlook of the world as it truly is. Unlike US Ego psychologists who considered the Ego as the dominant component that should be worked on and strengthened, Lacan argued against such irrational therapy because the ego is the “seat of illusions” and to increase its strength would only increase the subject’s alienation, the ego is the source of resistance to psychoanalytic treatment and strengthening it would increase those resistances [i.e. all obstacles that arise during psychoanalytic praxis and interrupt its progress, when the subject breaks the fundamental rule of saying everything that comes into his mind]. Lacan argued that the true goal of psychotherapy should be therapists’ unearthing the clients’ unconscious desire via the “talking cure” of psychoanalysis – not strengthening the Ego mindlessly, as this may leave individuals in a state of delusion without an Ego adjusted to their abilities – and may even lead to individuals allowing their Ego [imaginary moi] to dominate the Super-Ego [Grand Autre, Big Other] and favour irrational release of the ID’s [Inconscient / Ça] psychic energy without any remorse or rational control. Because of the imaginary fixity of the Ego, it is resistant to all subjective growth and change and to the dialectical movement of desire, hence, by undermining the fixity of the ego, psychoanalytic treatment aims to restore the dialectic of desire and reinitiate the “coming into being” of the Subject, a product of the Symbolic. This is in direct contrast to the Ego Psychologists’ perspective. Lacan criticised ego-psychology as practised in the US for confusing the concept of “Resistance” with that of “Defence”, and his distinction differs from Anglo-American psychoanalysis. Lacan explained that Defence is on the side of the subject whereas Resistance is on the side of the object. Defences are relatively stable symbolic structures of subjectivity while resistances are rather transitory [periodic / like a phase] forces which prevent the object from being absorbed in the signifying chain [of signifiers]. Resistance belongs to the “imaginary” order of the Ego and not to the symbolic level of the true Subject, because in the symbolic order of the Unconscious, there is no resistance, but only a tendency for repetition. Hence, resistances are “imaginary lures” of the Ego which the analyst must be wary of being deceived by. This is why Lacan maintained that the aim of analysis can never be to strengthen the Ego because this would increase imaginary resistances. Ego psychology shifted emphasis on overcoming the resistances of patients and this was heavily criticised by Lacan who thought that this lead to an “inquisitorial style” of psychoanalysis that sees resistances as based on the “fundamental ill will” of the patients, which is not always the case; this to Lacan overlooked the structural nature of resistance and reduces analysis to an imaginary dual relation. Lacan encourages the “analysis of resistances” but only on the condition that this phrase is properly understood, in the sense of “knowing at what level the answer should be pitched; what Lacan means is that the crucial thing is that the psychoanalyst should be able to distinguish between interventions that are primarily oriented towards the Imaginary and those that are oriented towards the Symbolic and know which are appropriate at each moment during psychoanalytic praxis with patients. Lacan argued for “Structural Resistance”, which is not a question of ill will on the part of the patient but is a resistance that structures, and it is inherent in the analytic process. Resistance is due to a structural incompatibility between desire and human speech [i.e. discourse] and hence Lacan points out to a certain irreducible level of resistance which can never be overcome, that is, even after the reduction of resistances, there is a residue – which may be what is truly essential for a particular Subject. This irreducible “residue” is essential since it is respect for this residue by psychoanalysts that distinguishes true psychoanalysis from mere suggestion. Psychoanalysis to Lacan, respects the right of the patients to resist suggestion and indeed values that resistance. When the Subject’s resistance opposes suggestion, it is only a desire to maintain the Subject’s true desire, and as such it would have to be placed in the realm of “positive transference”. Lacan points out that while psychoanalysts cannot and should not try to overcome “all resistances”, they can minimise them or at least avoid exacerbating them. To do this, psychoanalysts could recognise their own part in the resistances of their patients since to Lacan, there is no other resistance to analysis than that of the analyst himself. The patient’s resistance is always that of the analyst, and when a resistance succeeds it is because the analyst is in it completely, i.e. because the analyst understands. Hence, the analyst should always follow the rule of neutrality; psychoanalytic treatment works on the principle that by not forcing the patient, resistance is reduced to the irreducible minimum, thus, analysts should avoid all forms of suggestion.

Finally, as already explained above, we have the “Grand Autre” or simply “Autre” [Capital A] or “Big Other” which is the preconscious Superego also in the domain of the symbolic register; being the discourse of the unconscious. The big “Other” designates an otherness that transcends the illusory otherness of the imaginary because it cannot be assimilated into the psyche through identification, Lacan equates the big “Other” with language and the “law” [i.e. the structures that govern social exchange] and hence the big “Other” is inscribed in the symbolic register, and indeed the big “Other” is symbolic because it differs for each subject and is the symbolic order which mediates the relationship with a particular subject. The little “other is a reflection or projection of the ego [le Moi], it is the counterpart and the specular image, unlike the “big Other” which is in the symbolic order, the little “other” is inscribed in the imaginary order of the Ego.

 

The concept of Adaptation and Psychoanalysts as the Grand Autre [Big Other / Superego]

Lacan also questioned whether the ego of the psychoanalyst gives the measure of reality to the patient in trying to adapt the latter. Because if so, this would turn the analyst [who are also different in terms of talent, creativity and vision from one person to another] into the arbitrer of the patient’s adaptation to reality, hence the analyst’s own understanding [or lack of understanding] of reality would be assumed to be absolute and perfect where he would be considered as the perfection of adaptation compared to the patient [as is the case in Ego-psychology practiced in the USA]. This to Lacan turns psychoanalysis as an exercise of power and social control where the analyst forces his own particular view of reality onto the patient and this is not psychoanalysis but suggestion. This Lacanian refusal to force an adaptation of the ego to reality is in direct opposition to the “Ego-psychology” of the US psychoanalytic movement that Lacan accused of wrongly reading the works of Freud. Lacan regards it as simple to understand why the adaptation theme was developed by European and Jewish psychoanalysts who had emigrated to the USA in the late 1930s, and this is simply because these analysts felt not only that they had to adapt to life in the USA, but also that they had to adapt psychoanalysis to American tastes [i.e. to fit the average american psyche]. One of Lacan’s fiercest criticism is based on the following argument: the notion of “adaptation to reality” is founded on the creatively irrational and naive empiricist epistemology that wrongly assumes an unproblematic notion of “reality” for all Subjects, as an objective and self-evident given, this discards what psychoanalysis has discovered about the construction of reality by the Ego on the basis of its own “méconnaissance” [i.e. subjective understanding of reality]. So when the analyst assumes that he is better adapted to the vague notion of “reality” than the patient, he has no other option but to fall back on his own Ego’s interpretation of reality, since it is the only “reality” he knows, this leads to the distorted and simplistic definition of “the part that thinks as we do” as being the healthy part of a Subject’s Ego. This practice of Ego-psychology turns psychoanalysis as an exercise of prepackaged suggestion to mould the psyche of individuals to these analysts’ own “idea” of reality in order to fit a simplistic mainstream model in line with the requirements of the mechanical philosophies of empiricist epistemology and industrialisation. The inability of the analyst to sustain a praxis authentically, as is usually the case, results in an exercise of power.

The simplistic biological concept of adaptation [as often assumed in simple deterministic animal psychology] can be problematic when applied to psychoanalysis since in evolutionary biology it is assumed that organisms/animals are driven to “adapt” themselves to fit their environment and hence implies a harmonious relation between the Innenwelt (inner world) and Umwelt (surrounding world). The observation of animals in nature or in laboratories tends to guide the reasoning of many empirical scientists who are simplistic and biologically oriented, it is important to ask a few questions. For example, which animals to focus on as models to be inspired by? In nature, we have many animals who mate for life and are monogamous [e.g. albatrosses, bald eagles, barn owls, penguins, beavers, shingleback skinks, gibbons (primates), wolves, swans & french angelfish]. On the other hand, we also have other animals such as common pheasants, lions, gorillas, tigers, red deers, elks, and hamadryas baboons (primates) who have a different mating system, where the fittest male mates with multiple females to ensure the constant enhancement and fitness of future generations; and hence are polygamous.

Maladies Génétiques.jpg

Image: Degenerates / Some controversial doctors under the Third Reich proposed that the curse of diseased genes destroy entire families, and that degenerates can only give birth to their similars. It lead to sterilisation that was supposed to prevent them from spreading their misery to innocent children [as the aim was a strong and genetically healthy people], and also the “Aktion T4” program which was mass involuntary euthanasia. Certain German physicians were authorised to select patients “deemed incurably sick, after most critical medical examination” and then administer to them a “mercy death” (Gnadentod). From September 1939 until the end of the war in 1945; from 275,000 to 300,000 people were euthanised in psychiatric hospitals in Germany and Austria, occupied Poland and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (now the Czech Republic). The Holy See announced on 2 December 1940 that the policy was contrary to the natural and positive Divine law and that “the direct killing of an innocent person because of mental or physical defects is not allowed” but the declaration was not upheld by some Catholic authorities in Germany. In the summer of 1941, protests were led in Germany by the Bishop of Münster, Clemens von Galen, whose intervention led to “the strongest, most explicit and most widespread protest movement against any policy since the beginning of the Third Reich”, according to historian Richard J. Evans.

Hence, this poses questions to the simplistic biological perspective of adaptation: should humans follow the latter polygamous animal model and select the fittest and smartest males through physical and intelligence tests and use their sperm to inseminate all women on earth desiring to have children [or vice-versa or in combination with the eggs of the fittest and smartest females to help couples conceive]; could this reduce malformations and other ugly diseases?

Population en bonne santé d'purb dpurb site web.jpg

Image: Physically healthy females exercising

Or should we follow the monogamous model of the bald eagle, penguin, barn owl, swan, wolf and French angelfish? Based on our evolutionary history, it seems that we humans are monogamous by design due to the size of our brains that allow us to build sophisticated relationships and also experience complex emotions [that animals cannot due to the limited biological architecture of their brain that is optimised for survival and hunting], and hence, humans should not follow animals blindly but use some aspects that we may learn from the study of animals in nature with great precautions to help humans live a better life [for example: giving a choice of healthy sperm and egg donors to couples who cannot conceive or fear passing down incurable and other debilitating diseases] and gradually create a genetically healthy civilisation.

Bébé Gorille Albinos avec son ami d'purb dpurb site web

Image: Baby Albino Gorilla with his friend

François Rabelais, the french doctor, writer, monk & priest seems to have phrased it well in his magnum opus, Pantagruel (1694): “Science sans conscience n’est que ruine de l’âme.” [French for: « Science without conscience is nothing but the ruin of the soul »]

So, the idea of harmony between the inner world (Innenwelt) of the organism and its environment (Umwelt) which is implicit in the concept of adaptation from the simplistic biological perspective [e.g. in animal psychology] is innaplicable to human beings since man’s inscription in the symbolic order re-shapes and restrains his natural behaviours and instincts [i.e. because of civilised society and the sophisticated and multi-layered aspects of human life, man cannot allow himself to follow his wild instincts blindly as animals do in nature], and this means that “in man, the imaginary relation [to nature] has deviated” [the nurture VS nature debate]. This is different for all animal machines who tend to be strictly riveted to the conditions of the external environment, whereas in the human being we have a “certain biological gap”. So, compared to the simplistic biological perspective of animal adaptation where the organism follows its wild instincts and not human reasoning, we can suggest that humans are essentially “maladaptive animals” and this may well be for the betterment of our lives since we live in a sophisticated society and not in the wild nature (la nature sauvage) like animals, where meeting basic needs is a constant struggle in a matter of life and death.

Yet, adapting to the Umwelt (surrounding world) in human psychology is not the ultimate path of perfection because it is not designed to meet all of the true desires of human beings [as Freud suggested, intrapsychic conflict is inescapable because of the demands of society] and hence does not guarantee the complete satisfaction and enhancement of the individual [being highly complex beings with huge brains and different personalities that seek different goals], especially when the Umwelt (surrounding world) itself which is assumed to be “reality” is not a simple objective thing [such as for animals in nature] but is itself a product of the Ego’s fictional misrepresentations and projections. Therefore to Lacan it is not a question of adapting the Ego to reality, but of showing the imaginary “Ego” that it is only too well adapted since it assists in the construction of that very reality and hence the task of the psychoanalyst is rather to subvert the patient’s illusory sense of adaptation since it blocks access to the unconscious, and hence gain access to it. In 1955 Lacan states that “the dimension discovered by analysis is the opposite of anything which progresses through adaptation” and hence refused to explain human phenomena and mental life in terms of adaptation. To Lacan, and many inspired by his views, it is more about “adjusting” than adapting, i.e. adjusting to be functional in our chosen path/field based on our individual characteristics and abilitiesLacan maintained that psychoanalytic intervention should not aim to adapt the Ego to reality, and this seems reasonable since “reality” is a social construct under constant change as we primates are evolving and adapting to the discoveries of our constantly changing civilisation, but also because the Ego is an imaginary formation as opposed to the Subject which is the true product of the symbolic. To Lacan, psychoanalysts should adopt the role of the “big Other” [Grand Autre / Super-Ego] in therapeutic interventions as a counterpart to the client’s “Subject”, thus making it possible for clients to peer beneath their own conscious (typically not completely true narratives), into their unconscious (and “true”) desire(s) [and perhaps guide or help the patient to realise their dreams within the realms of reality in civilised society].

Lacan’s suggestion seems to give the individual the creative freedom to create himself through language and discourse, exist and be unique within the reasonable limits of a mentally adequate and healthy person, while only adjusting his behaviour to be able to function and exist in his chosen individual world without losing his individuality. Since reality and culture are social constructs that are always changing through collaboration, the individual can both be shaped by them and also shape them [for e.g. human culture teaches a child how to use a fork and a knife to eat, but it can also be shaped by an individual if he invents/discovers something or adopts a philosophy that affects/inspires human cultures. In the past smoking was allowed everywhere and it was common culture to see people and even doctors smoking in public buildings, but since we found about the harmful effects of cigarette smoke, today culture has been reshaped and smoking is banned indoor in most public places. The invention of the mobile phone has also affected human culture and behaviour when before people used public phone boxes]; this concept of being shaped by and also shaping human cultures is known as mutual constitution and is reflected in the artefacts of all societies through the arts, literature and languages [as we explained in the Essay: The Concept of Self].

 

Challenging the established procedures of Psychoanalytic Practice

Lacan was also innovative and challenged the established procedures of Psychoanalytic practice [which promoted multiple sessions lasting an hour or more apiece, across several years] to advocate brief, impromptu [i.e. unscheduled] therapy that could be completed in a matter of minutes.

As early as 1950, Lacan had questioned the ritual of the 55-minute timed sessions imposed by the IPA as intended to preserve patients and students in training from the all-powerful transference of the masters; Lacan pulverized this rule. He invented the rule of the session of variable duration that leads the analyst to intervene in the cure by caesuras or by interpretations so that the analysand explores his unconscious fantasies more rapidly and wastes less time in uttering empty words.

« La psychanalyse est une pratique délirante, mais c’est ce qu’on a de mieux actuellement pour faire rendre patience à cette situation incommode d’être homme. C’est en tout cas ce que Freud a trouvé de mieux. Et il a maintenu que le psychanalyste ne doit jamais hésiter à délirer »

French for: “Psychoanalysis is a delirious practice, but it is the best we have at the moment to make this uncomfortable situation of being a man bear with patience. It is in any case the best Freud found. And he maintained that the psychoanalyst should never hesitate to be delirious”

Ornicar. (1977). Ouverture de la section clinique. Bulletin périodique du champ freudien. 9, 13.

The decision of Lacan to adapt sessions according to the Subject’s abilities and individuality seems logical and is based on Lacan’s concept of “the time for understanding“. Lacan’s approach to the questions of time remains one of his distinctive features. In Lacan’s paper “Logical Time” (1945), he distinguished between logical time and chronological time. Logical time has a tripartite structure, the 3 moments of which in every subject are:

(i) the moment of seeing [i.e. perceiving]
(ii) the time for understanding
(iii) the moment of concluding

Lacan explains that these 3 moments are not constructed in terms of objective chronometric units, but in terms of an intersubjective logic based on a tension between hesitation and urgency. Logical time is the intersubjective time that structures human action and varies from one individual to another based on their abilities. This seems logical since the main factors that influence successful therapy are the relationship between the therapist and the client, but also the aptitudes of the client [which varies from one individual to another depending on their intelligence, reflective abilities, understanding and will power].

Nous En France - Sarkozy - d'purb

Traduction(EN): « Us in France, we are different from others. To live, we have to drink, eat, but also to cultivate ourselves. » -Nicolas Sarkozy

Since Lacan’s theory is mainly based on French society – one with a history of challenging the limits of the individual in the name of excellence – it seems fair to acknowledge his opinions [in a sense that not all patients require multiple sessions depending on their individual characteristics, response to the relationship with the psychoanalyst, understanding of their own mental condition and desires and reflective abilities] as rational, economical, time-saving and flexible in accommodating individual differences.

In 1971, Maria Belo, a Portuguese psychoanalyst, had decided to do an analysis with Lacan after her sister’s suicide, which turned her life upside down. She would say:

“La qualité de sa présence faisait que ça déclenchait un travail, chaque séance déclenchait un énorme travail analytique en moi et quand j’arrivais chez moi, j’écrivais des lettres de plusieurs pages que chaque fois j’allais mettre dans sa boîte à lettres (…) Je pense aussi que ce que Lacan faisait avec les séances très courtes était très lié à ce qu’il était. Si on pense à cette époque, la grande époque de l’école Freudienne où il était mythifié par beaucoup de gens que, il avait vraiment besoin, par rapport au transfert, de secouer les gens et de faire des trucs que personnes d’autres n’a eu raison de faire après.”

French for: “The quality of his presence meant that it triggered work, each session triggered an enormous analytical work in me and when I arrived home, I wrote letters of several pages that each time I would go to put in his mailbox (…) I also think that what Lacan did with the very short sessions was very much linked to what he was. If we think back to that time, that great era of l’École Freudienne where he was mythified by many people that, in relation to transference, he really needed to shake people up and do things that no one else did afterwards.”

« Le transfert c’est l’amour. On se demande simplement : pourquoi est-ce qu’on aime un être pareil ? Pour l’instant je laisse la question en suspens…”

French for: “Transference is love. We simply ask ourselves: why do we love such a being? For the moment I leave that question open…”

-Jacques Lacan

However, partly as a reaction to Jacques Lacan’s criticism of Ego Psychoogy [as practiced in the United States], and partly as his advocacy of brief, impromptu therapy, the US-oriented International Psychoanalytic Association, majorly Anglophone and not very open to the virtuosity of Lacanian speculation, barred Lacan from training future psychoanalysts. For the IPA, brief therapy is unacceptable, they wanted to consider accepting Lacan’s teaching as long as he remained in the IPA as a philosopher and/or a theorist but definitely not as a trainer of students.

LesFrancaisNapproventPasLaPolitiquedesUSA

A majority of 80% of French citizens are wary of the US and do not approve its politics / Source: Le Figaro

Lacan found himself in a situation that had never been that of Freud: he found himself in a situation where he would become the director of his school, that is to say that by later founding l’École Freudienne de Paris in 1964 he would exercise functions that Freud never exercised. Lacan was at the same time the master of thought, the analyst, the political leader of his school, and was responsible for all the functions, whereas Freud had delegated political power to his disciples.

« Je fonde – aussi seul que je l’ai toujours été dans ma relation à la cause psychanalytique – l’École Française de Psychanalyse (…) dont rien dans le présent ne m’interdit de répondre personnellement la direction…»

French for: “I am founding – as alone as I have always been in my relationship to the psychoanalytic cause – the École Française de la Psychanalyse (…) whose direction I am personally responsible for as nothing in the present prevents me to do so….”

– Jacques Lacan

Hence, criticized by the IPA, proponents of a rigid legislation, Lacan left the Société Psychanalytique de Paris which was frequented by Marie Bonaparte who thought she was the only heiress of Freud whose memory she piously celebrated with the support of the IPA.

Lacan then participated in 1953 with Daniel Lagache, François Perrier, Serge Leclerc and Wladimir Granoff in the creation of the Société Française de Psychanalyse ; his friend Françoise Dolto, founder of a new psychoanalytical approach to childhood, gave him her support. La Société Française de Psychanalyse would become a sophisticated cultural melting pot for all the youth of that generation and Lacan would train them by being, in the words of Elisabeth Roudinesco, “l’analyste, le contrôleur, le maître, l’initiateur, l’éveilleur” [French for: “the analyst, the controller, the master, the initiator and the awakener”] through his seminars which took place at the Sainte Anne Hospital followed by the presentation of the mentally sick. Lacan became the great renovator and the great re-inventor of psychoanalysis in France. That generation felt like the pioneers of something new around Lacan, but they would have also liked to remain in the IPA, in its Freudian legitimacy, of which they were no longer a part of since their masters had resigned. The characteristic of Lacan was that he contested the whole practice of the IPA that was trying to be Freud. Lacan is the only one to suggest a return to the origins of Freudian theory, i.e. not post-Freudism. Thus at that point, Lacan posed himself as the re-founder, and an intellectual who was transgressive since Lacan would not respect any irrational IPA rule, which of course humiliated the IPA who could not digest Lacan and his perspectives, and perhaps also unable to grasp the sophisticated subtleties of Lacan’s theory which had its origins in the French heritage. Unique in its kind, the École Freudienne de Paris would allow Lacan to place the desire to be an analyst at the heart of the training of didacticians. Jean-Bertrand Pontalis declared: “Comme si lui-même (Lacan), dans ces années-là était en train d’inventer et de s’inventer. Nous participions en accord avec lui en résonance avec lui à un mouvement inventif.” [French for: “As if he himself (Lacan), in those years was inventing and inventing himself. In agreement with him, we were participating in an inventive movement in resonance with him.]

Furthermore, despite [or perhaps because of?] the IPA’s decision to bar Lacan from training future psychoanalysts, the proportion of Psychoanalysts adopting a Lacanian perspective has only grown since Lacan’s death in 1981with half or more of the world’s psychoanalysts adopting Lacanian concepts. Jardim, Costa Pereira and de Souza Palma (2011) applied Lacanian Theory to understanding the personality disorder of Schizophrenia [formerly known as “madness”], interpreting a case study [along with fictional examples from literary works] in terms of failure to achieve an integrated Ego from infancy onwards. McSherry (2013) argued that Lacan’s Theory of Psychoanalysis could benefit mental health nursing practice since various forms of personality disorders [including but not limited to Schizophrenia] can be understood readily in terms of Lacan’s theory.

Lacan described woman as a “symptom of man” that enters the psychic economy of men as the cause of their desire. This has led to debates among feminists: some saw his theories as a way of challenging fixed concepts of sexual identity while others believe that the concept of symbolic order reinstates the inequality of the sexes, and the privileging of the phallus simply repeats alleged misogynies of Freud.

The British psychoanalyst Juliet Mitchell who was one of the first to introduce Lacan’s system of thought to the Anglophone crowd thought that his work was misinterpreted and misused for a political purpose for the left and for feminism; Mitchell suggested that a possible reason for this could have been due to the “stupidity” of the English crowd, unable to grasp the subtleties of Lacan. Malone (2012) noted that Lacan was ambivalent towards the growing tendency for empirical clinical psychologists to align their discipline with the hard sciences [e.g. Biology, Medecine, Physics, Chemistry, Astrophysics, Material Science, etc] and not with the humanities [e.g. Literature, Poetry, Music, Art (Sculpture, Painting and others), Drama (Theatre), etc], and viewed psychoanalysis as ideally informed by both the humanities and by the sciences.

Documentaire: Jacques Lacan, La Psychanalyse Réinventée (2001)

Lacan has been hailed as the “French Freud” who has established a tradition of French psychoanalysis that rivals American and British psychoanalysis in terms of international influence. Although Lacan’s theory has been cast as a uniquely French theory [culturally and linguistically speaking], it has nonetheless struck a chord with many [and, perhaps, most] of the world’s most influential modern day psychoanalysts, shattering perceptions across languages and cultures worldwide. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a decade later, much psychoanalytic research in the US itself will seem to confirm Lacan’s perspectives as discussed above.

After the publication of his writings in 1966, Lacan became a recognized thinker, admired by his students and hated by his opponents. At L’École Normale, the salle Dussane, a large crowd flocked to listen to him.

« Quand je comprenais je trouvais ça génial… »

French for: “When I figured it out, I thought it was great…”

-Françoise Dolto

The writer Philippe Sollers lyrically describes the harmonies and dissonances of the main stage of Jacques Lacan’s seminar:

Philippe Sollers sur Lacan - danny d'purb dpurb site web.jpg

Lacan monte à la tribune comme une gravure de Dürer (Albrecht), drôle de Saint, drôle de moine chevalier prêcheur d’un autre âge. Lacan c’est de la lenteur ponctuée, du soupir, de la passion tortueuse, de l’envolée, de l’anecdote, de largo, de la moquerie, de l’insulte, du tonnerre intermittent, du pinaillage à n’en plus finir, de l’ennuis massif, du mot d’esprit, du sublime. Il y a Lacan mystique, Lacan chancelier, Lacan l’ancêtre, Lacan Don Juan, Lacan Satan, Lacan charlatan, Lacan malicieux, Lacan généreux, Lacan vaniteux, Lacan persifleur, ronchonneur, hurleur, murmureur, souffleur, séducteur ; il y a Lacan cigare et Lacan mouchoir, Lacan accablé, Lacan vraie, l’étonnant et que ça donne comme la nervure exacte d’un gai savoir.” -Philippe Sollers

French for: “Lacan rises to the platform like an engraving by Dürer (Albrecht), a strange Saint, a strange knightly monk preacher from another age. Lacan is punctuated slowness, sighing, tortuous passion, flight, anecdote, largo, mockery, insult, intermittent thunder, endless nitpicking, massive trouble, witty words, the sublime. There is mystical Lacan, Chancellor Lacan, Lacan the ancestor, Lacan Don Juan, Lacan Satan, Lacan charlatan, malicious Lacan, generous Lacan, vain Lacan, Lacan persifleur, grumbler, howler, whisperer, blower, seducer; there is Lacan cigar and Lacan handkerchief, overwhelmed Lacan, true Lacan, the astonishing and that which gives like the exact vein of a cheerful knowledge.” -Philippe Sollers

Jacques Derrida would say:

« Je n’imagine pas que quelqu’un qui était engagé comme il l’a été avec une telle passion de la vérité là où le sens même du mot vérité était si difficile à faire entendre, je n’imagine pas qu’une telle personne ait pu vivre autrement que tragiquement (…) ce qui m’a aidé à résister à toute réponse agressive à Lacan, je pensais que cet homme avait une responsabilité tragique à assumer et quel que soit sa parade, son paraître, son apparat, etc… les scènes qu’il faisait, il devait y avoir de la blessure secrète là et je l’ai ressenti et je l’ai respecté. »

French for: “I cannot imagine that someone who was engaged as he was with such a passion for the truth where the very meaning of the word truth was so difficult to convey, I cannot imagine that such a person could have lived any other way but tragically (…) which helped me to resist any aggressive response to Lacan, I thought that this man had a tragic responsibility to assume and whatever his parade, his appearance, his pomp, etc., the scenes he made, there must have been some secret wound there and I felt it and I respected it.”

Jacques Lacan dpurb site web.jpg

Jacques Lacan (1901 – 1981)

Jacques Lacan addressing the audience of the Grande Rotonde of the University of Louvain, the 13th of October 1972:

« La mort est du domaine de la foi, vous avez bien raison de croire que vous allez mourir bien sûr ; ça vous soutient ; si vous n’y croyez pas, est-ce que vous pourriez supporter la vie que vous avez ? Si on n’était pas solidement appuyés sur cette certitude que ça finira ? Est-ce que vous pourriez supporter cette histoire ? »

French for: “Death is a matter of faith, you have good reason to believe that you are going to die of course; it sustains you; if you don’t believe in it, could you bear the life that you have? If you weren’t firmly supported by the certainty that it will end? Would you be able to bear it?”

 

Conclusion: Legacy, Impact & Evolution of Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis is a unique movement in psychology that grew out of the same German model of mental activity that produced act psychology and the Gestalt movement. However, psychoanalysis received its immediate expression through the needs of the mentally ill. Psychoanalysis was born as a clinical discipline, not an academic development based on empirical methodology to fit a particular field’s reductionist requirements for acknowledgement. For this reason, psychoanalysis, especially as proposed by writers after Freud, gives the impression of an ad hoc movement that develops as particular problems arise – it could be seen as adaptive and constantly evolving. Psychoanalysis did not adhere to the commitment to the reductionist empirical methodology expressed in those mechanical systems of behavioral studies generated by academic research. Psychoanalysis set out not to simply study basic observable behaviour [e.g. in animals studies], but to study the psychic apparatus that constitutes the human mind which obviously guides and impacts behaviour. Hence, there was and still is little interaction between psychoanalysis and those systems grounded on empiricism and reductionist methodologies that are stubborn in trying to capture an entity as the mind when most of the constructs cannot be seen or touched, or accurately measured. Stated quite simply, psychoanalysis and the other schools of psychological models do not speak the same language.

Although different and hardly understood by common mainstream empirical and academic psychology, psychoanalysis did assume a dominant role in psychiatry. This is completely understandable in light of the origins of psychoanalysis as a response to clinical problems as they manifested themselves. Indeed, psychoanalytic writings enjoyed an almost exclusive position in psychiatry and clinical psychology until the 1960s, when behaviour modification and mechanical and reductionist Pavlovian derivatives based on Behaviourism [such as Cognitive Psychology] began to compete as an alternate model of therapy for behavioural adjustment [Read: the Essay on the Origins of the Cognitive Behavioural Model: Biological Constraints in Learning, which also suggests an unconscious drift in other animals].

Pavlov Dog Labs

Psychoanalysis continues to exert a marked influence on art, literature, and philosophy. This influence reflects major contributions of Freud: his comprehensive analysis of the unconscious. On the same line, literary and artistic expressions are interpreted in light of the unconscious activities of the artist as well as the unconscious impressions of the perceiver. Psychologists today may choose unconscious motivations or simply to refer to subliminal or subthreshold activities. However, any truly comprehensive theory of psychological activity can no longer be limited to conscious aspects of behaviour. Although some psychologists may disagree with some Freudian concepts and interpretations, Freud did identity some dynamic processes that influence the activity of the individual: processes that psychology cannot ignore anymore.

As mentioned earlier, psychoanalysis has a unique position in the history of psychology. Freud did not develop a theory that generated testable hypotheses or other empirical implications. Yet, on another level, Freud accomplished what few other theorists have: He revolutionised attitudes and created a new set for thinking about personality. The findings of other more empiricist theories of personality disturbance have often confirmed many of Freud’s observations. If his views do not meet the criteria of empiricistic study, they nevertheless mark a man of genius and insight, whose influence pervades people’s thinking about themselves in ways that few others have achieved.

The psychoanalytic theory is an enormously complex and ambitious one, and it aims to make sense of a much broader array of psychological and social phenomena than other theories, and does so with a collection of explanatory concepts. Hence, the sheer range and scope of psychoanalytic theory, and its aspiration to be a total account of mental life, should be recognised and applauded. In comparison, all other schools of psychology to study personality look decidedly timid and limited in focus. Even if other approaches tend to have more empirical foundations and hence more credential in academic psychology, they tend to leave out much of what we might want to include in a comprehensive theory of human behaviour. To many intellectuals and lay people alike, any account of personality that does not acknowledge that humans are like psychoanalytic theory portrays us, i.e., driven by deeply rooted motives, inhabiting bodies that bring us pleasure and shame, shaped by our early development, troubled by personal conflicts, and often a mystery to ourselves – is fundamentally limited.

While the empirical limitations are a fact, some of these problems are due in part to the intrinsic difficulty of what psychoanalytic theory tries to explain. Others could be partially overcome if researchers made a more concerted effort to determine which psychodynamic ideas stand up to closer, “scientific enquiry”. However, psychoanalysis cannot be judged only by empirical perspectives, and it would be a mistake to abandon it impatiently, given how much a suitably revised and empirically updated theory of psychodynamics in the future might deepen the studies of personality.

Even for all its failings to the empirical scientist, on some aspects, psychoanalysis is at least partly responsible for several important and scientifically respectable ideas that has always had a kernel of truth and was later developed by other researchers. While Freud’s idea of the dynamic unconscious remains controversial, it can no longer be disputed today that unconscious cognition is now a fact and an uncontroversial idea in cognitive and social psychology, where huge volumes of research now explore non-conscious or “implicit” attitudes. We now know from neuroscientific research that the brain has networks for both explicit and implicit [unconscious] learning as Yang and Li (2012) found after examining the neural correlates for these 2 types of learning on artificial grammar sequences. We have brain networks of different connectivity that underlie explicit and implicit learning. While both processes involve activation in a set of cortical and subcortical structures, the study found that explicit learning engages a network that uses the insula as a key mediator whereas implicit learning evokes a direct frontal-striatal network. Individual differences in working memory also differentially impact the two types of sequence learning.

*****

References

  1. Adams, H. E., Wright, L. W., & Lohr, B. A. (1996). Is homophobia associated with homosexual arousal? Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 105, 440-5.
  2. Adler, A. (1956). The individual psychology of Alfred Adler. L. Ansbacher & R. R. Ansbacher (Eds.). New York. Basic Books.
  3. Adler, A. (1958). What life should mean to you. New York: Capricorn Books.
  4. Bornstein, R.F. (2005). Reconnecting psychoanalysis to mainstream psychology. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 22, 323-340.
  5. Bradley, B.P., Mogg, I. & Millar, N. (1996). Implicit memory bias in clinical and non-clinical depression. Behaviour Research Therapy, 34, 865-879.
  6. Bradley, B.P., Mogg, I. & Williams, R. (1994). Implicit and explicit memory for emotion-congruent information in depression and anxiety. Behaviour Therapy and Research, 32, 65-78.
  7. Bradley, B.P., Mogg, I. & Williams, R. (1995). Implicit and explicit memory for emotion-congruent information in depression and anxiety. Behaviour Therapy and Research, 33, 755-770.
  8. Brennan, J. (2014). History and Systems of Psychology (6th Ed).
  9. Carr, A. (2012). Clinical psychology. 1st ed. New York: Routledge.
  10. Chambless, D.L., Sanderson, W.C., Shoham, V., Bennett Johnson, S., Pope, K.S., Crits-Cristoph, P. et al. (1996). An update on empirically validated therapies. Clinical Psychologist, 49, 5-18.
  11. Eagle, M. (1987). The psychoanalytic and cognitive unconscious. In R. Stern (Ed.), Theories of the unconsciousness and theories of the self, 155-189. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press.
  12. Ellenberger, H. F. (1970). The discovery of the unconscious. New York: Basic Books.
  13. Fairbairn, W.R.D. (1952). An object relations theory of personality. New York: Basic Books.
  14. Fazio, R., Jackson, J. R., Dunton, B., & Williams, C. J. (1995). Variability in automatic activation as an unobstrusive measure of racial attitudes: A bona fide pipeline? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 1013-27.
  15. Fordham, F. (1953). An introduction to Jung’s psychology. London: Penguin.
  16. Freud, S. (1920). The psychopathology of everyday life. New York: Mentor.
  17. Freud, S. (1938). The history of the psychoanalytic movement. In A. A. Brill (Ed. And Trans.), The basic writing of Sigmund Freud. New York: Random House.
  18. Freud, S. (1955). The interpretation of dreams. In J. Strachey (Ed.), The standard edition of the complete works of Sigmund Freud (Vols. IV and V). London: Hogarth.
  19. Freud, S. (1965). New introductory lectures on psychoanalysis. New York: W. W. Norton.
  20. Gabbard, G.O. (2000). Psychodynamic psychotherapy in clinical practice (3rd). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.
  21. Gabbard, G.O. (2004). Long-term psychodynamic psychotherapy. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing Incorporated.
  22. Gay, P. (1988). Freud: A life for our time. New York: Norton.
  23. Gillett, G. (2001). Signification and the unconscious. Philosophical Psychology, 14, 477-498.
  24. Gorog, J. (2009). Le réel et le travail de l’inconscient. Analyse Freudienne Presse, 16(1), p.115.
  25. Gravitz, M. A., & Gerton, M. I. (1981). Freud and hypnosis: Report of post-rejection use. Journal of the History of the Behavioural Sciences, 17, 68-74.
  26. Greenberg, J. (2001a). The analysts’s participation: A new look. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 49, 359-381.
  27. Greenberg, J.R. (1986). Theoretical models and the analyst’s neutrality. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 22, 87-106.
  28. Hale, N. G. (1971). Freud and the Americans. New York: Oxford University Press.
  29. Hall, C. S., & Lindzey, G. (1970). Theories of personality (2nd).  New York:  Wiley & Sons.
  30. Hall, C. S., & Lindzey, G. (1970). Theories of personality (Rev. ed.). New York: Wiley
  31. Haslam, N., Smilie, L., & Song, J. (2017) An Introduction to Personality, Individual Differences and Intelligence (2 Eds.). Sage Publications Ltd.
  32. Hivernel, F. (2013). “The parental couple”:  Franciose Dolto and Jacaues Lacan:  Contributions to the mirror stage.  British Journal of Psychotherapy, 29, 505-518.
  33. Huprich, S. K. (2008). Psychodynamic Therapy: Conceptual and Empirical Foundations. Routledge
  34. Ittleson, W.H. & Kilpatrict, F.P. (1981). Experiments in perception. Scientific American, 185, 50-55.
  35. Jardim, L. L., Costa Pereira, M. E., & de Souza Palma, M. (2011). Fragments of the Other:  A psychoanalytic approach to the ego in schizophrenia.  International Forum of Psychoanalysis, 20, 159-166.
  36. Jones, E. (1955). The life and work of Sigmund Freud. New York: Basic Books.
  37. Jones, R. L. (1994). An Empirical Study of Freud’s Penis-Baby Equation. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 182(3), 127–135
  38. Jung, C. G. (1933). Modern man in search of a soul. New York: Harcourt Brace.
  39. Jung, C. G. (1953). Psychological reflections (J. Jacobi, Ed.). New York : Harper & Row.
  40. Jung, C. G. (1959). The basic writings of C. G. Jung. New York: Random House.
  41. Kainer, R. G. (1984). Art and the canvas of the self: Otto Rank and creative transcendence. American Imagi, 14, 359-372.
  42. Kapnist, E. (2001). Jacques Lacan : La psychanalyse réinventée. ARTE France, INA
  43. La-Philosophie.com : Cours, Résumés & Citations de Philosophie. (2020). La philosophie de Nietzsche. [online] Available at: https://la-philosophie.com/philosophie-nietzsche [Accessed 20 Jan. 2020].
  44. La-Philosophie.com : Cours, Résumés & Citations de Philosophie. (2020). La philosophie de Spinoza. [online] Available at: https://la-philosophie.com/philosophie-spinoza [Accessed 20 Jan. 2020].
  45. LeDoux, J. (1989). Cognitive-emotional interactions in the brain. Cognition and Emotion, 3, 267-289.
  46. LeDoux, J. (1995). Emotion: Clues from the brain. Annual Review of Psychology, 46, 209-235.
  47. Leichsenring, F. & Rabung, S. (2011). Long-term psychodynamic psychotherapy in complex mental disorders: A meta-analysis. British Journal of Psychiatry, 199, 15-22.
  48. Leichsenring, F., Rabung, S. & Leibing, E. (2004). The efficacy of short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy in specific psychiatric disorders: A meta-analysis. Archives of General Psychiatry, 61, 1208-1216.
  49. Lewis, J.L. (1970). Semantic processing of unattended messages during dichotic listening. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 85, 225-228.
  50. Luepnitz, D. A. (2009). Thinking in the space between Winnicott and Lacan.  International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 90, 957-981.
  51. Macmillan, M. (1985). Souvenir de la Salpêtrière: M. le Dr. Freud à Paris, 1885. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 14, 41-57.
  52. Malin, B. D. (2011). Kohut and Lacan:  Mirror opposites.  Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 31, 58-74.
  53. Malone, K. R. (2012). Lacan, Freud, the humanities, and science.  Humanistic Psychologist, 40, 246-257.
  54. Marder, E. (2013). Real dreams.  Southern Journal of Philosophy, 51, 196-213.
  55. McSherry, A. (2013). Jacques Lacan’s theory of the subject as real, symbolic and imaginary:  How can Lacanian theory be of help to mental health nursing practice?  Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 20, 776-781.
  56. Meyer, P. (2001). Freud and the human sciences.  Annals of Psychoanalysis, 29, 247-258.
  57. Miller, J. and Lacan, J. (2017). Jacques Lacan : Conférence de Louvain. La Cause Du Désir, N° 96(2), p.7.
  58. Milner, B., Corkin, S. & Teuber, H.L. (1968). Further analysis of the hippocampal amnesic syndrome Fourteen year follow-up study of H.M. Neuropsychologia, 6, 215-234.
  59. Mogosanu, L., (2013). L’intime à l’oeuvre. Presses Academiques Francophones. Hachette.
  60. Morrison, C., Bradley, R., & Westen, D. (2003). The external validity of efficacy trials for depression and anxiety: A naturalistic study. Psycology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, and Practice, 76, 109-132.
  61. Norcross, J.C. (2002a). Empirically supported therapy realationships. In J.C. Norcross (Ed.), Psychotherapy relationships that work. New York: Oxford.
  62. Orlinsky, D. & Howard, K.E. (1977). The therapist’s experience of psychotherapy. In A.S. Gurman & A.M. Razin (Eds.), Effective psychotherapy: A handbook of research, 566-589. New York: Pergamon.
  63. Pine, F. (1998). Diversity and direction in psychoanalytic technique. New haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  64. Rocha, G. M. (2012). The unconscious:  Ideal worker?  International Forum of Psychoanalysis, 21, 17-21.
  65. Roudinesco, E. (1993). Jacques Lacan : Esquisse d’une vie, histoire d’un système de pensée. Fayard.
  66. Samuels, A. (1994). The professionalisation of Carl G. Jung’s analytical psychology clubs. Journal of the History of the Behavioural Sciences, 30, 138-147.
  67. Savage, J.E., Jansen, P.R., Stringer, S., et al. (2018). Genome-wide association meta-analysis in 269,867 individuals identifies new genetic and functional links to intelligence. Nat Genet 50912–919
  68. Schick, A. (1968 – 1969). The Vienna of Sigmund Freud. Psychoanalytic Review, 55, 529-551.
  69. Schmutte, H. (2016). Nietzsche : entre génie et démence. ARTE. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=25uLlN5uNF0 [Accessed 9 Feb. 2020].
  70. Sephora, M. (2018). A quoi ça sert l’art ?. Ap.D Connaissances. [online] Available at: https://apdconnaissances.com/2018/04/02/a-quoi-ca-sert-lart/ [Accessed 20 Jan. 2020].
  71. Shevrin, H. & Dickman, S. (1980). The psychological unconscious: A necessary assumption for all psychological theory? American Psychologist, 35, 421-434.
  72. Shevrin, H. & Fisher, C. (1967). Changes in the effects of a waking subliminal stimulus as a functioning of dreaming and non-dreaming sleep. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 72, 362-368.
  73. Shevrin, H. (1973). Brain wave correlates of subliminal stimulation, unconscious attention, primary and secondary-process thinking and repressiveness. Psychological Issues, 30, 56-87.
  74. Shevrin, H. (1986). Subliminal perception and dreaming. Journal of Mind and Behaviour, 7, 379-395.
  75. Shevrin, H. (1988). Unconscious conflict: A convergent psychodynamic and electrophysiological approach. In M. J. Horowitz (Ed.), Psychodynamics and cognition, pp, 117-167. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  76. Shevrin, H. (1990). Subliminal perception and repression. In J.L Singer (Ed.), Repression and dissociation: Implications for personality theory, psychopathology, and health, 103-119. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  77. Shevrin, H. (1996). Psychoanalytic research: Experimental evidence in support of basic psychoanalytic assumptions. In E. Nersessian & R.G. Kopff, Jr. (Eds.), Textbook of psychoanalysis, 575-603. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.
  78. Shevrin, H. (2006). The contribution of cognitive behavioural and neurophysiological frames of reference to a psychodynamic nosology of mental illness. In Alliance of Psychoanalytic Organisations, Psychodynamic diagnostic manual (PDM), 483-509. Silver Spring, MD: Alliance of Psychoanalytic Organisations.
  79. Shevrin, H., Bond, J., Brakel, L, Hertel, R., & Williams, W.J. (1996). Conscious and unconscious processes: Psychodynamic, cognitive, and neurophysiological convergences. New York: Guilford.
  80. Shevrin, H., Williams, W.J., Marshall, R.E., Hertel, R.K., Bong, J.A. & Brakel, L.A.W. (1992). Event-related potential indicators of the dynamic unconscious. Consciousness and Cognition, 1, 340-366.
  81. Silverman, D.K. (1986). Some proposed modifications of psychoanalytic theories of early child development. In J. Masling, (Ed.), Empirical studies of psychoanalytic theories, 49-72. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  82. Silverman, L.H., Bronstein, A. & Mendelsohn, E. (1976). The further use of psychodynamic activation method for experimental study of the clinical theory of psychoanalysis: On the specificity of the relationships between symptoms and unconscious conflicts. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, and Practice, 13, 2 -16.
  83. Silverman, L.H., Kwawer, J.S., Wolitzky, C. & Coron, M. (1973). An experimental study of aspects of the psychoanalytic theory of male homosexuality. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 82, 178-88.
  84. Silverman, L.H., Lachman, F.M. & Milich, R.H. (1982). The search for oneness. New York: International University Press.
  85. Silverman, L.H., Ross, D.L., Adler, J.M. & Lustig, D.A. (1978). Simple research paradigm for demonstrating subliminal activation effects: Effects of Oedipal stimuli on dart-throwing accuracy in college males. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 87, 341-347.
  86. Silverman, L.S. (1983). The psychodynamic activation method: Overview and comprehensive listing of studies. In J. Masling (Ed.), Empirical studies of psychoanalytic theories (Vol. 1), pp. 69-100. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  87. Sirkin, M., & Fleming, M. (1982). Freud’s “project” and its relationship to psychoanalytic theory. Journal of the History of the Behavioural Sciences, 18, 230-241.
  88. Solms, M. (2000a). A psychoanalytic contribution to contemporary neuroscience. In G.vandeVijver&F.Geerardyn(Eds.), The pre-psychoanalytic writings of Sigmund Freud, 17-35. London: Karnac Books.
  89. Solms, M. (2000b). Preliminaries for an integration of psychoanalysis and neuroscience. Annals of Psychoanalysis, 28, 179-200.
  90. Solms, M. (2001). The interpretation of dreams and the neurosciences. Psychoanalytic History, 3, 79-91.
  91. Solms, M. (2002). An introduction to the neuroscientific works of Sigmund Freud. In M Velmans (Ed.), Investigating phenomenal consciousness: New methodologies and maps. Advances in Consciousness Research Series (M. Stamenov, Seried Ed.), pp. 67-95. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing.
  92. Solms, M. (2004). Is the brain more real than the mind? In A. Casement (Ed.), Who owns psychoanalysis?, 323-324. London: Karnac.
  93. Solomon, H. M. (2003). Freud and Jung:  An incomplete encounter.  Journal of Analytical Psychology, 48, 553-569.
  94. Spence, D.P. (1980). Narrative truth and historical truth: Meaning and interpretation in psychoanalysis. New York: W.W. Norton.
  95. Stockholder, K. (1998). Lacan versus Freud:  Subverting the Enlightenment.  American Imago, 55, 361-422.
  96. Stolorow, R.D., Atwood, G.E. & Brandchaft, B. (1994). The intersubjective perspective. Northvale, NJ: Aronson.
  97. Task Force on Promotion and Dissemination of Psychological Procedures (1995). Training in and dissemination of empirically validated psychological treatments: Report and recommendations. Clinical Psychologist, 48, 2-23.
  98. Task Force on Psychological Intervention Guidelines (1995). Template for developing guidelines: Interventions for mental disorders and psycho-social aspects of physical disorders. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  99. Thompson-Brenner, H., Glass, S., & Westen, D. (2003). A multidimensional meta-analysis of psychotherapy for bulimia nervosa. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10, 269-287.
  100. Waintrater, R. (2012). Intersubjectivity and French psychoanalysis:  A misunderstanding?  Studies in Gender and Sexuality, 13, 295-302.
  101. Wallerstein, R.S. (2002). The growth and transformation of American ego psychology. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 50, 135-169.
  102. Wampold, B.E. (2001). The great psychotherapy debate: Models, methods, and findings. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
  103. Weinberger, J. & Hardaway, R. (1990). Separating science from myth in subliminal psychodynamic activation. Clinical Psychology Review, 10, 727-756.
  104. Weitz, L. WJ. (1976). Jung’s and Freud’s contributions to dream interpretation:  A comparison.  American Journal of Psychotherapy, 30, 289-293.
  105. Westen, D. & Gabbard, G.O. (2002b). Developments in cognitive neuroscience: II. Implications for theories of transference. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 50, 99-134.
  106. Westen, D. & Morrison, K. (2001). A multidimensional meta-analysis of treatments for depression, panic and generalised anxiety disorder: An empirical examination of the status of empirically supported therapies. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 69, 875-899.
  107. Westen, D. (1999). The scientific status of unconscious processes: Is Freud really dead? Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47, 1061-1106.
  108. Westen, D., Novotny, C.M., & Thompson-Brenner, H. (2004). The empirical status of empirically supported psychotherapies: Assumptions, findings, and reporting in controlled clinical traits. Psychological Bulletin, 130, 633-663.
  109. Yang, J. and Li, P. (2012). Brain Networks of Explicit and Implicit Learning. PLoS ONE, 7(8), p.e42993.

Danny J. D’Purb | DPURB.com

____________________________________________________

While the aim of the community at dpurb.com has  been & will always be to focus on a modern & progressive culture, human progress, scientific research, philosophical advancement & a future in harmony with our natural environment; the tireless efforts in researching & providing our valued audience the latest & finest information in various fields unfortunately takes its toll on our very human admins, who along with the time sacrificed & the pleasure of contributing in advancing our world through sensitive discussions & progressive ideas, have to deal with the stresses that test even the toughest of minds. Your valued support would ensure our work remains at its standards and remind our admins that their efforts are appreciated while also allowing you to take pride in our journey towards an enlightened human civilization. Your support would benefit a cause that focuses on mankind, current & future generations.

Thank you once again for your time.

Please feel free to support us by considering a donation.

Sincerely,

The Team @ dpurb.com

P.S.
– If you are a group/organization or individual looking for consultancy services, email: info[AT]dpurb.com
If you need to reach Danny J. D’Purb directly for any other queries or questions, email: danny[AT]dpurb.com [Inbox checked periodically / Responses may take up to 20 days or more depending on his schedule]

Stay connected by linking up with us on Facebook and Twitter

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Essay // A Philosophical Critique of Schopenhauer’s “World as Will and Idea” & a Modern Lucretian View of “l’Art de Vivre”

Mis à jour le Samedi, 5 Février 2022

Schopenhauer Lucrèce Lucretius D'Purb dpurb 2022

About the life of Arthur Schopenhauer

Arthur Schopenhauer was born on February 22nd of 1788 in Danzig, Germany, he was the son of Henri Floris Schopenhauer aged 38 and Johanna Henriette Trosiener who was then 19 years old. His father was a wealthy merchant and banker who had already planned for his son to become a business man before his birth, and hoped Arthur would follow in his steps. Henri Schopenhauer was also an independent minded man who moved his family from the city of Danzig when it was taken over by Prussia in 1793. The new family home was in Hamburg. Arthur Schopenhauer left to visit England and other countries, on the understanding that when he completed his tour, he would begin work in a business. The latter, then 16 years old, kept his promise but being much more intellectually oriented, he did not have a mercantile mind and had no interest for business and so when his father died, he got consent from his mother to continue his studies.

In 1809, he entered the University of Göttingen to study medicine, but he changed to philosophy in his second year, as he put it “life is a problem and he decided to spend his life contemplating it”. He also studied at Weimar where he lived with his mother until he became estranged from her. Schopenhauer had a moody, irritable temperament and could be violent in his passion.

At the university, Schopenhauer developed an affection for Plato and visited Berlin to hear the lectures of contemporary philosophers Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762 – 1814) and Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768 – 1834). Fichte was the first transcendentalist idealist and Schleiermacher was a founder of modern Protestant theology. Schopenhauer found Fichte’s comment, “No one could be a true philosopher without being religious” absurd and retorted that no man who was religious turns to philosophy since they have no need for it [a questionable statement when religion (e.g. Christianity) does not cover all the aspects of the experience of life in detail, or study God’s works methodically through the lens of science and rationality, to understand the further implications in the betterment of the human world].

Rodin - Hands (Musee Rodin, Paris)

Image: “Les Mains” par Auguste Rodin

Schopenhauer left Berlin when Prussia rebelled against Napoleon. He never developed strong German patriotic values and sentiments [perhaps never given or found a reason to do so], and always regarded himself more as a cosmopolitan without any strong national affiliation. In that sense we can deduce that Schopenhauer’s vision resonates with the French intellectual heritage because it tends towards universalism; like Montaigne, Descartes and Voltaire, he genuinely had a universal vision of humanity and did not restrict himself to the particular collective frame of mind of a group of organisms conditioned within the limits of a geographical region, which is also similar to the vision of Socrates who said: “I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world“.

Traduction (EN: “I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.” – Socrates

The thinker went into retirement to write his first dissertation called “On the fourfold route of the principle of sufficient reason”, which was published in 1813 and earned him a doctorate at Vienna. The poet Goethe congratulated Schopenhauer, and in return he wrote an essay called “On Vision and Colours” which supported Goethe in his stand against Isaac Newton. But the dissertation, although it won the admiration of Goethe, went practically unnoticed. The author however always considered it the groundwork and essential introduction to his philosophy. Shortly after he published his dissertation, Schopenhauer met an Oriental scholar, Friedrich Majer (1771 – 1818), who introduced him to Indian philosophy and literature. He maintained an interest in Indian philosophy throughout his life, and as an old man, he meditated on the Upanishad, part of the Vedas [the sacred script of the Hindus]. He would later associate his theory of the world of ideas with the Indian doctrine of Maya [to the Indians, Maya is illusion or the world as an illusion]. To Schopenhauer, this meant that the individual subject and object he wrote were “Maya”, all at the end.

For 4 years between 1814 and 1818, Schopenhauer lived in Dresden, which is where he wrote his masterpiece “The World as Will and Idea”. He sent the manuscript to his publishers and left for an art tour of Italy. The book was published the following year in 1819, and although it received attention from some philosophers, it sold very few copies. This was a disappointment to the author who felt sure it contained the secret of the universe.

This failure did not kill his eagerness however, so he returned to Berlin and started lecturing. By now he was 32 years old. He deliberately scheduled his lectures for the hour at which the philosopher Hegel was also accustomed to lecture – planning to compete with the master. But his lecturing career was a failure and Schopenhauer gave it up after only one semester. His ideas seemed at odds with the dominant spirit of the time.

Dolly_the_Sheep

Schopenhauer roamed around a bit and then settled in Frankfurt in 1833, he read European literature and scientific books and journals looking for illustrations or confirmations of his theories. He frequented the theatre and also continued writing, publishing on the Will of nature and winning a Norwegian prize for an essay on freedom. He failed to win a similar prize from the Royal Danish Academy of the Sciences for a separate essay on ethics; they disapproved of his disparaging remarks about other philosophers. These two essays were later published together in 1841, under the title “The two fundamental problems of Ethics”. In 1844, Schopenhauer published a second edition of “The world as Will and Idea”, which contained 50 new chapters. In the Preface, he took the opportunity to make a strong statement of his views about university professors of philosophy, which were of course not admiring.

In 1848 there was an unsuccessful revolution in Germany. A revolution from which Schopenhauer had no sympathy whatsoever. But after the failure of this revolt, people were more willing to consider a philosophy which emphasised the evil in the world which preached the rejection of life for the route of contemplation. Schopenhauer’s popularity was on the rise.

In 1851, he published a collection of essays that dealt with a wide variety of topics, and finally in 1859, he published third edition of the “World as Will and Idea” with more supplements. In the last decade of his life, the author finally became a famous man, all kinds of visitors with all kinds of philosophies came to see him and to enjoy his brilliant conversations. Lectures were given on his system at the University, the very university he has attacked, a sure indication that he had finally achieved success. Schopenhauer has spent a long, lonely life of reflection and only after his works were ignored for many years that he attained fame and reputation. He died in September 1860, at the age of 72.

Schopenhauer by Mitch Francis

Image: Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860) by Mitch Francis

Schopenhauer, was a realistic philosopher, focused on the raw nature of life: the mental evils and cruelty that lies within man, which he considered inevitable sides of human nature that psychologists view as mental disorders with a negative effect on both the character of the ill mind and the human environment at large exposed to that vile animalistic side of human nature. Schopenhauer’s negative view of man’s behaviour and role in life was a sharp contrast to the other more euphoric and at times unrealistic philosophers who marked the spirits of the generation before him, focussing on a an idealistic and exaggerated side of man’s mind and character.

Although Schopenhauer’s work originally gained little attention at the time it was published [perhaps for being too avant-garde for the atavistic institutions of his time when neither the theory of evolution was known nor evolutionary psychology], he expressed an interpretation of the world that was dragging, and embodied an opposition to the major intellectual figures who had imposed their thought before him: great names in philosophy such as Victor Schelling and Hegel. Schopenhauer opposed their thoughts on important points but did not deny expressions of art such as the romantic movement in its various forms. Schopenhauer who never refrained from publicly criticising people and ideas he disliked was very vocal in his complete contempt for these men, and regarded himself as their great opponent in the ring of the leaders delivering the “Real truth” to mankind and civilisation. Schopenhauer’s work in many ways could be viewed as an extension of another famous German philosopher, namely Immanuel Kant, who preceded him by one generation, delivering his major philosophical work, “a critique of pure reason”.

As a man, Schopenhauer was cultured, broadly educated, eloquent and articulate, witty and conversational, and a very talented writer, but he was also opinionated, egotistical, and often quarrelsome. His remarks about other philosophers were assaulted and his remarks about women in general were so scathing that they had to be deleted from his book by his editor. He was obsessed with the suffering of humanity, but did nothing to alleviate it. He himself made the comment that it is no more necessary for a philosopher to be a saint than it is for a saint to be a philosopher, and he never tried to prove otherwise. But, in the final analysis he was exactly the man he needed to be to write what he wrote.

Arthur Schophenhauer’s pessimistic and grim interpretation of life are not very likely to have come from a man of infallible tolerance or patience, and that interpretation of life played a significant role in the development of human thought and philosophy by keeping the debate open and providing inspiration to viewpoints that forced humanity to re-examine itself yet again.

The “Will to Live”: Schopenhauer’s concept, Human Love, Science & Evolutionary Psychology

The concepts of Arthur Schopenhauer’s major work, “The World as Will and Idea” constitutes the foundations for the future works of major thinkers in both psychology and philosophy. As a modern thinker, it is fundamental to get a good understanding of the core concept that structure the work of Schopenhauer, more precisely his philosophical concept of the “Will To Live“, which is echoed in evolutionary biology [i.e. in Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, which is widely accepted by the scientific community worldwide]. Schopenhauer was incredibly avant-garde because at the time he composed his philosophical treaty of the “World as Will and Idea”, Darwin had not yet formulated the theory of evolution, which would only be published in 1859 – just one year before the death of Arthur Schopenhauer.

The importance of grasping the concept of Schopenhauer’s “Will To Live” cannot be escaped as that “Will” is also synchronised with our philosophical orientation in regards to desire and motivation for the “Organismic Theory of Psychological Construction“, since it resonates with the fundamental belief of the mind as an active, dynamic and self-generating entity, and this is in the German intellectual tradition of mental life [it was also a founding assumption for Jean Piaget as he developed his Theory of Cognitive Development in Children]. Freud also saw psychoanalysis as a revolution of the mind that had to disturb the consciousness of the world, and viewed the unconscious as a reservoir of impulsive force repressed in the biological depths of the soul – a notion that also relates to Schopenhauer’s “Will To Live”.

When Darwin published his theory of evolution, he was opposed to all the reigning ideas of the times, and faced a lot of criticism from religious scholars as he demonstrated that life appeared on Earth by complete chance and in an absurd manner. Life then developped and became more complex and sophisticated through the process known as natural selection. Darwin radicalised his vision of the world since he would go on to even discard any “Will” and his theory of evolution explains life based on the simplistic mechanic of “natural selection”; for example, natural selection allowed human beings to have organs such as eyes simply because such an organ gave man the ability to escape predators – there is absolutely no “Will” behind this procedure and no finalised plan.

What is genuinely interesting about the philosophical theory of the “Will To Live” in Schopenhauer’s work is that it would eventually come to resonate with the much later works of Charles Darwin. The scientific translation of the “Will to Live” in Schopenhauer’s work is what Darwin called the “struggle for life”. Hence, this connection between Schopenhauer’s thought and Darwin’s theory allows us to understand that for both of them, everything that human beings have inside their bodies is at the service of this “Will to Live” [i.e. survival instinct]. Hence, to acknowledge Schopenhauer’s sharp insight as a truly avant-garde thinker, we have to note that he set the foundations for the field nowadays known as “Evolutionary Psychology at a time when it was inexistent.

What are the principles of evolutionary psychology? Simply to fully extrapolate and firmly apply the logic of the theory of evolution to work out its consequences. The theory of evolution explains that all the organs present in the human body are the simple consequence of the evolutionary process of “natural selection” because those organs allowed the species to survive, i.e. we have eyes, a nose, ears and a mouth because those organs allowed homo sapiens (i.e. humans) to survive. So, evolutionary psychology goes even further to apply that survival and evolutionary logic to develop the school of thought on the foundational argument that, since the brain is also an organ that allowed us to survive, so what mankind has in the mind (i.e. our psychology itself) is also the direct result of the evolutionary process of natural selection. Thus, evolutionary psychology claims that the homo sapien mind (i.e. human psychology) is structured in such a way because it favoured the survival of homo sapiens.

The “Will to Live” what we could also call the “instinct for survival” is a profound force deeply embedded in the biological depths of all homo sapiens. That “Will to Live” impacts behaviour at both an individual level and at the level of the species (i.e. homo sapiens). The will to survive of the species is stronger than the will to survive of the individual – which means that the individual wants to survive but there is an unconscious will which is even stronger in the mind which aims not to ensure the individual’s survival, but to ensure the survival of homo sapiens. If we were to express this phenomena from the perspective of natural selection in Darwin’s theory of evolution, it would explain how nature, over the course of evolution, has selected and favoured individuals who were most apt in showing empathy towards their fellow human beings [e.g. towards their children] because such empathetic behaviour promoted the survival of the group [the species itself].

Schopenhauer pointed out that this “Will to Live” has no specific objective except that of preserving itself; which means that man reproduces life for life itself [i.e. one has children so that those children can have children and their children can also have more children, and so on – an infinite process without any precise objective or end result]. As such, no life has any sense, no life has any precise or known final objective; humans pass down the task of devising sense to the next generation and so on – the question of sense is completely inexistent.

Since, life has no clear final objective and no clear sense, Schopenhauer observed that life is absurd because it is mainly an experience of various kinds of suffering. Hence, his famous formula that life is like a pendulum that oscillates from right to left between suffering and boredom: what does this mean? It means that life is made of desire, and desire is always a lack [e.g. a poor person’s desire to have money results from the lack of money in order to be able to stay alive].

This idea of desire as lack will also be echoed in the works of Jacques Lacan as an explanation to human motivation. Hence, as Schopenhauer explains, lack is a form of frustration and suffering. When a human being desires, that person suffers, and when that desire is satisfied, peace and calmness are obtained and the person is in a state of serenity [for some time], but eventually that state of calmness does not last forever, and boredom soon engulfs the individual because nothing leads to moving forward in that state. It is desire that motivates man, it is desire that allows man to live and move forward, and so man oscillates between suffering [when one desires] and boredom [when a desire is accomplished].

If human psychology [i.e. the mind or psyche] is also direct result of evolution which includes the “Will to Live”, then what purpose do feelings and emotions serve? Much before Darwin and much before evolutionary psychology itself, Arthur Schopenhauer through his meditations asked and answered questions about the purpose of feelings and emotions in the human mind:

– In what way do feelings and emotions help us to survive?

– Is romantic love simply an elaborate illusion at the service of our survival instinct?

All human emotions and feelings are nothing more than illusions at the service of the will to live [or we could say the instinct for survival in evolutionary terms]. What Schopenhauer posits, is that when one understands [i.e. becomes aware] how one is being manipulated by emotions and feelings at the service of the “Will to Live”, it becomes possible to detach oneself from those emotions and feelings. But unfortunately, as Lev Fraenckel points out, detachment also leads the human mind to kneel to the demands of the cold and icy calculations of science in the quest to discard those feelings and emotions manipulating us; that could also compel us to become robotic, mechanical and purely utilitarian in our outlook and behaviour – which nature itself did not design human beings with such a mode of operation. Can we can find a balanced mode of existence to maintain our humanity in a life experienced with emotions while also embracing rationality and reason? This will be elaborated and discussed below in our constructive critique building on Schopenhauer’s foundation while also linking concepts from other disciplines and thinkers.

By the logic of the philosophy of Schopenhauer and evolutionary psychology, human emotions are fake (i.e. a seductive, elaborate and beautiful illusion), because they are simply nature’s manipulation to drive the individual to protect his fellow human beings so as to promote the survival of the species. It is exactly the same for romantic love because we have the impression of following and going after our own individual pleasure and romance when in fact it is also nature’s manipulation (i.e. a trick in the shape of a powerful spectacle of nature inherited through thousands of years of human evolution and natural selection) to push individuals to mate and reproduce – a powerful drive at the service of the will to live (or survival instinct). Lev Fraenckel, the French philosophy professor suggested that as a modern example, we could consider the reason why Jack in James Cameron’s film from 1997, Titanic, went as far as to die for Rose out of love; the reason behind his dramatic sacrifice lies in the fact that he was manipulated by his unconscious at the cost of his own life (i.e. the will to live or survival instinct as nature’s manipulation in the form of emotions that drive man to protect our fellow human beings).

Hence, from Schopenhauer’s perspective and even from the standpoint of evolutionary biology, sexual pleasure is simply a bait used by nature to promote reproduction among human beings [which makes a lot of sense in justifying the presence of sexual drives in human beings and animals alike since without them, a species would be devoid of the desire to procreate and become extinct]. That idea may shed some light on man’s love choices in a fairly interesting manner according to Schopenhauer, since it suggests that a male will fall in love with a female with whom he may hardly care about simply because it serves the interest of our species, i.e. the human race. The male will fall in love scientifically (and in many cases unconsciously, driven by his evolutionary instincts or manipulated by his will to live) with the signs of female fertility, i.e. hips wide enough to procreate and breasts adequate enough to breastfeed.

Image: Des mères allaitant leur bébés / Mothers breasfeeding their babies

In an episode of the French show, Arrêt Sur Image, Sébastien Bohler, the chief editor for the magazine Cerveau & Psycho and doctor in neurology explained how “in general”, men tend to be attracted to females with particularly shaped hips, scientifically caracterised by the waist to hip ratio. It is a value obtained by dividing the waist circumference by the hip circumference, and the ideal waist-to-hip ratio is 0.7 in all cultures apparently (Singh and Singh, 2011). As for females, according to evolutionary logic and Schopenhauer’s perspective, their primary biological instincts tend to make them fall in love with males who bear the apparent signs of virility and who manifest a fairly high level of testosterone in order to ensure the protection and security of the offspring. As such, females are also manipulated by their “Will to Live” towards a particular form of masculinity, which generates the female reproductive instinct.

This allows Schopenhauer to give a strong biological reason to the observation that the rate of infidelity is always higher among men than among women even if it is tending more and more towards equality, but still not the case.

Graphique montrant la démographie de l’infidélité en Amérique / Source: Institute for Family Studies

Logically, going by the physiological limitations of the female body, once a female falls pregnant, it becomes impossible for her to continue reproducing for 9 months; she can only produce an offspring once at a time. As such, it is in her best interest to remain with the same partner. On the other hand, in the male’s case, the dynamic is different, because his physiology does not halt or impose any limitation on his inherited reproductive instinct derived from thousands of years of evolution as a mammal, which allows him the choice to continue reproducing with more female partners. As such, Schopenhauer extracts meaning from this evolutionary logic at every level, and in his line of thought it becomes clear that males are also being manipulated by their survival instinct [i.e. their deeply rooted instinct of sexual selection], which renders them highly reactive and receptive to female signs of fertility, which Schopenhauer points out as the main cause for males’ attraction to young females. The simple and fundamental scientific reason behind such attraction being that the apparent desirable signs of female fertility [i.e. perfect waist-to-hip ratio and adequate breasts for feeding and raising offsprings] are mostly found in young females; although in the modern world, with widespread education about nutrition science, eating patterns, intermittent fasting and fitness, in some societies, for e.g. France, older females are preserving their signs of fertility longer. Fertility after the age of 40 has been rising steadily since 1980 in France.

Graphique: Taux de fécondité par âge à 40 ans ou plus de 1920 à 2020 / Source: INSEE

Le graphique présente les taux d’obésité (IMC>30kg.m-2). La moyenne des pays de l’OCDE est de 19,5% d’obèses. Les Etats-Unis, le Mexique, la Nouvelle Zélande et la Hongrie sont les pays les plus touchés avec respectivement 38,2, 32, 4, 30,7 et 30% d’obèses. Le Japon, la Corée, l’Italie et la Suisse sont les pays les moins touchés avec 3,7, 5,3, 9,8 et 10,3% d’obèses. La France est à 15,3% de taux d’obésité (donnée OCDE basée sur du déclaratif légèrement inférieure aux résultats d’ESTEBAN, basé sur des mesures) / Source: Centre de recherche et d’information nutritionnelles (Cerin)

This inherited “Will to Live” or survival instinct in homo sapiens is also one of the reasons why human beings have an instinctive attraction to beauty, since beauty has a biological basis. Human beings are attracted to the averageness and symmetry of faces, and by the harmony of the body because those signs are linked to good health and internal condition. A study carried out in 1994 by biologist Randy Thornhill supported the hypothesis that human beings prefer averageness and symmetry in faces (Grammer and Thornhill, 1994). Thornhill explained that this attraction and the selective criteria biased towards physical beauty has been observed and is also common among animal species; it is now known that symmetry is linked to better performances in terms of reproduction, survival and resistance to disease – we can now conclude that there is a similar pattern among homo sapiens, i.e. human beings.

As opposed to many common opinions, scientifically we find that beauty is not subjective at all because those criteria for sexual selection are similar across all human cultures., i.e. waist-to-hip ratio, averageness and symmetry of faces, and the harmony of the body.

Hence, Schopenhauer’s argument leads to the position that “love”, on the surface as experienced from the individual perspective of human beings, may seem like a romantic ideal, but this illusion is simply the elaborate spectacle used by the “Will to Live” to manipulate our species towards its survival by favouring mating – in order to replicate the lifeform that contains the will. This comes to echo Spinoza’s thought when he said: “Men are mistaken in thinking themselves free; their opinion is made up of consciousness of their own actions, and ignorance of the causes by which they are determined.”

« Les hommes se trompent quand ils se croient libres ; cette opinion consiste en cela seul qu’ils sont conscients de leurs actions et ignorants des causes par lesquelles ils sont déterminés. » – Spinoza / Traduction (EN): “Men are mistaken in thinking themselves free; their opinion is made up of consciousness of their own actions, and ignorance of the causes by which they are determined” – Spinoza

It is very important to not apply those criteria for sexual selection blindly [as we would for animals], to every single individual because human beings with good reflective self-function [i.e. the ability to reflect on conscious and unconscious psychological states, and conflicting beliefs and desires] have the ability to rise above their basic biological instincts and change their internal working models, and consequently their behaviour. However, it would also not be perceptive or realistic to completely ignore the presence of this powerful biological force in homo sapiens, because no matter how much human beings manage to detach themselves from it (i.e. the biologial will to live, or survival instinct), it is embedded through thousands of years of evolution in the biological depths of the human mind and operates most of the time at an unconscious level.

Sigmund Freud’s founding psychoanalytic concept states that intra-psychic conflict within the human mind is inescapable, which is a fundamental concept in psychoanalysis also taken over by the flamboyant French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, who also argued that desire is inextinguishable. Psychoanalysis is also founded on the fundamental concept that human beings are driven by forces beyond their own understanding and are a mystery to themselves, with a reservoir of instinctual “psychic energy” grounded in basic biological processes; the sexual form of this energy is referred to as “libido“. The case of Sigmund Freud’s patient Elisabeth von R. illustrated this well: torn on the one hand between her high morality, which dictated that she preserves the balance of her family, and on the other hand her deep erotic desire for her brother-in-law, of which she had been completely unaware of (unconscious). That unconscious conflict provoked a strong feeling of guilt in her such that she started suffering from violent physical symptoms.

Hence, the concept of the deeply embedded “Will to Live” which is accepted as the “Survival Instinct” of homo sapiens in evolutionary psychology, is also echoed in psychoanalysis. The major motivational constructs of Freud’s theory of personality was derived from instincts, defined as biological forces that release mental energy. Psychoanalysis implies that conflict within the mind’s opposing forces is inevitable:

  • i.e. the wild Unconscious (known as the Id or the “Ça” in French, where the “Will to Live” or survival instinct is located) will get into conflict with the Super-Ego (the preconscious or the “Surmoi” in French, which acts as the person’s conscience and the internalization of society’s rules); and the Ego (which is the conscious part of the mind but also with a partially unconscious side) will have to mediate between those two. The Ego now becomes the servant of three masters: the Id, the Super-Ego and the External Environment [Societal Rules]. It is now not enough to reconcile what is desired with what is possible under the circumstances because now the Ego also needs to take into consideration what is socially prohibited and impermissible. Instinctual drives must still be satisfied; which is a constant, however the Ego now attempts to satisfy them in a way that is flexibly “realistic” – that is, in the person’s best interests under current conditions – but also “socially” permitted. In the case of the majority of people, these prohibitions of various kinds are often very unreasonable and inflexible, rejecting any expression of the drive with an unconditional “NO”, either because the moral structures of a particular “culture” are intrinsically rigid, atavistic or unsophisticated, or because the individual’s internalisation of these structures is simply black-and-white, without any grey area to compromise for an adequate and acceptable form of expression of the drive. Thus, the Super-Ego imposes a pattern of conduct that results in some degree of self-control through an internalised system of rewards and punishments.

Intrapsychic conflict within the human mind is inevitable because the demands of society – or “civilization” – are generally opposed to the natural instincts and drives of homo sapiens. Indeed, intrapsychic conflict is one of the fundamental and defining concepts of psychoanalysis, and conflict within the mind is at the root of personality structure, mental disorder, and most psychological phenomena [e.g. artistic expressions of various forms]. The goal of personality is to reduce the energy drive through some activity acceptable to the constraints of the Super-Ego, which represents the conscience of the individual in line with what is acceptable or what can reasonably be made acceptable to society [This has been explained in detail in the Essay, Psychoanalysis: History, Foundations, Legacy, Impact & Evolution]

A explanatory review of the philosophical concept in “The World as Will and Idea”

Arthur Schopenhauer worked out a system in which reality is known inwardly by a kind of feeling where intellect is only an instrument of the “will to live”: the biological will to live and where process rather than result is ultimate.

Schopenhauer’s pessimism lies in his very strong rejection of life. In fact, this rejection is so strong that he even had to address the question of suicide as a solution to life although he never recommended it. He fortunately rejected this “suicidal solution” to life, which reflected influences rooted in Asian philosophy, particularly Buddhism and Hinduism. That is one of the most significant aspects of his work, being the first thinker produced by Western European intellectual heritage to assimilate Asian spiritual thought and leave a lasting impact on the Western mind. His preoccupation with the evil of the world and the tragedy of life is also reflected in ancient Hindu philosophies, and his writings stimulated an interest in Asian thought and religion in Germany, which can also be seen in the work of many later German philosophers.

In “The World as Will and Idea”, Schopenhauer also considered the important question of the function of art in far more depth than any of his predecessors; he even theorised a hierarchy for the arts, grading music, poetry, architecture [etc], from most important to least important. For that reason, his work had a profound effect not only on future philosophers, but also artists, particularly poets and composers, such as the enigmatic Wagner, who felt indebted to him and sent him a letter of gratitude when he was first introduced to Schopenhauer’s work.

Tristan und Isolde (John Duncan 1912 Symbolism)

Image: Tristan et Isolde (1912) par John Duncan

It is believed that Wagner’s popular opera “Tristan und Isolde” in particular, shows Schopenhauer’s influence as a philosopher who believed that music was the highest form of art, an idea that of course, Wagner found pleasing, and so the composer began to think of himself as a prime example of Schopenhauer’s concept of a genius.

People in other fields of the arts were also influenced by Schopenhauer, including the novelist Thomas Mann. Schopenhauer’s ideas had the unique ability to influence not only philosophy but many other fields of human endeavour and expression. Within philosophy itself, Schopenhauer’s intellectual originality cannot be classified or allocated to a specific school of thoughtper se”, but his influence stimulates other philosophers towards a particular line of thought, which logically varied from one individual to another in terms of their response to Schopenhauer’s writing. The latter’s writing had a major impact on the enigmatic Friedrich Nietzsche, who was also a friend of Schopenhauer’s admirer, Richard Wagner.

Nietzsche shared the belief that life is tragic and terrible but can sometimes be transformed through art. Nietzsche was also the thinker famous, for his concept of the “Overman”. Unfortunately, Nietzsche’s writings and thought was taken out of context by his sister after his death to fit the ideologies of the Third Reich of Adolf Hitler. The “Overman” is in fact universal and not simply nationalistic as the true writings revealed after many scholars rejected the falsified and manipulated versions published by Nietzsche’s sister, Elizabeth [This was portrayed in Hedwig Schmutte’s documentary Nietzsche: Entre Génie et Démence, released in 2016].

Nietzsche’s concept of the Overman states that man is something that must be surpassed. That idea resonates strongly with Schopenhauer’s “Will to Live” (i.e. the wild survival instinct) as something that man must overcome, since those basic animalistic instincts along with other social distractions prevent man from becoming the Overman. Nietzsche’s philosophy sees the elevation to the state of the Overman as the result of one who rises above one’s lowest instincts and habits to reach a higher state of consciousness, in doing so, establishing a distinction from the mass mediocrity of the herd.

Those three names, Schopenhauer, Wagner and Nietzsche are often linked and are associated at times, through no fault of the men themselves with the controversial period of human history that saw the National Socialist regime come to power in Germany with unscientific ideologies and inhuman policies.

“The World is Will and Idea” begins with the famous line, The world is my idea when Schopenhauer says the world is his idea, he is referring to the relationship between an “object” and “the subject” [i.e. The person (subject) who perceives (or senses) the object and extracts meaning from it]. As an example, he did not mean that an apple is identical with your abstract concept of an Apple, he means that the apple as perceived by you exist only in relation to you as a person [the subject] who perceives it; its reality is only in what you perceive, it is what you perceive it to be so.

La Pomme Pourrie (Rotten Apple)- Apparence &amp; Personalité d'purb dpurb site web

So, the world is my idea means that a whole visible world and its sum of total experience is simply “object” for a “subject”, its reality consists in the interpreted perception by a subject.

This theory of the world of idea was taken and developed from Kant’s philosophy, but the second part of Schopenhauer’s philosophy “The World as Will” is completely his own and expresses his very unique interpretation of human life. Briefly, this interpretation says that the will, i.e. “the will to liveis the strongest force in man and everything else is subordinate to it. Schopenhauer’s conception of the supreme wisdom of life lies in the ability of man to reject the irrational force in this “will to live” and escape from the tragic results of it.

The world is my idea. This truth applies to everything that lives and knows, but only man can reflect on it and bring his abstract consciousness to it. It becomes clear to him when he looks at the sun that what he knows is not a sun, but an eye that sees the sun, not a nurse but a hand that feels the earth. This truth is by no means new, it was a fundamental text of the Vedanta philosophy of the Hindus, it was also part of the reflections of the French philosopher René Descartes and finally it was also clarified by the philosopher George Berkeley – although neglected by Kant. But this view of the world as idea is one-sided and must be balanced by another one which is the impressive and awful truth that the world is my “Will”.

The world has necessary hands, the subject and the object. The object and the subject that perceives that object operate together. If one were to disappear, then the whole world would cease to exist. All objects have universal forms and either space, time and causality or the relation of cause and effect as Kant has demonstrated, they may be discovered and known apart from the objects in which they appear, as an expression of reason or the principle of sufficient reason. But what if our whole life is but a dream, or how do we distinguish between dream and reality? Kant tried to answer this question by stating that the connection of ideas, according to the law of causality, constitute the difference between them. But the long life dream in distinction from our short dreams has always had complete connection, according to the principle of sufficient reason. We are such stuff as dreams are made of and our little life is rounded with a sleep.

Life and dreams are leaves of the same book, the book we read through and the one whose leaves we turn idly to read a page here and there. Any system of philosophy that starts with the “object” has to deal with the whole world of perception, the most consistent form of these philosophies is simple materialism; which regards time and space and matter as existing absolutely. It ignores the object’s relationship to the subject (as perceived by it) in whom these ideas exist, then it takes a law of causality as its guiding principle: causality exists by understanding alone. Materialism seeks the most simple states of matter and then tries to develop all other states from it. It ascends from mere mechanism and chemistry: the chemical properties and attractions of objects. It ascends to vegetable and animal life, to sensibility and thought. But, the thoughts and knowledge reached through materialism in a long, laborious process, assumed from its starting point that there was a subject or perceived matter: eyes that side, hands that felt it and understanding that knew it.

The system of philosophy which opposes this materialism is idealism, which instead starts with the subject and then tries to derive or reach the object from the subject, but it overlooked the fact that there can be no subject without an object, like materialism this idealism begins by assuming what it is supposed to prove later.

The method of Schopenhauer’s system is different from both materialism and idealism, for it starts from neither object nor subject, it starts from the idea. The idea is the first form of consciousness and its essential form is the antithesis or opposite of subject and object. For each one of us, it is our own body that is the starting point in our perception of the world, and we consider it like all other real object, simply as an idea.

The understanding which develops ideas could never come into being if there were no simple bodily sensations from which to start. If the thinker were no more than a pure knowing subject without a body like a winged cherub that is all spirit, he would not be able to know the nature of the world. He would be like a man going around a castle getting to its façade and trying in vain to enter it, all reality would be a riddle.

But because the subject of knowledge is also an individual with a body and a bodily nature, the world becomes revealed, it is revealed in the will. Every true act of the will is a movement of the body for the action of the body is nothing but will expressed through an object. The body is the object, my body and my will are one. The double knowledge which each one has of his body out of idea and inner will becomes the key to the nature of the world. Phenomenal existence, the existence we perceive with our senses, is an idea and nothing more. Real existence or the thing in itself is the will.

die welt als wille und vorstellung

Will is a term that applies to both the highest and lowest in man’s nature, it is that which drives us to pursue the light of knowledge and it’s also that which in nature strives blindly and dumbly to survive. Both come under the common name of will, just as the first dim light of dawn in the rays of the full midday are both called sunlight.

If we consider the impulse with which water hurries to the ocean, or the way in which a magnet turns to the North Pole, or the eagerness with which electric poles seek to be united, or the way a Crystal takes form, we can recognise our own nature, for the same will describes the inner nature of everything that is in the world. The world as will is one, it knows nothing of the multiplicity of things in the outer world: the world of perception, the world of time and space. Notions like more or less, don’t exist to it, it knows nothing of quantities or qualities. For this reason, it cannot be said that there is a small part of the will in a stone or a large part of the will in a man. Relations like this between part and whole belong to the idea of space which does not apply to the will.

In reality, the will is present in its entirety and undivided in every object of nature and in every living thing. Yet in terms of its objectification, that is, its external expression, it has different grades in inorganic matter, in vegetation, in animals and in man. The lowest of these appear in the most universal forces of nature, in the form of gravity, rigidity, elasticity, electricity and the like, which are in themselves manifestations of the will, just as much as human actions are. The higher grades are seen in man where the will takes the form of individuality and consciousness. It is here that the will shows its second side. For in the human brain lies the potential of comprehending the will, so that as it is kindled by a spark it brings the whole world as idea into existence. In this manner, knowledge proceeds from the will, knowledge that is either from the senses or is rational and is destined to serve the will in its aim of expressing itself.

In all beasts and in most men, knowledge remains in subjugation to the will, yet in certain individuals, knowledge can free itself from this bondage to the will, so the subject of knowledge exists for itself as a pure mirror of the world. As a rule, knowledge remains subordinate to the will and grows on the will [so to speak] as a head on the body. In the case of the beast, the head is directed towards the Earth where the objects of its will are. But in the case of man, the head is elevated and set freely upon the body as in the Apollo Belvedere where the head of the guard stands so freely on his shoulders that it seems delivered of the body and no longer subject to it.

The Apollo Belvedere (Ancient Sculpture) - Vatican Museum - Roma

Image: Apollo Belvedere (Sculpture Ancienne), Musée du Vatican, Rome /Apollon est le dieu grec des arts, du chant, de la musique, de la beauté masculine, de la poésie et de la lumière. Il est conducteur des neuf muses. Apollon est également le dieu des purifications et de la guérison, mais peut apporter la peste par son arc ; enfin, c’est l’un des principaux dieux capables de divination, consulté, entre autres, à Delphes, où il rendait ses oracles par la Pythie de Delphes. Il a aussi été honoré par les Romains, qui l’ont adopté très rapidement sans changer son nom. Dès le ve siècle av. J.-C., ils l’adoptèrent pour ses pouvoirs guérisseurs et lui élevèrent des temples.

The transition from the individual’s knowledge of particular things to the knowledge of the idea takes place suddenly. It happens when the knowledge of the will changes someone into a pure will-less subject of knowledge, contemplating things as they are in themselves. If raised by the power of the mind, a man leaves the common way of looking at things behind and forgets both his individuality and his will, then he becomes a pure “without will”, timeless and painless subject of knowledge – this appears in the genius; because when Genius appears in a man a far larger amount of the power of knowledge comes to him than is necessary for the service of his will. This extra knowledge is free and purified from will: a clear mirror of the inner nature of the world.

All willing arises from want (desire). The satisfaction of a desire ends it, but for one wish that is satisfied, there remain 10 which are denied. No attained object of desire can give lasting satisfaction, for it is likely alms thrown to a beggar that keep him alive today so that his misery may be prolonged tomorrow. Attending to the demands of the will continually occupies and influences our consciousness. But when we are lifted out of the endless stream of willing, we can comprehend things free from their relation to our will without any personal interest or subjective opinions, and then the peace we have been seeking comes of our own accord. For we are, at least for the moment, set free from the miserable striving of the will – the wheel stands still. There is no more slavery to the will.

It is the function of the fine arts to express this freedom from the will: the different grades along the way. Matter as such cannot be an expression of the idea, but when it is expressed through a form of art like architecture (its characteristics of gravity, cohesion and hardness), the universal qualities of stone appear as a direct but low grade of the objectified or expressed will. In the building, nature reveals itself a conflict between the gravity of the building and the rigidity of the structure of the support, as in the simplest form of a column. The problem of architecture, apart from practical utility, is to make this conflict appear in a distinct way so that the building material instead of a mere heap of matter bound to the earth is raised above it, so that the roof for example is realised only by the means of the columns or arches which support it. The pleasure that comes from looking at a beautiful building lies in the fact that the viewer is set free from the knowledge which serves the will and is raised to the kind of knowledge which comes from contemplation that has no will.

Woman and Man Roman Sculpture

The highest grade of the expression of the will is found in anything that reflects human beauty in a way which reveals the idea of man. No object transports us so quickly into will-less contemplation as the most beautiful human form. We know human beauty when we see it, but true artists can express it so clearly that it surpasses even what we have seen. In the genius of a sculptor, we find a representation of what nature intended to express, so that if you were to present his statue to nature, he would say “This is what you wanted to say!”

danaide-le-baiser-par-auguste-rodin

Image: “Danaide” & “Le Baiser” par Auguste Rodin

In order to detach oneself from the “Will to live” which imposes suffering and meaningless striving, art plays a major role for Schopenhauer; the artist is not locked in a utilitarian relationship with the functional world, i.e. that of the “Will to Live”, but on the contrary, the artist will produce objects that have no functional use but that are simply beautiful. Schopenhauer defined beauty as a biological attraction for good health (i.e. the symmetry of the face, the harmony of the body, etc), and so we are still at the service of the desire imposed by the “Will” for reproduction. However, the artist will gain the ability to detach beauty from its functional goal (i.e. of reproduction): we can find the above sculptures by Auguste Rodin, “Danaide” and “Le Baiser” exquisitely beautiful, but we know that nothing concrete biologically (as desired by the “”Will”) can happen between oneself and those works since they are not living organisms. Hence, Arthur Schopenhauer noted that the artist does not participate in this tragic comedy of existence which consists of reproducing life at any cost, but instead, the artist is uninterested and produces objects of beauty in a completely uninterested frame of mind.

Painting as an art has character as well as beauty and grace for its object, for it attempts to represent the will of the highest grade in the idea of humanity. This, however, can be an abstract form of the concept known as the picture attempt [as it does at times an allegorical painting] to represent something other than what is perceived.

In poetry the relationship is reversed, for here what is given directly in words is the concept that leads readers away to the object of perception, this is done through metaphors, similes, parables, allegories and the like. The aim of all poetry is the representation of man. When it is a representation of the poet himself, we have the lyric. The lyric poet reveals himself in joy or more often grief as the subject of his own will, but along with this as the sight of nature impresses him, there is the awareness of himself as the subject of pure will-less knowing, and his joy now appears as a contrast to the stress of desire: desire imposed on him by his will. Epic poetry portrays man in a more historical context in connection with significant situations in human life. Drama in the form of tragedy is not only the best of poetic art, but the most significant in terms of this system of philosophy because it is the strife of the will represented at its highest grade of objectivity, it becomes visible in human suffering that is brought about by fate or error or wickedness, in which the will lives on while people fight against and destroy one another. The tragic effect in poetry may be produced by means of a character of extraordinary evil such as Iago in Othello or Creon in Antigone or by blind fate as in the Oedipus Rex of Sophocles or by circumstance and the situation in which the character finds himself such as Hamlet. In the tragic character we can observe how the noblest of men – after a long personal conflict and inward suffering – come at last to renounce the pleasures of life and the particular goals once so keenly fought for, instead the character joyfully surrenders to life itself. It is in this sense that Hamlet renounces life for himself but askes Horatio to remain a while and to – in this harsh world – draw his breath in pain to tell Hamlet’s story and clear his name.

Shakespeare's Hamlet Tragedy

Beginning with architecture, in which gravity and rigidity reveal the lowest grade of the conflict of the will with itself and ending with tragedy where this conflict reaches its highest grade, we have considered the arts and how they represent the will and the idea, but music stands quite alone, cut off from all the other arts, since it’s not a mere copy of any idea of existence in the world.

Music is as direct an expression of the whole will as the world itself is. Nature and music are two different expressions of the same thing, and so music speaks a universal language.

Traduction(EN): “What we could not say and what we could not silence, music expresses.” -Victor Hugo (1802 – 1885)

In the deepest tones of harmony in the bass we recognise the lowest grades of the will, for bass is in harmony with the crudest matter on which all things rest and from which they originate. The higher complimental parts of music are parallel with animal life and in the melody of high voice singing we recognise the high grade of the will in the effort and intellectual life of man.

The pleasure we received from beauty, the consolation we get from art and the enthusiasm of the artist, rest on the fact that whereas existence in the world is something sorrowful and terrible, the contemplation of the world as idea is both soothing and significant. But in the case of the artist, the contemplation of beauty doesn’t quiet the will and it doesn’t provide a pathway out of life as does the resignation of the saint. The deliverance from the will only occurs when – tired of the game – one renounces life and gets a grasp on what is real.

When the will – this blind and incessant impulse of nature – becomes conscious in man, it is recognised as the will to live. Man may affirm or deny it. He affirms the will to live when – having seen it as that which has produced nature and his own life – he then adds his own desires to it. The denial of the will to live occurs when the awareness or consciousness of it means the end of desire. The phenomena of the world – what we see and perceive – no longer motivates the will, for the comprehension of the world as idea has freed the will and allowed it to be silent.

It the essential nature of the will: nowhere free and everywhere powerful – to strive endlessly towards satisfaction that it is incapable of getting. Just as in nature, gravitation is the ceaseless striving towards a mathematical centre and this striving will not stop even if the whole universe were rolled into a single ball. In the same way the solid will become a fluid, the fluid will become a gas, and the plant – restless and unsatisfied – will strive through ascending forms until it goes to seed where it finds a new starting point.

All nature is a struggle in which war is waged that is deadly to both sides. All striving is in vain, and yet it cannot be abandoned and all this is identical to what appears in us. In us, the blind striving of nature becomes the will to live, but it is self-conscious will: we are aware of it! The fate of this will is in keeping with its striving nature in the face of constant obstacles and hindrances, and anyone who will consider the character and destiny of the will to live, will be convinced that suffering is essential to all life.

“Sadeness Partie I” par Enigma / Album : MCMXC a.D. (1990)

Ad Augusta Per Angusta

Translation (EN): “Has grandiose results by narrow lanes” / Source: Le Petit Larousse 2018 / Les locutions étrangères gravées dans nos mémoires ont la magie des formules oubliées dont le charme va croissant lorsque l’alchimie des mots nous est plus mystérieuses. Elles ont l’autorité de la chose écrite. / Mot de passe des conjurés au quatrième acte d’Hernani, de Victor Hugo. On n’arrive au triomphe qu’en surmontant maintes épreuves.

From where then did Dante take the materials for his hell? From the world! And when it came to describing the delights of heaven he had an insurmountable task, for the world could offer him no proper material. The fatal assertion of the will to live has produced man’s body and the desire to preserve and perpetuate it. So the assertion of the will is really the assertion of the body. In such assertion, we find the source of all egoism and all wrongdoing, but such selfhood is really an illusion due to a false philosophy in which the individual imagines he lives to himself alone. He is really only a product of the one will to live. Just as a sailor sitting in a boat trusting to his frail barque in a stormy sea, so it is that in the world of sorrows man sits quietly, trusting to the principle of individualisation and separateness, in which he only knows things superficially or as they appear to him, but when he comes to understand that the one will to live exists in all men alike, he realises that the difference between those that inflict suffering and those that bare it is only a perceived difference that is not real.

Eugène_Delacroix La Barque de Dante (1822) d'purb dpurb site web.jpg

“La Barque de Dante” par Eugène Delacroix (1822)

In truth, the evil man is like a wild beast, who frenzied and excited, unintentionally buries its teeth in its own flesh, injuring itself as it tries to injure another. But no matter how veiled and evil man is by illusion, he still feels the sting of conscience, which creates a sense that the gulf which seems to separate him from others isn’t real.

As all hatred and wickedness rely upon egoism and as egoism rest on the assertion of the will to live, so do all goodness and virtue spring from the denial of the will to live. The will turns around and no longer asserts itself but denies its own nature instead. Man then denies his own nature as expressed in his body and no longer desires sensual gratification under any condition.

Voluntary and complete chastity is the first step in the denial of the will to live. But then the human race would die out, and with it the mind in which the world is reflected, and without a subject of knowledge, there would be no object, there would be no world. To those in whom the will to live has turned and denied itself [miserable and utterly dead inside], this world of ours with all its sun and milky ways is nothing.

These are some of the ideas and the basic themes presented in Schopenhauer’s “The world as Will and Idea”, a very lengthy work that of course includes many other ideas and elaborations of the ones we have mentioned. But the essence and main thrust of Schopenhauer’s philosophy can be found in a few basic points.

To begin with, he sees the will of man, and specifically the will to survive as the dominant force in the universe and slavery to this will is the root of all evil. Man and all other creatures are subservient to their will to live. In exercising his will, man inflicts all kinds of cruelties and evil. Schopenhauer first examined these cruelties in the world of nature, spending a lot of time on the way in which animals of one species prey on those of another. Then he moved onto man and says, “the chief source of the most serious evils which afflict man is man himself”. Whoever keeps this last fact clearly in view, sees the world as a hell which surpasses that of Dante through the fact that one man must be the devil of another. Schopenhauer uses war and various other cruelties such as industrial exploitation, bravery and social abuses to back up his claim.

Schopenhauer had no sympathy for the revolution of his time because he felt the state was justified, exactly because of the cruelty of man. It existed to make the world a little more bearable than it would otherwise be. He did not consider the state government divine, but he considered it necessary [a view he may have been willing to revise had he been alive in the 21st century with democracy falling apart and not being properly applied, leading to evil, unethical, unscrupulous and unskilled street politicians getting into positions above their understanding – forgetting that they are the servants of the people and instead believing that they should have power over the people].

Schopenhauer believed that we can take action to alleviate human suffering but that it is pointless to think that we can change the fundamental character of the world or of human life. If war was abolished for instance and if all of men’s material needs were met, they would eventually still resort to conflict – “it is their nature”. He is quick to condemn the optimism or idealism of other philosophers who disregard the ugly side of human nature, or who try to justify it as rational. To Schopenhauer these dark aspects of life were not secondary feature, they were the most significant aspects of human life in history. On this basis, he created his theory of The Blind and Striving Impulse, he called the Will. Then, he looked around and found support for his theory in the inorganic, organic and human phenomena of life.

Unquestionably, Schopenhauer held a one-sided vision of the world, but because of its one-sidedness and exaggeration it served as a counterbalance to philosophers like Hegel who focused attention on the glorious triumph of reason throughout history and he tended to dismiss evil and suffering with elaborate, evasive, phrasing. He did believe that the human mind could develop beyond what was required just to satisfy his physical and material needs; it could develop a surplus of energy over and above what was needed to fulfil its biological function. When that happened, man can use the extra energy to escape the life of desire and striving, of assertion of the ego, of conflict, none of which brings him satisfaction anyway.

Schopenhauer did offer 2 ways of escape from the slavery to the will:

(i) one was the path of contemplation, which is the way of art;

(ii) and the other was the path of asceticism, which involves renouncing the world in one’s personal desires or will (i.e. to completely get rid of the “will to live”). Man must stop willing to live, not only at the level of our species but more importantly at the individual level.

In transcending the Will through art [expressing it with insight], Schopenhauer was very specific about which art forms served what purpose, and in defining which were superior to others. Not surprisingly, the supreme poetic art is tragedy, for tragedy reveals the real character of human life expressed in dramatic form or as he said the unspeakable pain: the wail of humanity, the triumph of evil, the mocking mastery of chance and the irretrievable fall of the just and innocent.

However, art and contemplation, besides reflecting on the evil of life, can also open a door that becomes perhaps the only hopeful point in Schopenhauer’s entire book. This door is opened when man can see through the veil of Maya [illusion]. That is precisely where Schopenhauer finds much inspiration from hinduism and buddhism; in those philosophies of Asia, there is the notion that in order to attain the state of nirvana, one must extinguish the “will to live” and thus one’s irrational desire, which is simply a form of manipulation that is referred to as “Maya”. We find this idea resumed in the four noble truths of Buddhism.

Maya, being the Hindu concept for the illusionary nature of the world and life. It is Maya [i.e. the illusionary manipulation of the will to live] that causes one to see separateness and division where there is none. Schopenhauer observed that man had the intellectual capacity to develop gradually a site that penetrated this illusionary manipulation that is Maya. He raised some very important questions:

– What is the purpose of achieving such virtue?

– What happens afterwards?

To start with, the man who denies the Will treats the world as nothing, for the world is just the appearance of the will, which he denied. So it is true that when we discard our will to live, it is a scenario when the will denies itself, and when this happens our world with all its sun and Milky ways means nothing! But then what happens at death? Schopenhauer is convinced of the finality of death. “Before us”, he says “there is indeed only nothingness”. Death or the withdrawal from the world means the extinction of consciousness. In life, he reduces existence to thin thread, and at death, it is finally destroyed.

The man who denies his will to live reaches the final goal, which is to not live. This is where Schopenhauer finds strong inspiration from Asian spiritual philosophy, more precisely in Buddhism, which is to say that when one renounces the “Will to Live”, life becomes much more enjoyable and serene. This is a powerful remedy since it allows us to put all our suffering into perspective when we are at our worst [for e.g. in deception in love matters when one realises the feelings are simply the manipulation from the will]. However, like all great remedy, extreme abuse can have a negative effect since we can overdose on them, which would lead us to completely shut down our “Will to Live”, and that can lead to suicide because human experience and life itself would lose all meaning and taste: no desire and no motivation. A clinical investigation among community-dwelling older adults in the US found that the will to live decreases with age, and that decrease in the “will to live” predicts depressive symptoms (Carmel, Tovel, Raveis and O’Rourke, 2018). However, those older adults studied were not meditating from a conscious desire to extinguish their will to live, and as such developped depressive symptoms.

Image: Image: Dieu hindou, Seigneur Shiva en méditation [Shiva est le dieu de la destruction, de l’illusion et de l’ignorance. Il représente la destruction mais le but de celle-ci est la création d’un nouveau monde. Voir :History on Western Philosophy, Religious cultures, Science, Medicine & Secularisation]

Individuals who consciously extinguish their will to live after firmly acknowledging the belief that it is the source of their suffering will not feel depressed, but will instead reach a different frame of mind; and with it, a different model of perception. We find that some people sometimes known as “Gurus” in deep meditation in Asia [where Schopenhauer adopted the concepts of Hinduism and Buddhism] are often barely dressed, sitting under the trees and surrounded by nature, in a meditative trance in the posture of the hindu god, Lord Shiva. It appears that their consciousness has been elevated to a point unachievable to the majority of people who are fully under the powerful control of their “Will to Live” and conditioned to the modern civilization of industrialized capitalism, i.e. the majority of Westernized societies all over the planet nowadays. In some regions of Asia (particularly India), those enigmatic figures are treated as living legends as close to gods, where the common people even go to touch their feet and then their own heads, as an act of taking their blessing; which is different from most of the modern societies of our Westernized planet, where the complete opposite to these kinds of individuals are treated as the model of the perfect man, for e.g. billionaires on the covers of magazines.

When extreme meditation allows such spiritual individuals like we find in Asia to detach themselves from the “Will to Live”, the whole world of perception changes within the mind and every single object that structures modern life [that to most people conditioned to the modern materialistic world gained a particular meaning that was passed on to them through their parents, teachers, the media, the government or books] loses meaning to the individual who goes to the extreme and extinguishes his will to live; the way his mind experiences life changes [i.e. perception and interpretation of everything in our world]. Those kinds of people may turn into passive lifeforms as close to plants and the very atoms that constitute every single particle in the universe, completely in harmony with nature and the cosmos, since they would find no meaning in life as defined by the industrialized world; they would have no desire and no motivation unlike most people, since by extinguishing their “Will to Live”, they renounced the suffering that comes with desire, and life is made of desire which is a lack, and lack is a form of frustration and suffering. That path may partially fit the direction of Nietzsche’s “Overman” in the search for nirvana.

Reaching such extreme levels of consciousness by rejecting the “Will to Live”, detaches the mind from all external influence in interpreting the universe and life, it can also lead to seeing everything simply as atoms, which constitute the whole universe, and hence generating the feeling of being one with the cosmic reality of the universe. In the case of organic life, which includes, plants, animals and human beings, those too are simply atoms [i.e. dust from the universe] that have gathered into living cells simply because the atmospheric conditions on Earth allowed such transformation. From such perspective, human consciousness is simply the product of the brain, which is the organic matter resulting from the assimilation of atoms from the universe expressing themselves through the limited senses of the human body.

Schopenhauer does leave one last hope beyond the grim disappearance of consciousness and of the world, admitting that it is possible that ultimate reality, which he called the thing in itself may possess attributes that we do not know about and that we cannot know. That reality would not be a state of knowledge since there would not be a subject and an object [that phenomenal and illusionary relationship that is required for knowledge], but it might resemble some experience that cannot be communicated and to which mystics refer to, but only in obscure vague ways.

In the end, like all great thinkers are expected to, Arthur Schopenhauer admitted that he did not have all the answers, but he thought he had some. Ultimately, it is the questions his answers posed to others that became his most significant contribution, for the role of the philosopher and of philosophy itself is not only to solve our problems, but also to express points of views that stimulate us to further thought and consideration on human nature and the meaning of life, in that, he was incredibly successful.

Schopenhauer sur Le Style

“Style is the physiognomy of the mind. It is a more reliable key to character than the physiognomy of the body.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

­­­

Concluding Thoughts on “The World as Will & Idea”

One of the interesting aspects of Schopenhauer’s philosophy is that it is in a fairly strong resonance with science, i.e. the theory of evolution, which is accepted among the scientific community, and it also set the groundwork for the field of evolutionary psychology. In that aspect, the philosopher was incredibly insightful and avant-garde.

Schopenhauer’s philosophical framework empowers individuals by providing a mode of thinking and perception that acts as a the tool to rise above grief & sadness from the many tribulations of life, especially love matters.

The concept behind the “World as Will and Idea” can become a very strong remedy for people depressed and weakened by love deceptions because Schopenhauer’s foundational framework clearly explains that those emotions and sentiments are simply an illusion (i.e. a manipulation) at the service of one’s survival instinct or “Will to Live”. Schopenhauer strenghens the individual by giving the individual the awareness of this manipulation of nature and hence the ability to rise above, discard and become detached from those feelings and emotions to heal their pain.

This is quite ironic, because while many personal development coaches advise us to reinforce our “Will to Live” to be better in life, the philosophy of Schopenhauer orients us towards the complete opposite, but only after developing the awareness of the consequences of renunciation that such action can lead towards personal empowerment. However, precautions must be taken to not completely extinguish our “Will to Live” since it can lead to suicide if we are not firmly aware of its implications and ready to cope with the life it imposes.

Schopenhauer does not recommend killing oneself even if he does not condemn the act in some texts – he even describes suicide as nonsense. However, he does not hide his admiration for the courage of the Hindus who go as far as to offer themselves as food to the crocodiles, or allow themselves to die of starvation voluntarily, or even throw themselves from the top of the Himalayas – as such the philosopher saw the end of life as a solution to the incessant suffering imposed by the will to live but did not openly promote or propose it as a complete solution the wider human population. It appears that those people who consciously end their lives, have extinguished their will to live after coming to terms with the fact that life is a state of various kinds of suffering and also an endlessly replicating cycle without any clear end result, i.e. living or not living has absolutely no impact on the state of things in the universe. No matter how far human civilization goes [for e.g. colonizing planets in the universe], the same cycle will be repeated endlessly without any clear end objective, i.e. human beings would replicate everything on Earth on those planets and continue to mate, reproduce and pass down the task of finding sense to life to the next generation; we would invest tremendous resources to reach other planets [e.g. developing artificial intelligence, creating sophisticated and articulate androids with human-like capabilities, developing cryogenics or some other technical solution to survive journeys that may last from 50 to 100 years or more], and once there, we would build houses, roads, restaurants, shops, an economic system, create jobs, etc.

In the case of people who become completely aware of the manipulation imposed on human experience by the “Will to Live” and make the conscious choice to extinguish it completely, the continuity of the human race or the survival of his fellow humans have absolutely no importance or meaning since life has no sense to such a being because it simply replicates for the sake of replicating itself – in the cosmic order of the universe we are nothing but atoms, or space dust.

The final and fundamental powerful point to keep is that thanks to Schopenhauer’s philosophy, we can at any moment we choose to detach ourselves from all of the most violent emotions and feelings that inhabit our thoughts simply by reminding ourselves that our “Will to Live” (i.e. survival instinct) is simply manipulating us.

A constructive critique for joie de vivre & progress

A reason to live for the human race

We can base ourself on the observation that if atoms from space dust in the universe collected on a very specific planet known as Earth where the atmospheric conditions are perfect to allow the transformation of those atoms into living cells which over thousands of years became more complex to eventually give rise to human beings, then there must be a hidden force that lead to this creation. In that sense, we can also question this creative atomic force and meditate forever about the reason behind our creation. The explanation from the Christian bible about the creation of man by The Lord God from the dust of the ground comes across as a great metaphor since all life is made from matter.

Some people may link this creative force that sparked life on our planet to the notion of divinity and the process of creating life. So, on that issue if we were to allocate reasons behind every form of creation, we can assume that the cosmic forces of the universe had a reason for creating humans and as such, those forces that may be linked to the divine creation and wanted us to live, and may have planned for us to achieve some form of task in the story of the universe. This, I believe, makes a case for the human race to value surival and continuity, even if we are unaware of any final objective or final result that our continuity will lead to. Perhaps one day, we will understand why we were created and why we are the most sophisticated lifeform on this planet, unmatched in terms of intellectual abilities by no other species known to date.

The Right to Choose a Mode of Existence

Every individual should have the right to choose how to experience life and it would be extremely arrogant to impose a particular model of living or a particular mode of existence as the ultimate way of being. If an individual chooses to restrain his “Will to Live” to the limits of extinction and wishes to experience life through his organic body in a minimalistic and spiritual way as some people in Asia do, then it is a choice as valid as any other, moreover those people are not asking anything from others and are not imposing this mode of existence of humanity; it is a matter of personal perspective and desire in line with a vision to discard what some see as an existence of suffering and desiring endlessly in the industrialised world. Whatever the reasons behind the choice of an individual to live such a minimalistic life by repressing their “Will to Live” [or survival instinct], as long as it is personal, it should be respected. Among those personal reasons, may also be the choice to not replicate life to endure various forms of suffering, and this may be a reasonable and admirable choice for individuals who unfortunately are not in the best conditions due to a range of factors, to bring a new life into this world and provide it with the best chances to prosper and live a fulfilling existence.

According to the epicurean school of thought, pleasure is the absence of suffering, and in order to stop suffering, it is a duty for individuals to question whether it is fair to create life when the conditions awaiting mean struggling through various kinds of hardship.

There is only a limited amount of living space on our planet, and the issue of population growth being mismanaged and unrestrained should be a great topic of concern for humanity to reflect on as the world begins to deal with the question of over-population which will only cause extreme mass suffering when also having to deal with the problems of climate change that will lead to many catastrophic environmental disasters in the future (e.g. limited resources to feed a dangerously growing population). For example in many poor regions on the planet, for e.g. Africa, the population growth has been steadily increasing despite the lack of resources to provide an adequate and respectable standard of living to the new born, who come to the world only to suffer due to the lack of family planning. Hence, this topic should be the concern of all respectable community leaders, and should raise the urgency for providing education about family planning.

A Sense of Concern for the Survival of Homo Sapiens

Complete detachment from our feelings and emotions once an individual extinguishes the “Will to Live” can lead to suicide, which is nonsense. Complete detachment may also lead to a mind that is stale and completely devoid of any form of reaction to any external event that is not connected to the organism that is in such a state, this would also lead to a lack of emotions, for e.g. compassion and empathy (since those are the products of the ability to feel the pain of others and react to the emotions and feelings elicited).

If an individual discarded the “Will to Live” completely, it would also mean discarding the very behaviours linked to the “Will” that are responsible for the survival of homo sapiens, which lead us to protect our fellow human beings [i.e. the evolutionary purpose of emotions and the ability to feel].

The individual who kills the “Will to live” completely would also have no sexual drives, which would also not promote the survival of the human race as there would not be motivation to mate and reproduce. In that sense, if the whole population were to choose to completely extinguish their will to live, it would lead to the extinction of homo sapiens (i.e. the human race).

Engineering our Modern World in Harmony with Nature

The evolution of our species has led to the development of its various intellectual abilities and eventually given rise to the modern world, which took homo sapiens out of the primitive lifestyle from the caves and the jungles and into settlements of the modern world with a range of facilities, for e.g. sophisticated healthcare, education, technological advancement, legal protection, literary and artistic developments, to name a few.

However, with all those developments as advantages, also came disadvantages, since human suffering is still a reality in our modern world, with inequality, greed, lack of concern, badly managed economic systems, laws that are still primitive in terms of promoting human wellbeing.

We also have corrupt governments run by mediocre politicians who lack the philosophical knowledge and values of legendary imperial leaders, but are nothing more than simple minded bureaucrats from mainly financial and legal backgrounds who seem to think of the management of a civilisation as if it was an enterprise to manage. People trained in a particular subject should stay in their field.

A strong economy provides a lot of options and helps to foster development, and hence those trained in finance should be in charge of departments for economic development to ensure that the economy is working to improve and sophisticate human existence and civilisation not the other way round [i.e. education, traning, wellbeing and human development at every level]. As for those trained in legal matters, they should manage the department of justice to ensure that the funds are being used properly and also to protect the rights of individuals at every level of society.

To place people with purely financial and legal perspectives at the head of civilisation is a sure way to a ship wreck; because that is the scenario in store when a civilisation places its destiny in the hands of people who lack the proper knowledge to understand how human beings function [i.e. what leads to wellbeing and harmony, what kind of support individuals need to prosper, what individuals feel and desire, how a human being’s mind works, and what philosophical values to implant and protect in order to defend human dignity, foster creativity, provide freedom at every level, and eradicate suffering].

Logically, living as a recluse in a meditative trance in nature or living as a citizen of the modern world is a personal choice for the individual that both comes with advantages and disadvantages. My perspective on this issue will also come with a frame of mind as an individual who is a pure product of  Western European intellectual heritage, and also someone born and raised in the the modern Westernised world. In that sense, throughout history, all thinkers have had to side with an argument. In the end, as we know from the history of civilisation, we have to take a stance and believe in something, because whether we choose not to have any opinions, or we choose to spectate quietly, we are going to be judged. As educated human beings of the post 20th century, we have to find the balance and extract meaning from the lessons history has taught us. We have to synthesise the advantages of a life in nature and the advantages of a life in the modern technological world.

We need to find a sense of harmony in the modern world with nature and continue to push for the design of a civilisation that respects:

(i) the environment;

(ii) the liberties of the individual;

(iii) the promotion of a greener lifestyle;

(iv) the scientific discoveries about the creative force of the human brain;

(v) the philosophy of individual growth;

(vi) the dignity of working men and women;

(vii) the right to rise in a meritocratic system of values;

(viii) the belief in an economic system that is organized so that everyone has a chance to prosper;

(ix) the right to decent education at every level for everyone at every stage of life;

(x) the free access to high quality health care and guidance for everyone; and

(x) the fact that there is no eternal essence since evolution means that everything is locked in a constant process of change; however, we have the power to steer this change in the direction that leads to a civilisation that embraces those elements for a harmonious human experience for mankind.

Only after engineering our modern world to be in harmony with nature, i.e. both the environment and the psychology of human beings, that life will become a noble and pleasant experience – only the absence of suffering brings pleasure, happiness and prosperity, as the Epicurean school of thought posits.

Thus, Lucretius, the Roman thinker’s main philosophical thrust would definitely be a great doctrine for human beings to read, reflect on and adopt if we are to steer civilisation on the right track and live a harmonious life without suffering while embracing the advantages and possibilities of the multi-dimensional senses that nature has equipped mankind with, i.e. the ability to experience existence through an incredible brain.

Mental Conditioning: Justified Desire & Rational Emotions as Restraints to a Healthy Will to Live

The powerful aspect of Schopenhauer’s concept is that it operates similarly to our very own “Organismic Theory of Psychological Construction” as it does not aim to simplify human life or experience, but it acts as a strong guiding compass that allows individuals to shift their perception at any moment to find clarity, order & stability when they may be faced with a clouded mind due to stress or a lack of mental clarity caused by the many obstacles of human life.

Both concepts provide strong intellectual frameworks or skeletons as foundations to explain human experience, and although those foundations may come across as mechanical, they are also dynamic and provide a precise objective model to understand the way organisms function. Those models also do not claim to be permanent modes of perception that individuals should be locked in all the time, but rather act as a perceptive filter and guiding restraint based on logical reasoning that will be used to shape human consciousness through practice; once firmly embedded in the conscious mind, all human emotions can be released, since they would be synchronized with reason and logic, and simply be a layer superposed over, in order to be able to experience life with human emotions since they motivate us and also allow us to feel.

So, those philosophical frameworks allow all the layers that sophisticate, deepen, add symbolic meaning and bring artistic complexity to be superposed, constructed and developed on them; in that sense they are mechanical, but also dynamic since they do not discard an organic reality.

In the attempt to generate an imagery in the reader’s mind, I will use the metaphor of a tsunami causing a massive displacement of water rushing towards an area. If that area had a well designed barrier to receive the full blow of the torrent of water with a perfectly designed system of tunnels that would cause the force of the torrent to be broken down by evenly splitting the water through an articulate system of canals, there would be no catastrophic damage, and the water could even be used for a range of purposes. The powerful torrent of water is meant to represent the survival instinct, or the “Will to live”; and the well designed system to channel that torrent is meant to represent a trained “consciousness”. Similarly to this metaphor, Freud used a wilful horse to describe the force of the unconscious Id, and explained that the human consciousness [which in his theory is represented by the Ego] should act as a rider in order to channel all of the horse’s force into a desired outcome or direction.

That is exactly what it means to shape one’s consciousness. In order to orient oneself in life and make the right decisions, it is important to calculate and think with a clear mind oriented with reason. Every individual does not have the same objectives in life [i.e. in terms of career goals, philosophical values about a range aspects in life, vision of success, tastes in various personal matters, etc], and as such, every individual should be able to use pure reason to situate themselves in life and know what their objectives are and what they need to do to attain those objectives [e.g. the short-term objectives and the long-term objectives]. Such reflection is best done with a rational mind that is not clouded by irrational emotions; however emotional feelings cannot be permanently discarded because they serve the purpose of motivating human beings in various situations in life and play a significant role in the enjoyment and jouissance of existence itself.

Emotions paint a picture of both our inner world and the external world, telling us where to look, what to remember and what to forget, what to think about, and what our next step should be – this is backed up by science. The choices we make as individuals are influenced by our emotional feelings, for e.g. we watch particular types of films or read particular types of books that elavate us, empower us, enlighten us, make us smile, laugh or cry. In other social situations, we tend to avoid people who elicit a sense of disgust, anger or fear in us. At a physiological level, our bodily feelings indicate us that our stomach is full when we eat. Until this day, the human mind’s depth and complexity has not allowed psychologists to precisely figure out the exact number of the types of emotions that human beings feel.

Scientists have always had problems with emotions and trouble on agreeing what it really means; most of them assume that emotions involve other things than simply feelings [e.g. bodily reactions, like when a person’s heart is racing from a feeling of excitement; or expressive movements such as facial expressions and sounds; or behaviours like yelling at someone when we are angry]. Despite the fact that there are many types of emotions, feelings are usually seen as the most important; as such scientists studying emotions measure them as much as their metholodologies allow by asking participants in their study how they are “feeling”. In an investigation published in 2017, to study the number of emotional feelings human beings experience, 300,000 self-reported emotional responses elicited by 2,185 emotional videos were collected. Mathematical modelling was then used to find out about the different emotions captured in those responses; this lead to the patterns of emotions being found corresponding to at least 25 different categories of emotions where many of them can be mixed together (Cowen and Keltner, 2017). Those 25 categories of emotions are:

  • admiration, adoration, appreciation of beauty, amusement, anger, anxiety, awe, awkwardness, boredom, calmness, confusion, craving, disgust, empathic pain, entrancement, excitement, fear, horror, interest, joy, nostalgia, relief, sadness, satisfaction, and surprise.

     

As such, it was found that the emotions people reported experiencing are much more complex than scientists had theorised. Hence, in order to achieve this state of equilibrium between reason and emotions and embed that particular state into one’s consciousness, every individual may resort to different methods depending on their uniqueness. Some may achieve it instantly, others may need to resort to meditation and practice, and others may use whatever techniques from coaches or psychologists. This is a matter of individual differences that best suits a particular type of person. However, once this stage is perfected, that individual can then shift his/her mode of thought from the focused, disciplined, meditative and reasoned state to a relaxed state of being. It is a scientific fact nowadays, through the field of Neuroscience that new experiences shape the nervous system, a phenomenon known as “neuroplasticity”, and the more we practice a particular task, the better the brain gets at performing it – as the well known saying goes “Practice makes perfect” [See the essay, Biopsychology: How our Neurons work].

This is where we can refer to the act of extinguishing the “Will to live” temporarily to find clarity as the extreme meditators do. When an individual is in this state, the mind is detached from all external influence, emotions, and gains a sense of freedom to interpret everything the external world and life itself. This exercise resonates with Descartess words, when he said: “In order to seek truth, it is necessary once in the course of our life to doubt, as far as possible of all things.”

« Pour examiner la vérité il est besoin, une fois dans sa vie, de mettre toutes choses en doute autant qu’il se peut. » // Traduction[EN]: “In order to seek truth, it is necessary once in the course of our life to doubt, as far as possible, of all things.” – Descartes

This state of serenity can be reached from meditation, and when in that frame of mind, it becomes easier to think and reason rationally and logically, with a clearer perspective of everything in one’s life about topics of concern and solutions required. However, an individual should ensure that the “Will to live” is not extinguished permanently and that a return to a normal state of conciousness is possible. Logically, most normal individuals in the modern world do not remain in a meditative state 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.

Meditation can be likened to a form of temple (metaphorically) that one enters to find clarity and to think rationally and logically about a problem in the search for solutions. Once the solutions are obtained, one can leave the temple and get back to normal life with a new mode of thinking and perceiving obtained from the “temple” when one was in a state of calmness and oriented purely by reason in the search for clarity and solutions. Now that the solution is in hand, or rather in mind and rationally implanted in one’s consciousness, one can relax, allow the brain to return to its natural state, and allow emotions to compliment that state of clarity and knowledge about one’s path towards the desired objective.

The main objective here is to point out that reason should lead but emotions should follow, those two major qualities of the human condition must be synchronized with each other, i.e. the head and the heart must work together, but the mind must lead and the heart must follow.

Most human beings tend to act on emotions and instincts without questioning their behaviour. However, a human who becomes conscious of life and his/her objectives by reaching an elevated sense of awareness gains the ability to synchronise emotions with reason. It is not a stage easily achievable for every single person, and it is also dependent on talent, individual differences in the ability to reflect, and also personal dedication and will power.

However, when this state of higher consciousness is reached and it becomes a skill that is perfectly managed and firmly embedded, it manifests itself as a reflex (almost normally and unconsciously and goes as far as to shape one’s dreams); life becomes much more stable; through the mental clarity achieved, the individual gains the power to experience life with justified desire and rational emotions; and those restrain the force of the “Will to Live” in the direction that is beneficial to the individual and the human race; to use Freud’s metaphor, the rider (consciousness) learns to master the force of the horse (the Will to Live).

Our Conversion: a Lucretian guide to “l’Art de Vivre”

Lucretius, the great Roman thinker, proposes a conversion for a better life, that is, a renunciation of our old life which brought us only mediocrity, stress and pain.

After an enlightened understanding of life brought about by his reflections, Lucretius the Roman philosopher asks us to abandon this old life forever and to start a conversion by motivating ourselves for our new life, built on an enlightened perspective: an initiation based on an existential wisdom, edifying, practical and really practicable – we just need to want it!

In a 2021 conversation with Pierre Coutelle at Mollat Editions about his book, “La conversion: vivre selon Lucrèce”, the French philosopher Michel Onfray explains precisely the major foundations of Lucretius’ thought.

Roman philosophers discuss suffering and old age, wealth and frugality, love and friendship, women and pleasure, life and death concretely and openly to give the ability to truly live one’s life and not merely think about it.

Onfray says that Lucretius saved his life, and he would like to pass on this philosophical knowledge with his book to people, with the thought that it could be useful to people who are in pain; who are suffering ; who are facing friendship or love pains or wounds inflicted by friends who are not friendly; who are anxious about the passing of time, the money they don’t have, the money they don’t have anymore or the money they have in excess; who are questioning themselves about honours or happiness, etc.

With Lucretius we find answers to all these existential questions and with concrete epicurean solutions – we just need to want it!

Philosophy changes your perception, and therefore your mind, and preserves your health

Cohen et al (1998) identified two types of stresses associated with increased health impairment:

(i) Interpersonal problems with family and friends
(ii) Enduring problems associated with work

While many other studies have revealed the dangers of stress, Marucha, Kiecolt-Glaser and Favagehi (1998) found that healing was prolonged in experimental subjects (dental students) in the period leading up to their exams, and conversely, faster healing was observed during holidays (when stress was at a minimum).

Research by Janice Kiecolt and colleagues (1995) also found that wound healing was prolonged in people exposed to continuous stress, but at the same time these people also had lower levels of cytokines, which are essential for maintaining a functioning immune system, and stress is known to cause an increased secretion of cortisol, a hormone that may stop cytokine production (Kiecolt-Glaser et al., 2002). However, cortisol is crucial for increasing access to energy during stressful experiences and is released daily through two well-defined components: the Cortisol Awakening Rise and diurnal levels that gradually decrease throughout the day. It has also been found that high levels of stress can lead to lower cortisol production in the morning (O’Connor et al., 2009b).

An individual going through a series of severely stressful events would have an increased risk of developing an infectious disease, regardless of age, gender, education, allergic status and/or body mass index (Cohen, 2005). The conclusion that experiencing stress is a reaction to stress triggers in the environment has led researchers to study stress triggers in our daily lives in order to work out ways to improve the environment and eliminate them.

Scientific research has shown that subjective apprehension (our reasoning to justify our choices and actions) of a situation in a positive or negative way plays a major role in the detrimental effects of stress on physical health (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984, p.19); we explained this in the essay “Design, Selection & Stress in Occupational & Organisational Psychology” – calm your fears and stay positive!

One can really live by Lucretius’ philosophy, we just have to want it!

This sentence can change life, as philosophy changes life, and Lucretius’ philosophy can change the life of those who read and understand it, because philosophy changes our perception, and therefore our mind, by providing us with a more harmonious and positive perspective for “apprehending” life and the world around us.

An intellectual material available to everyone for everyday life

Lucretius’ thought aims at solving problems quickly and logically in a few arguments, and in this sense it is truly pragmatic and rooted in the Roman intellectual tradition.

Roman philosophers are interesting because it is possible to live a lifetime according to their principles. As Onfray describes it, it’s an eminently concrete, pragmatic and poetic philosophy; if the arguments are useless then they are rejected; as for the arguments that really bring about a concrete change in life, they must serve in a really effective way.

The Romans were inspired by the Greek arts, but were also disinterested in the thinking of many Greek intellectuals. Roman thinkers didn’t see philosophy as a practice of complicating life with big superficial visions and rhetoric and then running away from life and favouring ideas as many Greek thinkers did; all this complicating didn’t lead to anything concrete and so the Romans thought it was a Greek tradition and they weren’t interested.

Lucretius was a great Roman thinker inspired and influenced by Epicurean philosophy. Despite the fact that Epicureanism originated in Greece, Lucretius retains a truly Roman intellectual trait and did not simply restate Epicurus’ thought in verse as many have often claimed.

For every problem there is a solution; for every suffering there is also a jouissance

Only the one who cannot think will be afraid of death, of the future, of lack of money (if he is poor), of losing his money (if he has too much). If man is able to use his mind to think, then it is possible to address all these questions about suffering, pain, death, honours, wealth, and so on. The philosophical thought of the Epicureans, undoes all these fictions, and allows us to understand that for every problem there is a solution; for every suffering there is also a jouissance (a form of joy); whenever there is a reason to be unhappy, there is a reason to be happy.

These are really simple logical schemas, but with extraordinary power and depth! To live serenely, we simply have to be where we are in life, to live in the present moment and not to destroy this present with what no longer exists or does not exist (e.g. sorrows, pains, arguments from the past, transient feelings based on anger, etc.).

Michel Onfray said it clearly when he explained that if the pain is there and it is so terrible that it embarks you, then you have to go. But if the pain doesn’t take you away, it means that the situation is not serious and you just need to learn to breathe and stay calm – simple yet extraordinary philosophical recipes for keeping your composure!

Pleasure is the absence of suffering

Cicero, who was a Stoic, criticized the Epicureans and argued that the only thing they were interested in was pleasure, which for him was enjoyment, which he judged to be a crude goal that gave rise to all sorts of obscenities.

Obviously, Epicureanism is a hedonistic thought where the triumph of pleasure is sought. Julius Caesar was an Epicurean, but the pleasure was far from the crudeness that Cicero described. Pleasure among the followers of Epicurean thought is not an obsession with unbounded and total enjoyment; it would be a grotesque caricature of Epicureanism to imagine grand scenes with stuffed sows, generalized orgies and other coarsenesses, explains Onfray.

The pleasure of the Epicureans is above all the absence of suffering. If you don’t suffer then you are happy: when you are thirsty, you drink to quench your thirst, and when you are hungry, you eat bread to quench your hunger. So these images are far from the scenes with stuffed sow’s teats, which was a crude caricature of Epicureanism by the Stoic opponents.

Simply calm your fears!

« Je sais qui est Lucrèce ! Je vais le mobiliser dans ma vie ! Je vais le mobiliser parce que je suis dans une situation où il me faut régler des problèmes. » said Onfray.

[French for: “I know who Lucretius is! I will mobilise him in my life! I will mobilise him because I am in a situation where I have to solve problems”]

With the thought of Lucretius one can approach and solve all the questions about the problems of every day and of everyone: friendship, death, suffering, pain, honours, wealth, and many other questions of existence and of daily life.

Lucretius’ thought is based on the Epicurean school of thought:
If death is here, you are no longer here, but if you are here, then death is not here!

So, it suggests that in order to live without spoiling your life on a daily basis, you should stop focusing on anxious events that are not yet present!

This is a simple thought, but with a profound effectiveness that can be adopted by all humanity! If we inhabit our present fully, we will not destroy it with nostalgia for the pains of the past, nor with a depressing and negative future when this present is calm and harmonious.

A man who tells himself that it was really good in the past, in his youth when he was handsome and slim, will ruin his life; in the same way if he tells himself that his advanced age means that death is near, while complaining of being tired, carried by the thought that he does not have much time to live.

Epicurean philosophy explains that a person destroys the moment by nostalgia for what was, or by a future that anguishes him: this is the recipe for unhappiness. For the Epicureans, to live harmoniously and not to be depressed and unhappy, one must live in the present moment!

Are you going to die? It’s true, this applies to you, me and every human being. But is death for now? No ? So why talk about it and think about it? Michel Onfray explains it very well: death will come one day, we can wait for it serenely, and when it comes, it will only be a bad quarter of an hour to spend. We simply have to calm our fears!

Onfray asks the question: “What do you want? A legion d’honneur?”

We can deconstruct this desire by thinking that it is simply a piece of cloth, and that many noble people have not received it, which illuminates us with the understanding that it is not proof of a person’s greatness or nobility; especially since nowadays it is the politicians in charge who decide who to give the Legion of Honour to; politicians who rarely have unbiased opinions. There are many noble people who have refused the Legion d’honneur, such as the economist Thomas Piketty who even said: « Je refuse cette nomination, car je ne pense pas que ce soit le rôle d’un gouvernement de décider qui est honorable » [French for: “I refuse this nomination, because I don’t think it is the role of a government to decide who is honourable”].

Image: Les politiciens européens faisant preuve d’agressivité / European politicians in a display of aggression

Do you want to be President perhaps? Again, Onfray notes that there is not only happiness in this pursuit since it means having lots of stress, and trouble and having to make decisions about everything constantly, while knowing that the whole world will be scrutinizing your every move. And by being in charge of the administration, you will be surrounded by liars and hypocrites; you will also lose many of your friends while not being completely free of your emotions and to express yourself, or to indulge in the everyday pleasures of life – you will be forced to wear a social mask and take part in a bureaucratic theatrical sham that the whole world is aware of in the 21st century. Epicurean thinking undoes all these fictions that make you unhappy.

In citing the above examples, the point is not to discourage anyone from desiring a Legion d’honneur or to dissuade from wanting to reach the head of state, but it is simply to argue that if the conditions are against these goals, it should not stunt you since life is layered and there will always be reasons to be happy, to live fully, to have an exciting existence and to remain serene while keeping your inner greatness and your honour intact.

Lucretius thought tells us that wisdom can be achieved, and that it consists of an arithmetic of pleasures with a dietetics of desireswe have to give the body what it desires but we also need to make sure that we stay within a limit so that the body does not become a slave to what we give it.

The idea is truer than reality

Onfray reminds us that the history of philosophy is made up of opposition between idealists and materialists. In the end, it is the idealists who have come to dominate the world of thought since Christianity is a form of idealism – Friedrich Nietzsche said that Christianity is Platonism for the poor.

Idealism is based on the argument that the idea is more true than reality. What we perceive as reality is in fact an illusion. This thought is also supported by Jacques Lacan, who explains that the real is not reality, because reality for the individual is what has a symbolic value.

What we see in the real, in all its banality, is not reality since the ideal world does not need it to exist, nor does the individual since he does not attach any importance to it – it is a part that is almost invisible to the eyes and especially to the mind.

These concepts, in the time of Cicero and Lucretius, made the philosophers did politics in spite of themselves. Politicians were also involved in philosophy, since to be a Stoic or an Epicurean is to have a certain belief in the structural values of a world and of the individual, and therefore, these are political issues. Onfray skilfully and ironically invites us to try to imagine the climate of political mediocrity in the 21st century with presidential candidates who would have been Sartreans, Camusians, Aronians, etc.

Moreover, towards the end of his writings, Lucretius explained the beginning of the end of his era; he could clearly see that the republican Rome in which he lived had nothing of the great imperial Rome of before. Onfray finds the present situation in the 21st century comparable to that precise historical epoch described by Lucretius, who sensed the decomposition of the republican Roman state and saw this as the herald of a new form of civilisation, which is the one of our generation today; he predicted that our civilisation too would disappear in its turn to give birth to something else.

An aesthetic of existence: a dynamic world that allows for self-sculpting

In contrast to Epicurean thought, the philosopher Plato’s vision of a republic was not truly egalitarian and just, because the Platonic republic was based on an almost unmovable hierarchy. In Plato’s republic, we have a social structure that places the philosopher at the top of the pyramid, then at the base we have those who work, and in between these two categories we have the military to enforce the law and act as a barrier to prevent individuals from the working classes from having the desire to be people of power.

A true republic must be the result of a vision of justice, but this Platonic republic is not truly just, since it prevents and discourages a section of its population from risingan idea contrary to the science, psychology and enlightenment heritage of Descartes and Voltaire. In this Platonic republic, we find the aristocrats (who nowadays might represent the very wealthy) who after esoteric classes among themselves get the opportunity to maintain or take power in order to keep this terrible hierarchy going.

But in Epicurean philosophy, we have what is called the garden of Epicurus. And since Epicureans believe that one must live to resemble gods who know ataraxy (the absence of suffering), Onfray extrapolates to point out that this presupposes that in Epicureanism, men live as friends; and observes that if Lucretius had completed his writings, there would most likely be a greater consideration of friendship between men than in the texts that influenced him, i.e. Epicurus himself.

Onfray argues that there is an idea in Epicureanism about friendship that tells us that on earth we can build an ideal communitya kind of republic in Epicurus’ garden that would be truly egalitarian and just, and that would contrast with the injustice in Plato’s republic. Unlike Plato, among the Epicureans there is room for everyone: men, women, young, old, poor and also those who are not poor. In this sense, this human composition is astonishing since it really aims at making a civilisation work while synchronizing in a spirit of fraternity and mutual aid all its members.

The modern society closest to those ideals of the Epicurean garden republic or “république du jardin” (as Onfray phrased it) is the French civilisation. It was the French revolution, which had been heavily influenced by the ideas of the intellectuals of the Enlightenment [i.e. the 18th century intellectual movement of reason], that would secularise a number of concepts inspired by Christianity into the constitution, most notably the famous « Liberté, égalité, fraternité » [Translation / French for: “Liberty, equality, fraternity”], which is inspired from the free will of Christians. Equality [Égalité] is derived from the belief in equality before God, and brotherhood [Fraternité] is derived from the concept of the community of the ecclesia. Liberté [Freedom], of course, most people know what this means, which is the freedom to explore, to choose, to discover, to learn, to express ourself, to speak, to have open debates, to question, to propose, to love, to create, to live life fully within the limits of reason and respect for the mother psychosocial sphere. The new generation of French people secularised and embedded those values with the firm belief that “we have a universal world view; we want everyone to share our values – liberté, égalité, fraternité!“.

In this vision of the Epicurean republic, which could be called a “garden republic”, there is an idea that echoes the organic theory of psychological construction that we have developed; a belief in line with modern psychological science in the capacity of the human organism (the individual) to educate itself, to cultivate and sculpt its mind, to deepen its discourse, and to elevate itself through its own intellectual efforts; and so there is a belief in the nobility of meritocracya meritocratic hierarchy based on effort, talent and merit, and open to all!

In the Epicurean garden, we have this idea that it is never too late or too early to philosophise: you can philosophise if you are young, or if you are very old! If some of you think that at 80 years old it might be too late to philosophise, Epicurean thinking will prove you wrong! The time is always right – better late than never.

The very young, children, as soon as they have the capacity to think, can start philosophising. Of course, it would be unreasonable to impose on a three-year-old the knowledge and full understanding of the logical reasoning of the thoughts of Lacan, Nietzsche, Darwin, Schopenhauer, Voltaire, Kant, Camus, Descartes, Freud and Rousseau. But we can start to implant the ability to reason and question from a very young age; to teach them to think about the world, to think about their place in the world, to question life and the structures of civilisation to develop a critical sense and also a sophisticated reasoning that will allow them to have solid opinions; this is what I call creativity, and this foundation will develop and serve them in all fields for a lifetime and maybe even their children if the transmission is done.

Time is limited: put excellence into every moment and don’t waste the second

In a logic and line of thought similar to ours, Onfray very perceptively suggests that an individual must understand that the moment we live is not eternal. Therefore, to live as if we have an infinite number of moments is not reasonable, since our time on earth among humans is counted. Just as in the womb there is a limited number of eggs and at a certain age the ability to give life stops – for some this is not even possible from birth, for some it stops early, for others late, for some with much pain, for others peacefully.

But Epicureanism opens the eyes of those who encounter it, and asks the individual not to waste the second, not to waste the moment, not to waste the day; if we do not use our time productively to live, we lose it forever since time is counted and will not return.

In the 2021 interview with Pierre Coutelle, Michel Onfray uses everyday scenes from life in the modern world to emphasise the importance of not wasting time, explaining that many people simply think that their lives will magically turn out okay; those ordinary people who are in the industrialised routine of the five-day week (i.e. wake up every morning, look at the time, shower, coffee, get the kids ready for school, train, office, work, anecdotes from the kids who find school unbearable, trouble at the office, coffee breaks for a quick bite to eat, and then the same recipe on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday) As for the weekend, everyone is exhausted, so on Sunday these people stay in slippers or trainers, they don’t shave, they don’t wash, they’re not clean or fresh, they smell bad, they watch TV, they flick from one channel to another, and then, on Monday, it all starts again!

In the face of all this, Onfray’s observations invite civilisation to ask itself the following questions:

« Est-ce que c’est ça la vie ? »

Traduction[EN]: “Is this what life is all about?”

« Est-ce que c’est ça que nous voulons comme vie ? »

Traduction[EN]: “Is this what we want as life?”

« Est-ce que nous pouvons nous s’asseoir paisiblement en pensant qu’a un moment donné tout cela va changer magiquement et le bonheur apparaitra ? »

Traduction[EN]: “Can we sit back and think that at some point all this will magically change and happiness will appear?”

« Ne serait-il pas convenable de prendre les choses en main toute de suite sans perdre de temps pour changer notre existence de tel sorte qu’on ne vive pas cette vie raté et nulle ? »

Traduction[EN]: “Wouldn’t it be nice to take matters into our own hands right now without wasting time to change our existence so that we don’t live this failed and lousy life?”

The Epicurean thought that inspired the writings of Lucretius asks us to put excellence in every moment and not to bear mediocrity, every moment lost is definitely lost! This may not be a great revolution for those who are self-aware, civilised and have cultivated the art of critical thinking, but these questions simply push us towards answers that ask us to live each moment as if we could see it reappear infinitely.

If you are still reading this essay and have felt and understood the arguments, then asking yourself the other three questions would be constructive:

« Est-ce qu’on va encore démarrer sa semaine de la même manière ? »

Traduction[EN]: “Are we going to start our week the same way again?”

Crédits : Philippe Lopez – AFP

That is, for example:
– Going to work knowing that we live with people we don’t love, and who don’t love us?
– Knowing that the relationship with the people you work with or with your children is not serene and healthy?

« Est-ce qu’on a envie que ça continue ainsi et que ça se répète sans cesse ? »

Traduction[EN]: “Do we want it to continue like this and repeat itself over and over again?”

« Pouvez-vous vous mettre à la place d’un autre être humain ? »

Traduction[EN]: “Can you put yourself in the place of another human being?”

« Pensez-vous qu’un autre être humain puisse éprouver des émotions ? »
[Par exemple, des émotions telles que la confusion, le dégoût, la colère, l’horreur, la honte, la tristesse, la faiblesse, l’anxiété, la solitude, l’ennui, la douleur empathique, la nostalgie, le soulagement, la satisfaction, l’admiration, la joie, le calme, l’excitation, etc ?]

Traduction[EN]: “Do you think another human being can experience emotions?”
[For e.g., emotions such as confusion, disgust, anger, horror, shame, sadness, weakness, anxiety, loneliness, boredom, empathic pain, nostalgia, relief, satisfaction, admiration, joy, calmness, excitement, etc ?]

« Puisque l’on serait Dieu si l’on était parfait, et que l’on n’est pas Dieu. Pouvez-vous imaginer la possibilité que votre comportement ou celui d’un autre être humain puisse déclencher certaines des émotions négatives ou positives mentionnées ci-dessus chez un autre être humain ? »

Traduction[EN]: “Since one would be God if one was perfect, and one is not God. Can you imagine the possibility that your behaviour or another human beings’s behaviour could trigger some of the above negative or positive emotions in another human being?”

« Ne devrions-nous pas faire tout ce qui est nécessaire pour arranger les choses, afin que les expériences négatives et horribles n’aient plus lieu et que le reste de notre vie soit différent ? »

Traduction[EN]: “Shouldn’t we do whatever is necessary to make things right, so that negative and horrific experiences do not take place anymore and the rest of our lives are different?”

Carl Jung was incredibly accurate in saying: “Crises, upheavals and illness do not happen by chance, they serve as indicators to rectify a trajectory, explore new directions, experience another way of life.”

CITATION Jung - les crises &amp; bouleversements (un autre chemin de vie)

« Les crises, les bouleversements et la maladie ne surgissent pas par hasard. Ils nous servent d’indicateurs pour rectifier une trajectoire, explorer de nouvelles orientations, expérimenter un autre chemin de vie. » / Traduction[EN]: “Crises, upheavals and illness do not happen by chance, they serve as indicators to rectify a trajectory, explore new directions, experience another way of life.” – Carl Jung

In 1948, from an article entitled “Ni victimes ni bourreaux” and in the chapter entitled “Le siècle de la peur” [French for, “The century of fear”], Albert Camus wrote that man lived in terror; between generalised fear of some kind of war that everyone at that time seemed to be preparing for, and the particular fear of murderous ideologies. Surprisingly, his words seem still fresh for our world today.

Camus saw man living in terror because persuasion seemed impossible, since man had been handed over entirely to history [as if history had stopped and could not be written anymore]. For Camus, man seems unable to turn to that part of himself, which is just as true as history itself, that part of himself which he finds in front of the beauty of the world and of human faces; because man lives in a world of abstraction, which is the world of offices and machines, the world of absolute ideas and messianism without nuance. Camus noted that man suffocates among people who believe that they are absolutely right, whether in their machines or in their ideas; he observed that for all us who can only live in dialogue and human friendship, that silence means the end of the world.

2022-02-05 Camus (La Peur) D'Purb dpurb site

« Entre la peur très générale d’une guerre que tout le monde prépare et la peur toute particulière des idéologies meurtrières, il est donc bien vrai que nous vivons dans la terreur. Nous vivons dans la terreur parce que la persuasion n’est plus possible, parce que l’homme a été livré tout entier à l’histoire et qu’il ne peut plus se tourner vers cette part de lui-même, aussi vraie que la part historique, et qu’il retrouve devant la beauté du monde et des visages ; parce que nous vivons dans le monde de l’abstraction, celui des bureaux et des machines, des idées absolues et du messianisme sans nuances. Nous étouffons parmi les gens qui croient absolument avoir raison, que ce soit dans leurs machines ou dans leurs idées. Et pour tous ceux qui ne peuvent vivre que dans le dialogue et dans l’amitié des hommes, ce silence est la fin du monde. » / Traduction [EN]: “Between the very general fear of a war that everyone is preparing for and the very particular fear of murderous ideologies, it is therefore true that we live in terror. We live in terror because persuasion is no longer possible, because man has been handed over entirely to history and can no longer turn to that part of himself which is as true as the historical part and which he finds again before the beauty of the world and of faces; because we live in the world of abstraction, the world of offices and machines, of absolute ideas and of messianism without nuance. We suffocate among people who believe they are absolutely right, whether in their machines or in their ideas. And for all those who can only live in dialogue and human friendship, this silence is the end of the world.” – Albert Camus

However, Camus also argued that in order to get out of that terror, one should be able to think, reflect and act on one’s reflection. But if man lives in a world of terror, it is precisely the terror that creates a climate that does not encourage or provide space for reflection. He was of the opinion that instead of blaming that terror, we should work to find a solution to it, and that there was nothing more important because it concerns the fate of a great number of human beings who are fed up of violence and lies, disappointed in their highest hopes, disgusted at the thought of inflicting suffering on their fellow men.

Learning to live a life so that you won’t regret it when death comes

Optimists see the best everywhere, pessimists see the worst everywhere. Tragic people see reality as it is, and this requires a lot of courage because reality in all its rawness is not always easy, even if what it presents is of no value to us and we are almost blind to that empty aspect of life which symbolises nothing. In spite of this, tragics do not tend to make myths or fictions – they see the real, it is not perfect, but it is so.

Lucretius is known to be a vitalist, and this line of thought tends towards the tragic since vitalists are firmly anchored in the fact that everything that is alive will eventually die. In the organic world, there is always a cycle: growth, decay and then extinction. Onfray points out that this also applies to civilisations. This is a very logical observation since the Aztec civilisation, the Egyptian empire with the pharaohs, the Roman empire, the empire of Alexander, to name a few examples, no longer exist – except in the form of fragments preserved in our museums. The conclusion is that nothing and no one can stop the disappearance of what has done its time – of what eventually becomes obsolete.

Tragedy thus reminds us that no one and almost nothing (except atoms) will last forever and that we will all eventually disappear. This notion is exactly the treasure of tragic thinking, because it makes us understand that we really have to learn to live a sublime life in every sense. We must cherish each day and lead a life that will allow us to watch death come with a smile, serenely, telling ourselves that if we had to do it again, we would do it exactly the same way without any regrets.

Image: Socrate
(470-469 av. J.-C. –
399 av. J.-C.) a en train de débattre

Reality, as Onfray reminds us, is made up of many people who, at the moment of death, regret not having done a lot of things that were important to them, not having made the right choices, not having given enough importance to this or that person in their life, not having succeeded in realising their dreams, etc. So we have to learn to live and lead a life in a way that will not leave us in pain and regret the day death decides that our journey among humans has come to an end.

“La mort de Napoléon” (1828) par Charles de Steuben. Musée Napoléon, Palais d’Arenenberg, Suisse.

Will power: do we have power over ourselves?

The Epicurean philosophers’ reflection on life is nothing more than an invitation to will power to counteract suffering.

In contrast to the Epicurean philosophers, the philosophers of fate always have something problematic; they believe that everything is already written. But if there is only fatality, what can we do with free will? Onfray also invites us to ask ourselves this question. If everything is already written, how is it that we have the possibility of choosing?

– For example, to eat a strawberry instead of a potato? To move to a city or a village? To read Balzac or Camus? To study the mind or law? To become a writer or an electrician? To write an academic book or a work of fiction? To engage in debates and learn from the great intellectuals to change the world or to chat with tramps in a bar? To criticize politics, gastronomy, sports, technology, economics, psychology, philosophy, art or business?

The question of the individual having power over his life has long been the question of Nietzsche, Spinoza, and the Stoics. The Epicureans, on the other hand, never asked this question about the power of the will over oneself. But if there really is a fatality of what happens, then what can be done with will power?

– Does will power exist?

– Does man have power over himself?

Lucretius, like us, truly believes that we have power over ourselves, that we can take matters into our own hands to change our destiny and guide it towards healthier and more harmonious horizons. All we have to do is to want it: to live each moment of life as if it were our last, to live each day as if it were our last. But abusing any good remedy can be harmful, and this is where Onfray asks us to impose a certain reasonable limit.

Living each day as if it were your last should not lead an adult to suddenly throw out his children, whom he finds untalented, personality-less, and future-less; to suddenly divorce his annoying spouse without discussion; to take all his money and spend it at the casino or betting on a horse; to suddenly quit his job while savagely insulting his tyrannical boss, whom he has always found to be rude, disrespectful, insensitive, intransigent, and depressing. If Epicurean philosophy makes you think that it is justifiable to act in this way then you have misunderstood, because if this is not your last day on earth, the next day you will find yourself in a truly miserable and possibly suicidal state.


Living each moment of life as if it were the last, and living each day as if it were the last, should inspire you to build your life discreetly, modestly, but powerfully
!

Onfray tells us that it is to willingly accept that your current life is miserable. In that sense, to acknowledge that the elements that define your life are not well organized; and therefore, to say to yourself:

« Je ne vais pas passer ma vie à vivre des choses qui ne me conviennent pas. Je n’aurais pas deux vies. »

Traduction[EN]: “I’m not going to spend my life living things that don’t suit me. I won’t have two lives.”

It’s a way of motivating yourself to build your present so that you can be happy and live in the absence of suffering – it’s a revolutionary healing thought!

Onfray believes that Lucretius’ work was left unfinished, and so there is a clear doctrine on friendship that might be found in the missing pages. There are, however, a few lines, which Onfray believes represent an idea that an individual can have a companion or a being in his life, with whom the capacity to share something serene, calm, without hatred, without war, without contempt, with gentleness and tenderness, develops. There is here the idea of love as a remedy for passion.

An invitation to a sculpture of the self: the psychological construction

Lucretius’ work echoes my own thinking in the sense that it is an encyclopedic elaboration. Lucretius left us an encyclopaedic poem, a knowledge where he painted a dynamic world. Like the logic of the organismic theory of psychological construction that we have developed, Lucretius’ perspective is quite similar since he is a dynamic atomist, not a purely mechanical and reductionist one. He starts with the atom and then explains life; we start with the individual organism and then explain everything by extrapolating a theory derived from established work in various fields, respecting a logic based on scientific observation while valuing clarity in the explanation.

Like the organismic theory of psychological design, Lucretius’ work is also an invitation to sculpt the self, in its psychological depth, in order to re-establish sound philosophical foundations that allow one to structure one’s thinking and thus modify one’s perception for a more harmonious life; it is an aesthetics of existence that aims to decorate and reshape the mind in order to promote mental equilibrium and thus keep the mind harmonious in all the dramatic situations of life.

The Romans proposed a conversion, which was also a consolation quite similar to the initiation ceremony of Freemasonry in the sense that there is the life before which one renounces, and then there is the life after which one adopts for good; it is like a new birth, and so by accepting the conversion, one is reborn – it is a rebirth.

Conversion among Roman thinkers means adopting a new life: rebirth

Among the Romans, when one has accepted one’s conversion, it is no longer the same life; among the followers of Epicurean philosophy there is no initiation ceremony as in Freemasonry, but simply the meeting with, or one could say the adoption of, a “maître” (master); a wise man who initiates us by transmitting his knowledge and reminding us the real is simply made of atoms in free fall in the void; that the real is material and does not constitute reality; that the idea is truer than reality; that this physics of the here below dispenses with a metaphysics of the world beyond; that paradise exists on earth but it must be built with determination!

As Michel Onfray also points out, when we meet this “maître” (master of thought), one fine day he enters our lives, opens the curtains (metaphorically) and everything becomes clear. In Roman antiquity it was like this, with an existential maître of truth who asks us to strip ourselves of all our old clothes (metaphorically – to describe our old life) in order to live another life from now on; a life that will allow us to be sovereign over ourselves, lord of ourselves, and in becoming so we will know truth, freedom and enjoyment.

Onfray emphasises that hedonism is this: be the master of yourself, and you will see what jubilation there is in being so! Lucretius’ Epicurean thought finally seems to wake us up by showing us what an excellent life we have the possibility to live – without pain and without horror.

Rome was founded from a collection of people of different origins, so the Romans genuinely believed in the concept of assimilation and never had any problems imagining that a foreigner could become fully Roman [As explained in detail in the essay, “Psychological Explanations of Prejudice & Discrimination and the Conceptual Philosophy of Assimilation à la Française“]. The Europe of the 21st century – at least in nations with a sophisticated breed of refined thinkers such as those of the French intellectual heritage – is a direct heir to this large-scale assimilation of the Roman tradition.

Matter: everything can be explained from the atom

Lucretius’ philosophy is atomistic and shows us that reality is simply material and consists only of atoms that fall into the void and nothing else. Epicureanism is a very subtle thought, and in Lucretius’s work we find a vitalist materialism. Onfray points out that it is not just the atom that is found in the atom, but much more; there is an arrangement of atoms.

Epicureanism is therefore not a vulgar, simplistic or reductionist mechanism. Obviously, it starts with an atom, but this atom goes on to explain the creation of civilisation, i.e. the whole world; in this sense, Lucretius’ Epicureanism is a profoundly sophisticated proposition.

This idea of the atom was already present in the work of the Greeks and Democritus. The latter had found inspiration in a very ordinary everyday scene. Democritus was in his room with the curtains closed, and through a small opening a ray of light entered, and at that moment Democritus saw a very fine cloud of dust dancing in that ray of lightan event that man does not see with the naked eye, but which is revealed by the light. These dust particles that constitute our whole world and reality as it is, represent the atoms (the term “Atomos” is used in Greek, referring to the hypothetical ultimate particles of matter, a word that meant uncut, since the atom is the smallest indivisible unit of matter).

In Lucretius’ work, everything is explained from the atom: one atom meets another atom and so on to start a chain process and eventually we see the world structured into an infinite number of universes. In this sense, it is a coherent thought, intuitive but also empirical. Onfray points out that even if we visit the works of Lamarck and Darwin, the evolutionary explanations, quantum mechanics, the theory of the multiverse and the multiverse, we can see that Lucretius’ thought cannot be disqualified, since it resonates with the whole scientific philosophy of the modern world.

When we speak of atoms, we are speaking of the making of the whole universe and of all life, and so there is a certain mystical and spiritual aspect where we might well associate the creative process which for many is connected to God, that is, the divine creation of everything from matter. How something as simple and mundane as seeing a few particles of dust in the light through the curtains in a bedroom can reveal to us this idea of the atom giving birth to the world and the universe is truly amazing; moreover, 25 centuries later, the atom and the intellectual debates about creation are still part of our reality.

Anything that has mass and take up a given amount of volume is defined as matter. As such, everything around us is made up of matter, and to go further, everything is made up of atoms. Atoms however are incredibly far from one another since they are more void than they are matter. Every atom has a nucleus  in the centre, surrounded by electrons.

To understand the relative size of the empty space that represents the void in an atom, we can imagine the nucleus [noyau in French] being the size of a peanut, and if that was the case, the entire atom would be about the size of a large football stadium. Around the edges of that stadium the electrons exist, their numbers varying by different elements. Hence, a nucleus is about 100 000 times smaller than the atom in which they are locked in, hence the atom is practically empty space.

If all the empty space was removed from every single atom in every single human being on earth (i.e. around 7.6 billion people), then compressed together, the overall volume of all the particles that make up the whole human population would be smaller than a sugar cube. This may sound ridiculous, however, it makes sense when we consider the weight of that sugar cube of human beings, because it would weight exactly the same as the sum of weight of all human beings on earth. If we assume an average weight of 45 Kg (considering children weight less and adults more) for 7.6 billion people, that small sugar cube would reach a weight of 345 billion Kg, which is the equivalent of around 1000 huge skyscrapers.

Atoms make up 100% of the universe and since 99% of the atom is empty space, we come to the conclusion that a human being is made up of nothingness. Every human being on planet Earth is made up of several millions of atoms [around 7,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (7 octillion) per person], and every single atom is 99% empty space.

If everything is made of matter, what are the gods made of? Matter!

Onfray explains it in a simple way accessible to all, this notion in Lucretius that atoms are extremely subtle, and that there is a theory of simulacra. If you and I are on stage and there is an audience that sees us, this theory of simulacra suggests that metaphorically there is a kind of aura, a layer, or a skin that comes off of us that is made of atomic particles and that diffuses into the external environment.

If you hear me, it is because my speech passes through in the form of sound as I speak, and the act of speaking emits atoms according to this theory of simulacra: these atoms of my speech travel all over the world, and they are simulacra which penetrate into the ears and into the minds of those who listen to us; into the eyes as far as vision is concerned; at which point one develops the possibility of the art of communication.

“Tête Raphaélesque Éclatée” par Salvador Dali (1951)

To sum up Lucretius’ theory of simulacra clearly, it is simply to understand that there are simulacra everywhere, all the time! Onfray invites us to imagine that these atoms of simulacra are like waves during the use of a mobile phone; waves which are invisible to the eye but which remain very present. Simulacra operate in the same way; they are extremely tenuous atoms that travel, circulate and offer the possibility of seeing, tasting, hearing, perceiving, among many other capacities.

Since these atoms of simulacra are indeed present in the environment and proceed subtly in the effects they generate while being invisible, then the gods must be made of this kind of subtle matter. Onfray explains that we have one world, two worlds, many worlds, and this multiplicity of worlds implies that there are interworlds. The gods are present in the interworlds and are made of matter, and represent an autonomous power that is satisfied with itself; a power that knows ataraxy (which means the end of suffering).

The gods rejoice in being and enjoy the power of existence; the Epicureans ask man to resemble these gods, to know the absence of trouble – this absence of suffering is enjoyment!

So, we see that this enjoyment is not crude as Cicero’s Stoic thought conceived it.

Based on this theory of atoms, the Epicureans tell us that death is not to be feared because it is simply a disorganisation and reorganisation of matter and not its suppression; all matter that decomposes will eventually recompose itself, it is an eternal cycle and an atomic recycling of the universe.

This idea of the eternal recycling of matter (and thus of atoms) seems to suggest that there might be a kind of resurrection in atomic terms, that a dead being can have fragments of the matter of which it was composed transported into another being generations later; this is perhaps one of the many reasons for the presence of the qualities of great dead men in succeeding generations, whether in terms of personality or physical resemblance; it is something for deep atomic thinkers to ponder: the atom cannot be destroyed and is eternal, there is a limited amount of matter and on earth it follows an eternal cycle of recycling. This observation seems to echo a metaphoric interpretation of reincarnation in Hinduism, where it is believed that a living being begins a new life in a different physical form or body after biological death.

Most of the atoms on Earth have been present since the formation of the planet itself; a small amount came from outer space and through nuclear reactions. As such, human beings are just a composition of atoms that used to part of something else, we are all recycled. The atoms in our living body used to be the food, the water and the air we consume to remain alive; since our conception in the womb, food, water and air (and all tha atoms that consitute them) has been used by our organic body and transformed into what we are.

When a person dies, the atoms that made up its body is quickly recycled. If a human corpse is buried, the bacteria in the intestinal tract are starved from not being given any food, and they start devouring the corpse itself which leads to decomposition. Decomposition is also dependent on temperature, i.e. a corpse in the tropics will be reduced to a skeleton within days or weeks. If a corpse is buried in a wooden coffin, it quickly becomes food for organisms that live in the soil (e.g. worms), and the atoms that were part of that dead body quickly re-enters the food chain – those atoms become part of whatever consumed the corpse and later of whatever consumes that organism. When the bones decay, which is a slower process, the calcium and phosphorous in those bones will be incorporated in plants. Eventually, those plants will be consumed by people or animals, and those living organisms eventually die, and the cycle through the biosphere goes on over and over. If a corpse is buried in a hermetically sealed container or crypt, then the recycling process is interrupted and that body turns into a soup of rotting flesh and bones. If a corpse is embalmed, then the decomposition process is slowed down, but not halted completely. If a person dies in a very cold region, e.g. on a glacier, then the corpse may be found perfectly frozen and intact dozens or hundreds of year later. In the case where a corpse is cremated, the organic body is combusted, the soft tissues are consumed by oxygen and mostly turn into carbon dioxide: the gases are released into the atmosphere and the bones are reduced to ash, which is mostly carbon. The atoms released in the air from combustion are quickly recycled into other things in the biosphere [environment]; if a person’s ashes are spread around, they eventually re-enter the food chain or are converted into minerals. As such, tiny pieces of a person [his atoms] of this generation, may eventually end up in the pork chop, the corn flakes or the potato salad of his or her grand children.

Hence, the atoms that make up our body come from outer space, and have been around for billions of years since the creation of Earth. We get to use them for a very short amount of time, since our average lifetime is incredibly short and meaningless when we speak in planetary terms [consider a very young planet being 25 million years]. We should make the most of our atoms while we can, because our life is short and once we are gone, our atoms are converted into something else.

The law of thermodynamics states that both matter, which is made up of atoms, and energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Thus, all the atoms in our physical dead body eventually get recycled.

Hence, we can ask ourselves this question:

“Are we truly dead if our atoms still exist?”

Philosophy, Poetry, Tragedy & Comedy were Linked for Centuries

12 hommes en colère de Reginald Rose dpurb 2022

Image : “12 hommes en colère” de Reginald Rose, adaptée par Francis Lombrail et mise en scène par Charles Tordjman (Théâtre Hébertot, Paris, 2022) / Photo : Fabienne Rappeneau

Lucretius’ philosophical work is a huge poem that has been poorly translated like all ancient poetry. Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles and the Roman comedy (e.g. The Iliad, The Odyssey) were all written in verse; this aspect has been forgotten because all translations were made in prose. 5 or 6 years before Christ, intellectuals had to memorise, and poetry was used because it facilitates memorising: just as a song allows us to memorise the words more easily (e.g. Aragon’s poem, sung by Jean Farrain).

There is a lyrical dimension to Lucretius, it is a poetic and scenic dimension. Onfray finds that Lucretius, in his style, tries to get people on board. This is a tangible deduction when we know the extent of Lucretius’ Epicurean thought, which gives the concrete feeling of a real intellectual journey that transforms us for good.

If we take the example of a passage of Lucretius in “De Rerum Natura” which is in the last section of Canto VI, where he describes the plague in Athens, we can see with what descriptive mastery he makes the scene of the plague present, explaining to us a detailed chronology of the beginning, the development and then the horrors of death on men. Onfray wonders if this is really reality and asks himself:

– Is it metaphorical?

– Is it allegorical?

Anything is possible in Lucretius, Onfray notes that he seeks to reach those who are listening, in a message that tries to make the point that the real plague is the human condition – again a metaphor that seems to describe what might be called mental illness in the 21st century.

Philosophy, poetry, tragedy and comedy were linked for centuries. What Lucretius leaves us is an immense existential treatise synthesized in an encyclopedia of the world. Translated into prose, it is an intellectual material available for everyday life where pleasure, which means the absence of suffering, is what we seek and aim for!

Throughout this essay, we have also seen how so many thinkers across different generations have had their thoughts echo each other’s perspectives and beliefs with many also confirmed by modern science.  Good ideas, or good people, find each other and fit together. This reminds the world that all intellectual work that is built on the solid foundations of reason, logic and rationality will echo in eternity. Voltaire was completely right in his correspondence with M. Thiériot dated June 30, 1760, when he wrote: « Les beaux esprits se rencontrent. » [French for: “Beautiful minds meet.”]

« Les beaux esprits se rencontrent. » // Traduction[EN]: “Beautiful minds meet.” – Voltaire

In Lucretius’ writings, there is a multitude of ethical and moral propositions that give man the ability to liberate himself by elevating his mind, to lead an Epicurean philosophical life in particular, a life that is made for happiness – “l’art de vivre” according to Lucretius!

Danny J. D’Purb | DPURB.com

*****

Références

  1. Camus, A., (1948). Ni victimes ni bourreaux. Combat.
  2. Carmel, S., Tovel, H., Raveis, V. and O’Rourke, N., (2018). Is a Decline in Will to Live a Consequence or Predictor of Depression in Late Life?. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 66(7), pp.1290-1295.
  3. Cohen, S., Frank, E., Doyle, W.J., Skoner, D.P., Rabin, B.S. & Gwaltney, J.M., Jr. (1998) Types of stressors that increase susceptibility to the common cold in adults, Health Psychology 17: 214- 23.
  4. Cohen, S. (2005) The Pittsburgh common cold studies: Psychosocial predictors of susceptibility to respiratory infectious illness, International Journal of Behavioral Medecine 12: 123-31.
  5. Cowen, A. and Keltner, D., (2017). Self-report captures 27 distinct categories of emotion bridged by continuous gradients. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(38), pp.E7900-E7909.
  6. Eisenthal, Y., Dror, G. and Ruppin, E., (2006). Facial Attractiveness: Beauty and the Machine. Neural Computation, 18(1), pp.119-142.
  7. France Inter., (2022). La fécondité des Françaises de plus de 40 ans en hausse depuis 1980, d’après l’Insee. France Inter: Société.
  8. Grammer, K. and Thornhill, R., (1994). Human (Homo sapiens) facial attractiveness and sexual selection: The role of symmetry and averageness. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 108(3), pp.233-242.
  9. Hagman, G., (2002). The Sense of Beauty. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 83(3), pp.661-674.
  10. Haughton, N., (2004). Perceptions of beauty in Renaissance art. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 3(4), pp.229-233.
  11. Hubbard, T., (2014). A companion to Greek and Roman sexualities. Chichester: West Sussex, UK.
  12. Kiecolt-Glaser, J.K., Marucha, P.T., Malarkey, W.B., Mercado, A.M. & Glaser, R. (1995) Slowing of wound healing by psychological stress, The Lancet 346: 1194-6
  13. Kiecolt-Glaser, JK., McGuire, L., Robles, TF., Glaer, R. (2002) Psychoneuroimmunology: Psychological Influences on Immune Function and Health, J Consult Clinical Psychology, 70, 537-47
  14. Lazarus, R.S. & Folkman, S. (1984) Stress, Appraisal and Coping, New York: Springer
  15. Le Monde, (2015). Thomas Piketty refuse la Légion d’honneur. Culture. Le Monde.
  16. Liu, C. and Chen, W., (2012). Beauty is Better Pursued: Effects of Attractiveness in Multiple-Face Tracking. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 65(3), pp.553-564.
  17. Lucrèce. and Combeaud, B., (2021). La naissance des choses. Bordeaux: Mollat Editions.
  18. Marcucci, L., (2016). L’« homme vitruvien » et les enjeux de la représentation du corps dans les arts à la Renaissance. Nouvelle revue d’esthétique, 17(1), p.105.
  19. Marucha, P.T., Kiecolt-Glaser, J.K. & Favagehi, M. (1998) Mucosal wound healing is impaired by examination stress, Psychosomatic Medicine60 362-5
  20. Murr, D., Lavaud, L. and Trinquier, J., (2020). Présentation. Aitia. Regards sur la culture hellénistique au XXIe siècle, (10).
  21. O’Connor, D.B., Hendrickx, H., Dadd, T. et al. (2009) Cortisol awakening rise in middle-aged women in relation to chronic psychological stress, Psychoneuroendocrinology 34: 1486-94
  22. Onfray, M., (2021). La conversion: Vivre Selon Lucrèce. Bordeaux: Mollat Editions.
  23. Schmutte, H., (2016). Nietzsche: Entre Génie Et Démence. ARTE
  24. Schopenhauer, A., Roos, R. and Burdeau, A., (2014). Le monde comme volonté et comme représentation. 3rd ed. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
  25. Singh, D. and Singh, D., (2011). Shape and Significance of Feminine Beauty: An Evolutionary Perspective. Sex Roles, 64(9-10), pp.723-731.
  26. Stansbury-O’Donnell, M., (2013). Desirability and the Body. A Companion to Greek and Roman Sexualities, pp.31-53.
  27. Sypeck, M., Gray, J. and Ahrens, A., (2004). No longer just a pretty face: Fashion magazines’ depictions of ideal female beauty from 1959 to 1999. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 36(3), pp.342-347.
  28. The Encyclopedia of Greek Tragedy, (2012). Male and Female Body in Greek Tragedy. pp.789-791.

____________________________________________________

While the aim of the community at dpurb.com has  been & will always be to focus on a modern & progressive culture, human progress, scientific research, philosophical advancement & a future in harmony with our natural environment; the tireless efforts in researching & providing our valued audience the latest & finest information in various fields unfortunately takes its toll on our very human admins, who along with the time sacrificed & the pleasure of contributing in advancing our world through sensitive discussions & progressive ideas, have to deal with the stresses that test even the toughest of minds. Your valued support would ensure our work remains at its standards and remind our admins that their efforts are appreciated while also allowing you to take pride in our journey towards an enlightened human civilization. Your support would benefit a cause that focuses on mankind, current & future generations.

Thank you once again for your time.

Please feel free to support us by considering a donation.

Sincerely,

The Team @ dpurb.com

P.S.
– If you are a group/organization or individual looking for consultancy services, email: info[AT]dpurb.com
If you need to reach Danny J. D’Purb directly for any other queries or questions, email: danny[AT]dpurb.com [Inbox checked periodically / Responses may take up to 20 days or more depending on his schedule]

Stay connected by linking up with us on Facebook and Twitter

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Essay // Developmental Psychology: The 3 Major Theories of Childhood Development

Mis à jour le Mercredi, 14 Avril 2021

TheoriesOfDevelopment danny d'purb dpurb

Source: An Introduction to Developmental Psychology by Slater & Bremner (Blackwell:Oxford, 2nd Edn, 2011)

It is fundamental to undertstand that as human beings, whatever stage of our lives we are, in order to be able to function fully in our daily lives and in any other activity we first of all need to have a strong foundation. That foundation is our brain, and hence, if our brain [i.e. the hardware] is not physiologically within the limits of what is deemed fit and healthy, every aspect of our mind will be affected and also of our lives. There is no psyche [mind] without a brain, because this biological hardware given to us by nature throughout the course of the shared evolutionary history of primates on planet Earth, allows us to experience every aspect of our lives, both physical and psychical [i.e. mental].

So, before diving deeper into the depth of children’s development, we are going to explore this link between brain and behaviour in order to get a foundation of the importance or a healthy brain, for a healthy development and a healthy and fulfulling life, by starting with how brain damage can affect our personalities and mental abilities; we are going to look at the Frontal lobe, which is the part of the brain behind our forehead responsible for problem solving, strategic planning, use of environmental instructions to shift procedures, and the inhibition of impulsivity.

FLD

(Photo: Jez C Self / Frontal Lobe Gone)

 

Frontal Lobes (& Frontal Lobe Damage)

The Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST; Grant & Berg, 1948; Heaton, Chelune,Talley, & Curtis, 1993) has long been used in Neuropsychology and is among the most frequently administered neuropsychological instruments (Butler, Retzlaff, & Vanderploeg, 1991).

The test was specifically devised to assess executive functions mediated by the frontal lobes such as problem solving, strategic planning, use of environmental instructions to shift procedures, and the inhibition of impulsivity. Some neuropsychologists however, have questioned whether the test can measure complex cognitive processes believed to be mediated by the Frontal lobes (Bigler, 1988; Costa, 1988).

The WCST test, until this day remains widely used in clinical settings as frontal lobe injuries are common worldwide. Performance on the WCST test is believed to be particular sensitive in reflecting the possibilities of patients having frontal lobe damage (Eling, Derckx, & Maes, 2008). On each Wisconsin card, patterns composed of either one, two, three or four identical symbols are printed. Symbols are either stars, triangle, crosses or circles; and are either red, blue, yellow or green.

At the start of the test, the patient has to deal with four stimulus cards that are different from one another in the colour, form and number of symbols they display. The aim of the participant would be to correctly sort cards from a deck into piles in front of the stimulus cards. However, the participant is not aware whether to sort by form, colour or by number. The participant generally starts guessing and is told after each card has been sorted whether it was correct or incorrect.

Firstly they are generally instructed to sort by colour; however as soon as several correct responses are registered, the sorting rule is changed to either shape or number without any notice, besides the fact that responses based on colour suddenly become incorrect. As the process continues, the sorting principle is changed as the participant learns a new sorting principle.

potbIt has been noted that those with frontal lobe area damage often continue to sort according to only one particular sorting principle for 100 or more trials even after the principle has been deemed as incorrect (Demakis, 2003). The ability to correctly remember new instructions with for effective behaviour is near impossible for those with brain damage: a problem known as ‘perseveration’.

Another widely used test is the ‘Stroop Task’ which sets out to test a patient’s ability to respond to colours of the ink of words displayed with alternating instructions. Frontal patients are known for badly performing to new instructions. As the central executive is part of the frontal lobe, other problems such as catatonia – a condition where patients remain motionless and speechless for hours while unable to initiate – can arise. Distractibility has also been observed, where sufferers are easily distracted by external or internal stimuli. Lhermite (1983) also observed the ‘Utilisation Syndrome’ in some patients with Dysexecutive Syndrome (Normal & Shallice, 1986), who would grab and use random objects available to them pathologically.

 

Incomplete Frontal Lobe Development & Impulsiveness in Children

Image: PsyBlog

The Frontal lobe, responsible for most executive functions and attention, has shown to take years [at least 20] to fully develop. The Frontal lobe [located behind the forehead] is responsible for all thoughts and voluntary behaviour such as motor skills, emotions, problem-solving and speech.

In childhood, as the frontal lobe develops, new functions are constantly added; the brain’s activity in childhood is so intense that it uses nearly half of the calories consumed by the child in its development.

As the Pre-Frontal Lobe/Cortex is believed to take a considerable amount of at least 20 years to reach maturity (Diamond, 2002), children’s impulsiveness seem to be linked to neurological factors with the Pre-Frontal Lobe/Cortex; particularly, their [sometimes] inability to inhibit response(s).

The idea was supported by developmental psychologist and philosopher Jean Piaget‘s  Theory of Cognitive Development of Children [known for his epistemological studies] where he showed the A-not-B error [also known as the “stage 4 error” or “perseverative error”] is mostly made by infants during the substage 4 of their sensorimotor stage.

Researchers used 2 boxes, marked A and B, where the experimenter had repeatedly hid a visually attractive toy under the Box A within the infant’s reach [for the latter to find]. After the infant had been conditioned to look under Box A, the critical trial had the experimenter move the toy under Box B.

Children of 10 months or younger make the “perseveration error” [looked under Box A although fully seeing experimenter move the toy under Box B]; demonstrating a lack of schema of object permanence [unlike adults with fully developed Frontal lobes].

gmatter

Frontal lobe development in adults was compared with that in adolescents, e.g. Sowell et al (1999); Giedd et all (1999); who noted differences in Grey matter volume; and differences in White matter connections. Adolescents are likely to have their response inhibition and executive attention performing less intensely than adults’. There has also been a growing & ongoing interest in researching the adolescent brain; where great differences in some areas are being discovered.

The Pre-Frontal Lobe/Cortex [located behind the forehead] is essential for ‘mentalising’ complex social and cognitive tasks. Wang et al (2006) and Blakemore et al (2007) provided more evidence between the difference in Pre-Frontal Lobe activity when ‘mentalising’ between adolescents and adults. Anderson, Damasio et al (1999) also noted that patients with very early damage to their frontal lobes suffered throughout their adult lives.

skull

2 subjects with Frontal Lobe damage were studied:

1) Subject A: Female patient of 20 years old who suffered damages to her Frontal lobe at 15 months old was observed as being disruptive through adult life; also lied, stole, was verbally and physically abusive to others; had no career plans and was unable to remain in employment.

2) Subject B was a male of 23 years of age who had sustained damages to his Frontal lobe at 3 months of age; he turned out to be unmotivated, flat with bursts of anger, slacked in front of the television while comfort eating, and ended up obese in poor hygiene and could not maintain employment. [However…]

Reflections

While research and tests have proven the link between personality traits & mental abilities and frontal brain damage, the physiological defects of the frontal lobe would likely be linked to certain traits deemed negative by a subject willing to be a functional member of society [generally Western societies].

However, personality traits similar to the above Subjects [A & B] may in fact not always be linked to deficiency and/or damage to the frontal lobes; as many other factors are to be considered when assessing the behaviour & personality traits of subjects; where [for example] violence and short temper may [at times] be linked to a range of factors and environmental events during development, or other mental strains such as sustained stress, emotional deficiencies due to abnormal brain neurochemistry, genetics, or other factors that may lead to intense emotional reactivity [such as provocation or certain themes/topics that have high emotional salience to particular subjects, ‘passion‘]

 

THE 3 MAJOR THEORIES OF DEVELOPMENT

In 1984, Nicholas Humphrey described us as “nature’s psychologists’” or homo psychologicus. What he meant was that as intelligent social beings, we tend to use our knowledge of our own thoughts and feelings – “introspection” – as a guide for understanding how others are likely to think, feel and hence, behave. He also argued that we are conscious [i.e. we have self-awareness] precisely because such an attribute is useful in the process of understanding others and having a successful social existence – consciousness is a biological adaptation that enables us to perform introspective psychology. Today, we are confident in the knowledge that the process of understanding others’ thoughts, feelings and behaviour is an ability that develops through childhood and most likely throughout our lives; and according to the greatest child psychologist of all time, Jean Piaget, a crucial phase of this process occurs in middle childhood.

Developmental psychology can be characterised as the field that attempts to understand and explain the changes that happen over time in the thought, behaviour, reasoning and functioning of a person due to biological, individual and environmental influences. Developmental psychologists study children’s development, and the development of human behaviour across the organism’s lifetime from a variety of different perspectives. Hence, if we are studying different areas of development, different theoretical perspectives will be fundamental and may influence the ways psychologists and scholars think about and study development.

Through the systematic collection of knowledge and experiments, we can develop a greater understanding and awareness of ourselves than would otherwise be possible.

 

Focussing on changes with time

The new born infant is a helpless creature, with communications skills that are limited along with few abilities. By 18 – 24 months, the end of the period of infancy – this scenario changes. The child has now formed relationships with others, has gained knowledge about the aspects of the physical world, and is about to undergo a vocabulary explosion as language development leaps ahead. At the time of adolescence, the child has turned into a mature, thinking individual actively striving to come to terms with a fast changing and complex society.

The important contribution to development, is maturation and the changes resulting from experience that intervene between the different ages and stages of childhood: the term maturation refers to those aspects of development that are primarily under genetic control, and which are relatively uninfluenced by the environment. An example would be puberty, and although its onset can be affected by environmental factors such as diet, the changes that occur are genetically determined.

 

Development Observed

The biologist, Charles Darwin, notable for his theory of evolution, made one of the earliest contributions to our understanding of child psychology in his article “A biographical sketch of an infant” (1877), which was based on observations of his own son’s development. By the early 20th century, most of our understanding of psychological development was not based on scientific methodology as much was still based on anecdotes and opinions of qualitative analysis, a method that strict empiricists have never managed to grasp or like. Nevertheless, knowledge was still being organised through both observation and experiment and during the 1920s and 1930s the study of child development started to grow as a movement, particularly in the USA with the founding of Institutes of Child Study or Child Welfare in university centres such as Iowa and Minnesota. Minute observations were made of young children in their developmental phase along with normal and abnormal behaviour and adjustment. In the 1920s Jean Piaget started his long and passionate career in child psychology, blending observation and experiment in his studies of children’s thinking.

The observations carried out in naturalistic settings was soon criticised by the empiricists of the behavioural movement in the 1940s and 1950s [although it continued to be the method of choice in the study of animal behaviour by zoologists]. This led to many psychologist carrying their experiments under laboratory conditions with statistical methods, and such experiments although come with some advantages from the perspective of empirical statistics, they do have limitations and drawbacks [e.g. on measuring qualitative aspects of personality such as emotions, values, etc]. It should be noted that much of the laboratory work on child development from the 1950s and 1960s has been described by Urie Bronfenbrenner (1979) as “the science of the behaviour of children in strange situations with strange adults”.

Schaffer (1996, pp. xiv – xvii) notes other changes in the methods in which psychologists now approach child development, such as the importance in understanding the processes of how children grow and develop rather than simply outcomes, and to integrate findings from a range of sources at different levels of analysis – for example meaningful others, community [geography, socio-linguistics, arts, etc] and culture [religion, nationality(ies), education, class, etc).

In the course of this essay, we will be integrating perspectives to make the most of the findings in distinguishing differences in personality, by reflecting on the links to be made by psychologists between the concept of the child’s “internal working model of relationships” and discoveries about the “theory of mind”.

It is fundamental to acknowledge that psychology itself is mostly based on accurate approximations due to the statistical methods used and the problematic nature of the qualitative variables measured, and not precision. And with this in mind, we should accept the complementary virtues of various different methods of investigation and gain a sense that the child’s process of development and the socio-behavioural context in which they exist are closely intertwined, each having an influence on the other.

 

Defining development according to world views

Intellectuals and researchers who study development also have different views on the topic, that is, the way in which development is defined, and the areas of development that are of interest to individual researchers generally orients them towards specific methodologies and philosophy when studying development.

We are now going to look at the 2 main views in the study of development given by psychologists who hold different views or sometimes combine elements of both, like ourselves, being firmly on the organic perspective of development and construction.

A world view [also known as paradigm, model, or world hypothesis] can be characterised as “a philosophical system of thinking, perceiving and feeling [ideas and more] that serves to organise a set or family of scientific theories and associated scientific methods” (1986, p. 42).

They are beliefs we adopt because it aligns with our values, and these are qualitative and often not open to common reductive empirical tests – that is precisely why we believe them!

Lerner and others note that many developmental theories appear to fall under one or two world views: organismic and mechanistic.

 

Organismic World View

The organismic world view which is the main view that we adopted to be the foundation of the Organic Theory, is one that sees a human being on earth as a biological organism that is inherently active and continually interacting with the environment [all aspects and dimensions], and therefore helping to shape its own development. The organismic worldview emphasises the interaction between maturation and experience that leads to the development of new internal, psychological structures for processing environmental input (e.g. Getsdottir & Lerner, 2008).

As Lerner states: “The Organismic model stresses the integrated structural features of the organism. If the parts making up the whole become reorganised as a consequence of the organism’s active construction of its own functioning, the structure of the organism may take on a new meaning; thus qualitatively distinct principles may be involved in human functioning at different points in life. These distinct, or new, levels of organisation are termed stages…” (p.57). A good analogy would be qualitative changes that take place when the molecules of two gasses hydrogen and oxygen, combine to form a liquid, water. Many other qualitative changes happen to water when it changes from frozen (ice) to liquid (water) to steam (vapour). Depending on the temperature, these qualitative changes in the state of water are easily reversed, BUT in human development the qualitative changes that take place are very rarely, if ever, reversible – that is, each new stage represents an advance on the previous stage, and the organism [human being] does not regress to former stages.

Irreversible

The main argument is that the new stage is not simply reducible to components of the previous stage; it represents new characteristics that were not present in the previous stage.

For example, the organism appears to pass through structural changes during foetal development [See Picture A].

PA Development of the human foetal brain_A_v2.jpg

PICTURE A. Development of the human foetal brain / Source: Adapted from J.H.Martin (2003), Neuroanatomy Text and Atlas (3rd ed., p.51). Stamford, CT:Appleton & Lange.

In the initial stage [Period of the Ovumfirst few weeks after conception] cells multiply and form clusters; in the second stage [Period of the Embryo – 2 – 8 weeks] the major body parts are formed by cell multiplication, specialisation and migration as well as cell death; in the last stage [Period of the Foetus] the body parts mature and begin to operate as an integrated system [e.g. head orientation towards and away from stimulation, arm extensions and grasping, thumb sucking, startles to loud noises, and so on (Fifer, 2010; Hepper, 2007)]. It is important to understand that similar stages of psychological development are postulated to happen after birth also, and the individual from one stage to another is different with new abilities that cannot be reversed.

Jean Piaget is perhaps the greatest and best example of a successful organismic theorist. Piaget suggested that cognitive development occurs in stages and that the reasoning of the child at one stage is qualitatively different from that of the earlier or later stages.

Partir en Livre BNF Bibliothèque nationale de France dpurb d'purb site web

“Chaque civilisation se forge un mythe destiné à expliquer son apparition et construit sa tradition écrite autour d’un support privilégié” / Découvrez (Liens): (i) l’aventure des écritures et (ii) l’aventure du livre | Source: La Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF)

The main job of the developmental psychologist who believes in the organismic worldview [like ourselves] is to determine when [i.e., at what age?] different psychological stages operate and what variables and processes represent the different between stages and determine the transition between them.

 

Mechanistic World View

From the mechanistic world view, it is assumed that a person can be broken down into components and can be represented as being like a machine [such as a computer], which is inherently passive until stimulated by the environment [this view seems to be more in line with the early British thinkers about the brain]. Human behaviour is reducible to the operation of fundamental behavioural units [e.g. habits] that are acquired in a progressive, cumulative manner. The mechanistic view assumes that the frequency of behaviours can increase with age due to various learning processes and they can decrease with age when they no longer have any functional consequence, or lead to negative consequences [such as punishment]. The developmental psychologists job here is to study environmental factors, or principles of learning, which determine the way organisms respond to stimulation, and which results in increases, decreases, and changes in behaviour.

Quite unlike the organismic world view, the mechanistic world view sees development as reflected by a more continuous growth function, rather than occurring in qualitatively different stages, and the child is believed to be passive rather than active in shaping its own development and its environment. This mechanistic view is generally embraced by behaviourists and cognitive-behaviourists who function on a reductionist philosophy based on the limitations of the scientific method when faced with understanding psychology and the mechanism of mind; instead they tend to focus on measurable behaviour and treat the brain as an information processing centre with a highly similar logic to a computer. The mechanistic view while being fairly grotesque due to its reductionist values, has revealed to be very practical in the study of human-machine interaction and along with new cognitive methods, it has helped to enhance the design of technological equipment to improve human experience in a wide range of areas.

As for us, we are mostly on the perspective of the organismic school of thought but refuse to completely dismiss all the mechanistic world view’s elements, because some of it can be embedded as secondary cognitive processes carried out by the conscious or preconscious areas of the mind when appraising stimuli from an organism’s environment. Hence, some elements can be embedded in understanding interaction with basic objects and elements of an organism’s “external” [not internal] environment, but to fully base our thoughts and behaviour on a mechanistic world view would arguably be irrationally reductionist.

 

Theories of Development

 

“Es gibt nichts Praktischeres al seine gute Theorie.”

–Emmanuel Kant (1724 – 1804)

 

“There is nothing so practical as a good theory.”

-Kurt Lewin (1944, p. 195)

 

Human development is complex and it would be irrational to expect a single universal theory of development that could do justice to this complexity, and indeed no theory of development attempts to do so. Each theory attempts to account for only a limited range of development and it is often the case that within each area of development there are competing theoretical views, each attempting to account for the same aspects of development. We shall see below some of this complexity and conflict in our account of different theoretical views.

First of all, it would be helpful to understand what is implied by a “Theory” in the field of developmental psychology. A theory of development is a scheme or system of ideas that is generally based on evidence and attempts to explain, describe and predict behaviour and development. So, from this account, it is quite clear that a theory aims to bring order to what might otherwise be a chaotic mass of information – and hence why there may indeed not be anything more practical than a good theory.

We usually deal with at least 2 kinds of theory in every area of development, we have the minor theories [that are generally concerned with very specific and narrow areas of development such as eye movements, the origins of pointing and so on], and we have the major theories which are the ones we are primarily interested in as they attempt to explain large areas of development.

They have been divided in 3 groups for the purpose of this essay, with cognition, emotion and motivation in focus:

(I) The Theory of Cognitive Development of Jean Piaget


(II) The Theory of Attachment in Emotional Development by John Bowlby


(III) The Genetic/Psychosexual Model of Development by Sigmund Freud

 

__________

 

(I) The Theory of Cognitive Development (Jean Piaget)

The theory of cognitive development we are interested in is that of Jean Piaget who saw children as active agents in shaping their own development,  and not simply blank slates who passively and unthinkingly responds to whatever the environment throws at them or treats them to [an assumption that is insulting to human intelligence, hence why we do not subscribe blindly to the passive school of thought but only consider some elements related to very basic cognitive processes].

This suggests that children’s behaviour and development is motivated largely intrinsically (internally) rather than extrinsically (externally).

For Piaget and intellectuals with a firm belief in the mind as an active entity, children learn to adapt to their environment and as a result of their cognitive adaptations they are now better able to understand their world. Adaptation is an act that all living organisms have evolved to do and as children adapt, they also gradually construct more advanced understanding [internal working models] of their worlds.

These more advanced understanding of the world reflect themselves in the appearance of new stages of development. Piaget’s theory is the best and most accomplished example of the organismic world view, and it portrays children as inherently active, continually interacting with various dimensions of their environments, in such a way as to shape their own development.

With this assumption in mind, Piaget’s theory is also often referred to the Constructivist Theory.

 

Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development (0 – 12 yrs)

Jean Piaget’s theory developed out of his early interest in observing animals in their natural environment. Piaget published his first article at the age of 10 about the description of an albino sparrow that he had observed in the park, and before the age of 18, journals had accepted several of his papers about molluscs. During his adolescent years, the young theorist developed a keen interest in philosophy, particularly “epistemology” [the branch of philosophy focused on knowledge and the acquisition of it]. However, his undergraduate studies were in the field of biology and his doctoral dissertation was once again, on molluscs.

For a short while, Piaget then worked at Bleuler’s psychiatric clinic where his interest in psychoanalysis grew. As a results, he moved to France and attended the Sorbonne university, in 1919 to study clinical psychology and also pursued his interest in philosophy. In Paris, he worked in the Binet Laboratory with Theodore Simon on the standardisation of intelligence tests. Piaget’s task was to monitor children’s correct response to test times, but instead, he became much more interested in the mistakes that children made, and developed the idea that the study of children’s errors could provide an insight into their cognitive processes.

Piaget came to realise that through the process and discipline of psychology, he had an opportunity to create links between epistemology and biology. Through the integration of the disciplines of psychology, biology and epistemology, Piaget aimed to develop a scientific approach to the understanding of knowledge – the nature of knowledge and the ways in which an organism acquires knowledge. As a man who valued richness and detail, Piaget was not at all impressed by the reductionist quantitative methods used by the empiricists of the time, however, he was influenced by the work on developmental psychology by Binet, a French psychologist who had pioneered studies of children’s thinking [his method of observing children in their natural setting was one that Piaget followed himself when he left the Binet laboratory].

Piaget later integrated his own experience of psychiatric work in Bleuler’s clinic with the observational and questioning strategies that he had learned from Binet. Out of this fusion of techniques emerged the “Clinical Interview” [an open-ended, conversational technique for eliciting children’s thinking (cognitive) processes]. It was the child’s own subjective judgement and explanation that was of interest to Piaget, as he was not testing a particular hypothesis, but rather looking for an explanation of how the child comes to understand his or her world. The method is not simple, and the team of Piaget’s researchers had to be trained for 1 year before they actually started collecting data. They were trained and educated about the “art” of asking the right questions and testing the truth of what the children said.

Piaget’s career was devoted to the quest for the mechanisms guiding biological adaptation, and also the analysis of logical thought [that derives from these adaptations and interaction with the exterior environment] (Boden, 1979). He wrote more than 50 books and hundreds of articles, correcting many of his earlier ideas in later life. At its core, the theory of Jean Piaget is concerned with the human need to discover and acquire deeper understanding and knowledge.

Piaget’s incredible output of concepts and ideas characterises his attitude towards constant construction and reconstruction of his theoretical system, which was quite consistent with his philosophy of knowledge, and perhaps indirectly to the school of thought of the mind as an “active” entity.

This section will explore the model of cognitive structure developed by Piaget along with the modifications and some of the re-interpretations that subsequent Piagetian researchers have made to the master’s initial ideas. Although many details have been questioned, it is undeniable that Piaget’s contribution to the understanding of thinking processes [cognitive] of both children and adults.

One great argument made by the theorist suggested that if we are to understand how children think we ought to look at the qualitative development of their problem-solving abilities.

Two famous examples from Piaget’s experiments will be considered that explore the thinking processes in children, showing how they develop more sophisticated problem-solving skills.

Example 1 – One of Piaget’s dialogue with a 7-year-old

Adult:    Does the moon move or not?
Child:    When we go, it goes.
Adult:    What makes it move?
Child:    We do.
Adult:    How?
Child:    When we walk. It goes by itself.

(Piaget, 1929, pp. 146-7)

From this example and other observations based on the similar theme, Piaget described a particular period in childhood which is marked by egocentrism. Since the moon appears to move with the child, she concluded that it does indeed do so. But as the child grows and her sense of logic follows, there is a shift from her own egocentric perspective where the child starts to learn to differentiate between what she sees and she “knows”. Gruber and Vonèche (1977) provide a good example of how an older child used her sense of logic to investigate the movement of the moon. This particular child had sent his younger brother for a walk down the garden while he himself remained immobile. The younger child reported that the moon moved with him, but the older boy realised from his observation that the moon did not move and could then disprove this wrong information with his brother.

Example 2 – Estimating the Quantity of a Liquid

FA Piaget Liquid Quantity

FIGURE A. Estimating a quantity of liquid

This example is taken from Piaget’s research into children’s understanding of quantity. Let us assume that John [aged 4] and Mary [aged 7] are given a problem; two glasses, A and B, are of equal capacity [volume] but glass A is short and wide and glass B is tall and narrow [See Figure A]. Glass A is filled to a particular height and the children would then be asked, separately, to pour liquid into glass B [tall and narrow] so that it would contain the same amount as glass A. Despite the striking proportional differences of the 2 containers, John could not grasp that the smaller diameter of glass B requires a higher level of liquid. To Mary, John’s response is incredibly senseless and stupid: of course one would have to add more to glass B. Piaget interestingly saw the depth of the argument that was in the responses of those children. John could not “see” that the liquid in A and the liquid in B are not equal, because his thought processes are using a mechanism that is qualitatively different in terms of reasoning and that is not yet developed [perhaps due to physiological/hardware limitations] and lacks the mental operations that would have allowed him to solve the problem. Mary, the 7 year old girl finds it hard to understand 4 year old John’s stupidity and why he could not perceive his error.

Facing this situation, Piaget brilliantly proposed that the essence of knowledge is “activity” – a line of thought and perspective adopted by many psychologists and intellectuals from the German and French school of Lacan quite opposite to the early British thoughts that assumed the mind to be “passive” and mostly shaped by the effects of the outside environment.  This argument is not only one that embraces human ingenuity and creativity and acknowledges our instinctual drives to thrive and succeed but also characterises the mind as an entity with high creative power instead of simple junction of neurons conditioned to react to stimuli from its environment almost helplessly as the “passive” school assumed it to be. Hence, to Piaget and ourselves, the essence of knowledge is “activity”, he could be referring to the infant directly manipulating objects and in doing so also learning about their properties. It may also refer to a child pouring liquid from one glass to another to find out which has more in it. Or it may refer to the adolescent forming hypotheses to solve a scientific dilemma. In the examples mentioned, it is important to note that the learning process of the child is taking place through “action”, whether physical (e.g. exploring a ball of clay) or mental (e.g. thinking of various outcomes and reflecting on what they mean). Piaget’s emphasis on activity was important in stimulating the child-centred approach to education, because he firmly believed that for lasting learning to occur, children would not only have to manipulate objects but also manipulate and define ideas. The major educational implications of Piaget will be discussed later in this section.

 

Assumptions of Piaget’s Theory of Development: Structure & Organisation

Through his carefully devised techniques, and using observations, dialogues and small-scale experiments, Piaget suggested that children progress through a series of stages in their thinking, each of which synchronises with major changes in the structure or logic of their intelligence. [See Table A]

TA Piaget - Stages of Intellectual Development

TABLE A. The Stages of Intellectual Development in Piaget’s Theory

Piaget named the main stages of development and the order in which the occurred as:

I. The Sensori-Motor Stage [0 – 2 years]
II. The Pre-Operational Stage [2 – 7 years]
III. The Concrete Operational Stage [7 – 12 years]
IV. The Formal Operational Stages [12 years but may vary from one child to the other]

Piaget’s structures are sets of mental operations, which can be applied to objects, beliefs, ideas or anything in the child’s world, and these mental operations are known as “schemas”. The schemas are characterised as being evolving structures, in other words, structures that grow and change from one stage to the next.

The details of each section of the 4 stages will be explored below, however it is fundamental that we first understand Piaget’s concept of the unchanging or “invariant” [to use his own term – this may be related to temperament but here it involves another set of abilities] aspects of thought, which refers to the broad characteristics of intelligent activity that remains constant throughout the human organism’s life.

These are the organisation of schemas and their adaptation through assimilation and accommodation.

Organisation: Piaget used this term to explain the innate ability to coordinate existing cognitive structures, or schemas, and combine them into more complex systems [e.g. a baby of 3 months old has gained the ability to combine looking and grasping, with the earlier reflex of sucking]. The baby is able to perform all three actions together when feeding from her mother’s breast or a feeding bottle, an ability that the new born child did not originally have in his/her repertoire. A further example would be Ben who at the age of 2 had learned to climb downstairs while carrying objects without dropping them, and also to open doors. This means that he could then combine all three operations to deliver newspaper to his grandmother in the basement flat. To note, each separate operation combines into a new action more complex than the sum of the parts.

The complexity of the organisation also grows as the schemas become more elaborate. Piaget described the development of a particular action schema in his son Laurent as he attempted to strike a hanging object. Initially, Laurent only made random movement towards the object, but at the age of 6 months the movements had evolved and were now deliberate, focused and well directed. As Piaget put it in his description, at 6 months old, Laurent possessed the mental structure that guided the action involved in hitting a toy. Laurent had also gained the ability to accommodate his actions to the weight, size and shape of the toy and its distance from him.

The next invariant function, adaptation is characterised by the striving of the organism for balance [or equilibrium] with the environment, and is achieved through the further processes of “assimilation” and “accommodation”. During the process of assimilation, the child’s repertoire of knowledge expands and he/she takes in [learns about] a new experience [and the knowledge acquired with it] and fits it into an existing schema. For example, a child may learn the words “dog” and “car”, and following this enigmatic event, the child may call all animals “dogs” [i.e. different animals taken into a schema related to the child’s understanding of dog], or all vehicles with four wheels are called “cars”. The process of accommodation balances this erroneous process, where the child adjusts an existing schema to fit in with the nature of the environment [i.e. from experience, the child begins to perceive that cats can be distinguished from dogs, and may develop schemas for these 2 different animals – also that cars can be distinguished from other vehicles such as trucks or lorries.

By these two processes, namely assimilation and accommodation, the child achieves a new state of equilibrium which is however not permanent as this balance is generally soon upset as the child assimilates further new experiences or accommodates her existing schemas to another new idea.

Equilibrium only seems to prepare the child for more disequilibrium through further learning and adaptation; these two processes occur together and cannot be thought of separately. Assimilation provides the child with consolidation for mental structures; and accommodation results in growth and change. All adaptations contains the components of both processes and striving for balance between assimilation and accommodation [Remember: Organisation  Adaptation + (Assimilation & Accommodation)] leads to the child’s intrinsic motivation to learn [This is also reminiscent of the psychodynamic school of thought as several processes colliding to find balance in its model of the mental life of the individual mind]. When new experiences are within the child’s response range in terms of abilities, then conditions are said to be at their best for change and growth to occur.


The Stages of Cognitive Development

To adepts of Piaget’s outlook, intellectual development is a continuous process of assimilation and accommodation. We will not describe the four stages identified in the development of cognition from birth to about 12 years old [in normal children]. This order is similar for all children but the age these milestones are achieved may vary from one child to another – with the stages being:

I. The Sensori-Motor Stage [0 – 2 years]
II. The Pre-Operational Stage [2 – 7 years]
III. The Concrete Operational Stage [7 – 12 years]
IV. The Formal Operational Stages [12 years but may vary from one child to the other]


I. The Sensori-Motor Stage (about 0 – 2 years) | Stage 1 of 4

During the sensori-motor stage the child changes from a newborn, who focuses almost entirely on immediate sensory and motor experiences, to a toddler who possesses a rudimentary capacity for thinking. Piaget described in detail the process by which this occurs, by documenting his own children’s behaviour. On the basis of such observations, carried over the first 2 years of life, Piaget divided the sensori-motor stage into 6 sub-stages. [See Table B]

TB Sub-stages of the sensori-motor period

TABLE B. Substages of the sensori-motor period according to Piaget

The first substage, reflex activity, included the reflexive behaviours and spontaneous rhythmic activity with which the infant is born. Piaget called the second substage primary circular reactions. He used the term “circular” to emphasise how children tend to repeat an activity, especially those that are pleasing or satisfying (e.g. thumb sucking). The term “primary” refers to simple behaviours that are derived from the reflexes of the first period [e.g. thumb sucking develops as the thumb is assimilated into a schema based on the innate suckling reflex].

Secondary circular reactions refer to the child’s willingness to repeat actions, but the word “secondary” is used here to point out the behaviours that are the child’s very own. In other words, she is not limited to just repeating actions based on early reflexes, but having initiated new actions, she can now repeat these if they are satisfying. However, at the same time, these actions tend to be directed outside the child (unlike simple actions like thumb sucking) and are aimed at influencing the environment around her.

This is Piaget’s description of his own daughter Jacqueline at 5 months old, kicking her legs (in itself a primary circular reaction) in what gradually ascends to a secondary circular reaction as the leg movement is repeated not just for itself, but is initiated in the presence of a doll.

Jacqueline looks at a doll attached to a string which is stretched from the hood to the handle of the cradle. The doll is approximately the same level as the child’s feet. Jacqueline moves her feet and finally strikes the doll, whose movement she immediately notices… The activity of the feet grows increasingly regular whereas Jacqueline’s eyes are fixed on the doll. Moreover, when I remove the doll Jacqueline occupies herself quite differently; when I replace it, after a moment, she immediately starts to move her legs again.

(Piaget, 1936, p. 182)

In displaying such behaviours, Jacqueline seemed to have established a general relation between her movement and the doll’s, and was also engaged in a secondary circular reaction.

Coordination of Secondary Circular Reactions, being substage 4 of the Sensori-motor period, and as the word “coordination” implies, it is particularly at this substage that children begin to combine different behavioural schema. In the following extracted section, Piaget described how his daughter (aged 8 months) combined several schemas, such as “sucking an object” and “grasping an object” in a series of coordinated actions when playing with a new object:

Jacqueline grasps an unfamiliar cigarette case which I present to her. At first she examines it very attentively, turns it over, then holds it in both hands while making the sound apff (a kind of hiss which she usually makes in the presence of people). After than she rubs it against the wicker of her cradle then draws herself up while looking at it, then swings it above her and finally puts it in her mouth.

(Piaget, 1936, p. 284)

Jacqueline’s behaviour illustrates how a new object is assimilated to various existing schema in the fourth substage. In the following stage, that of tertiary circular reactions children’s behaviours become more flexible and when they repeat actions they may do so with variations, which can lead to new results. By repeating actions with variations, children are, in effect, accommodating established schema to new contexts and needs.

The final sub-stage of the sensori-motor period is known as the substage of Internal Representations and it refers to the child’s achievement of mental representation. The previous substages the child has interacted with the world through her physical motor schema, another way of phrasing it would be that, she has acted directly on the world. In this final substage, she can now act “indirectly” on the world because she has developed the capacity to hold mental representations of the world – that is, she can now think and plan.

As evidence for children attaining the level of mental representation, Piaget pointed out that by this substage children have a full concept of object permanence. Piaget noticed that very young infants ignored even highly attractive objects once they were out of sight [e.g. a child reaching for a toy, but then the toy is suddenly covered with a cloth and it immediately leads to the child losing all interest in it and would not attempt to search for it, and might even just look away]. According to Piaget it was only after the later substages that children demonstrated an awareness [by searching and trying to retrieve the object] that the object was “permanently” present even if it was temporarily out of sight. Searching for an object that cannot be seen directly implies that the child has a memory of the object, i.e. a mental representation of it.

It is only towards the end of the sensori-motor period that children demonstrated novel patterns of behaviour in response to a problem. For example, if a child wants to reach for a toy and comes across an object between herself and the desired toy, younger children might just try and reach for the toy directly and it is possible that the child knocks over the object while reaching for the target toy – this is best described as “Trial and Error” performance. In the later substages, the child might solve the problem by instead first removing the object out of the way before reaching for the desired toy. Such structured behaviour suggests that the child was able to plan ahead, which indicates that he/she had a mental representation of what she was going to do.

An example of planned behaviour by Jacqueline was given where she was trying to solve the problem of opening a door while carrying two blades of grass at the same time:

She stretches out her right hand towards the knob but sees that she is cannot turn it without letting go of the grass. She puts the grass on the floor, opens the door, picks up the grass again and enters. But when she wants to leave the room things become complicated. She put the grass on the floor and grasps the door knob but then she realises that in pulling the door towards her she will simultaneously chase away the grass which she placed between the door and the threshold. She therefore picks it up in order to put it outside of the door’s zone of movement.

(Piaget, 1936, pp. 376-7)

Jacqueline solved the problem of the grass and the door before she opened the door. It is assumed that she would have had a mental representation of the problem, which permitted her to work out the solution, before she acted.

A third line of evidence for mental representations comes from Piaget’s observation of deferred imitation, that is when children carry out a behaviour that is a reflection of copied behaviour that was previously taken in by the developing child. Piaget provides a good example of this:

At 16 months old Jacqueline had a visit from a little boy of 18 months who she used to see from time to time, and who, in the course of the afternoon got into a terrible temper. He screamed and he tried to get out of a playpen and pushed it backward, stamping his feet. Jacqueline stood observing him in amazement, having never witnessed such a scene before. The following day, she herself screamed in her playpen and tried to move it, stamping her foot lightly several times in succession.

(Piaget, 1951, p. 63)

This suggests that if the little boy’s behaviour was repeated by Jacqueline a day later, she would have had to have retained an image of his behaviour, i.e. she had a mental representation of what she had seen from the day before, and that representation provided the basis for her own copy of the temper tantrum.

To conclude, during the sensori-motor period, the child advances from very simple and limited reflex behaviours at birth, to complex behaviours at the end of the period. The more complex behaviours depend on the progressive combination and elaboration of the schema, but are, at the beginning, limited to direct interactions with the world – thus, the name Piaget gave to this period because he thought of the child developing through her sensori-motor interaction with the environment. It is only towards the end of that period that the child is not limited to immediate interaction anymore because she has now developed the ability to mentally represent her world [mental representation], and with this ability the child can manipulate her mental images (or symbols) of her world, in other words, she can now act on her thoughts about the world as well as on the world itself.

fille-dessinant-mur d'purb dpurb site web

Revisions of the Sensori-motor Stage

Jean Piaget’s observations of babies during this first stage lasting until 2 years of age, have been largely confirmed by subsequent reseachers, however Piaget may have underestimated children’s mental capacity to organize the sensory and motor information they take in. Several investigators have shown that children have abilities and concepts earlier than Piaget thought.

Bower (1982) examined Piaget’s hypothesis that young children did not have an appreciation of objects if they were not in sight. For this experiment, children a few months old were recruited and shown an object, and shortly after a screen was moved across in front of the object [so that it would be hidden/unseen from the child’s visual field], to then finally be moved back to its original position. This scenario was presented with 2 slight changes: in Condition 1 the object was still in place and hence seen again by the child when the screen was moved back to its original location; and in Condition 2, the object was removed so the child would perceive the object to have disappeared when the screen was moved back. After monitoring the children’s heart rate to measure changes [which reflect surprise]. To go back to Piaget’s assumptions from his qualitative observations, it would be assumed that children of a few months old do not retain information about objects that are no longer present, and if this was the case, we would not register any heart rate change because as there should be no element of surprise [i.e. the child would not expect an object to be there once the screen was moved back to its original location], thus in Condition 2, no reaction should be displayed by the children, however it was found that children displayed more surprise in Condition 2 and Bower inferred that the children would have had an expectation of the object to still be in its position or “re-appear” after the screen was moved back – this would be the evidence that young children must retain a mental representation of the object in their mind [could be interpreted as young children having some basic form of object permanence even if not properly developed at an earlier age than the assumptions of Piaget based on the results of his experimental methods].

In a further experiment, Baillargeon and DeVos (1991) showed 3-month-old children objects that moved behind a screen and then re-appeared from the other side of the screen. The upper half of the screen had a window and in one condition the children saw a short object move behind the screen [the object was small and below the level of the window and hence when it passed behind the screen it was completely out of sight / not visible, until it appeared at the other side of the screen].

In a second condition a taller object was passed behind the screen, and it was high enough to be seen through the window as it passed from one side to the other. Furthermore, Baillargeon and DeVos created an “impossible event” by passing the tall object through the screen without it appearing through the window, and it lead to the children displaying more interest by looking longer at the scenario than that with the small object. This lead to the argument that children reacted so, due to their expectation of the taller object to appear through the window, and hence this would suggest that young children early in the sensori-motor stage have an awareness of the continued existence of objects even when they are out of view. These results along with that of Bower (1982) seem to suggest that young children to have “some” understanding of object permanence earlier than assumed.

Another one of Piaget’s conclusion was also investigated further by another group of researchers who wanted to find out if children only developed planned action [which demonstrated their ability to form mental representations] at the end of the sensori-motor stage. Willatts (1989) placed an attractive toy on a cloth, out of the reach of 9-month-old children; the children could pull the cloth to access the attractive toy. However, the children could not reach the cloth directly since it was not accessible as Willatts placed a light barrier between the child and the cloth [the child had to move the barrier to reach the cloth]. The experiment showed that children were able to access the toy by carrying out appropriate the series of actions [i.e. first moving the barrier, then pulling the cloth to bring the toy within reach]. Most importantly, many of the children carried out the correct actions within the first occasion of being presented with the problem without the need of going through a “trial and error” phase. Willatts argued that for such young children to demonstrate novel planned actions, it may be inferred from such behaviour that they are operating on a mental representation of the world which they can make use of to organise their behaviour before carrying it out [This is also earlier than assumed by Piaget’s experiments].

Another point made by Piaget was that deferred imitation was an evidence that children should have a memory representation of what they had seen earlier. Soon after birth however it was found that babies are able to imitate the facial expression of an adult or the head movement (Meltzoff and Moore, 1983, 1989), however such imitation is performed in the presence of the stimulus being imitated. From Piaget’s experiments, it was initially deduced that stored representations are only achieved by children towards the end of the sensori-motor stage, however, Meltzoff and Moore (1994) showed that 6-week old infants could imitate a behaviour a day after they had seen the original behaviour. In Meltzoff and Moore’s study some children saw an adult make a facial gesture [e.g. sticking out her tongue] and others just saw the adult’s face while she maintained a neutral expression. The next day, all the children in the experiment saw the same adult, however this time, she kept a passive face. Compared to the children who had not seen any gesture, the children who had seen the tongue protrusion gesture the day before were more likely to make tongue protrusions to the adult the second time they saw her. Meltzoff and Moore argued that for the children to be able to perform those actions they would have had to have a mental representation of the action at a much earlier age than Piaget’s experiments concluded

 

II. The Pre-operational Stage (about 2 – 7 years) | Stage 2 of 4

This stage will be divided in 2 periods: (a) The Pre-conceptual Period (2 – 4 years) and (b) the Intuitive Period (4 – 7 years)


(a) The Pre-Conceptual Period (2 – 4 years)

The pre-conceptual period builds on the ability for internal, or symbolic thought to develop based on the latest advancements during the final stages of the sensori-motor period. During the pre-conceptual period [2 – 4 years old], we can observe a rapid increase in children’s language which, in Piaget’s view, results from the development of symbolic thought. Piaget unlike other theorists of language [who suggested that thought emerges from linguistic competence] argued that thought arises out of action and this idea is supported by research into cognitive abilities of deaf children who, despite limitations in language, have the abilities for reasoning and problem solving. Piaget argued that thought shapes language far more than language shapes thought [at least during the pre-conceptual period], and symbolic thought is also expressed in imaginative play.

However there are some limitations in the child’s abilities at the pre-conceptual period (2-4 years) of the pre-operational stage. The pre-operational child is still centred in her own perspective and finds it difficult to understand that other people can look at things differently. Piaget called this the “self-centred” view of the world and used the term egocentrism.

Egocentric thinking occurs due to the child’s belief that the universe is centred on herself, and thus finds it hard to “decentre”, that is, to take the perspective of another individual. The dialogue below gives an example of a 3-year-old’s difficulty in taking the perspective of another person:

Adult: Have you any brothers or sisters?
John: Yes, a brother.
Adult: What is his name?
John: Sammy.
Adult: Does Sammy have a brother?
John: No.

It is quite clear here that 3-year old John’s inability to decentre makes it hard for the child to realise that from Sammy’s perspective, he himself is a brother.

The egocentric trait at this particular period of development is apparent in their flawed perspective taking tasks. One of the most famous experiments carried out by Piaget is the three mountains experiment tasks, and it involves exploring children’s ability to see things from the perspective of another. In 1956, Piaget and Inhelder asked children between the ages of four and twelve [4 – 12 years old] to say how a doll would perceive an array of three mountains from different perspectives [i.e. by placing the doll at different locations].

FJ Piaget III Mountain Task.jpg

FIGURE J. Model of the mountain range used by Piaget and Inhelder viewed from 4 different sides

For example in Figure J, a child might be asked to sit at position A, and a doll would be placed at one of the other positions (B, C or D), then the child would be made to choose from a set of different views of the model, the view that the doll could see. When four and five year old children [4 and 5 years old] were asked to do this task, they often chose the view that they themselves could see (rather than the doll’s view) and it was not until 8 or 9 years of age that children could confidently work out the doll’s view. Piaget argued that this should be convincing in asserting that young children were still learning to manage their egocentricity and could not decentre from their own perspective to work out the perspective / view of the doll.

However, several criticisms have been made regarding the 3 mountain tasks, and one researcher, Donaldson (1978) pointed out that the tasks were unusual to use with young children who might not have a good familiarity with model mountains or be used to working out other people’s views of landscapes. Borke (1975) carried out a similar task to Piaget, but instead of using model mountains, he used the layout of toys that young children typically spend time with in play. She also altered the way that children were asked to respond to the question about what a different person’s view would be, and found that children as young as 3 or 4 years of age had some basic understanding of how another person’s perspective would be different from another position. This was much earlier than previously deduced from Piaget’s experiments, and shows that the type of objects and procedures used in a task can have a huge impact on the performance of the children. By using mountains, Piaget may have selected a far too complex content for such young children’s perspective-taking abilities to be demonstrated optimally.


Borke’s Experiment: Piaget’s Mountains Revised & Changes in the Egocentric Landscape

Borke’s main inquisition was about the appropriateness of Piaget’s three mountain tasks for such young children, and was concerned with the aspects of the task that were not related to perspective-taking and whether this might have adversely affected the children’s performance. These aspects were:

(i) the mountain from a different angle or not may not have sparked any interest or motivation in the children
(ii) the pictures of the doll’s views that Piaget had asked the children to select may have been too taxing for their intelligence
(iii) due to the task being unusual in nature, children may have performed poorly because they were unfamiliar with such a task

Borke considered if some initial practice and familiarity with the task would improve the children’s performance, and with those points in mind, Borke repeated the basic design of Piaget and Inhelder’s experiment but changed the content of the task, avoided the use of pictures and gave children some initial practice. She also used 4 three-dimensional  displays: there were a practice display and three experimental displays [see FIGURE B].

FB Borke's 4 three-dimensional displays

FIGURE B. A schematic view of Borke’s four three-dimensional displays viewed from above.

Borke’s participants were 8 three-year-old children and 14 four-year-old children attending a day nursery. Grover, a character from the popular children’s television show, “Sesame Street” was used for the experiment as a substitute for Piaget’s doll. There we 2 identical versions of each display (A and B), and Display A was for Grover and the child to look at, and Display B was on a turntable next to the child.

The children were tested individually and were first shown a practice display which consisted of a large toy fire engine. Borke placed Grover at one of the sides of the practice Display A so that Grover could view the fire engine from a point of view [perspective] that was different from the child’s own view of this display.

A duplicate of the fire engine [practice Display B] appeared on a revolving turntable, and Borke briefed the children, explaining that the table could be turned so that the child could look at the fire engine from ANY side. Children were then prompted to turn the table until their view of the Display B matched the exact perspective that Grover had while looking at Display A. If necessary, Borke even helped the children to move the turntable to the correct position or walked the children round Display A to show them the exact view [perspective] that Grover had in view

Once the practice session was over, the child was ready to take part in the experiment itself. This time, the procedures were similar, except no help was provided by the experimenter. Every single child was shown three dimensional displays, one at a time [see FIGURE B].

Display 1 included a toy house, lake and animals
Display 2 was based in Piaget’s model of three mountains
Display 3 included several scenes with figures and animals
Note: There were 2 identical copies of each display, and of course, children had to rotate the second  copy which was on a turntable to match the perspective [view] that Grover had in sight [as prepared in the practice session].

What Borke found was that most of the children in the experiment were able to work out Grover’s perspective for Display 1 [three and four-year-olds were correct in 80% of trials] and for Display 3 [three-year-olds were correct in 79% of trials and four-year-olds, in 93% of trials. However, for Display 2 [Piaget’s mountains], the three-year-olds were correct in only 42% of trials and four-year-olds in 67% of trials. Borke calculated an analysis of variance, and found that the difference between Displays 1 & 3 and Display 2 was significant at p < 0.001. As for errors, there were no significant differences in the children’s responses for any of the 3 positions – 31% of errors were egocentric [i.e. child rotated Display B to show their OWN view/perspective of Display A, rather than Grover’s view].

Borke successfully demonstrated that the task had a major influence on the perspective-taking performances of young children. When the display included toys that the children were familiar with and hence recognisable, and when the response involved rotating a turntable to work out Grover’s perspective, even the comparatively complex Display 3 task was successfully achieved by the children.

This seems to suggest that the poor performance by the children in Piaget’s original experiment involving three mountains was due in part to the unfamiliar nature of the objects that the children were shown.

Borke concluded that the potential for understanding the viewpoint of another was already present in children as young as 3 and 4 years of age, and this seems to be a reliable addition and revision to Piaget’s original assumption that children of this age are egocentric and incapable to taking the viewpoint of others. It now seems clear that although their perspective taking abilities may not be fully developed, they tend to make egocentric responses when they misunderstood the task, but when given the appropriate conditions, they show that they are capable of working out another’s viewpoint.

However, on a final note, it is important to also consider that Borke’s finding that children as young as three years can perform correctly in perspective-taking tasks stands in firm contrast to other researchers who have found that three-year-olds have difficulty realising another person’s perspective when the child and the other person are both looking at the same picture from different point of view [e.g. at the Louvres museum] (e.g., Masangkay et al, 1974).

 

(a) The Pre-Conceptual Period (2 – 4 years)… continued from above

Piaget use the three mountains task to investigate visual perspective taking and it was on the basis of this task that he concluded that young children were egocentric. There are also a variety of other perspective taking scenarios, and these include the ability to empathise with other people’s emotions, and the ability to know what other people are or may be thinking depending on the scene, setting and scenario (Wimmer and Perner, 1983). In other words, young children are less egocentric than Piaget initially assumed.

 

(b) The Intuitive Period (4 – 7 years)

At about the age of four, there is a further shift in thinking where the child begins to develop the mental operation of ordering, classifying and quantifying in a more systematic way. The term “intuitive” was particularly chosen by Piaget because the child is largely unaware of the principles that underlie the operations she completes and cannot explain why she has done them, nor can she carry them out in a fully satisfactory way, although she is able to carry out such operations involving ordering, classifying and quantifying.

langues-enfants-cartes-orange-d'purb dpurb site web

Difficulties can be observed if a pre-operational child is asked to arrange sticks in a particular order. 10 sticks of different sizes from A (the shortest) to J (the longest), arranged randomly on a table were given to the children. The child was asked to arrange them in ascending order [order of length]. Some pre-operational children could not complete the task at all. Some other children arrange a few sticks correctly, but could not complete the task properly. And some put all the smaller ones in one and all the longer one in another. A more advance response was to arrange the sticks so that tops of the sticks when order even though the bottoms were not [See FIGURE C].

FC Pre-operational ordering different-sized sticks

FIGURE C. The pre-operational child’s ordering of different-sized sticks. An arrangement in which the child has solved the problem of seriation by ignoring the length of the sticks.

To sum up, the pre-operational child is not capable of arranging more than a very few objects in the appropriate order.

It was also discovered that pre-operational children also have difficulty with class inclusion tasks – those that involve part-whole relations. Let us assume that a child is given a box that contains 18 brown beads and 2 white beads; all the beads are wooden. When asked “Are there more brown beads than wooden beads?” [note that the question does not make sense since all the beads are made of wood but some are brown and some are white], the pre-operational child tends to say that there are “more brown beads”. The child at the intuitive-period of the pre-operational stage finds it hard to consider the class of “all beads” [wooden] and at the same time considering the subset of beads, the class of “brown beads”[wooden + brown].

This findings is generally true for all children in the pre-operational stage, irrespective of their cultural background. Investigators further found that Thai and Malaysian children gave responses that were very similar to those of Swiss children at this stage of life [4 – 7 years old] and in the same sequence od development [the intuitive period].

Here, a Thai boy who was shown a bunch of 7 roses and 2 lotus [all are in the class of flowers], states that there are more roses than flowers [problem with class of all flowers] when prompted by the standard Piagetian questions:

Child: More roses.
Experimenter: More than what?
Child: More than flowers.
Experimenter: What are the flowers?
Child: Roses.
Experimenter: Are there any others?
Child: There are.
Experimenter: What?
Child: Lotus
Experimenter: So in this bunch which is more roses or flowers?
Child: More roses.

(Ginsburg and Opper, 1979, pp. 130-1)

One of the most extensively investigated aspects of the pre-operational child’s thinking processes is what Piaget called “conservation”. Conservation refers to the understanding that superficial changes in the appearance of a quantity do not mean that there has been any real change in the quantity. For example, if we had 10 dolls placed in line, and then they were re-arranged in a circle, it would not mean that the quantity has been altered [i.e. if nothing is added or subtracted from a quantity then it remains the same – conservation].

Piaget’s experiments revealed that children in the pre-operational stage generally find it hard to grasp the concept that an object’s qualities remain intact even if it is changed in shape and appearance. A series of conservation tasks were used in the investigations and examples are given in FIGURE D and PLATE A.

FD Piaget - Tests de Conservation

FIGURE D. Some tests of conservation: (a) two tests of conservation of number (rows of sweets and coins; and flowers in vases); (b) conservation of mass (two balls of clay); (c) conservation of quantity (liquid in glasses). In each case illustration A shows the material when the child is first asked if the two items or sets of items are the same and illustration B shows the way that one item or set of items is transformed before the child is asked a second time if they are still similar.

PA Piaget - Conservation of Number

PLATE A. A 4-year-old puzzles over Piaget’s conservation of number experiments; he says that the rows are equal in number in arrangement (a), but not in arrangement (b) “because they’re all bunched together here”.

If 2 perfectly identical balls of clay are given to a child and if questioned about whether the quantity of clay being similar in both balls, the child will generally agree that it is. However, if one of the balls of clay is rolled and shaped into a sausage [see FIGURE D(b)], and the child is questioned again about whether the amount are similar, he/she is more likely to say that one is larger than the other. When asked about the reasons for the answer, they are generally unable to give an explanation, but simply say “because it is larger”.

Piaget suggested that a child has difficulty in a task such as this because she could only focus on one attribute at a time [e.g. if length is being focussed on, then she may think that the sausage shaped clay, being longer, has more clay it it. According to Piaget, for a child to appreciate that the sausage of clay has the same amount of clay as the ball would require an understanding that the greater length of the sausage is compensated for by the smaller cross section of the sausage. Piaget said that pre-operational children cannot apply principles such as compensation.

A further example to demonstrate this weakness in the child’s reasoning about conservation is through the sweets task [see FIGURE D(a)]. In this scenario, a child is shown 2 rows of sweets with a similar number of sweets in each row [presented with one to one layout] and when asked if the numbers match in each row, she will usually agree. Shortly after, one row of sweets is made longer by spreading them out, and the child is once again asked whether the number of sweets in similar in each row; the pre-operational child usually makes a choice between the rows suggesting that one has more sweets in it. He/she may for example think that the longer row means more objects [logic of the pre-operational child]. At this stage, the child does not realise that the greater length of the row of sweets is compensated for by the greater distance between the sweets.

Compensation is only one of several processes that can help children overcome changes in appearance; another process is known as “reversibility”. This is where the children could think of literally “reversing” the change; for example if the children imagine the sausage of clay being rolled back and reshaped into a ball of clay, or the row of sweets being pushed back together, they may realise that once the change has been reversed the quantity of an object or the number of items in the row remains similar to before. Pre-operational children lack the thought processes needed to apply principles like “compensation” and “reversibility”, and therefore they have difficulty in conservation tasks.

In the next stage, which is the third stage of development known as the “Concrete Operational Stage”, children will have achieved the necessary logical thought processes that give them the ability to use the required principles and handle conservation techniques and other problem-solving tasks easily.

 

Revisions of the Pre-Operational Stage

While Piaget claimed that the pre-operational child cannot cope with tasks like part-whole relations or conservations, because they lack the logical thought processes to apply principles like compensation. Other researchers have pointed out that children’s lack of success in some tasks may be due to factors other than ones associated with logical processes.

The pre-operational child seems to lack the ability to grasp the concept of the relationship between the whole and the part in class inclusion tasks, and will happily state that there are more brown beads than wooden beads in a box of brown and white wooden beads “because there are only two white ones”. Some other researchers have focussed their attention on the questions that children are asked during such studies and found them to be unusual [e.g. it is not often in every day conversation that we ask questions such as “Are there more brown beads or more wooden beads?”]

Minor variations in the wording of the questions that enhances and clarifies meaning can have positive effects on the child’s performance. McGarrigle (quoted Donaldson, 1978) showed children 4 toy cows, 3 black and 1 white, all were lying asleep on their sides. If the children were asked “Are there more black cows or more cows?” [as in a standard Piagetian experiment with a meaningless trap wording of the question] they tended not to answer correctly. McGarrigle found that in a group of children aged 6 years old, 25% answered the standard Piagetian question correctly, and when it was rephrased, 48% of the children answered correctly – a significant increase. From such an observation it was deduced that some of the difficulty of the task was in the wording of the question rather than just an inability to understand part-whole relations.

Donaldson (1978) put forward a different reason from Piaget as a cause for children’s poor performance in conservation tasks, he argued that children have a build in model of the world by formulating hypotheses that help them anticipate future events based on their past experiences. Hence, in the case of the child there is an expectation about any situation, and his/her interpretation of the words she hears will be influenced by the expectations she brings to the situation. When in a conservation experiment, for example, the experimenter asks a child if there are the same number of sweets in two rows [FIGURE D(a)]. Then one of the rows is changed by the experimenter while emphasising that it is being altered. Donaldson suggested that it is quite fair to assume that a child may be compelled to deduce that there would be a link between the change that occurred [the display change] and the following question [about the number of sweets in each row]; otherwise why would such a precise question come from an adult if there had not been any change? If the child is of the belief that adults only carry actions when they desire a change, then he/she might assume that a change has occurred.

McGarrigle and Donaldson (1974) explored this idea in an experiment with a character known as “Naughty Teddy”, and it was this character rather than the experimenter who changed the display layout and the modification was explained to the children as an “accident” [in such a context the child might have less expectation that a deliberate treatment had been applied to the objects, and there would be no reason to believe a change had taken place]. This procedure was setup in such a way because McGarrigle and Donaldson found that children were more likely to give the correct answer [that the objects remained the same after being messed up by Naughty Teddy] in this new context than in the classical Piagetian context.

Piaget was correct to point out the problems that pre-operational children face with conservation and other reasoning tasks. However, other researchers since Piaget have found out that, given the appropriate wording and context, young children seem capable of demonstrating at least some of the abilities that Piaget thought only developed later [even if these abilities are not well developed at such a stage].

Piaget also found that pre-operational children had difficulties when faced with tasks requiring “transitive inferences”. In this case, the children were showed 2 rods, A and B. Rod A was longer than Rod B, and then Rod A was taken out of sight of the children, who were then showed only Rod B and Rod C [B was longer than C]. When the children were then asked which rod was longer, Rod A or Rod C? Young children on the pre-operational stage find such questions hard and Piaget provided the explanation that these children cannot make logical inferences such as: if A is longer than B and B is longer than C, then A must be longer than C.

Bryant and Trabasso (1971) also considered transitive inference tasks and wondered whether children’s difficulties had more to do with remembering all the specific information about the objects rather than making an inference [i.e. for children to respond correctly they would not only have to make an inference but also remember the lengths of all the rods they had seen]. Bryant and Trabasso proposed that it was possible that young children [with brains still growing and developing physiologically] who have limited working memory capacity, were unable to retain in memory all the information they needed for the task.

In another scenario, children were faced with the similar task in an investigation of transitive inferences, however this time they were trained to remember the lengths of the rods [they were trained on the comparisons they needed to remember, i.e., that A was longer than B, and B was longer than C]. It is only when Bryant and Trabasson were satisfied that the children could remember all the information were they asked the test question [i.e. which rod was longer? A or C?]. The experimenters found that children could now answer correctly. So, the difficulty that Piaget noted in those tasks was more to do with forgetting some of the information needed to make the necessary comparisons, rather than a failure in making logical inferences.

 

III. The Concrete Operational Stage (about 7 – 12 years) | Stage 3 of 4

Mikail Akar Art Education Jan 2020 dpurb site web

Image: Mikail Akar, the 7-year-old being crowned the “Mini Picasso” (2020)

At the age of about 7 years old, the thinking processes of children change once again as they develop a new set of strategies which Piaget called “concrete operations”. These strategies are considered concrete because children can only apply them to immediately present objects. However, thinking becomes much more flexible during the concrete operational period because children lose their tendency to simply focus on one aspect of the problem, rather now, they are able to consider different aspects of a task at the same time. They now have processes like compensation and reversibility [as explained earlier in understanding volume], and they now succeed on conservation tasks. For example, when a round ball of clay is transformed into a sausage shape, children in the concrete operational stage will say, “It’s longer but it’s thinner” or “If you change it back, it will be the same.”

Conservation of number is achieved first [about 5 or 6 years], then this is followed by the conservation of weight [around 7 or 8], and the conservation of volume is fully understood at about 10 or 11 years old. Operations like addition and subtraction, multiplication and division become easier at this stage. Another major shift comes with the concrete operational child’s ability to classify and order, and to understand the principle of class inclusion. The ability to consider different aspects of a situation at the same time enables a child to perform successfully in perspective taking tasks [e.g. in the three mountains task of Piaget, a child can consider that she has one view of the model and that someone else may have a different view].

However, there are still some limitations on thinking, because children are reliant on the immediate environment and have difficulty with abstract ideas. Take the following question: “Edith is fairer than Susan. Edith is darker than Lily. Who is the darkest and who is the fairest?” Such a problem is quite difficult for concrete operational children who may not be able to answer it correctly. However, if children instead are given a set of dolls representing Susan, Edith and Lily, they are able to answer the question quickly. Hence, when the task is made a “concrete” one, in this case with physical representations, children can deal with the problem, but when it is presented verbally, as an abstract task, children have difficulty. Abstract reasoning is not found within the repertoire of the child’s skills until the latter has reached the stage of formal operations.

 

Revisions of the Concrete Operational Stage

A great amount of Piaget’s observations and conclusions about the concrete operational stage have been broadly confirmed by subsequent research. Tomlinson-Keasey (1978) found that conservation of number, weight and volume are acquired in the order stated by Piaget.

As in the previous stage, the performance of children in the concrete operational period may be influenced by the context of the task. In some context, children in concrete operational period may display more advanced reasoning that would typically be expected of children in that stage. Jahoda (1983) showed that 9-year-olds in Harare, Zimbabwe, had more advanced understanding of economic principles than British 9-year-olds. The Harare children, who were involved in the small business of their parents, had strong motivation to understand the principles of profit and loss. Jahoda set up a mock shop and played a shopping game with the children. The British 9-year-olds could not provide any explanation about the functioning of the shop, did not understand that a shopkeeper buys for less than he sells, and did not know that some of the profit has to be set aside for the purchase of new goods. The Harare children, by contrast, had mastered the concept of profit and could understand trading strategies. These principles had been grasped by the children as a direct outcome of their own active participation in running a business. Jahoda’s experiment, like Donaldson’s studies (1978), indicated the important function of context in the cognitive development of children.

 

IV. The Formal Operational Stage (12 years old) | Stage 4 of 4

During the third period of development, the Concrete operations stage, we have seen that the child is able to reason in terms of objects [e.g., classes of objects, relations between objects) when the objects are present. Piaget argued that only during the period of Formal Operations that young people are able to reason hypothetically, now they no longer depend on the “concrete” existence of objects in the real world, instead they now reason with verbally stated hypotheses to consider logical relations among several possibilities or to deduce conclusions from abstract statements [e.g. consider the syllogistic statement, “all blue birds have two hearts”; “I have a blue bird at home called Adornia”; “How many hearts does Adornia have?” The young person who has now reached formal operational thinking will give the correct answer by abstract logic, which is: “Two hearts!” Children within the previous stage will generally not get past complaining about the absurdity of the scenario.

Young people are now also better at solving problems by considering all possible solutions systematically. If requested to formulate as many combinations of grammatically correct words from the letters A, C, E, N, E, V, A, a young person at the formal operational stage could first consider all combination of letters AC, AE, AN, etc., verifying if such combinations are words, and then going on to consider all three letter combinations, and so on. In the earlier stages, children would attend to such tasks in a disorganised and unsystematic fashion.

Inhelder and Piaget (1958) explained the process of logical reasoning used by young people when presented with a number of natural science experiments. An example of one of their task, “The Pendulum Task” can be seen in Figure E.

FE Piaget - Pendulum Prob

FIGURE E. The pendulum problem. The child is given a pendulum, different lengths of string, and different weights. She is asked to use these to work out what determines the speed of the swing of the pendulum (from Inhelder and Piaget, 1958).

The young person as the participant here is given a string [that can be shortened or lengthened], and a set of weights, and then asked to figure out what determines the speed of the swing of the pendulum. The possible factors are the length of the string, the weight at the end of the string, the height of the release point and the force of the push. In this particular scenario the solutions to the solving the problem are all in front of the participant, however the successful reasoning involves formal operations that would also have to incorporate a systematic consideration of various possibilities, the formulation of hypotheses (e.g., “What could happen if I tried a heavier weight?”) and logical deductions from the results of trials with different combinations of materials.

The other tasks investigated by Inhelder and Piaget (1958) included determining the flexibility of metal rods, balancing different weights around a fulcrum, and predicting chemical reactions. These tasks mimic the steps required for scientific inquiry, and Piaget argued that formal scientific reasoning is one of the most important characteristic of formal operational thinking. From his original work, carried out in schools in Geneva, Piaget claimed that formal operational thinking was a characteristic stage that children or young people reached between the ages of 11 and 15 years – having previously gone through the earlier stages of development.

 

Revision of the Formal Operational Stage

Piaget’s claim has been rectified by recent research, more researchers have found that the achievement of formal operational thinking is more gradual and haphazard than Piaget assumed – it may be dependent on the nature of the task and is often limited to certain domains.

FF Piaget - Proportion of boys at different Piagetian stg

FIGURE F. Proportion of boys at different Piagetian stages as assessed by three tasks (from Shayer and Wylam, 1978).

Shayer et al. (1976; Shayer and Wylam 1978) gave problems such as the pendulum task [FIGURE E] to school children in the UK. Their results [see FIGURE F] showed that by 16 years of age only about 30% of young people had achieved “early formal operations” [Is this shocking compared to French speaking Europe where Piaget implemented his theory? Could this provide a partial explanation to the lack of personality, emotion, creativity, openness, depth and sophistication in some populations? Interesting questions…]. Martorano (1977) gave ten of Piaget’s formal operational tasks to girls and young woman aged 12 – 18 years in the USA. At 18 years of age success on the different tasks varied from 15% to 95%; but only 2 children out of 20 succeeded on all ten tasks. Young people’s success on one or two tasks might indicate some formal operational reasoning, but their failure on other tasks demonstrated that such reasoning might be limited to certain tasks or contexts. It is highly likely that young people only manage to achieve and apply formal reasoning across a range of problem tasks much later during their adolescence.

Formal thinking has been shown by some researchers as an ability that can be achieved through training, FIGURE G shows the results of such a study by Danner and Day (1977), where they mentored students aged 10 years, 13 years and 17 years in 3 formal operational tasks. As expected, training had a limited effect on the 10-year-olds, but it had marked effects at 17 years old. In summary, it seems that the period from 11 – 15 years signals the beginning of the potential for formal operational thought, rather than its achievement. Formal operational thought may only be used some of the time, in the domains we are generally familiar with, are trained in, or which have a great significance to us – in most cases formal thinking is not used. After all, we tend to know areas of life where we should have thought things out logically, but in retrospect realise we did not do so [without any regrets sometimes].

FG Piaget - LvL of availability of formal thought

FIGURE G. Levels of availability of formal thought. Percentage of adolescents showing formal thought, with and without coaching (from Danner and Day, 1977).

The Educational Implications of Jean Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development

Piaget’s theory was planned and developed over many decades throughout his long life, and at first, it was slow to make any productive impact in the UK and the USA, but from the 1950s its ambitious, embracing framework for understanding cognitive growth was becoming the accepted and dominant paradigm in cognitive development.

Whatever the shortcomings are with Piaget’s theory, it impossible to deny his ingenious contributions, as his approach provided the most comprehensive description of cognitive growth ever put forward on earth. It has had considerable impact in the domains of education, most notably for child-centred learning methods in nursery and infant schools, for mathematics curricula in the primary school, and for science curricula at the secondary school level.

Piaget argued that young children’s thinking processes are quite different from that of an adult, and they also view he world from a qualitatively different perspective. It goes with the logic that a teacher must make a firm effort to adapt to the child and never assume that what may be appropriate for adults should necessarily be right for the child. The idea of “active learning” is what lies at the heart of this child-centre approach to education. From the Piagetian perspective, children learn better from actions rather than from passive observations [e.g., telling a child about the properties of a particular material is less effective than creating an environment in which the child is free to explore, touch, manipulate and experiment with different materials]. A good teacher should recognise that each child needs to construct knowledge for him or herself, and active learning results in deeper understanding.

JeanPiaget

“Our real problem is: what is the goal of education? Are we forming children who are only capable of learning what is already known? Or should we try to develop creative and innovative minds capable of discovery from the preschool age through life?” – Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980)

So, how can a teacher promote active learning on the part of the pupil? First, it should be the child rather than the teacher who initiates the activity. This should not lead us to allow the child a complete freedom to do anything they want to do, but rather a teacher should set tasks which are finely adjusted to the needs of their pupils and which, as a result, are intrinsically motivating to young learners. For example, nursery school classrooms can provide children with play materials that encourage their learning; set of toys that encourage the practice of sorting, grading and counting; play areas, like the Wendy House, where children can develop role-taking skills through imaginative and explorative play; and materials like water, sand, bricks and crayons that help children make their own constructions and create symbolic representations of the objects and people in their lives. From this range of experiences, the child develops knowledge and understanding for herself, and a good teacher’s role is to create the conditions in which learning may best take place, since the aim of education is to encourage the child to ask questions, try out experiments and speculate, rather than accept information and routine conventions unthinkingly – this also allows the child to learn and be creative about her subjective experience which is unique and different to any other child.

(1919) Jaroslava &amp; Jiri by Alphonse Mucha (1860 - 1939)

(1919) Jaroslava & Jiri, The Artist’s Children by Alphonse Mucha (1860 – 1939)

Secondly, a teacher should be concerned with the process rather that the end-product. This is in line with the belief that a teacher should be interested in the reasoning behind the answer that a child gives to a question rather than just in the correct answer. Conversely, mistakes should not be penalised, but treated as responses that can give a teacher insight into the child’s thinking processes at that time.

The whole idea of active learning resulted in changed attitudes towards education in all its domains. A teacher’s role is not to impart information, because in Piaget’s view, knowledge is not something to be transmitted from an expert master teacher to an inexpert pupil. It should be the child, according to Piaget, who sets the pace, where the teacher’s role is to create situations that challenge the child [creatively] to ask questions, to form hypotheses and to discover new concepts. A teacher is the guide in the child’s process of discovery, and the curriculum should be adapted to each child’s individual needs and intellectual level.

In mathematics and science lessons at primary school, children are helped to make the transition from pre-operational thinking to concrete operations through carefully arranged sequences of experiences which develop an understanding for example of class inclusion, conservation and perspective-taking. At a later period, a teacher can also encourage practical and experimental work before moving on to abstract deductive reasoning. Through this process, a teacher can provide the conditions that are appropriate for the transition from concrete operational thinking to the stage of formal operations.

The post-Piagetian research into formal operational thought also has strong implications for teaching, especially science teaching in secondary schools. The tasks that are used in teaching can be analysed for the logical abilities that are required to fulfil them, and the tasks can then be adjusted to the age and expected abilities of the children who will attempt them.

Considering the wide range of activities and interests that appear in any class of children, learning should be individualised, so that tasks are appropriate to individual children’s level of understanding. Piaget did not ignore the importance of social interaction in the process of learning, he recognised the social value of interaction and viewed it as an important factor in cognitive growth. Piaget pointed out that through interaction with peers, a child can move out of the egocentric viewpoint. This generally occurs through cooperation with others, arguments and discussions. By listening to the opinion of others, having one’s own view challenged and experiencing through others’ reactions the illogicality of certain concepts, a child can learn about perspectives other than her own [egocentric]. Communication of ideas to others also helps a child to sharpen concepts by finding the appropriate words.

SigmundFreudYouthAge

 

“Everyone knows that Piaget was the most important figure the field has ever known… [he] transformed the field of developmental psychology.”

(Flavell, 1996, p.200)

“Once psychologists looked at development through Piaget’s eyes, they never saw children in quite the same way.”

(Miller, 1993, p.81)

“A towering figure internationally.”

(Bliss, 2010, p.446)

 

__________

 

(II) The Theory of Attachment in Emotional Development (John Bowlby)

If we pick up a new born baby , he/she will respond without any difference to us or to any other person. However, after 9 months, the same baby will have developed one or more selective attachments and will discriminate familiar faces to unfamiliar ones. So, if we were to pick up the baby again, we may face scenarios where he/she displays anxiety or cries, but if the mother or father picks her/him up, the baby will be reassured and pacified.

This section will explore and give an account of the development of attachment relationships between infants, parents, and other close primary caregivers. The significance of such attachments for development in adult life will also be considered, with its implication for the philosophy of education in sculpting the minds of tomorrow, along with some research on parenting styles analysing some of the factors affecting successful and less successful parenting.

 

The Development of Attachment Relationships: Attachment as an innate drive

The infant’s expression of emotions and the caregiver’s response to these emotions is the fundamental foundation of John Bowlby’s Theory of Attachment. Bowlby’s (1958, 1969 / 1982, 1973, 1980) theory was inspired and influenced by an exciting and creative range of disciplines including psychoanalysis, ethology and the biological sciences. Before Bowlby, the main assumption and view of the infant-mother attachment was that it was a “secondary drive” or a side-product of the infant associating the mother with the provision of physiological needs, such as hunger [Picture B – breast feeding image].

Breastfeeding Mother

PICTURE B. Early theories of infant-mother attachment suggested that it was a secondary drive resulting from the mother satisfying the infant’s primary drives, such as hunger. / Photography:  Jo Frances

Bowlby defied this logic, and argued convincingly that attachment was an innate primary drive in all infants, and while his theory went through many revisions over the years, this argument remained fundamental.

In Bowlby’s first version of his theory of attachment (Bowlby, 1958), the emphasis was on the role of behaviours resulting from our instincts [on how behaviours such as crying, clinging and smiling served the purpose of eliciting a reciprocal attachment response from the caregiver]:

There matures in the early months of life of the human infant a complex and nicely balanced equipment of instinctual responses, the function of which is to ensure that he obtains parental care sufficient for his survival. To this end the equipment includes responses which promote his close proximity to a parent and… evoke parental activity.

(Bowlby, 1958, p. 346)

However, in the 1969 version of his theory (1st volume of his trilogy, Attachment and Loss),  Bowlby focussed on highlighting the dynamics of attachment behaviour, and switched to explaining the infant-mother tie in terms of a goal-corrected system which was triggered by environmental cues rather than innate instinctual behaviours. Whether attachment is instinctual or goal-corrected, we know that it eventually leads to the infant maintaining proximity to the primary caregiver.

Bowlby acknowledged that the development of an attachment relationship was not dependent purely upon the social and emotional interplay between infant and caregiver. Since we can only observe attachment behaviour primarily when the infant is separated from the caregiver, it is logically dependent upon the infant’s level of cognitive development in the ability for object permanence [i.e. the ability to represent an object (living or non-living) that is not physically present within the child’s proximity].

This seems to synchronise partly with Piaget’s outlook and theory of cognitive development, and indeed Bowlby was inspired by Jean Piaget, and based his argument on Piaget’s (1955) contention that this level of object permanence is not attained until the infant is approximately 8 months old. Furthermore, while children would be able to recognise familiar people before such age, they would still not miss the attachment figure and thus display attachment behaviour until they have reached the level of cognitive sophistication that comes with the ability to represent absent objects [and people, who are in the same class].

 

The Phases of Attachment: Development of Attachment Relationships

Let us imagine a classic example of a mother and child [about 1 – 2 year-old] in a park. What we might observe is that the mother is seated on a bench while the infant runs off to explore the area. Periodically, the child may be seen to stop and look back at the mother, and every once in a while may even return close to her, or make physical contact, staying close for a while before venturing off again. In most cases, the infant rarely goes beyond about 60 metres from the mother or primary caregiver, who may however have to go and retrieve the child if the distance gets too great or if the need to leave is imminent.

The scenario here from a developmental psychologist’s perspective is fairly simple; the infant is exploring the environment it is being exposed to inquisitively, and is using the mother as a “secure base” to which to return periodically for reassurance. This is one of the hallmarks of an “attachment relationship”. These observations of children in parks were made by a student of John Bowlby, Anderson (1972) in London, and the development of attachment has been described in detail by John Bowlby (1969).

Bowlby (1969, p. 79) described 4 phases in the development of attachment and subsequently extended it to a 5th.

The phases are:

I. The pre-attachment phase (0 – 2 months) is characterised by the infant showing hardly any differentiation in their responses to familiar or unfamiliar faces.

II. During the second phase (2 – 7 months), the foundations of attachment are being laid. Here infants start to recognise their caregivers, even if they still do not possess the ability to show attachment behaviours upon separation. The infant is also more likely to smile at the mother or important caregivers and to be comforted by them if distressed.

bebe-mange-puree-de-fruits.jpg

III. Clear cut attachment behaviours only start to appear after 7 months. At this phase, infants start to protest at being separated from their caregivers and become very wary of strangers [so called stranger anxiety] – this is often taken as a definition of attachment to caregiver and this onset of attachment happens from 7 – 9 months.

IV. When the attachment relationship has evolved into a goal-corrected partnership (from around 24 months / 2 years of age), [i.e. when the child also begins to accommodate to the mother’s needs, e.g. being prepared to wait alone if requested until the mother returns]. This is an important change because before this phase, the infant only saw the mother as a resource that had to be available when needed. Bowlby saw this as characterising the child at 3 years of age, although as mentioned from 2 years old babies can partly accommodate to verbal requests by mothers to await for her return (Weinraub and Lewis, 1977). From this phase onwards, the child relies on representation or internal working models of attachment relationships to guide their future social interactions.

V. The lessening of attachment is noticed as measured by the child maintaining proximity. The characteristics of a school-age child, and older, is the idea of a relationship based more on abstract considerations such as affection, trust, loyalty and approval, exemplified by an internal working model of the relationship.

Bowlby viewed attachment as a canalized developmental process where both the mainly instinctive repertoire of the new born and certain forms of learning are important in early social interactions. Certain aspects of cognitive sensori-motor development [as supported by Jean Piaget] are also fundamental for attachment. Until the developing infant can master the concept of cause-effect relations, and of the continued existence of objects [incl. persons] when out of sight, he or she cannot protest at separation and attempt to maintain proximity [note the importance of object permanence in emotional development and internal working models]. Hence, sensori-motor development is also a canalised process, and it should not be in opposition to an ethological and a cognitive-learning approach to attachment development.

 

Attachments: Between whom?

Many articles and textbooks have characterised the attachment relationship as mainly focussed on the mother (e.g. Sylvia and Lunt, 1981), and this may not be completely true, since many studies have suggested that early attachments are usually multiple, and although the strongest attachment is often to the mother, this need not always be so.

In a study conducted in Scotland, mothers were interviewed and asked to whom their toddlers showed separation protest (Schaffer and Emerson, 1964), the proportion of babies with more than 1 attachment figure increased from 29% when separation protest first appeared [about 7 – 9 months] to 87% at 18 months [1 and half year old]. It was also found that for about one third of babies, the strongest attachment seemed to be to someone other than the mother, such as father, or other trusted primary caregivers. In most cases, attachment were formed to responsive persons who interacted and played a lot with the infant; basic caregiving such as nappy changing was clearly not in itself such an important factor; and similar results were obtained by Cohen and Campos (1974).

UglyLeeches

Peinture: Sandrine Arbon

Studies in other cultures also support this conclusion, for example in the Israeli kibbutzim, young children spend the majority of their waking hours in small communal nurseries, in the charge of a nurse or metapelet. In a study of 1- and 2- year-olds reared in this way, it was found that the infants were very strongly attached to both the mother, and the metapelet; either could serve as a base for exploration, and provide reassurance when the infant felt insecure (Fox, 1977). In many agricultural societies, mothers tend to work in the fields, and often leave infants in the village, in the care of grandparents, or older siblings, returning periodically to breastfeed. In a survey of 186 non-industrial societies, it was found that the mother was rated as the “almost exclusive” caretaker in infancy in only 5 of them; hence other persons had important caregiving roles in 40% of societies during the infancy period, and in 80% of societies during early childhood (Weisner and Gallimore, 1977).

 

The Security of Attachment

Early infant-caregiver attachment relationships and the internal working models are the main aspects of Bowlby’s theory of attachment and have been given the greatest attention, with researchers developing 2 of the most widely used measuring instruments in developmental psychology to investigate Bowlby’s theoretical claims: the strange situation procedure to assess the goal-corrected system that evolved from the early attachment relationship, and the Adult Attachment Interview to assess internal working models.

Bowlby’s theory was focussed and interested with the making and breaking of attachment ties, probably because his experiences of working as a child psychologist exposed him to the negative consequences for emotional development of severe maternal deprivation [such as long term separation or being orphaned].

Nowadays, researchers and intellectuals are generally less concerned with whether a child has formed an attachment [since any child who experiences any degree of continuous care will become attached to the caregiver], but are rather more interested in the quality or security of the attachment relationship. This important shift in emphasis was due to the empirical work of Mary Ainsworth.

Ainsworth interest in the concept of attachment grew after working with Bowlby in London during the 1950s. Later, she moved to Uganda to live with the Ganda people where she made systematic observations of infant-mother interactions in order to investigate Bowlby’s goal-corrected attachment systems in action.

One factor that struck Mary Ainsworth (1963; 1967), was the lack of uniformity in infant’s attachment behaviour, in terms of its frequency, strength, and degree of organisation. Furthermore, these differences were not specific to Gandan infants, since she replicated these findings in a sample of children in the USA when she moved to Baltimore. These variations in attachment type had not been accounted for by John Bowlby’s Theory and hence, this led Ainsworth to investigate the question of individual differences in attachment.

Mary Ainsworth experience of working with Bowlby, along with her rich collection of data harvested over a period of many years, put her in a unique position in the development of attachment as an empirical field of research. Her contribution led to attachment issues becoming part of mainstream developmental psychology, rather than being simply confined to child psychiatry, and behind this achievement was an investigation of the development of attachment under normal family conditions and by developing a quick and effective way of assessing attachment patterns in the developmental laboratory.

Although the strange situation procedure (Ainsworth & Wittig, 1969) circumvented [found a way around] the need for researchers to conduct lengthy observations in the home, it was not developed simply for research convenience, but because there are problems in trying to evaluate attachment type in the child’s own home environment. For example, if a child becomes extremely distressed upon the mother moving to another room in their own home environment, this may be an indication of a less than optimal attachment achieved, because if a child feels secure then such a separation should not trigger any distress. The extensive experience of Ainsworth in observing infant-mother interactions enabled her to identify the situations that we most crucial in attachment terms, and therefore formed the basis of the strange situation procedure.

 

The Strange Situation Procedure

Ainsworth and her colleagues then developed a method for assessing the attachment strength of an individual infant towards her mother or caregiver (Ainsworth et al., 1978). The method is known as the Strange Situation, and has been widely used with 12 – 24 months old infants in many countries worldwide. To sum up, it is a method for checking in a standardised way, how well the infant uses the caregiver as a secure base for exploration, and is comforted by the caregiver after a lightly stressful experience.

The strange situation assesses infants’ responses to separations from and subsequent reunions with, the caregiver [mother here], and their reactions to an unfamiliar woman [the so-called “stranger”]. In the testing room, there are only 2 chairs [one for the mother and one for the stranger] and a range of toys with which the infant can play.

TA - The Strange Situation Procedure

Table A. The Strange Situation Procedure

As Table A shows, the episodes are ordered so that the infant’s attention should shift from the exploration of the environment to attachment behaviour towards the caregiver as the Strange Situation proceeds. The most crucial points are the infant’s responses to the 2 reunion episodes, and form the basis for assessing an infant’s security of attachment. The coding scheme for security attachment was developed by Ainsworth et al. (1978) and describes infant behaviour according to 4 indices:

1) Proximity-seeking
2) Contact-maintenance
3) Resistance
4) Avoidance

Referring to Table A, in a well-functioning attachment relationship, it would generally assumed that the infant would use the mother as a base to explore [Episodes 2, 3 and the end of Episode 5], but be stressed by the mother’s absence (Episodes 4, 6 and 7;  these episodes are cancelled if the infant is overly distressed or the mother wants to return sooner]. Special attention is also given to the infant’s behaviour in the reunion episodes (5 and 8), to see if her or she is effectively comforted by the mother. Based on those measures, Ainsworth and others distinguished a number of different attachment types.

The 4 primary ones are:

Type A – Insecure Avoidant Attachment

Insecure-Avoidant (Type A) infants display high levels of environment-directed behaviour to the detriment of attachment behaviour towards the caregiver [i.e. Avoidant (A) – avoids caregiver and explores environment]. The Insecure Avoidant Types display little if any proximity-seeking behaviour, and even tend to avoid the caregiver, by averting gaze or turning or moving away, if the caregiver attempts to make contact. Throughout the whole process of the Strange Situation, Insecure Avoidant infants appear completely indifferent toward the caregiver, and treat both the latter and the stranger is very similar ways; hence, these infants may show less avoidance of the stranger than of the caregiver.

Note that conversely, the (Type C) Insecure Resistant / Ambivalent Attached infants show high levels of environmental-directed behaviour to the detriment of the caregiver [the complete opposite to Type A].

Type B – Secure Attachment

When the dynamics of the attachment relationship is a balance between environmental exploration and attachment behaviour directed towards the caregiver [See PICTURE C], then the securely attached infants are considered as having the right balance.

PC Attachment as a balance of behaviour TA

PICTURE C. Attachment as a balance of behaviour directed toward mother and the environment. Source: Adapted from Meins (1997).

The presence of the caregiver in the pre-separation episodes affords them the security to turn their attention to exploration and play, with the confident knowledge that the caregiver will be available for comfort or support should it be required. However, attachment behaviour is triggered in securely-attached infants during the separation episodes, leading to seek contact, comfort, proximity or interaction with the caregiver when they return. Securely attached infants may or may not become distressed upon separation from caregivers, and this makes the infants’ response to separation a relatively unreliable and poor indicator of attachment security. However, regardless of their response to separation, securely attached children are marked by their positive and quick response to the caregiver’s return, displayed generally by their readiness to approach, greet and interact with the caregiver.

It important to note that Type B [Secure] Attachment is the only “secure” attachment in the group, all the rest are insecure attachment types, and in contrast to Type B, they have their balance of infant attachment tipped to either extreme [i.e. Avoidant (A) – avoids caregiver and explores environment / Resistant (C) – avoids environment and exhausts caregiver]

Type C- Insecure Resistance / Ambivalent

Insecure-resistant infants are over-involved with [to the point of exhausting] the caregiver, showing attachment behaviour even during the pre-separation episodes, with little or no interest in exploring the environment. The Insecure Resistant (Type C) infants tend to become extremely distressed upon separation, however, the over-activation of their attachment system hampers their ability to be comforted by the caregiver upon reunion – this leads to angry or petulant behaviour, with the infant resisting contact with and from the caregiver [in extreme cases this manifests itself as tantrum behaviour where the caregiver may sometimes be hit or kicked by the infant].

Type D – Insecure Disorganised

Besides the original 3 categories mentioned above distinguished by Ainsworth et al. (1978), Main and Solomon (1986, 1990) established a fourth category, Type D [Insecure Disorganised Attachment] for infants whose behaviours appeared not to match any of the A [Avoidant], B [Secure] and C [Resistant/Ambivalent] categories. These insecure-disorganised infants look disoriented during the strange situation procedure, and display no clear strategy for coping with separations from and reunion with their caregivers. Infants classified as insecure-disorganised may simultaneously display contradictory behaviour during the reunion episodes, such as seeking proximity while also displaying obvious avoidance [e.g. backing to which the caregiver or approaching with head sharply averted]. Insecure-disorganised infants (Type D) may also react to reunion with fearful, stereotypical or odd behaviours [e.g. rocking themselves, ear pulling, or freezing]. Main and Hesse (1990) argued that, although the classification criteria for insecure-disorganised attachment are diverse, the characteristic disorganised behaviours all include a lack of coherence in the infant’s response to attachment distress and betray the “contradiction or inhibition of action as it is being undertaken” (p.173).

Main and her colleagues (1985) believe the Type D [Insecure-disorganised ] is a useful extension of the original Ainsworth classification.

There are many subtypes of these main types, however most studies do not refer to them, and in older studies, type D babies [who are often difficult to classify as they do not show a clear pattern] were ‘forced’ into 3-way and 4-way classifications.

In most cases, type B babies (secure – considered as most desired, i.e. “normal” / although debated] are compared with types A and C [inscure-avoidant and insecure-resistant/ambivalent], and the type B [secure-attachment] tends to be seen as developmentally normal, or advantageous. Many criticisms have been made of the attachment typing resulting from the Strange Situation procedure (Lamb et al., 1984), particularly of the earlier work that was based on small samples, and of the normative assumption that “B is best”. They also pointed out the procedure only measures the relationship between mother and infant, and not the characteristics of the infant. Since attachment security is the dyadic measure, infant-mother attachment type is not necessarily the same as infant-father attachment type. In fact, many studies have found that the attachment type to father is not related to that with the mother; meta-analyses (Fox et al., 1991; van Ijzendoorn and De Wolff, 1997) found a very modest association between the two.

However, the strange situation procedure is today a commonly and internationally used technique. One of the most important test of utility of attachment types is that it should allow us to predict other aspects of development, and we now have considerable evidence for this (see Bretherton and Waters, 1985 and Waters et al., 1995, for reviews).

Kochanska (2001) followed infants longitudinally from 9 to 33 months and observe their emotions in standard laboratory episodes designed to elicit fear, anger or joy. Over time, type A (Avoidant – towards caregiver) infants became more fearful, type C (Resistant/Ambivalent – exhausts caregiver) infants became less joyful, type D (Disorganised – does not fit in A, B or C behavioural categories) infants became more angry; whereas type B (Secure) infants showed less fear, anger or distress. Using the strange situation procedure, secure attachment to mother at 12 months has been found to predict curiosity and problem solving at age 2, social confidence at nursery school at age 3, and empathy and independence at age 5 (Oppenheim et al., 1988), and a lack of behaviour problems (in boys) at age 6 (Lewis et al., 1984).

Is the Strange Situation valid across populations worldwide?

Van Ijzendoorn and Kroonenberg (1988) provided a cross-cultural comparison of strange situation studies in a variety of different countries. In American studies, some 70% of infants were classified as securely attached to their mothers (type B), some 20% as Type A, and some 10% as Type C. However, German investigators found that some 40-50% of infants were of Type A (Grossman et al., 1981), while a Japanese study found 35% to be of Type C (Miyake et al., 1985). These percentages do raise the question about the nature of “insecure attachment”: is it a less satisfactory mode of development or are these just different styles of interaction?

Takahashi (1990) argued that the Strange Situation must be interpreted carefully when it is applied across cultures. He found that Japanese were excessively distressed by infant alone episode (episode 6 – Table A), because generally in Japanese culture babies are never left alone at 12 months. This is the reason why fewer Japanese babies scored B (Secure). It is also important to note, that there was no chance for them to show avoidance (and score A – insecure avoidant), since the mother seeing the level of distress went straight on without hesitation to pick up the baby. This may also be possible explanation as to why many Japanese babies were C (Insecure Resistant/Ambivalent) at 12 months [still they are not at 24 months, nor are adverse consequences apparent]. This distortion can be avoided by virtually omitting episode 6 (see Table A) for such babies. Rothbaum et al. (2000) do take a more radical stance, in comparing the assessment security in the USA and Japan. They argue that these two cultures put different cultural values on constructs such as independence, autonomy, social competence and sensitivity; such that some fundamental tenets of attachment theory are called into question as cross-cultural universals.

Cole (1998) suggested that we need information of the geographical trends in socio-behavioural patterns [culture, heritage, language, arts, etc] under study if we are to understand the nature of the everyday interactions that shape the development of young children in relation to their caregivers. The strange situation may be a valid indicator but we at least need to redefine the meaning of the categories “avoidant, secure and resistant / ambivalent” according to the geographical socio-behavioural patterns [culture]. He also argued that although it is a standardised test, strange situation is really a different situation in different environmental circumstances. However for successful use of the strange situation in a non-western culture [one that is not of Western European heritage], we can take a look at the Dogon people of Mali.

Infant-mother attachment among the Dogon of Mali

The study we are about to discuss is a very rare one among its kind which took place among the Dogon people of Eastern Mali, a primarily agrarian people living by subsistence farming of millet and other crops, as well as cash economy in towns [see PICTURE D].

PD - Dogon mother spinning cotton with child on her lap

PICTURE D. Dogon mother spinning cotton with child on her lap

The study was carried out in 2 villages with a total population of about 400, and one town population of 9000, with the researchers attempting to get a complete coverage of infants born between mid-July and mid-September 1989. Not all infants could take part, due to relocation or refusal, and the researchers excluded 2 infants who had birth defects, and 8 suffering from severe malnutrition. In addition, after recruitment two infants die before or during the two-month testing period. Finally, 42 mother-infant pairs took part and provide a good quality data. The infants were 10 to 12 months old at the time of testing.

The Dogon are a polyamorous society, and mothers typically live in a compound with an open courtyard, often shared with co-wives. There was some degree of shared care of infants, about one half were cared for primarily or exclusively by the mother, about one third primarily by the maternal grandmother with a mother however being responsible for breastfeeding (see PICTURE E).

PE - Dogon mother breastfeeding her child

PICTURE E. Dogon mother breastfeeding her child.

Breastfeeding is a normative response by the mother to signs of distress in in the Dogon infants. Three related features of infant care in the Dogon – frequent breastfeeding on demand, quick response to infant distress, and constant proximity to the mother or caregiver – are seen as adaptive and there is high infant mortality [as in some other traditional African cultures].

The researchers have several objectives in mind, they wish to see if the strange situation could be used successfully in Dogon culture; one distribution of attachment types was obtained; whether infant security correlated with maternal sensitivity – a test of the Maternal Sensitivity Hypothesis; whether infant attachment type related to patterns of attachment-related communications in mother-infant interaction – the test of what the authors call the Communication Hypothesis; and to see if frightened or frightening behaviour by the mother predicted disorganised infant attachment.

Three situations were used to obtain relevant data, the behaviour being recorded on videotape in each case. One was rather new – the Weigh-In, part of the regular well-infant examination, in which the mother handed over the infant to be weighed on a scale – and mildly stressful separation for the in, especially in Dogon culture. The other two were more standard – the strange situation, carried out in an area of courtyard separated off by hanging mats; and two 15 minute observations in the infant’s home, and the mother was cooking, bathing/caring for the infant.

The following data were obtained:

  • Infant attachment classification (from the strange situation)
  • A rating of infant security on a 9-point scale (from the strange situation)
  • Mother and infant communication related to attachment, coded by 5-point Communications Violations Rating scales (from the Weigh-in)
  • Maternal sensitivity, rated in terms of promptness, appropriateness and completeness of response to infant signals (from the home observations)
  • Frightened or frightening behaviours by the mother, such as aggressive approach, disorientation, trance state, rough handling as if baby is an object, on a 5-point scale (from the home observations and the Weigh-In).

[REMEMBER!!!! [although we are quite sure you know this already] : “r” is known as the correlation coefficient and tells us 2 things: (i) Direction of Relationship + or – & (ii) Strength of Relationship : +or- .1 is a small effect / +or- .3 is a medium effect / +or- .5 is a large effect | and p-value is the critical decider of whether to reject Null Hypothesis( i.e. the scenario we rightly thought would be opposite to our predictions) if p small enough (if p < .05 we say results were statistically significant, if p < .01 we say it is HIGHLY statistically significant) we reject the Null Hypothesis [both cases].

The strange situation was found to be feasible, following quite standard procedures. The distribution of attachment types was 67% B (Secure), 0% A (Avoidant), 8% C (Resistant/Ambivalent), and 25% D (or on a forced 3-way classification, 87% B, 0% A and 13% C). This is quite unusual in having no avoidant (A) classifications; D is high but not significantly greater than Western norms.

The Maternal Sensitivity Hypothesis only received weak support. The correlation between infant security and maternal sensitivity was r = 0.28, and with p < .10; the difference in means between attachment classifications was not statistically significant (B=5.26, C=5.00, D=4.20).

The Communications Hypothesis did get support. Infant security correlated -.54 with Communications Violations (p < .001), and the attachment classifications differed significantly (B=2.66, C = 3.50, D = 3.89; p < .01).

Finally, frightened or frightening behaviour by the mother correlated r = -.40 (p < .01) with infant security, and was particularly high in children with disorganised attachment (B= 1.23, C = 1.33, D = 2.35; p < .01).

Besides demonstrating the general application of the strange situation procedure in a nonwestern group with socio-behavioural patterns very different to our own, the findings provides support for the Communication Hypothesis. The case here would have been stronger if the different kinds of communication patterns for each attachment classification had been described in more detail. For example, that insecure resistant / ambivalent (C) attachment type infants would be inconsistent and often unable to convey their intent, or to terminate their own or another’s arousal, whereas insecure disorganised (D) attachment type infants would “manifest contextually irrational behaviours and dysfluent communication” (p. 1451). As it is, the main findings show that insecure infants show more communications violations, do not describe the detailed typology. Indeed, since some of the Communications Violations rating scales were of “avoidance, resistance and disorganisation” (p. 1456), there is a possible danger of conceptual overlap between this scale and the attachment classifications.

Although support for the Maternal Sensitivity Hypothesis was we, the correlation of r = .28 is in line with the average of r = .24 found in the meta-analysis by De Wolff and Van Ijzendoorn (1997) on mainly Western samples. The researchers used a multiple regression analysis to examine the contributions of both maternal sensitivity and mothers frightened/frightening behaviour, to attachment security. They found that the contribution of maternal sensitivity remain modest, whereas the contribution of mothers frightened/frightening behaviour was substantial and significant; ratings of maternal sensitivity do not normally take account of mothers frightened/frightening behaviour, and the researchers suggest that this might explain the modest effects found for maternal sensitivity to date.

The absence of avoidant (A – avoids caregiver and favours exploration) type infants is interesting and the researchers argue that, given the close contact mothers maintained with the Dogon infants, and the normal use of breastfeeding as a comforting activity, it would be very difficult for it Dogon infant to develop an avoidant strategy [this may have some similarity with the low proportion of A-type in Japanese infants). If avoidant (A) attachment is a rare or absent when infants nursed on demand (which probably characterises much of human evolution), this might suggest that A type attachment was and is a rare except in Western samples in which infants tend to be fed on schedule, and often by bottle rather than breast, so that the attachment and feeding systems are effectively separated.

Most Dogon infants showed secure (B) attachment, but 25% scored as disorganised (D) [though mostly with secure as the forced 3-way classification]. The researchers comment that the frightened or frightening behaviours were mild to moderate, and did not constitute physical abuse. But why should mothers show these sorts of behaviour at all? An intriguing possibility is that it is related to the high level of infant mortality prevalent in the Dogon. About one third of infants died before five years of age, and most mothers will have experience in early bereavement. Unresolved loss experienced by a mother is hypothesised to disorganised (D) attachment; perhaps, frightened behaviours are more rational or expected, when the risk for infants are so much higher.

This study to great efforts to be sensitive to the geographically specific socio-behavioural patterns (culture) of the venue, when using procedures and instruments derive mainly from Western samples. A Malian researcher assisted in developing the maternal sensitivity coding, and Dogon women acted as strangers in the strange situation procedure. The Weigh-In and home observations were natural settings. The authors comment, however, that future work might make more effort to tap the perceptions of mothering and attachment held by the Dogon people themselves, in addition to the constructs coming from Western psychology.

(True, M. M., et al, 2001)

 

Back Home in the West: Why do infants develop certain attachment types?

Enfant en train de lire

Individual differences in the caregiver’s sensitivity to infant’s cues were the earliest reported predictors of attachment security. Ainsworth and colleagues (Ainsworth, Bell & Stayton, 1971, 1974; Ainsworth et al., 1978) found that mothers who responded most sensitively to their infants’ cues during the first year of life tended subsequently to have securely attached infants. The insecure-avoidant (Type A) pattern of attachment was associated with mothers who tended to reject or ignore their infants’ cues, and inconsistent patterns of mothering were related insecure-resistant/ambivalent (Type C) pattern of attachment. Although further research has largely supported this link between early caregiver sensitivity and later attachment security, the strength of the relation between these factors has not been replicated. For example, De Wolff and van Ijzendoorn (1997) conducted a meta-analysis to explore the parental antecedents of attachment security using data from 21 studies involving over 1000 infant-mother says, and reported a moderate effect size for the relation between sensitivity and attachment security (r = 0.24), compared with the large effect (r = 0.85) in Ainsworth et al.’s (1978) study. This led De Wolff and van Ijzendoorn to come to the conclusion that “sensitivity cannot be considered to be the exclusive and most important factor in the development of attachment” (p. 585).

It seemed that the construct of sensitivity might have been responsible for the result, so we return to Ainsworth et al.’s (1971, 1974) original definitions in order to have a better understanding of predictors of attachment security. In this research, we were particularly influenced by Ainsworth’s focus on the caregiver’s ability not merely to respond to the infant, but to respond in a way that was consistent with the infants cue. For example, Ainsworth et al., (1971) describe how mothers of securely attached infants appeared “capable of perceiving things from the child’s point of view” (p. 43), whereas maternal insensitivity involve the mother attempting to “socialise with the baby when he is hungry, play with him when he is tired, and feed him when he is trying to initiate social interaction” (Ainsworth et al., 1974, p. 129). Meins et al. (2001) verse argued that the critical aspect of sensitivity was the caregiver’s ability to “read” the infant’s signals accurately so that the response could be matched to this passive cue from the child.

baby-bebe-d'purb dpurb site web.jpg

In order to test this proposal, Meins et al. (2001) obtain measures of mothers’ ability to read their 6-month-olds’ signals appropriately (so called mind-mindedness), and investigated the comparative strength of mind-mindedness versus general maternal sensitivity in predicting subsequent infant-mother attachment security. Meins et al. reported that maternal mind-mindedness was a better predictor of attachment security 6 months later than was maternal sensitivity, with mind-mindedness accounting for almost twice the variance in attachment security than that accounted for by sensitivity.

This seems like a strong conclusion, since the genetic factors have been accounted for and do not contribute to attachment type as van Ijzendoorn et al. (2000) argued that it has a modest if any influence on attachment type. This can be confirmed from a twin study conducted by O’Connor and Croft (2001) when they assessed 110 twin pairs in the strange situation and found concordance of 70% in monozygotic twins and 64% in dizygotic twins – not significantly different. The model suggested estimates of only 14% of variance in attachment type due to genetics, 32% to shared environment, and 53% in non-shared environment.

A study of attachments formed by babies to foster mothers (Dozier et al., 2001) found as good a concordance between mothers’ attachment state of mind (from the Adult Attachment Interview, see below) and infant attachment type from the strange situation, as for biological mother-infant pairs, once again suggesting little genetic influence on attachment type.

So, it is fairly accepted today that mothers’ mind-mindedness is an important construct and it is defined as the mother treating her infant as an individual with a mind, instead of just an organism or small creature with needs to be satisfied. The emphasis should be on responding to the infant’s inferred state of mind, rather than simply their behaviour. In a longitudinal study of 71 mother-infant pairs, they found that maternal sensitivity (responding to infant cues) and some aspects of mind-mindedness, especially appropriate mind-related comments by the mother, measured at six months, both independently predicted security of attachment at 12 months. True et al., (2001) also found evidence that mothers’ frightened or frightening behaviour may also contribute independently to attachment security (Refer to Dogon Study above – Picture D and Picture E).

We should also take note that a huge amount of variance in attachment type appears to be related non-shared environment, and this cannot be explained by generalised maternal sensitivity. It is highly probable that, mothers are more sensitive and behave differently to some infants than others, depending on birth order, gender and infant characteristics, suggesting the need for family systems on these issues (van Ijzendoorn et al., 2000).

 

Attachment Beyond Infancy & The Internal Working Model

The attachment theory proposes that children use their early experiences with their caregivers to form internal working models (Bowlby, 1969 /1982, 1980) which incorporate representations of themselves, their caregivers, and their relationships with others. These internal working models will then be used by the child as templates for interacting with others. Consequently, because of the sensitive, loving support that securely attached children’s caregivers have supplied, these children are self-confident and have a model of themselves as being worthy; they therefore expect others to behave in a sensitive and supportive fashion. Conversely, given the patterns of interaction typically experienced by avoidant and resistant infants, insecurely attached children expect people to be rejecting, or inconsistent and ambivalent when interacting with them.

The strange situation measures security of attachment in terms of behaviours; especially how the infant behaves at a reunion of the separation. The strange situation procedure is generally used with infants between the ages of 12-24 months old. For 3 – 6 year-olds, variants of the strange situation, such as a reunion episodes after separation, have been used with some success (Main and Cassidy, 1988).

Research during the last 10 years has seen attachment become a life-span construct with corresponding attempts to measure it at different developmental stages (see Melhuish, 1993, for a review). It has been revealed that as infants grow older, in Bowlby’s 4th and 5th stages, attachment relationships become less dependent on physical proximity and overt behaviour, and more dependent on abstract qualities of the relationship such as affection, trust, approval, internalised in the child and also in the adult.

Research has revealed that it is useful to think of internal representations of the relationship in the child’s mind; the child is thought of as having an internal working model of his or her relationship with the mother, and with other attachment figures (Bowlby, 1988; Main et al., 1985). These are characterised as cognitive structures embodying the memories of day-to-day interactions with the attachment figure. They may be ‘schemas’ or ‘event scripts’ that guide the child’s action with the attachment figure, based on their previous interactions and the expectations and affective experiences associated with them.

Different attachment type would be expected to have differing working models of the relationship. Secure (Type B) attachment would be based on models of trust and affection [and a Type B infant would be able to communicate openly and directly about attachment-related circumstances, such as how they felt if left alone for a while]. By contrast, a boy or girl with an Insecure Avoidant (Type A) attachment may have an internal model of his/her mother that leaves the child without any expectancy of secure comforting from the latter when he/she is distressed [the mother may in fact reject his/her approaches]. The child’s action rules then become focused on avoiding her, thus inhibiting approaches to her that could be ineffective and instead lead to further distress; and this can be problematic, as there is less open communication between mother and son, and their respective internal working models of each other are not being accurately updated.

Insecure Resistant / Ambivalent (Type C) infants might not know what to expect from their mother, and they in turn would be inconsistent in their communication with the latter and often unable to convey their intent.

PF - Boy by Land Rover - from Separation Anxiety Test

PICTURE F. Boy by Land Rover: A picture from the Separation Anxiety Test

Over the last 15 years, researchers have attempted to measure attachment quality in older children [as much as the empirical methods allowed them to do in terms of construct validity and internal consistency], by trying to tap in to their internal working models (Stevenson-Hinde and Verschueren, 2002). One of the methods used involved narrative tasks, often using doll-play; children use a doll family and some props and complete a set of standardised attachment related story beginnings. Another method used has been the Separation Anxiety Test, in which children or adolescents respond to photographs showing separation experiences [see Picture G for an example]. The child is questioned about how the child in the photograph would “feel and act”, and then how he/she [the participating child] would feel and act if in that situation (Main et al., 1985). This test was found to have a good rater reliability and consistency for 8 to 12-year-olds. Large differences in responses between children having clinical treatment for behaviour disturbance and a normal control group was found (See Table B)

TB - Two Protocols from the Separation Anxiety Test

TABLE B. Two protocols from the Separation Anxiety Test

Securely attached children generally acknowledge the anxiety due to the separation but come up with feasible coping responses; insecurely attached children generally deny the anxiety, or give inappropriate or bizarre coping responses.

 

The Adult Attachment Interview

The internal working models of relationships can normally be updated or modified as new interactions develop. It is likely possibility that for younger children, these changes must be based on actual physical encounters. However, the Main et al. (1985) suggested that in adolescents or adults who have achieved formal operational thinking [Jean Piaget’s 4th and final stage at around the age of 12 as explained in our essay], it is possible to change / modify their internal working models without the need for such direct interaction. In order to measure attachment in older adolescents and adults, they developed the Adult Attachment Interview. This is a semi-structured interview that proves memories of one’s own early childhood experiences. The transcripts are coded, not on the basis of experiences themselves, so much as on how the person reflects on and evaluate them, and how coherent total account is [Adults’ attachment classifications are not based on the nature of their actual childhood experiences, but on the way they represent these experiences, be they good or bad]. They are also generally asked to describe their childhood relationships with mother and father, and to recall times when they were separated from their parents or felt upset or rejected. There are specific questions that also deal with experiences of loss and abuse. According to their responses during the AAI, Allsopp placed into one of the 4 attachment categories: (i) Autononous, (ii) Dismissing, (iii) Preoccupied [Or Enmeshed] and (iv) Unresolved

 

(i) Autonomous Attachment

Autonomous adults are able to give coherent, well-balanced accounts of their attachment experiences, showing clear valuing of close personal and meaningful relationships [note meaningful subjectively to the individual]. These adults classified as autonomous may have experience problems in childhood, or even had a very difficult or abusive upbringings, but they can generally have an open conversation and talk openly about the negative experiences and most seem to have managed to resolve any early difficulties and conflicts. In contrast to the open and balanced way in which autonomous adults talk about childhood experiences, adults in the remaining three categories have incredible difficulties in talking about attachment relationships.

 

 (ii) Dismissing Attachment

Dismissing adults deny the importance of attachment experiences and insist they cannot recall childhood events and emotions, or provide idealised representations of the attachment relationship that they are unable to corroborate the real-life events. [i.e. dismiss attachment relationship as of little importance, concern or influence

 

(iii) Preoccupied [or Enmeshed] Attachment

Preoccupied adults lack the ability to move on from the childhood experiences, and are still overinvolved with issues relating to the early attachment relationship [generally preoccupied with dependency on their own parents and still struggle to please them].

 

(iv) Unresolved Attachment

The final category is reserved for adults who are unable to resolve feelings relating to the death of a loved one or to abuse they may have suffered [people who have not come to terms with a traumatic experience, or work through the mourning process]

It is to be noted that, people from lower socio-economic groups are slightly more likely to score as Dismissing. However the large difference is in people receiving clinical treat, the great majority of whom do not score as Autonomous on the AAI.

 

Are attachments stable over time? From Infancy to Adult Attachment Type

The main question should be asking ourselves is does the security of attachment change the life, or does infant-parent attachment set the pattern not only for later attachment in childhood, but even for one’s own future parenting? As attachment has become lifespan construct, these questions have generated considerable research and debate.

Many studies have now spanned a period of some 20 years to examine whether strange situation classification in infancy predicts Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) classification as young adults (Lewis et al., 2000; Waters et al., 2000). The outcome is varied, but some of these studies have found significant continuity of the 3 main attachment types; that is, from Secure to Autonomous; Avoidant to Dismissive, and Resistant (Ambivalent) to Enmeshed. Several studies have also found relationships between discontinuities in attachment classification, and negative life events such as the experience of parent divorce.

 

Relationship between Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) and Infant-Parent Attachments

Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) and classifications have been found to relate systematically to the security of the infant-parent attachment relationship. Autonomous parents are more likely to have securely attached infants, and parents in the 3 non-autonomous group. Dismissing, Preoccupied and Unresolved are much more likely to form insecure attachment relationships with their infants. This relationship has been identified for both patterns of infant-mother (e.g. Fonagy et al., 1991; Levine et al., 1991) and infant-father (Steele et al., 1996) attachment. Furthermore, unresolved maternal AAI classification has been identified as a predictor of insecure-disorganised attachment (Main & Hesse, 1990; van Ijzendoorn, 1995). Thus, the way in which a parent represents their own childhood attachment experiences is related to the types of relationship formed with their children.

 

Are attachment stable over generations?

On top of the degree of continuity over time for an individual’s attachment typing, there is also evidence for the transmission of attachment type across generations; specially from the parent’s AAI (Adult Attachment Interview) Coding and their infant’s strange situation coding. Main et al. (1985) had reported some evidence for such a link, and indeed the AAI coding system is based on it; it was argued that Autonomous adults would end up with Secure infants; Dismissing adults with Avoidant infants, Enmeshed adults with Resistant (Ambivalent) infants; and Unresolved adults would have Disorganised infants. [See Table C].

TC - Hypothesized relationships between maternal stage of mind (AAI), maternal behaviour, and child attachment type

TABLE C. Hypothesised relationships between maternal stage of mind (from the AAI – Adult Attachment Interview), maternal behaviour, and child attachment type

Van Ijzendoorn (1995) looked at a large number of available studies in the decade since Main’s work and found considerable linkage between adult AAI (Adult Attachment Interview) and infant Strange Situation coding; Van Ijzendoorn argued that this “intergenerational transmission” of attachment may be via parent responsiveness and sensitivity. We discussed above how this is only a partial explanation, and other aspects of maternal behaviour and of the home environment may also be involved.

We have considerable evidence for some degree of continuity of attachment security through life, and onto the next generation; but considerabl