Ch. V – Nature of Partitive Processes

Epoché (V), 30. 7. 2020

A synopsis of our reading of The Organism by Kurt Goldstein

V. “The Nature of Partitive Processes” (pp. 133-171)

Abridgment by: Sebastjan Vörös
[his outline and commentary of the whole book can be found here

What is a reflex?

(x) The reflex as expression of experimentally produced injury

Goldstein turns once again (example) to the Babinski phenomenon. As was said above, in cases of lesion of the pyramidal tract the cortex is prevented from contributing to the functional utilization of the stimulus, i.e., from influencing the reaction of the plantar stimulus. This results in the dorsal flexors outweighing the plantar flexors. Goldstein maintains that we obtain a relatively isolated movement of the toes for two reasons:

(a) because of the experimental arrangement and the demand imposed on the organism by the external stimulation;

(b) because of the pathological condition (→ certain parts are prevented from participating in the reaction to the stimulus, thereby pushing the relevant performances into the background; the dorsal flexion remains the only functional utilization as it consists of the contraction of muscles that are in the closes local relationship to the stimulus) (133).

From this, Goldstein concludes that the following factors determine the outcome of a reaction: 

(i) The external milieu: the environmental constellation which constitutes the demands on the organism’s reactivity, and the specific task it is confronted with;

(ii) The internal milieu: the condition of the organism;

(iii) The potential reactivity in a field: reactivity in that particular field through which the stimulus spread radiates by virtue of internal and external milieu;

(iv) The special quality of the stimulus: the quality and effectiveness of the stimulus in the given situation (not so pronounced in the Babinski reflex) (133-4).

From this we can see that in the (so-called) reflex we are dealing with a special type of coming to terms of organism and environment – a performance of the whole organism in a peculiar configuration, thanks to pathological and/or experimental causes. The reflex, then, just like any other reaction of the organism, must be understood as a response of the whole organism. The allegedly “isolated” phenomenon, which usually goes by the name of “reflex”, is in fact a “figure” in a reaction pattern of the whole organism. The “reflex” is the figure, while the activity of the rest of the organism is the background. This, Goldstein points out, is confirmed by the fact that any change in the remaining organism alters the figure(= the reflex) (134). 

 (x) The individual reflexes as sequelae of different forms of isolation

The reflexes and the reflex laws are an expression of the organism’s reactions when certain parts are isolated. The isolation is effected either by (1) the artificial (experimental) elimination of the rest of the organism or by (2) the pathological segregation of single sections (134-5). 

The peculiarities of a reflex can be accounted for, if we construe them as the result of the “formal change” of the course of excitation in the isolated part. Goldstein draws a distinction between two types of changes resulting from isolation: (a) formal changes and (b) those of content

(a) Formal changes:

(1) The relatively circumscribed effect of a stimulus.

(2) The relatively constant effect of a stimulus (other stimuli are prevented from becoming effective).

(3) The exaggeration of the reflexes (abnormal stimulus effect in an isolated part of the system; imperfect equalization).

(b) Changes of content:

(1) The modification of the content due to isolation causing other apparatuses to enter into the reaction (e.g., peripheral influences, certain attitudes, etc.)

(2) Greater homogeneity (= leveling of reactions) due to dedifferentiation.

(3) Lowered differentiation between individual events due to defective figure formation

(4) Interference of other stimuli: an inadequate stimulus may exaggerate a reaction, etc. (135-6).

What is called reflex reversal is, in fact, not a reversal at all. The reverse reaction has nothing to do with the former one. Namely, it is conditioned by a change of the inner situation, to wit, by isolation of other parts of the organism. As a result, a change occurs in the functional value of the stimulus, calling for another performance:

“The reaction to stimulation is always determined by the functional significanceof the stimulus in that part of the organism within reach of the stimulus. In the intact organism this reaction is determined by the whole; the injured organism, by the part that is relatively isolated.” (136)

The Meaning of the Reflexes

(x) Proprioceptive reflexes as the expression of equalization – the most primitive type of reaction

Reflexes are not abstractions. In this, Goldstein believes, his views are not at variance with Sherrington who takes them as such.

“The reflexes are certainly processes of a special kind, but since they take place within the organism, we are justified in asking what meaning they have, if any, for the organism.” (136)

So, what is their meaning? Goldstein claims that we should understand any reflex, or any of its modifications, as representing occurrences in the organism that are pertinent to agiven situation. Further, we want to find out whether we are dealing with a performance that is “adequate”, i.e., essential to the nature of the organism (136-7). 

The constant reactions of the organism (= reactions that are usually termed “reflexes”) merely represent a special class and do not differ from other reactions in principle. They occur when the situation causes such a dedifferentiation of the relevant substratum that only the most primitive reaction is possible, i.e., the equalization process. In this state, the organism is capable of coming to terms with the stimulus only by the “turning-to” reactions – and Goldstein believes that all simple reflexes can be explained in terms of such “turning-to reactions”.

[a] Usually, this turning-to reaction is merely the first stage of a more meaningful one. [b] However, even when it occurs in isolation, it is not meaningless, for it plays an important role in the life of the organism. It brings about equalization, and thus removes or renders harmless stimuli that are disturbing the organism (137).

In this regard, the (examplepatellar reflex, like all “proprioceptive reflexes”, can be seen as an equalization phenomenon: if we tap on the patellar tendon of the quadriceps, the muscle contracts because of the equalization of the tension. 

Most reflex phenomena become intelligible if we interpret them as an expression of this primitive type of meaningful response to a stimulus. In all pathological reflexes, and in all experimentally produced reactions, a mere “rendering of the stimulus harmless” is all that is achieved. This, Goldstein emphasizes, is also true when the reactions involve large areas and appear to be very complex. Such behaviour does not contribute to the whole organism, and cannot, as it stands for an isolated functioning (138).

(x) Proprioceptive reflexes as expression of reactions in border situations

What, then, is the role of reflex in a real performance? We should not assume, extrapolating from the abnormal phenomena, that reflexive contraction might furnish relief (for, in the functioning of the normal organism, there is no isolation – no dedifferentiation – as is present in pathological cases) (138). 

It is probable that those phenomena that correspond to the proprioceptive reflexes appear only when the muscle is relatively detached – in function – from the center. According to Goldstein, this may be the case in isolation through [i] induced extension (as in reflex experiments) and, possibly, [ii] in certain danger situations. The muscle can become relatively isolated from the center, if a tension in the whole system or a part of it occurs either above or below the average mean. This can happen either [i] because the organism is not “prepared” for such an event or [ii] because it is not quite capable of coping with the changed situation.

Examples: burdened muscle: A muscle, for instance, may be stretched by burdening it with a heavy object, and the organism may not be capable of reacting with a voluntary counterinnervation sufficient to keep the external pressure in balance. Or the muscle may be burdened so swiftly that it cannot adjust itself to the changed condition.

Example: running down a mountain (Bethe):

“[If i]n [a] running down a mountain, the heel of the advanced leg first strikes the ground, then the extended muscles of the anterior side of the lower part of the thigh and the quadriceps become contracted. Should one explain this contraction as the effect of proprioceptive reflexes? Plausible though the explanation may seem, it cannot be correct. Actually, the contrary phenomenon can be observed. For example, in another situation that Bethe describes, ‘if [b] the toe of the foot gets caught behind a root or a stone, the muscles, just referred to, become suddenly extended. However, they do not contract, but relax their antagonists, and the muscles, of the posterior part, contract strongly, in order to free the caught foot and prevent a fall.” (p. 139)

Here, Goldstein points out, we are not dealing with a reflex. Rather, this is a response that can be understood only as determined by the whole organism: both reactions result from holistic utilization of stimuli, which vary when the stimuli appear in different total situations, that is to say, when they have a different meaning for the organism

In general, it could be maintained that the reflex appears in a “border situation”, i.e., when the catastrophe is imminent. The border situations usually occur either

(a) in an experiment, which artificially eliminates possible counterinnervation; or

(b) in normal life, if emergencies arise that we cannot foresee (140).

Adaptations to (b) can take place through contraction as well as through tonic extension of the muscles. 

Goldstein here refers to von Weizsäcker who, in this context, spoke of “adaptive” and “compensatory effects. However, he stresses that these terms should not be referred to phenomena of normal movement or posture. The milieu in which a movement normally occurs belongs initially to the nonconscious “plan” of the movement. By analyzing movements of his patients Goldstein claims to have been able to prove that the execution of movement is determined by the “milieu” that goes with the intended action (140).

(x) The meaning of the proprioceptive reflexes

In [a] normal performancescompensations and adaptations that may be determined by the milieu will play a part only insofar as certain stimulus variations can be utilized. This does not mean that such behaviour must necessarily occur voluntarily, but it cannot occurin isolation from the holistic process of innervation. Only in [b] completely abnormal situations are such adaptation and compensation processes initiated in isolationWeizsäcker here uses an illustrative example of a “man walking over a newly plowed field in the dark”. Goldstein admits that, in such cases, it is perhaps possible that certain reflexes become effective; yet even here we have evidence only of so-called proprioceptive reflexes (141).

According to Goldstein, it is false to try to distinguish between (i) proprioceptive and (ii) exteroceptive reflexes on the basis of anatomy; rather, the crucial distinction depends on whether they (i) are subservient to a self-regulative process within the organism or (ii) facilitate a direct adjustment to the environment. (i) are significantly more simple than (ii) (141-2).

(x) Exteroceptive reflexes are performances, not reflexes

So, what bearing do exteroceptive reflexes have on normal performance? Goldstein believes that some day the expression “reflex” will cease to be used in the description of these so-called reflexes (e.g., the “scratch reflex”), for we are here dealing with real performances: “They are real performances of the whole organism.” In other words, “The exteroceptive reflexes are not embedded in performances, they are performances themselves.”(142):

“At best, therefore, reflexes have little to offer toward the understanding of a normal performances. They may have a signification in “border situations”; but the latter can certainly not form the starting point or basis for an understanding of normal performances. The phenomena connected with them are of a totally different nature, even to outward appearances. They lack the well-integrated character our other performances display. They are different, single performances occuring in sequence. The example of walking in the newly plowed field illustrates this. The conditions do not allow us to stroll naturally. On the contrary, our walking is rather imperfect and halting. Conversely, if we walk over familiar territory, not only is our walking better but is entirely different. All this should go to prove that normal behaviour is not composed of reflex processes.” (142)

(x) Reflex and equalization process as the simplest reaction of living substance to stimuli

The preceding reflections raise the question whether the assumption of special reflexes is necessary at all, even in border situations. Namely, the process simply represents the general tendency to equalization. What is called “reflex”, then, represents only the tendency of a relatively isolated part of the system to return to the preferred situation. In other words, the reflex stands for nothing but the simplest possible reaction of the living substance, namely, an equalization that is reached by turning toward the stimulus. What is crucial, however, is that phenomena in border situations cannot be offered as the explanation of normal functioning, since they are the simplest catastrophic reactionsand represent protection against destruction. In fact, the very reverse is true: from the perspective of normal functioning, the reflex can be explained as the most primitive, meaningful response supplying protection against destruction; but normal functioncan never be explained on the basis of reflex (143).

(x) The “higher” organism exhibits more reflex phenomena than the lower

Optimal performance requires complete integration, which is, obviously, very rare. Thus, in normal life, reflex-like events have to occur quite frequently. However, the more an actual “centering” is achieved, the more we find real performances, and the less frequently do “reflexes” appear.

If we carry this to the ultimate conclusion, we realize that the highest organisms, owing to the complexity of their organization and environment, as well as to the difficulty of the required adjustment, possess [a] on the one hand a higher degree of centering; on the other hand, [b] this centered organization is more susceptible to environmental disturbances and border situations. Therefore, Goldstein concludes, the more “complex” organisms manifest reflex behaviour much more frequently than the lower organisms (143-4). 

Goldstein is, of course, painfully aware that his this view is diametrically opposed to the one commonly assumed. Thus, he adds an additional reason for his claim: higher organisms are capable of producing artificial isolations in themselves. This, he adds, may possibly apply only to humans. By assuming a special attitude, human beings are able to surrender single parts of their organism to the environment for isolated reaction. This, Goldstein claims, is what lies behind our examination of the patient’s reflexes. 

Example: examining the pupillary reflex: if, during our examination, we obtain a relatively constant contraction of the iris, this is possible only because “the individual, so to speak, surrenders his eye to us and completely forgoes his usual act of seeing, that is, the visual prehension of some environmental feature. While it is true that, in real vision, the diameter of the pupil changes according to the amount of light on the seen object, it is not true that the same light intensity will produce the same contraction when it affects the organ in isolation and when it affects the eye of the person who deliberately regards an object. The nature of the contraction will depend on whether a bright light is striking the eye suddenly, under every day conditions, or whether we are examining the pupillary response to light. (G. adds that this problem requires further investigation.) (144)

(x) The question of reflexes within the continuation of a performance

It could be objected that only the onset of the organism’s performance is determined holistically, and that the continuation of that performance is then guaranteed by reflexes. Goldstein concedes that this is true to some extent, but immediately adds that, even here, the sequence is not left to separate mechanisms, for each phase is still determined by the whole. In such cases, what unfolds itself is in its course fundamentally a holistic performance throughout (144-5).

Methodological conclusions

(x) The diagnostic significance of the reflex

Although the existence of reflexes, as posited by the traditional (atomist) view, has been questioned, this does not minimize their investigation for furnishing information of great practical value. Investigating their changes, dynamics, etc., remains of unquestioned value for purposes of diagnosis, especially local diagnosis in nervous disease. However, it is important to differentiate between two categories of problems: practical and theoretical. The [a] practical problem refers to the possible utilization, for diagnostic purposes, of empirically discovered correlations of certain diseases and certain locations of disease. Goldstein says that he has no doubts that such correlations exist. However, he at the same time believes that the [b] theoretical problem, which is the focal point of this study, provides for a greater certainty and greater univocality of these correlations than does the customary view. The recognition of the relation to the whole of the organism not only renders the “deviations” intelligible but also makes it possible to inquire more intelligently about the connectionbetween the symptoms and the location of the injury. The “holist” view, then”, allows for a refinement, as it leads to more nuanced investigations (145). 

(x) Significance of reflex investigations for the understanding of performances

The study of reflexes yields various hints for a theory of performances. 

          (1) We have learned more about the functional significance of the various forms of performances. Specifically, that a greater F/G-uniformity indicates a simpler and more primitive form of stimulus reaction, whereas a greater F/G differentiation stands for a more sophisticated/evolved form of performance.

          (2) We have learned that the instability of a performance is the expression of an imperfect centering of the whole organism

          (3) Finally, we have gained some information regarding certain performances essential to the organism (e.g., flexor performances) (146).

(x) Only theories working with “positive” factors are acceptable

Lastly, the study has demonstrated an essential methodological point. It turned out to be futile to try and understand one pathological phenomena by attributing it to the loss of another function. Instead, the only fruitful and scientifically unobjectionable explanation is one that confines itself to those factors that can actually be found in the situation. Goldstein says that this methodological principle needs to be regarded as a general postulate: where an explanation on this basis is not possible, it is preferable to attempt no explanation at all (cf. ad hoc hypotheses, etc.) 

One of the most significant implications of this methodological postulate is that there is nothing “negative” in natureKnowledge based on facts is always of a positive character (146). 

The Conditioned reflex

(x) Criteria and characteristics

On the one hand, [i] the so-called conditioned reflexes share a common feature with the unconditioned reflexes, namely that there is a constant relation established between stimulus and response. On the other hand, [ii] they also differ in significant respects(and thus merit a separate discussion):

(1) Conditioned reflexes are functions of the cortex of the cerebrum.

(2) They can be formed only in connection with an unconditioned reflex.

(3) They are unstable and not permanent, i.e., they can easily be disturbed ordestroyed by other processes.

(4) Any stimulus repeatedly applied without the associated, unconditioned stimulus produces a state of sleepiness (Pavlov: “inner inhibition”).

(5) The formation of conditioned reflexes follows the principle that the reaction is first bound to a more diffuse field of stimulation (e.g., a sound), and only gradually is a connection established with a more specialized stimulus (e.g., a sound of a particular wavelength). The impairment of the conditioned reflexes proceeds on the same principle, but in reverse order (147).

Goldstein points out that, on the basis of these observations, it is possible to conclude that conditioned reflexes share the characteristics of processes that occur in isolation: on the one hand,  [a] they show an extraordinary precision and rigidity, on the other, [b] lability. Since they are not firmly rooted in the whole organism, they are easily destroyed, and since they are “inferior” to the performances that are closer to the organism, they are easily “inhibited” by them. What is more, they can easily be disturbed by other processes (e.g, the simultaneous intrusion of an indifferent stimulus):

“In short, they are easily lost, for since they are only loosely related to the organism this relation must constantly be renewed through repeated associationwith the unconditioned ‘reflexes’ – which are nearer to real life.” (148)

Conditioned reflexes, says Goldstein, could be best characterized as drill resultsThey are acquired through the influence of performances that are really meaningful to the organism but are difficult to execute in and of themselves. What, then, is the meaning of these “drills” for the normal organism? Their position is that of achievements that are produced through routine drill (cf. 379, ff; 148).

(x) Significance of conditioned reflexes in man

Goldstein feels that, when it comes to conditioned reflexes (CR), there might probably be an essential difference between animals and man. The formation of CR in man plays a relatively important part in (self-)education. It requires a certain attitude – an adaptation to unaccustomed, unnatural situations what probably only man is capable of achieving (148-9). In the infant, these reactions are achieved through external pressureexerted by the educator (e.g., in toilet training). However, they never remain reflexes proper; instead, their control is later accomplished by insight and by integrating that action into its activities. According to Goldstein, this proves that drill effects can only be used when they can be later embedded in “natural” performances and when the effect of training/drill can becomes subservient to the performances. Human beings possess insight into the necessity of forming bonds, which allows the building up of associate connections, even though these may be quite alien to the nature of the individual. This is why CR’s in animals differ so markedly: they can originate only through man’s interferencewith the animal’s life and can be maintained only through persistent human influence, otherwise they disappear. This is because the above-described human insight can never take place in animals – in human beings alone is the necessary “attitude” possible. For this reason, CR’s are more easily lost in animals, requiring for their preservation constant renewal by reference to the unconditioned situation (149).

Goldstein concludes that CR’s thus promise to teach us something about the origin of particularly unnatural reactions and, indirectly, something about the essential nature of the organism under consideration. CR’s are not simple, but complicated patterns (and can thus never be found in animals without human influence), which is why they do not offer an adequate basis for understanding performances of the organism in general (149-50).

The Phenomena of Cortical Stimulation

Goldstein maintains that there exists a close conformity between typical reactions in reflex experiments and those resulting from cortical stimulation. For instance, within a certain range of stimulus intensities, reaction is limited to a certain field; when the intensity is increased beyond this, the reaction spreads into other fields. Further, the repeated simulation of one point may lead to an abatement, or even a reversal, of the effect (e.g., flexion of the elbow instead of extension) (150).

Goldstein sums up the similarity of the stimulus effects in reflexes and in cortical stimulation as follows:

(a) Constant results are only obtained when the stimulus is in complete isolation locally and temporally.

(b) Numerous variations are possible – even reversal of effect – under identical stimuli.

(c) There exists a hierarchy of performances, according to a scale of their functional value. 

(d) The stimuli effects do not necessarily disturb the volitional performances, indicating that the holistic (e.g., volitional) performance has a higher functional value than the isolated performance (151).

All these phenomena can be explained as the outcome of a more or less extensive isolation of the stimulus effect. Certainly, in real performances, such variations are not possible. Thus, real performances must owe their origin to a different form of excitation that determines their constancy. The varying value of the stimulus effects points to the determining role of the holistic factor. Goldstein finds it particularly relevant that there is no difference (aside from the degree of differentiation) between “peripheral” and “central” phenomena (152).

The So-called Instincts

(x) Characteristics and criteria. Variability and end effect

Instinct actions are different from both reflexes and learned performances. What is characteristic of the instinct action is that an organism carries out some complicated movements that appear very purposeful, either for its own life or the life of its offspring. This is done without previous experience and training, and often without any possibility of knowing in advance something of the success that is to be achieved (152-3).

There have been attempts to reduce instincts to chain reflexes, but this view has been refuted (in this regard, Goldstein names: H. J. Jordan, K. Koffka, G. W. Allport, etc.). One of the main features of instinct is the following: the instinct actions are always strictly related to adefinite effect, and the condition under which the same effect is reached can vary greatlyCorresponding to this change of condition, the performance itself has to change, and this change continues to take place until the effect is reached. All this cannot be based on a fixed apparatus, and it speaks just as well against the theory of mechanical summation of single reflexes in “a chain”. As in the case of reflexes, we must view the instinct action holistically, in terms of its reference to the whole organism and to the variables of the situation – understandable only from the respective nature of the organism. 

In many of their characteristics, instincts appear more closely related to the whole than to reflexes.

Examplelocomotion is so adjusted to the stimulus that it seems to be purposeful, i.e., it seems to take into account the entire field of the organism. Even alterations of the stimulus, though appearing irrelevant to the observer, may lead to modification, even reversal of reactions. 

Goldstein feels that such phenomena are only intelligible as an expression of the principle of “suitability for the whole”. They depend not merely on the effectiveness of the stimulus, but on a particular total condition of the organism (e.g., the need for food) (153).

The reference to the whole, then, cannot be a distinguishing factor between reflexes and instincts, since it is pertinent in both; what separates the former from the latter is another characteristic: instincts are released through “natural” – external or internal –  stimuli (153-4). They are processes that belong essentially to the life of the organism. They are not artificial reactions, nor are they reactions in “border situations” (as is normally the case with reflexes). Goldstein mentions Jordan and Koffka who refer to instincts as the “processes in the nature of Gestalten”. He claims that an understanding of instincts can be attained only through a holistic analysis of their respective nature in the respective whole to which they belong. However, what is especially problematic in this regard is the fact that factors essential to an entire species play a particularly important part, and that, thus far, we still lack a sufficiently accurate and unbiased description of behaviour that would allow us to uncover the “constants” (cf. 282 ff below) that might furnish us with the groundwork of knowledge about the nature of instincts (154). 

(x) Instinct, equalization process, and turning-to reaction

Goldstein now turns to a simple example which, in his view, demonstrates how some phenomena, regarded as instincts, involve entirely different processes. Just as with reflexes, where a distinction was made between (i) those phenomena that have described as “proprioceptive reflexes” (phenomena whose end is only the equalization of abnormal tension), and (ii) those phenomena that we have described as “performances”, a similar distinction needs to be made with regards to so-called instinctive activity (154). 

Example: turning-to reaction in infants: such a reaction is usually described as an instinct, because it seems that it occurs only in those muscles that are functionally connected with the stimulated sense organ (e.g., eye movements through stimulation by light, mouth movements by touching of the face, etc.); however, Goldstein demurs that this is nothing but the general tendency toward equalization, an instance of the common reaction of “living substance in general”. The impression of an instinct is phenomenally faulty, because – if “we leave the child unencumbered and undressed and observe everything it does” – we realize that its “turning-to movements” are much more comprehensive and that they encompass the whole organism. To the degree that some differentiation occurs, this is due to the fact that, in contiguous parts that already represent a functional unit, stronger effects arise through the influence of their proximity. The turning-to reaction dominates at this phase because other reactions are not yet possible at that stage of maturation (154-5). 

In concordance with Koffka, Goldstein is reluctant in referring to such phenomena as “instincts”, seeing in them, rather, “a general type of reaction common to all living substance”. Note, however, that by saying this, he does not turn a blind eye to the fact that, even at the very beginning, the reaction is coloured by the “nature” of the respective organism(155).

Example 1: sucking: sucking is not fixed, i.e., it is not adapted solely to the nipple of the mother’s breast (the child can also suck from another nipple, a rubber nipple, or a finger); the action also differs as to the quality of the milk, the fatigue of the baby, and especially to the state of hunger/satiation (155-6).

Example 2: newly hatched chick: the pecking of a newly born chick is determined, in its first activities, by exactly the same tendency as the newborn infant; its pecking is nothing but a turning-to reaction, but one that, very soon, is altered by “experience” to a purposive pecking; at first, the chick pecks at all available objects of a certain size and within certain distance (e.g., even at certain caterpillars that it laters spits out); after a while, however, it already omits certain objects (e.g., it will not peck that particular type of caterpillars, even if they were presented to it only once) (156).

(x) “Instinct action” and experience

What we are confronted by here is not a modification of instincts through experience, but rather two entirely different processes:

(i) a mere equalization process = the turning-to reaction (the effect of incomplete maturation);

(ii) the substitution of the turning-to reaction by a real performance:

“In the beginning of the development, we observe responses, in which we are actually dealing with the equalization phenomenon, as an expression of the immaturity of the organism. Later, that response becomes a purposeful performance corresponding to the nature of this individual organism.” (156)

The maturation process unfolds under the influence of outer stimuli, since it represents the adaptation of the organism to the environment – and adaptation between the forming organism and the “forming world” or “milieu”. At a certain point, the organism becomes “closed” against, and “open” towards, certain segments of its milieu

Example (continued): the chick, having pecked at something distasteful, will modify its reactions, so that an inadequate object (e.g., a caterpillar) will no longer be a stimulus; it has, it could be said, acquired a new attitude, making it peck only certain kernels that, because of their good effect, have come to be regarded as “peckable”. 

Considering two characteristics observed by Morgan – (i) the rapidity of the learning and (ii) the reproducing of the learned response after an interval -, it becomes evident that this is not the acquisition of a performance through repeated experience, but that the organism came into a situation in which its capacity could cope successfully with the situation.

Thus, in Goldstein’s view, we find similar difficulties – similar methodological errors – with “instincts” as we do with “reflexes”: that “parts” are to be regarded as the constant components of behaviour, without due regard to their “belongingness” to the nature of the whole organism (157). 

(x) “Instinct actions” inseparable from the whole

Instinctive actions are not executed separately from the whole of the organism, but – just like “reflex action” – take the place in connection with all other activities. While it is true that the urge to “deliver” them is very great, we are not forced to follow that urge, but can postpone its realization, if we think that something else is of greater importance to us at that moment (158). 

(x) Transitoriness of “instinct” in relation to the whole

W. James pointed out that “instincts” appear at a certain life period and disappear later, i.e., that they are related to special phases in the life of the individual (a certain stage of development). Instinct actions, like all other capacities, are inborn, in a potential form, and become actualized only when the situation in the outer world makes that possible (158). 

It is not difficult to notice that, in human beings, instinct actions are connected with the whole personality. The reason why this is not reflected in the theory of instincts, lies in the fact that the latter was largely based on observations on (i) animals and (ii) children. However, (ad i) it is incorrect to draw conclusions from animals to (adult) human beings; and (ad ii) careful observation reveals that children, although being more strongly driven by some “instincts”, are actually not always forced to follow a certain drive (e.g., the child may “forget” hunger when he is playing, etc.); the reason why the life of a child seems particularly to be governed by instinct actions, lies in the fact that children are not yet centered beings (159):

“The more centered the organism has become, the less it manifests this types of behavior, the less it appears to be governed by single, so-called instincts, and the more it is guided by the attitude of the whole organism with reference to the entire, given situation.” (159-60)

In sum, instinct actions are reactions of the whole organism, which are distinguished from other performances only by the fact that, in them, inborn and nonconscious factors play a much greater role than in the voluntary actions (the highest form of performances). In the voluntary actions, the “drive” works through the medium of intention, of thinking, decision, and motivation; in the instinct actions, the performances are set going directly by the “drive”. Both types of performances are dependent, however, on the activity of the organism as a whole – both are expressions of the nature of the individual organism (160).

The So-Called Drives

Here, a question emerges that, in Goldstein’s view, is more difficult than any other, since the pertinent discussion on the topic is in a state of disarray: “Toward what are the drives driving?

(x) Drives as release of tension – a pathological phenomenon

Pathological observations present us with important insights into the nature of drives. The sick person has the tendency to avoid catastrophic reactions, because these are even more dangerous for him than for normals. Catastrophic situations are favoured byabnormal tensions in any field. In pathology, abnormal tensions occur relatively often in single fields, because reactions tend to take place in isolated parts and because the process of equalization is disturbed. Therefore, the sick organism tends especially to remove abnormal tensions and seems to be governed by the drive to do so. From such observations arose the view that it is the goal of all drives to alleviate and discharge the tension and to bring the organism into a state of nontension, i.e., that it is the goal of the drive to release itself.

It is important here to remember the distinction between normal and abnormal life:

(a) In abnormal life (= in the state of isolation), the discharge of tension is in the foreground, and the tendency to remove any arising tension prevails.

(b) In normal (sound) life, the result of the normal equalization process is the formation of a certain level of tension, which makes possible further ordered activity.

Thus, the tendency to discharge any tension whatsoever is an expression of a defective organism, of disease. It is the only means of the sick organism to actualize itself, and is possible only with the support of other organisms (162).

(x) The drive for self-preservation – a pathological phenomenon

Often, the law of maintaining the existent state – the self-preservation – is considered as the basic law of life. However, Goldstein believes that this is a misunderstanding.

(a) In normal life, the organism is governed by the drive of self-actualization, 

“the tendency to actualize, as much as possible, its individual capacities, its ‘nature’, in the world. This nature is what we call the psychosomatic constitution, and it is the individual pattern, the ‘character’ that the respective constitution has attained in the course of experience. This tendency to actualize its nature is the basic drive, the only drive by which the life of the organism is maintained.” 

(b) In abnormal (sick) life, the self-actualization drive is thwarted: 

“The patient’s scope of life is reduced in two ways. First, he is driven to utilize his preserved capacities in the best possible way. Second, he is driven to maintain a certain state of living and not to be disturbed in this condition. Therefore sick life is – as we explained – very bare of productivity, development, and progress, and bare of the characteristic particularities of normal organismic and especially human life.”

The tendency to preserve the existent state is characteristic for sick people, whereas the tendency of normal life is toward activity and progress. Sometimes, the normal organism also tends primarily to avoid catastrophes and maintain a certain state; but this happens under inadequate conditions, and is not at all a typical behaviour (162). 

(x) Only one drive: self-actualization

Normal behavior corresponds to a continual change of tension of such a kind that over and over again that state of tension is reached that enables and impels the organism to actualize itself in further activities, according to its nature.

There is only one drive, the drive of self-actualization, and its goal is not a discharge of tension. Under various conditions, various actions come into the foreground, but all these actions occur in accordance with the instrumental processes that are then necessary prerequisites of the self-actualization of the organism. 

As with instincts, the idea of different drives stems from observations on (i) young children and (ii) animals under experimental conditions. What is characteristic for both (i) and (ii) is that these observations are made under circumstances that represent a decentering of the functioning of the organism (163).

(x) Discharge of special tension – a phenomenon of defective centering

Goldstein takes a look at the observations in children. He points out that the facts themselves are equivocal, and could be interpreted in different ways (i.e., atomistically or holistically) (163). 

He provides two alternative interpretations of phenomena observed in infants:

Example 1: Grasping: while the first grasping might be construed as an equalization phenomenon, this changes when the baby tends to grasp the object, if not placed in its hand, and use it in a way that corresponds with its capacities; here, we have to do not only with a discharge of a tension but also with the organism’s tendency to come to terms with the object; in the first case, we might say that it is not the infant, but its hand that tries to grasp something; whereas in the second case we are confronted with a performance of the whole organism(164).

Example 2: Sucking: It is not clear that we should understand the sucking as merely relieving a desire for food; instead, it would be equally plausible to interpret the situation in the following way: the desire is only a partial aspect of a feeling of deficiency of the whole organism, which makes its self-actualization impossible; if so, we should not speak of a separate drive, but of a special condition of the entire organism (164-5).

Goldstein is adamant that he cannot prove that the situation in children is of the type that he tries to characterize. However, he feels that his explanation not only has at least the same degree of probability as the usual theory of drives, but is actually in stronger accord with facts. The important thing is that one must be careful in any derivation of a theory of drives from the behaviour of children and in any attempt to erect a theory of drives from the experimental facts. For, in the examples provided, we are dealing with a condition of uttermost isolation, which is why all facts found in such a state are liable to the fallacies described above (165-6).

The impression of the existence of separate drives arises because the organism is governed at one time by one tendency, at another time by another. This is especially true when the organism is living under inadequate conditions (e.g., in a state of hunger or deprived of sexual outlet for a long time). However, these are not normal, but emergency situations (166). 

Unlike the traditional view that assumes the multiplicity of drives, Goldstein assumes only one drive, the drive for self-actualization of the organism. However, he admits that, under certain conditions, the tendency to actualize one potentiality is so strong that the organism is governed by it. Superficially, this seems to bring Goldstein’s theory relatively close to the classical theory; on a deeper level, however, there exists a crucial difference between them: from Goldstein’s viewpoint, “individual drives” can be construed as abnormal deviations from the normal behaviour under definite conditions; from the classical viewpoint, it is impossible to account for normal behaviour without positing another (“higher”) agencythat makes the decision in the struggle between different drives. Here we have an analogous issue to the one we encountered when dealing with reflexes and instincts, and must reject this unwarranted auxiliary hypothesis (167).

(x) Potentialities (“capacities”) and self-actualization. Tendency to perfection

According to Goldstein, there is yet another reason why we should reject the theory of drives. If we reify the organism’s potentialities and turn them into distinct faculties, we fall into the errors of faculty psychologyThe isolation changes the capacity, exaggerating it in the same way as every behavioural aspect is changed when isolated from the rest of the organism. And if we start from such isolated phenomena, we can never understand the behaviour (167).

Goldstein points out that, what are usually called “drives are, in fact, tendencies corresponding to the capacities, the nature of the organism, and the environment in which the organism is living at a given time. It is much better to call them “needs”:

“The organism has definite potentialities, and because it has them it has the need to actualize or realize them. The fulfillment of these needs represents the self-actualization of the organism. Driven by such needs, we are experiencing ourselves as active personalities not, however, passively impelled by drives experienced as conflicting with the personality.” (167-8)

special form of this self-actualization is the need to complete incomplete actions. In the innumerable repetitions of children, we are not dealing with the manifestation of a senseless drive for repetition, but with the tendency to completion and perfection. This urge to perfection brings about a building up of more or less perfect instruments in any respective field (e.g., incomplete walking → perfect(ed) walking → use of walking to attain other goals) (168). 

(x) Drives, capacities, and habits

It was believed that it is possible to reduce drives to instrumental mechanisms, which, in turn, were supposed to have originated from conditioned responses (“habits”), built as means of adjustment of the organism during development. The drive, in this view, is considered as nothing more than a neural process or a habit corresponding to this neural process. However, there is a problem with this interpretation: while it is undoubtedly true that habits incite activities, one is left to wonder whether their acquisition is not the result of a special activity or tendency (= “drive” → circular reasoning) (168).

This is, in fact, what Goldstein wants to argue. In his view, habits, although inborn, do not develop on their own accord (i.e., without any active interference on the part of the organism), but are rather built by the activity of the organism in connection with experience. In other words, the development of neural mechanisms, which underlie habits, takes place during the organism’s procedure of coming to terms with the outer world. Thus, the development of the mechanisms presupposes the drive for self-actualization.

Now, these habits evoke a strong impulse for actions and eventually develop a smaller or greater degree of “functional autonomy” (Allport). Thus, for instance, many customs, habits and symbols in a culture have attained a certain emancipation from the original contextual intention. However, in Goldstein’s opinion, although the individual may not be aware of it, they are still embedded within the purposive setting of the situations and social framework in which they play a part. When this is no longer the case (be it on the individual or collective level) – when the emancipation is complete – we encounter pathological conditions (169).

The So-Called Chemical Parts

Is starting from the “parts” disclosed by chemical analysis justifiable? In short, no. “Chemism” – an attempt to account for biological phenomena in chemical terms – will never adequately explain a biological process and will tell us nothing about the life process as a whole. In order to understand the phenomena requires, above all, behaviour(al) analysis. Now, while chemical description does, and will, play a part in such analysis, it by no means exhausts it (170).

In support of his views Goldstein draws on reflections by H. J. Jordan, who questions the value of causal analysis in understanding the vital processes. According to Jordan, the physico-chemical explanation is “valid only for short ranges”. For instance, a given process(e.g., oxygen adhesion to the haemoglobin) can take place only in a system of harmoniously grouped factors, i.e., in a limited field, and when embedded in a definite way in a larger relation. The problem of biology is precisely in determining this (larger) relation, which is why the goal of accounting for life through “causal analysis” must be abandoned. What is needed, instead, is a synthesis (however, Jordan never indicates how to arrive from the parts to the synthesis). 

(Podgorski kras near Rakitovec. Black pines (Pinus nigra) which are often considered as the crest of Karst plateau, are there due to a reforestation that took place in late 19th and early 20th century. They were the only tree species that managed to survive the harsh conditions of the previously barren land – strong winds, dry and nutritiously poor soil and sweltering hot summers were detrimental for any broadleaf species that the locals were rooting for (pine wood is of a comparably lower quality).)


The following topics were pointed out during the discussion:

I) We applied Goldstein’s claim about the more complex organisms exhibiting a greater variety of reflexes than the less complex ones to Varela’s example of bacterial chemotaxis. This “turning-to” reaction belongs to the autocatalytic closure of an unicellular organism. It is one of the simple processes essential for the bacterium. Reflexes, on the other hand, are part processes, disjointed from the motosensoric coupling. Goldstein would thus dub the bacterial chemotaxis a real performance and not a reflex. What distinguishes the performances from reflexes is not the degree of differentiation – at least not as a general rule – since simple processes performed by the unicellular organisms adequately embed them in their limited environment. Their centering is less subtle – they operate unitarily with their environment without the difficulty of adjusting a complex organismic organization to a complex environment.

The question arises whether, in this regard, self-actualization is more easily achieved by simpler forms of life compared to more complex ones. Certainly, the difference between self-actualization and survival seems to be slighter in unicellular organisms. In our opinion, however, the difference in self-actualization between, e.g., a human and a bacterium is categorical and not quantitative (i.e., how complex it is in either of them). The concept of aretē (in a limited sense) may be referred to.*

Aspiration toward self-actualization is synonymous with the organisms’ endeavour to sustain the tension which fuels the positivity and progress.** Living creatures are essentially dynamic, their embodiment demands the space to manifest and further expand. Evolution is the expansion of life and Goldstein ascribes an important role to it. Self-actualization plays an equally important role as the self-preservation in the propulsion of evolution. While the evolution is not teleological, it is yet comprised of species that develop while aiming for a certain completion, i.e., the actualization of a species-specific nature. Traditionally, nature is portrayed as self-enclosing. Goldstein, taking human for the starting point of his observation, concludes the opposite – nature seems to unfold itself in the manner of Hegelian dialectic, finding its way by the means of actualizing itself. By observing microorganisms we might find it hard to accredit much importance to self-actualization due to the above-mentioned sparsity of difference between self-actualization and self-preservation in less complex forms of life (or at least we see the difference as such because we lack the knowledge about species other than ours).

*In Aristotelian teleology, everything has a telos. Goldstein, Uexküll and Merleau-Ponty consider telos to be a species-specific attribute, characterized by the organismic apriori. This way, telos can be a useful concept in natural sciences. Teleology emerges in nature (we do not necessarily have to impose its constitutive role for the Universe). Goldstein, specifically, writes about the motoric apriori of the organism, its inborn capability to interact with a specific type of environment. Acquiring experiences, motoric apriori evolves throughout life, shaping an individual’s nature.

**Here we referred to Goldstein’s postulate: “There is nothing negative in nature.” We also discussed its meaning for the natural sciences. Goldstein’s standpoint is similar to A. N. Whitehead’s proposition that for everything in nature there is an actual occasion. The existence of reasons we use in our explanations has to be supported by facts. A scientist certainly needs to put in more effort to find a positive fact than to simply brush off a phenomenon that they cannot find an explanation for or come up with a placeholder – a negative fact, i.e., an ad-hoc hypothesis in order to keep the present paradigm intact.

Ia) In Nicomachean Ethics and Metaphysics Aristotle gives directions on how an individual should best live. The ultimate aim of human beings is rational contemplation of highest Being – theoria (with health and ethics being its prerequisites). Aristotle’s understanding of human is still relevant in contemporary analytic philosophy of psychiatry. For instance, a disorder is defined as an impediment for individual’s self-actualization. An important part of human self-actualization is an adequately functional rational realm. Similarly to Aristotle, Frankl claims that the proper way for human to self-actualize is through finding a higher purpose. We suppose that, according to Goldstein, a normative individual aspires toward perfection, honing one’s performances – and therefore actualizing oneself. In the Preface, however, he may offer a more straightforward remark on the normativity, suggesting that “the feeling of unity in the sphere of immediacy is the deepest foundation for the experience of well-being and for self-realization.”

Ib) The above mentioned ways of self-actualization are in sharp contrast with Freud’s, Schopenhauer’s and Buddhist views on it.

Goldstein writes that a sick person tends to avoid catastrophic situations. Freud, on the other hand, argues that an organism under the influence of death drive eagerly seeks for such situations. Stretching Goldstein’s interpretation we could regard death drive as an avoidance of catastrophe – one could avoid it by dying. Death is not, per se, a catastrophic situation.

We pointed out that Goldstein regards the self-actualization as a fact of life – cf. p. 160, last paragraph. Schopenhauer and Buddhists regard it as a mere expression of the will of Universe to reproduce and evolve – the will to live. They consider it to be the ultimate pathology, a drive that one has to extinguish. Schopenhauer holds that drive and will are terminable in the accomplishment of their goal. The termination is evading, however, since a new desire arises whenever a present goal is reached. In Goldstein’s opinion, self-actualization is not a drive: “[…] experiences with patients teach us that we have to assume only one drive, the drive of self-actualization, and that the goal of the drive is not a discharge of tension,” and therefore human’s purpose is not the elimination of it. The perpetuity of desire becomes problematic only inasmuch as one imagines the goal as fixed.

One might argue that deeming a project open only results in frustration for the projectant. Frankl, for instance, saw self-actualization as a sort of remedy, a point of well-being one has to reach. Nevertheless, likewise the project of self-actualization guarantees no termination in absolute satisfaction, it neither can be the cause of an absolute frustration. Here we mentioned Maslow’s pyramid which is topped by transcendence of the self, a goal that, despite being indefinite, contributes to an individual’s sense of well-being. Mahayana and Zen Buddhism emphasize the responsibility of an individual to make the frustration of an open ending bearable for oneself. In contrast to Theravada, Mahayana makes no distinction between the samsara and nirvana. The latter is not beyond life; the change occurs in the way in which the awakened one perceives reality. Self-actualization is the ultimate answer to the fear of emptiness. According to Jung, one needs to confront this fear in order to individuate. Patients are not capable of such confrontation. But some regard the fear of emptiness as essential for propelling oneself toward actualization. It is universally found in human beings. Should we therefore assume the self-actualization to be pathological in its very core? Not necessarily. We need to question whether fear of emptiness is truly ubiquitous. It might cease during the course of meditative practice where one surrenders to the absence of mental activity, accepting the emptiness with their whole Being and transcending the self.

II) What would Goldstein consider as a scientific description? In describing human performances, he proposes the usage of constants. These shape the rhythms unique to each individual. Through understanding the constants in ourselves, we are able to, though not in an entirely objective way, obtain an insight into the constants in other living creatures.

Goldstein notes that the capacities for concrete and abstract behaviour are not learned but instead belong to the nature of the organism. While the abstract behaviour may not be universal across living beings (e.g., it is hard to imagine it in unicellular organisms), it is debatable whether we can proclaim it as a unique characteristic of humans. Is there any such trait? We mentioned Plessner’s and Merleau-Ponty’s take on that. Plessner uses his concept of excentric positionality of humans to illustrate our ability to relate to our own self-actualization as well as, for example, to reflexes (which, in turn, makes them unlike reflexes). We can distance from our instincts with relative ease. Merleau-Ponty notes that animals interact with their milieu while humans are able to interact with the world. He describes an additional level of abstraction in the realm of human sense but same could be demonstrated regarding performances: meaning of a certain act may vary depending on its context. In this aspect Merleau-Ponty is wary of Freud’s interpretation of the unconscious. Namely, Freud’s explanation is based on mechanisms, i.e., he proposes the existence of explicit, clear representations both in the unconscious and the conscious mind that are causally interrelated. Merleau-Ponty remarks that one cannot draw universal interpretations based on conscious representations and that same is likely true for the unconscious. In his opinion trauma shapes the way the world is given to a subject but does not linger in one’s unconscious in an explicit form of a signifier in a chain. The latter way of analyzing the psyche that compartmentalizes the mind can make the researcher prone to the errors of faculty psychology.