Ch. VI – On the Conception of the Organism as a Whole

Epoché (VI), 13. 8. 2020

A synopsis of our reading of The Organism by Kurt Goldstein

VI. “On the Conception of the Organism as a Whole” (pp. 173-228)

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

The Phenomena in Individual Parts of the Organism and the Events in the Rest of the Organism

The reflex investigations, while inadequate to account for organismal phenomena, have taught us one thing: the relationship of each individual performance to the whole organism.

(x) Any change in one locality is accompanied by a change in other localities

With any change in one locality of the organism simultaneous changes occur in other localities.

Example 1: Eye + light: The response of the eye to light is not limited to the contraction of the iris, but involves a variety of phenomena occurring throughout the body, which are often overlooked, but can be measured (173).

Example 2: Induced tonus processes: for instance, in a case of cerebellar injury, if one flexes passively the hand of the diseased side, one may observe a corresponding flexion of the foot but also the reverse movement; similar observations can be made on normal persons, only they are not so easily elicited (173-4).

In sum:

“The more carefully we investigate, and the more we get out of the habit of observing only those phenomena that, for definite theoretical or practical reasons, seem most important to us, the more we find that, whenever a change is induced in one region, we can actually observe simultaneous changes in whatever part of the organism we may test.” (174)

(x) Homologous and heterologous changes in different fields

One may object that, inasmuch as we are dealing with homologous effects on various parts, it could be claimed that the strength of the stimulus breaks through the boundaries set by the reflexes and causes coexcitation of fields that otherwise would not enter into the reaction. However, this assumption cannot be valid in the case of heterogeneous changes (i.e., when the effect on various parts of the organism is a different one), which – as a rule – do happen. These, again, make sense only if we take into consideration the condition of the whole organism (174).

Example 1: pinprick: If the sole of the foot is stimulated by a pinprick, a withdrawal of the leg occurs. Yet, at the same time, pain is felt, and various corresponding phenomena appear in the whole body: the muscles, the vaso-motors, the pupils, etc. In the case of a lesion of the spinal cord (interruption of the sensory track), we may obtain only a reflex phenomenon without any of the other reactions. On the other hand, however, the effect in the leg can be prevented by conscious effort, and the concomitant reactions become more intense.

Example 2: reflex variation: When the “flexor reflex” is elicited, a simultaneous relaxing of the extensor “normally” takes place. Now, if we stimulate the nerve of the knee flexor concomitantly with the elicitation of the flexor reflex, the letter, unsurprisingly, becomes more pronounced. However, when we elicit the flexor reflex and stimulate, at the same time, the nerve of the knee extensor, we obtain the same effect. That is to say, the expected contraction does not take place, suggesting that there are additional factors that have caused the preference for the flexor reflex and the omission of the extensor reflex (175). Although several factors  (e.g., intensity or timing of the stimulus) have been introduced in order to account for the predominance of an individual reflex in a given situation, no explanation has proved satisfactory so far (175-6).

The Relation of Every Individual Reaction to the Organism as a Whole

Goldstein suggests that, in all these examples, the course of the reactions is determined by the condition of the rest of the organism:

“[T]he reflex phenomenon is not only modified by the state of the rest of the organism, as has been generally accepted, but that the reaction, from the very start, depends on the condition of a field far beyond the reflex arc. The ‘reflex variations’ are not variations caused by the influence of other fields on the constant field of a reflex arc. They are events taking place in fields having a different extension.” (176)

(x) The stimulus effect is determined by the “functional significance” of the stimulus for the organism. The so-called nociform reflexes

It has already been mentioned that the nociform stimuli – indeed, any stimuli relevant to the whole organism – outweigh other stimuli. However, there are exceptions to this law, e.g., when the recognition of the stimulus object is more important than the warding off of harm:

“There are situations in which an individual endures pain, for example, for the sake of ‘higher interest’. […] This proves that stimuli are dominant not because they are nociform, not because there may be special noci-receptive organs (Sherrington), but because this injurious effect under certain circumstances becomes more important for the organism than all other stimuli to, or actions of, the organism. Again, we see how important a factor the functional significance is.” (177)

Example: Patient Pf. (head/hand):  Pf. had the following peculiarity: if he turned his head toward one side (e.g., the right), the arm on the opposite side (e.g., left arm) described a forced movement in the opposite direction (e.g., the left), and remained in this position as long as the head remained fixed in this posture.

Say, we ask the patient to point with his left arm to someone standing on his right.

(a) If the head was fixed in the position described above, the patient proved unable to carry out the task required of him. The left arm could reach the right side only after the head was completely turned toward the left.

(b) If the head was not brought into a special position beforehand, the patient was able to carry out the task in question. Interestingly, in moving his arm to the right, he would simultaneously move his head and eyes in the same direction (177-8).

In Goldstein’s view, the patients behaviour cannot be accounted for in behaviourist (associationist, etc.) terms. Instead, he proposes the following explanation:

          (@ a) here, an action of an isolated part of the organism is required (i.e., it consists of a single movement) → the pathological bond is brought to the fore because the excitation takes place under artificially isolated conditions;

          (@ b) here, the action occurs as governed by the whole organism (i.e., by the intention to perform an act adequate to the situation) → the excitation in the same fields is apparently so different that the otherwise abnormally active bond between head and arm cannot become effective and may even not be present, even though the acton brings the head into the same position as in the first case:

“It is always decisive whether or not the innervation takes place under the influence of the intention to point in compliance with the meaning of the total situation.” (178)

(x) The various phenomena in different fields form a unitary whole

Changes in various regions of the organism are never independent of one another; rather, they stand in a very definite relation to one another, and constitute a functional unit.  One cannot inhibit artificially any one change without influencing the phenomena in other regions (178).

(x) Impediment in one part of a reaction disturbs its total course

Goldstein mentions some curious examples:

Example 1: Stopping tremors/abnormal movements I: Very complicated forms of tremor of one hand or pseudospontaneous arm movements can be stopped by holding fast one part (e.g., small finger) of the limb in motion.

Example 2: Stopping tremors/abnormal movements II: Certain positions or passive movements of the nonaffected parts of the body interrupt or modify the tremor.

(x) Meaningful modifications in cases of impediments: the righting reflex in the starfish; the wiping reflex in the frog; scratching in man

There are also phenomena in which, through an event in the rest of the body, an activity is not merely interrupted, but modified in a meaningful way, so that the purpose of that activity may be fulfilled.

Example 1: Starfish + righting movement: If a starfish is brought to an abnormal position, it will immediately try to return to a normal position. One can vary these positions considerably, and will still find that the starfish returns promptly to the normal position (30 variations of this return have been observed, all of them entirely different and immediately adequate, which suggests that they are not the result of trial-and-error, but are carried through holistically).

Example 2: Frog + wiping movement: If one applies acid to a certain part of the frog’s body, the wiping-away reflex will be induced. If one then amputates the limb with which the wiping movement has been carried out, the animal will immediately use another limb to carry out the movement.

Example 3: Animals + scratching movement: If one uses the leg of an animal that is “adequate” to carry out the scratching movement for a certain bodily region, the animal will use another leg in the appropriate way. Similar phenomena are known to exist in man (179).

(x) Only one performance is possible at the same time. Exemplification by reflex phenomena.

The fact that the whole organism is involved in each performance manifests itself also in the phenomenon that, ultimately, only one performance is possible at a given moment. Thus, (example) in human walking, arm, leg, and head movements are not three different, yet concomitant performances, but form a unitary performance (180-1).

(x) Exemplification by medusa; by mental processes in man

Goldstein provides two examples of the “performance exclusivity” maxim:

Example 1: Medusa: Drawing on the investigations by Bethe, Goldstein offers several examples which seem to show that definite (type of) reactions in one part of the medusa cannot be executed at the same time as definite (type of) reactions in other parts.

Example 2: Human being: Corresponding exclusiveness can be also found in human beings, particularly in the mental domain, where it is usually described under the name of the “limit of consciousness” (181).

(x) Every reaction is a “Gestalt reaction” of the whole in the form of a figure-ground configuration

Close observation reveals that the condition of the rest of the organism is not an indifferent factor for the course of action in the part, but that changes in the rest of the organism influence the part in a definite way. From this, Goldstein draws the conclusion that we must regard the process in the rest of the organism as belonging to that in the part, and that they both constitute a unit. Thus, we must always speak of a reaction Gestalt (!) that comprises the entire organism, and in which we can differentiate, although only in a certain abstract sense, between the “figure” and “ground” (cf. p. 99) (182).

(x) When do processes appear in a part of the organism?

There are, to be sure, isolated processes, however, they – as Goldstein is adamant to point out – are exceptions. For instance, we may find such processes in animals in the form of the artificially isolated reactions (conditioned reflexes), actions built up by coercion and “drill”, etc. Yet even in these cases the rest of the organism is not really uninvolved (we tend to overlook that the course of the process has been restricted by artificial interferences imposed by the experimenter, i.e., by the artificial shutting off of the rest of the organism). It would be more correct to say that the rest of the organism remains in a constant state, thereby representing a uniform background on which performances stand out. Similar conditions arise in the “border situations” (182-3).

The Relative Independence of the Performances from the Functioning of a Specific Locality to Which “Normally” They Are Related – The Holistic Relation of Performances. Exemplifications

The relative independence of performances from specific localities can be widely demonstrated, but is particularly impressive in the adaptation phenomena of cases with irreparable defects in specific regions (recall the instructive case of the unilateral calcarine destruction above) (183). 

(x) Transplantation of nerves and muscles

It is known from various transplantation experiments (by, say, Foerster and Bethe) that, if one transplants a part of the proximal portion of a peripheral nerve into the distal portion of another cut nerve and if neurotization of the distal portion is achieved, the previously paralyzed muscle can recover its voluntary activity (183).

Example I: Foerster’s experiment: Foerster has provided a description of the case of transplantation of a part of the central portion of the accessorius to the peripheral portion of the facial nerve. The following sequence of events has been observed:

(i) The facial muscles cannot be moved.

(ii) A contraction of the facial muscles occurs simultaneously with each voluntary elevation of the shoulder (the facial muscles cannot be innervated alone).

(iii) The patient very soon succeeds in innervating the facial muscles directly and voluntarily: at first, the shoulder moves at the same time, but later the movements of the facial muscles and the shoulder are again separated (183-4).

Example II: Bethe’s experiment: Even more telling are Bethe’s experiments on crossing the sciatic nerves of the dog, for here, correct innervation happens without any preceding incorrect movements (the same is true in the transplantation of muscles) (184).

Goldstein points out that usual interpretations of such phenomena rest on atomistic presuppositions, which force their defenders to adopt a number of further ad hoc, and ultimately completely untenable, assumptions (for details see 184-5).

(x) The adjustmental shift requires no training of innervation and no preformed histological connections

Transplantation results indicate that correct innervation is not the result of practicing but that the very first performance is already correct. This fact, Goldstein believes, precludes the hypothesis of newly formed tracts or the training of tracts not formerly used. Similar conclusions can also be drawn with regards to our normal conditions. Whenever we intend a certain movement we do not innervate individual muscles or muscle groups, but instantiate a change in the present state of innervation of all the body muscles.Thus, a pattern of innervation results, in which one definite single contraction – the intended one – stands in the foreground (185-6).

In cases of peripheral paralysis it is clear that, when a certain movement is intended, the excitation decidedly does not propagate only into the nerve and muscle field in question.

Example: peripheral facial paralysis (see above – Foerster): in p. f. p., through continued effort to innervate the paralyzed face, the excitation flows into other muscles and results in false movements; when innervation is difficult, more or less extended associated movements occur, which are possible only if there are connection between the various fields that are usually regarded as isolated.

These facts are in line with Goldstein’s view, but remain unintelligible for the theory of isolated mechanisms. The movement of a definite muscle group is only the particularly outstanding partof the whole event (186).

How the innervation pattern comes about becomes a part of the general problem of the adjustment of the organism to the environment. Namely, the intention of a volitional performance means a very definite attitude of the organism towards certain demands of the environment. This attitude finds its expression in a special configuration of the organism and becomes apparent as the innervation of a definite muscle group (186-7).

Goldstein feels that his view can bring normal functioning in line with transplantation experiments. Innervation of a particular muscle group does not correspond to the activity of an isolated apparatus. However, under certain circumstances, the excitation takes its course through these apparatuses, because they offer the easier way to effectuate innervation. From this view, the innervation is effected equally correctly when the normal connection between the CNS and the peripheral part is disturbed and another connection is established. In this regard, it is immaterial by which apparatus the new connection between the muscle and the organism is brought about. If a connection exists at all, the innervation succeeds, because the total excitation pattern can effectuate itself. This, in turn, is possible because the total excitation pattern is not confined to a definite anatomical site, but represents a definite excitation Gestalt that can utilize any available structure (187).

Goldstein mentions cases of transplantations in the vegetative nervous system, which can be said to support his viewpoint (cf. 187-8).

(x) The sequelae of amputation

Goldstein draws on amputation experiments in which one or more extremities of an animal were removed. The more important aspect here is that the shift to the new gait takes place correctly in the first attempt of the animal.

Example I: Arthropoda (von Buddenbrock, Bethe): if one amputates any extremities of the arthropods, the animals immediately walk with the remaining extremities in the most efficient manner, although extremity and muscle combinations are quite different from the “normal” ones; 

Example II: guinea pigs (Fischer): after all the legs of a guinea pig were amputated, the animal, soon after awakening from the anaesthesia, began to roll around its longitudinal axis.

(x) The adjustmental shift in hemiplegia. Writing with the left hand without training: a further proof of holistic relation

Similar phenomena can be found in human. If one hand cannot be used (in hemiplegia) or is surgically removed (amputation), the intact hand often takes over the performances of the other with extraordinary promptness, and not infrequently, after only a short period of transition.

Example I: writing with left hand: Persons whose R-arm is paralyzed or amputated “learn” very quickly to write with their L-arm. To say that they learn is “false”, because they know it already at the first trial. What they have to learn is how to overcome obstacles (psychological, positional, etc.).

Example II: mirror writing: Some right-hand hemiplegics engage in mirror writing with their L-hand. This is not learned, as the patients themselves are usually surprised at having produced mirror writing when using L-hand unreflectively/naively.

Example III: writing in atypical situations: People are capable of writing with any part of the body that is capable of performing writing movements or in quite unusual hand positions (e.g., if we turn the pal of the hand up) (189-90).

These instances are certainly not cases of training nor do they indicate the existence of definite nerve connections. What is essential for the performance, then, is not the course of excitation within a specific apparatus, but rather the functional pattern of the excitation. Further, it is not a specific and constant way of execution that is basic, but that a certain end has to be reached, no matter in what way, and that this is determined by the condition of the whole (190). 

(x) The shift is facilitated when a performance becomes entirely impaired

Goldstein mentions a rather gruesome experiment by Trendelenburg:
          Example:“After operation on the cortex of a baboon, by which the white matter below the arm and leg area of the left cerebral cortex was destroyed, only the left hand was used for the grasping of fruit by the animal. Seven weeks after the first operation, the left arm was amputated. Now the animal tried immediately to reach with the right hand for food brought into its cage. The following day, it was already capable of a more differentiated use of thumb and index finger toward each other, so that after a short period the right hand was used almost like a normal one. Now, a deep incision in the arm region of the left cerebral cortex was made. This again destroyed the capacity of reaching for food with the right hand. This reaching movement, however, could again be brought on if the food was not carried into the cage, but was placed outside, so that the animal could reach the food only by use of the arm. Although the reaching movement no longer turned out so well, still the arm was continuously used for grasping when the situation required it.” (190)

The general rule seems to be that the adjustmental shift occurs only when execution of the performance in the customary manner has become completely impossible. If an injured member is still capable of performance – albeit impeded – the use of the other members for unaccustomed performances develops more slowly than in the case of complete incapacitation. Thus, (example) after amputation persons learn to write much faster with the L-hand than persons with hemiplegia. The same difference between incomplete and complete paralysis of the hand can be found due to non-cortical nervous disturbance. The adjustmental shift is facilitated if the customary execution of a performance has become impossible: in amputation, it occurs promptly; in temporary paralysis, it develops more progressively (191).

Example I: irritant removal in an unconscious state: Patients with disturbed consciousness grasp the irritating stimulus object promptly with the adequate member. However, if the adequate member is partially paralyzed, they first try to reach the stimulated place with this member. Only if the attempt does not succeed, another member is used, the next adequate in line (191-2).

Example II: dung beetle (Bethe, Matthaei): when the lower part of the middle leg of the dung beetle was amputated, the animal moved practically without change on a rough surface; if, however, the animal was placed on a smooth surface, the stumps were no longer moved and the other legs now shifted, in the sense of a trot. That is to say, an inability to reach the ground with the mutilated limbs had the same effect on the animal as if the limbs were missing – and in that case the shift occurred (192).

Example III: “swimming beetle” (Dytiscus marginalis) (Bethe & Woitas): similar observations: a beetle that normally swims only with the rear pair of legs, uses the stumps of these legs for swimming as long as that succeeds; it is only when this is no longer possible that a shift to the middle legs occurs (192-3).

Example IV: dog: if an apparatus is placed on the dog’s foot, which causes a strong pain with each step, the shift in the walking pattern will occur; however, if the member is only tied, there will be no shift; instead the animal will be continuously urged to free itself from the fastening.

From all this, Goldstein draws the conclusion that the adjustmental shift occurs with regard to the whole organism: the essential factor is not the nonoccurence of a sensation (the “limb is missing”), but the impossibility of producing the effect. Sensations, of course, play a part; but they do so only after the shift has taken place (193).

(x) Dependence of substitute phenomena in cortical impairment on the whole

If a certain part is so completely destroyed that an adjustmental shift in that field is no longer possible, characteristic substitute phenomena form in other fields. For instance (example), the total loss of vision in animals can be compensated, to a certain extent, through a specific utilization of the intact senses and the motorium.

However, since very little is known about such substitutions in animals (systematic investigations are lacking), the observations in patients are more revealing.

Example: motor speech disturbance: Some patients with m. s. d. have lost the ability to quickly solve tasks of the multiplication table, because – when performing this task in their premorbid state – they have drawn predominantly on motor speech series. To bypass this predicament, the patient can create substitute means, say, by using performances of visualization (e.g., by learning by heart a “multiplication table/chart”).

Now, since individual premorbid skills (e.g., well developed visual imagery) are necessary for the formation of substitutes, the type of substitute formation is not arbitrary. It is interesting, however, that the utilization of a special ability may take place completely instinctively, without the patient being aware of possessing any special ability in that field.

Example: “mind-blind” patient/Sch. (Goldstein & Gelb): The vision of Sch. was so disturbed that he was unable to recognize even the simplest visual objects or to have correct visual experience of “straight” or “curved”, resulting in his not being able to identify letters or figures from purely visual impressions. To him, everything was chaos, in which he could recognize only light and dark spots. However, he soon learned to read without anybody instructing him. This he did by tracing stepwise along the light-dark margins, by making his macula “glide over them”. The experienced movement constituted, for him, a letter in the same sense as, for us, the seen letter. Curiously, it was only when Goldstein & Gelb told him what he was doing that he realized that his way of seeing is different from that of other people. He became so skilled in carrying out his special “detour” that he was eventually able to follow a vocation in which accurate measuring was very important: he had to cut women’s leather bags of a certain form and size (196).

The general laws of forming substitutes, then, are the same as in adjustments. The cause, again, is the complete incapacitation of a certain performance of particular importance for the individual. And here also, the impulse stems from the experience of a catastrophic reaction. The substitution is formed without consciousness: after several unsuccessful trials, the patient hits on the “correct” solution and then maintains the procedure that he experienced on that occasion but without understanding how it leads to the good results (196-7).

The following is crucial:

“Thus far, training can improve the performance but does not change, in principle, the procedure in the substitute formation. The adequacy of the substitute formation depends on the potentialities of the respective person and on the demands made on him. Thus it is pronouncedly related to the whole. The influence of the demand manifests itself in the fact that if the demands are too little, adjustmental shift is imperfect, worse than it should be according to the kind of injury of that field, the impairment of which makes the adjustment necessary. Such demands, which are too small, can be caused by extraneous factors or, further, by defects of the organism itself. If the overcoming of difficulties is too much facilitated from without, the level of the performance drops too far, just as greater demands increase the performance levels. We can observe this whenever we have occasion to study the behavior of different patients with almost the same defects in different life situations. The patients (as well as observers) are surprised to see what performances they can accomplish if one makes greater demands on them. Of course, the demands must be adequate to, and not beyond the capacity of, the patient. Patients with apparently serious defects are capable of extraordinary performances if certain life situations compel them […]. But a too-severe shrinkage of the milieu, too great a reduction of demands, can be caused through further impairments.” (197)

Example: two cases of “mind-blindness”:

(a) Patient A (= Sch.): A showed impairment of visual perception to a high degree; however, despite this impairment, he managed to develop such a far-reaching adjustment that in general this defect was not noticed at all; specifically, he had developed a mastery in motor performances that enabled him to meet all the demands in his milieu.

(b) Patient B: B, whose vision was less disturbed, had also developed certain motor substitute performances, but to a significantly lesser degree; on the whole, B seemed much more helpless than A.

Given the fact that A and B were both quite intelligent (B perhaps even more than A), what could account for these differences?

(a) Patient A:

– had no other essential disturbances beside his visual impairments;

– he lived in a situation that made great demands on him (he had children, followed a vocation, etc.);

– he married during his hospitalization and therefore left the hospital;

– he soon realized that a definitely planned procedure of utilizing motor procedures was necessary.

(b) Patient B:

– in addition to visual disturbances he also suffered from a severe paralysis of the R-arm and R-leg;

– he had serious aphasia;

– the scope of his milieu was extremely small (there was no question of learning or following a vocation);

– he never left the hospital (198-9).

Localization and Specificity

(x) The significance of anatomical structure in the brain cortex

The results of our preceding investigations – i.e., the relative independence of performances from specific mechanisms – must raise doubt as to whether one is justified in “localizing” specific performances in a circumscribed apparatus. However, the specificity seems to be most self-evident in the difference between various organs (stomach, liver, brain, etc., and their substructures) as to their structure and function. Can we really doubt this? (200)

Goldstein tries to approach this question by taking a closer look at the cerebral cortex. The strongest support for the claim that the various areas of the cortex are heterogenous come from the microscopic studies (the morphological, embryological, comparative, etc. studies are less certain). These studies reveal that there are certain one-to-one correspondences between certain peripheral sectors and certain cortical sectors. However, in Goldstein’s view, only performance analysis can provide information about how these cortical areas (Goldstein calls them the “periphery of the cortex”) actually function. This is all the more pertinent since, in addition to these peripheral cortical areas, we also find “domains of higher order” – Goldstein refers to them collectively as the “central sector” – which are relatively independent of a peripheral cortex (these higher-order domains comprise, e. g., parietal lobe, the insula Reili, and especially the frontal lobe). Furthermore, a similar differentiation that can be found in CNS in general – i.e., that between the peripheral and the central sectors – can also be found within the stratified structure of each specific area (201).

(x) What is the meaning of differentiation?

What have we learned from such histological differentiations? To topographically delimit brain areas and divide them into peripheral and central sectors. However, regarding function, the histological differentiation gives us hardly any essential information (202).

It is only when we compare a definite performance with a definite brain locus – as attempted by brain pathology and physiology – that we could hope to learn anything in this respect. For the most part, discussions in this area leaned (i) on the observations of aphasic symptoms in circumscribed brain lesions and (ii) on the results of experiments, where circumscribed parts of the cortex were stimulated (202).

These studies have supposedly shown a strict correlation between circumscribed cortical areas and circumscribed muscular and sensory fields. However, Goldstein cautions that they have taught us very little regarding the functioning of the cortex. Similar objections can be leveled against them as against the reflex theory. Specifically, it turns out that the stimulation of the same cortical points does not always yield the same results, i.e., the same stimulus may, under different circumstances, lead to different performances. The effect, then, can be only understood if one regards the process at the stimulated point as “figure process” in a larger “ground process” (203).

(x) Localization of mental phenomena

The theory of localization of mental phenomena is historically associated with the names of Gall, Bouchard, Dax, and particularly Broca and Wernicke. In the era of the “diagram makers” (Head’s term), more and more complex and detailed brain maps were constructed. So strong was the influence of these brain maps that, up until recently, most investigators had not the slightest doubt that the research was on the right track. Of course, more and more cases became known in which the symptomatology could no longer be fitted into these schematic constructions and in which the anatomical facts no longer corresponded to the theoretical premises. However, these difficulties were usually surmounted by various ad hoc explanations, which were accepted with very little critical attention (203).

However, during the last decades, a more thorough examination of the anatomical, clinical and psychological facts has finally shaken the so-called classical approach, and has lead to great skepticism toward its conclusions. However, Goldstein believes that we cannot simply content ourselves with this skeptical attitude and regard the mental activity as an expression of a functioning of the total cortex (= unbridled holism). For this reason, he suggests we take a closer look at the objections that can be raised against the classical localization theory and see what implications can be drawn from them. These objections, he says, can be separated into three classes.

(a) Anatomical objections (particularly through the work of von Monakow)

For instance, (i) one finds a difference in symptoms while the location of the lesion stays approximately the same. Further, there are cases that are negative in two ways: (ii) characteristic symptoms may be absent while there is a definitely localized lesion; (iii) symptoms may appear without the presence of a correspondingly localized lesion.

From this it follows that it is impossible to regard the presence of symptoms as simply depending on the locus of the injury. From a strictly anatomical point, (iv) the “locus” is usually regarded too schematically (one overlooks the difference of the histopathological changes in various diseases or at various times of the illness, etc.) (204).

Further, (v) anatomical differences are too frequently evaluated only quantitatively, which is wrong. The different ways in which the various strata are involved must certainly lead to qualitatively different symptoms.

In general (SUM), the inaccuracy of any judgement regarding the anatomical facts is increased because we simply do not know the relation between a specific state of an anatomical condition and a specific performance. Goldstein feels that we are faced with a methodological difficulty that perhaps will never be overcome, entrapping us at the level of conjectures.

Additionally, what also gets frequently overlooked is (vi) the importance of the condition of the rest of the brain and even of the organism as a whole for the development of syndromes in cases with local lesion (205). Thus, the destruction of one part of the brain never leaves unchanged the activity of the rest of the organism (particularly the rest of the brain) (207).

In light of this, von Monakow differentiated between (i) initial symptoms and (ii) residual symptoms. In the classical interpretation, the difference between (i) and (ii) was explained by the scope of the pathological process: in (i), the latter was said to be significantly larger, whereas in (ii) it was narrowed down and thus confined to a smaller region. But von Monakow argues that this is incorrect, for the difference between (i) and (ii) is not only quantitative, but also qualitative in nature. Some symptoms, he said, almost invariably disappear, whereas others do not disappear at all. Crucially, these permanent symptoms are of a more primitive kind, and encompass losses of movement, of sensory functions, etc. The initial disturbances, on the other hand, are of a more complicated nature, and encompass “mnemic” defects, apractic disturbances, mind blindness, etc. The most primitive functions can be lost permanently because they are related to a specific locus and correspond, in their localization, to parts of the periphery. However, this does not hold true for more complex functionsmental performances proper – as suggested by the fact that these are, in principle, subject to regeneration. Mental performances are not limited to the function of certain brain locations, but are related to much more extended parts, which are only temporarily incapacited by a focal lesion through the so-called functional diaschisis, i. e.,  “the dynamic distance effect”, radiating from the locus of the cortical lesion and producing a (temporary) suspension of function. The effect of the diaschisis can, of course, be restored, however, the restoration itself depends on various factors: nature of the disease, vascular supply, condition of the entire brain, etc. (206)

In sum:

“Whether a certain symptom will appear on account of a local injury, especially whether it will become a permanent symptom, certainly depends on many other factors: on the nature of the disease process, on the condition of the rest of the brain, on the state of the circulation, and on the psycho-physical constitution of the patient. It also depends on the “difficulty” of that performance, the disturbance of which represents a symptom, and, finally, on the reaction of the entire organism to the defect.” (207)

(x) Criticism of the localization theory on a symptomatological basis = (b) Symptomatological objections

Symptomatological objections have become even more serious than the anatomical criticism. It was shown above that, instead of separate losses of individual performances, we usually find a systematic reduction (= dedifferentiation) that can be evaluated only in relation to the whole organism. Depending on what part of the brain is injured, this reduction affects one circumscribed performance field more than others.

For instance, (i) when so-called peripheral areas are injured, the reduction is usually more isolated in motor or sensory fields; however, (ii) when the central areas are injured, the reduction always affects all fields. But it should be noted that even in (i), we do not find “dropping out” of isolated performances, but rather a systemic differentiation of the functioning of that entire field. Only in subcortical lesions is a loss in a circumscribed sector possible (207-8).

Localization of a performance no longer means an excitation in a certain place, but a dynamic process that occurs in the entire nervous system, even in the whole organism, and that has a definite excitation configuration for each performance. The excitation configuration has, in a certain locality, a special formation (= “elevation”) corresponding to the figure process. A specific location is, then, characterized by the influence a particular structure has on the total process (208-9).

(x) The so-called specificity of the senses

However, a highly important question remains: Shouldn’t we – complying with the so-called theory of the specific energy of the senses – assume specific substances or processes for such definite qualities as colour, tone, etc.?

To answer this question we should have a firmer grasp on the facts about senses than is possible concerning the existing literature. It would seem, however, that the number of senses is increasing (.e.g, senses of equilibrium and vibration have been introduced, etc.). What does this mean? Goldstein reminds us that all these “single senses” owe their delimitation to a certain (methodological) procedure, namely to the isolating segregation of single experiences from the total pattern of phenomena that occur when the organism reacts to a so-called sensory stimulus. But here the following question presents itself: Are these separate senses not perhaps the product of this procedure? That is to say, do not the specific sense modalities possibly owe their discreteness to the isolating methodology? And further, what is the meaning of the facts, thus determined, for the life of the organism? (209) In light of what has been said above, what we call “sensation” in a special sense modality (e.g., colour in vision) is a very complicated special instance of a total reaction pattern (with its “figure” and “ground” dimensions)of the organism during its coming to terms with those events of the environment that demand sensory experience (209-10).

It is noteworthy that the bare content of perceptual experience is not exhausted in sheer sensory content (e.g., color qualia), as it were. Other experiences are more important in normal life, e.g., what we usually call “mood” or “atmosphere” into which we are brought by a certain sensory stimulus and which have left a telling trace in our language (e.g., when we talk of softness, gaiety, vigorou of colour, etc.). This was recognized by artists, such as Goethe and Kandinsky, who have considered it to be the essence of perception. Such experiences are more pronounced when the “objectifying attitude” is not as much in the foreground as is customary, either because of the situation or some lack (e.g., disease). These types of experiences are thus particularly marked in certain types of patients. All this points to a close and constant relation between these special experiences and the total reaction of the organism to sensory stimuli (210).

Yet even these phenomena by no means exhaust the entire range of sensory events. Investigations have shown that, simultaneous with the perceptual phenomena, a great variety of additional somatic events takes place. These events will differ according to the total situation, as also depending on other processes. However, Goldstein remarks that he was able to observe the opposite effects with the green and red colour stimulation (210-11).

Example: colour stimulation: If a cerebellar patient is asked to raise his arms forward so that he is in a somewhat stable position, and if one exposes him to different colours, one notices that G/B-stimulation lead the patient to move his arms together (= adduction), whereas Y/R-stimulation lead him to move his arms apart (= abduction). Also, the colour influences the speed of volitional movements and the estimates of traversed distances, time intervals, and weights. Further, it has been shown that the organism behaves differently, even morphologically, when exposed to different colour stimuli (e.g., the refraction of the lens can vary to an objectively noticeable degree: with G-lights = normal, with R-lights it was changed, as in myopia).

Goldstein concludes that a specific colour stimulation is accompanied by a specific response of the entire organism. What is more, this pattern formation is not limited to stimulus objects that evoke specific sensory experiences, but also occurs under stimulation that does not involve sensory objects, e.g., due to infrared or ultraviolet light. Also, a differential effect of colours is not limited to the stimulation of the eye, but also holds for the stimulation of skin in general(although to a lesser degree) (211-2).

Sensory organs, then, are not the only inlets for the influence of specific stimuli, although they, of course, play a preferred role as entrance gates for those stimuli, and perhaps indirectly also for the achievement of specific optimum performances (e.g., for objectifying experiences) (212).

It is even possible to determine more precisely the response pattern of the organism to colour, inasmuch it differs for the individual colour quality:

(a) Green causes deviation in the direction toward flexion (adduction), and favours performance in general;

(b) Red causes deviation in the direction of extension (abduction), and usually leads to the impairment of performance (in the direction of the shock reaction).

These different effects correspond to very definite but different total behavioural attitudes, which find their clear expression in the subject’s reports of the mood corresponding to the various colours (212).

In sum:

“[O]n the basis of my experience with patients, I do not doubt that [a] ‘experience of a specific color’, [b] the ‘specific mood and attitude’, and [c] definite state of the organs, and finally [d] the ‘performances’ of the organism – that all these aspects are but artificially separated factors of a unitary process that represents a coming to terms of the organism with a definite happening in the outer world, called light of a definite wavelength.” (212-3)

What holds true for vision seems to hold true for all senses (Goldstein here refers generally to experimental results of Heinz Werner and Karl Zietz). What is especially important, however, is that the various senses manifest essential conformities. These, Goldstein contends, are reflected in our language, for we, e.g., use the same words for experiences in different senses (e.g., warm/cold, sharp/dull, etc.). Investigations by Moritz von Hornbostel, for instance, indicate the far-reaching conformity of the experience of brightness and darkness in the most varied sensory fields.

These facts throw a new light on the problem of synesthesia. Instead of trying to account for the relation between different sensory phenomena by, say, looking for causes in past experiences, we should look for the basic organismal configuration. Similarly, instead of talking about the “transference” of the effect from one sense to another, we should talk, instead, of the unitary, homologous pattern, the unity of senses, which was overlooked by the investigators, caught up in their objectifying attitude (213).

Again, in sum:

“The most important result for our problem is that in all senses we must regard very essential features of the sensory processes as homologous if not identical. This means that we have to understand common characteristics from a unitary organismic process, the total pattern of which varies corresponding to the respective perceptual constellations and situations. Hence definite localization, in a circumscribed sensual field, can no longer be a matter of discussion. From this point of view, the individual sensory processes are merely individual patterns of the whole organism.” (213-4)

But doesn’t this eliminate the specificity of the individual senses? Goldstein doesn’t think so. In his view, the most that can be stated is that, if specific areas and specific structures or processes are lost, or if they are imperfectly developed, the objectified conscious colour experiences are lacking (214).

Regarding the localization of sensory qualities we thus reach the same result as for localization in general. A specific performance (e.g., perception) is a specific pattern of the whole organism. For the normal organization of this specific pattern (e.g., sensory performance), certain structures are of special importance (e.g., senses, cortical sensory fields): it is here that the figure process is formed. However, the figure processes gain their specificity only by virtue of the whole process in which they are embedded: specificity only arises in the whole. In this view, the specific local area is possibly only the best route by which the influence from outside can enter. The place of influence does not provide any relevant information as to the real effect; however, it can be of immense practical significance, because it is here that the best performance can be obtained (214-5).

(x) The so-called specificity of the vegetative system

Vegetative nervous system is still another field in which the problem of specificity plays an important role. However, as it was already pointed out (pp. 187 ff), even here the atomistic supposition is untenable. If the isolated part of the organism is stimulated, then, it is true, the effect of the stimulation is to be understood by the functioning of this part only under this condition of isolation. However, this does not mean that single parts show once and for all the same specificity. Quite the contrary: stimulation of the same part, but not in a state of isolation, results in different phenomena, varying with the conditions. Here, too, the specificity arises from the special total situation in which the part is embedded, i.e., from the functional pattern of the whole (215-6).

The So-called Antagonism

One of the phenomena that seem to be in conflict with Goldstein’s holistic approach, is the so-called principle of antagonism, according to which a performance is regarded as the resultant of opposing forces: it is said to be exemplified in the unitary effect of two antagonistically operating mechanisms (216).

(x) “Antagonistic innervation” of voluntary muscles

First, there is the theory of reciprocal antagonistic innervation of the muscles(based mostly on works by Sherrington and Hering): the activity of the antagonist is said to counteract the activity of the agonist. For example, in the “spinal cat”, one cannot bring about the reflex-like contraction of the extensor, so long as the flexor reflex is released (Sherrington) (217).

Now, under certain conditions (e.g., coordinated movement), a coinnervation takes place. Even more, if we consider natural voluntary innervation, it turns out that reciprocal relaxation is not a typical phenomenon, but rather a special case (217-8). As it turns out, the relation of agonist and antagonist to each other depends on the kind of performance. This shows itself particularly clearly in cases of amputation, where agonists and antagonists behave differently with regard to their innervation, depending on what performance is intended by the individual. This is noteworthy because it shows that the distribution of excitation in the antagonistic muscles is not alone determined by stimuli from the outside world but also by the central processes, by the “intention”, and by the whole configurational condition of the organism at that time (218).

(x) Our holistic interpretation of the so-called antagonism

Goldstein purports that the facts find their simplest and most unbiased interpretation in the following: in the case of agonistic/antagonistic muscle groups, we are not dealing with two antagonistic mechanisms nor, for that matter, with two isolated innervations, but rather with only one innervation. We are dealing, again, with a differentional Gestalt (“figure/ground”) process, and not two separate (discrete) processes (219). Different performances require differently pronounced F/G-differentiation: in the most extreme cases (= extreme isolation), we are dealing with antagonistic innervation; in the more common cases (= everyday performances), we are dealing with homogeneous innervation (221).

(Dark columbine (Aquilegia atrata, sl. črnikasta orlica) and common columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris, sl. navadna orlica).  The genus acquired its Latin name due to the hook-shaped nectariums (i.e., upper part of the flower) resembling an eagle’s claw. The peculiarly shaped petals resemble yet another bird species, namely five doves clustered together – hence the common name columbine. In French,  the symbolic meaning of the drooping flowers echoes in their etimology: ancolie is derived from mélancolie.)


The following topics were pointed out during the discussion:

I) The reason we ascribe importance to certain aspects of organisms is often based on our methodological capacities of observation. The features of organisms that stand out to us as scientific (or otherwise) observers may not be the same as those that are highly relevant to these organisms themselves, or those that have the highest impact on their performances. Goldstein is sceptical of the concept of the reflex arc in this regard. He finds that it is based on behavior specific to those organisms that find themselves in an artificial environment, such as that of a behaviorist experimental setting.

One could cast doubt on a number of contemporary biological concepts in a similar fashion. It is for example questionable whether we should take our biological concepts based on monitoring the electromagnetic activity of the nervous system as the (one of) most fundamental descriptions of organismic activity.

2) Canguilhem takes up and develops Goldstein’s position in a lot of interesting ways. Both these authors develop a view of an organism as a dynamical whole, and propose as one of its main features, that the organism actively strives to bring about an equilibrium in relation to an ever changing environment. The conclusion that Canguilhem draws from this is that scientifically observed behavioral constants of the organisms are necessarily dependent on specific environments (such as a scientific laboratory) and thus subject to change. Another point Canguilhem makes about behavioral constants is that one cannot derive them purely on the basis of statistical observations, as those might be misleading with regard to organisms’ actual preferred behavior.

A question that arises is to what extend one should abide by this criticism of behavioral constants. Isn’t science necessarily limited to those kinds of observations, and if so, aren’t we compelled to make do with the kind of partial understanding of living beings that science offers?

One way to respond to this question would be, that scientific models of behavioral invariants should be treated as a valuable source of information, but, as Canguilhem points out, one should never take these findings as evidence of a normal (as opposed to pathological) state of organisms, at least not at face value.

Another way to respond would be to argue, that even quantitative model based scientific approaches to living beings may extend beyond mere descriptions of absolute invariants, as is the case with the complex systems approach.

3) There seems to be some ambiguity in Goldstein’s views on the synesthetic character of perception. This is partly due to the ambiguity in the concept of synesthesia itself. The current prevailing understanding of synesthesia defines this condition faulty categorization of a sense type (such as hearing or sight) of a stimulus, or the way a stimulus of a specific sense type can cause intense and regular associations with those of another type.

However, this does not seem to be Goldstein’s understanding of synesthesia. He does not understand it as qualities of certain sense fields intermingled with another, as these sense fields are on his account themselves constituted on a more fundamental domain of synesthetic perception. His position seems to be that the differentiation of perceptual content into specific sense fields is secondary to other ways the organism perceptually discriminates states of its environment. These more fundamental discriminations in the perceptual field are not organized primarily with regard to the organism’s sensory organs, but rather with regard to the organism’s task of coping with its environment and the specific situation in which it finds itself. This is in line with Merleau-Ponty’s observation that one does not primarily perceive the colors and shapes that constitute a person’s posture, but rather the affective value that this posture is expressing. One thus primarily sees “physiognomies” and determines specific sensory data only in analytic reflection.

This raises further questions, as to how the organism achieves any kind of perceptual stability. One might also ponder from an evolutionary standpoint what kind of advantages might an organism, unable to discriminate between different sense fields, have. It might also be argued that a certain kind of tacit discrimination between different sense fields must be in place for any kind recognition of stable perceptual structures to be achievable. 

Questions to consider:

a) How to explain the way in which organisms achieve and maintain a degree of constancy of their internal organization, if we adopt Goldstein’s holistic approach, whereby the internal structure of organisms is said to be contingent on the changes of their environments?

b) Which level of analysis should be adopted for considering the structure of perceptual experience and the categorization of its contents? Goldstein seems to argue for a non-physicalist or non-mechanist approach, but also one that seems far removed from the phenomenological alternative. He seems to hold the opinion that a biological understanding of the relationship between living beings and their environment is necessary in order to explain the structures and contents of their experiences. In this regard, it would be interesting to compare his position to related authors such as Plessner or Varela.