Epoché (VII), 27. 8. 2020
A synopsis of our reading of The Organism by Kurt Goldstein
VII. “Certain Essential Characteristics of the Organism in the Light of the Holistic Approach” (pp. 229-283)
Abridgment by: Sebastjan Vörös
[his outline and commentary of the whole book can be found here]
On the Phenomenon of Anxiety
(x) Fear and anxiety. Anxiety has no object. The basis of fear is threat of the onset of anxiety
Although states of anxiety take on different forms, they are usually said to have one common denominator: the experience of danger, of peril for one’s self. However, such a characterization is inadequate for (at least) two reasons:
(a) it focuses only on subjective experience and neglects bodily changes that occur in the state of anxiety: expressive movements of the face and the body, certain changes in physiological processes, motor phenomena, changes in pulse rate, vasomotor phenomena, etc.;
(b) it is not specific enough, for it fails to specify the nature of danger one experiences, and thus to explain how anxiety differs from other states (e.g., pain or fear) (229).
Crucially, what is characteristic of anxiety is that it bears no reference to an object (it “attacks us from the rear”). This, Goldstein believes – and in making this claim he draws both on psychologists (Freud, Stern, Révész) and philosophers (Pascal, Kierkegaard, Heidegger) – is what differentiates anxiety and fear, two phenomena that are usually lumped together:
“Fear differs from anxiety by its character of defense reaction and by its pattern of bodily expression. In [a] fear, there is an appropriate defense reaction, a bodily expression of tension and of extreme attention to a certain part of the environment. In [b] anxiety, on the other hand, we find meaningless frenzy, with rigid or distorted expression, accompanied by withdrawal from the world, a shut-off affectivity, in the light of which the world appears irrelevant, and any reference to the world, any useful perception and action, is suspended. ”
(ad a) fear → fear of something(“If fürchte etwas.”)
(ad b) anxiety → anxious before nothing(“ich ängstige mich.”) (230-1)
Goldstein demonstrates this on the example of brain-injured patients. It will be remembered that, in his analyses, Goldstein has ordered the states in which such patients find themselves when confronted with (i) solvable and (ii) unsolvable tasks as (ad i) ordered behaviour and (ad ii) catastrophic reaction. As it turns out, catastrophic reactions (= ii) show all characteristics of anxiety. The origin of these reactions can be attributed to the expression of shock, following from the inadequate utilization of stimuli, caused by the change of structure in the patient. The observations show that, in the state of anxiety, the patient is not really conscious of the impossibility of solving the task and the danger threatening from it; instead, because of his specific disturbance, he is not capable of establishing a relation with the object, i.e., he cannot grasp it in such a way that he could appreciate its danger (“apprehending an object” presupposes “ordered functional evaluation of the stimulus”) (231).
From the preceding analysis we can see that patients’ anxiety has no corresponding content and is lacking in object. The patient experiences not fear of something, but simply anxiety, i.e., a dissolution of the world and a shattering of his own self. It is not that he “has” anxiety, but rather that he is or personifies anxiety.
Yet Goldstein is quick to add that this description holds true only as far as we consider the inner experience. However, the organism itself is faced with some “object”: in anxiety, there is a conflict of the organism with a certain environment not adequate for it, thus resulting in disordered stimulus evaluation. (232)
What, then, is the relation between anxiety and fear? In fear, one always experiences an object which one fears. Now, what one fears in the object is not something that is inherent in this object, but something found only in a specific relation between organism and object. What is it, then, that leads to fear?
“Nothing but the experience of the possibility of the onset of anxiety. What we fear is the impending anxiety.” (233)
It follows from this that anxiety cannot be made intelligible from fear, but that only the reverse is true:
“The person in fear knows anxiety from past experience and present imagination (anticipation). The person in anxiety, however, cannot know fear, because in the state of anxiety he is incapable of any recollection.” (233)
Since the person in fear is not yet in the state of anxiety, but only envisions it, he is not yet in full-blown conflict with the world, but instead tries to establish contact with it, and thereby prevent the onset of anxiety. Fear sharpens the senses, whereas anxiety paralyzes them. We can escape anxiety only by avoiding situations that might eventuate in anxiety (233).
(x) Anxiety in infants and animals. The “uncanny”. “Instinct fear” and “experience fear” as the result of critical inadequacy of the organism to stimuli
Goldstein now touches upon the two related issues of anxiety in children and animals, respectively, which have stirred lively debates in the academic community.
All researchers agree that the infant undergoes anxiety. However, they disagree as to its origin. Since it is impossible to explain it in terms of the infant’s past experience, most authors assume a hereditary account of anxiety. That is to say, they claim that anxiety stems from the experience of the infant’s human ancestors or, even more radically, from its animal ancestors (this is the view of Stanley Hall), and that, fundamentally, it boils down to the fear of certain objects.
The hereditary hypothesis has been criticized and refuted by authors like Stern and Groos. Most importantly, careful observations reveal that children are not afraid of specific objects (e.g., animals, thunderstorms, dark, etc.); instead, there are certain situations in which the child is supposed to be afraid of certain objects, or of certain particularities of an object, without such fear being explicable by past experience. Stern and Groos argue that the child has a feeling of “unncanniness”, and feel that it is an instance of “instinct fear”, which helps the child to differentiate between what is helpful and what is unhelpful.
However, Goldstein is not convinced. Namely, it is not at all clear that, from the inborn’s perspective, the unfamiliar is necessarily seen as harmful, and the familiar as helpful. If this were the case, how could the infant form new experiences (234)?
In fact, observation reveals that the situations in which anxiety arises are by no means characterized simply by their informality, but rather by certain formal peculiarities of the objects: the suddenness of their appearance; the particularly great intensity or the rapid approach of an object; unexpected appearance of familiar happenings in a new context; etc. Thus, it seems there must be some inherent factor in those formal qualities which give rise to anxiety. For Goldstein, this factor must be sought in the one fact that situations have in common, namely “that they all make an adequate stimulus evaluation difficult if not impossible”. Not being able to react adequately – this, Goldstein maintains, is the shock to the total organism. And to the latter corresponds the subjective experience of the uncanny.
The experience of being able or being unable to react is primal to the conscious experience of any object. It is the primal experience that something does or does not “fit” into the total situation. This experience precedes the awareness of any object: the experience of “not fitting”, which is identical with the condition of being “unable to cope with”, is what gives rise to the character of the uncanny and becomes the cause of anxiety in the child (235).
In light of this, the fantastic claims put forward by the proponents of the hereditary hypothesis (e.g., passing on different types of fear aimed at different objects) become superfluous. In order to explain anxiety in childhood it suffices to simply assume that the organism reacts to inadequate situation with anxiety, and did so in the day of his ancestors, as well as today.
The same objections that were levelled against the hereditary theory in children can also be levelled against the hereditary theory in newly born animals (for further criticisms see Bühler, Groos, Stern). Here, too, practically all researchers agree that animals experience anxiety, but they usually confuse the latter with fear and then try to account for it by some sort of a hereditary story. However, Goldstein maintains that, since fear presupposes the ability of experiencing and independent world of objects, which is usually absent in animals, the phenomenon of anxiety is much more frequent, if perhaps not exclusive (236-7).
(iii) Possible general objection
One might object that, when talking of “anxiety” in brain-injured patients and normal people, we might not be using the term equivocally. For, although it may seem appropriate to designate the described emotional states in brain lesions as anxiety, is it really clear that this phenomenon is congruent with what is labelled as anxiety in normal persons? After all, when a normal person is unable to cope with a given task, anxiety does not always arise. In order for that happen, a peculiarity of the situation is necessary.
Goldstein argues that, in patients, any failure to cope with a situation will result in anxiety because such failures are life-threatening for him. In normal persons, the inability to cope with a given situation is not always life-threatening – in fact, it seldom is -, which is why severe anxiety may not ensue. However, the concomitant mental state is nevertheless structurally of the same type, and the only reason why such difficult situations do not impress us as anxiety is because they are less relevant to the total personality and its existence. More on this below (237).
(x) The significance of anxiety for conquest of the world and self-realization
Normal persons, in their conquests of the world, undergo states of shock relatively frequently. If in spite of this, they do not always experience anxiety, this is because their nature enables them to bring forth creatively situations that ensure their existence. Thus, the disproportion between their capacities and environmental demands are, to a certain degree, averted in average life. As long as this secure state is not essentially shaken, the shocks are not experienced as anxiety (237-8).
The child behaves, in some respects, similar to the brain-injured patient. It is often confronted with tasks with which it cannot cope and which threaten its existence. Thus, anxiety plays a great role in the life of a child. However, it is diminished (a)by means of safeguards that the adult arrangesand that save the child from shocks that would otherwise be too extreme. Even more importantly, it is diminished (b)by an extraordinarily strong and general tendency to action and the urge to solve given tasks, which belongs to the nature and essence of the child. This urge is so strong that children sometimes even go out of their way to seek them: “Little Johnny went out to learn the creeps.” This tendency to not being afraid of dangers that could lead to anxiety represents the essential difference between a normal child and a brain-injured adult. Once the child grows into the world of the adult, its behaviour becomes more even and “ordered” – its “wondering” decreases, but it never disappears completely (238).
The normal adult is similar to the brain-injured patient in that he, too, has (a) the urge to diminish his anxiety, and consequently the tendency toward order, norms, continuity, and homogeneity. However, he differs from the patient in that he also has an (b) urge for new experiences, for the conquest of the world, and for an expansion of his sphere of activity. He oscillates between these two tendencies, and the outcome is the cultural reaction (238-9).
However, Goldstein believes that it is wrong to see this “ordered” world of culture as a result of the desire to avoid anxiety (e.g., Freud’s conception of culture as a sublimation of the repressed drives). Such a view overlooks the fact that the patterns of the cultural world are expressions of the creative power of man and of the tendency to effectuate a realization of his nature: “Only when the world is adequate to man’s nature do we find what we call security.”
According to Goldstein, this tendency towards actualization is primal. However, it can only effect itself in conflicting with the opposing forces of the environment, which always entails shock and anxiety:
“Thus we are probably not overstating the facts if we maintain that these shocks are essential to human life, even to all organic life, and if we believe that life must, by necessity, take its course via uncertainty and shock.” (239)
An organism can be considered normal and healthy, in which the tendency toward self-actualization is acting from within, and which overcomes the disturbance arising from the clash with the world, not out of anxiety but out of the joy of conquest. That is to say, whenever anxiety becomes the mainspring for the activity of the organism, something is upset in the nature of the organism. In any event, even life in its most perfect manifestation must pass through the disturbances that emerge from the adjustment to the environment. In fact, the creative person who ventures into many situations that expose him to shock will find himself even more often in anxiety situations than the average person (239).
The capacity of bearing anxiety is the manifestation of genuine courage. Courage, in the final analysis, is but an affirmative answer to the shocks of existence, which must be borne for the actualization of one’s nature. This form of overcoming anxiety requires the ability to view a single experience within a larger context, i.e., to assume the “attitude toward the possible” – to have the freedom of decision regarding different alternatives, which is a distinctly human trait. That is the reason why brain-injury patients, whose fundamental impairment is a loss of the attitude toward the possible, are completely helpless when facing an anxiety situation (240).
The So-Called Unconscious and Consciousness
Goldstein now moves on to the problem that has become central in contemporary psychology, namely the problem of the nature of the so-called unconscious. This problem has direct bearing on the present discussion, since, in biology, views are also advanced that try tocarry certain behaviour acts of animals back to an “unconscious” (in the psychoanalytic sense) (240).
(x) Psychoanalysis and biology
Goldstein summarizes the work of various authors – Sändor Ferenczi, Franz Alexander, Rudolf Brun, A. R Luria, Vladimir Bekhterev – who have claimed that there exist important congruences between psychoanalysis and biology (240-2). In general, two more or less seriously opposing standpoints, of which Ferenczi and Bekhterev can be regarded as the most extreme representatives: (a) Ferenczi attempts to explain biological phenomena in psychoanalytic terms, while (b) Bekhterev tries to comprehend psychoanalytic phenomena in biological terms (242).
In what follows, Goldstein fleshes out his own position in light of a critical scrutiny of psychoanalytic methodology (242-3).
(x) The “unconscious”. The three behavioural aspects
The first thing Goldstein notes is that the term “unconscious” expresses (i) something negative – something opposed to “conscious” – and (ii) that it creates the impression that the same phenomenon (an idea, habit, feeling, etc.) can, at one time, have the character of consciousness and, at another time, not. Thus, how one understands “unconscious”, depends on how one understands “consciousness”.
Often, consciousness is understood as (1) the sum of all those contents that are contained in a special realm, in something like a receptacle. A person who “has something consciously” or “has something in his consciousness” has an “experience of something”: he has clear-cut awareness of a given situation, of his activity, of its purpose and its effect: the “world” is experienced by such a person as apart from him, and the “self” as an object akin to other objects. This, Goldstein claims, is the case in the so-called abstract behaviour; however, this “having something consciously” does not exhaust the total state of the person (243).
Another aspect of this phenomenon is (2) certain “inner experiences”, usually depicted as feelings, sets, or attitudes (the experience of dis/liking something, of being relaxed or under tension, etc.). Unlike the first aspect of the total behaviour – “having an experience” (cf. 1) -, this aspect is better characterized as “being in a certain state”; similarly, whereas the first aspect could be described as “having something consciously”, this second aspect may be better described as “the feeling of being in a certain state”. The first aspect (cf. 1) can be captured by the German phrase “bewusst haben”: here one experiences a distinction between one’s self and the world. The secondaspect (cf. 2) corresponds to the word “erleben”: here, one is in the world as part of it, and ones primary mode of action is the so-called concrete behaviour. What is also important is that this inner experience can never become conscious in the objectifying sense, but can only be experienced as a subjective feeling or a setting. If we try to factually describe it, we transform it into an object, and its primary character is gone.
Finally, the third aspect of the total behaviour (3) processes in the body that belong to the respective configuration. These guarantee a definite setting brought on by voluntary activity, and encompass bodily patterns, postures, tones, etc., which are the physical counterpart of the attitudes and feelings. These processes occur without any form of conscious experience, and can be recognized only indirectly (they can never become directly conscious – they just occur) (244).
(x) The configurational relation of the three aspects: performances (conscious behaviour), attitudes (inner states), and processes (somatic events)
SUM: Total behaviour has three aspects:
(1) PERFORMANCES = conscious behaviour (voluntary, consciously experienced activities) = “have something consciously” (bewusst haben) = experience of self-world distinction = objectifying consciousness = abstract behaviour → “mind”
(2) ATTITUDES = inner states of ourselves (feelings, attitudes, moods, etc.) = “feeling of being in a certain state” (erleben = en-live) = experience of being-in-the-world = subjective feeling or setting = concrete behaviour → “soul”
(3) PROCESSES = somatic events = bodily patterns, postures, tones = automatisms that facilitate voluntary performances unconscious processes → “body”
Goldstein sees no problem in our using terms such as “mind”, “soul” and “body”, as long as we realize that they do not describe three separate spheres of existence of the organism, but are merely abstractions, each of them representing an artificially isolated aspect of the total behaviour of an organism. They may sometimes appear as separate entities, because one of the aspects takes on, at a given time, the role of the figure, while others form the background. Which aspect of the unitary behaviour will become the figure depends on the situation and the kind of adjustment demanded from the organism as a whole. For instance, (cf. 1) in focusing or comparing objects, the first aspect will be in the foreground; (cf. 2) when giving ourselves to a certain mode, the second aspect will be in the foreground; and (cf. 3) when we behave in neither of these two manners, the “process” might dominate (245).
If we study a person who (1) “has something consciously”, we find that this behavioural aspect is accompanied by (2) a specific pattern in the sphere of feeling/moods, as well as by (3) a specific pattern of the bodily processes. The normal course of (1) depends on the normal course of (2) and (3). Under certain conditions, the three aspects appear relatively isolated, but in general, they constitute an integrated whole, in which we can discriminate the three dimensions only abstractly (245-6).
(x) The problem of “aftereffect”. No “invasion of the unconscious”. Aftereffects of each behavioural aspect are only actualized in the original aspect
Each activity of the organism leaves an “aftereffect” (AE), which modifies the later reactions, their course, and their intensities. The AE is especially strengthened when the organism is confronted again with the same stimulus situation. However, the overall process of “remembering”/“recalling” is quite nuanced, and is bound to more specific conditions (246).
Remembrance is normally bound with the figure; the background has only an aftereffect in conjunction with the figure to which it belongs. Now, the three behavioural aspects delineated above – performances, attitudes, and processes – can all function as a figure in one context, as a background in another context. The three aspects never influence each other directly (“An event can be remembered only in that modality in which it appeared first.”, 246) but they can do so indirectly, that is to say: changes in background can influence the figure, and with that, changes in the background can affect subsequent performances, moods, and processes: “Only by way of the whole – by this detour, so to speak – can they influence, arouse, or disturb each other” (247).
According to Goldstein, consciousness has a predominant role in this triad: all activity, he claims, begins with our being aware of something, of knowing about a situation and/or a task. Later on, this conscious awareness simply need to furnish the “background”, against which the two other behavioural aspects take their course; but the crucial thing is that it is indispensable for them, while the opposite does not hold (i.e., (2) & (3) require (1), but not vice versa) (247).
Consciousness is crucial for:
(i) initiating an action;
(ii) in the case in which a process has been interrupted or blocked(due to, say, failure of the organism or the influence of external stimuli).
(x) Forgetting and so-called repression in childhood
Processes in categories (2) and (3) may attain a high degree of independence. This happens either (a) due to defective integration (damage of centering) or (b) due to abnormally strong external stimulation of some parts of the organism. Such functional isolation from the whole, which can damage the functioning of the whole organism, happens in childhood (here, normal centering/integration has not yet occurred) or in disease (249).
The child is immature at birth. He does not yet have an objective world, but one of very “diffused objectiveness”, and his behaviour is primarily characterized by processes (2) and (3). Yet whatever phenomena are present in the child, they are certainly very intense, because everything takes place in relatively isolated parts, because of the still imperfect integration. Isolated processes (e.g., satisfaction of hunger and thirst) are natural behaviour at this point: abnormally intense reactions, reactions of abnormal duration, greater bonds to external stimuli, a more primitive type of behaviour, and reactions in alternating phases (249-50).
The child is faced with a world that, at first, it cannot recognize as such and with which it cannot come to terms in an adequate way. The stimuli originating from the world demand reactions corresponding to a more mature (integrated) organism, which is why, when the child is forced to react to the demands of the world, it produces reactions that are imperfect. This is experienced by the child as unpleasant and is often followed by catastrophic situations that the child meets with defense reactions.
Eventually, a struggle originates between the tendencies of the infant and the demands of the outer world. The child begins to fight against the inadequate demands and against the prohibitions of such activities that are appropriate to its maturation level; it struggles against the so-called forbidden. While it is growing up, it becomes more and more capable of reacting to the demands in an adequate way. It acquires new adaptations and attitudes, especially when consciousness develops, which allow it to undergo disagreeable things for the sake of actualizing its personality as a multiform totality (249).
The normal development of the child, then, proceeds by way of adaptation through maturation, i.e., by “repressing” attitudes and urges that are in opposition of the whole personality. As long as the new performances are not yet consolidated, reactions of the earlier type – “prohibited reactions” – can occur. This may give the impression of invasion from the unconscious, which – in psychoanalysis – has been reified into an actual invasion of the unconscious (249-50).
Now, the removal of former reactions is usually described as “repression”. Yet it is wrong to understand repression as merely “shoving away” or “splitting off”. Instead, the gradual elimination of inappropriate attitudes, feelings, and (later) conscious ideas, should be viewed as receding into the background. Whenever active repression is the case, the repressed processes are factually still effective. The proper elimination [passive repression?] takes place only when the maturing organism readapts itself to the environment and gains a new behavioural pattern of which the phenomenon to be repressed is no longer a part (former patterns/trends become obsolete) (250).
(x) Continual formation of new patterns render ineffective former attitudes
Thus, in light of our previous reflections, we find not continual repression but continual formation of new patterns. What happens is that, through maturation, new behavioural patterns are formed, conforming to the human species in general and to the cultural patterns of the particular milieu in which the child grows up. Importantly, the effects of former reaction have not been “forgotten” through repression; instead, they cannot be remembered because they are no longer part of the attitudes of the later life and thus cannot become effective. They can, however, be revived if the individual is brought into a similar situation to that under which they originated (250).
Goldstein points out that, for the normal development of the child, it is immensely important that the counteracting forces should not be too strong and thus prevent the child to adapt himself gradually to the demands and prohibitions by means of new attitudes. If such overpowering occurs, then catastrophic situations set in; these, in turn, give rise to attempts to avoid anxiety and fear (by substitute reactions and by escape). The child resorts to the attitudes of which it is capable, because by these it feels protected against the overpowering demands. What is especially pertinent (and pernicious) is that the nonconscious holding on to certain attitudes not only hinders the further adequate development but can also result in these attitudes persisting during the child’s whole life. They can gain the character of habits, which can determine the behaviour of the child and adult in an abnormal way. Why abnormal? Because the individual cannot become aware of their meaning (i.e., become conscious of their origin, for they were never conscious, but rather represent attitudes from infancy), and hence is not able to overcome them. Because of the incomplete centering, phenomena that are in the background can easily force themselves into the foreground; yet even if they don’t enter the figure, they may produce disorder in the normal activity, and thus trigger uncertainty and dread(251).
(x) The so-called unconscious in neurosis
In the normal adult organism, we generally find such a degree of centering that the stimuli are utilized according to their present significance for the organism. This ideal, of course, is not always realized. Even in the normal person centering may suffer, e.g., during fatigue or in sleep. Alternatively, an abnormally intense stimulus may force certain responses in the foreground, thus disturbing normal reactions. Under these conditions, stimulus utilizations may occur that have the characteristics of isolation: the content may appear that does not correspond to the present but rather to a past situation. Then, again, we are dealing with the so-called invasion of the unconscious (251-2).
Among the normal phenomena of that kind, one finds the so-called “lapses” (as described by Freud and others). Goldstein feels that there is no need to assume repression here; instead, it is possible to understand lapses as aftereffects of particularly intense stimulus utilization. Again, although it may seem as if unconscious processes were invading consciousness, what takes place is the disfigurement of the required total excitation Gestalt: the proper excitation Gestalt cannot develop in a normal manner, but rather in a more or less distorted way. These distortions, then, naturally find expression in the conscious aspect of that process: what, in normal situation, would just be a remembrance, becomes an “invasion” of an “alien” event that disturbs the present activity. Such “invasions” are the more frequent the more imperfect is the centering of the organism. Thus, it comes as no surprise that they are most characteristic for diseases (252).
Example: unwilling exhibitionist: one of Goldstein’s patients would, as soon as he would accidentally see a naked part of the body, have the urge towards sexual exhibitionism, which was very distressing to him (and completely at odds with his other sexual preferences). The treatment disclosed that, at an age 4 or 5, he and his friends, both boys and girls, would play a game they called “milking cows”. Both girls and boys undressed, and the girls had to pull on the penis of the boys. He remembers the pleasure they derived from the play. Eventually, the game was discarded and forgotten (not on account of repression, but other things). After some conversation, the patient recognized the correspondence between his compulsive exhibitionism and the event in his youth, and eventually become able to overcome the compulsion. The correspondence between the symptom and a special event in his childhood was a compulsive reaction to a certain stimulus. The symptom came out in a situation that was similar to that of situations in his childhood and which brought about isolated phenomena (252-3).
Goldstein then asks an important question: was the first action (the play) a sexual play? Although aware that many would be inclined to answer in the affirmative, he himself is not convinced. In his view, it could have been a sort of imitation of an observed event that gave pleasure but had nothing to do with the sex sphere in the sense of an adult person. But the emotionally impressive experience in childhood had a strong aftereffect and could become effective if the situation were suitable for the emergence of this old attitude. Now, in the experience of the adult man, it really became connected with sex; but that does not mean that it has to be traced back to sex experiences in the childhood. The attitude that comes into the foreground can be the same, but the content can be totally different (253-4).
(x) Ambivalence and neurosis
Some events in the youth actually get “repressed” because they are forbidden. In such cases, it is not always easy to reproduce the early happenings – we encounter the so-called “resistance”. Further, closer analysis reveals that these repressed happenings were connected with dread/anxiety.
What, Goldstein asks, is the cause of this dread/anxiety? Anxiety, it was told, corresponds to a condition in which the organism is in a state of danger; danger, in turn, corresponds with being threatened with impairment in self-actualization. The child entered the situation of danger because – thanks to its imperfect centering – its tendencies (= drive for self-actualization) were in conflict with the demands of the outer world, with the “forbidden”. This conflict finds its expression in anxiety. The child escapes anxiety through setting up habits which allow it to avoid such situations. These tendencies might have strong aftereffects in the background, but they cannot be made conscious, nor can they be experienced as attitudes, because their emergence into the foreground would bring anxiety with it. However, they can disturb the life of the child, particularly because they give rise to an “ambivalent” state. This ambivalent setting may then, if not overcome by later centering, find its expression in the whole activity of the individual, i.e., in an ambivalent behaviour in all the various situations of life, and may thus represent the basic symptom of the neurotic person (254-5).
If, in a therapeutic situation, one permits the patient to yield to these phenomena, the patient will give various expressions to the ambivalent processes within himself. He can, and will, also express this ambivalence in words. However, it would be wrong to assume that, in the latter case, we are dealing with ideas that have been repressed in childhood – for one thing, these ideas are frequently of such content that the patient, as a child, could not have had them (e. g. contents that constitute the Oedipus situation as understood by the adult) -; instead, they represent a present form of expression by which the patient manifests his ambivalent condition. The patient does not undergo a regression to childhood, but manifests the same form of reaction as in childhood (i.e., same reaction contents will emerge because they fit into the new situation). It is now caused in a totally different way, through pathology, i.e., through a reaction of isolated parts: “The adult can never really regress to an infantile level.” (255).
In a child, objectified consciousness plays only a small part, and attitudes/moods are in the foreground – for example, the simultaneous experience of pleasant and unpleasant feeling tones. Goldstein maintains that it is at that time that dispositions for ambivalence take form, particularly in relation to impressive experiences (e.g., prohibition of a behaviour that is of a strong positive feeling tone). Then, later in life, all sorts of conflict situations that facilitate the tendency towards ambivalent behaviour also bring to the fore these impressive contents of childhood. In this regard, [example] Freud is right in ascribing such great importance to the Oedipus situation in the later occurrence of ambivalent behaviour. However, he exaggerates by making the Oedipus situation overshadow the other ambivalent experiences of childhood. Further, here thereby makes an error of forging too strong a link between ambivalence and sexuality (256).
According to Goldstein, the ambivalence in the sex sphere should be regarded merely as an expression of the same basic process, namely, as the expression of general ambivalence produced by the lack of centering in the sick organism. The “Oedipus complex” is the result of the psychoanalyst’s interpretation, who makes the sexual ambivalence the central point of reference and tries to reduce all other occurrences of ambivalence to it (256-7).
Here, we are confronted with the same methodological mistake that we have met previously (when discussing reflexology, etc.): one fails at the outset to take all symptoms as equivalent and fails to seek for a way of understanding all symptoms. Instead, one phenomenon is singled out as the primary phenomenon, on which all the other phenomena are supposed to be depending (257).
In sum: There are, in childhood, preferred reaction patterns, one of which is the so-called Oedipus situation, i.e., the ambivalent attitude of the child toward the object “father-mother”. However, this attitude need not have been repressed, but could simply have receded into the background. In the course of development, new behavioural patterns emerge and render the existing ambivalent attitude, with its definite contents, ineffective. Now, the childhood attitudes do not disappear. They are preserved as dispositions in the background. But they are not relevant – they are not effective – because they do not belong to the milieu of an older person and because ambivalent attitudes in general become less prominent with increasing maturation (257-8).
What then is the unconscious? According to Goldstein, it is nothing but the entering of a former reaction pattern into a present response, when the situation is suitable. That is, it is nothing but a specific form of memory. The emergence of the unconscious is thus the result of strong aftereffects of certain patterns, which have not been sufficiently integrated into the properly centered behaviour of the whole organism. If these abnormally strong aftereffects cannot effectuate themselves, then, at the very least, they may disturb the behaviour of the organism. This, in turn, brings forth anxiety and the development of substitute reactions/formations as means of avoiding catastrophic situations (258).
(x) The pleasure principle. The death instinct: Erroneous hypostatizations of tension and release under isolation. The role of consciousness
In Freud’s view, life in the realm of the unconscious is dominated by drives. The central life problem, then, is to obtain relief from the tension the drives create. This release is said to be the goal of all drives, especially of the sex drive. The goal of the sex drive is, then, the “becoming free” of the tension of sex – that, according to Freud, is the essence of the pleasure principle (259).
Goldstein points out that the fact that release is put forward as the crucial factor indicates that release has the character of an isolated phenomenon. For, as we have suggested above, adequate reaction – performance of the normal (whole) organism – does not mean entering a state of rest (“release”), but attaining an “adequate mean” of excitation, of tension. However, the more a reaction takes place in an isolated part, the more it tends towards coming to a state of rest – a removal of tension (259).
Freud supplemented his views on the pleasure principle with his idea of the death instinct. Namely, if life is dominated by drives and the ultimate goal of each drive is release, then the ultimate goal of life is the complete release, i.e. death – the disintegration into the inorganic. But if death becomes the goal of life, then life itself, in its intrinsic character, becomes completely unintelligible. The subject matter of biology thereby disappears, because life has been argued away through a false theoretical postulate (259).
Freud’s views start to make sense once we realize that they have been directly transferred from phenomena in sick people to the normal. Clearly, it is impossible to provide an adequate account of human nature on this basis, which is why Freud fails to do justice to the positive aspects of life. Freud only sees escape and craving for release, but overlooks the incessant process of coming to terms with the organism’s environment:
“He only knows the lust of release, but not the pleasure of tension.”
Such a stance distorts his understanding of consciousness. For Freud, consciousness is something negative, a kind of supervisor, whose task is to take care that the unconscious doesn’t break through in an unauthorized manner. But phrased in this way, it remains unclear why consciousness does not tolerate the entrance of definite contents. Why, for instance, is man not content with satisfying one’s life? Why does sublimation occur, and why does it give rise to culture? (260)
Goldstein points out that an adequate understanding of “culture” can be attained only through proper evaluation of what we call “consciousness” and the proper recognition of the specific peculiarities that the human being acquires through the potentiality to have conscious experience. Only then is consciousness freed from a degradation to a sort of useful or harmful epiphenomenon (260).
At this point, a comparison between the normal and the brain-diseased individual can be of help again. For no matter how many performances the patients are capable of accomplishing, they actually lack every creative power, any ability to alter their creative activity corresponding to changing conditions. Goldstein maintains that it is precisely this factual material that discloses the enormous significance of consciousness. This insight compels us, says Goldstein, to discard a certain romantic doctrine promulgated by Ludwig Klages, who tries to discredit the mind by contrasting it with the impelling “vital” forces. Klages may be right with regards to the “overgrowth” of the intellect; but he overlooks the fact that the “vital” forces, in the form characteristic of the human organization, cannot even become manifest, save in reference to consciousness. Indeed, what remains after the impairment of consciousness is no longer equivalent to the nature of man at all (260-1):
“Certainly all creative activity originates from the living impulse of the organism to cope productively with the environment. But consciousness is prerequisite in order that productivity may find its manifestation. This is the outstanding character of human creativeness compared with animal behaviour. No matter how impotent the direct effect of the mind upon the world may be regarded, it is only through the mind that man reveals his nature.” (261)
The Organic Unity of “Body” and “Mind”
(x) The psycho-physical problem. No independent realm of “body” or “mind”. No supremacy of “body” or “mind
According to Goldstein, in the past, the psycho-physical problem was often discussed by philosophers and psychologists in a very speculative and rather unproductive manner. During the last decades, however, the discussion has entered the field of medical practice, where it is couched in terms of practical experience. Namely, the physician must often decide whether he should, in a certain situation, use psychological or somatic treatment or both (261-2).
There have always been groups who favoured unilateral explanations. For instance, the psychotherapist will normally decide in favour of the primary of the psychological phenomena, whereas most physicians will emphasize the primacy of the bodily phenomena. Yet even these two extreme views cannot deny the significance of the somatic or mental phenomena, respectively. For this reason, regardless of one’s theoretical practices, physicians in their practice, says Goldstein, have usually been guided – without explicitly accounting for it – by some version of the theory of interaction (262).
All these approaches agree in postulating two independent realms – that of the body and that of the mind – and the possibility of interaction, but differ in how much independence and influence they are willing to cede to these respective realms. The reason for this concordance lies, in Goldstein’s view, in their endorsement of the atomistic approach.
However, the unbiased inspection of facts discloses that holistic approach is significantly more appropriate. The relation between somatic and mental processes is identical to that between somatic processes themselves. This is supported by (1) the results of body-mind investigations, which study the influence psychological on somatic processes and of somatic on psychological processes. Further, (2) we know of definite, alternating, and opposing effects, regardless of whether we start from somatic or psychological processes, and finally, (3) that the effect of a “stimulus” can be understood only in relation to the whole of the organism.
From these observations, says Goldstein, we can reach the same conclusion as above: neither of the two realms can be regarded as dominating and determining the other. The mind must not be construed as the sole real nature of the living organism, and the same holds true for the body (both views lead to unwarranted reductionism) (263-4).
(x) The “psychological” and the “physical” are indifferent to the real processes. The “functional” significance for the whole is alone relevant
Goldstein emphasizes that a univocal description of living processes requires that the terms “psychological” and “physical” be used at the very outset in a sense indifferent to the real processes, as auxiliary tools of description. Although we are forced to use these descriptive terms – and we should acknowledge that they have pragmatic value – we must always bear in mind that we are actually dealing with data that have to be evaluated in the light of their functional significance for the whole. This is the reason why we meet with the same laws for the “psychological” aspects as we do for the “physical” aspects, and why experiments that attempt to isolate certain aspects (e.g., conscious processes) will produce the same modification from the “norm” as isolation through pathology (264).
What does all of this tell us about the so-called problem of body-mind interaction?
“Neither does the mind act on the body, nor the body on the mind, no matter how much this may seem to be the case in superficial observation. We are always dealing with the activity of the whole organism, the effects of which we refer at one time to something called mind, at another time to something called body. In noting an activity, we describe the behaviour of the whole organism either through the index of the so-called mind or through the index of the body.” (264-5)
The Constants. Preferred and Ordered Behaviour
Goldstein argues that, while the preceding analyses have strongly impelled us to the holistic view of the organism, they have not yet furnished a decisive stand regarding a substantial knowledge of the structure of the organism. For although certain essential traits of the functional organization of the organism have been disclosed – e.g., (i) the importance of visual discrimination (in the analysis of calcarine lesion), (ii) the significance of definite patterns of gait, (iii) the specific significance of abstract behaviour, (iv) the difference in significance of flexor and extensor muscles -, we still lack a criterion that would enable us to select from the multitude of observations those facts that are suited for the determination of the real nature of an organism:
“The criterion as to whether a single phenomenon is such [=essential] a characteristic of the organism is, we believe, given in the fact that it is an intrinsic factor in the maintenance of the relative constancy of the organism. In contrast to the diversified and even contradictory character of the partitive data, the organism proper presents itself as a structural formation that, in spite of all the fluctuations of its behavioural pattern in the varying situations and in spite of the unfolding and decline in the course of the individual’s life, retains a relative constancy. If this were not the case it would never be possible to identify a given organism as such.” (265)
(x) The preferred behaviour
If we consider the organism in its natural behaviour, we find out that by no means all kinds of behaviour, which would be conceived as possible from the analytic perspective (e.g., seeing the organism as composed of parts), are actually realized. Instead, only a definite, selective range of modes is realized. These modes Goldstein names “preferred behaviour”.
But couldn’t this be accounted for in terms of “reflex theory”? For instance (example), Magnus and his co-workers have tried to account for preferred postures/preferred positions that are found in animals by means of “postural reflexes”. They observed the behaviour of “decerebrated animals”, and found that the number of bodily positions is considerably smaller and can be exactly determined experimentally (e.g., a definite position of the head corresponds to a very specific position of the trunk and limbs). Thus, there seem to be relatively simple conditions that could be drawn upon when constructing the explanatory theory of the origin and preference of certain positions (266).
However, Goldstein maintains that the circumstances in the intact animal and in man are not so simple and that the variety of possible “normal” positions is much greater. This is usually explained by introducing additional reflexes and in terms of differential shunting processes. However, as seen from our previous examinations, these theories suffer from serious shortcomings (Goldstein provides concrete counterexamples which are similar to those presented in his critique of the reflex theory) (266).
Unlike in the decerebrated animals and brain-injured patients, the relation to the stimulus in the intact animals and human beings is significantly more ambiguous (i.e., number of possible positions is much larger). However, it is crucial to note that the number of possible positions and other behaviours is by no means indefinite. The human organism much rather prefers some definite reactions to others, and contents itself with a definite, not very large number, of such reactions, even if the environmental changes vary to a much greater degree (267).
Example 1: Pointing to a place (cf. concrete examples @ 268; compare with patients @ 272)
Example 2: Describing a circle (cf. examples @ 269)
In sum, the organism seems to have the tendency to prefer a definite relation in the positions of arm and trunk, instead of conforming with the varying environmental demands. However, the question then presents itself:
“Which ways, which situations, which positions are preferred, and why?” (268-9)
For instance, in the case of describing a circle with one’s hand (see above), it turns out that the way this is done is univocally determined by the total situation of the subject. In addition to the bodily position, position of the limbs, etc., this also includes the subject’s attitude towards the task. On the basis of the simple experiments of this type and resultant variations in the execution of the task at hand, one can easily differentiate several types of individuals, which manifest differences between men and women, between persons of different character, vocations, etc. However, what is essential is that we always find, together with the preferred way a task is executed, the experience of greatest “comfort”, “naturalness”, and the greatest accuracy of performance. If the subject is forced to proceed by using such coordinations between individual parts of the body that do not come naturally to him, then the procedure is immediately experienced as uncomfortable. Apparently, the preferred behaviour is determined by the total attitude of the performing person (269-70).
Example: stretching out one’s hand, sleeping position, head position (cf. 270; for head position in patients, compare 271-2)
Any hindrances to our preferred way of doing things are experience as uncomfortable, and we try to avoid or remove them as soon as possible, and revert to the more comfortable position/activity (270).
Example: perceptual experiences: The preference for definite behaviour that is relatively independent of outer situation is found especially in perceptions. When, e.g., angles between 30 and 150 degrees are optically presented, not all steps of the differential threshold are experienced as equal. What we do recognize are “acute”, “obtuse”, and “right” angles: these are the preferred impressions, around which all others are equipped. Thus, for instance, the angle 93 degrees appears as a “poor” right angle. Also, both visually and tactually, circles are preferred to other geometric shapes, symmetry to asymmetry, etc. (270-1).
It has also been experimentally shown that a [example] number of illusions in the cutaneous sense are caused by the fact that our perceptions depend on normal posture and that, in abnormal positions, the perceptions are transfigured so as to resemble the experience during the normal position (cf. 272, for further examples). In brain-injured patients (particularly when cerebellum or frontal lobe are injured), these phenomena are even more pronounced: patients, while executing an uncomfortable movement in a task performance, invariably lapse into the more comfortable movement, unless they are intensively concentrating on the demanded movement. Usually it suffices to have the performances carried out with closed eyes to bring this phenomenon (271; see other examples, pp. 271-2).
(x) The characteristics of preferred behaviour and its explanation
Goldstein summarizes all the characteristics of preferred behaviour as follows:
(1) ‘Limitedness’: The organism realizes only a certain number of definite performances. It by no means realizes all those that were to be expected from the analysis of isolated performances.
(2) ‘Normativity’: The organism has the tendency toward very decidedly preferred ways of behaviour, be it in perception, motility, posture, etc.
(3) ‘Assimilation’: In situations in which the task requires a behaviour in approximation of the preferred behaviour, we find assimilation to the preferred behaviour.
(4) ‘Agreeableness’: The preferred situation is subjectively characterized by the feeling of comfort, agreeableness, security, and correctness.
(5) ‘Disagreeableness’: In nonpreferred behaviour, we have subjectively the feeling of “not fitting”, “disagreeable”, “unsatisfied”, “difficult”, and “of more deliberate execution”.
How can be explain these facts? Goldstein mentions three possibilities:
(A) Atomist (mechanicist) account: The phenomena are explained in terms of the conditions of the pertinent field in which the preferred behaviour takes place. E.g., one tries to explain the preference of the visual vertical by its retinal projection on the vertical meridian of the retina.
Main issue: barely fits the facts, which is why countless auxiliary hypotheses need to be introduced (thus: implausible). E.g., the experienced vertical coincides with the vertical meridian of the retina only in one special position, namely, during the upright position of the body, a special position of the head and the eyes. Although a preferred posture for human beings, it is one that is actually only rarely realized in life. The discrepancy between the experienced vertical and the vertical meridian is even more pronounced in the case of patients (273; cf. 273-4 for other examples).
(B) Gestaltist account: The phenomena are explained by means of a more formal principle that can take on two forms:
(i) simplicity and “innerness” (Koffka, Ipsen): Preferred behaviours are simple behaviours.
Main issue: What is simple? That cannot be determined on the basis of the content of the process or of the experience, for this determination will depend on whether one starts from isolable “part contents” or from the whole. By the fact that something is a Gestalt, it apparently becomes simple to us. But – why is something a Gestalt?
(ii) principle of least energy expenditure (Mach, Köhler, Gatti, Hamburger): Preferred behaviours correspond to the least possible expenditure of energy.
Main issue: Why is the situation in which the preferred behaviour appears the one of least energy expenditure? The principle of “minimum energy” does not really say more than the “tendency to simplicity”.
Common issue (i & ii): For what reasons are preferred ways of behaviour “preferred”? (275)
(C) Holistic account: What determines the preferred behaviour is the state of the whole of the organism. Goldstein substanties (t)his account with the following facts (I omit detailed description, see pp. 276-281):
(a) Influence of peripheral changes on preferred behaviour
(i) Influence of sensory stimuli on motor performances.
(ii) Influence of motor processes and positions of the individual members on motor performances.
(iii) Influence of processes of which the person is not conscious. Especially important is the fact that peripheral changes, which do not become conscious, are of equal influence on the manner of pointing as on the locality of the preferred plane during pointing.
(iv) Just as peripheral stimuli have an influence on the preferred behaviour in motor performances, so in the same way find that motor and sensory processes influence the preferred behaviour in performances of perception (276-7).
(b) Influence of centrally located changes on preferred behaviour
What has been said so far about the influence of peripheral changes is, of course, true only with reservations. In Goldstein’s view, all these are actually changes of the whole organism. One can talk of peripheral influences only insofar as the place of origin of the stimulus, which produces the change, is peripherally located; but we find the same influence when the place of origin is centrally located, when the changes are aroused from within, when we find a changed attitude of the examined individual (i.e., subjective experiences have the same effect as objective changes of the body). A simple example: ask the subject to turn the eyes sideways (i) without gazing at anything vs. (ii) while focusing on something (say, reading something). In these two cases we have almost the same change of the eye position, but the change is of an essentially different significance. In (i), we have a “pure”, meaningless eye movement; in (ii), a purposeful “looking at” in order to see something. The two attitudes influence the preferred plane for the pointing in an entirely different manner. Crucially, this influence depends in a lawful way on the momentary total attitude of the individual (as is the case with physical changes in (a) above) (278-9).
SUM: Goldstein concludes that all these observations show that any bodily or psychological change of the organism influences the preferred behaviour. Thus, preferred behaviour, realized in one field, depends on the condition of the whole organism in a given situation (279).
Example: Modified gait: A patient, because of a change in tonus, has an abnormal pull to one side. Then, his body attempts to adapt itself to it. If it succeeds, it finds itself in an abnormal situation in comparison to the normal situation; but the organism – by, e.g., keeping his body or head tilted toward one side – is freed of a number of disturbances. If we try to compel the organism to keep his body/head straight, then all the disturbances set in again.
Conclusion: Not only is there no such thing as an isolated process, but each separately isolated event means a change in the whole organism, and specifically, the preferred behaviour in one field always means preferred behaviour of the whole organism (279-80).
So much for facts. However, can we say that the tendency towards preferred behaviour represents an essential factor in the organization of the organism? The preferred behaviour has two fundamental characteristics:
(a) “subjective”: it is characterized by feelings of comfort, ease, agreeableness, correctness;
(b) “objective”: it is characterized by the performance at its best, the performance that does most justice to the task, and is the most adequate.
Thus, the tendency toward preferred behaviour is an expression of the fact that the organism continually seeks a situation in which it can perform adequately. And how is the “preferred situation” characterized? It is a situation in which the equalization process can take place: there is a tendency toward equalization in the organism by virtue of which that situation can be brought about, in which the best and most adequate performance can be produced. Put differently, this tendency is a means to maintain the order of the organism in spite of the influences of interfering stimuli (280-1).
(x) Ordered behaviour and preferred behaviour
At this point a methodological question presents itself: “[C]ould it not be possible that the relative constants of the performances in these preferred situations […] are caused by the fact that the observations were made under a certain isolation and constant conditions similar to those of the reflexes?” This could be the case even if the experimenter were not aware of it; it could be caused by accidental circumstances (281).
(x) Preferred behaviour, as ordered behaviour, pertains to the whole organism
What is crucial, is that we always consider constants that correspond to the natural conditions of the organism, that is to say, we must find a criterion that will convince us that we are dealing with the attributes of the organism in “natural” life situations. Such a criterion, however, may be offered only when we realize that preferred behaviour in one field is possible only if it belongs as well to the whole organism – for only then is ordered behaviour actually realized. This, in turn, means that, if we want to decide, during the investigation of one field, whether a phenomenon that appeared to be a preferred behaviour is an “essential” and “genuine” one, we must at the same time pay attention to the rest of the organism. We will know that we are dealing with genuine constants if we find, by examining as many fields as possible, order and “adequate” performance in the rest of the organism (rather than rigidity and uniformity, as in reflexes). This, Goldstein believes, is the criterion of ultimate validity that available methodology can offer, and it is what offers us to apprehend certain norms and constants of the organism’s nature (282; cf. p. 305).
The performances of the organism correspond to these constants. Goldstein would rather see that we do not speak of “functions” here. For him, (a) “function” should be reserved for the formal structure of the activity, while (b) “performance” means the concrete action in which the organism actualizes itself or, to use Goethe’s phrase, “Being in actuality” (Dasein in Tätigkeit).
In such a way we obtain a number of constants as characteristics of the nature of an organism: constants regarding the patterns of behaviour; the sensory and motor thresholds; “intellectual” characteristics; “affectivity”, “mentality” and “physicality”; temperature, respiration, pulse, and blood pressure; proportion of calcium and potassium; types of reaction toward poisons (allergies); blood type; etc. In the organism, we continually observe a tendency to approach these relative constants (so-called “average man”). Put differently, we are only in position to speak of one and the same organism if – in spite of temporary changes – these constants become manifest.
(x) Two types of constants – as to species and as to the individual
From the constants mentioned above we must differentiate two groups:
(a) constants as the expression of the essential nature of the species;
(b) constants as the expression of the individual organism under consideration.
It is impossible to sufficiently comprehend the life of the normal and/or defective individual (i.e., b) on the basis of the characteristics of the species (i.e., a). For that to be possible, an acquaintance with the nature of the individual is prerequisite.
One constant that is particularly characteristic for the individuality is the constant in the temporal course of processes. Every human being has a rhythm of its own, which manifests itself in the various performances, but of course in various ways, yet in the same performance always in the same way. Thus, the pathological phenomena in the neuropsychological field can be seen as predominantly an expression of a change in the temporal sequence. Conversely, a performance is only normal when an individual can accomplish it in the rhythm that is his adequate rhythm for this performance (283).
The following topics were pointed out during the discussion:
I) In Ecology of the Brain Thomas Fuchs, similarly to Goldtstein, writes about the aspects that comprise the whole of the behaviour. He recognizes two of them: the mental and the somatic and suggests that any attempt to isolate either of them in research should result in aporia. Goldstein likewise argues that a discrete separation garners no significant findings. But how can one flesh out the different aspects in the first place and how many of them are there?
Plessner remarks that human beings vacillate between realism and idealism due to our ambivalent, alienated relationship with the world: one simultaneously has and does not have a body. Another approach considers the body to be a dynamic system – the organism switches between its aspects. Equilibrious states – Gestaltungen are recurringly disrupted by Umgestaltungen, structurations of lower order (e.g. intrusion of the unconscious in psychoanalytic theory).
Unlike the performances and attitudes (that according to Goldstein comprise two distinct aspects or, in Fuchs’ view, one unitary aspect) somatic aspect is not given to the individual. It might neither be accessible by means of scientific research. Goldstein takes a stance similar to naturalistic in his tripartite (and yet holistic) view of human body (mind + soul + body). Meanwhile, Fuchs follows Merleau-Ponty’s line, stressing the primacy of empathy in medicine: he believes that as a doctor, he has the ability to see the pain (cf. Zahavi and other contemporary phenomenologists on the issue of empathy).
In The Structure of Behaviour Merleau-Ponty describes disease as a disintegration of the whole on two distinctly separate components, mind and body. In a healthy human being the moment of vitality is mostly “absent”, and while it does emerge under certain conditions, it alone is not representative of the organism’s capabilities of self-actualization (for an accurate estimation all three orders of phenomena (physical, vital and human) need to be taken account of).
II) Umgestaltungen, the disruptive shocks (anxiety), are necessary in order for new organismic structurations to emerge in the process of self-actualization. In Antifragile Nassim Taleb remarks on the abundance of natural systems that are neither fragile nor robust but instead benefit from the disturbances. Among them are complex systems like stockmarket, culture and organisms. For the latter, hunger and hardships are advantageous to some extent. Mihaly Csikszentmihaly has introduced the concept of flow, i.e., the level of excitation that neither brings forth anxiety nor incites lethargy. It is characterized by a complete absorption in the activity one is performing. Goldstein’s notion of the pleasure of tension might be comparable. We imagine it as an interplay between the organism and the world: I throw myself into the world, while the world is closing in on me. The tension is pleasurable because it bears the potential for the organism to self-actualize. To illustrate that, we compared patients and children: while both of them are fragile and hence require a stable environment, children do not adhere to it. Motivated by their inquisitive attitude, they push the borders of what is familiar to them. To wonder is to expose oneself to the yet unknown situations – it requires courage and persistence.*
While shocks prove to be constructive in breaking the habits, they should not break the organism. Destructive shocks deter self-actualization. Flow is a form of progressive overload or hormesis (cf. Taleb) in which the organism that receives small doses of some stressor gradually improves its tolerance to it. Different organ systems recalibrate themselves (nervous system, musculoskeletal system, etc.). [Interesting article on the topic: Fruits and Vegetables Are Trying to Kill You.]
Canguilhem and Merleau-Ponty describe life as a domain of polarity. Merleau-Ponty characterizes physical systems as directed toward a resting state which is determined by the outside (measurable) factors. Vital systems, on the other hand, determine the relevant tension they aspire toward on their own; they try to modify their actions in such way as to be able to recognize relevant patterns in their surroundings. Focus is the maintenance of the optimal tension that makes self-actualization possible.
*Goldstein emphasizes the importance of repetition in the formation of new Gestaltungen. Interestingly, Freud considers repetition to be a symptom of infantile enjoyment. It is evident that intention can render different meaning to two physiologically/behaviouraly identical acts.
III) Is the anxiety that Goldstein writes about akin to the present-day commonplace anxiety? We presumed that they do differ, mainly because the circumstances in which they come up have changed. There has been (and still takes place) a great endeavour to eradicate the conditions under which anxiety may surface. Such a preventive approach was not successful; it has only redirected anxiety to occur in relatively trivial situations. Erich Fromm suggested that the failure to uproot it is not negative at all: anxiety occurs in a healthy person and serves as an indicator of some malfunction in the individual or in society. The latter is a rather hostile environment for modes of existence that make self-actualization possible, including anxiety which is managed through the prescription of anxiolytics.
Another difference between the anxiety Goldstein describes and the contemporary syndrome might be in their degree. We first posited that Goldstein’s characterization is not far from Heidegger’s: anxiety is acute and severe and the organism is detached from the world. Today anxiety is prevalently described in its chronic form which is less overwhelming yet ceaselessly present in the background. We questioned this delineation, since both forms of anxiety seem to fit Goldstein’s portrait of it. In Heidegger’s case, anxiety confronts the subject with Nothing; the world is approaching, yet leaving them – in a push-pull dimension, there is nothing they can hold onto and consequently they feel like drifting through space. It is not immanently present in human soul, yet it is a constitutive part of human experience. Goldstein writes about anxiety i) as anticipation of fear (the variant possibly similar in severity as the Heideggerian) and b) in its milder forms like helplessness, stage fright, etc. It is understood as immanent: it comes and goes in an almost quotidian manner. Sooner or later, the organism will experience it, and it especially frequently takes place in early developmental phases when the organism only starts to acquaint itself with the world. The first processes of coming to terms result in radical restructurations of the organism’s Gestalt. In a functional adult person, shocks are no longer a prevalent part of their experience (anxiety nevertheless remains important, as it enables one to feel fear). Hence we speculated that in Goldstein’s case, anxiety is not constitutive in the overall human experience.