What We’re About

One way to approach the investigation of behavior, including the relative role of thoughts, goals, and feeling, is to consider what we’re trying to do. When we’re acting we’re not always trying to do something. Sometimes we’re just reacting. Other times behavior has a definite direction, purpose, and intention. We have an end in mind. Our behavior is about something.

Some of the background that might affect what we’re trying to do can include our ongoing pursuits, common activities and long-range goals. Also relevant are the specific details of an event or situation that evokes a reaction or response. And coloring it all are characteristics of our human condition, existential realities that constrain or afford behavior, in a manner that can be described using the perspective of phenomenology. Eugene DeRobertis, for example, in his book Humanizing Child Developmental Theory: A Holistic Approach (2008), describes the work of Robert Knowles (1986) who created a modified Eriksonian theory outlining how salient facets of human existence emerge sequentially across the psychosocial stages of development. According to Knowles, each stage is characterized by a dominant ego issue and one of two organizing tendencies. These are contrasting tendencies going in opposite directions in handling the age-specific ego issue.

Erikson’s stage of trust versus mistrust, according to Knowles, is dominated by the issue of consistency and predictability, organized by fear or the escape into fantasy. This stage is characterized by our growing awareness and understanding of contingency in the environment, as we progressively recognize the variety of possible events and whether they are desirable or undesirable. The stage of autonomy versus shame or doubt is dominated by the issue of control, organized by willfulness or the escape into wishing. This stage is characterized by a growing awareness of things that can be done or their different consequences. The stage of initiative versus guilt is dominated by the issue of direction, organized by boredom or an escape into enthusiasm. This stage is characterized by a growing awareness of individual preferences in how we engage with life. In middle childhood, the stage of industry versus inferiority is dominated by the issue of method & technique and a desire for constancy, organized by technology, or by an escape into anti-technology. This stage is characterized by a growing awareness of the importance of doing things well and the variety of devices and techniques that might contribute to competent functioning, as well as being characterized by a pervasive application of evaluative processes to assess how we’re doing and guide our activity. And finally, in adolescence, the stage of identity versus role confusion is characterized by a growing awareness of our constant attributes, organized by fanaticism or by an escape into faintheartedness. Through these stages we successively discover and master our human capacities to manage contingency, control, direction, technique, and integration. Successful navigation of the stages, as described by Erikson and emphasized by Knowles, successively endows the developing individual with the strengths of hope, will, purpose, skill, and fidelity. This view of the human condition reflects the central role of active participation in facing and surmounting the challenges and adversity represented by the environment and the potential limitations of the human capacity to survive in the face of adversity.

If we experience an event or situation of adversity, it will likely produce stress, and our responses will fall into the category of coping. A good deal of human behavior qualifies as coping, because adversity is everywhere in human life. This accounts for a fundamental characteristic of human existence, our vulnerability (Spencer, 2017). Coping has been described as strategic behavior (Fisher, 1986). We act strategically when we consciously and deliberately take into account our circumstances and the potential unfolding of events, including possible actions of others, in choosing our next move. Strategic behavior reflects another fundamental characteristic of human existence, our capacity and tendency to act agentically (Bandura, 2006, 2018). While vulnerability reflects the reality of our limitations, agency provides the reality of our opportunities to respond and overcome using evolved capacities. These two realities provide the field of action that defines what we’re trying to do, what we’re about in what we’re doing.


Because It’s There

cocktail lemon twistWhy do I drink?

Because I want to.

Why do I want to?

Because it’s there.

Sometimes some people try to understand things by creating models of things and seeing how well the models reproduce the behavior of the things. The models can be theories, mental models, concept maps, or computer simulations. The things can be people, or people in groups, or just about anything, really. But I’m thinking of people.

One way to model people drinking is using a social contagion model. Social contagion models have been used to model all sorts of things. Like juvenile delinquency, adoption of a new product, spread of fads, even obesity. Social contagion models are a kind of social network models. They can be represented graphically using nodes and links, which are circles and lines. The people are the circles. The structure of the network impacts the changes in people. Who you’re connected to affects who you become more like. In an agent-based model, the people are agents. Usually, agents do stuff. In an agent-based social contagion model, the agents might only do simple stuff, like copy their neighbor. The agent represents a person, but they might be just a little black box inside a circle, not much like an actual person. A real person would have a past, a mind, and a lot of mental processes. There might be quite a lot of stuff inside the black box, all kinds of rules and variables, but maybe not a person. Social network models made out of simple agents can go a long ways. They demonstrate the role of structure and interaction in the emergence of group level properties and behaviors, and are one way to study those things.

If someone wants their models to be a lot more complicated, but more realistic, they can rip the lid off the black box and try to stick something more like a person in the circle. This might be a learning agent, a cognitive agent, an emotional agent, a cognitive-emotional agent. All sorts of things are possible. This gets into computational modeling of mental processes and personal behavior. The scope expands. It’s like moving from the level of the proton to the level of a complex protein. There’s no comparison. Like the difference between my little finger and infinity, between today and eternity. Well, almost. But depending on what someone wants to understand, it might be desirable to go there. Cautiously, cognizant of scope and scale, boldly, go there. Because it’s there.

Psychological science, and other branches of social science, have studied people. That’s people in general, people together, and the individual person. This work can help us stick a person in a circle in a model. There are seven facets of a person studied in psychological science. All are involved in observable behavior. All are necessary to construct a good model of a real person.  These seven are: learning, motivation, cognition, emotion, personality, sociality, and culture. Learning includes behavior in the sense that it was studied by behaviorists. Personality includes identity and the self. Lots of theories and experiments have produced insight into the seven facets in the last hundred years. Literature and philosophy have played a part. Sociology and social psychology have made primary contributions to the understanding of sociality and social behavior. Anthropology and sociology have dug into the cultural inheritance, which is the symbolic content, that shapes every lives.

Recently, neuroscience has produced other useful findings that are being integrated into the psychological literature. Part of the integration involves computational modeling. Neuroscience is revolutionizing our understanding of the seven facets of psychology. The neuroscientific investigations and their integration are not complete. This is happening today. We are on the threshold of something whole and useful. The outlines have emerged from the mist.

One of the results of this integration has been the discovery that the seven facets of psychology are not independent. They’re not really even separate. More like seven lines of sight into one thing. This is complex. Unbelievably complex. Luckily, there’s a thing called complexity science. Complexity science was sorta, not really, invented at the Santa Fe Institute. It can help.

A popular, older, but still productive, way to simulate a person, is by using the belief-desire-intention (BDI) model. This has a variety of implementations, as it has evolved with twists and turns and various psychological and computational influences (Bratman, 1987; Rao and Georgeff, 1998). BDI architectures are an advance over belief-desire theories of animal behavior (de Wit & Dickinson, 2009) because, by including intentions, they incorporate the function of anticipation, or prediction, which has been established as a foundational component of evolved cognition (Butz & Pezzulo, 2008; Castelfranchi, 2005; Clark, 2013; Pezzulo & Castelfranchi, 2009). By bringing in beliefs, BDI has made a place for symbolic thought, which ushers in language and culture as a recognized psychological facet. Anticipation, prediction, or forward modeling gives rise to expectations, which are a key component needed to explain human behavior. Anticipation is an interesting functional capacity whose depth and breadth are still being explored. It means that behavior can be selected not only by remembering consequences, as in trial and error and operant conditioning, but also by mentally simulating the results of hypothetical actions (Pezzulo, Candidi, Dindo & Barca, 2013).

One of the weaknesses of some BDI architectures is their treatment of emotion. It gets in there sideways, because of its relation to desire, but as an explicit component it is most often left out. There is, however, a belief-desire theory of emotion, and recent efforts have incorporated it in computational modeling of intentional agents. The belief-desire (aka belief-goal) theory of emotions rests on the contention that human emotion cannot be understand without its cognitive components. In this respect it is akin to the ideas of such researchers as Richard Lazarus (1991), Klaus Scherer (2001), and Nico Frijda (1986, 2004).

Early proponents of a belief-desire theory of emotions were Gerald Clore and Andrew Ortony (Ortony, Clore, & Collins, 1987; Clore & Ortony, 2013). Their version is also referred to as the OCC (Ortony-Clore-Collins) model. A nice NetLogo implementation of this theory was done by two Jordanian modelers (Abu Maria & Abu Zitar, 2007). Abu Maria & Abu Zitar include a nice discussion of several previous models. Another model was built by a graduate student at USC (Jiang, 2007), using an architecture referred to as EBDI, or Emotional BDI. The EMA model of Stacy Marsella and Jonathan Gratch (2009, 2014), also originated at USC, is another model integrating BDI principles with appraisal theories of emotion. Ema is a large model with a complex architecture incorporating a lot of psychological theory. Ema is our friend.

A more recent theoretical computational model of the belief-desire theory of emotion was developed by Rainier Reisenzein (2012). Reisenzein has a lot of good stuff to say about emotion, cognition, neuroscience, and computational models. He has coauthored an interesting article about modeling with a group of prominent computer scientists (Reisenzein, Hudlicka, Dastani, Gratch, Hindriks, Lorini & Meyer, 2013). The article discusses emotion theory, BDI models, and recent OCC-based models such as FAtiMA. FAtiMA was developed by modelers in Portugal and has been redeployed in a modular version (Dias, Mascarenhas, & Paiva, 2014). Another recent model, “EMO” was developed by the animal ecologist Ellen Evers at Utrecht (Evers, de Vries, Spruijt & Sterck, 2014). This model doesn’t seem to be OCC or EBDI based, but builds on a simplified neuroanatomy and emotion theory. Another emotional agent model has been developed by Salichs & Malfaz in Madrid (2012). This model has a decision process based on wellbeing, happiness, sadness, and fear. Their article includes a brief discussion of similar earlier models by other modelers. Some Malaysian modelers have published a nice review of norms in multiagent systems (Mahmoud, Ahmad, Yusoff & Mustapha, 2014).

Reisenzein, as well as Ortony and Clore, have influenced Cristiano Castelfranchi and Maria Marceli, the iconic grandparents of the psychology of emotion in Italy. Located in Rome, they have very thoroughly investigated every conceivable aspect of emotion over a very long period and recently published a book-length treatment of the role of anticipation and prediction in human emotion (Miceli & Castelfranchi, 2015).  Miceli and Castelfranchi acknowledge Ortony and Clore’s “belief-goal” perspective as the foundation of their work, and Ortony wrote a foreward to the book. Castelfranchi has an apparent ability to stay on the cutting edge of things and has written on computational modeling as a generative method for social science (2014), has shown an interest in neuroscience, and has co-authored with another insightful Roman researcher called Giovanni Pezzulo (Pezzulo & Castelfranchi, 2009).

Giovanni Pezzulo, another busy Italian living in Rome, has written some nice things. Pezzulo’s basic area of study is action selection and decision theory. Among his specific topics of interest have been behavioral control models (Verschure, Pennartz, & Pezzulo, 2014; Pezzulo & Cisek, 2016), and the more cutting edge active inference models (Pezzulo, Rigoli & Friston, 2015). These look like theoretical computational models of brain processes, not agent-based models or full-scale computer simulations, although some of the work does involve simulation.


The article Pezzulo publish with Paul Cisek in 2016 is interesting for a number of a reasons. First, because it was written with Cisek. Cisek was born in Poland but is professor at University of Montreal. Cisek has his name on a bunch of cool papers about neuroscience, decision making and action control (Cisek, 2007; Cisek & Kalaska, 2010, Cisek & Pastor-Berrier, 2014). And, this article takes a control system perspective emphasizing the importance of feedback, which places it in the tradition of both systems science and systems biology. And, they talk about intentional action. Not to mention, active inference. What’s more, the article focuses on affordances. Accordingy to their hypothesis of “hierarchical affordance competition”:

“. . . intentional action can be conceptualized as a “purposive” navigation in an ‘affordance landscape’: a temporally extended space of possible affrodance, which changes over time due to events in the environment but also – importantly – due to the agent’s own actions. The key for extending the simple competition among affordances toward intentional action is to recognize that brains are continuously engaged in generating predictions (e.g., about future opportunities) rather than just reacting to already available affordances.”

Pezzulo & Cisek, 2016

So yes, my beverage is there, and I drink because it’s there. But I am there too, and being me, I might not necessarily drink this time, or ever.

Clearly, not all brilliant minds are Italian or Dutch. The chief champion for active inference models of brain function is Karl Friston of University College London (Friston, Schwartenbeck, FitzGerald, Moutoussis, Behrens & Dolan, 2013). Active inference, I think, grows out of neuroscience findings, philsophy of biology, and connects with such things as embodiment and enactivism. There is an acknowledgment of both goal-directed (voluntary, intentional) and habitual action. Active inference theory also connects with decision theory and expected utility theory (Friston, et al., 2013). Generally speaking, active inference supercedes RL (reinforcement learning), but there has been an attempt at integration with work on reward and associative learning (Friston, FitzGerald, Rigoli, Schwartenbeck, O’Doherty & Pezzulo, 2016). It seems to be the hot new thing and is beginning to percolate down to psychology. It should also be showing up in computational agents within agent-based models.

Active inference theory has been applied to the emotional brain (Seth & Friston, 2016). There is also an interesting article describing how it applies to social interaction (Gallagher & Allen, 2016). This article takes exception to the prevailing Theory of Mind paradigm in psychology that grounds social behavior in mental representations of other people’s thoughts, wishes, and feelings. Gallagher and Allen have followed the lead of Karl Friston (Friston & Frith, 2015), in applying the new paradigm of active inference to social cognition and the social context.

Not too long ago, I had a plan to get a Masters in Systems Science and apply to the PhD program in Mechanisms of Behavior at Indiana University. This is an interdisciplinary program beween psychology, neuroscience, and the animal behavior people over in biology. I started thinking along those lines and doing background reading. An idea that makes sense to me is that associative learning, emotion, and voluntary cognitive control are three among several mechanisms of behavior control, represented by linked but somewhat independent control systems that activate and sometimes compete in the brain, depending on events and situations. It is one way to conceptualize behavior that might overcome some of the backbiting among psychologists, a neural peaceful coexistence model. Simple and inviting, but possibly not very realistic. A key peice in this line of thinking, as I understand it, is the research within neuroscience that has explained the central role of the centrally located brain region called the striatum as a gathering place for alternative potential actions. There are interconnections between striatum, prefrontal cortex control, anterior cingulate conflict resolution, and amygdala emotional valencing. Potential actions arrive at the striatum, constrained by threshold requirements, and hang out there in an inhibited state until they fade or are released for implementation. Presumably they can arrive from a variety of sources. Mere valencing is a different role for emotion than the action readiness function championed by some (of my favorites) in the psychology of emotion, which gives it a broader role in proposing and weighting potential actions. We are thus faced with the possibility that all actions are inhibited unless released, but that they generally get released, because they are presented for implementation in the absense of conflict or competition. Conflict, however, does not have to be with other ready actions sitting in striatum. It can be conflict with goals and values, or self image. In this model the brain has the responsibility to monitor the contents of striatum and do lookups to determine these things. This goes above and beyond any emotional valencing already attached to potential actions and their contexts. Voluntary or consicous participation of prefrontal cortex is not necessarily involved.

Luiz Pessoa, a native of Brazil with a PhD from Boston University, worked at Indiana for a while, although he has since moved to the University of Maryland. Pessoa is an advocate of the strong version of cognitive-emotional interaction and an integrative holistic perspective on brain function, as opposed to more modular, dualistic, or parallel processing models. He wrote a nice chapter for The Wiley Hanbook of Cogntive Control (2017), and also has a recent theory piece in Trends in Cognitive Sciences (2017), that describes his views about brain mechanisms of emotion within the whole brain.

An approach to computational modeling of intelligent agents with a long track record is the Reinforcement Learning (RL) tradition. Although this sounds like an umbrella term for operant conditioning or behaviorism in general, RL lives in both computer science and psychology. RL might have something to offer computational modeling of agents who drink, to that extent that other models ignore associative learning or the reward systems in the brain. Some of this territory has been explored from the standpoint of psychology by Sanne de Wit and his colleagues in the Netherlands and across the channel at Cambridge (Watson, Hommel, de Wit, & Wiers, 2012; Robbins, Gillan, Smith, de Wit, & Ersche, 2012). They have looked, in particular, at the role of habit and impulsivity in problem drinking and in addiction. De Wit also has a nice chapter in the new Wiley Handbook on cognitive control (De Wit, 2017).

Two neuroscientists working in the RL domain have independently described an expansion of the search for neural correlates of classical and operant conditioning toward full scale integrative theories of learning, motivation, and behavior. They are Bernard Balleine and Mathew Botvinick. They talk about cognitive control, but it feels like cognition is somewhat of a black box in this approach. Since these efforts have roots in the behaviorist tradition, it would not surprise me if the target of investigation is often animal behavior rather than human behavior. Nothing wrong with that, psychologists nowadays seem to forget that human are animals, or to believe that symbolic thought, language, self awareness and imagining the future make us so different that we can leave animal learning out and explain all human behavior in terms of thoughts, plans, and rational choice. This is as absurd as the the old school view that we can explain all human behavior in terms of conditioning. Balleine, along with Anthony Dickinson, was a central figure in translation of classical learning theory into neuroscience (Balleine & Dickinson, 1998). Balleine has continued to write about the distinction between goal-directed and habitual action (Balleine & O’Doherty, 2010; Dezfouli & Balleine, 2012), and interactions between the prefrontal cortex and basal ganglia, which includes the striatum (Balleine, Dezfouli, Ito, & Doya, 2015; Hart, Leung & Balleine, 2014). Botvinick has a similar focus, has written about planning as inference with a computer scientist (Botvinick & Toussaint, 2012), and has published a recent 30-page review of integrative theories of learning, motivation and cogntion, under the rubric of motivation and cognitive control (Botvinick & Braver, 2015).

BDI, BDIE, and RL are abstractions, that may be only loosely correlated with neuroanatomy. They are computational models that attempt to produce intelligent behavior in artificial agents. They meagerly simulate the cognitive architectures and  behavioral repertoires of actual human persons. With the incredible advances coming out of neuroscience, however, psychological and computational scholars are making efforts to get closer to comprehensive, integrated models that encompass most of the seven facets of psychological science, and could soon produce simulations of mental processes and human behavior that will be remarkably consistent with the real thing. A lot of this work is in the nature of theoretical synthesis, and is not necessarily reflected in computational models that are implemented in software. Possibly noone has the resources or wherewithal at this moment to tackle a modeling job that would involve the level of complexity that presents itself in current theory. But it can inspire those who seek to review and improve on the abstract models commonly in use today.

There is some recent work building on neuroscience findings to amplify the role of emotion in action readiness and selection, and it is presented in the publications of two Dutch researchers who built on Nico Frijda’s theory of emotion (1986, 2004). Ridderinkhof and Rietveld coauthored an article with Frijda on human action and emotional impulses (Frijda, Ridderinkhof, & Rietveld, 2014). They carefully describe, category by category, human action and only arrive at top-down, conscious, voluntary control in the last paragraph, where it warrants only a few sentences. This is clearly a different view than the usual rational choice and intentional action theories in which voluntary control takes the top role. This paper is short and sweet, but shouldn’t be overlooked. Ridderinkhof has written another beautiful paper outlining a comprehensive theory of action (2014), which he labels IMPPACT, for Impetus, Motivation, and Prediction in Perception-Action Coordination theory. He also coauthored two recent papers on the role of intention in behavior inhibition (Ridderinkhof, van den Wildenberg & Brass, 2014; Schel, Ridderinkhof, & Crone, 2014).

Ridderinkhof’s 2014 paper includes an extensive history review of the ideomotor principle, which captures the contention that mental representations become key at some point in evolution, as at some point in human development (early childhood), to action selection and control. Ideomotor processes succeed, but coexist with, sensorimotor processes. A key figure in the elaboration of this line of thinking has been Bernard Hommel (2009, 2017), with his theory of event coding (TEC). The 2017 chapter, “Conscisouness and Action Control,” has some interesting things to say about voluntary control and intentional action.

Eric Rietveld’s work is situated in the world of ecological psychology, which attempts to explain behavior by reference to environmental context, and the evolution of our capabilities in response to the environment, with a heavy emphasis on the concept of affordances. This is not a bad place to be, since the entire brain – perception, memory, attention, cognition, emotion, the whole gamut – is extremely sensitive to context, both to place and to time, whether time of day, time of year, or time of life. The world is richly filled with affordances, which present possibilities for action (Rietveld, 2012). This same perspective can be applied to the social world, as it is filled with social affordances (van Dijk & Rietveld, 2017). Rietveld has also written on norms, and their role in nonreflective action (2008).

We don’t respond to affordances randomly, though, and our responses are not preprogrammed at birth. Our “concerns” are involved, and our personal histories and characteristics, as well as our current state. But the power of the opportunties presented by the situation are not to be underestimated.

” . . . both humans and animals are selectively responsive to one affordance rather than another, in a way that is related to the individual’s dynamically changing needs. This phenomenon of adequate responsiveness to relevant affordances in context is crucial and can even be seen as a paradigmatic form of unreflective action. Relevant affordances are alluring and bodily activating possibilities for action. This responsiveness has a basic normative aspect that cannot be reduced to mechanistic causal explanation.

“Unreflective actions are performed without mediation of explicit deliberation or reflection. Of course not all of our life is spent in a state of unreflective action. Sometimes we lack the relevant skills, things go very wrong, or situations are too complex, thus forcing us to reflect or deliberate explicity. However, here I will restrict myself as much as possible to investigating those episodes where the activities of a skillful individual unfold without reflection on his or her part. Discussion of the many interesting issues related to the interactions between reflective action and unreflective action will have to be postponed to another occasion.”

Rietveld, 2012

I drink, in short, because it’s there.



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Salichs, M. A., & Malfaz,, M. (2012). A new approach to modeling emotions and their use on a decision making system for artificial agents. IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing, 3, 56-68.

Scherer, K. R. (2001). Appraisal considered as a process of multilevel sequential checking. In: K. R. Scherer, A. Schorr, and T. Johnstone (eds.), Appraisal process in emotion: theory, methods, research, pp. 92-120. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Seth, A. K., & Friston, K. J. (2016). Active interoceptive inference and the emotional brain. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 371(1708),

van Dijk, L., & Rietveld, E. (2017). Foregrounding sociomaterial practice in our understanding of affordances: The skilled intentionality framework. Frontiers in Psychology, 7.

Verschure, P. F. M. J., Pennartz, C. M. A., & Pezzulo, G. (2014). The why, what, where, when and how of goal-directed choice: neuronal and computational principles. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 369: 20130483, 1-14.

Watson, P., de Wit, S., Hommel, B., & Wiers, R. W. (2012). Motivational mechanisms and outcome expectancies underlying the approach bias toward addictive substances. Frontiers in Psychology 3, 440.


Twenty-seven Movies in Twenty-seven Days

Film, I think, is the most complete cultural artform of our era, expressing the spirit of our times in monuments to human endeavor worthy of comparison to the great works of art, literature and music from centuries past. I promised myself in 1978, when I finished college with a degree in humanities, that I would track and appreciate the output of the people of my own time, and not continue living mainly in the past. Now, forty years later and in my first year of graduate school, I was a little shook up when a wise confidante warned me that he remembers graduate school as “those five years when I have no knowledge of any popular culture.” Luckily, I had four weeks off for Christmas, and had a chance to catch a few movies. Ok, more than a few.

The list follows, in order from my most to least favorite. There is clearly a theme, which is human suffering, and a perspective, which I think is realism shaded with hope, although disillusion and despair are in there. There are many tales of human effort to overcome suffering, not always going according to plan. Not tragedy, not melodrama, just plain old “shit happens.” I think my own personal aha of 2016 was discovering the inner peace that shows up when I realistically accept my own suffering. I’m learning to embrace its place in the context of my whole life, of other lives, of infinity and eternity, while recognizing on a deep emotional level that these things represent something quite different from emptiness or absurdity.

Embrace of the Serpent (2015, Columbia), dir. Ciro Guerra, with a complete unknown from the local Amazon rain forest village as the young  Karamakate, the shaman, and another unbelievable actor as old Karamakate. I woke up in another world, back then, and before that, where everything seemed to mean something completely different from anything I was familiar with. The music and the chanting, not to mention the images, will echo for a long time to come.

Manchester by the Sea (2016), dir. Kenneth Lonegran. Casey Affleck killed it. Beautifully shot and it captured the pace of a slow painful apathetic hopeless life. I really enjoyed the hard realism. Compassion without pathos?

Guernica (2016, Spain), dir. Koldo Serra, w/James D’Arcy: the Spanish Civil War and a lame love story, but it is set in Bilbao and the Basque countryside. And nothing compares  with a cast of hundreds dying onscreen. They scream out to eternity, just like in Picasso’s painting of the same horrifying event.

La La Land (2016), w/Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone. Ok, a throwback 50’s style musical, seriously? Technicolor. Jazz. It would not have worked if it had a happy ending. Sublime.

Jackie (2016), w/Natalie Portman as Jacqueline and Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy. Her husband’s dead. There’s blood all over her. Somebody cried “poor casting;” I’ve got a feeling they hadn’t seen the movie. She killed it.

Knight of Cups (2016), dir. Terence Malick, my surreal New Years eve experience. The camera tirelessly trapses after Christian Bale through six hopeless love affairs, searching for meaning in a superficial American landscape. Evocative of timeless truth and beauty, even though the film is as self-indulgent as it’s main character. Cate Blanchett was haunting, and pretty real.

99 Homes (2014), w/Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield. Garfield was good as evicted homeowner Dennis Nash who crosses over to the dark side in order to survive and provide. Picks you up and runs you through on spin cycle.

Krisha (2015), dir. Trey Edward Shults, w/Krisha Fairchild as Krisha, and Trey Edward Shults as her son, Trey. A (somewhat) recovering middle-aged alcoholic comes home for Thanksgiving. Heartbreaking, totally heartbreaking. You can’t get much more real than this.

The Accountant (2016), w/Ben Affleck and Anna Kendrick. I don’t know if you have to be an accountant to love this movie. First action film in 62 years where I did not get bored during the fight scenes.

Boondock Saints (1999), w/Willem Dafoe as a mean police guy. Two athletic Irish catholics kill a lot of criminals in between visits to the priest for encouragement. A genre unto itself.

The Innocents  (2016, France), dir. Anne Fontaine. A nurse is having an affair with a doctor in 1945 Poland, trying to get the French soldiers patched up and shipped home, when she runs across a convent full of pregnant nuns who need her help. Despair and redemption.

The Dynamiter (2011), dir. Mathew Gordon. A 14-year old boy become a man in rural Mississippi, and leaves the past behind, in spite of a bad start. Well acted, insightful, moving.

Marguerite (2015, France), dir. Xavier Giannoli, with Catherine Fort. Based on the life of Florence Foster Jenkens, the lady who couldn’t sing but did anyway, with a change of venue and era. Catherine Fort is incomparable, and there is cool Dadaism stuff. Made me think about being totally in the dark about how I appear to other people, and how I handle it when I learn the truth.

Complete Unknown (2016), w/Rachel Weisz and Michael Shannon. She left her boyfriend and her life and assumed a new identity during college, and then kept doing that over and over for twenty years.  The complete unknown makes me want to do that too, but she is very, very sad.

A Year and Change (2015), Bryan Greenberg as a loser with a heart, and a brother in trouble. Will they make it?

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016), with Sam Neill. A treat. It took me beyond here and now and into the heart of some very real characters.

Dixieland (2015), dir. Hank Bedford. Real southerners playing real southerners. Drugs, violence, hope, defeat, redemption, not necessarily in that order.

Faraway, So Close! (1993, Germany), dir. Wim Wenders, with Willem Dafoe, Peter Falk, (German) others. Angels above and around about Berlin. Death and Life, and Life, and Death, etc. Pretty cool, really.

The Wailing (2016, Korea), dir. Hong-jin Na. A bunch of murders and a bunch of real people in a small town, including a memorable police detective, neither endearing nor disdainable.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016), dir. Tim Burton, w/Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Samuel L. Jackson (evil incarnate). Some people live forever, others don’t. In this case it comes at a price – constant uncertainty and fear.

Allied (2016), dir. Robert Zemeckis, w/Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. Not as bad as I thought. Ok, it was good. Peter Sarsgaard plays a bad Nazi, but he gets gunned down by our hero and heroine.  Brad Pitt’s character dizzies around with a moral compass and his own heart.

The Age of Adaline (2015), Blake Lively as Adaline Bowman, a woman who doesn’t age, with Michael Huisman, Harrison Ford, and Ellen Burstyn. Haunting juxtaposition of then and now, especially since I lived in San Francisco, where it is set, when I was young and carefree and thought I would live forever.

Viktoria (2014, Bulgaria), dir. Maya Vitkova. Bulgaria, communism, an unwanted motherhood, a failed attempt to escape to the West. Futility. The kid is a brat, but nothing lasts forever. Long and poetic with a lot of cool songs and pensive moments.

Louder than Bombs (2015), dir. Joachim Trier, w/Isabelle Hubert, Gabriel Byrne, Jesse Eisenberg. Gruesome intrapsychic turmoil. Not her best film, but well played. Full of inconvenient truths, mostly about human cruelty, human frailty, and marriage.

The Handmaiden (2016, Korea), dir. Chan-wook Park. Explicit erotica plus history plus good storyline with twists and turns. The bad men get what they deserve.

Little Men (2016), dir. Ira Sachs, with Greg Kinnear and Pauline Garcia. Two boys make friends. Dad is kind of a shit, a second rate actor and trying to be a tough landlord. Pauline Garcia as the other kid’s mom is amazing. The teenage son of Kinnear’s character comes to accept his dad for who he really is and still loves him. Sounds melodramatic but it is adequately underplayed.

Wrong Move (1975, Germany), dir. Wim Wenders, based on a novel by Goethe but in a contemporary setting. The main character Wilhelm leaves home and hooks up, goes here and there, can’t really commit. Moves on and goes on. Flashback to my youth.

It’s Not All in the Genes

Genetic ExplanationsGenetic Explanations: Sense and Nonsense, edited by Sheldon Krimsky & Jeremy Gruber. 2013, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

A lot of the scientists researching epigenetics are also actively advocating for greater social responsibility in the application of genetic science to technology. This includes the editors of this volume, as well as several of the contributors.

Mendel's peasOur knowledge of genetics generally starts when we hear the story of the 19th century Austrian friar, Gregor Mendel, and his peas. Mendel gave us the notion of alleles, two copies of a gene, one on each chromosome of a chromosome pair. The different alleles produce different versions of a trait (smooth seeds/wrinkled seeds, tall plant/short plant). One or the other or both of the alleles for a particular gene can be dominant or recessive. This gives rise to simple four chambered matrices that can show us the probability of a child having one or the other of the trait, if we know the alleles possessed by each parent. Mendel’s genetics was combined with Darwin’s natural selection to give the neo-Darwinian synthesis, which was was honed in the 1960’s, and engraved in stone for all posterity.

This version of things led to an outpouring of speculative genetic explanations involving a gene for this or a gene for that, and scientists avidly searched for genes controlling particular diseases, mental conditions, or personality variables, such as shyness, aggression, and depression. The data was there, but it generally did not mean what it was portrayed to mean in the popular media.

Along came the human genome project. Scientists have started to realize that things are a lot more complicated than they had previously appeared. Even with all the new data and computer technology, there hasn’t been much success in locating the gene for this or the gene for that. Some researchers have been talking about the “hidden genes.” What this book suggests is that perhaps researchers have been asking the wrong question. Changes in perspective and a new body of theory characterized as epigenetics and evo-devo offer the promise of a new way of investigating inheritance and evolution.

Genes are part of genetic systems; genetic systems control biological systems, and traits and features, function and form, come about only as a result of developmental processes. But the neo-Darwinian synthesis is entrenched. Academics and researchers abundantly rise to defend the version of natural selection that is taught in our schools. This book includes some history and some explanation of what is happening in the realm of genetic explanation, and what some of it means. The chapter on autism by Martha R. Herbert is illustrative. She describes how we are coming to realize that there is not a gene for autism. Autism, it turns out is a complicated set of similar conditions involving, genetics, prenatal influences, environmental influences, and individual developmental history. There is no “cause” for autism, it apparently emerges from a complex web of interacting factors.

A chapter by Jonathan Beckwith has an illuminating title, “The Persistent Influence of Failed Scientific Ideas.” Beckwith gives such examples of failed attempts at genetic explanation as the relationship between the XYY chromosome condition and crime, MAOA and crime (monamine oxidase A, which has also been implicated as a suspect in other problems), as well as the ever popular boys versus girls and mathematical ability story.

“The examples presented here follow a fairly common pattern. Scientists carry out a research project producing results, conclusions, and speculations that appear relevant to questions of social importance. The authors submit a paper for publication on the work that includes speculations going substantially beyond their evidence, a reasonable practice in scientific publications. However, in these particular cases the science is weak or faulty, and the ideas presented may be used by others in socially harmful ways.” p. 183.

Eva Jablonka

Eva Jablonka

Eva Jablonka, along with Marion Lamb has described and explained some of the new information about evolution in the book, Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life (revised edition 2014, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press). Jablonka has contributed a chapter titled, “Some Problems with Genetic Horoscopes.”

“Very obviously, genetic astrology is in trouble–the complex relations between phenotype and genotype during development mean that the inheritance of phenotypic differences is often an attribute of differences between gene networks rather than differences in single genes. Moreover, there is more to heredity than the transmission of variation in the sequence of DNA. Hereditary variations are also the outcomes of our own experiences (beginning in the womb) and the epigenetic history of our ancestors, stemming from their past experiences and their past lifestyles.” p. 80.

mae-wan ho

Mae-wan Ho

Epigenetics is involved not only in inheritance, but also in evolution. The mechanisms of epigenetics involve some advanced biology and are only touched on in this volume. Mae-Wan Ho gives a nice introduction to the topic in her chapter, “Nurturing Nature: How Parental Care Changes Genes.” Ho was a pioneer in this field. She coauthored with P.T. Saunders, in 1979, the article “Beyond Neo-Darwinism–An Epigenetic Approach to Evolution.” Today she is more widely known as an activist, arguing for social responsibility and controls on genetic engineering. Many of her public appearance appear on YouTube.

“For as long as anyone can remember, people have been debating whether it is our genetic makeup or the environment that determines who we are. New research findings on how maternal care has a lasting influence on her offspring’s behavior that persists for generations are telling us that this is definitely not the right question to ask. The epigenetic interplay between genes and the environment puts the ball right back into our court. The question we should be asking is perhaps this: how can we give everyone the best opportunity in life?” p. 260.

BPS Research Digest: The 10 most controversial psychology studies ever published

BPS Research Digest: The 10 most controversial psychology studies ever published.

Some of these are very familiar, such as Zimbardo’s 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment and Milgram’s (1963) obedeince to authority study. Others, less familiar, are equally interesting.

2014.8.8 The Phenomenology of Childhood

I wrote this and posted it on the other blog for some reason. Now it’s here as well!

Deliver Daily

51cmaGy-w5L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_In trying to understand what a small child needs to grow up mentally healthy, and what the parent does and does not do, I got the idea that the answer involves the phenomenology of being a small child. So I googled.

And I discovered this book by Eva Simms, The Child in the World: Embodiment, Time, and Language in Early Childhood (2008, Detroit: Wayne State University Press). Simms is a psychology professor at Duquesne University. In her book, she is talking about the experienced world of the child, using insights from the existential phenomenology of Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty. She also draws on Piaget’s descriptions of the child’s early experience of reality.

Human experience is embodied, nondualistic, and occurs in relationship to others. We experience, space, time, and things. We do it all with language. And we are all historical beings of a culture and a certain time period.
Coexistentiality, the…

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Death and Taxes

Tax deadline is past and I now have time to write something on my blog.golfinch . . . yeah!  I read Donna Tartt’s 2013 novel, The Goldfinch, in the fleeting late night hours of April. My sincere apologies to the Washington Post reviewer who lamented this book getting the Pulitzer prize, but I thought it was great. Long, but great. I like the style of the prose and the story was engaging, though not of comparable stature to The Interestings.

Spoiler alert, the following quote is from the last paragraph of the book.

“. . . I feel I have something very serious and urgent to say to you . . . That life—whatever else it is—is short. That fate is cruel but maybe not random. That Nature (meaning Death) always wins but that doesn’t mean we have to bow and grovel to it. That maybe even if we’re not always so glad to be here, it’s our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open. And in the midst of our dying, as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn’t touch. For if disaster and oblivion have followed this painting down through time—so too has love. . . . And I add my own love to the history of people who have loved beautiful things, and looked out for them, and pulled them from the fire, and sought them when they were lost, and tried to preserve them and save them while passing them along literally from hand to hand, singing out brilliantly from the wreck of time to the next generation of lovers, and the next.” – p. 771   


On On On Narcissism

20080721-sigmund-freud1-224x300What am I trying to stay here? Narcissists go on and on in their self-absorption and self-glorification. The discussion of narcissism goes on and on over decades of contentious psychoanalytical and academic writing. What’s more, here are some words I wrote, on a book, that contains some chapters, on an essay, that grandfather Freud called, “On Narcissism.”

Freud’s “On Narcissism”: An Introduction, 1991. Joseph Sandler, Ethel Spector Person and Peter Fonagy (Eds.). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

This book contains the text of Freud’s 1914 paper, and commentary by 10 authors. I had seen it cited as a reference somewhere, and was interested because I have done a lot of reading about narcissism. I have narcissism paranoia. I see it all around me. So coincidentally (or NOT!), I have a narcissistic character trait of my own. I had the call number written on a post-it and carried it around in my wallet until it became well worn. When I read Gregory Rochlin’s (1972) Man’s Aggression, and found him talking about narcissistic injury and threats to narcissism (normal or pathological) as a cause of aggression, I decided to go ahead and check the book out. The essay by Freud and the 10 commentaries are very Freudian, talking endlessly about ego, libido, primary narcissism and internal and external “objects” (people). But the book was published in 1991, relatively recently in the history of psychoanalysis. It is dry in stretches, but overall I enjoyed reading it. I really appreciated the Kernberg and Ornstein contributions, integrating the Freudian view with the self psychology of Kohut.

The concept of narcissism as we know it today encompasses several different things. It can be self-love, which sounds like high self esteem, and can be a good thing. It the opposite extreme it can mean self-absorption and self-obsession, which is usually a bad thing. It can be healthy or unhealthy, normal or abnormal, pleasant or annoying. Unhealthy, pathological narcissism is especially annoying when we encounter it in other people. By covering some of the early history of narcissism and many later developments, this book has helped me unravel some of this complexity. Yes, it’s psychoanalytical stuff, which can be highly speculative and abstract, self-indulgently terminological, even though confidently stated. But psychoanalysis is based on observation, and the truth is in there somewhere, sometimes truth that empirical psychology doesn’t get to.
Freud’s paper includes an expansion of libido theory separating ego-libido and object-libido and presents a “normal” developmental sequence from autoeroticism through primary narcisisim then secondary narcissism. The paper distinguishes two types of object choice, one anaclitic and one narcissistic, being drawn towards objects that are opposite are similar to the self. Freud also makes a significant movement towards his three part structural theory of the mind, exploring ego ideal and conscience and foreshadowing his later presentation of the superego. Freud tries to provide insight into the cause of psychoses. The paper was partially a response to Jung’s and Adler’s criticism of Freud’s libido theory.

What appears hear is more “raw data” than an actual review. These are notes and quotes. Some of my commentary and “asides” appear in brackets.

Clifford Yorke (Anna Freud Centre; British Psychoanalytical Society), “Freud’s “On Narcissism”: A Teaching Text.”

Sigmund Freud doesn’t mention the ‘ego.’ He talked about ‘das ich’, the ‘me’. The English translator, Strachey translates ‘das Ich’ as ‘the ego.’ In the early papers das Ich usually stands for the self. From 1923 (The Ego and the Id ) onward it has a restricted meaning and refers to a “mental agency with its own attributes and functions.” We can think of it as “the executive apparatus of the mind, holding the balance among the often conflicting demands of the instinctual dries, the superego, and external reality.” In the 1914 paper the concept of das Ich was in a transitional phase.

R. Horacio Etchegoyen (Buenos Aires Psychoanalytic Association), “ ‘On Narcissism: An Introduction’: Text and Context.”

Rank (1911) thought narcissistic allocations of libido could be part of normal development. Freud(1914) went further and said narcissism could be “the libidinal complement to the egoism of the instinct of self-preservation.” The 1914 paper introduces a major change in libido theory: “between autoerotism and alloerotism, he has interpolated a stage in which the libido is applied to the ego, which is thereby constituted.” The paper for the first time distinguishes between object-libido and ego-libido.

Anaclitic object choice (we marry our parent) vs. narcissistic object choice (we marry ourselves). People may exhibit both tendencies.

“Freud tells us that the development of the ego consists in a departure from primary narcissism, which at the same time gives rise to a vigorous attempt to recover it. Primary narcissism is abandoned by displacement of libido onto an ego ideal imposed from without; at the same time the ego has sent out libidinal object cathexes. If the ego has become impoverished in this way, it enriches itself once more from its satisfactions in respect of the object and by fulfilling its ideal. Self-regard thus has three sources: the residue of infantile narcissism, fulfillment of the ideal, and satisfaction of object-libido. All analysts will agree with this summing up, although some (including myself) believe that megalomania and self-regard do not belong to the same class of psychological facts.” pp. 68-69.

Nikolaas Treurniet (Dutch Psychoanalytical Society), “Introduction to “On Narcissism.”

“Elements of caretaking functions, implicit in the narcissistic tie of the patient to the analyst, are by now part of ordinary psychoanalytic technique. This implies that a not inconsiderable share of the analytic works consists of confronting the patient with the needs of his narcissistic transference and the defensive function of his narcissism vis-à-vis his rage. This includes, however, integrating failure with success through pointing out the constructive aspects of the patient’s failure, discovering the strengths lying behind his weakness as a negative image of a growth-need, sometimes to be seen as a quest for cohesion, instead of envy or desire for affection. As far as the patient is concerned, this validation has been compared to the function of a mirror. It is central to the therapeutic action of psychoanalysis, in the sense that the analyst communicates to the patient an image of the person he can become instead of the drive-catheter monster he fears he is (Loewald, 1960). Interpretation “upward” is often necessary to correct the results of the parents’ misnaming of affects. If the need for growth, initiative, and individuality and the wish to be “different” are interpreted as oedipal rivalry, the analyst degrades the quest for a healthy self-experience into a destructive part-impulse, thus attacking the patient’s sense of the value of his self. This is often a repetition of the narcissistic rage of a parent who could not bear the child’s individuality and thus promoted the child’s development of a rigid, false self.” (pp. 84-85).

[How did we get this way (shame-based, low self-esteem, critical inner voices)? How did our parents treat us and why (narcissistic injury, competition, anger, scape-goating).]

“The discovery that man was not master in his own mind was added to the realization that the earth was not the center of the universe and that man was descended from animals. There is, however, a fourth narcissistic mortification that is undeniably connected with the discoveries made both in and outside analysis in recent decades: not only is man not master of his own mind; he is also far less “autonomous” in his social reality than he would like to believe. Man’s social anxiety (and with it his corruptibility) is much greater than Freud thought–perhaps because he himself had such an immense reservoir of social courage.” p. 86.

[We are all pretty worried about what other people think and this makes us susceptible to undue or unseen influence.]

Otto F. Kernberg (Professor of psychiatry, Cornell University Medical College; training analyst at Columbia), “A Contemporary Reading of “On Narcissism”.”

“[Freud] explores narcissism as a phase of psychic development, as a crucial aspect of normal love life, as a central dynamic of several types of psychopathology (schizophrenia, perversion, homosexuality, hypochondriasis), in terms of the regulation of self-esteem, as the origin of the ego-ideal, and–by way of the ego-ideal–as an aspect of mass psychology.”

Does not look at pathological narcissism as a character pathology or narcissistic resistances.  New outpouring of contributions on the psychology of love, particularly French: Braunschweig and Fain (1971), David (1971), Aulagnier (1979), Gantheret (1984), Chasseguet-Smirgel (1985), etc. “Narcissism” refers both “to the libidinal investment of the self (Hartmann, 1950) and to the clinical process of (normal or abnormal) self-esteem regulation.” p 141. Kernberg sees “self” as self images and self representations developed through real or fantasied interactions with others (objects). He sees “object-libido and self-libido as intimately related to each other and also intimately related to the parallel investments of self and object representations by aggression.”  Pathological, grandiose self “implies a failure or incapacity for [such] an integration of aggressively invested self representations and a corresponding failure to integrate libidinal and aggressively invested object representations as well.” p.l41. Freud believed that self-regard suffers with investment of libido in the object, which must be replaced by love returned by the object (idea questioned by Chasseguet-Smirgel 1985). Kernberg believes love of another raises self-esteem when  mature ego-ideal is projected onto loved and idealized object. Neurotic love involves primitive idealization and other sources of feeling of inferiority. Normally unrequited dissolves without lowering self-esteem as it “enriches the experience of the self and opens new channels of sublimation.” Neurotic love when unrequited lowers self-esteem. Freud discusses who inability to love lowers self-esteem.  Kernberg believes “that loved objects are normally internalized in the ego,” and the love received increases self-esteem. P 142.

“Elaborating on Freud’s thinking in the light of the contributions to this subject by later generations of psychoanalysts, we might say that self-esteem fluctuates according to gratifying or frustrating experiences in relationships with others and a person’s sense of being appreciated or rejected by others, as well as according to the evaluation by the ego-ideal of the distance between goals and aspirations, on the one hand, and achievements and success, on the other.

“Self-esteem also depends on the pressures that the superego exerts on the ego: the stricter the superego, the more self-esteem is lowered, and at bottom, such lowering of self-esteem would reflected a predominance of self-directed aggression (stemming from the superego) over the libidinal investment of the self. Self-esteem may also be lowered by lack of gratification of instinctual needs of both a libidinal and an aggressive nature, so that unconscious ego defenses that repress awareness and expression of such instinctual libidinal needs will impoverish the ego of gratifying experiences and thus “deplete” libidinal self-investment and diminish self-esteem. Finally, the internalization of libidinal invested objects in the form of libidinal invested object representations greatly reinforces the libidinal investment of the self; in other words, the images in our mind of those we love and by whom we feel loved strengthen our self-love. In contrast, when excessive conflicts around aggression override libidinal investment of others and, secondarily, their corresponding object representations, the libidinal investments of the self and self-love also suffer.”

“These observations regarding self-esteem regulation point once more to the intimate and complex relation between narcissistic and object-libido, and between libido and aggression.”

[Frustration of wants and desires for pleasure can be a problem leading to lowered self-esteem. But what happens when wants and desires are out of synch with reality and lead us down the garden path to self destruction. Can this only occur when a self-destructive urge leads to selective attention and cognitive distortions? What about impulse control and emotional self-regulation?]

Selected references:
Aulagnier, P. (1979). Les destins du plaisir. Paris; Presses Universitaires De France.
Braunschweig, D., and Fain, M (1971). Eros et Anteros: Feflexions psychanalytiques sur la sexualite. Paris: Payot.
Chasseguet-Smirgel, J. (1985). The Ego Ideal: A Psychoanalytic Essay on the Malady of the Ideal. New York: W.W. Norton.
David, C. (1971) L’Etat amoureux: Essais psychanalytiques. Paris: Payot.
Gantheret, F. (1984). Incertitude d’Eros. Paris: Gallimard.

Hanna Segal & David Bell(British Psychoanalytical Society). “The theory of narcissism in the work of Freud and Klein.”

“On Narcissism” needs to be considered in the context of the progression of Freud’s development of his ideas. When written (1914), he was beginning to turn from libido to the functioning of the ego and the internal world. He had already written about “self-preservative instincts” (1910). In 1915 he would write “Papers on Metapsychology,” with “Mourning and Melancholia.” In 1916 he wrote “Some character types met within psycho-analytic work.” But in 1914 he had not yet developed a theory of internalization or identification to explain the internal world. The theory of identification is in “Mourning and Melancholia.” Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) contains the second and final revision of instinct theory. The Ego and the Id (1923) contains the three part structural model.

These authors find problems with Freud’s theory of primary narcissism.
Melanie Klein did not believe there is a stage preceding object relations (neither autoeroticism or primary narcissism). “Klein emphasized the constant interplay of projection and introjection in the building up of an internal world of objects to which the ego relates . . .” p. 160. Klein’s concept of “positions” refers to “states of the ego,” with specific anxieties, defenses, and internal object relations. These include the paranoid/schizoid position and the depressive position. The child moves through these in the course of development. Paranoid/schizoid position includes narcissistic object relations, paranoid anxiets, and defenses of denial, splitting, and projection. “The basic developmental task is the building up of a secure enough good object in order for further integration to occur.” pp. 160-161. Klein’s view of narcissism is in “Notes on some schizoid mechanisms” (1946). This paper contains a description of projective identification, which involves splitting and projection of the good aspects of the self onto the object, which is idealized. Destructive aggressive impulses are projected elsewhere. Schizoid objects relations involves either remoteness or clinging compulsive ties.  The ego is depleted and the individual complains of emptiness. There can be flip from idealization to denigration, and this involves envy.  In Envy and Gratitude (1957), Klein describes envy as a manifestation of destructive impulses.  She quotes Chaucer. “It is certain that envy is the worst sin that is; for all the other sins are sins only against one virtue, whereas envy is against all virtue and against all goodness.” p. 165. Segal and Bell believe narcissistic rage may be an expression of envy, rather than as in Freud, the discovery of the goodness of the external object. Klein associates envy with the destructiveness of the death instinct.

“Some writers have suggested that self-esteem is a healthy remnant of primary narcissism. To our way of thinking, however, healthy feelings of self-esteem have more to do with an internal situation in which there is a secure relation to a good internal object rather than an ideal one.” p. 172.

Kleinians have elaborated on Freud’s idea of the destructiveness of narcissism.

“From this perspective, stable narcissistic object relations can be achieved only when the depressive position has been negotiated, for it is in this process that there is a differentiation of the self from object.” p. 172.

Narcissistic personality trait denies the reality of dependence on the external object in favor of a state of narcissistic self-sufficiency.

Paul H. Ornstein ( Professor of Psychiatry at  University of  Cincinnati, MD from Heidelberg University, holocaust survivor). “From Narcissism to Ego Psychology to Self Psychology.”

The concept of narcissism challenges the conflict theory of psychoanalysis and its role in treatment. This was followed by the replacement of the topographic model by the tripartite structural model, and the eclipsing of id psychology by ego psychology, with associated changes in psychoanalytic technique. A single-axis theory of narcissism (1914) was too narrow and could not accommodate the observational data. Hartmann conceptually separated the ego from the self (1950, 1956). In the 1960s narcisissim became a central piece not only in ego psychology, but in object-relations theory (Jacobson, Lichenstein, Kernberg) and self psychology (Kohut). Joffee and Sandler (1968) challenged psychoeconomic theory of the ego and shifted focus to affect states rather than drive discharge.

Symptoms were explained as effort to deal with painful affect.

[This is a good example of strikingly different conceptual systems of discource (conceptual discourse systems CDS) being applied to explain the same situation.]

Kohut found narcisstic patients used analyst as an echo and affirmation and also put him on a pedestal as all-knowing and perfect. Both types of transference lead to inevitable disappointment, triggering narcissistic rage. Kohut assumed two separate lines of development for narcissism and object-love. It was not a tradeoff. Kohut believed that “infantile and childhood traumas … left the psyche with insufficient structure or with excessive defensive structures–those characteristic manifestation of “narcissistic pathology” that he observed and described in depth.” p. 189. Mirror transference results from infantile “grandiose self” and idealizing transference from “idealized parent imago.” These result from repressed and/or disavowed infantile needs and wishes.

“Kohut considered narcissism per se as the normal ‘fuel’ for structure building. Pathology in this context is not a pathology of narcissism but a pathology of the structures of the self (deficiencies, defects, or defensive structures), owing to inadequate narcissistic cathexis, not to excessive amounts or pathological forms of narcissism.” p. 190.

The “grandiose self” and the “omnipotent, idealized object,” are both archaic structures in reponse to normal early disturbances to primary narcissism. “The archaic idealizations will later be transformed into the narcissistic dimension of the superego, ensuring the power of its values and ideals–a different way of conceiving what Freud called the ego-ideal. In describing the developmental and clinical vicissitudes of these archaic structures, Kohut offered a new view of health and illness in which self-esteem regulation plays a dominant role.” p. 191

Heinz Henseler (University of Tubingen; German Psychoanalytical Association), “Narcissism as a Form of Relationship.”

Henseler thinks narcissism springs not from a cathexis of libido in the ego, but from the relationship with the parents. Parents idealize the baby and idealize their relationship with the baby. Primary narcisissim was seen as oriented toward the self and toward the mother in the primary relationships; see Lou Andreas-Salome (1921), Balint (1937, 1960 The Basic Fault). Henseler describes Balint’s view, “The ultimate goal of all libidinal striving is to recover the original harmony.” p. 200.

[This is not bliss before differentiation, but harmonic fusion within the primary relationship.]

Freud later distinguishes (1921, 1923) “between object choice and identification and between the wish to have the object and the wish to be like the object.” p. 201. This leads to a distinction between two types of pleasure, “the orgiastic pleasure of  instinctual satisfaction and the pleasure of fusion with the object of identification–a pleasure characterized by security and contentment. J. Sandler has repeatedly drawn attention to this point.” p. 202.

[There is no archaic state  without relationship to others, and there is no such thing as complete withdrawal from others people, no matter how strong the individual‘s social anxiety or schizoid tendency. There are always some external relationships with people and always many relationships with people internally. Narcissism does not  represent a withdrawal from relationship to others, but rather particular forms of relationship, which may involve “disconnection”.]

Henseler says the ideal ego or ideal self is not the same as Freud’s ego-ideal. “The ego-ideal holds before us objectives of perfection to be reached, whereas the ideal self represents an ideal state that we have (or think we have) already reached.” p. 204.

Freud’s idea of group psychology involves a share identification with a shared grandiose ideal. Freud got snarled up trying to describe the relationship between narcissism and love of another.  The answer has something to do with idealization and identification. Kohut emphasized role of self love in narcissistic object. For Henseler the relation with the narcissitic object involves reality testing. The primary frustrating object experience leads to the construction of narcissism. There is no primary narcissism, only secondary narcissism.

“Paradise did not originally exist in this form but was only later constructed, composed out of memory traces of a psycho physiological state, satisfying experiences with objects, and wishful fantasies of happiness and harmony–which can be understood as reaction formations to frustrating reality.” p. 210.

The real object has a “third dimension,” involving setting of boundaries.“The otherness of the other, which is experienced as threatening, the impossibility of incorporating him either by identification or by idealization, gives rise to hatred or envy.” p. 211. Narcissism as a withdrawal from the otherness of the other, is free of agression.  Coping by withdrawal into a dual union signifies devaluation of the third party. The alternative to withdrawal is to use otherness and boundaries constructively and replace hate with respect and envy with admiration of the other. “Reality-based libidinal and aggressive (rather than destructive) sensual relationships can now come into being. Requires favorable conditions in early childhood. Access to the third dimension through the presence of a third party (father, siblings) allows for healthy  not pathological narcissism.

Henseler studied suicidal patients and believe suicide results when disappointment in a narcissistic object is eliminated by a blissful fantasy of death. Suicide is aggression turned inward. Hatred becomes unconscious and self-destructed is disguised as “narcissistic apotheosis.” p. 212. Suicidal patients have narcissistically disturbed personalities, but also “different kinds of conflicts and personality traits.”

“We regularly encounter in these patients the avoidance of hatred and envy, felt to be destructive, in favor of narcissistic object relations, high-flown ideal formations, and a tendency to regress to primary narcissistic forms of experience.” p, 213.

“The tendency of narcissistic patients to form a fantasized harmonious dual union in the transference is cut off by brutal honesty, making the analyst’s third dimension clear.  “If you are absolutely intent on killing yourself, I cannot stoop you. I do not offer to save your life. I can only offer you a chance to consider with me why you persist in thinking that you cannot continue to live.” p. 213.

“The narcissistic disturbance is also mitigated by the more anxiety-free handling of aggression.” p. 214.

Bela Grunberger, “Narcissism and the Analytic Situation.”
(Paris Psychoanalytical Society)

“[In Freud’s paper] Conscience–prefiguring the superego–observes the ego and measures it by the ideal.” This mixes “object components with components of pure narcissism.” “The incapacity and impotence affecting the subject constitute a narcissistic wound–an attack on his ideal. It may be convenient to substitute a sense of guilt for the feeling of incapacity. ‘I am the greatest sinner on earth’ may conceal the unbearable idea of being nothing at all. Conscience, which lays down boundaries and prohibitions, may save narcissism and the feeling of self-regard. The melancholic dies not of an ‘escess’ of superego but of an ‘excess’ of ideal–and the megalomaniac ideal may disguise itself as a pitiless supergo, as a last resort against a feeling of annihilating inadequacy.” p. 218.

Narcissism and its vicissitudes and instinctual conflicts can be studied separately.  In analysis, object-related and instinctual transference components can be distinguished from narcissistic transference components.  Narcissistic regression is promoted by the analytic session and the ego-ideal is projected onto the analyst.

Grunberger believes narcissism has a prenatal origin. The memory of this intrauterine state reappears as God, mystical systems, contemplation of art, immersion in music, and belief in a golden age. Analysis offers a return of fetal omnipotence to repair a “fundamental traumatic situation” (life characterized by the powerlessness/helplessness the infant eventually confronts).  At the same time the analyst is a target of object relations. Analysis can overcome the opposition between narcissism and the instincts. This integration facilitates Freud’s 1914 three sources of self-regard. “One part of self-regard is primary–the residue of infantile narcissism; another part arises out of the omnipotence which is corroborated by experience (the fulfilment of the ego ideal) [competence], whilst a third part proceeds from the satisfaction of object-libido.

Melancholia demonstrates lack of coordination between narcissism and instinctual maturation.

“. . . melancholia involves a withdrawal of narcissism from the overall ego of the subject, from his body, and from his instinctual life. The overall ego undergoes idealization with the sign reversed [devaluation]. It is focalized and identified with filth that has to be swept away.”  p. 223.

If narcissism is not carried over into instinctual life, the instinct might be “violently rejected.”

There is a difference between the narcissism  of the transference (idealization and identification) and narcissistic personality disorders, which is aggressive and blocks a therapeutic form of transference in analysis. The second kind is described by Kernberg, and results from the baby’s repeated failure to recover his lost feeling of completeness.

The highest form of love, Freud‘s “complete object-love,” conforms to the anaclitic type, represents the “lost fetal self-sufficiency recovered by fusion with the mother,” and “contains the balm . . . capable of healing the wound with which we are “plunged into the world.” p. 227.


An Idea that Came and Went

0471183431 This is a shitty book. I really don’t like this book.  What a relief it is to say that. I fall in love with so many of the books I read. I have a tendency to become infatuated with authors.That did not happen this time. Why write notes on a book I hate and barely read? Well, at least it gives me the opportunity to explore my prejudices.

Susan Greenfield (2000). The Private Life of the Brain: Emotions, Consciousness, and the Secret of the Self.

Neuroscience, emotions, consciousness, the self, sounds juicy. No. Not juicy. It started out ok. In the preface Greenfield tells us the book started life as “a neuroscientist’s exploration of pleasure.” She wanted to know what motivated her friends and colleagues to work so hard. Great topic.

Chapter one, ‘The Idea’. What is consciousness, where is it located in the brain?  Emotions, reward centers, I’m listening. A recognition that brain functions are explained best by interconnectivity and relationships, not by modules devoted to specific functions. Aversion, aversive stimuli, active avoidance, passive avoidance. Oh yeah! Please continue.

It was all downhill from there. I went from reading every word, to speed reading, to skimming the pages, to jumping to the next chapter. I didn’t like her discussion of the ‘mind’ versus the brain. Despite her efforts to describe integration of brain circuits and functions, she seems trapped in rational imperialism, the description of a tug of war between reason and the emotions. She seems to equate the prefrontal cortex and consciousness with reason. She seems unaware of the way our emotions can enslave our reason, of how concepts, objects and events are stamped with valuations arising from our appetitive and defensive systems, of how reason and emotion complement each other in a ‘self-regulating partnership’.

The following chapters go through a bit of history, discuss childhood, schizophrenia, addiction,  nightmares, depression. More and more interesting tidbits from psychology, philosophy, neuropharmacology. I especially enjoyed the description of neurotransmitters, which function both locally, in transmission of signals across the synapse, and in a broader way. I recently discovered ‘spritzing’. Serotonin from the brainstem and Dopamine from the midbrain are trucked upwards and, under certain circumstances, spritzed into brain tissue, creating changes in brain state. Greenfield tells us that Serotonin is spritzed widely, but the spritzing of Dopamine is more localized. I am very curious about the role of Dopamine spritzing in mania and in our attraction to narcissistic objects.

Chapter seven, ‘The Human Condition’. My all time favorite topic. Greenfield tries to pinpoint her view by describing its similarities and differences with Freud. Her discussion of Freud’s view on pleasure does not ring true. Her statement that “Freud saw pleasure as combating the demand of an Id, a subconscious driven to unity with others,” stuck in my craw. I haven’t read much Freud and know his theories mostly second hand. But I do know that his 1920 essay was titled “Beyond the Pleasure Principle.” The Id is all about pleasure. And it was the Reality Principle, not the Pleasure Principle, that battles the Id as we mature. But I admit that in evaluating Greenfield’s ideas, Freud is really neither here nor there.

So. Finally. Chapter 8, ‘The Answer.’ More discussion of neural correlates of consciousness and patterns of neuronal connectivity. Then, the piece de resistance, hormones. The pituitary gland. Peptides. Ok. Very good. And? Maybe the book is just dated. Written almost 15 years ago, it suffers heavily from the ravages of time. Greenfield is onto something, but I didn’t really think she got there.

This book is not related to the PBS special, The Secret Life of the Brain (check YouTube) or to David Eagelman’s delicious, enticing 2011 bestseller, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain.

Neuroscience in a Can

mza_6820758399004426348.255x255-75I have learned a lot from the audio lectures of Professor Gerald Schneider through MIT Open CourseWare. He talks plainly about some very complicated material. I love his evolutionary and ethological perspective. The audios of his three courses are on the web:   9.01 Introduction to Neuroscience, 9.14 Brain Structure and Its Origins, 9.20 Animal Behavior.





Schneider bookSchneider’s book is coming out in March 2014. This is the textbook for the class 9.14, which he has been using in prepublication form for several years.