For All His Great Mind

There are many ways of feeling. Harry Stack Sullivan proposed that:

  • The two absolutes I want to present at the moment are absolute euphoria and absolute tension.1
  • Though I agree with the idea of trying to describe the field of emotions, I would not be inclined to assume absolutes but rather leave the range open. Euphoria is a good term, but it has the connotation of being a withdrawn stupor, or as Sullivan says:

  • Absolute euphoria can be defined as a state of utter well-being. The nearest approach to anything like it that there is reason for believing one can observe might occur in a very young infant in a state of deep sleep.2
  • In the place of this rather limiting concept I would like to propose the use of the Greek concept of happiness as a description of one end of the axis with the euphoria Sullivan describes as being a form of happiness. The concept of tension is also rather limited as Sullivan describes it:

  • Absolute tension might be defined as the maximum possible deviation from absolute euphoria. The nearest approach to absolute tension that one observes is the rather uncommon, and always relatively transient, state of terror.3
  • Once again I would substitute another concept for tension and call tension a subset of pain. Despite the discomfort of the example described by Sullivan as absolute tension, it is not hard to imagine more painful circumstances (prolonged torture quickly comes to mind). At any rate, Sullivan goes on to say that:

  • These absolutes are approached at times, but almost all living is perhaps rather near the middle of the trail; that is, there is some tension, and to that extent the level of euphoria is not as high as it could be. While euphoria need not trouble us very much, tensions are a very important part of our thinking.4
  • To start describing behavior by excluding half of the emotional range in terms of being behavioral determinants would seem to be a rather self-defeating premise. It would seem to me that the goal of the individual would not be equilibrium but happiness, not simply the homeostatic reduction of tension but to feel good.

    However, describing emotions as a simple range on a sort of see-saw type axis also seems to me to be a rather useless if neat conceptual construct. Emotions are a highly complex phenomenon, witness man's lack of control over them "for all his great mind". I prefer to think of emotions as a multi-parametric field which one might call E-space. I will make the not totally gratuitous assumption that we do not have a firm grasp of what defines an emotional state, else I would assume that most people would choose to be happy.

    I find this to be a serious objection in much psychoanalytic theory in that, as Szasz puts it, they hold "the premise that the behavior of persons said to be mentally ill is meaningful and goal-directed"5, without an adequate concept of what these goals might be other than generally setting a concept of normality as a criterion for determining the "validity" of any given action. Freud and Laing do deal with this problem; however, on a rather pessimistic level. As Laing puts it:

  • Thus, I would wish to emphasize that our 'normal, adjusted' state is too often the abdication of ecstasy, the betrayal of our true potentialities, that many of us are only too successful in acquiring a false self to adapt to a false reality.6
  • Or as Freud put it in Civilization and its Discontents:

  • The programme of becoming happy, which the pleasure principle imposes on us, cannot be fulfilled; yet we must not--indeed cannot--give up our effort to bring it nearer to fulfillment by some means or other.7
  • We shall return to discuss this more fully after considering the implications of a concept from another source.

    The basic premise of my discussion of this problem stems from Homer and other Greek sources where we find what is essentially an inversion of our habit of defining the individual as a constant and the emotions as variables, or as Karen Horney stated:

  • Man in our culture feels strongly that his own self is a separate entity, distinguished from or opposite to the world outside.8
  • Rather we shall be holding the emotions to be constants and their environmental expression as the variable. From this our axiom will be that the way an individual feels is the function of a complex relationship with his environment. Some of the more obvious corollaries of this axiom are presented in the appendix.

    In essence, any given feeling can be defined as a complex but discrete system of parameters in that field of phenomena which define feelings. It follows quickly that a feeling by defining a system synchronically also diachronically defines a mode of conformity of implied actions derived from the extension of that system over a period of time. It also follows that the mode of conformity defined by any given feeling may or may not lie in concordant relationship with the mode of conformity defined by any other system (i.e., feeling)

    As to what feeling the individual desires to conform to in his behavior, we will take the Greek view that what he seeks in happiness: that is, living in such a way that he is consistently happy. Aristotle wrote that we:

  • Feel bound to class happiness rather as some form of activity. . . it has been well said that the Good is that at which all things aim . . . Happiness does not consist in pastimes and amusements, but in activities in accordance with virtue.9
  • It is clear that in this perspective man's primary referent is his emotional state and that his behavior is defined toward a mode of conformity in correspondence with this goal. Freud speaks of the "temporary endurance of 'pain' on the long and circuitous road to pleasure."

    Emotions are a complex phenomenon and consequently conforming to them in a changing environment is not a simple question. Thus we arrive at what might be called the mode of assertion in which an individual tries to consciously parallel the mode of conformity through the guidance of some model of behavior. However, the cognitive model, or philosophical (in a broad sense) system will not necessarily be in concordant relationship with the feeling being sought; that is, what one thinks one is doing may not be what one is actually causing emotionally.

    How does the individual go about maintaining linkage between the cognitive overlay (what he thinks is going on) and the felt reality that is his base? We will call the means of changing cognitive systems transformational patterns. Here we might visualize our model by noticing its parallel to a theoretical construct in linguistics. The semantic of the system is defined as the emotional goal, conformity with a good feeling or as Aristotle or Plato would have stated it more simply, the Good. The deep structure would be the system derived from this goal, the surface structure the cognitive position on the ways of conforming with these goals and the transformational patterns as those methods which may be employed to maintain or reestablish linkage between that which is desired emotionally and that which is held cognitively at variance with the deep structure.

  • Semantic Happiness
    Deep Structure Mode of conformity
    Transformations Transformational Patterns
    Surface Structure Mode of assertion
  • With this brief introductory description of our model in mind, let us examine some concepts in contemporary psychoanalytic theory in this light.

    The primary concern is the nature of the goal, the semantic and of the deep structure. Since we have set as the goal of our system a feeling rather than homeostasis, the system is an actively dynamic one in attempting to reach a concordant relationship with that goal. Though there is much to be said for viewing the body as a mechanism, we do not face the problem inherent in that position. Both sides of this approach are seen in Szasz's statement:

  • To use a machine intelligently and effectively--whether the machine be an automobile, an electron microscope, or oneself--it is clearly important to know what the machine cannot do as well as to know what it can do.10
  • Neither do we suffer from a problem which comes out of this mechanistic/scientific outlook which is well expressed in Sullivan:

  • This, in its way, is a definition of tenderness-a very important conception, very different indeed from the miscellaneous and, in general, meaningless term love, which confuses so many issues in this day and age.11

    The tension of anxiety, when present in the mothering one, induces anxiety in the infant. The rationale of this induction -- that is, how anxiety in the mother induces anxiety in the infant is thoroughly obscure.12

  • He goes on to propose the term empathy to describe this process and continues,

  • So that although empathy may sound mysterious, remember that there is much that sounds mysterious in the universe, only you have got used to it; and perhaps you will get used to empathy.13
  • I think this shows fairly well the result of excluding emotions from a model of behavior because they are not scientifically manageable. Rather, what we are proposing in our model is a process of adaptation, adjustment and change in the relationship between the way an individual feels and his emotional environment with a goal system as the dynamic rather than a mechanical process strictly internal to the organism.

    However, given our model, we are faced with a different problem in describing the nature and source of the deep structure goals which one seeks to actualize with the mode of conformity. In "Beyond the Pleasure Principle", Freud in dealing with a similar problem postulates it to be of instinctual origin.

  • The conservative organic instincts have absorbed every one of these enforced alterations in the course of life and have stored them for repetition; they thus present the delusive appearance of forces striving after change and progress, while they are merely endeavoring to reach an old goal by ways both old and new. This final goal of all striving can be stated too. It would be counter to the conservative nature of instinct if the goal of life were a state never hitherto reached. It must rather be an ancient starting point, which the living being left long ago, and to which it harks back again by all the circuitous paths of development.14
  • One can posit such biogenetic/instinctual hypotheses. They have a kind of intuitive weight which is present in much of Freud's work. However, they are not very useful in the explanation of behavior. One of the corollaries of the primary axiom was that the mode of conformity defined by any given feeling may or may not lie in concordant relationship with the mode of conformity of any other system (i.e., feeling). What would the result of having two or more of these systems in expressive contradiction? Before I deal with this question, I would like to speculate a bit on the nature and origin of these good feelings which the individual seeks to actualize.

    Given our axiom that the way an individual feels is the function of a complex relationship with his environment one could begin by breaking down this environment into its possible components and using a field theoretical approach this would imply some kind of complex of parameters derived from his biological-genetic, psychological, sociological and cultural elements and the physical setting in which they are contained. If we look at this diachronically one might say that a group of people adapt so as to maximise their relationship with their environment not only in the Herbert Spenser sense but also in the sense of the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis, they develop a philosophy or general mode of assertion most satisfactory for their environment remembering that the emotional environment is biological and internal as well as external. One might then look at a group adaptation in terms of a set of possible behaviors developed over a period of time in association with an environment.

    With this in mind one might visualize these behaviors as a kind of bell curve of possible behavioral alternatives with some being more active than others and some being sanctioned and some taboo. One might associate such curves of behavior with subgroups in a society right down to the individual level. However, the conflict visible in intercultural differences is one example of what might be more dramatically viewed in overlaying two curves associated with cultures coming from adaptation to different environments over a long period of time with a dramatic lack of overlap being potential between unrelated traditions. This possible divergence of perspective raises the obvious question as to what the result would be of bringing two or more specifically adapted groups into one environment (which have been examined in anthropology as the problems of the acculturation process). It would seem that the answer to this would in many ways be similar to the answer to the question of the conflict of two feelings. Many variables would enter into this such as the dominant culture, the amount of genetic interaction, the amount of cultural variation between the two groups, the technological differential. One would expect this to be a simultaneous adaptation in the cultures involved, primarily on the philosophical language level and working more slowly toward the genetic characteristics over a period of time.

    Thus, there would be conflict on all levels of contention in that those who stand in the area between the groups would feel the effects of trying to conform to both standards at once, not only on a surface structure cognitive level but also on the deeper unconscious and semi-conscious levels of the deep structure and transformational modalities. They would be unable to truly trust any tradition and with the added problem of perhaps not being in touch with the heritage that defines to a great extent their feelings. Karen Horney uses the analogy of the state in saying that:

  • If the whole neurotic picture were compared to a state of political unrest in a nation, the basic anxiety and basic hostility would be similar to the underlying dissatisfactions with and protests against the regime.15
  • I would agree with this kind of approach because it shows the kind of intimate link between a people's psychological environment and the larger environmental factors that affect this link. In trying to adapt to more than one culture at a time, the individual unable to conform to all the divergent systems at once would have two obvious alternatives in changing either his internal or his external environment, or both. Thus, he will resolve the conflict he feels in both areas through the transformation of the conflicting elements in his emotional field.

    Perhaps it is obvious, but I think it important to stress that it is not simply a society that changes, but the individual members of that society. The number of members involved in a given emotional field and the congruence of their feeling for a situation might be described in consistency with our axiom as a function of the interaction of individual with environment and the strength of the parametric determinants defining consistent expression in any given individual. However, though a situation may feel similar to different members of a society, the reaction they have to that feeling may differ significantly depending on differences in their heritage. As Wallace put it:

  • The meaning of standard stimuli vary from group to group, depending on the nature and degree of cultural definition.16
  • And it may take a significant amount of time before the meaning is standardized in any situation where a number of groups come together from diverse backgrounds. Obviously, I am implicitly stating that this describes contemporary America and this it is one of the reasons for "the neurotic personality of our times" in asserting that the subgroups in this society are far from integrated and that the various different heritages still play a dynamic role in defining behavioral conflict in this society.

    If one focuses on the concept of deviant behavior as being part of what defines societal change in that the individuals involved may hold one value and feel another, then some of the seemingly more irrational assertions in the literature begin to make sense. Karen Horney says:

  • By its very irrationality, anxiety presents an implicit admonition that something within us is out of gear, and therefore it is a challenge to overhaul something within ourselves.17
  • She goes on to describe a patient who,

  • Instead of seeking and accepting a challenge to change something in herself she can go on shifting responsibility to the outside world and thereby escape feeling her own motivations.18
  • In an isolated individual this interpretation is obvious; however, if one views such behavior as an environmental complex, the displacement cannot be viewed as totally irrational.

    In essence, what I am saying is that mental illness as it is described in this society could be viewed as part of the transformational patterns available to an individual in this society and that they reflect a breakdown in the linkage between the way a person feels and the ways of interpreting his feelings available in his culture. One would expect that if this is true the longer a culture had been developing, the more integrated these alternatives of behavior would become in the behavioral range in recognizing the role of such behavior in articulating the society with its emotional environment. One might call on the difference between the conception of mental illness in the Nineteenth Century to that of today as Szasz does in another perspective by maintaining that mental illness is a myth.

  • According to this view, virtually every human event--from personal unhappiness and marital infidelity at one end of the spectrum to political misbehavior and deviant moral conviction at the other--is regarded as a facet of the problem of mental illness.19
  • The development of social forms and concepts to integrate or interpret such behavior into society is visible in the attitudes toward artistic creativity in this society and in the role of the shaman in many primitive cultures.

    I both agree and disagree with Szasz`s point in that 'mental illness' does reflect a kind of cultural apology for deviant behavior; but, it also reflects an environment in which individuals find it particularly hard to be happy and reflect this in seeking to find happiness in personally and socially destructive behavior.

    Robert K. Merton20 describes the various alternative responses to a society in a state of anomie. His model is primarily concerned with the economic aspects of social anomie; however, the model is still very useful in viewing emotional anomie, i.e., a society in which there are a lack of useful alternatives for the realization of a satisfactory emotional state.

  • Turning from these types of cultural patterning, we find five logically possible, alternative modes of adjustment or adaptation by individuals within the culture bearing society or group. These are schematically presented in the following table, where (+) signifies "acceptance", (-) signifies "elimination" and () signifies "rejection and substitution of new goals and standards".


    Cultural Goals

    Institutionalized Means
    I Conformity + +
    II Innovation + -
    III Ritualism - +
    IV Retreatism - -
    V Rebellion


    The process of cultural change in exploring old behavioral modalities and the process of introducing new ones when the old fail to bring satisfactory behavioral guidance for the realization of acceptable emotional states can be seen rather clearly in this model as the alternative responses to misery. My only hesitation concerning this model is that it only clarifies the obvious without showing any of the more developed personal alternatives which in most cases will be seen as some combination of these compartments.

    Part of the problem of relating such a construct to modes of behavior is that the way such behavior is viewed in this society precludes seeing the nature of the phenomena as a continuum. For example, would one classify schizophrenia as retreatism, rebellion, innovation or ritualism? Clearly, there are elements of each. I brought in Merton's model to raise the question as to how one should go about viewing "syndromes" coined to describe complex behavior, when the names coined preclude viewing them as a process; rather, they are viewed as an illness isolated from the environment they are a response to (using the term environment again in our broadened sense).

    This section must rest content, I fear, with showing the problem and in asserting that much work remains to be done in integrating the process of mental illness into its proper place in our cultural milieu, whether that place be the mandatory sterilization of the mentally ill, the breaking of new ground in behavioral alternatives, the more primitive concept of communing with the gods, the shaman's articulatory function or R.D. Laing's contention:

    This process could have a central function in a truly sane society . . . True enough, we all have a long, long way to go back to contact the reality we have all long lost contact with. And because they are human and concerned, and even love us, and are very frightened, they will try to cure us. They may succeed. But there is still hope that they will fail.










    Axiom--The way an individual feels is the function of a complex relationship with his/her environment.

  • Corollary I: Emotional reality is primary in human existential determination.

    Corolary II: Any given feeling can be synchronically described as an ordered system based on a complex but discrete system of parameters.

    Corollary III: A feeling by defining a system synchronically also defines a mode of conformity diachronically of implied actions derived from the maintenance of this emotional position.

    Corollary IV: Being systemic, emotions are not necessarily isolates.

    Corollary V: The number of members in a given emotional situation and the congruence of their emotional responses is a function of the strength of the common parameters to which the involved individuals are exposed defining the degree of consistency in the emotional responses.

    Corollary VI: Language is functional in the interpretation and manipulation of emotional reality.

    Corollary VII: Feelings may or may not have adequate verbal representation.

    Corollary VIII: The cognitive interpretation of a mode of conformity is defined as the conscious mode of assertion of the causes of a given feeling synchronically and diachronically.

    Corollary IX: The mode of conformity defined by a given feeling may contradict the mode of conformity of any other feeling.

    Corollary X: The mode of assertion defined by the cognitive interpretation of any feeling may be in contradiction with either the mode of conformity and/or the mode of assertion of any other feeling.

    Corollary XI: When the mode of assertion falls out of correspondence with the mode of conformity, transformational patters are used to reestablish corresponence between the desired feeling and the cognitive appreciation thereof.

  • Corollary XII: The mode of conformity and/or mode of assertion of one person is not necessarily a satisfactory behavioral model for any other person with the correspondence of validity being defined by similarity of characteristics in background and emotional environment, i.e., goals and heritage.