My mum, Elsie Campbell, died in January 2012. She and I often used to discuss this – basically, what follows here – and we had a deep difference of opinion. Intellectually, I’m a plodder and a few decades of plod have gone into this. I hoped the thinking behind it might propose an avenue for research. When a hypothesis is tested and validated, then it may be of some use. Until then, it’s of absolutely no use to man nor beast. That was my argument. She disagreed. I could see no point in publishing anything. She disagreed. As I’ve said, she was dying – she had terminal cancer – and I made a promise. What she actually said was, ‘write the book and you’ll get your research.’ Eventually, I just said OK.
This following is a quote from the Amazon preview of M.E. Thomas’s “Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight.” The author, as you may know, has been diagnosed as a sociopath and she recognizes the various traits of sociopathy in her own personality, an admission which, in itself, was a bit unusual so it caught my interest. I’ll indent the quote so that you can skip past it if you’ve already read it.
M.E. Thomas writes:
“If my life were a television show, it would start like this: It’s a pleasantly warm summer day in a beautiful southern clime. Sunlight glints off ripples in the pool. The sliding door opens with a gentle rumble. A young woman steps out in her flip-flops and a black Speedo swimming suit. Her dark hair hits just below muscular swimmer’s shoulders. Her skin is darkly tan from lifeguarding at the local municipal pool. She is neither pretty nor ugly, of medium build and with no prominent features. She looks like an athlete; there’s a clumsy tomboyshness about the way she moves, an emotional disconnect with her body. She does not appear to have any feelings about her body, good or bad. She is used to being near-naked, the way athletes are.
“Today she is giving a private swim lesson. She flings a towel on a deck chair and kicks off her sandals. There’s a casual recklessness about the way she does these things, as if letting loose wayward objects into the world with abandon. That’s when she notices the ripples on the surface of the water. She sees that something is moving in the pool.
“It is so small that she doesn’t recognize it until she’s close – a baby opossum, probably only a week old, it’s tiny pink paws frantically paddling, its even tinier pink nose struggling above the surface of the water. The poor thing must have fallen into the pool in the night. It is too little to thrust its tiny body up and over the nearest ledge. The baby’s muscles quake with exhaustion. Even its sparkling eyes look tired; it is on the brink of succumbing to fatigue.
“The young woman moves quickly, sliding her sandals back on, and pauses for a moment at the top of the deck. She grabs a net and heads toward the opossum. The camera cuts in as the net lowers, dipping into the surface of the water, catching the baby opossum under the belly just in front of its hind legs. With a quick, almost effortless movement, the net drags the opossum under the surface until its head is fully submerged. The animal thrashes, its tired body now alert to a new threat. It struggles loudly, whimpering and squealing, until it finally manages to free its hindquarters from the lip of the net. But it’s barely able to gasp for breath before the net comes down again. The angle of the net is awkward though, and the animal is able to writhe out of its trap.
“The young woman sighs, and the net is lifted. The baby opossum feels relief wash over it for a fraction of a second, only to resume its desperate paddling against the water. The young woman drops the net on the ground, grabs her towel, and heads back inside. Moments later she is on the phone with her private student – today’s lesson is cancelled; there’s something wrong with the pool. She grabs her keys, flings her front door open, and skips down the stairs to the muscle car that she’s been driving since her sixteenth birthday. The V8 engine stutters for just a moment, then roars to life. She slams the transmission into reverse, just barely dodging the other cars in the driveway, then takes off, ready to make the most of a newly-free summer afternoon.
“When she returns home at dusk, she sees a dark shadow at the bottom of the pool. She grabs the same net, manages to scoop up the small bundle on the first try, and pitches it over the fence into her neighbour’s yard. She drops an extra chlorine tablet into the pool and heads inside. The camera lingers on the placid pool, no longer interrupted by frantic waves. Fade to black.
“I am a sociopath. Through quirks of genetics and environment, I suffer from what psychologists now refer to as antisocial personality disorder, characterized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as “a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others.” Key among the characteristics of the diagnosis are a lack of remorse, a penchant for deceit, and a failure to conform to social norms.”
What really matters about psychopaths is not how they feel about themselves or about other people, it’s what they do, how their actions can ruin other lives, but to study the behaviour of the psychopath without studying his motivation is a bit like trying make sense of a forest from the satellite view. There’s a lot more going on than a dark patch. The observable behaviour provides an indicator but it doesn’t begin to explain the essence of psychopathy, the motivation behind the actions.
Science has a particular problem with psychopathy because, on the subject of motivation, by uncritically adopting a 20th-century cybernetics analogy, psychology (and, with regard to motivation, even cognitive neurology) took a wrong turn quite a long time ago. Not to put too fine a point on it, we constructed a technologically-primitive control-systems-logic metaphor to help us bridge the conceptual void between neurons and intelligence and then we expect all animal behaviour to fit the metaphor. It’s unrealistic and it’s illogical.
Over the last few years, I’ve exchanged emails etc. on this subject with a number of psychologists and I’m going to quote one who thoroughly disagreed with what I was saying! It took me several years to realize that he was right and that it was my way of framing my own concept that was at fault. Here is an excerpt from a 2008 paper by Phil Shaver in which he discusses attachment theory. This introductory section simply discusses motivation in terms of (its title) ‘Behavioral Systems Instead of Drives.’
As Yovell notes, Bowlby was trained as a psychoanalyst but became dissatisfied with the Freudian conception of human motivation based on ‘drives’ and the view of the mind as powered by ‘psychic energy.’ In contrast, Bowlby (1982) assumed that behaviors are not usually caused by drives or drive-like ‘instincts.’ In his view, a conception of motivation based on thinking first about general drives with no objects, then about intermediate-level drives with vague objects, and then about more specific drives with specific objects – the approach taken by Yovell – is misguided. Questions such as the following are unlikely to yield meaningful answers: ‘Is there a unique drive for putting your money in a savings account, or is it a product of more primitive drives or instincts?’ Or: ‘Is there a unique drive to sing folk songs, or is singing a product of other drives or instincts?’
When a person wakes up in the morning, his or her behavior is not generally governed by drives, except maybe hunger and the pressure to urinate. And even then, hunger pangs and the pressure to urinate need not be explained in terms of a general source of ‘energy’ that somehow channels itself, through the brainstem, into hunger and urination. Typically a person, awakened by his alarm clock, rambles to the toilet and urinates because of signals from the bladder (or out of habit). He may then eat breakfast either because he is hungry (a feeling based partly on stimuli in the gut and partly on signals from the hypothalamus, as Yovell mentions) or because he has read that a person is healthier and likely to remain thinner if he eats a good breakfast each morning. After breakfast, the person may brush his teeth – another medically advocated health behavior that would not be well conceptualized in terms of a tooth-brushing drive or psychic energy that, while searching for a way to get itself expressed, channels itself into tooth brushing.
According to Bowlby (1982), the working human brain generates goals, cogitates, evaluates, makes decisions, and steers behaviors by its very nature – by its cellular-network structure and its cybernetic organization. It does not need to be powered by libido, a life force, or any such thing; it is powered by glucose, but not by glucose looking for a way to express itself in mentation or behavior. Moreover, the signals that activate goals may come from the body (Yovell’s emphasis) or from the environment or from associative processes within the brain. There is no need to trace every goal to the body or to imagine how the body empowers the brain.
Following the rejection of Freudian metaphors such as drive and psychic energy, Bowlby (1982), who was influenced by scientific and technological developments in the mid-twentieth century – especially control systems theory, cognitive developmental theory, and ethology – created an alternative model of motivation based on the concept of behavioral systems. These systems were imagined to be species-universal neural programs that organize an individual’s behavior in ways that increase the likelihood of survival and reproduction in the face of environmental threats, demands, and opportunities. Bowlby (1982) viewed these systems as ‘goal directed’ and ‘goal corrected’ – that is, as working like servomechanisms that are turned on by certain internal or environmental demands (such as pain or hearing a scary noise) and terminated by an effective response to these demands (e.g., being held and protected by a sensitive and responsive attachment figure). Responding effectively to these demands – e.g., dealing with threats to life and well-being by relying on what Bowlby (1982) called ‘stronger, wiser’ caregivers, exploring environments and learning how to master them, caring for sexual partners and dependent offspring – resulted in the evolution of distinct but interrelated behavioral systems, each with its own primary functions and characteristic behaviors.
This was just a small part of a preface to a paper on attachment theory but it’s enough to give us a decent example of the “thinking” that turned the framework through which we understand the subject of motivation into a dog’s breakfast. It also highlights what has to be one of the worst of a whole bunch of serious programming bugs in the human software: we come to judgement on scant information. Our natural aptitude for logic is not impressive! Whatever it is that makes us tick, it should be obvious to every psychologist on the planet that logic is the least part of it.
For all the right reasons, psychology took a wrong turning, and there were very few voices raised in dissent. We were far too easily persuaded by the argument.
Let’s cherry pick through this excerpt. The first sentence is a useful statement of fact:
‘Bowlby was trained as a psychoanalyst but became dissatisfied with the Freudian conception of human motivation based on ‘drives’ and the view of the mind as powered by ‘psychic energy.’
Nothing to take issue with there although the paragraph concludes with the eristic technique of seeming to reduce the ‘opposing’ argument to absurdity:
‘Questions such as the following are unlikely to yield meaningful answers: ‘Is there a unique drive for putting your money in a savings account, or is it a product of more primitive drives or instincts?’ Or: ‘Is there a unique drive to sing folk songs, or is singing a product of other drives or instincts?’
Shaver goes on to develop the argument:
‘Typically a person, awakened by his alarm clock, rambles to the toilet and urinates because of signals from the bladder (or out of habit). He may then eat breakfast either because he is hungry (a feeling based partly on stimuli in the gut and partly on signals from the hypothalamus, as Yovell mentions) or because he has read that a person is healthier and likely to remain thinner if he eats a good breakfast each morning. After breakfast, the person may brush his teeth – another medically advocated health behavior that would not be well conceptualized in terms of a tooth-brushing drive or psychic energy that, while searching for a way to get itself expressed, channels itself into tooth brushing.’
I’ll come back to this rambling to the toilet because it’s quite useful to consider this but, again, we see an argumentative presentation and, without giving it any more thought, we can all agree on the absurdity of a drive for tooth-brushing. In fact, we can hardly fail to agree that, when you think about it, the whole proposition of psychic energy and drives is quite silly. We are not analysing anything here. We are simply building antipathy to the Freudian theory of motivation, but based on rhetoric, not logic. We are not actually thinking at all. We are feeling, sympathising with a viewpoint, laughing at the silly ideas that Freud, in his pre-empirical ignorance, evidently entertained. Now I’m the one to use eristic technique but I think the unspoken inference deserves to be challenged.
He now mentions cybernetic organisation:
‘According to Bowlby (1982), the working human brain generates goals, cogitates, evaluates, makes decisions, and steers behaviors by its very nature – by its cellular-network structure and its cybernetic organization. It does not need to be powered by libido, a life force, or any such thing; it is powered by glucose, but not by glucose looking for a way to express itself in mentation or behavior.
Again, we’re looking at a persuasive closing proposition evoking humour as a weapon, and then we move on to touch upon control systems theory:
‘Following the rejection of Freudian metaphors such as drive and psychic energy, Bowlby (1982), who was influenced by scientific and technological developments in the mid-twentieth century especially control systems theory, cognitive developmental theory, and ethology, created an alternative model of motivation based on the concept of behavioral systems. These systems were imagined to be species-universal neural programs that organize an individual’s behavior in ways that increase the likelihood of survival and reproduction in the face of environmental threats, demands, and opportunities.
Now we are getting to the meat. The ethological approach is useful but the technological understanding of the twentieth century is echoed in Bowlby’s cybernetic approach to brain function. I do the same thing myself. I see the brain as a sort of organic computer riddled with monstrous programming flaws but I don’t share Bowlby’s mid-20th century view of cybernetics.
I’m sure, by now, I must be coming across as being squarely on the other side of the argument, in complete opposition to Bowlby’s and to Shaver’s rejection of ‘Freudian metaphors.’ This, however, is not a debate. There is no winner and no loser, only an obscuring of the truth or an uncovering of the truth. Phil Shaver agrees with Bowlby in his view that Freudian drives are superfluous and unhelpful to understanding motivation. I disagree but it’s not a contest. What we’re discussing here is beyond ‘important.’ What matters is not who wins but that we analyse.
The 20th century understanding of control mechanisms and the early integrated-circuit-based computers was almost mechanical and switchgear-oriented. We, the organic (BBC Micro) computers, make decisions based upon goals and logical informed choices, goal-directed behaviour. We brush our teeth for several rational reasons. We go to work, to earn money again for obvious conscious logical reasons and purposes. We learn from an early age about behaviour that’s rewarded and behaviour that’s punished. It’s all very straightforward and we can almost envisage an old 20th century telephone exchange replacing some of the circuitry – switches and servos opening and shutting at breathtaking speed – neural pathways – 20th century logic circuits. I take issue only with that metaphor.
The 20th century switchgear/computer analogy completely replaced Freud’s theory of positive and negative drives and ‘psychic energy’. I’ve been told in a hundred different ways that we’ve “moved on.” The idea of libido has, as Shaver later points out, no neural correlate, but let’s pause right there. Let’s start to analyse from this point on and let’s be clear about what we’re saying (and not saying): ‘the idea of libido has no neural correlate’ … when we apply the 20th century switchgear metaphor, it doesn’t lead us to find any neural correlates for libido. I’d sort of go along with that but it made sense to Freud (who probably wasn’t quite the imbecile that we must imagine he was while we were laughing at the drive for toothbrushing) and it makes sense to a lot of psychologists who still find the positive/negative drive model useful in practical work. If you don’t believe there’s such a thing as a death wish, frankly, you’ve just never taken sufficient interest in the lives of ordinary people. Freud’s psychodynamic libido-based motivation, his positive/negative “psychic energy” makes plenty sense in the real world. It just doesn’t work with the 1980s neural analogy of servomechanisms switching on and off to make conscious, rational, logic-based decisions to direct our behaviour. Incidentally, nobody is in a position to tell us that there’s no neural correlate for the libido. All we can say is that no neural correlates for libido have been identified as yet.
‘Typically a person, awakened by his alarm clock, rambles to the toilet and urinates because of signals from the bladder (or out of habit).’
I passed that by without much comment but it’s actually quite interesting. The person is ‘awakened by his alarm clock’ and ‘rambles to the toilet.’ I’ve done that often. Occasionally, I’ve moved a bit faster, i.e. with a bit more urgency – depends how much you had to drink the night before. OK, we don’t have a problem with that. My washing machine has a pretty simple switchgear mechanism that can adjust the spin speed automatically. Our 20th-century switchgear metaphor still sort of holds.
How about another scenario then? The person isn’t awakened at all by his alarm clock (again, it could come down to what you had to drink the night before). He wakes up half an hour later than he should and then his eyes focus on the clock. Again, we have the servomechanism registering the fact that he’s going to be late… ergo… he must now move a bit faster, at least that’s how we try to fit the behaviour to the metaphor but what’s the reality?
In reality, he is not motivated simply by the logic of the situation. Where, seconds ago, he felt a bit sluggish as he transitioned from unconsciousness, now, on focusing on the clock, he senses an immediate and unmistakeable urgency, the urgency of getting out of bed and getting ready for work. He is instantly wide awake and another way of saying that is that a new, elevated urgency level has been established. Everything he does from that moment onward will be done with some dispatch (even brushing his teeth). His motivation (the urgency of action) has been altered from its normal state. If we could measure urgency (and I very much hope we can find a way to do exactly that), we would see it remains pretty much elevated until he gets out of the door and starts walking for the bus which, just to put the tin hat on it, comes around the corner when he thought he had a couple of minutes to spare. The needle (I want it to be a needle for all our 20th century people out there) on the urgency meter gets kicked up yet again and he breaks into a run. THAT is motivation and its measure, I submit, under all circumstances, is urgency.
Our man makes it just in time and takes his seat on the bus. The sense of urgency disappears… more or less along with the sense of the feeling of the seat that he just sat down on – adaptation. His motivation has just dropped to closer to its normal level but he’s still awake so it hasn’t dropped to zero urgency. It is, once again, below the level of perception. When he gets off the bus, he walks the short distance to the office. Now he’s not in any hurry – no sense of urgency – but here’s the point: if there was literally no urgency, our man wouldn’t be walking at all, he would just be standing (or lying) where he got off the bus. What he’s doing is walking with very little urgency. He is still motivated to walk to the office. His urgency is once again below the level of perception, that’s all.
He gets to his desk and makes a start on his inbox. “That flash git from sales is chatting up the new temp. How can she not see what a complete phony he is? All charm and pseudo-sincerity – that’s the only good thing you can say about that guy, he’s the best when it comes to shifting the product – salesman of the year, three times running – first in in the morning, last out at night – hardly ever stops – totally driven – flash git.”
This is 21st century computing. We’re no longer talking about switchgear, we’re talking about a data stream, and so was Sigmund Freud. He spoke about psychic energy and he spoke about libido. He had absolutely no conception of an urgency data stream but he wasn’t an imbecile. He knew exactly what he meant!
The measure of motivation is urgency. It is time itself that the brain is processing: the relationship between time, perception and action. The neural correlates of consciousness lie in the synthesis of the time-urgency data stream. Everything we do and how much chemical energy we put into it is regulated by the level of our urgency to execute the action.
And how does this dynamic urgency data-stream concept help us understand psychopathy? Well, let’s not beat about the bush. It lays bare and explains the entire phenomenon of the psychopath. It spells out the essence of psychopathy (and altruism) in terms that, for the first time, leave us in absolutely no doubt as to what it is, what is going on in his brain. The frustrating thing is that I figured this out decades ago but, when I tried to explain the concept, I could only articulate it in psychodynamic terms, i.e. in terms of libido, but I knew exactly what I meant!
Phil Shaver is one psychologist whose condemnation of my Freudian language forced me to accept the possibility that I was wrong, i.e. wrong to talk in terms of libido. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand what I was saying; I was the one who didn’t understand that we can’t turn the clock back to the days when it was fine to talk about psychic energy. Thanks to Phil Shaver in the US – and I should also give credit and thanks to the equally-disagreeable – lol – Prof. George Boeree in Australia (who actually responded with an unexpected and much-appreciated warmth to the central proposition but nonetheless wished I had found other language to express it) – I realized (eventually) that if the theory was valid, it had to be possible to articulate it in modern cognitive neurological terms.
I woke up this morning, as I often do, just about 30 seconds before my alarm went off. I have never been a morning person. I generally wake up feeling dreadful. This morning was different. I woke up feeling angry. I was wide awake from the moment I got up. I was thinking about an opossum in a swimming pool. I was motivated to get what I was thinking down in text.
For the last three years of her life, my mother was motivated by something she watched on Al Jazeera over a 22-day period commencing on the 27th December 2008. Up until that point, like so many of us who used to put our trust in the BBC, she had given little thought to the suffering of the Palestinian people. Like many of us, she had pretty much bought into the Israeli (and BBC) propaganda, the inversion of reality that presents the Israeli superpower as the victims of the Palestinian people whom they have been ethnically cleansing not only from the land they stole from them in 1948 and again in 1967 but from the remainder of Palestine that they still covet and secretly claim as their God-given right. (It’s hard to imagine what kind of people would try to make God complicit in ethnic cleansing and apartheid)! After watching the Gaza massacre, day and night for three weeks, watching the people of Gaza trapped, defenceless, and at the mercy of a racist, hate-filled military with all the power of modern weaponry at their disposal, after watching Israelis on the other side of the wall jump up and down and clap their hands with glee as white phosphorus rained down on rubble-strewn, panic-infused, blood-spattered streets, after listening to testimony given by surgeons at the impossibly under-equipped Shifa Hospital, running out of even the most basic medical supplies in the first days – the hospital itself, and even the ambulance crews, now targeted by “the most moral army in the world” – after hearing how airburst-delivered white phosphorus has burnt the flesh of children through to the bone, after watching as yet another precision-guided high-explosive missile pounded into the residential apartment blocks of Gaza city, after all that, she acquired a sense of urgency. She wrote letters, she spoke to politicians – she even got through to the Prime Minister’s office at one point. Even in the last couple of months of her life, now frail with the effects of cancer, she was putting boycott stickers on the Eden Springs water coolers in the hospital. Elsie Campbell was born in Dumbarton, lived her life in Scotland, and died a Palestinian. THAT is motivation.
If you’ve ever been writing something for an almost-impossible deadline or running late and caught in traffic on the way to an important meeting, you know all about a sense of time urgency. It’s a thing, sometimes (not always) accompanied by anxiety, that crops up occasionally for just about everyone but it doesn’t stand out as a great candidate for a fundamental role in any cognitive process.
There is a parallel can be drawn, however, between perception of time urgency and adaptation to other ever-present senses. I haven’t been remotely conscious of the clock ticking or the room temperature until this moment when I needed to think on an example of something my senses have adapted to. The urgency to get today’s work completed has been present since the start and throughout the day but I have been only dimly aware of it if at all because it’s a relatively-unchanging, unremarkable level of urgency, enough to sustain my focus and get the job done without undue delay. We have no sense of time urgency while its level is near normal.
The urgency, mid-term, to study for an exam is often so low as to be apparently absent. As the week of the exam approaches, a vague sense of growing urgency will generally surface. A degree of urgency, however, had been there all along. Earlier in the semester, it was simply so weak as to be beneath the level of perception.
There is no area of animal motivation that is not, at heart, a question of the urgency of action. I am not the first to suggest it. This paper simply re-affirms the proposition then discusses the mechanism in (modern) cybernetic terms.
When we’re a bit hungry, we get the uncomfortable sensation of an empty stomach. Whether or not we act on that very much depends upon what we’re doing at the time. When we are extremely hungry, the urgency of getting some food becomes pretty difficult to ignore, but let’s run that back in the other direction. We need to work > to earn money > to maintain the security of food and shelter. The urgency of attending to that is generally what gets us out of bed in the morning. Bear in mind that what we’re concerned with here is not how we think we think but how the brain really processes and measures the need for action.
In the Western Isles of Scotland, they have a joke about language. They say that some European words just do not translate into the Gaelic – mañana, for example – they say there is no word in the Gaelic that expresses quite such a sense of urgency.
I have always been fascinated by time. When we look at the hands of a clock, they may appear static or, at the other extreme, if you’ve ever played tennis against someone with a really strong serve you may know what it feels like to be passed by a fast-moving object that you didn’t even see coming. What is interesting is the fact that some creatures, flies for example, seem to enjoy a slightly shifted band of movement perception. I’ve also watched birds and tortoises but you’d probably get bored if I went into detail [wee sigh]
If you’ve ever tried to catch a fly using a glass and card and you don’t know the trick, you’ll probably have been frustrated at every attempt. No matter how quick you are, you’re never quite quick enough. The trick, of course, is to move very calmly, evenly and slowly and get right under the fly’s movement-perception threshold. By moving the glass steadily and slowly with absolutely no sudden moves, you can gently trap the fly. As far as it can tell, nothing is moving so its calculation is that, in the absence of movement, there can be no imminent danger, no urgency of taking action and it carries on attending to whatever it is that flies find on windows, while you very gently lay the glass over it.
The relationship between action and time is one that goes back to the dawn of evolution and, if this model is valid, it is that relationship which gave rise to consciousness itself. The onion-skinned complexity of human motivation obscures, I think, an essential simplicity. When I want food, it is, you might think, a matter of how empty my stomach is but, for a programmer, that doesn’t quite answer the question. The important question is: how does the brain translate that sense of a state of emptiness into action.
Psychology research sometimes seems a bit like attempting to reverse-engineer the mind, but coming at it from the programming side throws up an interesting consideration. In writing the software for the animal, one tricky question the programmer would be faced with is how to relate the dynamic need for action to the (macro) regulation of the energy released to action: how should the brain take any and all of the biological and environment-driven needs that the animal is going to experience and respond to some of these with appropriate, measured action? The mechanism has to balance conservation of energy with preservation of life so the crucial question for survival isn’t simply of the static “switching” sort: “to run or not to run.” It’s almost always going to be dynamic, more like: “how fast, for this situation as it unfolds?”
Were we designing the software from scratch, we would probably start by creating a single globally-accessible parameter that can take a value lying anywhere between zero and one (and, to associate it with its historic hypotheses in psychology, we’d naturally call it motivation).
If we approach the brain’s ‘software’ from a programmer’s point of view, there are clear advantages (not least for the programmer) in having a single measure for motivation whether the action is precipitated by hunger, cold, insecurity… whatever.
My brain and that of the fly have a lot in common. The fly is programmed to respond to its perception of imminent danger, in its case, by taking to the air. What is going on here, however, is the processing not merely of a static threshold-based trigger but of a data-stream. It’s not just a matter of the spatial proximity of the threat. The fly can differentiate between a static object and a moving object. If a near object is changing its location with respect to time, it’s probably time for a sharp exit. That’s how flies think. [ http://www.mpg.de/4349060/fly_motion_detector ]
When we talk of the evolution of animal locomotion, there’s often a discussion about the prey/predator relationship. It might be suggested that, at an early stage, the smell of the predator would be the trigger that would initiate locomotion. The olfactory system picks up on a few molecules of predator odour and that’s cue enough for a change of location, but it’s monstrously inefficient; it means bursts of fleeing about at full speed when, in many cases, flight might not have been necessary at all.
It might then be proposed that, at a later stage, whether by smell, sight or sound, an assessment of the predator’s proximity must be the main thing. All readily agree that it’s the calculation of proximity that matters ultimately. If the predator can be calculated, by whatever means, to be close, it can be assumed to be presenting an existential threat. Programatically, all we would need to establish is a threshold value for “too bloody close” and we can trigger locomotion.
There’s a flaw in the logic here and I think it’s pretty important to examine this. There is, as far as I’ve been able to discern, never any discussion of the survival advantage that would be conferred by the processing of a data-stream rather than a static, threshold-based trigger of any sort. Yes, of course it makes sense to suggest that, at some point, the proximity of the predator would trigger flight. Where it gets interesting is when we look at the survival advantage at a subsequent stage of evolution in which the attack vector can be assessed. I think this is a stage that can be safely inferred from the existence of 95% of the current fauna.
This much more sophisticated data-stream-based calculation must confer greater survival advantage both in terms of escape outcomes and in terms of conservation of energy. We know it must, because we’re here to tell the tale, but this was surely an evolutionary milestone of immense proportions. The only thing that is really hard to understand here is why it’s not to be had in the literature; why is there no research to be found based upon this beyond-probable and monumental step change in the evolution of mind and action?
A fast-moving predator with its focus upon another target raises the urgency only of paying close attention to its behaviour but energy is conserved because the data-stream-perception-enabled prey is also capable of making the calculation that, this time around, flight is not necessary. Time is the key. Imminent danger requires urgent action. The spatial proximity of the predator is a crude and inefficient trigger in comparison.
The data-stream calculation of the urgency of action is also the logical moderator of the energy allocated to locomotion. Survival now depends not merely upon being able to travel from here to elsewhere. What really matters is how long it takes to get there. We have a direct relationship between the urgency of action and the energy required to be released to locomotion.
We are now proposing the existence of a creature that can modify its own speed and direction in a pursuit context in response to a data-stream perception of a continually-changing dynamic threat. Flight is triggered and the energy released to locomotion is regulated not by an assessment of the spatial proximity of the predator but by an assessment of the imminence of the danger (in whatever form it might come). Action is initiated, the allocated energy is regulated and sustained (or not – equally important for conservation of energy) according to the urgency of initiating and sustaining locomotion. This is a highly complex sequence of data-stream-based calculations. Basically, we are now talking about a brain, and we’re talking about consciousness: the ongoing processing of time and perception.
Consciousness, at essence, is the business of processing time and perception to initiate and moderate action. How much energy we put into any action is measured against the perceived urgency of action but urgency is not a static threshold value like proximity. In consciousness, urgency must be processed as a continual stream of data.
The frequency of some neural oscillations may have a much more simple, direct and obvious function than that which is currently being investigated. The frequency of, for example, an instance of beta oscillations in the motor cortex (I’m making this up as I go along)! may have a much more simple function than some that are currently being attributed to the phenomenon. As it is generally explained, the processing of sensory data and even the encoding of memory may well involve neural oscillations but, in some cases, an additional or perhaps even the primary function of some neural oscillations may be much more simple and direct. The release of an enzyme or a hormone needs to be regulated by an appropriate parameter and, programatically, neural oscillations would seem to stand out as the prime candidates for the job. In this motivational context, the continual transmission (in consciousness) of the value of the posited urgency parameter requires nothing more or less than a comparative frequency. In communication, and across many species, it is perhaps no accident at all that the higher the frequency of the alarm call, the greater the urgency that is conveyed.
The concept of libido was based upon the recognition of the existence of that data stream. The early psychologists, however, (and naturally enough) described it as psychic energy, and that mistake was enough to allow lesser intellects, to their great satisfaction, subsequently to completely debunk the early psychodynamic theories as being wholly without foundation.
But there was another reason for this monumental triumph of mediocrity: an urgency data stream, like action itself, can have both an active and a passive component. A fair analogy might be that of two horses pulling in opposition to each other. The result will be a single, weak and indistinct force in the direction of the stronger horse.
In the normal personality, the conflict of these two vectors – active and passive urgency – will inevitably produce a generally weak and indistinct level of motivation that is hard to identify at all. “Normal people” have relatively low and indistinct levels motivation, to the extent that “being normal” is far from a desirable situation, and the reason for this is rooted in infancy.
the conflict of childhood and parenthood (in me)
I find it’s sometimes the simplicity of a concept that makes it difficult to grasp and, in some cases, it is also the evident simplicity that causes us to overlook its importance. This model proposes that:
- synthesis of the time-urgency data-stream lies at the core of the cognitive-neurological mechanism of motivation
- urgency (like action itself) can be either active or passive
- and it can be active or passive because animal life has two-stages: childhood and parenthood.
adult urgency: active
Both from an evolutionary and from a psychological point of view, the parent and the infant represent the most fundamental of relationships, and the most simple of psychic forces are at work. One short and very obvious sentence defines that relationship: the parent takes care of the infant.
infant urgency: passive
Let’s invert the sentence: the infant is taken care of by the parent. The meaning is unchanged. I’ve simply expressed the relationship from the infant’s perspective. The infant has a passive relationship with the parent. It is being taken care of. In the context of this relationship, the parent’s motivation is active where the infant’s is passive: it cries because it desires to be fed. The infant’s motivation references not its own action but that of the parent.
In the most important respects, the infant is effectively incapable of action. Its survival is dependent upon the actions of its parents. The infant’s urgency has a completely opposite vector to that of the parent. It is passive, self-directed: feed me, comfort me. This is entirely natural and healthy in the infant personality. The parent (active urgency) feeding, comforting, takes care of the infant (passive urgency).
On attaining adulthood, however, there’s no flipping of a switch to convert all that passive urgency into the active urgency of parenthood. The passive component generally diminishes as we grow up but, in the normal personality, there’s always a good measure of both.
In the weak adult personality, passive urgency can remain much stronger than active. There has been much discussion recently about violence breeding violence but it is much less misleading to say that weakness breeds weakness, and that violence is only one of many forms of weakness. There is a world of difference between a loving parent who (rightly or wrongly) makes a judgment and eventually resorts to a smack to end a tantrum and a parent who unthinkingly uses violence against his own child out of his own anger or frustration.
The weak parent is often passively motivated: he will use violence against his child not because he (rightly or wrongly – I have to keep saying that!) genuinely believes that, in this instance, the child will benefit from physical discipline but simply because the child has annoyed him. (I’ll come back to this). What he wants to change is not the child’s behaviour for the child’s benefit but the impact of the child’s behaviour on him. Basically, this parent is still a child, himself.
By placing his own needs above the needs of his child, the weak parent has reversed the psychologically-fundamental relationship between parent and child, depriving the child, at least for that moment, of the security and care upon which it relies and, in this way, he passes some of his weakness to the next generation.
Healthy and unhealthy passive motivation
Apologies for labouring the point but the infant motivational vector is entirely opposite to that of the (healthy) adult. The infant’s “reality” is entirely internal, populated by “person” complexes, representative of the infant’s entirely subjective view of the actual world. The infant’s understanding of the complex it knows as its parent is in terms only of how and to what extent that “person” serves the needs of the infant, how that “person” impacts upon the life of the infant. Beyond that, the “person” it knows as its parent has no existence and no value. This is healthy. It’s simply how early infantile motivation works.
We start out in life weak, entirely dependent, needing, wanting, utterly self-oriented, utterly selfish and completely passive in motivation. As we grow, we grow stronger. We grow towards becoming the parent. We learn very quickly to reciprocate affection but later we learn to care for and care about people and things external to ourselves, external to our own needs and desires. We learn to give, not just to take. The mature adult motivational vector is active in orientation. It references its own action to serve needs outside of its own.
Now, it might be noted that the psychopathic personality has some parallels with the infant personality. All he thinks about is how he is being treated, what he wants, what he needs. He hasn’t, at any point, learnt to care for anyone except himself. He has absolutely no compassion for anything other than himself. Like an infant, his first recourse is to manipulation; he feels instinctively that he is entitled to be treated well. If the hypothesis is valid, however, these similarities are not accidental. If it is valid, the infant and the psychopath have in common a very special kind of immaturity: immaturity of the cognitive-neurological mechanism of motivation (Freud used to call it the libido).
The urgency of the psychopath is almost identical to that of the infant; it is almost 100% internalized, almost completely passive in orientation, referencing, always, the action of others. He may appear mature in his manners and show no obvious sign of his dangerously immature motivation but he has merely learnt to act like an adult even, perhaps, to the extent of showing apparent compassion and empathy (which he has observed in others) but, in reality, his entire motivation and outlook is totally passive, necessarily manipulative, requiring, infant-like, the action of another party, self-oriented, unchanged from the earliest days of his life when he naturally expected to be cared for and treated well by his parents. He has, I submit, a sense of entitlement because his urgency, his motivation is identical to that of an infant… overwhelmingly passive.
What I am about to set out is a psychological construct that might, I believe, have been discovered many years ago but for an unresolved argument between three of the founders of modern psychology: Jung, Adler and Freud. The disagreement was on the most fundamental question facing them. It caused a divergence in the course of the science that is reflected in three irreconcilable “schools of thought” to this day, and followed by an inevitable marginalization of the whole field of psychodynamic theory in favour of behavioural then cognitive theory (in the static-data form that matched the primitive technological understanding of the day).
All three concurred upon the existence of the continual (in consciousness) data-stream that they called “the libido” but they could not remotely agree upon its nature, its effect or its mechanics. Tragically, ironically, they split up precisely because of their common fascination with the question of motivation. Had they considered, in this context, the psychologically-absolutely-fundamental relationship between the parent and the infant, or had each only seriously considered the possibility that the other was correct, I believe they would have found that all three arguments were sound, each addressing a different aspect of the mechanics of motivation.
Bearing in mind that the processing of time is central to the mechanism of motivation, there’s one further concept we need to consider before we can see how the pieces fit: cause/goal orientation. In our studies of behaviour, we naturally assume that we share certain fundamental needs, and much experiment is premised upon that assumption. When we observe an action and try to understand the motivation underlying that action, we frequently assume the goal-oriented behaviour of the satisfaction of needs. While that may seem almost unavoidable, the crucial fact is that it is not always true in a cognitive sense i.e. it is not true that the brain necessarily initiates all action for the purpose of achieving a goal. It might be how you “think” but it’s not necessarily how your brain thinks!
Let’s go back to the evolution of the mechanism. The time-data-stream-enabled prey registers a fast-moving object closing in on an attack vector. The urgency of flight can be programmatically interpreted in two entirely opposite ways. We can write some code to input, into the cognitive-locomotive circuit, the quantified imperative to get your arse in gear with two completely different instructions:
1) goal-oriented: with some urgency, take us TO elsewhere (TO a place of safety)
2) cause-oriented, with some urgency, take us away FROM here (FROM a place of danger)
The first option, requiring an object in mind, i.e. a place of safety, might be expected to be less common than the second, although they should both come to about the same thing in terms of survival outcomes. It also seems reasonable to propose that, once chosen (and there may not have been a lot of time to make the decision – lol), the preferred option (assuming the survival outcomes are, in fact, about equal) will persist throughout the generations.
The first option has the future-oriented GOAL of attaining a place of safety whereas the second, and more common in our species, has the past-oriented CAUSE of removing the prey from the locus of danger. The time urgency data stream vector of these two probably-otherwise-identical creatures is therefore entirely opposite so, in defiance of Occam’s razor, we have added a seemingly-unnecessary extra layer of complexity to our model but we are dealing with the real world here and it is what it is :-) (I’ll actually get to the explanation later but, at this point, I need to stick with the central concepts of the model).
What this tells us is that action, as far as the brain is concerned, can equally be cause or goal-oriented. The mother who gets up in the middle of the night to comfort a child is not necessarily motivated by the desire to put a stop to the noise. Her (identity-based) instincts as a mother are to respond to the needs of the child. She is already out of bed before she has had a chance to consider what she might wish to achieve. The hunger striker who risks his life for a cause rarely has a particular goal in mind. His commitment (past-orientation) to the cause is often central to his motivation. It might be argued that the goal of the hunger striker is to embarrass authority or to draw attention to a perceived injustice, and this is a useful possibility to offer, provided we are content to settle for speculation. When we put a name to the hunger striker and trace the history, we may discover a reality, events in the individual’s past, that lead us entirely away from goal orientation and towards a clearer understanding of the factors underlying radicalization: when compassion is aroused beyond a certain threshold, the effect on motivation can be lifelong.
Cause-oriented behaviour is perhaps less obvious and less common (in Western society although the opposite should be the case) than goal-oriented behaviour but there’s a reason for that (I’ll get to it), and we close and bolt the door on a clear understanding of motivation when we fail to recognize its existence.
The Altruism-Psychopathy Spectrum
Much research over the past fifty years has been premised on the assumption of the universality of self-gratifying motives. Altruism has variously been addressed as a curiosity or attributed to underlying self-gratifying motives, but one psychologist who recognised a relationship between altruism and the healthy personality was Abraham Maslow. His attention was drawn by individuals who excelled in their fields: Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt. He found that they had certain qualities rarely found in the normal personality: they were “reality-centered” rather than self-centred. Crucially, their focus was primarily upon issues outside of their own needs and desires. Their awareness was somehow an external affair, unfiltered and pertaining to the “actual” world as opposed to the iternalized, filtered so-called “reality” of the normal personality. He described these unusual individuals as “self-actualizing,” and he identified the possibility of two separate studies: the unhealthy personality and the healthy personality.
The Hare checklist effectively provides a score above which an individual may be safely identified as being “a psychopath.” The obvious inference, however, is that there are degrees of psychopathy. We draw a line between the psychopathic and non-psychopathic personality but it’s a misleading, counter-productive distinction. The natural assumption has been that the psychopath is, in some way, a “damaged” personality, but the key to understanding the psychopath lies in a radical understanding of the cognitive/neurological processes governing action.
Psychopathy is necessarily a moral construct. Like the infant, the psychopath is utterly self-centred. Where the psychopath is completely preoccupied by his own needs and desires, and where his motivational focus is upon manipulation, wholly passive, self-directed, infant-like, i.e. referencing the actions of others to serve his own needs, the motivation of Maslow’s “self-actualizing” individuals is active, referencing their own actions to serve the needs of others. It is their commitment to the welfare of others that differentiates them. Their urgency, parent-like, is the urgency of the needs of others. Maslow hypothesized that the instinct to grow towards self-actualization lies within us all but, for most of us, the term itself lacks meaning. We can now reframe it.
TREATMENT OF THE CULTURE RATHER THAN THE INDIVIDUAL
Probably the most significant shift in focus that this model proposes is treatment of the culture rather than the individual. Psychologists are in the business, mostly, of treating the neuroses of individuals when in some cases the reality, possibly even for the most part, is that it’s the culture itself that is sick; we are only treating the symptoms. The central proposition of this model is the conflict of active and passive urgency but the model also alleges a psychopathy-altruism spectrum. If the model is valid, the normal personality lies between the extremes of the saint and the psychopath but it is the culture in which we’re immersed that dictates where on that spectrum we should expect to find ourselves. (I have to keep saying this but) if the model is valid, the single most important reason for character weakness and immaturity is capitalism and the single most important reason for capitalism is character weakness and immaturity.
There are six months in everyone’s life when it’s healthy to be a psychopath.
This is one of the inferences that can be drawn, given validation of this hypothesized model of the fundamental mechanism of motivation. We were, according to this hypothesis, all born as psychopaths and remained so for the first six months of life. After that, we, 99% of us, have moved on. Before we are one year old, having been shown a measure of kindness and compassion, we have begun to imitate the example of our parents and we have begun to move away from the utter selfishness which every infant enjoys as a matter of entitlement.
This paper proposes an avenue of research addressing the abnormal urgency vector that is characteristic of both the infant personality and the psychopathic personality.
My mum’s two sisters, Edie and Peggy, both died in their late teens. The family had gone down the coast for a holiday and, as it turned out, they were staying in a guest house in which the owner’s husband had just recently died with tuberculosis, a disease with a very poor prognosis at that time. The two girls were sleeping in a bed which, only a couple of weeks previously, had been occupied by a man who was dying with TB. It probably helped finish off my grandfather too – he died of a heart attack not long after so, within quite a short period, my grandmother lost her two eldest daughters and her husband, and I don’t imagine that the person responsible had any idea that she’d done anything she perhaps shouldn’t have. Choices.
In those days, the main department store in Glasgow was Lewis’s in Argyll Street and Edie and Peggy both worked there after leaving school. Edie had got herself a job selling chemistry sets. Chemistry was her favourite subject at school so she didn’t have to fake enthusiasm. She could demonstrate stuff and discuss the fun kids can apparently have with a chemistry set in a way that basically sold lots of chemistry sets. At nineteen, she was also a very attractive young woman with long dark red hair and with what people said was a sort of a film-star quality about her, and it wasn’t long before she caught the attention of the boss of Lewis’s. He discovered that she could take shorthand and he was looking for a new PA so she got the job. Peggy and Edie were like chalk and cheese – both highly intelligent and attractive but in entirely different ways. Peggy was a couple of years younger. She had freckles – she took a really deep tan in sunlight – she had a husky voice and she had green eyes – not greenish, *green* eyes. There was one delivery boy whom she swore she would punch if he did that thing of just standing with his jaw open, staring at her in awe one more time. One day, when Peggy was working on the shop floor, one of the staff came up to her and said with alarm, “the boss’s PA wants to see you!” Peggy said, “oh, it’s OK – it’s my sister.” Her friends couldn’t take it in – “you’re not saying that stuck-up bitch is your sister?”
Anyway, I’m telling this story for a couple of reasons. I’m not remotely religious and my own favourite subject is physics – I tend to think everything is physical (maybe even including what some people call God) – but I don’t really like to see people rubbish someone’s religion just because they’ve learnt a teaspoonful of science. One of the most valuable things you can learn in science, in any discipline, is not what you have been taught, but how to be conscious, really aware of what you don’t know, (especially if that includes what you’ve been taught).
When Edie was dying, one of the neighbours came to see her and made some comment as to how brave she was. By all accounts, Edie seemed to go about the business of dying without any sign of apprehension or even disappointment – very calmly, good-naturedly – gracefully, people said. Instead of having the attitude of “why me?” her attitude was “why not me?” Her answer to the neighbour was, “I just think maybe there’s sometimes a reason for things that we don’t know” or something along these lines. This neighbour, however, was a devout atheist so she couldn’t really let that go without saying she didn’t believe in God – not a particularly smart thing to say to a terminally ill 19-year-old girl but she said it and Edie asked her why she was so sure. The neighbour answered that her common sense told her that there’s no such thing as God. Edie’s reply was, “I think I can understand that. But do you really believe that there’s nothing greater than your common sense?”
I thought it fair comment but the main reason that I wanted to mention my mum’s two sisters was the fact that their deaths were not accidental. They were avoidable deaths. Even in those days, especially in those days, it was common knowledge that TB was highly infectious. Edie’s biggest anxiety was that someone might catch it from her. Her bedroom windows were fully open and she sought categorical assurances from her doctor that there was zero risk of passing it on. It’s pretty much inconceivable that the woman who owned the guest house was unaware of the danger. She knew that that bed should never have been let out but she made a choice – she took the risk. We make choices all the time and I think most of us, even faced with absolute financial ruin, would draw the line at risking the lives of someone’s children in order to bring in some money. So, when I touch on “morality” here, I’m just talking about choices. I’m not talking about some sort of nauseous, hypocrisy-ridden, pious, holier-than-thou, be-a-better-person pretension to “goodness.” I’m talking about the real world in which actions have consequences and I think I have something to say on the subject that could never have been said before, by anyone. Unless my life has been a complete waste of time and space, science is about to team up with what some people call God and, at the end of the day, I don’t suppose it will really matter which one you believe in.
Written by jimmypowdrellcampbell
December 1, 2008 at 10:33 pm
Tagged with adler, altruism, antisocial behaviour, Antisocial Personality Disorder, axiology, ethics, evolution of morality, evolutionary ethics, freud, Gaza, hedonism, israel, jung, libido, libido theory, Maslow, meta-ethics, Military-Industrial Complex, moral philosophy, moral psychology, moral universalism, morality, morals, motivation, narcissism, narcissistic personality disorder, Palestine, personality types, philanthropy, philosophy, philosophy of mind, psychodynamic theory, Psychology, psychopath, psychopath definition, psychopathic personality disorder, psychopathy, sociopath, strength, universal morality, USA, value theory, weakness
This (with edits) is the original paper discussing the “mechanics of strength and weakness.” At one point, I imagined that this model stood on its own, absolutely begging to be tested and requiring no further explanation, but I had underestimated the depth and extent of antipathy to psychodynamic theory that’s rife amongst otherwise intelligent and reasonable academics. One thing at a time!
The conflict of active and passive urgency in the normal personality and the relationship of that conflict to root/branch intellectual type and past/future motivational orientation.
Let me start with what may seem to be a wild assertion. There is absolutely nothing clinically wrong with the mind of the psychopath; he is purely a statistical phenomenon. In the simplest and, perhaps, most accurate terms, he’s just a self-oriented person, in the extreme. The psychopath is understood primarily in terms of a combination of various typical characteristics – lack of empathy, lack of remorse, manipulative behaviour etc.. In other words, he is effectively known to us and understood mainly by and in terms of his behaviour.
If this model is valid, the psychopath’s motivation is unlike that of the normal personality, the defining attribute of the psychopathic personality being the relative absence of a feature which I hope to show to be of the essence of the motivation of the normal personality: urgency conflict. It is further proposed that this absence of urgency conflict is characteristic of the urgency vector of the normal infant.
As a foreword, I have to say 1) that I’m expressing the concepts to the best of my ability, 2) but I also realize that maybe that’s just not good enough, in which case, please don’t hesitate to get in touch and give me a chance to try to put it another way.
The concept of a stream of consciousness or a flow of “psychic energy” has been discussed not only since the dawn of psychology but for as long as we have records of human thought. Early Buddhist writings bear testimony to the persistence of the belief and I think it’s facile to dismiss as delusional the Zen-based martial arts such as Aikido and Shotokai Karate that still hold as central to their discipline the awareness and control of negative and positive ki or chi.
A “libido” conflict was asserted by Freud who spoke in terms of the life and death instincts. An entirely different concept of a bi-directional “libido” was introduced by Jung in his theory of extraversion and introversion. In spite of a period of collaboration, neither succeeded in coming to an understanding of the mechanism. They argued from thoroughly polarized positions on the subject but neither appear to have seriously considered the possibility that the other could be correct and, incidentally, that Adler, who presented yet another perspective on the significance of the libido, could also be following thoroughly sound reasoning.
The conflict of active and passive urgency is, I hope to demonstrate, not only characteristic of the normal personality, it is the most fundamental dynamic mechanism of the psyche – the mechanics of strength and weakness. If the model is valid, compassion is not a mere attribute of personality, it is the essence of life itself.
Before getting back to the data-stream model, let’s look very briefly at the early psychodynamic models that so many have casually thrown out as unscientific speculation.
Jung’s extraversion (an upward and outward flow) and introversion (a downward and inward flow), and Freud’s altogether different bi-directional “libido” (life instinct and death instinct) both relate to an imagined flow of what they called psychic energy but the Freudian and Jungian theories of libido are utterly incompatible:
- The Jungian theory of libido gives us two personality types, extravert and introvert – neither one any “better” than the other, just different: one tending to be more outgoing, the other more reserved.
- Freudian libido theory confronts us with a much more serious proposition: a positive and a negative flow of energy – life-instincts and death-instincts – one desirous of giving life and the other of taking it away, one building and the other destroying.
If the attributes of Jung’s extraversion/introversion libido are valid, clearly, one might think, those of Freud’s life/death instinct must be wrong and vice versa. They might both be wrong but they cannot possibly both be right, or at least, so logic would seem to dictate. Paradoxically, however, both can be shown, in practice, to have utility, provided they are considered independently – both valid and yet their validity is mutually exclusive? This is a riddle that has been swept under the carpet almost since the dawn of Psychology and the key to the riddle is time.
Jung’s libido theory is probably one of the most familiar psychological concepts to the general public and yet it’s hard to find a psychologist who knows anything at all about its origins. On what did Jung base his theory? He goes to great lengths to explain it and to set out the wealth of historical testimony for the concept (in stark contrast to the quick name-check I just gave to Buddhist philosophy – lol) but very few psychologists have the foggiest idea as to what gave rise to the idea in his mind. If you get nothing else from this, at least I can answer that question. Coincidentally, I came to study this after an observation remarkably similar to that which had led Jung into the territory: I had realized, instinctively, in the midst of an argument, that the other fellow was (erroneously) forming the same opinion about my intellectual shortcomings as I was (possibly erroneously) about his. It was almost as if we were not speaking the same language – two diametrically opposed ways of approaching the same issue.
We were discussing the violence in Belfast at a time when it was at its worst – two ignorant Protestants putting the world to rights. Neither had any real understanding of the history, the context or realities of life in the North but that in no way deterred us from having a heated argument about which side was ultimately to blame. At one point, however, I caught a look which made me realize that he thought he was talking to a complete fool. The irony astonished me!
His argument centred on the imagined ambitions of the Catholic minority: given the opportunity, they would do everything in their power to disempower and drive out and the Protestant majority. For my part, I found it hard to get past the history and the injustice, the outdated laws disfavouring, disenfranchising and oppressing the Catholic minority, the treatment of the Catholics in the North of Ireland as second-class citizens. Instinctively rejecting the colonialist mentality, I saw Catholic resistance as a natural consequence of the cruelty and injustice of British rule.
At this point, I have to invite you to think out of the box. I’m listening to this bigot adduce fact after fact to prove the anti-Protestant intent of the Catholic minority and then I catch a look which tells me that he thinks he’s talking to an idiot. He thinks not simply that I am wrong, ill-informed, that my opinions are worthless but that I don’t have what it takes to follow his argument. The argument itself was a waste of time but it took on new life with this.
What, at essence, we were discussing was the motivation behind recent terrorist attacks. My argument in favour of the IRA’s armed struggle had no emotional basis. I had no sentimental ties to either side. My loyalty to the UK as a UK citizen, however, had not obliterated my intelligence. It had not diminished my facility to understand the motivation of people who opposed British dominion in their country just as violently as we, the British, would surely oppose their dominion here.
Perhaps I had been misinformed but my understanding was that the British had as a matter of policy deliberately seeded the population of the North with pro-British, anti-Catholic settlers and that the consequences of that level of social macro-engineering and exploitation of the human capacity for bigotry had wholly-predictable consequences.
What was fascinating, however, and insisting upon the more urgent right to my adrenalin was not the argument itself but the consistency with which I had presented a past-related explanation for the behaviour of the IRA and the consistency with which the other guy would present a future-related explanation of their motivation: what they wanted to achieve, their aim to disempower. And that was what, in his mind, I was failing to understand. Each time that he put forward his reasonable argument regarding the aims and ambitions of the Catholic minority, I had failed to address it in the terms in which it was presented. He mistakenly believed I wasn’t understanding what he had to say. I, however, had been doing exactly the same thing, presenting historical fact and context as if that alone was the only relevant rationale. In my mind, of course, it is exactly that. The suffering inflicted upon the Irish by the British goes back for centuries but we only needed to look back a few years, a few months, or a few weeks and we could find just cause for armed resistance. Look back! Look at the context, look at the history. For me and, I believe, for the majority of people, the explanation for all motivation instinctively lies in the past and we make the mistake of naturally assuming that everyone thinks in the same way. Buddha himself made the same mistake.
This was not a five-minute argument and yet the consistency was 100%. What I realized was that this was not merely an argument from polarised positions on the armed struggle, this was an argument between two completely different types of intellect. What it came down to was this: every event, every action and, more importantly, every motivation is, for me, explicable in terms of its origin, its cause. Why do I behave as I do? Why do I have this personality? Because, (I think) to a great extent, my upbringing, my past dictates my behaviour. Why did the Catholic resistance wish to fight the Protestant majority? Because of the treatment of their people at the hands of the Protestant majority. There is, as they say, a lot of history in Ireland. This cause-oriented view, that the past explains all, is always valid for me but it makes absolutely no sense to someone – let’s say 10% of the population – for whom the aim or goal of every event and every action is what is plain to see, and is all that really matters. Bear in mind that we’re discussing real life here, as opposed to an academic framework purporting to explain behaviour and motivation in terms of cognition.
It was many years later that I discovered that Jung, as a third party, had been witness to exactly the same communication phenomenon: Freud who could see only the cause and Adler who could see only the goal. In the introduction to only one of the editions of his “Psychological Types” that I’ve seen does Jung come clean and explain that the origin of his theory of extraversion and introversion was his observation of that self-same communication problem between Adler and Freud, and his recognition, in the first instance, of the possible existence of an intellectual typology in terms simply of past or future intellectual orientation.
This, therefore, was Jung’s starting point and it was also mine, and as you can probably work out from the context, my own efforts to understand this began decades ago. Jung, however, was soon to abandon his initial idea of an intellectual typology – (I’ll come back to this) – and, in its place, he postulated his well-known libido typology. It just never occurred to me to do that. I think that’s the most honest answer.
Intellectual Orientation: Root Intellect and Branch Intellect
The premised past-oriented intellect (evidenced by let’s say 90% of the population) is typified by the tendency and aptitude to get to the root of the issue. Especially where the generalities of personality, motivation and behaviour are under discussion, the healthy past-oriented individual will always focus upon cause. He will instinctively make the assumption that behaviour is explained by events in the past. (The heated discussion that I mentioned earlier illustrates the great difficulty of overcoming that instinctive tendency). Where there is a need to understand, it is in terms of the radical. It has been suggested that this is a difficult concept to establish experimentally but, in truth, it is as simple as that. The intellectual orientation can be established by testing for this alone: does the mind tend to the radical; does it focus upon the root of the issue; is the aptitude root and cause related? If it is, then it is a past-oriented intellect – a root intellect. It follows also that, for the root intellect, a high score for root/cause aptitude should be accompanied by a negative score for branch/goal aptitude.
I am relying upon memory here but I believe, as an example, I can best cite the actual discussion which caught Jung’s attention. Freud (root intellect) and Adler (branch intellect) were discussing a particular case, a married woman whose hysteria, according to Freud, could be attributed only to an event or events in her past. Find the repressed memory and her hysteria could be cured. There was, Freud insisted, no other useful way of looking at the case. Adler conceded that her childhood may hold some secrets but he was equally adamant that, regardless of her past, she was in control of herself to a much greater degree than Freud seemed prepared to accept and that her behaviour was her way of gaining power over her husband. Her behaviour was not explained by something in her past but by understanding her aim, her goal – what she wished to achieve in the future. Both Freud and Adler were imposing their own intellectual type upon the woman. Freudian (root intellect) and Adlerian (branch intellect) psychologists are doing the same thing to this day. I make this observation not as a criticism but as a matter of plain fact to be kept in mind.
I say “intellectual type” as opposed to “psychological type” with, I believe, good reason. This is the very foundation of Jung’s theory of extraversion and introversion and, in spite of the empirical evidence of its validity, I hope to show that his hypothesis addresses only a part of the mechanism (as does Freud’s and as does Adler’s).
As I have said, Jung’s observations led him to postulate the existence, in the first instance, of an past/future intellectual typology. But there is, and there was, no need and no justification for taking the next step of looking to the libido for a reason for this differentiation. Jung, in trying to explain this evident intellectual typology, assumed that it had its foundation in the “libido” when, logically, the reverse was at least equally likely, i.e. that the so-called libido is the output of a cognitive-neurological process with its vector (extraversion or introversion) being determined initially by the intellect type.
The less common future-oriented intellect is typified by the tendency and aptitude to extrapolate and to deal with the goals, aims, consequences, and ramifications of the issue. These, therefore, are the two “types” upon which this model is founded. Literal extraversion and introversion does finally come into the whole picture but it is the existence of root/branch intellectual type (as opposed to Jung’s libido typology) which is the first premise that requires to be tested.
I think it can be seen that the Freudian psychologists provide the most obvious ready-made pool of past-oriented intellect and, likewise, the future-orientation of the Adlerians pervades all their work. Since the past or future-fixated view of motivation, in both cases, is generally derived – if you will permit the assumption – from their imposing of their own intellectual type, responses elicited from within these two groups should facilitate refinement of testing for intellectual type in a more diverse population. (I believe, also, that there are some parallels to be found in Guilford and Hoepfner’s work on Convergent and Divergent intelligence – “The Analysis of Intelligence,” New York, McGraw-Hill, 1971). Again, this is a work which documents the phenomena but fails to get to the core issue: past/future orientation. The parallels between the root intellect and the “convergent” intellect are obvious. Likewise, the development of the divergent intelligence is explained by future orientation i.e. the necessity of addressing the ramifications (the branches of probability) but the significance of their research is lost because the time-based intellectual type giving rise to the observed convergence or divergence, never having been offered, cannot be investigated.
|root intellect||source, cause, origin||to reduce to the fundamentals|
|future||branch Intellect||goals, aims, consequences||to extrapolate, to see ramifications|
The intellectual orientation or type is, I believe, immutable. Whatever the origins of this differentiation might be, rightly or wrongly, I am assuming that it has a biological basis, that if you are born with a branch-intellect mind, you will enjoy the aptitudes of a branch-intellect mind for the rest of your life. Consider, now, the concept of motivation. The idea that we are not necessarily conscious of our reasons for doing what we do does not appeal to some but there can be no serious dispute as to its validity; and motivation can be seen to have anything but a fixed orientation.
On the subject of motivation, I had, at one time, in the back of my mind, some nebulous but useful thoughts about the association of dualities and opposites and, in particular, the idea of positive & negative psychic energy (I was about twenty years old and had been reading about Zen). I became focused upon the concept of positive & negative motivation. (By negative motivation I meant generally destructive motivation). The unconscious associations I had in mind were such as day & night, awake & asleep, creation & destruction, giving & taking, life & death etc. Accepting that association is a fundamental mechanism of the intellect, all of these seemed to me to have a bearing upon and to be in some form of perpetual relationship to motivation.
In this model, the concept of positive and negative motivation is, therefore, dependent upon the validity of at least some of these associations and upon the validity of certain moral value judgements. If, for example, an individual were to avail himself of the opportunity to profit by the sale of heroine to some school children, I would consider him to have been negatively motivated. Psychology has created a generation of victims; the heroine dealer is, according to some, a victim of his upbringing, his deprived social background or whatever, but, to the “man in the street,” this drug dealer is nothing more or less than a “selfish, evil bastard.” If this model is valid, the man in the street has been right, all along. His value judgements may not always be justified but, in this case, he is correct in recognizing that this drug dealer is “different” in some fundamental way; that his selfishness has gone beyond the bounds not only of acceptable behaviour in the neighbourhood but beyond the bounds of some sort of universal morality.
The whole area of morality is, of course, a minefield. There are so many layers of conflicting morality within every society, it might seem impossible that there can be any absolutes. Survival, however, is the key to understanding all morality. Survival of any community depends upon certain codes of behaviour, unique to that community and completely alien to some others. It is survival of the nation which dictates the unique moral code which applies during wartime. (The morality of war itself, in the 21st century, is another issue entirely).
If you compare the moral code in some of the “rougher” areas in Glasgow with the more gentile so-called middle-class areas, there is a world of difference. In some of the city’s council housing schemes, a young man has a choice: he learns to fight, and well, or he goes under. Survival almost literally depends upon having the ability to look after yourself. We then find individuals who have never been exposed to that ethos making self-righteous judgments about the morality of kids from the schemes, the schemes that we created. We create the culture and then we complain that its consequences are not to our liking. I’m going to come back to this too but, at this point, I have to add that I’m not proposing that the explanation for violent behaviour absolves an individual of responsibility for his own actions, only that our share of that responsibility is something that should always be taken into account especially when we pass judgment on people whose morality may in fact, in the most important respects, be superior to our own.
Morality is an issue that needs to be handled with care. There is, of course, honour and dishonour in the animal kingdom and the relative simplicity of some relationships sometimes facilitates an understanding of moral issues which may have some parallels in our own jungle. The leopard, for example, often uses the signal of raising its tail to convey to its potential prey that they are, for the moment, in no danger. The herd will carry on grazing as the leopard passes within striking distance because they instinctively recognize the signal and can be confident that, having raised its tail, the leopard intends, for the moment, to pass by. The need for the predator to go about her business – to tend to her young without chasing off tomorrow’s dinner – has evolved a relationship based upon trust and honour. Survival depends upon adherence to the code.
Morality is always clearest when the link to survival is most obvious. The drug dealer, unchecked, threatens the survival of a few schoolchildren. We, however, prize the survival of all children – at least those within the compass of our individual realities – and the immorality of the heroine dealer is, therefore, put beyond question. The laws of morality are far from being universal but, given a defined community, it is possible to identify certain codes of behaviour upon which the survival of that community will depend and to anticipate, therefore, that which will be generally acceptable as being right or wrong, positive or negative.
It is simply, and importantly, a matter of degree. There is the extreme negative motivation of the sociopath and there is the much-more-common marginal negative motivation which is something which we, all of us, give free reign to every day but who cares?
As a youth, one of my most frequent errors, arising out of post-adolescent lack of self-esteem, was to try, in conversation, to improve the other party’s opinion of me. I’d never stoop to bragging – lol – but I might sometimes impress subtly with a story
Incidentally, this may actually be a useful wee example for the folk who have bought into the illusion that motivation is a conscious process.
In this case, for me to become conscious of what had previously been unconscious was a fairly simple matter of being honest with myself in answer to the question, “why the [expletive deleted] am I telling this person this story?” In other words, the story would have had a purpose – a goal – (N.B. future-oriented, in my case) arising out of my desire, arising out my sense of inferiority, to be thought on (passive) as being, in some way, worthy of respect.
This, however trivial it may seem, is an example of the kind of thing I termed negative motivation. (At the time, I only came to realize it was pathetic behaviour – I think I still do it sometimes – some days I wake up and I’m only ten years old – lol)! My main concern, at that moment, was how the world is treating me – what the world thinks of me. Unfortunately, such is our capacity for self-deception, that some erudite professionals will argue that there was nothing negative in my attempts to impress. Can’t be helped. I only mean to stress the importance of the varying degrees of negative motivation. Everything we do has its motivation and no-one is permanently positively motivated.
|Active and Passive Motivation|
The concept of positive and negative motivation has a pivotal relationship to that of root/branch intellectual orientation but there is still a component missing from the machine: the twofold nature of action. Is my motivation, at this moment, active… or could it possibly be passive? Do I, at this moment, really just want nice things to happen to me?
“Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” Each of us gives expression to our immaturity in different ways but there is one single underlying factor. As a child, our relationship to the world is almost exclusively passive. The infant is concerned not with what it is doing in the world but with what the world is doing to or for it. When it cries, it gets the attention it needs but even where it is (foolishly) allowed to manipulate the adults around it, its relationship with those adults is still passive. It is completely and exclusively preoccupied with its own desires and that selfishness is the essence of its immaturity. It is perfectly healthy and natural for the child to exist at the centre of its world because its survival is dependent upon those around it but, thirty years later, that same degree of selfishness would be judged very unhealthy (possibly using the Hare checklist for psychopathic tendencies).
The most fundamental element of growing up is, I submit, not the acquisition of power or knowledge but the transition from that passive relationship with the world, the community and the family, to the active relationship which is natural to the (healthy) adult.
There coexists, in the normal personality, a bit of both the active and the passive but they are not just attributes or qualities which merely contribute “something” to the overall personality. Motivation – urgency – could, theoretically, be 100% active or 100% passive but, in the real world, we – ALL of us – sustain a percentage of passive urgency. What’s going to happen to me? – what will I get out of this? Active and passive urgency is therefore in perpetual conflict. It is, however, an enfeebling, mathematical, vector conflict in which one vector will generally secure a marginal prevalence, ensuring that, for the normal personality, the immense motivational potential of the individual is never remotely reached.
Incidentally, if you’re not into physics, I should have said that the importance of a vector conflict is simply that the effect of the two opposing forces is to subtract one from the other. If you imagine a cart being pulled in two opposite directions by two horses, one only marginally stronger than the other. Even a fairly weedy wee guy could easily tip the balance to get the cart moving in the other direction. The two strong forces cancel each other out. This is the reality of all vector conflicts. The level of motivation that’s left is what we’re stuck with. When you think about it, it’s not ideal if the two are an exact match in strength: you get zero motivation. That’s just the theory but I don’t think it’s too far removed from the reality either. Personally, I’m not sure that I’ve been there, but I’ve been close.
The conflict of active and passive urgency in the normal personality and the relationship of that conflict to root/branch intellectual type and past/future motivational orientation.
As I have said, Jung recounts that he became aware of an apparent fundamental intellectual difference between Freud and Adler: Freud’s analysis, interpretation and understanding being persistently in terms of cause and origin and Adler’s, equally persistently, being in terms of aims and results (Psychological Types, Vol. VI in the Collected Works – edition forgotten but, if any Jung experts out there can help, please get in touch. It would be good to be able to say which edition had the whole story).
Jung went on to hypothesize “object fixation” as an explanation for Freud’s apparent preoccupation with causes and origins. Assuming a direct relationship between the motivational orientation and the intellectual orientation, he dismissed the possibility of Freud’s evident intellectual past-orientation being, in itself, fundamental. By proceeding to question what lay behind the phenomenon, and then identifying the individual’s “placing of emphasis” upon either subject or object, he moved, I believe, from the principle to the derivative.
What I am suggesting, firstly, is that, in this instance, experiment should proceed from Jung’s observations, not his conclusions. Freud’s intellect (and intellectual aptitude) was, I premise, fundamentally past-oriented (which I have termed root-intellect) while Adler was, equally unmistakably, future-oriented (branch-intellect).
Before proceeding, I think, on a basic point of logic, it’s worth noting that Jung’s “subject/object” concept of introvert and extravert differentiation related to perception rather than to action, i.e. in Jung’s model, the subject is aware of the object and attributes a certain relative value or importance to it. But the concept of extraversion is, of course, meaningless without reference to the libido, and the concept of the libido assumes that the relationship between subject and object is not inert. If the libido is object-directed, it is not a matter of mere awareness. Perception, in this context, is, I believe, relevant to the psyche only in as much as it is prerequisite to action. It is the urgency of action that is the business of the libido, the (Freudian) “root-intellect” mind requiring, at the most fundamental level, to conceptualize action in terms of cause, the (Adlerian) “branch-intellect” mind, in terms of its result or goal. The apparent importance which these two types attach to either subject or object is, if that is the case, a consequence of the two interpretations of that which is the principal concern of the psyche: the potential actions and events which either actively or passively relate subject and object. That is to say, Jung’s observed fundamental intellectual orientation is, in fact, the reason for the extravert/introvert differentiation which he subsequently hypothesized to explain it.
If the premise is accepted, the “personality type” is determined not by establishing the subject’s social tendencies but by firstly examining the subject’s intellectual aptitudes: the less-common Adlerian branch-intellect mind will tend, always, to the consequences and the ramifications (the branches of possibility), whereas the mind which tends to delve to the roots, enquiring after cause, or attempting to resolve each issue to a radical understanding must be, regardless of any indications of apparent introversion (which I will come to later), that of the root-intellect type.
Communication, as Jung observed, between root-intellect and branch-intellect types is frequently a frustrating business, neither being aware of the need to express themselves in terms which, from the other’s perspective, appear central or pertinent to the issue.
I think this is probably too obvious to deserve mentioning but, for more sophisticated animals, “action” need not involve an observable physical event. When a web developer sits, relatively motionless, in front of a computer, it is an urgency level which maintains the concentration and intellectual stamina required, firstly, to go over the logic and then to maintain the logic tree in memory while coding the application (and then to fix what should have worked first time around)! A “sense” of urgency only arises when the urgency level is raised from the normal level, as in the code failing second time around!
The urgency conflict of the normal personality renders motivation levels relatively weak and indistinct and so, in developing this hypothesis of the urgency dynamics of the normal personality, it is helpful, firstly, to consider that of certain individuals – Maslow’s self-actualising personalities – whose level of motivation would place them at the far reaches of the normal distribution. (Forgive, for the moment, the apparently dogmatic assertions).
Because his intellect is past-oriented (origins, causes), the Freudian root-intellect type, in its healthiest (or most extreme) form, instinctively derives motivation from the past, shaping his actions according to a cause or principle and almost totally without reference to consequence. Nothing is more empowering to the root-intellect personality than the vow, – “Ich Dien”- the oath of service. Honour persists as a principle motivation in the root-intellect type’s (dynamic) motivational hierarchy and the (extremely rare) completely positive (which I will come to later) root-intellect type will obey its dictates even with the understanding that the outcome may yield several possibilities for disaster for himself. The apparent disregard for consequence which seems to accompany extraversion is not, I submit, a derivative but the very essence of the rare phenomenon of healthy extraversion.
Consequence is, for the extremely positive (root-intellect) extravert, merely an intellectual consideration and not a factor in the motivational mechanism. The healthy root-intellect’s self-perception is that of the originator of action and his urgency is, therefore, outwardly directed toward the object, extraverted. His unusually high level of urgency is referencing the needs of others. His well-defined self-image includes his own system of values, convictions and principles and he brings his sense of identity to every situation. At the core of this identity lies not a passive sense of belonging but an unqualified commitment to serve. His urgency is highly extraverted because he is intellectually past-oriented and almost exclusively (positively) past-motivated.
Where the healthy root-intellect has a sense of identity, the healthy branch-intellect, as Adler fully understood, has a sense of purpose. His personality is thus less obvious, less defined. His identity is inferred from his aims and purposes. His reputation of appearing to be more secretive or reserved is, to an extent, deserved but principally because his sense of purpose rather than identity is central to his existence. With the motivational hierarchy pertaining often to justice, the mind of the branch-intellect type, in its healthiest (or most extreme) form, has a clear aim in view. It looks to the future and understands action in terms of the intended result. As regards aptitude, there is frequently a marked tendency to be observant, to absorb, without effort, a proliferation of detail but there is, invariably, a distinct ability and tendency to extrapolate, to consider the purpose or consequences of an event – the ramifications. In this way, above all else, the branch-intellect can and, for reasons which I hope will become clear, should be identified. It is an intellect that, “by design,” is future-oriented and, out-of-the-box, it has the facility and the functionality to address the business of action in terms of consequence. The urgency of the healthy branch-intellect is highly-introverted, having its origins in the future, being derived from its purposes.
Incidentally – (I’ll indent this “aside” so that you can skip it completely) – one of the most famous branch intellects of the 20th century was British Premier, Margaret Thatcher. You will think I’m over-simplifying here but I feel that, for those who have made it this far and are still with me on this, it’s worth making the observation, albeit superficially. Thatcher’s outstanding aptitude for extrapolation was well-known in Government circles. She was also strongly (negative for a branch intellect) past-motivated: equally well-recognized for her sense of British identity, her sense of her own identity and her sense of her roots in the spirit of wartime England. In short, she was a strongly-past-motivated branch-intellect personality and, as such, her place in history was virtually guaranteed. For many, her lack of compassion was almost her trade mark. Amongst other widely-lamented monumental achievements, she was instrumental in shifting the culture of the UK (and, I would argue, the USA) further towards a general ethos of greed and self-interest from which we have yet to recover.
Thatcher was commonly described as a strong leader but it was her great weakness which defined her personality – weakness mistaken for strength – namely that she was stubborn, self-willed and headstrong. Her ability to push through ideological reforms was widely attributed to strength of character but, in reality, it was her motivational immaturity which differentiated her; it was her ruthless ambition and her lack of adult compassion which brought her the great respect of the men around her, men who were ambitious, perhaps, self-serving, perhaps, but not quite as ruthlessly ambitious as Thatcher herself.
The late Margaret Thatcher, “the Iron Lady,” is still regarded with great affection by most Conservatives. The left wing, if not New Labour, had a very different view of her qualities. Thatcher is a dirty word in most of Scotland. From the perspective of the miners, the steel workers, and most of the Scots nation, for that matter, Thatcher single-handedly brought misery and injustice into the homes of millions.
Her father, so we are told, had commanded a corner shop with good common-sense principles of economy. Mr Roberts’ self-reliance and prudent management, it seems, made a strong impression upon his ambitious daughter. The young Margaret Thatcher was also deeply moved and inspired by the spirit of British patriotism which had been so strong and universal in the wartime years. Under the leadership of Winston Churchill, the British people had come together and defied the might of Nazi Germany (the Americans helped, after a while). It must have been stirring stuff: Victory-in-Europe celebrations, endless stories of British heroism abroad, British stoicism throughout the Blitz. But then came the grey hardship of the fifties followed by the growth of the power of the unions in the sixties. Then came the unrest of the seventies: strikes, protest marches and civil disobedience, queues of unemployed expecting the state to provide for their needs. Was this what our boys fought for? Margaret Thatcher’s time had come. What we needed was a return to the Victorian values of self-reliance and free enterprise… and that’s what we got.
Margaret Thatcher’s politics were not as radical as some would have us believe. What differentiated Thatcher from many a Tory politician before her was her ability to carry it through, her determination to see through the programme of reform that, in her opinion, her country needed. She had the apparent “strength” of character to take on the unions and effectively destroy their power to hold the country to ransom. Not a bad thing, some might say. Lesser Tories might have balked at the hardship and the suffering that ensued but Thatcher was defiant and triumphant in the face of all opposition, a modern-day Boadicea.
To this day, Margaret Thatcher’s personality is widely considered to be a prime example of strong leadership and yet there is another way of looking at this imagined strength. At an earlier stage in her career, she was reportedly rejected as unsuitable for employment with ICI on the advice of the company psychologist. I’m told that his conclusion was that she suffered from three identifiable weaknesses of character, describing her as “stubborn, self-willed and headstrong.” In his opinion, these weaknesses were sufficient to bar her from employment with ICI. Unfortunately, he was not vetting her for the office of Prime Minister.
While freeing all constraints upon the greed of the wealthiest, Margaret Thatcher brought the thrift of the corner shop to the welfare state. The battle of will between the unions and the government ended in a crushing defeat for the left. The destruction of British industry, the steelworks, the shipyards and all labour-intensive manufacturing were collateral damage. The destruction of union power was what mattered.
Like him or loathe him, Ted Heath would never have had the conviction to achieve that degree of ruthless tenacity or any part of the catalogue of injustice that was the hallmark of Thatcher’s premiership, but here we come to the crux of the matter: Ted Heath’s apparent relative “weakness” in comparison to Thatcher’s drive and determination was an illusion. Whatever we may think of his politics, Heath was, by a long margin, the stronger personality of the two. There was simply a measure of morality at work there, in conflict with his ill-conceived right-wing ideology. There were lines which he would not cross. This was not weakness of character any more than Thatcher’s stubborn, ruthless determination to emasculate the unions at any cost was strength.
Returning to the model, the intellectual basis for the typology which, (I apologize for repeating myself … again), was the original basis for Jung’s enquiry, exposes a presumption which, I believe, has undermined a clear understanding of the mechanism of the motivation: the presumption being that the individual who scores high on extraversion is necessarily an extravert-type or, to put it another way, that the urgency of every root-intellect type is necessarily extraverted.
Jung recognized that “every individual possesses both mechanisms – extraversion as well as introversion,” but the presumption that the highly-extraverted libido is always indicative of the extravert-type destroyed entirely the potential of his original typology to place the relationship between morality, strength and maturity on a scientific footing. It was this (almost unavoidable) presumption that prevented Jung, Freud and Adler from being able to form a unified theory of libido which would have satisfied all sets of observations and perspectives.
Jung’s understanding was that “only the relative predominance of extraversion or introversion determines the type.” Introversion/extraversion, however, is not a trait; it is, of course, a mechanism with the synthesis of urgency as its core function. However unavoidable it may seem, it is not, I submit, appropriate to talk simply in terms of degrees of extraversion. The abnormal (super-healthy) extraversion and introversion scores of the previous examples do not represent the two extremes of a single scale. It is commitment, on the one hand, to a cause (the past-orientation of the healthy root-intellect), or, on the other, to a goal (the future-orientation of the healthy branch-intellect) which results in abnormally highly-extraverted or highly-introverted urgency. It may sound like a statement of the obvious but it is the degree of personal commitment to the cause or goal which is the determinant of the degree of extraversion/introversion, the outcome, in each case of complete personal commitment, being a single, unchallenged principle motivation: virtually unchallenged positive (active) urgency.
That degree of commitment is sufficiently rare as to lie outside of the experience of most psychologists (Maslow being the obvious exception) but it is only by understanding the mechanics of the completely-committed personality, be it the saintly figure or the freedom fighter, that we can understand the enfeebling conflicting nature of the urgency of the normal personality. At the other end of the scale, it might be said that the near-psychopathic personality, whether in the classic tabloid form of the serial killer or in the more common form of the corporate CEO, is completely committed to his own interests.
More “normal” individuals (and this is central to the concept) are, I submit, accustomed to or, rather, unconscious of a state of conflicting urgency (which was recognized by Freud in his life/death instincts theory of the libido), each branch-intellect type sustaining, continually, a proportion of the total urgency as negative urgency (semi-extraversion) and the reverse being the case for each root-intellect type. We see, in the normal personality, only the remainder of the sum of the conflict, a level of urgency which is so low as to be, if not negligible, at least indistinct.
I therefore dispute the validity of the widely-accepted extravert/introvert continuum and would propose the creation of a separate scale for measurement of apparent “extraversion tendencies” for each intellect type, in much the same manner as e.g. that of sexuality for each sex, my prediction (the reasons for which, I am about to set out) being a correlation of negative (passive) urgency with weakness and immaturity.
The model anticipates the extreme difficulty of properly investigating the motivation of the normal personality in a Western culture since the predicted near-equal conflict of active and passive urgency renders the urgency level– the effective level of motivation – weak, indistinct and obscure. I imagine the simplicity of this model also lends it a fanciful-seeming quality but the foundation of the model is the simplicity of the active/passive relationship between parent and child and, again, the simplicity of root/branch intellect differentiation.
For the healthy root intellect, urgency has its origins in the past. The radicalized root-intellect freedom fighter has no goal in mind; he is motivated by those experiences in his past which aroused his compassion and his contempt for the criminal regime whose actions aroused that compassion. (Recent research tends to refute theories of indoctrination being a predominant factor in the radicalisation process). The radicalized branch-intellect freedom fighter may be able to recount similar formative experiences. He is motivated, however, by a vision of his country governed not with brutality and corruption but with justice and compassion.
Future-related (introverted) motivation can only be in conflict with the adult root-intellect’s natural past-rooted and identity-based extraverted motivation. Motivation which relates to e.g. an aim, hope, goal or consequence is, for the past-oriented (root-intellect) extravert-type, always negative. In spite of all appearances to the individual, it is, in Freudian terms, a death wish. In the absence of any commitment to a cause, (perhaps having watched the 22-day Gaza massacre on TV or having become a parent – both are life-changing causes in my experience) it is vital for the root-intellect type to learn consciously to avoid goal-seeking and to cultivate the ability to live in and to “achieve” in the present.
This is immediately obvious from my own (root-intellect) motivation-fixated point of view but, to put it in Jungian terms, in the case of the future-motivated root-intellect, the energic relationship between subject and object is reversed. It’s passive in potential, rather than active. He or she is no longer the originator of action, but a potential recipient of what the future will bring. (The flow of time is unconsciously perceived by him to be downward and inward). The intention or rather the unconscious wish of the motivationally future-oriented root-intellect personality is that the object act upon the subject. The self, instead of being the giver, the originator, is passive, in anticipation of future pleasures or, on the other hand, imagined miseries but, in both cases, the subject’s desire is that the object (the world) be at least kind to him.
The predominantly passive relationship with the object, the condition of the common negatively-oriented personality, is something with which we are all familiar – “a man who is wrapped up in himself makes a very small package”. He tends to think the world revolves around him. He may tend to self-consciousness, seeking approval and popularity. Preoccupied with his own desires and fears, his primary concern is how the world treats him. He may score high on neuroticism but, more importantly, this unhealthy root-intellect type will consistently score high on introversion.
Thus, two personalities which are effectively opposite in the most important respects have customarily been classed together as belonging to one type: both the healthy branch-intellect and the unhealthy root-intellect being identified as introverts. The distinction is obviously crucial. The introverted urgency of the unhealthy root-intellect personality is passive in potential; the introverted urgency of the healthy branch-intellect personality is active in potential.
Altruistic motivation – an area almost completely neglected by modern psychology – is, I submit, a commonplace dynamic determinant of adult behaviour, marginally influenced by but effectively independent of basic needs and gratification drives.
Active and Passive Urgency for each Intellectual Type
|Intellectual Type||Active (Positive/Adult) Urgency||Passive (Negative/Infant) Urgency|
|Root Intellect (past intellectual orientation)||Extraversion (past-related motivation)||Introversion (future-related motivation)|
|Branch Intellect (future intellectual orientation)||Introversion (future-related motivation)||Extraversion (past-related motivation)|
I am, therefore, proposing a model in which the conflict of urgency can be best understood as a simple vector conflict, a form of cancellation (more akin in its effect to the principle, in physics, of reversed-polarity wave cancellation). The non-violent, mathematical nature of the conflict is, I think, not an unreasonable inference, given the lack of testimony as to its very existence. Broadly speaking, for any individual, in any given situation, the sum of conflicting urgency can be considered to be an urgency level, analogous to an energy level: on the positive side, the higher the level, the stronger the character (and drive) of the individual (i.e. the ability, in the case of the extravert, to act consistently in accordance with his principles etc. rather than in response to his passive motivation… related to e.g. fear, desire etc.), the greater the awareness, the clearer the judgement. Beyond the lowest levels (i.e. beyond the area of enfeebling maximum conflict), and in to the negative area where passive outweighs active urgency, the subject may be prey to his own fears and desires. His subjective interpretation of experience will mean that reality may be distorted and censored and, regardless of the level of intelligence, the judgement may be clouded and flawed.
the motivation of an infant in the body of an adult
The measurement of the degree of effective extraversion for each intellectual type must range, in theory at least, from complete introversion to complete extraverson. Should the passive component substantially outweigh the active, the resultant high passive-urgency level can easily be mistaken for strength. Certain motivationally-immature but powerful and charismatic individuals in history and in the worlds of business and politics readily spring to mind – sometimes referred to as the industrial psychopath. Any degree of morality, from the point of view of the near-psychopathic personality, is weakness. This is true not only in terms of his personal experience but mathematically. His “strength” derives from his commitment to his own interests, his lack of conscience, his lack of empathy, his lack of conflicting motivation. What he doesn’t understand is that his “strength” amounts to no more than a gross immaturity. The psychopath can be defined as an an adult who possesses the almost exclusively passive motivation of an infant. Regardless of any apparent emotional and intellectual maturity, we’re talking about a baby. The most fundamental and sovereign mechanism of the psyche, that which determines action, is still working in reverse; it’s still approaching 100% passive, 100% selfish. Devoid of empathy, devoid of responsibility, devoid of conscience, resorting to manipulation to get what it wants, it moves among normal people causing untold damage and suffering, but nothing matters except that it gets what it wants. We were all born as psychopaths but we, most of us, grew out of it while we were still too small to do any damage.
In both the very weak and the very strong, the relative absence of urgency conflict indicates the existence of a single, more or less unchallenged principle motivation: either commitment, on the one hand, to a cause/goal or, on the other hand, a complete surrender of the individual to his own desires to the exclusion or detriment of all other interests and considerations. “Do what thou wilt be the whole of the law.”
It follows, therefore, that this model provides, also, an altered perspective on morality as being not only a learned code of behaviour but an integral parameter of the most fundamental dynamic mechanism of the psyche. As I have said, the key to understanding morality is survival. Survival of the family and of the community places certain obligations upon its members. The healthy adult is aware that the needs of the family must take precedence over the desires of the individual. Weakness, however, breeds weakness. The unhealthy parent tends to impede motivational development in their offspring by placing insufficient emphasis upon encouraging empathy and upon the correction of selfish/inconsiderate behaviour both by instruction and, most importantly, by example. The selfishness of the individual in one situation emerges as an equivalent weakness or inadequacy in another. The child which is exposed to the extreme selfishness of its parents can generally be expected to follow in their footsteps and treat us, perhaps, to the joys of his narcissistic personality disorder. Depending on the depth of his pain, he may achieve some local notoriety as a sociopath. As long as we fail to recognize the simplicity – the direct relationship between our own selfishness and our own immaturity – we lack sufficient understanding to break the cycle.
Our instinctive recognition of the “drive” or “energy level” i.e. what we perceive as “strength” in others can be attributed equally to either side of the scale. When we speak of a “strong” leader, we make no distinction between active and passive motivation; we instinctively recognize only that the individual has more drive, more focus, more motivation: a higher level of urgency than more “normal” people.
At the extremes of negative urgency, we may, on occasion, identify the psychopathic personality but between mere selfishness/weakness and the absolute ruthlessness of the psychopath, lie some of the most dangerous personalities in existence. They can be found both in business and in politics. If an example helps, as I write, the name Rupert Murdoch springs immediately to mind. They have sometimes been termed the industrial psychopath. They owe their success not to their strength of character but, it might be said, to the strength of their weaknesses and to their defining failure to curb these weaknesses as might a more “normal” individual.
They can generally rationalize their lack of compassion by reasoned argument – “someone has to be strong enough to take the hard decisions” (I think that was actually Tony Blair, our very own regime-change war criminal) – but it is their great weakness, their motivational immaturity, their negative strength, be it plain greed or ego-driven ambition, that facilitates their rise in the corporate or in the political world.
The banking crisis has exposed to the public consciousness the flawed beliefs which brought it about. In particular, it was widely held that in order to attract “quality” people, it is essential to pay the highest salaries. This hypothesis, if valid, suggests quite the reverse. High-level drive and focus is to be found on both sides of the spectrum. “Quality” people with immense drive and power of intellect are to be found in every profession in this country. When I was young, our family GP in Glasgow’s west end, was William Blair, an absolutely outstanding and gifted individual whose dedication to medicine was absolute and not unconnected to a belief, shared, I imagine, by all at that practice, that the National Health Service was a thing of immeasurable worth. He grasped the opportunity to serve the community with his substantial intellect and his continually-expanding knowledge of medicine. It would be absurd to suggest that a productivity bonus might have induced a man of that exceptional calibre to work harder or to apply his considerable intellect more assiduously to the task of saving life and alleviating suffering (although I don’t imagine he would have turned it down)! It is only the motivationally-immature personality that is attracted and motivated by the high salary and the goal of the high bonus. The consequences of the influx of the self-serving, risk-taking, motivationally-immature personality into the banking industry are now being felt across the planet. There is nothing healthy about selfishness in any degree, nothing healthy about a grown man with the motivational maturity of a child and when that is the norm, there is nothing healthy about the culture that has created that norm. Capitalism is the inevitable consequence of a dangerously immature and unhealthy culture, and vice versa.
If the model is valid, the psychopath represents nothing more than the extreme of the normal distribution but the destruction that he leaves in his wake does not begin to compare with the catalogue of death and destruction that can, in some cases, be attributed to the near-psychopathic personality whose ability to integrate successfully into society, together with his psychopath-like qualities, may have placed him in poll position for a highly-successful career in politics (or, perhaps, in a media empire which exerts a dangerous and corrupting influence upon politics). Unlike the mere psychopath, he can acquire power and influence; he can use his glibness and his skills as a dissembler to advance his position. His manipulative skills, his ruthlessness and his lack of remorse are qualities that are rewarded with continued success, and his confidence that these attributes only indicate his innate superiority to ordinary human beings lends a charisma to his personality which fools “enough of the people, enough of the time.”
Psychopathy is, necessarily, a moral construct and, understood within the framework of the urgency-conflict model, plain selfishness and “evil” are effectively quantifiable, occupying merely different positions on the same finite scale of passive/negative urgency.
The moral implications are, I think, far reaching. Above all, however, this is intended to propose an avenue of research that reaches towards a clearer insight into the neurological mechanism of motivation. The implicit assertion is that the normal adult is much diminished by his motivational-immaturity and that that immaturity may be quantifiable. For any population, “normal” need no longer be the benchmark. And, from that, there follows an inescapable statistical inference: the occurrence of the phenomenon of the psychopath can be expected to increase exponentially as the centre of the normal distribution moves to the passive side. The more selfish the culture, the more psychopaths it can be expected to generate. Essentially, it is the culture itself that is sick. One of the most central messages of Christianity is to persuade its followers that a culture of greed and self-interest is unhealthy and yet we have the USA, the most “Christian” country on the planet at the vanguard of the drive to present greed and self-interest as a virtue. Capitalism is the ultimate expression of psychopathy. It encapsulates the essence of the unhealthy, immature culture. It is a self-sustaining and almost-impenetrable barrier to human progress that must inevitably promote exploitation, generate war and dispense death and injustice in order to survive. And the power to bring about change lies in the hands of the ordinary peoples of every nation. The change need only take place in our own attitudes. When we begin to think and care about the effects of our “civilized society” in other parts of the world, we have already begun the process of change.
I have often asked myself, given research and validation of this hypothesis, what good it would do even if it were to become common knowledge that selfishness and immaturity are one in the same. The answer lies in the normal distribution. The ideology that came to the fore during the Reagan/Thatcher era was successful in moving the culture of the UK and the USA further towards selfishness and greed i.e. the normal distribution curve moved further to the passive side. It did not take an immense change in attitudes to achieve that translation from a not-particularly-healthy culture to an even more unhealthy culture and yet it brought the near-psychopathic personality to prominence in all fields of business and commerce while drastically diminishing the incidence of the healthy altruistic adult personality. Those who are unfamiliar with the power of statistics and probability will perhaps find that proposition difficult to accept but if we were to completely disregard everything that this hypothesis tells us, that fact would remain. The normal distribution places the sovereign power and responsibility in the hands of the ordinary people. If we become even slightly less pleasure-and-greed-oriented, even slightly more compassionate and caring about the welfare of other people, we shall inevitably move the curve towards altruism, and the incidence of the psychopathic and near-psychopathic personality will diminish drastically while the incidence of the strong, healthy altruistic adult personality will inevitably increase. If our ideology, the prevailing orthodoxy, even marginally incorporates the idea that selfishness and immaturity are one in the same, that is what will inexorably follow, and in that statement, I think, lies the urgency of this research.
The culture which, failing to recognize the relationship between selfishness and immaturity, encourages and promotes self-oriented motivation (i.e. any capitalist culture) can be expected to be led by individuals who are closer to the psychopathic end of the scale, the normal distribution guaranteeing the high incidence of the near-psychopathic personality while diminishing the incidence of the mature altruistic personality. From that, it can be inferred that the universally-assumed inherent good of democracy obtains only in a healthy, broadly unselfish culture.
I entitled this paper, “The Psychology of Compassion,” but it could equally have been entitled, “The Essence of Evil.” The relationship between the parent and the infant is pivotal to the psyche of each. There is absolutely no evil in the child’s passive relationship with the parent. Evil is the word we use when the infant’s deeply-self-oriented motivational state persists into adulthood.
My conclusions, in no particular order:
- there is an essential moral dimension to personality which is fundamental to the mechanism of motivation
- the transition from motivationally-passive infant to motivationally-active adult is not an automatic process; it is a journey that only a very few ever complete
- at the extremes, the psychopath can be described as an adult who has the motivational maturity of an infant. He is completely devoid of the prime attributes of the healthy parent, namely compassion and responsibility. Like a healthy infant, he feels a sense of entitlement, an instinctive expectation that the world should provide for him, see to his needs. Like an infant, he is virtually 100% self-oriented, completely passively-motivated, requiring to manipulate others to address his needs.
- there is a continuum, on a scale of strength and weakness, ranging from the extremes of great weakness – the unchallenged infantile motivation of the psychopath – to the equally-rare unchallenged adult motivation of the completely-committed altruistic personality
- selfishness and motivational immaturity are one and the same
- a culture that promotes or encourages passive motivation whether in the form of a greed/consumer/market-driven economy or in the form of endemic racism can be expected to produce a greater proportion of psychopaths and near-psychopathic personalities, the centre of the normal distribution having been translated toward the psychopathic end of the scale. Likewise, a lower proportion of “strong” altruistic individuals can be predicted.
- the American Dream, a culture that promotes self-interest, measuring success in terms of status and wealth is an expression of immaturity. Altruism and generally taking cogniscence of the welfare of others is indicative of the mature personality. To qualify that, it has to be observed that many instances of what might be termed “Christian charity” are (passively) motivated by the self-interest of perfectly normal individuals whose selfishness takes the form of acting in such a way as they imagine might cause their God to look favourably upon them (no criticism intended – just a necessary qualification). Charity is not an act; it is a state of being.
- Experiment will demonstrate, firstly, the existence of the synthesis of urgency as a cognitive-neurological mechanism which, by maintaining the relationship between perception, time and action, initiates and moderates action, by both dynamic data-stream and threshold trigger mechanisms.
- Secondly, experiment will demonstrate the existence of the root/branch intellect typology. (I have, as yet, been unable to find any research which has been undertaken in this area although, as I mentioned earlier, there are important parallels in Guilford and Hoepfner’s work on Convergent and Divergent intelligence – “The Analysis of Intelligence”  New York: McGraw-Hill).
- I would predict, finally, for each intellect type, a substantial correlation between the degree of identifiable non-pathological character weakness (ranging from the psychopath to the neurotic) and the level of passive-urgency. I already mentioned that we have a ready-made pool of root-intellect minds in the Freudian School together with an equally clear pool of branch-intellects with the Adlerian School. Additionally, initial testing of sociopaths for intellect type might help refine testing methods for a more diverse population.
I would be grateful to hear from anyone who might care to comment, and particularly so in the context of any proposed or pre-existing research touching on this.
Copyright © Jimmy Powdrell Campbell 1996, 2014.
Written by jimmypowdrellcampbell
November 30, 2008 at 3:00 pm
Tagged with adler, altruism, antisocial behaviour, Antisocial Personality Disorder, axiology, basal ganglia, ethics, evolution of morality, evolutionary ethics, freud, hedonism, jung, libido, libido theory, meta-ethics, moral philosophy, moral psychology, moral universalism, morality, morals, motivation, narcissism, narcissistic personality disorder, neuroscience, personality types, philanthropy, philosophy, philosophy of mind, psychodynamic theory, Psychology, psychopath, psychopath definition, psychopathic personality disorder, psychopathy, sociopath, strength, time perception, universal morality, urgency, value theory, weakness