Thursday, March 20, 2008


The concept of tensions developed here necessarily entails the notion that there exist certain objects in the universe which will raise or lower the tension when contact with them is made. The question therefore arises whether regions of tension are defined teleologically, in terms of a push toward a condition of lowered tension. This question has to do with the "hormic principle," with whether an inner aim, directive, or goal tendency characterizes the life process.

We think that the question usually is phrased wrongly, and we must therefore answer both Yes and No, depending upon what the goal tendency is conceived to be. The tense condition of tissues is a mechanical, electrical, or chemical tension; the tension is not aiming, nor is it aimed at anything. In its essential character, it is like a gas under pressure, like the surface tension of an oil drop, like a charge on a condenser; it involves potential energy. The tension is reduced (kinetic energy taking its place) when contacts are made with certain other objects; hence there is no necessary teleological character in any of the motive processes described here. The hungry infant need not know why be cries, nor the absent-minded, restless man on a warm day know why he starts for the room where the water cooler is; the restlessness is cut short by the bottle or by the cup of cold water.

The question of "directive" may, however, be intended to ask whether, during a period of time, the stresses converge more and more upon a given object, the first infantile whimper being followed by louder yells, and the first twitches by more and more thrashing about, until eventually a more or less unified and specific, imperious demand takes shape. The question of "consciousness of the end" is irrelevant here; the important thing is the impulsive or conative character of the whole movement. Since the various agencies in the body which contribute toward satisfying the needs have their own variable thresholds, it is natural that they should be called out in a fairly regular order. This corresponds to a subjective condition of increasing distress and may eventuate in more and more definite, conscious recognition of what is wanted. In all adult mammals, and in normal twoyear-old children typically, the more obvious needs are accompanied by more and more definite habit systems directed toward the completion of behavior sequences calculated to restore the inner balance, and the subjective state passes from one of struggling distress to one of consciously directed aim. But awareness of the end is not the prime or essential condition for motivation; so far as consciousness is concerned, it is the conative, impulsive aspect that is essential.

If, then, the question about the hormic principle is meant to ask whether motives are passively or actively experienced, whether they are forms of cognition or forms of struggle, the only answer that seems permissible now is one which stresses the fact that there are no static conditions anywhere in the body; that the physical processes themselves are actively readjusting all the time, and consequently that a hormic, i.e., conative, aspect of all activity is imperatively required. Physical tension and sense of struggle are aspects of the same situation. But knowing what one is struggling for Is a late, derived, special experience, in no way essential to the definition.

A related question which to some extent overlaps the preceding question is whether, despite our rejection of mechanism, we have introduced "determinism" or left a place for "spontaneity." This seems to us a completely artificial antithesis. Determinism is a mechanistic concept based upon pushes and pulls, active forces working their will upon blind bits of matter. As far as we can see, there are no such pushes and pulls and, in particular, no isolated pieces of matter to be pushed about; there are only field stresses, forces expressing interrelatedness. There is likewise no capricious, uncaused activity arising out of complete irrelevance, complete indifference, to its context. Spontaneity in the sense of causelessness we cannot use. But we can use it in the sense of a field-structure unity of response, the inner structure utilizing outer forces rather than being at their mercy in responding; in the sense of constant, reemergent adjustment that expresses what one is, as well as the rearrangement of the outer environment; spontaneity which at any moment of the organism's life involves a new organization and a new reaction never completely actualized before. Throughout the discussion we have tried to stress the interrelations between inner stresses and also their relation to outer stimulation of a complex sort; organism and environment are an interacting field.

From the point of view of the nervous system the distinction between outer and inner--that is, outside and inside the skin--means little. The outer stimuli must go through a series of inner transformations before they become capable of activating the nervous system; and when they have done so, they act in company with the inner stimulations reflected in adjoining tissue changes. When climate, for example, is emphasized as an outer environmental stimulus and conceived to alter the personality structure--as when one asserts that the basic attitudes of the exuberant Vedic peoples were subdued upon their arrival in a much warmer region--the picture is oversimplified. It is the enduring effect of climate as a cooperating agency in the living system that is involved; climate may have done this to a specific group, which had a specific personality structure, but it may not be capable of doing it to all men.

A point of view which recognizes that all tissues are motive centers and that all of them constantly interact with the forces of the environment can, moreover, find no place for the distinction between biologically determined and socially determined motives. There is no conceivable way in which during the developmental process a man (or a society) could remain immune to the systematic modification imposed by a given way of living, or remain detached from the cultural standards and pressures which at every moment determine the form and force of the motive pattern. There is no way in which a biological motive could appear in its pristine form in a context of social events. The hunger, the sleep, the love-making, or the power-craving of a man in western society could in no conceivable sense arise from a primitive, gene-determined disposition, the developing structure of which had remained encapsulated, untouched, free from the reciprocity of social living. In the same way there is no conceivable sense in which the craving for activity, for color and tone, for intense experience, for warmth and affection, could be created out of nothing by a system of cultural rules prevalent outside of the newborn individual. There is no way in which "socially derived" drives could be established and implanted like a graft within the body tissues. Culture can alter, mold, or reorganize drives--or rather, it can permit them one form of development or expression rather than another--but it can hardly "create" them out of nothing.

But there appears to be a difficulty here. Can we not, in a thoroughgoing, literal sense, establish in the organism a number of tissue tensions, drives which it never before possessed? On first thought, it must certainly be conceded that the answer is in the affirmative. Drug addiction is a good example. Civilized man has continued to discover new and exciting ways of acting upon his nervous system by chemical means; the new drugs produced in recent years have given him forms of experience which no man ever experienced previously.

The addictions which are thus established may become the most powerful drives within the individual, dwarfing everything else in comparison. (The biochemical nature of such habit-forming drugs is beginning to be understood; it is clear that in respect to some of them, buffer systems within the blood are established which are responsible for the greater and greater dosage required to circumvent them.) In other words, the tissues may be molded not only so as to "want" more of something which they wanted in the first place, but to want things for which there was no previous want. And if it be argued that these drugs fit neatly into some prearranged, limited number of biological potentialities, the reply is that a continuous stream of new drugs is being discovered and that medical men and lawmakers are perennially busy trying to head off the tendency of their fellowmen to make new addictions out of these new discoveries. There may be a limit to the number of drives that can be created, but the limit is not in sight. If this is true in the biochemical sphere, it is certainly even more obviously and cogently clear in the case of social experience, which constantly creates patterns of needs which never existed before.

No comments: