The Habit of Hope

For most of man’s existence on Earth, the universe has been anything but benevolent. Famines, floods, and earthquakes have destroyed whole populations. The plague ravaged Europe during the Middle Ages. Even in the nineteenth century, two out of three people died as children. On the frontier, starvation was not that uncommon after a long winter or a drought.And these horrors do not even begin to take account of man’s inhumanity to man.What is my point? That for most of man’s existence, he has had only a tenuous power over his life, physically and politically. Life was full of uncertainties and anxieties, which helped to give rise to religions promising happiness in this life or an afterlife. Religion gave people a much-needed sense of hope.

Power versus a Sense of Power

That largely unchanging situation underwent a revolution after the Renaissance. The rediscovery of the power of reason and the development of technology enabled men to bring about a vast expansion in their power over their lives, and they came to expect that the future would see still further increases. And, in fact that is what happened. In the twentieth century, medical technology lengthened the average life-span from four decades to seven. Today, in the free world, men are able to control much of the impact of natural disasters. From an economic and technological perspective, no one in a capitalist society need go hungry.At the same time, however, the Enlightenment took away religion’s assurance that a benevolent force would look over men in times of helplessness and hopelessness and would compensate them hereafter for their sufferings. We became responsible for our own happiness

What can we do to sustain a rational optimism?

And what has been the upshot? Evidence indicates that for many, man’s increase in power has not brought a sense of efficacy. If we consider those women born before World War I, those born around 1925, and those born in the Fifties (the Baby Boomers), we find that there is a quadrupling in depression from the first group to the second, and a doubling from the second to the third. Why should this be, if people have continued to acquire more control than ever over their lives in the twentieth century?

One reason, I suspect, is the nihilism of modern philosophy: the lack of answers about the meaning of life and human purposes; the moral relativity that says it doesn’t matter what you do; the draining away of the sense that human beings are capable and worthy. I think these ideas have infiltrated the culture to such an extent that they are affecting the psychological outlook of a lot of people. In this respect, you may personally have experienced Ayn Rand‘s ideas as a great antidote. Rand tell us that life has meaning and purpose and that living as a human being can be a noble activity. Through the story of The FountainheadRand gives us one long argument against Dominique’s belief in the triumph of power-lust and toadyism over the true, the rational, and the beautiful.

Learned Optimism

Rand’s ideas, such as the efficacy of reason and the successful nature of life, certainly help us to be hopeful about our lives. But is there a specific technology of the soul that can increase our hopefulness and thus our motivation and our success? If so, how can we implement it in our daily lives? Are there specific psychological processes that we can adopt? Are there methods we can apply? And are there ways we can make those methods more permanent in our minds? I think there are, and I think the research of psychologist Martin Seligman, at University of Pennsylvania, helps provide some of that technology.

Seligman did some interesting experiments back in the seventies on what he called “learned helplessness.” He worked with two sets of dogs. One he put in a cage that they could not get out of. The other he put in a cage that they could jump out of. And then he shocked both of these sets of dogs. The ones that could escape their cages did so, and got away from the shocks. The ones that could do nothing to escape the shock became passive; after a while, they just lay down and took it.

You cannot directly change your emotions but you can change what you pay attention to.

Then, when he took the dogs who could not escape the shock in the first experiment and put them in a cage where they could get away from the shock, they still did nothing. And when he tried to teach them to get out of the cage, he had to spend a lot of time showing them they could escape. To be accurate, there were always some dogs who did hardly anything once they found themselves trapped, and there were some dogs who had been trapped but quickly learned later to escape. But the results I am talking about were averages.Seligman was fascinated with these results, because he thought the dogs had learned to be helpless, and a sense of helplessness is a key component of depression. So he asked if he could “immunize” dogs from this learned helplessness. He took a group of dogs and let them hear a tone before the shock went off. And he gave these dogs the opportunity to jump out of the cage when they heard the tone. The fascinating result was: these dogs never became passive. When they were put in a cage from which they could not escape, they never stopped trying, and they escaped immediately when they could.

Why? They had acquired a sense of efficacy with regard to the shocks.

Seligman thought this was an interesting model to apply to human beings because of the common feeling in depression that there is nothing that can be done that will make a difference. So, he asked: Could humans likewise be immunized against feelings of helplessness and hopelessness? To test this, Seligman put human beings in situations similar to that of the dogs: The subjects would get shocked, but some did not have control over it and some did. Fascinatingly, he found that some people always tried to get control and some did not. Seligman posited that the difference lay in the way the people explained the cause of their failure: whether they blamed it on themselves or on circumstances.

Explanatory Styles

Out of this, Seligman developed a theory of explanatory styles. According to this theory, there are three dimensions to an explanatory style: the permanence with which you think a cause exists; the pervasiveness of the cause, in other words, how universally true or how limited it is; and whether the cause lies within you or outside.  Seligman argues that these explanatory styles give rise to what we conventionally call optimists and pessimists. And he has developed an Attributional Style Questionnaire by which to test people. You can see more information about explanatory styles here.

In terms of the dimensions of these styles, I think the character of Howard Roark from The Fountainhead is a model of the optimistic attributional style. He does not believe that evil is permanent. He does believe that there are people he can reach by persuasion and by demonstrating what is good in his buildings. And he certainly does not think that failure is his fault.

You can pay attention to your possibilities. You can take an entrepreneurial attitude towards your life.

But I would like to examine one other aspect of the research in relation to the psychology of hope. In some experiments, people rated optimists and pessimists have been given tests in which they sometimes are and sometimes are not in control of an event, such as a light’s turning on. Pessimists, and depressed people in particular, tend to have a very accurate sense about whether they are actually in control. Optimists, however, consistently overrate their control. If the light does not turn on, they have some explanation for it; if the light does turn on, they think they did it. This suggests that optimists, if they are going to be rational optimists, must guard against a temperamental disposition to over-optimism.

On the other hand, I believe there is clearly a sense in which pessimists are also unrealistic. They may make accurate judgments about when they do and do not have control over an event, but I believe they make inaccurate judgments about when they could and could not get control over an uncontrolled event, because of their belief that their helplessness is permanent, pervasive, and personal. Unfortunately, I do not know of any laboratory experiments that have attempted to test this hypothesis.

The Real and the Possible

This brings me to the heart of my lecture. What can we do to sustain a rational optimism?

I think that fundamentally there is one important fact that offers us two keys. The important fact is that you cannot directly change your emotions but you can change what you pay attention to, at least to a large extent. This enables you to make yourself more alert for opportunity.

Thus, the first key is: You can carefully focus on the facts about your situation and yourself. Is this the way things have to be or is it just the way they happen to be? Is this the way of the world or just the way things are in my immediate surroundings?

The second key is: You can pay attention to your possibilities. Is this something you can change or not? You can take an entrepreneurial attitude towards your life.

Do not accept impossibility without overwhelming evidence.

To me, these are the two elements involved in having a habit of hope. Make it your habit to pay attention to exactly what is the case and what is not; what is good in your life and what is not. And make it a habit to ask: What are my possibilities? Be especially alert to whether there are possibilities for change which you failed to see before.

People can have a lot of limitations when it comes to what we would consider leading a normal life and yet have a very hopeful attitude. That has to do with what they are paying attention to. Are they looking at what they cannot do or at what they can do? Are they looking at what they do not control or at what they do control? In this respect, I think that success is: functioning up to your fullest capacity and being alert to all the facts and possibilities within your personal context. This means recognizing the barriers to your control: Are you a healthy human being or not? Are you living in a relatively free society or a relatively unfree society? In judging your success, you need to take these contexts into account.

To be sure, the conditions of success can be very complex. It is often hard to know what is possible, both positively and negatively. And this is one of the things that optimists and pessimists disagree about the most: the realm of the possible. The optimist says “I’m going to keep looking. I’ve got this idea and I think I can do it.” The pessimist has a million reasons why something isn’t going to work.

To say that is not to declare that the optimistic attitude is always the right one. As much as we want to have control and want to know that we can do things, it may be that we do not know-after all, we cannot know everything. But we can turn that truth around and make it an optimistic statement: “Well, yeah, I don’t know everything and I don’t know for sure I can do it. But I don’t know for sure that I can’t do it. And I know for sure that if I don’t try, nothing’s going to happen.”

Ten Habits of Hope

Following are some suggestions to help you develop a habit of hope:

1. Check your generalizations about the world for an “explanatory style” that is pessimistic, or unjustifiably optimistic.

2. Remember that, ultimately, you are in control of how you act.

3. When trying to determine a course of action, ask: What is the range of the possible? This is the most difficult judgment to make, especially when one is attempting something new. If the range is too restricted by one’s conception of the world, your hopes will be too few and too small, and your imagination and motivation curtailed: you won’t adequately explore the possible. If the range is too unrestricted by facts and reason, your hopes will be impossible and time will be wasted.

4. Do not accept impossibility without overwhelming evidence. For many, many situations, we do not and cannot have complete certainty about the outcome. But that alone is not reason to give up on a course of action. Develop a habit of looking for alternative means of achieving your goals.

5. Be alert to when you do not have control over external events, so that you can think of ways to get control.

6. Once you have a specific goal, identify obstacles to your success and the possibilities of overcoming them. Ask: What is the adversity here? What are my premises? Are they true? Am I making a pessimistic judgment or an unjustifiably optimistic judgment? Do not rule out a judgment just because it sounds pessimistic. Remember that you want to be “rationally optimistic,” not Pollyana-ish.

7. If you find yourself giving up, ask: What is my reason? Am I sure it is a good reason?

8. But ask about the chances of failure, too: What would be the true cost of failure? Can I bear it? Be sure to ask these questions early, before you have invested too much emotion in success.

9. De-catastrophize. Learn to judge the facts of your situation precisely and to take into account the available alternatives rather than leaping to the conclusion that all is lost.

10. Stop ruminating. If you fail, sit down purposefully and learn the lessons of the failure. Decide how to do things better. Then put the failure behind you.

Originally published in 1999 for The Atlas Society.

Teaching Freedom: Incorporating the Principles of a Free Society into Pedagogy

by Rachel Davison
Oak Farm Montessori School

and Marsha Familaro Enright*

The Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute
Teaching Freedom Illustrations‎

Abstract

Free Enterprise educators are urged to examine their educational principles and align their classroom practice with their advocacy of liberty by providing a classroom environment that develops the virtues as well as the ideas needed to live in liberty. Such pedagogy has a direct benefit to the educator.  When freedom and autonomy are directly experienced, students become more engaged, interested, and enthusiastic learners and more often adopt the ideas and values of liberty. Combining empirical evidence from Socratic practice and Montessori education with research on development and optimal learning, the authors suggest ways to create such a classroom culture.

 

“To consider the school as the place where instruction is given is one point of view.  But to consider the school as a preparation for life is another. In the latter case, the school
must satisfy all the needs of life. ”
Maria Montessori (1994, p. 5)

I. Schooling Versus Autonomy

When we think of free societies, we often think of industry, free markets and minimal government. But real freedom starts within, with self-understanding, self-responsibility, self-direction, determination, and a nimble ability to adapt to life’s challenges.

If young people are schooled in the facts about the overwhelming advantages of a free society, and how to reason well about them, and they study the full range of great ideas, the likelihood that they will be convinced of the ideas underpinning a free society goes up greatly because the facts are on the side of freedom.

Yet, it’s one thing to be lectured to about liberty and the virtues needed for it; it’s another to know how to act in freedom. It’s valuable to know the ideas of liberty, but can you apply them in your life? Where do you learn how? As Aristotle said: “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” (Book II, Chapter 1)

It’s one thing to believe in the ideas abstractly; it’s another to experience what such a society would be like—and to be motivated to achieve it.

To build a free world, we need people at many levels of society and in many areas—

business, the trades, the arts, medicine, journalists, as well as intellectuals and professors—with the ideas, values, and habits friendly to liberty. This is where a sound, liberal education is essential.

With history as the measure, it’s clear that free society advocates don’t need to be a majority to significantly change the culture. But they need to be a significant, knowledgeable, and active minority. Such a minority made the progress towards full freedom and individual rights possible in Britain; such a minority in the American Colonies was instrumental in achieving independence from Britain.

Unlike the American Colonists, none of us has been raised in a highly self-reliant society of the Enlightenment Era—did we have the chance to develop the habits needed to embody its values? To act in our families, among our friends, in our towns and cities, the way a free person should act? To have the skills and force of personality to implement the changes needed to make our lives better and freer, whatever our professions, associations and interests?

Educators familiar with the facts, history, and ideas of free societies and spontaneous order understand the value of dispersed and localized knowledge and the prosperity and flourishing that results from individuals peacefully collaborating as trading partners.

What they might not have considered is the way in which the classroom is a micro-society in which students learn how to behave in the larger world and whether their classrooms reflect the social relationships, the virtues, and the psychological conditions that sustain and advance the behavior of free people. Educators have the opportunity to craft an experience in which students learn how to behave as self-reliant, independent, self-responsible individuals.

The modern classroom, from grade school to graduate school, relies heavily on a structure of a single arbiter of knowledge, often in the position of lecturer, discussion leader, knowledge authority, and director of learning. Directed group lessons in traditional grade school and lectures in higher education are favored methodologies of the traditional method of education.

The teaching paradigm encourages an authority to convey the “right” answers to the waiting student-receptacles. Yet, this top-down environment is counter-productive to conveying the ideas, values, and virtues of a free society.

In the traditional teaching model, students are considered passive empty vessels, to be filled with knowledge by the academic authority, rather than active agents in their own learning.

This model is a legacy of the movement to economically mass-educate the populace and is literally based on factory organization, i.e. everyone doing the same thing at the same time for mass production.

How is a young person supposed to learn to be an autonomous individual if he or she is being treated like an empty vessel to be filled with knowledge? What opportunities are students give to learn and practice the skills of a self-reliant, independent, and self-responsible individual?

If we are aiming to foster a society driven by free enterprise, shouldn’t the pedagogy of our classrooms align with those values?

Traditionally, “learning” is measured by the amount of information the instructor has offered which the student is able to reiterate on tests and in papers. How does the instructor know if real understanding has been achieved? Whether the student has deeply incorporated the instructor’s information and ideas into his or her thinking? Whether the student can use this information in his or her life?

Consider the psychological effects of the traditional methods of teaching in which:

  1. The teacher is the repository of truth.
  2. The student is taught one line of reasoning given in the lecture or presentation.
  3. The student is the receiver, not initiator of learning.

In this paradigm:

How does the student learn how to arrive at truth himself?

How does the student learn that there are multiple ways of approaching a problem?

How does the student learn to find subjects of interest to himself, individually, and know how to go about the process of learning new material?

If students have no skills in these processes, how can they grow into autonomous individuals, arriving at their own conclusions and navigating all the choices and opportunities which freedom presents?

“‘Autonomy’ suggests, strictly speaking, that one gives or has given laws to oneself; that one is self-governing; that in essentials one obeys one’s own imperatives.” (Kaufmann, 1980,15).

The conditions of freedom cannot be consistently and sufficiently conveyed in a traditional, lecture-based environment because it does not provide the individual with opportunities to learn how to be a free, autonomous person.

Advocates of reason and freedom understand that the mind cannot be forced to accept truth. Nor does the social pressure of authority or peers result in a real understanding of truth, and certainly not the first-hand comprehension and autonomy of the innovator. Neither does a top-down environment cultivate an independent person’s ability to fight for his or her individual freedom.

To acquire truth, each person must observe and reflect on facts for him- or herself. Each person must compare and contrast, analyze and synthesize those facts, for him- or herself. Each person develops ideas, from those facts within him- or herself. Each person must integrate one set of facts with another, one set of ideas with another, for him- or herself. This is the only way to arrive at truth, since an understanding of truth cannot be transferred directly from one mind to another.

If a classroom structure can serve as the sandbox in which to practice how to live as a free person, then the independence of rational inquiry and the development of rational judgment, need to be incorporated into that sandbox.

Advocates of a free society understand the value and power of the dispersed and localized knowledge of the individual within the structure of a market, the creativity it unleashes and the flourishing that results.  In turn, the micro-society of a classroom structure that endeavors to encourage the exchange of ideas between individuals, while still incorporating the guidance and expertise of the educator, mirrors the creative process of the market. This is impossible in a strictly lecture structure, and difficult in many discussion structures.

Free society educators can endeavor to construct a classroom structure parallel to a market with a productive exchange of ideas between individuals, while still incorporating the guidance and expertise of the educator.

Such a classroom offers the student the opportunity to develop and practice the skills of rational independence, creative thinking, collaborative exchange, honesty, objectivity, justice, and honor—all skills and virtues valuable and necessary in a free society.

 

II. The Principled Pedagogy of Freedom

“The greatest [obstacle for] an attempt to give freedom to the child and to bring its powers to light does not lie in finding a form of education which realizes these aims. It lies rather in overcoming the prejudices which the adult has formed in this regard.”

Maria Montessori (1955, p.48)

Developmental and cognitive research, plus over 100 years of experience using the Montessori philosophy of education argues that optimal learning occurs through freedom within a structured environment, where the following conditions are present (Lillard, 2005, passim):

  • The instructor is informed about and alert to the developmental needs of the young adult student,
  • Questions are actively encouraged by classroom methodology,
  • Instructor’s activities are modified based on the interests of the students, within the limits of the studied material,
  • Activities are crafted with optimal learning conditions in mind, ones that engage the needs, attentions, and interests of young adults.

Methodologies rooted in the Montessori educational philosophy encourage individualism and self-reliance, foster individual development, unfettered creative discovery, exploration, and integration of newideas. In support of this claim, researchers have recently identified the unusual number of highly creative people who were Montessori students (Sims, 2011).

Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, French cooking evangelist Julia Child, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos are among the many unusually creative and capable people with a Montessori background. Some insist this type of education was instrumental in their radical creativity.

For example, Brin and Page have identified the individually-driven exploration of the Montessori classrooms as a major source of their willingness to try new things and think out of the box again and again. (Goodwin, 2012)

The environment created in a Montessori classroom relates to the well-known facts of spontaneous order: The discovery of truth, the correct identification of life-supporting facts, is not a centralized, top-down procedure. Instead, it results from a complex process of discovery and argument, demonstrated through the history of thought and the progress of civilization.

Socratic practice, short lesson-lectures and self-selected research projects are examples of classroom strategies for higher education which encourage individual autonomy and contribute to fostering attitudes that are receptive to the complex ideas of freedom.

III. Specialized Discussion Methods and Individualism

“Discipline must come through liberty. . . . We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is     an individual annihilated, not disciplined.” Maria Montessori (1912, p. 86)

The classroom is a micro-society in which the social order emerges through the exchange of ideas and values, explicit and implicit, and from the way in which participants interact with each other according to the discussion principles.

The term “Socratic Seminar” is used variously. We are using it here to mean a very particular discussion format and methodology in which students are engaged in examining, analyzing, and discussing the material themselves, first-hand. They are synthesizing the information themselves, rather than having it handed to them. It is an active learning environment. Michael Strong’s book, The Habit of Thought: From Socratic Seminars to Socratic Practice well describes this particular methodology and its benefits.

Socratic Practice harnesses important and powerful social-psychological elements that encourage a freedom-oriented classroom culture while increasing learning. It is a process of collaborative inquiry which develops fact-based reasoning, objectivity, listening skills, and team work for problem-solving.

Seminars run by the principles of Socratic Practice function as a market of ideas, where reason, combined with the invisible hand of individual self-interest, results in greater knowledge, reasoning, and social skills for all. As a collaborative learning experience, it taps into all the advantages of learning by imitation; it’s an opportunity to see multiple ways to reason on the same materials. Research by the Jasper Project on Cognition and Learning at Vanderbilt University shows meaningful group problem-solving results in superior learning (Jasper Project, 2000).

“One particular thing that I learned at Queen’s [College]—both from faculty and students—was how to work collaboratively with smart people and make use of the Socratic method to achieve commonality of purpose.”  Billionaire founder of Paypal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors, Elon Musk

This method requires each participant to focus on what exactly is said in the text, and what can be surmised from it; the instructor guides the discussion with incisive questions and by requiring the participants to stick to the facts of the work when arguing their opinions.

  • All opinions must be grounded by reference to the work studied, developing the habit of fact-based judgment and objectivity.
  • The teacher acts as a facilitator, encouraging the students to use their own minds to find the meaning of the text; the teacher does not act as an authority on the text.  The best reasoning is the highest authority.
  • The teacher demonstrates and encourages questions and thinking in different ways when approaching the material. The points of view and questions of the different participants demonstrate how material can be approached in a variety of ways. This outcome encourages creativity by illustrating many ways to reason about the same issue. Consequently, not only excellent deductive reasoning, but creative, inductive reasoning is encouraged.
  • Participants effectively trade their knowledge and skills by example.

These elements work together to strengthen student reasoning skills and instantiate the value of individual differences.  Displays of inordinate knowledge about a subject are irrelevant and discouraged because each discussion member cannot verify them. This reduces non-productive jostling for social position. Reason’s authority is the great equalizer and students come to appreciate each other as helpers in their learning. This results in a psychologically safe environment, which encourages exploration and creativity.

At the end of every Socratic seminar, the instructor guides a “debrief,” a self-reflective discussion in which each participant comments on what went well and what could be improved. The beneficial effects are:

  • Significant improvement in the discussions from one session to the next by raising conscious awareness about participant actions and interactions,
  • Participants learn to be equally responsible for the quality of the inquiry,
  • A culture of equality among peers is established, including the instructor; the instructor and other participants values each individual’s thoughts and reactions, while the best reasoning remains the highest authority; Mastery Learning research on how individuals acquire mastery in knowledge and skills found that the attitude of the teacher seriously affects the students self-image and motivation, (Dweck, 1999, passim),
  • The validation of the person of each individual because each person’s participation with rational arguments adds value for the other participants,
  • The encouragement of the habit of taking responsibility, giving validation to the virtues of others, and working together in a rational way.

The discussions improve radically from one session to another because of the awareness generated by the debrief, and the expectation of achievement and cooperation. These methods benefit from the strengths of peer-learning and exchange (Brown, et al., 1989, Orr, 1987).

In Socratic Practice, the teacher uses his or her expertise to craft the entire environment of the class:

  • Physical:
    • Every participant sits in a circle facing all the others as equal intellectual explorers.
    • The room is well-lit and comfortable to enhance concentration.
    • No phones or outside distractions are allowed.
  • Cognitive:
    • Works are chosen and taught in a purposeful order, so that students can discover their meaning and connections themselves and find joy in doing so. They are invited to engage with the material rather than passively receive it.
    • Focus is on paying attention to the deepest meaning of the works studied and each other through questions of clarification, i.e. what does the other person mean?
    • Solid evidence and reasoning are required for all opinions.
  • Social:
    • The instructor takes a limited role and gives feedback in a way that is kind, but honest, encouraging student awareness of each other, and cooperation through self-moderated exchange.
    • Students are encouraged and enlightened as to how to respectfully listen by the instructor’s sincere attempts to hear and understand what the other is saying, before replying.
    • Students are responsible for their own contributions and encourage contributions from others.
  • Psychological:
    • Reflection at the end of the discussion about what went well in the discussion and what can be improved generates a high level of self-awareness and self-generated improvement in learning from session to session.

Csikszentmihalyi’s research on Flow, the psychology of optimal experience, shows that attention is the most limited cognitive resource (Csikszentmihalyi, 1991). But it’s husbanded very well in this type of seminar.

  • Every person’s reasoned contribution is valued; being active makes it easier to pay attention,
  •  The specially selected texts are of deep interest about issues of importance; this makes it highly motivating to pay attention to the discussion.

These skills are enormously practical: a 2014 study by Association of American Colleges and Universities and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems analyzing Census Bureau data of 3 million U.S. residents found “the overwhelming majority of employers are desperate to hire graduates who have a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems.” (Samuelson, 2014)

Lastly, students report that these seminars require the best of them; their best thinking, behavior, and awareness of others.

 “You see how much value you have to offer and to add to your own thinking. It’s not a zero sum game like in traditional education where you’re trying to compete with each other and there’s one answer. It’s not “the right answer”; it’s better and better answers. Everyone’s building a mosaic of truth together. We all study one text but there many objective truths in it, you’re benefiting from hearing all these different ways to understand things objectively and truly. And you realize you have something to contribute. It doesn’t have to be the perfect thing, but together it fits with what other people are saying.” –   Michael Natividad, junior, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

 

IV. Conclusion

“Be careful not to ask [your] questions of the [students]. Only when [students] seek to answer questions which they themselves ask, do they commit themselves to the hard work of finding answers that are meaningful to them…give only as much guidance and encouragement as is necessary to elicit the [students’] interest.” Maria Montessori (1937, p. 26)

Comparing this method to the regular educational system, this unavoidable feeling of frustration comes up: Why, with such a fantastic method, isn’t there a change? The passion in learning that everybody had is proof of this seminar’s effectiveness.”  Tobias Mihura, junior, Clarin High School, Buenos Aires

The authors are sure they have not communicated all the ways in which teachers of free enterprise can encourage the values of a free society in the classroom micro-society. We welcome suggestions and wish to learn from the skills of others. But we urge such teachers to reflect on what kind of habits they are encouraging in their students. We hope that we have triggered reflection on how to develop the virtues needed for freedom.

 

References

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book II, Chapter 1, Moral Virtue http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.2.ii.html

Brown, J.S., Collins. A. & Dugid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, Jan/Feb, 21-42.

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihalyi. 1991. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper Perennial.

Dweck, C.S. (1999).Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development. Philadelphia: Psychology Press/Tarylor & Francis.

Goodwin, Danny. August 31, 2012. “Maria Montessori Google Doodle: How Montessori Education ‘Programmed’ Google’s Founders.” Search Engine Watch.

http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2202181/Maria-Montessori-Google-Doodle-How-Montessori-Education-Programmed-Googles-Founders

Jasper Project on Cognition and Learning. 2000. Vanderbilt University.

Kaufmann, Walter. 1980. Discovering the Mind. New York: McGraw Hill.

http://books.google.com/books?id=iDIs2uDBaW4C&pg=PR33&lpg=PR33&dq=text+the+discovery+of+the+mind+Kaufmann&source=bl&ots=5XKEarOA2L&sig=jMucreJHHLLo8F_WSr-i4yRXetk&hl=en&sa=X&ei=LF48U6bLKuim2AXp9oCQDQ&ved=0CEcQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=text%20the%20discovery%20of%20the%20mind%20Kaufmann&f=false

Lillard, Angeline. 2005. Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Montessori, Maria, translated by Anne Everett George. 1912. The Montessori Method, New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company. http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/montessori/method/method-V.html

Montessori, Maria. 1938. The Secret of Childhood. Bombay: Orient Longsman.

Montessori, Maria. 1989 (1955). The Formation of Man. Oxford: Clio Press. http://www.moteaco.com/abcclio/form.html

Montessori, Maria, 1994 (1948). From Childhood to Adolescence. Oxford: Clio Press.

http://www.moteaco.com/abcclio/childhood.html

Orr, J. (1987). Talking about Machines. Palo Alto: Xerox PARC.

Samuleson, Scott. March 28, 2014. “Would You Hire Socrates?” The Wall Street Journal.

Sims, Peter. April 5, 2011. “The Montessori Mafia.” The Wall Street Journal.

http://blogs.wsj.com/ideas-market/2011/04/05/the-montessori-mafia/

Strong, Michael. 1997. The Habit of Thought: From Socratic Seminars to Socratic Practice. Chapel Hill: New View Publications.

Association of American Colleges and Universities. January, 2014. “Liberal Arts Graduates and Employment: Setting the Record Straight.” http://www.aacu.org/leap/documents/nchems.pdf


Acknowledgements

Ms. Enright would like to thank Rachel Davison for initiating the idea of the presentation leading to this paper as well as for her lovely work on the presentation, and K.R. for his encouragement and help with the ideas and vision.

Originally published at the conference site of the Association of Private Enterprise Educators. http://www.etnpconferences.net/apee/apee2014/User/Program.php?TimeSlot=12

 

 

 

 

Flourishing Through Education in the Creative Destruction of Capitalism: The Science and Educational Principles of The Great Connections Program

By Marsha Familaro Enright
President, The Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute,
sponsor of The Great Connections Program

The Economic Stage is Set

In recent decades, the creative destruction of capitalism has changed the face of the U.S. economy, destroying many former giants of industry like TWA and Montgomery Wards, integrating others into colossal conglomerates, like GE. Simultaneously, thousands of new, small businesses grew from the work and talent of retired, outplaced workers. These developments were made possible by the adaptability and creativity of Americans.

Thomas Friedman’s 2005 runaway bestseller about globalization, The World Is Flat, argues that our remarkably cheap, worldwide communications technology is changing the nature of work even further. Internet email, Web sites, satellite links, and the rapidly expanded use of computer technology to automate many functions are unleashing change as fundamental as that of the Gutenberg press.

At root, these changes are empowering individuals around the globe. Most apparent is the ability of millions of people with good technical skills in faraway lands to offer excellent work for half or less of U.S. labor prices. “Global Outsourcing for the Little Guy,” in the Chicago Tribune (5/29/2006) reports on this phenomena. Web site designs that cost thousands of dollars in the U.S. can be created for $750 in India. India’s system of IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) and the powerful ambition of its long-impoverished people make their huge population an awesome pool of talent.

Elance.com, a job-bidding Web site also mentioned in the article, empowers individuals and small businesses in the U.S., too. This website especially helps those with the creativity, adaptability, and great collaborative skills that have kept U.S. business in the forefront of innovation—and rich. These key ingredients enable individuals to offer unique skills and products to the market, thereby maintaining a market edge.

The Gartner Group, the technology consultants, coined a term to describe the trend in the information technology world away from specialization and toward employees who are more adaptable and versatile. The group calls the employees ”Versatilists.” Building employee versatility and finding employees who are already or are willing to become Versatilists “will be the watchword for career planning. “…Versatilists are capable not only of constantly adapting but also of constantly learning and growing,” says Friedman. These are people who have the ability to master technical knowledge and can easily adapt and move from one area of expertise to another.

The highly adaptable Versatilist can effectively move from a job requiring one skill set to another, like Marcia Loughry, whom Friedman interviewed. As her former functions became outsourced or obsolete, she moved from an Electronic Data Systems (EDS) word-processing job in 1978 to four other jobs, taught herself Novell Netware and acquired other skills and knowledge. Eventually she rose to one of the highest positions at EDS—enterprise architect—all through curiosity, learning, excellent reasoning skills, and a willingness to adapt.

“The deep technical skills around math and science are going to get you in the door, but they are not what are going to keep you there or make you wildly successful. What will keep you there is developing a broader view,” said Loughry.

What fosters a broad view? The ability to continually learn. How can we use education to nurture young people so they will be well prepared for a life of versatility? At root, human developmental needs and psychological tendencies must be respected. Teaching methods honed to fit learning and development can make all the difference.

The Montessori Approach

Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori

This is not a new puzzle to those familiar with the Montessori Method. Maria Montessori used almost 50 years of observation and experimentation deeply informed by science to hone her ideas and methods on education. These methods stoke individual curiosity and ingenuity while ensuring that students master basic skills and effectively ingest huge amounts of information.

Although, in the U.S., Montessori schools are known mainly as preschools, many Montessori schools go through 8th grade and some even through high school. In the past 20 years, these schools have grown rapidly throughout the country, due to their superior system for producing knowledgeable, happy, highly motivated, and capable students.

University of Virginia psychology professor Angeline Stoll Lillard’s 2005 book, Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius, succinctly explains Montessori’s principles and the research evidence supporting them. The Great Connections’ approach grows out of the application of Montessori principles to the adult level of education.

“When you have solved the problem of controlling the attention of the child, you have solved the entire problem of education.” Maria Montessori

When it comes to attention and learning, Montessori could have been talking about anyone, not just the child. Without attention, there is no learning. Attentional resources (focus) are limited. They must be used well to efficiently learn the most possible.

Further, the developed ability to concentrate on work and goals and to self-maintain interest and focus allow a person to succeed in long-term projects and purposes. In Montessori, Dewey, and Capitalism, Jerry Kirkpatrick calls this “Concentrated Attention.”

Cskiszentmihalyi

Mihály Csíkszentmihály

In his studies on intensely productive and creative people, University of Chicago research psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi found that certain conditions elevate the ability to pay attention, and pay attention deeply for long periods of time. He also recognized that specially designed practices in Montessori classrooms provide these conditions throughout the school day. His research group, including the work of Kevin Rathunde, has found many exceptional outcomes from these Montessori practices.

The use of the Three-Period Lesson is a case in point.

 

Layers of the Earth Lesson

Layers of the Earth Lesson

Much scientific research shows that humans learn best if:

1. They are highly motivated to learn the material for some personal end.

2. They are physically engaged.

3. They understand the application of the material to their lives.

The classic Montessori Three-Period Lesson ingeniously engages human attention. With small groups of students, teachers (or “Guides” as we prefer to call them in Montessori) demonstrate learning materials specially designed to focus attention on an important concept, such as rates of change in calculus. Pictures, objects, sounds, and machines make the idea vivid. These Montessori materials engage the student’s whole intellect, sensory, motor, and conceptual, thereby powerfully imprinting memory.

The Guide gathers one to four students ready for the particular lesson, seats them in front of the materials, and then demonstrates their use with as few words as possible.  For example, the Guide might use fraction circles to demonstrate the addition of fractions. (see picture below)

Fraction Circle Montessori Material

Fraction Circle Montessori Material

These are sets of metal, pie-shaped circles cut into different quantities of wedges with little knobs on each wedge. For example, one circle consists of 4 wedges, another of 12, to demonstrate fourths and twelfths. There are numerous kinds of problems possible with these circles, including all the operations of arithmetic. In the most basic, the child can literally see the relationship of different proportions to each other by taking the wedges out of the circles and putting them back in—in different combinations. Each lesson demonstrates one possible use of the materials.

During the lesson, the Guide speaks little, allowing the student to focus and observe the demonstrated examples carefully. The Guide encourages questions from the student; she also, models curiosity, and triggers discussion with questions of her own when students are not forthcoming. Truly successful teachers are exceptional at listening to students’ questions, surmising what students need to know, and modeling and encouraging thinking.

After the fraction demonstration, the Guide asks the student to explain what to do with the materials to solve the next example and moves the materials according to the student’s instructions. Finally, the Guide asks the student to demonstrate the material, turning student into teacher and thereby requiring a more complete level of understanding for the student’s performance.

After the lesson, the student is free to pursue more problems right then or use these materials later to practice until the material is mastered, at a time when the student feels interested in working on the material (on the principle that one learns best when one is intrinsically motivated).  The Guide regularly takes notes while observing the children in her class and if she finds a child avoiding some material, she makes it her job to think of a way to interest the child in the work.

A key to the Montessori Method’s success is ensuring that the amount of material conveyed at one lesson is not overwhelming. More frequent, shorter lessons with follow-up exercises are preferable to one long demonstration. Of course, preparing shorter, pointed lessons is far more taxing to the teacher, but the Montessori Method has systems to make this aspect of teaching less time consuming.

The Three-Period Lesson can be fruitfully adapted to many college-level subjects. In fact, some college classes, such as chemistry, often use a version of the Three-Period Lesson, with the experiment as the final student demonstration. However, as with most excellent methods, the devil is in the details, which is why The Great Connections’ guides are trained in Montessori principles.

Lectures in Their Proper Place

If organized well, lectures can distill a vast amount of information down to a few principles and key examples. A lecture can be an economical introduction to a subject. The best lectures essentialize the subject matter conveyed by the lecture.

However, as a method, lectures are designed to be easy for the teacher, not the student. They allow the teacher to recount his or her knowledge without feedback or interrupting questions and side issues from the listener. Although sometimes necessary, lectures are usually a difficult way to learn because they frequently run counter to human learning tendencies.

For several reasons, students must exert an enormous amount of effort to stay focused on what the speaker says during lectures. A lecture requires the learner to mostly listen and look a little. Unlike learning methods that make learning easy, the lecture usually does not engage the whole mind, including vivid perceptions and imagination, or the body of the student. Listening and looking during a lecture involves little sensory-motor work, which normally helps cement learning in memory.

One of the reasons visual aids such as Microsoft® Office PowerPoint® are preferred for lectures is because they offer sensory stimulation, providing at least some perceptual imagery to associate with the ideas being conveyed. Although, like books, lectures can have illustrations, the student cannot study the illustrations in a lecture as long as he or she wants.

Human interaction usually helps to increase interest as well as physically engage the student, but during a lecture, there is very little interaction between student and teacher. Often the lecture is aimed at a large or general audience and thus cannot address individual student goals, interests and comprehension difficulties.

A student cannot stop the lecture to ask a question or request a further, clarifying explanation or replay what the lecturer said. Once confused, the student may find the rest of the lecture very difficult if not impossible to follow. Consequently, students often miss the important points and substantial content of the lecture.

In a lecture format, the best teachers attempt to address human learning needs by weaving their information into a story. Stories incorporate drama, character, values, passion, meaning, purpose, a climax and resolution. Winston Churchill was a master at this. This method utilizes human tendencies to search for meaning and purpose, to connect knowledge acquired to personal circumstances, and to remember people, places and things more easily than abstract ideas.

Excellent lecturers use plenty of concretes to make the information vivid and connected to real experience and, at least in imagination, to stir perceptual memory and bodily feelings of the listener. Imaginative work and bodily feelings help the student feel much more engaged in the material. Exceptional lecturer MIT physics professor Walter Lewin spends 30 hours and three practice trials developing each of the lectures for his remarkable classes.

The best learners are active learners. They can gain from almost any lecture; they come to a lecture motivated to learn for their own reasons. They expend extra effort in imagining their own examples in order to concretize the ideas they’re hearing. As they listen, they maintain an internal dialogue of questions with the lecturer, noting what they don’t understand and with what they take issue. They also tend to seek answers to their questions after the lecture.

Many teachers recognize that this kind of student is rare and usually has high intelligence, strong intellectual ambition, and great self-motivation. For the most part, traditional education methods do not nurture internal motivation and inherent interest in acquiring knowledge—qualities essential in the new global economy.

A long school career of lectures, drills, memorization, and teaching methods out of tune with learning needs usually turns most students away from enthusiastic learning at school. They are only too often motivated mainly by external rewards of grades, adult approval, superior social position and the acquisition of credentials.

Unfortunately, lectures are so difficult to pay attention to, and psychologically painful for most students, that students work hard to avoid them. During lectures, young students often goof around; consequently, they learn that they are “bad” and “undisciplined.” They are expected to know how to force their attention on boring material.

Older students attempting to pass their courses seek low-energy ways to fulfill requirements while maximizing grades, such as the use of tape recordings, buying others’ lecture notes, or passing multiple choice tests without attending lectures.

These students aren’t inherently bad, they are responding to the high psychological costs of traditional education in a psychologically economical way. They more profitably spend their limited attentional resources elsewhere.

Sadly, they often feel guilt, frustration and anger for failing to live up to the traditional classroom’s expectations, with a nagging disappointment for what they’ve missed—or should have gotten—from education. Many students desperately need help to become “active learners,” interested in the material and in charge of their own education.

These are some of the reasons we at The Great Connections program are so bent on instituting the best learning environment possible. The best methods result not only in superior knowledge but also in the development of highly needed motivation and self-confidence.

Integration

What college graduates do with the information they learn will now, more than ever, determine their competitive edge. Consequently it is imperative that education teach how to think, create and integrate. Broad knowledge and capability to learn combined with the ability to deftly integrate new material into one’s repertoire is essential to the adaptable Versatilist. The liberal arts and sciences studied at The Great Connections program is specifically designed to develop these qualities in students, even if they’ve endured a lifetime of lectures.

Developing broad knowledge is directly related to the work of integration. Before valuable information and ideas can be stored in the mind’s subconscious, they have to pass through the conscious mind, which usually can handle only about seven discreet items at any one time (see George A. Miller’s 1956 psychological classic “The Magic Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information“) If you’ve ever wondered why you need a list to remember what you have to do, here’s the reason, and it’s one of the reasons for our limited attentional resources.

Ideas—abstractions—are the primordial human inventions that circumvent this limitation, because ideas incorporate myriad data into a single audio-visual concrete, a word or symbol. All instances of babies are integrated into the idea of “baby,” and you can apply what you know about babies to any individual baby you encounter. Voila! You’ve saved a lot of time and energy.

Ultimately, the integration of simple ideas, like those of colors or types of animals, into more abstract groupings like “mammal” make the human mind extremely powerful. Imagination and integration work together to produce the torrent that is human creativity. Integration of information into ideas and actions into skills is the psychologically economical way to use our limited conscious resources when thinking and solving problems.

The person who is a master at the careful, fact-based integration of knowledge is a highly effective thinker.

This is the reason the curriculum of The Great Connections emphasizes work on subject matter across domains of knowledge, studying books that integrate philosophy with economics, epistemology with poetry. Further, integration is encouraged by the consistent emphasis on asking students to relate what is learned in one class and course to another.

Creativity

Integration of knowledge across broad ranges of subjects is a characteristic of creativity—and versatility. Research consistently finds that highly creative people tend to have very broad, as well as deep, interests and knowledge. They apply unconventional information and ideas to problems, integrating information in unusual ways across conventional subject areas.

Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman

Famed physicist Richard Feynman is a case in point. Think of his brilliant demonstration of the space shuttle temperature problem, Challenger’s O-Ring: by dropping an O-ring in an ordinary glass of ice water, he simply and directly proved it could not stand up to low temperatures. His demonstration integrated an esoteric, bedeviling engineering problem with a mundane experience.

He was also famous for his wide-ranging interests, which included samba bands and experiments on ants. He put no limits on his curiosity about the world. Feynman’s measured IQ was in the high range—124—but not what IQ test-makers consider genius (135+). Contrary to traditional thought but consistent with research findings, most recognized geniuses do not have IQ’s in the 135+ range. (No one knows how individuals acclaimed as geniuses because of their work, such as DaVinci and Newton, would have scored on the test. Given the findings with current individuals, the results of an actual IQ test on Newton might surprise us!) Measured IQs of people considered to be geniuses are 116 or higher, apparently making an above average IQ a condition—but not a sufficient one—for high creativity. (Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity).

“What I cannot create, I do not understand” Richard Feynman

Unfortunately, IQ tests—and most tests—cannot measure working creativity and intelligence. In other words, they don’t adequately measure how intelligence is put into life’s service by creatively solving problems .

The number of highly creative and successful business people who score average to low on SAT tests, for example, is indicative of the test’s inadequacy in measuring working intelligence.

Besides IQ, other conditions seem to be equally important to the development of creativity, conditions which we can create in educational settings, thereby enabling education to make a significant difference.

For example, the tendency to amass information from close, first-hand observation

Michael Faraday

Michael Faraday

is very important. Michael Faraday, pictured here, exhibited this tendency par excellence as a young man: he had no formal education and knew only arithmetic, but discovered the laws of electromagnetism through fascinated observation of and experiments on nature.

A mind that is curious and constantly problem solving is another characteristic of the creative. Take the inventor of VELCRO, George Mestral, for instance. He and his dog became covered with burrs during a walk. Examining how the burrs use microscopic hooks to stick to the loops of his pant fabric, he realized he could make a new type of fastener. A little nature hike turned into a billion-dollar industry.

What’s needed in education to develop creativity?

We cannot change what nature gives our students in terms of basic intelligence. However, we can offer a program that nurtures those abilities and habits of mind that are known to be needed for creativity and productivity such as:

  • Develops their objective reasoning skills, not just in science and math, but all domains of knowledge, including such areas as art, history, and literature.
  • Not only informs students, but provides them with a broad array of information, ancient and modern.
  • Guides them in connecting information and ideas from one domain of knowledge to another (the way highly creative people do), by:
    • Teaching through works that are cross-domain, like Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, a work of moral philosophy that founded the study of economics
    • Guiding them to draw cross-disciplinary connections by example; pointing out examples of the way in which original thinkers do this.
  • Encourages their curiosity by:
    • Encouraging their questioning
    • Modeling enthusiasm and curiosity in what is being studied
  • Encourages their careful observation of the world through:
    • Demonstrating careful observation and the relation of any idea to the facts on which it rests
    • Questioning the observational/factual basis of their ideas
  • A curriculum infused with deep questions about meaning and purpose, which connects knowledge to living by:
    • Always asking what any given fact or idea means to human life
    • Asking of any knowledge: to whom is this information valuable and how will it be used?

Using the Great Books, our curriculum schools students in timeless ideas, useful in any era or place, by the best thinkers in civilization. These works are extremely influential today. They include works from philosophy to economics, mathematics to literature, history to science and more. Simultaneously, the the Great Books’ authors and their ideas serve as examples of the highest in creative thinking skills.

Properly schooled to think deeply about these works, a student economically recognizes patterns, trends and influences everywhere in culture, from art to business, from job trends to medical discoveries.

One small example: Did you know that there was a time when people were confused about how something could be one thing now and another thing in the future? How could something be an acorn now and yet the very same thing is an oak tree later? They could not figure out how that worked. I’m sure you all take for granted the idea that something can actually be one thing yet potentially another—like a baby is potentially an adult human.

However, it took the genius of ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle to resolve this problem with the identification of the concepts of “actual” and “potential.” Try to imagine our world without these ideas—how could we think about science and technology, among many other things.

Our students learn about such great ideas as Aristotle’s breakthrough, along with the important fact that so much we take for granted in our great civilization was invented by creative individuals all through the ages. Further, reflecting on concepts that we take for granted raises the students’ analytic thinking skills. This is just one benefit of studying the Great Books.

Knowledge Across Categories

Through use of the Great Books coupled with assignments posed by our teachers, our classes purposefully integrate knowledge from one domain to another and encourage students to find connections between seemingly disparate material, just like creative thinkers such as Feynman and Mestral. Teachers urge students to constantly seek connections among these great ideas and between the ideas and our contemporary world. Unfortunately, most college curriculums and faculties make no attempt to execute these crucial tasks.

Discussing the place that a fact, idea or theory has in human life is a constant aim. Teachers consistently require—and offer–—proof for statements and beliefs and explicit logical arguments. Everyone checks their premises. Facts and truth, however unpleasant, are the standard. By modeling and emphasizing these practices, our faculty encourage our students to have excellent observational skills.

How to deal with unpleasant facts without denying them is also a highly encouraged skill. Teachers who model such thinking teach volumes. Our special teacher training ensures these aims.

Ultimately, students will learn the skills needed to think objectively.

Collaboration and Teamwork

With the special methods we use, an elaboration of Socratic Practice (Collaborative Inquiry methods), students learn to deeply understand others’ points of view and communicate their own clearly. These skills are crucial to successful teamwork in any profession, as well as life in general. Our Advisor Michael Strong is an international expert in this method.

When The Great Connections is implemented as a full time program, students will participate in collaborative research work and business internships throughout the year. Explicitly tied to the curriculum and to individual professions that students want to explore, these internships will greatly enhance teamwork skills.

These activities and more will give students a breadth of experience as well as a breadth of thinking so important to the creative Versatilist.

Lastly, the close, in-person interaction of students and faculty as well as outside experts and special guests in and out of class facilitate development of these skills and further nurture the kind of deep, thoughtful examination of ideas, thinking, purposes and assumptions that  are so radically life-changing and empowering.

“First We Must Inspire, Not Just Inform”

Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori

By embodying great thinking, respect for independent judgment, and deep appreciation of individual freedom, the faculty model the very values on which the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute is founded.

The student is a “spiritual embryo,” with his or her own innate pattern of growth ready to unfold, delicately and amazingly, given the right psychological and physical environment. The teacher’s role in this unfolding cannot be underestimated.

Maria Montessori said: Teachers “have to conquer minds stirring up the great emotions of life,” to achieve real learning in students. In other words, teachers must tap into students’ deepest desires and values, such as love, joy, and pride, to motivate students. And, although Aristotle’s dicta “All men by nature desire to know” captures the human species’ trait of curiosity, curiosity can be squashed through ridicule or sapped through boredom by teachers—or coaxed into riotous flowering.

Great teachers are often transformative to the student, helping him or her learn to love knowledge and serious work, to acquire heightened reasoning skills, to look at many sides of a problem, to gather information from far-reaching domains in order to find solutions and to be self-reflective and reasonable – all important ingredients to future success.

Famed investor Warren Buffet, who did not want to go to college, said of his time achieving a master’s degree at Columbia University, “But I didn’t go there for a degree, I went for two teachers who were already my heroes.”

These principles necessitate teachers of the highest order: those with the utmost respect for their students, who can teach by example and guidance through difficult material.

While it is possible to be competent in communicating information and in conveying some of these traits long distance, in-person interaction is the most compellingly effective method. We actively seek technology of all kinds to creatively facilitate learning and collaboration and make scholars and public intellectuals from around the world accessible to our students. However, classes are in person with skilled and specially trained teachers.

Let’s examine some ways teachers influence students.

Teachers and Activation Energy

Csikszentmihalyi notes that human beings have limited mental resources and energy when it comes to paying attention (focusing on material), and these should be used wisely. Hence, our program keeps these factors in mind and seeks to facilitate attention.

A small group of people, like concert violinist Rachel Barton Pine, seem to find riveting interests when they are mere toddlers. This kind of person often barrels full speed ahead in what they want to do; but most people are not as definite or enthusiastic about any particular interest. Teachers can make a difference in the subjects in which students become interested and even their choice of profession.

Often, a passionate teacher triggers an individual’s interest in a new subject. A previously unknown, boring, or distasteful field becomes the person’s area of professional interest through their teacher. I’ve seen many a student with no previous interest in, or maybe even a repulsion to, cicadas or worms become enthralled with them after an enthusiastic teacher shows them the interesting parts of the worm or the weird way the cicada flies. The teacher fuels what research psychologist Csikszentmihalyi calls “activation energy.”

Many complex and deeply engaging areas of knowledge and skill require an enormous amount of unrewarding work before they become enjoyable. Ballet dancing, mastering physics, or successfully managing employees are a few examples. Initially the learner must expend intense mental energy in order to focus on the learning: this is the “activation energy.” Learning a musical instrument is a good example: the student spends hours practicing physical movements and enduring awful sonic productions before acquiring enough skill to make enjoyable music!

In the early 20th century, Montessori noted the same phenomena and realized its connection to teaching: “I believed that at the start the teaching material had to be associated with the voice of the teacher which called and roused the [students] and induced them to use the material and educate themselves,” Maria Montessori.

A great teacher like the character of Edward James Olmos in the movie “Stand and Deliver,” or Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society,” helps students through difficult material with contagious excitement and the ability to make it dramatically interesting and well-related to students’ deepest needs and values.

Long-time Montessori teacher Pat Schaefer summed it up, “First: we must inspire, not just inform. Second: It is in relationship that the secret of [human learning] power is released.”

Teachers and Great Questions

On the precipice of full adult life, the college student needs answers to the great questions: “Why am I here?” ”How should I live?” ”How should I deal with other people?” “What should I do with my life?” If the student is not already asking himself these questions, it is his teacher’s job to show him how to ask them and how to find good answers.

Knowing how to pose the right questions can lead to a great awakening with unforeseen, amazing consequences. Forestry Consultant Charles Tomlinson often regaled friends and family with stories of his experience at The University of the South (called “Sewanee”) with “Abbo.” Charles claimed himself a rather complacent product of a middleclass Southern family when he encountered “Abbo,” English Professor Abbott Cotton Martin. Abbo spent considerable hours poking holes in everything Charles took for granted, from football to religion, with some English literature thrown in for good measure. This was Abbo’s stock-in-trade.

Abbo taught Charles to thoroughly question and examine what he thought he knew, as well as his beliefs. But Abbo didn’t just throw students in the water of quandaries, he made himself available to talk all during the week, not just during Sunday office hours. Charles learned to “check his premises” through Abbo’s prodding as well as reading Ayn Rand. The other wonderful teachers at Sewanee helped too. They inspired him to demand more of himself, leading to a long, creatively productive, exciting life.

This included deeply influencing many, many people, including Jaroslav Romanchuk, a major figure in the opposition to Belarus’ authoritarian government.

Active Listening and Independent Judgment

Discipline must come through liberty. . . . We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined.
Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952)

Inspiration is the fundamental mission of the teacher, because of motivations’ deep importance to learning. Active Listening is a powerful teaching tool which promotes an inspiring relationship between teacher and student. For one thing, Active Listening conveys deep respect for the individual’s independence in thought and value.

“Be “careful not to ask [your] questions of the [students]. Only when [students] seek to answer questions which they themselves ask, do they commit themselves to the hard work of finding answers that are meaningful to them…give only as much guidance and encouragement as is necessary to elicit the [students’] interest.” Maria Montessori

 

Active listeningActive Listening is a key skill enabling teachers to nurture independent judgment. The Active Listener authentically tries to understand what the other person means, empathizing with the other’s point of view by working hard to grasp his or her full context. This means trying to understand the other person’s level of knowledge about a subject, their age, what emotional issues may be affecting their thinking, and the set of ideas they are using to grasp the subject.

 

Used in teaching, this means the Active Listener asks clarifying questions about the student’s terms, respectfully allowing the student time to finish what he or she is saying before responding and, importantly, conveying an attitude of alert interest in what the student says.

The Active Listener must try to leave aside any personal feelings about the subject and squash the desire to assert and forcefully drive home the rightness of his or her own opinion. These actions only serve to distract a student from deep thinking and learning by bringing in issues of social hierarchy, personal power, and self-worth (i.e., do I know enough, what does the teacher think of me, he’s got more status than I, I should listen to him). These issues elicit powerful, distracting emotions.

Further, the Active Listener tries to sense any motives in the student’s statements beyond the informational. For example, if a student in a class on Freud asks “What if a son is extremely fond and affectionate toward his mother—does that mean he has an Oedipus complex?” The teacher needs to be aware that the student may be feeling anxiety about his love for his mother and respond with gentleness, general reassurance, and kindness.

Active Listening promotes the spread of truth. Only by Active Listening do we end up having a full idea of what the other person means and thereby gain the opportunity to respond with appropriate facts and reasoning.

Independent judgment is the well-spring of real choice, and true individuality and judgment is well-developed through good discussion. Unfortunately, these days teachers sometimes find it difficult to conduct good discussions because students have been led to believe all opinions are equal in value and everyone should open their mouths to babble whatever they wish, no matter how inaccurate or trivial. Resulting from the reign of the Post Modernist attack on objectivity, this belief cripples students’ minds by encouraging them to think that any opinion is acceptable, regardless of foundation, as long as it is theirs.

While stoking their egos by making them feel whatever they think is important, this practice stops them from learning that true, valuable opinion must be grounded in facts and good reasoning.

Postmodernist ideology further deforms a student’s concept of self by equating diversity with group membership. In the Post Modernist schema, one’s diversity depends on race or ethnic background or sexual preference rather than considered, ideological judgment. It promotes a concept of tribal or social diversity rather than true ideological difference.

In contrast, Active Listening in the classroom conveys a deep respect for the independence of the other person’s mind: the Active Listener takes the student’s ideological point of view seriously and tries to respond to it carefully. The aim is full understanding of what the other is saying in the service of arriving at truth. Just imagine the kind of productive political discussions we all might have if we used these principles!

Some people have a rare, natural ability or tendency to listen like this, but since it can be learned, there’s hope for the rest of us. It is also typical of the Montessori teacher, because of his or her deep training in careful observation of students.

Socratic Practice

“It is a sign of crudity and indigestion to throw up what we have eaten in the same condition it was swallowed down; and the stomach has not performed its office, if it has not altered the figure and shape of what was committed to it for concoction…Let the tutor make his pupil thoroughly sift everything he reads, and lodge nothing in his fancy upon mere authority…To the fragments borrowed from others he will transform and bend together to make a work that shall be absolutely his own; that is to say, his judgment. His education, labor,and study aim only at forming that.” Michael Montaigne

Socratic Practice is a formidable method that, when used properly, incorporates Active Listening at its best. Some of you may have been to classes that mimic this style of teaching. In these, a teacher might ask a question like “What is justice?” and then proceed to tell students they’re wrong when they give an answer the teacher doesn’t want. Well, that’s wrong; Socratic questioning is meant to develop the student’s ability to think about a subject, not to test them and catch them when they are wrong or call them on the carpet for the right answer.

Teachers looking for the right answer encourage students to focus on pleasing the teacher, not on thinking for himself or herself. The excellent teacher aims at helping students learn how to find the right answer themselves. They help students use the facts and best theories available while learning to think well.

Teachers skillfully using Socratic Practice often have to spend time rehabilitating students after a lifetime of being told what to learn, what is the “right” answer— or that any answer is right, with no standard of truth. Students often view school as the place to feed back the answer the teacher wants to hear, not learn new knowledge in order to figure out the truth with their own powers.

Consequently, in the beginning of a program using Socratic Practice, the teacher (often called “tutor,” i.e. guide to learning) must work especially hard to shape the learning environment. Just as in any Montessori school, the prepared environment is a key to success in developing the thriving, independent-minded learner.

Physically, the environment must be quiet All participants are required to respect the appointed time of discussion, with no phone calls, text messages, etc. They sit in a circle facing each other. Attention must be on the discussion, and all participants are expected to have read the assigned text.

Psychologically, the tutor shapes the environment by many principles. He or she requires a formal politeness among discussants, to encourage rational, civil discourse. Sometimes participants must address each other by title and last name (e.g., Ms. Smith and Mr. Murphy).

Unless a student starts the discussion with a question about the study material, the tutor leads off with a thoughtful question about the reading—or often a factual question if the material is mathematical or scientific.

At our program, students are given extra, explicit instruction in reasoning skills and logic, to make them more consciously aware of how to reason well, both inductively (e.g., how to make an accurate generalization) and deductively (e.g., how to derive a conclusion from already-given facts and ideas). All these practices serve to develop student reasoning skills.

The tutor must walk a fine line, skillfully encouraging excellent reasoning while being careful not to discourage students from talking because they might have  errors in their arguments.

Learning to reason objectively about complex material requires the willingness to entertain possibly incorrect ideas in order to examine them fully, to measure them against the facts, and to analyze their rational foundation.

If a student is too fearful of looking foolish or feeling humiliated when caught in an error, he or she won’t explore complex ideas thoroughly enough to find out if they are true.

On the other hand, students are not allowed to have bull sessions and their opinions are not all equal. Only those opinions arrived at objectively through facts and reasoning are considered worthwhile.

The tutor must skillfully encourage questions and comments evincing an earnest search for truth, while discouraging or disallowing talk in which the student is proving his knowledge or disingenuous agreement with the tutor.

During a seminar on Aristotle’s Politics, if a student who says “Richard McKeon says that Aristotle’s politics….” is deflected from this line of discussion by a question such as “Do you think that is true? What does Aristotle say that makes you think that?” The tutor aims to bring the discussion back to the facts of the text studied, plus the student’s own experience and reasoning. In this way, the tutor encourages observations of the facts, generalizations closely derived from the facts, and conclusions reasoned from the facts.

Our Advisor John Tomasi implemented this method in his hugely successful special program, The Political Theory Project at Brown University. He says: “Kids are sick and tired of being told what to think. They want to make up their own minds. They want to be challenged.” The kind of work done through Socratic Practice discussions of the Great Books does exactly that.

The Habit of Thought

Questions and questioning of a special type are central to great education. The evidence that the methods of Socratic Practice consistently applied increases cognitive skills is clear. Our advisor, Michael Strong, extensively discusses these methods in The Habit of Thought: From Socratic Seminars to Socratic Practice.

Strong established remarkable programs in four high schools around the country. He measured program outcomes with the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal, a cognitive skills test correlated with performance on intelligence tests and college entrance exams such as the SAT and ACT. Administering this instrument before, during and after a year at school, he found cognitive skill gains ranging, for example, from 30% to 84%. The mean score of one school’s 9th grade group moved from below the national 9th grade mean to above the 12th grade mean in one year, while one inner city student who scored at the 1st percentile on the initial test, scored at the 85th percentile by the end of four months. While more work is needed to fully validate his results, they were consistent from school to school. Any teacher would be proud to so deeply help students learn to think well.

Teachers and Observation

“Our care of the [student] should be governed, not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence.” Maria Montessori

To be a good listener, a teacher must be a careful observer. Maria Montessori, the quintessential scientist, incorporated the scientific method into her teacher training program. She urged her teachers to spend time every day sitting back and watching the students work, interact with each other and deal with problems. In this way, teachers learn a great deal about each student, their interests, abilities and difficulties, enabling the teacher to guide him or her well. Observe, empathize, respect—these are the basics of good teaching.

The only way teachers can learn these methods is by intensive questioning and self-reflective experience. Guidance by mentors with great experience, knowledge and skill helps. Such training will be a key component of a special two-month teacher training course and apprenticeship for every teacher at the full-time Great Connections program.

In this course the teacher will both study and practice the programs specific methods, as well as experience the breadth of the ideas and the excitement and challenge of examining the great works used in our curriculum.

Teachers at The Great Connections

The in The Great Connections program are highly educated individuals, consistently willing to engage in discussions of the great questions inside and outside their domains of expertise. An excellent seminar leader asks intriguing, deep questions respectfully, keeps discussion on important topics but lets students diverge from the set topic if it means exploring something important and meaningful to them. Clearly, much art and judgment is involved, which is why extensive training is necessary.

Program focuses attention on human achievement and what makes it possible, both existentially and psychologically. We require our teachers to implement his or her best attributes: commitment to clearly knowing what he or she knows and doesn’t know (the first step on the path of objectivity); passion for learning new material and integrating it with other knowledge; commitment to modeling the highest virtues of the free person, including honesty, responsibility and respect for the rights of others; commitment to the restless pursuit of personal improvement and growth; willingness to submit to careful investigation and evaluation in order to improve. Through embodying these virtues, the teachers inspire students to the highest ends of the free man and woman.

As Scott Buchanan, architect of the Great Books program at St. John’s College, said: “Have you allowed adverse evidence to pile up and force you to conclude that you are not mathematical, not linguistic, not poetic, not scientific, not philosophical? If you have allowed this to happen, you have arbitrarily imposed limits on your intellectual freedom, and you have smothered the fires from which all other freedoms arise.”

The Delicacy of the Young Spirit

Achievement and success in life require the vision of the possible and the ability to weather the actual.

To navigate the stormy waters of life, the difficulties, the disappointments, the setbacks and the failures, students need cognitive skills and plenty of encouragement and emotional fuel. They need great examples of other human beings who have successfully dealt with many difficulties.

As the scientific findings of Positive Psychology have recently identified, knowledge and cognitive skills integrate with emotional habits and character traits. Healthy, successful, happy people tend to have cognitive habits that deeply influence their emotional tone in a positive direction.

Our curriculum teaches the works of the Classics “The best that has been thought and said” as well as modern science and the usually neglected works of the liberty movement. In addition, students do special work on the skills of logic, introspection, and self-knowledge, and the achievements of great human beings. Students are armed with inspiring and invigorating knowledge that help them achieve their goals. We apply philosophical principles as well as recent findings in scientific psychology and neuroscience. And these teachers and other staff are available to help students in many aspects of their lives.

To implement this plan, we seek individuals who are exceptional in their learning, their self-knowledge, in their passionate curiosity, and in their character, who can serve not only as guides but as inspiring examples to the students. To see the complete curriculum plan, see www.rifinst.org.

An earlier version of this article, predicting the outcomes of our curriculum and methodology, was published in 2009 online.

The Psychology and Practice of Introspection

by Marsha Familaro Enright, July 2013 for The Great Connections Seminar

 Introspection as Freedom

To be able to make truly free choices, we need to know ourselves, be in control of ourselves, and to protect ourselves from the control and influence of others so that we can make the best, most objective, most life-advancing decisions and take the best actions.

Real freedom starts within ourselves, with understanding our deepest thoughts, feelings, and values. By being masters of ourselves. But this is a difficult task, not least because it is so hard to untangle and identify what goes on inside ourselves – and understand what goes on in others.

Our “inner landscape” is, in some respects, the “final frontier” – one of the most mysterious aspects of the universe.

Unidentified needs, conflicting or unwanted feelings, unexamined ideas and values, and preconceptions can cause extra difficulty in identifying what’s going on inside.

This means authenticity is very important, i.e. knowing what we feel, think, need, and want honestly, without barriers to the truth. Without acknowledging the truth about ourselves, we can’t accurately decide what’s best to do.  Real self-knowledge is the gateway to achieving what we want, to achieving happiness in life.

But achieving real self-knowledge can be difficult for a variety of reasons.

Introspection is hard because:

  • Internal experience is one integrated sum of undifferentiated feelings, thoughts, memories & images.
  • Internal experience is not sensory and doesn’t appear to have many separate entities or objects except for symbols and images, unlike the external world which is filled with objects and entities.
  • WHAT is in the mind is easier to identify than HOW it operates; many processes are outside of conscious awareness.  And a once-conscious operation can become automatic, too, such as learning to drive a car.
  • We use the very tool we’re trying to study; if it’s impaired, it’s like a broken tool trying to fix itself.

Learning how to effectively introspect is an essential skill for achieving self-awareness and authenticity. I hope to give you a few tools from the introspection toolbox that you take away from here and learn to use well. This will be only a bare beginning!

Introspection tools

I.         Knowledge of the levels of awareness in the mind

II.         Understanding of the nature of emotions, their causes, their relationship to the reasoning mind, and how to change them if they are clearly an inaccurate response to the facts (and identifying whether they are inaccurate can be tricky).

III.         Awareness of bodily feelings

  1. As indicators of emotions
  2. As indicators of needs

IV.         Knowledge of human needs – your own and others’ – and their role in inner experience. As a living being, the mind’s function is to serve life. A corollary to this is that almost every action, word, and thought is motivated by a real need, no matter how irrational the action, word, or thought might appear.

  1. The fulfillment of these needs can be through productive or destructive means; identifying which is which is often very difficult.
  2. Understanding other people depends on recognizing this principle and trying to identify the real needs they are attempting to fulfill when they appear perplexing.

I. Levels of awareness in the mind

Conscious mind

Subconscious mind

Unconscious mind

Body processes

What are these and their relationships? What happens when you’re asleep?

A. The Conscious Mind:

  1. Is under your control through what you pay attention to.
  1. Can only hold about 7-12 discrete pieces of information in it at one time. Words and symbols enable humans to consciously manipulate vast amounts of information held in the subconscious by abstracting the information and integrating it into one mental entity.
  1. Can direct the mind’s entire enterprise through consciously identified and thought-out goals – or can be a servant to unidentified ideas and values.
  1. Is disrupted by strong emotions that fill attention and distract from thinking.

B. The Subconscious Mind:

  1. Has no ideas in it at birth (the meaning of the “blank slate”), but accesses our in-born abilities, needs, and tendencies.
  1. Is a repository for vast amounts of information, skills, memories, values, and experiences we have had.
  1. Is very logical, given whatever principles we put in it – or accept without examining (which we all do as children, since we don’t have the mental capacity to examine them in childhood).It reveals this logic when we experience conflict; conflict is a clue that we’re holding some contradictory ideas and/or values that need to be examined and resolved.
  1. Is a never-ending integration process: Given the conditions and rules we put in it, in combination with our inherent needs and tendencies (both universal and individual), it is constantly, logically connecting input to input, to literally “incorporate it” into our minds/brains. This means it is constantly connecting what we think and value in one area of thought/knowledge/interest/experience, etc. with others.
  1. Produces emotions as a consequence of an automatic evaluation in response to information from the conscious mind.

The reality-oriented logic of subconscious processing can be disrupted by:

  1. Suppression or repression of emotions.
  2. Conceptual structures we have accepted which don’t consider one area of information and thinking in relation to another area (matrices of knowledge don’t interlink)
  3. Lack of cognitive ability/skill to connect ideas.C. The Unconscious Mind:
  1. Refers to mental processes which are opaque, i.e. completely inaccessible to conscious awareness. For example, other than deciding to remember something, how do we get information, e.g. a word we want, from memory?
  1. This includes processes that were once conscious, but have become automatized. For example, understanding what someone else is saying.
  1. Seems to particularly include voluntary physical processes. For example, how do we merely think of what we want to say and we’re able to type the words? Decide to play racquetball and all of our skills and strategy come to bear?

D.  Body processes: Those physiological processes that affect the mind, i.e. hormones, electrical activity, circulating levels of nutritive substances. These aren’t strictly part of the mind – and yet they are insofar as they produce the physical substrate of it.

II. Understanding Emotion

What is emotion?

A very succinct definition is: “the psychosomatic form in which man experiences his estimate of the beneficial or harmful relationship of some aspect of reality to himself” (Nathaniel Branden, The Psychology of Self-Esteem, 1969, 64)

Emotion is the result of a combination of the ideas and values which we hold (acquired by conscious choice and thinking, or incidentally accepted) and our inherent needs and tendencies, in response to some event. Since, as mentioned in the above section, emotions are a result of an automatic process originating in the subconscious, they cannot be directly controlled.

At most, they can be suppressed, or, if suppression becomes a habit, repressed.

Suppression and Repression

In a variety of situations, it may be beneficial to suppress an emotion. For example, if a tiger is stalking you, it is beneficial to suppress your desire to scream, turn and run, because this will trigger the tiger to attack. Instead, if you can suppress your fear and think about what to do to protect yourself, you have a better chance of survival.

However, it’s only too often the case that painful, perplexing experiences, especially ones in which we seem to be powerless, lead to a habit of suppressing a feeling. Suppressed too often and an emotion becomes repressed.

That is, the mind automatically suppresses the particular feeling – it becomes an automatic process of the subconscious. And this puts the most of the information leading up to the feeling out of conscious awareness, and therefore conscious control.

Unfortunately, as children, we’re often subjected to situations that are contrary to our needs, irrational, and painful. The only way to psychologically survive in such situations is to suppress our feelings.

For example, if, as a child, you pointed out that something was factually wrong with a story your father recounted, and he typically hit you in response, or told you to “shut up, don’t contradict me” – or merely belittled you with a comment such as “what do you know, you’re just a kid,” or “you’re such a nerdy know-it-all”, what was your response? Hurt, anger, a desire to retaliate? Yet, was it safe to be angry or retaliate? You might be physically punished or you might fear losing his love. So you suppress the feelings of hurt, disappointment, and anger.

When you’ve done this over and over, your emotional response becomes repressed. And you don’t feel as strong and assertive as you could; it undermines your motivations.

Or perhaps you allow yourself to feel anger, and even plot revenge. You turn the situation around and use your fantasy to develop a fictional world, and you become a writer. But you repressed your hurt and now you don’t understand why it’s difficult to feel love also.

That’s because the process of suppression involves the dampening of all feeling. To stop yourself from feeling something – to suppress – you must:

  • Ignore some aspect of what you were thinking about
  • Tighten your body against the feeling, i.e. hold your breath, squeeze your shoulders, stiffen your muscles.

This affects everything you’re feeling. If this becomes automatic and turns into repression, it becomes much more difficult to be aware of what you are feeling in that situation, and even in many others.

Practices that help identify emotions

Taking the attitude that whatever you are feeling are facts of nature, not within your control and something to accept,is a first step in identifying what you are feeling. In other words, working to have no internal censorship. The most productive practice is to first allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling, then analyze it.

To identify why you reacted in a given way and what it means, try to describe the triggers, the quality, and the exact bodily feelings of the emotion you are having. Here are some useful questions:

When did the feeling begin?

What was the last thought I had before it started?

What was I paying attention to when it started?

What was I looking at, imagining, remembering, doing, saying?

What immediately happened to my body after the feeling started?

Where were the feelings in my body? Where were they in my body?

Were they sharp, dull, slight, great – what would be a good way to describe them?

Among other difficulties, you may need to overcome a prejudice as to what is okay to feel – e.g. you shouldn’t be attracted to your brother’s wife; you should want a high powered career, but you love children so much, all you want to do is have babies.

Feelings of conflict and discomfort will bring this kind of thing to your attention. For example, if you want to call a friend but simultaneously are resisting contacting him, you are feeling a conflict. If you want to apply for a job but you never get near the phone to call, you are feeling a conflict.

Lastly, you may not understand something about your own nature and needs. For example, you may have an introverted disposition (this is often inborn), which makes too much interaction with other people overwhelming. But you don’t realize this, so you think there’s something wrong with the fact that you don’t like to go to parties.

A helpful practice is to write down your thoughts about any conflicts you are having in a log or journal every morning, using the above questions for your reflection. That is, make a diary of your feelings and thoughts about the situation. At the end of the week, look over what you wrote and see if you can glean any new understanding from it; see if you can relate them to events during the week.

For example, you stayed up really late and were exhausted on Wednesday, and you see that you felt especially bad about a mistake you made. Or you ran into an old friend on Tuesday and you noticed that you felt out of sorts all day.

III. Awareness of bodily feelings

Being aware of what’s going on in your body is key to identifying what’s going on in your mind. However, highly intelligent, intellectual people often spend a lot of time “in their heads” and not in awareness of the physical world.  They tend to be excellent at focusing on something they’re thinking or working on, but often lack in awareness of their environs or what’s going on in their bodies.

Yet such awareness is not only a gateway to much pleasure and value, but to greater awareness of your self, your body, preferences, responses, and needs.

Developing your sensory acuity, noticing the physical details of your surroundings – the smells, sounds, sights, and feels – is beneficial. Furthermore, it aids in emotional awareness and even understanding, as you can more easily connect your emotional reaction to what just happened to you.

For example, you’re in the elevator and a man gets on with you while you’re busy texting a friend. He stands behind, to the left; doesn’t move or say anything. You find yourself getting more and more tense while you continue your text conversation; you arrive at the fifth floor and exit the elevator; a great wave of relief comes over you. You stop texting and reflect on the experience. You realize that when he got on, he had an odd expression on his face, which you couldn’t make out. You weren’t sure if it meant he could be threatening or not, but you were distracted by the texting, so you didn’t think the whole thing through. Instead, your subconscious put two and two together and made you worried. If you were more alert to your body’s reactions, you might have been able to consciously assess the situation better – and protect yourself another time, if someone were indeed threatening.

Increasing your awareness of your body’s reactions, no matter what you’re concentrating on, can expand your ability to understand your emotional reactions. Many physical disciplines like yoga aim to increase your bodily awareness.

IV. Human Needs

A basic principle in understanding human motivation is:  what real need does that behavior fulfill?

In understanding perplexing things about yourself or others, this is a crucial question to ask.  Combined with an understanding of the most fundamental human needs and tendencies, it can be extremely useful.

For example, going back to the scenario with your father’s inaccurate stories. What need of his could account for his nasty behavior? What did your action make him feel?

The hard part is understanding the range of human needs and how they interact in a given situation. That takes a bit of study and experience. Also, just as people vary on their ability to be aware of their own feelings, they vary on their ability to perceive and analyze others’ emotional expressions and demeanor.

It turns out that humans have the ability to directly, internally imitate the experience of what other people are feeling through “mirror neurons” which reside in the frontal lobes of the brain.

“A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another. Thus, the neuron “mirrors” the behavior of the other, as though the observer were itself acting. Such neurons have been directly observed in primate and other species including birds.”

Researchers “argue that mirror neurons may be important for understanding the actions of other people, and for learning new skills by imitation. Some researchers also speculate that mirror systems may simulate observed actions, and thus contribute to theory of mind skills, while others relate mirror neurons to language abilities. Neuroscientists such as Marco Iacoboni (UCLA) have argued that mirror neuron systems in the human brain help us understand the actions and intentions of other people. In a study published in March 2005 Iacoboni and his colleagues reported that mirror neurons could discern if another person who was picking up a cup of tea planned to drink from it or clear it from the table. In addition, Iacoboni has argued that mirror neurons are the neural basis of the human capacity for emotions such as empathy.” Wikipedia

There is a raft of evidence that the natural ability to easily be aware of one’s internal states and those of others varies considerably from person to person, and that women tend to be naturally more skilled at grasping their own internal states and those of others. Of course, ultimately, the degree of inborn ability is individual, just like intelligence. Further, just like intelligence, it’s a skill that can be practiced and enhanced through purposeful observation, reflection, and analysis. This ability is highly pertinent to identifying human needs.

The following are sets of ideas about needs and emotions that are useful to consider.

Maria Montessori’s List of The Universal Needs of Humans

 

  1. Self-preservation                                         6. Movement/transportation
  2. Orientation                                                  7. Logical/quantitative processing
  3. Order                                                           8. Social connection
  4. Communication                                           9. Nurturing
  5. Imagination                                                  10. Self-perfection

Ten Human Tendencies, which aim to meet the above needs

  1. Exploration                                                  6. Self-control-discipline
  2. Orientation                                                  7. Repetition
  3. Order                                                           8. Perfection
  4. Ability to abstract ideas                              9. Exactness
  5. Work                                                         10. Communication

(Nathaniel Branden argues the need for self-esteem is fundamental, but it’s not on this list.)

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Website with research and personal tests on Authentic Happiness

http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu

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Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is often portrayed in the shape of a pyramid with the largest, most fundamental levels of needs at the bottom and the need for self-actualization at the top. While the pyramid has become the de facto way to represent the hierarchy, Maslow himself never used a pyramid to describe these levels in any of his writings on the subject.

The most fundamental and basic four layers of the pyramid contain what Maslow called “deficiency needs” or “d-needs”: esteem, friendship and love, security, and physical needs. If these “deficiency needs” are not met – with the exception of the most fundamental (physiological) need – there may not be a physical indication, but the individual will feel anxious and tense. Maslow’s theory suggests that the most basic level of needs must be met before the individual will strongly desire (or focus motivation upon) the secondary or higher level needs. Maslow also coined the term Metamotivation to describe the motivation of people who go beyond the scope of the basic needs and strive for constant betterment.

The human mind and brain are complex and have parallel processes running at the same time, thus many different motivations from various levels of Maslow’s hierarchy can occur simultaneously. Maslow spoke clearly about these levels and their satisfaction in terms such as “relative,” “general,” and “primarily.” Instead of stating that the individual focuses on a certain need at any given time, Maslow stated that a certain need “dominates” the human organism, and the satisfaction Thus Maslow acknowledged the likelihood that the different levels of motivation could occur at any time in the human mind, but he focused on identifying the basic types of motivation and the order in which they should be met.

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Suggested Definitions

Mind: the set of cognitive faculties of consciousness that enables perception, memory, imagination, evaluation, and reasoning, characteristic of humans.

Cognition: the awareness and identification of reality.

Emotion: “the psychosomatic form in which man experiences his estimate of the beneficial or harmful relationship of some aspect of reality to himself” (Branden 1969, 64)

Introspection: the examination of one’s own conscious thoughts and feelings, i.e. one’s mental states and physical states in as much as one is aware of the physical through the mind. Introspection is contrasted with external observation. Introspection generally provides a privileged access to our own mental states, not mediated by other sources of knowledge, so that the individual experience of the mind is unique. Introspection can encompass any number of mental states including: sensory, bodily, cognitive, emotional and so forth.

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Classifying Emotions: Some different systems
(source: Wikipedia)

Robinson’s criteria contrasting basic emotions

The following table identifies and contrasts the fundamental emotions according to a set of definite criteria according to D. L. Robinson.[1]

Robinson says the three key criteria defining fundamental emotions include theses mental aspects:

  1. have a strongly motivating subjective quality, like pleasure or pain
  2. are in response to a real or imagined event or object
  3. motivate specific types of behaviour or actions

According to Robinson, combinations of these attributes distinguish the emotions from sensations, feelings and moods.

Kind of emotion

Positive emotions

Negative emotions

Related to object properties Interest, curiosity Alarm, panic
Attraction, desire, admiration Aversion, disgust, revulsion
Surprise, amusement Indifference, familiarity, habituation
Future appraisal Hope Fear
Event related Gratitude, thankfulness Anger, rage
Joy, elation, triumph, jubilation Sorrow, grief
Relief Frustration, disappointment
Self-appraisal Pride in achievement, self-confidence, sociability Embarrassment, shame, guilt, remorse
Social Generosity Avarice, greed, miserliness, envy, jealousy
Sympathy Cruelty
Cathected Love Hate

 

HUMAINE’s proposal for EARL (Emotion Annotation and Representation Language)

The emotion annotation and representation language (EARL) proposed by the Human-Machine Interaction Network on Emotion (HUMAINE) classifies 48 emotions.[2]

Parrott’s emotions by groups

tree-structured list of emotions was described in Parrott (2001).

Primary emotion

Secondary emotion

Tertiary emotion

Love Affection Adoration · Fondness · Liking · Attractiveness · Caring · Tenderness · Compassion · Sentimentality
Lust/Sexual desire Desire · Passion · Infatuation
Longing Longing
Joy Cheerfulness Amusement · Bliss · Gaiety · Glee · Jolliness · Joviality · Joy · Delight · Enjoyment · Gladness · Happiness ·Jubilation · Elation · Satisfaction · Ecstasy · Euphoria
Zest Enthusiasm · Zeal · Excitement · Thrill · Exhilaration
Contentment Pleasure
Pride Triumph
Optimism Eagerness · Hope
Enthrallment Enthrallment · Rapture
Relief Relief
Surprise Surprise Amazement · Astonishment
Anger Irritability Aggravation · Agitation · Annoyance · Grouchy · Grumpy · Crosspatch
Exasperation Frustration
Rage Anger · Outrage · Fury · Wrath · Hostility · Ferocity · Bitter · Hatred · Scorn · Spite · Vengefulness · Dislike ·Resentment
Disgust Revulsion · Contempt · Loathing
Envy Jealousy
Torment Torment
Sadness Suffering Agony · Anguish · Hurt
Sadness Depression · Despair · Gloom · Glumness · Unhappy · Grief · Sorrow · Woe · Misery · Melancholy
Disappointment Dismay · Displeasure
Shame Guilt · Regret · Remorse
Neglect Alienation · Defeatism · Dejection · Embarrassment · Homesickness · Humiliation · Insecurity · Insult ·Isolation · Loneliness · Rejection
Sympathy Pity · Sympathy
Fear Horror Alarm · Shock · Fear · Fright · Horror · Terror · Panic · Hysteria · Mortification
Nervousness Anxiety · Suspense · Uneasiness · Apprehension (fear) · Worry · Distress · Dread

Plutchik’s wheel of emotions

Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions

 

Robert Plutchik created a wheel of emotions in 1980 which consisted of 8 basic emotions and 8 advanced emotions each composed of 2 basic ones.[5]

Basic emotion

Basic opposite

Joy Sadness
Trust Disgust
Fear Anger
Surprise Anticipation

 

Human feelings (results of emotions)

Feelings

Opposite

Optimism Anticipation + Joy Disapproval
Love Joy + Trust Remorse
Submission Trust + Fear Contempt
Awe Fear + Surprise Aggression
Disapproval Surprise + Sadness Optimism
Remorse Sadness + Disgust Love
Contempt Disgust + Anger Submission
Aggressiveness Anger + Anticipation Awe

 

If Emotions Aren’t Tools of Cognition, what are they?

Philosophy & Psychology

 

If “Emotions Are Not Tools of Cognition,” What Are They?:

An Exploration of the Relationship
Between Reason and Emotion

 Marsha Familaro Enright 

A Conversation with Ayn Rand

“Emotions are not tools of cognition,” Ayn Rand said on more than one occasion  (1961, 55; 1964, 6; 1974, 6).

An emotion as such tells you nothing about reality, beyond the fact that something makes you feel something.  Without a ruthlessly honest commitment to introspection—to the conceptual identification of your inner states—you will not discover what you feel, what arouses the feeling, and whether your feeling is an appropriate response to the facts of reality, or a mistaken response, or a vicious illusion produced by years of self-deception . . .  (Rand 1984, 17)

The apparent meaning of these statements has reverberated among Objectivists for years.  For some, they have cast a suspicion on emotion as such.  Many take them to mean that feelings should always be ignored when reasoning.  Why?  On the premise that they do not give any evidence about reality, and distort our reasoning, giving a kind of positive bias (Kahneman, Slovic and Tversky 1982) to whatever is felt most strongly.

Of course, emotional bias and distortion of judgment are common in everyday experience:  Andrew really dislikes Scott as a person, his cocky attitude, his condescending stance—so much so that Andrew seems to notice anything wrong with what Scott does or says, but rarely anything right.  Worse, he often incorrectly understands what Scott does and says.  The fact that Scott is a superb basketball player and knowledgeable about the game is discounted, even the kind words Scott has for a child who fell down are ignored:  Andrew has a very hard time creating and maintaining a reasonable and objective evaluation of Scott.  Surely, Andrew’s feelings are biasing his cognition towards Scott.  And this seems to have been the kind of thing Rand was worried about.

However, I was never sure that Rand’s position exactly described the facts of experience about reason and emotion.  And, over the years, I had noticed certain discrepancies in Rand’s writings about emotions (also in the
characterizations in her fiction).[i]  In the 1970s, I was attending some lectures given by Leonard Peikoff in New York City.  Rand was in the audience and accessible to students with questions.  I took the opportunity to ask Rand about her statement “emotions are not tools of cognition, and negative emotions less so than any others” in her essay “Ideas versus Men” (1974, 6).  I asked her how negative emotions could be less so, if emotions weren’t tools in the first place?

Her first response was to make sure I understood what she meant, which I did:  that she made this paradoxical statement as a matter of emphasis.  Then, she explained herself:  She said that negative emotions were particularly dangerous cognitively because they tended to drive you away from things, from looking at the facts and reality, from thinking about the objects of the feelings, while positive emotions at least draw you to things.  She said that negative feelings are variations of fear; therefore they make you less able to think about the thing evoking the feeling.

A rather interesting, psychologically observant, and reasonable position, I thought.  However, the reader may have noticed that it didn’t address my original question, viz.  “How can negative emotions be “less so,” if emotions aren’t tools of cognition in the first place?  For one thing, I wanted to know what she meant by the metaphor of “tool.”  Unfortunately, I became distracted from pressing the issue.  So we must go back to the drawing board—or the writing tablet, as it may be—to examine some of the passages in which she discusses emotions in order to further determine what she meant.[i]

In the following, I will not only examine Rand’s writings on the relationship of reason and emotion, I will also delve into current neurological and psychological research relevant to the topic, endeavoring to discern their true relationship.

The Discussion of Emotion in Rand’s Corpus

In Atlas Shrugged, Rand indicated her abstract view of reason and its relation to emotion:

“Just as your body has two fundamental sensations, pleasure and pain, as signs of its welfare or injury, as a barometer of its basic alternative, life or death, so your consciousness has two fundamental emotions, joy and suffering, in answer to the same alternative.  Your emotions are estimates of that which furthers your life or threatens it, lightning calculators giving you a sum of your profit or loss.  You have no choice about your capacity to feel that something is good for you or evil, but what you will consider good or evil, what will give you joy or pain, what you will love or hate, desire or fear, depends on your standard of value.  Emotions are inherent in your nature, but their content is dictated by your mind.  Your emotional capacity is an empty motor, and your values are the fuel with which your mind fills it.  If you choose a mix of contradictions, it will clog your motor, corrode your transmission and wreck you on your first attempt to move with a machine which you, the driver, have corrupted.” (1957, 947; boldfaced emphasis mine)

An emotion that clashes with your reason, an emotion that you cannot explain or control, is only the carcass of that stale thinking which you forbade your mind to revise.  (962)

Later, in her interview with Playboy, she said:

“Reason is man’s tool of knowledge, the faculty that enables him to perceive the facts of reality.  To act rationally means to act in accordance with the facts of reality.  Emotions are not tools of cognition.  What you feel tells you nothing about the facts; it merely tells you something about your estimate of the facts.  Emotions are the result of your value judgments; they are caused by your basic premises, which you may hold consciously or subconsciously, which may be right or wrong.”  (Rand 1964, 6)

Then, in The Virtue of Selfishness, she speaks in more detail about the nature of emotion and its relation to reason and knowledge:

Just as the pleasure-pain mechanism of man’s body is an automatic indicator of his body’s welfare or injury, a barometer of its basic alternative, life or death—so the emotional mechanism of man’s consciousness is geared to perform the same function . . . Emotions are the automatic results of man’s value judgments integrated by his subconscious; emotions are estimates of that which furthers man’s values or threatens them . . .

But while the standard of value operating the physical pleasure-pain mechanism of man’s body is automatic and innate, determined by the nature of his body—the standard of value operating his emotional mechanism, is not.  Since man has no automatic knowledge, he can have no automatic values; since he has no innate ideas, he can have no innate value judgments.

Man is born with an emotional mechanism, just as he is born with a cognitive mechanism; but, at birth, both are “tabula rasa.”  It is man’s cognitive faculty, his mind, that determines the content of both. . . . But since the work of man’s mind is not automatic, his values, like all his premises, are the product either of his thinking or of his evasions:  man chooses his values by a conscious process of thought—or accepts them by default, by subconscious associations, on faith, on someone’s authority, by some form of social osmosis or blind imitation.  Emotions are produced by man’s premises, held consciously or subconsciously, explicitly or implicitly.  (1964, 27–28; boldfaced emphasis mine)[i]

Since he was the original theoretical psychologist in the Objectivist movement, Nathaniel Branden’s views were a significant presentation of Objectivist thinking in this area.  His early views in articles in The Objectivist and in his book The Psychology of Self-Esteem were much in alignment with Rand’s.  In the book, he defines emotion as “the psychosomatic form in which man experiences his estimate of the beneficial or harmful relationship of some aspect of reality to himself” (Branden 1969, 64).[i]  He emphasizes the same series of mental steps as Rand, from perception to cognition to estimation to emotion, and the view that man is not born with built-in values but must choose them.  Like Rand, he declares:

Emotions are not tools of cognition.  To treat them as such is to put one’s life and well-being in the gravest danger.  What one feels in regard to any fact or issue is irrelevant to the question of whether one’s judgment is true or false.  It is not by means of one’s emotions that one apprehends reality. . . . Reason and emotion are not antagonists; what may seem like a struggle between them is only a struggle between two opposing ideas, one of which is not conscious and manifests itself only in the form of a feeling.  (66–68; boldfaced emphasis mine)

Branden’s early views had much influence on Objectivist thought, although he later changed some of his positions.

However, in “The Comprachicos,” Rand revealed a somewhat different approach to emotions:

“Animals, infants and small children are exceedingly sensitive to emotional vibrations:  it is their chief means of cognition.  A small child senses whether an adult’s emotions are genuine, and grasps instantly the vibrations of hypocrisy.”  (Rand 1971, 197; boldfaced emphasis mine)

Later in the essay, she discusses the experiences of a hypothetical young child in a Progressive nursery school:[i]

“He gets the nature of the game—wordlessly, by repetition, imitation and emotional osmosis, long before he can form the concepts to identify it.

“He learns not to question the supremacy of the pack.  He discovers that such questions are taboo in some frightening, supernatural way; the answer is an incantation vibrating with the overtones of a damning indictment, suggesting that he is guilty of some innate, incorrigible evil:  “Don’t be selfish.”  Thus he acquires self-doubt, before he is fully aware of a self.

“He has neither the means nor the courage to grasp that it is not his bad feelings, but the good ones, that he wants to protect from the pack:  his feelings about anything important to him, about anything he loves—i.e., the first, vague rudiments of his values. (198–200)

“Even though the major part of the guilt belongs to his teachers, the little manipulator is not entirely innocent.  He is too young to understand the immorality of his course, but nature gives him an emotional warning:  he does not like himself when he engages in deception, he feels dirty, unworthy, unclean.  This protest of a violated consciousness serves the same purpose as physical pain:  it is the warning of a dangerous malfunction or injury. ” (206; boldfaced emphasis mine)

Another quote that points to emotions as evidence is this line from Atlas Shrugged:  “[T]he proof of an achieved self-esteem is your soul’s shudder of contempt and rebellion against the role of a sacrificial animal . . .” (1957,947; emphasis mine).

      How do we reconcile all these thoughts with one another?  On the one hand, Rand maintains that we are born tabula rasa for values and estimations.  She asserts that emotions are automatic reactions resulting from our estimations and values, and that our estimations and values result only from our knowledge.  Therefore, emotions can only result from our knowledge of the world.  She reasons that our knowledge is a result of our conscious awareness and reasoning.  Therefore, what we find good or bad, what we value, results only from the work of our reasoning minds after we are born.

On the other hand, she acknowledges both that animals and infants use their emotions to figure out things about the world (“chief means of cognition”).  By her own theory, how can this be?  Don’t our emotions stem from our chosen values and premises?  Don’t we choose values and premises with our reasoning minds?  What if we don’t have a reasoning mind yet?  Further, she holds that emotions aren’t tools of cognition, but she also says that feelings of contempt and rebellion are proof of self-esteem—proof of our judgment that we are valuable, competent and worthy persons.

And, if there is no inherent standard of value implicitly operating his emotional mechanism, because we are tabula rasa for value, how can a young child’s consciousness warn him of a malfunction?  How can he have some sense that what he is doing is wrong?  Note that she thinks it serves the same purpose as physical pain—to protect his life.

Also, although she several times says that our feelings are the result of what we have thought and learned, by careful conscious thinking, she also says several times that they can result from undirected subconscious integrations.  If you don’t do the necessary conscious thinking to choose your values properly, your subconscious makes integrations on its own that automatically result in values.  They get chosen by default?  How and by whom?  Doesn’t Rand hold that choice is an act of the conscious, reasoning mind?

Further, she speaks of someone accepting ideas by a process of “social osmosis.”  What is that?  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “osmosis” is “the tendency of fluids separated by porous septa to pass through these and mix with each other.”  Obviously, Rand uses the term metaphorically here, but by what literal process would a person get ideas and values passed to them from other people without conscious awareness?  And, if the content of one’s subconscious is determined by one’s reasoning, how does that reconcile with the process of social osmosis?  How does one accept ideas by imitation?  Is this a process of reason?  If not, then how do the ideas result in one’s subconscious and cause emotions?

Let me stress that I am not disputing that some people do accept ideas by imitation, because human beings are a highly imitative species.  I am disputing how some people accept ideas by imitation if all ideas are accepted by conscious choice.  I am trying to see how these statements relate to Rand’s theory of the roots and cause of emotions.

Notice in the discussion of the nursery school child, Rand comments on his awareness of doing wrong, of his acting in a destructive way against his consciousness—and his emotions indicate this to him by making him feel bad.  Remember, she’s speaking here about a three-year-old child, that is, one just beginning to form higher abstractions and concepts.  At this level of development, most of the child’s conscious reasoning and cognition is directed at mastering sensory/perceptual and motor information (Montessori 1967; Boydstun 1990).  He has just the beginnings of conscious reasoning, although there is a lot of evidence that his subconscious mind is a repository of lots of information and integrations—sensory, perceptual, motor and social.  The latter isindicated by his complex abilities to work, discover, interact with others, and engage in imaginary play (Baron-Cohen 1996; 2000; Gardner 1991; Montessori 1936; 1964; Perner 1991; Piaget 2000; Tulving and Craik 2000).

I think it is abundantly clear from the unanswered questions and implications of these passages that Rand’s—and Branden’s—early thinking on the relation of reason and emotion, although rich with information and insight, is incomplete.  At this point, I think it would behoove us to look at the bigger picture of the scientific evidence regarding the process of reasoning and the biological function and nature of emotions.  At the end of this essay, I will return to Objectivist theory on reason and emotion and examine it in light of the following information.
Evidence on the Relation of Emotion and Cognition

To clarify our exploration, let’s examine the meaning of “cognition.”  I have not been able to find a straight definition of this idea in Rand’s work.[i]   The closest I can cobble together is this:  “Reason is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses” (Rand 1971, 20).  And:  “The ability to regard entities as units is man’s distinctive method of cognition” (Rand 1967, 12).  In The Psychology of Self-Esteem, Branden (1969, 91) says:  “The basic function of man’s consciousness is cognition, i.e., awareness and knowledge of the facts of reality.”  In Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, knowledge is described as “a mental grasp of a fact(s) of reality, reached either by perceptual observation or by a process of reason based on perceptual observation” (Rand 1967, 45).

Rand’s conception of the process of knowledge seems to be of steps in a series, not just aspects of one integrated process:  First, perceptually identify existents.  Second, regard the various existents as units.  Third, integrate this information with other facts and ideas.  The product is knowledge.  For Rand, the distinctive feature of cognition seems to be identification of the facts:  “. . . the awareness of specific, particular things which he can recognize and distinguish from the rest of his perceptual field—which represents the (implicit) concept ‘identity’ (6).  The awareness and identification of facts, either perceptual or conceptual, seems to be the mental act performed in cognition.  This is distinguished from evaluation, which is the mental act of judging the helpful or harmful relationship that some aspect of reality has to living things and their pursuits.

On Rand’s account, evaluation, and therefore emotions, involve an extra step beyond cognition—a subconscious evaluation and response.  What is evaluated is the relationship of some fact to oneself; evaluation, in turn, leads to emotion.  However, to determine whether emotions are or are not tools (means or instruments) of cognition, we need to examine their ongoing relationship with cognitive functioning.  We need to examine how reasoning works to achieve goals—in particular, cognitive goals— and whether emotions play any part in facilitating the best use of reason.  Let’s keep in mind that all cognitive operations are the goal-oriented actions of living beings.

Are emotions involved in tasks that seem purely cognitive?  For this, I have something to offer from my own experience:  Here’s something that happened to me one day while I was trying to make dinner.  I was making a special chicken salad, but I couldn’t find the recipe so I prepared the food from memory:  a seemingly straightforward cognitive task.  I pictured the list of ingredients in my head, from the recipe page in the book that I couldn’t find.  Some parts of the list weren’t perfectly clear in visual memory.  So I kept going over it in my head, trying to get a clearer mental picture of the list.  I started to add the spices, and, as I went into the spice cabinet, the dry mustard drew my attention—I felt a kind of questioning, a kind of half-feeling, half-thought, meaning: Is it in the recipe?  No, I thought, it goes in something else, potato salad or macaroni and cheese.  So I left it on the shelf.  But—I still felt an uncertainty.

I finished the salad and ate dinner without having shaken the feeling of doubt that I had.  Later, as I put the dishes in the dishwasher, I noticed that the dressing on the salad wasn’t the same color as usual: it was brown, like the balsamic vinegar I had put in it, instead of . . . yellow!  I then realized that I had left out regular mustard, and I felt a eureka of discovery, a feeling of satisfaction and completion.  I had solved the problem.

I must admit that, although this task may seem largely cognitive, there were strong motivations driving it, which affected what I felt.  For example, there was personal frustration at not being able to accomplish my task, and a desire to continue to try to reconstruct the correct list, because I wanted to taste that good salad.  But there was also a more purely cognition-related motivation:  the doubt that I had made the recipe correctly, along with a strong desire to know the truth, and these caused my subconscious to continue working on the problem even after I finished eating, until the problem was solved.

What seems clear to me in this experience is the extent to which my feelings about what I was trying to figure out both indicated the state of, and helped direct, my cognition.  They indicated whether I had fully identified the facts of the recipe.  My goal, searching for the right ingredients, directed the scanning of my memory.  My emotional evaluation of the information that came out, followed by my thoughts (dry mustard?  No, that didn’t feel right—ah, I use it in macaroni and cheese) then re-directed my search.

Psychologist/philosopher Eugene T. Gendlin has been exploring similar experiences for some years.  He uses a method he calls “focusing” to get at the meaning and nature of the implicit.[i]  Here is an example from a recent essay:

“Suppose you have an oddly gnawing feeling.  Then you realize —oh, it’s that you forgot something—it’s now Monday afternoon—what was it?  You don’t know, and yet it is there, in that gnawing body-tension.  You think of many things you ought to have done today, but no; none of them are “it.”  How do you know that none of these is what you forgot?  The gnawing knows.  It won’t release.  You  burrow into this gnawing.  Then suddenly—you remember:  Yes, someone was waiting for you for lunch.  Too late now!  This might make you quite tense.  But what about the gnawing?  That particular tension has eased.  The easing is the easing of that gnawing.  Its easing is how you know that you have remembered.  Remembering is something experienced, and the term “remembered” is used in direct reference to experience.”  (Gendlin 1995)

By “experience,” Gendlin means the direct awareness you have of what you are feeling, perceiving, thinking, remembering, imagining— of all your awareness at the moment, as opposed to a statement about it, or some other symbolized formulation.  “The gnawing knows” seems to be a poetic way of saying that some part of one’s subconscious knows and this is experienced through a feeling of gnawing.  This is an awfully common experience, which I’m sure almost any reader recognizes.  What does this experience tell us about the relation of knowing and feeling?

For one thing, it tells us that a large component of certainty and uncertainty are feelings about the state of our knowledge, as well as a set of reasoned, consciously held premises.  They are feelings which reflect the subconscious evaluation that we have recognized the facts, or not.  This evaluation occurs along with a particular and distinct psychosomatic component of pleasure (satisfaction, closure, comfort),in the case of certainty, or displeasure (dissatisfaction, discomfort, anxiety), in the case of uncertainty.  These feelings tend to indicate the extent to which we have attained the relevant knowledge regarding the theory or premise or fact, from correctly identified facts, and from their proper integration with the body of evidence and reasoning.  The feelings have a distinct psychosomatic character that allows us to recognize them as certainty or uncertainty rather than love, hate, etc.

Certainty and uncertainty are feelings??  Aren’t they the essence of cognition—of knowing when you have correctly identified the facts? Yes but . . . conscious reasoning and logic usually require the backing of myriad facts, and concepts, and chains of logic held in the subconscious.  The conscious mind simply cannot hold enough information at once to alone make a determination of truth.  This is one of the reasons it takes a long time to change a person’s mind about philosophy, or goals and values, or any abstract position:  he or she may be able to follow chains of reasoning about abstract ideas, but simply cannot simultaneously review the enormous amount of facts and ideas relevant to the abstractions.  The process of changing our minds on a complex set of ideas involves going back and forth between what is considered consciously and conclusions and facts held in memory (and faced afresh in life).  We must continually apply the idea to the previously known and newly discovered to check its correctness against the facts, as well as its ability to integrate with our other ideas.

The fact that we can hold a drastically limited amount of information in our conscious minds has been informally recognized in Objectivism with the concept of the “crow epistemology.”  Rand (1967, 62) mentions an observation that crows are only able to recognize a limited number of units—three to be exact (Campbell 1999; Shedenhelm 2000).  Hence the term “crow epistemology,” which recognizes that there is a limit to the number of items or units that the conscious mind can hold in awareness at once.  (There is also a limit to the number of items that human beings can subitize, or recognize the number of without counting, which, for most adults, is 4 items.)  Experimental psychology shows that human beings can generally do better than crows; on a wider range of tasks, human beings can hold approximately seven-plus-or-minus-two units in conscious awareness.   This set of facts has long been recognized in experimental psychology, going back to a famous review article by George Miller (1956).

The fact that we can hold a limited number of units in conscious awareness is the reason why long sentences are so difficult to understand.  It is why we have to make lists to remember all the errands we have to do.  It’s why we use concepts and words to reason.  Concepts and words allow us to gather up all the information we have on some aspect of reality and have it available to our conscious mind by means of a single unit.  The visual or auditory symbol is a single perceptual unit that triggers the conscious awareness of the information residing in the subconscious about that concept.

There is some evidence that every word may have a feeling attached to it. At the least, it may be the feeling that we are using the right word.  For example, we may mean to speak of “a” boat rather than “the” boat.  But more often, we have numerous variations of feeling attached to words, depending on our purpose in using them.  Since we are always speaking for a purpose (otherwise, we are speaking gibberish), it is logical that a subconscious evaluation of the success of our purpose (e.g., that we have spoken the right word to express our meaning and purpose), should accompany every utterance, and be experienced as a feeling.

Further, we often consider what words to use through the feelings of their connotations.  Words without much reference to facts and experience, which do not have much feeling related to them, are much more difficult to keep in mind.  The symbols used in symbolic logic are an example of this latter, as are any neologisms that we haven’t yet fully grasped.[i]  The meaning of ‘hermeneutics’ is much harder to keep in mind than the meaning of ‘cat.’  Future neuropsychological research would be required to fully test the idea that every word has a feeling attached to it.

We hold the referents for our concepts, our theories, our ideas and our values in our subconscious minds.  The state of our feelings indicates to us the state of connection and integration between our subconscious ideas and the facts and ideas we are considering consciously, as illustrated by the chicken salad episode.  In the case of certainty, a feeling of rightness, of on-target identification indicates to our conscious mind that what we are thinking and doing integrates appropriately with the identifications in our subconscious.  This kind of psychological function is a result of the fact that we cannot hold all the facts and chains of inference in conscious attention at once.

In problem-solving and creative thinking, a hunch, i.e., “a strong intuitive feeling concerning especially a future event or result” (Merriam-Webster 2001) is often the first clue to a new line of thought, a discovery or a relevant fact we had not considered.  In terms of psychological experience, a hunch seems to be the mirror image of the gnawing sense that we have forgotten something mentioned by Gendlin (1995).

This evidence suggests that even the most rigorous, explicit chain of syllogisms must be subconsciously evaluated by us for its completeness and correct explication of the facts.

Let me suggest the following observational evidence:  Have you ever had the experience of carefully going over a complex theory, examining each part of the argument and the evidence for it over and over, and, even though it all seems quite logical and well argued—you just don’t feel convinced by it?  You may even attribute your lack of certainty to your own irrationality, depending on the content of the theory and your state of self-doubt.  But later you may have found that it was some aspect lacking in the theory that you had not yet recognized consciously —but your subconscious had!  Your subconscious may have had in it a counterexample, some fact of experience that you had not consciously remembered, but which contradicted or required qualification from the theory in order for it to be correct.  When you finally recognized the cause of the contradiction, you understood why you were uneasy with the theory.

Here is another example from my own experience.  Back in 1970, I read The Psychology of Self-Esteem.  In it, Branden relates the story of the events that led to his identification of the “Visibility Theory” of love.  One day, he was playing with his dog, Muttnik, and enjoying it immensely.  He realized that much of his enjoyment came from Muttnik’s understanding of his intentions, and her appropriate responses.  He thought that he enjoyed such responses because they allowed him to “see” himself psychologically.  That is, the appropriate feedback from Muttnik gave him the experience of perceiving himself, as in a mirror—he felt psychologically visible.  He asked himself why this was of such great value to him (and most humans)?  And he answered:  “Since man is the motor of his own actions, since his concept of himself, of the person he has created, plays a cardinal role in his motivation—he desires and needs the fullest possible experience of the reality and objectivity of that person, of his self. . . . Man is able, alone, to know himself conceptually.  What another consciousness can offer is the opportunity for man to experience himself perceptually” (1969, 186).  In other words, man’s highest value is himself, but he can only usually grasp his self conceptually.  Feedback from another living thing gives him the opportunity to experience himself as a concrete, individual person, as a value in reality, in real time.

I always thought this theory went far to explain the deep value we experience in enjoyable interactions with others and animals.  I thought so much of what he said was excellent theoretically . . . except something kept bothering me about it, like a pebble in my shoe, or sand in my swimsuit—some small thing just didn’t seem right.  And the discomfort—experienced as unease or a bothersome thing, nagging at the corners of my mind—continued for years and years, until about 12 years ago, when I realized what it was.

The visibility theory as described by Branden accounts for the pleasure and value of the perceptual experience of self brought to a conceptual being.  But then, why would Muttnik enjoy the interaction so much?  Muttnik lacks a conception of self.   Yet, she clearly enjoyed playing with Branden.  Why would visibility be valuable to her?  Does that mean there is more to the desire for interaction with other beings than the desire for visibility?  Are there other motives, which operate on the perceptual level?  When I realized this, I felt relieved—and vindicated for doubting the theory.  (The gnawing tension released!)

I ultimately came to an expansion of Branden’s Visibility Theory to explain Muttnik’s response (Enright 1990), which I won’t describe here.  Instead, my point is to illustrate how a problem with integrating all the material was experienced as almost a physical discomfort, a question mark of uncertainty, relieved only by a correct identification of the facts.

To reiterate my point:  the evaluations of certainty and uncertainty must include feelings because so much of the relevant information is held subconsciously.  When making a complex conclusion, we cannot hold all the relevant information, premises, connections, etc. in our conscious minds at once.  Therefore, part of our judgment regarding our certainty or uncertainty is performed by the subconscious and experienced as a feeling, which is the result of an evaluation by our subconscious that the conclusions fit or don’t fit all the relevant facts.

Of course, we can have a feeling of certainty and be wrong; the feeling by itself is not the proof.  We need the conscious, reasoned facts and arguments, also.  But we can only go over these through time, not all at once.  Thus, our feeling can be wrong—but so can our conscious judgment.  What we want is that state in which our conscious minds, our knowledge and our subconscious integrations and information are in perfect agreement.  “And only the guiding hand of reason can enable individuals to articulate their subconscious premises and achieve a more integrated union with their conscious beliefs and actions.  When this integration occurs, it is, according to Rand, ‘the most exultant form of certainty one can ever experience’” (Sciabarra 1995, 192).

Cognition and Artistic Thinking

In artistic work, emotions are essential:  first, because the purpose is primarily evaluative, and second, because the selection task is simply too huge and complex to perform by acts of conscious, syllogistic, linear reasoning.  The artist must allow himself to follow his emotions and select what is to be included:  the beautiful, the dramatic, the thrilling, the poignant, the tragic.  Then, consequently, the artist can review his selections and see whether they are well integrated with his ideas and the facts, adding or omitting things as necessary.[i]

Some might object that artistic work is radically different from cognition.  But I think they would be wrong, and I offer the evidence of Arthur Koestler’s book The Act of Creation.  In it, he persuasively argues that the mental activities involved in the creation of artwork, the comprehension of humor and the discovery of scientific theory are largely the same, although their purposes are different.  Artwork does not literally identify the facts of reality as a scientific theory does.  Yet, it requires many of the same processes of knowledge and identification of truth for its product.[i]  The point is:  many of the same principles and problems of the interaction of the conscious mind with the subconscious and conscious mind apply to artistic as to cognitive work, for similar reasons.  And they result in the inclusion of emotions as indicators of subconscious information.

Regarding the creation of artistic work, Gendlin once again, has a lovely example:

“Consider a poet, stuck in midst of an unfinished poem.  How to go on?  The already written lines want something more, but what?

“The poet reads the written lines over and over, listens, and senses what these lines need (want, demand, imply . . . ).  Now the poet’s hand rotates in the air.  The gesture says that.  Many good lines offer themselves; they try to say, but do not say—that.  The blank is more precise.  Although some are good lines, the poet rejects them.

“That . . . seems to lack words, but no:  It knows the language, since it understands—and rejects—these lines that came.  So it is not pre-verbal; rather, it knows what must be said, and knows that these lines don’t precisely say that.  It knows like a gnawing knows what was forgotten, but it is new in the poet, and perhaps new in the history of the world.

“. . . the blank is not just the already written lines, but rather the felt sense from re-reading them, and that performs a function needed to lead to the next lines.  A second function: if that stuck blank is still there after a line comes, the line is rejected.  Thirdly, the blank tells when at last a line does explicate—it releases.

“. . . How can a set of words be at all like a blank?  Rather, what was implicit is changed by explicating it.  But it is not just any change.  The explication releases that tension, which was the ____.  But what the blank was is not just lost or altered; rather, that tension is carried forward by the words.  Of course the new phrases were not already in the blank.  They did not yet exist at all.”  (Gendlin 1995)

This is a situation to which most of us can relate—not being able to think of the right word to express our thoughts, but knowing when the words we come up with are wrong.  It is a particularly interesting example because it shows how much our judgment of our thinking’s effectiveness occurs in constant conjunction with the subconscious level.  It is a feedback process between that of which we are consciously aware and the knowledge, evidence and ideas held in the subconscious, indicated to us by a feeling.

In the example, the poet knows for sure what words he doesn’t want, which don’t fulfill the thought he wishes to express.  And he knows he’s found the right word when he experiences that sense of released tension, of fulfillment.  Perhaps later, he will change the word when editing—but often not, if it was a word so hard to find.

The Biological Role of Emotions

But can we say that feeling is always intertwined with the process of cognition?  One might argue:  Could not the relevant data merely be available when the idea enters the conscious mind, without a feeling?  And some might argue that they do not think they experience feelings at all times.  Must there be feeling along with every thought?  What is the relation of the conscious reasoning mind to the subconscious reasoning mind that causes feelings?

Part of the answer to these questions lies in the biological reason for the existence of mind:  the function of mind is to maintain and enhance life (Rand 1957; 1967; Damasio 1999, 346).  Mind and its abilities are ineluctably tied to goals and values, for its function is to achieve and promote them in order to serve life.  Rand identifies this in The Virtue of  Selfishness (1964, 25),as well as in her argument for rights in Capitalism:  The Unknown Ideal (1967, 322).  It is the source of the “rationality of emotions,” as DeSousa calls it (1987).  To fully appreciate this context, we must remember that even the most abstract cognition, for example, the identification of an idea of pure math, or symbolic logic, is an action of a living organism, taken to fulfill some need or desire.  If it is not a goal-oriented action, we do not usually consider it an action of the organism but rather a physical side-effect, an accidental motion.  Consequently, every moment of life is accompanied, at the least, by a complex background feeling regarding oneself and the world in general, and oneself, the world and what to do in particular (Damasio 1999, 117).  Because the function of mind is life—our ultimate value—every mental act has a goal or purpose, conscious or subconscious.  Every thought has a desire driving it.  It is in this sense that reason is the servant of desire and need:  not in the search for truth, for in that it should be the master— but in the fulfillment of the needs of life.  Our ideal should be that described by John Herman Randall:  “A passionate search for a passionless truth” (1960, 1).

The idea that we have constant background feelings isn’t exactly a new concept in Objectivism.  As Rand (1975, 25) states, “a constant, basic emotion—an emotion which is part of all his other emotions and underlies all his experiences . . . is a sense of life.”  Rand is speaking of a constant feeling about oneself and the world, which doesn’t change much; Damasio is speaking of a constant flow of feelings, as background to conscious experience, which is ever changing in response to what happens externally and internally.  Both agree that feeling is an ever-present constant in normal humans.

Consider even now, as you read this essay:  What thoughts are coming to mind as you read?  Is there any relationship between the kinds of feelings you have and the kinds of thoughts, memories, questions, or objections coming to mind?  Boredom, doubtfulness, interest, excitement?

What is the state of your body?  Are you utterly relaxed, barely paying attention, focused and energized, or somewhere in-between— or are you feeling very anxious because you know in the back of your mind that your girlfriend is coming over soon and you’re afraid you’re going to have a fight with her?

The mind is constantly evaluating the state of fulfillment of our goals relative to all of our information, and this is communicated to conscious awareness through emotions.

In the passage from The Virtue of Selfishness discussed at the beginning of this essay, Rand indicates one of the functions of emotions:  to give us automatic and timely feedback on some aspect of the world to ourselves.  “Just as the pleasure-pain mechanism of man’s body is an automatic indicator of his body’s welfare or injury, a barometer of its basic alternative, life or death—so the emotional mechanism of man’s consciousness is geared to perform the same function, as a barometer that registers the same alternative by means of two basic emotions:  joy or suffering” (1964, 27).   In this passage, she seems to characterize their function as sheerly evaluative:  they let us know how we’re doing, whether things are going well or poorly for us.

According to her, we are not supposed to use their implications to act upon, because they are not tools of cognition, i.e., able to identify facts.  However, it is a fact that pleasure and pain are the psychological indicators of furtherance or damage to life.   From a functional view, we can’t live well without them, and it’s difficult to live very long without them. The fundamental truth of this is driven home in a book called The Gift Nobody Wants.

Pain as the Gift Nobody Wants

In this fascinating book, Dr. Paul Brand relates his odyssey of scientific discovery about the nature of leprosy.  What was particularly puzzling about the nature of the disease was the disfigurement that its victims kept suffering well after they had received medicine to kill the bacteria that caused it.  He determined that the bacteria had destroyed the neurons that transmitted the sensation of touch and therefore of pain to the brain in those parts of the body that were the coolest, like the extremities and parts of the face.  The loss of the sense of touch, and the automatic protection of pain, caused the lepers to lose a sense of selfhood about these parts of their bodies.  “My hands and feet don’t feel part of me.  They are like tools I can use.  But they aren’t really me.  I can see them, but in my mind they are dead” (Brand 1993, 126).  Because they couldn’t feel pain, the leprosy victims would unknowingly injure themselves—again and again and again, until the tissues were so damaged that they died.  This was why they were most prone to lose fingertips, noses, toes, feet—all the parts of their bodies that would be most used to contact the world.

To combat this disfigurement, Brand established “consciousness-raising” group therapy for the young boys living in an orphanage for lepers in India.  They needed to somehow experience these parts of their bodies as parts of themselves in order to be motivated to protect them.  So, every day, these boys recounted to each other how they had acquired their latest injuries.  “[S]ome of the boys had developed ugly sores between their fingers.  We discovered that soap suds tend to get trapped in the crevices between partially paralyzed fingers and toes; the skin softens, macerates, and eventually cracks open” (126–27).  After some time, “the patients learned to account for 90 percent of spontaneous wounds.”  Walking too long in the same shoes, inadvertently touching a hot light bulb, or twisting a screw too hard were all opportunities to get hurt, for which they had to become vigilant.  These boys had to focus a tremendous amount of attention, time and energy on what was happening to them, on their every activity, simply to protect their bodies from disfiguring harm.

My point here is to highlight the way in which bodily feedback (in this case of motion and pain) is absolutely necessary for human beings to experience a part of their own body as a value, to have a feeling that their body is a value, and to be able to protect it without enormous conscious attention.  The normal process of acting in a self-protecting way—without thinking about it, with very little conscious attention —is totally short-circuited without the ability to feel what’s going on. To evaluate even simple physical damage without feelings of pleasure and pain is extremely difficult.  An arduous reasoning process is necessary to protect against obvious physical damage and problems.

The leprosy victims’ experience is not unique.  Brand also relates the case of a child who was born without the natural ability to feel pain.  By the time she was eleven, she had to have her leg amputated below the knee.  She had damaged it so extensively, by running around on her foot when it was already injured, that it simply wouldn’t heal and the whole leg risked developing gangrene.  Although the damage was terribly obvious to the child, by sight and rational knowledge, and she faced the prospect of an operation of amputation and the consequent crippling, she apparently couldn’t stop herself from continuing to damage her leg without being able to feel the leg as part of herself.

In A Leg to Stand On (1984), neurologist Oliver Sacks relates his strange psychological experience following an injury to his leg that left him unable to feel it.  In Descartes’ Error, neurologist Antonio Damasio (1994, 62) relates the psychological state of people with anosognosia—“the inability to acknowledge disease itself.”  These people are often victims of a major stroke or injury to the right side of their brain, usually in the parietal lobe.  The brain damage often leaves the left side of the body paralyzed.  However, they seem to be totally unaware that anything is wrong.  When asked how they feel, they answer “fine.”  Damasio explains:

“No less dramatic than the oblivion that anosognosic patients have regarding their sick limbs is the lack of concern they show for their overall situation, the lack of emotion they exhibit, the lack of feeling they report when questioned about it.  The news that there was a major stroke, that the risk of further trouble in brain or heart looms large, or the news that they are suffering from an invasive cancer that has now spread to the brain . . . is usually received with equanimity, sometimes with gallows humor, but never with anguish or sadness, tears or anger, despair or panic . . . if you give a comparable set of bad news to a patient with mirror image damage in the left hemisphere the reaction is entirely normal. Emotion and feeling are nowhere to be found in anosognosic patients . . . perhaps it is no surprise that these patients’ planning for the future, their personal and social decision making, is profoundly impaired.  Paralysis is perhaps the least of their troubles.”  (64)

The experience of these patients seems to be more evidence of the essential importance of emotion to normal functioning, to using reason in the service of life.  But some would object that perhaps these patients have suffered damage to their very ability to reason itself.

To address this problem, Damasio investigated the situation of yet another patient.  Elliot’s damage had been caused by a brain tumor in the ventromedial portion of the pre-frontal area.  An operation had removed damaged frontal lobe tissue along with the tumor; this operation changed Elliot’s life forever.

Whereas he had been an extremely successful businessman and father, and was a role model for others, his life completely unraveled after the operation.  His subsequent behavior caused him to lose his job and thousands of dollars in savings because of poor financial judgments, and it destroyed his marriage.  Unable to adequately care for himself, he ended up incapable of holding a job and in the custody of a sibling.

The really unusual feature of this patient was how normal he seemed in so many respects.

“For all the world to see, Elliot was an intelligent, skilled and able-bodied man who ought to come to his senses and return to work.  Several professionals had declared that his mental faculties were intact—meaning that at the very best Elliot was lazy, and at the worst a malingerer.”  (34)

But Damasio noticed immediately a strange emotional disconnectedness:

“. . . he struck me as pleasant and intriguing, thoroughly charming but emotionally contained.  He had a respectful, diplomatic composure, belied by an ironic smile implying superior wisdom and a faint condescension with the follies of the world.  He was cool, detached, unperturbed even by a potentially embarrassing discussion of personal events. . . . Not only was Elliot coherent and smart, but clearly he knew what was occurring in the world around him.  He discussed political affairs with the humor they often deserve and seemed to grasp the situation of the economy.  His knowledge of the business realm he had worked in remained strong.  I had been told his skills were unchanged, and that appeared plausible.  He had a flawless memory for his life story, including the most recent, strange events.” (34–35)

And this assessment of his retained knowledge and abilities was confirmed by extensive neuropsychological testing.  He even breezed through the tests that usually catch frontal lobe damage (for example, Wisconsin Card Sorting).  He was easily able to make estimates on the basis of incomplete knowledge—a function normally compromised with frontal lobe damage.  He even tested normal on the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory.

Further, he was not only able to reason very well in domains concerning objects, space, numbers and words, but even in the personal, moral and social domains.  These latter domains are so complex that abnormal frontal lobe function easily compromises a person’s ability to reason about them.  Yet, given many, many problems to reason through, even social and personal ones, he could respond with completely correct strings of logic about what to do. His logic and knowledge seemed perfectly intact.  Why, then, did he have such a huge deficit in his ability to live?  One clue lay in his comment: “And after all this, I still wouldn’t know what to do!” (Damasio 1994, 49).

Another lay in his detachment from the magnitude of his tragedy.  In any discussion about it, he did not show any effort to control or contain emotion—he didn’t seem to need to because he was perfectly calm and relaxed talking about the most disturbing material.  Damasio found himself suffering more while listening to Elliot’s stories than Elliot seemed to be suffering.

Damasio’s perception that Elliot lacked inner turmoil and feeling was supported by further testing, in which he was shown emotionally charged pictures, like people about to drown, the human devastation of an earthquake, gory accidents.  “[Elliot] told me without equivocation that his own feelings had changed from before his illness.  He could sense how topics that once had evoked a strong emotion no longer caused any reaction, positive or negative. . . . We might summarize Elliot’s predicament as . . . to know but not to feel” (45).

It became clear from Damasio’s extensive further testing of any possible subtle difficulty in intellectual tasks, that this was, indeed, the source of Elliot’s decision-making failures.  A gambling game in particular revealed what kinds of errors in judgment he tended to make.  Consistently, he and others like him tended to ignore information indicating future possible losses, in favor of immediate gains.  The same pattern of bias had shown up in the bad business judgments he made that led to thousands of lost dollars.  Damasio proposed that in normal individuals “a covert, nonconscious estimate precedes any cognitive process” (221).  This covert estimate brings to bear many subconscious factors in their decision-making, and is experienced as a feeling to do one thing rather than the other.  For example, normal people playing the gambling game would naturally become averse to picking cards from the pile that tended to have high losses.  They wouldn’t necessarily know why, but they would just feel averse to that pile.  Apparently, they had developed nonconscious learning and motivations, a fairly typical situation (Lewicki and Czyzewska 1992; Damasio 1999).  Damasio calls these feelings “somatic markers,” because they, in effect, mark which way to act.  He proposes that the patients with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex are disconnected from this process.

We might summarize Elliot’s problem not as a deficiency in intelligence or logic, but as an inability to live normally because he could not make good judgments for himself.  His reasoning process was apparently clear, but the disconnection from his feelings resulted in the inability to pay attention to important features of future events in making judgments; his attention seemed to be on the immediate end only, the plausibility of making a quick buck.  He couldn’t keep his attention on assessing the dangers and feasibility of future endeavors.  Thus, he chose means that didn’t work.

This kind of judgment error is very similar to that made by highly intelligent criminals and psychopaths who ignore the likely future negative consequences of their actions in favor of immediate satisfactions.  Whether the cause of this disconnection in the criminals is environmental, a series of prior choices, neuropsychological, or a mix of these factors is up for debate in the psychological community (Raine 1999; Livingston 1999).

From Damasio’s experiments on normals in danger, it seems that people’s feelings are essential to helping them make appropriate judgments.  But Elliot wasn’t sufficiently connected to his subconscious feelings to fully experience his predicament.  This finding is typical with ventromedial frontal lobe lesions (Bechara, Tranel, Damasio and Damasio 1996).

Emotion in the Service of Life

Seriously impaired individuals like Elliot  show us what happens when we are cut off from so much experiential evidence.  People like him need the constant help of normal people in order to exist without further damage.  In addition to his discussion of the lepers, Brand (1993) describes children who had no pain receptors from birth and thus are cut off from much experiential evidence.  They damage themselves constantly; this results in amputations and early deaths.  Rand (1964, 18) in fact mentions this condition in The Virtue of Selfishness.  Without the proper connection between the reasoning, conscious mind and the subconscious that is afforded by our feelings, protecting our very lives becomes nearly impossible.

I have no doubt that a person without feelings from birth would hardly be able to function.  In normal functioning, it is a long-term disadvantage to be cut off from one’s feelings.  But at times there are advantages to directing action solely by conscious sequence and plan and suppressing immediate feelings.  For example, when I am trying to tax my body to the max as I exercise, my body feels like stopping, cries out “enough” and I feel exhausted and sometimes completely unmotivated to go on.  But my mind knows it is only for a few more minutes and that it will achieve my much-desired long-term goal of increased fitness.  So I ignore those feelings and make myself keep running.  Reason still prevails as the ultimate identifier.

In more dire circumstances, a soldier in combat may think that sneaking around behind the enemy in a carefully orchestrated ambush with his unit will most likely achieve his objective, and protect his life in the long run.  He may need to strongly suppress his fast-rising desire to flee or vomit during an extremely dangerous combat situation.  The flexibility of reason and free will allows him to override his subconsciously formulated estimations experienced through his emotions.

There are other times in life when it may be good to follow one’s feelings.  For instance, with momentary dangers:  you see a truck bearing down on you and you jump out the way in fear; you have an uneasy feeling about someone riding in the elevator with you and you step out on the next floor; you are alarmed by the sound of your baby’s cry and you run out to see her head stuck between the porch railings.  At these times, it is good to act on those feelings—although, of course, you can be mistaken.  Your subconscious may have calculated the situation faster than you could consciously comprehend, and protected your values.

Fully functioning individuals develop high consciousness about feelings and responses (Rogers 1961, 187).  Conscious reason validates the truth of their information and conclusions in a highly iterative process.  They consciously refer back and forth between the world and personal memories and experience, and the generalizations formed from these.  Being highly sensitive and aware of all the pieces of information and nuances of feeling about an issue, they use emotions as a tool by which to recognize their needs and access subconscious information.  This allows them to be more successful in arriving at the complete, and completely useful, truth.

As Sciabarra (1995, 188) argues, Branden’s later works have taken a more qualified approach to the relation of reason and emotion, which represents an approach reflecting these truths:

“. . . we should recognize that it is an error to cast reason and emotion as adversaries.  What may appear as a conflict between them is in actuality a conflict between two ideas (or sets of ideas), one of which is not conscious and manifest only on the level of emotion.  And it is not a foregone conclusion which idea is right.  Sometimes our emotions reflect distorted perceptions and interpretations, but sometimes emotions reflect a deeper and more accurate assessment of reality. . . . We do not follow emotions unthinkingly, but neither do we ignore or repress them.  We strive to understand their meaning—to learn from them.  We strive for the alignment of thought and feeling.  We strive for integration.  But without the power of consciousness brought to our emotional life, without respectful self-observation, integration is not possible . . . I . . . had on too many occasions sacrificed my emotions to what I had thought was “the reasonable” . . . but [a] new awareness [led] me to be more careful about what I was calling “the reasonable” and to put more effort into understanding what my feelings were trying to tell me. “(Branden 1997, 155–56)

An Eminently Reasonable Position

Damasio’s patient Elliot had a fundamental, neurological problem with integration.  He knew the facts and rules of logic, grammar and appropriate word choices, even the rules of social logic (e.g. , ‘if you go to eat at someone’s house, then you bring a gift for the hostess’).  He could reason to answers for a given problem presented to him.  But which answer was right would depend on what his desires, goals and purposes were.  He couldn’t pick out what to do because he was no longer connected to the experience of his organism.  Elliot didn’t have “the feeling of who he was” (Rogers 1961, 191) or “the feeling of what happens” (Damasio 1999).

Damasio argues that Elliot’s problem resulted from an inability of the pre-frontal cortices to get important information about his needs, values and preferences.  Being an adult, he had had a long time to develop as a well-integrated human being before becoming ill— he’d had lots of experience.  Consequently, he knew the “rules of the game” (as Koestler calls them) extremely well.  This is why he could logically reason about even complex social situations.  But once he was cut off from the personal meaning of situations because of the destruction caused by the tumor, he could no longer apply his reasoning to his choices and actions.  Hence, the complete disaster of his subsequent life.

Recent research on the developing brain suggests that a related condition may be why adolescents typically have problems in judgment:  they develop new cells in the frontal and parietal areas of their cerebral cortex and may not know how to use them!  (Sowell 1999; Giedd 1999).  They may be just learning how to use new tissue for decisions and social judgments.

As Damasio (1994, 181) says:  “The innate preferences of the organism related to its survival—its biological value system, so to speak—is conveyed to prefrontal cortices by such signals and is thus part and parcel of the reasoning and decision-making apparatus.” Damasio’s comments echo the Randian sentiment that the function of mind is to further life.  Damasio, however, also asks:  “[W]hat drives basic attention and working memory?  The answer can only be basic value, the collection of basic preferences inherent in biological regulation” (197).  He appears to be at odds with Rand by implying that we have innate values.  Is he wrong?

Inherent Needs and Conscious Values: Resolving Rand’s Conflicting Statements

In The Virtue of Selfishness and elsewhere, Rand argues that we choose our values.  She contends that our minds have no content—no innate ideas—at birth, and that all ideas are acquired by perception, interaction, and reasoned understanding of the world.  What we act to gain or keep derives from our knowledge of the world.  Therefore, our goals and values are not innate either.

There is a more extreme argument I have heard often in Objectivist circles:  Because we have free will, we have total freedom in choosing our values.  This is evidenced, so it is argued, by the wildly varying, sometimes life-enhancing, sometimes life-threatening specific values people choose—e.g., from romantic love to sadomasochistic acts, from clowning to entertain children, like Bozo, to clowning to kill them, like John Wayne Gacy.  This view seems to imply that free will doesn’t just give our nature a huge flexibility, it results in no specific nature at all—we can choose our values ex nihilo.

But this is not a full and exact description of what we do.  We don’t choose our values by dry reason alone or from every possible thing with no standard.  We are born with needs, specific to us as animals, as humans and as the particular individuals we are.  These needs require certain values for their fulfillment—for our fulfillment, our health and our happiness.  How do we begin to discover what we need, and what values we should seek to gain?  We do it through our emotions—through what gives us pleasure and pain, joy and suffering.  “The emotional mechanism of man’s consciousness is geared to perform the same function [as physical pain or pleasure ] as a barometer that registers the same alternative [life or death] by means of two basic emotions:  joy or suffering” (Rand 1964, 27).  Emotions help us discover our needs and help us pick what specific values to choose; they are a large part of the evidence that philosophers, psychologists and thinkers have used to determine what is the nature and what are the needs of Man.

In the following, Rand strongly acknowledges this view, and the view that some values are inherent, especially the value of life itself.

 

‘The standard [of value] is the organism’s life, or:  that which is required for the organism’s survival.  No choice is open to an organism in the issue:  that which is required for its survival is determined by its nature by the kind of entity it is. . . . Life can be kept in existence only by a constant process of self-sustaining action.  The goal of that action, the ultimate value which, to be kept, must be gained through its every moment, is the organism’s life. . . . Now in what manner does a human being discover the concept of “value”?  By what means does he first become aware of the issue of “good or evil” in its simplest form?  By means of the physical sensations of pleasure or pain.  Just as sensations are the first stepof the development of cognition, so they are its first step in the realm of evaluation. . . .

“The capacity to experience pleasure or pain is innate in a man’s body; it is part of his nature, part of the kind of entity he is.  He has no choice about it, and he has no choice about the standard that determines what will make him experience the physical sensation of pleasure or of pain.  What is that standard?  His life. ” (16–17)

I think, here, Rand’s position is very close to mine.  And I think perhaps a major confusion in this issue comes from two meanings of the word “value.”  Value can mean the fundamental, abstract things we act to gain or keep, like self-esteem or love or competence:  things  needed by every human being to thrive, because of human nature.  Or, value can mean the specific, particular things we act to gain or keep to fulfill those needs, like standing up for the excellence of the painting we made in the face of criticism or loving a particular individual or practicing the piano.  Human beings are usually acting to fulfill their psychological needs— but they can be very wrong about exactly what will do that.  To avoid this confusion, we could speak of, for example, Reason, Purpose and Self-Esteem as the fundamental needs to sustain life, and the specific actions, relationships and objects a man pursues to fulfill those needs as his values.[i]

We need to know what to value, what to act to gain or keep.  How do we find that out?  By a process of learning and reasoning about what protects and advances our lives and what deteriorates and destroys them, about what we need to stay alive and flourish.  How do we go about reasoning and learning these things?  For one thing, we recognize and identify what gives us pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow—and the implications of that.  We may be born tabula rasa for ideas, but we are not born tabula rasa for needs.  We are beings with a specific nature:  we are rational animals.  Pleasure and pain are the signals by which we recognize our needs, and discover our natures.  When we are born, we don’t know what things will fulfill our needs.  But in our interaction with the world, what gives us pleasure and pain and what we enjoy or what makes us suffer, can indicate to us which specific things fulfill our needs—and our reason can then identify those things.

To sum this up:  We are born with a biological set of needs, and goals, to fulfill those needs.  We discover what values fulfill them through observation and experience of the world, and observation and understanding of what things give us long term pleasure, enjoyment and health.

The conscious mind can choose and set specific goals—“purposes” as Rand calls them, “values” or “metavalues” as Campbell (2002) calls them—for which the subconscious then supplies a flow of relevant information by which to achieve these goals.  In this process, the aim of the subconscious then becomes a constant question (what Rand called a “standing order”):  “Do you know anything about that?  Got any useful information, conclusions about that?”  The conscious mind can perform feats of logic, but cannot relate the logical conclusion to personal needs and goals without emotions and feelings.  This is why the lives of highly rationalistic and repressed individuals become a mess of mistaken choices and values, not dissimilar to Elliot’s.

An important practice in a flourishing life is to develop a sensitivity to our feelings, and an ability to infer their meaning.  Being aware of the needs and goals they represent, the implicit ‘conclusions’ drawn, the important information they point to in order to achieve goals or flexibly redirect efforts, we can be more successful in actually achieving that which makes us happy.

Acquiring Values through “Social Osmosis”

As discussed earlier, Rand claimed that values and ideas can be acquired by “social osmosis,” and I wondered about the means of this process.  There is a huge amount of evidence for a species of memory called “procedural” or “implicit” memory, which results from perceptual awareness and action alone, without any conscious conceptual awareness.  That is, we can acquire memories of how to do things, without being able to consciously recollect how to do them —we are just able to do them.  In contrast, consciously recollected memories are called “declarative.”  The process of forming procedural memories is a process of implicit learning.  It can operate in the acquisition of attitudes and sets of ideas—intellectual procedures as it were—as well as simpler physical kinds of processes, such as riding a bike (Damasio 1999).  Experimental evidence on amnesiacs shows that they can “learn some complicated rule-based strategies required to solve certain mathematical problems or puzzles” (LeDoux 1996, 195) like the Tower of Hanoi.  They were conscious of the game and playing it while doing so, but became unconscious of these facts later due to their memory deficits.  Even though they will later have no recollection of playing the game, they will know how to do it.

If we stop to think about normal cognitive experience, this is no surprise:  how often is a person able to name the strategy he uses to play a game?  He may know parts of his method, but often he develops a number of tactics and only later may analyze what he does when he’s winning, thereby turning it into a self-conscious strategy. The entire development of native language works exactly this way:  none of us knows most of the rules we use or the strategies we employ to speak grammatically and meaningfully.  Many human beings acquire knowledge and values through implicit learning (Campbell 2002).  Becoming completely self-aware, reflective and in touch with one’s complete needs, ideas and values is a hugely difficult task.  “Social osmosis” is a name for a kind of implicit learning.  Consequently, it is no surprise that many people arrive at their values and ideas through “social osmosis.”  Rand (1964, 28) states:

“man chooses his values by a conscious process of thought— or accepts them by default, by subconscious associations, on faith, on someone’s authority, by some form of social osmosis or blind imitation.  Emotions are produced by man’s premises, held consciously or subconsciously, explicitly or implicitly.”  [boldfaced emphasis mine]

Notice Rand’s comment on accepting values by default.  To me, a major question this comment raises is:  How does an idea get in your brain by default?  Can food get into your stomach by default, that is, by a kind of automatic process?  No, food can’t:  We have to actively seek it and shove it in.  But a child, and often an adult, can get ideas/conclusions/premises in his mind without reflective awareness of what he is doing.  Why does this happen?  I believe the answer is:  because the person needs the idea and one of the functions of our imitative tendencies is to quickly acquire skills of value, whether procedurally or explicitly.  I don’t mean that we need every specific idea and every specific value that we may come across and incorporate into our thinking.  I mean that there are a lot of specific things we need to know in order to stay alive and fulfill our needs—from which foods to eat to how to care for infants to what activities give us a sense of fulfillment.  If we don’t learn the right ideas consciously, our minds grab on to the ideas and values of those around us that seem to fulfill those needs.  This is how values get accepted, as Rand says, “by default.”

And this is a process that happens often during childhood and keeps on happening because of the need for mental economy.  Most of us have the experience of discovering ideas, attitudes and habits that we somehow acquired in childhood would like to get rid of now. The process of implicitly accepting ideas and attitudes can continue into adulthood if we don’t develop the ability to introspect and reflect on the contents of our minds for quality control purposes.  It is largely through the process of procedural or implicit learning and emotional recognition that children and animals operate.  This is why Rand says that “emotional vibrations are their chief means of cognition” (197).

Conclusion:

The Survival Function of Emotions in Relation to Reason

Emotions have at least the following functions for life:

1.  They facilitate action choices, especially when there’s no time to think.

2.  They are motivators—how we feel about things facilitates our actions to acquire them or to get away from them.  Without such motivation—as in depression, wherein the individual feels helpless and hopeless, i.e., purposeless (Seligman 1991; Simon 1993)—humans do not act.

3.  They motivate us to think.  Behind every thought, there is the driving force of passion, of desire, no matter how subtle.

4.  Further, they connect our conscious reasoning minds to our basic biological needs.  If we were completely tabula rasa for the source of emotions, we wouldn’t recognize what was good for us or bad—we wouldn’t have enough information to evaluate that by reason alone.

5.  Reason, in the sense of explicit, conscious logical processing, cannot work properly without access to the complex contents and connections held in the subconscious.  The conscious mind simply cannot hold enough in attention at once to make complex decisions.  This includes what seem to be strictly epistemological aspects of reason, such as certainty.  Personal experience as well as neuropsychological research shows that conscious reason can gain access to these contents through emotion.  Emotion directs attention to data in ourselves and the world, relevant to our purposes(James 1884; Izard 1977; Damasio 1994; 1999; LeDoux 1996; Mack and Rock 2000; Siminov 1986).

We are born with certain definite needs of our human and our individual natures.  We have some ability to recognize values in the world that fulfill those needs (DeSousa 1987, 200; McDougall 1908, 29).  Pleasure, enjoyment, a sense of efficacy in certain objects, relationships and activities are the signs that we have found such values.  Pleasure or pain from something is a kind of recognition of its value or disvalue, accompanied by a disposition to act for or against it.  This capacity is inherent in each human when he is born, as a vital survival function.  In former times, this capacity was called “instinct,” or, as William McDougall (1908, 29) defined it:  “[A]n inherited or innate psycho-physical disposition which determines its possessor to perceive, and to pay attention to, objects of a certain class, to experience an emotional excitement of a particular quality upon perceiving such an object, and to act in regard to it in a particular manner or at least to experience an impulse to such action.”

This is indicated by the emotional capacity of infants and young children.  In this respect, emotions are evidence of our psychological and biological needs, as well as our implicit conclusions.  Emotions are tools of recognition.  They provide direct information about one’s own state, nature and needs.  As direct perception is to the world, so emotions are to our own natures.  For the most successful functioning, this information needs to be consciously examined and related to the other things one knows because, just as in the case of direct perception, we cannot understand the meaning of what we see, hear, smell or taste without the development of rational knowledge.

How we develop the knowledge and ideas that result in our complex emotions is a multifaceted matter.  Our more complex emotions are a result of what we learn and do with our needs and our lives, by our implicit and explicit premises.  These latter are built on our inherent biological and psychological needs and values, what we learn about them and what we do with them.  Contrary to her comment in Atlas Shrugged that “emotions which clash with your thinking are the carcass of stale thinking” sometimes they are the signal that your thinking is wrong.  The amount of our self-conscious reflection on these matters is extremely important to actually achieve understanding (Berkowitz 2000, 132–33).  In fact, Rand’s characterization of Hank Rearden shows just that (Sciabarra 1995, 187).

In the various quotes from Rand, it appears to me that she acknowledges two levels of emotions.  The first is the basic level of inherent, automatic recognition and response to what is good or bad for us, which capacity adults share with animals and young children.  The desire to see interesting things or to feel good about ourselves fall into this category.  The second is a more complex level that is the consequence of the relationship between these basic value recognitions and our knowledge and experience.  In other words, the more complex emotions are a result of our experiences, thoughts and ideas, which are integrated in our subconscious into judgments and premises.  The love of Betty or the outrage at the evil of Hitler fall into his category.

If we wish to maintain and promote objectivity, our task is to learn how to use the access to our subconscious through our emotions in the most efficient and ultimately objective manner.  By becoming expert at being aware of our feelings about things, we can bring subconscious information to light and examine it in conscious attention, by logic, while identifying the facts.

Rand (2001) endorses this approach in The Art of Nonfiction:

“If you write something at all complex, you will experience the squirms in one form or another.  [Note:  The “squirms”are a state in which a writer suddenly is paralyzed and can’t continue writing.]  The main reason for it is a subconscious contradiction.  On the conscious level, in my case, I would create an outline, and my subject and theme would be perfectly clear to me.  Only there were so many possibilities of which I was not aware—so many different ways of executing the theme—that my conscious mind in fact had not chosen clearly.  Because of the complexity of the theme, I could not select clearly, in advance, from the many possibilities; hence there were problems for my subconscious.” (64)

You must learn to trust the signals your subconscious gives you.  If you order yourself to do more reading for a given article, but feel boredom and an enormous reluctance, it is likely that your subconscious already has what you need, and that further research is redundant or irrelevant.  (79)

In Descartes’ Error, Damasio (1994, 189) says that because of emotions, “[y]ou do not have to apply reasoning to the entire field of options.  A preselection is carved out for you, sometimes correctly, sometimes not.”  Thus, through the process of controlling and directing attention, subconscious evaluation can direct the process of reasoning.  By making oneself more aware of one’s implicit preselection (premises), one gains control of one’s mind, makes it more definitely in line with the facts, more accurately reflecting reality and therefore more efficacious.

I agree with Sciabarra (1995, 166–68) that we need to broaden our understanding of the processes that constitute “reason” as the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by the senses.  Emotions seem fundamental to the integration of knowledge and of values, as a means by which to be aware of knowledge and a signal of integration.  Evidence shows that emotions are a fundamental part of the operation of cognition and judgment:

$    Emotion indicates whether something fulfills or frustrates human needs, and is an essential part of the development of values in children.

$    Emotion cannot identify the facts as such, but emotion helps reason identify them by drawing attention to relevant information, both in reality and in one’s subconscious.

$    Emotion supplies signals as to whether something integrates or fails to integrate with all the other information and conclusions one has already stored.

Skill at recognizing the nature of our emotions and their causes, and consciously evaluating their meaning is essential to successful functioning.  We need to pay attention to our feelings, especially when they contradict our conscious conclusions, to make sure that we are not missing some vital and important piece of information or context that would qualify or redirect conscious thinking.

Rand’s comment that “emotions aren’t tools of cognition,” is, in some respects, right and in some respects wrong—an unfortunate consequence of the metaphor used.  The evidence shows that, indeed, emotions are a means of effecting identification of the facts—by bringing relevant information to conscious attention.  In this respect, emotions are tools, very useful tools, of conscious reason.  However, only conscious reason has the capacity to identify the facts as such. To truly validate our ideas and verify our identifications, we must apply conscious reason and logic.

In a fully functioning mind, reason and emotion work hand-in-hand to achieve the values and fulfill the needs of the individual person.  Conscious reasoning verifies the data of the subconscious as it interacts and identifies the facts of the world; emotion notifies reason of relevant information and integration to be considered in reason’s quest to gain value for each living person.

A flourishing life requires sensitivity to our feelings and the ability to infer their meaning, i.e., the needs, values and goals they represent, the implicit “conclusions” they’ve drawn, and the important information to consider in order to achieve goals, or flexibly redirect efforts. Ayn Rand’s own statements about the creative process and the evidence of her work show that she was a master at this.  Let us follow her example, rather than merely the apparent meaning of her nonfiction statements, to achieve the kind of vision of life she projected in her art—and the most happiness and fulfillment possible to each of us.

Acknowledgements

Much thanks to all those who have generously helped me with this work, by talking, reading and commenting:  Robert Campbell, Murray Franck, Louis James, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, the members of the New Intellectual Forum, and the members of the New York Objectivist Salon.  Foremost, however, thanks goes to my husband, John Enright, for his unflagging willingness to read the work . . . over and over and over, and for his excellent editorship.

 

NOTES

1.  Chris Matthew Sciabarra (1995) offers an extensive, well-researched and thoughtful examination of Rand’s views on reason and emotion, as well as her views on the psychoepistemology of art.  Neera Badhwar (2001) has succinctly commented on many of the same difficulties and discrepancies—and research issues—regarding the relation between reason and emotion as I do in this paper.

2.  I want to state for the record that my intention is not to be derogatory to Rand’s thinking in the least, for I have the greatest respect for it.  I have learned too much from her, and benefited from her wisdom and insight far too often to complain that she erred, she didn’t have all the answers, or that her answers were less than complete!  These days there seems to be a wave of whining about the negative effects of Rand’s ideas on those who once accepted them.  While I’m sorry for any bad effects her ideas, or her errors, may have had on my life, it behooves me to take responsibility for having accepted and used them.

3.  For a long and interesting discussion on the subconscious and implicit premises, see Campbell 2002.

4.  Branden’s definition seems to owe much to the work of Magda Arnold (whom he referenced in The Psychology of Self-Esteem).  She defines emotion as “the felt tendency toward anything intuitively appraised as good (beneficial), or away from anything intuitively appraised as bad (harmful).  This attraction or aversion is accompanied by a pattern of physiological changes organized toward approach or withdrawal.  The patterns differ for different emotions” (1960, 182).

5.  Sciabarra (1995, 328) points out that Rand had experience with the results of the Progressive Method, which she saw implemented at the University of Petrograd.  Rand also studied Progressive pedagogy in college in a course called “History of Pedagogical Doctrines.”  See Sciabarra 1999, 16.

6.  The Oxford English Dictionary gives us:

Cognition:  1.  The action or faculty of knowing; knowledge, consciousness; acquaintance with a subject.  2.  Philos.  The action or faculty of knowing taken in its widest sense, including sensation, perception, conception, etc., as distinguished from feeling and volition; also, more specifically, the action of cognizing an object in perception proper.

The OED definition, in turn, is consonant with classic philosophical definitions, such as the one in the Dictionary of Philosophy:

Cognition — knowledge in its widest sense, including: (a) non-propositional apprehension (perception, memory, introspection, etc.) as well as (b) propositions or judgments expressive of such apprehension.  Cognition, along with conation and affection, are the three basic aspects or functions of consciousness.  (Runes 1960)

After a fair amount of searching (at least 20 books), I have not been able to find a precise definition of “cognition” or “knowledge” in cognitive science. Robert Campbell suggests the definition that Ulric Neisser (1967, 4) offered in his classic book, Cognitive Psychology:  “Cognitive psychology refers to all processes by which the sensory input is transformed, reduced, elaborated, stored, recovered, and used.”  However, Neisser’s definition presupposes that our minds process sensory inputs and that such inputs take the form of symbolic representations, or are readily converted into symbols.  And, if taken literally, it indicates that everything a mind does is cognitive—without ever saying what constitutes knowledge.

Campbell suggests this formulation:  “Cognition pertains to the mental processes involved in acquiring, modifying, and using knowledge.”  But this proposed definition would still not distinguish perception from cognition (as some psychologists still want to do) or emotions and the will from cognition (as the classic philosophical definitions did, and as most psychologists still want to do).  It virtually equates “cognition” with “what a mind does,” and does not explicate “knowledge.”  According to Campbell, what most psychologists actually seem to mean by “cognition” is:  “whatever the (human) mind does that isn’t perception and doesn’t involve emotions—roughly, what used to be called ‘the higher mental powers,’ such as memory, attention, problem-solving, reasoning, decision-making and language use.”  These are the topics typically covered by books and research articles in cognitive psychology.

7.  See also Campbell 2002, for an extensive discussion of the implicit.

8.  However, the ability to hold very abstracted symbols in mind varies considerably from  person to person, and between the sexes (Kimura 1999; and private communication with Jerre Levy, neuropsychology researcher at the University of Chicago).

9.  Rand mentioned these facts in The Romantic Manifesto, and talked about the artistic process of selection in her fiction-writing course, now incompletely summarized in The Art of Fiction (Rand 2000).

10.  For those interested, Kathleen Touchstone (1993) examined Rand’s views on intuition and knowledge in relation to Koestler’s ideas, along with further scientific evidence.

11.  To relieve this confusion, Campbell (2002) proposes an interesting distinction between goals (which include biological ends), values (ends of which we are conscious) and metavalues (conscious ends about our ends).

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The Habit of Hope

(Christmas carols celebrate the Nativity as being, above all else, an event that brings hope to mankind. “O Holy Night,” one of the most beautiful carols, makes the point explicitly: “a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” But I suspect that Christmas is not unique among winter festivals in this emphasis on hope. The Winter Solstice, after all, is the moment of greatest darkness and, also, necessarily, the moment when the Sun begins to return to the world.

With that in mind, I asked Marsha Enright if she would adapt for the DecemberNavigator her talk on “the habit of hope,” which was so well received at the 1999 summer seminar. I am pleased indeed that she agreed to do so. – Roger Donway)

For most of man’s existence on Earth, the universe has been anything but benevolent. Famines, floods, and earthquakes have destroyed whole populations. The plague ravaged Europe during the Middle Ages. Even in the nineteenth century, two out of three people died as children. On the frontier, starvation was not that uncommon after a long winter or a drought.

And these horrors do not even begin to take account of man’s inhumanity to man.

What is my point? That for most of man’s existence, he has had only a tenuous power over his life, physically and politically. Life was full of uncertainties and anxieties, which helped to give rise to religions promising happiness in this life or an afterlife. Religion gave people a much-needed sense of hope.

Power versus a Sense of Power

That largely unchanging situation underwent a revolution after the Renaissance. The rediscovery of the power of reason and the development of technology enabled men to bring about a vast expansion in their power over their lives, and they came to expect that the future would see still further increases. And, in fact that is what happened. In the twentieth century, medical technology lengthened the average life-span from four decades to seven. Today, in the free world, men are able to control much of the impact of natural disasters. From an economic and technological perspective, no one in a capitalist society need go hungry.

At the same time, however, the Enlightenment took away religion’s assurance that a benevolent force would look over men in times of helplessness and hopelessness and would compensate them hereafter for their sufferings. We became responsible for our own happiness.

And what has been the upshot? Evidence indicates that for many, man’s increase in power has not brought a sense of efficacy. If we consider those women born before World War I, those born around 1925, and those born in the Fifties (the Baby Boomers), we find that there is a quadrupling in depression from the first group to the second, and a doubling from the second to the third. Why should this be, if people have continued to acquire more control than ever over their lives in the twentieth century?

One reason, I suspect, is the nihilism of modern philosophy: the lack of answers about the meaning of life and human purposes; the moral relativity that says it doesn’t matter what you do; the draining away of the sense that human beings are capable and worthy. I think these ideas have infiltrated the culture to such an extent that they are affecting the psychological outlook of a lot of people. In this respect, you maypersonally have experienced Rand’s ideas as a great antidote. Rand tell us that life has meaning and purpose and that living as a human being can be a noble activity. Through the story of The Fountainhead, Rand gives us one long argument against Dominique’s belief in the triumph of power-lust and toadyism over the true, the rational, and the beautiful.

Learned Optimism

Rand’s ideas, such as the efficacy of reason and the successful nature of life, certainly help us to be hopeful about our lives. But is there a specific technology of the soul that can increase our hopefulness and thus our motivation and our success? If so, how can we implement it in our daily lives? Are there specific psychological processes that we can adopt? Are there methods we can apply? And are there ways we can make those methods more permanent in our minds? I think there are, and I think the research of psychologist Martin Seligman, at University of Pennsylvania, helps provide some of that technology.

Seligman did some interesting experiments back in the seventies on what he called “learned helplessness.” He worked with two sets of dogs. One he put in a cage that they could not get out of. The other he put in a cage that they could jump out of. And then he shocked both of these sets of dogs. The ones that could escape their cages did so, and got away from the shocks. The ones that could do nothing to escape the shock became passive; after a while, they just lay down and took it.

Then, when he took the dogs who could not escape the shock in the first experiment and put them in a cage where they could get away from the shock, they still did nothing. And when he tried to teach them to get out of the cage, he had to spend a lot of time showing them they could escape. To be accurate, there were always some dogs who did hardly anything once they found themselves trapped, and there were some dogs who had been trapped but quickly learned later to escape. But the results I am talking about were averages.

Seligman was fascinated with these results, because he thought the dogs had learned to be helpless, and a sense of helplessness is a key component of depression. So he asked if he could “immunize” dogs from this learned helplessness. He took a group of dogs and let them hear a tone before the shock went off. And he gave these dogs the opportunity to jump out of the cage when they heard the tone. The fascinating result was: these dogs never became passive. When they were put in a cage from which they could not escape, they never stopped trying, and they escaped immediately when they could. Why? They had acquired a sense of efficacy with regard to the shocks.

Seligman thought this was an interesting model to apply to human beings because of the common feeling in depression that there is nothing that can be done that will make a difference. So, he asked: Could humans likewise be immunized against feelings of helplessness and hopelessness? To test this, Seligman put human beings in situations similar to that of the dogs: The subjects would get shocked, but some did not have control over it and some did. Fascinatingly, he found that some people always tried to get control and some did not. Seligman posited that the difference lay in the way the people explained the cause of their failure: whether they blamed it on themselves or on circumstances.

Explanatory Styles

Out of this, Seligman developed a theory of explanatory styles. According to this theory, there are three dimensions to an explanatory style: the permanence with which you think a cause exists; the pervasiveness of the cause, in other words, how universally true or how limited it is; and whether the cause lies within you or outside. (See the chart on this page for more detail.) Seligman argues that these explanatory styles give rise to what we conventionally call optimists and pessimists. And he has developed an Attributional Style Questionnaire by which to test people.

In terms of the dimensions on the chart, I think Howard Roark is a model of the optimistic attributional style. He does not believe that evil is permanent. He doesbelieve that there are people he can reach by persuasion and by demonstrating what is good in his buildings. And he certainly does not think that failure is his fault.

But I would like to examine one other aspect of the research in relation to the psychology of hope. In some experiments, people rated optimists and pessimists have been given tests in which they sometimes are and sometimes are not in control of an event, such as a light’s turning on. Pessimists, and depressed people in particular, tend to have a very accurate sense about whether they are actually in control. Optimists, however, consistently overrate their control. If the light does not turn on, they have some explanation for it; if the light does turn on, they think they did it. This suggests that optimists, if they are going to be rational optimists, must guard against a temperamental disposition to over-optimism.

On the other hand, I believe there is clearly a sense in which pessimists are also unrealistic. They may make accurate judgments about when they do and do not have control over an event, but I believe they make inaccurate judgments about when they could and could not get control over an uncontrolled event, because of their belief that their helplessness is permanent, pervasive, and personal. Unfortunately, I do not know of any laboratory experiments that have attempted to test this hypothesis.

The Real and the Possible

This brings me to the heart of my lecture. What can we do to sustain a rational optimism?

I think that fundamentally there is one important fact that offers us two keys. The important fact is that you cannot directly change your emotions but you can change what you pay attention to, at least to a large extent. This enables you to make yourself more alert for opportunity.

Thus, the first key is: You can carefully focus on the facts about your situation and yourself. Is this the way things have to be or is it just the way they happen to be? Is this the way of the world or just the way things are in my immediate surroundings?

The second key is: You can pay attention to your possibilities. Is this something you can change or not? You can take an entrepreneurial attitude towards your life.

To me, these are the two elements involved in having a habit of hope. Make it your habit to pay attention to exactly what is the case and what is not; what is good in your life and what is not. And make it a habit to ask: What are my possibilities? Be especially alert to whether there are possibilities for change which you failed to see before.

People can have a lot of limitations when it comes to what we would consider leading a normal life and yet have a very hopeful attitude. That has to do with what they are paying attention to. Are they looking at what they cannot do or at what they can do? Are they looking at what they do not control or at what they do control? In this respect, I think that success is: functioning up to your fullest capacity and being alert to all the facts and possibilities within your personal context. This means recognizing the barriers to your control: Are you a healthy human being or not? Are you living in a relatively free society or a relatively unfree society? In judging your success, you need to take these contexts into account.

To be sure, the conditions of success can be very complex. It is often hard to know what is possible, both positively and negatively. And this is one of the things that optimists and pessimists disagree about the most: the realm of the possible. The optimist says “I’m going to keep looking. I’ve got this idea and I think I can do it.” The pessimist has a million reasons why something isn’t going to work.

To say that is not to declare that the optimistic attitude is always the right one. As much as we want to have control and want to know that we can do things, it may be that we do not know-after all, we cannot know everything. But we can turn that truth around and make it an optimistic statement: “Well, yeah, I don’t know everything and I don’t know for sure I can do it. But I don’t know for sure that I can’t do it. And I know forsure that if I don’t try, nothing’s going to happen.”

Ten Habits of Hope

Following are some suggestions to help you develop a habit of hope:

1. Check your generalizations about the world for an “explanatory style” that is pessimistic, or unjustifiably optimistic.

2. Remember that, ultimately, you are in control of how you act.

3. When trying to determine a course of action, ask: What is the range of the possible? This is the most difficult judgment to make, especially when one is attempting something new. If the range is too restricted by one’s conception of the world, your hopes will be too few and too small, and your imagination and motivation curtailed: you won’t adequately explore the possible. If the range is too unrestricted by facts and reason, your hopes will be impossible and time will be wasted.

4. Do not accept impossibility without overwhelming evidence. For many, many situations, we do not and cannot have complete certainty about the outcome. But that alone is not reason to give up on a course of action. Develop a habit of looking for alternative means of achieving your goals.

5. Be alert to when you do not have control over external events, so that you can think of ways to get control.

6. Once you have a specific goal, identify obstacles to your success and the possibilities of overcoming them. Ask: What is the adversity here? What are my premises? Are they true? Am I making a pessimistic judgment or an unjustifiably optimistic judgment? Do not rule out a judgment just because it sounds pessimistic. Remember that you want to be “rationally optimistic,” not Pollyana-ish.

7. If you find yourself giving up, ask: What is my reason? Am I sure it is a good reason?

8. But ask about the chances of failure, too: What would be the true cost of failure? Can I bear it? Be sure to ask these questions early, before you have invested too much emotion in success.

9. De-catastrophize. Learn to judge the facts of your situation precisely and to take into account the available alternatives rather than leaping to the conclusion that all is lost.

10. Stop ruminating. If you fail, sit down purposefully and learn the lessons of the failure. Decide how to do things better. Then put the failure behind you.

-Marsha Enright earned her B.A. in biology from Northwestern, and an M.A. in psychology from The New School for Social Research. In 1990, Mrs. Enright cofounded the Council Oak Montessori Elementary School and served as its executive director.


Aspects of Explanatory Style

PERMANENCE

Good Events:

Pessimist: Temporary: “It’s my lucky day.” “Something finally worked.” “My rival got tired.”

Optimist: Permanent: “Chance favors the prepared mind.” “I am really talented.” “I’m just better than he is.”

Bad Events:

Pessimist: Permanent: “I’m all washed up.” “The boss is irrational.” “You never talk to me.”

Optimist: Temporary: “I’m tired.” “The boss is in a bad mood.” “You didn’t feel like talking to me today.”

PERVASIVENESS

Good Events:

Pessimist: Specific. “What do you know, I got the one decent teacher.” “I’ll never meet anyone like her again.” “Well, somebody who actually knows something!”

Optimist: Universal. “This is a pretty good school.” “There are lots of great people in this world.” “What a wealth of information there is out there!”

Bad Events:

Pessimist: Universal: “Teachers are unfair.” “Everybody rejects me.” “Books never tell you what you want to know.”

Optimist: Specific: “Professor Smith is unfair.” “I guess I’m not his type.” “This isn’t the right book.”

PERSONALIZATION:

Bad Events:

Pessimist: Internal. “I must be stupid.” “I misplay every hand.” “I’m hopeless in social situations.”

Optimist: External: “That was a tough problem.” “The cards weren’t with me tonight.” “What a bunch of dull people they were.”

Good Events:

Pessimist: External: “Well, that was a stroke of luck.” “I guess you can’t lose them all.” “My teammates really came through.”

Optimist: Internal: “I took advantage of that opportunity.” “I did everything right.” “We really came through.”

http://www.objectivistcenter.org/showcontent.aspx?ct=92

CON MOLTO SENTIMENTO: On the Evolutionary Biology and Neuropsychology of Music

Music is an art without an apparent object – there are no scenes to look at, no

sculptured marbles to touch, no stories to follow – and yet it can cause some of the most

passionate and intense feelings possible. How does this happen – how can sounds from

resonant bodies produce emotion (1) in man?

Music is experienced as if it had the power to reach man’s emotions directly…Music communicates emotions, which one grasps, but does not actually feel; what one feels is a suggestion, a kind of distant, dissociated, depersonalized emotion — until and unless it unites with one’s own sense of life. But since the music’s emotional content is not communicated conceptually or evoked existentially, one does feel it in some peculiar, subterranean way…How can sounds reach man’s emotions directly, in a manner that seems to by-pass his intellect? What does a certain combination of sounds do to man’s consciousness to make him identify it as gay or sad?…The nature of musical perception has not been discovered because the key to the secret of music is physiological — it lies in the nature of the process by which man perceives sounds –and the answer would require the joint effort of a physiologist, a psychologist and a philosopher (an esthetician). (Rand 1971, 52-56)

Further, what is the possible biological function and evolutionary origin of this

process by which sound elicits feeling? As Ray Jackendorff says “there is no obvious

ecological pressure for the species to have a musical faculty, as there is for vision and

language” (1987, 211). In other words, there is no immediate and obvious biological

function for music, as there is for vision or language. One researcher in the psychology of

music aptly summarized the problem as follows:

Musical messages seem to convey no biologically relevant information, as do speech, animal utterances and environmental sounds – yet people from all cultures do react to musical messages. What in human evolution could have led to this? Is there, or has there been, a survival value for the human race in music? (Roederer 1984, 351).

One might object to this characterization with the question “But you are comparing

apples and oranges when you compare music to vision and language. Instead, you should

be comparing hearing to vision, and music to painting; you should be asking: What is the

biological function of art?”

I first wondered about the biological function and evolutionary origin of music over

twenty years ago, while I was reading Ayn Rand’s article on esthetics,

“Art and Cognition.” In that article, Rand gives an answer to

the question “What is the biological function of art?” in

general, but is only able to suggest an hypothesis about

music’s biological function. The problem lies, as I

mentioned at the start of this article, with the fact that

music does not, apparently, involve the perception of

entities. In the following, I shall attempt a fuller answer and thereby shed some light on

the question of how sounds from resonant bodies produce emotions in man. My attempt

is made possible by recent scientific research into the nature of the brain.

Unlike many twentieth century theorists, Rand’s esthetics is integrated with her

complex and persuasive philosophy of reason, reality and

man’s nature and I think her esthetics deserves special

attention as part of my examination of the nature of music.

I will examine some of the historical theories of musical

meaning, then the more recent scientific investigations into

the nature of music, including some of the current theories

of music’s biological function. I shall review some theories

of the nature of emotion and the relation of music to

emotion. I shall then offer my theory of the biological

origin of music. Subsequently, I shall consider Rand’s

hypothesis about the nature of music, in light of the

research evidence. Lastly, I shall suggest some possible

research which might confirm or disconfirm my theory.

I have gathered evidence from several areas of the

research literature in search of an answer to the question of

music’s evolutionary origin and biological function. I

believe this evidence indicates that music evolved out of the

sonority and prosody (2) of vocal communication and that

musical elaboration of those elements has a special

biological communication function. Prosody evidently

facilitates linguistic syntax – that is, the sound of language helps us understand the

meaning of what’s said (Shapiro and Nagel 1995).

Furthermore, some aspects of one’s pitch (3) perceptions in

music are evidently influenced by one’s native language and

dialect (Deutsch 1992).

More neuropsychological knowledge is needed to prove my

thesis – but I leave the reader to turning over the evidence

I have assembled, along with his own knowledge of music, in

considering the question: Why does man make music?

Brief History on the Theories of Music’s Nature

From the ancient world to the nineteenth century, men

theorized about music based on their experience of it, and

only a little scientific knowledge about the physics of

music which was first examined by the Pythagoreans. Two key

ideas have been repeated down through the ages:

1. Music is a form of communication, a kind of

language; in particular, the language of feeling.

2. Music can form or inform one’s feeling or

disposition.

The Ancient Greek “idea of music as essentially one with

the spoken word has reappeared in diverse forms throughout

the history of music” (Grout 1973,7). The Greeks “were

familiar with the idea that music can alter the disposition

of those who hear it. They acknowledge its power to soothe,

to console, to distract, to cheer, to excite, to inflame, to

madden” (West 1992, 31). Aristotle believed that “music has

a power of forming the character, and should therefore be

introduced into the education of the young” (Politics 1340b,

10-15). In one way or another, music touched everyone in

Greek civilization (West 1992).

The Greeks seemed to implicitly acknowledge music’s

connection to language in their refusal to create or accept

purely instrumental music. The early Middle-Age Europeans

did likewise, but eventually divorced music from voice, so

that by Hegel’s time, instrumental, wordless music was

considered a superior form (Bowie 1990, 183)

A connection of music to language was mentioned

frequently in late nineteenth century examinations of music’s

meaning. There are many, including Schopenhauer, Hegel, and

Tolstoy, who subscribed to the idea that music is “another

language,” the language of feeling.

Hegel relates music to “primitive” expressions, such as bird-song or wordless cries. Schleiermacher suggests the ambiguous status of music in relation to natural sound and to speech: “For neither the expression of a momentary sensation by a…speechless natural sound, nor speaking which approaches song are music, but only the transition to it” (Bowie 1990, 183).

Langer (1957) points out that music fails to qualify as

a language because it does not have fixed denotation.

And Nietzsche, in an 1871 fragment, took issue with the view

that music represents feeling:

What we call feelings are…already penetrated and saturated with conscious and unconscious representations and thus not directly the object of music, let alone able to produce music out of themselves (1980, 364, quoted in Bowie 1990, 230-31).

Feelings, Nietzsche claims, are actually only symbols of music, which has a prior ontological status. This opposes the commonplace in some Romantic thinking that music is the language, in the sense of the “representation”, the substitute, for feeling…Nietzsche’s view makes some sense if one ponders the fact that music can lead to the genesis of feelings which one had never had before hearing the music. (Bowie 1990, 231).

The modern scientific investigation of music began with

Hermann von Helmholtz’s study of the physics and

psychological effects of the tones and keys of music (1954

[1885]). Helmholtz argues that music does not use all types

of sound, only those “due to a rapid periodic motion of the

sonorous body; the sensation of a noise to non-periodic

motions.” (Helmholtz 1863, 9). Most researchers do not

question what sounds make music, but write with the

assumption that they are referring to sounds caused by

periodic vibrations (Aiello, Molfese, Sloboda, Stiller,

Lange, Schopenhauer, Trehub, Zatorre, etc.). “Tonal

stimulation is a constant factor of all musical stimulus”

(Meyer 1994, 13). The neurophysiological musical research

often revolves around contrasting responses of subjects to

periodic (tonal) versus nonperiodic (noise) sounds. Warren,

Obusek, and Farmer (1969) found the interesting fact that

subjects could not accurately perceive the temporal order of

four nonspeech, nonmusical sounds.

John Sloboda (1985) has examined various contemporary

scientific theories of musical meaning, among them the idea

that music mimics environmental sounds. The mimickry theory

is intriguing, but it seems to have a problem sufficiently

explaining the depth and range of meaning in music. Indeed,

music can aptly imitate some natural sounds, as did Saint-

Saens, in his “Carnival of the Animals.” But, even in music

considered to be as programmatic as Berlioz’ “Symphonie

Fantastique,” we cannot find environmental sounds of which

the music would be an imitation. To this point, Helmholtz

noted that

“In music one does not aim at representation of nature; rather, tones and tone sensations exist just for their own purpose and function independently of their relationship to any environmental object” (1863, 370).

Other theorists suggest that music has its effects by

expressing tension and its resolution (Schenker 1935;

Bernstein 1976). Tension and resolution are certainly a

large part of the musical experience, but they name only very

general qualities of it and do not seem to address the vast,

varied, and subtle ways music can make us feel.

Manfred Clynes sees music as the embodiment of the forms of emotion, “emotionally

expressive dynamic forms which we have called essentic forms”

(1986, 169). Clynes (1974, 1986) theory of music seems to parallel, for sound,

what Ekman proposed for facial expression. Ekman (1977) found that there is a

systematic relation between emotion and facial expression, and suggested that

this is a result of inborn “affect programmes” (automatically

triggered sequences of emotion), an idea also accepted by

by Tomkins (1962) and Izard (1971). Clynes thinks the essentic forms are biologically

determined expressions of emotion, experienced the same way

across cultures, which idea seems similar to “inborn affect

programmes”.

Essentic forms are specific spatio-temporal forms biologically programmed into the central nervous system for the expressive communication and generation of emotional qualities (1986, 169).

Clynes seems to be using the word “form” metaphorically. It

usually refers to the three-dimensional, spatial aspects of

things. He seems to be saying that the physiological nature,

intensity, and timing of music-evoked emotions have great

similarity among individuals. Just as, typically, one’s pulse raises, one’s muscles tighten

and one’s breath seems to become more ragged when one is angry, so there are typical

bodily changes due to the feelings which music evokes. This typicality is illustrated

and represented by the shape of the graph produced by

subjects’ fingers during experiments with Clynes’ sentograph.

The graph’s shape thereby represents the “form” of the

emotion. He has interesting data showing that the same music

will evoke similar motor responses in people of vastly

different cultures. His sentograph, which measures motor

response, attaches to the subject’s finger and records, on a

graph, subtle movements of the digit upon exposure to music.

Clynes found remarkable similarity among individual’s

responses to a given composer and between the responses of

different individuals to the same composer’s music, as

represented by the forms on the recording graphs. De Vries’

research confirms Clynes’ hypothesis that emotional responses

are similar among subjects and showed that responses to music

were “not affected by a subject’s familiarity with or

evaluation of a piece” (De Vries 1991, 46).

In a view which seems consonant with Clynes’,

Jackendorff points out that dance is closely related to

music, and that

going beyond crude rhythmic correspondences, we have undeniable and detailed intuitions concerning whether the character of dance movements suit or fail to suit the music. Such intuitions are patently not the result of deliberate training…This suggests that…a cognitive structure can be placed into close correspondence with musical structure…[which] might encode dance movements…[which can be] provisionally called body representation -essentially a body-specific encoding of the internal sense of the states of the muscles, limbs, and joints. Such a structure, in addition to representing the position of the body, would represent the dynamic forces present within the body, such as whether a position is being held in a state of relaxation or in a state of balanced tension….There is every reason to believe that such a representation is independently necessary for everyday tasks. …It would likely be involved as well in correspondences between emotional and muscular states -for instance, one carries oneself differently in states of joy, anger, depression, elation, or fear. (1987, 238-9)

Consonant with this view, Hevner (1936) found that

individuals show general agreement about the emotional

content of pieces of music and that there is broad agreement

among members of a culture about the musical mood of a piece,

even among children as young as three years of age (Kastner

and Crowder 1990). And Stiller notes that

a number of important musical universals have been identified: Melodies worldwide are made mostly of major seconds; all musics employ dynamic accents, and notes of varying lengths; and all display extensive use of variation and repetition…the universality of music suggests that there may be a biological basis for its existence. (1987, 13)

Research confirms the everyday experience that music

causes emotional states which can seriously affect our

actions. Konecni (1982) found that subjects who had been

insulted by confederates working for the experimenter were

quite aggressive about shocking those confederates. But

subjects who had merely been exposed to loud, complex music

were almost as aggressive about shocking confederates as the

insulted subjects had been! In another experiment subjects

were able to shape their moods by their musical choices, and

thereby optimize their moods. Depending on the way they felt

when they came to the experimental session (anxious or angry

or happy), and how they wanted to feel afterwards, they could

pick music that changed the way they felt entirely – once

again supporting the idea that the sounds of music have a

direct effect on emotions.

In many respects, mood is a better concept than

emotion to describe the results of music. Giomo says “This

affective meaning, labelled ‘mood’, is of an individual and

nameless nature, not truly describable using emotion labels”

(Giomo 1993, 143). Sloboda points out that “the ability to

judge mood is logically and empirically separable from the

ability to feel emotion in response to music. It is quite

possible to judge a piece of music to represent extreme

grief, yet be totally unmoved by it” (1991, 111). DeVries

(1991) suggested that there are two steps in reacting to

music: one in which music directly activates “programmes”

which trigger emotions and a second in which a person allows

themselves to experience the emotion or suppresses it,

depending on the congruity of the emotion with, among other

things, their personality and cultural background.

In searching for an evolutionary origin to music,

Konecni, as does Roederer (1984), posits that music helps to

synchronize the emotional states necessary for collective

action, such as the excitement needed for the hunt or battle.

Many primitive tribes seem to use music in this way (as do

college bands during football games). And, indeed, a few

other species, such as birds and cetaceans, have music-

like behaviors (4), wherein they produce sounds of periodic

vibrations and which are intimately tied to intra-species

communication and collective action. Stiller claims that

“Music helps to insure…cooperation — indeed, must

play an important role in that regard, or there would have

been no need to evolve such a unique form of emotional

communication” (1987, 14). He quotes Alan Lomax to the

effect that music organizes the mood, the feelings, the

general attitude of a group of people. This seems to echo

the Ancient Greek view that music teaches men how to feel

like warriors or like lovers.

Granted,

…there may be a certain cultural advantage in having some rudimentary form of music to help synchronize collective rhythmic activity or to serve some ceremonial aspect of social life, no particular reason is evident for the efflorescence of musical complexity that appears in so many cultures (Jackendorff 1987, 214).

The socio-biological theory of musical meaning may

explain some of the psychological roots of music’s evolutionary origins but what

determines the kinds of sounds which can cause the experience

of emotion, i.e. the neurological roots? And why do we have so many kinds of music

which we listen to for its own sake?

The Neuropsychological Data on Language and Music

Why should certain kinds of sounds be able to directly

evoke feeling? By what means, what neuropsychological

processes?

As have so many in the history of music theory, Roederer

(1984) wonders whether the answer lies in the unique human

capacity for language. Human infants have high motivation to

acquire language, as evidenced by the assiduous way they

attend to, imitate, and practice language. Language

activities are very pleasurable; if they were not, human

infants would not be motivated to perform language-related

activities as much as they do. On this evidence, I venture

to say that humans have built-in developmental pleasure/pain

processes for producing and listening to language. Language

acquisition is a cognitive activity that is highly motivated

and important to survival. Are the emotions aroused for

language acquisition the evolutionary link between sound and

emotion? That is, are humans moved by sound as a result of a biological need to be

interested in acquiring language?

Experiments show that there are strong similarities in the way in which people perceive structure in music and in language…[but] overall, the syntax of music has much more latitude than that of language. Thus, in the syntaxes of music and language, we must remember that music is far more flexible and ambiguous than language (Aiello 1994, 46-9).

Furthermore, neuropsychological evidence seems to be a

odds with the proposal that language is the basis of music.

The areas of the brain which primarily process speech are,

apparently, mostly different from those which process music

(5). Investigations into the brain areas which process

speech and music have turned up the interesting finding that,

in most infants, the left hemisphere responds more to speech

sounds and the right to musical tones, as indicated by a type

of EEG called auditory evoked potentials, (Molfese 1977).

Measures of how much attention a neonate paid to left or

right ear stimuli (as indicated by “high amplitude non-

nutritive sucking”) indicated that most infants responded

more to language sounds presented to their right ears (left

hemispheres) and to musical sounds presented to their left

ears (right hemispheres) (Entus 1977; Glanville, Best, and

Levenson 1977), although Vargha-Khadem and Corbellis (1979)

were not able to replicate Entus’ findings. Best, Hoffman,

and Glanville (1982) found a right ear advantage for speech

in infants older than two months during tasks in which

infants had to remember and discriminate phonetic sounds and

musical timbres. Infants younger than two months showed an

ear advantage only for musical notes, and that advantage was

for the left ear. In older children and adult non-musicians,

damage to the left hemisphere usually impairs language

functions but tends to spare musical abilities, including

singing. Damage to the right hemisphere, particularly the

right temporal lobe, tends to leave language functions

intact, but impairs musical abilities and the production and

comprehension of language tone and of emotion expressed

through language or other sounds (Joanette, Goulet, and

Hannequin 1990).

Zatorre (1979) found a left ear advantage for the

discrimination of melodies versus speech in a dichotic (6)

listening task with both musicians and nonmusicians. He

found cerebral-blood-flow evidence that right temporal lobe

neurons are particularly important in melodic and pitch

discriminations (Zatorre, Evans, and Meyer 1994). Tramo and

Bharucha (1991), following the work of Gordon (1970), found

that the right hemisphere seems to process the perception of

harmonics (tested by the detection of complex relationships

among simultaneous musical sounds). Damage to the right

temporal lobe impairs the ability to recognize timbre (7),

and time cues within tones that determine the recognition of

timbre (Samson and Zatorre 1993). These authors suggest that

“the same acoustical cues involved in perception of musical

timbre may also serve as linguistic cues under certain

circumstances” (Ibid., 239). There are now indications that

timbre and phonetic information are processed through some

common stage beyond peripheral acoustic processing. Research

is underway to determine whether voice identification also

proceeds through this same timbre-phoneme nonperipheral stage

(Pitt 1995).

In a critical review, Zatorre (1984) notes that right-

sided damage can produce deficits in tasks that process

patterns of pitch and timbre differences. Adults with

partial or complete excisions of the right temporal lobe were

found to be significantly impaired in the perception of pitch

(Zatorre 1988). Kester et. al (1991) found that musical

processing was most affected by right temporal lobectomy. In

a review of the literature on the infant’s perception of tone

sequences, or melodies, Trehub (1990) found that human

infants do not use local pitch strategies characteristic of

nonhuman species, that is, they do not depend on the

recognition of particular, or absolute pitches, to identify

tone sequences. Rather, like human adults, they use global

and relational means to encode and retain contours of

melodies, with little attention to absolute pitch. (Although,

interestingly, Kessen, Leving and Wendrich (1979) found that

infants paid very close attention to experimenters’ singing

and could imitate pitch quite well.) In other words, human

infants have the ability to recognize exact pitches, but the

exact key in which a melody is played makes little difference

for human recognition of melody, while animals depend on the

particular pitch in which their “song” is sung to recognize

it. This seems to imply that even human infants are

extracting the abstract pattern of the sounds, rather than

using the sounds as signs, specific perceptual markers, of

events.

In reviewing the research on infants’ perception of

music, Trehub (1987) suggests that infants have the skills

for analyzing complex auditory stimuli. These skills may

correspond to musical universals, as indicated by infants’

preference for major triadic chord structures.

The evidence indicates that human infants have the

ability to recognize and process music in a fairly complex

way, at a very early age. Furthermore, music processing in

most infants and adults seems to occur primarily in the right

hemisphere (8).

And infants, like adults, appear to find music

interesting: they tend to pay attention to it, they like to

engage in imitations of adult pitches and, they learn to sing

as soon as they learn to speak (Cook 1994).

The Neuropsychological Data on Emotions

How does the data on the neuropsychological processes

involved in music relate to the data on the

neuropsychological processes involved in emotions? It is

well-established that for most people, right hemisphere

damage causes difficulties with the communication and

comprehension of emotion (Bear 1983; Ross 1984). Apparently,

the right hemisphere mediates the processing of many types of

emotionally-laden information: visual, facial, gestural,

bodily, and auditory.

The evidence suggests that the right hemisphere has a

special relationship with the emotional functions of the

human mind, specifically in being able to process and project

emotional meaning through perceptual information (Kolb and

Whishaw 1990). For most people, the right hemisphere

performs integrative visual functions, such as grasping

visual gestalts and comprehending visual and architectural

wholes; the inability to recognize faces is sometimes the

consequence of right temporal lobe damage. (Kolb and

Whishaw, 1990) Right hemisphere damage can often lead to the

inability to be aware of whole areas of space in relation to

oneself, called perceptual neglect. (See A. Luria’s The Man

With A Shattered World for an agonizing description of what

the world seems like when one’s brain cannot perform these

visual and kinesthetic integrations.) Neglect of half of

perceived space, called hemi-neglect, is a frequent result of

extensive right parietal damage. The right hemisphere is

fundamentally involved in comprehending the connotative

meanings of language, metaphors and nonliteral implications

of stories; and the right hemisphere seems to be involved in

the comprehension of meaning commmunicated through sound,

especially voice. Oliver Sacks discusses patients with

“tonal agnosia,”

For such patients, typically, the expressive qualities of voices disappear – their tone, their timbre, their feeling, their entire character – while words (and grammatical constructions) are perfectly understood. Such tonal agnosias (or ‘aprosodias’) are associated with disorders of the right temporal lobe, whereas aphasias go with disorders of the left temporal lobe (1987, 83).

He also describes aphasics (9) who are not able to grasp the

denotative meaning of words and yet are able to follow many

conversations by the emotional tone of the speakers.

With the most sensitive patients, it was only with [grossly artificial mechanical speech from a computerised voice synthesizer] that one could be wholly sure of their aphasia (Ibid., 80-1).

The patients would use all kinds of extraverbal clues to

understand what another was saying to them. He claimed that

a roomful of them laughed uproariously over a speech given by

Ronald Reagan because of the patent insincerity of it.

Rate, amplitude, pitch, inflection, timbre, melody, and

stress contours of the voice are means by which emotion is

communicated (in nonhuman as well as human species), and the

right hemisphere is superior in the interpretation of these

features of voice (Joseph 1988). Samson and Zatorre (1993)

found similar cortical areas responding to pitch and timbre

in humans and animals. In dichotic listening tasks, Zurif

and Mendelsohn (1972) found a right ear advantage for

correctly matching meaningless, syntactically organized

sentences with meaningful ones by the way the sentence was

emotionally intoned. The subjects could apparently match

such nonsense sentences as: “Dey ovya ta ransch?” with “How

do you do?” by the intonation the speaker gave the sentence.

Heilman, Scholes, and Watson (1975) found that subjects with

right temporal-parietal lesions tended to be impaired at

judging the mood of a speaker. Heilman et. al (1984) also

compared subjects with right temporal lobe-damage to both

normals and aphasics (4) in discriminating the emotional

content of speech. He presented all three types of subjects

with sentences wherein the verbal content of the speakers was

filtered out and only the emotional tone was left, and found

those with temporal lobe damage to be impaired in their

emotional discriminations. In a similar study, Tompkins and

Flowers (1985) found that the tonal memory scores (how well

the subjects could remember specific tones) for right

braindamaged subjects were lower than those of other

subjects, implying that right braindamage leads to a problem

with the perceptual encoding of sound, put not necessarily

with the comprehension of emotional meaning per se.

The human voice conveys varied, complex, and subtle

meaning through timbre, pitch, stress contour, tempo, and so

forth and thereby communicates emotion.

What is clear is that the rhythmic and the musical are not contingent additions to language….The “musical” aspect of language emphasizes the way that all communication has an irreducibly particular aspect which cannot be substracted (Bowie 1990, 174).

Best, Hoffman, and Glanville found that the ability to

process timbre appears in neonates and very young infants,

apparently before the ability to process phonetic stimuli

1982).

Through the “music” in voice, we comprehend the feelings

of others and we communicate ours to them. This is an

important ability for the well-being of the human infant, who

has not yet developed other human tools for communicating its

needs and comprehending the world around it – a world in

which the actions and feelings of its caretakers are of

immense importance to its survival. Emotion is conveyed

through language in at least two ways: through the

specifically verbal content of what is said, and through the

“musical” elements in voice, which are processed by the right

hemisphere. One of the characteristic features of

traditional poetry is the dense combination of the meaning of

words with the way they sound, which, when done well, results

in emotionally moving artworks (Enright 1989). Mothers

throughout the world use nursery rhymes, a type of poetry, to

amuse and soothe infants and young children, that is, to

arouse emotions they find desirable in the children. “Music

can articulate the ‘unsayable’, which is not representable by

concepts or verbal language” (Bowie, 1990, 184). “Men have not found the words for it

nor the deed nor the thought, but they have found the music” (Rand 1943, 544) .

Was nature being functionally logical and parsimonious

to combine, in the right hemisphere, those functions which

communicate emotion with those that comprehend emotion?

As social animals, humans have many ways of

communicating and comprehending emotions: facial expression,

gesture, body language, and voice tone. I propose that

music’s biopsychological origins lie in the ability to

recognize and respond directly to the feelings of another

through tone of voice, an important ability for infant and

adult survival. (The tone of voice of an angry and menacing

person has a very different implication than that of a sweet

and kind person.)

If inflection and nuance enhance the effect of spoken language, in music they create the meaning of the notes. Unlike words, notes and rests do not point to ideas beyond themselves; their meaning lies precisely in the quality of the sounds and silences, so that the exact renderings of the notes, the nuances, the inflection, the intensity and energy with which notes are performed become their musical meaning. (J. M. Lewers, quoted in Aiello 1994, 55)

Furthermore, I propose that the sound literally triggers

those physiological processes which cause the corresponding

emotion “action programmes,” “essentic forms,” or whatever

one wishes to call these processes. This would explain the

uniquely automatic quality in our response to music.

I am proposing that the biopsychological basis of the

ability of sound to cause emotions in man originates in man’s

ability to emotionally respond to the sounds of another’s

voice. Theoretically, this ability lies in the potential for

certain kinds of sounds to set off a series of neurological

processes resulting in emotions, which events are similar to

those occurring during the usual production of emotions.

As so many in the history of musical theory have conjectured,

music does result from language – but not language’s abstract,

denotative qualities.

However, I should posit that it is not the ontogeny of

language per se that caused the development of music in

humans. Many nonhuman animals communicate emotion and

subsequently direct and orchestrate actions of their species

through voice tone, and there is considerable evidence that

humans do likewise, which argues that this ability arose

before the emergence of language.

Returning to my earlier

discussion of motivation in the infant acquisition of

language, it seems more likely that the pleasures and

emotions communicated through voice (which motivate the

acquisition of language) are another biological application

of the ability of voice tone to emotionally affect us, rather

than an initial cause of emotion in voice. Human’s were

already set to be affected by voice tone when we acquired the

ability to speak. Pleasure associated with vocalizing likely

developed into pleasure in language acquisition.

However, music, especially modern Western music, has

gone far beyond the kinds of auditory perceptions and

responses involved in simple tone of voice alone. The

ability to emotionally recognize and respond to tone of voice

was developed early on in the evolution of Homo sapiens, as

evidenced by the same ability in our closest animal

relatives, the great apes. The history of music seems to

show that humans greatly expanded on the use of voice tone

through their ability to abstract. It appears that men

created instruments, learned how to distill and extract the

essence of tones and their relationships, rearranged and

expanded the range, timbre, and rhythm of sounds used both by

voice and by instruments, and thereby created a new, artistic

means of expressing a huge range of emotions.

The evidence found by Clynes and others indicates that

there is a special pattern of sound for each emotion or mood,

which pattern humans are able to recognize in various voices,

both human and instrumental. Helmholtz noted that the major

keys are

well suited for all frames of mind which are completely formed and clearly understood, for strong resolve, and for soft and gentle or even for sorrowing feelings, when the sorrow has passed into the condition of dreamy and yielding regret. But it is quite unsuited for indistinct, obscure, unformed frames of mind, or for the expressing of the dismal, the dreary, the enigmatic, the mysterious, the rude…[and it is] precisely for these …[that] we require the minor mode (1954 [1885], 302)

The implication of the evidence is that humans have learned

how to abstract the sound pattern evoking, for example

triumph, and then re-present this pattern in its

essential form in a musical composition, giving the listener

an experience of the emotion of triumph rarely possible in

life. Through abstraction, the emotion-provoking sounds have

been rendered essential and rearranged into new patterns and

combinations, thereby enabling humans to have an emotion-

evoking artistic experience far greater than that possible

from the sounds of the spoken voice alone. Many theories of

music, to some extent, recognize that music makers take the

fundamental qualities of music and rearrange them to invent

new ways of feeling – see any number of essays in Philip

Alperson’s book What is Music?

In relation to this theory, it is noteworthy that only

the sounds of periodic vibrations can be integrated so as to

evoke emotion because the voice produces periodic vibrations

in its normal operation. (Despite the best efforts of modern

musical theorists, all else is experienced as meaningless

noise.) In the history of music theory, thinkers have placed

most of their emphasis on the relations and perceptions of

harmonies (Grout 1973; Lang 1941). My proposal for the

biological basis of music concerns a system generally without

harmony – the human voice (there are some harmonic overtones

in any voice or instrument). How do these factors relate to

one another? Historically, music began as plainsong without

accompaniment and as simple melodies.

The fact that music could achieve simultaneity, that it could have vertical as well as horizontal events, was a revolutionary discovery….Now music had a new kind of interest, the accidental or contrived vertical combination of two or more pitches” (Aiello 1994, 44)

Although polyphony (10) was created some time during the

Middle Ages, apparently the conscious use of harmonic chords

was developed even later.

Helmholtz mentions that

A favourite assertion that “melody is resolved harmony,” on which musicians do not hesitate to form musical systems without staying to inquire how harmonies had either never been heard, or were, after hearing, repudiated. According to our explanation, at least, the same physical peculiarities in the composition of musical tones, which determined consonances for tones struck simultaneously, would also determine melodic relations for tones struck in sucession. The former then would not be the reason for the latter, as the above phrase suggests, but both would have a common cause in the natural formation of musical tones (1954 [1885], 289).

In other words, harmony and melody complement each other,

using the same mathematical relationships of tones and their

perception. Harmony does this simultaneously, melody does

this over time. However, harmony is not an equal partner in the creation of music,

because we can make music without harmony and because harmony does not make

music on its own: music requires a sequence of sounds and silences through

time. Harmony developed as man abstracted musical

qualities in sound, rearranged them, and used them

simultaneously. It is likely that theoreticians have focused

on harmony in their analysis of music because complex

harmonies are a major part of modern western music and

because melodies are more difficult to analyze due to the the

element of time. Given the historical development of music,

I believe the emphasis on harmony is an artifact of human

analytical ability. Moreover, an harmonic chord on its own

is not music – it is always necessary to have a sequence of

tones to have music.

Beyond Neuropsychology to Music as Art

I have posited a biological/evolutionary origin to music, but I have not, as yet,

proposed a survival function for it. Before I do that, I would like to address the wider

issue of the biological function of art per se. In her article “Art and Cognition,” Rand

(1971) presented her theory on the cognitive foundations of art.

This theory is of particular interest to me, not only because

it is founded on and well-integrated with her revolutionary

philosophy of Objectivism, but because it is specifically

based on man’s cognitive and motivational nature, on what she

called his “psycho-epistemological needs” (11), and thereby posits gives an answer to the

question of art’s biological roots. Her hypothesis in no way addresses or accounts for my

original question, What is the evolutionary basis of the ability to respond to sound? With

her hypothesis, the question remains unanswered. But her theory

is worth addressing because she asked and attempted to answer

many of the fundamental questions about music’s nature.

Rand argued that art is a means of making

conceptual yet concrete the information of the senses, which,

thereby, makes that information more meaningful to us.

The visual arts do not deal with the sensory field of awareness as such, but with the sensory field as perceived by a conceptual consciousness.

The sensory-perceptual awareness of an adult does not consist of mere sense data (as it did in his infancy), but of automatized integrations that combine sense data with a vast context of conceptual knowledge. The visual arts refine and direct the sensory elements of these integrations. By means of selectivity, of emphasis and omission, these arts lead man’s sight to the conceptual context intended by the artist. They teach man to see more precisely and to find deeper meaning in the field of vision. (Rand 1971, 47)

Painting makes conceptual the sense of sight, sculpture the

sense of sight and touch, dance the sense of body motion, or

kinesthesia, and music the sense of hearing.

But Rand argued that music does not follow exactly the

same psycho-epistemological process as the other arts.

According to Rand, the art of music embodies man’s sense of

life by abstracting how man uses his mind.

The other arts create a physical object,…and the psycho-epistemological process goes from the perception of the object to the conceptual grasp of its meaning, to an appraisal in terms of one’s basic values, to a consequent emotion. The pattern is: from perception – to conceptual understanding – to appraisal – to emotion.

The pattern of the process involved in music is: from perception – to emotion – to appraisal – to conceptual understanding.

Music is experienced as if it had the power to reach man’s emotions directly (Rand 1971, 50)

In other words, upon listening to music, it can cause us to

experience feelings which we subsequently appraise. Whether

we like or dislike the feelings caused by the music (or have

some complex reaction to it), helps determine what kinds of

music we individually favor. An interesting facet of the

musical experience is the fact that many unrelated images

tend to come to mind when we listen to music, imagery which

seems to correspond to the emotions. It is as if our minds

find it illogical to have feelings with no existential

objects to evoke them, so our minds provide images of an

appropriate nature. This process seems reminiscent of others, such as the way in which

we “see” faces in myriad visual images, or think we hear voices in the sound of the wind.

The common thread between them is the mind’s automatic attempt to make sense of the

world, both external and internal.

According to Rand, how might sound evoke these emotions?

If man experiences an emotion without existential object, its only other possible object is the state or actions of his own consciousness. What is the mental action involved in the perception of music? (I am not referring to the emotional reaction, which is the consequence, but to the process of perception.)…The automatic processes of sensory integration are completed in his infancy and closed to an adult.

The single exception is in the field of sounds produced by periodic vibrations, i.e., music…musical tones heard in a certain kind of succession produce a different result -the human ear and brain integrate them into a new cognitive experience, into what may be called an auditory entity; a melody. The integration is a physiological process; it is performed unconsciously and automatically. Man is aware of the process only by means of its results.

Helmholtz has demonstrated that the essence of musical perception is mathematical; the consonance or dissonance of harmonies depends on the ratios of the frequencies of their tones…[There is] the possibility that the same principles apply to the process of hearing and integrating a succession of musical tones, i.e., a melody — and that the psycho-epistemological meaning of a given composition lies in the kind of work it demands of a listener’s ear and brain (Rand 1971, 57-8)

Music gives man’s consciousness the same experience as the other arts: a concretization of his sense of life. But the abstraction being concretized is primarily epistemological, rather than metaphysical; the abstraction is man’s consciousness, i.e., his method of cognitive functioning, which he experiences in the concrete form of hearing a specific piece of music. A man’s acceptance or rejection of that music depends on whether it calls upon or clashes with, confirms or contradicts, his mind’s way of working. The metaphysical aspect of the experience is the sense of a world which he is able to grasp, to which his mind’s working is appropriate….A man who has an active mind…will feel a mixture of boredom and resentment when he hears a series of random bits with which his mind can do nothing. He will feel anger, revulsion and rebellion against the process of hearing jumbled musical sounds; he will experience it as an attempt to destroy the integrating capacity of his mind.” (Rand 1971, 58) 1971)

In other words, she proposed that the arrangement of sounds

in music causes one’s brain to perform a sensory/perceptual

integration similar to those performed during the solution of

an existential problem, and that one emotionally reacts to

the kind of cognitive work which the music makes one perform

through the integration.

In line with the assumptions of musical research, she

notes that only sounds caused by periodic vibrations can be

integrated by the human brain. We can analyze the sounds of

music as follows: simultaneous sounds into harmonies,

successions of sounds into melodies, or what Rand called

“auditory entities” and percussions into rhythms.

According to Rand’s hypothesis, musical sounds are

physiologically integrated by the brain and our emotions are

in response to the type of integration performed. She

proposed that the musical integration parallels perceptual

integration in nonmusical cognitive activities, and that we

respond emotionally to the type of integrating work music

causes us to perform. Her hypothesis assumes no direct

physiological induction of emotion, but proposes that the

emotion is a response to the kind of cognitive work caused by

the integration of the sounds.

Is this view consonant with the scientific facts?

Rand’s hypothesis supposes that a perceptual integration

results in emotions such as joy, delight, triumph, which are

normally generated in humans by a complex conceptual

cognitive activity. I am not aware of any other purely

perceptual integrations in other sense modalities which

result in such emotions (although there may be some visual

stimuli, such as a beautiful sunset or graceful human

proportions, for which we have in-built pleasurable

responses). In this respect, sound seems to be unique.

Idiot-savants and some individuals with IQ’s in the

teens, respond fully to music, as well as

A man whom childhood meningitis had left mentally retarded as well as behaviorally and emotionally crippled, but who…was so familiar with… all the Bach cantatas, as well as a staggering amount of other music)…evincing a full understanding and appreciation of these highly intellectual scores. Clearly, whatever had happened to the rest of his brain, his musical intelligence remained a separate – and unimpaired – function (Stiller 1987, 13).

Under Rand’s theory, is this possible? Such cognitively

impaired individuals would not normally perform many complex

conceptual mental integrations, nor experience the feelings

accompanying those integrations. One might infer that these

mental cripples, unable to self-generate cognitive activities

which would allow them the pleasures of deep feelings, are

enabled the life-giving experience of such feelings through

music (hence, some of them completely devote themselves to

music). That is, their cognitions are not complex enought to produce many profound and

pleasurable feelings on their own, but they are able to pleasurably shape their emotional

world with music. Presumably, if their perceptual abilities are

intact, their brains could still perform the integrations

necessary under Rand’s hypothesis. But how could their

psycho-epistemological sense of life respond to the

activities, in that they are not capable of much in the way

of conceptual activity?

However, consider the following:

If a given process of musical integration taking place in a man’s brain resembles the cognitive processes that produce and/or accompany a certain emotional state, he will recognize it, in effect, physiologically, then intellectually. Whether he will accept that particular emotional state, and experience it fully, depends on his sense-of-life evaluation of its significance.” (Rand 1971, 61)

Here, she seemed to say that the processing and integrating

of the sounds are very similar to the physiological processes

involved in the existential evocations of emotions. In other

words, her statement seems to imply that she thinks the music

physiologically induces the emotion, which is subsequently

evaluated and accepted or rejected.

It seems to me that Rand was not perfectly clear as to

the exact nature of music’s production of emotions. On the

one hand, she seemed to say that the emotions are a reaction

to the kind of cognitive work the music causes us to perform.

On the other hand, she seemed to say that the music

physiologically induces the emotion.

Parsimony inclines me to take this analysis one step

further and propose that musical sounds induce the

neurological processes that cause the emotions; then we react

to the feeling of those emotions. Instead of proposing, like

Rand, that the essence of music is epistemological – we react

to the kind of cognitive work music causes – I would like to

maintain that the essence is metaphysical, like the other

arts – we react to the way the music makes us feel. That

is, by neurologically inducing emotions, music shapes our

feelings about the world. If painting is the concretization

of sight, music is the concretization of feeling.

Rand recognizes this to some extent, “How can sounds

reach man’s emotions directly in a manner that seems to by-

pass his intellect?” (1971, 54) This question seems to imply

that she thinks the musical sensory integration affects

feelings directly.

It is relevant to the issue that there are direct

sensory projections from the ear to the amygdala, a nuclei of

cells at the base of the temporal lobe (where so much music

processing seems to occur). The amygdala is part of the

limbic system, considered essential to the production and

processing of emotion. Although part of the temporal lobe,

the amygdala is not considered to be part of the cortical

sensory analysis systems that process the objective

properties of an experience. Instead the amygdala is

believed to process our feeling or subjective sense of an

experience (Kolb and Whishaw 1990) – that is, how we feel

about an experience, such as the warm cozy feelings we might

get at the smell of turkey and apple pie. It seems possible

that the sounds of music could be directly processed by the

amygdala, resulting directly in emotion, without going

through the usual “objective-properties” processing of the

other cortical areas. This might be how they “reach man’s

emotions directly in a manner that seems to by-pass his

intellect?” (Rand 1971,)

However, we might find a resolution to the seeming

duality of Rand’s musical hypothesis by further reflecting on

music’s nature. I believe the key lies in the complexity of

music. There are large elements of cognitive understanding

and processing involved in more complex music, e.g., there is

a definite process involved in learning to listen to

classical music, or any kind for that matter.

Musicians are much more sensitive to and analytical

about music, and, interestingly, apparently use different

areas of their brains than do nonmusicians when processing

music. Musicians do quite a bit of processing in the left

hemisphere, in areas that apparently process in a

logical/analytical manner. Some music triggers some emotion

in almost everyone, although I think that perhaps mood, as

suggested by Giomo, would be a better term to describe much

of the psychophysical state that music induces. We can

listen to music, know what emotion it represents, but not

want or like that emotion. In this way, Rand seems right

that music causes our minds to go through the cognitive steps

which result in various emotions. However, in line with the

arguments made by many, not everyone can follow the cognitive

steps necessary in listening to all music: there is a certain

amount of learning involved in the appreciation of music and

it seems to be related, for example, to learning the forms,

context, and style of the music of a culture. Beyond that,

there is learning involved in absorbing and responding to

music of different genres: jazz, blues, celtic folk, african

folk, classical. One gets to understand the ways and the

patterns of each genre such that one’s mind can better follow

the musical thoughts and respond to them with feeling

(Aiello 1994).

Music can take on a cognitive life entirely its own,

apart from and different from the kinds of thoughts and

feelings resulting from life or the other arts. As the

Greeks thought, it can teach us new things to think and feel.

Certainly, the kind of utterly intense emotion felt through

exalted music is rare, if possible at all, through other

events of life. Listening to contemporary music such as the

Drovers (Celtic style), I realized that it made me feel all

kinds of wonderful and unusual bodily feelings, which had no

regular emotional names, although they were similar to other

emotions. This might explain why we like to listen to the

same piece of music over and over. “Wittengenstein’s

paradox: the puzzle is that when we are familiar with a piece

of music, there can be no more surprises. Hence, if

‘expectancy violation’ is aesthetically important, a piece

would lose this quality as it becomes familiar”

(Bharucha 1994, 215). We do not particularly like to think

about the same things over and over, but we generally like to

feel certain ways over and over. We listen to the same piece

over and over because we enjoy the mood, the frame of mind,

into which it puts us. Of what else does the end of life consist, but good experience, in

whatever form one can find it? Thinking is the means by which we maintain and

advance life, but feeling happy is an end in itself.

To resolve Rand’s duality: the basis of music is the

neurological induction of mood through sound (made

possible, in my view, by our ability to respond to the

emotional meaning of voice); however, humans have taken that

basic ability and elaborated it greatly, abstracting and

rearranging sound in many, many different ways in all the

different kinds of music. Responding to more complex music

requires more elaborate, specifically musical understanding

of the sounds and their interrelationships. This

understanding requires learning on the part of the listener

and complex cognitive work – to which the listener responds

emotionally.

Hence, there are two emotional levels on which we

respond to music which correspond to the two aspects of

Rand’s hypothesis: the basic neurological level and the more

complex cognitive level.

Future Research

My hypothesis on the evolutionary basis of music in our

ability to respond to emotion in tone of voice would need a

vast array of experiments to be proved, including further

inquiry into the neurological structures which process voice

tone and music. Presumably, if the hypothesis is true, a

significant overlap would be found in the the areas that

process voice tone and the areas that process music.

Particular care would be needed to discover which neocortical

structures are involved in these functions, including an

examination of such structures as the associative areas

including the temporal lobe, and the limbic structures. And

subcortical areas such as the hypothalamus and brain stem,

presumed to be involved in emotional processing

(Siminov 1986), would need to be examined as well.

A technique such as Positron Emission Tomography (PET)

(12) might be useful in such an inquiry. Experiments

indicating that this overlap exists in young infants would

show that this was an inborn, and not a learned ability.

Care would need to be taken in arranging several experimental

conditions for comparison. Techniques such as the one

described earlier in this essay, wherein the verbal content

was filtered out of sentences, would be useful. Comparisons

of the response to (1) voice with no verbal content or music,

(2) music with no voice, (3) voice with music, with and

without verbal content and (4) nonemotionally meaningful

sounds made without voice would be important.

Also, it might be found that voice with no music, voice

with music, and music with no voice are each processed in a

different set of areas. Alternatively, it is possible that

no subcortical emotional effects would be found from voice or

music. Or, perhaps, the processing of the voice and/or the

music would be found to be spread over both hemispheres of

the brain in a way which did not become evident in the evoked

potentials. Some of the brain damage studies found that

right hemisphere damage did not universally cause amusia or

failure to comprehend or express emotional tone, and that

some subjects recovered their abilities to express or grasp

emotion through language. Furthermore, it is difficult to

know how varying individual brain organization might express

itself in the processing of these tasks.

Interesting and observable differences might be found

across languages or language groups. The relation, if any,

of a language to it’s folk music would be fascinating (13).

Here I’d like to recall Jackendorff’s comments. He

remarked on the ability of music to make us feel like moving,

and that there are specific ways we seem to feel like moving

to specific kinds of music.

Ultimately, if we learn enough to specify exactly the relationships between the

elements of music and what feelings are evoked, we will be able to decipher music as

“the language of feeling.” I look forward to the research which will resolve these

questions on the biopsychology of music.

Again and Again

Music defies.

Rachmaninoff’s sighs, Haydn’s Surprise, Joplin’s glad cries — Make poetry pale.

Words fail.

–John Enright NOTES

1. “An emotion is the psychosomatic form in which man experiences his estimate of the beneficial or harmful relationship of some aspect of reality to himself.” (Branden 1966, 64). This definition is echoed in Carroll Izard’s work Human Emotions (1977) “A complete definition of emotion must take into account all… of these aspects or components: (a) the experience or conscious feeling of emotion, (b) the processes that occur in the brain and nervous system, and (c) the observable expressive patterns of emotion, particularly those on the face…scientists do not agree on precisely how an emotion comes about. Some maintain that emotion is a joint function of a physiologically arousing situation and the person’s evaluation or appraisal of the situation” (1977, 4).

2. “Prosody” is pitch, change of pitch, and duration of intonations and rests in speech.

3. “Pitch – 23. Acoustics. the apparent predominant frequenc sounded by an acoustical source.” (Random House Dictionary of the English Language, New York: Random House Publishing Co., 1968)

4. The activites are “music-like” because they employ sequences of sounds made by periodic vibrations. However, because of the cognitive levels of the animals involved, the “songs” are not abstracted, arrayed and integrated into an artwork and thus are not music. It is even likely that the animals experience their “songs” as integrated perceptual experiences, which communicate valuable information to them, or trigger a series of valuable actions in them. Because our physiology is so different from that of birds and cetaceans, we may not experience the “songs” as perceptually integrated units, but the respective animals might. Regardless of whether the “songs” are perceptually integrated or not to the birds, dolphins or whales involved, the “songs” are still not artworks, because they are not conceptually organized (Nottebohm 1989). Likewise, animals usually seem indifferent to human music. There are at least two reasons for this: their physiologies are different, thus they do not hear and perceptually integrate sound the same way humans do; and they do not have the power to abstract patterns from percepts the way humans do. Trehub (1987) found that, unlike animals, even human infants process music by relational means and do not rely on absolute pitch the way animals do.

5. In brain research, investigators have found evidence for the same general types of brain processes in the same areas for 95% of the subjects. I am reporting the kinds of functional asymmetries which have been discovered for those 95%. Thus, when I note that “language functions are in the left hemisphere and musical tone recognition in the right,” I am referring to this 95% of the population.

6. In a dichotic listening task, the subject is presented with two different stimuli to his different ears, simultaneously. Whichever stimuli the subject tends to notice indicates that the ear to which it was presented has an advantage for that kind of stimuli.

7. “Timbre – 1. Acoustics, Phonet. the characteristic quality of a sound, independent of pitch and loudness but dependent on the relative strengths of the components of different fequencies, determined by resonance. 2. Music. the characteristic quality of sound produced by a particular instrument or voice; one color.” (Random House Dictionary of the English Language, New York: Random House Publishing Co., 1968)

8. There is evidence that musicians in particular do what appears to be more logico-analytical processing of music in the left hemisphere (Bever and Chiarello 1974). Messerli, Pegna, and Sordet (1995) found musicians superior in identifying melody with their right ear. Schlaug and Steinmetz found that professional musicians, especially those who have perfect pitch, have far larger planum temporales on their left side (Nowak 1995).

9. Aphasia is a condition in which a person has difficulty in producing and/or comprehending language due to neurological conditions.

10. Polyphony is a type of music where multiple voices sing independent melodies. Often, the melodies selected do harmonize beautifully, but polyphony is not considered harmonic in the ususal sense, because it does not use harmonic chords in its composition, but relies on the incidental harmonization of the tones of the multiple melodies into chords.

11. “Psycho-epistemology is the study of man’s cognitive processes from the aspect of the interaction between the conscious mind and the automatic functions of the subconscious.” (Rand 1971, 20)

12. Positron Emission Tomography is a technique which measures the rate of glucose metabolism in neurological structures during tasks. The brain uses a tremendous amount of glucose whenever it works. It is inferred that brain structures using the most glucose during a given task are the ones performing the neurological processes necessary for that task.

13. My thanks to Mr. Peter Saint-Andre for pointing out these possibilities.

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Why Man Needs Approval

Originally published in Objectivity, Volume 1, Number 2.

In Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged, Ken Danagger asks Dagny Taggart:

“And if you met those great men in heaven, . . . what would you want to say to them?”
“Just . . . just hello, I guess.”
“That’s not all,” said Danagger. “There’s something you’d want to hear from them . . . you’d want them to look at you and say, Well done.”
She dropped her head and nodded silently. . . . (Rand 1957, 735)

In this passage, Dagny shows an intense desire to be recognized and appreciated by heroes. She was not the sort of character who desired false praise or approval of others in place of self-approval. She did desire a deserved approval, a recognition of her and her achievements.

Why?

In this essay, I shall argue that it is a part of man’s nature, of his animal as well as his rational nature, to desire positive responses from others. The desire to be liked by others, to have pleasant day-to-day interactions with other people, and to enjoy positive feedback on many levels of social interaction is a need of man’s conceptual and perceptual nature. It is a vital factor in human development. A person cannot experience the most happiness possible in life if this deep need is left unfulfilled.

Aristotle posed the question: Why does a happy and self-sufficient man need friends? His answer was an early forerunner of the view elaborated here: A good man gets pleasure from contemplation of the good, a friend is another self, and “we can contemplate our neighbors better than ourselves and their actions better than our own.” Therefore, the supremely happy man will need good friends because “his purpose is to contemplate worthy actions and actions that are his own, and the actions of a good man who is his friend have both these qualities” (Aristotle 1941, EN.9.9.1169b30-1170a4).

I. Concretizing the Self

Ayn Rand spent much of her career defending and explaining man’s unique form of consciousness — reason. She explored such issues as how the ability to reason distinguishes man from the other animals, how reason works, and why man needs freedom to use his reason. She explained a number of man’s most interesting and unique characteristics as being caused by his possession of reason.

Rand argued that man produces and needs art because his conceptual consciousness has a special need to concretize its basic grasp of reality (Rand 1975, 17-20). Nathaniel Branden, an associate of Rand’s, argued that man needs romantic love because, unlike introspective awareness, love enables man to perceive his self in the world (Branden 1969, 184-88, 195-98). These theories propose that art and love derive specifically from the need to integrate the abstract and the concrete, the conceptual and the perceptual. Man is a rational animal and, as such, has cognitive needs resulting from his animal nature in combination with his rational faculty.

Abstractions themselves exist only in man’s mind — everything else in reality is concrete. One of man’s fundamental cognitive needs is to concretize his ideas and values, to grasp what they mean in reality. Rand surmised that the function of words is to give abstractions concrete forms (Rand 1990, 10). Man cannot think without finding particular forms for his thought. I would further argue that only the faculty of abstraction, of reason, can handle abstractions directly. Man’s other cognitive faculties, such as perception, memory, and eidetic imagination, function by using perceptual, concrete forms in conjunction with abstractions. Memories or fantasies always use a perceptual mental image — be it visual, auditory, tactile, gustatory, or kinesthetic — to mentally anchor abstractions, to give them concrete form (Koestler 1964; Hadamard 1954).

These cognitive facts make sense in light of the evolution of man’s cognitive hierarchy. All living things are organized hierarchically, the higher forms always subsuming the lower form’s organization within them. (Aristotle discerned this general pattern; see, e.g., De An. 2.2.413a20-415b7, 3.9-3.13.) In the organization of consciousness, this means that at each phylogenetic level, animals possess within them the general cognitive abilities of the lower levels. The phylogenetic classification schemes used in biology reflect increasing modes of awareness — from rudimentary sensations to elaborate ones, to perception of entities and the faculty of memory, etc. (Green 1987, 20-23, 169-81). Of all his cognitive faculties, only the rational level of man’s consciousness is distinctively human, but this level must work with the sensory and perceptual levels of cognition for knowledge to be produced. Reason must find concrete forms for its product to be used by memory, imagination, and perception.

This is true of all of man’s mental contents, whether they be factual or evaluative. Man needs to objectify his values as well as his knowledge. One can be immediately, perceptually aware of objects and persons in external reality, but cannot be so aware of one’s own self and one’s own long-range, deepest-held values. To a great extent, art fulfills the need to concretize one’s greatest values. Rand’s esthetic theory outlines how this occurs. She followed Aristotle’s idea that art is what might be and ought to be: “Art is the selective re-creation of reality according to the artist’s metaphysical value judgment’s (Rand 1975, 19).

Art essentializes the way in which man should look at the world, rendering concretely the essence of the deepest values of the artistic creator. Here we need to lay aside the thorny question of what architecture and music might re-create. Consider some arts that Rand examined in her writings on esthetics: fiction, painting, sculpture, and dance (ibid., 44-50, 66-70). Rand proposed that these various arts give man the experience of using his senses conceptually; they essentialize the experience of the sense. “The visual arts . . . do not deal with the sensory field of awareness as such, but with the sensory field as perceived by a conceptual consciousness” (ibid., 47). Painting does so with vision, sculpture with touch and vision, and dance with body movement. These arts show men how their reason should direct the way in which they perceive the world, these arts show them to what to pay attention. Fiction, which includes novels, stories, movies, and plays, concretize abstractions by using words to (re)create specific people and events.

In any artwork, the artist’s values dictate what parts of reality are represented and in what way. What he selects to show in the work effectively tells the viewer “this is what’s important about the world, this is what you should notice about life.” The difference between the voluptuous beauty of a Vargas girl and the perfectly rendered decay of an Ivan Albright woman illustrates this effect.

The cognitive and motivational purpose of art is to make the potential seem real. Thus one experiences concretely and is moved to pursue what one loves (or, in the case of Naturalistic art, be justified in not striving for great things in life). Rand called this the “psychoepistemology of art. ” Art integrates into a real, concrete thing (the artwork) the deepest, most essential values which a man holds, so that he may feel as if he perceives them existing, and thus be moved to act toward them.

Those values most important to man are, on the whole, very abstract — self-esteem, success, honor, justice, to name a few. They are not easily nor quickly obtained, and, even when they are, they are not always easily recognized. For example, a businesswoman may not realize that her business is successful or that it is failing. The amount of money coming in, alone, is not a sure measure of success. The businesswoman needs to know her costs, including those for materials, labor, and overhead, to weigh against sales in order to calculate success or failure. Recognizing success sometimes requires a complex process of abstraction; it is not necessarily self-evident.

This is generally true of man’s greatest values. It is a long, arduous process to recognize, plan for, and achieve one’s highest values. Art enables man to experience important values as if they were here and now, as if the essentials were concretely before him. This gives man the experience of their actual existence. It is both thrilling to experience their existence, and inspiring. One walks away from a positive artistic experience feeling “that’s what life should be like” — and feeling motivated to achieve it.

Rand’s favorite metaphor for art was “fuel for the spirit.” Seventeen thousand years ago, the cavemen of Lascaux needed this fuel and painted elaborate and beautiful scenes of the hunt to energize them for their work; modern men need this experience no less.

However, the experience of art is not interactive. It is a one-way process, from the artwork to one’s consciousness. The viewer either “gets it” or does not. Furthermore, although works of art can mirror a person’s essential values, art does not reflect an individual, particular self (except the self of the creator).

In Atlas Shrugged, Rand used the metaphor of a mirror to communicate, exquisitely, an occasion of love — Dagny Taggart and John Galt in reflection of each other:

It was not the pressure of a hand that made her tremble, but the instantaneous sum of its meaning, the knowledge that it was his hand. . . . It contained her pride in herself and that it should be she whom he had chosen as his mirror, that it should be her body which was now giving him the sum of his existence, as his body was giving her the sum of hers. (Rand 1957, 956-57)

In an explication of the psychology of romantic love, Branden also turns to the mirror metaphor. He contends that one’s need of love is a consequence of one’s rational nature; it derives from a need to objectify one’s deepest values of self. Men want their souls to be psychologically “visible” — understood and valued — by others as a means of objectification (Branden 1969, 184-88; cf., Sartre 1966, 344-47).

Man’s highest value, his own self, is something he can never perceptually experience as an integrated, whole, and concrete thing. He can only focus on some one specific aspect of his self at any one time. The rest of his self can only be grasped by him abstractly, by reflecting on and integrating all he knows about himself into an imagined picture. He cannot experience himself concretely as a whole person — a personality — as he can experience others. He cannot see the facial expressions or body movements he makes nor hear the tone of his voice as he could perceive these things about another person.

“Normally man experiences himself as a process — in that consciousness itself is a process, an activity, and the contents of man’s mind are a shifting flow of perceptions, thoughts, and emotions . . . the sum total of which can never be held in focal awareness at any one time; that sum is experienced, but not perceived as such” (Branden 1969, 185-86). Only the understanding and reactions of another consciousness can give him concrete, specific, and timely feedback about himself. Others can experience his personality concretely, and, through their reactions and appreciation, give to him a concrete, immediate experience of himself (see also Nozick 1981, 464-65).

A man gets enjoyment from the appreciation of others through verbal expressions and, especially, through the actions and emotional reactions of others. Men seem to be tuned into the emotional reactions of others (Hoffman 1981, 74-79). On occasion men can experience these reactions viscerally — in their guts. Another’s response seems to be able to affect emotions very directly. It appears that certain facial expressions, tones of voice, and body postures can themselves induce pleasure and pain.

Man does not have automatic knowledge of what is the right food to eat, but foods that are good for him generally taste and smell good, and foods that are not good, even though not deadly, have ill effects from which he learns soon enough (Ornstein and Sobel 1989; Binswanger 1990, 129-34, 202). Man’s nature determines what foods are of value to him, and his mind and body function so as to discriminate what is good or bad through pleasure and pain. More generally, man does not have automatic knowledge of what to value, but man’s actual needs are set by his nature.

Man needs some social interaction. For any individual, social facility is an objective strategic value. Moreover, given the right people, sociability can be a pleasure. Rand’s fictional characters — the virtuous ones — strike one with their independence and devotion to productive work. Yet it is with just these characters that Rand is able to convey so well, in a scene in The Fountainhead, the feel of genuine sociability. After work Roark, Mallory, Dominique, and Mike

…sat together in Mallory’s shack. . . . They did not speak about their work. Mallory told outrageous stories and Dominique laughed like a child. They talked about nothing in particular, sentences that had meaning only in the sound of the voices, in the warm gaiety, in the ease of complete relaxation. They were simply four people who liked being there together. (Rand 1943, 357-58)

Society is a human value. Since the mind is an individual function, independence is also a value. Flourishing requires social interaction and independence. Howard Roark, the protagonist of The Fountainhead, is an independent man who thinks for himself. He is fundamentally indifferent toward the beliefs and feelings of others when determining the truth of a matter. He always aims at discerning the truth, and he never disregards it. This does not mean that he has no feeling for others, nor that he finds no pleasure in being liked by others. Roark’s friend, Gail Wynand, speaking to Roark:

“Howard, this is what I wanted. To have you here with me.”

“I know.”

[later] “I’m glad you admit that you have friends.”

“I even admit that I love them.” (ibid., 655, 660)

II. Animal Company

Enjoyment of interactions with other sentient beings is not confined to the human species. Branden began to isolate the principle of psychological visibility, so pervasive in human life, while playing with his dog, Muttnik. In his own pleasure with the play, Branden noticed an element of self-awareness. Muttnik understood and responded appropriately to the Branden’s false boxing. She was understanding the man’s intentions and returning them (Branden 1969, 184-85).

Branden explained his enjoyment as consequent to self-objectification. I have always wondered, though, why Muttnik wanted to play with Branden. The dog had no rational consciousness striving for objectification of its abstract nature. The dog would not be subject to the need for psychological visibility, at least not as the need has been articulated by Branden.

However, the higher animals do have a grasp of reality above mere sensation or stimulus-response (Koestler 1967, 3-18; Green 1987, 313-18; Binswanger 1990, 7-15, 30-36). They have generalizing and processing abilities, at the perceptual level, that take them far beyond mere response to stimulus (Prosser 1986, 433-35). They have a rather sophisticated perceptual grasp of events, causal relations, and emotions. Pigeons in experiment have exhibited the ability to visually generalize; they were able to recognize any one of forty — two typographic forms of the letter A. Dog’s apprehensions of causal relations are impressive; one dog is reported to have run down two stories of a building after having seen a piece of meat thrown out a window (Walker 1983, 255, 292).

The facial expressions, body positions, and vocalizations attending some emotions seem to be common to a number of animals, particularly mammals. The wolf and the chimpanzee are favorite illustrations in psychology texts. The dog’s grasp of human intentions appears to entail an interspecific grasp of emotions. Even though we look very different from dogs, they are able to read our faces. They can sometimes grasp the meaning of our facial expressions and body postures. Apparently, they are able to match them with their own experience of emotions and to anticipate concomitant behavior. Dogs accomplish these things with only a perceptual, automatic level of consciousness. This suggests that the perceptual, automatic faculties of human consciousness may afford a similar ability.

Dogs not only enjoy playful interaction with humans but actively seek it. They are not the only animals to do so. Dolphins are known for their playfulness and friendliness. There are reports from “dolphin encounter” centers in Florida that male dolphins are sometimes attracted to and pursue human females in the water. Considering the differences in dolphin and human anatomy, it seems remarkable that the dolphins can sort out the women; probably through scent (Chicago Tribune, March 1989).

Many of the higher-order animals, given the proper circumstances, seek and enjoy positive interactions with members of other species. The gorilla Koko who kept a kitten, the killer whales at Sea World who swim by their trainers to be petted, the dogs and cats in the same household who become buddies, are but a few examples. The ability of animals, including humans, to recognize emotions and intentions across species argues for a specific biologically built-in means of emotional recognition.

Animals whose nature requires them to live in a cooperative group for their well-being tend to have more advanced communication skills than other species. Concomitantly, they are more sensitive and responsive to members of other species, and they have more need of interaction (Dunbar 1988, 179-81).

The extent to which a particular type of animal depends on a social group for survival goes hand-in-hand with its sensitivity to the emotions and actions of other group members (Hoffman 1981, 79). The dog’s emotional sensitivity is a major source of its appeal to humans; it is more popular as a pet than the cat. By emotional sensitivity, I mean the great amount of attention which the dog pays to the emotions and emotional reactions of other animals, especially humans, the amount of pleasure or pain which others’ emotions illicit in the dog, and the swift and direct effect the emotional reactions of others can have on a dog’s actions. The dog is also very emotionally expressive, which makes its reactions to things relatively easy to grasp.

The cat is seen as more aloof and independent in its character and not so much in need of interaction. When we come home, the cat runs to see us, purrs, and rubs against us. It may follow us around and may jump upon us for petting when we sit down. In those behaviors, the cat expresses its gladness to see us. But the cat’s face does not express subtle changes of emotion the way the eyebrows, eyes, and tongue of the dog do. The cat responds most to our touching, petting, and scratching of it, not to our words of interest or praise. Unlike the dog, the cat is only slightly responsive to our praise. Scoldings or anger might send a cat fleeing, but, unlike the dog, its body does not show that it feels guilty or crestfallen at our disapproval.

In the wild, the dog’s survival depends on a complex series of orchestrated group actions for the hunt. Wild dogs live in packs. The cat, with the exception of the lion, is a lone hunter and normally lives alone or with a family. The relative ease with which the dog is controlled by human voice and language is probably a reflection of the use of voice to control and direct social relationships and actions in the pack.

Higher orders of intelligence in animals covary roughly with the amount of complex group interaction in the species (Dunbar 1988, 181-82; Plotkin 1988, 156-59). The need for interaction is a result of the activities necessary for the growth of a complex intelligence. The need for interaction is a fusion of the cognitive with the motivational for survival purposes; cognitive development is advanced during the pursuit of pleasurable interactions.

III. Interaction in Development

In the 1950’s, Rene Spitz found that infants raised in orphanages sometimes developed marasmus (from the Greek, to waste away). These children were well-cared for physically, but, because help was short, they lacked human interaction. No one had time to cuddle them, play with them, talk to them. Consequently, many of these infants became very withdrawn, silent, and unresponsive. They sucked their thumbs in their cribs, rocked themselves, and did not eat well. They did not thrive. Some died. The antidote to marasmus was human interaction — positive feedback (Bowlby 1965). The rise in foster homes was, in large part, due to the recognition of the marasmus syndrome.

Similar problems have been reported for rhesus monkeys raised in isolation. Infant monkeys in a laboratory were allowed to view others but were prevented from physically interacting with them. When not merely withdrawn and sickly, these babies were autistic, rocking continuously for comfort and fearing interaction greatly. They often became self-mutilating. The addition of a soft cloth-on-wire mother greatly ameliorated the marasmus, although those raised by cloth mothers were not free of problems, since their isolation prevented them from learning many important skills. These infants spent most of their time clinging to the cloth mother even when milk was available from a plain wire mother. A cloth mother who rocked was preferred over the static cloth one and seemed to reduce the number of monkeys who rocked themselves obsessively (Harlow 1959).

The greater normality of the cloth-raised monkeys implies that pleasurable tactile interactions are important to the development of the mind of the infant rhesus monkey. Abnormalities such as marasmus among infant humans imply a similar need for physical contact. Touch is the first and most immediate sense through which positive feedback is needed, recognized, and delivered. It remains a very important avenue of feedback throughout life. It offers the most concrete evidence of the existence and response of others (Montague 1971, 51-182, 272-92).

The pleasure that an adult and an infant each derive from interaction with the other helps to motivate both for the goal of helping the infant develop. The very appearance, sounds, and activities of babies — those pesky, needful little creatures — gives so much pleasure to adults. I think this is nature’s way of insuring that we shall take care of them. The adult emotional reaction to babies seems to be interspecific. Adult animals often seem to recognize the young of other species and treat them accordingly (often, more tolerantly). Dogs put up with the shenanigans and abuse of children when they would not from adults. I have a cat who will tolerate pulling, rough petting, jumping on, and so forth from babies, kittens, and puppies, but begins to whack these selfsame individuals for the same behavior after they pass through puberty. In-built perceptual recognition processes of certain kinds of facial expressions, tones of voice, gestures, and movements — some causing pleasure, others pain — work to enable adult animals to recognize the young and to treat them accordingly. Niko Tinbergen contended that the smallness of the fledgling’s body and the roundness of its head elicit positive emotions from adult birds for the fledgling (Walker 1983, 213; on primates, see Alley 1986).

Humans certainly possess such in-built recognition and response processes for the young and between the young and adults. Two-week-old infants prefer to look at pictures of faces over those of other objects. The human face is one of the most compelling attractors of infant attention during the first four months (Wood 1989, 63).

Infants are able to smile within the first few weeks (Schultz 1976, 27-29). Parents try to make the infant smile; they enjoy it immensely without really knowing why. Intuitively, they act to cause the infant to smile and reward the infant’s smile by demonstrating pleasure when it appears. The smile of the infant evokes the smile of the mother, which in turn increases the intensity of the pleasure evoked by the smiling, in a positive feedback loop (Pines 1987, 21, 23). Smiling affords an opportunity for awareness of the other’s feelings and consciousness during interpersonal interaction. Between five and eleven months, one of the most effective elicitors of infant smiling and laughter is peek-a-boo (Schultz 1976, 30-31).

Infants enjoy interaction not only with caretakers but with other infants. Watching the little ones in their play, we observe

…smiles, interest in each other and in the other’s actions, . . . and actions directed apparently towards the other. . . . The infants seem attracted by perceptual similarities, sensing that the other is like oneself. . . . The other is distinct, yet like oneself, and I suggest that we can infer that the child becomes more aware of being himself or herself through this similarity and differentiation from the other similar person.” (Pines 1987, 33)

When being held satisfactorily by a caretaker, the wakeful infant begins to look around. He looks mostly at the holder’s face. What does he see? “Ordinarily, what the baby sees is himself. . . . A mother is looking at the baby and what she looks like is related to what she sees there” (ibid., 25). The face of the good mother is a mirror. It is thought that adult needs

…for kissing, smiling, and physical caring or lovemaking have their origins in the shared gaze, touch, holding, and vocal “conversations” of infant and mother. The response of each partner to the other is required for a sense of well being. Failures of mirroring in infancy leading to false self problems make it difficult to re-create the mirroring experience in adult sexual life. Without a capacity for mutual mirroring, exchange is severely hampered. (Scharff 1982, 24)

Infants respond pleasurably to the human voice. Mothers quickly learn which tones are most soothing. The very fact that infants spend so much time practicing speech sounds and trying to talk to adults and each other implies that listening to speech and speaking are inherently pleasurable. Conversely, parents find certain tones of voice, such as those of whining, crying, and infant screaming, to be painful. These sounds quickly move them to action. I think some of these tones in themselves induce pain, which, in turn, motivates us to do something about their source. The desire to do something about a crying child is not only in regard to our own children. Many people wish they could do something about an unrelated, whining or screaming child who is in the same restaurant as they! Marvin Minsky suggests that the urgency aroused in us may be due to a connection of the specific arousal mechanism to remnants of the mechanism that ensured we would cry as infants (Minsky 1985, 171).

At about four months, the infant begins to pay more attention to objects and events in her physical surroundings. She begins to reach. During this phase, a caretaker is likely to follow the infant’s flow of attention and say something in babytalk about that at which the infant looks. At around ten months, the infant begins to use gesture and vocalization to attract attention or to demand service; she begins to coordinate people and events. By thirteen months, she coordinates vocalization with pointing. She looks sequentially from her partner in interaction to the object of communication. Soon after, speech emerges (Wood 1989, 63).

Speech does not emerge simply from hearing it. There must be interaction. A boy with normal hearing but with deaf parents was exposed to television every day so that he would learn English. By age three, he had become fluent in the sign language of his parents and their associates. He neither understood nor spoke English (Muskowitz 1978, 94-94B).

For the infant, hearing the speech of significant others plays an important role in the acquisition of both verbal and nonverbal communication skills. When a deaf child tries to grasp what others are communicating, the demands on the child’s cognitive skills become formidable. The deaf child must try to watch both the speaker and what she is speaking about — the child’s attention is divided, and information is lost along the way. Those interacting with the deaf child naturally respond by attempting to direct the child’s attention to what the speaker believes is relevant to the communication; this does not work very well and creates new problems. Since deafness is an impediment to the child’s communicative competence, it becomes an impediment to intellectual competence (Wood 1989).

For all children, an elementary understanding of social interaction is attained somewhat differently than an elementary understanding of physical processes. Persons and animals afford types of interaction nonexistent in the inanimate world.

“Most significantly, there is the ability of persons intentionally to coordinate their actions, thoughts, and perspectives with one another. Persons do not simply react to one another, but do so consciously, purposefully, with mutual intent. This intentional coordination makes possible forms of communication and reciprocal exchanges unimaginable in the inanimate world.” (Damen 1981, 158)

One might think that social cognition would be more difficult than physical cognition. People, unlike inanimate objects, can move themselves. The movement of everyday inanimate objects is predictable from cognizance of their everyday physical situation; the behavior of people is only loosely predictable from their social circumstances. Yet, as Martin Hoffman has observed, development of social cognition evidently does not lag behind development of physical cognition. Young children grasp the nature of human action apace with or ahead of their grasp of the nature of the inanimate world (Hoffman 1981, 69-71).

Hoffman draws attention to some characteristics of social interaction that may facilitate social cognition. The continuous feedback which people give each other compensates for the complexity of behavior by allowing partners in interaction to easily correct interpretations of their observations. The fact that people, broadly speaking, are built in the same way, physically, cognitively, and emotionally, also facilitates comprehension of the actions and reactions of others (ibid., 72-74).

Another aid to elementary social comprehension is the vicarious, or empathic, arousal of feelings. These avail through involuntary, minimally cognitive mechanisms. As one person looks at another, in a swift, subconsciously directed way, he compares the other’s words, facial expressions, body language, and voice quality to his own past experiences and calls forth those which match the other’s present expressions. When calling forth memories, he recalls feelings and thereby has a rough sense of what the other is expressing and feeling more quickly than conscious analysis would allow (ibid., 74-80).

Profound effects of empathy and social interaction on human life are illustrated well by the research discussed by James Lynch (1977). A psychologist and researcher on the psychosomatic aspects of man’s life, Lynch has compiled an impressive amount of evidence for the existence of a biological need of companionship for health and well-being. He documents evidence of the relationship between grief, loss, and loneliness and sudden death, disease, and heart attacks.

At the University of Oklahoma Medical School, Dr. Stewart Wolf examined 65 patients who had documented myocardial infarctions and 65 matched control subjects who were physically healthy. All 130 of these individuals were interviewed monthly and given a battery of psychological tests to determine their levels of depression and social frustration. Predictions were then made after a series of interviews as to which 10 subjects would most likely have a recurrent heart attack and die — the prediction being based solely on the level of depression and social frustration, without any knowledge of who, in fact, had even had a heart attack. All 10 patients selected by purely psychological criteria were among the first 23 who died within the four-year period after these predictions were made. (Lynch 1977, 61-62)

Martin Seligman has also garnered clinical evidence about helplessness, grief, loss, and sudden death in humans. He recounts, in addition, numerous examples of experimentally created situations in which animals were helpless to escape shock and pain and the adverse effects on the animals later cognitive abilities and health. For example, wild rats which had been squeezed until they stopped struggling, drowned within 30 minutes of being placed in a water tank from which there was no escape, unlike rats not squeezed, which swam for 60 hours before drowning (Seligman 1975, 59). Upon autopsy, the squeezed rats appeared to have had a heart attack; blood was pooled centrally, congesting the heart. The rats not squeezed appeared to have died of exhaustion (after the 60-hour swim); blood was pooled in extremities.

This phenomenon parallels the heart attacks and sudden death seen in humans experiencing loss, especially sudden loss, of loved ones. Lynch (1977) reports case after case of the death of individuals relatively soon after that of a wife, husband, child, brother, or sister.

Loneliness and lack of companionship can affect health. “Death rate from coronary heart disease for 40-year-old divorced males . . . is 2.5 times greater than for married males of the same age” (Lynch 1977, 87). A patient was in a coma; for medical reasons, every muscle in his body had been completely paralyzed by the drug d-tubocurarine.” In spite of his acute condition, the heart rate change in the comatose man when the nurse comforted him was striking” (ibid., 91). Hospital staff have found that the incidence of a second heart attack is highest when the patient is moved from the intensive care unit to the regular ward — unless the same nurses and doctors follow the patient to the regular ward and continue caring for him.

The emotional lives of men and animals are powerfully influenced by perception. The rat dies from its perception of its helplessness. If a person feels extremely helpless, the presence of others, especially someone he loves and who loves and values him, reassures him in a direct, concrete, perceptual way that his needs will be looked after. Thereby his feelings of powerlessness and helplessness are relieved. We are built such that the mere verbal reassurance and abstract knowledge that someone cares for us and will look after our interests is not sufficient to completely, subconsciously, emotionally convince us that we are not helpless. The personal presence and tactile contact of another seems essential to make the injured person feel better and — in many cases — to survive.

We are constituted so as to be in tune to the feelings of others and to be very responsive to those feelings. It is our nature to be a social animal.

IV. Sensitivity and Independence

Human intelligence evidently evolved among social animals. The existence of the social group with its network of interaction and feedback seems to have provided the right conditions within which the intelligence of the apes and man might develop (Cheney and Seyfarth 1985; Clementson-Mohr 1982, 63-64, 67). Individual human intelligence certainly develops only with social interaction. Man is born with very little in the way of immediately usable skills and must learn a tremendous amount. The survival value of many of the things humans (and other animals) must learn is not directly experienced by the young, but motivation to learn is essential to development. Positive feedback from adults helps provide motivation for the young to acquire knowledge and practice the skills necessary for adult survival and happiness.

Maria Montessori argued that the mastery of skills in itself was highly pleasurable for children, but she also recognized that the guidance of the child by the adult is essential for the child to learn properly. Her educational system, using the structured environment with directresses instead of teachers, was a means by which to maximize the child’s exercise and feeling of independence while guiding his learning.

Man was not born to be Robinson Crusoe. The experience of those in accidental or enforced isolation suggests that social interaction is important for good cognitive functioning during the adult, as well as the infant, period of life. It is a common experience of those in isolation to experience sensory disorientation and to either forget how to speak or to speak to themselves and fantasize extensively about conversations with others. The eighteenth-century word for those left in isolation a long time was maroon, meaning “to run wild, having reverted to a state of nature” (OED). To this day, maroon implies a kind of wild-eyed, disoriented, or unusually slow-to-comprehend-the-obvious type of person. In Treasure Island, such a character is found stranded on the island and is called “a maroon.” Bugs Bunny frequently applies this epithet to those he thinks are not with it.

Humans are not entirely capable of fully independent judgment until adolescence. Their extreme sensitivity to the opinions and judgments of others during adolescence is partly a result of their need to formulate independent abstract judgments about the world, combined with their knowledge that they are not very sure of their reasoning processes. This makes adolescents simultaneously feel the need of approval more urgently than in other periods of life and be more susceptible to perversion of their proper development by means of approval.

Lack of positive feedback or the presence of terrible negative feedback in childhood can not only cause marasmus in infants but, apparently, can cripple a person’s cognitive capabilities in regard to his relationships to other people. We all know about the cases of abused and neglected children who grow up to be criminals or lead lives filled with failure and despondency. But what of those neglected and abused children who grow up to achieve great and unusual triumphs? Unfortunately, they often bear the scars of their early emotional deprivation. Such people often grow up to be unable to think rationally about their relations with others because their need for positive feedback has been so greatly frustrated. The longing for approval, understanding, and love can be felt as superceding all other things.

I remember an extremely intelligent young man, an honor student about to go to graduate school. He had endured an early life of horrid beatings, of legs broken by his father, of physical neglect, institutionalization, and abusive foster care. At seventeen his adoptive family told him they did not want him back after he was discharged from the army, and he was on his own. In the face of all this, he managed not only to provide for his basic necessities but to put himself through college and be at the top of his class. However, he suffered endless bouts of self-doubt, feelings of worthlessness, and depression. Just at the point in his life at which he had achieved so much, he was rejected by his first love. He committed suicide.

I think that however brilliant he was in intellectual matters, his frustrated need for love and approval was so great that he could not reason correctly about the importance of that rejection in terms of his whole life. The rejection took on dimensions of importance that made life seem unbearable and not worth living. His case is far from unique.

Sensitivity to others differs dramatically among people. We vary as much in our natural, temperamental sensitivity to others as we do in every physical respect of our bodies. There are remarkable variations in the structure and functioning of our physical organs and in our biochemistries (Williams 1971, 24-65). These individual differences underlie variations in patterns of breathing and sleep and variations in responses to narcotics (ibid., 144-70). They carry over, also, to physiologically-affected psychological characteristics (ibid., 69-71, 82-85). Individual temperamental differences are more easily seen in other animals because they are not subject to self-conscious control of personality. For example, some individual dogs are very responsive to us, making them more suitable as pets; some are naturally grouchy or indifferent to human interaction.

Human infants are born with distinctively different temperaments (Kagan 1984, 64-70). Some neonates are very aware of people and facial expressions, tones of voice, and gestures while others barely pay attention to others and their feelings at all. (Some autism may be the result of a lack of the normal human ability to recognize and respond to other humans.) Some are placid and easily pleased, some are very active, and some are extremely irritable and cranky.

It is widely thought that women tend to be more sensitive to other people. Girls are culturally encouraged to develop their sensitivity to people. There is another possible factor though. In early childhood, females generally develop more quickly than males; they respond more to voice and develop language more quickly than males. Perceptual abilities that aid communication and interaction with other people are favored in female development; they develop quickly. People tend to do what they do best. Is it so surprising, then, that women so frequently work and excel at activities consisting of interpersonal interaction? — teacher, nurse, psychologist, counselor, child caretaker, etc. Male infants develop more rapidly in visual-spatial abilities. They apparently tend to overtake females in overall mental ability. I have wondered whether female sensitivity to people lets girls use feedback and learning from others better early in life but then stunts their cognitive growth later by making them too sensitive to the feelings of others.

Rand’s fictional character, Howard Roark, is introduced as a young person very, naturally insensitive to the feelings of others. He is not a person who notices others, who pays attention to the presence of others, much less their feelings. “People turned to look at Howard Roark as he passed. . . . Howard Roark saw no one. For him, the streets were empty. He could have walked there naked without concern” (Rand 1943, 10-11). But he is very sensitive to inanimate visual-spatial relationships. “He knew that the days ahead would be difficult. . . . He tried to consider it. But he forgot. He was looking at the granite” (ibid.,9). Roark’s attention and interest is riveted to the look of the world, to the things of inanimate nature that he can rearrange for building. His architectural greatness and his visual-spatial orientation go hand-in-hand.

Another sympathetic character, Dominique Francon, is quite sensitive to people, to their feelings and reactions. Her independent mind leads her to hide from the world so as not to have to experience the pain of feedback from others. She, too, is sensitive to the visual-spatial but most especially to what the visual-spatial creations of men express about them. Roark tends to react to the look of things directly, to the landscape and how he can make it look. Dominique is obsessed with the man behind the work and the greatness — or puniness — it implies.

I think it is unfortunate that so many readers try to exactly emulate Roark’s natural emotional state in regard to other people, to imitate his temperamental proclivities. For many readers of The Fountainhead, Roark serves as a model for character building and personality change. However, it is sometimes difficult to separate what is essentially good and universally necessary for good character and happiness from those aspects of Roark’s personality which are individual characteristics. Some aspects of his personality are not necessarily tied to what makes him a morally great person but perhaps to what makes him a great dramatic character. Rand made him naturally, dispositionally unaware of others in order to dramatize his nature and his conflict with others. The premier antagonist, Ellsworth Toohey, asks of Roark:

“Why don’t you tell me what you think of me? . . . No one will hear us.” Roark replies, “But I don’t think of you” (ibid., 413).

Fine drama.

An important part of Roark’s development in the novel is his learning to understand other people, their characters and motivations. A large part of Dominique’s development consists in her realization that men do not have to be horrible. In the beginning, she is revolted by those around her. In part because of her natural social sensitivity, she feels personally violated by the feelings, wants, and demands of the shabby people surrounding her. She cultivates indifference and coldness. Dominique is saved not by intellectual independence nor by the suppression of feeling but by her discovery that Howard Roark is possible.

The contrast between Dominique’s and Roark’s personalities illustrates an important psychological and ethical distinction. In evaluating oneself and others, one must be aware of natural individual levels of sensitivity to others and not confuse it with lack of independence in judgment. One should not presume that any concern for the feelings and thoughts of others or any desire to be liked by others must spring from lack of independence, debased motives, weakness of character, or “social metaphysics.”

Branden defined social metaphysics as “the psychological syndrome that characterizes a person who holds the minds of other men, not objective reality, as his ultimate psycho-epistemological frame of reference” (Branden 1969, 167). He argued that social metaphysics arises when a person has not adequately developed his rational faculty but feels that he must depend on the judgment of someone. While I think his account is essentially correct, I want to emphasize the role of our animal need of positive feedback in the development of social metaphysics. Human development is such a long, complex, and arduous task that there are many opportunities for our animal need of positive feedback to distort cognitive development. Our animal need of approval certainly comes first in our lives, before the development of reason or even rudimentary concepts, so, in a way, it is not surprising that it can get us off-course in our struggle for independent judgment.

One must not let sensitivity to others cloud or sway judgment. One must not repress sensitivity altogether; a basic need would be unfulfilled; frustration would follow. One needs to learn how to be aware of the facts, all the facts, including the facts of one’s emotional life. We need to recognize our need for positive feedback from others and cultivate its proper fulfillment, pursuing good relationships with those genuinely deserving of our love and admiration.

It is right to enjoy interacting pleasantly with the cashier at the grocery store if she is treating one well. It is right to want to be friendly. It is right to enjoy the love of our natural families, even if they do not share many of our philosophical values but do have other significant values in common with us.

Our natural biological families, in some ways, can offer very good feedback because they are biologically, perceptually, emotionally, temperamentally like us. By the same token, strife with them can be particularly painful, sometimes devastating.

Desiring the positive regard and positive reactions of others is a part of our rational and our animal nature. We should channel and integrate those desires for our own highest happiness.

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Copyright © 1991 by Marsha Familaro Enright. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution to the author and inclusion of her byline.