The Biological Basis of Teleological Causation, Chapter 6 Goal-Causation, Harry Binswanger – by Marsha Enright

In the following, I plan to summarize the essence of Binswanger’s argument on goal-causation, and then expand on the issues he brings up and discuss any problems or objections I have with his arguments. Time has not permitted me to be as complete and persuasive in my objections as I might like – I only hope to stimulate discussion of the issues.

In this chapter, Binswanger outlines his theory of how non- conscious actions can be teleologically caused. He defines an action as teleological when the goal causes the action for the sake of achieving the goal. This is what he calls “goal- causation.”

The fundamental question is: how can non-conscious action, i.e. vegetative action, occur for the sake of a condition – the goal – which exists later in time than the action?; without consciousness, by what means does the action move toward the goal?

Purposeful action of conscious beings is Binswanger’s paradigm case for teleological action. Binswanger thinks that, ontologically, our idea of teleological action derives from our direct introspective experience. We know that we can imagine an end or value, desire it and put in motion the actions to obtain it. In purposeful action, the awareness of a desire or value causes the agent to undertake the action towards the goal. This is how a future condition can motivate a present action.

Vegetative action has no awareness of values by which to cause it, therefore, how is the benefit of the goal a cause of the action, by what means is the value of a future state causing present action?

Once again, Binswanger looks to purposeful action to get his cue in regard to the vegetative: he claims that all purposeful action is based on past experience, whether it be memories or perceptions, ideas, imaginings or associations. Men imagine the future by recalling past experiences, valuable objects and conditions achieved, and projecting them as occurring again, although perhaps rearranged somewhat.

Likewise, he claims that current vegetative action is entirely dependent on the forms and organization of the organism already in place, as a result of previous value- seeking activity of the organism or its ancestors. Binswanger claims there are three elements, or proximate causes, to any vegetative action: the fuel which allows the action to be self-generated; the “directive mechanism” which controls the utilization of that fuel; and the triggering stimulus which initiates the use of the fuel.

“On the vegetative level, the stimulus is able to trigger the action because of the way the mechanism for the action is organized. The mechanism has certain _terms of operation_ dictated by the nature of its directive mechanism(s). The way in which the mechanism is organized determines what will or will not trigger its behavior.” (p. 81)

According to Binswanger, the _ultimate_ cause of vegetative action is that which causes the fuel and the directive mechanism to exist, thereby enabling the organism to take the action. The ultimate cause is the explanation for the proximate causes. In Binswanger’s view, there is no means and therefore no possibility for a traditionally conceived final cause to draw the organism’s action to the future in vegetative action; in reality, the final cause must be a different kind of efficient cause.

He proposes that, for any vegetative action, the value- significance of _past_ goals, which has shaped and determined the nature of the fuel used, the directive mechanisms and the response to triggers, is the goal towards which present action is aimed. Just as past conscious experience serves to motivate the goal-seeking behavior of humans, so past vegetative experience determines the goal-seeking activity of vegetative action.

“Putting all these points together, we can say that a vegetative action will qualify as telelogical if it can be shown to be a self-generated action caused by a mechanism whose existence, organization, fuel, and terms of operation result from the survival benefit that past instances of the goal have provided the organism in similar previous circumstances.” (p. 88).

Put in simpler terms, Binswanger’s argument becomes: organisms act like they do because that’s what they did before. In his view, organisms are not pursuing current goals for their own sake, but because they are similar to past goals, and because pursuing such goals has worked in the past.

I don’t think so.

According to Binswanger, a current vegetative action is goal- directed because the organism took this action before – _somehow_ – and the action resulted in a value for the organism. Once taken, the action became an individual or evolutionary habit, and we can call the organism’s actions _goal-directed_ because it is aimed at the past goal.

The organism and its descendents may have been “smart” enough to learn from their actions – but how did the first organism manage to take those actions the first time? Was it completely random, an accident, or what? Does he mean to imply that the whole history of life is one long series of felicitous accidents?

While I appreciate the problem which Binswanger is addressing, viz., how can a non-conscious organism be moved by the future, I find that his theory does not sit well with my knowledge of the nature of living things. What is distinctive about life as opposed to the actions of inanimate matter? It’s _goal-directedness_ – “a process of self- maintained and self-generated action” – it acts to maintain its existence – the goal of its actions is the perpetuation of life. And the essence of my difficulty lies in what I know to be the enormous creative power of life to fulfill that goal. His theory gives no explanation, other than the usual suggestions of accident or chance, as to how _new_ adaptive actions arise. Without the answer to that question, I don’t think Binswanger has solved the “problem” of vegetative action.

The history of life is the history of ever-changing forms, new ways of fulfilling life’s goal of self-perpetuation. Its history is replete with the coming into existence of new forms, new characteristics, new abilities. Certainly, like the knowledge of a conscious being, these are not created _ex nihilo_, i.e. there must be some relationship between the new forms and abilities and the old ones. But, the mere repetition of old forms of action is _not_ an adequate description of living action.

Ultimately, I believe Binswanger takes a too-reductionistic approach to biology, as he takes a too-behavioristic view of psychology. For example, he says “A dog’s desire for an affectionate pat from its master is a consequence of its memory of similar past instances of affection.” (p. 77)

These statements imply an associationist view of dog action. Surely, once the dog has received and enjoyed pats, the memory serves as motivation. But, for one thing, his explanation gives no consideration as to why the dog sought pats _in the first place_. And yet, anyone who has observed animals knows that they initiate all kinds of actions – they seek, they explore, they try things out long before they know what the consequences will be. Purposeful behavior can be self-initiated in a way that doesn’t necessarily depend _solely_ on past experience, either personal or evolutionary.

And in his discussion of proximate causes, he frequently uses the word “mechanism” to describe living action. I think this use, and in general the mechanist approach to living action, is unfortunate. Machines operate automatically to achieve ends set by men. Generally, they act in a straight line to their ends, very unlike the behavior of life.

Organic behavior is characterized by its variability in the face of obstacles, in order to reach its goals. A plant will grow in one direction, and then another and another in its attempts to go around a rock and reach the sun. Ludwig Von Bertalaanfy, who wrote extensively on general systems theory, called this characteristic the “equifinality” of living action: the means vary, the end remains the same.

In fact, exploration of conscious beings is like the multiple attempts of vegetative organisms to reach goals. The constant in the actions is the attempt on the part of the organism to fulfill its needs; its pursuit of values.

Binswanger only touches on the issue of creativity in his comments on purposeful behaviour: “In the case of novel goals conceived by human beings, the cause of the goal-idea is to be found in the psychological effects of the previously perceived constituents of the novel goal.” (p. 79) Note how, in this explanation, he avoids the problem of the generation of the new, by his hand-waving phrase “psychological effects,” and how he attributes the creation of the novel to previous perception alone. While creative thinking is certainly _dependent_ on previous experience, that alone does not account for it. Internally generated needs and values play just as important a role in the existence of creative ideas.

Let’s look back at the nature of conscious action to see if we can understand how vegetative action operates. When an animal is born, it has an internally generated set of needs, and of actions it can take to fulfill those needs. It moves and acts in attempts to fulfill its needs. Often, the more intelligent animals try all kinds of things without apparent ends in mind, but with, apparently, the need to find out about the world in order to learn how to live in it – they explore. During their explorations, they discover that certain actions cause certain desirable, need-fulfilling results – like getting a pat on the head from their master. Consequently, they repeat these actions because they now know that they will have valuable results.

In my analysis of this sequence, the animal’s original actions were _not_ random or accidental in origin or _intent_ – they were taken for the purpose of finding out how some need could be fulfilled. The exploratory actions were quite goal-oriented, that is, to the _internal_ goal of fulfilling a need of the organism. Once the animal discovered by what means it could fulfill that need, it learned to take that series of actions again – it’s apparent goal became the pat on the head. But, ultimately, it’s goal still remains the fulfillment of its needs – in the process of self-maintenance and self-generation.

This applies in a parallel manner to vegetative action. The organism (whether it be a plant or the vegetative levels of an animal’s being) has a set of internally generated needs to fulfill, and of abilities or actions it can take to fulfill those needs. It moves and acts to fulfill those needs, it grows one direction to reach the sun, then another, then another, until it finds the direction of sunlight and gets around that rock. The fulfillment of its internal needs are the goal towards which it is acting, until it achieves the values which fulfill those needs. That is the nature of life.

Thus, the problem of the means by which vegetative action is directed to a future goal evaporates – because the goal of vegetative action is always the fulfillment of the present needs of the organism.

As far as the creation of new modes of action, just as organisms continuously rearrange the sequences of actions which they take to reach external goals, so I think they rearrange their internal sets of abilities to create new modes of action and new values. This is certainly the case in the development of creative thinking. And on the biological level, the origin of such complex systems as the eye are too unlikely to happen by a long series of chance mutations, and are too obviously functional _as a whole system_ in promoting the well-being of the organism, to have been caused by accident.

Binswanger began his argument by saying that purposeful action was the paradigm case from which we get our idea of teleology. In his discussion of vegetative action, he even tended to use concepts of consciousness, such as “value_significance_” and “_terms_ of operation.” Ironically, I think that, in fact, purposeful action is just another expression of life’s basic nature – its ability to act towards goals. It may be that in the ontology of concepts, teleology comes from purpose, but in the ontology of being, purpose comes from teleology.

Interestingly, in the arguments in which he attempts to _explain_ the goal-directedness of vegetative action, his very description of the proximate causes _assumes_ the existence of goal-directedness. On page 39, Binswanger says “Likewise, on the vegetative level, teleological explanation, I will argue, is not an irreducibly separate kind of explanation, but is rather a less detailed form of ordinary mechanical explanation in terms of efficient causes.” And on page 86, he says “The view I am defending, on the other hand, _assigns causal efficacy only to efficient causes_, but distinguishes between two kinds of efficient cause: proximate and ultimate.”

But he then describes the proximate causes as:

1. the fuel and

2. the _directive_ mechanism “whose existence, organization, fuel, and terms of operation result from the survival benefit that past instances of the goal have provided the organism in similar previous circumstances.” (p. 88). And Binswanger quotes Simpson as saying “To understand organisms, one must explain their organization.” (p. 82)

_How_ is the mechanism directive? What does “organization” mean? The Oxford English Dictionary defines “organization” as “The action of organizing or condition of being organized as a living being; connection or coordination of parts for vital functioning…” What do the terms “directive” and “organization” imply but goal-oriented functioning? This makes the proximate causes _already_ goal-directed in themselves, apart from any consideration of any ultimate goals towards which they may be directed. It seems as if final causation, “ultimate” causation, is included in his very concept of proximate cause. And that is not surprising, because I don’t think that one can, in fact, reduce the proximate causes to mere mechanical causation. Life isn’t like that.

Copyright © 1995 by Marsha Familaro Enright. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution to the author and inclusion of her byline.

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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Interview: How to Run an Objectivist Salon

Navigator: Perhaps you could begin by telling us something of the history of the New Intellectual Forum. Who started it, and when?

Enright: In 1985, a listing in The Objectivist Forum led me to contact Mike McCarthy of the Chicagoland Objectivist Principles Organization (COPO). My husband John and I began going to meetings of COPO at Mike’s apartment, where we met many Objectivists and libertarians. But because so many of the participants were interested only in libertarianism, the discussions tended to revolve around economics and politics. Attempts to move onto topics of ethics, esthetics, epistemology, or metaphysics disintegrated into arguments over the justification for the Objectivist point of view on these topics. This got boring. So, in 1987, I called up a number of the more clearly Objectivist participants and asked them if they wanted to start a discussion group that would presume a certain level of understanding and agreement with Rand’s ideas, and would build discussions from there. At first, the get-togethers were strictly by invitation only, because we were concerned about maintaining the level of the discussion. But we relaxed after a few years, when we saw that the participation of those who were not as Objectivist as the core group posed no problem. I think that our topics and the fact that the majority of the participants discussed matters using Rand’s ideas as a take-off point set the tone of the discussions. Also, I moderated the discussions, and politely discouraged getting off-topic.

Navigator: Could you sketch very quickly what a Forum evening is like now?

Enright: The purpose of the evening is to present ideas, information, and knowledge, often new identifications in Objectivism or other related areas. Our members share information about new fields of interest or findings, examining the theories and ideas of all kinds of thinkers in the culture. Typically, someone begins the discussion by giving a short talk on a topic of interest. In practice, this can range from throwing out a few questions for discussion to reading a paper. I try to discourage the latter, however, as it usually does not lead to the most interesting and lively discussions. To this extent, the New Intellectual Forum is pretty much what any Objectivist discussion group will be.

Where NIF may differ is that we have tried to surround the core discussion with some practices that, we feel, create the sense of an intellectuals’ and artists’ salon. And we believe that has contributed to the Forum’s success.

We get together once a month on Saturday night. Those who wish meet for dinner at a designated restaurant and then adjourn to a member’s home for the meeting. The remainder of the group goes directly to the meeting. About fifteen people usually show up for dinner, and twenty to twenty-five for the meeting, but we’ve had as few as twelve and as many as thirty-five. We always have a hostess or moderator or both to insure that the atmosphere is relaxed and comfortable, and also to see that the discussion proceeds respectfully and remains on topic for the formal part of the evening. And we always show our appreciation to the presenter by clapping. Members are expected to bring something: a snack or dessert for the refreshment table, or maybe fresh flowers. About half bring something to any particular meeting. And the hostess insures that the table and tableware are pleasing.

Navigator: How important is this “salon” ideal, in your eyes?

Enright: I believe it is fundamental to the organization’s success. Ideas are the heart of NIF, but our attitude towards ideas—and each other—is no less important. All participants are treated with civility and respect, regardless of their level of knowledge and their agreement with Rand’s philosophy. Someone may vigorously disagree with another’s remarks, but no one tries to shoot down the person’s points and no one, ever, says or implies any criticism of anyone’s character because of his ideas. I have dropped out of Objectivist discussion groups because I couldn’t tolerate the intolerance!

However, I don’t want to give the impression that we are merely civil to each other, in a cold, impersonal way—there is a warm, fun atmosphere to every meeting. We’re interested in each other, eager to see one another and talk about personal events and achievements, as well as ideas. We have a lot of people who know the philosophy in depth and first-hand, but are not out to impress each other. When they disagree with someone, they don’t recite chapter and verse, but really try to explain why they think the person is wrong. At NIF, everyone’s ideas are examined according to facts and reasoning, and no one is ever “tested” on his knowledge of Objectivism and “accepted” or received opinions.

The discussions tend to be exploratory rather than adversarial and we don’t all come to one conclusion. As one member put it, “you feel like you have allies in finding truth—that our first loyalty is to the truth.” We also have a great appreciation of the variety of personalities among us, and the wide range of points of view, which can be especially helpful to finding the truth. As David Axel said: “It’s a club for individualism where individuals matter.”

A relaxed atmosphere is another part of the “salon” ideal. Although we have set topics and the presenter has an idea of where he wants to go, we don’t have a highly structured agenda.

Then, too, humor is used liberally during formal and informal discussions, but it is never sarcastic, put-down humor and rarely ironical. Rather, it tends to be silly, light-hearted, irreverent, and congenial; it adds an element of fun to the discussion that puts people at ease and keeps the tone of discussion friendly. Actually, John’s skill in the use of humor set the tone for its use from the beginning.

Navigator: What sorts of topics are discussed at NIF, and what have been some of the most popular topics?

Enright: Well, we’ve discussed the foundations of mathematics, the nature of beauty, hypnosis, Montessori education, and poetry, to name a few topics. But we especially like controversial topics. In preparation for this interview, I asked the group to recall some outstanding lectures and a few of those mentioned were: “The Ethics of Rational Risk,” “Children’s Rights,” “The Logic of Rhetoric,” “The Literary Art of Atlas Shrugged,” “Deontological and Consequentialist Ethics,” “The Right to Privacy,” and “A Rugged Challenge for Unrugged Individualism.” Of course, that’s a very partial list.

Navigator: Does the Forum insist that talks be accessible to those unfamiliar with the subject? Or would it allow a speaker to focus on a topic that is principally of interest to, say, professional philosophers?

Enright: We encourage presenters to frame their talks in a way accessible to the intelligent Objectivist layman, but no, we have no special restrictions and we have in fact had discussions principally of interest to professional philosophers. We’ve been told that the typically high level of discussion is intimidating to some people, especially those new to the philosophy. But the respectful and friendly way everyone is treated counterbalances that. And the level of a topic, quite frankly, does not greatly affect the number of people who attend, because they’re a lively bunch, always willing to learn something new. However, if people find the discussion completely beyond them, there is a chance to seek out other fare. After the formal presentation or discussion, we break for refreshments and members may or may not return to the principal discussion. They may remain in another room to discuss other matters of interest with those who wish to remain there too.

Navigator: Is there a formal or informal framework of belief that attendees are expected to have? Specifically, is Objectivism presumed to be the standard of discussion?

Enright: Yes. Objectivism’s basic principles are the taking-off point and the standard for our discussions. At the same time, we have gotten into some lengthy discussions of Objectivism’s ideas, and we frequently bring up and think over Ayn Rand’s fundamental premises to see whether they accurately conceptualize the issue at hand. But people are not coming in order to challenge Objectivism across the board.

Navigator: Many people have difficulty speaking in public. What percentage of the regular membership, would you estimate, has given a talk? And does the Forum ever invite nonmembers to speak?

Enright: Unfortunately, it’s true that people are reluctant to speak in public. As a result only about one-quarter of our members have been presenters. Nevertheless, we rely on volunteers for future presentations and we rarely have trouble filling future spots.

A practice I have developed helps find and encourage people to lead a session: When I hear people talking enthusiastically about a subject or issue, I suggest it would make a good topic; when they say they don’t know enough to give a talk, I urge them just to lead the discussion with a few questions.

We rarely use speakers outside the membership, although we’ve had David Kelley, Bob Bidinotto, Murray Franck, and Dario Fernandez-Morera come to talk. And we don’t rely on audiotapes or videotapes. We may discuss tapes that most of us have heard or seen prior to the evening. But our members really seem to enjoy the live give-and-take with each other, which is also one of the reasons they seem to prefer short talks.

Navigator: What would you say to people who are interested in starting a group but do not feel confident about lecturing on Objectivism?

Enright: That they don’t need to! People are more interested in discussing issues than in hearing someone else talk. In fact, we have found that, as often as not, a meeting that begins with someone’s posing a few questions will end up being among the more interesting.

Navigator: You’ve said Forum discussions have a moderator to keep things on track. Is this just to keep the group from wandering? Or does it include curbing someone who brings an obsession to the topic?

Enright: Well, I usually function as the moderator, so let me speak from that perspective. I do try to keep things on topic. But I don’t wield a gavel, and at times the discussion has wandered pretty far: I try to judge audience interest in the wandering by the amount of participation.

As for the second part of your question: We have never really had a problem with such people dominating our discussions, for several reasons. In the beginning, membership was by invitation only and thus we were able to weed out those not seriously interested in Objectivism. Secondly, if someone brings up issues or points of view too far afield from the discussion, for whatever reason, they are politely asked to defer their points until later, and they may take them up at the end of the formal presentation, or privately with those who wish. The judgment of the moderator, both ideologically and socially, is very important in this respect.

Navigator: Let’s talk about your membership if we may. How large is it and how can it be characterized?

Enright: The mailing list has fifty names. About ten people have been attending for ten years, and another ten have been with us for five years. The remainder are relatively new. The membership is about two-to-one male; 25 percent married or “attached,” many never married, some divorced. Many are serious intellectuals and pursue ideas as a major avocation, though they are also serious about using the ideas. But many members are very bright people who do little philosophical reading or writing, yet want to know how to employ the ideas in their lives. The discussions give both groups a lot to chew on.

Navigator: How do you find the names of potential new members, and how do you recruit them?

Enright: The first members were people I met at COPO; later on, regular members began inviting friends and acquaintances. At that stage, we got two or three new people a year. But about three years ago, our member Timothy Shell created a Web site and it has been our most effective means of recruiting new people. It offers information and pictures, a message center, and a link to the IOS Web site, among other things. I get several inquiries a month from the site and, since its inception, we’ve been adding seven to ten members a year.

As for turning new people into regulars: They come to us eager to find others with an interest in Rand’s ideas, and a friendly forum in which to discuss them. We give them such a forum. Newcomers are welcomed and are introduced to the other participants, invited to partake freely of the food and drink, and included in the discussion. Someone engages new people in conversation and makes them feel included. After participating in a few meetings, newcomers are asked whether they would like to give a presentation themselves. In all, I’d say that 25 percent of the people who attend in a year are new members, and, of them, half become regulars.

Navigator: Do you have a problem with drop-outs?

Enright: Not really. About two or three people leave every year, usually due to moving or life changes, such as the birth of a child. Very few people quit the club over ideological disagreements, even though we regularly have in-depth philosophical discussions.

Navigator: Doubtless there is more to running a salon than scheduling a series of lectures, so let’s discuss what it takes to make such an organization go. How many members would you say a club must have to start; and how do you retain new members?

Enright: If the people are intellectually serious and interested, I don’t think you need a minimum number. And as for retaining new members: Our experience shows that the most effective way is to offer lively, interesting, and reasonable discussions, held in a friendly atmosphere.

Navigator: What are some of the practical tasks that people must keep in mind when starting a group?

Enright: Well, running the group is not cost-free, so we charge members an annual fee of $20 per individual, $30 per couple, which covers mailing and refreshment costs, such as hot and cold soft drinks and paper goods.

Then you need a place to meet. For more than half of the past ten years, the meetings were usually held at Lynn and Richard Latimer’s house. Their generosity in offering the use of their home and Lynn’s graciousness as a hostess and her skill as a decorative artist created a lovely and special setting for our meetings, which I believe fostered conviviality. In recent years, the meetings have mostly been at my house because Lynn has been busy taking care of her elderly parents. You also have to decide on a time: We find that meeting on a Saturday night allows the members to stay as late as they (or the host) would like, and that this facilitates many more possible discussions and many more opportunities for people to get to know one another.

And then you have to keep people informed about forthcoming meetings. I have maintained a mailing list and been a center for information. Every month, I send out notices specifying the restaurant, times, meeting place, topic, and other items of importance and interest.

Navigator: Some groups meet at restaurants, so that no one has to be talked into hosting the event. What is your experience with public meeting places?

Enright: We think that meeting at a home rather than a restaurant is a crucial element. The home is less formal and more comfortable. The several rooms in a home allow participants to mingle more freely than in other settings. If a participant becomes bored or unable to follow the discussion, he or she can quietly and gracefully leave the room and retire to the refreshment table for a rest or to mix with other group members, thereby keeping all entertained without disrupting the main discussion. Finally, meeting at a home keeps the costs down for students and others on a budget.

Navigator: How many “key” people does a club need and how can it persuade people to take up the main chores?

Enright: We haven’t really faced this problem, because I have done a good deal of the organizing over the years, with major help from Lynn Latimer and others off and on. But I do think you need at least one person who has an executive bent, that is, someone who can figure out what needs to be done, how to organize people and ask them to do things, and can follow through-someone who is regularly going to get the jobs done: sending out notices, recruiting presenters, and so forth. It has to be someone for whom these activities come easily, because running the club is “extracurricular.” Of course, the club could try to parcel out parts of the task to a number of people: however, that arrangement would probably still need a person to oversee it, unless the people were particularly good at coordination. For many years when my children were young, I sent out the notices and arranged for the speakers, but the meetings were usually held at the Latimers’ house.

How to retain such people? On the one hand, a good club is its own reward, especially for people who really enjoy the company of others with similar interests and a taste for discussion. Knowing that others are getting a lot out of what you’re doing can be inspiring, too. Still, it’s important for the other members to be supportive of the executive’s and hostess’s efforts: volunteering to help with problems, working for and at the meetings, and expressing their pleasure and gratitude for the work done by the organizers. Our club has given presents and plaques of appreciation to the hostesses and organizers.

Navigator: If your group needed to convince members to take on some major roles, what would you mention to demonstrate “It’s worth it”?

Enright: I would rely on their own experience. That is, I would just go and ask people who I know really value the club, assuming they were also people who had the talents needed for the particular roles. Perhaps I would need to explain to them why I was asking them to do something, or give them some advice about how to get the job done—but their own enjoyment of the club would be the most persuasive argument possible.

However, to start a club and make it run successfully, you need at least one person who thinks such an endeavor will be valuable, and who can create the right atmosphere: Only after that is done will participants be convinced by experience. One thing I’m attempting to do with this interview is to communicate how enjoyable and successful a club can be, to people who have not yet had the experience. Anyone in search of more information can reach me at 773-233-8684 or jenright@interaccess.com, or visit our Web site athttp://www.bomis.com/nif.

Navigator: Have you seen signs of an Objectivist community emerging from the Forum?

Enright: Absolutely! Many participants go on to become close personal friends. In fact, the friendships, networking, and encouragement that we have afforded to each other over the years have been quite energizing to our members. The journal Objectivity was born from these relationships, and many members have turned their NIF presentations into articles or lectures at the IOS summer seminar. I believe Objectivists need a lot more organizations like NIF to serve their social and emotional as well as intellectual needs. In the long run, this kind of activity will expand the presence of Objectivism in the culture.

Navigator: At the 1997 IOS Summer Seminar, Bob Bidinotto spoke about what Objectivism can learn from religion. Are there holiday-like occasions that the Forum celebrates regularly? If so, what are they?

Enright: We have parties at least twice a year: an anniversary barbecue or picnic, which is usually held close to the Fourth of July—although last year we had our anniversary party in the fall, at Montrose harbor on Lake Michigan, where we had a gorgeous view of downtown Chicago. The other event is a Christmas party (or Solstice Supper to those who really detest religion). There, we play a delightful present-guessing game that teaches the members a lot about each other. I would be happy to explain the game to anyone who is interested.

Navigator: By way of closing: What would you say to those thinking of starting a club?

Enright: I have eagerly looked forward to the Forum’s get-togethers every month for the last ten years: the presentations have ranged from at least interesting to fascinating, usually full of delightful information, and the discussions have been invariably stimulating. It has been an opportunity to stretch my intellectual muscles once a month. It’s a great place to learn about other, utterly unique points of view and have my mind changed-for the better. So, my comment to Navigator’s readers: If you want something like this in your life, make it!

This interview was conducted for Navigator by IOS editorial director Roger Donway. All photos courtesy of Marsha Enright.

http://www.atlassociety.org/showcontent.aspx?ct=11&h=51

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.