|Psyche, in psearch of you|
For those coming late to the party, or for whom the New Year's revelry and/or Groundhog's Day has blotted out the previous chapters, a brief recap is in order:
- "To Deepen into Art..."
The series began with a brief reflection on a comment made by Thomas Disch shortly before his tragic suicide that to "deepen his fiction into art," he would have to return to Catholicism, which he was unwilling to do.
- In Psearch of Psyche: Some Groundwork
We discussed the notion of potency and act, and their respective principles of matter and form. Psyche, or "soul" is a form, and we began with the simplest case: that of the form of inanimate beings, like sodium atoms. While souls are much more complex than these inanimate forms, some groundwork can be laid by considering the latter as ur-souls. We saw that inertia, understood as a tendency to preserve a body's current state, could be viewed as something analogous to life.
- In Psearch of Psyche: Man the Vegetable.
The simplest psyche is the nutritive soul, whose cognition is purely digestive: it knows by consuming. (Or by reproduction: that's why Adam "knew" Eve.) This kind of psyche is the seat of the most primitive aspects of life: eating and reproducing, and it is likely no coincidence that we are afflicted with an "epidemic of obesity" at the same time we are afflicted with pelvic fixations. Although for some reason, no one talks of an "epidemic of loose sex" or gets the CDC involved in stemming its spread.
- In Psearch of Psyche: Day of the Triffids!
This was a short diversion to consider the borderland between the nutritive ("vegetable") soul and the sensitive ("animal") soul. The categories do not break clean, and it is possible for some "higher plants" to exhibit some of the properties of "lower animals."
- In Psearch of Psyche: Man the Animal
The sensitive soul adds to the cognition of digestion the cognition of sensation. An animal knows not only by eating (and sexing) but also by perceiving. In this episode we explored the sensational aspects of stimulus-response -- the outer senses and the inner senses -- and we saw how the inner senses of perception, memory, and imagination endow animals with skills that at the higher end can mimic those of humans. Now it is time for the response part of the loop.
A key reminder: The soul is not some sort of free-floating substance that somehow occupies the same space as a body and somehow interacts with it. The "mind-body problem" is no more a problem than the "sphere-basketball problem." Because it is the substantial form of a potentially living body, the soul is the principle (starting point) of all the acts of the complete substance (the "synolon"). A suitable analogy can be seen in the inanimate form of an atom. What makes the element what-it-is and gives it its powers is the number and arrangement of its material parts. Sodium and chlorine differ in the number of their protons, electron, and neutrons, and it is this arrangement rather than the protons, electrons, and neutrons in themselves that make one a metal and the other a gas. IOW, reductionism is a mug's game. How the parts act as an ensemble is very different from how they act solo.
Souls on ParadeLet's look at this schematically. The following are based on models devised by William Wallace in his book The Modeling of Nature. These were once available on the web, but the site is gone, so TOF has reproduced them here in his own hand.
The Generic Digestive Soul
|The vegetative (a/k/a digestive) soul. The substantial form of a living thing is called a "soul" (anima) since it is what accounts for a thing to be a living substance (animate). In addition to the powers the substance possesses in virtue of being a material thing, the vegetative soul possesses four additional powers. Most obviously, the body takes in nutrients and metabolizes them into the stuff of its own body, leading to cell differentiation and growth. What is left over is converted (at maturity) into reproduction of its kind. In addition (and more subtly) there is the power to maintain all these things in balance with one another and with the environment, which we call homeostasis.|
So What's My Motivation?
The second requirement is an impulsive determination by the appetites. This is a feeling of emotion resulting from the estimation.
Then thirdly, there is the locomotive power, by which some actual physical behavior gives "natural selection" something to select on.
These three things in combination comprise "instinct," which we can see is more complex for the Aristotelians than the usual meat puppet notion of the Early Moderns. Not until the invention of software was there a model on which instinct could be more firmly based. Before that, they had only clockwork and machinery. But unlike the purely mechanical notions of the 19th century, the software metaphor permits of all sorts of IF-THEN estimative judgment calls.
|Lion: I dunno, Zeke. Yuh see any zebras hereabouts?|
Zebra: WTF? Psst, guys. Step dainty, wouldya?
However, some animals show an ability to plan for attaining goods or avoiding evils that are not directly sensed. For example, a bird may gather twigs in order to build a nest in the future. A sheep esteems the wolf an enemy, even if it has never before sensed a wolf. The ±desired object need not be present to the senses. It can be a re-presented or insensate image.
1. imagination. Remember, this is a representative imagination, not a creative imagination; that is, it "re-presents" sensory images of concrete particulars that are no longer present. These images (a/k/a phantasms) can be recalled from memory, and may even be manipulated. E.g., a blue ball may be imagined as red with purple polka dots.
Animal Prudence.Animals have the power to "discern the useful or obnoxious character of certain objects" and therefore to approach or avoid them. Thomas observes:
Some things act without judgment; as a stone moves downwards; and in like manner all things which lack knowledge. And some act from judgment, but not a free judgment; as brute animals. For the sheep, seeing the wolf, esteems it a thing to be shunned from a natural and not a free judgment, because it judges, not from reason, but from natural instinct. And the same thing is to be said of any judgment of brute animals.The difference may be seen in the dog who has been trained by its master to fetch a certain sponge which the master uses to wash his car. If the sponge is not in the usual place, the dog will cast about in an effort to find it and look in other places where he remembers having seen it. But what he will not do is bring a rag instead of the sponge. The former requires prudential judgment, while the latter requires rational judgment. That is, the former acts are based on the concrete particulars (what the sponge looks and smells like, where it has usually been found) while the latter is based on abstractions (what the sponge is to be used for).
|Schematic of the animal soul|
But what is a symbol? A symbol does not direct our attention to something else, as a sign does. It does not direct at all. It "means" something else. It somehow comes to contain within itself the thing it means. The word ball is a sign to my dog and a symbol to you. If I say ball to my dog, he will respond like a good Pavlovian organism and look under the sofa and fetch it. But if I say ball to you, you will simply look at me and, if you are patient, finally say, "What about it?" The dog responds to the word by looking for the thing: you conceive the ball through the word ball. ...
IOW, you expect a meaningful statement about balls or a ball (a coupling), not simply the sound "ball."
-- Walker Percy, The Message in the Bottle, p.15
- In the first place is the Dolittle Desire to "talk to the animals," a tradition running from Aesop to Disney. We see apes or elephants exercising reason in part because we want to see them do so, just as we want to meet angels or aliens from outer space.
- In the second place, Late Moderns spend very little time interacting with animals, as our more rural ancestors did, and our attitudes are shaped by Pets and by Theory.
- But in the third place, behavior governed by instinct is not the dead, mindless operation of meat puppets the 17th century imagined.
Emotion: The Sensitive Appetites
|A sensitive appetite. |
Knowledge needs to be impregnated, so to speak. Knowledge brings only the forms of things, stripped of their matter. The intentional existence of these forms in the perception is a thin soup, never quite as real as the thing itself. Try to imagine a tree. Now try to imagine the last real tree you actually saw. You will find the latter more difficult than the former, since the latter is stuffed with details that you will not remember.
The animal is not satisfied with the thin soup and wants the thing entire. Hence, knowledge engenders "a desire to possess the object and hold it as it is in itself," the Ding an sich. [Brennan, p. 147] This aspiration projects the soul toward a union with the object that is real and not merely intentional. Whatever has sensitive life has appetitive life.
There are two kinds of appetites (or desires). One is the impulse to preserve what is proper to one's existence; the second is to combat what endangers that existence. These are labeled:
- concupiscible appetite: generating the passions of desire
- irascible appetite: generating the passions of victory or defeat
The objects of the sensitive appetites are the goods of sense. These may be simply good or arduously good, which correspond to the concupiscble and irascible appetites: pleasures for pleasure's sake and struggle for pleasure's sake. Aquinas notes that joys of this sort are chiefly concerned with food and sex "and it is a significant fact that the major battles of the animal kingdom are fought over such matters."
This is what Darwin spoke of when he referred to "the struggle for existence," and why this chiefly involved the struggle for food and mates.
But passions, as the name suggests, are passive. The must result in action in order to gain traction.
Note: Speaking of plants.... Since the sensitive soul supervenes over the vegetative soul, animals also exhibit motions that are proper to plants. These include the reflex motions of the body itself. These require no conscious thought and are controlled by the autonomic nervous system. However, sensitive acts are performed by the voluntary muscles and controlled by the cerebro-spinal nervous system.Consider the example of an animal which apprehends danger. This generates a passion of fear. And this in turn leads to flight. That is, there are three elements in this behavior pattern:
- cognition: which recognizes the situation
- orexis: the appetites which determine the direction ("fight or flight", "approach or retreat")
- muscular movement: which carries out the action
Properly speaking, it is final cause that plays the key role in locomotion. The end sought -- recognized by the instinct and desired by the appetite as a good -- is ultimately what moves the animal. For example: a kitten may be moved to cross the room by the saucer of milk it perceives on the other side. (Note that in causing the motion, the saucer of milk is itself unmoved.)