A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Friday, February 26, 2016

In Psearch of Psyche: Let's Get Moving!

Psyche, in psearch of you
It seems like last year since we last added to this series. Wait! That's because it was last year! Time flies when the holidays come upon one all unexpected like on little cat's feet. Yes, that's right. It's the next inpstallment of that pscintillating pseries, In Psearch of Psyche!  "Let's Get Moving!" in two senses of the word: viz., time to get this series going again and... You guessed it! ...consider the motion of the animal psyche.

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: 
  1. "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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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."
  5. 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 Parade

Let'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 Substrate
A substance can be pictured as a synolon composed of prime matter and form. Prime matter is purely potential and difficult to grasp. Form is imagined here as a sort of force-field, like a Higgs field or an electromagnetic field, and actualizes the prime matter as a particular kind of secondary matter
The Generic Inanimate Form
The form of inanimate matter possesses four powers, of which the most obvious is Gravity, due to the mass realized by the Higgs field. Second comes Electromagnetism, which is due to charge on the particle. This operates in a bipolar manner. More subtle is the Strong Force, which binds the protons together in the nuclei of atoms which would otherwise fly apart violently, repelled by their mutual positive charges. (Thus, already we see how the powers are governed by the overall form.) The E/M force must behave itself. The Weak Force accounts for radiation, which is the spontaneous emission of various particles. On E/M (or gravity) alone, the electrons would be drawn into the nucleus. Instead, they inhabit various "shells" and may jump in various ways.
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.
The Generic Sensitive Soul
The sensitive soul is not one that is all emo and everything. It is one possessing the powers of sensation. These include the outer senses, Sensation properly speaking; the inner senses, or Perception, which converts sensations into whole images. This includes not only the unifying common sense but imagination and memory. These perceptions trigger desires or aversions called Emotions or sensitive appetites, and they lead to Motions to acquire or avoid the perceived object. Perception can lead directly to motion by means of the autonomic nervous system. Animals feel no emotion for breathing or heart-beating. This may constitute the handshake between the sensitive soul and the homeostasis of the vegetative soul.

So What's My Motivation?

To move is to act, and actors must have motivation. That is, for a body to move, there must be a mover. Motion is either pursuit or avoidance which, being mathematically reclined, TOF is tempted to call "±desire." Behind pursuit are movements of pleasure; behind avoidance are movements of pain. Since it is impossible to ±desire what is not known, the first requirement is a cognitive determination by the imagination.¹ This is an estimation of the utility or harmfulness of the perceived (or remembered) object, as an object, so it is sometimes called the estimative power of the imagination.

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?
When the zebra catches a whiff of lion in the tall grass, it immediately bolts. This is because it is descended from a long line of zebras who bolted at the first whiff, and not from zebras who wondered WTF? and went off to investigate. As the Underground Grammarian put it, the zebra does not in any sense think, "I must tell the others!" It simply bolts, and this motion startles nearby zebras into bolting as well, and soon the whole herd is running. It is easy for humans to interpret this as "communication," but it is communication only in the sense that a disease is communicated, or that a chemical exuded by some plants in response to a beetle infestation is then detected by other plants. But our desires to find some non-human intelligence moves us to take analogous structures or behaviors and call them equivalent.

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
Animal prudence acts on perceptions (including memories) in a way that is analogous to the actions of intellect on conceptions. The combination of imagination, memory, and estimation is what allows many animals to be trained to marvelous feats, such as pressing buttons on a keyboard or making hand signs that it remembers will enable it to obtain a treat. Like the lion-whiffing zebra, "animal prudence" will always involve an apprehension of concrete relationships. Rational judgments, otoh, will involve abstract relationships. Walker Percy describes this as the difference between a sign and a symbol:
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
Late Moderns often confuse the estimative power with rational thought for several reasons.
  • 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.
Sense knowledge is insufficient to account for the motions of animals; that is, for the "performance of necessary tasks within the sphere of material action." This is true of any kind of cognition. Alone, they are sterile, and cannot produce activities. This puts a strain on things like computer intelligences or aliens of pure thought, however much the Cult of the Cerebral may celebrate them.

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.


It is now time to do the locomotion. The appetitive power is complemented by the power to move from point to point. If there were no physical action, there would be nothing for natural selection to act upon, and the impotent appetite would in Darwin's words be "ruthlessly destroyed." This is why plants, strictly speaking, do not have appetites, but tropisms.
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 
These can be summarized alternatively as informative, imperative, and executive, resp.

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.)

In Times to Come

The next entry in this opus will be Man the Man, which will begin to examine how the introduction of rational thought and free will modulate the sensitive soul into the rational soul. Stay tune, because TOF doesn't know how long this will take!


  1. Hey Mike, I might have missed it at some point, but do you have roundups of series posts like this one (even though it is not yet complete), or the one on the First Way, and the like? Thanks!

  2. Why are the various powers described above seen as properties of the form at each level rather than as properties of the form-matter composite (the synolon, to use your terminology)?

  3. "How the parts act as an ensemble is very different from how they act solo."

    Reductionists have no problem with your proposition. What they additionally claim is
    that properties of parts acting in ensemble are obtainable, in principle, from properties of parts in solo.

    1. That's a claim falsified though, no? The properties of sodium and chlorine are nothing like the properties of sodium ions and chloride ions; a pile of sodium sitting next to a cloud of chlorine gas bears little resemblance in properties to a salt crystal of equal mass. That those elements have the potential to form the compound cannot be actualized without something external (bringing them into contact); 'everything moves *ab alio*'.

    2. According to the current dogma, all properties of NaCl are
      calculable, in principle, from the properties of Na and Cl.
      This is the reduction of chemistry to physics.

    3. "In principle".

      In practice we're actually nowhere near that point yet (though part of that is that it's not practical to train chemists as quantum physicists or vice-versa, so none of the people studying the properties actually know all of them).

    4. Gyan, 'dogma' is the right word. In fact chemistry cannot be re-made *ab initio* - from scratch, as it were - from quantum mechanics. In the scheme TOF is using, QM is the appropriate matter upon which distinctly chemical forms are imposed. See numerous articles by Scerri, some available online. One notes how the Periodic Table cannot be recreated ab initio. Philosophy of chemistry is very much alive and kicking. C Kirk

  4. Isn't the notion of "Final Cause" that crucially differentiates living vs nonliving forms?
    Analysis of nonliving bodies can be done without invoking final causes. But it is no so with animate bodies.

    1. As I understand it, there can be no motion in physics without an "attractor" of some sort, an "equilibrium manifold" toward which the system tends. In particular, A cannot cause B "always or for the most part" unless there is something in A that "points toward" B.

    2. Isn't the notion of "Final Cause" that crucially differentiates living vs nonliving forms?

      From what I understand of Aristotelian philosophy of nature, teleology is an inherent feature of the natural world from top to bottom -- from consciousness and abstract thought, all the way down to simple inorganic processes. As TOF stated, if A causes B "always or for the most part," then there must be something in A that "points toward" B. In other words, final causality is what makes efficient causality intelligible. Without the former, the latter will be composed of events that seem to us entirely "loose and separate" (to use Hume's words).

      On this view, what distinguishes living things from nonliving things is that living things exhibit a certain kind of teleology, in which causation "begins with the agent and terminates in the agent for the sake of the agent" (David Oderberg, Real Essentialism, p. 180). This is called "immanent causation" and is contrasted with "transient causation," in which the cause terminates in an effect outside the cause and not for the sake of the cause's good or perfection.

  5. Great job saving the Wallace diagrams. Additionally, I find your re-draws easier to read than his. Nice series.


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