A General Theory of Behaviour VI: Wayne Rooney, Imaging and Action

Introspections by the footballer Wayne Rooney address key issues in our theory. This post is concerned with the very same issue: how are thinking, feeling and action directly connected?


What do Wayne Rooney and AGTB have in common?

“I always like to picture the game the night before: I’ll ask the kitman what kit we’re wearing, so I can visualise it. It’s something I’ve always done, from when I was a young boy. It helps to train your mind to situations that might happen the following day. I think about it as I’m lying in bed. What will I do if the ball gets crossed in the box this way? What movement will I have to make to get on the end of it? Just different things that might make you one per cent sharper”.[1]   Wayne Rooney

Building knowledge requires questions. Many times, asking a ‘good’ question leads straight to another question, and so on, until, at the end, there is an answer that may be useful to somebody. Or we may have no answer at all, and we realise that what we thought we knew, we didn’t know at all.

What is Consciousness, what is it ‘made of’, and what is it for?

No topic in Psychology prompts more questions than the issue of Consciousness.[2] When I taught a university course called ‘Consciousness’ 40 years ago it was seen as ‘off the wall’. Now it’s a part of the  mainstream, and we know more, but certainly not as much as we’d like to know. We have more questions than answers. In attempting to answer these questions, it is sensible to consider what we think we mean when we speak about Consciousness and to work from there

Thirty Claims about Consciousness

Based on large quantities of empirical observations, I summarise here thirty claims about Consciousness , and which have a fair-to-good chance of being true:

i) It is agentic: i.e. it has purpose, desire  and intentionality; [3]

ii)  It is deeply social in nature;

iii) It is the centre for feelings and moods;

iv) It operates with an inbuilt motivation to drive the organism towards pleasure and away from pain;

v) It is a centre for perceptions, interoceptive and exteroceptive;

vi) It serves as a ‘storehouse’ of memories including autobiographical memories from which information and images can be retrieved;

vii)          It is the control centre for action, perception, attention, affect regulation, cognition, information processing all of which require the making of predictions;

viii)         It has ‘layers’ and ‘levels’ and is capable of dissociation, splitting and confusion;

ix) It constructs a personal and a public identity for the ‘self’;

x) It is a centre for constructing and changing values and beliefs;

xi) It can set both altruistic and selfish goals, and anything in between;

xii) It can represent information, beliefs and values in an honest way or it can simulate, pretend, lie and be deceitful;

xiii)         It can be subject to hearing of voices and other hallucinations;

xiv)         It can be subject to illusions and delusions;

xv)          It can be accessed by introspection;

xvi)         It can be described symbolically in speech, writing and in works of art but it can also be ineffable;

xvii)        It varies in state of arousal from waking to sleep;

xviii)      It references values, beliefs, rules and customs, and has pragmatic methods for following them;

xix)         It strives the satisfaction of needs including equilibrium;

xx) It can pay close attention to detail or its concentration can wander;

xxi)         It fantasizes, ‘daydreams’;

xxii)        It plans new goals for the future;

xxiii)      It thinks and makes decisions;

xxiv)       It imagines and weighs consequences pro and con before acting;

xxv)        It receives feedback on the outcomes of action;

xxvi)       It ‘delegates’ well-practiced routines, tasks and habits to a lower level of automatic processing;

xxvii)     Automatic functioning such as autonomic system is also below the threshold of consciousness as long as it is performed as expected, but it becomes conscious if it fails to performs normally;

xxviii)   It dreams;

xxix)       It maintains Type II homeostatic responses of the whole organism;

xxx)        It remains imperfect.[4]

IMAGE, PREDICT, ACT

Based on the above observations, Principle IX  can be stated as follows:

Principle IX (Consciousness): Consciousness is the central process of the brain that builds images of the world, makes predictions about future events and selects which voluntary actions to execute.[5]

One of the major outputs of Consciousness is something that we could not do without: predictive simulations involving ‘what-if’ or ‘if-then’ relationships: ‘If I do X, will Y or Z happen’. The major input is exteroceptive, sensory stimuli – sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, temperature, vibration and pain – and also interoceptive stimuli, which form a cortical image of homeostatic afferent activity from the body’s tissues. This system provides experiences and visceral feelings such as pain, temperature, itch, sensual touch, muscular and visceral sensations, vasomotor activity, hunger, thirst, and ‘air hunger’. In humans, interoceptive activity is represented in the right anterior insula, providing subjective imagery of the material self as a feeling (sentient) entity, that is, emotional awareness.[6]

Everything that goes on in between stimulus input and output of behaviour is based on if-then operations and simulation geared towards prediction.  It’s mainly a matter of private fantasies and daydreams that studies suggest take up at least a half of our waking time. We also know that there is a huge quantity of pre-conscious automatic processing of sensory information and behaviour that does not require the effortful attention of Consciousness.  The controlled processing of Consciousness is serial, attention demanding, methodical and slow, e.g. preparing a meal using a a cookery book or reading a manual on how to operate a dvd player.[7] Automatic processing, on the other hand, is efficient and economical, and, quite often, quick, e.g. reading, writing, walking,  riding a bicycle, driving a car.

Brain research supports the idea that the forebrain of the cerebral cortex is the site of the Central Control System of Consciousness. The forebrain itself is involved in regulation of both autonomic and non-autonomic human responses in stress and affect. As we have seen, it is also the seat of both Type I and Type II homeostasis.

A significant part of the contents of Consciousness is mental imagery, the quasi-perceptual mental imagery that gets us from one point on our mental model of the world to the next.[8]  We turn to explore the nature and function of mental imagery.

ACTION SCHEMAS AND MENTAL SIMULATION

“The purpose of a brain is not to think, but to act”  (Laborit, 1980).[9]  The central organising executive of the brain, Consciousness, enables organisms to mentally map the environment, predict what might happen next, and to act. One of the major processes for modelling, predicting and acting is mental imagery [AP 025]. Mental imagery is ideally suited to these purposes by providing preparatory images, which can exist in any sensory modality but, for the majority of people,  this is predominantly visual.  However, imagining the smell and taste of a delicious meal, ‘hearing’ the sound of some enchanting music, and imagining scenes and feelings of relaxation from a recent holiday are all equally possible.

Visual images are similar to perceptual images, but more faint and dim. If I am walking along a street and spy a delicious chocolate cake in a patisserie window, I do not automatically go inside to buy it. I may decide to buy it, but usually I will not. I know I do not need it, even if I want it and the impulse to buy it is strong. Similarly, if I am feeling peckish at home and imagine that same chocolate cake in that same window only a few minutes away, I do not automatically drop everything and go quickly to the store to buy it. Unless of course, my ‘addiction’ to chocolate is so strong, having resisted the temptation to eat chocolate cake for last three weeks, and feeling that I have earned a reward, then, yes, I may well go and get it.

We know that conscious imagery is not equally vivacious in all people. Imagery vividness is a combination of clarity and liveliness. Assessment of vividness using introspective report can be validated by objective means such as fMRI. Vividness of visual imagery is determined by the similarity of neural responses in imagery to those occurring in perception and performance of activities. [AP 026]. Two thousand published studies have used the Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire (VVIQ; Marks, 1972) or the Vividness of Movement Imagery Questionnaire (VMIQ; Isaac, Marks and Russell, 1986).

For a small minority of people, voluntary visual imagery is entirely unknown. These few people lack any experience of mental imagery, a condition termed ‘aphantasia’. In the absence of mental imagery, Consciousness is a pallid and abstract affair consisting of entities such as ‘unheard’ words, ‘unheard’ music and ‘invisible’ imagery. One such person, a scientist, describes his conscious experiences as follows: “I am unaware of anything in my mind except these categories: i) direct sensory input, ii) “unheard” words that carry thoughts, iii) “unheard” music, iv) a kind of “invisible imagery”, which I can best describe as sensation of pictures that are in a sense “too faint to see”, v) emotions, and vi) thoughts which seem too “fast” to exist as words.” [10]  For these exceptional people, there must be non-imagery ways to plan goals and future actions yet to be investigated. Actions are guided by schemata, generic representations, in combination with goals and affect. [AP 027].

According to Frederic Bartlett,[11] schemata are much more than elementary reactions ready for use: “they are also arrangements of material, sensory at a low level, affective at a higher level, imaginal at a higher level yet, even ideational and conceptual”.[12]

THE ACTION SYSTEM

The action system is inextricably linked to the perceptual system so that perceiving something generally leads to activity in either covert or overt form triggered by schemata (Bartlett, 1932). Imagined simulation consists of covert performances in which specific intentions, purposes and actions are fulfilled  (Marks, 1990, p. 6). A system with these features is shown in Figure 1.

Screen Shot 2020-03-15 at 11.13.24.png

Figure 1 The General Theory of Action, or ‘VOAGA’ Model.  Action schemata (As) control voluntary action (V) in response to salient objects (O) in the immediate environment which are the focus of action in accordance with current goals (G).  Affect (Af) influences the goal and the schemata. Action simulation using mental imagery occurs in the same system as that used for overt action.

Principle X (Mental Imagery): A mental image is a quasi-perceptual experience that includes action schemata, affect and a goal.[13]

The VOAGA Model encompasses both overt and covert (implicit) actions. ‘Covert’ or implicit actions are neurally similar to the equivalent overt action. Sensory-affective mental images are an essential component of memory and imagination.[14]  We would be ill-equipped for these two functions without them.

FEELINGS

Evidence for an affective component to Consciousness has been investigated by experimental psychologists for at least a century. Wundt (1907) wrote: “Often there is vividly present … the special affective tone of the forgotten idea, although the idea itself still remains in the background of consciousness. .. . In a similar manner . . . the clear apperception of ideas in acts of cognition and recognition is always preceded by feelings” (pp. 243-244).

Silvan Tomkins argued that the primary motivational system is the affective system and biological drives have impact only when amplified by the affective system (Tomkins, 1962). A similar view was reached by Zajonc (1980). When people imagine emoting happy, sad, and angry situations, different patterns of facial muscle activity are produced that can be measured by electromyography (Kinzel & Kubler, 1971). Similar affective responses occur when people mentally image faces, complex, scenes and look at pictures but the physiological responses are generally less intense in mental images (Lang, 1979). [AP 028]. A special link exists between imagery and anxiety and attempting to ‘suppress’ emoting may cause degraded mental imagery.[15] Individuals who inhibit emoting tend to experience less sensory, contextual and emotional details when imaging.[16] [AP 029].

Involuntary images and difficult to control visual memories are associated with psychopathology, e.g. patients with posttraumatic stress disorder, other anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, and psychosis frequently report repeated visual intrusions concerning real or imaginary events, “usually extremely vivid, detailed, and with highly distressing content”.[17]

It is worth considering different scenarios from the perspective of action  schemata. Activation of a schema can occur in any of four possible combinations associated by the presence or absence of physical activity and objects, namely:

(A) Activity and Object both absent: covert action as sensory-affective imagery. The more vivid the associated imagery, the more a covert action resembles the corresponding overt action. [AP 030]. The more an imagined object resembles the real object, the more closely the imagined activity towards the imagined object resembles real behavior. [AP 031].

(B) Activity absent, Object present: private/covert action which simulates or practices overt action with associated feedback and affect. Humans and other organisms use the capacity to adopt a simulation routine. [18]

(C) Activity present, Object absent: publicly observable action in the form of playing, pretending, or miming, associated with feedback and affect.

(D) Activity and Object both present: overt behavior, with associated feedback and affect.

In cases A, B and C, the strength of affect can depend upon many factors including experience with the particular activity, but the vividness of the imagery is the major determinant. [AP 032]. The term ‘affect’[19] always refers to the emotive feelings generated by an image. Vivid imagery plays a key role in planning all goal-directed behavior. The cognitive system needs a meta-level to control and monitor the object-level. This duality of levels enables moment-by-moment adjustments to goal-seeking behaviour to be conducted at the object-level.

Consciousness facilitates Type II homeostasis, providing a significant  advantage in striving towards equilibrium in the surrounding environment. [AP 033].

The General Theory [20] proposes a cyclical system of schemata, objects, affective expression and actions. The control system has both an Executive-level and a Schema-level. The Executive-level, which is what we normally refer to as ‘Consciousness’ , controls and monitors the Schema-level. This duality of levels enables moment-by-moment adjustments to goal-seeking behaviour at the Schema-level. Goals are set at the Executive-level of Consciousness. Goal-setting is guided by values and beliefs which, together with goals,  inform actions, inhibit actions, or reflect, as the situation requires.

Speech and other complex behaviours in competent performers normally does not require Consciousness. The motor system is largely served by an extensive sensory system which operates at a subconscious level. Afferents from the muscles and the activity of the cerebellum, where movement is organized, operate entirely subconsciously and produce no conscious sensations. Conscious imagery participates in the planning and organization of behavior through enabling the simulation of action sequences at the object-level without energy expenditure or risk. [AP 034]. The object-level interfaces with the social-level in the public domain of shared activities and object-levels. The possible outcomes of alternative future actions can be appraised prior to a course of action. In this way, conscious mental imagery serves as a mental toolbox, producing its internal contents for the user to explore and manipulate in the selection and preparation of future physical and social activity.

The principal role is to perform ‘thought experiments’ by rehearsing activation of ‘what-if’ schemata to evaluate potential outcomes before making any actions physically (Figure 1). Thought experiments enable the imager to generate a sequence of interacting processes consisting of goals, schemata, actions, objects and affects. Once triggered, implementation of activity cycles gives rise to actual physical activity, perception, and affect.

Imagery that is vivid, through virtue of being as clear and as lively as possible, closely approximates actual perceptual-motor activity, and is of benefit to action preparation, simulation and rehearsal. [AP 035].

NEUROSCIENTIFIC STUDIES

Imagery, observation, and execution share similar neural processes. [AP 036]. The physiological mechanisms that are active during physical skill acquisition are also active during imagery and observation of the same skill. [21] Visual ideas may or may not be fleshed out as actions and not all ideas in human thought are visual. However, a significant category of ideas consists of images of varying force and vivacity. Without vividness, no Midsummer’s Night Dream, Le Malade Imaginaire or Don Quixote, and no Maxwell’s demon, Einstein’s elevator or Schrödinger’s cat. Whatever else humans may be, we are thinkers, schemers, idea-generators. Visual thoughts are an important part of what makes us human.  Antonio Damasio points to the huge value of  mental imagery to ‘creative intelligence’ in human evolution: “Creative intelligence was the means by which mental images and behaviors were intentionally combined to provide novel solutions for the problems that humans diagnosed and to construct new worlds for the opportunities humans envisioned”. [22]

There is an extensive literature on ‘mental practice’, otherwise referred to as `imagery rehearsal’ or ‘mental simulation’ (Richardson, 1965; Jeannerrod and Decety, 1995). Imagery is routinely and systematically employed in preparation and rehearsal of sports activity and has been shown to produce enhanced performance across a wide variety of skill-sets (Feltz & Landers, 1983; Markman, Klein and Suhr, 2009). Studies of skilled performers show that activity cycles are more effectively rehearsed when they incorporate vivid imagery (Isaac & Marks, 1990). Studies of Olympic athletes and performers capable of specialist skills suggest that high imagery vividness is of most benefit to performances that have significant perceptual-motor components or require visualization of complex interactions at the object-level (Isaac & Marks, 1994).

Converging evidence suggests that mental simulation of movement and actual movement share similar neurocognitive and learning processes leading to considerable interest in imagery simulation of movement as a therapeutic tool in rehabilitation of stroke patients, patients with Parkinson’s disease and other neurological syndromes.[23] Conscious imagery enables the user to explore, select and prepare physical and social activity.  [AP 037].

A common neural basis exists for imitation, observational learning and motor imagery. During mental simulation, the excitatory motor output generated for executing the action is inhibited. The autonomic system is also activated during motor imagery. The principal function of Consciousness is to analyse actions and predict their consequences. Simulation enables the imager to mentally try out a sequence of goals, schemata and actions that minimize hazard, loss and pain.

The principal measure of vividness, the VVIQ, is strongly associated with performance in different kinds of task: self-report, physiological motor, perceptual, cognitive and memory (Marks, 1972, 1973; McKelvie, 1995; Runge, Cheung and D’Angiulli, 2017). To quote Runge et al. (2017): “[V]ividness can be considered a chief phenomenological feature of primary sensory Consciousness, and it supports the idea that Consciousness is a graded phenomenon”.[24] Recent research has shown that reported vividness is associated with early visual cortex activity relative to the whole brain activity measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and the performance on a novel psychophysical task.

Vividness of visual imagery correlates with fMRI activity in early visual cortex scores demonstrating that higher visual cortex activity indexes more vivid imagery. Variations in imagery vividness depend on a large network of brain areas, including frontal, parietal and visual areas. The more similar the neural response during imagery to the neural response during perception, the more vivid or perception-like the imagery experience. [AP 038]. From these findings, it can be concluded that an image is an idea with visual attributes. The more vivid the image the more strongly we will be aware of it. Upon reflection of the alternative actions available, it is possible to inhibit certain actions and implement others, or to keep actions ‘on hold’ for the future. Thus Consciousness of the BCS is able to facilitate successful striving towards goals, and thereby the effectiveness of Type II homeostasis, providing a significant evolutionary advantage.

THE BEHAVIOUR CONTROL SYSTEM

Executive functions are cognitive processes such as working memory, cognitive flexibility and inhibitory control that direct goal-directed behaviours. The Behaviour Control System (BCS) co-ordinates the REF, CLOCK AAIS and SCHEMATA systems to produce voluntary and involuntary action, affect and cognition. In its regulation of the REF,  Consciousness, at the top of the BCS, facilitates the effectiveness of Type II homeostasis and provides a significant  evolutionary advantage to the organism.  Figure 5.2 shows the different parts of the BCS together with other major processes involved in the planning and execution of behaviour.

Screen Shot 2020-03-15 at 11.09.47 Figure 2  The Behaviour Control System consisting of nine integrated processes for the generation of action. Schemata exist for all actions, designed to satisfy physiological and psychological needs that are striving towards equilibrium. The REF, CLOCK and AAIS systems (see previous post, black and dark grey) interconnect with the Action Schemata system (see Figure 1, light and dark grey).  Levels of control include sensory input, executive control, voluntary behaviour (including speech) and the AAIS, action schemata and REF, goals, sociality and affect, and automatized action. The AAIS and Action Schemata system trial implicit voluntary action in the absence of overt behaviour. Actions are generated in direct response to goals, the actions of others and the individual’s affective feelings.  Automatized, involuntary and habitual behaviours run off subconsciously and do not normally require executive control, unless there is an ongoing conscious effort to change them.

CONCLUSIONS:

1)    The Behaviour Control System (BCS) coordinates the REF, CLOCK, AAIS and action schemata to plan goals and regulate action.

2)    The BCS employs conscious mental imagery to plan, simulate and execute goal-directed action to satisfy needs.

3)    Consciousness of the BCS facilitates the effectiveness of Type II homeostasis, providing a significant evolutionary advantage. 

REFERENCES

[1] Quoted from Manchester United and England striker Wayne Rooney “Big match preparation”. In FourFourTwo Peformance.

[2] I will introduce Consciousness with some facts about what is established beyond any reasonable doubt rather than that cottage-industry of mental masturbation appropriately termed the ‘hard problem’. See: Chalmers, D. J. (1995). Facing up to the problem of Consciousness. Journal of Consciousness studies2(3), 200-219.

[3] It has been suggested that agency includes the following: “intentionality and forethought, self-regulation by self-reactive influence, and self-reflectiveness about one’s capabilities, quality of functioning, and the meaning and purpose of one’s life pursuits”; see: Bandura, A. (2001). Social cognitive theory: An agentic perspective. Annual review of Psychology52(1), 1-26.

[4] This list is not exhaustive but it encompasses much of what is known about Consciousness.

[5] Feinberg, T. E., & Mallatt, J. M. (2016). The ancient origins of Consciousness: How the brain created experience. MIT Press.

[6] Craig, A. D. (2003). Interoception: the sense of the physiological condition of the body. Current opinion in neurobiology13(4), 500-505.

[7] Schmidt, R. A., Lee, T., Winstein, C., Wulf, G., & Zelaznik, H. (2018). Motor Control and Learning, 6E. Human kinetics.

[8] Mental imagery is often categorized into types such as ‘after-imagery’, ‘eidetic’, ‘memory’, ‘imagination’ and ‘dream’ imagery. We consider in this chapter the visual imagery of wakefulness and reserve research on dreaming to a later chapter.

[9] In “Mon Oncle d’Amérique” (My American Uncle), a 1980 movie by Alain Resnais, where Laborit explains several of his ideas.

[10] Watkins, N. (2017). (A) phantasia and SDAM: Scientific and Personal Perspectives.

[11] My tutor Maggie’s prof at Cambridge way back when.

[12] Bartlett, F.C. (1926). Review of Aphasia and kindred disorders of speech, by Henry Head. Brain, 49, 581-587.

[13] Marks, D. F. (1999). Consciousness, mental imagery and action. British journal of Psychology90(4), 567-585.

[14] See: Marks (1999); Feinberg and Mallatt 2016) op. cit.

[15] Holmes, E. A., & Mathews, A. (2005). Mental imagery and emotion: a special relationship?. Emotion5(4), 489.

[16] D’Argembeau, A., & Van der Linden, M. (2006). Individual differences in the phenomenology of mental time travel: The effect of vivid visual imagery and emotion regulation strategies. Consciousness and Cognition, 15, 342-350.

[17] Brewin, C. R., Gregory, J. D., Lipton, M., & Burgess, N. (2010). Intrusive images in psychological disorders: characteristics, neural mechanisms, and treatment implications. Psychological review117(1), 210.

[18] It has been suggested that this capacity may have evolved from an action execution/observation matching system using mirror neurons. See: Rizzolatti, G., Fadiga, L., Gallese, V., & Fogassi, L. (1996). Premotor cortex and the recognition of motor actions. Cognitive brain research3(2), 131-141.

[19] Affect is discussed in detail in Chapter Six.

[20] This part of the theory was previously termed ‘Action Control Theory’ or ACT. See: Marks, D. F. (1999). Consciousness, mental imagery and action. British journal of Psychology90(4), 567-585. A similar theory was independently developed by Marc Jeannerod. See: Jeannerod, M. (1999). The 25th Bartlett Lecture: To act or not to act: Perspectives on the representation of actions. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A52(1), 1-29.

[21] Holmes, P. S., Cumming, J., & Edwards, M. G. (2010). Movement imagery, observation, and skill. The neurophysiological foundations of mental and motor imagery, 245-269.

[22] Damasio, Antonio. (2018). The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures (p. 71). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

[23] Pichiorri, F., Morone, G., Petti, M., Toppi, J., Pisotta, I., Molinari, M., … & Mattia, D. (2015). Brain–computer interface boosts motor imagery practice during stroke recovery. Annals of neurology77(5), 851-865.

[24] T Cui X, Jeter CB, Yang D, Montague PR, Eagleman DM. (2007). Dijkstra N, Bosch SE, van Gerven MA. (2017).

A General Theory of Behaviour II: Restructured Hierarchy of Needs

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This second post on A General Theory of Behaviour (AGTB) incorporates an amended form of Abraham Maslow’s (1943) motivational needs hierarchy described by Douglas T. Kenrick and colleagues  to which AGTB has added the process of Type II homeostasis.


 

Modifying Maslow

Abraham Harold Maslow (April 1, 1908 – June 8, 1970) was best known for the foundation of humanistic psychology and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

A brief introduction to Maslow’s needs hierarchy  is here.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was a landmark publication for its ability to account for so many aspects of behaviour. The first level of the original Maslow hierarchy – Immediate Physiological Needs – already incorporates homeostasis (Type I).

AGTB inserts Psychological Homeostasis (homeostasis Type II) to give the hierarchy more explanatory power.

In discussing the second level for “Safety Needs”, Maslow states:

“The safety needs.—If the physiological needs are relatively well gratified, there then emerges a new set of needs, which we may categorize roughly as the safety needs. All that has been said of the physiological needs is equally true, although in lesser degree, of these desires. The organism may equally well be wholly dominated by them. They may serve as the almost exclusive organizers of behaviour, recruiting all the capacities of the organism in their service, and we may then fairly describe the whole organism as a safety-seeking mechanism.” (p.376).

In describing this in detail, Maslow turned to the needs of children for a predictable, orderly world, a world which is reliable, safe and predictable:

“Another indication of the child’s need for safety is his preference for some kind of undisrupted routine or rhythm. He seems to want a predictable, orderly world. For instance, injustice, unfairness, or inconsistency in the parents seems to make a child feel anxious and unsafe. This attitude may be not so much because of the injustice per se or any particular pains involved, but rather because this treatment threatens to make the world look unreliable, or unsafe, or unpredictable. Young children seem to thrive better under a system which has at least a skeletal outline of rigidity, in which there is a schedule of a kind, some sort of routine, something that can be counted upon, not only for the present but also far into the future. Perhaps one could express this more accurately by saying that the child needs an organized world rather than an unorganized or unstructured one.”  (p. 377)

Maslow specifically links safety with ‘stability’:

“we can perceive the expressions of safety needs only in such phenomena as, for instance, the common preference for a job with tenure and protection, the desire for a savings account, and for insurance of various kinds (medical, dental, unemployment, disability, old age). Other broader aspects of the attempt to seek safety and stability in the world are seen in the very common preference for familiar rather than unfamiliar things, or for the known rather than the unknown.”(p. 379).

Maslow’s bracketing of safety with stability connects the needs pyramid with Type II homeostasis. It is noted that, in the amended pyramid, “Safety Needs” has been relabelled as “Self-Protection”. Thus all motives above level I are part and parcel of the striving for stability and equilibrium that is the function of homeostasis Type II. (Figure 1).

Screen Shot 2018-08-17 at 15.00.28Figure 1. The Hierarchy of Fundamental Human Needs. This figure integrates ideas from life-history development with Maslow’s needs hierarchy. This scheme adds reproductive goals, in the order they are likely to first appear developmentally. The model also depicts the later developing goal systems as overlapping with, rather than completely replacing, earlier developing systems. Once a goal system has developed, its activation is triggered whenever relevant environmental cues are salient. Type I homeostasis operates at level 1. All motives from self-protection at level 2 and above engage Type II homeostasis.  This figure is from Kenrick, Griskevicius, Neuberg and Schaller (2010).

Principle II (Needs Hierarchy)

The newly amended Hierarchy leads to Principle II (Needs Hierarchy) of AGTB, which states:

AGTB Principle II (Needs Hierarchy): In the hierarchy of needs, Physiological Homeostasis Type I is active at level I (Immediate Physiological Needs) and Psychological Homeostasis Type II is active at all higher levels from II (Self-Protection) to level VI (Parenting).

 As priorities shift from lower to higher in the hierarchy we see a progression in developmental priority as each individual matures.  In fact, it is possible to apply the motivational hierarchy at three different levels of analysis: evolutionary function, developmental sequencing, and current cognitive priority (the proximate level). In agreement with Douglas T. Kenrick et al. (2010), the basic foundational structure of Maslow’s pyramid, buttressed with a few architectural extensions, remains perfectly valid.  Need satisfaction is allowed to be a goal at more than one level simultaneously. In light of the amended pyramid, three auxiliary propositions are stated as follows:

Individuals unable to meet their immediate physiological needs at level I of the hierarchy are at a disadvantage in meeting needs at higher levels in the hierarchy. [Auxiliary Proposition, AP, 004].

People with unmet needs for self-protection (level 2) are at a disadvantage in meeting their needs for affiliation (level 3). [AP 005].

In general, people with higher than average unmet needs at any level (n) are at a disadvantage in meeting higher level needs at levels n+m. [AP 006].

The universality of Abraham Maslow’s original needs hierarchy is supported by a survey of well-being across 123 countries. Louis Tay and Ed Diener (2011) examined the fulfilment of needs and subjective well-being (SWB), including life evaluation, positive feelings, and negative feelings.[2] Need fulfilment was consistently associated with SWB across all world regions. Type II homeostasis defined within the General Theory provides a close fit to the natural striving of conscious organisms for security, stability and well-being, described in later chapters. The needs hierarchy amended by Douglas T. Kenrick et al. (2010) is expected to be a close fit to nature.

CONCLUSIONS:

  • Behaviour is at root an expression of Type II homeostasis. The ‘Reset Equilibrium Function’ (REF) operates in all conscious organisms with purpose, desire and intentionality.
  • When equilibrium is disturbed, the REF strives to reset psychological processes to equilibrium.
  • In the hierarchy of needs, Type I Homeostasis strives to satisfy Physiological Needs at level 1. Type II Homeostasis strives to satisfy all remaining developmental needs.

Reference

Kenrick, D. T., Griskevicius, V., Neuberg, S. L., & Schaller, M. (2010). Renovating the pyramid of needs: Contemporary extensions built upon ancient foundations. Perspectives on psychological science5(3), 292-314.

A General Theory of Behaviour I

The first in a 12-part series about A General Theory of Behaviour (AGTB). AGTB is a new theory of behaviour founded on the principle of ‘Psychological Homeostasis’. AGTB includes 20 principles and 80 associated propositions (AP).


 

I trace here the history of the theory of Psychological Homeostasis as a universal principle of behaviour.

This story begins in the fifth century BC with the Greek philosopher Hippocrates, the “Father of Medicine”, the vis medicatrix naturae, and the idea of the body as a natural healer of imbalances.

Fast forward 2.4 thousand years to the nineteenth century AD to the life and theories of Claude Bernard. Walter B Cannon coined the term ‘homeostasis’ for Bernard’s principle.

I extend the principle in A General Theory of Behaviour.


Claude Bernard

French physiologist Claude Bernard (1813-1878) was  a near contemporary of Charles Darwin (1809-1882). CB is recognised as the ‘Father of Modern Physiology and Experimental Medicine’, best known for his work on the pancreas and vasomotor system, and for discovering glycogen.

Yet, CB’s description of the milieu intérieur in living organisms is equally significant. It is also a dangerous idea –  a very dangerous idea. The principle states:

The stability of the internal environment is the condition for the free and independent life.”

So, who exactly was Claude Bernard?

Born in the quiet village of Saint-Julien, among the vineyards of the Beaujolais region of the Val de Saône in France, life here is slow but productive.  I visited Bernard’s home, which is part of a dedicated museum (LE MUSÉE CLAUDE BERNARD, see photos below). Every square centimetre of soil in this region is planted in vine.

The young Claude was fascinated by fine art, literature and philosophy: Delacroix, Victor Hugo and René Descartes. He wasn’t too much interested in the school curriculum and applied his talents to writing plays, such as a vaudeville comedy, La Rose du Rhône, and a five-act tragedy, Arthur de Bretagne.[1]

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To the disappointment of his parents and teachers, Bernard did not reach his full potential and disgraced himself by failing his bachelor’s degree. He left college without qualifications or any career aims.  He worked as an apprentice to a pharmacist in Lyon, but got fired.  Things were not going well.  However, encouraged by having a comedy performed in a local theatre, Bernard hoped to become a writer and moved to Paris.

After receiving advice from a respected critic, Bernard had a change of heart and enrolled at medical school. At medical school he was romantically attracted to a young woman, a patient from one of the wards, but his approaches were rebuffed, leading him to write sadly and prophetically: “I think I would never be destined to be happy in love.”[2]

After his romantic rebuff, Bernard threw himself into his work and meets the leading physiologist, François Magendie, and becomes his assistant. He works hard for Magendie’s but receives another knock-back in 1844 when he fails the competition at the Faculty of Medicine and is barred from practicing as a physician. Having no means of support he thinks of returning to Saint-Julien to tend the vines as a ‘country doctor’ but, encouraged by others, he turns his attention to full-time basic physiological research – a move that changes the history of medicine. Then, out of the blue…along comes Fanny.

In 1845 Bernard marries Marie Françoise “Fanny” Martin for her dowry. This sounds cold and calculating, but this is how it was sometimes done way back then. This pragmatic if unromantic arrangement enabled Bernard to continue his physiological experiments. From this point Bernard’s career takes an upward turn.

Bernard’s Discoveries

In 1855, Bernard isolates and names glycogen. He learns how glycogen in the liver maintains the blood glucose levels at near constant level with a process that is termed today ‘homeostasis’. For lazier scientists, this would have been a large enough laurel to rest upon, supping on wine from your very own vineyard.  Not Claude Bernard. In 1864 Emperor Louis Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie invite Bernard to stay at Compiegne Castle where Bernard makes a real impression, standing out in the French intelligentsia of architects, engineers, artists and philosophers.  The Emperor offers Bernard a laboratory at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle and opens doors to the most important people of the day.  Claude Bernard has arrived.

While recuperating from an illness at Saint-Julien in 1865, Bernard writes a classic text, The Introduction To Experimental Medicine, where he states: “There are physicians who are fanatical about the effects of the drugs they prescribe. They do not accept critical comments which are based upon experiments. They say you can only prescribe drugs which you believe in, and they think that prescribing a drug to a patient you doubt about shows a lack of medical ethics. I don’t accept this way of thinking, it means deceiving oneself and deceiving others.”[4] Seventy years before Karl Popper, Claude Bernard is asserting the principle of falsification.

As a scientist, Bernard is the complete package. He “embraces both theory and experimental practice “and associates “all the terms of the experimental method in solidarity with one another”. As Bernard writes: “Experimental ideas are very often born by chance and on the occasion of an fortuitous observation…the theory is only the scientific idea controlled by experience (…), in the aspiration of the mind towards the unknown“, a proposal that has a contemporary flavour.[5]

In his Lessons of Phenomena of Life in Animals and Plants Bernard (1878-79) writes: “…there are in fact two environments, one milieu which is outside the body and an inner milieu, in which the components of living tissues are embedded. The real existence of the animal doesn’t take place in the external world but inside the liquid medium of circulating organic fluid. This fluid is the expression of all local nutrition and the source and mouth of elementary exchange.

Claude Bernard dies a national hero, with full honours, the first state funeral granted to any scientist in France. The Université Claude-Bernard Lyon 1 is named in his honour, one of the three public universities of Lyon, and specializes in science, technology and health. ‘Rue Claude Bernard’ is located in the Latin Quarter of Paris and, in Lyon, the ‘Quay Claude Bernard ’ is located by the Rhone River.[6]

Walter B Cannon’s term ‘Homeostasis’

Walter_Bradford_Cannon_1934

We turn to Bernard’s concept of the milieu intérior. Here the story gets interesting…

For several decades Claude Bernard’s ‘dangerous idea’ [7], the milieu intérior, was put on the back burner because nobody quite knew what to do with it. In the early Twentieth Century it was taken up by J.S. Haldane, C.S Sherrington, J. Barcroft  and a few others.[8]

In 1926 the concept gained currency when Harvard physiologist Walter B Cannon coined the term homeostasis.  In Cannon’s view, his book The Wisdom of the Body had presented a modern interpretation of vis medicatrix naturae, the healing power of nature posited by Hippocrates. Cannon believed he had shown how the automatic function of homeostasis freed the brain for the more intellectual functions of intelligence, imagination and insight.

At this point, the homeostasis story picks up apace. Add to the mix of Bernard and Cannon, spice the pot with the work of Wiener (1948), Von Bertalanffy (1968) and season it with the work of the evolutionary biologists and we have a ‘stew’ to die for. As the contents of the pot bubble and coalesce, we sense that homeostasis is not only advantageous for any living system, but it could even be the defining characteristic of life itself.[9]

A Universal Principle of Behaviour

At every level of existence, from the cell to the organism, from the individual to the population, and from the local ecosystem to the entire planet, homeostasis is a drive towards stability, security and adaptation to change. In an infinite variety of forms, omnipresent in living beings, is an inbuilt function with the sole purpose of striving for equilibrium, not only in the milieu intérieur but in the milieu extérieur also.

We take a gigantic leap…but that’s why we are here – even if we feel we are at the edge of a cliff – we must go for it…

On the other side of Bernard’s scientific coin, we imagine we find the following:

“The stability of the external environment is the condition for the free and independent life.” 

By changing a single word ‘internal’ to its antonym ‘exterior’, a whole new theoretical perspective for the Science of Behaviour is created. Voila – “A General Theory of Behaviour”.[10]  Striving for balance and equilibrium is the guiding force in all we – and all other conscious beings –  do, think and feel.  This newly defined homeostasis deserves a descriptive name: I call it the “Reset Equilibrium Function” or REF.

The principle is a universal one in the natural world.  The planet operates with one binding principle, ‘Gaia’.  The Gaia hypothesis holds that living organisms interact with their surroundings on Earth to form synergistic and self-regulatingcomplex system that helps to maintain and perpetuate the conditions for life on the planet ( James Lovelock). In microcosm, human behaviour is a synergistic, self-regulating, complex system of homeostasis.

All organisms automatically regulate essential physiological functions by homeostasis and it is a matter of everyday observation that drives are maintained in equilibrium by comportment, e.g. eating, drinking, fornicating, sleeping, excreting, etc. This type of homeostasis has been established since the time of Bernard. Far more than this, and as a matter of routine, without any special reflection in most instances, all conscious beings reconcile discrepancies among their thoughts, behaviours, and feelings and in the differences with those with whom they have social relationships. Conscious organisms strive to achieve their goals while maximizing cohesion and cooperation with both kith and kin and, at the same time, striving to take away or to minimize the suffering and pain of others. [AP 001].

The goal is to minimize all forms of eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation and tooth-and-claw competition and to live in a culture where the thriving of all is in the self-interest of every individual.  The idea has been described by Antonio Damasio thus: “cultural instruments first developed in relation to the homeostatic needs of individuals and of groups as small as nuclear families and tribes. The extension to wider human circles was not and could not have been contemplated. Within wider human circles, cultural groups, countries, even geopolitical blocs, often operate as individual organisms, not as parts of one larger organism, subject to a single homeostatic control. Each uses the respective homeostatic controls to defend the interests of its organism” (Damasio, 2018, p. 32).[11]

Whether we are aware of it or not, the REF is omnipresent, wherever we go and whatever we are doing. The process is not something we normally focus attention on, the process through which our behavioural systems are perpetually striving to maintain balance, safety and stability in our physical and social surroundings. Competing drives, conflicts, and inconsistencies all can pull the flow of events ‘off balance’, triggering this innate striving to restore equilibrium. The majority of people for the majority of time strive to calm and quieten local disturbances of equilibrium rather than to exacerbate them. [AP 002]. It is not a battle that we can always win; there is always the possibility of instability, error, calamity or catastrophe even. There are abundant links to other theories inside and outside of Psychology. Piaget’s notion of equilibration was concerned with the attempt to balance psychological schemas when new information is encountered. In equilibration, children accommodate new information by changing their psychological schemas in a process of assimilation. This same idea applies to other psychological domains when there is a departure from a set range of equilibrium.  Advocates of Buddhist philosophy, for example, the Dalai Lama, have identified a need for inner peace.[12]

Body and mind continuously regulate and control many domains and levels simultaneously, with multiple adjustments to voluntary and involuntary behaviour guided by two types of homeostasis: Type I – inwardly striving or physiological homeostasis, H[Φ], and Type II – outwardly striving or psychological homeostasis, H[Ψ]. Physiological regulation involves drives such as hunger, thirst, sex, elimination and sleep.  Influenced by Cannon, Clark Hull (1943)[13] suggested a drive theory of regulatory mechanisms in which an organism can only rest when it is in a state of equilibrium. When a need such as hunger or thirst develops, the organism engages in need-satisfying behaviour.  However, ‘drive’ can be mental as well as physical so that misery, fear and worry – often lumped together as ‘stress’ – create a state of unrest that prevents calmness, relaxation and sleep. Whenever we feel unrest, there is a need to ‘press the reset button’ and restore equilibrium. The ‘Reset Equilibrium Function’ (REF) operates across all behavioural systems and processes of relevance to the Science of Psychology.

Reset Equilibrium Function (REF)

The Reset Equilibrium Function (or ‘REF’) is the principle of homeostasis in psychological processes and behaviour. We employ systems theory with cyclical negative feedback loops as a central feature. Feedback loops in Cybernetics and Control Theory mirror homeostasis within Biology and Neuroscience. Claude Bernard’s ‘milieu intérnal’, Cannon’s (1932) ‘homeostasis’, Wiener’s (1948) Cybernetics and von Bertalanffy’s (1968) general systems theory all converge toward the ubiquitous role of feedback in self-regulating systems. Psychologists have employed control theory as a conceptual tool for large areas of Psychology (e.g. Carver and Scheier, 1982)[14] and, notably, one objective of control theory has been to provide a “Unified Theory of Human Behaviour”[15].

AGTB describes systems of homeostasis in networks of interconnected processes with values that are reset by the REF. This idea is founded on principles in Biology, Engineering and Cybenetics which have compelling isomorphisms with phenomena in Psychology.

The Reset Equilibrium Function extends the reach of homeostasis to a general control function that automatically restores psychological processes to equilibrium and stability. The REF is triggered when any processes within a system strays outside of its set range. The REF is innate and can exist only in conscious organisms, which all have Type I and II homeostasis. Non-conscious organisms have one type of homeostasis (Type I).  Figure 1.1 shows Type II homeostasis in a system of four processes, each with its own set range, making a series of resets. Any set of processes such as the four in Figure 1.1 is a sub-set of thousands of interconnected processes responsible for coding, communicating and controlling inside the body and the brain. Any process can be connected to hundreds or thousands of others in one huge lattice structure. Potentially any single one of these processes can push any other process out of its set range requiring it to reset. When any process resets, a ‘domino-effect’ is possible when other interconnected processes require a reset also. The two types of homeostasis work in synergy. Psychological and physiological processes operate in tandem to maximize equilibrium for each particular set of functions. [AP 003].

Many examples of the REF featured in AGTB have a similar structure to that shown in Figure 1.1. However, there is no restriction on the number of participating processes or interconnected networks.[16]

FIG 1.1.pngFigure 1. The Reset Equilibrium Function (REF) in a system with four interconnected processes (A-D). Whenever one or more processes exits its set range, the REF returns each process to its set range. The configuration of 4 processes is for expositional convenience. Any number of processes, forming a network of lattice structures, may participate in complex behaviours.

 My main objective here is to demonstrate that the REF is relevant to numerous psychological functions. These include functions where frequent reset is a condition for stability, e.g. cognition, affect, chronic stress, and subjective well-being, and also where out-of-control behavior, such as addiction or insomnia, is in need of correction. For all psychological functions, conscious awareness of the state of equilibrium being preserved is not necessary, e.g. subjective well-being. However, when there is goal to change behavior, conscious awareness of the goal and full engagement of resources are necessary preconditions for purposeful striving, e.g. addiction to alcohol.

Principle 1: Purpose, Desire and Intentionality

In Psychology, biological approaches automatically fall under the suspicion that material reductionism is required. This suspicion is widespread among psychologists who are anti-reductive. With good reason, mind and behaviour are viewed as having properties that extend beyond ‘cogs and flywheels’ or other physico-chemical energy exchanges. We do not doubt the basic ‘clockwork’ model of homeostasis is the dominant one; witness the frequent use of the domestic heating thermostat as the prototypical example of homeostasis in Biology, Physiology and Psychology textbooks.  However, the ‘clockwork’ approach is a simplistic caricature and the idea that behaviour is reducible to physico-chemical reactions is robustly rejected:

Principle I (Agency): The voluntary behaviour of conscious organisms is guided by  universal striving for equilibrium with purpose, desire and intentionality.[17]

Following G.E.M. Anscombe, we assert that agents act intentionally if they know what they are doing, i.e. they are aware of the purpose of the act and the reasons for doing it.[18] Type 2 homeostasis, which is associated with the REF, falls into this category.  In arguing that homeostasis (Type II)  is intentional and purposeful, we adopt two non-reductionist principles, holism and critical realism.  In applying the General Theory it is never necessary to assume that mental processes and behaviours are reducible to physico-chemical reactions. We only require that the mind/body system as a whole can be studied using objective methods. Von Bertalanffy (1968) sums up the issue thus:

“We cannot reduce the biological, behavioural, and social levels to the lowest level, that of the constructs and laws of physics. We can, however, find constructs and possibly laws within the individual levels. The world is, as Aldous Huxley once put it, like a Neapolitan ice cream cake where the levels-the physical, the biological, the social and the moral universe-represent the chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla layers. We cannot reduce strawberry to chocolate – the most we can say is that possibly in the last resort, all is vanilla, all mind or spirit. The unifying principle is that we find organizational levels. The mechanistic world view, taking the play of physical particles as ultimate reality, found its expression in a civilization which glorifies physical technology that has led eventually to the catastrophes of our time. Possibly the model of the world as a great organization can help to reinforce the sense of reverence for the living which we have almost lost in the last sanguinary decades of human history.” (Von Bertalanffy, 1968, p. 49).  Bene dictum.

There are connections and overlaps with other theories of motivation.  For example, there is almost complete convergence between the General Theory and Stevan E Hofoll’s Conservation of Resources (COR) theory, which holds the basic tenet that “Individuals (and groups) strive to obtain, retain, foster, and protect those things they centrally value.”.[19] Principle I (Agency) concerning the universal striving for equilibrium requires the basic COR tenet to be true or equilibrium could never be attained.

References

[1] Arthur I, Duke of Brittany (born 1187, died 1203?) captured in battle by John, King of England, at Mirebeau-en-Poitou in 1202, imprisoned and murdered by John, is featured in Shakespeare’s play The Life and Death of King John. See: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Arthur-I.

[2] Claude Bernard: http://www.claude-bernard.co.uk/page27.htm

[3] La vie de Cl Bernard Chapitre II, Christian Furia, La Gazette, p. 4: http://bit.ly/2GImpvS

[4] The gullibility of French physicians and patients continues to the present day with many doctors prescribing homeopathic remedies to their patients, fully convinced of their efficacy.

[5] See Jean Bastin, La Gazette, Les lapins de Claude Bernard,  p.3: bit.ly/2GImpvS

[6] Bernard’s research included cutting open conscious animals under curare, or slowly “cooking” animals in ovens for his studies on thermoregulation. Unhappy with her husband and his work, Bernard’s wife Fanny divorced him, taking away his two daughters, who grew up to hate him. Bernard’s alleged vivisection of the family dog did not much help his case. Fanny became a leading antivivisectionist, setting up rescue shelters for dogs. See: Franco, N. H. (2013). Animal experiments in biomedical research: a historical perspective. Animals3(1), 238-273.

[7] I borrow this description from J Scott Turner (who borrowed it from Daniel Dennett).

[8] Gross, C. G. (1998) Claude Bernard and the constancy of the internal environment. Neuroscientist 4: 380-385.

[9] Homeostasis enables purposeful striving towards equilibrium between all members of the ecosystem. In continuously changing environmental conditions, all life forms can co-exist in an ever-renewing state of balance.

[10] Allusions to social equilibrium appear in Pareto’s General Sociology and in the Epilogue of Cannon’s The Wisdom of the Body. To the best of this author’s knowledge, the idea of ‘Psychological Homeostasis’ has not previously been systematically formulated. Donald E Williams and J. Kevin Thompson in 1993 discussed the possibility of a set-point hypothesis for Psychology but it was not fully developed: Williams, D. E., & Thompson, J. K. (1993). Biology and behavior: A set-point hypothesis of psychological functioning. Behavior Modification17(1), 43-57.

[11] Damasio, Antonio (2018). The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures (p. 32). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

[12] The Dalai Lama at the opening day of a Convention for Global Peace at the Government Degree College in Dharamsala, HP, India on December 2, 2017. http://bitly.ws/yC2

[13] Hull, C. L. (1943). Principles of behavior. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

[14] Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (1982). Control theory: A useful conceptual framework for personality–social, clinical, and health Psychology. Psychological bulletin92(1), 111.

[15] Grinker, R. R. (1967). Normality viewed as a system. Archives of general psychiatry17(3), 320-324.

[16] Here we must represent homeostatic networks in two dimensions. In nature they exist in four-dimensions with the inclusion of time.

[17] As Turner (2017) states: “All homeostasis involves a kind of wanting, an actual desire to attain a particular state, and the ability to create that state” (p. xxx).

[18] Anscombe, G. E. M. (1963). Intention (second edition). Oxford, United Kingdom: Blackwell.

[19] Hobfoll, S. E., Halbesleben, J., Neveu, J. P., & Westman, M. (2018). Conservation of Resources in the Organizational Context: The Reality of Resources and Their Consequences. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior.

Homeostasis, Balance, Stability

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The fixity of the milieu supposes a perfection of the organism such that the external variations are at each instant compensated for and equilibrated…. All of the vital mechanisms, however varied they may be, have always one goal, to maintain the uniformity of the conditions of life in the internal environment…. The stability of the internal environment is the condition for the free and independent life.

Claude Bernard

The central principle of the General Theory in the construct of ‘Psychological Homeostasis’. Sixty-one years after Bernard (1865) wrote about the ‘internal milieu’, Walter B. Cannon (1926) coined the term ‘homeostasis’. Then, 16 years later, psychobiologist Curt Richter (1942) expanded homeostasis to include behavioural or ‘ total organism regulators’ in the context of feeding. From this viewpoint, ‘external’ behaviours that are responses to environmental stimuli lie on a continuum with ‘internal’ physiological events. For Richter, behaviour includes all aspects of feeding necessary to maintain the internal environment. Bernard, Cannon and Richter all focused on a purely physiological form of homeostasis, ‘H[Φ]’. I wish to convince the reader that the hypothesis of the ‘external milieu’, the proximal world of socio-physical action, is equally important.

The General Theory extends homeostasis to all forms of behaviour. Psychological homeostasis can be explained in two stages, starting with the classic version of homeostasis in Physiology, H[Φ], followed by the operating features of its psychological sister, H[Ψ]. The essential features are illustrated in Figure 2.1.

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Figure 2.1 Upper panel: A representation of Physiological (Type I) Homeostasis (H[Φ]). Adapted from Modell et al. (2015). Lower panel: A representation of Psychological (Type II) Homeostasis (H[Ψ]).

To be counted as homeostasis, H[Φ], a system is required to have five features:
1. It must contain a sensor that measures the value of the regulated variable.
2. It must contain a mechanism for establishing the “normal range” of values for the regulated variable. In the model shown in Figure 2.1, this mechanism is represented by the “Set point Y”.
3. It must contain an “error detector” that compares the signal being transmitted by the sensor (representing the actual value of the regulated variable) with the set range. The result of this comparison is an error signal that is interpreted by the controller.
4. The controller interprets the error signal and determines the value of the outputs of the effectors.
5. The effectors are those elements that determine the value of the regulated variable. The effectors may not be the same for upward and downward changes in the regulated variable.

Identical principles apply to Psychological (Type II) Homeostasis (H[Ψ] with two notable differences (Figure 2.1, lower panel). In Psychological Homeostasis, there are two sets of effectors, inward and outward, and the conceptual boundary between the internal and external environments lies between the controller and the outward effectors of the somatic nervous system, i.e. the muscles that control speech and action. Furthermore, Psychological Homeostasis operates with intention, purpose, and desire.

The individual organism extends its ability to thrive in nature with Type II homeostasis. Self-extension by niche construction creates zones of safety, one of the primary goals of Type II homeostasis. Niche construction amplifies the organism’s ability to occupy and control the environment proximally and distally. The use of tools for hunting, weapons for aggression, fire for cooking, domestication of animals, the use of language, money, goods for trade and commodification, agriculture, science, technology, engineering, medicine, culture, music literature and social media are all methods of expanding and projecting niches of safety, well-being and control. Individual ownership of assets such as land, buildings, companies, stocks and shares reflect a universal need to extend occupation, power and control but these possessions do not necessarily increase the subjective well-being of the owner [AP 007].

Initiated by the brain and other organs, homeostasis of either type can often act in anticipatory or predictive mode. One principal function of any conscious system is prediction of rewards and dangers. A simple example is the pre-prandial secretion of insulin, ghrelin and other hormones that enable the consumption of a larger nutrient load with minimal postprandial homeostatic consequences. When a meal containing carbohydrates is to be consumed, a variety of hormones is secreted by the gut that elicit the secretion of insulin from the pancreas before the blood sugar level has actually started to rise. The blood sugar level starts lowering in anticipation of the influx of glucose from the gut into the blood. This has the effect of blunting the blood glucose concentration spike that would otherwise occur. Daily variations in dietary potassium intake are compensated by anticipative adjustments of renal potassium excretion capacity. That urinary potassium excretion is rhythmic and largely independent on feeding and activity patterns indicates that this homeostatic mechanism behaves predictively.

Similar principles operate in Type II homeostasis acting together with the brain as a “prediction machine”. When we anticipate a pleasant event such as a birthday party, there is a preparatory ‘glow’ which can change one’s mood in a positive direction, or thinking about an impending visit to the dentist may be likely to produce feelings of anxiety, or the receipt of a prescription of medicines from one’s physician may lead to improvements in symptoms, even before the medicines are taken.

At societal level, anticipation enables rational mitigation, e.g. anticipation of demographic changes influences policy, threat from hostile countries influences expenditure on defence, and the threat of a new epidemic influences programmes of prevention. [AP 008].

Homeostasis involves several interacting processes in a causal network. A homeostatic adjustment in one process necessitates a compensatory adjustment in one or more of the other interacting processes. To illustrate this situation, consider what happens in phosphate homeostasis (Figure 2.3). Many REF-behaviours that we shall refer to are isomorphic with the 4-process structure in Figure 2.2. However, in nature there is no restriction on the number of interconnected processes and any process can belong to multiple homeostatic networks.

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Figure 2.2 Phosphate homeostasis. A decrease in the serum phosphorus level causes a decrease in FGF23 and parathyroid hormone (PTH) levels. Increase in serum phosphorus leads to opposite changes. Calcitriol increases serum phosphorus and FGF23, while it decreases PTH. Increase in FGF23 leads to decrease in PTH and calcitriol levels. PTH increases calcitriol and FGF23 levels. Reproduced from Jagtap et al. (2012) with permission.

Homeostasis never rests. It is continuous, comprehensive and thorough. With each round of the REF, all of the major processes in a network are reset to maintain stability of the whole system. The REF process goes through a continuous series of ‘reset’ cycles each of which stabilizes the system until the next occasion one of the processes falls outside its set range and another reset is required.
Processes in Type II homeostasis may vary along quantitative axes or they can have discrete categorical values. For example, values, beliefs, preferences and goals can have discrete values, as does the state of sleep or waking.

Any change in a categorical process involves change throughout the network to which is belongs. [AP 009].

Such changes may be rapid, in the millisecond range, e.g. a changed preference from chocolate chip cookie flavoured ice cream to Madagascar vanilla that may occurs an instant after arriving at the ice-cream kiosk. At the other end of the spectrum of importance, in buying a new apartment, the final choice might also occur in the instant the preferred option is first sighted. Or the decision could take months or years even though it is of precious little consequence, e.g. deciding that one is a republican rather than a monarchist, or it may never occur because we simply do not care one way or the other. These considerations lead to a surprising proposition that:

The speed of a decision is independent of its subjective utility [AP 010].

One objective of A General Theory of Behaviour is to explain the relevance of the REF system to Psychology. We know already that the regulation of action is guided by three fundamental systems: (i) the brain and central nervous system (CNS), (ii) the endocrine system (ES) and (iii) the immune system (IS). It is proposed that, as a ‘meta-system’ of homeostatic control, these systems collectively govern both physiology and behaviour using two types of homeostasis, H[Φ] and H[Ψ], respectively. We can understand how this might be possible in light of a recently discovered ‘central homeostatic network’.

An extract from: A General Theory of Behaviour.

A Dangerous Idea

“The stability of the internal environment is the condition for the free and independent life.” Claude Bernard’s statement about the ‘milieu intérior’.

The starting point for ‘A General Theory of Behaviour‘ is Claude Bernard’s ‘dangerous idea’, quoted above, the concept of the ‘milieu intérior‘. This idea was put on the back burner for several decades because nobody quite knew what to do with it. It looked too dangerous.

Then, in the early Twentieth Century it was taken up by J.S. Haldane, C.S Sherrington, J. Barcroft and a few others. In 1926 the concept gained currency when Harvard physiologist Walter B Cannon coined the term homeostasis for milieu intérior. In Cannon’s view, his book The Wisdom of the Body had presented a modern interpretation of vis medicatrix naturae, the healing power of nature posited by Hippocrates. Cannon also believed he had shown how the automatic function of homeostasis freed the brain for the more intellectual functions of intelligence, imagination and insight.

At this point, the homeostasis story picks up apace. Add to the mix of Bernard and Cannon, spice the pot with the work of Wiener (1948), Von Bertalanffy (1968) and season it with the work of biologist J Scott Turner (2017) and we have a ‘stew’ to die for. As the contents of the pot bubble and coalesce, we sense that homeostasis is not only advantageous for any living system, but it could even be  one of the defining characteristics of life itself.

At every level of existence, from the cell to the organism, from the individual to the population, and from the local ecosystem to the entire planet, homeostasis is a drive towards stability, security and adaptation to change. In an infinite variety of forms, omnipresent in living beings, is an inbuilt function with the sole purpose of striving for equilibrium, not only in the milieu intérieur but in the milieu extérieur also.

We take a gigantic leap…but that’s why we are here – even if we feel we are at the edge of a cliff – we must go for it…

Cliff edge

On the other side of Bernard’s scientific coin, we imagine we find the following:

“The stability of the external environment is the condition for the free and independent life.”

By changing a single word ‘internal’ to its antonym, a whole new theoretical perspective for the Science of Behaviour is created.

Voila! –  “A General Theory of Behaviour” is born.

Striving for balance and equilibrium is the guiding force in all that we – and all other conscious beings – do, think and feel. This newly defined type of  homeostasis deserves a descriptive name: “Reset Equilibrium Function” (REF). This term describes exactly what the process does: it is a function that resets every runaway process to equilibrium.

All organisms automatically regulate essential physiological functions by homeostasis and it is a matter of everyday observation that drives are maintained in equilibrium by comportment, e.g. eating, drinking, fornicating, sleeping, excreting, etc. This type of homeostasis has been established since the time of Bernard. Far more than this, and as a matter of routine, without any special reflection in most instances, all conscious beings reconcile discrepancies among their thoughts, behaviours, and feelings and in the differences with those with whom they have social relationships.

Conscious organisms strive to achieve their goals while maximizing cohesion and cooperation with both kith and kin and, at the same time, striving to take away or to minimize the suffering and pain of others. [Auxiliary Proposition (AP) 001].

The goal is to minimize all forms of eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation and tooth-and-claw competition and to live in a culture where the thriving of all is in the self-interest of every individual. The hypothesis has been described by Antonio Damasio thus: “cultural instruments first developed in relation to the homeostatic needs of individuals and of groups as small as nuclear families and tribes. The extension to wider human circles was not and could not have been contemplated. Within wider human circles, cultural groups, countries, even geopolitical blocs, often operate as individual organisms, not as parts of one larger organism, subject to a single homeostatic control. Each uses the respective homeostatic controls to defend the interests of its organism” (Damasio, 2018, p. 32).

Whether we are aware of it or not, the REF is omnipresent, wherever we go, whatever we are doing and whatever our feelings. The process is not something we need normally focus attention on, the process through which our behavioural systems are perpetually striving to maintain balance, safety and stability in our physical and social surroundings. Competing drives, conflicts, and inconsistencies all can pull the flow of events ‘off balance’, triggering this innate striving to restore equilibrium. The majority of people for the majority of time strive to calm and quieten local disturbances of equilibrium rather than to exacerbate them. [AP 002]. It is not a battle that we can always win; there is always the possibility of instability, error, calamity or catastrophe even.

There are abundant links to other theories inside and outside of Psychology. Piaget’s notion of equilibration was concerned with the attempt to balance psychological schemas when new information is encountered. In equilibration, children accommodate new information by changing their psychological schemas in a process of assimilation. This same idea applies to other psychological domains when there is a departure from a set range of equilibrium. Advocates of Buddhist philosophy, for example, the Dalai Lama, have identified a need for inner peace.

Body and mind continuously regulate and control many domains and levels simultaneously, with multiple adjustments to voluntary and involuntary behaviour guided by two types of homeostasis: Type I – inwardly striving or physiological homeostasis, H[Φ], and Type II – outwardly striving or psychological homeostasis, H[Ψ]. Physiological regulation involves drives such as hunger, thirst, sex, elimination and sleep. Influenced by Cannon, Clark Hull (1943) suggested a drive theory of regulatory mechanisms in which an organism can only rest when it is in a state of equilibrium. When a need such as hunger or thirst develops, the organism engages in need-satisfying behaviour. However, ‘drive’ can be mental as well as physical so that misery, fear and worry – often lumped together as ‘stress’ – create a state of unrest that prevents calmness, relaxation and sleep. Whenever we feel unrest, there is a need to ‘press the reset button’ and restore equilibrium. The ‘Reset Equilibrium Function’ (REF) operates across all behavioural systems and processes of relevance to the Science of Psychology.

A General Theory of Behaviour pivots on the Reset Equilibrium Function (or ‘REF’) by integrating the principle of homeostasis with our understanding of psychological processes and behaviour. We employ systems theory with cyclical negative feedback loops as a central feature. Feedback loops in Cybernetics and Control Theory mirror homeostasis within Biology and Neuroscience. Claude Bernard’s ‘milieu intérnal’, Cannon’s (1932) ‘homeostasis’, Wiener’s (1948) Cybernetics and von Bertalanffy’s (1968) general systems theory all converge toward the ubiquitous role of feedback in self-regulating systems. Psychologists have employed control theory as a conceptual tool for large areas of Psychology (e.g. Carver and Scheier, 1982) and, notably, one objective of control theory has been to provide a “Unified Theory of Human Behaviour”.

A General Theory of Behaviour employs systems of homeostasis in networks of interconnected processes with values that are reset by the REF. This hypothesis is founded on principles in Biology, Engineering and Cybenetics which have compelling isomorphisms with phenomena in Psychology.

The Reset Equilibrium Function extends the reach of homeostasis to a general control function that automatically restores psychological processes to equilibrium and stability. The REF is triggered when any processes within a system strays outside of its set range. The REF is innate and can exist only in conscious organisms, which all have Type I and II homeostasis. Non-conscious organisms have one type of homeostasis (Type I).

Figure 1 shows Type II homeostasis in a system of four processes, each with its own set range, making a series of resets. Any set of processes such as the four in Figure 1 is a sub-set of thousands of interconnected processes responsible for coding, communicating and controlling inside the body and the brain. Any process can be connected to hundreds or thousands of others in one huge lattice structure. Potentially any single one of these processes can push any other process out of its set range requiring it to reset. When any process resets, a ‘domino-effect’ is possible when other interconnected processes require a reset also. The two types of homeostasis work in synergy. Psychological and physiological processes operate in tandem to maximize equilibrium for each particular set of functions. [AP 003].

Many examples of the REF featured in this book have a similar structure to that shown in Figure 1. However, there is no restriction on the number of participating processes or interconnected networks.

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Figure 1 The Reset Equilibrium Function (REF) in a system with four interconnected processes.

My main objective here is to demonstrate that the REF is relevant to numerous psychological functions. These include functions where frequent reset is a condition for stability, e.g. cognition, affect, chronic stress, and subjective well-being, and also where out-of-control behaviour, such as addiction or insomnia, is in need of correction. For all psychological functions, conscious awareness of the state of equilibrium being preserved is not necessary, e.g. subjective well-being. However, when there is goal to change behaviour, conscious awareness of the goal and full engagement of resources are necessary preconditions for purposeful striving, e.g. addiction to alcohol.

In Psychology, biological approaches automatically fall under the suspicion that material reductionism is required. This suspicion is widespread among psychologists who are anti-reductive. With good reason, mind and behaviour are viewed as having properties that extend beyond ‘cogs and flywheels’ or other physico-chemical energy exchanges. We do not doubt the basic ‘clockwork’ model of homeostasis is the dominant one; witness the frequent use of the domestic heating thermostat as the prototypical example of homeostasis in Biology, Physiology and Psychology textbooks. However, the ‘clockwork’ approach is a simplistic caricature and the hypothesis that all behaviour is reducible to physico-chemical reactions is robustly rejected:

Principle I (Agency): The voluntary behaviour of conscious organisms is guided by universal striving for equilibrium with purpose, desire and intentionality.

Following G.E.M. Anscombe, we assert that agents act intentionally if they know what they are doing, i.e. they are aware of the purpose of the act and the reasons for doing it. Type 2 homeostasis, which is associated with the REF, falls into this category. In arguing that homeostasis (Type II) is intentional and purposeful, we adopt two non-reductionist principles, holism and critical realism. In applying the General Theory it is never necessary to assume that mental processes and behaviours are reducible to physico-chemical reactions. We only require that the mind/body system as a whole can be studied using objective methods. Von Bertalanffy (1968) sums up the issue thus:

“We cannot reduce the biological, behavioural, and social levels to the lowest level, that of the constructs and laws of physics. We can, however, find constructs and possibly laws within the individual levels. The world is, as Aldous Huxley once put it, like a Neapolitan ice cream cake where the levels-the physical, the biological, the social and the moral universe-represent the chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla layers. We cannot reduce strawberry to chocolate – the most we can say is that possibly in the last resort, all is vanilla, all mind or spirit. The unifying principle is that we find organizational levels. The mechanistic world view, taking the play of physical particles as ultimate reality, found its expression in a civilization which glorifies physical technology that has led eventually to the catastrophes of our time. Possibly the model of the world as a great organization can help to reinforce the sense of reverence for the living which we have almost lost in the last sanguinary decades of human history.” Von Bertalanffy, 1968, p. 49.

Bene dictum.

There are connections and overlaps with other theories of motivation. For example, there is almost complete convergence between the General Theory and Stevan E Hobfoll’s Conservation of Resources (COR) theory, which holds the basic tenet that “Individuals (and groups) strive to obtain, retain, foster, and protect those things they centrally value.”. Principle I (Agency) concerning the universal striving for equilibrium requires the basic COR tenet to be true or equilibrium could never be attained.

An extract from: A General Theory of Behaviour.

A Redesign for Psychology

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Science is beautiful when it makes simple explanations of phenomena or connections between different observations.

Stephen Hawking

It has been said that advances in science come not from empiricism but from new theories. With this thought in mind, A General Theory of Behaviour has the potential – or so I aim to convince the reader – to advance understanding of human nature and to integrate the discipline of Psychology. In A General Theory of Behaviour I explain why this is (a) necessary, and (b) possible.

I think the majority of psychologists agree that integration is necessary. Fragmentation has been a longstanding and difficult problem for Psychology. Over more than a century, fragmentation has been called a ‘crisis’. The problem has been described thus: “a nexus of philosophical tensions, which divide individuals, departments, and psychological organizations, and which are therefore primarily responsible for the fragmentation of Psychology.” In many years’ experience as a student, researcher and professor of Psychology, I can testify to persistent and intractable tensions in every quarter of the discipline, worse in some places than others, but the fragmentation is evident everywhere.

The discipline can sometimes feel like a medieval country split into fiefdoms by moats, walls and a haphazard set of paltry roads, odd rules and customs (Figure P1, left panel). As the visitor approaches the border of the country, a smart road sign reads: “Welcome to the Science of Psychology”. Full of expectation, one passes through the guarded gates at border control (sniffer dogs, disinfectant spray guns, x-ray machines and millimetre wave scanners).

After screening by unsmiling officers in peaked caps, the traveller explores what excitement exists inside this guarded place. Each fiefdom provides glossy brochures, catalogues, and travel guides in which skies are always blue, buildings chateaux, and fountains high reaching with crystal waters.

Fountain, chateau, blue sky

Each area invites the visitor to drive over the draw bridge and take a detailed look. However, on close inspection, one senses a deep-seated problem. Something strange and slightly sinister appears to be going on. The locals appear defensive and ill at ease when one makes inquiries and asks even the simplest of questions such as “What does X mean?” As we travel around the country, barbed wire fences of ‘no-man’s land’ are everywhere and the few connecting roads are potholed and ill-made.

No man's land

In each sub-area, there is evidence of industrialisation with companies of artisans ploughing long straight furrows, planting pest-resistant seeds, spraying fields with Roundup®, harvesting their crops and filling rodent-proof silos with carefully sifted data, e.g. long-eared corn tastes better that short-eared, short-eared corn tasted better than oats, oats tastes better that long-eared corn (!) in cycles of planting, harvesting, testing and analysing.

Ploughed fields

Producers with the largest silos rule. In spite of all of the graft, one senses tension, disharmony and technical disputes is causing ill-feeling. If somebody breaks the famine with a bold new idea, s/he risks being pilloried, dunked or quarantined in the cut-off region called “Critical Psychology”. One wonders if Psychology really were a Science, would there be so many sub-regions, stretches of ‘no-mans-land’ and unrewarding customs?

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Figure P1.The Science of Psychology. In its fragmented state (left panel), each sub-field acts as a defended niche with its own specific theories and data. In a unified state (right panel) the discipline would consist of a single General Theory that encompasses the entire field with a minimum number of assumptions, a large set of falsifiable hypotheses, and a body of empirical studies aimed at falsification of the General Theory.

Most commentators agree that a major redesign is long overdue to re-engineer the discipline. Travel between sub-areas needs to be made more navigable, moats emptied, walls razed and bridges built. It’s an Isambard Kingdom Brunel the science needs as much as another Charles Darwin.

BRUNEL

The objectives of A General Theory of Behaviour are to take a few measured steps towards advancing Psychology as a natural science and, in so doing, to unify it (Figure P1, right panel). This brief introduction of 40,000 words offers twenty principles and eighty auxiliary propositions, 100 empirically falsifiable propositions. The principles and multiple auxiliary propositions make the General Theory fully and transparently capable of falsification. In embracing intentionality, purpose and desire, the General Theory is non-reductive while, at the same time, drawing upon principles from other sciences, in particular, Biology and Physiology. Following in the footsteps of Claude Bernard, Walter B Cannon and others, I try to convince the reader of the usefulness of the metamorphosed concept of behavioural homeostasis and, in so doing, explain the implications for the Science of Behaviour.

My thesis is that organisms are not adapted to each other and the environment because natural selection made them that way, but they are made that way owing to an inbuilt striving towards stability and equilibrium. A General Theory of Behaviour is an introductory ‘User’s Guide’ aiming towards a reconfigured Science of Psychology – the target in the right-hand panel of Figure P1. In Chapters One and Two I describe the core elements of the theory. Chapters Three, Four and Five contain additional parts of the theory concerning biological rhythms, concepts of behaviour, Consciousness and the central Behaviour Control System. The remaining five chapters each cover three core topics from the perspective of the theory. These 15 topics indicate the ability of the theory to cover a broad cross-section of the discipline.

Heavy traffic

In building roads and bridges, one must neither over-design nor under-design. Nobody knows how sturdy the structure is until it is tested with a fleet of trucks. Should cracks occur (or worse), other ‘engineers’ might be persuaded to renovate the project. Surely it should be worth the effort. However long it takes, our broken discipline needs to be put together into one beautiful whole.

Book cover