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Man's Picture of His World and Three Papers

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This new edition of Roger Money-Kyrle's classic work is published together with three of his late papers, 'Cognitive development', 'The aim of psychoanalysis', and 'On being a psychoanalyst'. Its intention is to introduce new readers to this key Kleinian thinker, whose influence has been quiet and uncontroversial but deep and formative. The book also includes Donald Meltzer's discussion of the paper on 'Cognitive development'.

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1 - The Nature of the Evidence

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Before trying to give an outline of psychoanalytic theory, something should be said about the evidence on which it is based – especially as this is so often questioned. Moreover, according to some methodologists, we must be able to do more than quote positive evidence in its support. There are pseudo-sciences, such as astrology, which are so elastic, which admit the introduction of so many additional hypotheses to explain away unwelcome facts, that they effectively resist disproof. So an essential criterion of a genuine, as opposed to a pseudoscience, is that the kind of negative evidence which would prove it false must be capable of being clearly stated.2

It has been argued that analysis fails to pass this test, because its practitioners have several loopholes of escape from the possibility of being pinned down and proved wrong. A patient’s denial of an interpretation can, for example, be taken merely as evidence of a ‘resistance’; his assertion that the opposite of what is said of him is true can be explained away in terms of ‘ambivalence’ and the co-existence of contradictory conscious and unconscious impulses; and even when the analyst himself comes to believe that he should have made a different interpretation, he need not withdraw the first one, since, owing to ‘overdetermination’, it may still be right at some other level. To meet this kind of criticism, we must be able to show that our interpretations, and the theory built on them, are capable of being proved wrong.

 

2 - Instinct and Evolution

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The strength of any rational belief is determined, not only by the direct evidence for it, but also by the degree of its conformity with the general body of the rest of our beliefs. We are chary of accepting apparent miracles, however well attested, so long as they conflict with our scientific picture of the world. And for the same reason, psychoanalytic generalisations, in spite of the accumulating evidence in their support, are often rejected on a priori grounds. If this is the result of a ‘resistance’, analysts are still not absolved from the task of showing that their analytic beliefs are at least compatible with the general body of those other scientific beliefs which they also hold. I shall try to go further and argue that much analytic theory is not only compatiblewith, but derives some antecedent probability from, our beliefs about biology. In this chapter I want, in particular, to show that what we know of our evolution should lead us to expect our instincts and our conflicts to be such as analysts claim to find in us, whether we are conscious of them or not.

 

3 - Instinct in the Child

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So far, and sometimes at the cost of cumbrous expressions, such as ‘aggressive behaviour’, which avoid the presumption of mental processes, we have been discussing instinct mainly from the biological or behaviouristic point of view. To the biologist, an instinct is an innate tendency to react in a certain way to a certain pattern of stimuli, internal (endocrine) as well as external. Both the stimuli and the response can be observed, but not yet the cerebral processes which mediate between them. It is with the psychic concomitants of such unobserved cerebral processes that as psychologists we shall henceforth be principally concerned. These, to a great extent, we can experience in ourselves as impulses of various kinds. We can also infer them in others who resemble us.

But even if we restrict our field to that of our own mental life, it is difficult to dispense with all inferences from what can to what cannot be observed. We know, for example, that sensations and the impulses arising from them which were not consciously perceived at the time can sometimes be remembered afterwards, and we therefore infer that they must have been ‘unconsciously’ experienced. Still more impressive are the phenomena of post-hypnotic suggestion, in which the subject carries out commands he has consciously forgotten. For reasons of this kind, Freud developed his wellknown picture of a mental apparatus with an unconscious system between sensation and consciousness. In the unconscious part of the system, alternative and often antagonistic responses to the sensual situation are assumed to be carried out in ‘phantasy’, the function of consciousness being to decide priorities for action – a process which includes the ‘repression’ or still earlier the splitting off and disowning of such alternatives as arouse too much anxiety. It thus resembles the head of a department who chooses between alternatives recommended by his staff.

 

4 - The Construction of our World-Model

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In considering instincts, we began behaviouristically, that is, from the point of view of an observer recording only what he sees in an animal’s reaction to stimuli. We then introduced the concept of a mental response correlated with the cerebral processes which mediate between a stimulus and a reaction. But although we thus permitted ourselves to infer states of mind, for example in a child, which we could not observe in him, and so became psychologists, we still maintained the aloof position of observers. In other words, what we had before us in imagination was a physical child having thoughts and feelings about a physical world which we shared with him. But as long as we retain this picture of a common physical world, it is difficult to envisage the mind, for example, of a psychotic. The world he describes is capable of extraordinary contortions quite unknown to physics. It can change colour, go flat, recede to an infinite distance, get inside him, become fragmented and destroyed or be restored; and so long as we think of a common world, we shall become still more bewildered on learning from him that the minds of its inhabitants are freely interchangeable with his. Clearly his world has none of the comforting solidity of ours and is, in fact, an entirely different place. This leads us to suspect that the infant’s world may be very different too – that it is something which may develop either into our world or into the psychotic’s. If so, we can only hope to understand it by a further effort of imagination which will involve the abandonment of the observer’s position altogether and the attempt to identify ourselves with the child’s thoughts and feelings at a time when the normal concept of an external world, and of our place in it, has not developed and is only gradually emerging. Thus to envisage and describe, as it were from within, the way in which he both discovers and in a sense creates the world he lives in should be, I think, the goal of psychoanalytic theory.

 

5 - Distortions in our World-Model

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Our common-sense dualistic world-model, as its name implies, represents two kinds of what we believe to be possible experiences. On the material side, it represents what we should expect to perceive at other times and places; and on the mental side, what we believe it would be like to be in other people’s shoes. So far as these beliefs or expectations are true or false, the model itself may be said to to be true or false. If two different world-models represent one and the same ‘true’ set of expectations, they area both ‘true’. But one may be more convenient or useful than the other.

In considering its development, we distinguished – too artificially perhaps – three stages: that of subjective monism, characterised by the absence of symbolic thought which can refer to anything beyond present experience in what we later call space or time; that of naïve realism, characterised by permanent objects in space-time which are all animatistic and not yet divided into inanimate and animate; and the end stage of dualism itself, in which some, but not all, material objects have a psychic counterpart. In considering the defects of this final product, however, it becomes necessary to think of it as in some sense a compound of a developmental process in all three. Moreover, in order to stress what for our present purpose is most important in the developed form of each of them, we may conveniently relabel them the paranoid-schizoid, the hyper-manic, and the rational elements respectively. All exist, in varying degrees, in everyone, together with the paranoid-schizoid, hyper-manic and rational belief-systems they represent, though the more irrational elements usually remain unconscious. In particular, we are usually unconscious of the basic pattern in our picture of our own inner worlds – of what, in phantasy, we are made.

 

6 - Beliefs and Evaluations

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Language, having been evolved for practical affairs, can be notoriously misleading in psychology. To say that we walk implies no more than that our bodies move. To say that we think, because of its grammatical similarity, suggests some entity which does the thinking. (And in unconscious phantasy, there are figures which do so.) But as Hume disturbingly observed, the most careful introspection fails altogether to detect an actual mental entity separate from the mental activities the grammatical ego is said to indulge in. Strictly speaking, we do not contain the ego of our grammar (or the more complex population of unconscious phantasy); but we – that is, our mental selves – consist of mental activity and nothing more. So to say that we think is equivalent to saying that thought is one of the mental activities of which we are composed.

A mind – that is, a given totality of mental action – has three distinguishable aspects: the cognitive, which includes perception as well as thought, the affective, and the conative. The main function of the cognitive aspect is the construction of a world-model – a process which we tried to follow in Part I. Only a small part of it is, as it were, present in a mind at any given time. The rest (not counting what is permanently unconscious) is available as and when required. It consists of pictures, including verbal pictures, of everything that the individual concerned would expect to experience in other times and places and in other people’s shoes. It is, therefore, dualistic: it refers both to those percept-objects which belong, as we say, to the external world and to the perceptions, thoughts, feelings and desires which belong to, or rather constitute, his own and other people’s minds. It represents the sum of his ‘beliefs’ about both these aspects of what we call reality.

 

7 - On Aesthetics

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As Ernest Jones once pointed out, after an ‘Ernest Jones Lecture’ by Professor Gombrich, artists tend to resent, and possibly to fear, psychoanalytical excursions into their particular domain. Yet many analysts, from Freud onwards, have been unable to resist its lure, and by now much is known about the psychology of artists. Moreover this knowledge at last includes, thanks to such authors as Hanna Segal and Adrian Stokes, a good deal about the differences between the psychologies of those artists who, in the opinion of the critics, are ‘good’ and those who are not. But is it possible to take the final step and discover non-arbitrary criteria of the difference between good and bad art? Or, as I would prefer to put it, is there any means by which we can determine the validity of aesthetic evaluations?

An evaluation, so far as it is an emotional response rather than the expression of belief in an observable fact, cannot itself be true or false. If two observers have different emotional responses to the same perception, we cannot say that one is more valid than the other. The possibility remains, however, that the different responses are not, as may superficially appear, to the same perception, but result mainly from the differences in the perception of the same ‘thing’. The point I am trying to make may be brought out more forcibly perhaps by assuming the two observers to be the same person at different ages. He may say that his evaluations have changed as he got older. But perhaps it was the process of integration and maturation in himself that enabled him to perceive more fully and more accurately what he judged, so that it was not the emotional response to the same perception, but the perception that changed. We may then legitimately ask whether one perception is truer than another. If so, the emotional response to, or the evaluation of, the truer perception may be described as more valid.

 

8 - On Ethics

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Among the various motives for action, or refraining from action, those called ‘moral’ have always seemed to form a category both separate and mysterious. For being, as they often are, opposed to our other wishes, they tend to be thought of as against mere animal instinct, rather than a product of it; and from this it was but a step to regard them as implanted in us by God and so evidence of His existence and of our affinity with Him.

Of course, when we think biologically about them, we can see at once that our tendency to grow a conscience must be as much a part of our innate endowment as the tendency to grow a beard, or any other organ or function that emerges after birth. Moreover, a conscience in the members of a group is usually in the interests of the survival of the group; so we can also see why the capacity to grow one has been evolved.

But if conscience is evolved to promote the survival of the group, it often does so most imperfectly. There are many varieties of it, some – those, for example, which promote celibacy or pacificism – seeming rather to oppose this end. We want to know how these varieties arise. We are also faced with the problem of their evaluation. We can judge them in terms of their utility – that is, according as they approximate to what selection tends to make them. But we may feel in need of some other criterion. If so, we want to discover what it is, and whether the two criteria will give the same or different results.

 

9 - Morals and the Probem of Political Agreement

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In Part I of this book we examined the construction of world models. We found there were two to be considered: an inner world of unconscious phantasy, as well as an outer world of common sense. The core of this inner world consists of objects and persons once belonging to the outer world of early childhood as we imagined it, often wrongly, to have been. And we found that the degree of its truth determined our capacity to form a true picture of the outer world – that is, to form a world-model which correctly represents the possibilities of experience.

One result of this enquiry was to lead us to regard the affective and conative aspects of man as, in large measure, dependent on the cognitive. Of course, our innate attitude to the world influences our beliefs about it, so that some people – those, for example, with a constitutional high ‘envy content’ – may have more difficulty in achieving a true world picture than others. But those with similar beliefs – that is, with similar world-models – tend to have similar feelings and desires; from which it follows that a number of omniscient people, all having beliefs which were both comprehensive and true, and therefore identical, would be likely to make similar but not identical evaluations.

 

10 - On Avoidable Sources of Conflict

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That in a limited world with an expanding population the welfare of one group – whether class, party or nation – can often be secured only at the cost of other groups is a fact we may deny but cannot escape. Conscience, and the capacity to identify with the members of another group, may mitigate the ruthlessness of competition. But it cannot altogether outweigh, and is itself influenced by, the claims of propinquity. To be without preferences based on propinquity, we should have to adopt the standpoint of an omniscient God who loved all His children equally, or perhaps in accordance with their actual merits as correctly perceived by Him. But we cannot identify with God without denying the fact that we are men with limited families of our own (including symbolic ones) which have special claims upon us. No conscience, so far as it is normal, can ignore this fact or fail to operate somewhat more strongly in favour of those near us than in support of strangers. Though it inhibits gratuitous aggression and prevents us acquiring what our group desires by the violent robbery of others, it does not prevent us giving some priority to the interests of our group, and would afflict us if we failed to defend them when threatened.

 

11 - On Political Philosophies

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Whereas political science is supposed to confine itself to the impartial study of political causes and effects, political philosophy seems more often to enunciate the structure of an ideal state, the desirability and possibility of which is assumed to be self-evident. Thus political science, which is needed for the achievement of the aim, may become subordinate to political philosophy. But I think this relation should be reversed; for surely it should be part of the function of political science to question the truth of the assumptions of political philosophy.

That these assumptions are empirically questionable becomes apparent as soon as we begin to consider in more detail what they mean. The assumption of the desirability of the ideal state means, I take it, that this state, if realised, would satisfy some very fundamental human needs. But we know that we may sometimes be mistaken in what we imagine would be pleasurable. As to the assumption of the possibility of the ideal, this too may be false; for our capacity to imagine something is no proof that it can exist. For example, we can imagine, but could never construct, an armour-plated, shell-proof, dirigible balloon. (I take this example from a psychotic man who, after the first war, could not understand why no-one had ever thought of putting armour-plate on airships in the way they do on battleships.) And, in the same way, we can imagine an ideal state which would not ‘fly’ because of theproperties of the human beings available for its construction: either the right human material could never exist because, like the steel airship, the required combination of qualities is as it were chemically impossible; or it could ultimately be produced, but only after centuries of selective breeding; or it could be produced by a suitable education.

 

12 - Cognitive Development (1968)

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As perhaps often happens, I became preoccupied with a problem – in this case the problem of cognitive development – without knowing why it was of such interest to me. I subsequently discovered some of the reasons, and by way of introduction will outline what seems to me the most rational one.

Three stages in the approach to mental illness

Briefly then, and with a good deal of over-simplification, I think I became preoccupied with cognitive development as the result of reaching the third of three stages in my approach to mental illness – stages which very roughly reflect successive attitudes which were fairly common in the psychoanalytic movement as a whole.

In the first stage, forty or fifty years ago, my dominant assumption would have been that mental illness is the result of sexual inhibitions. This may be profoundly true; but naïvely understood can lead to very superficial analysis. Moreover, in a subtle way, it can encourage a patient to adhere to the unconscious belief that, instead of giving up his Oedipus complex, he can realise it with the analyst’s help and so be master of the world.

 

13 - The Aim of Psychoanalysis (1971)

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Although I have tried to write this short paper in such a way that it can be understood without specific reference to any previous work of mine, it is in fact a supplement to my paper on ‘Cognitive Development’ (1968).

The aim of an analysis may be defined in various ways. One of these is that it is to help the patient understand, and so overcome, emotional impediments to his discovering what he innately already knows. My aim in this paper is to elaborate this statement.

It should be obvious from my reference to innate knowledge that it is with the cognitive aspect of instinct (instinctive knowledge) that I am most concerned; and that, since I am devoting a paper to it, I consider it to have been insufficiently stressed in psychoanalytic theory before. But, at this point, I am arrested by that inner voice which those who have been analysed acquire and which strives to continue the analysis long after it is over and those who did it are dead. ‘You claim’, so it seems to say, ‘a creativity which you deny to us: the child we misconceived or misbegot is now to be correctly conceived or begotten by yourself. Remember that in the inner world, parthenogenetic creativity is a megalomanic delusion. All you can do, and surely this is enough, is to allow your internal parents to come together and they will beget and conceive the child.’ I believe this to be profoundly true. Freud, under the influence of his electrostatic model of the mind with its cathexes and counter-cathexes may have insufficiently stressed the cognitive element in instinct about which so little was known at the time. But the notion of innate knowledge, always latent in idealistic philosophy and recently systematically studied by ethologists, is not mine. All I have to do is to allow theories, taken from different fields, to fertilise each other.

 

Appendix 1: Roger Money-Kyrle

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Donald Meltzer

‘I think both criticisms exaggerate an element of truth which each side has gradually become more able to admit’ (Psychoanalysis and Philosophy). This type of statement recurs throughout the work of Roger Money-Kyrle and perhaps expresses better than any more lengthy statement could do the essential quality of the man and his contribution to psychoanalysis and modern thought. ‘Criticisms exaggerate’, ‘element of truth’, ‘gradually’, ‘able to admit’ – let us examine a moment the credo that is contained in these few words.

‘Criticisms exaggerate’: from his earliest philosophical paper on, one can see that Mr Money-Kyrle was convinced that judgment about the world, and about ourselves and our fellow men, is adversely affected by our hostility. The wish to find fault, as an expression of envy in particular, but driven also by submission to our persecutors, blinds us to the virtues of our enemies and the faults of our allies. The papers of the war and post-war period are deeply concerned to understand the phenomena of Nazism and Appeasement alike.

 

Appendix 2: Does Money-Kyrle’s Concept of Misconception have any Unique Descriptive Power?

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Donald Meltzer

With his extraordinary capacity to go directly to the heart of the matter, Roger Money-Kyrle has described the three epochs of psychoanalytic development – his own and the science’s – with these references to the concept of mental illness:

1. 1896-1930: ‘Mental illness is the result of sexual inhibitions.’

2. 1930-1960: ‘Mental illness is the result of unconscious moral conflict.’

3. 1960 to the present: ‘The patient, whether clinically ill or not, suffers from unconscious misconceptions and delusions.’

He goes on with his characteristic modesty to explain that he is hoping to outline a theory of cognitive development that merely aspires to fashion ‘two hooks to hang a lot of existing theories on’. In this paper I wish to examine the possibility that the theory of ‘misconception’ may be a new idea with considerable descriptive power that other psychoanalytic theories do not possess. He explains:

The two hooks relate to the two mental tasks any newborn animal has to perform if it is to survive: the acquisition of a few, I believe innately predetermined, concepts (or class notions), and, what is not innately predetermined, the location of their members in a space-time system. (See above, p. 233)

 

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