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Thread: Freedom, meaning, and anxiety

  1. #1 Freedom, meaning, and anxiety 
    Forum Ph.D.
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    Feb 2007
    Freedom, meaning, and anxiety

    ‘Mind’ is a style of reaction. One might correctly say that ‘mind’ is the measure of reaction a creature makes to a given range of stimuli. The world of meaning for any creature is bounded by the measure in which that creature is able to react to its perception of the world. Paying attention to the world that is bounded by reaction ability is described by Leslie White as “reactivity meaning”.

    There are four levels of reactivity of an organism to its environment: 1) Simplest response wherein the organism responds directly to stimuli, 2) Conditioned response is best represented by the “Pavalovian Response” wherein there is a response by association, 3) Indirect association takes place when a tool is used to acquire desired object (an ape knocking a banana from a tree with a stick), and 4) Symbolic response wherein a symbol becomes the object causing response, which entails the creation of a symbol representative of an object.

    These four different responses are evolutionary but are different in kind. Only humans are capable of all four levels of reactivity. Only humans have the capacity for creating a relationship such as “house” with an object. We might appropriately state that the evolutionary development of mind is a “progressive freedom of reactivity”. “Mind culminates in the organism’s ability to choose what it will react to.”

    Delayed reactivity is the birth of freedom; this ability, plus the mammalian evolution of long prolonged development of new born growing up into a society that demanded ever increasing norms of behavior, led to the further development of mind.

    Anxiety is a feeling that I assume is familiar to all of us. It is a sense of helplessness: when the throat constricts, the heart races, and chaos appears. The ability to stand upright against anxiety is considered to be heroic behavior.

    What is the source and nature of anxiety? Kierkegaard saw it as a basic response to the human condition of impotence, finitude, and death. Thinkers since Darwin saw it as a stimulus to intellectual growth because only with this adaptation could humans survive. We can see in animal responses that it is the key to survival. Anxiety is the universal response of the organism to danger.

    For the child, anxiety becomes second nature when there is the slightest hint of separation from or abandonment by the mother. William James said that solitude is the greatest terror of childhood. Children are midgets in a world filled with giants. The child is dependent upon these giants and feels itself as a helpless object without control. The child sees helpless objects being run over with the car or being flushed or flattened and, as another object, fears equal forms of treatment by the giants. The principal childhood adaptation is to master anxiety by controlling the situations which threaten to awaken it.

    Freud’s whole psychoanalytic theory of neurosis is basically a study of how children control anxiety. Human reaction to the environment is delayed and controlled by the ego. Unlike all other animals the human can take some time to analyze and choose a response. It is obvious that the first concern for the developing ego is to learn how to control this ever present and overwhelming stimulus-response that can result from anxiety. The ego does this by ‘housing’ this anxiety within the ego, thus, no longer does the human organism respond directly to anxiety but the ego controls the response by ‘taking over’ this anxiety.

    Freud considered this ‘taking over’ of the anxiety impulse as being a form of vaccination of the total organism. “The growing identity “I” must feel comfortable in its world, and the only way it can do this is to experimentally make the anxieties of its world its own…The anxieties of the ego’s world are at first the anxieties the child feels with its handlers. A good many of them are the anxieties of its trainers. And so we see in microcosm how a child owns his own control, his own central perceptions, his own humanness, by a fundamental adaptation to his social world.”

    Becker associates with the work of Alfred Adler who has developed a major revision of Freudian Oedipus Complex theory regarding the postulation by Freud of a hypothetical event that happened way back in the dim recesses of time. This postulated event has been given the name the Primal-Horde theory: “this was the theory about the crises in the humanoid horde, when the young males, tired of being deprived of females by the dominant male, turn on him and kill him, and take possession of the females—their own mothers.”

    Freud was clear regarding the nature of anxiety in a child. One source of this anxiety was “the trauma of birth, the child’s initiation into utter helplessness and dependence; and the fear of castration that was awakened by the child’s own sexual urges…Thus his major anxiety, over the loss of the protective and loving mother, is a problem stemming from his relentless search for pleasure.”

    Post-Freudian scientists pinpoint where Freud went astray. There is general agreement that the infant is not driven by instincts of sexuality and destructive aggression. “There is absolutely no evidence that this new type of animal carries over viciously competitive instincts of the subhuman primates. He has phased them out, and replaced them with a new nature: pliable, instinct-free.”

    A major revision of Freudian theory finds that while the child’s anxiety is based on helplessness; it is not based upon genetic instincts but is based upon the child’s life situation and in his social world. Becker concludes that Alfred Adler’s theories are still current in the mid and late twentieth century because the child does not bring to his relationship with his mother any basic innate desires but he brings a generalized need for physical closeness and support.

    “It is technically correct to say that the child is object-oriented rather than pleasure-oriented.” The anxieties of life are communicated to him not because of the strictly scheduled toilet-training or bodily cleanliness but because of the lack of joy and spontaneity in the child’s environment. This causes him to shut up within himself and makes him try extra-hard for basic security. The adaptation is a kind of confusion about what the world wants of him.

    The child’s confusion centers on the comprehension that he is only a body not yet fully a symbolic animal. The more his confusion with the adult world the more he falls back on his body as a way of getting along. This affirmation of body is his question ‘does the mother value his body—him or not?’

    Do you agree with me that the world of meaning for any creature, i.e. that self-determination or freedom, is bounded by the measure in which that creature is able to react to its perception of the world?

    Quotes from “The Birth and Death of Meaning” by Ernest Becker

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  3. #2  
    Forum Freshman Teknowizard's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Merced, California
    To a very large degree... YES, I agree. Environment and our reactions to it are very much intertwined in what life is. One of the things I have learned over the years in learning to overcome my disabilities.

    I am a Weaver of Light & Illusion - though disabled, I walk amongst the stars, weave new stars of my own and even explore new universes.
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