To fully understand this essay it is necessary to read part one, which is available at:
Ethics vs. morality––Of ethic and threat: empathy vs. obedience
As the infant progresses through the initial 18 month period during which the sympathetic and parasympathetic limbic circuits are fully formed, the infant masters several stages of differentiation. It is now accepted through the work of Klein (1952) and empirical demonstration, that a developmental/behavioral correlation at the age of four months, exists between infants categorized as attachment secure or disorganized, "dis-coordinated" [disorganized in the sense of being unable to properly integrate the intermeshed and exclusive psychical manifestations of separation RAGE and FEAR as they conflict and inhibit SEEKING and CARE] (Hopkins, 2013, p. 47). The infant at this stage singles out the mother as a separate object which is essential for CARE, and that this fact is then made evident by the manifestations of separation-RAGE and stranger-FEAR, which become manifest at 7-8 months of age (Hopkins, 2013, p. 47). To observe first hand, the interactions between mother and infant, the effect is obvious to casual observation: the mother's face is the infant's entire world, once indistinct as an object, now, once engaged in the exchange of gaze, touch and glance, only semi-distinct from himself, her face responds to his affects and anticipates as if part of himself, as if the world itself were a loving extension of the infant, a responsive and inclusive extension of himself. Here, we see the essence of all which is of the higher in man, the heart of hope itself, the nexus, the first and most primary impression of identification with the world. Note that I make no mention of the less important distinction, identification with mankind, which is a small and far less important aspect of this most vital and needful result, the essence of human hope, identification with the entire of the world, identification with all things, the fount of the highest of all traits, the fount of ethics themselves––Empathy. Here is how I put the idea in my Prometheus paper (Norman, 2013 Prometheus):
“I propose that this series of circuits in the brain, in their development or lack thereof, correspond to the potential empathetic capacities of the individual. In the affective dynamic of these two circuits we see the essence of ethical development, which is not borne upon the back of threat, which is a dissociative factor, but is created here, in the structures which are responsible for empathetic dynamism: The sympathetic circuit allowing what is surely a reward of pleasure and libido as self is experienced integrated into the world, this circuit using a dopaminergic neuromodulator, and the parasympathetic circuit which uses noradrenergic neuro-modulation, a response to shut off our pleasure as a feedback mechanism sensitive to social conditions of rebuke and reproach (shame). Between the two circuits, we see the orbitofrontal cortex connected to the limbic system, the OFC operating in its familiar role as a mediator of social cues and response. In this dynamic opposition we may even see, on the most fundamental level, the functions of libido and repression–––anxiety serving its psychoanalytic role as a repressive agent, brought on by an increase in noradrenergic modulation of the "parasympathetic lateral limbic" circuit to repress our pleasurable drives, when they conflict with the feedback we receive from the world and others. I propose: These two circuits working in tandem are the neural substrate upon which empathy, and so, ethical conduct and sentiment are founded.
There is considerable support for this idea within current neuroscience. This support comes from two avenues: 1. Studies of people with brain lesions and damage to the orbitofrontal areas, and, 2. Studies on "Antisocial Personality Disorder," or APD. Studies detailing the physiological changes and characteristics endemic to APD, a condition estimated to affect 65 to 80 percent of the prison population (Gazzaniga, et al., 2009, p. 629), indicate a volumetric reduction in the prefrontal grey matter, and reduced glucose metabolism in the orbitofrontal cortex of the subjects as revealed in PET (Raine, 2002). This condition is demonstrated by Raine, to be a product of not only genetic, but also environmental factors. In studies involving patients with damage to the orbitofrontal cortex, the patient is unable to properly monitor and assess the responses of others, and so, the patient with OFC damage will believe they have done well, and be quite proud of their interactions in social situations, even though those interactions were inappropriate (Beer, et al., 2006; Gazzaniga, et al., 2009, p. 605). Ergo: The proper development and function of the neural circuitry connecting the emotional (limbic), and orbitofrontal regions, and those prefrontal regions themselves which are volumetrically altered as a function of environmental and genetic factors, are crucial for proper affective functioning and reality testing. Plainly: If the "alpha function" circuitry is faulty, and the OFC is not doing its job, ethical development and social function are impaired.
This allows a specific neurological/psychological prediction: In those cases where a reliable personality inventory or other trustworthy test indicates the heightened presence of Empathy as a fundamental constituent of personality, a positive correlation will be demonstrated between the character trait of Empathy, and the robust innervations and demonstrable structural development and functional activity of both the dopaminergic "sympathetic ventral tegmental limbic" circuit, and also, the noradrenergic "parasympathetic lateral limbic" circuit.
Now we must remember that all of our experience of the world is subjective, colored and defined not by the particular experience itself, but in how we interpret that experience or perception. Think of how one person will find beauty in a desolate desert landscape, and another, an empty and barren view most uninviting. Perhaps here, we have found a non-genetic developmental clue as to the mystery of optimism and pessimism, the expectation that the world will or will not be a welcoming place, whether it will be responsive to our needs, or cold and refusing of them. Here we may have a piece of the puzzle shrouding the source of ethics and morality as well, for throughout history, laws and rules, many most pungent and barbaric, have attempted to enforce and create ethical sentiment and behavior as a function of external threat, to poor result. Think of the Twelve Tables of Rome, with its code of mutilation, so deeply symbolic of castration and the threat of the father, casually proclaiming how much a creditor may cut from the debtor's body: "si plus minusve secuerunt, ne fraude esto" [If they have secured more or less, let that be no crime] (Nietzsche, 1989, p. 64), or our own capitol punishment––both so deeply ineffective! It seems that ethical sentiment and behavior are not born under threat, but instead the entire of ethical law is but manifestation of a single simple principle: Empathy. Perhaps we have found the source of empathetic feeling and hence, ethical action as well, might both be born in this golden moment, here where the world is the self and the self the world, and so, we can dispense with any external "golden rule" or "categorical imperative" proclaiming our actions must be reducible to a moral maxim, or equal to what we ourselves would desire. How could one desire to hurt or exploit the world, once connected to, and inseparable from it? How could one consider such a thing, to harm the world is to harm ourselves! The canon of ethics: threat and rule are ineffective because the truth which foster them is no longer available to feel. It is clear that morality and ethical conduct are not a function of threat, but of internal security, healthy connection and balance…ethics are never created as a function of threat and rule, they are born from within. Ethics are a manifestation of health, a function of happiness. It is conscience itself, our modern "morality," super-ego itself, functioning as a masochistic, punitive and threatening agency which has caused the dissociation around which we have all become so deeply unethical, so very..."moral." Empathy is ethical, and so––Empathy is amoral. Our modern ethic is an ethic of obedience, an internal structure crystalized around the threat of castration, forming an immoral, and deeply unhealthy dissociation.” [Norman, 2013, Prometheus]
So I will ask you to make a sharp new distinction in your mind between the notion of morality, the basis of modern personality, crystalized around a masochistic structure (super-ego) which is based upon obedience to the father under the threat of castration, and the concept of ethics, which are created as a function of identification, of empathy. These two structures are often inversely related. Ethics are amoral. Morality is often unethical, and pathogenic. Morality… will make you sick. Remember: it is guilt which instates repressions, and the return of the repressed causes symptoms. Morality encourages nothing akin to ethical behavior, which is independent of the idea of submission and obedience to authority. Please read the Prometheus paper for a demonstration of the difference, as a hypothetical character is transformed from moral predominance, to ethical predominance. Note how obedience and immorality are exchanged for a situationally specific ethical response. [It is to be understood at this juncture, that most of the ugly platitudes with which we are indoctrinated into this culture, are but advocations of immoral submission to the superior will of the father, such as, "A man's got to do, what a man's got to do." What war, what immorality against self and/or others, what base stupidity free of empathetic consideration has not been justified under this immoral maxim? Every one, in every war, falsely believes "God" (in this case meaning a projection of the father) is on their side…now you can see why. Ethics are situationally specific, morality is blind, dumb and obedient…in a word––fearful.]
So how are we to encourage the better result? Is there a way to alter our perceptions and basic personality so as to become ethical, and increase mental functioning by transforming the structure of personality from a moral, repression based paradigm, to one of ethics, and sublimation by integration? Yes there is. Please read below, and follow these last few necessary steps, before I reveal the answer.
A necessary piece of neuropsychological engineering:
First, I will advocate a simple piece of neuroscience, which would greatly aid the assessment and treatment of neurotic illness. If psychology is to claim its place as a real hard science, its instrumentally demonstrable practices must be supplemented and supported by objective quantitative assessment (Norman, 2013 quantitative).
Although much work in cognitive neuroscience has been accomplished regarding the affective value assigned to facial expression (Adolphs & Tranel, 2004; Blair et al., 1999; Killgore & Yurgelun-Todd, 2004), and, much work has been done which reduces the idea of empathy to that of human imitative response involving mirror neurons and responses to human bonding with other human objects (Gazzaniga et al., 2009), this is a false, narrow and egocentric definition of empathy, which is properly understood as a state of world/environmental identification, of which other humans are only a small and less significant part. This empathetic identification is formed as a function of the overall functional development, and, active balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic limbic circuits, which create alpha function, yield the general optimistic or pessimistic tone of personality, and correspond to the potential level of neurotic predisposition, manifestation, and co-anesthesia. For these reasons, the following test should be constructed to assess the overall state of functional activity in this system, and categorize its prevailing affective balance as reflected in these fundamental competing circuits and their relative dopaminergic/noradrenergic––sympathetic/parasympathetic activity.
Once situated in an fMRI, MEG or PET, one has the subject look at a series of faces and scenes, each with a distinct affective element, or no such element: i.e., some faces are negative, some positive, some neutral, just as the scenes of cityscapes and nature, etc. As each person has individual prejudice and different affective definitions for all stimulus, this test is a baseline marker for that subject. (The addition of a personality inventory and/or test for neuroticism at this point will provide a basic snapshot of personality type and its correlation to the overall state of sympathetic/parasympathetic balance in these primary circuits, and further clarify the results). One then observes the state of activity in the system, and assesses the circuitry as it delegates affect to the various stimuli. If the dopaminergic circuitry is predominantly activated, an up-mediated SEEKING response (Panksepp, 1998) is demonstrated and one may infer the subject has a positive state of active systemic balance; and conversely, if the subject demonstrates little libidinal dopaminergic activity, and the parasympathetic circuit is predominant, we have demonstrated the reverse, that little libido is delegated to experience, and that super-ego or another dissociative factor (such as social degradation/cruelty causing adaptive libidinal/empathetic dissociation) has obtained a place of dominance in the psychical hierarchy. This single cluster of factors, this parameter: the overall state of functional development, balance and activity of these two circuits––may well be the single most telling axis around which the entire of personality might be assessed. It is possible to positively alter this most primary affective axis of systemic function and balance.
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The historical genesis and ontology of super-ego and
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This work is the sole property of the author, Rich Norman © 2014 and is used by this forum with both permission and gratitude.