Theory of Psychology: The Laws of Psyche (complete text)

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Alberto E. Fresina

CHAPTER 2 -(pages 27 to 36 of the book of 410)

Index of the chapter:

1. The concept of fight
2- The basic psychological contradiction
3- Derived laws
4- Objections to the law of decision
5- The essence of election

6- Recount of fundamental laws



What we have seen in the previous chapter, will be useful for the different topics that will be developed in this book. But now, we will put the history of the species evolution aside, and later on we will develop the important foundations it offers us, in relation to the explanation of the human psyche. This chapter will be about the treatment on the most general and essential laws of the psychic functioning.

1. The concept of fight

The concept of fight is defined as the presence of two forces that tend to produce contrary and excluding effects. The basic results over which any fight is planned, are the yes or not of something. One force tends to affirm an effect and the other one to deny it. The affirmation as well as the negation are objective in this case. It implies that it is not about “saying” yes or no, but rather the objective affirmation and negation are respectively the existence or the to be and not to be of something.

The fight among opponents, like a dialectical logic law, does not have to be understood as a confrontation among any couple of opposite elements, but it is always an opposition between two forces that tend to achieve one or another result. For example, when a depredator animal tries to catch a prey, while that prey tries to get away and to be safe, we are in presence of a fight. But that fight is not made between the excluding effects: capturing and escaping, but between the confronting forces that tend to produce one or another fact. It is evident that the affirmation of some of those effects is automatically the negation of the other one. In this case the central effect, or what it is about, would be the capture. One force, the determined action of depredator, makes the capture happen and the other one tries its negation.

We will call active force, to the guided tendency to state a fact that has not occurred yet; while the force that tries to prevent the effect from taking place, or keeps its negation, it is called resistance. Let’s suppose that an earthquake takes place under the building in which we are. The excluding effects we consider here, are either the collapse or its negation: the “non- collapse". The active force that, undoubtedly, tends to affirm the collapse is the earthquake. However, it is not free to provoke the effect. For that reason, he has to beat the building’s resistance. Such a resistance is the force that tends to the negation of that fact or, what is the same, to the maintenance of the building standing. Fight is developed then, around two possible results: statement of the collapse - negation of it, meaning that it is brought up between the force that tends to the being of the collapse and the one that tends to its not being.

We know that the concept we call force, is somewhat obscure and its use in a scientific context is inadequate in many occasions. But if we make its meaning exact, we turn it into a useful and logical scientific category. Firstly, this concept will always be relative to a considered effect. Once we focus on a fact which we conceive as effect, from that point onwards, we must observe which factors of reality have some kind of influence in favor or against its statement. Thus, everything whose influence is in favor of the effect affirmation will be part of the active force block and everything exercising some influence against that effect, or in favor of its negation, will fall under the resistance block. In that way, based on the possible results previously considered: affirmation or negation of one fact, we order everything that influences in favor or against its appearance, in two blocks of forces. In such sense, all that is known as  factors, variables, reasons, conditions, become "recruited" or distributed in those two blocks of forces, according to their influence being in favor or against the effect. For example, if the considered effect is a social revolution, in the event of taking place, the cause will always be, and as something generic, the biggest power of active force on resistance. In case the cause is not produced, in the generic sense, it will be the biggest power of the resistance over the active force. It is evident that the factors, variables, reasons or conditions that can influence in favor or against that effect, are many and quite complex. However, it will never be unchained,  if the total sum of partial influences in favor and the active force block that forms its group, does not overcome, in terms of power, the total of factors, conditions, etc. that take part of the resistance block or negation force.

The examples we have analyzed up to now,  refer to simple and unique fights between two forces or two blocks of forces that tend to the yes or not of an effect. But the simple fight is only the "measure unit" or the "cell" of successive fights of opponents that sustain the dynamics of processes under development. In these fights, it takes place a coordinated fitting of repeated simple fights among forces tending to produce contrary and excluding effects, giving place to the repeated passage from one to another one. We will have the best example, regarding this, by going into the psychic phenomenon.

2. The basic psychological contradiction

The opponent elements that express the basic or fundamental psychological contradiction are pleasure and displeasure. But the fight among opponents is not planned among those excluding passive effects, but among forces that tend to produce one or another one. One of the forces in fight is the individual's (or animal’s) premeditation, his basic purpose and his essential motivation that tend to the effect of affirming pleasure and denying displeasure. The other force, or the other block of forces, on the contrary, tends to affirm displeasure and to deny pleasure. That opponent force, the same as the earthquake, is a completely objective force. We must not believe that a subjective entity under the role of an "enemy spirit” is hidden inside of us. Nature limited pretensions of active premeditation, so that the fight is similar or balanced, making sure the passage from one to another one of those opponents, which allows the movement of the psychological activity and the behavior.

The contrary block of force is made up of anything that takes part of reality and that exercises some influence in favor of the displeasure statement and against the effect of pleasure. Among those forces, we find a wide range of elements, for example: adverse environmental conditions that are constantly opposed to our purposes, acting as a resistance against those results that premeditation hopes. But the most important thing, in the opponent forces, would be present in the autonomous neuropsychological mechanisms, responsible for the unavoidable appearance of displeasure, and in the autonomous neuropsychological mechanisms, inhibitors of nervous activity that generates pleasure. They opposed the organism premeditation, an inner and objective resistance, which is in our own brain.

Thus, development of psychic life is not, essentially, more than the development of a contradiction or opponents fight, where premeditation is one of the forces in fight, while the opposite force, is a block of purely objective or inanimate factors, but having a similar or stronger power than the premeditation force, in relation to its capacity of making the effects of its tendency.

In the movement of this fight or fundamental psychological contradiction, we can find four effects and not only two. The four effects or possible results of the fight are: 1- affirmation of pleasure. 2 –  denial of it. 3 –  affirmation of displeasure. 4 – denial of it.

Intentionality tends to affirm pleasure and to deny displeasure. For that reason, such essential motivation is formed by two complementary forces. Regarding pleasure, the intention of the organism is the active force trying to achieve pleasure like effect; and in relation to displeasure, it is the resistance that tries to avoid the displeasure effect. Therefore, intention, in its essence, is the unit of two partial trends that cooperate in the fight against the opposing forces.

The partial tendency of motivation that tries to affirm pleasure will be called affirming partial tendency and denying partial tendency will be the name of the intentional sub-tendency that tries to deny displeasure. Regarding forces contrary to intention, it is not necessary to distinguish them, but it is enough to conceive them and to identify them like contrary forces, where we already know that they tend to produce displeasure and to deny  pleasure.

Both partial tendencies of intention are strongly united in one same force. They are respectively the "attacks" and the "defense" of the same team. We will call this double tendency: general law of the psyche. That is to say, the general law, as the essence of intention and motivation; it is the constant force that tends to cause as effects, the affirmation of pleasure and denial of displeasure.

If those effects pursued by intention were very easy to achieve, or on the contrary, impossible, the movement of behavior would lose all its strength. In order to prevent this, the fight should be balanced, passing from one contrary to another one. For that reason, nature imposes displeasure and makes the achievement of pleasure difficult, so as to keep on the strength of psychological activity and behavior. In fact, the fight often started by intention against opposing natural forces that work in our own brain is highly intense and turbulent. We are already adapted so that it is not very noticed.

3. Derived laws

Two important laws derive from the general law. One is the already known law of effect, stated by Thorndike. It essentially says to us that there exist two tendencies one to repeat behaviors that led to pleasure and another one to avoid the repetition of those tendencies that ended up in displeasur.* It should be added to this concept, that the power of the tendency to repeat or to avoid the repetition of behavior, is approximately proportional to the magnitude of pleasure or displeasure that the same behavior had as consequence.

* The formal statement of Thorndike is the following one: "all act that produces satisfaction in a certain situation, becomes associated with that situation, so when the situation reproduces the probability of a repetition of the act it is bigger than before. On the contrary, all act that produces displeasure in a certain situation is not tied with the situation anymore, so that,  when the situation appeals the probability of repetition of the act it is smaller than before." Cited in Marx M. H. y Hillix W. A. Sistemas y teorías psicológicos contemporáneos. (Systems and contemporary psychological theories) Paidos México 1992 page 70)

In man, the question of the effect of behavior, has more qualities than in the rest of animals, since human subject does not always need to have undergone the concrete effect of pleasure or displeasure to repeat or not his behavior afterwards; instead he can imagine or deduce the effect that each behavior may have and decide according to that. This leads us to state another more embracing law, that will be called law of decision. Its statement would be the following: "in all decision, one chooses the behavior that promises more pleasure and/or less displeasure."

We should keep in mind that the quantum of pleasure or displeasure that the law of decision tries (advantage-disadvantage or convenience-inconvenience of each possibility to choose) is the product of the calculations (gigantic and sometimes instantaneous) that the brain carries out, based on the analysis of three factors:

1-Intensity of predicted pleasure and/or displeasure.


3-Statistical probabilities that pleasure or displeasure are presented. This means that in the presence of two equal pleasures in intensity and duration, one will prefer the behavior by means of which its achievement is more probable; and when two displeasures are at issue, and the other conditions are constant, behavior in which its appearance is less probable would be preferred.

The three factors are of quantitative order. The shade or the qualitative type of pleasure or displeasure are not affected at all. When a subject chooses certain qualitative type of pleasure or displeasure, it is an apparent fact, that is to say, he prefers it because he feels more pleasure or less displeasure with that qualitative type.

One may think that there would be a fourth factor to be considered in the law of decision: the immediate factor. This means that being in front of two pleasures that are equal in intensity, duration and appearance probabilities, the closest one would be preferred and vice versa with displeasure; in the presence of two displeasures that are equal in the rest of conditions, the most distant one would be chosen. However, it would seem to be a case of manifestation of the probability factor. The closest thing is naturally felt as more sure, more realistic, more probable; while the most distant thing as time passes by, tends to be like more insecure, unlikely or uncertain, and for that reason, a certain spontaneous tendency is showed many times, desiring with more emphasis the closest pleasure and rejecting or fearing the immediate displeasure, preferring to put it off.

Anyway, this fourth factor of the immediate aspect,  may be kept in mind, if desired, since its inclusion would not alter the essence of the law. It would only be about one more element out of that global quantum of advantage-disadvantages, in terms of pleasure-displeasure, of each possibility to choose.

4. Objections to the law of decision

When a subject undergoes a very unpleasant sacrifice intentionally, he seems to contradict the law of decision. To answer this we have, first, to  clarify that the concepts: pleasure-displeasure are not limited to the corporal or material aspects, but they rather embrace all type of pleasure or displeasure, although they are of aesthetic, moral or spiritual nature. We speak about feeling “well” or feeling  “bad’’ and of the quantum of those basic psychic states, without considering their qualitative type. The pleasure of having food as well as the highest moral or spiritual pleasure, are the outcome of neuronal activity of the same brain. Another explanation is that the law only works in the frame of  intention. If, for example, somebody has a puncture in a finger accidentally, the displeasing effect won't be within the scope of the functional field of the law of decision, as it is an accidental fact and unaware to the intentional domain.

To understand the behaviors or decisions that seem to contradict the law, the method is always the same. We should wonder: what would  happen if the subject doesn't decide what he had decided? The answer is that any another possibility has been put aside in his brain as it was conceived as more disadvantageous or less advantageous than what he has finally decided. When somebody decides to undergo a sacrifice, we find that in the case of not doing it, he would feel a more painful displeasure, or the opportunity of an intense pleasure would be missed, which is only achieved by means of the sacrifice. If an individual, for example, undergoes a displeasure or gives up the opportunity of feeling pleasure with the purpose of benefiting another one and without looking for any retribution, the method to follow is the same: what happens if he does not do it?. To know: he would feel a moral displeasure or fault for not having helped him. It would also mean to be submitted to the own pain or pity that makes the other suffer. Instead, when one does another person for his good, on one hand that moral suffering is avoided and on the other hand, moral pleasure is achieved for having done something good, plus the fraternal pleasure to perceive the welfare of that one.

As it is not possible to demonstrate the law in each one of the thousand of imaginable cases, we will choose some few examples, but they are the ones that more “wobble" the truthfulness of law. One of the cases refers to those behaviors that the individual is irresistibly encouraged to fulfill, although they will objectively imply a displeasing consequence, that is clearly known by the subject. At this point, the law of decision is present with all its strength, because of the following situation: in first place, let’s admit that the consequence of behavior, in the example, will be very displeasing. But we wonder again: what happens if he doesn't fulfill it? The answer is that he would feel a more intense displeasure, the strong compulsive need, which is an unbearable displeasure state and worse than what it “will come" later. For that reason, the subject prefers the other displeasure: the one caused by the consequence of behavior instead of  continuing in that state of terrible displeasure. It must be added that in the event of not carrying out the behavior, the strong displeasure of compulsive need would be still more intense.

It is certain that in that example, there would be a certain psychic disorder. But the appearance of the painful compulsive feeling is out of the subject's intention, it is unaware to it. Therefore, it is out of the domain of the law of decision, that perceives intention as a condition. Because in a similar way, the displeasure of feeling thirsty, when one has not drunk for a while, it is a need that may turn out to be a compulsive, unbearable and  irresistible desire to drink. But appearance of such a need or displeasure, although it is a product of a psycho physiological process occurred in our own brain, has nothing to do with intention. (To be more exact, those painful feelings are effects encouraged by opponent forces in the basic psychological contradiction; by the objective and inanimate factors that tend to affirm displeasure and to deny pleasure).

Regarding the compulsive behaviors of suicide, the mechanism is the same. If intensity of displeasure of the compulsive need is superior to the displeasure of fear, the subject will try to commit suicide. The appearance of that intense compulsive need to self-destruction is not  due to an intention either. What it is intentional,  is the behavior that responds to a desire or an appearing need, but the appearance of a desire or need is something unaware to the intentional domain. In consequence, the subject does not contradict the law of decision, with his action. He is just obeying the compulsive suggestion. He tries to get out of the intense displeasure of the compulsive need whose appearance is unaware to intention.

In other cases, suicide is not compulsive, but something reflexive and planned. But in no case, law is broken. For example, if a subject undergoes very intense displeasures and his life is a vicious circle, a permanent pain threat, and he sees no possible solution, it is preferred the affective neutrality of death: neither pleasure nor displeasure,  than a continuous and certain displeasure.

When one decides to die for the honor, the person is usually avoiding  to live under a constant humiliation that would imply being submitted to displeasure of an endless social contempt and self-contempt, what  it is considered as more terrible than death.

The person who tries to finish with his own life because he feels that he is a nuisance for the rest of the group, makes it to put an end to the constant displeasure of seeing that his presence does not contribute but makes people who love him feel bad, apart from the moral displeasure of considering himself useless, incapable of anything, etc.

A last example has to be with those cases in which life is given or  extremely risked in an act of great courage and altruism. Here law is not broken either, like it may seem. The subject's behavior, in such cases, responds to the need to fulfill that act, aimed at putting an end to the displeasing feeling that defines any need. We have to put aside the cause of the presence of such need in his experience (this would be explained considering the usefulness of the phenomenon for the tribe survival). We should only have in mind, that the appearance of any desire or need is the product of mechanisms that have nothing to do with intention. For that reason, we should always be focused on the analysis at the moment of the subject's decision, and supposing that one strong need has already appeared in his experience, without being looked for. This analysis consists, as usual, in discovering what it would happen in the event of refusing to carry out that behavior, suggested by the need. In the first place, the displeasing feeling would be enhanced, becoming unsustainable according to the case. Then, there would appear the moral displeasure or guilty feeling for not having fulfilled what the individual thinks it is his duty, together with displeasure of feeling coward and self-contempt for not being able to carry it out. Likewise, if that act tends, like it usually happens, to avoid that something tragic happens to the loved ones, he would feel a deep spiritual sorrow for what it would mean the other person’s death, if he does not fulfill it. Moreover, the further difficulty of the worst humiliation of feeling responsible for it. This way, the enormous fear and horror that the image of the whole regret generates meaning a tragic possibility for the loved ones, counteract and overcome the fear towards his own death.

In conclusion, an act of that nature is carried out because , at the time of making the decision, there are no more advantageous alternative or less disadvantageous alternative, in terms of pleasure-displeasure. Such acts are accomplished, as they are the best alternatives that the subject may perceive, or more exactly the "less worse" among the ones that are left to be chosen.

5. The essence of election

Election or selection does not exist in absolute terms. As well as "natural selection", in biological evolution, is only a notion reflecting the outcome of the fight for survival, in the same way,  election or selection of subjectivity is the expression of the result of the fight between behaviors or possible options. If one behavior offers a pleasure "5" and the other one a pleasure "6", and we consider as constant the rest of conditions, being an excluding decision, and taking into consideration that only one behavior is possible, it is a fight between both options, where as in any fight, the beating force is the one that has more power. Here, power is expressed in terms of the best psychic product for the law of decision. Therefore, in the hypothesis, the second option will necessarily be chosen (pleasure 6).*

* If somebody, contrary to accept this point of view, is supposed that in the hypothesis he could choose the other option (pleasure 5), although its intention is discrediting the postulate, we will see that in order to do it, it will have "to break" the perseverance of the rest of conditions, since when adding the pleasure of the moral satisfaction that he will feel to contradict the law, it will be added to the five points overcoming the six points of the other option.

6. Recount of fundamental laws

To sum up, we have four important laws of the psyche. The first one is the law of unity and opponents fight,  that is the manifestation in a particular case, as it is the psyche, of the universal law and dialectical contradiction, like motive force making the movement and development of any possible phenomenon. This law, therefore, is the motor of the psychic activity, and it is about the eternal fight between intention that tries to affirm pleasure and to deny displeasure and the opposing natural forces that tend to affirm displeasure and to deny pleasure. The second one is the psyche general law that can be called general tendency from one subjective approach. Such a law is the reference to one of those two forces in fight; it is simply to define the constant intention force and necessary functions of its guidance*. The two latest ones are the law of decision and the law of effect. These are already specifications about the way that general law acts. The law of decision refers to fights occurred inside the intention, where it is necessary to choose among two or more possible ways to achieve pleasure and/or to deny displeasure. The winner of this internal fight is always, according to the brain calculations, the best psychic alternative. The law of the effect is the expression of affective memory, and it means that it is acted according to the data on the effects of pleasure or displeasure, and its quantum that each behavior has had in the past, which results have the tendency of repeating what it is associated to pleasure and avoiding the repetition of what displeasure has caused.

* Epicuro was the first one in understanding the existence of this general and absolute tendency of the motivation clearly. take Nizan Pablo as an example. Los materialistas de la Antigüedad. (The materialists of the Antiquity) Editorial Hemisferio. Buenos Aires 195

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© Author: Alberto E. Fresina
Title: "The Laws of Psyche"
Title of the original Spanish Version:
"Las Leyes del Psiquismo"
Fundar Editorial
Printed in Mendoza, Argentina
I.S.B.N. 987-97020-9-3
Mendoza, 14th July, 1999
Copyright registered at the National Copyright Bureau in 1988, and at the Argentine Book Camera in 1999, year of its publication.
Translated by Ana El kassir with the collaboration of Marcela Berenguer
Characteristic of the original copy in Spanish: Number of pages: 426; measures: 5.9 x 8.27 x 1 inch; weight: 1.2lb.

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