Xin (The Heart-Mind) and Feeling Tones: A Unifying Systems Theory Framework

“In Chinese philosophy, xin can refer to one’s “disposition” or “feelings” (Chinese: ; pinyin: xīn), or to one’s confidence or trust in something or someone (Chinese: ; pinyin: xìn). Literally, xin (心) refers to the physical heart, though it is sometimes translated as “mind” as the ancient Chinese believed the heart was the center of human cognition. For this reason, it is also sometimes translated as “heart-mind”. It has a connotation of intention, yet can be used to refer to long-term goals.[1] Xunzi, an important early Confucian thinker, considered xin (心) to be cultivated during one’s life, in contrast to innate qualities of xing (Chinese: ; pinyin: xìng), or human nature.[2]

A Daoist view, specifically from the philosopher Zhuangzi, understands xin (心) as being socialized, with environmental pressures influencing personal intentions, sometimes in such a way that can provoke disagreements and conflict. While a Confucian might take heart that xin (心) may be cultivated in order to develop de, or moral virtue, Zhuangzi considered this socialization as detrimental to one’s personal nature, somewhat along the lines of the later French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. However, unlike Rousseau, René Descartes and many other Enlightenment-era European philosophers following the classical example of Plato, emotion and reason were not considered separate entities, but rather as coextensive; xin (心) itself is a concept that is as much cognitive as emotional.[3][4]

  1. Shun, Kwong Loi, “Mencius”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  2. Robins, Dan, “Xunzi”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  3. Hansen, Chad, “Taoism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  4. Ivanhoe, P.J., & Van Norden, B.W. (Eds.) (2001). Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy, 2nd Ed. Hackett Publishing Co.: Indianapolis, p. 393″


Table of Contents

Teaching with Feeling in Mind by Paul A. LaViolette

[Reprinted from On the Beam, Volume 6(2) (1986)]

Our approach to teaching is strongly influenced by your understanding of how the human mind functions to form thoughts. Modes of classroom instruction currently in widespread use are based upon the outdated “robot model,” which views the brain as an input-output information storage and processing unit. Computer analogies, however, are unable to account for a key feature of intelligence, one that is central to the learning process, the phenomenon of creative thought formation.

Recently, however, a novel theory has been developed which sheds some light on the creative process. This theory conceives creative thoughts as emerging spontaneously from a fabric of sensation and emotion composed of experiential units called “feeling tones.” According to Bill Gray(1), basic feeling tones, like the primary colors of the rainbow, combine in a nearly infinite number of ways to form a whole spectrum of shades and these represent all aspects of our internal and external experience. Just as Mozart’s ninth symphony and Beethoven’s twelfth may both be played from the same set of musical notes, so too the rich variety of mental experience that bombards our consciousness may be represented by means of the same fundamental set of feeling tones.

Like people and cars in a city, these complex feeling tone structures, or “compositions,” are always on the move through our brain. Just as a well-designed city allows people to meet one another and form rich sets of associations and relationships, so too the brain provides an environment within which feeling tones are able to link up with one another and spontaneously form more complex combinations of a meaningful nature. These syntheses are what we call thoughts.

Robot model theorists conceive thoughts to be neuroelectric impulses which, like the binary coded electrical impulses in a computer circuit, derive their various meanings by travelling along specific “wires” or nerve fiber pathways. However, this hard-wired mechanistic conception unfortunately leads to a physicalistic view of the mind, conscious experience being conceived as inextricably bound to the physical architecture of the brain. The feeling tone model, on the other hand, conceives the meaning of thoughts to be intrinsic to the thoughts themselves, the information content of a thought being embodied in its specific feeling tone code or neuroelectric waveform shape. Like their feeling tone relatives, thoughts are on the move too. Thus mental information is portable and free to move throughout the brain.

According to this new view, the brain may be conceived as a kind of sophisticated loom, one which is suited to the weaving of mental fabrics.(2,3) However, this is a very unusual loom. For, these feeling tone tapestries have the unique ability of themselves being able to run the controls of the loom. Thus the fabric is able to weave itself in a self-determining fashion! Because of this self-referential process, the mind is capable of independent evolution to states of complexity far exceeding that of its biological matrix, the brain.

The brain/mind relation in many ways resembles the mother/child, womb/embryo relation. The brain provides a unique environment within which that living entity the mind is spawned. Unlike embryonic development, however, there are no pre-existent chromosome blueprints. Rather, the “genes which shape the mental personality are continuously created on-the-spot, these spontaneous birth events being our creative insights and ideas.

It goes without saying that such a model of mental phenomena suggests an approach to education quite different from that currently practiced in schools. According to this approach, understanding is best accomplished through a process of facilitation, rather than through rote instruction. Teaching is not a programming process, the feeding of information into computer-like brains. Rather, it is an agrarian process — the acquisition of knowledge being likened to the raising of crops. The teacher’s purpose is to provide sunlight, fertilizer, and water, and an environment free of predators in which sensitivity, caring, and curiosity are free to develop. The learning which ensues must be viewed as a birth process, one which must not be rushed. Confusion results if material is delivered at a pace faster than the student can assimilate, since the evoked thoughts require sufficient time to take full root in the student’s personal feeling tone fabric that he is perpetually weaving.


  1. Gray, William “Understanding creative thought processes: An early formulation of the emotional-cognitive structure theory.” Man-Environment Systems 9 (1979): 3–14.
  2. LaViolette, Paul A. “Thoughts about thoughts about thoughts: The emotional-perceptive cycle theory.” Man-Environment Systems 9 (1979): 15–47.
  3. LaViolette, Paul. A. “The thermodynamics of the aha experience.” Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Society for General Systems Research, San Francisco, Jan. 1980; Reprinted in: (1982) W. Gray, et al. (eds.) General Systems Theory and the Psychological Sciences (Vol. I). Intersystems Press, CA.

Gray, William “Understanding creative thought processes: An early formulation of the emotional-cognitive structure theory.” Man-Environment Systems 9 (1979): 3–14, January 1979.


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* I gratefully acknowledge the editorial assistance of Paul A. Laviolette.


A novel conception of the creative thought process is presented. This theory posits an integrating relationship between emotion and cognition, which repairs the age old Cartesian split between feeling and thinking. This theory suggests that the basic global emotions differentiate during child development into a large number of ever finer less intense emotional nuances, or feeling tones, of precise, sharply defined quality, and that these become patterned in a nearly infinite number of ways to constitute an emotional language for coding cognitive experience. Thoughts are conceived as “emotional-cognitive structures”, i.e. structured assemblies of cognitive fragments fused together by their emotional coding elements. Thought formation is viewed from a general systems perspective as an “organic” process in which emotional nuances act as the organizing elements linking up appropriate cognitive fragments in an ongoing structural growth process. Thia model presents a humanistic conception of man, emphasizing the primacy of spontaneous behavior and the importance of feelings in the self-organization of thought and personality. Finally, the dangers of purely cognitive modes of thought are pointed out.

I. Introduction

My interest in the nature of the thinking process began back in 1955. More specifically, I was at that time very interested in creative thinking, for it is this form of thought which leads to discovery, to invention, and to effective expression in art. It had become clear to me that so much of what is called “thinking’, i.e., the review of past ideas, memorization, practice, repetition, and the like, is really only a fragment of the thinking process. I felt that “true” thinking (i.e., original thinking) follows the general format ascribed to creative thinking. It is a process contributed to from unconscious mentation and emotions as well as from conscious thinking, and its result is never quite foreseen, but always has something of the unexpected in it. Moreover, it is a process with stages of: preparation, incubation, illumination, and finally verification (5, p. 40).

One of my major concerns regarding creative thought was to discover how it is that ideas and learning are linked up into the patterns and aggregations that we call concepts and thoughts. From the study of associations it is clear that ideas, having apparently disparate connections, are joined in the unconscious through a series of linkages. But, what could these linking systems be? Could they have something to do with recognizing analogies?

It had become apparent to me that creative thought is somehow linked to the ability to translate strange ideas and information into terms familiar and meaningful, i.e., into terms that are characteristic of one’s specialty, one’s own way of thinking, or one’s own experience. That is, in any new learning we proceed to understand the new in terms of the familiar. And we accomplish this translation through the use of relevant analogy, although we may not be consciously aware of this.

However, later I decided that relevant analogue features themselves could not constitute the coding keys and integrating axes for learning and thinking processes, since learning and thinking occur at too fast a rate. In fact, our logical appreciation of the existence of such analogical connections does not preceed, but always follows the emergence of a learning or thinking process product. Perhaps this is why it is so hard to recognize that we do think by relevant analogy. However, I remained convinced that there was a coding device for thought and that it had something to do with relevant analogues and with the translatability of knowledge, yet that somehow relevant analogues in themselves did not quite fit the bill as coding devices (p, pp. 31-35).

It was about a year later, in August of 1956, that I made a significant breakthrough in my understanding of the creative thought process. I had come to the realization that emotions might serve both as the integrating devices for the formation of thoughts and as the coding devices for their storage in memory (3). This came to me one day while listening to a patient. He was a man who for a long time had struggled to write a novel. On this particular occasion it had become clear that books had been very meaningful to him in his childhood, a deprived one in that at a crucial age he had lost his mother. Those books that were particularly meaningful to him pictured clearly things that he had gone through and experienced. Therefore, they made him feel that someone else too had experienced a similar occurrence or event. However, he felt that, of the books he knew, none pictured clearly enough the feeling tone connected with certain of his own personal experiences. He felt therefore, that he should make a contribution of a book that did so, one that would some day be meaningful to some other person with a similar experience in the way that books had been meaningful to him (5, p. 38).

As I listened to him, it suddenly became clear that he wanted to write a book with a specific nuance of emotional tone, similar to many that he had read, and yet significantly different, a shade of its own, not previously produced. And in quick succession, the role of the emotional nuance in coding and integrating thinking and learning came also to mind, accompanied by a feeling of sureness that this was so. I realized that it is just this specificity of the emotional nuance that represents and acts as the coding key to a new idea (5, p. 39).

II. The Ubiquitous Nuance

Just as a basic set of primary colors may be mixed in different proportions and combinations to produce practically an infinite array of differentiable shades, so too we might imagine that the basic set of global feelings (e.g., rejection, triumph, anger, fear, or loss), differentiate and combine in varying amounts to produce differentiable shadings, what I have come to call emotional nuances, or feeling tones. These nuances would serve the essential role of linking devices, coding and integrating experiential material ranging from every day events to abstract mathematical relationships.

More recently in 1971, Carroll Izard (12) independently proposed that emotions differentiate into subtle shades. He classifies the fundamental emotions into the categories: interest/excitement, enjoyment/joy, surprise/startle, distress/anguish, disgust/contempt, anger/rage, shame/humiliation, fear/terror, contempt/scorn, and disgust/ revulsion. Each of these categories may be easily nuanced into a number of shades, as, for example, interest/excitement into concentrating, attending, attracted, and curious. The intermixing of the fundamental emotions, therefore, leads to as wide an array of potentially distinguishable feeling tones as one might wish or need.

I would suggest that in early infancy man’s feelings are global and intense, and so, tend towards the production of emotionally driven thought and behavior. Object and self-representations, at this stage, would be linked or organized into units by feeling tones, initially limited either to the pleasure or unpleasure series. However, in the course of time with personal growth these global feelings would gradually become transformed into emotional nuances by natural built-in mechanisms which would accomplish modulation, differentiation, and nuancing until feeling tones emerged that were sharp or gentle, very clear, and reproducible, and which contained representations of both the pleasure and unpleasure series. In many ways this parallels the process described in psychoanalytic theory as the movement from primitive drive constellations and narcissistic orientation to what is described as object relations, which encompass regarding the other person as an object like oneself, a human being, and no longer a thing. That is, the instrumental relationship becomes transformed into a caring and civilized relationship (10, p. 8).

Emotions in differentiated, nuanced form appear to play a crucial role in the process of creative thinking. I suggest that their primary function is that they serve as coding indices in the storage of ideas, and complexes of ideas, in the memory banks of the mind, and particularly of the unconscious mind. Their second primary function in thinking is that of serving as axes of integration or organization in new idea formation. These functions, although only two in number, are extremely important to understand, if a real grasp of the nature of the thinking process is to be obtained. In the next section we, will examine the coding aspects of emotional nuances.

Coding, Memory Storage, and Memory Recall

The coding function, first of all, is that of labelling all cognitions (or cognitive fragments), ideas and idea complexes with the various emotional nuances relevant to them, making possible their memory storage and recall. By “cognitions” I mean “cognitive fragments”, that is, data without clear relevance or meaning. I am assuming that we have available to us a supply of freely floating cognitive elements derived from poorly under-stood experience or from the operation of our abstracted memory.

The emotional coding of cognitions may be understood as follows. Suppose I have a differentiated emotional nuance involving outbursts of controlled, mild, repetitive anger. This might code the cognitive concept of how an auto engine works. Or, if one has an emotional nuance of fluctuating helplessness colored by gray-green despair with mild flickerings of optimism, such a nuance might well code a certain ecological concept of the world, or an adolescent’s view of adult society. Or, certain types of feelings of continuity and wholeness, say, the emotional experience of seeing how steps form a staircase, might attach themselves to a cognitive package called integral calculus (8, p. 169).

One advantage of the emotional nuance as a coding device is that it permits classification of ideas numbering in the millions through the use of code labels numbering at most in the thousands. By way of an analogy to genetics we might imagine that there is some sort of an emotional alphabet, roughly similar to that found in DNA, in which a small number of letters can, in their various permutations, present an almost infinite array of such possibilities. The analogy to DNA has another important aspect: one might well consider the emotional nuance half and the cognitive fragment half as being similar to the two halves of a DNA chain. Just as a completed DNA molecule is needed for the commencement of protein synthesis, in the case of mental process, both halves, i.e., a completed emotional-cognitive structure, are necessary for adding a thought to the structure of knowledge and personality.

I do not believe that every human being would have exactly the same set of emotional nuances to serve as the organized key for certain cognitive fragments. That is, I do not believe that there is an exact one-to-one correlation between a particular bit of cognitive material and the array of emotional nuances relevant to this material. However, I do believe that there is considerably high congruence, particularly within a given cultural framework (7, p.12).

By depending upon an easily noticeable label or code, the brain is able to store things in a random fashion. An illustration of this kind of storage system is one that I use in keeping my own papers, notes and schedules straight. The method consists of using various colored adhesive viny-plastic materials (contact paper) as coding indices for papers and manila envelopes, see Figure 1. This permits me at a glance to tell the general category of any material lying around the room or at my office (6, p.18)*.

*For readers of Man-Environment Systems references to formal theory of man-environment relations are obvious e.g. Delong on the environment as a code (M-ES 2:263-313, 1972), Tibbetts and Esser on man-environment transactions (M-ES 3:441-488, 1973) and Maclean on brain evolutions (M-ES 5: 213-224, 1975).


It is interesting that at the time I started using this system of coding as a replacement for the old one of storing things in alphabetical files, I had not, at that time, formulated the concept of emotional nuance as the coding device of memories and ideas. This process of living something out without realizing its larger relevance, is quite common and actually forms a very necessary part of any creative or inventive thought process. In this particular case, as the idea of emotional nuance coding began to take form, one day it dawned on me that, of course, I had begun unconsciously to use this type of filing system myself. I became aware that this was perhaps a clue from my own unconscious as to a solution of a problem that I had been puzzling about (6, p. 19).

If we suppose that the brain does store nuance-coded memories in a random fashion, we must admit the possible existence of a scanning operation for memory recall. This scanning process may manifest itself electrically as the alpha or theta rhythm, whereby the contents of various memory storage units are reviewed several times per second (M-ES 9: pp. 15-47). We might imagine that coded ideas, or idea groups, respond to scanning signals producing a sort of two-way communication comparable to the process of communication between two people. Effective verbal communication requires an active effort on the part of both parties. Thus, the one who is talking makes obvious efforts to get across to the listener the meaning, gist, real feeling of what he is trying to say, while the listener is actively engaged in giving clues by facial expression or perhaps even verbal responses as to whether he is getting the point, or whether new information is needed. I think that a similar thing occurs when relevant ideas are retrieved from memory storage. I think that there is a reactivity in the response of the tagged ideas in memory comparable to that of our listener (6, pp. 23-24).

Freud suggested that the livingness or meaningfulness of an internal idea representing any external object may be the result of our energizing this idea with portions of our psychic energy, much like the placing of an electrostatic charge on a substance. He spoke of this phenomenon as cathexis. Thus, he conceived of the mind as possessing large stores of mobile, cathetic energies. Our becoming interested in some person or some thing would result from our deposition of a certain amount of this cathectic energy on our representation of the object or thing.

One might imagine that the original emotional nuance with which the idea was labelled before being filed into memory is in the form of a cathexis which has the ability to respond to a signalling nuance. Thus, the cathetic energy (emotional nuance) that we have deposited in memory would act as a sort of electrical resonating chamber or tuning band. Upon further energic stimulation from ourselves, the cathexis, or nuance, originally fixed to the memory trace would be tuned in, and a radar-like, bounce-back signal would be received. We would recognize that this was such and such an object because the received signal would take on the pattern characteristic of the initial cathectic charge which had energized the object representation (6, pp. 17-18).

Returning to our office filing system example, we might imagine a storage-retrieval system in which reference material was thrown into a general pile and relocated by relying on a code scanning device. For example, we might imagine that the relevant reference folders were previously labelled with a colored material that would fluoresce in a particular wavelength band, and in no other, when illuminated by a flash of color light to which it was responsive.

The great advantage of the emotional nuance is that it is able to hold a large number of individual ideas or images together and to represent the unified idea or concept that all of the component part ideas represent when arranged in a particular structure. Thus, there is the great advantage of not having to remember these subcomponents and their structural inter-relationships. For example, one could say that 2 + 2 = 4, translated into emotional nuance terms, involves emotional nuances corresponding to something called 2, to a process called adding, to a process called equaling, and finally to something called 4. Then one would end with an emotional nuance covering the whole statement, and in addition, one would have an emotional nuance that said that this is a package, i.e., something that stands together. One would now file the whole matter under another new emotional nuance that included closure elements. Thus, one would end up knowing what 2 + 2 = 4 feels like. To recall it one needs only be clear about the emotional nuance representing the whole matter, and this will lead to the related ideas (7, p. 13).

Consequently during recall, there will be a process of movement, or flow, in which the coding nuance brings back bit by bit the relevant pieces of its corresponding structure. As this occurs the individual becomes aware in various ways that something previously learned and understood is beginning now to come back to memory. This can occur in the presence of full conscious attention, or can occur with almost total lack of consciousness. Taking the case where the noticing and grasping functions of consciousness are active, a feeling tone of something previously learned coming back will increase in degree, and finally, it will become the “Eureka” type of emotional reaction, a sudden look of comprehension, pleasure and feeling of relief. One will say something such as, “Now I remember, it goes this way,” and then one will describe, for example, the way in which a certain differential equation is derived, what it means, and what its relationship is to processes going on in the real world.

The facility of recall would depend upon the degree to which the exactly correct emotional nuance was able to take form in the original instance of learning or experiencing. In cases where development was inhibited, the knowledge received would not fit into a pattern with gestalt features and there would be trouble remembering it clearly, or one would remember only fragments. Another possibility is that in between the time of the original attempt to learn, and the present, unconscious learning and thinking has completed the gestalt and the proper emotional nuance has been formed. One may then have the very pleasant feeling of, “My God, I never understood that before, but now it all becomes so clear to me” (6, p. 25).

III. The Organization of Thought

The original notion of emotional nuances as coding devices later developed into the notion of emotional nuances as the organizing devices of thought and personality. It had become clear to me that the most effective and usable form of code would have to be the experience itself in miniature and that the most effective form of such miniaturization would be that the code itself would be the organizing kernel of the larger experience, the plan, the blueprint, the “genetic coding” which when activated, could lead to the recreation of the larger total unit.

Thus, the basic tenet of what I have come to call emotional-cognitive structure theory is that there is an organizational relation between emotions and cognitions (cognitive fragments); that, at times, emotions organize cognitions, and that, at other times, cognitions organize emotions, with the proviso that the pathway of spontaneous growth and development is in the direction of emotions organizing cognitions. This is in accord with the evidence that we are feeling beings before we are thinking beings. However, in stating this point in this fashion we are in danger of perpetuating the error of dividing personality into parts (thinking vs. feeling) when the primary evidence is that personality is a holistic function. What we really mean is that emotional-cognitive structures are the basic subsystem element of the mind, and that when we use the term feeling, or cognition, we are referring really to emotional-cognitive structures weighted either on the emotional or on the cognitive side.

I wish, now, to delineate the stages of emotional processing that I believe take place in the evolution of thought. These are shown in Figure 2 (9). First there must be an ability to feel an emotion deeply, intensively, and sometimes overwhelmingly. Following this the emerging feeling must be recognized and expressed, necessarily at first to other people, although at later stages the audience may be an internal one, i.e., as during autistic thought. This expression stage may also involve “encountering”, a phenomenon in which there is a loosening of boundaries and an emotional merging between people with the sense of self being temporarily lost (1). Following this there is a stage of modulation, where the intensity of the feeling is slowly brought into comfortable range so that it can be held in attention and lived with. Next occurs a stage of differentiation where the feeling develops unique characteristics that single it out from other feelings, a process ordinarily referred to as sorting out one’s feelings. Then comes a phase where even further differentiation occurs, the precising stage, to be followed by the nuancing stage. By nuancing I mean that the feeling tone becomes subtle in its differentiation, becomes recognizable as a very particular form. Then there is the last stage, the meditational one, in which the nuanced feeling tone is held in awareness or alternately in the preconscious state for a time duration of from seconds or minutes to years. It is in this phase that the nuanced feeling tone organizes thought, a process ordinarily thought of as creative or original thinking. During this latter phase the nuanced feeling has access to cognitive fragments, to previous thoughts, and probably also to other emerging feelings and other emotional cognitive structurings, particularly in those cases where there is a long time delay between the originating emotion and the resultant thought (9, pp. 8-9).


The process whereby thoughts evolve in an emotional-cognitive structural fashion is also depicted in the flow diagram shown in Figure 3 (10). To trace the development of a thought, we will begin with the origin of its organizing emotional nuance. There are two possibilities for the origin of a particular piece of thinking. One is that an emotion spontaneously arises, and goes through the emotional-cognitive structuring process, ending with a thought. This is the model of primary spontaneous activity. Ludwig von Bertalanffy, the father of modern general system theory, postulated primary spontaneous activity as an essential feature of humanistic systems as well as of living systems (14). The second origin of thought is a reactive one, as in the interpretation of external events, for example, a cognition from the outside, might set off a number of emotional-cognitive structuring cycles. Obviously, both forms, activity and reactivity, are necessary, although I would incline to the primacy of the first.


Thus, in Figure 3 we depict a nuance spontaneously emerging from the idling cycle state. The idling cycle indicates a state of mind in which emotional and cognitive fragments are continually in circulation. We may assume that the mind is always active; it doesn’t turn off and on. Even when we appear to be thinking of nothing, emotional nuances continually arise, organize a few cognitions, and then die out, or become fragmented and dispersed by other competing feeling tones. This subliminal process operates by means of association. We might imagine that a sequence of apparently disparate associations retrieved during idling would be linked by a certain feeling tone common to all of the associations. It may be that associations are coded according to the particular feeling tone that they present and that this provides for the possibility of the subdivision of all associations into a number of large groups or categories.

The seed for a developing thought might be a nuance representing an incipient question, wish, desire, intention, motivation, or plan. However, for this nuance to develop into an organizing focus, i.e., an axis for the potential organization of cognitions, it must be selectively intensified. Such intensification occurs only in the presence of what I call a relevant nurturing environment (RNE), see Figure 3. For example, it is well known that the wish to steal is present in a large percentage of people. However, under ordinary circumstances this organizing focus does not turn into actual stealing, except in the presence of opportunities or encouragement from others.

Upon intensification, an emergent emotional nuance would eventually grow into an emotional theme, the difference being that a theme, figuratively speaking, organizes a chapter in a book, while a nuance organizes only a paragraph. An emotional theme may be viewed in the form of a large arrow, with a body in the form of a meandering river, and with the tip of the arrow representing the leading edge whose next movement is only known in approximate terms, see Figure 3. As the emotional theme continues to grow and develop, it organizes and relates an ensemble of cognitions. This self-organizing process may be understood by the following metaphor.

Imaging that one is a railroad builder with a special ability consisting of the capacity to look back over one’s shoulder and to see one, two, five, ten, and fifty years into the future. What one will see is an amazing event. That is, gradually little houses would appear along one’s railroad track, and then little towns and finally factories and big cities. The same growth pattern would be observed to take place along the banks of a river, or along the sides of a highway. It is amazing, because one did not plan that this would happen. But, it is not amazing if one realizes that rivers and railroads are organizing forces. If one was now aware that this was so and was interested in development, one would simply lay down the organizational flow pattern and let it do its work. Eventually, this organizational development process would become self-evolving. That is, development might lead to the emergence of new flow patterns which would modify or change the original organizational pattern. If such an evolving system is encouraged to develop in a healthy fashion, and has sufficient constraints and difficulties to deal with, it will continue to develop (i.e., it will become more ordered).

Now, in the mind the flowing railroads, rivers, or roads are the emotional themes, and the little houses or buildings they organize are cognitions, and the resulting “urban” constellation is an emotional-cognitive structure, which retains both its emotional and cognitive aspects forever if it remains healthy. If you take the “river” or “railroad” or “highway” away, you have deemotionalized cognitions, and this is not good. However, if you remove the “houses” and “villages” you have emotionally driven feelings, and this is also not good. It is the organized texturing of both feelings and experiences that leads to the development of increasing richness and complexity in a healthy personality (10, pp. 14-16).

An emotional-cognitive structure is said to have formed when its various sub-systems, the emotional-nuance-tagged cognitions, develop sufficient coherence through the formation of integrating emotional nuances. At this point we would say that a prototypical thought has developed, see the first circle in Figure 3. This overall structure would then have gestalt-type features and a sufficient measure of autonomy that it could be easily referenced. It would itself be characterized by an emotional nuance that had a feeling of wholeness about it, a feeling that it stands together, a feeling of availability to future consideration, easy recall, and future linkage possibilities with other large gestalts.

Emotional-cognitive structures would tend to form hierarchies in which higher level emotional nuances would encode and integrate lower level nuances. In a comparison to music, simple emotional nuances might be compared to notes which then combine into chords and then into sonatas and symphonies. But in each case a new and specifically differentiated emotional nuance would form and attach itself to an appropriate cognitive package or form a new and more complex emotional-cognitive structure. The requirements of simplicity and easy referencing and recall would be satisfied by the fact that in all cases a single emotional nuance would encode the whole complex (8, p. 169).

The formation of such higher order structure, or coarse structure is shown in Figure 3. Here, emotional-cognitive structures (ECS’) of equal order are organized by higher order affects. Higher order affects are defined as more complex emotional themes having emotional nuances in their tributary structure that originate both in the pleasure and unpleasure series of feeling tones (bipolar affects), and also having previously formed ECS’ within their format, that is, what we ordinarily call concepts and information are part of their structure. As in ECS formation, higher order affects will also incorporate tributaries of distinct emotional nuances arising from the ECS’ that it is organizing.

A coarse structure ECS may spawn an emotional nuance leading to the formation of a fine structure ECS’ which carry the main function of revision of coarse structure ECS’, for it seems that only detailed thoughts are able to see flaws in more broadly outlined thoughts. Under the influence of a fine structure ECS the elements forming a coarse structure ECS would regroup into an new pattern, an instance of hierarchical restructuring. Finally, both coarse and fine structure ECS’ contribute to form a core structure ECS which represents the more lasting part of behavior, personality, and idea formation (6, p. 17).

IV. System Forming Aspects of Thought

The process by which thought is formed may be adequately described by my recently developed General System Precursor Formation Theory. We may begin by defining system formation as an anamorphic process that results in the production of an ongoing system. Thus, the organizing process leading to the formation of an emotional-cognitive structure would be an instance of system formation. The theory proposes that, in general, system formation proceeds when two or more system precursors are brought together in a relational sense. The world is full of system precursor groups, ranging from the simple to the complex. For example, a candle and oxygen can “system form” into a candle flame if an organizing event is present, i.e., an igniting spark; a man and a woman are necessary precursors for that system formation called marriage; and individual people constitute system precursors in the formation of a psychotherapy group. Our two system precursors in the case of thought formation, would be, on the one hand, the particular emotional nuance service as the organizing focus, and on the other hand, the relevant nurturing environment (11).

A relevant nurturing environment, as the name implies, is an environment which tends to nurture the growth of an emotional nuance (or organizing focus). This is represented in Figure 3 as “nutrient river banks” paralleling the emotional flow. The theory also postulates the existence of system precursor activators which serve to initiate the emergence of an organizing focus, and system blockers which inhibit system formation or which have the capability of returning an ongoing system to the precursor state. We may strike an analogy here to genetics, noting that during protein synthesis various coding sites on the gene (system precursors) are either activated or inhibited by the action of enzyme molecules. In a similar manner we might imagine emotional nuances to be either activated into theme formation or blocked.

Thought formation is necessarily a bounded process. Emotional-cognitive structures form only within the confines of a system forming space, i.e., a protective space of relational, rather than geometric type, surrounding evolving system precursors. This provides the necessary degree of isolation for system forming to take place. System forming spaces together with relevant nurturing environments, system activators and blockers, constitute a sort of mental landscape influencing the direction in which emotional nuances could potentially grow. Emotional themes might be visualized as rivers that course through the valley of this landscape, and which are bounded by nutrient-lined embankments. Thus, emotional-cognitive structure formation is viewed as an autonomous growth process in which the course of idea growth is shaped by factors external to the system forming process itself. These shaping factors may originate within the individual’s own personality or in his environment.

From this ontological perspective, emotional-cognitive structures are essentially “fliess-gleichgewichts” (11). This is a general system term originally introduced by Ludwig von Bertalanffy (14) to describe the character of open systems, and may be translated as meaning “stabilized pattern of flow”. This term captures the essential difference between living and non-living systems. Mechanical systems are built of non-changing parts whose organization is achieved by interrelationship, while in living systems the parts themselves have only a quasi-stability, being formed by stabilizing patterns of flow of matter, energy, and information through their boundaries. Excellent descriptions of how this work in living biological systems can be found in Chance and Necessity by Jacques Monad (13).

V. Creativity: The Unconscious as a Learning and Thinking Instrument

The conscious and unconscious mind

The process of creative thinking may be divided into a sequence of consecutive phases: Preparation, Incubation, Illumination, and Verification. Of these, the first and fourth occur primarily in the conscious, the second almost totally in the unconscious, while the third involves the delivery of the results of unconscious mentation during incubation into the conscious. Further discussion of this subject necessitates a clarification of what is meant by “conscious” and “unconscious”.

We will use the term “unconscious” to indicate any mental activity in which clear and focused awareness is not present. This definition would include the great majority of all mental life, and would exclude, really, only that state of mind when we are in focused and concentrated attention. In this way we make our definition much more inclusive than ordinary, and so, do away with all of the usual “how many angels can sit on a pin point” type of arguments about what is, and what is not to be included in the unconscious.

Our definition certainly will include all of those areas commonly spoken of as the deep unconscious, which is characterized by having its contents never directly come to consciousness, and so is able only to influence consciousness through its influence on ideas and thoughts in the preconscious. We will include certainly the deepest layer of the unconscious where the instinctual urges are present. We will include also what is ordinarily called the preconscious, or that part of the mental life which is capable, with a fair amount of ease, of becoming conscious, and which, for the most part, has once been conscious. We will include also, from the topographic stand-point, not only the unconscious aspects of the id, but of the super-ego, and ego. Finally, we will include in our definition, a large part of what is ordinarily accounted conscious, and we will do so on the basis that much of what we ordinarily refer to as conscious takes place at such a rapid rate as to make it unlikely that it could come from completely conscious areas in the sense that we have defined them.

We will now take the final step and declare that even the area that we have defined as conscious is unable to function on its own. We will assert that in the type of thinking that we are going to call conscious, a different state of affairs exists, and that in this situation, what really goes on is a collaborative work. That is, the conscious and relevant portions of the unconscious are acting in harmony, the conscious acting in a focused way upon a limited area of feeling, thought, or learning in the unconscious.

We have thus reduced the conscious to a focusing or awareness heightening organ, quite secondary to the unconscious learning and thinking instrument. Consciousness consists of a group of abilities that we will not try to define too carefully at this time, but which are: fine focusing, integrative, comparative, form perceiving, awareness heightening and attention giving. Consciousness involves the ability to take a central idea, form, or structure, and make it the central issue to be compared to all other relevant forms or structures. Thus emergent patterns of thought in the unconscious might otherwise pass largely unnoticed if they were not “lit up” by a certain amount of hypercathexis supplied by the conscious thinking apparatus. This would be similar to the way one’s car headlights light up roadside reflectors. Until one supplies power to the headlights, the reflectors are not clearly visible; although they may be somewhat visible by reason of the small amounts of light ordinarily present, such as moonlight.

It is these illumination abilities and powers which make consciousness the highest achievement of man as a thinking animal, although without the unconscious learning and thinking instrument, on which it sits as an apex on a base, it would be helpless (6, pp. 2-3).

Phases of the creative process

The first phase of the creative process, the preparation stage, involves conscious work aimed at clarifying the nature of the problem, defining it in as specific way as possible. This leads to the development of a specific new emotional nuance which is sent to the unconscious “computer system”. There, during the period of incubation, the second phase, the unconscious links up images in various combinations through associative processes using this nuance as a unifying or selective principle. As was described in Section III, this nuance, acting as an organizing focus, attracts to itself related images which, if properly arranged, will then form an emotional feeling that corresponds to this nuance.

The incubation stage of the creative process may often be accelerated by fixing the problem under consideration in one’s mind and generating a sort of “hyperaware evenly hovering attentiveness.” In this way one gets a “feel” for the problem, and for what its main elements are about. This, of course, is done consciously, but it seems to have the ability of bringing the total thinking process, and particularly the unconscious thinking processes, into operation.

Any complex of ideas in the unconscious, at a certain stage of development, begins to have somewhat a life of its own. By this we mean that it, itself, presses for completion, presses for elements and linkages necessary to finish its construction. This coming to life of a certain idea within ourselves, once it has reached a certain stage of structural development, was very clearly described to me by William Gordon, who headed the invention design group at Arthur D. Little, Inc. Mr. Gordon spoke of this stage in the inventive process as one of autonomy of the object. For example, when a painting has reached a certain stage, it begins to have an autonomous life of its own, and to tell us what it needs for completion. The same holds for a three dimensional model being built as an invention (6, pp. 16-17) .

The process, whereby an incubating pattern of subconscious associations somehow prompts the mind to set up a search at both the conscious and unconscious levels for certain necessary missing information, is what I have come to call “window shopping”. For example, creative people, in whom this ability is highly developed, keep a sort of awareness open for information, the exact character of which they could not consciously tell you. It is as if they have learned that there are certain bits of information needed for one or another complex of unconsciously forming ideas and that by keeping up a sort of radar scanning of their environment, they will eventually stumble across the piece of information they need. However, once such a piece of information has been located they may be only vaguely aware as to how to put it to use (6, p. 16).

Intuition plays an important role in “window shopping”. Intuition can be thought of as being the traditional sixth sense, i.e., the “sense organ” by which the ego becomes aware of what is going on in the unconscious learning apparatus. Particularly, it involves the ability of the ego to get pre-views of syntheses that are on the verge of possible formation. In such a situation intuition would be the ability of the ego by a sense-organ-type of operation to learn what images are missing in the unconscious and which are blocking the synthesis of a particular construct (4).

The third phase of the creative process is that of illumination. During this brief period the ego is considered to dip down into the unconscious and to pick up the relevant data after the fashion of a testing or scanning circuit. However, often this stage of noticing or comprehending may be significantly delayed, in which case, we say that one is “on the verge of discovering something.” In this imminent state one may know something (unconsciously) and yet not know (consciously) that one knows it.

Frequently in the course of my psychotherapeutic work I found myself increasingly able to learn many things of considerable value and accuracy from my patients, and then found, to my surprise, that neither did they have any ideas that I had learned from them, nor were they usually clearly aware of themselves having this knowledge. And in cases where they knew they had the knowledge, they were very much unaware of its relevance and importance. One single striking example, was that of a man who got angry at me, swore, and said that “it was’nt fair that I knew more about his boss, than he did, as he had been working for the man for three years while I had never met him. In this case the experience worked out well, since he was one of the first of my patients able to see for himself that it was true that I had learned it from him, and that there must be many things of value that he somehow knew and yet did not know that he knew (6, p. 11).

Errors in the reliability of the whole thinking complex just described may result from consciously or unconsciously motivated errors in selection of the proper emotional nuance to be used as a coding device. Thus, a fourth stage is required, that of verification. This must be done consciously for the system to have high grade reliability. At times we will find that our idea is right on the nose, and amazingly, what we have “proven” emotionally stands up under the most rigorous tests of logic that we can devise. At other times, however, we will find that our emotionally valid concept is one valid for one of an infinity of possible worlds, but is not valid for the one in which we live. Such a concept, therefore, although it has “elegance”, has “fit”, “closure”, forms a “gestalt”, makes common sense, etc., does not fit or pass the test of verification. It is interesting however, that if such concepts are modified or seen in a new light, they may later on have important validity (6, p. 2).

VI. The Nature of Humanistic Thought

It seems clear to me that it is the emotional aspect of life that carries the humanistic element, the concern of men for one another, and that when ideas are drained of their feeling element they become pathological and dangerous. It is this type of ahumanistic logic that permits man to manipulate symbols in such a way so as to allow him to carry out actions based purely on logical connectedness, without regard as to whether the results are destructive to society. That is, a symbol being freely chosen need have no necessary relationship to the group of objects that it represents. We are all aware of so-called “intelligent” man’s capacity to push buttons or manipulate mathematical equations without regard for whether they carry out some useful function such as decreasing pollution or increasing agricultural productivity, or whether they represent reducing human life by bombing (thus effectively considering human beings as pollutants). It seems to me that such behavior is related to a defect in the symbolizing powers of man. As an avenue for improvement, I would opt for the increased utilization of “sign” functions (emotional nuances), in the sense that signs always carry some meaningful relationship between their own form and that which they represent.

For me, pure cognition has come to be the enemy, the pathological form, and, this is a reversal from the idea prevalent in the Age of Rationality and in the period of my own youth and early adult life, in which we were always warned that it was emotion that was the enemy, the distorter, the source of evil in man’s thinking and action. We were always advised to “keep our feelings out of it,” and to “not be emotional”, if we were to think clearly and rationally and well.

I believe that, ideally, healthy mental process should involve an integrative relationship between emotions and cognitions. A person should be able to learn to think in a way so that what he hopes, thinks, and feels mutually organize one another into rich, evolving, and textured patterns. The best of man’s thought, as exemplified by creative thought, has this humanistic form. Thus, emotional-cognitive structure may be regarded as the desired form for developed and civilized thought and the preferred form of personality development and structuration (10, pp. 3-4).


  1. Durkin, J.E. Encountering: What Low Machs Do. In R. Christie and F. Geis (eds.), Studies in Machiavellianism. New York: Academic Press, 1970.
  2. Gray, W. Structure of the Creative Process, August, 1956 (unpublished).*
  3. _____Development of the Concept of Emotional Nuance as a Coding Device to Serve As a Unifying Principle in the Unconscious, August, 1956 (unpublished).*
  4. _____Description of the Meaning of Intuition as it Relates to the Creative Process. August, 1956 (unpublished).*
  5. _____The Ubiquitous Nuance. June, 1957 (unpublished).*
  6. _____Systematization of Unconscious Learning and Thinking Instrument Approach. May, 1957 (unpublished).*
  7. _____Emotional Nuances as the Organizing Principle of Personality: A Systems View. December, 1966 (unpublished).*
  8. _____Emotional Cognitive Structures: A General Systems Theory of Personality. General Systems, XVIII, 1973.
  9. _____Emotional Cognitive Structuring: A General Systems Approach to Group Psychotherapy, February, 1974 (unpublished).*
  10. _____Emotional Cognitive Structure Theory and Its Evolution Into Emotional Cognitive Structure Therapy. Presented at the 1976 Meeting of the American Group Psychotherapy Association, Boston, Mass.*
  11. _____Emotional Cognitive Structuralism and General System Theory in the Operation of a Court Clinic. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy and Comparative Criminology, No. 2, 1976.
  12. Izard, C.E. The Face of Emotion. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1971.
  13. LaViolette, Paul A. Thoughts about Thoughts about Thoughts: The Emotional-Perceptive Cycle Theory, Man-Environment Systems 9: pp. 15-47, January 1979.
  14. Monad, J. Chance and Necessity. New York: Knopf, 1971.
  15. Von Bertalanffy, Ludwig. Robots, Men and Minds. New York: Braz1ller, 1967.

* Available from the author.

LaViolette, Paul A. Thoughts about Thoughts about Thoughts: The Emotional-Perceptive Cycle Theory, Man-Environment Systems 9: pp. 15-47, January 1979.


Portland State University, Portland, Oregon

A new model of mental process is presented which helps to explain many seemingly mysterious aspects of creative thought formation: its gestative period, spontaneity, suddenness of emergence, and its ability to create new information out of subconscious feelings. The model, which is shown to be supported by recent neurophysiological findings, postulates a self-referential relationship between limbic emotive processes and cortical perceptive processes. A cognitive event is envisioned as a self-organizing, birth process in which a particular combination of unconscious feeling tones becomes amplified through emotional perceptive cycling into a state of high intensity. It is suggested that these feeling structures, or “emotional-cognitive structures,” emerge from the unconscious field in a manner similar to the way spatially ordered concentration patterns emerge from a homogeneous concentration field in certain nonequilibrium chemical systems. Thus,  cognition may be understood within the framework of nonequilibrium thermodynamics as an instance of “order-through-fluctuation.” The proposed model leads to a new conception  of the mind/brain relationship, offers an explanation for the evolutionary emergence of intelligence, and points the way to the achievement of a humanistic social existence.


Emotion, Cognition, Symbolism, these are words with which we are familiar, and which refer to our everyday life experience. Indeed, a lot of emotion, cognition, and symbolism went into writing this paper. But how are these basic concepts related? If we can answer this question, perhaps we will have made a significant step toward being able to understand the nature of man’s intrapsychic experience and the way in which it relates to his outer environment or Umwelt. Perhaps it will lead us to a better understanding of the relation between the conscious and the subconscious, between thinking and feeling.

At present there is the widespread belief that cognition and emotion are separate functions of the human mind and, in fact, that they bear a competitive relationship to one another. In this simplified view, thought is believed to be solely the product of the cognitive faculties normally associated with the cerebral cortex. This portion of the brain, also known as the neencephalon, or “new brain,” is accredited with the function of consciousness, perception, feeling, and voluntary control. Emotions, on the other hand, are believed to originate subcortically in the limbic system which is part of the palencephalon, the “old brain,” or “organ of primitive function.” While cognition is viewed as being structural or organizational in character, emotions are viewed (according to the energy theory of the personality) as being unorganized and transient, primarily motivational in character.


However, this fragmented picture is rapidly changing today as the theorists strive toward more wholistic conceptions of the human mind. One approach recently developed by William Gray, the emotional-cognitive structure theory (16), posits an integrating relationship between emotion and cognition. This theory suggests that the basic global emotions, such as pleasure, anger, fear, love, hate, and possibly others, differentiate during child development into a large number of ever finer less intense emotional nuances, or feeling tones, of precise, sharply defined quality. These differentiated emotional nuances then become combined to form modulated emotional patterns much the same way that musical notes combine to form chords or the way that discrete light frequencies combine in different intensities to form shades of color. A finite array of distinct emotional nuances may become patterned in a nearly infinite number of ways forming a rich emotional language which acts as a counterpart to the vast array of cognitive experience. Emotionally tagged cognitive fragments (or “cognitions,” to use Gray’s terminology) then form structural ensembles called emotional-cognitive structures, or thoughts. These units may then be stored in memory to become a lasting part of the personality structure (16, p. 5). Thus, Gray regards emotional nuances as the coding elements of thought and experience.

If one stops to think about it, even unfamiliar sensory data must necessarily be interpreted within a feeling-laden context. The camera theory of sensory perception (the theory of emaculate perception) has long since been abandoned. It is well known, now, that sensory perception is a creative model-building process. Sensory data are automatically oriented within familiar categories before they are stored in memory. For example, suppose that you walk into a friend’s house for the first time. Without consciously realizing it, you are coding all of your sensory experience of that house in terms of feelings you have for your friend, for the contents of the house, and for your geographical and temporal location. Perhaps even your mood at the time plays an important role.

Gray views emotional nuances not only as coding elements, but also as the integrating devices and organizers of thought. Emotional nuances issuing from cognitions are viewed as tributary flows which combine, or associate with one another, to form a river-like emotional theme (see Figure 1). This emotional theme organizes a collection of initially disparate cognitions into a structural form. Thus, just as a river acts as an organizing focus for the growth and development of an urban constellation consisting of homes, factories, and warehouses, so too, emotional nuances in an emotional theme trigger association with nuance-tagged cognitive fragments, forming a growing emotional-cognitive structure (ECS). This ECS would eventually develop sufficient integration to become organizationally closed. At this stage it would achieve autonomy as a thought, and would have its own emergent emotional tag to identify it.


During the incubation period when a thought is “system forming” an ECS could be regarded as a Fliessgleichgewicht, a general systems term introduced by Ludwig von Bertalanffy to describe the character of open-system, dynamic structures (71). Thus, a  forming thought might be visualized as a persisting pattern of emotional flow, possessing both homeostatic, form-stabilizing qualities, and morphogenetic, form-evolving qualities. Hence, in their formative state emotional-cognitive structures would attain quasi-stable states of equilibrium that are always subject to change.

Gray’s ECS theory was developed to explain the psychodynamics of creative thought and personality formation. It was refined within a systems theoretic framework with the conviction that since thinking is an evolutionary process, thought must develop in a manner generally characteristic of dynamic systems. It is important to realize that Gray’s point of departure was not neurophysiological or psychological, i.e., was not involved in the explanation of psychological experiments. Rather, he was concerned with mental processes, i.e., consciousness, memory, feeling, and creativity, elements belonging to the experiential world rather than the physical. The theory he has proposed offers an excellent framework in which to understand these otherwise mysterious phenomena.

Further support for his theory is to be found in his development of emotional-cognitive structure therapy, an outgrowth of the ECS theory, and which has been applied in the successful treatment of the mentally disturbed. Moreover, a recent survey of neurophysiological literature has turned up evidence that supports many of Gray’s claims. This evidence will be discussed in Part II.


At this point, I would like to discuss some of my own ideas which were stimulated by William Gray’s work on ECS theory (16), Ilya Prigogine’s work on the self-organizing behavior of non-equilibrium systems (42), (53), Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s writings on symbolism (73), and my own work on self-organizing systems. These ideas have taken shape in a new theory of the psychophysical organism which, for lack of a better name, I have come to call the emotional-perceptive cycle theory.

At the foundation of the theory is the supposition that emotive processes (\overline {EP}) and perceptual processes (\overline {PE}) are mutually interrelated in a circular causal, self-reflexive process (pictured in Figure 2). That is, emotional nuances from the limbic region would become communicated to the cerebral cortex (\overline {EP}) where they would be reemitted in abstracted form and communicated back to the limbic region (\overline {PE}) where they would reenter the emotional stream, and again recycle themselves. Point E represents a region where nuances from various sources become mixed into the emotional stream, while point P represents a region where nuances become selectively abstracted or filtered from the emotional stream. I will refer to this abstraction process with the term “perception.”


The abstractive nature of perception has been known for some time as a result of psychological experiments conducted on visual pattern recognition. This topic has also been discussed by Whitehead in such writings as Process and Reality:

“Objectification relegates into irrelevance or into subordinate relevance, the full constitution of the objectified entity.† Some real component in the objectified entity assumes the role of being how that particular entity is a datum in the experience of the subject.

A feeling (X) is the appropriation of some elements in the universe to be components in the real internal constitution of its subject (B) [refer to Figure 3]. The elements are the initial data; they are what the feeling feels. But they are felt under an abstraction. The process of the feeling involves negative prehensions (Y, Z) which effect elimination. There is a transition from the initial data to the objective datum effected by the elimination. The objective datum is the perspective of the initial datum. Thus the initial data (A) are felt under a ‘perspective’ which is the objective datum (N) of  the feeling (X).” (61, pp. 10-11)

†N is the objectification of feeling X felt by subject B with regard to subject A (author’s comment).


The mental behavior of a typical psychophysical organism, as illustrated in Figure 2, is conceived to be primarily active, as opposed to reactive. That is, an emotional nuance arises spontaneously from within the organism A → E from an active “idling cycle,” to use Gray’s term (16, p. 7), or from an internally activated memory trace. Subsequently, this feeling tone may be expressed by the organism as exploratory or testing behavior in the environment E → M → B. This thesis of autonomy of the psychophysical organism has been repeatedly emphasized by von Bertalanffy (71, 73) and is upheld by leaders of modern psychiatric thought (1, 4, 19, 21, 41, 59, 76). Although, in addition to input from within the system, there is also input from the environment (i.e., from external stimuli) in the form of sensory inputs O → S →E.

Those accustomed to the all too prevalent mechanistic, computer-like models of mental process should take care to understand that Figure 2 is not a cybernetic diagram, i.e., the    arrows do not indicate pathways of control or effect. Rather, they represent pathways of flow, transformations performed on a stream of subunit entities, i.e., emotional nuances. This model, therefore, represents an open system in the sense that it is open to the flow of information across its boundaries.* For a review of the difference between cybernetic and open systems models see von Bertalanffy (72, pp. 156-163).

* The forming/feeling model developed by Milton Bennett (3), although not an open systems representation, in many ways resembles the emotional-perceptive cycle model. Feeling, in his model, represents passive feeling for the whole of a boundary system, while forming represents the active creation of conceptual boundaries. Bennett identifies the feeling mode with perception and the forming mode with communication. Referring to Figure 2, “feeling” would correspond to the perception of the unconscious emotional stream \overline {EP}, while “forming” would correspond to the selective elicitation of emotion \overline {PE}. Bennett conceives of each mode as continually deriving from the other in an ongoing interactive process in which forming is felt and feeling is formed.


We will adopt Gray’s concept that, in the subconscious, emotionally-coded cognitive fragments (associations) contribute tributary emotional nuances to form an emotional theme, and that this theme in turn organizes these cognitive fragments. We may suppose that in the course of emotional theme formation different nuances constantly surface, become momentarily more emphatic in theme, and then disappear as a result of the continuous making and breaking of associative connections. Thus, the composition of the theme is constantly changing. It can be said to be in a state of thematic fluctuation.

Now, the effect of perception (E curved arrows P) is to abstract certain emotional nuances from the emotional theme. In particular, those nuances having the greater intensity will be captured to the exclusion of other, less emphatic nuances. Alternatively, a biased selection process may be involved in which a particular nuance pattern is sought for, other nuances being selectively screened out. This informationally biased perceptive process may occur when a question is posed and an answer sought.

We might imagine that these abstracted nuances are communicated back to the emotional stream, possibly in amplified form such that \overline {PE} flux > \overline {EP} flux. In effect, what we have here is a built-in vicious circle, a positive feedback, self-reinforcing loop. A set of abstracted nuances fed back to E will become reabstracted. Thus, even though they might initially constitute a minor component of the emotional theme, after several successful loopings they would become amplified and so would come to constitute a dominant part of the emotional theme. Using Magoroh Maruyama’s terminology, we may classify this as a “deviation-amplifying mutual causal process” (36; 26, pp. 38, 89). The deviation referred to here would be a thematic fluctuation of relatively high intensity which would constitute a deviation from the homogeneous thematic state — a state characterized by many nuances all having relatively the same intensity.

Now, if a particular fluctuation (“nuance-intensity-deviation”) is of the same order of magnitude as other fluctuations randomly arising in the theme, then the composition of the abstracted nuance stream will vary randomly. Consequently, there will be no one particular set of nuances that becomes amplified. Under these circumstances, the ongoing emotional-perceptive cycling would not noticeably change the content, or state of order, of the theme. But, if a fluctuation persists long enough in the theme, or is particularly emphatic, it would have a better chance of becoming amplified through successive reinforcements from the inputted thematic abstractions. Consequently, it would grow rapidly to the point where it would massively transform the content of the theme and become a major “organizing focus.”


Thus, a fluctuation arising from within the emotional theme, upon amplification drives the theme to a new state of order. As shown in Figure 4, this transition is made in a stepwise manner, as from, for example, the homogeneous uncognized ground state G to the ordered cognized state A, in which the nuance-set-A is dominant.*

* The vertical axis shown in Figure 4 should not be misconstrued as representing a numerical variable, but should be interpreted as a classification dimension for cognitive states. Fluctuation magnitudes, therefore, might be referenced with respect to each level, i.e., with respect to G, A, and B.

Viewing such a transition from a macrolevel viewpoint, it will have appeared that the emotional theme spontaneously changed its emotional state (or nuance composition), from being a highly complex pattern of emotional nuances to being a relatively simple characterization. It is this spontaneous self-simplifying process which, I believe, constitutes cognition and which accounts for the emergence of creative thought in man.

Once a cognitive event has taken place, the emotional nuance combination representing the emergent emotional-cognitive structure would continue to circulate for a period of time in the E/P cycle. Such recursive cycling would serve the function of short term memory. Thus, short term memory is understood to follow as a consequence of cognitive process!

This is probably an appropriate point to define some of the terms used. I will use “cognition” to refer to this thematic self-organizing event, i.e., the stage in the process of creative thought formation which corresponds to the moment of illumination, or  grasping, following incubation. Often the term “cognition” is used to refer to the resulting product of creative thought, i.e., the thought itself. However, to emphasize the belief that emotion is one of the primary components of thought, we will adopt Gray’s terminology and refer to such cognitive products as emotional-cognitive structures. Gray uses the term “cognition,” or “cognitive fragment,” to refer to sensory Gestalts and experiences which have not been organized into thoughts, but which form the raw material out of which thoughts are made.

To avoid confusion, I will simply refer to these as sense data, or sensory experience, since they are not formed by cognitive process. Rather, sensory experiences are shaped by a sculpturing process in which raw sensory data are operated on by certain image-forming procedures. Some of these procedures are inborn (“hardwired”), while others are discovered in later life, such as the boundary forming operation learned in early infancy, i.e., the feeling of mother as being an entity separate from self.

The process of cognition proposed here may be better understood by reference to a few analogic examples. We may compare the process of mental conception to the lasing phenomenon in optics (laser meaning: light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation). In a laser, a light wave traveling down the length of a gas discharge tube is continuously reflected from one end to the other. As it travels, it bumps into ionized gas molecules and triggers the emission of additional light waves. Thus, after a series of reflections, the initial photon has grown into a whole battalion of photons all traveling in the same direction with their wave oscillations locked in phase. We are reminded of Alexander the Great’s strategy of continuously recruiting mercenaries as his forces swept across the East.

To put it in other terms, lasing involves the production of coherent behavior. Whereas light waves from a light bulb tend to travel in different directions in a randomly phased manner, light emerging from a laser is coherent, i.e., the waves travel in a bundle as if they were one photon. Cognition may be viewed similarly as the emergence of coherent behavior. That is, at the moment of insight, when an idea is born, a state of thematic  coherence is achieved.

Another way of picturing the process of conception is to listen to the musical piece The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. In the beginning, the sorcerer’s apprentice unwittingly activates a floor broom which starts carrying pails full of water to fill a tub. This activity appears in the music as a secondary theme. But, as time goes on, the brooms multiply, and the activity intensifies. What was once a minor melody eventually becomes a major theme, dominating the rest of the music.

The process by which a combination of emotional nuances emerge at the top of the heap may also be compared to the process of social revolution. For example, a political faction holding views opposed to the established political system always starts out as a minority group. However, if this group is able to grow sufficiently to a critical size, in the presence of an adequate relevant nurturing environment (social dissatisfaction), its growth will be able to accelerate relative to other political views. This “fluctuation” emerging from within the political system may then grow to the point where the established regime is overthrown. However, in so doing, the insurgent faction becomes the new establishment, and therefore risks overthrow from imminent political opposition in the system.

Just as political systems evolve to new states, or platforms, through revolution or election, so too emotional themes are always changing. They do not remain in the simplified cognized form for very long. Subliminal association processes continue, threatening to change the nuance composition of the emotional theme. And eventually an “insurgent” set of nuances may arise from within the theme and “overthrow” the established order. As seen in Figure 4, the theme could switch from cognitive state A to cognitive state B in which nuance set B is dominant.

A clear example of how two different thematic fluctuations can compete for control in organizing a theme is illustrated by viewing the classic face/vase picture in Figure 5. At one instant the viewer tips the balance in favor of perceiving a vase by including in the evolving theme the nuance of a “vase” cognition. If in the next instance the viewer includes a “human profile” cognition, the balance will tip in favor of perceiving faces. But, both possibilities are equally valid. So, if the observer views the picture with the knowledge that it could be either a vase or faces, the mental image will alternate from one cognitive state to the other in an erratic switch-like manner as each emotional nuance combination alternately gains dominance. This multistable pattern recognition phenomenon is found to occur also in conceptualization, i.e., where a certain situation or set of ideas may be viewed or “punctuated” in two or more different ways.


The emotional-perceptive cycle theory sheds light on the relation of the conscious to the subconscious mind (terms invented by Sigmund Freud). For example, the subconscious would be representative of the subliminal processes such as emotional nuance association and theme formation. It is continuous contiguous, entangled and complex. On the other hand, conscious experience involves focused awareness, the ability to “light up” specific nuances through the transmission of “hypercathexis” (16, p. 10). A bit of mental experience passes from the subconscious to the conscious when a particular thematic fluctuation (i.e., a spontaneous intensification of the nuance representing this  subconscious experience) is nurtured, or amplified by conscious, awareness-heightening functions (emotional-perceptive looping) and is eventually born as a full-blown theme.

Emotional-perceptive cycling in conjunction with the subconscious acts as a sort of womb for the birth of ideas. In contrast to subconscious experience, conscious experience is a discrete event or a series of discrete events, an occasion of birth, or a series of births. The phenomenon of consciousness and subconsciousness is closely  related to the understanding of how the discontinuous emerges from the continuous, how the simple emerges from the complex.

The cognition of an emotional theme is not a deterministic process; the particular emotional nuances in a theme do not determine exactly what the final mental cognition will be. It is basically incorrect to view the cognitive apparatus as a photographer taking camera shots of fleeting emotions or as a telephone operator making appropriate associative connections. In hierarchical terms, cognition is not a top-down process; it is a bottom-up process. It is a phenomenon of emergence, of microlevel phenomena producing macrolevel effects.

So, cognition is inherently stochastic. It depends on the detailed whims of the emotional nuance undercurrents at the microlevel. Hence, this accounts for the long gestation period which usually precedes the birth of an idea or concept. This period of incubation must be closely associated with the feeling of wondering about something. Gray suggests,

“…wondering is an essential aspect of emotional nuances, emotional themes, and higher order affects as they seek out cognitions to organize. There is always a questioning, a wondering, an incompleteness, as opposed to an emotional cognitive structure itself which has the type of closure one associates with gestalts.” (16, p. 99)

One cannot force a concept any more than one can force the birth of a child. One can only wait in anticipation. When it finally comes it does so in a flash, from apparently nowhere. This dawning of the light, the “ah-ha!” experience may be attributed to the fact that when a thematic fluctuation reaches critical size it experiences a rapid transition to system dominance. The concretization of thought is in effect a set-to-superset transition so often described in the study of hierarchical organization. It is a quantum jump. Regarding the emergence of higher order sets, Clifford Grobstein states the following:

“Therefore, the emergence of new properties in hierarchical systems is closely linked to what we may call the set-superset transition. In both the developmental and in the functional sense, important new properties arise at the transition between a given set and its next higher order set.” (17, p. 45)

The emergent emotional nuance or idea, therefore, is not simply the sum of the individual emotional nuances that originally composed the emotional theme. It represents something more (64). Included are the process of association among emotional nuances, which has a tentative and exploratory quality, and the process of competition between nuances elicited by the amplification process, both processes occurring over an extended period of time. Thus, cognition is not just a structure-relational “snapshot;” it is infused with time — it has history as well.* Moreover, there is an element of chance involved as to which nuances will become associated into a theme and which of several predominant nuances will become amplified with the greatest rapidity. Thus, an emergent concept contains more information than just the sum of the information in each of its organized elements. New information is created.

* It is interesting to note that many modern group-decision making techniques (such as SYNCON) bear a resemblance to the cognitive process described above.


Anyone who has tried to solve a difficult problem knows that before the answer there is a period of transition, or what one may call pre-cognitive dissonance. During this time, judgment is suspended; different thoughts and emotional nuances are brought into the picture. When the proper set of nuances become amplified and insight finally comes, there is relief, for now the emotional pressure for exploration (conducted at a subconscious level) may be relaxed. Thus, problem solving, like creativity, is an emotional process.

Of course, in problem solving, as in conceptualization, an element of discrimination must be involved. Thus, if a nuance pattern that does not organize the entire theme emerges, thematic discordance will be perceived and the search continued. In such a situation this rejected trial may unwantedly linger in consciousness and continue to function as a thematic organizer thus reducing the chances for an alternate pattern to emerge. This form of “conceptual blocking” may be avoided by backing off from the problem and taking a break. This allows the emotional theme to return to its ground state, so that a fresh outlook on the problem may be gained, unbiased by previously attempted solutions.


The emotional nuance which emerges in the theme at the moment of cognition serves as a tag or label, being representative of the emotional theme as a whole. Thus, the original complexity of the emotional theme has become summarized as an emergent emotional nuance which can be manipulated easily for incorporation into higher order associations, or stored in memory for later use.*

* Long term memory is implied here. As was mentioned earlier, short term memory is assumed to consist essentially of the circulating emotional stream itself.

This is compatible with Gray’s views regarding the hierarchical ordering of emotional cognitive structures. He suggests that “higher level” emotional nuances encode and integrate lower level nuances, and that these higher level nuances, being unique to the particular emotional-cognitive structure formed, have the advantage of simplicity, allowing easy reference and recall (16, p. 9). However, Gray did not elucidate the particular mechanism by which these higher level nuances are selected and “attached” to their emotional-cognitive packages. Such a mechanism, however, is proposed by the emotional-perceptive cycle theory which demonstrates how conceptual labels arise in a natural manner, and in a meaningful way, within the emotional theme. That is, emotional nuances are not arbitrarily assigned to their structured theme, but grow out of the theme as the result of structuration. Thus, these emergent nuance-tags have value.

The self-organizing process depicted in Figure 1 (16, p. 8) might be redrawn, in light of the proposed EPC mechanism, as the schema shown in Figure 6a. There, the overall emotional theme is perceived in perspective, whereupon the emotional nuance abstractions elicited by these perceptions enter the thematic mainstream to drive or trigger emotional nuances, with which they harmonize therein.

Once cognized, a prototypical thought may take off to form a new emotional theme, since, as Gray remarks “all thoughts have the potential of again becoming questions.” Whereas Figure 6a depicts the process of formation of a simple ECS through the organization of sense data or sensory experience, the higher order structure, or coarse structure ECS (16, p. 9), shown in Figure 6b, organizes not only sensory experiences, but also other emotional-cognitive structures. With further development, a coarse structure gives rise to fine structure ECSs, “detailed thoughts” which Gray believes serve the main function of revising the more broadly outlined coarse structure thoughts, as can be seen in Figure 6c. Together the fine and coarse structures would be said to constitute a core structure which would constitute a more lasting part of behavior, personality and idea formation (16, p. 9).




Philosophers as far back as ancient Greece have regarded thought as insubstantial, as belonging to the world of ideas. With the advent of Gray’s emotional-cognitive structure theory, and with the distinction between conscious and subconscious process offered by the emotional-perceptive cycle theory, a new perspective may be gained. Thoughts become just as “concrete” as atoms, tornadoes, or biological organisms: they can be viewed as stabilized patterns of flow. By pinning thoughts down in this “concrete” fashion, we can begin to deal with the world of the psyche just as effectively as we have dealt with the phenomenal world. In so doing, we should not negate the possibility that there is a noumenal world of ideas having essence, but no substance. Emotional-cognitive structures may be regarded as materializations of these imminent noumenal possibilities into physical reality.


As was mentioned earlier, the emergence of a prototypical thought or emotional-cognitive structure (ECS) constitutes the creation of new information. An ECS, although arising from sublevel cognitions and emotional nuances, is not determined causally by them. Instead, an ECS may be described more adequately as constituting a historical record of the evolution of processes that contributed to producing that thought; i.e., the way in which the associations grew among nuances, and the way in which the tournament unfolded between them.

Thus, if any of the sublevel emotional nuance complexes are determined instinctually, this inherited determinism will not likely shackle the cognitive level. ECSs fulfill two of the basic criteria used by Bertalanffy (73) to define a symbol: 1) they are freely created (not biologically determined), and 2) they are representative of some meaningful content (this being the emotional nuances and cognitions composing the underlying ECS and the  history of evolution of the concept). Only the third criterion is lacking, that being the communicability of symbols, their capability of being transmitted among individuals by tradition.

However, by somehow establishing among individuals the sublevel cognitions (assuming, for example, that these cognitions are perceptions of objects in the common environment) and by establishing their relation, it should be possible to duplicate in the mind of each individual essentially the same form of ECS. Nevertheless, each individual’s concept cannot be expected to be identical; and sometimes, due to poor communication, the ECS may be too different, resulting in a misunderstanding. However, granted that, with proper communication, similar ECSs may be generated separately in people’s minds, it should be possible for the individuals involved to agree by popular consensus that a particular verbal or visual sign be mentally associated with this concept, as shown in Figure 7. At this point, the concept has achieved symbolhood. It fulfills all the characteristics of being a symbol, because now, through the use of language (a set of verbal or visual associations) it can be transmitted by tradition, a process known as education.


It is interesting to note that the particular coding or emotional nuance label which emerges in each person’s mind for a given concept may be different, as self-organizing systems, as information creating systems, each of us builds his own internally consistent emotional nuance coding system. That is why human beings are individuals. Why each of us is different. Differences in IQ, therefore, would not be expected to be linked genetically. Genetically determined IQ makes sense only with mechanistic analogies which have been demonstrated to be inadequate in describing mental phenomena. Man viewed as a self-organizing psychophysical system must assume responsibility for his own level of IQ, or mental state of mind; however, social influences and what a person learns will also figure strongly in the picture.

Concepts cannot be transmitted from one person’s mind to another’s like TV signals. They cannot be replicated, code and all, from the top-down as in programming a computer. They must be learned from the bottom-up. They must by freely created. Thus, symbolism serves as a means of translating from one’s own internally developed code to a commonly agreed upon code, much the same way that an international language (i.e., telegraphy) would mediate between people speaking French, Greek, Chinese, and Swahili.

Building concepts from the bottom-up (learning) often can be excruciating, as we all know. But, it is a fortunate circumstance, since it allows each individual the freedom to mentally do “their own thing.” Your boss does not care how you drive to work as long as you get there on time. The same is true of learning: you may include your own, personal embellishments in a concept, as long as your version contains the agreed upon essence of the cognized material. Thus, there is an element of freedom in the creation of ideas, and in the learning of concepts.

Humans, not functioning as programmable computers, must pay for this freedom: they run the risk of making a mistake, of misunderstanding a teacher, of coming up with an idea that is totally off base. By understanding the microcosm, the nature of thought, we come to a better understanding of the macrocosm, the history of ideas, and the socio-technical world in which we live. The tentativeness of thought, the possibility of being wrong, produces the tentativeness of knowledge as the history of science has demonstrated.


Cognition, like photo lasing and social revolution, is a self-organizing type of phenomenon. In all of these examples a fluctuation arising from within the system grows, due to the existence of prevailing nonlinear conditions and eventually changes the state of the system. This may be described as “order-through-fluctuation,” a term introduced by Ilya Prigogine (53) to describe the process of self-organization in certain kinds of nonequilibrium chemical reaction systems.

The self-organizing behavior of one particular chemical system, the Brusselator (alternatively known as the Trimolecular Model), has been extensively analyzed mathematically by Prigogine and his coworkers (42, 53). Since the Brusselator played a central role in the development of the emotional-perceptive cycle theory, I would like to present a brief description of it here. If anything, this should demonstrate further the  interdisciplinary nature of the principles presently under discussion.

The Brusselator essentially consists of a set of nonequilibrium reactions, i.e., steps (i) through (iv), which proceed irreversibly over time in the direction indicated by the arrows (Fig. 8). These are sometimes called state equations, in that constituent elements of the system exist sequentially in different states, i.e., elements in state A will eventually transform at rate k1 to state X (equation (i)), elements in state X in combination with elements in state B will transform at rate k2 into a combination of states Y and D (equation (ii)), and so on. The structural interrelation of these reactions is depicted in Figure 8. Note the similarity with the proposed emotional-perceptive model pictured in Figure 2. In both models, sublevel constituents (molecules/emotional nuances) are transformed or conducted in a self-closing loop (X curved arrows Y vs. E curved arrows P). Hence, they are both open systems. The Brusselator being open to the flow of matter A → X → E and B → D, and the emotional-perceptive cycle model being open to the flow of information A→E→M→B and O→S→E→B.


Now, suppose we have a reaction vessel which contains all of these transforming chemical species in a homogeneous mixture. As these chemicals proceed to transform, fluctuations in chemical concentration will develop from place to place. For example, if reaction intermediates X and Y are assumed to have low diffusion coefficients, some regions of space will develop more X and less Y, and other regions more Y and less X. However, these random fluctuations will tend to dampen one another through mutual competition. This homogeneous state will persist only as long as the global reaction B → D takes place at a low rate with respect to global reaction A → X → E. That is, as long as very little Y is produced in step (iii), the autocatalytic X/Y cycle (steps ii and iii) will not be able to amplify a prominent concentration fluctuation at a fast enough rate before it is destroyed by competitive diffusive effects.

However, if the concentration of B is increased such that reaction B → D moves further from equilibrium, a critical threshold will be reached where the effects of steps (ii) and (iii) become significant. If a fluctuation of sufficient size develops, it may grow at a rate fast enough to dominate the homeostatic effects of other random fluctuations. Consequently, a critical fluctuation could drive the entire reaction systems to the inhomogeneous steady state in which the concentrations of X and Y vary macroscopically with spatial location in a periodic manner similar to a standing wave pattern. Such a pattern is termed a dissipative space structure.

Hence, the ordering which was imminent in the initial fluctuation (or precursor) will have become amplified by nonlinear effects and propagated throughout the reaction  medium. The original symmetry of the system becomes broken as the microlevel behavioral complexity (random molecular order) is superseded by a simple pattern of spatially periodic order (coherent molecular order).

There are a few differences, however, between the Brusselator and the model I am suggesting to describe the emergence of thought. For example, the chemical model is bivalent; ordered patterns emerge depending on the relative concentrations of intermediates X and Y. On the other hand, the EPC model is multivalent, it is a veritable “alphabet soup” of emotional nuances, any combination of which could be amplified to thematic dominance. If steady-state dissipative space structures emerge in the cerebrum, they would be of a more complex nature, with a variety of nuance combinations dominant in different regions of the brain. Finally, because the EPC model is multivalent, its amplification cycle must make use of an abstraction operation to select from the abundant variety. Such an abstraction step is not required to produce ordering in the simple Brusselator model.

Although there are differences between the two models, the similarities offer intriguing possibilities. For example, nonequilibrium thermodynamic principles and terminology, which Prigogine and others have applied to chemical reaction systems, might be translated to describe mental processes. Thus, thoughts might be regarded as dissipative space structures. The nuance flux involved in emotional-perceptive cycling might be represented in terms of entropy production, and used as a measure of the distance from  “thermodynamic” equilibrium. The “near-thermodynamic-equilibrium” regime in the  emotional-perceptive cycle model would be a state where emotional nuances circulated at a very slow rate, a state of mental relaxation, as during sleep or deep meditation. On the other hand, the “far-from-thermodynamic equilibrium” regime would correspond to a state of emotional arousal, or mental attentiveness. The threshold intensity which an emotional nuance must achieve in order to become spontaneously amplified into a thought may be termed critical nucleation threshold.

Considering cognition as a self-organizing phenomenon opens many opportunities for making interdisciplinary correlations and may offer a point of departure for developing a “thermodynamics” of thought.*

* John Nicolis and Marianna Benrubi (43, 44), independent of the present work, have applied nonequilibrium thermodynamic concepts to mental process. However, their work deals specifically with interpersonal communication. Based on neurophysical findings and on principles describing the behavior of self-organizing systems, they have postulated the existence of affective/cognitive oscillatory cycles in communicative transactions. Their assumptions regarding mental process, though, are fundamentally different from those set forth in this paper.


As was mentioned in the last section, the appearance of a cognitive event may be compared to the spontaneous emergence of inhomogeneity in a nonequilibrium  chemical system. Thus, just as a chemical reaction dissipative space structure is seen to emerge only past a certain critical threshold of tranmutational flow, so too, we may suppose that the ability to produce thought emerges only past a certain threshold of self-reflexive emotional flux.

Evolutionary changes in the neural system, such as increases in cerebral mass and in cerebral-limbic integration, may have allowed this threshold to be more easily achieved in hominids than in lower animal forms. We may hypothetically represent the “facility” with which thought is produced at various stages of brain development by means of the stability diagram shown in Figure 9.** Animals with less developed brains, such as cats, lie to the left of the critical threshold kc. That is, when aroused, they are able to induce a nuance amplification capability which reaches as high as k1. However, at this amplification level k1 < kc, thematic fluctuations (emotional nuances) of even large intensity will not be able to grow fast enough to dominate the diffusing effect of competing fluctuations. Hence, even with intense emotional effort (e.g., arousal induced by an incentive such as food), high intensity fluctuations are not able to cross the critical threshold where they might become spontaneously amplified into thoughts. While such animals have the capability of synthesizing emotional nuance patterns, they do not have the capability of precipitating thought, i.e., of simplifying complex emotional theme patterns into graspable entities.

** Stability diagrams similar to this are used to describe the ordering behavior of nonequilibrium chemical systems, where the vertical axis represents the size of a concentration fluctuation and the horizontal axis represents the distance from equilibrium, i.e., the potential form amplification.


We might assume that many of the lower animals have feelings composed of differentiated and textured emotional tones, and that these constitute their intrapsychic language. While the emotional nuances may not be as highly developed in animals as in man it is reasonable to assume that sufficient complexity is present to permit intrapsychic coding of instinct and sensory experience. We might suppose that as in man so too in the lower animals there is a natural tendency for emotional nuances to trigger  one another through association and to form emotional tributaries and finally emotional themes. Of course, with animals there would be no emotional-cognitive structures for nuances to organize, only sense data. It is emotional theme formation, i.e., the association of diverse emotional states or sensations not instinctively coded, that allows animals to become conditioned to stimuli. Hence, a dog may be trained. While animals are capable of perceiving their own emotions via E curved arrows P cycling, their predominant pathways for information handling extend via A → E → M → B and O → S → E → M → B shown in Figure 2.

Chimpanzees may be considered to lie the right of critical threshold kc, their brains being more highly developed than those of the gorillas, or other lower forms of life. Experiments have shown that they are capable of “insight learning” under conditions of inducement, such as reward of food (8, p. 218). We might imagine that in such states of arousal chimps are able to stimulate a level of emotional flux k2, and that at this level there is a finite probability (say P ~ 3%) that a fluctuation of sufficient magnitude will arise and be capable of amplification into a thought. As shown in Figure 10, it may be assumed that emotional nuance fluctuations around the homogeneous state are distributed according to a Poisson distribution. Thus, there is a much lower probability that a large fluctuation will emerge as compared to a small or medium size fluctuation.


Homo habilis (~2 million years BP) and Homo sapiens (emerging ~200,000 years BP), having more developed brains, have been placed successively further to the right in terms of nuance amplification ability, as can be seen in Figure 9. The downward sloping threshold curve for thought formation indicates that at higher levels of self-reflexive emotional flux, spontaneously emerging emotional nuances need not achieve as high an intensity to become amplified into thoughts. Thus, the effort required to produce thought becomes less for the more evolved life forms. For primitive man, conceptual awareness might have come only during moments of substantial arousal, e.g., during moments of danger or during periods of goal directed behavior as when hunting a quarry. Primates capable of achieving the thought threshold at such times would have possessed a trump card in the game of natural selection. Thus, increases in cerebral mass and integration of the frontal-lobe-limbic system, allowing increased levels of self-reflexive emotional flux, would have been positively selected for. In modern man, thought formation appears to be spontaneous. No significant extreme state of arousal is required, merely wakefulness.

We may list cetacea such as dolphins and whales along with Homo sapiens, see Figure 9. Dolphins have a brain weight which is above that of humans both in absolute and relative terms. Also, observations of cetacea indicate that they are capable of intelligent communication among themselves via a sonic language which has yet to be decoded.

Finally, we might imagine certain individuals whose brains are such that they are able to easily achieve extremely high levels of emotional flux, up to point k5. At such high levels of self-sensibility, the critical nucleation threshold would be so low that just about any minor thematic fluctuation could become amplified into a thought. Such individuals would have difficulty trying not to think all of the time. Their minds would constantly be spinning off thoughts. Moreover, since almost all thematic fluctuations would have an opportunity to become amplified, these individuals would have difficulty attending selectively to particular nuances and weeding out inappropriate thoughts. Consequently, their train of thought would tend to lack coherence or logical structure.

These conclusions, which have been reached by considering the possible behavior of the EPC model under particular circumstances (high nuance flux), are corroborated by recent studies of schizophrenic patients. There has been growing support for the observation that at least one type of the “group of schizophrenias” primarily involves the impairment of the normal inhibitory functions of attention. In contrast to previous conceptions, the schizophrenic is seen, not as an individual who has effectively shut out external reality, but as one who is overwhelmed by too much contact with the environment (39, p. 88). For example, the following extracts, taken from several studies, are introspective experiences reported by a number of schizophrenic patients (quoted in 39):

“I can’t concentrate… It’s diversion of attention that troubles me… the sounds are coming through to me but I feel my mind cannot cope with everything… it is difficult to concentrate on any one sound… it’s like trying to do two or three things at the one time…”(40)

“Everything seems to grip my attention although I am not particularly interested in anything. I am speaking to you now but I can hear noises going on next door and in the corridor. I find it difficult for me to concentrate on what I am saying to you.” (40)

“It has to do with what is going on around me… taking in too much of my surroundings… vital not to miss anything… I can’t shut things out of my mind and everything closes in on me…” (6)

“Each of us is capable of coping with a large number of stimuli, invading our being through any of the senses… It’s obvious that we would be incapable of carrying on any of our daily activities if even one hundredth of all these available stimuli invaded us at once. So the mind must have a filter which functions without our conscious thought, sorting stimuli and allowing only those which are relevant to the situation in hand to disturb consciousness. What happened to me was a breakdown of the filter, and a hodge-podge of unrelated stimuli were distracting me from things that should have held my undivided attention… I had very little ability to sort the relevant from the irrelevant… Completely unrelated events became intricately connected in my mind.”(38)

It is interesting to note that post mortem examinations of some schizophrenics have revealed that their brains have an inordinately large number of fiber connections in the medial forebrain bundle connecting the frontal lobe of the cerebrum and the limbic region of the brain with the reticular activating system. Such excess in brain integration might be responsible for producing an overly active emotional-perceptive cycle. (More will be said in Part II about the neurophysiology of such pathways of integration). Further evidence that schizophrenia results from an overactive mind is the fact that tranquilizers, acting to reduce the degree of arousal, also tend to alleviate the symptoms of schizophrenia.

At the other end of the spectrum is the catatonic, or extremely depressed individual, whose mind is in such a reduced state of mental activity that hardly any thoughts at all can be amplified. This is true even when the individual is awake. Such conditions are generally alleviated by the administration of stimulant drugs such as amphetamines which, we might imagine, act to raise the cerebral-limbic emotional flux to a more appropriate level.

Intelligence, it appears, operates within narrow limits, the healthy mind being characterized by the Epicurean motto of moderation: neither too much nor too little input. While a healthy individual is capable of producing thought, he is not condemned to continuous mentation.

Indeed, individuals spend much of their time in subthreshold levels of neural activity. With sufficient relaxation of inattention, the conceptualization process subsides. The need to concentrate in order to think, to be free of distraction, may actually be an effort to generate a sufficient level of sustained, focused emotional-perceptive interaction.


The English word “man” comes from the Sanskrit manu, meaning “to think.” The ability to think, to engage in extended periods of conceptualization, might be regarded as a distinguishing characteristic of man. The ability to use tools or manipulate symbols cannot be considered as distinguishing factors since these abilities are observed in many animals (18, 73). However, experiments with chimpanzees have shown that even with regard to thought it is difficult to draw a clear-cut dividing line. Intelligence appears to be a matter of degree.

It is reasonable to assume that there was a time in human evolution when man was capable of cognition and rudimentary thought, but as yet incapable of symbolic expression. Then, as time went on, man learned to express socially cognitions of external events, i.e., develop symbols for these cognitions. The development of language, or interpersonal communication, was simply the expression of these cognition-object, thought-action connections. Whereas man had formerly vocalized only feelings and emotions, he now began to vocalize symbols. The ensuing transition from homo-emotional-cognare to animal symbolicum was a natural one, man being a social animal. Indeed, modern experiments with deaf children at play indicate that humans have the innate ability to spontaneously develop their own structured communication system in a manual mode without the benefit of learning an explicit, conventional language model (13).

The development of man’s I-thou awareness, or ego boundary came still later, unfolding as a corollary of symbolic thought. The self-awareness experience in which the symbolized “self” became understood as being separate from the symbolized “other” required that man develop a significant level of philosophic insight. Self-awareness is another trait often inappropriately claimed to be a basic characteristic distinguishing man from animal. As we see here, self- awareness is not the cause of intelligence, but a product of intelligence.

As symbolism and environmental relatedness unfolded, man’s thoughts, or emotional-cognitive framework, of course, evolved too. Man’s thoughts, originally rooted in an emotional-feeling context, with the advent of symbolism evolved toward a conceptual context or emotional-cognitive context. An iterative or self-referential dialectic process most likely took place between man’s thoughts and his social symbolic framework, see Figure 11.


The evolution of man’s symbolic “universe” was and is a social phenomenon. In child rearing, the role of society, B, is taken by the parent who teaches the child, A, a subset of the socially developed framework, i.e., the rules of proper behavior. The child is not usually asked to understand these rules, merely accept them. And, they are backed by punishment if they are disobeyed. Taking time to explain is often a long, tedious, and sometimes futile process which most parents are not willing to undertake. Thus, from an early age, children learn to accept cognitive relations from their social environment and  commit them to memory. The comprehension of these categories usually involves a minimum of feelingful thought, since they are delivered in a simplistic way, for example, simple relationships of logic such as A plus B causes C, i.e. “Johnny, if you play with matches, you will gets panked”:


These emotionally impoverished cognitions contrast strongly with the child’s own creative insights and self discoveries which spring from great intuitive depths and result in the development of rich textured patterns of cognitions and emotional nuances. Thus, from early childhood people learn two kinds of thought: feelingless thought (digestive, receptive) and feelingful thought (creative, expressive). There is also a third kind of thinking which should be mentioned to cover all three of Gray’s thought classifications, and this is emotionally driven thought. This refers to the situation in which too much feeling, usually emotionally undifferentiated, floods an individual organizing theme. Such would be the case in a temper tantrum.

As the child grows up and becomes socially responsible, he internalizes the parent role which becomes associated with his rational, thought processes, whereas the child role (originally present) remains as the wondering, exploratory, freedom-loving side, the feelingful thinking side. Experimental evidence indicates that these two activities of the mind are allocated to separate hemispheres of the cortex. The left hemisphere in most people underlies analytic, sequential, and rational thought — particularly language — while the right hemisphere underlies holistic or associative thought (i.e., thought processes characteristic of the dreamer, the artist, craftsman, or the mystic). Thus, the roles of parent and child may be correlated with the left and right hemispheric distinction. What would be regarded in transactional analysis as the adult state would be a balance or equal emphasis between these two modes of thought.

Thus, a person with an overly active parent would overemphasize left hemispheric activity and would place much emphasis on proper social behavior, conformism and rules (anal personality), whereas a person with an overly active child would emphasize right hemispheric activity, placing much emphasis on personal values, breaking rules, and eccentric behavior (oral personality). Finally, the case where proper balance has been achieved between the personal and social realms would be characteristic of the adult state of mind.

The two modes of thought discussed earlier (feelingless and feelingful, left brain and right brain hemispheres) constitute two different ways in which the mind fabricates thought structures. Left-brain processing involves the sequential arrangement of bits of information into logical forms, the rules of arrangement being socially (or personally) learned. Left-brain processing is active, verbal, conscious, volitional, and generally takes a short time to accomplish its operations. On the other hand, right-brain processing, which fosters the spontaneous birth of ideas, is passive, unconscious, avolitional, and generally takes a considerable length of time. Effective thought involves striking a  proper balance between both modes. Thus, newly emergent ECSs (right brain) are stabilized through left-brain processes, and established ECSs (left brain) are changed through right-brain processes.

Recall Gray’s ECS revision process where coarse emotional cognitive structures are continuously refined through the reflexive action of fine emotional cognitive structures. This interplay between intuitive and rational modes is also described in terms of “second cybernetics” as a shifting between morphogenetic, form-creating processes (right brain) and morphostatic, form-stabilizing processes (left brain) (26, 36).

Most of the discussion until now has centered on the creative process, however left-hemispheric processes may also be understood in terms of the EPC model (cf. Part II of this paper). We might imagine that the emotional-perceptive cycling underlies both right and left hemispheric brain processes. In the creative mode E/P cycling is relatively undirected and free-wheeling, while in the analytical mode it is consciously directed and constrained. Thus, the EPC model really constitutes an integrated approach to understanding mental process.


Ideally speaking, a humanistic society should try to encourage both the rational and intuitive modes of thought. Unfortunately, our modern Western society does not. In the name of technological progress, left-brain, analytical thought has been increasingly emphasized at the expense of right-brain holistic perception. According to Hazel Henderson (20):

“Today we see our culture suffering from an overdose of left-brain hemisphere Cartesian cognition. It has led to compulsive dichotomizing and the Tower of Babel of academic disciplines that now fractionate reality. Accordingly we reward analysis and punish synthesis, while the interesting problems exist at the interfaces between the disciplines.”

Aristide Esser (10) states:

“Modern man is in motion so continually that he has no possibility to relax, to experience emotion. Our contemporary ways of human relating increasingly proceduralize change, i.e., they try to make us learn through the intellectual process and without emotion, without the feelings that originally accompanied learning in a social context. As a mammal, our first pleasant learning experiences were those of smell, warmth, intimate touch, and sound…. Formal learning experience is directed toward replacing such intimate motivations with ulterior motives based on intellectual functions needed to live a human-like existence.”

Also William Gray warns that when thoughts have come to be “drained” of their feeling  element, people have a tendency to “carry out actions based purely on logical connectedness, without regard as to whether the results are destructive to society.” (16, p.11)

To what do we owe this modern day predicament that thinking has become feelingless? I would say that the root cause is of social origin. Basically, it arises from our fast pace of life and tendency to cut corners for the sake of “efficiency.” As mentioned in the last section, in Western society children are exposed to the left brain bias at a very early age, feelingless thought patterns being implanted by parents who do not have the time to explain things properly. Yet this learning paradigm extends beyond child rearing. It has permeated the very essence of society.

It is not surprising that students today find school subjects dull and uninteresting. Because of the fast pace of life, lessons are often taught in rote fashion with emphasis placed on learning at a bare minimum. For example, in teaching physics more time is spent mastering techniques for manipulating equations and less pondering theoretical underpinnings and the history and philosophy of physical science. The result is that students lack feeling for their subject. They can spit back equations in a mechanical way and maybe even apply them in a limited range of examples, but when it comes to their understanding of the subject one finds that it is really superficial.

Modern society, which worships the efficiency of the computer, expects the same performance from its human beings. But, by demanding efficiency, it gets only shallowness in return; for, learning any concept well requires a period of gestation, a period of pregnancy for emotional nuance connections of the proper depth to develop. This truly takes time. By trying to speed up things our society only creates mental abortions and miscarriages. While educators intuitively know this to be true, the mechanistic ontology is so ingrained in our culture that these faint callings are often drowned in the din. It is ironic that by trying to get ahead more rapidly than we should, our society is actually getting behind conceptually.

What is true of our educational system is also true of our working world and interpersonal relations. The fast pace of life leads people to deal superficially with one another. Management often falls into the trap of dispensing directives in a cold, mechanical way,* and of expecting unquestioning obedience. After all, understanding  the purpose behind an instruction, developing a feeling for it, takes too much time.

* It is interesting to note that “cold” and “mechanical” have become closely associated terms. The theory of concept formation presented here provides an insight as to why mechanical ways are cold (or emotionless).

Efficiency takes its toll in the commercial world too. In order to give the impression that they care about their customers, checkout clerks in some supermarkets are instructed to ask: “Did you find everything you needed?” But the monotonous tone of their voices exposes their true sentiments. After all, there are ten more people next in line, waiting to be checked. It is the artful clerk who can really ask you “How are you?” and actually mean it, because the pace of modern life stacks the odds against relating with feeling.

Comprehension, being a process of system formation, requires a certain length of time to occur. Without taking time to contemplate and to let feelings organize cognitions into structured and meaningful forms, one is left basically with just a collection of cognitions. Being bombarded with information from every side, people naturally tend to get in the habit of just accepting what others tell them without trying to understand for themselves. Thus, if they are told that A causes B causes C, and they do not take the time to understand why, to understand what is assumed, what has been left out, they may instead take the short cut and accept this statement as is, i.e., A → B → C. It is this bad habit of accepting statements at face value, and our institutionalization of this habit, that allows the advertising industry to manipulate consumers.

When we accept conclusions without understanding how they are reached, just memorize relations, and when we go on doing this day after day, fairly soon we have succeeded in building a hierarchy of one unexamined fact on top of another. We have therefore in effect created a system of cognitions interconnected with precious little feeling. To properly flesh out this system of logic, to put meat on its bones, great time and care would have to be taken to understand each fact as we go. But, many jet setters today do not take the time to do this.

While our pace of life has increased in the last century, our mental capacity to assimilate concepts has not, it has remained about the same for the last one hundred thousand years or so. Consequently, the amount of time allotted to emotionally organize each new set of cognitions becomes less and less. Information overload has resulted in shallow understandings (and TV has not been much help in this regard either).

Thus the frenetic pace of life has produced the Brave New World, the meaninglessness of life, and the modern neuroses of nihilism (cf. 73). At last we can find comfort that the ailment of emotionless thought does not find its root cause as an outgrowth of the cognitive process, but, rather, is imposed upon us unwittingly by a society gone berserk. Hopefully, through a better understanding of what it means to be human, and through a more enlightened view of the world provided by humanistic general system theorists, better prospects are in store for the human race.


The emotional-perceptive cycle (EPC) model presented in the first part of this paper predicts that certain neuroanatomical and neurophysiological features should be observed in the architecture and operation of the brain. Namely, one should observe bi-directional connections between the cerebrum and limbic region, such that the perceptive/abstractive function of the cerebrum is involved in self-reflexive interaction with the receptive/emotive function of the limbic region. Moreover, the brain’s arousal mechanism should be found to make connection with that part of the limbic region which makes efferent connection to the cerebrum and should be found to act as a regulator of the intensity of the nuance flux propagating cyclically between the old and new brains. These predictions and others were originally formulated before a survey of the neurophysiological literature had been made. Consequently, the details brought to light in the following section may be regarded as a test of the EPC model. As will be seen, there is a close correspondence between theoretical prediction and observation.

Before investigating the predictions suggested above, a few sections will be spent exploring the neurophysiological evidence supporting some of the assumptions underlying the EPC model which were borrowed from Gray’s ECS theory. In particular, we will begin by examining evidence supporting the contentions: 1) that emotions may combine to form a spectrum of emotional nuances, 2) that these nuances might be the information carriers of mental experience, rather than the physical structure of the brain, itself, 3) that thoughts and memories are affectively coded, and 4) that the cerebral and limbic regions of the brain do not function independently of one another, but in an integrated fashion.


The assumption that the basic emotions might combine to produce a vast spectrum of emotional nuances, or feeling tones, appears to be reasonable in view of neurophysiological evidence. For example, different emotional and behavioral responses may be elicited by stimulating different limbic structures (i.e., the amygdala, hypothalamus, septal region) and different regions within each of these structures (22). Moreover these structures are integrated both internally and among one another by a rich network of fiber connections allowing these spatially separated emotional loci, if simultaneously stimulated, to produce a variety of blended emotional tones.

It is conceivable that if an emotional nuance coding system indeed exists, it might physically manifest itself as a spectrum of neuroelectric waveforms, having varying shapes, frequencies, and amplitudes. Indeed, experiments in which limbic structures have been electrically stimulated indicate that the elicitation of a particular emotion or physiological response is contingent not only on the precise location of the electrode, but also on the nature of the stimulation, i.e., its voltage, amperage, frequency, waveform, or duration (37, p. 114-119; 2, p. 266).

More direct evidence that not only feelings, but intentions and visual images as well, are coded in a waveform context comes from experiments conducted with monkeys (48, 50, 52). A monkey was trained to perform a visual discrimination test in which either a circle or pattern of vertical stripes was flashed on a translucent panel in front of him. The apparatus into which he was strapped would reward him with a peanut if he pressed the right half of the panel when the circle was presented and the left half when the stripes were presented. Electrodes implanted in the monkey’s primary visual cortex recorded a variety of distinct reproducible waveforms correlated with specific mental events such as the monkey’s visual observation of one or another illuminated stimulus, its intention to respond by pressing one or the other side of a panel for reward, and its anticipation of reward or disappointment when no reward was forthcoming, see Figure 12.


These experiments strongly suggest that mental events, whether of external origin (sense perceptions) or of internal origin (motivational intents or experiential states) are in a similar manner physically manifested as waveforms. This evidence strongly supports the hypothesis that mental events are experienced in a coded form, since physical waveforms may be regarded as encoding sensory, motor, or emotional information in their shape and amplitude. It is a relatively small step from this to imagine that subtle feeling states, or “emotional nuances, “might each possess unique reproducible waveform patterns and that thoughts coded in terms of emotional nuances (and possibly also incorporating sensory and motor waveform data) are similarly manifested as waveforms, or “thought waves.”

This evidence, that mental experience is coded in a waveform context, strongly undermines the classical “association-by-fiber-tracts” view. Those who hold this view believe that mental functions such as thinking, learning, and remembering at least for the higher animals and man, are somehow localized exclusively in the nerve cell network that makes up the cortex. That is, a particular thought would be determined by a particular firing pattern of particular nerve fiber pathways in the cortical neural reticulum. Thus, the “association-by-fiber-tracts” view essentially regards mental experience as being hard-wired, the reticulum being compared to the complex circuits of a digital computer.

However, recent evidence that sensory experience and perhaps thoughts are coded as waveforms strongly undermines this contention. Neurophysiologists are now rapidly shifting from a “hardware” to a “software” approach in viewing brain functioning. The neuroelectric impulses, rather than the fiber tracts which transport them, are now being regarded as the informational locus of thought. That is, the information content of thought is now viewed as being ingrained in the waveform, rather than being bound to a particular physical location or sequence of physical pathways traversed.

Thus, waveform information is self-contained and portable. It may be neurally transmitted to different parts of the brain without change in content. Thoughts may be projected via nonspecific paths to different regions of the cerebrum and still retain their meaning. Direct evidence that information becomes distributed in the brain has been demonstrated in experiments on cats (25) where it was found that a particular neuroelectric waveform relating to a particular visual stimulus occurred simultaneously in many brain structures. These results indicate, in accordance with the EPC theory, that the particular fiber pathways traveled are not as informationally important as is the wave structure (or emotional nuance).


The emotional-cognitive structure theory suggests that cognitions in memory elicit emotional nuances which form river-like confluences and that these emotional themes evolve over time, eventually developing closure to form a thought, or emotional-cognitive structure. For such a model of mental process to be valid, we should expect to find evidence of closed-loop connectivity in the brain closely associated with limbic structures (the source of emotion) and with memory storage. That is, the transmission of emotional nuances and sensory waveforms in a closed loop would allow these informational units to persist over time. The informational content of such a set of cycling units could, therefore, be represented in the time-dimension as a river-like emotional theme. Provided that this circuit continually received inputs of new informational units, i.e., from the senses or from memory, and provided that existing units in the informational stream diminished in intensity with each passage around the closed loop, the informational content in this loop would continuously evolve as suggested by Gray’s “idling cycle” (16, p. 7).

Probably the best candidate for such a self-closing pathway is the Papez circuit in the limbic system. This was first described in 1937 by the anatomist James Papez (46) who suggested that the activity in this circuit might provide the neural basis for emotional experience. We may trace its limbic structure connectivity as follows, (see Figure 13):

Fiber connections from the mammillary bodies (M) of the hypothalamus (Hyp.) lead to the anterior thalamic nuclei (AN, VA) which project bi-directionally onto the cingulate gyrus (also known as the “emotional cortex”), the pathway then leads around the cingulate gyrus and parahippocampal gyrus, through the entorhinal cortex (EC) and into the hippocampus, which, via the fornix nerve bundle, connects back to the mammillary bodies. Thus we might imagine a “stream of feeling” coursing repetitively around this loop. Regarding this MacLean (32) has noted that discharges electrically stimulated in the hippocampus have a tendency to spread throughout and be confined to the limbic system. He compares these cycling neural impulses to “stampeding bulls which do not jump the fence and leave the corral of the limbic system.”


All of the structures encompassed by the Papez circuit, as well as others such as the amygdala and septal region, have been shown to be involved in a variety of somatic and autonomic phenomena closely related to behavioral activities which are usually associated with emotional expression. The hypothalamus appears to be a key structure in the Papez circuit. It receives afferent connections from almost all subcortical structures and maybe regarded as a major entrance into this limbic loop. As a center concerned with motivation (appetites or drives) and emotion (affects), it receives fibers from the amygdala which is concerned with emotional feelings and behaviors that insure self-preservation, i.e., selfish demands such as feeding, fighting, and self-protection (31; 33, pp. 14-15), and from the septal area, which is concerned with sexual drives and sociability (31; 33, pp. 15-16). Thus there is ample opportunity for basic emotions generated in these drive centers to become blended in the hypothalamus to form a wide variety of feeling tones. Connectivity between the hypothalamus and the dorsomedial thalamic nucleus might be a main corridor for the entrance of sensory and thought waveforms. The dorsomedial nucleus, an important center, receives nonspecific sensory inputs from other regions of the thalamus (the brain’s sensory center) and is also connected with the prefrontal cortex (prefrontal-cortex-dorsomedial-thalamic loop) whose role in creative thought formation and short term memory will be discussed shortly. Finally, the hypothalamus may serve as an entrance for sensory waveforms originating in the posterior cortical regions and for thought waveforms passing through the prefrontal cortical region. As seen in Figure 14 (50, p. 320), these cortical regions project to various portions of the basal ganglia, which, inturn, project to the hypothalamus (55, p.42).


The hippocampus, another important structure of the Papez circuit, is believed to play an important role in long term memory (70, pp. 5-6). For example, patients suffering bilateral damage to the hippocampus as a result of either surgery or disease have difficulty in storing memory records of new events as they occur. In addition, retrograde amnesia has been observed extending back in time for a period prior to the occurrence of hippocampal damage (37, pp.131-132).

Olds (45, pp. 257-299) has compared the hippocampus to the random access memory unit of a computer, suggesting that memory might be stored in coded form. Spinelli (63, p. 235) suggests that the memory system used by the brain is content addressable, rather than location addressable. He suggests that memory networks are addressed in parallel by any stimulus entering the nervous system, and that to retrieve a chunk of information all that is necessary is that the system be provided with a fraction of that chunk, the remainder being played back. Thus, we see that Spinelli’s model is quite similar to Gray’s (16) in which an emotional nuance transmitted to memory was supposed to reactivate those memory traces with which it was “tuned,” and would elicit the retransmission of these associated traces in the form in which they were originally recorded.

This view is supported by experiments conducted by John and Killam (24), in which a cat was trained to press a bar to avoid shock whenever a visual stimulus was presented. A light flickering at 4 cycles per second (cps) was used as the stimulus and was found to produce a 4 cps neuroelectric waveform in the cat’s visual cortex whenever presented. After the cat had learned the task, a 10 cps light stimulus was presented and the same avoidance response was evoked, but records from the visual cortex now showed what looked like a mixture of 10 cps and 4 cps activity. Spinelli has suggested that this is an indication that the cat is generalizing the trained 4 cps response to the 10 cps stimulus, and that the observed 4 cps waveform was a memory playback trace. This and other experiments have led him to the conclusion that all experience is stored in memory in a wave form context (63,p.294).

We might represent the Papez circuit schematically as shown in Figure 15. Thus, the limbic stream of emotional and sensory experience continually passes through a  memory storage/retrieval region (the hippocampus). This hippocampal memory processing region is, in effect, continually “bathed” in the stream of consciousness, hence allowing ready access for storage of new experience or retrieval of past memories. Direct evidence that this sensory/emotional circulation is closely involved in memory processing is indicated by the fact that bilateral, nonsymmetric damage to any portion of the Papez circuit impeding this circulation produces a memory deficiency known as Korsakoff’s syndrome (5, p. 560-561).


For Gray’s model of subconscious process to be completely vindicated, we should expect to find a mechanism for the admission of bipolar affects, i.e., feelings of pain or pleasure, into this limbic-memory circuit. A study of the neurophysiological evidence reveals the hypothalamus to be the receptive center for such affects. For example, the medial nucleus of the hypothalamus and the periventricular fiber system extending up from the brainstem to the hypothalamus have been shown to produce strong aversive reactions (22, p. 65). Moreover, pleasurable affects have been produced by stimulation of the median forebrain bundle (MFB), also known as the “reward system” of the brain. This fiber tract arises from the anterior portion of the midbrain and passes through the lateral hypothalamus and mammillary bodies. Via this nerve bundle, the hypothalamus may receive pleasure stimulation either from the frontal cortex via descending fibers passing through the caudate nucleus, or from deep within the brain stem via ascending fibers. Routtenberg (57) has suggested that the MFB constitutes a limbic arousal system concerned with incentive or reward. The core brain receptors from which the medial forebrain bundle originates give rise to feelings that may be classified generally as “moods,” depression and elation, sleepiness and alertness, and assertiveness (50, p.183).

Vinogradova (70, pp. 60-63) has suggested that the limbic system consists of two large interconnected circuits, see Figure 16. The main limbic circuit to the left is essentially the Papez circuit and is primarily concerned with information processing. This interfaces with a second circuit, the hippocamporeticular circuit, which performs regulatory functions. Parts of this regulatory circuit are made up from the ascending and descending portions of the MFB. In particular, it is believed that the portion of the MFB descending from the prefrontal cortex via the caudate nucleus to the hypothalamus is concerned with modulating drives and affective behavior in the limbic system. Such a view is compatible with Gray’s model, which views bipolar affects and their possible modulation as indispensable to the coding of memory and mental experience.


The importance of pleasure/pain affects in the emotional coding of memory has been demonstrated by Routtenberg (58). He reports that if the pleasure center in the entorhinal cortex (a limbic structure in the Papez circuit which feeds into the hippocampus) is artificially stimulated immediately after the learning of a task, memory will be impaired. Moreover, Magda Arnold (2) points out the importance of having a limbic system mechanism which affectively codes memories. What she calls “affective memory” would not only store pure sensory experiences, but also appraisals of these experiences as well. She states:

“Whatever is experienced, in any sensory modality, arouses not only a memory of things seen, heard, or otherwise known (modality specific memory) but also revives the corresponding affect. The liking or dislike once felt toward a person or a thing is felt again as soon as we encounter doing something similar. In the same way, what we have once enjoyed doing, or what we have once done successfully, will leave an inclination to the same action. These positive or negative feelings about an object or an action are affective memories. They represent a reliving of past appraisals, though they are experienced neither as ‘past’ nor as ‘appraisals’ but merely as an immediate positive or negative attitude which obviously cannot be produced by something seen for the first time. Most of the things we see, hear, or read about are prejudged in this way, a fact of which we usually are completely unaware. It is ‘affective memory’ that accounts for this inclination to judge the present in terms of the past, to expect what our imagination and emotion predispose us to expect. Such emotional attitudes stemming from past appraisals have to be corrected by deliberate design to safeguard our judgment, just as our memory of facts has to be checked by comparison with objective data” (2, pp. 264 – 265).

Reviewing this section, we find that the limbic system has all of the features necessary to generate the kind of subliminal activity required by Gray’s ECS theory: closed-loop limbic connectivity permitting the recursive propagation of sensory and emotional waveforms, input of external experience from the peripheral senses (i.e., O → S → E in Figure 2), cognitive inputs from short term memory — the prefrontal-cortex-dorsomedial-thalamic loop (i.e., E curved arrows P), cognitive and sensory inputs from long term memory (i.e., A → E), and affective appraisal of both current sensory inputs and past experience.


Gray’s ECS model which postulates an integrative, organizing relationship between emotions and cognitions, counters the classical association-by-fiber tracts model which assumes the higher mental processes to be conducted exclusively in the cerebral cortex. According to this classical view, the cortex is specialized into distinct regions (i.e., of vision, audition, touch sensation, motor control, memory, etc.), these being linked up by transcortical connections to permit the execution of various mental functions. Thus, for example, it was believed that a particular visual stimulus processed in the occipital cortex must elicit, via transcortical connections, a particular motor response from the motor cortex.

However, this corticocentric view has been dealt a severe blow by recent neurological experiments which have shown that the critical fiber connections are not transcortical, but instead extend primarily from the cortex to the subcortex. That is, neural pathways interconnecting cortical sensory and motor areas appear to be organized vertically, rather than horizontally (37, pp. 8 – 12). For example, Robert Doty (9) and his coworkers attached electrodes to the skulls of cats such that one electrode was placed in the visual and the other in the motor cortex. They repeatedly fired the visual area electrode (conditioned stimulus) together with the motor electrode (unconditioned response) which produced a leg flexion, and were able eventually to condition the cat to flex its leg solely by firing the visual electrode. To find the neural route taken by the impulse stimulating the visual cortex, they made two kinds of surgical cuts in the vicinity of this electrode. They found that a cut circumscribing the electrode (cutting any transcortical paths) did not impair the leg flexion response to visual stimulation, while undercutting the electrode (severing pathways to the subcortex) totally impaired the leg flexion response (37).

Other evidence against the associationist view comes from experiments by Pribram, Blehart and Spinelli (51), in which they surgically operated on the inferior temporal lobes (the “association” cortex) of the monkeys. They found that simply disconnecting the transcortical pathways which join this area with the primary cortex (seat of visual perception) had no effect on learning and recognition abilities. On the other hand, cutting the neural pathways which connect this part of the cortex with subcortical structures produced learning and recognition deficiencies as severe as if the cortical tissue itself had been removed.

Even stronger support for the ECS and EPC theories comes from the finding that the prefrontal cortex (the nonmotor region of the frontal lobe), a region specifically responsible for the creative formation of thought, is unique among cortical regions in its profuse connectivity with limbic structures. In a summary of anatomical investigations, Walle Nauta (41) notes that: efferent fibers extend from the prefrontal cortex to the presubiculum and entorhinal area (which feed directly into the hippocampus); to the cingulate gyrus and gyrus fornicatus (which feed indirectly into the hippocampus); to the caudate nucleus, putamen, and claustrum of the basal ganglia; to a variety of hypothalamic nuclei; to the dorsomedial thalamic nucleus and various nonspecific thalamic structures such as the nucleus reticularis and the midline region of the intralaminar thalamic complex; to the subthalamic nucleus; and to the rostral midbrain tegmentum.

Nauta concludes that the “prefrontal cortex appears as a neocortical mechanism closely associated with the organization of limbic forebrain structures” (41, p. 405). The fact that there is a close resemblance between subcortical projections emanating from the limbic forebrain and prefrontal cortex respectively, according to Nauta, may indicate that “the prefrontal cortex is the isocortical representative of the same category of functions that is subserved by the limbic forebrain” (41, p. 405). Thus, the prefrontal cortex may be regarded as the isocortical superstructure of limbic and visceral activities in the same sense that the motor cortex may be regarded as the superstructure to motoric functions organized at the subcortical levels.

The ability to solve complex problems, to voluntarily attend to specific internal or external stimuli, to form stable plans and intentions capable of controlling subsequent conscious behavior, to carry out context-sensitive social interactions, and, in general, the ability to organize the higher forms of conscious activity, all depend on an intact prefrontal cortex (30, pp. 187 – 224; 7; 11; 49). The evidence of fronto-limbic integration cited by Nauta, therefore, strongly suggests that emotions are intimately involved in the creative formation of thought, a basic assumption underlying both the ECS and EPC theories. It is worth noting that Gray’s proposal that emotions are intimately involved in the thought formation process was made from the introspective point of view of a psychiatrist and without prior knowledge of these recent neurophysiological findings.

Frontal lobe-limbic integration takes on an even greater significance when we consider the philogeny of the mammalian brain. With the evolution of mammals to primates and eventually to man, there is a continual increase in the size of the prefrontal cortex in relation to other cerebral regions, in man reaching as much as ¼ of the total brain mass. At the same time, there is a corresponding increase in the size of the thalamus, i.e., the lateral and medial nuclei and the pulvinar (29, pp. 149, 154) and particularly the dorsomedial nucleus. As will be discussed in the next section, the prefrontal cortex and dorsomedial thalamus are bi-directionally connected and intimately involved in context sensitive behavior and problem solving. Thus, it is not surprising to see the coevolution of these parts of the brain. In addition, there is an increase in size in other limbic structures, such as the fornix bundle, which has a 20:1 increase in fiber content from rat to man, and the median bundle.

A hypothesis was put forth in Part I to the effect that human beings have a greater facility for thought as a consequence of the greater mass of their cerebrum and greater degree of cerebral-limbic integration. The neuroanatomical evidence discussed here supports this hypothesis, pointing to the frontal lobe-limbic system as the chief region of philogenetic change in the brain, a region which appears to be uniquely involved in the formation of creative thought.


The EPC model postulated the existence of looped connectivity extending between the cerebral cortex and the limbic region, and that this circuit would be capable of sampling the entire gamut of sensory experience, including not only the entire range of peripheral sensory stimuli, but internal feelings as well. The prefrontal cortex, which is specifically concerned with thinking, might be considered to be the cortical component of the postulated E curved arrows P loop. Although this cerebral region connects with many parts of the limbic system, as already discussed, the subcortical structure which seems to fit most closely as the complement to the prefrontal cortex is not part of the limbic loop, but is closely associated with it. This is the dorsomedial nucleus of the thalamus. It is intimately connected with the Papez circuit via the hypothalamus, and, therefore, should be capable of receiving limbic inputs such as feelings, emotions, and affective memories, i.e., experience of the “world-within.” Moreover, through its diffuse connectivity with the cortical relay nuclei of the thalamus and through efferents from the basal ganglia, it receives a mixture of mode-specific sensory inputs, i.e., experience of the “world-without.”

The thalamus might be regarded as the “third eye” of the brain. Its activities are believed to be associated with the maintenance of conscious awareness (55, p. 238). It has become  apparent that some thalamic nuclei play the dominant role in the coordination, maintenance, and regulation of the state of “consciousness,” alertness, attention through widespread “nonspecific” functional influences upon activities of the cerebral cortex, a subject to be discussed in the next section. Also, it is known that the thalamus participates both in afferent and efferent systems, and that sensory data passing through its structures may be relayed simply to the cortex as well as integrated and elaborated. The dorsomedial nucleus together with the dorsolateral nucleus, the posterior lateral nucleus, and the pulvinar, which projects to the parietal association areas of the cortex, are known as the “association nuclei” of the thalamus. They may be activated by sensory stimuli in any modality, i.e., they have nonspecific irritabilities.

In particular, the dorsomedial nucleus is known to have extensive bi-directional connectivity with the prefrontal cortex (12, p. 157). This prefrontal cortex-dorsomedial-thalamic loop (PCDT loop) is believed to be associated with the appraisal of emotional events (55, p. 243), and hence, serves as a likely candidate to represent the E/P cycle pathway. In terms of the EPC model, the PCDT loop would be involved in sustaining emotions in an amplified state through recursive processes, whether those emotions were global and undifferentiated, or differentiated as feeling tones. Within this theoretical framework, excessive frontal lobe connectivity to the dorsomedial thalamic nucleus, increasing the level of self-sensibility, may be responsible for certain kinds of psychoses or psychoneuroses. Indeed, Riklan and Levita (55, p. 232) mention that “psychotic” patients who underwent bilateral dorsomedial thalamic surgery experienced decreases in introversion, in fearfulness of emotionally charged situations, in uncertainty, and in depression. This emotional recursion/amplification hypothesis regarding the functioning of the PCDT loop is further supported by experiments in which lesions were placed in the thalamus of patients suffering from the advanced stages of cancer in an attempt to relieve pain (35). It was found that bilateral destruction specifically of the dorsomedial and anterior thalamic nuclei, although leaving cutaneous sensitivity and the perception of pain intact, removed its emotional component, i.e., the patients, although feeling pain, did not pay much attention to it. Removal of the prefrontal cortex is also found to reduce the emotional aspects of pain perception. Moreover, Pribram (50, p. 342) notes that frontal lobe damage reduces the duration of emotion in frustrating situations, not its occurrence, again evidence of amplification through recursion, most probably taking place in the PCDT loop.

According to the EPC model, abstracted emotional nuance sets, or thoughts, held in an amplified state through cortical-subcortical circulation, serve the function of short-term memory. Short-term memory may be tested by the delayed response test. In one form of this test, the animal is restrained while food is placed under one or the other of two boxes, after which restraint is continued for a delay period, and then the animal is set free to choose between the two boxes. Bilateral ablations of either the prefrontal cortex (23) or bilateral lesions of the dorsomedial thalamic nucleus (60) have been shown to totally abolish or severely impair performance of the delayed response test, evidence which strongly supports the choice of the prefrontal cortex-dorsomedial-thalamic loop as representing the emotional- perceptive circuit of the brain. Moreover, Foster (12), working with monkeys, has observed that during the food-presentation phase of this test, the firing rate in the cells of the dorsomedial thalamic nucleus became considerably augmented and that this elevated firing rate often persisted into the 1-minute delay period. He offers these results as further indication that the dorsomedial nucleus not only participates in the acquisition of sensory information, but also in the retention of this information in short-term storage (12, p.162).

The EPC model suggests that if emotional-perceptive cycling were impaired, relevant nuances could not be abstracted from the fluctuating emotional theme of mental experience leaving the organism at the mercy of momentary feeling states. Perhaps this might throw some light on Pribram’s observation that frontal lobe damage impairs the ability to carry out context- sensitive decisions:

“Viewed prospectively, the defect shows in problem solving: the organism is not able   to regulate his behavior on the basis of the perturbing events that signal changes in context. Viewed retrospectively, the defect shows in emotional expression: the  organism has failed to monitor, register, and evaluate perturbations that continuously complicate context and so add to the troubling present. In the temporal domain this loss of context-sensitive operations is reflected in the fact that the stream of happenings is not segmented and so runs together in a present which is forever, without past or future. The organism becomes completely a monitor at the mercy of his momentary states, instead of an actor on them.” (50, pp.347-348)

The inability to stabilize relevant information in consciousness would be a serious disadvantage in the performance of the delayed response test provided that the emotional theme in the organism’s stream of consciousness was subject to erratic change. However, if thematic fluctuation were to be minimized, i.e., by minimizing disturbing sensory inputs, the stability of the emotional theme (circulating in the Papez circuit) would be improved, and hence performance on the delayed response test should be improved. In fact, this is what is actually observed. Malmo (34) has shown that monkeys having bilateral ablations of the frontal association areas successfully performed the delayed response test in darkness, but failed in light because of the distracting affects of extraneous visual stimuli.

Goal-directed behavior in a novel situation arises from the ability to assign importance to a certain set of sensory stimuli or concepts and to stabilize these in consciousness such that they may direct the organism’s future course of behavior. The inability to stabilize novel unhabituated inputs in consciousness has been observed in patients having frontal lobe disturbances. Luria reports:

“Very frequently actions required by a spoken command are not retained by the patient and are replaced by more habitual and more firmly established actions. One such patient, for instance, when asked to light a candle, struck a match correctly but instead of putting it to a candle which he held in his hand, he put the candle in his mouth and started to ‘smoke’ it like a cigarette. The new and relatively unstabilized action was thus replaced by the more firmly established inert stereotype. I have  observed such disturbances of a complex action programme and its replacement by elementary, basic behavior in many patients with a clearly defined ‘frontal syndrome.’ …Another such patient, who had been given permission to leave the consulting room of the physician examining him, got up and, when he saw the open door of a cupboard, went into the cupboard, thus showing the same type of impulsive, stereotyped behavior. A third patient with a similarly well-marked frontal syndrome, whom I sent into the ward to fetch his cigarettes, began to carry out this instruction but when he met a group of patients coming towards him, turned round and then followed them, although he still clearly remembered the instruction which  he had been given.” (30, pp. 199 – 200)

As with the monkeys tested by Malmo, extraneous environmental stimuli contributed to distract the patients from their initial task.


The EPC theory presented in Part I of this paper dealt primarily with spontaneous mental processes, i.e., the spontaneous emergence of a creative thought (right-hemispheric processing). Now, how might this theory be extended, so as to come to grips with volitional processes (left-hemispheric processing), i.e., processes of discrimination, of determining whether an emerging fluctuation is desirable to have as a thought, or undesirable? We might venture that discrimination among alternative thematic fluctuations might involve a mechanism of selective amplification. Thus, referring to Figure 9, suppose that the emotional-perceptive cycle is operating at point k4 and that an undesirable thematic fluctuation of sufficient intensity arises and crosses the critical threshold. This nuance may be damped, rather than amplified, simply by reducing the intensity of the emotional-perceptive flux, i.e., by shifting to the left of k4. Since the intensity of emotional flux was postulated earlier to be affected by the state of mental arousal, we might expectt hat selective perception involves some sort of selective arousal mechanism. Consequently, if this extension of the EPC model is correct, we might expect to find that the problem solving region of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, has the capability to rapidly modulate the cerebral arousal mechanism.

In fact, this is exactly what we find. Arousal in the brain is administered by way of the ascending reticular activating system (ARAS) which extends up from the core of the brainstem to the subthalamus, hypothalamus, and the midline and intralaminar nuclei of the thalamus (37, pp. 74, 83). The intralaminar cells are believed to be part of an intrathalamic association system, connecting various specific nuclei within the thalamus.  From this region of the thalamus, the cephalic portion of the reticular system, fibers project out diffusely to all parts of the cerebral cortex, to the hypothalamus, basal ganglia, and amygdaloid complex, see Figure 17. This portion of the ARAS has been termed the thalamic reticular system or the Diffuse (nonspecific) Thalamocortical Projection System (DTPS).


Neurophysiologists have isolated two arousal mechanisms in the ARAS. One is involved in maintaining a state of wakefulness, or cortical arousal for prolonged periods of time. This tonic arousal mechanism is mediated by control sites in the brain stem. On the other hand, the midline and intralaminar thalamic nuclei part of the DTPS appear to be the controlling center for a phasic arousal mechanism which produces sudden transitory changes in arousal (55, p. 58). By way of comparison, when the tonic system is electrically stimulated, arousal may persist for some minutes, whereas, when the phasic system is stimulated, arousal lasts for only a few seconds (37, p. 84). Thus, we might imagine that tonic arousal brings the emotional flux of the E/P cycle up to a certain point (say, k4 on Figure 9) producing an optimal level of cortical tone essential for the organized course of mental activity (cf. 30, pp. 44-45), while phasic arousal modulates this level around this optimal point to engender orienting effects.

Whereas the tonic activation system equally affects all sensory modalities, the phasic system is capable of selective arousal, and hence, of orienting consciousness specifically to one of several sensory stimuli. Indeed, carefully controlled local stimulation within different parts of the intralaminar system reveals that arousal is topographically organized with respect to different areas of the cortex (55, pp. 55, 58 – 59).

Both tonic and phasic arousal systems are controlled from the prefrontal cortex. Bi-directional pathways between the prefrontal cortex and the brain stem are responsible for regulation of the tonic system, while the caudate nucleus, which receives efferent influences from the “suppressor” regions of the prefrontal cortex and from the central medial nucleus of the thalamus, projects to the intralaminar nuclei of the thalamus to modulate the phasic system (55, pp. 41-43,46,59,262-263; 56, p. 11).*

*The central medial nucleus appears to integrate sensorimotor information from all modalities as well as from cerebellar and reticular afferents.

Although controlling fibers originate from the prefrontal cortex, it is important to realize that it may not be the prefrontal cortex itself which controls the arousal mechanism. Rather, waveform information conducted to the prefrontal cortex may be in the driver’s seat. For example, low, slow stimulation in the intralaminar thalamic nuclei result in cortical synchrony (nonactivation) and produce inattention, drowsiness and sleep, while high-frequency, or stronger stimulation will produce desynchronization or arousal (62, p.186-187; 55, p.238). The fact that these information-bearing waveforms are modulated by arousal and that arousal is modulated by these waveforms constitutes an interesting self-reflexive process, the consequences of which will be discussed more fully at the end of this paper.

The basal ganglia, and in particular the caudate nucleus, are important not only in regulating motor activity, but also in modulating the activity of thought and perception (55, p. 63 – 64, 161) . Patients with Parkinson’s disease (disease of the basal ganglia) not only exhibit motoric disability, but show cognitive impairment as well. For example, Parkinsonians sometimes demonstrate cognitive deficits on standardized tests (37, p. 81).  Rosvold and Szwarcbart (56, pp. 3-5) point out that electrical stimulation or damage to the head of the caudate nucleus impairs performance on the delayed alternation test.  Also, as the size of the electrolytic lesion is increased, the severity of the deficit increases approaching complete loss when large ablations are made. Pribram (50, pp. 334, 337) notes that lesions of the caudate nucleus as well as ablations of all parts of the limbic system, or resection of the frontal pole of the brain, impair the performance of monkeys on delayed response tests.

Luria states that in problem solving patients with lesions of the frontal lobes never start by subjecting the conditions of the problem to a preliminary analysis and do not confront its separate parts, but instead, as a rule, single out random fragments of the conditions and begin to perform partial logical operations (30, pp. 15, 21). He concludes that injury to the frontal lobes disables the “orienting basis of action,” i.e., the phase of problem solving concerned with singling out the most informative points and thereby reducing the search for data. As has been suggested in this section, the volitional aspects of the thinking process, such as discrimination, are monitored via the frontal cortex and involve the operation of the frontal portion of the DTPS. This hypothesis is strongly supported by Luria’s experiments which indicate that patients with frontal lobe injury suffer disturbance to their discriminative faculties.


The thalamus produces a spontaneous electrical rhythm predominantly at the alpha wave frequency (~6 – 12 cps). Repetitive stimulation of the midline intralaminar thalamic nuclei at close to this frequency generates a steady negative electric potential shift in the frontal lobe of the cerebrum and incrementing waves of positive and negative potential specifically in the prefrontal cortex (orbitofrontal granular cortex). This phenomenon is called the cortical recruiting response because cortical excitability is observed to increase in a stepwise manner as though more and more neurons were being recruited into activity (37, p. 85). When the recruiting response occurs, certain cortical cells become more excitable and easier to stimulate, and when the response reaches its peak, neurons that were not previously firing at all are observed to begin to send out nerve impulses in rhythm with the thalamic stimulation.

The fact that cortical activity increases in a stepwise manner, in step with the dominant  thalamic rhythm strongly indicates that cortical recruitment is brought about through recursive thalamocortical wavefront circulation. That is let us suppose that the alpha rhythm is generated by impulses circulating continuously with a certain frequency fo, or period \tau = 1/fo. If impulses are administered to the thalamus at this same frequency with the proper phase relationship, each descending wavefront, or impulse, from the previous beat will reach the thalamus in time to be joined and reinforced by the next stimulating pulse from the electric probe. Thus, the combined output transmitted to the prefrontal cortex should exhibit a stepwise increase in strength with each cycle.

Thus, the recruiting response is essentially a resonance phenomenon, and may be compared to the phenomenon of electromagnetic resonance observed in an L-C oscillator circuit. For example, a coil and condenser coupled, as shown in Figure 18, will have a characteristic resonant frequency fo = 1/ 2\pi \sqrt{LC}, where L is the inductance of the coil and C the capacitance of the capacitor. When the driving frequency F of the AC generator is made equal to the natural frequency of oscillation fo, the amplitude, or peak voltage, of the L-C circuit will increase exponentially.


Direct evidence of thalamocortical waveform circulation is reported by Verzeano and Negish; (67, 69). They have shown with microelectrode measurements that this circulation follows a curvilinear path and is progressively displaced through the neuronal networks such that a helical wave propagation is produced. They estimate this circulation velocity to be on the order of 0.5 – 9 mm/sec (68, 69), which would yield for one looping a circulation period of between 15 seconds and 5 minutes. However, this is way too long to explain the  cortical recruiting response. Perhaps, then, this slow wave circulation is a supplementary phenomenon generated by more rapid thalamocortical wave circulation activity. Indeed, Riklan and Levita (55, p. 55) report that a single electrical stimulation of brief duration administered to the central portion of the intralaminar system (the same region where the recruiting response is evoked) may induce bursts of rhythmic waves in the frontal cortex after only a few milliseconds of delay and in the more posterior areas of the cortex with delays of up to several hundred milliseconds.

The waveform amplification model, deduced here from reported observations of the recruiting response, is in line with the EPC model, which suggests that the brain amplifies emotional nuances through a process of repetitive circulation. This process was compared earlier to the laser in which a beam of light waves becomes amplified through the continuous recruitment of photons during its recursive passage through anionized gas.*

* Perhaps we might now coin a new term referring to the brain as a NASER, i.e., a system which is able to effect Neuroelectrical Amplification through Synchronized Emotional-perceptive Recycling.

Resonance in a tuned L-C circuit may be damped simply by changing either the frequency or phase of the generated wave with respect to the resonating wave. Thus, the degree to which the generated wave is amplified through resonance is dependent at any given moment on its frequency and phase. By analogy, perhaps the path from the prefrontal cortex through the caudate nucleus serves as a line for transmitting “generated” frequencies to the thalamus so as to modulate DTPS arousal; see Figure 19. The level of arousal would in turn affect the magnitude of the waveform flux in the  prefrontal cortex-dorsomedial-thalamic loop (PCDT loop) which is involved in discriminative thinking. By also directing impulses topographically, cortical-caudal feedback could selectively arouse different regions of the cerebral cortex, thereby allowing the organism to attend selectively to particular stimuli.

The original form of the EPC model presented in Part I implied that the arousal channels (DTPS) and the information channels (PCDT loop) function as a single unit. This is supported by neurophysiological evidence. That is, the fiber connections for both of these channels, although separate from one another, are intricately interwoven. Moreover, both systems of fibers pass through the inferior thalamic peduncle (ITP).

Skinner and Lindsley have found that cryogenic blockage of the ITP totally abolishes the recruiting response (62, p. 203), and that animals with ITP blockage suffer behavioral deficits similar to those produced by lesions in the prefrontal cortex and dorsomedial thalamic nucleus. They concluded that the DTPS plays a crucial role in the performance of these tasks. Moreover, finding that ITP blockage increased the transmission of visual and auditory stimuli to cortical regions, they concluded that the DTPS normally maintains a tonic suppression of evoked potentials elicited by unattended stimuli (62, p. 212). This suppression is most likely mediated via the prefrontal cortex-caudal-thalamic pathway which, as was mentioned earlier, is believed to be involved in the regulation of selective attention. Thus, the system is structured such that activation of the prefrontal cortex, i.e., during problem solving activities automatically suppresses environmental stimuli, in turn allowing attention to become focused more on internal sensations.

The fact that the PCDT loop is structurally interconnected with the DTPS, which is involved both with the recruiting response and with selective attention, and that these same circuits must be intact for the performance of complex behavioral tasks, strongly supports the notion that selective amplification is basic to the process of discriminative thinking, a concept understandable within the concept of the EPC theory.

Velasco and Lindsley (66) found that successive ablations of the prefrontal cortex effected progressive proportionate reductions in the recruiting response, with the recruiting response disappearing entirely when the orbitofrontal cortex was ablated. This mass action effect of the prefrontal cortex on the magnitude of the recruiting  response strongly supports the assumptions of the EPC theory regarding the evolution of intelligence. That is, the philogenetic increase in size of the prefrontal cortex would have increased the amplification capability of the DTPS and the PCDT loop systems of the brain believed to be critically involved in discriminative and creative thought processes. This philogenetic change would have allowed emotional thematic fluctuations (or emergent waveforms) to become more rapidly amplified for a given level of tonic arousal, and hence would have lowered the critical threshold for cognition, i.e., the intensity which a fluctuation must reach to overcome thematic damping effects.

Golding and O’Leary (14) have shown that the positive-negative wave impulses produced by the recruiting response are superimposed upon a steady negative potential shift. Moreover, the duration of the negative potential was shown to outlast that of each impulse by several hundred milliseconds, permitting a sustained steady potential shift to be generated as a result of repetitive stimulation. This monophasic negative component of the recruiting response, it is believed, corresponds to what is called contingent negative variation (CNV). This phenomenon involves a steady negative variation in cerebral electrical potential occurring over parts of the frontal and vertex regions of the cortex observed in both man and animals during directed attention or expectancy.

Contingent negative variation may be evoked in an experimental situation by an initial stimulus, the warning stimulus, which alerts the organism to respond to a subsequent, expected stimulus, the imperative stimulus. When the second stimulus finally takes place, a sharp positive deflection ends the negative variation. In any act of expectancy the magnitude of this “expectancy wave” (CNV) increases in proportion to the degree of motivation exhibited in performing a task. Moreover, CNV magnitude is correlated with the likelihood that a stimulus will materialize.

Grey Walter observes the following correlations between the CNV and the accompanying psychological situation in adults responding to paired stimuli:

“(1) The CNV grows slowly over the first few dozen presentations of associated stimuli after instructions to respond to the imperative stimuli.

(2) Once established, the CNV persists indefinitely as long as the subject retains an interest and concern with his response. In some subjects, identical records of the CNV have been obtained day after day over a period of several months.

(3) When the imperative stimuli are withdrawn (extinction trials), the CNV subsides slowly to zero over the first 20-50 trials. When the imperative stimuli are restored,  the CNV reappears after about 12 presentations. This process of alternating  extinction and restoration can be repeated indefinitely in strong, well-balanced, normal adult subjects.

(4) When the subject is told beforehand that the imperative stimulus is going to be withdrawn or that he need not make the operant response, the CNV subsides at once.” (74, p. 118)

The locus of occurrence of the potential change depends upon the type of task. For example, Pribram states that when a monkey or person waits without making an overt response, the CNV occurs maximally in the frontal cortex; when an anticipated motor  response is demanded the negativity occurs first in the motor cortex preceding the execution of the movement and terminating with the occurrence of the movement;  when a continuing response, such as a prolonged preparatory depression of a lever, is necessary, the negativity occurs maximally in the somatosensory cortex (50, p. 281).

The EPC model offers an interesting framework for assembling the pieces of this not too well understood phenomenon of CNV. We might begin by imagining that the expectancy wave is brought about through: 1) sustained activation of the phasic arousal system, accompanied by 2) inhibition of all incoming stimuli. By analogy to driving a car, this might be compared to stepping on the accelerator and the brakes at the same time, In light of the EPC theory, what the organism is actually doing is “priming,” or biasing, the intensity of the emotional theme circulating in the PCDT loop with a waveform (or emotional nuance) corresponding to the expected stimulus such that the intensity of this waveform is a major component of the emotional stream. At the same time, the organism is arousing its E/P cycling flux (DTPS) arousal to some level, say k4 (refer to Figure 9), such that the intensity of this thematic fluctuation is voluntarily maintained at a level just below the critical threshold of nucleation. In addition, all external sensory and internal emotional stimuli would be inhibited by an equal amount. Because their resulting intensity is so low, all irrelevant stimuli will fail to develop sufficient intensity to reach the critical threshold. Only the imperative stimulus will be able to reach the critical threshold, since it is supplemented by the primed stimulus already circulating in the PCDT loop. Thus, even though the externally received, expected stimulus input is damped by an equal amount, its intensity is just enough to make the primed waveform go critical. Whereupon, amplification occurs abruptly with the accompanying generation of a sudden positive potential surge.

Assuming that the mind is able to direct expectancy not only to external but to internal stimuli as well, the same model described above may give useful insights into problem solving and creative thought processes. For example, let us consider the stages in creative thought formation which Gray speaks of (16, pp. 10-11): The preparation phase (i.e., the forming of the question) may be compared to the priming of the E/P cycle. The incubation phase corresponds to the expectancy period during which the organism is open to receiving an assortment of stimuli (Gray’s window shopping process). The illumination phase corresponds to the moment when the imperative stimulus (answer to the question) is received from the subconscious, driving the PCDT loop supercritical. Finally, the verification phase would involve the application of volitional discriminative operations as described in the last section. Incubation and illumination would constitute right-brain processes, while preparation and verification would be left-hemispheric.


The thinking process may be conceived as involving the operation of two interrelated self-reflexive loops: the Papez circuit and the prefrontal cortex-dorsomedial-thalamic loop. The Papez circuit would be the more basic of the two and would be involved in: affectively evaluating and associating thoughts and sensory and motor experiences; storing and retrieving sensory, motor, emotional, and emotional-cognitive memory engrams, and in sustaining emotional nuances (including sensory and motor waveforms) in an ongoing recursive process that allows the development of an emotional theme. Together these limbic system processes would constitute what Freud referred to as the primary process, and may be considered as the domain of the unconscious.


Bi-directional connectivity between the Papez circuit and the medial thalamus, i.e., via the hypothalamus, allows the primary process emotional theme to pass into the PCDT loop. This secondary self-reflexive mechanism would function as a selective attention, or awareness-heightening mechanism operating on the primary process emotional stream so as to selectively amplify specific nuances and produce conscious experience. This “higher” brain process we will call the “secondary process,” to borrow Freud’s term. Here we echo Gray’s view of the conscious, that it constitutes a secondary awareness heightening organ (PCDT loop + DTPS + cerebral-caudate pathways) which focuses in on, or “lights up,” emergent patterns of feeling or thought circulating in the unconscious (i.e., circulating in the Papez circuit).

The relationship between primary and secondary process loops is shown in Figure 20. The activity of each loop is aroused via two separate branches of the reticular activating system which Routtenberg (57) has called Arousal System I, administering tonic arousal to the thalamus (secondary process), and Arousal System II which, via the median forebrain bundle, activates the limbic system (primary process). The prefrontal cortex is able to modulate Arousal System I via cerebral-caudal-thalamic pathways and Arousal System II via the descending cortical fibers of the median forebrain bundle. It is probably no accident that these descending MFB fibers also happen to pass through the caudate nucleus. Thus, the caudate nucleus seems to perform a regulatory function in  both primary and secondary thought processes.

Routtenberg suggests that Arousal Systems I and II tend to mutually inhibit one another, with Arousal System I generally overriding Arousal System II at higher levels of ARAS arousal. However, we might imagine that during emotionally charged periods, as during mourning or rage, Arousal System II may become hyperactivated to such an extent that even at high levels of ARAS arousal it is able to maintain dominance, inhibiting the functioning of Arousal System I, hence clouding the secondary thinking process. Observing the behavioral manifestations of such circumstances without knowledge of their underlying neurophysiological connections, one might be led to theorize erroneously (as many psychologists have done) that the primitive, driven emotions bear a competitive disorganizing relationship to the “more evolved” neocortical faculties of rational thought. It is this superficial view that Gray was contesting with the development of his ECS theory. It is hoped that the rationalist perspective will be permanently abandoned in light of the picture conveyed here: namely, that emotive disruption of the secondary process does not reflect an intrinsic feature of emotion itself, but only the modus operandi of the brain’s arousal systems.


The associative nuclei of the thalamus, together with the limbic system, may be thought of as the market place or agora, where sensory waveforms and emotional nuances from memory and the stream of consciousness cross paths and influence one another. Thus, contrary to popular belief, the importance of the cerebral region is not to integrate the diverse mental experiences, but to separate them, to give them “breathing room” not possible in the lower brain centers. As mentioned earlier, transcortical connections do not appear to play an important role in thought processes. Moreover, brain wave experiments have demonstrated that the cerebral field is homogeneous only during certain kinds of relaxed states (i.e., diffuse focus alpha wave generation), that in the aroused state, as during problem solving, the brain field is differentiated into several regions having differing EEG patterns. Pribram (50, p. 207) has suggested that this de-synchronization or independent functioning of neural regions is evidence of separate information processing channels functioning simultaneously.

Cerebral differentiation allows simultaneous processing of several information modes, while at the same time reducing the amount of “cross-talk” between the information  structures evolving in each mode. Thus, one is able to think about a problem while walking, gazing at the scenery, smelling the flowers, and whistling a song all at the same time. All of these processes may be separately monitored in their respective cerebral areas at differing intensities of cortical arousal and simultaneously interwoven in the subcortex to yield the fabric of consciousness.

There are many who hold the belief that consciousness is connected with the generation of particular physical effects at particular sites in the brain. The EPC theory rejects this physicalist view, suggesting instead that the locus of consciousness lies somehow in the structure and relation evolved between the feelings themselves. That is, consciousness is transcendent. The complexity of thought is not contingent on the physical complexity of the brain, but on the complexity of the emotional coding system in which thought is based.

In one sense, feelings are physically based in that they appear as neuroelectric waveforms, however, in another sense they have an informational aspect which emerges within the context of the fabric of consciousness. The physical waveform simply acts as a substrate or carrier for this information, much the same way that the sound vibrations of musical notes (physical aspect) act as a carrier for the music being played (informational aspect). Thus, the particular waveform configurations which emerge are not contingent on the laws of physics and chemistry, but on events transpiring within the confines of the fabric of consciousness itself.

This approach points out a possible avenue to resolving the mind-body problem. Mind may be regarded as evolving within body (or brain). The physical architecture of the brain and the biochemical behavior of nerve cells serve as a womb in which feelings may differentiate, combine, self-organize, and relationally increase in complexity. The architecture of the brain allows feelings to feel themselves feel, or, in other words, permits feelings to affect themselves. It is within this self-reflexive structure that self-reflection or consciousness emerges, and (in man) takes account of itself.

The brain, therefore, should be regarded as a relatively simple instrument. Just as a simple handloom enables the weaving of complex tapestries, so too the brain provides conditions such that complex emotional fabrics may weave themselves! The incoming stream of sensory experience, the associations internally elicited from memory, and internally generated affective evaluations would constitute the brain’s raw material, i.e., the threads of yarn that are woven. The brain’s arousal mechanisms would constitute its “weaving controls.” Moreover, as was mentioned earlier, the emotional nuances themselves, manifested as waveforms of differing frequencies and intensities, seem to control both the arousal mechanisms and the kinds of affects and memory experiences generated internally. Metaphorically speaking, the fabric controls the loom and the loom weaves the fabric. The mind, therefore, is self-producing, or, in systems theoretic terminology, the mind is an autopoietic system (65). It is a reality system which creates its own form (cf. 75).

Just as biological life required the preexistence of certain environmental conditions in order to emerge on the surface of our planet, so too the mind requires the preexistence of certain sensory-emotional information processing conditions in order to emerge. These conditions are provided by the central nervous systems of biological organisms. The mind, in effect, is an emergent form of life, of informational rather than biochemical constitution. As long as its biological environment, the brain, stays within certain defined limits, it has the opportunity to evolve in complexity and, if fortunate, to maintain a healthy existence.


The test for any newly proposed theory often comes when it is able to correctly predict observations or circumstances not initially taken into account at the time of its formulation. The EPC theory initially grew out of considerations in the field of general  systems psychology and psychiatry (16), the thermodynamics and structural stability of self-organizing systems (53, 54) and systems philosophical anthropology-encompassing aspects of evolutionary biology and the study of symbolism (73). Although the EPC theory initially avoided consideration of neurophysiological findings, the survey contained in Part II suggests that this theory is, indeed, quite compatible with current neurophysiological observations.

Thus, there is reason to believe that the EPC theory is a reasonable model of mental process, and that it may serve as a useful framework for understanding future neurophysiological, psychological, and psychiatric findings.


I would like to thank Bill Gray, Milton Bennett, and Martin Zwick for many helpful discussions and comments on this paper.


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PAUL LAVIOLETTE is a doctoral student of systems science at Portland State University in Oregon. He received his BS in physics from the Johns Hopkins University and his M.B.A.   from the University of Chicago in 1973. In 1971, while doing research at Harvard University in respiratory protection, he invented a miniaturized pulsation dampener for air sampling pumps, and received patents in 1974 and 1975 for the invention of a new type of self-contained, closed-circuit breathing apparatus. During this time he also founded Solar Aquatics, a solar energy research firm. In 1976 he served as a project consultant on solar energy for the 4th Report to the Club of Rome Goals for Mankind, and lectured extensively in the USA and Europe on the report’s energy recommendations. He is currently a solar energy consultant for the United Nations and has a strong interest in the application of appropriate solar technologies to third world countries. Through his current interest in general systems theory, he has become involved in many fields: psychology, neurophysiology, microphysics, cosmology, sociology, and ancient mythology. Since 1973, LaViolette has been investigating the application of nonequilibrium thermodynamics to the unification of physics theory. In 1977 he realized that these same principles could also be used to explain the creative thought process.

LaViolette, Paul. A. “The thermodynamics of the aha experience.” Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Society for General Systems Research, San Francisco, Jan. 1980; Reprinted in: (1982) W. Gray, et al. (eds.) General Systems Theory and the Psychological Sciences (Vol. I). Intersystems Press, CA.

Presented at the 24th Annual North American Meeting
of the Society for General Systems Research,
Symposium on Psychotherapy, Mind and Brain.
San Francisco, Cal., January 10, 1980.


Portland State University
Systems Science Phd Program
Portland, Oregon 97207


A new model of mental process is presented which helps to explain many seemingly mysterious aspects of creative thought formation: its gestative period, spontaneity, suddenness of emergence, and its ability to create new information out of subconscious feelings. The model, supported by recent neurophysiological findings, postulates a self-referential relationship between limbic emotive processes and cortical perceptive processes. A cognitive event is envisioned as a self-organizing, birth process in which a particular combination of unconscious feeling tones become amplified through emotional-perceptive cycling into a state of high intensity. According to this model, the birth of ideas may be compared to the spontaneous emergence of spatially ordered concentration patterns in certain nonequilibrium chemical systems.


This paper summarizes the basic features of the emotional-perceptive cycle theory (EPC theory) which is a model of brain process recently developed by the author (Laviolette, 1977, 1979). Among the advantages of this theory are its ability to explain many of the characteristics of the creative thought process: i.e., the reason for its preceeding gestative period, and why ideas emerge suddenly and unexpectedly. Moreover, the theory explains how the new information born in an idea may become self-organized out of sensory and emotional raw data inputs.

The EPC theory was initially formulated in a true interdisciplinary spirit. It represents the unification of William Gray’s work on emotional-cognitive structure theory in the field of psychology and psychiatry (1975, 1979), Ilya Prigogine’s theoretical work on the self-organizing behavior of nonequilibrium systems (Glansdorff and Prigogine, 1971; Prigogine, Nicolis, and Babloyantz, 1972), Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s writings on symbolism (1980), and my own work on self-organizing phenomena. Also, the theory constitutes a breakthrough in the field of general systems research. Namely, the principles of nonequilibrium thermodynamics may now be applied to the description of mental phenomena. These same principles have already been applied to the description of chemical and biochemical phenomena (Prigogine, Nicolis, and Babloyantz, 1972; Nicolis and Prigogine, 1977), and social phenomena (Prigogine, 1976; Prigogine, Allen, and Herman, 1977). The trimolecular model, a nonequilibrium chemical reaction system developed by the Brussels group, was instrumental in the development of the EPC theory. By way of analogy, it may be stated that thoughts emerge from a substrate of unconscious sensory and emotional data in much the same way that spatially ordered concentration patterns emerge from a homogeneous field in the trimolecular model. Thus, cognition may be understood as an instance of “order-through-fluctuation”. Those wishing further information on this chemical reaction analogy and on neurophysiological substantiation of the EPC theory are referred to an earlier publication (Laviolette, 1979).

Finally, it should be mentioned that the EPC theory constitutes a “materialization” of Alfred North Whitehead’s “organic theory of feelings” which he develops in Process and Reality (1929). The EPC theory was for the most part developed independently, without knowledge of Whitehead’s theory of feelings. However, the isomorphism between the two theories is quite striking. The EPC theory should serve as an excellent bridge to bring Whitehead’s philosophy into the fields of psychology, psychiatry, and neurophysiology.


Several experiments (McCleary and Moore, 1965; Pribram, 1969; Pribram, Spinelli and Kamback, 1967) indicate that all external sense perceptions (visual, auditory, tactile, etc.) and internal sensations (feelings and emotions) are transmitted in the brain in a waveform context. That is, the information constituting mental events, whether of external origin or of internal origin, is encoded in a neuroelectrical substrate. The frequency, shape, and amplitude of a particular neuroelectrical waveform would serve as the encoding mechanism. As such, mental information becomes self-contained and portable. It is essentially “detached” from the physical brain structure and free to be transmitted from one portion of the brain to another without any change in informational content. This “software” view of mental phenomena stands in direct opposition to the classical “hardware” view which holds that mental experience is essentially “hardwired” into particular neural locations. This “association-by-fiber-tracts” hypothesis claims that sensory and emotional experience is somehow produced by particular nerve fiber pathways. One example of this is Hebb’s “cell assembly” theory of neuronal organization (1949). However, physicalistic views such as this may be readily disposed of in view of recent experiments with cats which demonstrate that mental information is simultaneously distributed to many parts of the brain in the form of neuroelectrical waveforms (John, Herrington, and Sutton, 1967).

A crude comparison with mechanical models may help to clarify the difference between the software and hardware views. This paper adopts the view that the brain operates more like an AM-FM radio receiver than like an electronic computer. That is, the physical architecture of the brain, like a radio circuit is relatively simple; it is merely an information handler. Just as a radio circuit conducts through its wires complex information in the form of amplitude modulated (AM) or frequency modulated (FM) electrical currents, so too the brain conducts through its neural pathways complex information in the form of “AM/FM” neuroelectrical waveforms.* In a binary computer, on the other hand, the informational signals are relatively simple, unmodulated electrical impulses. Their informational complexity, i.e., their “meaning” is hardware-bound; that is, it is dependent on which particular wire they are conducted. Consequently, the physical architecture of a computer must be extremely sophisticated. The position of this paper is that the “ghost in the machine” is much more complex than the “machine” itself.

*Care should be taken to note that this waveform hypothesis is just a model suitable to the present discussion. The brain may also be engaged in other more exotic modes of information handling which may require a more complex model for their description.

The discussion, until now, has centered around the nature of the physical constituents of psychophysical experience; i.e., the neuroelectrical waveform. Now, the other side of the coin will be considered, namely the mental constituents of this psycho-physical experience. Stated briefly, it is assumed that one’s entire mental experience is conveyed by an intrapscychic language which is feeling-based. The interaction of the organism’s organs of perception with the external world yield feelings of perception or sensations. On the other hand, the reaction of the organism to these sensations and the autonomous elicitation of motivations and desires yield emotional nuances. Emotional nuances are formed whenever the basic emotions (such as anger, fear, triumph, rejection, affection, etc.) mix together in various intensities. A vast spectrum of nuances of nearly infinite variety is produced in this way. Together they may be said to constitute an “emotional language”, the nuances being the phonemes and words of this language. To construct a general category for the purpose of easy referral, emotional nuances and sensations will be called feeling tones.

Feeling tones in infants are initially generated via genetically determined modes and subsequently modified by learned experience. For example, the way in which the eye converts differential retinal cell illumination into neural firing sequences and finally into neuroelectrical waveforms is largely determined by the architecture of the retina and the ganglion cell layer. Similarly, the emotional reaction of distress, and its behavioral correlate of crying, associated with the sensation of hunger, is entirely genetically determined. However, as an infant develops, the act of perception as well as the act of emotional response and expression gains considerable autonomy. Thus, ultimately in the course of one’s life, one’s emotional language and one’s images of perception become personally evolved.

It is assumed that experience is quantized. Each feeling tone may be considered as a unit of experience, either of the “world-without” or of the “world within”. These units, of course, may represent varying degrees of informational complexity. For example, feeling tones of lesser complexity relating to a few basic aspects of experience may combine to form more complex feeling tones. Nevertheless, each resulting unit must be regarded as a “quantum” of experience.

A feeling tone may be viewed as the mental manifestation of a neuroelectrical waveform. Thus, the basic dual entity: feeling tone/waveform may be regarded as the basic psycho-physical correlate of mental/physical experience. This formulation is compatible with Arturo Rosenblueth’s correlation thesis which postulates that:

“Our sensations are causally related to events that occur in a material universe of which our own bodies are a part.”

“The physical correlates of our mental events are neurophysiological phenomena that develop in our brains.”

“Each specific mental event has as a correlate a specific spatiotemporal pattern of neuronal activity.” (1970, Ch. 7 & 10)*

*Also quoted by Laszlo (1972) in his discussion of the brain-mind correlation.

Rosenblueth postulates the following uni-directional sequence of events: material processes \longrightarrowselective activation of some receptors \longrightarrowcoded afferent messages \longrightarrowcentral neuronal and correlated mental events. This chain links physical events and mind events without affirming causal relations between them. He points out that “the causality involved in our sensations is that which connects the nervous activities and the spatiotemporal events which occur in the rest of the universe.” (1970, p. 115) In the same manner the feeling tone/waveform correlation thesis recognizes the non-interreducibility of mind and brain phenomena without affirming either a Cartesian and Lockean causal interaction between them, or committing the fallacy of the identity thesis (cf. Laszlo, 1972, p. 151).



To understand the basic information flows constituting conscious experience refer to Figure 1. The stream of consciousness is symbolized by the letter E. Physical sensations of the environment enter the stream of consciousness via pathway OSE, and these sensations are efferently modified by the mind via pathway EMS. Emotional responses to thesesensations enter the stream of consciousness via pathway OSEAE, where A symbolizes affective memory and innate instincts. The ensuing emotional states are behaviorally expressed via pathway EMB. Thus, the classical stimulus-response circuit would involve the sequence O \rightarrow S \rightarrow E \rightarrow A \rightarrow E \rightarrow M \rightarrow B. Affective memory and instincts A must also be regarded as an autonomous center, itself giving rise to EA. Pathways OSE and AE constitute the two basic pathways by which feeling tones (sensory and emotional information) enter the stream of consciousness. Discussion of the emotional-perceptive cycle E \rightarrow P \rightarrow E will be deferred for the moment.

It is assumed that the “stream of consciousness” is a collection of feeling tones which circulates in the portion of the limbic system known as the Papez circuit. Shown schematically in Figure 1, this consists of the loop: hypothalamus \rightarrow anterior thalamus \rightarrow cingulate gyrus \rightarrow hippocampus \rightarrow fornix bundle \rightarrow hypothalamus. Feeling tones of both sensory and emotional modality most probably enter the Papez circuit via the hypothalamus. For example, the hypothalamus receives nonspecific sensory inputs from the dorsomedial nucleus of the thalamus which is part of the brain’s sensory center. It also receives sensory and emotional inputs from the cerebral cortex via the basal ganglia. Finally, the hypothalamus is itself a center concerned with motivation and emotion and receives fibers from the amygdala and septal areas, limbic structures concerned with feeding, fighting, sociability and sexual drives.

Feeling tones might also enter the Papez loop via the hippocampus. The hippocampus is believed to serve as a storage/retrieval center for long term memory. Olds (1970, pp. 257-299) has compared the hippocampus to the random-access memory unit of a computer suggesting that memory might be stored in coded form. In conformance with this view, Spinelli (1970, p. 235) suggested that the memory system used by the brain is content addressable, rather than location addressable. He proposes that memory networks are addressed in parallel by any stimulus entering the nervous system and that to retrieve a chunk of information all that is necessary is that the system be provided with a fraction of that chunk, the remainder being played back. As seen in Figure 2, the limbic stream of emotional and sensory experiences continually passes through the hippocampus, allowing ready access for storage of new experience or retrieval of past memories.


The hypothesis that memories are stored in coded form is supported by experiments conducted on cats (John and Killam, 1959) which demonstrate that neuroelectrical waveforms (the entities coding experience) are stored and later elicited by the passage of waveforms having a comparable frequency. It is interesting to note that in 1956 William Gray developed a storage/retrieval model quite similar to that proposed by Spinelli. Whereas Spinelli independently formulated his ideas from a neurophysiological standpoint, Gray working from an introspective psychological point of view came to similar conclusions. Gray has proposed that emotional nuances serve as coded labels for mental experience stored in memory. Gray suggests that when a given emotional nuance is transmitted to the memory sector, it reactivates those memory traces with which it is tuned and elicits their retransmission in the form that they were originally recorded.

Because of its closed-loop connectivity, the Papez circuit allows recursive cycling. Thus, a given set of feeling tones would be allowed to persist in the stream of consciousness over a period of several cycles. However, the thematic content of the stream of consciousness would be continually changing. This change would be one of gradual evolution in which existing elements of consciousness would be for the most part preserved yet at the same time altered by the continually changing feeling tone content. New feeling tones would be constantly entering through the hypothalamus (present experience and through the hippocampus (past experience). Thus, elements of experience from the immediate past (recycled experience) would be combined with elements of experience from the immediate present and remote past (inputted experience). Here we have just constructed a model which accounts for the “creative advance” of consciousness, a phenomenon which formed the basis of Henri Bergson’s philosophy of nature (1903, 1911).

The A/E cycle shown in Figure l may be interpreted as a simplified version of the Papez circuit. The A locus would represent, not only the hippocampus, but other limbic structures as well such as the hypothalamus, amygdala and septal areas. To summarize, the Papez circuit is involved in: affectively evaluating and associating feeling tones (sensory, motor, and emotional experience and thoughts) storing and retrieving feeling tone information, and in sustaining feeling tones in an ongoing recursive process that allows the development of an evolving feeling tone theme. These limbic system processes are considered to be carried out in the domain of the unconscious. Together they would constitute what Sigmund Freud referred to as the primary process.


The diagram shown in Figure 3 was developed by Gray (1979) to illustrate the evolution of a feeling tone theme. The circles represent elementary bits of experience, or “cognitive fragments”, i.e., elementary engrams stored in memory. The lines issuing from these circles represent their associated emotional nuance tags, possibly also incorporating sensory and motor feeling tone elements. Since feeling tones are inherently dynamic (in space/time) being physically manifested as traveling waveforms, these issuing lines should be regarded as “tributary flows”. As a feeling tone flows it will trigger other cognitive fragments with which it associates to elicit their own characteristic feeling tones. These associations of feeling tones combine with one another to form a river-like theme in the stream of consciousness. This emotional theme (which also incorporates sensory/motor aspects) may initially develop from a single emotional nuance. This precursor nuance would act as an organizing focus around which subsequent thematic association and growth takes place. Thus, as Gray has emphasized in his emotional cognitive structure theory, emotional nuances not only act as coding devices, but also as the integrating and organizing devices of thought and experience.

The entire structure involving both the emotional theme and its associated cognitive fragments, Gray refers to as an emotional-cognitive structure, or ECS. Gray suggests that, in the course of its evolution, an ECS would eventually develop sufficient integration to become organizationally closed. At this stage it would achieve autonomy as a thought, and would have its own emergent emotional tag to identify it. This ECS could then participate with other ECS’s and cognitive fragments to eventually form a higher order ECS, i.e., a more complex thought structure.


At this point it is reasonable to wonder how it is that an emotional cognitive structure becomes cognized and turns into a thought. That is, how is it that an evolving emotional theme develops the right kind of closure such that it successfully integrates all of its constituent cognitive fragments into a coherent pattern? Moreover, how is an appropriate feeling tone tag made available to characterize this emergent thought structure? An answer to these questions is offered by the emotional-perceptive cycle theory (Laviolette, 1979).

At the foundation of the theory is the supposition that limbic emotive processes (EP) and cerebral perceptive processes (PE) are mutually interrelated in a circularly causal, self-reflexive pathway as pictured in Figure 1. That is, emotional nuances from the limbic region would become communicated to the cerebral cortex (EP) where they would be reemitted in abstracted form and communicated back to the limbic region (PE) where they would reenter the emotional stream, and again recycle themselves. While point E in this diagram represents a region where nuances from various sources become mixed into the emotional stream, point P represents a region where nuances become selectively abstracted or filtered from the emotional stream. This abstractive nature of perception has been known for some time. Alfred North Whitehead discussed this phenomenon, which he called “prehension”, in his “Theory of Feelings” (1929). More recently, there has been considerable experimental work done on the abstractive nature of sensory perception.

The proposed E/P cycle, or emotional perceptive cycle, as a brain process, is assumed to be physically located in the prefrontal-cortex-dorsomedial-thalmic loop (PCDTL) (Laviolette, 1979). The PCDT loop involves the dorsomedial nucleus of the thalamus in bidirectional connection with the prefrontal cerebral cortex. Feeling tones from the Papez circuit would enter the dorsomedial thalamic nucleus via the hypothalamus with which it is intimately connected. From here these waveforms would circulate recursively to the prefrontal cortex and then back to the dorsomedial thalamic nucleus. When this circuit is sufficiently aroused, it can serve to amplify the intensity of the feeling tones which it conducts.


As was mentioned earlier, the stream of consciousness is continually evolving. Not only does its composition change, but also its constituent feeling tones vary in relative intensity. We may refer to these apparently random changes as thematic fluctuations. Now, the effect the PCDT loop is such that dominant thematic fluctuations tend to become preferentially amplified. That. is, as is characteristic of any nonlinear growth process, those elements that are more predominant tend to grow faster than those elements that are less predominant. Thus, this positive feedback process tends to foster a process of natural selection in which the bigger get bigger. Alternatively, from a macrolevel point of view, it might be said that the dominant thematic fluctuations are selectively abstracted from the theme and intensified. In a general system theoretic terminology this might be referred to as a “deviation-amplifying mutual causal process” (Maruyama, 1963; Laszlo, 1972). The deviation referred to here would be a thematic fluctuation of relatively high intensity which would constitute a deviation from the homogeneous thematic state, a state characterized by many nuances all having relatively the same intensity.

Now, an emotional theme will tend to remain homogeneous with a randomly varying complexity of feeling tones provided that its fluctuations remain below a critical threshold. That is, below this threshold, dominant fluctuations amplified in the PCDT loop are not able to grow fast enough to overcome the effects of the random variation in thematic composition. Consequently, no single set of nuances will become preferentially amplified. However, if a fluctuation persists long enough in the theme, or is particularly emphatic, it would grow at a faster rate. Through its growth, this “order-creating” supercritical fluctuation would be able to overpower the disordering tendencies of random fluctuations. It would ultimately become a major component, transforming the entire content of the theme.


Thus, a fluctuation arising from within the emotional theme itself, upon amplification, is able to drive the theme to a new state of order. As shown in Figure 4, this transition is made in a stepwise manner, for example, from the homogeneous (uncognized) ground state G to the ordered (cognized) state A, in which nuance set A is dominant.* Viewing such a transition from a macrolevel viewpoint, it will have appeared that the emotional theme spontaneously changed its emotional state (or nuance composition) from being a highly complex pattern of feeling tones, to being a relatively simple characterization. It is this spontaneous self-simplifying process which, I believe, constitutes cognition and which generates the so called “aha” experience. Related to problem solving, this self-organization event would correspond to the moment of insight, or illumination, which follows incubation, and would constitute the emergence of a single creative thought.

*The vertical axis shown in Figure 4 should not be misconstrued as representing a numerical variable, but should be interpreted as a classification dimension for cognitive states. Fluctuation magnitudes, therefore, might be referenced with respect to each level, i.e., with respect to G, A, or B. This diagram is in many ways similar to a diagram proposed by Ervin Laszlo (1972, p. 135) in which he depicts patterns of development in cognitive systems. He proposes alternate periods of self-stabilization (confirmation of existing gestalts) and self-organization (learning involving gradual gestalt shifts). While he does not propose an explicit mechanism for the gestalt shifts, he does suggest that they involve a positive-feedback, self-organizing processes. Laszlo’s concepts were also inspired by an analogy to nonequilibrium systems (cf. 1972, 41-47).

The emotional-perceptive cycle theory sheds light on the relation of the conscious to the subconscious mind. For example, as suggested earlier, the subconscious would be representative of the subliminal processes such as feeling tone association and theme formation. It is continuous, contiguous, entangled and complex. On the other hand, conscious experience involves focused awareness, the ability to “light up” specific feeling tones through the transmission of “hypercathexis” (Gray, 1979). A bit of mental experience passes from the subconscious to the conscious when a particular thematic fluctuation (i.e., a spontaneous intensification of the nuance representing this subconscious experience) is nurtured and amplified by awareness heightening functions (emotional-perceptive looping) and is eventually born as a full-blown theme.

Emotional-perceptive cycling in conjunction with the subconscious acts as a sort of womb for the birth of ideas. In contrast to subconscious experience, conscious experience is a discrete event or a series of discrete events, an occasion of birth, or a series of births. The phenomenon of consciousness and subconsciousness is closely related to the understanding of how the discontinuous emerges from the continuous; how the simple emerges from the complex.

The cognition of an emotional theme is not a deterministic process. The particular emotional nuances in a theme do not determine exactly what the final mental cognition will be. It is basically incorrect to view the cognitive apparatus as a photographer taking camera shots of fleeting emotions, or as a telephone operator making appropriate associative connections. In hierarchical terms, cognition is not a top-down process; it is a bottom-up process. It is a phenomenon of emergence, of microlevel events producing macrolevel effects. Because of this, cognition is inherently stochastic. It depends on the detailed whims of the emotional nuance undercurrents at the microlevel. Hence, this accounts for the long gestation period which usually preceeds the birth of an idea or concept. This period of incubation must be closely associated with the feeling of wondering about something.

You cannot force a concept any more than you can force the birth of a child. One can only wait in anticipation. When it finally comes, it comes in a flash. This dawning of the light, the “eureka” experience, may be attributed to the fact that when a thematic fluctuation reaches critical size, it experiences a rapid transition to system dominance. The concretion of thought is, in effect, a set-to-superset transition so often described in the study of hierarchical organization. It is a quantum jump.

The emergent feeling tone, or idea, therefore, is not simply the sum of the individual feeling tones that originally composed the emotional theme. It represents something more (cf. Varella’s Star Cybernetics, 1976). This something includes the process of association among emotional nuances, which has a tentative exploratory quality, and the process of competition between nuances elicited by the amplification process. Both processes occur over an extended period of time. Thus, cognition is not just a structure relational “snapshot”; it is infused with time. It incorporates history in its structure. Moreover, there is an element of chance involved as to which feeling tones will become associated into a theme and which of several predominant nuances will at any particular moment become amplified with the greatest rapidity to dominate the competition. Thus, an emergent concept contains more information than just the sum of the information in each of its subsidiary organized elements — new information is created.


It is suggested that the ability to produce creative thought emerges only past a certain threshold of self-reflexive emotional flux, i.e., above a certain rate of feeling tone amplification. This may be illustrated by referring to the stability diagram shown in Figure 5 (Laviolette, 1979). For example, when the level of informational flux in the E/P cycle, \phi, is below the critical threshold kc, the degree of amplification will be sufficiently low that the stream of consciousness will remain in the “near-equilibrium regime”. That is, a thematic fluctuation of even large intensity will not be able to grow fast enough to dominate the diffusing effect of competing fluctuations. Hence, under these conditions an evolving emotional theme will always remain in the homogeneous, sub-conscious state. However, for \phi > kc there will be a finite chance that a fluctuation of sufficient intensity I will appear such that it is greater than the critical nucleation threshold Ic (\phi)*. If such a critical fluctuation were to emerge, it would become spontaneously amplified and would grow into a thought.


*This Ic(\phi) critical threshold should not, be confused with the kc critical threshold. The former determines whether or not a feeling tone becomes a thought, while the latter determines whether creative thought is possible at all.

If the distribution shown in Figure 6 (LaViolette, 1979) represents the probability that a feeling tone will appear with a particular intensity, then there is a much lower probability that a large fluctuation will emerge as compared to a small or medium sized fluctuation. Thus, if the E/P cycle flux is such that \phi = k2, it might be supposed that at this level there is a probability of about 3% (>2\sigma) that a given fluctuation will be greater than the critical size, see Figure 5. At higher levels of \phi, the threshold for developing a critical fluctuation is lower and thought formation occurs more readily.

Studies of the evolutionary development of the mammalian brain indicate a gradual increase in the size of both the frontal lobe of the cerebrum and of the thalamus. Thus, the PCDT loop appears to be more highly developed in the higher mammalian forms. It might be suggested that lower mammals such as cats and mice have a PCDT loop capacity such that when fully aroused their E/P cycle flux \phi is less than the critical level kc·

Primates, such as chimpanzees, which are known to have significant problem solving abilities, would be capable of achieving levels of \phi greater than kc. Finally, human beings and possibly cetacea such as dolphins and whales would be capable of operating at still higher levels of \phi where thought is more easily facilitated.

With due respect to cat and dog lovers, the above stability diagram should be qualified. The distinctions made between various mammals refers to their ability to produce creative thoughts in amplified form. It explains why “aha” experiences occur in humans more often than in any other species. This ranking should not be regarded as an overall intelligence scale. For it must be admitted that there are other modes of intelligence besides cognitive intelligence. For instance, intuition is one example of a noncognitive mode of intelligence, one which appears to be more highly developed in the nonhuman mammalian forms. Intuition might involve the ability to convert subliminal emotional themes (uncognized emotional-cognitive structures) directly into behavioral acts without the intermediate monitoring of cognitive thought. Thus, animals act knowingly without thinking (cognitively) while humans have the ability to think cognitively before they act. Perhaps the intuitive mode of intelligence is less developed in many people because it tends to become “drowned out” by cognitive thought processes. Whereas cognition involves the PCDT loop, intuition might involve neural pathways connecting the ventrolateral and ventral anterior* thalmic nuclei with the motor region of the cerebrum located at the crown of the head. Thus, selective attention might be directed to one or the other of these two loop pathways. However, there are cases where humans have developed exceptional abilities in the intuitive mode, for example, the Australian Aboriginees with their “dream time” consciousness. Also, intuitive motoric behavior appears to be critically important in paranormal phenomena such as fortune telling, dowsing, automatic writing, and ouiji board operation. Very likely we all use the intuitive-motoric mode of behavior constantly in our everyday life without being aware of it.

*The fact that the ventral anterior thalamic nucleus is also part of the Papez circuit seems to imply that there is a direct connection between unconscious thought processes and motoric expression.

Having temporarily sidetracked to explore this important aspect of intelligence prevalent among animals, let us return to our discussion of cognitive thought.


The hypothetical \phi levels shown in Figure 5 for the various kinds of mammals should be regarded as upper limits achievable when the animal is fully aroused. For example, a human being might be capable of varying the \phi parameter from near O during sleep to k4 during full arousal. Thus, the brain’s arousal system plays a very important role in the thought generation process.

Arousal in the brain is administered by way of the ascending reticular activating system (ARAS) which extends up from the core of the brainstem to the subthalamus. The intralaminar cells are believed to be part of an intrathalamic association system, connecting various specific nuclei within the thalamus. From this region of the thalamus, the cephalic portion of the reticular system, fibers project out diffusely to all part of the cerebral cortex, to the hypothalamus, basal ganglia, and amygdaloid complex, see Figure 7 (Laviolette, 1979). This portion of the ARAS has been termed the diffuse (nonspecific) thalamocortical projection system (DTPS).


Neurophysiologists have isolated two arousal mechanisms in the ARAS. One is involved in maintaining a state of wakefulness, or cortical arousal for prolonged periods of time. This so called tonic arousal mechanism is mediated by control sites in the brain stem. On the other hand, the midline and intralaminar nuclei, part of the DTPS, appear to be the controlling center for a phasic arousal mechanism which produces sudden transitory changes in arousal. By way of comparison, when the tonic system is electrically stimulated, arousal may persist. for some minutes, whereas when the phasic system is stimulated, arousal lasts for only a few seconds. Whereas the tonic activation system equally affects all sensory modalities, the phasic system is capable of selective arousal, and hence, of orienting consciousness specifically to one of several sensory stimuli. Carefully controlled local stimulation within different parts of the intralaminar system reveals that phasic arousal is topographically organized with respect to different areas of the cortex (Riklan and Levita, 1969).

Both tonic and phasic arousal systems are controlled from the prefrontal cortex. Bidirectional pathways between the prefrontal cortex and the brain stem are responsible for regulations of the tonic system, while the caudate nucleus, which receives efferent influences from the “suppressor” regions of the prefrontal cortex and from the central medial nucleus of the thalamus*, projects to the intra-laminar nuclei of the thalamus to modulate the phasic system. Although controlling fibers originate from the prefrontal cortex, it is important to realize that it may not be the prefrontal cortex itself which controls the arousal mechanism. Rather, the waveform information conducted to the prefrontal cortex may be in the driver’s seat. For example, low, slow stimulation in the intralaminar thalamic nuclei result in cortical synchrony (nonactivation) and produce inattention, drowsiness and sleep, while high-frequency, or stronger stimulation will produce desynchronization or arousal (Riklan and Levita, 1969; Skinner and Lindsley, 1973).

*The central medial nucleus appears to integrate sensorimotor information from all modalities as well as from cerebrellar and reticular efferents.

The DTPS, which is involved with arousal and selective attention, is structurally interconnected with the PCDT loop. Arousal administered via the DTPS to the PCDT loop, would be involved in the feeling tone amplification process as follows. It might be imagined that tonic arousal brings the E/P cycle flux up to a certain point (say k4 on Figure 5), producing an optimal level of cortical tone essential for the organized course of mental activity, while phasic arousal fine tunes this level around this optimal point to modulate the feeling tone amplification process. Now, suppose that the E/P cycle is operating at a flux level \phi = k4 and an undesirable thematic fluctuation if sufficient intensity arises an crosses the critical threshold. This feeling tone may be damped, rather than amplified, provided that the phasic arousal system is modulated such that the intensity of the emotional-perceptive flux is reduced below point k4. Thus, volitional processes, i.e., processes of discriminating among alternative thematic fluctuations of determining whether an emerging fluctuation is appropriate or inappropriate to have as a thought, would be carried out through processes of selective amplification and selective damping.

The discrimination process itself might involve simply holding a particular feeling tone (the question) in circulation in one portion of the PCDT loop and monitoring it relative to critical fluctuations arising in another portion of this loop. If the two feeling tone/waveform signals are identical, a difference-detecting comparison will yield a null signal indicating an appropriate match between question and answer. On the other hand, if the two waveforms are different, a beat-signal residue will be detected indicating a mismatch. This beat signal would in turn trigger suppressor cells in the prefrontal cortex to cause a damping of the incorrect answer-fluctuation growing in the PCDT loop.


According to the triune brain theory developed by Paul Maclean (1973, 1975) the human brain consists of three major subdivisions each having its own distinctive characteristics. Listed in order of evolutionary development these are 1) the reptilian brain which consists of the spinal cord, midbrain, ascending reticular activating system, and the median forebrain nerve bundle; 2) the paleomammalian brain which consists of the limbic system; and 3) the neomammalian brain which consists of the neocortex. The emotional-perceptive cycle theory suggests that all three are intimately involved in the production of thought. This “unified brain” theory would suggest that portions of the paleomammalian brain and neocortex would function reciprocally as a feeling tone amplifier (the E/P cycle) and that portions of the neocortex and reptilian brain, involving the prefrontal cortex, caudate nucleus, and DTPS (the PC-CN-DTPS pathway), would serve as intermediary modulating element. Thus, intelligence would not be a matter of how many fiber connections one has in one’s cerebrum, but rather would depend on how well one’s mind is able to master one’s reptilian brain, by transmitting feeling tones to subcortical structures. The PC-CN-DTPS pathway is in effect our psycho-physical transducer. It constitutes the means by which mental events, manifested physically as waveforms, are able to “physically” control themselves via feeling tone amplification and damping. It is this ability which renders the mind an autopoietic system, i.e., a system that is self-generating and autonomous (Laviolette, 1979).

It is interesting to note that the kundalini described in ancient Hindu texts is represented as a reptile (a snake). The kundalini, or “serpent power” is said to be a psychic energy that when aroused from its resting place at the base of the spine is supposed to travel up the spinal column passing also through various “energy centers” known as chakras. This seems to parallel current physiological knowledge which indicates that the ascending reticular activating system is aroused by sensory stimuli traveling up the spinal cord. The upper most chakras through which the kundalini passes are situated in the head, one at the center of the brow, the “third eye”, and one at the crown of the head. As was suggested earlier, these are the regions of the brain concerned with reason and intuition respectively. Similar symbology was used by the ancient Egyptians. Their symbol for wisdom and enlightenment was a cobra protruding from the middle of the brow, its head arched and braced ready for attack, and the skin of its neck excited into a hood shape. Not only does this depiction link the ascending energy of arousal (the snake) with wisdom, but it also illustrates its tonic activation (the arching of the head and expansion of the hood) and channeling to the frontal cortex, that particular region which is associated with creative thought. Moreover, their particular choice of the cobra is interesting since this variety of snake can be “charmed” into a swaying dance by music. In a similar way it could be said that the phasic arousal system is “charmed into a dance” by the “music” of feeling tones. Perhaps the ancients knew more about neurophysiology and mental phenomena than we give them credit for.


I would like to thank Fred Laviolette for his helpful comments on this paper.


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Paul A. Laviolette
Systems Science Ph.D. Program
Box 751
Portland State University
Portland, Oregon 97207

Biography: B.A. in physics from the Johns Hopkins University (1969). MBA from the University of Chicago School of Business Administration (1973). U.N. consultant on solar energy. Presently doing doctoral work in general system theory at Portland State University.

Addendum to
“The Thermodynamics of the Aha Experience”

The Pleasure of Creation: Its Neurophysiological Correlates and Consequences

Presented at the 24th Annual SGSR Meeting of North America

John Battista (this volume) mentions previous research (Battista and Almond, 1973) which shows a relationship between the rate and degree of goal attainment (uncertainty reduction) and the experience of meaning in life. He suggests the hypothesis (Battista, 1978) that increasing amounts and rates of uncertainty reduction are increasingly experienced positively, and that decreasing amounts and rates of uncertainty reduction are increasingly experienced negatively, while no alteration in uncertainty reduction leads to a lack of affect or boredom. This hypothesis is in accordance with what we know about the “aha” experience. For example, the experience certainly involves uncertainty reduction: Previously unrelated bits of experience (puzzling and not well understood) suddenly cohere into a gestalt compatible with an individual’s personal knowledge construct. Moreover, there is an clement of reward: New creations, whether they be physical handicrafts, mental inventions, or new insights make us feel good.

The positive affect associated with the act of creation provides a positive reinforcement. Thus, being creative and leading a creativelife is something that is desired. The behavior of being creative becomes prone to repetition. And, this is fortunate for the historical anamorphosis of knowledge could not have taken place without “aha” experiences. The same is true developmentally. As children, a large part of our nondisciplined learning takes place by creative hypothesis formation and verification. We might say that our personal “knowledge construct” (to use Jerzy Wojciechowski’s expression) in our early years is primarily shaped by a series of “aha” experiences. Creative learning has been of prime importance also from an evolutionary standpoint. It is what has given our species a selective advantage in the struggle for existence. Thus, it is not surprising to find that nature has blessed us with this inherited trait of taking pleasure in our creative work.

But, in seeking an understanding of the neurophysiological aspects of the “aha” experience, leaving the realm of the mental and venturing into the biological, we find that there is more involved in the pleasure of creation than just good feelings and positive reinforcement. At the physiological level the reward affect, administered by the limbic arousal system, has very explicit effects on the operation of our central nervous system. For example, Aryeh Routtenberg (1978) notes that, in experience with rats, continuous electrical stimulation of certain reward centers in the course of learning is disruptive to memory. This suggests the hypothesis that the positive affect associated with idea formation is critically important in consolidating a newly emergent idea as a permanent memory trace.

Reward also seems to serve the important function of terminating goal seeking behavior. For example, Olds (1975) (Cited by Battista, this volume) presents evidence that certain wheel-like cells in the median forebrain nerve bundle, believed to initiate drives or goal seeking behavior, are inhibited by the action of catecholamine secreting fibers of the reward system and that this inhibition is also associated with consummatory (uncertainty reducing) behavior. This suggests the hypothesis that the positive affect associated with the “aha” experience acts as in important signal for the termination of the questioning process involved in the production of thought. As was discussed earlier with reference to the EPC theory, thought amplification requires maintenance of a critical level of arousal in the DTPS.

Consequently. it might be suggested that the feeling of uncertainty reduction which is associated with thought creation and which is in turn translated into positive affects in the reward system (limbic arousal system), acts on the “drive” neurons in the median forebrain bundle so as to reduce the level of thalamic arousal. Indeed, Olds ( 1975) notes that one of the six output fibers issuing from the wheel-like drive neurons leads to the arousal system.*

*Investigation of how this affect/drive center relates to the process of thought formation may provide a clue as to why “mind bending” drugs often create euphoric states and why they are also accompanied by after-effects of lethargy and lack of motivation.

Of course, the question of the mind/body problem arises here. That is, how can a mental experience, such as goal attainment or uncertainty reduction, have a physical effect, such as stimulating catecholamine secretion or changing thalamic arousal? The EPC theory provides an answer. If the mental realm is constructed in terms of feeling tones and their associative relations, and if we assume the psychophysical correlate: feeling tone/waveform, then uncertainty reduction may simply involve a comparison of feeling tones. For example, a feeling tone representing a question might be compared to a feeling tone representing an answer, or a feeling tone coding a desired goal might be compared to a feeling tone coding the presently attained state. The outcome of this comparison would be a resultant feeling tone which, in the case of a good match, might code a feeling of completion of satisfaction and a desire for termination of drive. On a physical level this process would simply involve a comparison of neuroelectric waveforms, the resultant feeling tone also being manifested as a waveform. Moreover, research has shown that waveform information can physically control the operation of the arousal systems. So, here we have a model of how “degree of uncertainty reduction” expressed in a waveform context, can physically affect brain mechanisms.

Exploring Mental Disorders

Battista (this volume), as a demonstration of the applicability of his self-psychology model, discusses two types of mental disorders: the catecholamine theory of affective disorders, and the dopamine theory of schizophrenia. I would like to propose a possible mechanism for these two types of illnesses, suggesting that affective disorders would arise from problems centering in the limbic arousal system (reward system) and that schizophrenia would arise from problems with the thalamic arousal system (DTPS). Both of these arousal systems and their relation to the Papez circuit and PCDT loop are shown in Figure 8 (LaViolette, 1979).


Drawing from some of the thoughts Battista presents I would suggest that in individuals with major affective disorders, the dopamine reward system fails to operate properly so that affects arc inappropriately paired to uncertainty reducing activity. Thus, the manic individual having an over abundance of catecholamine in his limbic arousal system, would tend to over-reward himself, i.e., even reinforcing noncertainty reducing behavior and thought. On the other hand, the psychotically depressed individual with an undersecretion of catecholamine would tend to consistently under-reward himself for uncertainty reducing experience. Manic and depressed individuals might be represented on a horizontal continuum as shown in the bottom of Figure 9.


Matthysse (1974) noting that the symptoms of schizophrenia are alleviated by dopamine suppressing drugs, suggests that dopamine neurons might regulate the threshold for the emergence of ideas. Thus, in schizophrenics an overactivity of the dopamine system would depress the threshold for thought formation to such an extent that normally suppressed preconscious thoughts would become conscious.* Matthysse’s explanation for the symptoms of schizophrenia is strikingly similar to that proposed in a recent paper (LaViolette, 1979) where it was suggested that schizophrenia results from an overactive, overly aroused E/P cycle (PCDT loop). That is, in terms of Figure 5, a schizophrenic would be operating to the right of k4 on the \phi axis. Thus the emotional perceptive cycle theory and the dopamine theory of schizophrenia are essentially compatible provided that one assumes that the diffuse thalamic projection system effects arousal through the action of secreted dopamine.

*As further evidence that brain stimulants play a leading role in the cause of schizophrenia, researchers have found that acutely disturbed schizophrenics have abnormally large amounts of endorphins in their spinal fluid and blood (Penati, 1980).

There is evidence that in some cases schizophrenia may arise from structural disorders of the brain, possibly of genetic origin. Daniel Weinberger (Greenberg, 1979) has found that chronic schizophrenics tend to have enlarged brain ventricles and thicker corpora callosa. He has also found in some schizophrenics that the cerebellar vermis is atrophed. This portion of the cerebellum is anatomically and functionally linked to the limbic system and may be involved in regulating dopamine production. Whether these structural differences are caused by schizophrenia or are the cause of schizophrenia has not yet been ascertained.

There is also another school of thought which suggests that many kinds of schizophrenia are psychologically induced. Exploring this variety through further elaboration of the EPC model, the following mechanism is proposed for the psychological induction of schizophrenia. Namely, stress (or uncertainty) registered in the mental (symbolic) realm would impact the limbic arousal system with the production of a negative affect which in turn would impact the thalamic arousal system with a resulting increase in arousal, which in turn would adversely affect thought processes. This sequence is in conformance with the findings of Battista and Ahnond (1973) and Olds (1975). For example, if in normal individuals reduced uncertainty generates reward affects which in turn are associated with the cessation of drives (as mediated by the MFB wheel-like neurons), then increased uncertainty which is experienced negatively should have the opposite effect of boosting drive. This would serve the purpose of advancing the search for meaning by increasing thalamic arousal and allowing conscious awareness of the more abstruce connections among elements constituting an uncertain set.*

*The suggested reciprocal functioning of the limbic and thalamic arousal systems (i.e., positive affect \rightarrow decreased thalamic arousal, negative affect \rightarrow increased thalamic arousal) may correspond to the reciprocally functioning “stop” and “go” mechanisms discussed by Pribram and McGuiness (1975).

Paul Watzlawiek in How Real is Real (1977) also suggests that increasing uncertainty boosts the ability to attend to detail. He notes (pp. 27-29):

“After the initial shock, confusion triggers off an immediate search for meaning or order to reduce the anxiety inherent in any uncertain situation. The result is an unusual increase in attention, coupled with a readiness to assume causal connections even where such connections may appear to be quite nonsensical. While the search can be extended to include such small details or such remote possibilities that it leads to further confusion, it can equally well lead to fresh and creative ways of conceptualizing reality . . .

“In other words, confusion sharpens our senses and our attention to detail. Under unusual circumstances, such as great danger, one functions in ways that may be very different from one’s usual, every day behavior. ‘In a split second’ and ‘without thinking’ one may make the right lifesaving decision.”

To take this a step further, a mechanism for the induction of schizophrenia may be construed as follows. Namely, in response to ambiguity (high uncertainty) or stressful conditions in the physical or mental environment, the individual responds in a perfectly normal way by boosting thalamic arousal to facilitate problem solving. However, under severe stress, arousal may become critically high, allowing a myriad of partially organized data to saturate consciousness. At this stage schizophrenic symptoms begin to emerge. Thus, schizophrenia comes about as a result of a persistent departure from a situation of certainty. This is represented in the upper half of Figure 9 as a departure along the vertical axis measuring the degree of thalamic arousal (or degree of uncertainty).

The “schizophrenic tendency”, i.e., the tendency toward thalamic arousal in the face of stress, has been an indispensable asset from an evolutionary standpoint. Those primates who could respond in times of danger (high uncertainty) with accurate split-second decisions were the ones who lived to perpetuate the species. However, this same mechanism which, on the one hand, fosters intelligent behavior may also be responsible for the cause of mental aberrations. For example, the amount of uncertainty and stress that the average individual is exposed to is significantly greater in modern urban areas and accordingly so is the incidence of schizophrenia.

The administration of psychoactive drugs to alleviate the symptoms of stress-induced schizophrenia, by inhibiting the action of catecholamines, only serve to counteract or neutralize the arousing effects of uncertainty. This approach docs not correct the root cause of schizophrenia, i.e., the stress or unresolved conflict, which is really a problem in the mental realm. Effective treatments for the precursors of schizophrenia (to use Gray’s terminology) would involve psychotherapy, family counseling, a change of environment, meditation, or the reestablishment of meaning in one’s life.

Those who are more strongly affected by uncertainty, i.e., the more sensitive ones, would be those more susceptible to schizophrenia. On the other hand, schizophrenics may be those who happened to have unfortunate experiences in life, e.g., those who at an early age might have been forced to deal with paradoxical communicational relationships such as the double bind (Bateson, Jackson, Haley, and Weaklund, 1956; Watzlawick, Beavin and Jackson, 1967). In a double bind any option of choice open to the individual is sanctioned yet the circumstances are such that the individual is forced to make a choice. Generally, such pathological situations involve power, of one individual over an other. For example, in a parent-child relationship the child being dependent and vulnerable would often be unable to escape the imposed paradox. Of course, if the child were to psychologically withdraw or become incapable of logical choice this would constitute a “solution” to the double bind:

doubl blind

double bind vanishes. Regarding the schizophrenic option, it might be said that the suspension of logic in response to a logically impossible situation is a rational mode of behavior.

Logic, Paleologic, and Schizophrenia

Edward Oshins and David McGoveran (this volume) discuss a variety of syllogisms which have been observed in schizophrenic patients. One error involves the failure to distinguish the class or aggregate from its parts. For example, under normal logic the subjects of the propositions, A: “I am a virgin”, and B: “the Virgin Mary is a virgin”, would be considered to be members of an equivalence class or aggregate, C, of “all virgins”, with A being distinct from B (see Figure 10a). On the other hand, the schizophrenic would fail to distinguish C as a higher order set. Instead, C would be viewed as the intersection of A and B, the common connecting link, leading to the erroneous identification of A with B. This would lead to the statement “I am the Virgin Mary.” This second formulation is considered to be a less advanced form of logic (paleologic) observed in young children.


Oshins and McGoveran suggest that concepts such as “I”, “Virgin Mary”, or “virgin”, behave as “spinors”, a formalism adopted from quantum mechanics. Each “thought spinor” would consist of a real axis containing the distinguished component, e.g., “I”, and an imaginary plane, perpendicular to the real axis, which would contain an infinity of other concepts which taken together would constitute the complementary class, e.g., “not I”. The imaginary components (concepts belonging to the complementary class) would “spin” around the real axis in a certain direction and in so doing would interfere with one another leaving only the real component (the distinguished concept) clearly resolved. Oshins and McGoveran extend this approach to illustrate how member/class relationships are formed. They suggest that schizophrenics have some sort of disability which would correspond to inappropriate “encoding, decoding, or filtering” of the direction of spin, or “phase-ordering”, of the neural information. As a result of this disability, they suggest, the schizophrenic would be unable to distinguish class or aggregate level from member level, and hence, would regress into a form of paleologic.

The EPC theory suggests a different approach to understanding this paleologic-regression phenomenon. The general idea of this approach will be briefly presented here for comparison with the spinor approach suggested by Oshins and McGoveran.

According to the EPC model, hierarchical information regarding class/subclass interrelations between concepts is implicitly contained in the evolving feeling tone coding system. That is, the particular feeling tone code sequence tagging each concept or thought contains in it the information necessary to determine how that particular concept relates to any other particular concept in terms of class membership. For example, give A coded by the feeling tones \alpha \beta \gamma and B coded by \alpha \lambda \epsilon it is obvious that they are both members of a class C coded by \alpha. A is a member of C provided that C’s code is a subset of A’s code. Thus, if C’s code (\alpha) is inputted and compared with A’s code (\alpha \beta \gamma), there will be a null, as the \alpha of C cancels the a of A, indicating membership. Suppose, on the other hand, that the question asked is whether C is a member of A. By inputting A’s code (\alpha \beta \gamma), and comparing it with C’s code (\alpha) there will be a mismatch since (\alpha \beta \gamma) of A does not match (\alpha) of C. This mismatch would signal nonmembership. A similar effect would occur if A and B were compared. This testing procedure would be essentially the same as the question/answer test procedure discussed earlier.

Now suppose that an individual thinks of class C: “all virgins”. This concept (coded \alpha) would retrieve from memory (via primary process) elements A and B due to its association with the a components of the previously established A and B codes (affect content addressable memory). In this preliminary stage, these concepts might be represented by the concatenation (i) A-C-B , where A-C and C-B represent associative links. Subsequently, logic tests on those three components would reveal: A\subsetC, C\not\subsetA, B\subsetC, C\not\subsetB, A\not\subsetB , B\not\subsetA transforming (i) into (ii) A\nearrowC\nwarrowB, where the arrows indicate asymmetrical class memberships. Such class membership relations would be required if concepts A, B, and C were to be involved in any kind of logical reasoning process. For example, suppose one takes as given the statement: “All virgins are sexually inexperienced,” and poses oneself the question, “Can A be substituted for C?,” i.e., “Am I sexually inexperienced?” This is equivalent to asking “Is A a member of C?”

This questioning process may be visualized in terms of critical thresholds as follows. Suppose that the waveform information circulating in the prefrontal-cortex-dorsomedial- thalamic loop (E/P cycle) may become topographically organized such that it becomes subdivided and segregated into a number of loops, i.e., cycle-1, cycle-2, etc., whose level of arousal may be separately modulated.* Now, suppose that A in cycle-1 and C in cycle-2 are held in a state of “marginal stability”. That is, suppose that the respective critical thresholds Ic-1 and Ic-2 are phasicly shifted to match the respective intensities of A and C in each loop. This would constitute the activation state or “go” state discussed by Pribram and McGuincss (1975). Next, C’s waveform code would be compared with A’s waveform code and if a null was obtained, indicating A\subsetC, a positive “stop” arousal response would be triggered. This would phasicly raise the level of thalamic arousal which in turn would lower the threshold Ic-1 allowing the amplification of A. Thus, A, the element being tested for replacement of C in the initial statement, would increase in intensity relative to C. The substitution being allowed, the statement now becomes “I am sexually inexperienced.”

*Such spatial inhomogeneity of content might be visualized analogous to the emergence of dissipative structures in certain nonequilibrium chemical systems.

Consider the reverse situation. Suppose, now, that one takes as given the statement, “I am a male virgin,” and then asks the question, “Can I substitute C for A? ” That is, is it reasonable to state, “All virgins are men?” In this case, a comparison of A’s waveform code with C’s waveform code would yield the injunction C\not\subsetA initiating a negative affect. The level of thalamic arousal in cycle-2 would be phasicly lowered and in turn the critical threshold Ic-2 would become raised dictating the damping of C. Thus the considered substitution would not become realized.

As the above example demonstrates, the ability to phasicly modulate the thalamic arousal system would be critically important in performing logic operations. However, as in schizophrenia, if an individual were to suffer from an overabundance of dopamine, too much thalamic arousal, his critical threshold would be too low (sec Figure 11). Through voluntary effort, he would be unable to sufficiently lower thalamic arousal (sufficiently raise the critical threshold) to maintain concepts in metastable states. Consequently, concepts held in separate cycles would all tend to grow in intensity. Taking the previous example, all injunctions regarding class/member relations would vanish, leaving: A\subsetC, C\subsetA, B\subsetC, C\subsetB, A\subsetB, B\subsetA. This would be equivalent to stating: A\equivC\equivB, and could lead to the statement A\equivB, “I am the Virgin Mary.” Thus, the schizophrenic is unable to construct the hierarchical form A\nearrowC\nwarrowB from the paleoform A-C-B . Consequently, his reasoning is left at the mercy of the whims of his primary process associations.


Perhaps Oshins’ thought spinors might be a way of representing the feeling tone codes suggested in the EPC theory. Take for example concept A coded by the feeling tone sequence \alpha \beta \gamma. This might be represented by the set of spinors, spinors

where each vertical real vector would represent a respective feeling tone ( or waveform) of a particular intensity and the spinning vectors in the imaginary plane would represent the intensity of the “complements” to these feeling tones, i.e., not-\alpha, not-\beta, not-\gamma. However, it is important to keep in mind that the feeling tone language proposed here is exclusively positive valued. That is, there is no such thing as negative feeling intensities such as –\alpha, –\beta, –\gamma. For example, a certain intensity of pain is not the negative of an equal intensity of pleasure. Both are distinct feelings and in some cases may even be experienced simultaneously. Moreover, the assignment of feeling tones to bits of experience at the subconscious level would occur in a spontaneous manner without the drawing of boundaries. Distinction is not a part of this subconscious coding process. Granted, one’s attention could be directed toward a particular object at the time of coding, and this object or perceptual set would necessarily be perceptually distinguished from the back ground at the time of initial coding. However the coding itself does not involve making a distinction between what the object is and what it is not; only what it is in relation to innate standards or similar past experience. Distinctions of the sort which G. Spencer Brown discusses would be made at a more conscious level where logical categorization operations play upon existing coded data. These logic operations could, of course, modify existing feeling tone codes bringing them into a distinction-type format.

To summarize, the emotional-perceptive cycle theory constitutes a mechanism by which experience evolves its own structured coding system. The logical structure imminent in this coding system may be brought out through conscious thought processes involving code-testing and arousal modulation operations. The coding system spontaneously evolved at the primary process level is not fixed but may be continuously modified by conscious thought processes, social interactions, and personal experience. Schizophrenics are at a disadvantage in that their ability to logically structure experience beyond the primary process level is severely impaired.


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