Sunday, July 31, 2016

Prescott Lecky and Self-Consistency

I have been reading Prescott Lecky's book Self-Consistency: A Theory of Personality, edited and interpreted by Frederick C. Thorne.

From Wikipedia:

Prescott Lecky (1892–1941) was a lecturer of Psychology at Columbia University from 1924 to 1934. At a time when American psychology was dominated by behaviorism, he developed the concept of self-help as a method in psychotherapy of the self in the 1920s. His concepts influenced Maxwell Maltz in his writing of the classic self-help book, Psycho-Cybernetics. Lecky stressed the defense mechanism of resistance as an individual's method of regulating his self-concept.

Lecky's self-consistency theory is that self-consistency is a primary motivating force in human behavior. Lecky's theory concerned the organization of ideas of the self and the self's overall need for a "master" motive that serves to maintain for the self a consistency in ideas. Self-consistency theory remains relevant to contemporary personality and clinical psychologists. He was well known as a psychologist and counseled John F. Kennedy when he was having trouble at Choate preparatory school.

His students gathered together his ideas and posthumously published them as Self Consistency: a theory of personality in 1945.

Well, Lecky was a maverick psychologist during an age dominated by Freud and his disciples and by the new upstart behaviorists.  Lecky gained little professional esteem or influence during his academic career.  After his untimely death, a few of his students -- keepers of the flame -- gathered their class notes and the small store of Lecky's articles and presentations and published a thin book in 1945.  This book was subsequently expanded in 1950 by Dr. Frederick C. Thorne into the book I am reading.

I like some of Lecky's insights.  I will here stretch "fair use" to the breaking point and give excerpts from the book.


From Chapter 7:

If it be true that learning is essentially a means of resolving conflicts, it follows that a conflict must always be present before the learning can occur.  This conclusion, indeed, seems inevitable from a theoretical standpoint, even the nature of the ambiguity in any particular instance of learning may be difficult to demonstrate.  Conflict then is a necessary accompaniment of personality development, and the progressive assimilation of disturbing stimuli the only practical means by which a stable organization can be attained.  But in that case a well-adjusted personality is not a matter of emotional habits so much as an emotional achievement, though after the learning has been accomplished, of course, there is no apparent difference.  If the habit theory were applied in a literal manner, however, and the child shielded from conflicts in order to exercise him more thoroughly in so-called habits of confidence and cheerfulness, we could confidently predict a profound maladjustment later as the outcome of his lack of preparation.  It seems to us that behaviorism must give up the habit theory and frankly recognize the organism as a problem-solver before it can consistently explain its own experiments....

Learning is not mechanical but adventurous.  If a certain type of situation has been assimilated, its presence tends to support the attitude of confidence, but if it has not been assimilated the normal attitude is threatened, and the process of assimilation itself brings about a temporary disturbance.  Thus the problem of development is that of maintaining and strengthening the normal attitude by gradually assimilating the situations which formerly had a disturbing effect.  To use a spacial metaphor, the field of normal behavior grows at the expense of the abnormal.

From Chapter 8:

The greatest handicap to constructive action in education is the well-entrenched dogma that learning is the direct result of teaching, a mechanical reaction to the school environment instead of a purposive achievement.  Learning cannot be understood as a process of forming separate habits, but only in terms of the development of the entire personality.  When one value has been accepted, it opposes the acceptance of other values which are not consistent with it.  Hence resistance must be accepted as a normal and necessary aspect of learning.  Indeed, a unified organization could not be maintained without it.  Early impressions are important not only in themselves, but because they set the conditions for rejection of other values, whatever their nature, which would tend to precipitate a conflict.

Nevertheless, since the experience of everyone is more or less haphazard from an educational standpoint, there are always present in the system a certain number of values accepted on insufficient evidence.  These values, whose retention depends entirely upon the success with which they can be rationalized and made to seem consistent, or at any rate not inconsistent, give rise to resistances which are likely to be detrimental to the individual.

The clinical technique which follows from the theoretical conception of the problem must therefore aim to bring about in the subject a reexamination of those values which block his development.  Academic difficulties and social maladjustments are both conceived of as due to resistances arising from the subjects conception of himself.  If a student shows resistance toward a certain type of material, this means that from his point of view it would be inconsistent for him to learn it.  If we are able to change the self-conception which underlies this viewpoint, however, his attitude toward the material will change accordingly.

[Lecky takes the case of an intelligent student who is deficient in spelling.]

This deficiency is not due to a lack of ability, but rather to an active resistance which prevents him from learning how to spell in spite of the extra instruction.  The resistance arises from the fact that at some time in the past the suggestion that he is a poor speller was accepted and incorporated into his definition of himself, and is now an integral part of his total personality.  A standard is a conception that a person maintains because he has accepted it as a part of his personality.  Standards need not be admirable, even from the standpoint of the person who maintains them, so long as he believes them to be valid.  As in the present instance, he may accept as his standard the conception of his own inferiority in some particular respect.  His difficulty is thus explained as a special instance of the general principle that a person can only be true to himself.  If he conceives himself as a poor speller, the misspelling of a certain proportion of the words which he uses becomes for him a moral issue.  He misspells words for the same reason that he refuses to be a thief.  That is, he must endeavor to behave in a manner consistent with his conception of himself....

So-called laziness, lack of concentration, etc., are due to the acceptance of definitions at cross purposes with one another.  Such individuals cannot act in consistency with one definition without being inconsistent with another.  For example, a student may define himself as intelligent, but poor in mathematics.  To maintain the first definition, he should make high grades in mathematics, but to maintain the second he should fail.  However, since he must act, as long as he is playing both roles at once he is forced to compromise.  His grades in mathematics will split the difference somewhere near the passing mark, and the teacher will characterize him as lazy.  For his own part, he will claim that he cannot concentrate, and the claim will be perfectly true.  This seems to be the explanation of the characteristic level of performance already noted in regard to spelling.  As long as the definitions remain unchanged, the characteristic rate or grade of activity  tends to remain constant.

The remedy is not to be found by means of tests which reveal the specific weakness, therefore, or in persistent drilling on the fundamentals, but only in changing the definition.  Energetic concentration simply means that a person is free from conflicts and able to bring his united efforts to focus on the task at hand.

What a person is able or unable to learn, in other words, depends, to a large extent at least, upon what he has already learned, and especially upon how he has learned to define himself.  Differences in native ability cannot be summarily dismissed, but at present this explanation is frequently dragged in simply to serve as an alibi, both for the school and for the individual.

LECKY'S DEFINITIONS (Freudian terms reinterpreted from the standpoint of self-consistency)

Resistance is determined by the nuclear structure (Ideas of Self), with specific patterns being related to the distribution of positive and negative ideas.  Experiences which are perceived as a threat to unification will be resisted since their assimilation would require reorganization of the nucleus.

Repression occurs when new ideas or feelings are interpreted as threatening to existing organization.  Dream distortion and symbolism, dissociation, humor [!] and error and many other psychopathological phenomena may be understood in therms of the dynamics of nuclear organization and the striving to maintain unity where inconsistent ideas reflect disorganizational phenomena.

Infantilism and Fixation reflect failure of normal reorganization responsive to normal maturation processes, i.e., the nucleus is largely composed of infantile or immature ideas of self.

Escape Mechanisms, as in alcoholism or drug addiction, reflect the attempt to maintain inconsistent unrealistic nuclear composition by refusing to face new ideas which would involve a threat to ideas of self and force a painful reorganization.

Conflict is a natural phenomenon, a process in which by the constant assimilation of new ideas and attitudes the individual's conception of himself evolves continuously as he learns to define himself in terms of ideas of self which have greater consistency both internally and in relation to reality.  Conflict only becomes pathological when disorganization phenomena become so acute as to destroy unity and cause dissolution of self.

Rationalization is a process in which an attempt is made to preserve unity of the organization of ideas by a method of self-justification whereby intellectualized reasons are given to account for an unconsciously motivated thought or act.  A plausible excuse makes it possible to maintain a semblance of self-consistency.

Thinking, Day-dreaming, and Dreaming to lesser extent, are dynamic mental processes involving reorganization and recombination of ideas regulated by the need for unity and self-consistency.

Identification occurs when ideas consisting of interpretations of enviable or admirable qualities in other persons or institutions are assimilated into nuclear structure and thereby result in enhancement of self.  Identification with undesirable qualities sometimes occurs in the presence of nuclear composition characterized by negative ideas of self.

Feelings of Inferiority have their origin in areas of behavior in which the person is unable to maintain one or more ideas of self.  Once a negative idea has been assimilated, the person will behave consistently  with his negative self-evaluation.   Restriction of behavior then occurs, and negative attitudes may progressively pervade nuclear composition and eventually result in a neurotic structure with more or less disorganization.

Ambivalent Behavior usually indicates that a given nuclear idea is undergoing transformation.  It reflects unstable nuclear composition.

Projection describes the process of striving to maintain unity and self-consistency by attributing to others the ideas and complexes which belong to oneself, in pathological degree it can result in unhealthy nuclear composition characterized by logically systematized delusions which are maintained in the interests of self-consistency.

Introversion characterizes a type of nuclear composition in which there is a tendency to interpret the environment subjectively and with the self as the center of reference.  In Extraversion, nuclear composition is much more responsive to external stimulation and much less concern with the subjective viewpoint.

Defense Mechanisms tend to maintain positive ideas of self by resorting to fictions.  Threats to unity are reacted to by withdrawal, escape mechanisms, symptom elaboration or compensatory mechanism.

Wish-fulfillment involves the vicarious satisfaction of the striving for unity through dreams and phantasies.  Frustrated desires reflect themselves in compensatory interpretations of experience.


In order to be effective any form of therapy, including psychoanalysis, must result either directly or indirectly in a genuine nuclear reorganization.  The first step in therapy is to identify ideas or attitudes which are inconsistent either internally in relation to other ideas, or externally in relation to reality.  The second step is reorganization consists of demonstrating the inconsistency of untenable ideas under conditions where the resulting conflict can be controlled within reasonable limits.  Third, now and more valid ideas are introduced which are more consistent with the striving for unity.  A genuine nuclear reorganization results in the rejection of immature or infantile interpretations which are replaced with more consistent and realistic organizations.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Enjoying the Scenery

I live in an affluent part of town.  Not being particularly affluent myself, I can only afford a one bedroom apartment.  But I get the benefit of the scenery.

In a semi-arid desert region of the country, prosperity is signaled by an abundance of trees.  Today, as I walked to the nearby state park, I paid special attention to the trees.

My apartment complex has many nice trees.  Here is the view between two of the apartment buildings.

I walked down the street toward the state park.  Fashionable neighborhoods are thick with trees on either side of the street.

I entered the park.  Here is what all this area looked like one hundred years ago.

I stepped off the path to snap this butterfly shot.

I stopped and rested beside the reservoir, enjoying the shade and the watching the antics of kayakers and paddle boarders.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

At the Ball Park

I left work early yesterday and headed to the ball park with my friend Mike.  The Colorado Rockies played the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Rockies had no offense and no defense and, ultimately, no chance.  Mike and I left when the score was 10-2 in favor of the Rays.

The Rays ended up winning 11-3.

I enjoyed myself at the ballpark despite the loss.  (A really fine meal of bratwurst and fries from the concession stand made up for a poor performance on the field.)

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Roxborough State Park Hike

This morning I hiked in Roxborough State Park for the first time this year.  It is a little jewel of a park, the only state park that is designated by the U.S. Department of the Interior as a National Natural Landmark.  I am always cheered at the sight of the red rock formations at the park entrance.

I was hoping to photograph some wildlife this morning -- birds, lizards, snakes, maybe a mountain lion (from a distance).  But the only wildlife I saw today were about a hundred blue dragonflies and this young deer that was loitering beside the visitor center.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Bats and Arts

This morning I took a brief hike on the Apex trail leading to the Enchanted Forest.  The traffic along the trail -- hikers, dogs, mountain bikers -- was bustling.  During a moment when I was alone on the trail I happened to notice small butterflies congregating near a creek.  I hadn't realized that butterflies were that social (although one often hears of people who are "social butterflies").

The butterflies caught the attention of a small, honey-brown, mouse-eared bat.  It flew in slow circles around me like an drunken moth, sometimes swooping down to the creek to snatch a sip of water on the fly.  I hoped to get a photograph of the bat when it rested on a tree limb, but the bat was always out of range.  All you can tell from this grainy photograph is the bat's color.

After my nature hike I returned home and read from Otto Rank's Art and the Artist (1932).  The reading was slow going.  Rank was a brilliant thinker (originally part of Sigmund Freud's inner circle until he was ostracised for questioning whether the Oedipus Complex should be the sole foundation of psychiatry) but Rank was not a graceful stylist.  And Rank's translator did him no favors: the syntax of the original German weighs down every sentence.  I labored through Rank's analysis of two kinds of artists: the Classical artist and the Romantic artist.

Here's a taste.  Rank starts from a discussion of two things that drive the artist: impulse and will.

"The external difficulties in an artist's experience appear ... as manifestations of this internal dualism of impulse and will, and in the creative type it is the latter which eventually gains the upper hand.  Instinct presses in the direction of experience and, in the limit, to consequent exhaustion -- in fact, death -- while will drives to creation and thus to immortalization.  On the other hand, the productive type also pays toll to life by his work and to death by bodily and spiritual sufferings of a "neurotic" order; and conversely in many cases the product of a type that is at bottom neurotic may be his sole propitiatory offering to Life.  It is with reason, therefore, that from the beginning two basic types of artist have been distinguished: these have been called at one time Dionysian and Apollonian, and at another Classical and Romantic.  In terms of our present dynamic treatment, the one approximates to the psychopathic-impulsive type, the other to the compulsive-neurotic volitional type.  The one creates more from fullness or powers and sublimation, the other more from exhaustion and compensation.  The work of the one is entire in every single expression, that of the other is partial even in its totality, for the one lives itself out, positively, in the work, while the other pays with with the work -- pays, not to society (for both do that), but to life itself, from which the one strives to win freedom by self-willed creation whereas for the other the thing created is the expression of live itself."

Rank gets slightly clearer as he develops his argument:

"Thus we see that what the artist needs for true creative art in addition to his technique and a definite ideology is life in one form or another; and the two artist-types differ essentially in the source from which they take this life that is essential to production.  The Classical type, who is possibly poorer within, but nearer to life, and himself more vital, takes it from without: that is, he creates immortal work from mortal life without necessarily having first transformed it into personal experience as is the case with the Romantic.  For, to the Romantic, experience of his own appears to be an essential preliminary to productivity, although he does not use this experience for the enrichment of his own personality, but to economize the personal experiences, the burden of which he would fain escape.  Thus the one artist-type constantly makes us of other life than his own -- in fact, nature -- for the purpose of creating, while the other can create only by perpetually sacrificing his own life.  This essential difference of attitude to the fundamental problem of life throws a psychological light on the contrast in styles of  various periods in art.  Whatever aesthetic designation may be applied to this contrast, from the spiritual point of view the work of the Classicist, more or less naturalistic, artist is essentially partial, and the work of the Romantic, produced from within, total.  This totality-type spends itself perpetually in creative work without absorbing very much of life, while the partial type has continually to absorb life so that he may throw it off again in his work."

And later in the chapter:

"The Classical justifies the work by his life, but the Romantic must justify both life and experience by his work and, further, must have a witness of his life to justify his production.  The fundamental problem of the Romantic artist is thus the self-justification of the individual raised above the crowd, while the Classical artist-type expresses himself in his work -- which receives a social justification by way of general recognition."

I myself lean toward the Classical artist-type.