For Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Thought


Psychoanalysis, Psychology, Discourse:

The Challenge of Symbolic Dimensions*





An important factor in the constitution and procedures of a discipline is its disposition regarding the symbolic dimensions of the objects and events in experience. For some time, this factor was a source of contention between behaviorist psychology, which restricted or even rejected such dimensions, and psychoanalysis, which asserted their priority. Today, cognitive psychology and discourse processing research have admitted symbolic dimensions, but chiefly based on straightforward correspondences to public, consensual meanings. A more concerted interaction with psychoanalysis in exploring multiple symbolic dimensions, especially of discourse, should clarify the aspects and indicators of personal, idiosyncratic meanings and their role in fostering psychic balances or imbalances. Above all, these dimensions must be explored with focus on the activities of symbolizing and resymbolizing, not just on the resulting symbols.


Psychology versus psychoanalysis in the age of behaviorism


Although psychology and psychoanalysis, as the etymological relatedness of their names suggests, are ostensibly both concerned with the human "psyche," their respective techniques and goals have traditionally been disparate. Whereas psychology is essentially descriptive, seeking to expound the general constants of human nature, psychoanalysis is essentially therapeutic, seeking to bring about specific changes. Whereas psychology is concerned with normal functions in a large experimental population of anonymous subjects, psychoanalysis is concerned with dysfunctions in an individual subject and personal case history.

In the age of behaviorism, the two domains differed most starkly in their symbolic and explanatory constructs. Behaviorist psychology worked with a parsimonious conceptual apparatus in which two classes of closely controlled events, bearing the orthodox designations of "stimulus" and "response," formed an unmediated sequence symbolizing "cause" and "effect." The ambition to isolate single factors demonstrably responsible for behavioral selections and variations fostered research designs assigning theoretical valence only to the factors most readily subject to external control. Naturally, manifest actions proffered the most congenial substrata, whereas symbolic dimensions seemed intractable. It was thus expedient to abridge such dimensions by gauging perceptible reactions to specific environmental events, even fairly complex ones like messages related to one's beliefs, according to presumably characteristic and stable factors such as "self-esteem" and "defensiveness," for which standardized measuring tools had been devised (e.g. McGuire, 1962; Nisbett & Gordon, 1967). Such designs supported quantitative generalizations and predictions about findings whose "significance" can be exactly determined as long as the test population is sufficiently large and the experimental conditions are sufficiently controlled.

Psychoanalysis sees a more complex and diffuse picture. The personality is presumed to be subject to conflicting influences which can induce systematic instability and patterns of inappropriate or erratic response to environmental events, including imaginary ones. This presumption allows, indeed requires, alternative and powerfully symbolic causalities for behavior, including "pathogenic" ones wherein the lack of a reasonable ratio between "cause" and "effect" can be a crucial indicator of dysfunction. In this sense, the breakdown of classical observable causality is a focal point for psychoanalytic exploration, particularly when apparently innocuous objects and events elicit powerfully negative reactions in the subject. Moreover, determining the "significance" of particular factors is by no means a straightforward quantitative operation, but an intricate, often revisionary symbolic process applied to elusive clues related in complicated or indirect ways to the subject's behavior.

To be sure, Freud's early reasoning was relatively mechanistic,[1] revolving around what we might call the "biographical hypothesis." He envisioned a singulary explanatory causality in which an inappropriate or erratic response had a submerged or repressed, but all the more efficient, cause somewhere in the person's actual biographical development. Ideally, the conscious recognition of the suppressed cause by the subject could dissolve the dysfunction, as in fact occurred in the cases of hysteria treated by Freud in his early career.

The assumption that such a cause would be situated in early childhood must have been attractive for several reasons. Children tend to respond with intensities that would appear exaggerated or over-emotional in an adult. Childhood memories are frequently difficult to access and should also be difficult to control or revise. And children are frequently admonished in ways that elicit powerful guilt feelings. In particular, the uncompromising repression of childhood sexuality in the latter nineteenth century, coupled with draconic views about toilet training, seemed to generate a paradigm mechanism whereby the child's experiences and confrontations with adult society could seem threatening or even devastating to psychic stability and adjustment.

Such a causal line of reasoning might seem congenial to behaviorist psychology. However, to isolate the putatively decisive cause within the mass of infantile recollections and to appreciate how it could have such far-reaching effects, Freud was obliged to situate the cause not in the event, but in the person's symbolization of the event. Since Freud's fundamental assumption was that the person was not free to symbolize the event in any straightforward or explicit way, his therapy relied on displaced symbolizations which could elude the person's "repressions" and "defenses."

Psychoanalysis has accordingly attributed far greater importance to displaced symbolic evidence than psychology has. The major problem has been how to find channels for accessing such evidence despite the person's presumed inclination to hide it. Hypnosis was taken as one practical channel of access to blocked memories and thus as a route for retracing the biographical cause of the behavioral disturbance. Hypnosis should, through "regression," reveal the efficient underlying symbolizations attached to actual past events (cf. Cheek & LeCron, 1968). Such an outlook implies what we might call the "eidetic hypothesis": that the memory stores complete and accurate memories, which hypnosis merely unlocks (McConnell, 1977). However, the eidetic hypothesis has been undercut by extensive empirical evidence that human memory symbolizes as well as records (e.g. Orne, 1951; survey in Loftus, 1980).

A second channel was sought in unintentional observed behavior. Freud reasoned that the repressed element(s) within a system in conflict would be watching and waiting for occasions to circumvent defenses and become manifest against the person's will. Such occasions, ranging from the innocuous, e.g. slips of the tongue, over to the acute, e.g. hysterical paralysis, could be observed and assigned an additional symbolic dimension. However, since many intended actions or utterances might be mere meaningless mistakes after all, the analyst is already more involved in symbolizing the evidence than was the case for hypnosis. The policeman who was giving me directions in East Berlin and told me to proceed "three hundred kilometers" rather than three hundred meters may have been subconsciously wishing me beyond the frontiers of East Germany; but such explanations seem suspiciously ingenious.

A third channel was the richest and most elaborated: the interpretation of dreams, which Freud (1900) came to consider the key to the "unconscious." The "dream-content" ("Trauminhalt") would be the product of psychically significant events being symbolized and re-enacted through subtle but systematic processes of "dream-work" ("Traumarbeit") when conscious control and surveillance were not operating. The analyst's "interpretation" would be an explicit resymbolization, in biographical, psychic, or clinical terms, of the dream content symbolizing unconscious images, desires, drives, and so on that are denied admission to consciousness during waking hours.

Far more than hypnosis or unintentional behavior, dreams confront the analyst with overabundant symbolic material. Freud foresaw, but was ultimately unable to avert, the reductive compensatory tactic of couching explanatory causalities in terms of a transcendent (universal, archetypal, etc.) "vocabulary" of "dream symbols." He repeatedly emphasized that, on the contrary, what a particular symbolic representation might "mean" depended crucially on the individual person's own symbolizing activities and on the specific context of both the dysfunction and the therapy. Yet these admonitions were largely lost on the purportedly "orthodox" Freudian offshoots who followed prevailing attitudes of "scientific" explanation in believing that symbolic dimensions should be restricted in range and sanctioned by generality. The "handbooks of dream symbols" still on the market today reflect the popularization of this reductive attitude.

Even a purportedly "general vocabulary" of fixed psychoanalytic symbols was unacceptable to positivistic behaviorist psychology, which rejected symbolic dimensions in the name of a resolutely anti-mentalistic "unified science." The favored path to this "unity" was to demand, in the "softer" human sciences like psychology and sociology, the rigor and generality claimed in the "harder" natural sciences like physics and biology. At the time, the necessity of purchasing this generality with a reduction or loss of human content was deemed more an advantage than a drawback (cf. Beaugrande, 1987). The drastic abbreviation of symbolic dimensions seemed both legitimate and desirable.

In consequence, psychoanalysis could be integrated with behaviorist psychology only to the extent that general constructs like "drive" and "defense" were formulated within mechanistic schemes of causality, e.g., in terms of relative "response dispositions" or "attitudes," which the "drives" should intensify and the "defenses" should impede. Psychologists undertook to develop quantitative measures for a given disposition, e.g. the familiar "rating scales" from +10 ("strongly positive") to 0 ("neutral") to -10 ("strongly negative"), and then to correlate them with the ratios of actually observed responses within sets of tests. The assumption that the scalar measures are genuinely reliable and consistent entails the more problematic assumption that test subjects are uniformly able and willing to provide scalar information on demand, even when complex symbolic dimensions are involved, e.g. when "visualizing an emotion situation" and answering questions like "how pleasant are your thoughts?" (cf. Izard, 1977, p. 218).

Psychologists recognized this informational problem but could not resolve it without incorporating full-fledged models of the activities of symbolizing. Instead, they preferred to adjust the experimental design. They would, for instance, follow their experiment with a post-interview in which subjects were probed whether they had some "suspicion" about what was going on or what it was intended to show; often, they were simply asked outright and may have felt pressured to humor the experimenter by saying "no" lest their results be discarded. To be really certain, additional experimental designs would need to create situations in which the presence or absence of suspicion would be signaled by the subjects' spontaneous behavior.

Or, the real experiment would be disguised behind a false experiment in order to circumvent contamination by giving the subjects a decoy to reason about. In one such experiment, subjects were carefully observed turning pegs in holes for half and hour and were then were paid varying amounts to encourage other subjects to participate; the real object of study was not peg-turning, but the impact of monetary rewards on subjects' disposition to make statements they didn't believe -- that a boring task was an interesting one (Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959).

In sum, the orientation of behaviorist psychology in the direction of hard sciences has engendered a systematic double-tracking in which a small amount of "hard" evidence is gathered and quantified, but shored up by a large amount of "soft" evidence taken more or less at face value without an account of the activities of symbolizing involved either in the subject's performance or the investigator's evaluation. Discourse was deployed as a means both for providing a stimulus (e.g. a persuasive argument) and for identifying a response (e.g. the "attitude change" elicited by the argument) (cf. survey in Himmelfarb & Eagley eds., 1974). Deploying discourse in such ways implies what we might call the "transparency hypothesis" — that it is a reasonably straightforward relay of intention and content without further symbolic dimensions that would complicate the data.

Despite its own episodic ambitions to be a "science" (already in Freud 1895), psychoanalysis has not followed the same route. Instead, it has retained a fairly open and flexible outlook on the possible reliability of evidence provided by the subject, whether deliberately or accidentally, consciously or unconsciously, observed or symbolized. Discourse is prominently deployed here, but without the transparency hypothesis. Instead, the range of symbolic dimensions is assumed to open and multiplex, and activities of symbolizing are given explicit consideration in their own right.

Thus, an engagement between psychology and psychoanalysis with their diverging epistemologies might attenuate some of the "inner conflicts" within the sciences, to expropriate Horney's (1945, 1950) terms. So far, the "perfectionist" and "detached" traits of the scientific personality do not balance well with the "narcissistic" and “aggressive" desire to suppress alternative epistemologies. Indeed, scientific orthodoxy can eventually foster a denial of the multiplex symbolic dimensions whereby the human species created science upon realizing that things often do not "mean" what commonsense leads us to believe.


Symbolic representations in cognitive science and discourse processing


The scientific climate has changed in recent years under pressure from evidence, some of it fairly "hard," that a "symbolic" component is involved in all human actions within the environment. Even the "perception of form" depends on a "process of symbolization" (Langer, 1951, p. 59). The skepticism of positivist "unified science," viewing the human as a relatively neutral and transparent relay system for "stimuli events," now seems anachronistic, but the expediency of this view continues to influence hidden assumptions in more recent paradigms. The "cognitive" domain appearing in psychological and linguistic research since the 1960s was at first an expanded and more complex relay system between events and the subject's responses, e.g., in the "cognitive response analysis model" proposed by Greenwald (1968) for acceptance or rejection of persuasion. Such models do not foresee elaborate, context sensitive symbolizing heuristics whereby subjects determine what things mean before deciding which response to select.

Such recidivism is not surprising, because experimental method in general entails assumptions about cause and effect and favors inclinations toward "neo-behaviorism" (cf. Suppes, 1975). As usually construed, the symbolic significance of the experiment itself depends on a reliable correlation between the staged events and the test subjects' responses, independently of the internal symbolizations. At the very least, the staged events must be presumed to affect the subjects' disposition to choose one kind of action over another within a situation constructed to offer an orderly set of contrasting choices; yet this same order may be stringent enough to endanger "ecological validity" (Neisser 1976) -- the relevance of the findings for everyday human activity.

The "revolutionary" aspect of "cognitive science" and "discourse processing" vis-à-vis the behaviorist tradition lies mainly in accrediting the notion that "mental content" can be symbolized in a "representation" or "model" and correlated with observed behavior or response disposition. We can now operate not merely by deploying discourse, but by designing explicit models of what a discourse might symbolize. To constrain this new perspective, researchers need to consider how to control and regulate the construction of such models. Again, the most expedient assumption and the least disturbing one for behaviorist paradigms would be a new version of the transparency hypothesis: that the model is a straightforward representation of discourse content as uniformly understood by both discourse participants or test subjects and by analysts or experimenters. However, this hypothesis would retain the idea of perception as a neutral relay, which cognitive research has already discarded as an oversimplification even in relatively unmediated domains like the visual perception of shapes (e.g. Kosslyn, 1975).

A more pragmatic and accepted recourse is what we might call the "consensual hypothesis." The recourse here lies in reliable, intersubjective ways of designing a representation or model for a given discourse and postponing the issues of its "psychological reality" or "correctness" in a classical empirical sense, i.e., of its status as a symbolic entity in people's minds. If a group of trained researchers independently construct reasonably consensual symbolic representations for the same discourse, then the reliability of the representation can be provisionally assumed for purposes of assessing the results. For example, the methods for representing a discourse as a ranked list-like configuration of "propositions" (Kintsch van Dijk 1978; van Dijk & Kintsch, 1983) can operate with consensual techniques for preparing such a list for a given sample of discourse (Turner & Greene, 1977). The discourse can then be put to a certain experimental use, e.g. having people read it and reproduce it in a "free recall" design, to see what systematic tendencies emerge, e.g., whether the "higher-level" or more general propositions are recalled more often than the "lower-level" or more specific ones. The researcher's own symbolizing activities in constructing such a list or representation need not be modeled as long as they are found to be intersubjectively stable and consistent. As evidence accrues, e.g. that the "higher level propositions" are indeed recalled more often, we obtain better-delineated grounds for making suppositions about mental organization and structure, and hence for making stronger assumptions about "psychological reality" and "ecological validity."

Such progress could not have been made had psychology maintained its barriers against symbolic dimensions and activities. But designing models that are expedient to implement entails a "loan" we need to "repay" by a closer scrutiny of their construction and status. In particular, we need to model the symbolizing activities entailed in producing and interpreting such a representation and inquire how far they are indeed consensual. My own inquiries (e.g. Beaugrande, 1980-81, 1982) have yielded some grounds to question this consensus.

One lack of consensus I have noticed arises from the attitudes of respective disciplines about what a representation should mean and achieve. I had worked out a heuristic for converting a text to a network wherein content words were used as concept labels, and the conceptual relations were classified by link markers drawn from a stated repertory (Beaugrande, 1980). When I presented the representation to linguists, they typically insisted that it should be derived from the linguistic material of the discourse by abstract formalized procedures. When I presented it to psychologists, they typically supposed the representation to embody a theory of mental processes and objected that such a theory was not formulated tightly enough to enable experimental validation or refutation. When I presented it to humanists, e.g. literature or composition teachers, they typically floundered or rejected the representation as incomprehensible. When presented to computer scientists, the representations were immediately read as programs, and some were actually rewritten into Horn clauses using successor arithmetic and run on natural language simulation systems (Simmons & Chester, 1979).

It was perplexing that the "same" symbolic representation "meant" totally different things to different groups (or nothing to the humanists). I felt I had built a chair and each of the three bears had passed a totally different judgment upon it. For the linguists, the network was not formal or abstract enough (too soft); for the humanists, it was far too formal or abstract (too hard); and the computer people saw it on a level of formality comparable to the one used in daily work (just right). The psychologists (the fourth bear), however, made the most taxing and ecologically relevant demand: that the representation should generate testable predictions, e.g., that two proximate points in the network should be more often associated in recall than two distant points.[2]

Such multiple reactions offer helpful occasions to reflect on the complex problematics of representing symbolic dimensions. The goal of such reflection should not be to legitimate just one mode of reaction and reject the others. Instead, the goal should be to view a given representation as a meeting-grounds for multiple perspectives and an incitement to contemplate the epistemological interests and symbolizing activities of various disciplines. This view can be particularly productive when the phenomenon to be represented is as multiplex as discourse. Since discourse itself is a representation related in multiplex ways to one or more situations, a single representation for a discourse cannot be adequate for all aspects and purposes. Instead, we need to resymbolize the content or purport of the discourse from several complementary perspectives.

The new interest in representational models has in turn encouraged a new interest in the influence of prior knowledge and expectations on what is perceived, comprehended, or recalled in discourse. But again, problems of control arise. Experimenters have widely favored a double-edged strategy: you appeal to the prior knowledge represented in the model to account for observed effects, while the observed effects justify the postulating of this prior knowledge in the model. The circularity cannot be fully eliminated, because prior knowledge can only be "observed" through its effects, and not as a substantive construct with a concrete selfhood. However, since knowledge of ordinary experience is itself circular in the same manner and to a much higher degree, ecological validity is not seriously imperiled.

"Protocol analysis" has recently been hailed as a technique for getting further information about symbolic representations and activities by analysing the self-reflective discourse of subjects performing a task, such as solving a problem (cf. Ericsson & Simon, 1980). Predictably, behaviorist psychologists (e.g. Nisbett & Wilson, 1977) disparage this technique, ostensibly because it encourages subjects to "tell more than they can know." But, as I remarked, the behaviorists' own earlier work (e.g. Nisbett & Gordon, 1967) also relied on evidence extracted from discourse; and no theory so far has defined the borderline at which discourse passes from reliable to unreliable, from what people can know or tell to what they cannot.

The outlook of psychoanalysis an this issue offers an intriguing counterpoint. On the one hand, a decisive role is allotted to the subject's discourse about past and present ideas, feelings, and so on. Indeed, the prominence of discourse in psychoanalytic procedures and therapies (cf. Hartley & Strupp, 1980) signals the urgency of applying discourse analysis to psychoanalytic discourse itself (e.g. Labov & Fanshel, 1971; Wodak, 1981). On the other hand, the psychoanalyst assumes in principle that the decisive information and content for a given dysfunction is what the subject cannot or will not provide because of psychic imbalances or inhibitions. Thus, a major strategy is precisely to get subjects to "tell more than they can know," to provide displaced symbolic material despite the blocks set against it. At the analyst's end, "listening with the third ear" is intended to detect concealed content indirectly symbolized through more manifest content. Hence, the actual discourse is assumed to symbolize, through some recoverable relationship, a blocked "other" discourse, and the symbolizing strategies of the psychoanalyst should reconstruct this relationship.

Yet the "resymbolization" of that relationship must be fitted to the individual case. Just as popular dictionaries of dream symbols overlook the personal component, public dictionary definitions of words and phrases by no means exhaust the symbolic dimensions of an actual discourse. The transparency hypothesis that discourse is a relay of content about a pre-given reality must yield to the hypothesis that discourse is an occasion for constructing personal and social reality, including one's own "self" (Potter & Wetherell, 1987). This notion should also be applied to the discourse of scientists, who symptomatically maintain a double tracking scenario: my views and statements represent things as nature made them (discourse as relay of content), whereas my opponent's reflect personal preconceptions and selfish interests (discourse as personal and social construct) (Gilbert & Mulkay, 1984). Psychoanalysis is helpful here in reminding us that all views and statements reflect personal preconceptions and interests that may be unconscious or even consciously denied; recognizing this reflection is the first step toward more open (or "aliocentric") insights, whether in science or everyday life.[3]

In this way, psychoanalysis seems to have cut through a customary Gordian knot plaguing the more self-conscious interpretive or scientific approaches. Humanists, linguists, and psychologists have periodically postulated some determinate "meaningful intention" that they could "objectively" reconstruct with their respective methods. The presumed "authors" or "speakers" must have "known what they meant" as distinct from what they did not "mean." Especially in methods influenced by formal logic, this intended meaning was estimated in reductive terms, e.g. of what was "true or false in the world." All these objectifying and reductive approaches encounter generic difficulties in dealing with the full symbolic dimensions of spontaneous discourse. Although failure to be "logical" or "grammatical" was not usually taken as a signal of mental dysfunction, it was counted a deviant case all the same, an issue to be set aside while we study "literal" meanings and "verifiable" statements.

Psychoanalysis, however, sees no problem in assuming that people often say what they don't mean, mean what they don't say, or mean conflicting, even opposite things at the same time, and have more overriding concerns than "logic" or "truth." Analysis focuses on cases of noticeably insincere, illogical, inconsistent, or untruthful meanings as primary signals of dysfunctional or pathogenic tendencies. The recognition of such cases has depended partly on clinical experience and partly on the analyst's own standards of sincerity and symbolization, rather than on a formal system of logical postulates and proofs.

Although the recent interaction of disciplines under the aegis of "cognitive science" and "discourse processing" is extremely encouraging (surveys in Beaugrande, 1980, 1984a, 1997), the benefits and insights will be limited as long as psychoanalytic method has not yet been properly integrated (Beaugrande, 1984b). If, as I have argued, psychoanalysis maintains its own characteristic approach to symbolic dimensions of meaning and discourse, such an integration offers a fresh opportunity to expand our notions of what discourse can symbolize. I shall therefore examine some dimensions of discourse which psychoanalytic methods can uncover and then demonstrate them with a sample from scientific discourse.


Psychoanalysis and discourse


The symbolizing activities of discourse in psychoanalysis are insightfully illustrated by Emmanuel Peterfreund's (1975) "models and strategies in the psychoanalytic process." His studies focus on therapeutic progress attained through negotiative discourse relevant to a particular case in multiplex ways. He assumes that the "psychoanalytic process" relies on "a general working model of people and things in our culture and times, and normal expectable cognitive and emotional relationships" (1975, p. 78). In addition, the "process" requires a "working model, actually a group of metamodels, based on clinical theories" as well as on "informational, hormonal, chemical," and "genetic models" (1975, pp. 78f). These form the theoretical background for working models" of both "analyst" and "patient" (ibid.).

The term "working model" has serendipitous associations for a method which emphasizes "working through" as both an everyday and a specialized activity (1975, pp. 62ff):

What psychoanalysis has long referred to as "working through" can be viewed, in large part, as a learning process, an updating, a readapting, a checking for consistency of working models […] normal adaptive learning often requires that a model not be merely updated but discarded, and a radically new one substituted -- an idea familiar enough from the history of science […] we use working models to rearrange the world we know, to imagine new combinations and possibilities […]

From child to adult we understand the world though our ever-changing working models. Each of us interprets existing information more or less differently. We select and process it to arrive at our individual views of the world, our individual "reality." And through such interpretations information attains meaning, generally accepted denotative and connotative meanings plus the unique personal meanings of special interest to psychoanalysis.

Whereas the first quotation would apply in parallel to cognitive science and discourse analysis just as well as to psychoanalysis, the second suggests a reciprocity or a complementarity between the "generally accepted meanings" emphasized in cognitive science and discourse analysis and the "unique personal meanings" emphasized in psychoanalysis.

At this point, a strategic definition of "psychoanalytic discourse" might be formulated: a negotiation for uncovering and attenuating dysfunctional discrepancies and conflicts between general social meaning and personal idiosyncratic meaning. According to Peterfreund (1975, p. 68), "highly personal connotative meaning" is the essence of "what psychoanalysts usually understand as unconscious meaning." And some unconscious meaning is not merely personal, but stands in dysfunctional disaccord with social meaning in ways that characteristically elude the person's awareness.

This definition might help explain the crucial role of childhood experience, which has often been simply accepted as a basic axiom in the wake of orthodox Freudianism. Childhood is the period in life when encounters with unfamiliar experiences and their expressions in discourse are most predominant in proportion to familiar ones and most emotionally and effectively valorized, and, at the same, the least controllable by explicit negotiation. The potential for developing personal idiosyncratic meanings is therefore much higher than at later stages of socialization through discourse. An obvious case is the encounter with a "new word" under special circumstances which can become permanently associated with the word as its "connotations" (cf. Dieckmann, 1981). But meanings need not ride on language alone, and, as Peterfreund (1975, p. 64) remarks, "working models with many of the capabilities mentioned are apparently present by what Piaget calls the sixth stage of the sensorimotor period, before there is any adequate language system." Discourse might thus emerge at a stage where a system of personal meanings is already in place, and the possibility for conflicts with social meanings might be imminent.

The need for a functional complementarity between personal and social meanings yields a particularly powerful motive for concerted interaction between psychoanalytic and cognitive-discoursal models. So far, cognitive-discoursal approaches have not fully explored the process whereby meanings are established in early life and gradually pass from personal or episodic toward general and stable. Conversely, psychoanalytic approaches have not adequately mapped out the relation between personal therapy and general social discourse, especially with respect to the putative borderline where discourse ceases to be "normal" and becomes "pathogenic." At both ends, the general-social and specific-personal, the models are usually built for the achieved state, functional or dysfunctional respectively, without sufficient elaboration of developmental or transitional states. Any such model gives only a partial picture and abridges the evolutionary processes that led to the current state. The development of means for favorably controlling or intervening in intermediary stages is therefore impeded.

Discrepancies between personal and social meanings are particularly likely to arise in respect to the emotions, whose importance for discourse is only recently being acknowledged (survey in Fiehler, 1990; demonstration in Beaugrande 1991c). The long-standing disinterest is of course to be expected if "beginning in adolescence, social pressure tends to lead the individual to inhibit or conceal the veridical expression of the emotions" (Izard, 1977, p. 103). Research was in turn influenced by "the attitude that emotions cannot be studied objectively or systematically" through "the usual methodologies and procedures of science" (1977, p. 100). Hence, "the psychology of emotion and its methods emerged against a background of opposing forces ranging from inertia in psychological theorizing to outright rejection of emotion concepts" among "leading theorists and model builders" (1977, p. 99). And even "in emotions research and linguistics, the topic of 'emotion and communicative phenomena' has never risen above the status of a marginal concern" (Fiehler, 1990, p. 134, my translation).

Psychoanalytic approaches, in contrast, have recognized the centrality of emotions from the outset, though various rationales for this centrality have been proposed. Peterfreund and Schwartz (1971, p. 181), for instance, suggest that

phylogenetically older systems, clinically those involved in drives and emotions, are able to play especially crucial roles in motivation […] Though they may be relatively less complex information-processing systems in themselves, they may nevertheless enter into the overall information processing of the organism at crucial points; they may enter deeply into the logical organization of programming; they may have high-priority positions. They can therefore exert an extremely powerful influence, appear to "demand attention," and even, at times, make the organism appear to be "out of control" in the clinical sense.

This phylogenetic rationale has recently been joined by a neurological one. Joseph Ledoux of New York University has presented "evidence" that "challenges the prevailing wisdom in psychology that emotional reactions follow from thought about a situation" (Goleman, 1989, P. 15). Instead, they may "occur before the brain has even had time to register fully what is causing" them (ibid.) A "part of the limbic system, the amygdala," may be "the center of primitive emotional reactions that seem to operate independently of and prior to thought" via "nerve pathways that lead directly from the thalamus" without mediation by the "hippocampus" or the "neocortex" (1989, pp. 15, 19). This rationale entails ontogenetic reason for the importance of childhood experiences: "during the first years of life," "the hippocampus is not fully mature," whereas "the amygdala is more fully formed" (1989, p. 19).

The above-cited reluctance of societies to accredit emotions and their symbolisation both in daily life and institutional practices has been a major crux of psychoanalytic theorizing since Freud. Psychoanalysis should therefore welcome the project of emotional psychology to "rehabilitate" the emotions. Hobart Mowrer (1960, p. 307) for example has argued that "the emotions are of quite extraordinary importance in the total economy of living organisms and do not at all deserve to be put into opposition with 'intelligence'"; rather, they are themselves a high order of intelligence." Izard (1977, p. 142) has argued that "some emotion is always present in ordinary states of consciousness," although it is "not always cognized or symbolized." Izard's comprehensive survey proposes to show that "emotions are the most fundamental organizer of sensation that has significance or meaning" and a principal "coder" of cognition" (1977, p. 155; cf. Spencer 1855; Tomkins, 1962-63- Spitz, 1965; Kilty, 1969; Scott, 1969; Gray, 1973). "Indeed, it is the individual's capacity to integrate in the cortex the vast possible array of affective, cognitive, and motor elements that guarantees the basic freedom of the human being" (Izard 1977, p. 149).

We should thus predict than the denial or repression of emotions could lead to a far-reaching disorientation in cognition and communication, and to severe restrictions on freedom of thought and action. And Izard (1977, p. 97) in fact reports that "chronic suppression of overt expression" can "increase physiological arousal" and "lead to psychosomatic symptoms." It might not be unduly far-fetched to see the antagonism against psychoanalysis within both popular opinion and scientific institutions as one facet of a large-scale suppression of emotions which mistakes its own negative consequences as inherent attributes of the emotions themselves. Emotions are not accredited for public discourse because they are believe to symbolize the dark side of human nature; this non-accreditation then forces the emotions into just such a role when defenses and repressions break down and expressions burst forth. Thus, problems which arise from denying one's emotions are misunderstood as problems caused merely by having emotions at all. The lack of accredited strategies for expressing emotions encourages the displacements whereby discourse symbolizes emotional dimensions through erratic associations or ominous disguises.

How psychoanalysis attempts to trace such symbolizations through discourse can be seen in case histories, e.g. in this description of one of Peterfreund's (1975, pp. 68f, my emphases) sessions:

the patient […] spoke of the enormous pressure he felt he reported feeling explosive, torn apart; there were "demands, demands, demands" from all sides. […] He rasped at me, angrily demanding that I do something. […] I asked him why he could not go on and talk further. […] he responded […] that he was afraid he might get out of control, go wild, maybe even break up my office. I pointed out to him that such fears were in no way commensurate with the actualities and that it is almost always helpful to talk about them

Here, the analyst used discourse as a means both for symbolizing emotional displacements and for alleviating them. As in many such cases, the patient revealed accrued anxiety not merely about his emotions, but about expressing them in discourse. In fact, he suggested that "talk" would make the feelings even worse, "wild," "out of control." The systematic suppression of emotional discourse in society had probably contributed to the patient's disturbance by inhibiting communications that could have brought alleviation before the crisis stage. As long as society demands such suppression, psychoanalysis will remain trapped in a therapeutic rather than a preventative role and must struggle against social odds to resymbolize emotional content after the damage is already done.

Given such an ambience, the discourse of psychotherapy occurs in a transitional or transactional situation in which the dysfunctional personal aspects of meaning must first be made sufficiently explicit and conscious to be amenable to a more functional and social resymbolization. To circumvent the patient's resistance to producing the needed discourse, the analyst can produce surrogate discourse for the patient, who may become able to reassume participation as therapy proceeds:

since he seemed paralysed and could hardly verbalize, I plunged into an identification with my mental images of him and how he might be experiencing the world […] As I spoke I was almost free-associating myself while I identified with my working model of this patient […] I worked with a model of everyday human experience as well as the experiences he was reporting, [which were] unusual and maladaptive. […] in the second session the patient was able to return to the previous day's material and continue the analytic work on his own, bringing in a more exact description of his inner state. The ability to do this is an excellent indication of a good working analytic situation [and] "therapeutic alliance." The connections that I made between past and present were [not] fitted together an the basis of generally accepted psychoanalytic formulations, [but] based on the patient's experiences, on specific shared emotional and cognitive experiential attributes. (Peterfreund, 1975, pp. 69, 72ff, my emphases)

 Precisely because of the decisive role of personal meanings, even the relatively specialized symbolizing techniques of psychoanalysis can be fully useful only when the patient actively participates in the activities of symbolization and resymbolization. Peterfreund's "criteria for good analysis" entail "new awarenesses about current life and situation," including "links" "between present and past" "confirmed by emergent memories," and "active participation by the patient," especially in providing "error correcting feedback" (1975, p. 76). The dilemma that the patient is a patient in the first place because he or she does not understand or admit such "links" or awarenesses," requires that therapy provide the means, usually discourse, to "unblock" symbolic knowledge of the self and its problems and to enact a more constructive resymbolization. The goal is attained when the balance between social and personal meaning has been productively shifted away from conflictual discrepancies.

At the start of the meeting reported by Peterfreund, the patient's meanings were not communicable even to him. The analyst pointed out that his responses and emotions did not fit an appropriate symbolization of the situation and, suggested some general reasons for the discrepancy. The analyst undertook to resymbolize in ways he hoped would serve as a model for the patient:

My remarks were not thought out in advance, and I even used some Yiddish expressions which were part of his emotional language. The patient agreed, in general, with my description of how he seemed to be experiencing the world. I was apparently approximately on target. (Peterfreund, 1975, p. 69, my emphases)

The highlighted terms signal the explicit deployment of discourse for balancing social meaning with personal meaning to gain access to otherwise private symbolics. The analyst was, as it were, "speaking with the second mouth" while he "listened with the third ear." The discourse helped to unblock the hidden symbolics of the patient's state enough that he could contribute to the discursive analysis "in the second session."

Peterfreund's evaluation of being "on target" should not be understood merely in the traditional sense of straightforward truth or correspondence with reality. The discourse was helpful even though, as he later remarked,

My initial comments were only partly accurate. I was roughly correct in the first hour, but far from exactly so. (1975, p. 73)

Evidently, whether the content of a discourse is "accurate" or "correct" in an everyday manner need not decide how effective it may be in therapeutic discourse seeking to resymbolize an emotional imbalance. The chief task of the therapist is not so much to generate final truth as work through symbolic dimensions in such a fashion that the patient can join in process.

The therapy eventually led back to fear and anxiety elicited by the patient's memories of a prolapsed bowel in childhood. Peterfreund apparently instated these memories as the privileged symbolics of the whole disturbance in some more or less causal sense, and the patient accepted this reasoning. However, once symbolic dimensions have been expanded it may not be wise to bottle them up again inside a single privileged symbolization in the manner of the "biographical hypothesis". We might prefer to see the episode with the prolapsed bowel as an accredited target-construct for psychotherapeutic symbolizing and thus a vehicle for both therapist and patient to release emotional overaccumulation by finding a fairly "literal" reason. The therapist is powerfully motivated to seek content whose expression would be particularly prone to be refused accreditation in ordinary discourse. Yet the patient's syndrome might well have been due to a much more general refusal to accredit his fears and anxieties; improvement was attained because a symbolic vehicle was found, whether or not the latter played a genuinely causal or originary role in his biography.

Here, we might envision a reason why psychotherapy is often complex, circuitous, and time-consuming (cf. Hartley & Strupp, 1980). The discovery of traumatic moments in early childhood might be an initially liberating but ultimately constricting activity whereby the symbolic dimensions expanded by psychoanalysis are narrowed again in the name of an explanatory construct simultaneously expected to function as a cure. Many such constructs have been generated in clinical case histories with merely transitory therapeutic benefits. These benefits could thus be due not to the revelation of an efficient cause, but to the shared symbolizing activities of analyst and patient. A relapse may occur not because the cause was incorrectly diagnosed, but because the patient has remained incapable of integrating such activities into his or her strategies of everyday conduct and discourse. The causal account may become constrictive after the activities in therapy have ceased, especially when it is added to the patient's alibis for not symbolizing in daily experience. A more effective and permanent improvement would require the patient to become genuinely able and willing to symbolize and resymbolize both past and current experiences instead closing them off with (or enclosing them inside) rigid meanings, including therapeutically predicated causes.

These prospects intuitively accord with the plausible thesis that discrepancies between personal and social meanings are most likely to become pathogenic when the two sides are rigidly fixated. Traditionally, the fixated private meaning has received the major focus of psychoanalysis, and the fixated social meaning has been taken for granted as an orientation for identifying the norms. Yet if "the psychopathology of everyday life" is as pervasive as Freud's famous formulation suggests, it is not the discrepancies themselves that are pathogenic, but the inability to resymbolize both sides of meaning in less conflictual ways. And this inability in turn reflects long-standing preconceptions about which symbolic dimensions are proper and admissible and which are not. If emotions are routinely fixated as negative and disturbing, then opportunities to resymbolize them as positive and orienting will be systematically overlooked or reversed. Quite general disaffections such as apathy and existential angst might arise from a traitlike disability to symbolize and resymbolize, leading to the global impression that life at large is meaningless.

To reassess the issues involved, we need to carefully reexamine accustomed conceptions of "knowing," "thinking," "believing," and so on, and the reductive and fixating tendencies they favor. Simplistic, impoverishing dichotomies abound, forcing a grid onto the human mind: things should be either "true" or "false," "correct" or "incorrect," "real" or "unreal," "good" or "bad," approved or disapproved, liked or disliked, and so on. To practice and enforce these dichotomies, our symbolic processes hasten to fixate meanings and truncate symbolic dimensions. Discourse is in turn constrained to operate with the fixated and truncated results, which it reinforces wherever they seem sanctioned by social consensus, and converts into conflicts wherever they do not. This stark division between reinforcement and conflict fosters a fragmentation of one's view of the world and weakens the authorization and freedom of the self to be an agent of symbolization in that world.

The term "symbolic dimensions" can thus be apt in suggesting that meanings, both personal and social, are not composed of fixed contents (like the feature matrices proposed in formal semantics), but of parametric adjustments to be continually performed during discourse. Much of this adjusting is done so skillfully and rapidly that the discourse participants may have the impression that the meanings are always already definite and ready-made, more like static dictionary entries than dynamic psychic constructs. But such a static substrate would make it impracticable to symbolize new contexts, or familiar contexts in new ways. Even so, the mere impression that the substrate is static is already an impediment against the freedom to symbolize and resymbolize. The curtailments of freedom which lead to pathogenic constrictions and attract the notice of psychoanalysts can only be the tip of the iceberg. More pervasive is doubtless a general alienation stemming from a feeling that the world has been preempted by arbitrary symbolizations one must accept at face value. Herein, I surmise, lies the main source of the "psychopathic" qualities of "everyday life". Its "everydayness" is the product of constrictive presymbolizations whose incessant rehearsal and repetition increasingly alienate the subject and foster conflicts when one's own symbolizations are made to appear unauthorized and non-accredited. The accrual of conflictual moments can escalate to the intensity where the subject rebelliously breaks out of functional constraints and generates the unreasonable and dysfunctional symbolizations that form the substance and content of a neurosis.

We can now reconsider the familiar complaint that psychoanalysis propounds an unduly negative and neurotic vision of human life. On the one hand, the dysfunctions addressed by both theory and practice of psychoanalysis are indeed intimately related to general restrictions on symbolization throughout conformist societies. On the other hand, psychoanalysis has provided some of the most complex and intricate strategies for resymbolizing human experiences and thus raised new prospects for counteracting the negative effects of such restrictions. However, the imposition of orthodoxy upon psychoanalysis and its symbolic constructs can rescind this gain by replacing society's constrictions with its own, e.g., through an authoritarian pre-emption of therapeutic discourse by a reductive terminology of "phallic," "oral," or "anal" types.

Psychoanalysis therefore cannot attain major progress as a discipline by merely shifting from one orthodoxy to another, but only by opening up to genuinely free activities of symbolization. The increasing diversity of modern psychoanalytic methods, including humanistic and existential ones, signals not confusion or diffusion, but the most logical continuation of the original impetus to resymbolize. The intensifying and diversifying focus on language as both material and resource for psychoanalytic insight (e.g. Holland, 1968; Lacan, 1970-71; Irigaray, 1974, 1977; Paris, 1974) is part and parcel of this continuity, but its significance has been partially obstructed by the resistance which some of this discourse (e.g. Lacan and Irigaray) programmatically maintains against being construed as simple referential symbolizations of real clinical or societal states (cf. Beaugrande, 1988a, 1988b).

The aspirations of psychoanalysis to arrive at the "real cause" of psychopathic behaviors, though readily understandable, are congenitally problematic if the most important object of concern is neither behaviors nor causes, but symbolizations and their personal and social conditions. When psychotherapy generates explanations that supply causes for behaviors, the patient is relieved, at least temporarily, of the accrued frustration produced by his or her own failure to behave appropriately and to explain why this happens. But in the long run, the cause will be overtaxed as an explanation, and new frustrations will arise from the patient's reluctance or inability to resymbolize both past and present experience in self-reliant and productive ways. At this stage, the psychoanalytic explanation can join the obstructions it was intended to dismantle.

Future progress in psychoanalysis would depend on a more perspicuous and direct focus on the processes of symbolization which have always been inherent in discourse practice, both in everyday life and in psychotherapy. One resource would be to examine multiple symbolic dimensions of discourse simultaneously from a psychoanalytic perspective and a discoursal-cognitive perspective. I shall conclude with a demonstration for a discourse which, though not pathogenic, indicates that its author is "working through" substantially more psychic content than we could recognize from the public meanings of the words or sentences.


A case study


Among all discourse varieties, scientific discourse enjoys a privileged status in most modern societies. Here, we like to think, symbolic dimensions are precisely controlled by facts, observations, measurements, and disinterested commitments to truth. Alternative dimensions should be unnecessary, if not indeed inadmissible. However, such wishful thinking has been severely unsettled by recent trends in the philosophy and sociology of science, particularly empirical investigations of the discourse of scientists (McHoul, 1982; Gilbert Mulkay, 1984).

One intriguing case can be found in a scientific best-seller, namely the three appendices placed without explanation after the main text in Stephen W. Hawking’s A Brief History of Time (1988, pp. 179-182). The texts are as follows.


Einstein's connection with the politics of the nuclear bomb is well known: he signed the famous letter to President Franklin Roosevelt that persuaded the United States to take the idea seriously, and he engaged in postwar efforts to prevent a nuclear war. But these were not just the isolated actions of a scientist dragged into the world of politics. Einstein's life was, in fact, to use his own words, "divided between politics and equations."

Einstein's earliest political activity came during the First World War, when he was a professor in Berlin. Sickened by what he saw as the waste of human lives, he became involved in antiwar demonstrations. His advocacy of civil disobedience and public encouragement of people to refuse conscription did little to endear him to his colleagues. Then, following the war, he directed his efforts toward reconciliation and improving international relations. This, too, did not make him popular, and soon his politics were making it difficult for him to visit the United States, even to give lectures.

Einstein's second great cause was Zionism. Although he was Jewish by descent, Einstein rejected the biblical idea of God. However, a growing awareness of anti-Semitism, both before and during the First World War, led him to gradually identify with the Jewish community, and later to become an outspoken supporter of Zionism. Once more unpopularity did not stop him from speaking his mind. His theories came under attack; an anti-Einstein organization was even set up. One man was convicted of inciting others to murder Einstein (and fined a mere six dollars). But Einstein was phlegmatic; when a book was published entitled 100 Authors Against Einstein, he retorted, "If I were wrong, then one would have been enough!"

In 1933, Hitler came to power. Einstein was in America, and declared he would not return to Germany. Then, while the Nazi militia raided his house and confiscated his bank account, a Berlin newspaper displayed the headline "Good News from Einstein -- He's Not Coming Back." In the face of the Nazi threat, Einstein renounced pacifism, and eventually, fearing that German scientists would build a nuclear bomb, proposed that the United States should develop its own. But even before the first atomic bomb had been detonated, he was publicly warning of the dangers of nuclear war and proposing international control of nuclear weaponry.

Throughout his life, Einstein's efforts toward peace probably achieved little that would last -- and certainly won him few friends. His vocal support of the Zionist cause, however, was duly recognized in 1952, when he was offered the presidency of Israel. He declined, saying he thought he was too naive in politics. But perhaps his real reason was different: to quote him again, "Equations are more important to me, because politics is for the present, but an equation is something for eternity."


Galileo, perhaps more than any other single person, was responsible for the birth of modern science. His renowned conflict with the Catholic Church was central to his philosophy, for Galileo was not one of the first to argue that man could hope to understand how the world works, and, moreover, that we could this by observing the real world.

Galileo had believed Copernican theory (that the planets orbited the sun) since early on, but it was only when he found the evidence needed to support the idea that he started to publicly support it. He wrote about Copernicus's theory in Italian (not the usual academic Latin), and soon his views became widely supported outside the universities. This annoyed the Aristotelian professors, who united against him seeking to persuade the Catholic Church to ban Copernicanism.

Galileo, worried by this, traveled to Rome to speak to the ecclesiastical authorities. He argued that the Bible was not intended to tell us anything about scientific theories, and that it was usual to assume that, where the Bible conflicted with common sense, it was being allegorical. But the Church was afraid of a scandal that might undermine its fight against Protestantism, and so took oppressive measures. It declared Copernicanism "false and erroneous" in 1616, and commanded Galileo never again to "defend or hold" the doctrine. Galileo acquiesced.

In 1623 a longtime friend of Galileo's became the pope. Immediately Galileo tried to get the 1616 decree revoked, He failed, but he did manage to get permission to write a book discussing both Aristotelian and Copernican theories, on two conditions: he would not take sides and would come to the conclusion that man in any case could not determine how the world worked because God could bring about the same effects in ways unimagined by man, who could not place restrictions on God's omnipotence.

The book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, was completed and published in 1632, with the full backing of the censors -- and was immediately greeted throughout Europe as a literary and philosophical masterpiece. Soon the pope, realizing that the people were seeing the book as a convincing argument in favor of Copernicanism, regretted having allowed its publication. The pope argued that although the book had the official blessing of the censors, Galileo had nevertheless contravened the 1616 decree. He brought Galileo before the Inquisition, who sentenced him to house arrest for life and commanded him to publicly renounce Copernicanism. For a second, time, Galileo acquiesced.

Galileo remained a faithful Catholic, but his belief in the independence of science had not been crushed. Four years before his death in 1642, while he still under house arrest, the manuscript of his second major book was smuggled to a publisher in Holland. It was this work, referred to as Two New Sciences, even more than his support for Copernicus, that was to be the genesis of modern physics.


Isaac Newton was not a pleasant man. His relations with other academics were notorious, most of his later life spent embroiled in heated disputes. Following publication of Principia Mathematica -- surely the most influential book ever written in physics -- Newton had rapidly risen into public prominence. He was appointed president of the Royal Society and became the first scientist ever to be knighted.

Newton soon clashed with the Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed, who had earlier provided Newton with much needed data for Principia, but now was withholding information that Newton wanted. Newton would not take no for an answer; he had himself appointed to the governing body of the Royal Observatory and then tried to force immediate publication of the data. Eventually he arranged for Flamsteed's work to be seized and prepared for publication by Flamsteed's mortal enemy, Edmond Halley. But Flamsteed took the case to court, and, in the nick of time, won a court order preventing distribution of the stolen work. Newton was incensed and sought his revenge by systematically deleting all references to Flamsteed in later editions of the Principia.

A more serious dispute arose with the German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz. Both Leibniz and Newton had independently developed a branch of mathematics called calculus, which underlies most of modern physics. Although we now know that Newton discovered calculus years before Leibniz, he published his work much later. A major row ensued over who had been first, with scientists vigorously defending both contenders. It is remarkable, however, that most of the articles appearing in defense of Newton were originally written by his own hand -- and only published in the name of friends! As the row grew, Leibniz made the mistake of appealing to the Royal Society to resolve the dispute. Newton, as president, appointed an "impartial" committee to investigate, coincidentally consisting entirely of Newton's friends! But that was not all: Newton then wrote the committee's report himself and had the Royal Society publish it, officially accusing Leibniz of plagiarism. Still unsatisfied, he then wrote an anonymous review of the report in the Royal Society's own periodical. Following the death of Leibniz, Newton is reported to have declared that he had taken great satisfaction in "breaking Leibniz's heart."

During the period of these two disputes, Newton had already left Cambridge and academe. He had been active in anti-Catholic politics at Cambridge, and later in Parliament, and was rewarded eventually with the lucrative post of the Warden of the Royal Mint. Here he used his talents for deviousness and vitriol in a more socially acceptable way, successfully conducting a major campaign against counterfeiting, even sending several men to their death on the gallows.


 In a simple dimension, these sketches might be taken as reports of historical facts. But the selection of themes and the placement of perspectives could not be accounted for by so naive a reading. We need to examine further symbolic dimensions, including psychoanalytic ones, to appreciate why these three scientists were chosen for such treatment and why their lives and careers were symbolized in these ways.

The book's index refers to the three appendices as "biographies" (pp. 191, 194), but they are odd representatives of that genre. Only the one on Galileo revolves around his contributions to "modern science." The one on Newton informs us that his work was "the most influential every written in physics" and "underlies most of modern physics," but these judgments are sandwiched into subordinated sentence structures -- one free insertion with dashes and one relative clause -- and do not constitute the main theme of the sketch. The one on Einstein doesn't mention his work in physics other than his preoccupation with "equations."

One explanation for the displacement of focus away from physics might be that the contributions of the three scientists to physics have been covered in the body of the book, especially for Einstein. But in that case, why have these appendices at all? What do they add to Hawking's "History of Time," and why did he feel that such an addition was needed? The harder it is to see a public cognitive motivation, e.g. to supply significant missing "facts," the more urgent it is to consider personal psychic motivations.

The dust-jacket blurb provides some clues. There, we are told that Hawking "explains Galileo's and Newton's discoveries; next he takes us step-by-step through Einstein's general theory of relativity" "and then moves on to the other great theory of our century, quantum mechanics." This is true as far as it goes, but it is noteworthy that the names of all the other major physicists in Hawking's account are omitted from the blurb, even those who, like Dirac and Schrödinger, were responsible for "quantum mechanics," along with seventeen Nobel Prize laureates mentioned in the book. The blurb names no further names, except for "Aristotle" and "God," both of whom seem to be on the other side from the scientists, especially from Galileo.

The final paragraph of the blurb, presented as a capsule biography of Hawking, lists an almost numinous triad of coincidences linking him to the three predecessors by date of birth versus death, professional position, and academic reputation:

Stephen W. Hawking is forty six years old. He was born on the anniversary of Galileo's death, holds Newton's chair as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University and is widely regarded as the most brilliant theoretical physicist since Einstein.

The main text could hardly have proposed the relation to Einstein in terms of "brilliance," but does mention the other two relations:

a theory was proposed by Paul Dirac, who was later elected to the Lucasian Professorship of Mathematics at Cambridge (the same professorship that Newton once held and that I now hold). (p. 68)

My interest in questions about the origin of the universe was reawakened when I attended a conference on cosmology organized by the Jesuits at the Vatican. The Catholic Church had made a bad mistake with Galileo when it tried to lay down the law on a question of science […] At the end of the conference the participants were granted an audience with the pope. He told us […] we should not inquire into the big bang because that was the moment of creation and therefore the work of God. I was glad then that he did not know the subject of the talk I had just given. […] I had no desire to share the fate of Galileo, with whom I feel a strong sense of identity, partly because of the coincidence of having been born exactly 300 years after his death! (p. 116)

The first passage treats the coincidence rather parenthetically, giving topic status to Dirac's work; still, it might lead us to expect a mention of Dirac in the blurb, which, as I remarked, was not the case.

The second passage is more interesting, since it mentions the "coincidence" in the context of a much more elaborated parallel, namely of Galileo and Hawking both holding views contradicting Church doctrine. The prospect of "sharing the fate of Galileo" must be a personal symbolic fantasy -- as if the Inquisition were still in power today, or the Church had any authority left to unseat or even arrest an eminent scientist, and one in a non-Catholic country at that. Hawking is evidently resymbolizing his professional success as a high-risk situation, and possibly working though some feelings of guilt and paranoia.[4]

A conjecture commonly aired in the press when the book appeared, was that Hawking inserted the biographies because he wants to be seen as the peer and successor of these three scientists and no others (e.g. Adler & Lubenow, 1988, p. 40). But if so, Hawking should have written three uniformly laudatory pieces showing determined scientists valorously triumphing over doubt and dissent to bring forth "modern physics." Yet the tenor and thematics of the pieces are conspicuously ambivalent and diffuse. The major unifying theme is neither scientific achievement nor modern physics, but interpersonal conflict between each scientist and his own peculiar antagonists. In the first two biographies, the antagonists have no names (unless we include "Hitler"). For Einstein, they were "colleagues," "an anti-Einstein organization," "one man," and "Nazi militia"; for Galileo, they were "the Catholic Church," "Aristotelian professors," "ecclesiastical authorities," "the pope," and "the Inquisition." Notice that both galleries of antagonists unite repressive political groups with academicians, presumably including other physicists of the times: "colleagues" and "professors" are displayed in agreement with "Nazis" and "the Inquisition."

In Galileo's case, the antagonists were responding to his scientific work, and their motives were at least understandable: the defense of religious and scientific orthodoxy in an unsettled age. In Einstein's case, in contrast, the antagonists were responding to his political sentiments, pacifism and zionism, which are presented as the real (and irrelevant) targets behind the "attack" on "his theories." These motives classify the antagonists as overemotional agents of warmongering and Anti-Semitism and thereby minimize or exonerate Einstein's own inconsistency, which dominates the biography both despite and because of the energy exerted to resolve it: opposing war, then advocating "the nuclear bomb" at the decisive moment, and then again "warning of the dangers of nuclear war" after his fateful appeal had been "taken seriously." Einstein is symbolized as essentially innocent and humane, but driven back and forth by pressure from others whose motives were decidedly less respectable than his own.

Newton's antagonists, however, not only have names but perfectly respectable cognitive motives. In fact, the portrayal suggests they were the victims of Newton's own "talents for deviousness and vitriol." One former "provider" of "much-needed data" had his work "seized," indeed "stolen," and was denied all credit in Newton's book. A contemporary who had "independently developed calculus" was "officially accused of plagiarism," which, the narrative seems to suggest, led to his "death" from a "broken heart" -- broken by Newton, who "took great satisfaction" in the achievement.[5] The sketch insistently foregrounds the excessive quality of Newton's maneuvers and vindictiveness. Against this background the final anecdote may have an slyly symbolic quality; Newton persecuting falsifiers ("counterfeiters"), but in order to gain a "lucrative" reward and to "use his talents for deviousness and vitriol in a more socially acceptable way," which implies a retrospective condemnation of his earlier actions as socially unacceptable.

As we see, it is hard to extract from the three biographies the edifying moral that great scientists tend to be innocently persecuted for their revolutionary discoveries. That moral applies only to Galileo, while Einstein's conflicts were scarcely relevant to his work in physics, and Newton's were more an artifact of his own aggressive-vindictive personality. An alternative implied moral might be that the social and general benefits of scientific progress outweigh the personal and specific events of the scientist's life, which, in these portrayals, were generally harrowing or distasteful. Support for such a moral could be found in the final phrases of the first two sketches: the aphorism of Einstein about "the present" versus "eternity," and foreshadowed "genesis of modern physics" thanks to Galileo.

There may well be a symbolic value in having the three sketches placed out of the logical and chronological order, which would be first Galileo, then Newton, then Einstein, each coming after and building on the work of the predecessor. Instead, the most negative sketch comes as the last word, leaving the whole book to end with the ominous phrase "death on the gallows," which might link back to Hawking's fantasy of being condemned by the Inquisition. This placement disdains the opportunity to conclude the book on a much brighter note with one of the end phrases of the other two sketches: "something for eternity" or "the genesis of modern physics."

If we survey the valorized expressions we find another curious trend. In the first biography, thematic dominance, at least in terms of the frequency of mention, is assigned to the negative emotions of other people regarding Einstein. Here too, Hawking is conspicuously insistent. We are told that Einstein's actions "did little to endear him," "did not make him popular," "made it difficult for him," made him "once more unpopular," and "won him few friends." In a more violent vein, he "came under attack," had his "house raided" and "his bank account confiscated," and had people "incited to murder him." The retrospective judgment is again bleak: that "Einstein's efforts toward peace probably achieved little that would last." The quote at the end -- that "politics is for the present, but an equation is something for eternity" -- could be read as a belated restitution for the dark portrayal and the lack of "lasting achievement," but is heavily outweighed, both in length and in emotional impact; even the innocuous phrase "a life divided" begins to seem disquieting. Or, more deviously, one could see some strange poetic justice in Einstein's persecution as retribution for his uneven role in "the politics of the nuclear bomb," a phrase which is placed in the subject position of the opening sentence and thus tends to function as a dominant theme.

If Einstein's portrait begins with a hint of death, Galileo's begins with an explicit mention of "birth" in the opening sentence, whereas the "renowned conflict" is pushed into the second sentence. Moreover, Galileo is portrayed as generally consistent ("believed [... ] since early on," "remained a faithful Catholic," "his belief in the independence of science had not been crushed"). The two "acquiescences" were extorted, one gathers, under threat of death as a heretic. We should note the express statement that he had "believed Copernican theory" "since early on" but "publicly supported him only after "finding evidence," which further sets him apart from his contemporaries, for whom evidence was irrelevant to belief.

In marked contrast to Einstein, whose popularity and professional successes had been passed over in the preceding biography in order to foreground his "unpopularity," Galileo is said to have enjoyed "wide support outside the universities," and his "book was immediately greeted throughout Europe as a literary and philosophical masterpiece." In addition, we hear of no damaging effects of Galileo's inconsistencies under Church pressure; even the term "acquiesced" seems tranquil, a minimal gesture of concession to "commands," without dangerous consequences comparable to the spectre of world extinction by "the nuclear bomb." Whereas Galileo took the bright view that "man could hope to understand how the world works," his antagonists are associated with emotionally negative states: "annoyed," "afraid," "regretted."

But if the second biography seems brighter than the first, the third seems irretrievably darker. The protagonist's "unpleasant" nature is placed in thematic first position, followed by valorized, often painful expressions like "notorious," embroiled," "heated disputes," "clashed," "mortal enemy," "incensed," "revenge," "serious dispute," and "major row." His victims were the objects of such actions as "force," "seized," "stolen," "officially accused," and "breaking of the heart," and, as a fitting climactic finale, "sent to their death on the gallows." The sub-theme of isolation returns with renewed force in the repeated assertions that Newton's support was largely manufactured by himself and "published in the name of friends" or else "anonymously." If we were left skeptical before about Einstein having so many enemies, we might now wonder how such a selfish, conceited reprobate could have had any "friends" left to hide behind. Evidently, both biographies have resymbolized historical content in ways intended to intensify the bleakness of the scientist's situation.

We therefore must reject the simple suggestion of the press that the appended biographies were inserted to create a gallery of scientific excellence for Hawking to join, just as we must reject the idea that he was merely providing cognitive content about science. Instead, we get three visions of science in some of its more dubious and emotion-arousing aspects: being drawn into warfare technology, publicly caving into pressure from intolerant authorities, and serving the self-aggrandizing cravings of the scientist himself.

Yet three coincidences in the dust-jacket blurb and the mention of two of them in the main text suggest that Hawking does see himself intimately associated with his three predecessors. The ambivalent and uneasy qualities of the biographies might then be read as displaced resymbolizations of himself, plus a castigation of his own aspirations to claim such an association. Borrowing on his extended parallel to Galileo, we might conclude that the three biographies represent Hawking's symbolic inquisition on himself through three surrogate figures. Just as the Inquisition relied on torture, the sketches show their respective protagonists in various forms of torment, some from the domain of popular ressentiment (for Einstein), but mostly from official orthodoxies both inside and outside the scientific academies. The lack of an official Inquisition today -- whence the fantasy quality of Hawking's account of his audience with the pope -- may have spurred him to conduct his own displaced one.

Consider in this connection the final passage of the main text, which offers a euphoric vision of "a complete theory" whereby

we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason -- for then we would know the mind of God. (p. 175)

In Galileo's day, such a declaration would have gotten Hawking hustled off to the stake or the gallows, and might well have shocked or irritated his three predecessors, two of whom he portrays as deeply religious in the sketches. In the main text, Hawking mentions Einstein's deference to "God" as a main motive for rejecting quantum theory (p. 56), and notes the "official" approval of "the big bang model" by "the Catholic Church" (p. 47). Newton's retention of the "idea of an absolute God" (p. 18) as the non-intervening originator of the lawful universe is significant in view of Hawking's own attempts leave room for such a position, as we shall see in a moment.

Indeed, the final passage implies a resymbolized enactment of the usurpation of divine knowledge, readily associated with the original sin and the fall of man, and the fall of Lucifer-Satan as well. (Compare the remark that St. Augustine's "Hell" was for "people who asked such questions" as "'What did God do before he created the universe?'," p. 8.) Having raised a subconsciously blasphemous vision, Hawking may have felt unable to leave it as the last word, and his biographies could have had the psychic function of an immediate symbolic self-judgment through proxies whom history has already vindicated.

That Hawking is keenly conscious of his work's implications for religious doctrine is revealed by frequent references to "God" or the "creator" in the main text. In most of these, Hawking stops short of admitting any genuine conflict, e.g. (emphases added):

one could still imagine that God created the universe at the instant of the big bang, or even afterward in such a way as to make it look as though there were a big bang (p. 9)

An expanding universe does not preclude a creator, but it does place limits on when he might have carried out his job! (p. 9)

Some people […] regard the question of the initial situation as a matter for metaphysics or religion. They would say that God, being omnipotent, could have started the universe off any way he wanted. That may be so, but it appears that he chose to make it evolve in a very regular way according to certain laws. (p. 11)

Science seems to have uncovered a set of laws that tell us how the universe will develop with time […] These laws may have been originally decreed by God, but it appears that he has since left the universe to evolve according to them but does not intervene. (p. 122)

The whole history of science has been the gradual realization that events do not happen in an arbitrary manner, but that they reflect an underlying order which may or may not be divinely inspired. (p. 123)

One can take this either as evidence of a divine purpose in Creation and the choice of the laws of science or as support for a strong anthropic principle [i.e. that "there are many different universes, each with its own laws of science"] (p. 124f).

Suppose that God decided that the universe should finish in a state of high order but that it didn't matter what state it started in. (p. 146)

if one likes. one could ascribe this randomness to the intervention of God, but it would be a very strange intervention: there is no evidence that it is directed toward any purpose. (p. 166)

The cumulative import of these passages with the hedges and conditionals I highlighted would be that Hawking is obsessively anxious to leave open a reconciliation between scientific and religious accounts of the creation by resymbolizing both of them as instantiations of a higher or even universal order. The blasphemous corollary that science could enable us to "know the mind of God" is portrayed as a key point in the pope's admonition of Galileo (p. 180), but Hawking keeps it in the background of his own book until the very final stages. Then, he appears to have been, to borrow Milton’s phrase, "surprised by sin" and left in a troubled state wherein the three appendices could allow him to symbolically castigate himself.

Another explanation could be that the biographies symbolize not just a conflict of faith, but a conflict in science between Hawking and his own contemporaries. On several occasions (far fewer than the references to God), the main text does refer to some skepticism he encountered:

There was a lot of opposition to our work, partly from the Russians because of their Marxist belief in scientific determinism, and partly from people who felt that the whole idea of singularities was repugnant and spoiled the beauty of Einstein's theory. However, one cannot really argue with a mathematical theorem. So in the end our work became generally accepted (p 50).

The […] idea aroused a lot of opposition initially because it upset the existing viewpoint […] When I first announced the results of my calculations […] was greeted with general incredulity. At the end of my talk, the chairman of the session, John G. Taylor of Kings College, London, claimed it was all nonsense. He even wrote a paper to that effect. However, in the end, most people, including John Taylor, have come to the conclusion that black holes must radiate like hot bodies (p. 112)

I must admit that in writing this paper I was motivated partly by irritation with Bekenstein, who I felt, had misused my discovery [ ... ] However it turned out in the end that he was basically correct, though in a manner he had not expected. (p.104)

Like the references to God, these passages maintain a generally conciliatory tone, especially in the happy endings when everyone else comes round to Hawking's view, or, failing that, when a new and "not expected" conception proves "correct." Narrated this way, these setbacks bear scant resemblance to the bitter persecution inflicted on Einstein and Galileo, or that inflicted by Newton on other scientists.

A third explanation might be that the biographies symbolize a psychological splitting of Hawking's own personality into several sides. One scheme might be a lighter side of equal persistence in both scientific and religious faith (Galileo), a middle side of well-intentioned but ineffectual "outspokenness" and of forced involvement in nuclear warfare (Einstein), and a darker side of excessive and deliberate conflict for personal glory and gain (Newton). This explanation makes the unevenness of the three portrayals appear particularly strategic, and makes it unlikely that they could be unified unless the personality split could be overcome or "healed." Potential grounds for unification are implausible for several reasons. First, none of the sketches mentions the relatedness among the theories of the three scientists. Second, as if in symbolic emphasis, they are all confined: Einstein deterred from crossing international borders, Galileo forbidden to leave his own house, and Newton as "Warden" (a term suggesting a prison) shut up in the (doubtless heavily guarded) "Royal Mint." Third, the scope seems to shrink progressively: Einstein concerned with "international relations," Galileo with the Italian situation, and Newton with narrow circles like the "Royal Society," the "Royal Observatory," and "Cambridge." Each has an avenue of escape: Newton to "Parliament," Einstein to "the presidency of Israel," and Galileo to the whole of "Europe," but only in Galileo's case does this escape manage to legitimate his role as scientist, not as politician. And finally, the concern for other people shrinks: Einstein was concerned for all humanity, Galileo's for the conscience of scientists and believers, and Newton's only for himself.

A different split, namely between the cognitive and the emotive content of scientific discourse, is possibly reconciled here. The three biographies foreground the emotional experiences of the three scientists and their contemporaries well beyond the degree of conventional scientific discourse. The resymbolizations might thus function as a restitution, conscious or unconscious, of this usually neglected aspect and as a tribute to Hawking's own search for a human balance. Einstein followed his emotions most truly and energetically, while Galileo repressed his emotions and "acquiesced," and Newton's emotions were released in gratuitous aggression and "unpleasantness."

A Horneyan interpretation in terms of the various versions of the "self" postulated in third force psychology was suggested to me by Dr. Bernard J. Paris. The three portraits might correspond to the "idealized self" one wishes to be, the "actual self" one presumes to be, and the "despised self" one is afraid of being. Paris proposed that Einstein represents the "ideal" in fearlessly pursuing both his work and his politics without compromise, whereas Galileo, by recanting, showed greater weakness. Newton certainly makes a good candidate for the "despised self," and some comment appeared in the press about Hawking's own "self-righteous streak" "that some colleagues find mettlesome" (Adler & Lubenow, 1988, p. 42). However, as we saw, the book itself offers scant evidence of such a streak in respect to critics and colleagues, unless the Newton portrait itself is the displaced -- and hence psychically unblocked -- symbolization of the trait. The Horneyan scheme would at least make sequence of the portraits appear natural: one hastens to display the ideal self and postpones confronting the despised self.

If we do see the biographies as a splitting, these interpretations and resymbolizations might allow us to appreciate why the main psychic drift created by the sequential placement moves away from positive values toward negative ones. The alternative account, a zero-hypothesis stating that the sequence is accidental and non-significant, seems at least psychoanalytically naive or evasive when a sequencing in terms of chronological order and scientific influence would have been so obvious. In the actually selected order, time is out of joint, and in a "history of time," such a discrepancy is hard to consider insignificant.

Indeed, it is hard to imagine a mind like Hawking's doing anything at random. Having spent decades sifting though the most abstract materials for implications and contradictions, he is hardly likely to compose his own exposition in a thoughtless fashion. However, we also do not see him exalting the cognitive aspect by restricting his symbolizations to a non-evaluative recitation of facts and ideas. We can therefore assume that additional symbolic dimensions, of precisely the kind usually discounted in scientific discourse, are being exploited here.

A psychoanalytic approach can suggest some of these dimensions and some possible motives for strategies of symbolization, such as a need to work through and balance personal idiosyncratic meanings and public scientific meanings. To be consistent with my own arguments, I cannot claim biographical correctness or truth for the suggestions advanced here. Instead, the "case study" has been intended as a demonstration of the activities of resymbolizing as an occasion for negotiating symbolic dimensions in ways that can bring private and public meanings into an active and productive complementarity.




*An earlier version of this paper was circulated and presented at a September 1989 meeting of the Group for Applied Psychology at the University of Florida. The discussion was most helpful for composing this new version.

[1] In retrospect, Freud's early mechanistic metaphorics of psychic causalities in terms of hydraulic engineering ("forces," "pressures," etc.) seem reasonably compatible with the psychological metaphors of the time, such as Charles Spearman's vision of the mind as an engine. But since the whole scene was so mechanistic then, such similarities between metaphorical conceptions might not have attracted much notice.

[2]  Suggested by John Black of Yale University in a review of Beaugrande (1980).

[3]  Pilot studies of this issue in the field of literary theory and linguistics can be found in Beaugrande (1988a) and (1991a), respectively.

[4]  Indirect evidence might be seen in the ominous undertones of author's fictionalized illustrations. To portray the effects of black holes -- his most famous area of study -- Hawking repeatedly imagines scenarios in which human "astronauts" are "torn apart" (pp. 87ff, 112). The possibility of "traveling into the past" "close to naked singularities" is imagined as a threat to "life": "someone might go into the past and kill your father or mother before you were conceived!" (p. 89). The fate of "rays of light" in the "event horizon" is compared to "running away from the police and just managing to keep one step ahead but not being able to get clear away" (p. 99). The event horizon" itself is likened to "the shadow of impending doom" (p. 100).

[5]  Newsweek rescued Newton by summarizing Hawking's sketch as a portrayal of "Newton's campaign to keep Leibniz from grabbing the credit" (Adler & Lubewnow, 1989. 40), which totally shifts the blame to the victim.




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