• Beam of Darkness

Neuropsychoanalysis #3: A Taxonomy of Drives, Instincts and Affects

First off let's just have a quick recap from the last posts:

  • The Brainstem or Freudian ID contains affect or drives.

  • Drives are unconscious but feelings are not.

  • Feeling is the bedrock consciousness.

  • The brainstem is the font of consciousness.

  • Most of the cortex, the Freudian Ego, is unconscious

Now let's turn to the 7 Pankseppian Affective Drives.

We are embodied creatures that have needs, these needs are deviations of our homeostasis. We have basic affective mechanisms. Such as disgust, so we know what to eat or thirst or sleep. It's worth pointing out that there is not a black and white distinction between bodily and emotional process. In nature there is a gradation, so in a sense this taxonomy is artificial. There are no sharp lines in nature.

We are going to follow the Jans Panksepp taxonomy.

These are the most widely known amongst neuroscientists and have been classified using electrode stimulation. Panksepp found the same circuits are universal in humans. The same thing applies to animals. These are the most basic kinds of emotions.Then more complex emotions are built on top. These needs have to met and if not we are in trouble, biologically speaking. These are the needs that patients have trouble meeting, this is the origin of psychopathology.

Psychotherapists are doctors of feelings.

What are these innate natural emotional needs?

(never trust an analyst when they say...) In no particular order....

1. Lust, the sexual instinct

This drives evolution. Even plant biology. We have to survive to reproduce. But wait! Before you start going all bio reductionist on me I'll just point out that our genetic drive for reproduction is not the same as our psychosexual life.

People have all manner of sexual activity and I feel safe in saying most of it doesn't lead to reproduction.

Our sex life is about pleasure.

This is the dividing line between biology and psychology.

Psychology is about subjectivity.

The being of the body rather than about the body.

The internal subjective perspective of the individual subject.

So the observational perspective of psychology is the subjective.

The mind is understood first and foremost as subjective.

A biologist might say 'listen brain guy do you know why there is pleasure attached to sex? Because you are being rewarded for evolutionary activity! The reason being that on average this will keep the species going by doing that squirty thing.'

But from the subjective perspective you don't know that. You aren't thinking 'I know I'll put that thing in that or that up there or this in that or whatever' because you're not conscious of your sex drive. All you know is that it feels nice. All we have is the feeling. The pleasure. Behind the feeling lies all the evolutionary knowledge.

The drive in unconscious.

The feeling is not.

A different example could be eating chocolate. Why would you do a thing like that?! Because it feels nice of course! It’s a bodily pleasure! But from a biological perspective chocolate has high energy content. So evolutionary speaking it's very precious. But we only know that it's yum. We aren't looking at chocolate and having a feeling of 'high energy content must consume'.

We look at it and go 'omg delicious.

I wAnT ThAt 4 tHa yUmSZ.'

We do not know about the design principles around drives.

Without going on a tangent about gender and sexual normativity it's interesting to note the circuitry for sex in the brain has both male typical and female typical circuitry. We all have both. The default brain is female. So if we are going to turn out to be male typical brain there is an alteration.

You start out in utero with both, then one aspect becomes more emphasised. This happens by degrees. It happens over 4 successive stages. And that depends on chromosomes. On the X (male) there is a sequence that produces TDF (testies determining factors which changes ovary’s into gonads). Then testosterone is produced in greater amount to maculinise the body (8-10 weeks). The cliterous become a penis. The vulva becomes a scrotum.

During this process there is one part that is not maculinised.....

...the brain!

The brain stays female! Then at the end of the second trimester the testicles produce testosterone and the brain is masculinsed. But this is done to a degree. The brain and body are not alined in masculinisation. There are gradations of body and mind in masculine and feminine. This all happens before you are born. I'm going to park this topic and get back to sex.

We do have innate prediction to relive sexual tension such as masturbation or the lordation reflex or the mounting reflex and the exposing of genitals. But that's it. The rest of it we have to learn. This is why it is an emotional need that we have negotiate with other people. The gap is what we have to negotiate. This is why there is such a wide range of things that we do.

Psychobiology is the bedrock but then we have to learn from experience.

2. Seeking, a desire of desires

This is a a kind of foraging system.

Every drive plugs into the seeking system. It's like a carrier of drives. It is object seeking. The feeling this generates is optimistic.. 'Hello world!' It's exploratory and interactive. Maybe something like Melanie Klein's like epistemophilic instinct.

Every basic need activates seeking. Hungry? Seek food. So this is how you then bestow meaning upon the world based on your needs. It is driven by other needs. It is driven by dopamine. It’s why dopamine is important to learning. It is an appetitive pleasure not a consummative pleasure. It is looking for novel and uncertainty. An interesting thing to note is that the seeking drive is constantly active. Even during sleep.

Mark Solms has an interesting theory of dreams and sleep both from empirical study and on a theoretical level. He discovered when the seeking system is severed in people they can’t dream. This subsequently reduces psychotic symptoms. It reduces motivation. Dreaming can be seen then as a positive psychotic symptom. If you can produce dreams you can produce hallucinations. Some of this starts to bring a Freudian notion of dreams as wish fulfilment back to the centre of dream theory.

I'll go into this in another post.

The seeking drive is probably the closest drive to Freud's libido. Though he made the error of combining it with lust. Of course it can be combined with lust but not exclusively so. Other needs activate it too. Freud thought they were all one thing but they are different. Different chemistry and circuitry. So Freud found the seeking drive but it needs some differentiation. It's worth noting he was banging a lot of coke when he was thinking about the seeking drive.

This is our most fundamental drive.

It is the most ancient.

It undergirds the other drives.

3. Rage, frustration

This is 'fight' from the that 'fight/flight' thing you learnt as a kid. Turns out they are different systems. This isn't simply aggression. Aggression is complicated. This is hot rage. Hot aggression. When you go full Altered Beast. All mammals have these systems. Again this is an affective feeling of hot rage. The differentiation of types of rage could have a clinical

clinical relevance. Ie. is this affect a hot aggression? or something more cool, considered and predatory? Not that this is how a psychotherapist would be thinking in the room. I want to stress again none of this is exacting. Our subjectivity is not biologically reducible. This is not behaviourism.

You cannot understand subjectivity in the molecule.

4. Fear

This is part one of anxiety. There are two types. This is 'flight'. This is the anxiety of risk to life and limb. This is when you see the mystery man from lost highway video taping you.

This is GTFO of here RN!

Fear anxiety is different to....

5. Panic

This is separation anxiety. This is about loss of the object. We can think of Bowlby's work on the subject. This regulates our mu opiods. It is our first addiction, mummy is our first addiction. By mummy I mean our primary caregiver. A baby literally suffers withdrawal symptoms when the care giver is removed. As seen in the upsetting video from 1952 - A two year old goes to hospital. This is manifest in distressed vocalisations. Separation distress is different from fear anxiety, we cry out rather than flee. We can think about this in regards to the separation cascade:

The first phase is protest behaviour. Calling for the separated object. Screaming. Crying: 'Mummy! Where are you!'.

The second phase is despair. You give up calling. Depression is switched on.


Well biologically there is a cost benefit analysis over time the chance of mummy hearing you are lessened. If you continue calling out you are also announcing your vulnerable state to predators, so the best thing to do is to just give up. It also saves metabolic resources.

These are chemical systems, they are anatomical systems. A low dose of opiates modulates our separation anxiety. People with opiate addictions are modulating their separation anxiety. But wait! Do not going bio reductionist on me again! You can't understand this without object relations. You can't just tinker with the chemistry and think you’ve done the job because these systems are for psychological relations.

If the cortex is working properly then the needs are met. With drugs we are suppressing the symptom which is causally linked to the need. Even the DSM concedes depression follows loss. We can trace this back to Freud who began the object relations conversation in Mourning and Melancholia. This is of course is treated by psychiatrists using anti depressants. I am not anti pharmacological, drugs are very important and often vital, but rather I am pointing out they are symptomatic treatments and not causal ones.

The task of emotional maturation is how to meet all these needs amongst themselves and in relation to other humans. So you can you see there is a drive conflict between pair bonding and seeking novelty. Later in life you look for mummy, you find her, but you also need to have sex with her? This is complicated. Wait there's other people to have sex with too? But wait mummy will be angry? Then I lose mummy? No! I'll have sex with mummy? But what about the other people they look really great... but wait what about mummy? THIS IS COMPLICATED. This is life. How to meet your conflictual needs in relation to the other.

6. Care, Nurturing

This one is pretty obvious in that it's about our intrinsic need to care for others. Sorry Ayn Rand. We have an instinctual prediction of concern. Interestingly about 80% of us instinctually cradle a baby on our left hand side when we pick it up. This is thought to have something to do with our want to place it near our left visual field and right hemisphere. I wonder what Bion would have made of that. Perhaps unsurprisingly this drive is related to levels of estrogen which is on average higher in the female brain, especially in pregnant women.

7. Play

Perhaps the most interesting discovery within our pre conceptual needs and the one that has massive implications for understanding ourselves and the work of psychotherapy. All of us have to play. Infant play starts with an invitation - think about a dog bowing to another and then running off or a child and their many complicated forms of invitation. In play something called the 60/40 rule has been observed. The 60/40 rule stipulates: when you play one of you becomes dominant the other becomes submissive. But the dominance of one can only occur for 60% of the time, it has to alternate. It’s all about taking turns. If the submissive participant doesn’t get about 40% dominance of the play then a boundary is crossed and the play ends. And yes most play ends in tears.

Kids game are heirarchies and the exploration of such in a play simulacrum.

This is the most pro social of all the instinct. It’s in the best instincts of the groups that the hierarchy is stable but it can’t be an autocracy otherwise the participants get disgruntled and the play breaks down. There has to be something in it for everyone. We can all remember the school bully. Someone who hasn't worked out the relational aspect to play, someone who only asserts dominance. No one wants to play with this guy. This guys is no fun.

'It is in playing and only in playing that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self' - Donald Woods Winnicott

Play is is all about taking into account the needs of the other. This is where empathy comes about through learning. Everyone has mirror neurons , this is just a reflex, beyond this you have to sense the mind of the other. The modulation of your own needs in relation to the other is how we are able to maintain an episode of play. But when that boundary is crossed then the play breaks down. This boundary is only so far as can I go in relation to the other, and when it is breached then it is no longer play. It is real.

Take for example a bit of classic doctors and nurses. I'm the doctor and you're the patient, that person over there, they are the nurse. It's ok we can switch over soon! We start playing and everything's going great: I'm doing check ups, diagnosing and prescribing you disgusting things. But then as part of this play I tell you to wait in an 'operating room' (in this case a wardrobe). Now I lock the wardrobe and wander off for an hour. Well I think we can agree that's the play well and truly busted. We aren't playing anymore we are in a very different and pretty unpleasant realm. Understandably you're going be upset about this and certainly think twice about playing with me again. Also please note the nurse did nothing to help either. She left with me.

Play has a risk taking dimension.

Like all the other instincts play begins in early childhood but it doesn't end there.

The need to play remains always. The instinct for play is what Winnicott speaks about extensively. He described play as ‘the continuous evidence of creativity, which means aliveness’. His is a very complex theory of play and we can see his work as having identified an innate importance. Play modulates all of your drives. Solms remarked that someone who can't play is in serious psychic trouble. We can consider that a very full form of play is under taken in the oedipal position where many conflictual drives are met. Rage, care, lust, the conflict between these needs within the family and the meditating of them can been seen as a form of play.


I've tried to put together across these three posts a general summary of the weekend with Mark Solms. Some of it is verbatim. My head is swimming with the clinical implication of all these new neuroscientific developments and I'll go through some of his thoughts as well as my own in later posts. I am incredibly wary of the potential retreat into biological reductionism that some might take from these findings. Mark Solms himself has stressed numerous times an opposition to this and I myself am wary of how so often people misunderstand the relationship between our organic selves and our subjective selves. Like any meta psychology of quality these ideas should be generative to the psychoanalytic encounter and not a closed system. To do so would miss the point of the dynamic system that is the human subjective experience. They raise more questions of the nature of the encounter or can be used as a vantage point from which to think. Like a scaffold. In a similar way Bion's theories of Alpha Function or container/contained offer this assistance. These are not methodologies that are imprinted onto a session but something to help us think about what might be happening within the quagmire of psychotherapy.

Psychoanalysis and Neuroscience are two distinct fields and are observing things from two positions; the objective and the subjective. In psychoanalysis we are still thinking about the abstraction of a human mental life and not the organic movement of a neuron. Though with advances in neuroscience can see how one effects the other. I am early on in my psychoanalytic journey and earlier still in my explorations of neuropsychoanalysis. Humans mental lives are incredibly complicated and even if a new freudian drive theory is back the psychodynamics of people's drive conflicts, as well as their reality testing into the material realm, remains front and centre in the analytic encounter. As was said before there are no sharp lines in nature but anything that might help in the very deep thicket of psychotherapy is welcome. Furthermore there is something very appealing about these new drive conceptions as they offer a healing salve to the very fractured field of psychoanalysis. It potentially brings together the work of Bowlby and Bion, Winnicott and Klein, Freud and Laplanche and many others back into one happy family. Mark Solms' project is a huge one. To continue Freud's abandoned project; an attempt to bring psychoanalysis firmly back into the scientific fold as well as to create congruence across all analytic schools.

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