1. sept., 2014


Silvan S. TOMKINS in Affect Imagery Consciousness, The Complete Edition, Volume 1 and 2, Ed. Springer Publishing Company, New York, 2008.



INTRODUCTION: Consciousness and affect in Behaviorism and Psychoanalysis

P.3 We must study consciousness, what we have called the transmuting or reporting response, as psychologist have studied other responses. We must determine, empirically, the conditions under which messages become conscious, and the role of consciousness as part of a feed back mechanism. This is a critical problem for any theory of the human being.


« P.8 The possibility of error is the inherent price of any mechanism capable of learning. If we are able to learn perceptually, we will have to invoke a mechanism able to learn errors as well as correcting errors.”

 Note: It is not just consciousness in general that has been neglected, but the role of affect has also been grossly underestimated ( Tomkins p.4)


 « p.8 The individual must somehow select information to emphasize one sensory channel over another and focus on limited aspects of the incoming information within that channel. There is a large safety factor built into sensory system, but it represents safety only if it can be optimally used. Brunswick and Miller, among others, have sensitized us to the limitations of the human being in using all of his received information.”Note: the world changes over the time and so therefore the information it transmits. At any one moment in time the same transmitted sub-set of a pool of messages which has in fact varied from a receiver to another (Tomkins p.9)


“What the individual has duplicated (been aware of) must be preserved. The environment emits information about both enduring and changing aspects of itself from moment to moment. Any organism which is the recipient of such information is thereby more capable of maintaining its life and reproducing itself, but if limited to only this information it would be an eternally youthful being. It would look upon the world with continual surprise, and its competence would be sharply limited by its inherent information-processing capacity.  By an as yet unknown process some aspects of every conscious report duplicated in more permanent form. This is the phenomenon of memory storage. Not all the information, which bombards the senses, is permanently recorded. Rather, we think, it is that information which in the competition for consciousness has succeeded in being transmuted that is more permanently duplicated.”



“ Equally critical is the problem of information retrieval. Permanently preserved information would be of little utility unless it could be duplicated at some future time, as a report, or as a preconscious “guide” to future perception, decision an action. We have distinguished sharply the storage process as automatic an unlearned, from the retrieval process, which we think, is learned. Both are duplicating processes, but one is governed by a built in, unconscious mechanism, the other by a conscious feed back mechanism.” P.9



 “The inner eye, whether the recipient of information from the outside or from the inside,

is postulated to be active and to employ a feed back circuitry. (…) Matching the past involves retrieval skill as matching the present involves perceptual skill. Relating the past to the present is possible because these two skills are based on a shared mechanism which can turn equally well outward to the senses and inward to memory and thought.” P. 10



 Before a transmitted message can become conscious we have assumed a transformation process was necessary. We have labeled this process transmuting and the conscious message we have called a report. (…) We propose that this is achieved by a translation process.

On the basis of this theory we successfully predicted the conditions under which the Image

Would be revealed- (…)

 The visual messages, which constitute the Images, which are translated into motor messages, become conscious.

pp. 10, 11


 “ (…) Much of psychopathology appears to be concerned with transmuting disabilities- the inability to become aware of the intolerable content and the inability to become unaware of the intolerable content. (…). For the most part we become conscious of what we want to know and we remain unaware of what we do not want to know” p.3

Silvan S. TOMKINS in Affect Imagery Consciousness, The Complete Edition, Volume 1 and 2, Ed. Springer Publishing Company, New York, 2008.




 “Some of the triggers to interest, joy, distress, startle, aggression, fear and shame are unlearned. At the same time the affect system is also capable of being instigate by stimuli. In this way human being is born biased toward and away from a limited set of circumstances and is also capable of learning to acquire new objects of interest and disinterest. By means of a variety of inherited releasers of these wanted or unwanted responses and their feedback reports, the human being is urged to explore and attempt to control the circumstances which seems to evoke his positive and negative affective responses. We say “ seem” because despite some invariant relationship between special releasers and special affects, the individual may or may not identify these releasers. (…) The price that is paid for this flexibility is ambiguity and error.

The individual may or may not identify the “ cause” of his fear and joy and may or may not learn to reduce his fear or recapture his joy. In this respect the affect system is not as simple signal system as the drive system. If the feedback of the response is motivating, then whatever maintains and reduces the affects also becomes equally motivating.

(…) the affect system assumes a central position in the motivation of man.”p.13


Note: “ It is certainly possible that natural selection, through differential reproductive success, could also have favored specific affective characteristics in man. It is our belief that such was indeed the case and that natural selection has operated on man to heighten three distinct classes of affect- affect for preservation of life, affect for people, and affect for novelty. (…) The human being is equipped with innate affective responses which bias him to want to remain alive and to resist death, to want sexual experiences, to want to experience novelty and to resist boredom, to want to communicate, to be close to and in contact with others of his species and to resist the experience of head and face lowered in shame” P.93 ( also quoted p.15)




“ It is our belief that natural selection, through differential reproductive success, favored specific motivational and behavioral characteristics in man. He appears to have inherited motives and matching capacities for the preservation of his life and for reproduction, for social responsiveness and for the exploration and the mastery of his environment. Each of these domains has been endowed with specific motives and capacities, which serve all of these demands. He wishes to remain alive and has some competence to implement this wish. He wants to learn and has some competence to do so. He is eager to be with and communicate with others and possesses the requisite competence. He is excited by sexual activity. He is biased towards life and death. He is biased towards novelty and mastery and against boredom and helplessness. He is biased toward excitement and joy in communion with others and against the distress of loneliness and the head lowered in shame in the presence of others.

The major mechanism for guaranteeing viability is the drive system.”

p. 17(CHAP 2 – Drive- Affect Interactions: Motivational information of time and place of response- when, where, what, to what)



The drive system in contrast to a specialized information mechanism  or a specialized motivational mechanism, provides motivational information-information which “drives” and a drive which “informs” at once.

Without such motivating information, the human being could not live. The basic nature of this information is of time, of place and of response- where and when to do what- when the body does not know otherwise how to help itself. P.18

(CHAP 2 – Drive- Affect Interactions: Motivational information of time and place of response- when, where, what, to what)

Silvan S. TOMKINS in Affect Imagery Consciousness, The Complete Edition, Volume 1 and 2, Ed. Springer Publishing Company, New York, 2008


 We conceive of the structure of the motivating mechanism as such a game that nature plays with the individual and herself. If nature “knows” the answer in advance she builds this information into the animal so that he knows enough to act appropriately without awareness or learning. If she knows only part of the answer she endows the organism with what she does know and leaves the rest to the individual to discover. In some cases, as with the need for air, nature knows the entire story in advance under a wide variety of conditions, but abdicates to the individual under special circumstances.




 The cry may be quite as distressing as the pain, which instigated it. The cry instigated by a drive may in turn maintain or even increase the intensity and the duration of the cry in the absence of continued drive stimulation. We are suggesting that affect serves the purpose of a general amplifier in the motivational system, intensifying the drive, which it accompanies. The drive mechanism ordinarily is conceived to lack nothing essential in intensity and motivational urgency. However, part of the seeming urgency of the drive state is, in fact, a consequence of an affective response, which ordinarily amplifies but may under certain conditions modulate, attenuate, interfere with, or even reduce, the primary drive signal p.26




(Interrelationship between Drives, Affects and Amplifiers)


The known relationship between drives, affects and amplifiers is complex enough.

What remains to be discovered will undoubtedly prove to be of such subtlety as to make our present models appear very gross. Amplification and attenuation influences both messages, which are sent and the nuclei, nerves and system, which send and receives then.

We should expect that these components will be capable of a variety of direct and indirect modulations so that they may contribute to the formation of ever-changing assemblies.


(…) Further this amplifier-attenuator system not only influences other structures but is itself capable of being amplified or attenuated by the cerebral cortex and by the autonomic systems, through moral stimulation via the blood stream and by sensory bombardment. P.58



. 1. Affects and the need for air:

“ Apart from psychopathology, the everyday breathing patterns of normal human beings are continually modulated by such affects as fear, joy, depression, grief, startle, distress and anger” p.27

  2. Affects and the hunger drive

“Disgust, fear, distress and apathy, depending on their intensity, will either modulate, mask, attenuate, interfere with or completely inhibit the hunger drive. (…) The human being is quick to learn to respond with disgust or even nausea to matters that have nothing to do with eating. 27

 Tomkins make the same observation while describing the sex drive and the pain drive:

“ The sexual drive in man is extraordinarily vulnerable to inhibition by negative affect “ p.32

 He also analyses “ the unresponsiveness to pain, not because of lack of affect, but rather because of competing affect which is concern with something other than pain” p.33

(CHAP 3 –) “Man is neither as free as he feels nor as bound, as he fears. There are some aspects of himself, as of his environment, which he may easily transform, some aspects that he may transform only with difficulty and others, which he can never transform. He is driven by motives which vary from those with minimal freedom, such as the need for air, to those with maximal freedom, such as the wish for excitement.”







 The problem of the free will can be translate in the problem of the relative degrees of freedom of the human being, compared with systems which have less power or with an ideal system which has more freedom. Within the human being we can determine the conditions under which he is least free and the conditions under which he attains his highest reach. All of these conditions are determinate and involve no conflict with the causality postulate. P.62




“ The freedom of a feedback system, we argue, should be measured

by the product of the complexity of its “ aims” and the frequency of their attainment.

A human being thus becomes freer as he wants grow and the capacities to satisfy them grow. Restriction either his wants or abilities to achieve them represents a loss of freedom.”





“ The human being is the most complex system in nature; his superiority over others animals is as much a consequence of his more complex analytical capacities. Out of the marriage of reason with affect there issues clarity with passion.

Reason without affect would be impotent, affect without reason would be blind.

The combination of affect and reason guarantees man’s high degree of freedom.





“ Without the capacity to turn affect both on and off for varying periods of time, the freedom to invest affect in one or another object, to shift affect investment, to overinvest affect, to liquidate such investment, or to find substitute investment would not be possible”p.70



“ Affects could be much more casual than any drive or much more monopolistic. By virtue of the flexibility of this system man is enabled to oscillate between fickleness of purpose or  affect finickiness and obsessive possession of his affective investments. Most of the characteristics, which Freud attributed to the Unconscious and to the Id, are in fact salient aspects of the affect system. It is, however, only the joining of affect to the high-powered

analyzer mechanism which can create such monomania as we find in romantic love, in the insatiable passions for sexuality, power, money, knowledge, excitement or creativity. Affects enable both insatiability and extreme lability, fickleness and finickiness.”p.72

Silvan S. TOMKINS in Affect Imagery Consciousness, The Complete Edition, Volume 1 and 2, Ed. Springer Publishing Company, New York, 2008.




Dealing with masochism and puritanism:


« There is literally no kind of object, which has not historically been linked to one, or another of the affects. Positive affect has been invested in pain and every kind of misery, and negative affect has been experienced as a consequence of pleasure and every kind of triumph of the human spirit. Masochism and puritanism are possible only for an animal capable of using his reason to govern his feelings. Thus he comes to be able to love death and hate life.(…)

Everyman has been puzzled for centuries at the irrationality of affect investment, that this one who has every reason in the world to be happy is miserable, whereas that one whose lot is unrelieved misery, seems nonetheless to be full of zest for life. In part such confusion is a derivative of the failure to understand the basic freedom of object of the affect system.”




 The first freedom between affects objects is their reciprocal interdependency.

(…) The logic of the heart would appear not to be strictly Boolean in form, but this is not to say that it has no structure. As Abelson and Rosenberg have shown, one can formalize the logic of the feeling, so long as one does not equate it with a particular algebra of thought.

(…) There are many ways of “knowing” anything. Pp.74-75




“Not only affects may be invested in every variety of psychological function and thereby produce the thinker, the man of action, the perceptual type or the man of feeling, but they may also be invested in others affects, intensify or modulate them, and suppress or reduce them.(…) The inhibition of aggression by fear is classic. Less common is the use of fear to inhibit expression of disgust.

At least one kind of interest (sexual) is commonly inhibited by fear. But general interest and curiosity can also be inhibited by overprotective parents who out of fear for the safety of their child discourage the child’s exploration by frightening him into passivity. The childish expression of joy is high in decibel value and as such annoying to adults. An aggressive parent may frighten the child out of expressing joy by a slap on the face or a threat of physical punishment.

On the positive side joy and excitement provide rewards, which enable human beings to counteract fear and distress and shame. Since the former positive affects are activated

By any sudden reduction of the latter, negative affects, one can learn to regard negative affect as a transitory state, a problem to be solved.” P.76




The memory of the past experience of affect with respect to any object, which has been linked, with that affect makes the individual the slave of his own construction. (…)

The vividness of past affective experience constrains and pushes the imagination in ways, which reduces its degrees of freedom. P.82





To the extent to which human beings become addicted to specific satisfiers, either in the case of drives or affects, substitutability of objects declines. Just as an American may find non-American food not a completely satisfying substitute for the satisfaction of hunger,

So a lover may find there is no love object than the beloved, a friend find there is no other friend quite like his oldest friend, a chilmd find there is no substitute mothers and fathers, a New Yorker find there is no other city. As addiction to specify objects grows, substitutability therefore declines. P.78



Today I understood the connection between freedom and detachment; love and addiction. Our bodies need sexuality as a plant seeks for water and sunlight… And if we substitute Love by Art for instance we can create “a new addiction” according to Tomkins. The problem is how we relate to the object of affect. It can be sex, it can be art, it can be whatever.  The more we are detached, the more we are free. If we choose to relate to someone is very different to be affectively dependent of that someone. In that way we choose to be faithful in marriage everyday. If our sexuality is compulsive it is an addiction as smoking or drinking, etc. If it’s a choice then instead of substituting it by something else, we have to learn to detach ourselves from the objects of affect, and behave as a subject facing others subjects; choosing to relate rationally to them , but not becoming addicted to them or substituting them by something else or  by someone else. So I think it is important to control our bodies sexual need, in order to choose when and why and with whom

we will have or not a love story and a sexual relationship. In that way to learn to be detached is an interesting spiritual teaching. The problem is that in Church very often people replace an addiction by another; the love of man by the fear of God, while we should build slowly trust in ourselves, in our own inner capacities, due to the the good and fair results, produced by our actions, based on human rights, for and with the others, and not because of an external and biased judgment



 Animal life like human life, is not exclusively a matter of tooth and claw. Fundamental as aggression and fear are, they do not exhaust the relevant vital affects either for man or animals. The decline of aggression in modern man and the atrophy of his adrenals, if such turn out to be his destiny, should not be taken as equivalent to a generalized decline in emotionality and vigor, as Richter suggests. Nor should the dominance of the brain in man be taken as a measure of his sweet reasonableness and his ascendancy. Man is vigorous and affectful, as well as intelligent. What is missing in the accounts of Richter and Crile are the remaining affects and their substrates- the affects that mediate social responsiveness and the affect, which mediate curiosity and social behavior.  (P.90 CHAP. 5)



  “The major source of the greater clarity and certainty of information about drives over affects is the fundamental difference in the innate degree of generality of the two systems. The specificity of the drive system is such that it instructs and motivates concerning where and when to do what, to what. This, specific information of time of place, of response and of object lends to the drive its peculiar visibility. An affect is inherently more general in structure. This increased generality greatly reduces the visibility and distinctness of the affect.” (…)

   “Affects are phenomenologically so soluble in every kind of psychic solution we must expect that the distillation of purified components will be rarely achieved by the individual who experiences the totality and pose formidable problems for the psychological anatomist who would dissect and separate the components.

Not only is there an ambiguity of place due to a variety of combinations of affects and other types of experience, but in addition the intimate relation between the site of the drive signal and the site of the consummatory response is peculiar to the drive system. A positive affect characteristically is self-rewarding and a negative affect is characteristically self-punishing.”


 Note: The stimuli, which activate an affect, which maintain it and which reduce it, may each be different and are not at the same site as the affective response itself. Consider first the plurality of sites of the affect activation. A child can be made to cry because he is hungry, because he is tired, because there is a diaper pin hurting him or because a stranger has just entered the room. In contrast with hunger, which is always activated by the same few sources, the cry of distress is more difficult to differentiate because the site of the activating stimulus is distinct from the site of the affective response and there are numerous distinct activating sites.  If pain or hunger or fatigue can distresses me then the complexes pain-distress, hunger distress, fatigue distress are phenomenologically somewhat distinct and the awareness of the underlying communality is more difficult to achieve. We have seen how difficult the measurement of pain is rendered by virtue of a variable affective component. The same difficulty will confront the investigator who attempts to isolate the affect from pain for the purpose of studying distress rather than pain. Affect then in contrast to the drive signal has activator with variable sites, which produce varying complexes so that the visibility of common affective component is reduced. P.93-98 Chap.6




In the case of affect the contribution of learning assumes a major significance. The innate affective response

Itself is usually so transformed that by the time the human being attains adulthood there are many different ways of being angry, or afraid, or distressed.p.100

(…) We learn not only to respond with inner feelings without the display of the innate, overt patterns of expression but also we learn the converse, to display affect we do not feel, as in dissimulation when we smile without feeling friendly, when we put on a sad face in the presence of another’s distress though we may feel not distress ourselves at the misfortune of the other, or we attempt to conquer inner feelings through an outward show of strength-the many varieties of whistling in the dark. P.101


 Note: Some important transformations;

1)  Habituation (of gunshot for instance)

2)  Miniaturization (anger may be miniaturized in a small contraction of the jaw muscles)

3)  Defensive accretion (the original response is suppressed and replaced by a substitute)

4)  Delay (avoidance)


There is a “ variable interdepence between affective response and the awareness of affective response.”p.103



 Music is the art form par excellence of the affects just because it can duplicate these subtle, complex, ever-changing combinations off affective components by analogy, through variations in sounds, which both mimic and evoke affects.p.105






In addition to the inherent difficulty of the problem of identifying the specific affects, it is further complicated by taboos on the observation of the phenomena. The face, particularly the eyes and the muscles around them, are the most important organs of expression and communication of affects. Yet looking directly into the eyes of the other is done easily only by the children. Eventually  the child is taught not to stare at the face of another human being, and to avoid interocular experience in particular. This taboo is so well learned that we are generally unaware of it. Its consequence, however, is no less serious for our knowledge off human affect than the eastern custom of wearing a veil over the face. We are forced to steal glances of the other and in varying ways to conceal our own face from the gaze of the other. The taboo is less serious for the scientific investigator especially if he may employ modern high-speed moving pictures cameras. Nonetheless insofar as he has internalized these taboos he is less prepared to study such phenomena in the first place, and if he elects to do so, less competent than he might otherwise have been. Our precise knowledge of the human face as an expressor and communicator of affects lags far behind our knowledge of its anatomy and physiology. P.106

 (…) In summary, the reduction of in the visibility of the affect system is a consequence of its innate variability, of its innate greater generality based on increased complexity of structure and of its greater modifiability by learning, as in suppression, habituation, miniaturization, affectivization, delay, avoidance, variable interdependence of awareness, combination of affects, taboos on observation, increased variety of objects and the variable named affects. P.111




“It is my belief that we must return to Charles Darwin’s classic ‘The expression of emotions in mans an animals’. We must pursue Darwin’s inquiries with the aid of the modern ultra-rapid moving picture camera. Modern photography has put into the hands of the investigator a time microscope, which can amplify facial responses to up to a million frames per second. Landis and Hunt employed shutter speeds up to 3.000 frames per second in their pioneer investigations of the startle pattern. They have provided a model

for the empirical study of affects which has been largely neglected.

Their research has made it clear that the speed of response of facial muscles is such that some responses, such as partial eyelid closures, are to fast to be seen by the naked eye, and that the patterning of both facial and gross bodily movements are so complex that one must have resort to repeated exposure of the same moving pictures if one is to extract the information which is emitted by human beings as they respond with affects in changes of facial and bodily movement. P. 114 Chap. 7


 From time immemorial the face has been recognized as an organ of prime value and a site of great expressiveness, of great potency, and of great vulnerability. (…) The faces of women have often been protected from view by the wearing of a veil. Face and loss of face

Still may symbolize general social status. No other part of the body

Has so captured imagination of men. There is a voluminous literature from earliest antiquity, which reveals an enduring preoccupation with the face, and particularly with the eye. The most ancient belief is that the eye of an evil one will injure wherever its gaze happens to fall. (…) the eye also has a long history as a handmaiden of love and sexuality, to arouse the other by ocular exploration and suggestiveness, and to protect from such looks by being turned away or by lowering the lids in modesty. (…)

There is a good reason to consider the possibility that the faces of the others might be an innate stimulus to at leas two “social” affects, the smile of joy and the lowering of the eyes in the face of shame.

p. 117 Chap.7



“ As we have noted before, the affect may be hidden in some other context constructed by language. When a mother, weary and harassed, reaches the end of her patience at the increasing noise emitted by her child, who is also overly tired and irritable, and utters through clenches jaws a brief discourse on the nature of man and morality, she provides a cover of impenetrable fog over both her own irritability, otherwise clearly written on her face, and the child’s distress evoked by fatigue, which might been equally clear had the mother been less harassed. Instead of fatigue, distress and aggression responding to fatigue, distress and aggression, a philosopher-housewife is cast in the role of peripatetic and the child in the role of an erring student. Under such condition the mother does not see and is not seen, and the child does not see his own affect or that of his mother. And yet the child is more often able

to see the mother’s affect than the mother is able to see the face of the child. As in the fable, the child is able to see that the king is naked because he knows no better. Before he has learned to clothe the immediacy of interfacial responses in the suits and dresses of formal language and philosophy, he is able to literally

see excitement, fear, disgust, distress, shame, joy and aggression

on the face of his mother and father when they may not be able to receive and correctly interpret the feedback from their own facial responses. In part this is also because contrary to the adult the child still stares into the face of others.” P.120



The role of the face in socialization has yet to be intensively investigated. Preliminary investigations I have conducted reveal that many of the crucial early interactions between parents and children

maybe understood as face-face attraction and identification, or face-to-face repulsion and dread avoidance. As an example a number of male adults reported to me that they were sufficiently influenced by the sight of the face of their father at moments when he exhibited intense excitement and joy in the pursuit of his life work that the contagion of this experience prompted a very early decision to follow in the foot steps of the father. Others have reported the same type of experience later in life in connection with inspiring teachers.

The point here is not that there was necessarily an intense personal relationship, but that the intensity of affect as it was revealed on the face of the model was critical in the contagious activation of similar interest in the observer. On the negative side there are equally clear instances that the prime object of dread in childhood is not only the voice of conscience, but even more the face which frightens, shames, and distresses the child. P.121 Chap. 7

Silvan S. TOMKINS in Affect Imagery Consciousness, The Complete      Edition, Volume 1 and 2, Ed. Springer Publishing Company, New York, 2008





The voice of conscience I am suggesting is the voice of a particular face who, in addition to speaking, is angry or shocked or disgusted or disappointed. These various negative affects reflected in the faces of parents constitute the negative facet of conscience. They are matched by a set of smiling, loving, admiring, interested faces.

The child task is in part to learn to evoke the positive faces and to avoid evoking or seeing negative faces. Not only the child is confronted with the task of maximizing positive facial interaction

and minimizing negative facial interaction, both within the inner self

In imagination and in fact, but the adult also, on close examination, appears to be held in the grip of imagined past and future facial interactions. Much of the dread as well as the magic of the adult imagination, his deepest fears and the exciting hopes which govern

And give direction to his life, revolve about imagined look-listens between the self and others. P.121 Chap. 7



The facial styles: “ may represent the enduring affect which is a consequence of either past goal attainment or deprivation. Thus a face may be permanently sad or distressed because of continuing deprivation of a whish for the communal excitement-excitement interactions; similarly the individual’s face may appear primarily in continuing excitement because he has in the past frequently attained his goal of a smile-smile interaction. (…) Thus a face may be characteristically lowered in shame with lowered eyelids because of expected failure in the attempt to evoke a positive sequence. The individual may not wish to feel shame-it is simply a consequence of the expected failure to achieve a positive goal. (…)

In short the facial style may represent fragments of achieving these goals, and reactions to the expected outcome of instrumental behavior in pursuit of future facial goals. These distinguishable components may in combination producing a resultant facial expression which is difficult to identify since it represents part goal, part expectation of outcome of instrumental activity, part reaction to the past, part reaction to the present and part expectation to the future. It is not infrequent that a face is half sad from past distress and half excited at future prospects. (…)

These styles represent resultants of quite complex components. At this point we wish only to call attention to the existence of facial styles, which are both as unique as the style of a composer, as complex and as invariant. Their relation to the underlying personality structure we have reason to believe is intimate and important. Pp. 122-123 Chap.7

Picture from Our Beautiful Planet FB.