At the beginning of the fourth and final volume of AIC, Tomkins surprises his reader. He announces that the prior three volumes have been but one-half of what he calls his “human being theory” (4:1). Having described drives, affects, scripts, various subcortical systems, and their interdependencies in these first three volumes, Tomkins turns to a topic that seems to have been on his mind from the first: cognition. He proposes that an examination of the cognitive system alongside his prior work on affects, drives, and neurology will be the basis for a general theory of personality. The work on affect and scripts, it seems, has been a “prolegomenon” (1) to this more expansive account of human psychology.
This announcement arrives as a surprise not simply because Tomkins appears to be turning from one topic (affect) to another (cognition) but because he is asking his reader to attend to a psychological process that, in the earlier volumes, he claimed has been consistently overvalued in psychological theory. Indeed, much of the rhetorical purchase of the first three volumes of AIC comes from Tomkins’s sustained and pointed critique of the dominance of cognition in psychological research. Volume 3, in particular, makes a strong argument that cognitive theory has become “imperialistic” (3:38)—in the wake of the so-called cognitive revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, psychology had become too focused on cognitive mechanisms. With cognitive theory in the ascendency (and behaviorism and psychoanalysis in retreat), many researchers came to see mind as coterminous with cognition, and the concurrent rise of new digital technologies (e.g., the increasing power of integrated circuits and the development of silicon chips) encouraged an identification of cognition and mind with a reductive mode of computation: “complex inner processes could be simplified and objectified” (4:4). Eventually, Tomkins argues, psychological researchers came to devalue the motivational nature of emotion, they operationalized cognition as a process that functions independently of affects and drives, and they placed cognition in an executive position—standing over and managing these other, ancillary psychological events.
Tomkins’s criticism of Stanley Schachter and Jerome Singer’s widely influential experiment about emotional states can be taken as exemplary of his concerns about the imperialism of cognitive theory in psychology. In 1962, Schachter and Singer argued that emotion could best be understood as a function of the cognitive appraisal of a physiological state:
An emotional state may be considered a function of a state of physiological arousal and of a cognition appropriate to this state of arousal. The cognition, in a sense, exerts a steering function. Cognitions arising from the immediate situation as interpreted by past experience provide the framework within which one understands and labels his feelings. It is the cognition which determines whether the state of physiological arousal will be labeled as “anger,” “joy,” “fear,” or whatever. (380)
They conclude that “cognitive factors are potent determiners of emotional states” (398). Tomkins was unpersuaded—epistemologically and phenomenologically. For him, emotion was more than simply the labeling of a physiological state:
Surely no one who has experienced joy at one time and rage at another time would suppose that these radically different feelings were really the same, except for different “interpretations” placed upon similar “arousals.” Only a science which had come to radically discount conscious experience would have taken such an explanation seriously. (3:44–45)
Tomkins contends that the cognitive theories that colonized psychology tend too much toward simplicity of explanation and are inclined to make sharp distinctions between the various subsystems of mind at the expense of reading for inter- and intrasystem affiliations: “our present generation of cognizers do not love affect less, but they do love cognition more and love it not wisely but too well” (3:48). That is, these cognitively oriented researchers came to position cognition in opposition to drives, they subsumed affect under mechanisms of appraisal, and they undertheorized the ways in which affects and drives and cognitions conjoin and disjoin.
In the light of these assessments, Tomkins’s turn toward cognition in AIC4 is likely to feel like something of a surprise. In the first volume of AIC, Tomkins describes the affect of surprise as a “general interrupter to ongoing activity . . . a circuit breaker” (1:498–99; see also chapter 5). That is, surprise will have the effect, like a special announcement (breaking news!) on the radio or TV, of interrupting the current program and orienting the individual’s attention away from one thing to another. If Tomkins’s turn to cognition in the final volume of AIC is a surprise, and if it orients our focus, for the moment, away from affects and drives and scripts, to what is Tomkins trying to draw our attention? What would he like us to consider now that we have been oriented in this new direction?
Tomkins is clear that his interests lie not with cognition per se as an idealized, autonomous, executive function but with a cognitive system and how it conjoins with affects and drives and scripts (or what he is now calling the motivational system). In AIC4, the cognitive system and the motivational system are each understood as just one-half of his human being theory. Moreover, each system has a distinctive function: the cognitive system is primarily involved in the transformation of information, whereas the motivational system is primarily involved in the amplification of information. However, just as we noted in the first chapter of this book that Tomkins makes a distinction between affects and drives only in the end to claim that such a distinction cannot hold, we note here that this distinction between a cognitive system and a motivational system is valuable for Tomkins precisely because it is unstable. In the first instance, the systems themselves are mosaics—Tomkins just as often refers to a set of cognitive subsystems as he does to a singular cognitive system, and the motivational system is everywhere disassembled into its constituent parts (affects and drives and auxiliary events like pain or reticular activation). In addition, it is common for Tomkins to distinguish between the cognitive system and the motivational system only then to gesture toward their inseparability:
Because of the high degree of interpenetration and interconnectedness of each part with every other part and with the whole, the distinction we have drawn between the cognitive half and the motivational half must be considered to be a fragile distinction between transformation and amplification as a specialized type of transformation. (4:7)
Tomkins’s description of these two imbricated halves of mind is exemplary of his predisposition (evident through all four volumes of AIC) to think always in terms of admixture, and it demonstrates the theoretical acumen that attention to commixture and composition and dislinking can deliver:
Cognitions coassembled with affects become hot and urgent. Affects coassembled with cognitions become better informed and smarter. The major distinction between the two halves is that between amplification by the motivational system and transformation by the cognitive system. But the amplified information of the motivational system can be and must be transformed by the cognitive system, and the transformed information of the cognitive system can be and must be amplified by the motivational system. Amplification without transformation would be blind; transformation without amplification would be weak. The blind mechanisms must be given sight; the weak mechanisms must be given strength. All information is at once biased and informed. (4:7)
It seems fair to argue, then, that the ambition of this final volume is not to turn the reader toward cognition at the expense of a theory of affect but rather to turn the reader toward the logics of cognitive-motivational dependency, independency, and interdependency that must, for Tomkins, be the infrastructure of any psychological account of a human being.
The cognitive revolution of the 1960s and 1970s is something of a double-edged sword for Tomkins. On one hand, it further entrenches the splintering of psychological theory into increasingly specialized and isolated subfields and so moves psychological research away from the holism (“general psychology”) that Tomkins embraced under the tutelage of Henry Murray and through the mixed methods of the Harvard Psychological Clinic (see chapter 11). On the other hand, to the extent that this new study of cognition was inspired by work in adjacent fields like artificial intelligence and neurophysiology, consciousness becomes an object of interdisciplinary study in ways that Tomkins finds valuable. This ambivalence about cognition structures the four volumes of AIC. The final, posthumous volume of AIC was written before the first three volumes—sometime in the 1950s, Tomkins recalls (see chapter 12). The first three volumes, then, are something of a detour en route to a comprehensive account of personality (human being theory) to which Tomkins was only able to return in the final years of his life and that he left incomplete. We can note, for example, that the opening rhetoric of volume 4 (e.g., “The introversive conception of thinking as a solitary, inner, autonomous process was, in a fundamental sense, un-American” [4:4]) is not unlike the opening to volume 1 (e.g., “Introversion has not been the preferred mode of functioning for the descendants of the American activist pioneers even when they have chosen to devote their lives to the study of human beings” [1:6]), and in this sense, the four volumes form, not a conventional progression from 1962 to 1992, but a return, or an inversion, or perhaps a particularly extended and productive mode of perseveration.
One of the things that might be noteworthy about this chronology of return or perseveration in AIC is that it scrambles orthodox histories of twentieth-century psychology and makes it difficult to place Tomkins in a linear history of research on emotion. In these volumes, the reader doesn’t simply move from Freudianism to behaviorism, and from behaviorism to cognitivism and the neurosciences. Twentieth-century psychology can be narrativized as a development from the unconscious to drives to cognition to affect only by significantly reducing the internal contradictions of this intellectual archive—by disregarding the false starts, by ignoring the disagreements that came too early to be heard, and by overlooking the traces of the old paradigm within the new. The scrambled chronologies, feedback loops, loosely structured taxonomies, and repetitions in these four volumes can feel disorienting to a reader, and no doubt all four volumes could be more tightly edited. But we would also like to suggest that Tomkins’s duplications and returns signal a theory that doesn’t just describe coassembly as a psychological principle but also performs such rearrangements on the psychological texts it engages. An orderly lineage of theories of emotion across the twentieth century is perhaps the least of Tomkins’s intellectual concerns.
We have noted in several places in this book that Tomkins figures the combinatorial character of the affect system as a language (see chapters 2 and 12): affect “is in some respects like a letter of an alphabet in a language, changing in significance as it is assembled with varying other letters to form different words, sentences, paragraphs” (3:66). In his discussion of cognition in the final volume of AIC, Tomkins turns to another figure of mind’s composite architecture: the neuron. Noting that it is “an extraordinarily complex structure” (4:34), Tomkins uses the neuron to illustrate the “complex interpenetration of structure and function” (4:34) not just in neurological systems but also in cognitive systems, broadly understood. For example, each neuron is both a receiver and transmitter of information, and neuronal circuits are structured by feedback and “multiple simultaneous and interactive processes” (4:37). In short, “the most elementary neurons exhibit all the essential properties of the whole cognitive system . . . the neuron proves to be a cognitive system in miniature” (4:37–38).
This homology between neurology and mind reminds us of Freud’s Project for a Scientific Psychology, and in the same way that scholarship on the Project has argued for its conceptual perspicacity, we suggest that Tomkins’s turn to neurology and cognition isn’t an argument for neurological reductionism or determinism. Rather, Tomkins uses the neuron to figure the expansive and inventive character of a cognitive system:
In summary, the neuron is at once a specialized cognitive medium mechanism that is also a monadic, self-sufficient, local self-governor, whose specialization is achieved by differentially weighting and patterning the shared properties of all cognitive mechanisms into dominant and auxiliary functions. In common with all media mechanisms, the neuron is structurally and functionally redundant, partitioned, regenerative, and equipotential, capable of receiving information, translating it, transforming it (e.g., via summation and averaging), amplifying it (via temporal and spatial summation), transmitting it, storing and reverberating it, correlating it, keeping it distinct, and timing it, and of sending a product as well as transmitting a message, feeding its messages back to itself, and cross talking with a very large population of neighboring as well as distant neurons. (4:38)
Tomkins uses the neuron to argue that mind cannot be reduced to discrete constituent parts: “the coassembly and fusion of both motivational and cognitive mechanisms is the rule, not the exception” (4:8). He names the higher-order organization that emerges from the combinatorial relations of cognition and motivation a minding system. Calling explicitly on the “ancient” term mind—drawing on its ambiguity as both a cognitive process and the tendency to care—Tomkins argues that a human being as a minding system “innately ‘minds’ or cares about what he knows” (4:10).
The Oxford English Dictionary records an extensive etymology and set of uses of mind. As a verb, it is both transitive (to remember, and also to attend, care for, look after, or be sure or certain, or to intend or heed—exemplified in the recurring directive on the London Underground to “mind the gap”) and intransitive (for example, in negative, interrogative, and conditional constructions like “never [you] mind”). As a noun, mind covers similar territory: remembrance, recollection, attention, purpose, wish, desire, inclination, tendency, character disposition, and (perhaps most concretely) the seat of awareness, thought, volition, feeling, and memory. In naming the human being a minding system, Tomkins is asking us to mind the gap between cognitive and motivational systems. He is asking us to pay attention to this paradoxical taxonomy of separate systems that are always enmeshed. In addition, it is an important principle of Tomkins’s human being theory that it will always be “incomplete and ambiguous” (4:10):
I will argue that any organized system is inherently ambiguous at its boundaries, whether these boundaries be at the top or at the bottom, at the part of the system or at the whole of the system, at the most elementary particle or at the outer reaches of space at the time of the big bang. (4:9)
Because this figuration of cognition and motivation as subsystems of minding has been argued in part through an engagement with the structure and function of a neuron, Tomkins’s work in AIC4 might be used as a frame for contemporary critical engagements with the neurosciences. For example, because Tomkins’s minding system advocates for a science of partially dependent, independent, and interdependent subsystems from which nothing can be excluded (e.g., sociality, signification), we could argue for a different set of relations between the affects and neurophysiology. The conjunction affect–neuron might be an opportunity not to subsume psychology to the brain but rather to figure neurology itself as mindful, attentive, and wishful. So when we seek to bring clinical or humanistic arguments into play with the neurosciences, rather than looking for correspondence between affective and neuronal claims, we could be looking to build minding systems of loosely matching and mismatching conceptual components.
In this regard, we are reminded, again, of Freud, specifically, his taxonomies of unconscious, preconscious, conscious and id, ego, superego. Postulated twenty years apart, these two systems occupy a disconcerting relation to each other in the Freudian oeuvre: they neither map neatly onto each other (the id is not the same kind of mental structure as the unconscious; the ego and the conscious describe different kinds of psychic topographies), nor is it the case that the second taxonomy of mind (id, ego, and superego) completely reforms or replaces the first (unconscious, preconscious, conscious). Instead, these two metapsychological systems stand in a conceptual tension in Freud’s work, suggesting that minding systems are best theorized as variable, overlapping, resistant to substitution or the logics of linear conceptual progress. So too with Tomkins’s coassembly of cognition and motivation: it prepares us to envisage a science of mind that does not just tolerate but perhaps also enjoys mismatching, perseveration, repetitions, and the fusion of its central variables. If the relation between cognitions and affects and drives and neurology and scripts and socialities remains ambiguous (and perhaps unresolvable), we suspect this is the state of mind that Tomkins would like us to heed.
Readers wishing to get a general overview of the “cognitive revolution” with which Tomkins is engaging in AIC4 might want to consult Howard Gardner’s The Mind’s New Science: A History of the Cognitive Revolution. For an excellent reading of the affect of surprise in scientific research that draws on Tomkins’s work, we refer readers to Mike Fortun’s “What Toll Pursuit: Affective Assemblages in Genomics and Postgenomics.”
The first topography of mind in Freud (conscious, preconscious, unconscious) can be found in The Interpretation of Dreams and “The Unconscious.” The second topography (id, ego, superego) can be found in The Ego and the Id. We relied on Elizabeth A. Wilson’s Neural Geographies for our account of Freud’s Project for a Scientific Psychology and contemporary neuroscience.