Internet Technical Bookshop

Books and Reources for the Sciences and the Arts

Ants, Jung, Adler, Thurber Scribend

I am very grateful to a Quaker friend who provided most encouraging feedback to the scribend on What Can We Learn from Primates, which also developed the subject by trying to link some of Melanie Klein's work into the subject of coping with strong emotional experiences in early infancy and how this can have an impact in later life. As is often the case when interacting with others new topics and ideas are sometimes "sparked up". In my friend's reply was this wonderful biographical snippet. "Interestingly, just a few days ago, I had been listening to a radio discussion that reflected some of de Waal's thinking. From my own observations I believe that you can see social emotions, to some degree, in all species. Formicidae formed my particular area of fascination. I used to spend hours observing their behaviour while in Cyprus, and noted how they often went out of their way to help one of their group who was in distress and bring him/her to a safe location. They would consistently work together in small groups to perform a task that would be beneficial to the colony as a whole. It was fascinating to observe this and marvel at the way such minute creatures had so many amazing abilities. Of course there are so many instances of this throughout the animal kingdom.
Melanie Klein - another 'blast from my educational past'. She was very much revered when I was a student, a truly fascinating woman. I started reading Jung and Alfred Adler when I was eleven, and did pick up something by Klein then - but she did not hold my interest at that age, in the the way that Jung and Adler did. "

Jung I have studied and read, but till this reply I had not read much about Adler and his work, although I think that I was aware of some of his writings. Ant behaviour (Formicidae is the family that ants belong to) .. now that did catch my attention and stimulated a whole chain of "digging around on the web" and in the bookshop and my rather eclectic library. It also fired up some memories, and some further digging around on the topic of collective behaviour in collections of small robots, and some AI paradigms based on trying to model and apply insect like social (cooperative) behaviour patterns to the tackling of various problems. The Formicidae web site turned up and proved to be a true "treasure trove" of interesting things written in a not too technical manner. I do hope that the author of this site develops it further. I certainly found the sections on carpenter ants and pharaoh ants great fun to read. There is even an ant wiki , but it is a bit more technical than the Formicidae web site.

Often a link leads to another and then another and so forth, and sometimes "the degree of serendipity" depends on how e.g. a Google search is phrased and on the "whims of the Google ranking process" [ or so it seems to me ]. I entered "social behaviour of ants" as my query string, and, was rewarded with some interesting links to follow. I think that Google is experimenting with various semantic web and NLP (Natural Language Processing) algorithms as evidenced by its "People also ask". The list seems a bit simplistic. In this case it came up with things such as

  • Are all ants social ?
  • How do ants work together ?
  • What is meant by a social insect ?
  • How do ants communicate with each other ?
Associated with each suggestion there is some further information when the suggestion is expanded by clicking on a down button and some further suggestions are then made. Do not however forget that everything you do on Google is being closely monitored and that Google's motives are not entirely altruistic.

A link with the context text saying "This social withdrawal is not due to manipulation through pathogens or parasites but it appears to be an altruistic act of the ants themselves" caught my attention. Some further digging led to a most interesting scientific paper published in Current Biology which examined the conjecture that "Groups have a larger cognitive capacity than individuals". The concluding paragraph in this, the age of the "Internet of Things" is worth noting. Here it is "It has long been recognized that collective choice can improve accuracy by averaging out the random errors of inaccurate individual decisions. The advantage we find here is different: rather than combining many essentially identical choices, colonies truly distribute their decision-making. No worker must carry out the full task of assessing and comparing all options, allowing the colony as a whole to process more information, more effectively. This advantage can serve as a model for the rapidly developing field of collective robotics, which looks to the robust, decentralized group behavior of social animals for biologically inspired design ideas" ... Aha!! And with robotics and collective behaviour in my mind what should turn up but this little gem of a project on small robots programmed to exhibit various kinds of ant like behaviour. The robots described here "have been retired" as technological developments have moved on and lived in a Retired Robots part of the corresponding MIT web site. Lots of interesting ideas here for school projects e.g. using the BBC Microbit for providing brain power and radio communications capabilities. [Maybe more on this later once I have finished writing the BBC Microbit books I am working on. ... Do chase me up and send an email to andrew dot eliasz at gmail dot com if interested]. The project also refers to Anita Flynn's excellent book on Mobile Robots ... as, indeed it should. Some of the links are broken ... including an interesting link on using co-operative robots for the disposal of unexploded ordnance. However, did manage to track down a link to that paper written by James McLurkin at MIT and with the catch title "Using Cooperative Robots for Explosive Ordnance Disposal". Mid 1990s vintage but still very relevant. To take the ideas developed here further I would suggest building micro-robots based on e.g. the RaspberryPi zero. [But that particular scribend is for a different section ]

Coming back to psychoanalysis lets go on a little wander around along threads of links, books and ideas associated with Jung and Adler. Compared to Freud Jung was much more of a "charmer". He also had a few "skeletons" in his closet and the one that many think of is his relationship with Sabina Spielrein. Its portrayal in David Cronenberg's film "A Dangerous Method" has had a mixed reception both within the psychoanalytic community and without. In David Van Nuys' article in Psychology today, entitled "A Dangerous Film? Puts bad light on Jungian analysis and therapy in general" (Posted in Feb 2012) he reports that at a webinar about the film he attended at the Ashville Jung Center a majority felt (voted) that the movie might damage the public perception of Jungian therapy, and yet a majority also enjoyed the film overall. If you are a student of cinema or psychology and you have to write an essay on the film the "on the positive side" / "on the negative side" sum up the situation quite well. More interestingly, reading this article I came across various tidbits of information that were new to me. I discovered that there was an Italian film The Soul Keeper (Prendimi L’anima) by Jean Vigo Italia/ Cowboy Films that, seen as a beautifully filmed romance is worth viewing. This is how a synopsis of the film from an entry on Iain Glen's website describes the film "Based on extensive research, this remarkable story reveals the humanity of a woman who deserves to be more than a footnote in the history of psychoanalysis. Sabina Spielrein was the first patient with whom Dr. Carl Jung attempted “the talking cure,” a method learned from his mentor Freud. In 1905, Jung admits Sabina into a Zurich psychiatric hospital. Her treatment becomes bittersweet as it begins to draw on her growing passion for the doctor. Initially heart broken at his rejection, she recovers and goes on to become the first female psychoanalyst in Switzerland. Sabina established the White Nursery, the world’s first psychoanalytical school for children. The Soul Keeper is a subtle, sensitive and beautifully told romance." It seems quite unfair that women are often not given the credit in history that they deserve. There is even a play by Christopher Hampton on the same subject. Apparently the story of Jung and Sabina Spielrein started life as movie script for a film called "Sabina" in which Julie Roberts would play the role of Sabine, and when the script was turned down by Fox it was used as the basis for the play,The Talking Cure, with Ralph Fiennes playing the role of Jung. I would very much have liked to have gone and seen it. Michael Billington's review in the Guardian is most perceptive as this wee snippet shows : "As a piece of psychiatric investigation and a story of a love affair, the play is fascinating. It also captures the rivalry between the rationalist Freud and the more instinctive Jung. But where the play becomes sketchy is in its suggestion that the friction of opposites is personally productive but historically ruinous. Sabina is Russian and Jewish where Jung is Swiss and Aryan; but the point that such binary opposition prefigured global catastrophe is never pursued."

An attempt to acknowledge Sabina Spielrein's contributions to psychoanalysis can be found in John Launer's biography of her with the title "Sex Versus Survival". No doubt the publishers thought it would help sales. The author was interviewed in Russia Beyond and the result was an article entitled "The Soviet Life of Carl Jung's most famous patient". Quite full of "I didn't know that moments" e.g. "Spielrein was almost certainly the first person to use psychotherapy with children who had neuroses including phobias, and to work with them through play. She understood the importance of the relationship between mothers and infants, long before other thinkers wrote about this. Some of her papers have a feminist emphasis, and she understood the difficulties that women face in their choices about reproduction. In her work, Spielrein combined psychoanalysis with the study of children’s development, biology and neuropsychology. She worked with the educational psychologist Jean Piaget and was his psychoanalyst. Later on, till late 1924 she helped to run a famous psychoanalytic kindergarten in Moscow, which also functioned as a research laboratory for child development. Many of the children of Soviet grandees attended it, including Stalin’s son Vassily. During her time there, Spielrein taught the two eminent Russian neuropsychologists Alexander Luria and Lev Vygotsky." Piaget and Luria are heroes of mine and yet I, till now, was completely unaware of Sabina Spielrein's role in her life. I admire her courage in going to work in Russia. Yet such are the vicissitudes of being both Jewish and a Woman that when the Germans occupied Rostov on Don, Spielrein was murdered along with her daughters by a Nazi death squad in the Zmeyevsky Ravine outside Rostov in 1942. After that, she was completely forgotten both in the West and in Russia. Historians only began to rediscover her work in the 1980s and 1990s e.g. in Aleksander Etkind's "Eros of the Impossible: History of Psychoanalysis in Russia" Particularly interesting is her work concerning powerful human destructive urges and her "death instinct hypothesis". This is not a particularly popular concept and even Freud's writing on the death instincts (thanatos) in his paper "Beyond the Pleasure Principle" is not as widely read or studied as it might be. A very interesting review of some of Sabina Spielrein's work in this area can be found in a paper in a Brazilian journal, Scielo, with the title "The death drive according to Sabina Spielrein" by Fatima Caropreso. Also worth reading if you are serious about exploring Sabina Spielrein's work is Sabina Spielrein Forgotten Pioneer of Psychoanalysis. It is an annotated compendium of much of her work edited by Coline Covington and Barbara Wharton.

But I digress ... and must turn my thoughts back to Jung and then to Adler. Why is it that in many quarters Jung is liked much more than Freud ? It seems to me that one reason lies in the tension between "rationalistic" approaches to making sense of life and "intuitionistic" approaches. The eminent French "Christian Existentialist" Gabriel Marcel had it right when he argued that without a "sense of mystery" much goes out of life which is argued with great passion in his book "Man against Mass Society" the central theme of which is that mankind is paying the price of an arrogance that refuses to recognize mystery. Jung published so much and wrote so much that the various versions of his collected works are huge multi-volume publications. For newcomers to Jung I would suggest starting with a book that he co-authored with various colleagues called "Man and His Symbols". It has been scanned and made available as a .pdf document . The other books I would recommend are, "The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious" and "Psychological Types". The ideas in the book "Psychological Types", which introduced the concepts of introvert and extrovert, form an underpinning for a well known personality type assessment test called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), which was developed by the psychologist Isabel Myers from Jung's 1921 publication, Psychological Types, which is still used to this day, as discussed in an article, Why Jung Still Matters by Mark Vernon in Management Today.

Adler should probably be more widely known and read than he is. To some he may come across as too sensible and too pragmatic, and also, to some extent a sociologist. The Adlerian school of psychoanalysis is associated with the concept of individual psychology. His approach to the individual was holistic in outlook and considered the social and community realm as equally important to psychology as the internal realm of the individual. He was quite democratic in his outlook and approach to psychoanalysis, early on disregarding the symbolic couch in favor of two chairs, so as to create a sense of equality between patient and clinician. For Adler family dynamics, specifically parenting and the family constellation, were important in helping prevent future psychological problems. He espoused a practical and goal-oriented approach, and viewed that in life the intermingling of occupation(job), society, and love were important contributors to mental well being. His work and ideas are at the core of the Adler University, an educational trust founded on his work and ideas. Adler’s work stressed the importance of nurturing feelings of belonging and striving for superiority. He held equality, civil rights, mutual respect, and the advancement of democracy as core values. He was one of the first practitioners to provide family and group counseling and to use public education as a way to address community health. He was among the first to write about the social determinants of health and of mental health. His values and concepts drive our mission, work, and values at the Adler University today. His book The Practice and Theory of Individual Psychology, published in 1925, introduced the concept of the inferiority complex. Another widely read book of his is "Understanding Human Nature" published in 1927. He was very interested in a practical understanding of how childhood shapes adult life, which in turn might benefit society as a whole. This is in contrast to the somewhat elitist attitude of his former mentor Freud. His belief that the work of understanding should not be the preserve of psychologists alone, but a vital undertaking for everyone to pursue, given the bad consequences of ignorance has endeared him to many.

So where does Thurber come into all of this you might be thinking ? It is in fact because of a cartoon in Man and His Symbols by Thurber that Jung used as an illustration when talking about the Animus and the Anima. This cartoon often referred to as the "house and woman" cartoon was published in the New Yorker. Thurber Female  House. At some point in my life this cartoon spoke to me most eloquently to "my condition" at that particular point in time. I hope to say more about Thurber in another Scribend. In the meantime there is a lovely review of Thurber, his life and work by Wilfred Sheed in called Blind Wit - James Thurber's Tragedy

Buy on Amazon links :