Core Concepts Series IX: The Pulsion

If libido is the energy that animates an organism in expression, and if adequate expression results in a libido-economic equilibrium, then the pulsion or drive itself can best be conceptualized as a force in the Newtonian sense of the word. As a body in mechanical equilibrium is acted upon by equal and opposite forces, so a libidinal economy in equilibrium is characterized by equal magnitudes of the object-libidinal and narcissistic psychic currents. Thus if the narcissistic current cannot oppose the object-libidinal current, an outward expression must take place. In the same way, an overpowering narcissistic current results in inhibition. Of course we can only conceive of these quantities ordinally for now, but they are quantities nonetheless.

In microbial life, the libidinal currents have a very direct relationship to Newtonian forces. For instance, in the amoeba’s production of a pseudopodium – an object-libidinal expression – the cytoskeletal filaments must overcome the pressure of the water in which it lives, else the organism will be unable to relate to objects such as prey. The production of force is ultimately accomplished by the conversion of chemical energy into work. This same conversion takes place in the animal’s object-libidinal expression. These depend on electric and chemical potential energy being released in the skeletal muscles and the nerve fibers that trigger their depolarization. However, the libidinal currents in an animal have a more convoluted relationship to force.

The skeletal muscles, those organs ultimately responsible for the expression, develop tremendous force and expend a tremendous amount of potential energy as mechanical work. Contrastingly, the nerves that trigger them lose a comparatively minute amount of potential energy in the propagation of a signal. Furthermore, the signals that ultimately arrive at the skeletal muscles must originate, physiologists maintain, in the sensorimotor cortex of the brain (1). Here, the neurons have a very small volume and therefore require less work – less energy – to polarize (א) than do the long fibers innervating the skeletal muscles. On top of all that, their signal can be modified or altogether stopped at very many intermediate synapses. And as the total expression is thought to depend on the difference in magnitude between the object-libidinal and narcissistic currents, whether any one of these neurons will contact the next in the signaling cascade depends solely on the magnitude of the electric current flowing into the initial segment exceeding that of the electric current flowing out (2). I don’t think it is a stretch to say that the excitation of nerve and muscle tissue recapitulates object-libidinal expression and that their stored potential energy is similar to the narcissistic reservoir of libido. Perhaps these stores constitute the narcissistic reservoir.

As I stated previously, object-libidinal expressions of a sexual nature are characterized by the flow of fluid toward the organism’s periphery. During these we see a reduction of tension (dilation) in the peripheral blood vessels but a great increase in the pressure (ב) exerted by the blood in the genitals in turgescence. Force (muscle tone) is developed by genital muscles such as the ischocavernosus and bulbocavernosus (3). A strong electric potential (4) denoting potential energy develops on the penis and vagina mucosa (in orgastically potent characters). If these phenomena indicating sexual excitation are to appear, the object-libidinal current must overcome the narcissistic current and whatever forces are responsible for their appearance cannot be cancelled by forces acting in the opposite direction.

There is also a muscular mechanism that can inhibit the object-libidinal pulsion. In the expression of rage, for instance, the arms may apply force to and do work on an object, e.g. in punching. In extension, the triceps brachii contracts and pulls the forearm about the elbow which acts as a fulcrum. Were the biceps brachii to simultaneously develop an equivalent tension (force), the arm would be in mechanical equilibrium and unable to accelerate toward the object. This inhibition, like the expression it represses requires – as far as we are concerned – another input from the “voluntary” nervous system. One should also keep in mind that afferent fibers communicate information concerning the amount of force developed in a skeletal muscle to the brain.

In analysis, the word pulsion often is followed by “to …,” e.g., the pulsion to murder the father. The formulation we just introduced implies that, in order for such a pulsion to exist, there must be some libidinal pressure, a quantity of potential energy that would be released were it not for some preventive mechanism. Recall that this quantity of energy constitutes a cathexis and its expenditure is a cathartic event. Wilhelm Reich discovered that the real world action which psychoanalysts linguistically attach to an energy cathexis is largely independent from the actual, physical energy thereof, and that these cathexes can be completely divested from, practically speaking, without performing the action, e.g. murdering one’s father. That is to say, the preservation of the cathexis is not, as psychoanalysis implies, the only way to prevent the action from taking place.

(א) Potential energy in metabolic products from food is converted into work used to separate electrically charged particles that exert attractive forces on each other. During the excitation of a neuron, these charges are allowed to come back together. An amount of energy must be consumed resetting – repolarizing or recharging if you will – the cell membrane.

(ב) Pressure is force applied over an area ( P = F/A ) and is measured in units of force per unit of area, e.g. pounds per square inch.

(1) Widmaier, Raff & Strang – Vander, Sherman, & Luciano’s Human Physiology: The Mechanisms of Body Function – Chapter 10 – Control of Body Movement – The Brain Motor Centers and Descending Pathways they Control pg. 320

(2) Widmaier, Raff & Strang – Vander, Sherman, & Luciano’s Human Physiology: The Mechanisms of Body Function – Chapter 6 – Neuronal Signaling and the Structure of the Nervous System – Section C: Synapses – Synaptic Integration pg. 179

(3) Reich, Wilhelm – The Bioelectric Investigation of Sexuality and Anxiety – 1. The Orgasm as an Electrophysiological Discharge pg. 9-10

(4) Reich – The Function of the Orgasm – Chapter IX – From Psychoanalysis to Biogenesis, Part 1. The Bioelectric Function of Pleasure and Anxiety pg. 370

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