In 1933, my idea of the unity between psychic and somatic functioning became clear in the following direction.
The fundamental biological functions of contraction and expansion were applicable to the psychic as well as to the somatic realm. Two series of antithetical effects emerged, their elements representing various depths of biological functioning.
Investigation shows that the impulses and sensations are not produced by the nerves, but are merely transmitted by them. Impulses and sensations are biological actions of the total organism. They are present in the living system long before the development of an organized nervous system. Protozoa demonstrate fundamentally the same actions and impulses as metazoa, in spite of the fact that they do not have an organized nervous system. The great achievement of Kraus and Zondek was in demonstrating that the functions of the autonomic nervous system can not only be stimulated or retarded by chemical substances; more important, they can be replaced by them.
On the basis of his experiments, Kraus came to the conclusion that the action of nerves, drugs, and electrolytes can be substituted for one another in the biological system with respect to the hydration or dehydration of the tissues (which is, as we have already pointed out, the basic function of life).
What follows is a comparative table, compiled in terms of the total function.
The facts represented in this table show:
- The antithesis between the potassium (parasympathetic) group and the calcium (sympathetic) group: expansion and contraction.
- The antithesis between periphery and center with respect to excitation.
- The functional identity of the sympathetic and parasympathetic with the functions of substances having a chemical stimulus.
- The dependency of the innervation of the individual organs on the functional unity and antithesis of the total organism.
As we have already pointed out, all biological impulses and organ sensations can be reduced to expansion (elongation, dilatation) and contraction (shrinking, constriction).
How are these two basic functions related to the autonomic nervous system? Investigation of the very complicated vegetative innervations of the organs shows that the parasympathetic (vagus) always functions where there is expansion, dilatation, hyperemia, turgor, and pleasure. Conversely, the sympathetic nerves function whenever the organism contracts, blood is withdrawn from the periphery and pallor, anxiety, and pain appear. If we go one step further, we grasp that the parasympathetic nervous system operates in the direction of expansion, “out of the self—toward the world” pleasure and joy; whereas the sympathetic nervous system operates in the direction of contraction, “away from the world—into the self,” sadness and unpleasure. The life process consists of a continuous alternation between expansion and contraction.
Further investigation shows the identity between parasympathetic function and sexual function on one hand, and
sympathetic function and the function of unpleasure or anxiety on the other. We see that in the experience of pleasure, the blood vessels dilate at the periphery, the skin becomes flushed, pleasure is experienced from its mildest form to the highest degree of sexual ecstasy. In the condition of anxiety, pallor, contraction of the blood vessels, and unpleasure go together. In pleasure, “the heart expands” (parasympathetic dilatation) and the pulse beat is quiet and full. In anxiety, the heart contracts and beats rapidly and forcibly. In the former, it forces the blood through wide vessels; its work is therefore easy. In the latter, it forces the blood through narrowed vessels; its work is hard. In the former, the blood is predominantly distributed toward the periphery; in the latter, the constricted vessels cause a congestion of the blood toward the heart. Thus, it is readily understandable that with anxiety there is a feeling of oppression and, conversely, with a feeling of oppression there is anxiety. It is the picture of so-called cardiovascular hypertension with which organic medicine is so much concerned. This hypertension corresponds to a general condition of sympatheticotonic contraction in the organism.
On the highest psychic level, biological expansion is experienced as pleasure; contraction is experienced as unpleasure. In the realm of instinctual phenomena, expansion functions as sexual excitation, and contraction functions as anxiety. On a deeper physiological level, expansion corresponds to parasympathetic functioning, and contraction to sympathetic functioning. According to discoveries made by Kraus and Zondek, the parasympathetic function can be replaced by the potassium ion group, and the sympathetic function can be replaced by the calcium ion group. Thus, we arrive at a convincing and impressive picture of unitary functioning from the highest psychic sensations to the deepest biological reactions.
The following is a table listing the two series of functions arranged according to their depth:
On the basis of this formulation of the unitary antithetical body-mind functioning, a number of previously misunderstood contradictions of the autonomic nerve innervation were clarified. Formerly, the organism’s autonomic nerve innervation appeared to lack unity and coherence. In one instance, it was said that the parasympathetic nervous system caused muscles to contract. In another instance, the same function was ascribed to the sympathetic nervous system. In one instance, the functions of the glands were said to be stimulated by the parasympathetic nervous system (genital glands); in another instance, they were said to be stimulated by the sympathetic nervous system (sweat glands). A tabular comparison of the sympathetic and parasympathetic innervations of the autonomically functioning organs brings out even more clearly the apparent illogicality.
In the course of demonstrating the two directions of biological energy, a fact has appeared to which we have given little attention. The vegetative periphery has been clearly described. Still undetermined is the site at which the biological energy concentrates as soon as a condition of anxiety arises. There must be a vegetative center from which the biological energy issues and to which it returns. This question provides the connecting link to well-known facts of physiology. In the abdominal region, the so-called seat of the emotions, we find the generators of biophysical energy. They are the large centers of the autonomic nervous system, essentially the solar plexus, the hypogastric plexus, and the lumbosacral plexus. A glance at the anatomy of the vegetative nervous system will easily convince us that the vegetative ganglia are most dense in the abdominal and genital regions. The diagrams that follow show the functional relation between center and periphery.
Diagram a): The basic functions of the vegetative nervous system
Diagram b): The same functions in an armored organ- ism. The inhibition of the primary impulse produces a secondary impulse and anxiety
Diagram c): The unity and antithesis of the autonomic nervous system
The attempt to introduce meaning into the apparent illogicality succeeded when I investigated the vegetative innervation of the respective organs, first with reference to the biological expansion and then with reference to the contraction of the total organism. In other words, I asked myself how the respective organs would normally function in pleasure and in anxiety, and in which way the autonomic innervation would have to take place in the process. When investigated with reference to the total function of the organism, the seemingly contradictory innervation proved to be entirely logical and understandable.
This can be most convincingly demonstrated by the antithesis between the innervation of the heart, i.e., the “center,” and of the blood vessels and muscles, i.e., the “periphery.” The parasympathetic nervous system dilates the blood vessels, thereby enhancing the flow of blood to the periphery and slowing the heart action. The sympathetic nervous system contracts the peripheral blood vessels, thereby impeding the flow of the blood to the periphery and stimulating the action of the heart. In terms of the total organism, the antithesis in the innervation is understandable, for in anxiety, the heart has to overcome the peripheral inhibition, whereas in pleasure, it can work quietly and slowly. There is a functional antithesis between periphery and center.
The sympathetic anxiety function becomes coherent and meaningful when we bear in mind that the same nerve which inhibits the salivary gland stimulates adrenal secretion (i.e., produces anxiety). This is also true in the case of the urinary bladder. The sympathetic nervous system stimulates the muscle which prevents micturition. The parasympathetic nervous system has the opposite effect, relaxing or inhibiting the same muscle. In terms of the total organism, it is also significant that in pleasure the pupils are narrowed by the parasympathetic (corresponding to the diaphragm of a camera), thus sharpening vision. In apprehensive paralysis, on the other hand, vision is dimmed, due to the dilatation of the pupils.
The reduction of the autonomic innervations to the basic biological functions of expansion and contraction of the total organism was of course an important step forward, and at the same time a good test of the tenability of my biological hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, the parasympathetic nervous system always stimulates the organs when, whether to make them tense or to bring about a relaxation, the total organism is in a state of pleasurable expansion. On the other hand, the sympathetic nervous system stimulates all organs in a biologically significant way when the total organism is in a state of anxious contraction. This enables us to comprehend the life process, respiration in particular, as a condition of continuous oscillation, in which the organism is continually alternating between parasympathetic expansion (exhalation) and sympathetic contraction (inhalation). In making these theoretical deductions, I pictured to myself the rhythmic movement of an amoeba, a jellyfish, or an animal heart. The function of respiration is too complicated to be briefly described here in terms of these new insights.
The flow of plasma in the amoeba in expansion and contraction
If the biological oscillation is disturbed in one direction or the other, i.e., if the function of expansion or the function of contraction predominates, then there must also be a disturbance of the general biological balance. Persistence of the state of expansion is indicative of a general parasympatheticotonia. Conversely, the persistence of a state of anxious contraction indicates sympatheticotonia. Thus, all somatic conditions which are known clinically as cardiovascular hypertension became understandable as conditions of chronic sympatheticotonic attitudes of anxiety. Central to this general sympatheticotonia is orgasm anxiety, that is, fear of expansion and involuntary convulsion.
The physiological literature contained many reports on investigations and findings pertaining to the manifold facts of autonomic innervation. Initially, my theory of sex-economy was notable not because it had discovered new facts in this field, but because it had reduced generally known innervations to a universally valid basic biological formula. The theory of the orgasm could take pride in having made an important contribution to the understanding of the physiology of the organism. This unification led to the discovery of new facts.