A Fascinating Idea. From a Conversation with Wolfgang Tschacher

Wolfgang Tschacher, a former collaborator of mine at the Social Psychiatric University Clinic of Bern and a specialist for the nonlinear dynamics of social systems, is visiting me in our mountain cottage. I tell him about my current reflections on the meaning of emotions concerning the topics of nonlinearity, bifurcation, order parameters and control parameters, in connection with my two articles which I published on the (generally misunderstood) significance of emotions in schizophrenia¹. Wolfgang reports on the ideas of the Englishman Karl Friston about omnipresent tension-reducing effects that come about by minimizing the “free energy” according to Maxwell, and the role of this mechanism in the formation of structure and order in the brain². In this context, the observations Conrad made at the time about the (sometimes) emotionally relaxing effects of the outbreak of a psychosis³ come to mind – for example, when a patient suddenly finds a paranoid system of explanation for longstanding inexplicable “influences”. And suddenly, I have an  idea of potentially enormous implications: nothing less than a general hypothesis on the emergence of form and order against the entropy principle (the general tendency toward disorder), from the simplest physical and biological to the most complex psychosocial systems!

How come? It is enough, after all, to understand habitual patterns of feeling, thinking and behaving, that is psychosocial systems (as I have long postulated) as complex open systems and emotions as energies (or, more precisely, as situation-specific patterns of bioenergetic energy dissipation selected by evolution). On this basis, it becomes clear that the  accumulation of excessive local energy, which can no longer be managed by the usual patterns of coping, must lead to the formation of new dynamic patterns and structures, quite analogous to the famous so-called Benard reaction or the Zapotinsky reaction, which Prigogine again and again used as examples: the sudden formation of honeycomb or guirand-shaped patterns arising in certain liquids that are driven far away from the thermodynamic equilibrium by heating them.  And such structure formation, which occurs nonlinearly at a critical point of the energetic tension in many open systems, leads to a local energetic relaxation, i.e., it continues to follow the entropy principle locally.

The consequences of this insight effectively range from the emergence of the simplest material structures to the outbreak of psychosis. In addition, it may contain the solution to the eternal mystery of how – contrary to the general tendency toward disorder, i.e., the entropy principle – order and form can emerge in the first place. The answer is simple: from critical local energy accumulations. Whereby it can be assumed that, because of chaotic chance fluctuations, such critical accumulations must occur locally here and there, again and again.

Impression of a tremendous, comprehensive “coherence” , i.e., of a general elease of tension!

If this is true, there are interesting relationships between the principle of minimizing free energy and my ideas about the mobilizing, motivating and sometimes even "maddening" effects of emotional tensions: Effectively, the psyche is constantly striving to reduce emotional tensions. Such tensions always occur when something unforeseen happens (for example the sudden appearance of an obstacle on a previously unproblematic path), i.e. when the accustomed structures of emotion and thought - or rather the brain structures corresponding to them - are no longer sufficient for the smooth coping with the encountered ing obstacle. The result is a learning process that incorporates the possible emergence of an obstacle into the existing brain structures and thus reduces the probability of unpleasant surprises - in other words, uncontrolled emotional tensions. Emotional tensions thus clearly appear as psychic equivalents of free energy.


It may be quite similar with our "feelings" of coherence and beauty: a context, a theory, a behavior appears to us to be "coherent" when all tension-filled contradictions are eliminated and the weights are so harmoniously distributed that parts and the whole "merge" and interact beautifully. And a very similar equilibration and minimisation of free energy should also be at work if a picture, a poem or a melody appears to us to be "beautiful".

Significant connections, to consider further.


Luc Ciompi (born 1929), Swiss psychiatrist, Schizophrenia researcher, pioneer of integrative psychiatry and founder of Affect-Logic celebrates his 90th birthday. He lets us participate in his personal, scientific and ideological reflections. It shows, that even an old age can be a fascinating time full of unexpected highs and lows.________________________________________________

¹ Ciompi L. (2015) The Key role of emotions in the schizophrenia puzzle. Schizophrenia Bulletin 41:318-322, - Schizophrenia Bulletin 41:318-322, 2015a - Ciompi L. (2015) The role of emotions in schizophrenia and Soteria approach, according to the theory of  affect logic. POWER MOOK, Seishin Igaku no Kiban. Vol. 1 No. 1, p.015-018.

² Friston, K.J. Stephan, K.E. (2007) Free-energy and the brain. Synthese 159: 417458, 2007.

³Conrad K. (1958): Die beginnende Schizophrenie (teh beginning schizophrenia), Thieme, Stuttgart 1958.

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