ART & ORGANISM
The Golden Mean
“Appearing in Greek thought at least as early as the Delphic Maxim nothing to excess and emphasized in later Aristotelian philosophy, the golden mean or golden middle way is the desirable middle between two extremes, one of excess and the other of deficiency.
- (For example, in the Aristotelian view, courage is a virtue, but if taken to excess would manifest as recklessness, and, in deficiency, cowardice. … To the Greek mentality, it was an attribute of beauty. Ancient Greeks believed that there is a close association in mathematics between beauty and truth.” (Wikipedia) And see Aristotle’s “Doctrine of the Man,” explicated by in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Kraut 2018)
REFLECTING on the Golden Mean can be invaluable in guiding research into and interpretation of extraordinary states of consciousness and behavior (which obviously include cognitive advantages as well as disadvantages). These usually have their roots in ordinary, “normal,” behavior–the trick is being in correct proportions. It also informs thinking about “spectrum disorders” (a range of related behavior ranging from trivial through profound– the most famous is Autism Spectrum Disorder) IN A&O the timing (in development or in experience) of an extraordinary state is as important as its expression in our lives. Look at our notes on the extraordinary experiences of others, including reflections on the state by artists, HERE. [pursuit of the right balance has sometimes been nicknamed “The Goldilocks Principle: not too hot, not too cold, just right!”)
EXCESSES, DEFICIENCIES, The Golden Mean
- CHANGE — there are countless everyday microstressors that keep us balanced, maintaining homeostasis — but the “subclinical stress” they can invoke when sufficiently accumulated can make us more susceptible to acute stressors. That is, all change evokes more-or-less of a stress response (to real or perceived inability to meet biological needs) which can at its extreme seem an existential threat.
- For example, “In the course of centuries the naïve self-love of men has had to submit to two major blows at the hands of science. The first was when they learnt that our earth was not the centre of the universe but only a tiny fragment of a cosmic system of scarcely imaginable vastness… the second blow fell when biological research destroyed man’s supposedly privileged place in creation and proved his descent from the animal kingdom and his ineradicable animal nature… But human megalomania will have suffered its third and most wounding blow from the psychological research of the present time which seeks to prove to the ego that it is not even master in its own house, but must content itself with scanty information of what is going on unconsciously in its mind.” — Sigmund Freud (1916. Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalyis (1916), in James Strachey (ed.), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (1963), Vol. 16, 284-5.) (from ORICL lecture on “Science and Spirituality”)
EXAMPLY from ALEXITHYMIA:
- Any human trait can be pathologized when developmental or physiological circumstances leads to one of their constituent elements being deficient or expressed in excess (visit A&O notes on the Delphic Maxim]. WE would all likely agree that part of the human condition is more-or-less difficulty in identifying and expressing feelings. In the extreme it is termed “alexithymia,” and some people manifesting these traits are “prone to developing so-called somatic symptoms (bodily complaints such as pain or fatigue) and the use of compulsive behaviours to regulate their feelings, such as binge eating and alcohol abuse.” (read “Dark feelings will haunt us until they are expressed in words,” by Tom Wooldridge (2020) in Psyche, 2020 14 May )
EXAMPLE from STRESS: Look at DEEP ETHOLOGY page on stress and “stress-response curve” in particular: coping increases as stress levels increase UP TO A POINT, then the organism starts losing ground and may die. (sometimes preceded by a brief “swan song” of apparent recovery)
“In an adaptive short-term context, the stress response will often prioritize immediate survival needs over long-term investments in fitness such as energy storage or reproduction. When prolonged, however, such a stress response may bear negative consequences. Interestingly, work in mammals demonstrates that mild stressors can energize responsiveness up to a point at which increasing stress diminishes the response. This pattern defines the famous inverted U-shaped curve of the Yerkes-Dodson principle (Yerkes and Dodson 1908), in this case, graphically representing the behavioural consequences (vertical ordinate, y-axis; Fig. 1) to stressors of increasing intensity horizontal abcissa, x-axis). This sometimes counter-intuitive non-linear relationship is often observed across a spectrum of stressor and stress responses and complicates interpretation of stress biomarkers, potentially misleading protocols for intervention. While simple in its essence, it provides the scaffold for more complex processes and has thus been relevant in various disciplines where it is known by different terms (stress-response curve, adaptive response, hormesis), despite efforts to reconcile troubling semantic differences (Calabrese 2008” cited in Gangloff & Greenberg 2021 & see Fig 1, below)
.Figure 1. An idealized inverted U-shaped curve illustrating the Yerkes-Dodson principle (Yerkes and Dodson 1908), representing the behavioral consequences (vertical ordinate, y-axis) to stressors of increasing intensity (horizontal abcissa, x-axis). This sometimes counter-intuitive non-linear relationship is often observed across a spectrum of stressor and stress responses and complicates interpretation of stress biomarkers, potentially misleading protocols for intervention. This concept has been relevant in various disciplines and thus is known by different terms (stress-response curve, adaptive response, hormesis), despite efforts to reconcile troubling semantic differences (Calabrese 2008).
The dynamic balance which helps maintain an optimum state for a given situation can be manifest in mutiple articulating system and have significant outcomes for behavior. My favorite example is from my own research where I looked at body color of little lizards (green anoles, Anolis carolinensis) as a kind of field assessment of hormones in circulation that participated in important social behavioral patterns. The resting body color might turn brown when the cells responsible for body color (chromatophores) are stimulated by different proportions of the stress hormones, epinephrine and norepinephrine which stimulate alpha- and beta- adrenergic receptors of chromatophores: melanin (dark color particles) aggregate or disperse to control color. The hormones come from the adrenal gland which can change the proportions released into circulation depending on how much adrenal cortical homone is affecting a key enzyme. (more at Greenberg 2003 LINK)
EXAMPLE from INDIVIDUATION and SOCIALIZATION:
- “There is a difference between loneliness and solitude. We surely remember (we cannot escape) the insights of The Golden Mean — which is true of sociality, as most other things:
- “As he approached his twenty-sixth birthday, Delacroix began to formulate what would become a defining concern of his youth and one of increasing urgency for us today, amid our age of exponentially swelling social demands and distractions — the challenge of mediating between the allure of social life and the “fertile solitude” necessary for creative work, which Hemingway grimly extolled in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech.” (from Brain Pickings, which also engages Adam Phillips observations of the needs for and dangers of solitude)”