Magritte, The Lovers    

The Science of Sex

The Induction of Neurosis (1)

Effect of Signals

Excerpts from Section 12 of

The Tyranny of Ambiguity

The first steps in the study of neurosis were taken by Pavlov in his experiments on dogs, these animals being particularly suitable because they are easily trained and readily exhibit their emotional state. He obtained the celebrated result of making dogs salivate and wag their tails in response to the sounding of a bell. This was a conditioned response; the dogs had learnt to associate the sounding of a bell with the imminent arrival of food.

NEUROSIS. In another experiment Pavlov succeeded in inducing neurosis in the dogs. Since I purposely have little idea of the contemporary psychological definitions, I shall call this classical neurosis.1 In this experiment the dogs’ keeper would sometimes, and at random, beat the dogs with a stick after sounding the bell instead of feeding them. After this had been maintained for a while the dogs reacted to the bell by entering a state of confusion, alternately salivating and wagging their tails and cringing with their tails between their legs in fear of being beaten. The dogs had entered into a conditioned neurotic state. I am also very interested, but have no further data, in the alteration (if any) in the behaviour of the dogs when the bell was not being sounded. That is, to what degree the neurosis exhibited itself when the stimulus inducing the neurotic state was absent.

This is what I am calling classical neurosis or neurosis: one stimulus, two responses. It seems that an almost mechanical dysfunction, displayed by old people, is allied to it. In this syndrome an old person is thrown into a state of confusion if a doorbell sounds and a telephone rings at the same time. It is true that there are two stimuli in this case, but there is a parallel between the tension the conflict creates and the decision-making process which resolves it. When neurosis is induced, a neurotic stress is established which is normally resolved by action.

THE FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN NEUROSIS. The most basic instinct of any organism is to survive. Any creature which does not fight to survive, from the humblest insect to the most complex animal, perishes in the turmoil of evolutionary pressure. Even the simple housefly retreats if a hand moves above it, because the fly that stays to bask in its comfortable position perishes. The hereditary line of any creature which is too stupid or lazy to fight to live terminates; its genes become extinct.

In particular humans have a consciousness and our primary instinct to survive is in direct opposition to the sure and certain knowledge we have of our mortality. This basic human conflict is what I term the Fundamental Human Neurosis, and the psychic conflict so created probably accounts in large part for the creation of religion.

COLLECTIVE EXPRESSION OF INDIVIDUAL CHARACTERISTICS. It is proposed that everything exists at two levels at least; for example, there is neurosis and mass neurosis, hysteria and mass hysteria. An individual might feel guilty and seek to resolve it collectively (as in the Distribution of Guilt), and this is another potential origin of religion. Then many of the ideas which are bound up in religion and culture are merely the collective, social expression of individual characteristics.

EFFECT OF SIGNALS. The function of female signalling is to induce neurosis in the male. In the normal scheme of things, the female signals and the male responds. By the signal a neurotic stress is induced. It is possible that a male signalling to a female might induce neurosis in her, but it is evident that females signal and rely on signalling to a much greater extent than males. Female neurosis may be partly due to an assumption, that is a projection, that males are as perceptive of signals as they are, and that males can read them as they read males.

Sex is humans’ strongest drive and it is therefore easier to induce sexual neurosis than any other kind. The distinctness, if any, of sexual neurosis, in terms of its separate localization in the brain and its time-scale of effect, is unclear to me as yet. There may however be some clues in the earlier accounts, for example Subject 0 in Brighton, a reinforced secondary template (reinforced because she reminded me of the Canadian Tourist). It took me precisely 24 hours to recover from the incident involving Brighton Subject 0.

When a female signals a male, tension is created in him as soon as he realizes that there may be an opportunity for sex. In fact the female is signalling sex; during the Signals Day I could not help imagining what it would be like to have sex with the signallers, certainly all the deliberate signallers. Two male responses might be ‘She’s nice, I’d like to get to know her’ or ‘Am I going to be lucky tonight?’ Signals induce neurosis, and the degree of neurosis (the cost) is modulated by the female.

At the initial stage a male will seek to resolve the neurosis induced by a signalling female either by abandoning or approaching. He cannot abandon simply by doing nothing: he must make a conscious decision not to approach, say by finding some unattractive feature in the girl, or by convincing himself with some other excuse not to approach. If he approaches (and normally nothing will ever happen unless he does) the neurotic load will increase, since if he asks directly for what he wants he will not get it.

MECHANISMS OF INTENSIFICATION OF NEUROSIS. The situation would be worsened – the degree of neurosis induced in males increased – if the male was in an environment with a high incidence of erroneous, false or dysfunctional signalling. Provocative signals might be emitted to attract attention, flattery or gifts, for example. Such signals can take place amid a background of other inaccuracies in signalling, such as the mistakes and dysfunctions which already occur.

It seemed that in Amsterdam the amount of signalling which took place was enormous but my conclusion was that the amount of free sexual activity was small. The fact that in some cases sexual activity could take place within a short period of an approach would merely serve to heighten male tension, increasing neurosis and thus female control. Two females independently said that the range – the time which could elapse between an initial encounter and sexual intercourse taking place – was two hours to several years. This variability, which is close to extreme, may be another means of intensifying male neurosis. In the intervening period a male may not be able to stand the loaded atmosphere and tension of ‘Is it or isn’t it’ with the target female. The more the male wants the female, the higher is the neurosis; he really wants her, does not want to fail and so the tension is increased. However if he becomes conscious that all he is likely to get in the attempt is stress he may use this as grounds to abandon his consideration of an approach, and in this way he attempts to resolve the neurosis.

A signal might be received and an approach made but rejected, but in Amsterdam a rebuttal would like as not only be made evident by a signal, such as a disapproving look. On the street, if a signal was not acknowledged and acted upon, for example if the male did not respond to the frown which was delivered as his cue to break, a female could become aggressive in her manner of speech or even abusive.

In a bar, at some point during the usual two or three-hour period during which the outcome hung in the balance, the male might say something, or induce some unpleasurable feeling, or exhibit some trivial bad habit or unattractive bearing which causes his attempt to fail. The male may worry ‘What did I do wrong?’ and try to be on his best behaviour next time. In the acute case the male will not be allowed to bring matters to a head at all, because any independent attempt by him to do so, such as making a proposal which has not been deliberately invited by means of a cue from the female, and is of the expected form, will guarantee failure. In the above scenario, that is in a bar or café, the costs, including the neurosis which the male must endure, will be further increased if he cannot approach the female without everyone else watching and possibly also listening to what is going on. The same will be true if a proposal is made and then immediately broadcast to all and sundry (Proclamation of Enhancement). In the detail of the acute case the writer feels qualified to comment.

From a male standpoint, the ideal situation for the minimization of neurosis would be to approach with a statement like ‘I’d like to have a relationship with you, can we start by having sex?’ and receive a yes or no answer.

In a trivial imagined scenario which might take place in a bar or nightclub, the tension might also be exacerbated by the fear that he might expend all his energy that night on one particular female, only to receive a scribbled and later found false or illegible telephone number on the back of a cigarette packet. This is a facile example, and possibly even trite, but no doubt many males will testify to its accuracy.

TELEVISION VISION, TVV. Another behaviour pattern, which many males are likely to find familiar, is that of ‘Looking to see what he’s got’ after a sequence of relational transactions with a female. During the conversation and exchanges of signals between them the male makes extensive use of TVV, keeping his attention away from the female’s body so as not to alarm her and perturb what appears to be a promising situation. Then, transactions complete (e.g. the female agrees to go back to the male’s home, or an arrangement is made to meet at a later date), the female will go off on some errand (e.g. lavatory, bar or to talk to a friend) and the male is then able to properly survey what has landed in his lap. In fact the female has placed herself there. This is a good combined example firstly of female control, secondly of male use of TVV and thirdly of male indiscriminacy in their selection of partners.


1. It transpires that the Diagnostical Statistical Manual, the definitive reference work in psychiatry, gives a much vaguer definition of neurosis but states that “In neurosis, reality-checking is grossly intact.” In psychosis, on the other hand, reality-checking is partially or wholly absent. Hence the neurotic person knows they are neurotic but the psychotic person is unaware of their condition.

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