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Ghent, E. (2002). Wish, Need, Drive: Motive in the Light of Dynamic Systems Theory and Edelman's Selectionist Theory. Psychoanal. Dial., 12(5):763-808.

(2002). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 12(5):763-808

Wish, Need, Drive: Motive in the Light of Dynamic Systems Theory and Edelman's Selectionist Theory

Emmanuel Ghent, M.D.

Almost all psychoanalytic theorizing posits some basic and presumably built-in motivational thrusts. The goal of this paper is to present an alternative way of thinking about the beginnings of motivation. I go into some detail about recent contributions from two areas of research: dynamic systems theory as applied by Esther Thelen to infantile motor development and Gerald Edelman's (1992) theory of “Neural Darwinism.” What emerges are two interlocking hypotheses: The first is that what we infer as drives or other versions of “basic” motivations are already a late development of motivational organizations that started out from a collection of rather primitive biases. The second hypothesis, based on dynamic systems thinking or complexity theory, is that a great many developmental features that appear to be driven by a built-in genetic program or design, are, in fact, the spontaneously emergent, and therefore the never completely predictable, resultant of the interplay of embedded, embodied, and environmental elements. It is also hypothesized that, just as motivational systems lead to the emergence of new capacities and functions, so too do new capacities beget new motivational derivatives in an ever-more complex developmental spiral. Early experience plays an enormously important and highly individual role in the creation of conative patterns that eventually crystalize into what we, as observers and theoreticians, begin to categorize into systems

of motivation. Depending on the observer and his or her frame of reference, certain motivational systems are held to be superordinate to others; these then are held up as basic motives. As psychoanalysts we currently find ourselves in a situation of competing organizational systems vying for prominence. The multiplicity of such systems speaks to our uncertainty and the need for further study to clarify the many questions that this line of thinking evokes. The second section of this paper explores the relations among need, wish, impulse, and defense as varieties of motivational systems that have already crystalized out of the early beginnings of motivation.

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