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Martin, A.R. (1975). Commentary on Human Effort. Am. J. Psychoanal., 35(2):101-102.

(1975). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 35(2):101-102

Commentary on Human Effort

Alexander R. Martin, M.D.

In this brief presentation I cannot do more than focus your attention upon an area of human behavior which I hope will intrigue you and capture your interest. I refer to that whole pattern of behavior that has to do with our capacity for effort.

My first paper before the newly formed Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis in the early 1940's was entitled “A Contribution to the Study of Effort.” At that time I was trying to make a distinction between active, or what I called real efforts, and reactive efforts. I gave it a good try, but after a fairly thorough exploration, I failed to reach any satisfactory conclusions.

Shortly afterwards came the contributions of von Bertalanffy,1 K. Lorenz,2 H. W. Magoun,3 and others which stressed the autonomy of the individual. This was followed by findings in embryology which told us that the human organism acts on the environment before it reacts to it. Then came the announcement by embryologists that they had detected pulsations, which were to become the heartbeat, from an embryo three weeks old and one-fifth of an inch long. Even at this early stage these pulsations had a pace and a rhythm completely independent of the mother.4

We are just beginning to recognize the effect of this scientific proof of human autonomy on our study and understanding of the dynamics of human behavior. We still have to cope with the coercive effect of the philosophies of Sherrington, Freud, and others, which are so strongly deterministic and make little or no allowance for free will.

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