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Glenn, J. (1965). Sensory Determinants of the Symbol Three. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 13:422-434.

(1965). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 13:422-434

Sensory Determinants of the Symbol Three

Jules Glenn, M.D.


1. Clinical and cultural materials have demonstrated that three is a symbol of the male genitals. In this case the male genital is considered a unit consisting of three parts: the penis and testicles.

2. Different factors that determined this symbolism in a particular patient are discussed. (a) The penis and testicles are in close proximity resulting in the visual perception of a "good Gestalt." (b) The intellectual knowledge that the penis and testicles are anatomically and functionally related leads one to consider them as a unit. (c) My emphasis has been on the role of the similarity of perceptive changes occurring simultaneously in the penis and testicles during sexual excitement in determining the development of the symbol three. I have demonstrated how similar changes take place in penis and testicles—both rise and fall; both become congested and swollen. I have demonstrated that these changes can be perceived through the visceral and somatic sensory nervous systems

as similar. The emphasis on visceral sensations supplements previous observations on the role of visual and kinesthetic perception in the development of symbols.

3. The clinical material leads one to postulate that the visceral basis for the symbol three may be important not only in this particular patient, but may be universal in men. I have postulated a genetic basis for the symbol three. I suggest that there is a period when penis and testicles are both highly cathected and that it is then that the groundwork for this symbol is laid. Perception of changes in the penis and testicles forms the basis for the mental representation of the genitals. Symbolism occurs through projection of the representation of the part of the body as well as through displacement of cathexis.

4. I have also demonstrated the role of specific visceral sensations in the development of psychological symptoms. The fear of explosions was seen to be a fear of projected visceral sensations. The exploding sensations in the testicles as well as the penis were discussed and the bodily changes that account for these feelings described.

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