Artikel und Buchauszüge


Artikel und Buchauszüge


Ferdinand Wagner






Since that day when I had come across Primal Theory the first time, I have been captivated by the riddle of the roots of neurosis in evolution. Picking up the thread of Dr. Janovs exposition about that issue I want to add some thoughts of my own. I hope I can contribute some useful ideas to that theme.  It is a philosophical approach, the purpose of which is to formulate a principle which could be applied to the long way of human development, starting from a primitive organism “X” up to the modern homo sapiens. The beginnings of this principle have been in my mind for many years, and I want to put it down in writing. In terms of the theory of evolution, this approach is incompatible with the Darwinian concept of selection which understands a whole population  as starting point for the creation of a new species. With Darwin, selective genetic variations would be subject to selection and be taken over by the whole species (phyletic gradualism)1. My approach corresponds to a evolutionary model that  sees the individual organism as basis for (saltatory) changes:

“ Organisms influence their own fates in an interesting, complicated and understandable way. We must re-introduce that concept of the organism into evolutionary biology.” (Gould, 1982)3 .

The approach is speculative, of course. I grant myself the philosophical freedom to say things I can`t prove.

I do not know many publications about the relation between pain and evolution. In the following I refer mainly to Janov, “Gefangen im Schmerz” (Prisoners of Pain), chapter VI, “Die Gegenwart der Vergangenheit” (The Present of the Past) (Fischer, 1981) and to some passages from Janov, Frühe Prägungen (Imprints; The Lifelong Effects of the Birth Experience) (1984).  For long stretches I just followed my inspirations. I hope the outcome is somewhat useful.

In the end this essay is an attempt to trace back primal pain in evolution and to trace it back far beyond that point, wenn the first hominids emerged. Only recently it has come clear how deep imprinted pain is anchored in the human system, and that could imply that this depth by analogy also can be found in the process of evolution. In other words, the imprint (primal pain) could indeed be a "very old hat" of evolution, and it could have set in train a dialectics that has continued to produce new syntheses. Modern man represents this synthesis on the highest level.

1 The informations and the quotation are taken from John C. Eccles, Die Evolution des Gehirns – Die Erschaffung des Selbst, Piper, München, 1989 (original edition: Evolution of the Brain : Creation of the Self, 1989)    


Primal Theory says that Pain had been the core and driving force of human evolution. Dr. Janov mentions an elementary principle or law saying roughly that every intrusion creates a biologic structure in an organism to cope with it. (Janov 1981) The ability of fishes and earthworms to produce endorphins seems to be such a biologic structure, and this ability suggests that we should possibly look for the beginnings of human evolution in a phase countless millions of years before the first antecedents of homo sapiens had emerged. Every wondrous story has an inconspicuous early stage and perhaps the fantastic chapters of that story would never have opened up if there had not been at least one incisive incident.

Many scientists think that a geological catastrophe had happened, which had been responsible for that a group of primates had lost their original protecting habitat.2 Without the shelter the jungle had given them, those primates had to face much more threats, painful and frightening experiences than those members of the species who had not been affected by that geological incident. But apart from the hypothesis of a geologic catastrophe,  what could be the nature of that law, what could have been the changes in an organism due to an invading painful experience?

2 See also Janov, Gefangen im Schmerz (Prisoner of Pain), p. 317-332 , Fischer, 1981

Having a look at a modern member of human species, we see a creature which is excellently able to cope with painful experiences but, on the other hand,  is much more sensitive and vulnerable  than almost all other beings. I refer to the wide open sensory window of human babies, to the long phase of dependency of human children and, last not least, to the enormous sensory, mental and emotional capacity of a person who was lucky enough to have been loved in critical early stages of his life and to have  experienced only little early pain. It should be beyond all question that much more parental care is necessary for a growing up human to avoid painful overload than it is for any mammal. But also a human adult is more likely to perceive pain than most animals. For example let`s look at the skin. It is an exclusively human sense organ, able to impart ecstatic states and simultaneously implying that a human will feel unbearable pain in climatic situations which are no problem for a creature that is protected by its coat (provided you take away the human`s clothes. One has to regard that ‘clothes’ are not the equipment that nature (evolution) had given to him or her). 

On the other hand, many mental health professionals and patients - especially primal therapists and primal patients -  know  that the growing up human organism is capable of processing incredible lots of pain from the start. So the system´s excellent ability to defend itself against pain ( to adopt it and handle it in a way that ensures survival) seems to be connected with its highly developped sensitivity and increased vulnerability. We see a relation of two opposite and antagonistic elements in a biologic system. (The element involved in defense is surely not an advocate of "highly developped sensitivity").

What could be the nature of this relation? As we know that this system has gone a very long way of development, we could assume that the constant interaction of both elements might have helped each of them to a higher quality stage. The defense ability could have induced an increasing sensitivity, and conversely, the increasing sensitivity could have determined an improving defense ability. Obviously, there is a paradox in this reflection. How could the act of defense lead to a higher state of sensitivity? It seems to make no sense. One should clearly expect that a painful experience invading the sensitive and sensory systems of an organism would result in lower sensitivity so that the probability to perceive the same experience as painful will be less for the next time. In ontogenesis, this is an essential feature of what happens in neurosis. In phylogenesis, this could be one possible adaption to adverse environmental circumstances. And perhaps this expected effect had exactly been the result of the endorphin system in earthworms and fishes and other low creatures.

The riddle remains. It´s not necessarily logical that the necessity to defend oneself against  pain should result in increased sensitivity and emotional capacity. Now one could use a further clue in Dr. Janovs books, namely that pain evidently produces a bigger cortex in rats.

One could imagine a low organism with a primitive nervous system which is having a painful experience: an alien force (in the form of sensory signals) is invading the primitive sensory and nervous system of this organism from outside. Now we postulate two possible consequences:

(1) First possibility: the endorphin system comes into effect and reduces the “sensory window”. The sensitivity of the organism (of the nervous system) diminishes. The result: the attack has been blocked successfully. This could be the potential reaction to a stimulus which is painful but not life-threatening. In the German edition of Scientific American of November 1979 Eric R. Kandel reports about adaptive processes in the primitive nervous system of the sea snail Aplysia californica. (Earlier published in Scientific American, September 1979). Aplysia manages this adaption (sensitization/desensitization) by regulation of the transmitter substance which is poured out into the synaptic gap. It is my speculation that endorphins are an extended and more complex form of habituation (desensitization). A frequent stimulus that is unpleasant but not dangerous gets ineffective in the nervous system. Possibly this had been the primary function of endorphins.

(2) Second possibility: a correlative of the intruding force remains as active memory (feedback loop, reverberating circuit) in the primitive nervous system and generates a permanent stimulation. It is my speculation that the active memory is an extended and more complex form of sensitization. A frequent stimulus that is unpleasant and dangerous and therefore requires a prompt and fast reaction is stored between several nerve cells as a reverberating reaction cycle. The reaction which Aplysia californica has learned and which has been achieved by biochemical modulation could be stored in a circular process as a permanent state. The advantage: forgetting is impossible and the fast reaction to the dangerous frequent stimulus is maintained. As I said, this is pure speculation. In Aplysia the learned reaction (the reinforced reflex of drawing back the gills) gets lost after some time. The memory is limited. 

Could this have been the primary function of a feedback loop? An irreversible long-term memory that instantaneously provides a hardly learned reaction which is necessary for survival?

In Primal Theory the feedback loop is an indispensable element of the paradigm. [e.g. see Janov, Anatomie der Neurose (The Anatomy of Mental Illness) p. 54, “Die Permanenz des Urschmerzes” (“The Permanence of Primal Pain”) and Janov, The Biology of Love, Part II, 10., “The Trigger Effect”, p. 189 ]:

“The early pain this individual experienced becomes a reverberating circuit; the feeling, trapped, cycles through the brain system in an unending reverberation.”  .

 It is a structure to which Dr. Janov´s statement applies perfectly:

 “Every intrusion creates a structure in an organism that copes with it”

What is a reverberating circuit in my personal experience? A subsystem in my brain in which a gigantic energy was circulating. I will never understand how the brain managed to get such a tremendous power work in a most narrow space, in such cramped conditions, without my knowing. However, there were symptoms: e.g. a strong bodily urge to move and lack of concentration in mental activities. There is no need for me to speculate on  potential long-term consequences of that power (e. g. psychosis or cancer). The pain which has left my system will never come back.

I believe that the energy circulating in a neuronal loop is one key to evolution. A reverberating circuit is an open energetical system. For its existence energy must be invested and, conversely,  energy can be drawn from it. Its presence in a nervous system will not be without consequences. It exerts a stimulating power tending to raise the nervous system on a higher functional level.

Again: if the amoeba Dr. Janov mentions (see The New Primal Scream) is able to absorb foreign bodies or elements and to expel them later, perhaps also small formations of neurons in primitive organisms could be able to incorporate an intruding dangerous stimulus (i.e. a reflection of a real threat in the environment) in the form of a reaction cycle and to store it for a while in order to enable changes in the nervous system, which are designed to a successful reaction when this external threat will be met with the next time. Probably a reverberating circuit permanently remaining in the system is that kind of memory which, in case of a renewed threat from the environment, provides the promptest and fastest reaction of an organism. I think this corresponds with Dr. Janov´s observation and interpretation in the ontogenesis of the neurotic. In Frühe Prägungen he writes:

“The traumata, occuring on every line of consciousness, remain as reverberating circuits of Primal Pain. These circuits of pain alert the body to danger - to the danger of consciousness.” (p.133) And: “ Whenever Pain is engraved on the nervous system, also the reaction to this Pain is imprinted.(…..) Pain and reaction are a unity which becomes archetypal so that the original pattern of response is set off again under every later stress.”(p. 134 ibid.). [emphasis added]

As the rat experiment suggests, a permanent stimulus, imprinted in a nervous system, tends to make this system grow. Related to a primitive nervous system operating on the level of simple reflexes, this could imply that this nervous system gradually strives for a higher functional level. There will emerge new functions, new options, new abilities, new reactions to environmental stimuli. The tendency of a growing nervous system will always be to make possible an increasingly more intensive and comprising experience of its environment. Dr. Janov writes:

“The imprinting of Primal Pain fixes a permanent imbalance in the biochemistry of the brain – an imbalance arising to cope with early stress.(….). Therefore, an environment sets up a new brain system which, conversely, creates a new environment for itself.” (p. 1 38 ibid.) [emphasis added]

The point is that the way the primitive system deals with dangerous painful stimuli does not result in bluntness but in sensitization. In Aplysia parts of the nervous system react to the stimulus with sensitization and with a temporarily increased energetical level. Just here the paradox shows which could have decisively influenced the evolution: pain results in sharpening the sensory apparatus (a group of neurons becomes more ‘vulnerable’ i.e. reactive), even if it is only for a short time in Aplysia.

I tend to think that out of the first reaction cycle – a group of neurons persistently operating on a slightly increased energetical level – a pain processing apparatus could have  developed, a system capable of “catching” and storing external stimuli; exactly the structure that is found in the brain of a modern neurotic.

The sensory competence (the skill to handle stimuli) of the organism could have gradually increased. A “team of specialists” could have come into being in the nervous system, catching overloading external stimuli and locking them into a circular process.The capacity for input, coming from the outside world, could have heightened, and the activity of the neurons in the reverberating circuit could have had sensitizing and growth-inducing effects on the whole nervous system, so that the sensory (and motor) apparatus could have increased. That would imply that the system now was able to cope with those stimuli that would possibly have resulted in its death before and, on the other hand, that a part of those stimuli, which had first been registered only weakly, was now perceived as distressing and overloading. The system could really have created a new environment for itself. The way it experienced its environment would have changed and conversely that changed relation to the external world would have re-influenced the system.

In line with  growing sensory capacity and competence, also the ability of the organism to gate and block stimuli should increase. If that was not the case the pain-processing structures could easily be overtaxed. The endorphine and gating subsystem should have developed parallel to the subsystem of the reverberating circuit.


The Dialectical Principle. Thesis and Antithesis Create a New Synthesis on a Higher Level.

According  to the philosopher Georg W. F. Hegel (1770 – 1831), all logic and reality is dialectical in character. Two opposite thoughts, features or, generally speaking, ‘elements’ unite to a new synthesis. Every synthesis compares with the rung of a ladder that leads to higher levels of consciousness. It may be that Hegel`s finding leads back to the roots of human evolution.

I suggest the following elementary principle for the evolution of humankind :


Hypothesis:  The necessity to cope with a threat from the environment led to structural changes in a primitive organism. In the long-term consequence, the sensory competence of the system heightened: on the one hand, the defense ability ( the skill to cope with adverse external stimuli) of the organism was slightly increased. On the other hand the vulnerability (the probability to perceive  stimuli intruding from outside as overloading or dangerous) was growing.  Both effects entered into a mutual interaction: the increased sensitivity heightened the likelihood of the organism to be faced with painful external phenomenons and forced the defense system into expanding (more cells for the memory function and for the endorphin production) and taking action more frequently. And conversely, the more frequent activity of the defense system and the enhanced probability of internal stimulation (by feedback loops) resulted in further sensitization (extension and refinement of the sensory apparatus).

Briefly, a desired effect (defense) created an undesirable contrary (paradox) side effect (increased sensitivity and vulnerability) in a system, presumably because of the fact that sensitization was the only effective defense against a dangerous external attack. Both contrary effects reinforced each other in an antagonistic interplay including the environment and, in the long-term consequence led to the result that the organism reached higher rungs on the ladder of evolution. The systemic changes the individual organisms experienced in the course of their ontogeneses were encoded in the genes and resulted in the emergence of new syntheses (species) with heightened organismic, systemic intelligence.      

More abstractly:   In an open system two essential elements enter into an internal interplay set off by an intruding external element. The internal interaction and the further interaction with the external world results in increased competence of both elements and in the emergence of a more intelligent and competent system.


That process would apply to that theoretical model in biology according to which individual organisms undergo a rather saltatory development (Elredge and Gould,1972). It is another question, whether the isolation of a group of individuals is always necessary for that process. Anyway, according to this draft of evolution, life would present a new form (species) as a given fact to the environment and only then selection would take place. However, it would never and in no way be selection that creates a new species.1 Dr. Janov as well takes the view that the Darwinian concept of adaption and selection might be incorrect. He writes:

“It may be that Darwins theory of adaption, as we know it,  is not correct at all. The basis of evolution goes back to the way, how the organism utilizes his own internal aids for survival and internal changes as a reaction to an external environment.

However, it is less the way that the environment "selects" the species which are fittest for survival, but rather the way that the environment produces different structures of survival. For this reason, the schizophrenic has a changed brain structure (….) . And for the same reason the cortex of animals gets heavier and fuller as a result of extrem stimuli.” (Gefangen im Schmerz, p. 323) [emphasis added]

It is obvious that a construct of life, as genious as a nervous system, stands all tests of the “selection committee”. The system is adaptive, flexible,communicative, selective, excellently capable of learning and developing. It is and it has always been from the start. It makes the optimum of its increase. More cells in its formation result in the emergence of new qualities. And early on in evolution, the system started “catching” reflections of the external world and integrating them as system-immanent states.

By introducing the  reverberating circuit (imprint) as a consequence of the defense process, a hypothetic model comes into being that might be applied to the evolution of humans. However, presumably there wouldn´t be human beings today, if there hadn´t been a dramatic incident. A dramatic incident  in the environment was necessary to accelerate the evolutionary process and generate an incredible creature in the end : homo sapiens (neuroticus). That incident was no doubt an acid test for the consciousness life had created  up to that point of time. 

Imagining a modern human without her or his clothes I realize, to what great extent her or his development is determined by the interplay of inner structures. There is no point in interpreting the loss of the coat and the emergence of the human skin as adaption to the environment. On the contrary, it is a paradox maladjustment that had been disadvantageous for survival and therefore unmasks the true nature of the human evolution as a game that, to a great extent,  is dominated by internal structures. I believe the human skin is a ditat of the growing nervous system that became more and more prevailing. It seems as if the nervous system had announced to the coat:

“We can no longer cooperate well with you. We need an organ that is equivalent to our own high standard, an organ on which we can better spread out ourselves and which guarantees us more stimulation than you can do. It´s high time that you go.”

The disadvantage caused by the loss of the protecting coat meant a new challenge for the growing Neocortex. New techniques had to be found out to compensate this disadvantage and to ensure survival. The stimulating play between the two antagonists did never stop.

To repeat: There is a interplay of two antagonistic phenomenons. In an organism structures guaranteeing increased defense abilities produce structures ensuring increased sensitivity, vulnerability and neediness. By the interaction of both elements new syntheses come into being that are anchored in the genetic code and result in the emergence of a new species.

It seems, that in a more advanced phase of human evolution, beyond that point when  a group of primates got into isolation, the influence of the inner structures on the progress of evolution became more and more important and that the importance of the environment for the development of the species was diminishing. It is an essential feature of neurosis that neurotic parents are not capable of recognizing and fulfilling the needs of their children. They neurotize their children regardless of the surroundings they live in. Having read the Biology of Love, we realize that the neuronal structures of the human organism are largely shaped by the state, behaviour and influence of the parents. Forming the species`s brain by the species starts in the womb.3  The Biology of Love (as well as Dr. Janov`s earlier books) shows that the concept of the imprint holds various and partially most subtle implications (also in utero), which point to the inner self-dynamics and independence of human evolution. The original conflict between the organism and the environment has been transferred to the species. The parental generation gives the coming generation a guarantee for "piles of pain" and shapes its consciousness.

What I am going to say is surely going much too far but I just can´t resist: It seems to me as if those internal structures had finally internalized the pain, had locked it into their systems completely and to the end of time as if they had been drug addicts, who didn`t want to abstain from their cherished stimulus any longer. Primal Pain is certainly not anchored in the genetic code, but the ostensible inevitability by which it is passed on from generation to generation and anchored in the nervous system is definitely astounding.

Why had pain become a permanent state, an active energetical permanent condition imprinted on the neuropilem? Why the transformation from pain into Primal Pain, the original sin4 of humanity?

3 In philosophy, the terminus tabula rasa describes the blank , untouched state of the human mind at birth. What an error ! (How easy to say with hindsight )

4 The religious idea of the original sin ( the German expression Erbsünde means hereditary sin) – a symbolic encoding of the inescapability that underlies the Imprint? My encyclopedia says: "because of Adam`s and Eve`s primal sin, by all humans inherited state of disfavour with God resulting in mortality ( the shortened lifespan of neurotics), ignorance ( unconsciousness) and greediness" ( caused by unmet basic needs). In my opinion, the correspondence with the laws of neurosis is astounding.

Dr. Janov maintains that one has to probe into  the ontogenetic structures and processes of a human in order to understand phylogenetic processes.

In the ontogenetic development of a person  neurosis results, when an extremely vulnerable organism (the embryo, the fetus, the infant, the child) meets with a defended organism (the mother, the father) that is under tension because it already holds the Pain. If that Pain (the imprint, the trauma) is strong enough, if the level of tension is high, the neurotic process already starts in the womb. I know it from my own experience. A mother under strong tension will unavoidably transfer this tension to the fetus in utero, even if she`s not conscious of it. The system of the fetus has to take in and process part of the pain energy circulating in the mother`s brain and radiating into her system. The structures which can do this job are available and adequately workable in the foetal system. 

And this means nothing different than that the transmission definitely took place. Now the foetus is proud owner of primal pain. Of course, this foetal primal pain has not the full dimensions of the maternal pain, it is only a taste of what is yet to come, so to say. Nevertheless the impact of prenatal influences on adult life quality may be devastating. Here the issue is not only about "pain energy" which is transmitted, but also about a variety of biochemical or structural changes which may be caused by the neurotic maternal organism. Anyway, the imprint has done it: it has “reproduced” itself.

Dr. Janov writes:

“(…..).Unfortunately there is no act of volition, no motivation, no degree of honesty that could by itself cancel the inevitable effects of the mother`s neurosis. Therefore the options are very limited: either a woman has to go fully into her own Primal Pain before conceiving a child or take a very high risk of passing on her neurosis to the child. (….).” [emphasis added]

(Janov, Frühe Prägungen, I., 2., Gedeihen oder Alptraum-Die neun Monate im Schoß, p. 100, Fischer 1984)

It might be that the process the beginnings and dynamics of which I tried to describe ( the interaction of two antagonistic elements in an organism) had come to a critical point one day. One day the power of the reverberating memories and the pain processing capacitiy of the whole brain had reached critical dimensions, that could potentially result in considerable interferences with normal functions of the organism. From that point in time on, the noxic input strored in neuronal reverberating circuits  (a part of the system`s defense)  was not only motor of growth and evolution but also a dangerous factor within the system, able to affect more and more cells and functions of the organism. And when that organism was pregnant ( say a female primate of that group of apes which had got into isolation), the force of the Imprint could also radiate to the foetus and compel its pain-processing structures to incorporate a part of this force as a new reverberating circuit. It is logical that an increasing power will extend its sphere of influence and affect to more and more components of that system in which it is active. When the reverberating circuit had been generated in the foetal nervous system or when biochemical or structural changes had occured in the fetal organism, the transmission of the Imprint had definitely taken place, and the old interplay could start anew in the young organism.

Possibly the dynamics of that old interplay of opposite elements inescapably leads to critical situations. Theoretically this may be the case when the structures, giving rise to sensitivity and vulnerability, expand too much (the development of the human skin), so that the defense structures can hardly cope with the increasing amount of pain any longer, and conversely it may be the case, when the structures of the defense system get too powerful. When the number of cells storing pain or being some other way involved in control of noxic imput heightens, thus when the pain processing capacitiy increases, theoretically also the influence and the power of the imprint may grow, and interferences with normal functions of the organism, directly or indirectly caused by the energy of the pain, could be the consequences.

An extremly critical situation could arise when, on the one hand, the highly developed sensitivity and , on the other hand, the highly developed ability to process pain meet an environment which keeps on being extremely adverse, hostile and dangerous. This could be the point where things really threaten to become neurotic in evolution. The power of the Imprint  could arrive at enormous proportions. On the one hand the imprinted pain has the power to seriously interfere with normal functions of the organism and is likely to be transmitted to the fetus, on the other hand the further defense measures  of the brain (splitting, disconnection, gating, blunting of the feeling apparatus)*  gradually result in impediments which may be so momentous that parents no longer are  capable of sufficiently satisfying the needs of their children by following their feelings and instincts. From that point on, the Permanence of Pain is threatening regardless of the environmental circumstances. The Imprint is threatening to immortalize itself and it comes to accelerated growth of the brain. Therefore, in phylogenesis neurosis  would start from that point on where the Imprint comes  into conflict with normal functions of the adult organism and into conflict with vulnerable sensory structures of the young organism of the following generation, directly (in utero) as well as indirectly (by the parents` behaviour).

* See Dr. Janov's books

In the group of primates which had got into isolation, that critical point could have been reached relatively fast. One could have foreseen , when those primates who lived in a hostile environment from generation to generation, who had the imprint in them and were exposed to its increasing power of interference, and who had to bear the consequences of the antagonistic interaction (creation of new sensitive structures, i.e. the human skin) would be impeded so severely that they could no longer fully satisfy the needs of their children, who had presumably been touched by the radiating force of the Imprint already in utero. 

The Permanence of pain, the inevitable permanent anchoring of the imprint in the nervous system across the hurdle of the alternating generations couldn`t be stopped any longer.  Pain had become  Primal Pain, and the old interplay of the opposites went on at a faster pace and finally created the modern humans. With the human organism, a product (a synthesis) came into being which, on the one hand, imparts feeling in an intensity and dimension that isn`t accessible to other species and, on the other hand, is capable of coping with nearly all problems and challenges. The frontal cortex enables defense on the highest level and by means of its detective and analytical power leading to new discoveries and techniques (one of which is primal therapy) and by application of that newly acquired knowledge to dealing with succeeding generations it allows the human system in the long term to fully unfold its capacity of feeling, empathy, sensitivity and responsible behavior. It is only a question of time that the real human product, the real homo sapiens will present in major numbers. It's quite a different question whether his or her appearance will be in time or whether he or she will come too late onto the scene of evolution.


When an intruder becomes a part of the physiology – The energetical consequences of the transformation.

In the beginning of evolution, primitive organism probably had few possibilities to prevent the intrusion of an alien (organic) body or force (actually a very superfluous comment as life has always been based on the exchange of substances); on the other hand a chance was offered to profit from the "intruder."  According to a theory, the cell (as an elementary particle of all aerobic organisms) is the combination of two different organic life forms, which had met sometime and somewhere in the aeons of the past. 

The motto “keep the intruder for a while or forever and use its energy and skills” had turned out to be a recipe for success in evolutionary matters right from the start. The amoeba which had absorbed the ink granules and made them a “part of its physiology” (Janov) might have kept different (organic) particles forever if it had identified them as useful instead of noxious. And also a stimulus, trapped in a nervous system and getting a permanent state, may belong to that successful recipe, even though the energy, flowing in an endless circulation, is no longer the original energy of the invading stimulus. The reverberating memory has become an integral part of the energy balance of that organism, which had had the distressing experience with the environment. From now on, the system operates on a slightly increased energetical level. This raises an important question in connection with the hypermetabolic state of an neurotic organism:

Janov/Holden had understood the hypermetabolic state in that way that the system has to expend energy in order to keep Primal Pain under control.5 First I disput this interpretation. Later on, I will reapproach Janov`s/Holden`s argument. Now I argue the converse: the system has to expend a lot of energy in order to keep Primal Pain alive. The latter interpretation results compellingly from laws of physics or chemistry. A neuronal feedback loop is definitely no closed system. Mr. L. von Bertalanffy (probably a chemist) comments on the closed system as follows:

“ A closed system in balance neither needs energy for its preservation nor can energy be drawn from it. Therefore the chemical balance is unable to work.”

In other words, if those reverberating circuits were closed systems, primal pain would have no power, no impact. It would be a dead body lying around in a dark hole in the depths of the brain. One could safely forget it.

Mr. L. von Bertalanffy continues:

“ In order to work, a system must not be in balance but must move towards it. In order to be permanently able to do so, the system must be kept in a state of flowing balance. This is the case with the living organism in which the fact that it is an open system (which constantly interchanges substances and energy with the environment) is the necessary condition for its permanent ability to work.”

[Quotation found in Dr. med. C.Narciß/Dr. phil. G.A. Narciß, Unser Hausarzt (Our Family Doctor), 1970 Lexikographisches Institut, München]

5 Janov/Holden, Primal Man – Das neue Bewußtsein, chapter XI, Die Verlängerung der Lebenserwartung (The Prolongation of Life Expectancy), Fischer, 1977, s.369.

What applies to the living organism as a whole, also applies to the neuronal reverberating circuit. In order to be able to work, to have an effect, the neurons of the reverberating circuit must interchange substances and energy with the environment. The human organism as a whole provides the energy that keeps Primal Pain alive. The reverberating memory has become an integral part of the organism`s energy balance. Only if Primal Pain were a perpetuum mobile, a system that works and has power, without energy having to be invested, the interpretation of Janov/Holden would be absolutely correct. 

Now the following question arises: What is the amount of energy the organism expends in order to keep primal pain alive in proportion to the amount of energy the organism expends in order to keep primal pain under control ? For that the following consideration: 

I think, from a phylogenetic point of view the structures storing pain ( reverberating circuits in the brain) must be seen as defense systems in themsselves. I imagine the neurons of a reverberating circuit like a well-coordinated basketball team that keeps the ball within their lines. Because of the “grooved” pathways, generated among a group of neurons, it will not be easy for the circulating energy quantums to break out. I believe it would be a disaster for the energy budget of the organism, if it had to set an equivalent defense energy against the tremendous amount of energy that may circulate in a neuronal feedback loop (depending on the extent of trauma) and that the organism has to produce inescapably.  Rather the system will try to keep the energy of the Imprint under control by technical finesses the most important of which is the self-maintaining neuronal circuit. However, in the long term the system cannot prevent the power of pain from affecting other cells of the organism. Otherwise serious afflictions would not appear in such variety among the population.

However, in acute situations, when the Pain is threatening to break out of its cage, the organism gathers all its available forces to prevent the escape. In those situations, the energy involved with defense is surely tremendous (see the Primal Man by Janov/Holden)). In my opinion, however, the chronic state of a neurotic organism can be described as follows: the energy involved to keep Pain alive is considerably greater than the energy involved to keep that Pain under control.

From that a tragic point of view results: the human organism invests a lot of energy in order to maintain a power (Pain) that inescapably leads to moderate and/or disastrous malfunctions in the system. To do this job, the organism gives years or decades of its life expectancy, since the maximum life energy* being at its disposal is used up too early. (see Janov, Das neue Bewusstsein - Primal Man) 

*Roland Prinzinger, a German professor of Vegetative Physiology at Frankfurt University proved that the maximum lifespans of different species can be determined rather precisely by a mathematical formula. (Prinzinger, Das Geheimnis des Alterns,Frankfurt/Main ; New York : Campus Verlag, 1996, chapter 16, p. 453, The Theory of The Maximum Metabolic Rate – No Theory but a Belief ?)

What sense does that make? Is the human organism an insane faulty design? No. Surely not. It is from top to toe a highly intelligent system and everthing happening in this system makes a complete sense. This organism holds the experiences from the millions of years of its development. And when one illuminates that long historical background the relation between the organism and the Pain may appear in a clearer light.

Despite the various symptoms and malfunctions it causes, I am convinced that we must not see Pain unbalancedly and exclusively as intruder and enemy, against whom the organism has to defend itself and  whom it wants to get rid of as soon as possible. In the aeons of the evolution, the imprint had become a successful concept, born out of the necessity to defend oneself against painful and dangerous assaults from the environment. The imprint (the reverberating circuit) had been (and still is) a very successful defense structure (defense by keeping alive the apt reaction to a dangerous stimulus and later in evolution by trapping  overloading sensory input in a circuit). It became the motor and integral part of a dynamic interplay between antagonistic elements/structures in the organism. That interplay got the decisive factor in the evolution of humans. The Imprint was not only an intruder, but also a friend, who had a stimulating effect promoting the growth of the brain and it was  (and has always been) an integral component of the organism, “a part of its physiology” (Janov). The structures of the nervous system had adapted to the presence of the imprint and  to its increasing  powerSometime and somewhere in evolution pain imprinted in the nervous system had reached a critical extent. That could have been the starting point of neurosis, of a process that led to the permanence of the imprint. Sometime in the past, the pain had cleared the hurdle between the generations and changed into  Primal Pain.

Regarding the history of the imprint by hindsight, Janov`s/Holden`s interpretation of the hypermetabolic state is correct in some way. The reverberating circuit is a paradox. It persistently reproduces the Pain and keeps it under control at the same time. In its historical function, it is a successful defense system. In the beginning it may have managed defense by keeping alive a memory of (a reaction to) the external danger. Later on it may have developed into a successful method of coping with overloading input. To reproduce that input in an endless circular process had been the price for that method.

 So the energy invested in that storage system serves the purpose of defense on the one hand and the purpose of reproduction on the other hand. When writing the Primal Man, Janov/Holden must have known that the imprint can not be a perpetuum mobile, a closed system needing no energy supply.  Nevertheless they forgot to answer the question where the energy keeping the stored trauma alive comes from. Ultimately the problem may lie in the tremendous dimensions the imprint has taken on in the course of evolution. In view of the almost endless amount of pain that may come to surface in a neurotic human, it seems unbelievable that the imprint once had been a relatively harmless part of the organism`s physiology. The subcortical structure of the reverberating circuit seems to be an ingenious stroke of life, which has excelled itself on its long way to the present. It is the "black hole" of the brain, swallowing incredible lots of pain, thus ensuring the survival of the organism under even most adverse circumstances. However, in the end we are talking about an achievement of defense, storage and integration that the whole brain has produced. The task of processing trauma and pain is incumbent on the the brain as a whole. Presumably subcortical nervous networks would soon turn out to be hopelessly overtaxed regarding the task to keep trauma energy under control on their own, without help of the "neocortical lid". Thus, seen from a particular perspective, the whole brain and going one step further, the entire organism may be interpreted as a "black hole" with impressing capacities.

Comparing the amoeba with the modern human organism, one must admit that the amoeba had an comparatively easy job of getting rid of the foreign particles. A birth trauma , however, trapped in the thick webs of  human neuronal networks, cannot be released from one day to the next. It is literally filled up and buried by billions of neurons. As it is the case with an avalanche victim, the liberation must occur systematically from outside. First, it is a matter of removing several layers of pain that overlie the birth trauma. Then , one day the system will really release its prisoner, thus unveiling the dual, paradoxical nature of the Imprint. Throughout the countless millions of years in evolution, it has been a “part of the physiology” but it has never lost its primal feature of an intruder, of an alien force.

From a historical-evolutionary point of view, both the repression which tries to preserve the integrity of body and mind and the resolution of traumatic memories via primal therapy, which largely banishes the imprint from the system, make a complete sense. For a suffering human primal therapy is the only choice. There is no alternative.




1. A. Janov, Gefangen im Schmerz, Fischer, Frankfurt, 1981

2. A. Janov, Frühe Prägungen, Fischer, 1984

3. A. Janov, Das neue Bewusstsein-Primal Man, Fischer, 1977

4. A. Janov, Der neue Urschrei, Fischer, 1993

5. A. Janov, The Biology of Love, Prometheus, New York, 2000

6. J. Eccles, Die Evolution des Gehirns, Piper, München. 1989

7. R. Prinzinger, Das Geheimnis des Alterns, Campus, Frankfurt/New York, 1996

8. C. und G. Narziß, Unser Hausarzt, Lexikographisches Institut, München, 1970, 1977

9. Spektrum der Wissenschaft, 11/1979, s. 58