A Thousand Words

LOUISE VILA works at the University of Colorado in Boulder. “I have only recently tried writing at all,”she reports.


THE makers of textbooks, having perhaps observed the works of advertising talent, go in for visual aids in a big way these days at the “college level,”as they phrase it, as well as the elementary. On almost every page the student is presented with a photograph, schematic drawing, or diagram to ease his digestion of the printed word. Which may be a very good idea — anything to alleviate the enveloping torpidity that so suddenly afflicts knowledge when it is impounded in a text book. The diagrams in a couple of psychology texts I recently had occasion to examine rather completely have me slightly disturbed, however.

One series is devoted to something called a Life Space. Basically a Life Space may be represented thus:

The large oval, of course, bounds the world as the experiencing individual sees it. Rather than the Straight line shown, the barrier may be a circle larger than and surrounding the goal, and laden with minus signs, producing a negative “ valence” (to make a semantic raid into another field). This negative element wreaks mild havoc in the poor subject’s psyche. He must eat the minus spinach to get through to that plus ice cream.

Or the barrier, rather than a straight line, may be a backstopshaped thing indicating that the subject is blocked in his efforts to avoid it. He may attack the obstacle headlong, says text, break it down or go around, or turn his back on it and give up his goal. The barrier may extend all the way across his Life Space. This produces frustration. I should think so, but it seems to me that these possibilities hardly cover the field.

What if there are a number of barriers?

Our subject now views an endless field of ever-increasing minuses — but there is just a tantalizing glimpse of that plussed object beyond, and he can never quite give it up even though he is not the go-getter type that would jump all those obstacles. Nor, with his dreaminess, is the pull of the goal’s attraction quite strong enough to produce frustration.

Or what if he is just not going to be defeated — too dumb or something?

I have a mental picture of a determined fellow, self-satisfied and independent, full of high ambition (he is probably a writer and therefore maladjusted), whom I shall depict as a stick figure in his Life Space, which is made of pickets.

His barrier is twenty feet high, thick as a castle wall and smooth as glass. Is our subject frustrated? Not on your life, He has brought a packet of sandwiches and a shovel, planted a garden (fast-growing vegetables), and is preparing to dig to the foundations. No one has told him that they go all the way to bedrock, and he will spend the rest of his life there, getting to the bottom of things. He could knock a hole in his Life Space with very little trouble, of course, but he is a square shooter and plays the game by the rules.

A close relation of his who really bothers me is Marginal Man. His plight wrings my heart, and I wish they had not put a name to it. There he sits on the edge of his group (ethnic or family or who knows), within the larger population, unable to belong to either. Sits? Of course not. He’s been rolling around like one electron on the edge of his circle for years now, and he’s bound to make a

Well, I t hink he’s most distressing. Then there is the Self-Concept and Ilea lily, illustrated thus:

habit of it. Here is a chart of Ids prospect ivc journeys:

I have restored necks and strings to the balloons, since obviously they are balloons. In the text these details were left off. The ideal that one is to strive for in this game is to have the two totally similar in size and position. What bothers me is: How can you put. Reality into SC without lotting all the wind out of R, and some out of Self-Concept, 1oo? And if you deflate SC until it fits Reality, you’re going to have a lot of bags in it.

You’ll have to start all over, and it will be twice as hard to blow them up both at the same time. I think we had better just untie the string and let. them drift off—or better yet, blow up Reality until it pops. (It was certainly weak to begin with, and won’t last long.) Then we can forget all about that, and toss SC around a bit. Try how big you can blow it—it’s strong, and should it break will make a lovely bang.