Adam Blatner, M.D.

Posted April 10, 2013
This essay will in some ways criticize Moreno, so before I go further I want to clearly say (again) that I give the man full credit for a number of innovations that may yet lead to even more innovations that may benefit humanity:
  - role theory as a user-friendly language, bringing the dramaturgical metaphor into psychology.  - a psychology and philosophy of creativity.
 - noting that spontaneity and improvisation could be as useful and far more often useful as any contemplation and breakthrough into insight
 - an adequate psychology needs to integrate all levels of mind—somato-psychic, intra-psychic, interpersonal, small and large group (microsociology), larger group and culture, and even world-view and cosmic
 - play and emotional support are as important as rationality in the process of creativity
 - interpersonal relations should be in part guided by becoming more conscious of our interpersonal preferences and the dynamics of rapport (tele).
 - feelings of vitality, of authentic presence, of actually doing and being involved, are important elements in personal and group psychology (and politics, too, and other domains of concern)
 - these ideas ultimately have relevance for the larger social institutions of religion, politics, education, home life, recreation, business, as well as the medical model or context of “therapy.”

I doubt that I’ve covered all the elements—I’m sure that I may think of more, and that others will think of things I haven’t thought of.

Because of the profound genius of the man—I’m not afraid of using that word for Moreno—I have been slow to criticize him. I have done so, but I’ve also encountered others who seem to idealize him—attribute to Moreno qualities for which there is little evidence, based on other qualities for which there is good evidence! There are several  problems that come from over- idealization, though:
  - People tend to feel that Moreno had figured it out, and now it’s for us to understand what he said. We should not bother to look for ourselves and come up with our own conclusions. Indeed, it would seem “disrespectful.”
 -People tend to uncritically accept Moreno’s wordings, definitions, their adequacy and accuracy, and his formulations. (I want to suggest that they were all at best partial and sometimes fully mistaken!),
 - People can mystify his work, attributing to him the power to “hide” or “encode” even greater wisdom for us to discover. (People have tended to do this to their heroes of the past, and then some can claim to have “discovered” the “true keys.”  Trouble is, there never were such keys: The mind can discover patterns in many systems of sufficient complexity—the stars, patterns of successively tossed coins (the Chinese book of Changes, the I-Ching), the patterns on the livers of ritually sacrificed animals, patterns of numbers, the layout of Tarot cards, etc.
 ... etc.

Did Moreno Have a Theology?

That was the problem with the man. He did in his mild grandiosity have a “take” on some ultimate metaphysical dynamics—i.e., that creativity was a cosmic principle. He was influenced by Bergson in this, and later others who had never heard of Moreno, such as Nicolas Berdyayev or Alfred North Whitehead, also sensed this dynamic. Moreno wrote ecstatic poetry in his young adulthood and later gathered these into a book, The Words of the Father, published with commentary in the early 1940s.

Until now I have hesitated to even think this, but Moreno’s self-proclaimed theology was really quite partial. He rhapsodized about the ways God can be creative—God’s immanence. I strongly suspect that he was not able to perceive the transcendent nature of “the Everything.” Thus, I don’t see Moreno’s claim to theology as fulfilling the major elements of that word. I grant that he did address an important process, a Divine process, but not all of the Divine processes.

So, let’s go further on this theme of Moreno’s theology being incomplete. He was a genius insofar as noting a powerful archetype, that of creativity, progress, the advance of consciousness. Others of course have noted it, but Moreno devoted his life to developing methods that would in turn help humanity to use this principle.  For these many method Moreno deserves the highest praise. His insight was fueled also by an excitement about this channel—it was more than a single intellectual breakthrough, but a whole flow of associated ideas—, and this excitement led to a prodigious productivity in a career filled with practice, writing, editing, publishing, speaking, traveling, and promoting not only his own efforts but also those who seemed to be aiming at a similar goal—e.g., group psychotherapists, even if they were more psychoanalytic.

Moreno’s gifts were counterbalanced by a number of flaws. He over-estimated the sufficiency of his work. He saw in it a promise of world-changing, but lacked the humility to realize that it would need to be integrated with a host of other developments to be functional. He was like the  fellow who invented the wheel—it might have been a woman, for all we know—, but didn’t appreciate that the wheel would need parallel technologies—axles, other wheels for stability, connecting mechanisms that wouldn’t inhibit the movement, roads, etc. So too, sociometry, and methods to promote creativity also need contexts that can contain and support the powerful flow of creative potential.

Two things about creativity need to be noted—and I haven’t seen where Moreno considered thes points: First, most of creativity is insufficient if not misguided. It needs work, it is often mistaken, it must be refined, tried out with variations many times. Even then only a fraction of all that is possibly creative may actually be found to work. And even then, what works fairly well may yet be surpassed, and that refinement surpassed again and again. So just because it seems new and fresh and insightful doesn’t make it so.

The second point is that creativity is subversive of established authority and knowledge. A moderate amount is tolerable by church and state, maybe—the arts have been given a little free rein, but also reined in—; but creativity in the realms of science, social custom, politics, and education have been more taboo. Creativity is often mixed with the perception or the reality of excessive pride and creativity tends to lose in the short run. As a principle, though, it has emerged as a handmaiden of the industrial revolution, and then the electronic and information revolutions in this country. Now, during this last century, innovation and creativity have become buzz words, idealized, sometimes uncritically—because, as mentioned, not every new idea is a good idea.

Inventors have been imagined as saviors and as evil geniuses. The image of less-than-genius but still clever inventor who makes something with unintended consequences, has only recently been featured in the movies. (A cartoon film, with a chance of ketchup) .But in general, if an evil genius invents a death ray, it is assumed it will work, unlike most of the inventions of well-intentioned government-funded inventors. (I’m not sure whether to sigh in disappointment or relief!)

The point here is the background theme of the Scarecrow’s song, “If I Only Had a Brain,” the tendency of even people with normal-intelligence to unrealistically idealize those whom they vaguely perceive as smarter than them. It turns out that really smart people can make mistakes, too, which brings us back to Moreno.

He was flawed in many ways. Personally, he was a difficult man to work with and many a potential collaborator who sensed the novelty and value in Moreno’s ideas backed away from collaboration after having a number of run-ins with the man. He could seem remarkably warm and generous and then slip into querulous pettiness. His spontaneity was refreshing, but any attempt to carefully read his words or fully understand his talking was ultimately frustrating.

Recently I returned again to one of his classical articles on the social atom and was struck by the lack of modesty—or actual data—in his extravagant and multi-targeted affirmations. This was the way it was because I found it to be this way. (I hear the Wizard of Oz saying to Dorothy, “Don’t look behind the curtain!” just before her little dog Toto pulled aside the curtain to reveal a little old man.) Where’s the data? Was he expecting so much blind acceptance of his authority that no one would ever ask? The presumption of “science”—Moreno’s affirmation that he intended to be “scientific”—overwhelmed the credulous that if he said so it must be so. But in fact Moreno’s science is terrible.

Sociometry is a major example: The sample groups were mainly small groups in total institutions—children in kindergarten, soldiers in a troupe, young women at a school. Such groups were by no means representative of most people in most groups: If I am not getting connected enough to this group I either quit, or decline my investment, and go find more congenial companionship in another group.

Furthermore, most people are members of many groups and their investment in such groups depend on many factors:
 - How much is asked of them to participate?  This includes such seemingly peripheral values—but not really—as the cost of gasoline and travel time at getting to the activity!
 - What are the political ups and downs of the activity? The leadership can go wrong or right in many ways, and this makes a big difference.
 - What socio-economic distractions are there? People tend to pull in when money is tight.
 - What cheaper alternatives are there? Moreno’s writing about “things” is foolish, but unknowingly he did anticipate the degree of psychological investment in television and computers and other forms of vicarious enjoyment and at least the illusion of participation. “Get a life” is by no means a meaningless cliche.
   ...and so forth.

I think Moreno opened the door on interpersonal and group psycho-dynamics the way Freud opened the door on more systematically exploring depth psychology.  But they both suffered from “premature closure of identity,” as the psychoanalyst Erik H. Erikson wrote (in a book about adolescent identity development). Another way to say this is that they both became a little fixed on the sufficiency of their methods and their preliminary conclusions. But these conclusions were not only preliminary, they were significantly mistaken! Or partial!

What makes it hard to criticize is that indeed, both Freud and Moreno were (in my opinion) definitely on to something, but what they were on to was much bigger than they thought. Jung and Adler tried to expand Freud’s vision and were in a sense excommunicated. Hundreds of others have similarly added to Freudian work either operatin within the system or leaving it.

Few yet have taken on Moreno directly. The field has been too small, and his work tends to attract do-ers rather than thinkers-about. Plus it is bewilderingly thick and just maybe he’s partly right or even more right than either he knew himself or that others later discovered. Maybe. Also possible is that he was a genius in sensing and elaborating some ideas and not so clever in the ways that he came to conclusions prematurely, arbitrarily, and over-confidently.

Add to this the group dynamic of those who seem to want to idealize Moreno—that is, to attribute to the man virtues not in evidence based on other virtues clearly in evidence. It’s a form of generalization, a natural tendency of the mind, but logically mistaken. If A is good at B, C, and D, that itself is not sufficient reason to assume that he will be good at E.  But of course this argument is put forward in advertisements all the time as a baseball star endorses a razor.

Back to theology. I’ll state my bias: We must be apophatic, which is a fancy word for saying that neither we at this point in human evolution or the human mind at its best cannot begin to begin to comprehend the physical cosmos, much less the vast mind that is embodied within and beyond it. So Moreno really was chording the archetype of creativity, which itself is an inconceivable flow of psychic energy that expresses one of the many aspects of the Divine. In that sense I’ll concede it was a partial theology. It addressed part of immanence but little if any transcendence. Moreno’s theology was really a perception of the nature and potential of creativity—and yet we should not assume that he “got” all that is implied. I grant him huge credit for getting any, although he was influenced by Henri Bergson, a French philosopher who had become fashionable in Europe at the time. I grant Moreno more credit for associating that insight with a need to develop methods that utilized the divine principle of creativity. Yet I won’t grant Moreno credit for elaborating a full theology—but then again, I don’t think anyone ever has elaborated such a theology, nor do I think that it can be done by any limited human or super-human intelligence—that’s what apophatic really means.

But it’s okay, because even these ideas are still useful enough to do us for the next few centuries, at least. The real point is that creativity is more than a human psychological potential—it’s rather an opening to a divine dynamic—one of many—but worthy of being integrated more widely in the process of human consciousness evolution.

Yes, Moreno’s daring to venture into the cosmic sources is a bit mystical, not part of the more restrained scientific tradition. It was not a feature of his life that was welcome back then, but is becoming now a badge of honor, much as being imprisoned for revolutionary sentiments is a sort badge of heroism after the revolution. I grant Moreno that honor, but not the associated privilege of having all his conclusions uncritically accepted. He was right in some ways and wrog in some ways.

That mixed judgment is difficult for that part of us that wants to come to a simple conclusion: “Either he was a great hero or he was a bum.” But this is a foolish duality. I think something closer to the truth is that Moreno was like other humans in being quite excellent or talented in some ways and significantly less so in other ways, and this all emerged at a time in history when the arenas of his high talent were able to be utilized.

Moreno’s greatest faults were ironically enough his greatest allies: Aside from the quality ofhis insights, his hypomanic personality offered him the confidence and drive to be phenomenally productive! I wonder if he had the “appropriate” level of self-doubt if he would have been able to do so much. It doesn’t matter historically: He was what he was, and it’s folly to wonder what if. On the other hand, we should now hesitate to either over-idealize or dismiss this great man. Too much of what he brought into the field of human awareness is valuable.

Is Science and Theology Incompatible?

Certainly it has been, especially regarding religion that is based on weak historical evidence mixed with appeals to blind faith rather than reason. And in the mid-20th century the two fields had grown further apart. More recently the pendulum has swung a bit. But the real shift relates to how religion is formulated, which for Moreno was more of a psycho-social dynamic, a valuing of encounter and creativity and a perception that the basis for this value was both metaphysical and a deep recognition of the truth of psychology.

The truth for Moreno is that we all are open to inspiration, though this openness is almost gone in  most people. It’s a capacity that is fundamental to being human. Inspiration is an experience more obvious in artistic people or those with a prodigious intellect. Moreno found this dynamic not only fascinating, but core.

Oddly enough—and I agree with him here—, though it can’t be proven easily, inspiration is also related to spontaneous nature of preference and, by association, the increase in creativity when one is in relationship to others with whom one has positive tele or rapport. Others have found that collaborative creativity operates when there’s good morale, a sense of connection, a natural enthusiasm. It can’t be forced or assigned. One must allow connections to happen when they happen. Activities such as assigning a mentor or thinking out from on high who would benefit from rooming together don’t work.  (Interestingly, Moreno’s first essay into what he called “group psychotherapy” in prisons involved this assignment process. But that was before he became more involved in sociometry at the training school for girls a few years into the 1930s.)

But inspiration is generally little acknowledged in modern psychology. It should be, though, and more recent work on creativity reinforces the non-rational and somewhat inexplicable nature of the dynamic.

Metaphysically, I think it imagines the source of creativity to be beyond the personal psyche, and it may be that to imagine it as divine or at least angelic (as a mythic term) if there were dimensions other than our own. This was treated by professionals as utter nonsense, though the paradigm seems to be a shifting of late and more people are being sympathetic to such views. The materialistic, objective view that dominated intellectual discourse earlier in the last century  has begun to seem of late to be unreasonably limited.


I don’t think there will be any final conclusion in this era of shifting paradigms. But that a real thinker might discern some theological ideas as operating in the psyche, and psyche as part of our theories of holistic existence is not so non-professional in an era when transpersonal psychology has emerged.  So this essay is more of an extended opening to a thoughtful discussion. Depending on what feedback you send me on my email, I may modify my position. (Let me know if I can use your name.)

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