Module 2B

#2 WHAT CAUSES IT? Discover causes, conditions, & effects.

2B: The Proliferation of the Momentum of Choice: Feeling, Craving, & Grasping

“Thus alcohol addiction can be thought of not as a disease, but as a suicidal flight from disease, a disastrous attempt at the self-cure of an unseen inner conflict, aggravated but not primarily caused (as many think) by external conflict”

–Karl Menninger, Man Against Himself 1939 p. 147.

Pre-requisite 1B: Perception immediately leads to a partitioning of Memory into Factual Memory (Self—who we really are), & Volitional Memory (Self Image—who we think we are) This is the Genesis of the Momentum of Choice.


An individual choice is free, the set of choices that an individual makes is not free. We can see the isolated effects of individual actions and discrete mental states more readily than the cumulative effects of a series of remembered actions and mental states. But any set of choices creates an expanding, proliferating momentum that cannot be accounted for by simple cause and effect. Feeling, Craving, & Grasping are the medium through which the proliferation of the momentum of choice occurs. We are moving closer to the set of Causes and Conditions that generate an addiction, but we are not there yet.


2A Choice as Cause and Effect 2B The Proliferation of the Momentum of Choice 2C The Corruption of the Momentum of Choice
Self-centeredness generates a mental obsession for the relief alcohol brings which, after years of destructive drinking, creates a physical phenomenon of craving. Destructive drinking represents a flight from a conflict of unknown origin in which basic instincts for self-preservation become distorted through a malfunction of memory. The duality of desire: contradictory experiences of pain and pleasure become irreversibly linked to the act of drinking—one loses the ability to consistently choose to drink or not to drink.

We continue our quest to replace the static, causal model of Self—and addiction—as Physical, Mental, & Spiritual “stuff with attributes” with a dynamic, creative model of Self—and addiction—as a field of interacting choices. Our purpose is not just personal need or curiosity, but to provide a practical strategy back to a decisive, irreversible end to addiction. Fortuitously, one of my professional incarnations led me into a position as a Research Scientist for a company that made Flavors & Fragrances. At the 14th International Symposium on Olfaction and Taste in Kyoto, Japan, July 5-9, 2004, Marcia L. Pelchat from Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, PA, USA presented a paper on “Liking, Wanting, and Craving” that opened the door for the commercial question: When does a customer go from just liking the sensation that a product delivers to liking it enough to make a decision to purchase the product? A parallel question became clear: when does an addict go from a simple thought of substance use to an “uncontrollable urge” that propels them into action.

Module The Momentum of Choice
1B Genesis Perception Factual Memory Volitional Memory
2B Proliferation Feeling Craving Grasping
2C Corruption Insatiability Fragmentation Ambivalence

Words matter, and “Liking, Wanting, and Craving” did not really convey the urgency that I thought appropriate. Nor did it account for the full spectra of intent: in a comprehensive explanation for how we make choices, we consider not only wanting something, but also not-wanting it, or consciously not caring about. Always the linguistic scavenger, I pirated for my dynamic, creative model of a Self—and addiction—four terms from the twelve-link BuddhaDharma scheme of interdependent origination: Feeling, Craving, Grasping, and Becoming.

Body-Mind + World Relationship #3

AlertI am not a Buddhist Alert
The meaning of this simple visual will unfold over the next few modules. But first we reintroduce the original diagram from Module 2.1 that contained the rudimentary idea of a momentum of choice:

Then, skipping a few years of work we combine these two visuals, re-introduce the ideas of Self and Self-Image from our previous module and introduce a new distinction between Process and Event to get this monstrosity:

Increasing Momentum

“The soul never thinks without a picture.” – Aristotle

Anytime we can make a visual, we create an opportunity to understand our defined terms in a way not possible when they are confined to a linear, sentence. Use of diagrams such as these are common fare in the Sciences and I understand, without condescension, that not everyone reading this has experience with Diagrams. A few summary sentences will show how tightly-knit our model is—and remember, we take the time here representing the problem as precisely as possible so that we may more artfully design a solution and then test in the reality of life’s lab.

  1. Each Choice occurs through a Process of Feeling, Craving, & Grasping that creates a momentary State of Self.
  2. Each Momentary State of Self is an Event of Becoming containing both a Factual Self & a Self-Image.
  3. These alternating cycles of Process + Event generate an increasing Psycho-Physical Momentum altering our ability to choose.

We are desirous creatures, and one strategy for reducing the Insatiability of Self-Centered desire—desire directed towards maintaining our Self-Image, involves closing the gap between who we think we are—the Self-Image, and who we really are—the Factual Self. When we know who we really are, we know what we really want. When we know what we want we will never make choices designed to reinforce our Self-Image; we will instead naturally and instinctively make choices that nurture our Factual Self—even if we are not sure who that really is. Another way of looking at it: when the Self-Image no longer works to preserve itself, it becomes the Dharma mirror that reflects back to us who we really are. Factual Self & the Self-Image always exist together and either reinforce or weaken each other—this is a simple by-product of the reality that, as self-conscious creatures, the observer is the observed.

Recall from Module 1B that we have been moving away from a Body, Mind, & Spirit description of who we are to a choice-based description of who we are. Feeling, Craving, and Grasping describe how the Process of choosing as both Cause & Effect creates its own Momentum towards a State of Self, towards a state of “Becoming”, an Event that is constantly arising, abiding, and subsiding.

“At each moment the state of self is reconstructed, from the ground up. It is an evanescent reference state, so continuously and consistently reconstructed that the owner never knows it is being remade unless something goes wrong with the remaking.”

–Damasio, Antonio R., 1994, Descartes’ Error, p. 240.

And addiction, as an acute example of how “something goes wrong with the remaking,” shows us how the State of Self is “continuously and consistently reconstructed.” Each Creative Event signals only one of a series of discontinuous “States of Self”—Factual Selves and their attendant Self-Images—recorded by Factual and Volitional Memory and propelled forward by the Momentum of Choice. Feeling, Craving, and Grasping are the Process by which these Events happen. We can now see how the very act of Body-Mind observing the World in which it lives triggers an irreversible cascade of self-centered desire:

Body-Mind + World Relationship #3

    • Perception triggers a partitioning of Feeling within Body-Mind: Feeling evaluates in the present the Image as pleasant, unpleasant, or of no interest.
    • Factual Memory then takes it up a notch, elevating Feeling to Craving: wanting to experience what is pleasant, avoid what is unpleasant, and ignore what is of no interest—because we have done so in the past.
    • Volitional Memory then completes the build-up of self-centered desire, propelling Craving into Grasping: making a decision to move towards what is pleasant, away from what is unpleasant, or deliberately ignore what is of no interest—signifying that we intend to in the future.
Feeling evaluates; Craving “wants;” Grasping decides.

When visualized as a causal chain, each link marks the rising of The Momentum of Choice in the direction of the object desired:

Feeling says, “Beautiful house”;
Craving states, “Want the beautiful house”;
Grasping declares, “Must have the beautiful house”—
(or, “ugly house, do not want the ugly house, must not have the ugly house.”)

But that is only appearance. In normal experience we usually fail to recognize that we are not Grasping the object of perception; we are actually Grasping at the Craving that we are having towards that object of perception:

We decide to want.

The results of our inattention are catastrophic: mistaking the object of perception as the source of desire instead of our Craving towards that object not only allows the Momentum of Craving to build unchecked, but also prevents us from seeing it is our attachment to the object, not the object of our attachment that enslaves us. In the same manner, we usually fail to recognize that we are not Craving the object of perception, we are actually Craving the Feeling that we are having towards that object of perception:

We want to feel.

Again, the results are quite grim: mistaking the object as the source of desire instead of our Feeling towards that object not only allows the Momentum of Feeling to build unchecked but also prevents us from seeing how Feeling exaggerates the qualities of any Perception—things are never as good or bad as they to appear to be, and we make important life choices based on those exaggerations. We can go through our entire lives without seeing this movement of thought, but the power behind even a faint addictive impulse can open our eyes, as described in the following passage by 38 year old alcoholic who had just relapsed after 13 years of continuous sobriety:

“With a little practice I was soon able to watch a barely discernible mental pull towards the first drink arise, abide, and then subside in a similar fashion. Curiously, that faint impulse did not seem to be directly aimed at the drink, but at a more general desire that hovered around the drink.”


In dependence on Feeling, Craving, and Grasping, the Insatiable State of Self rises up.

Our ability to make three elemental distinctions—pleasant, unpleasant, or of no interest—at three levels of intensity—evaluating, wanting, deciding—captures the essence of choice. However, as the volitional train enters its final destination, the proliferating Momentum of Choice has built to such a level that something new comes into being that cannot be accounted for by the simple cause and effect mechanism of making choices.

“Man is by nature insatiable, and it is the will of his creator that he should be so…”

–Arthur O. Lovejoy, 1936

Whether starving in the scarcity of poverty or suffocating in the abundance of wealth, mankind remains afflicted with a preternatural desire for more than he has. We are always in a state of longing, whether for a better high, more knowledge, or a bigger and better God. Although the word “desire” evokes a spectrum of images ranging from clinical to romantic, here we have identified desire with three formative processes of the Self—Feeling, Craving, and Grasping—that create and propagate a proliferating Psycho-Physical Momentum that distorts our ability to choose. As we travel along our three interdependent links we move from “freer to choose” to “less free to choose”: at the moment of Feeling the volitional landscape is open and spacious; at the moment of Grasping it is closed and cramped.

And we must continually remind ourselves that we are not equating desire with the lust to discover and understand that is such a part of our nobility as a species. The desire that we speak of here is only self-centered desire—desire which by its very nature revolves around the survival, continuance, and expansion of the Self-Image. No experience—neither ego-deflation nor spiritual experience nor spiritual awakening—can satisfy our ravenous Self-Images; no amount of drinking can quench the active alcoholic’s thirst for alcohol or the abstinent alcoholic’s thirst for sobriety. We have seen that the Momentum of Choice begins at the moment of observation, when the simple evaluation of an object of perception as pleasant, unpleasant, or of no interest primes the runaway pump of Self-Centered Desire.

All of this will become clearer as we move through the next stage of the explanation (Module 2C). At first, keeping the “big picture” in view may be difficult. Do not be discouraged. Like the task of assembling the jigsaw puzzle of a landscape, we first find the borders and corners, then group similarly colored and patterned pieces. Slowly we begin to see the contours of the sky, the ground, the water. Suddenly, in a flash of activity, the puzzle is complete and we can stand back and enjoy the fruit of our efforts.

EXERCISE 2B: LEARNING TO LOOK. Occasionally we see through the appearances and notice that desire lies in the movement of thought, not in the static object of perception. Anyone—addict or not—can watch the momentum of desire build through Feeling, Craving, and Grasping. I encourage the reader to make a supreme effort to observe this psychological movement within themselves. When you are compelled by something within your field of observation—whether that be to move towards it, away from it, or ignore it—notice that there is something between you and that object of perception that is really catching your attention. That is your Self-Image acting as a Body-Mind filter. See if you can gauge its varying stages of intensity: are you evaluating, wanting, or deciding? I can think of no exercise that will yield greater practical insight into the subtle, reciprocal relationship between Self and Self-Image in a quicker fashion. Remember that our field of observation includes not only our external world, but also our internal mental states. When directed inward, the very act of observing the movement of thought loosens the shackles of any compulsion, and eventually makes addiction an impossibility.


MOVE TO LEVEL C: 2. How Did I Get Into This Situation?

MOVE TO STAGE 3: 3. Propose A Solution

© 2012 Michael V. Cossette

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