Brain Work And Mind Play

When Sigmund Freud looked like this:

Young Freud

he began his career in medical sciences as neurobiologist.  Freud was a rather miserable neurobiologist,  unhappily but persistently dissecting the nerves of crayfish.

One look from his lab window made it clear as day — outside was still the  late 19th-century. Brain science was primitive, making only tentative baby steps, and even the basics of how a neuron work was a big mystery.

By the time Sigmund Freud  looked like this:

Waist-Up Photo Of Sigmund Freud

he abandoned objective science entirely and developed a subjective approach to understanding the works of human mind. Psychoanalysis, the discipline he created, became the 20th century’s single most influential theory about the workings of human mind.

By the 1980s, however, long dead Sigmund Freud was often depicted like this:

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By then, Freud-bashing became “science” in itself, a favorite sport for new, trendier  Kleinian theory, Lacanianism,   Anna-Freudian Evolutionary psychology and particularly emerging neuroscience.

The brain consists of about 100 billion neurons, which is about the same number as all the stars in our Milky Way galaxy and the number of galaxies in the known universe. Like any complex machine, the brain contains a lot of parts, each of which has subparts, which themselves have subparts, all the way down to the “nuts and bolts” — the neurons. (From Neuroscience For Dummies by Frank Amthor).

The central Freudian ideas of censorship and repression was trashed by J. Allan Hobson,   Harvard neurobiologist. He recorded brain activity of sleeping people to assail Freudian dream theory and, by implication, the rest of them Freudian theories.

The nonsense in dreams is caused by random electrical noise in nerve cells, a kind of cellular static; repression had nothing to do with it, Hobson concluded. And then performed a vigorous dance on Freud’s grave, suggesting to banish psychoanalysis to “the junk heap of speculative philosophy.” Mammal

After spending some time rummaging through the “junk heap of speculative philosophy”, Mark Solms said, “Welcome Back, Dr Freud!”

All right, perhaps he never said precisely that, but he was reportedly the first to have coined the term neuropsychoanalysis and the scientific field of neuro-psychoanalysis.

In his work, Mark Solms tries (and reportedly succeeds) to link the clinical findings of Freudian psychoanalysis with the advancements of the neurological sciences.



When asked about the difference between neuro-psychoanalysis and evolutionary psychology, theories of mind that move straight to chemistry, or others that go straight from mind to neural mechanism and seem awfully popular in the news these days, Mark Solms had this to say:


Mark Solms, a psychoanalyst and a lecturer in neurosurgery at the St Bartholomew’s Hospital and the Royal London School of Medicine, Chair of neuropsychology, University of Cape Town, South Africa, and Director of the Arnold Pfeffer Center for Neuro-Psychoanalysis at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute.

 “Psychoanalysis, far more than any other school of psychology, has elaborated methods and theories about the subjective. It has a whole conceptual vocabulary derived from a very sophisticated methodology, which treats subjective experience as an object in its own right worthy of study.

Evolutionary psychology also tries to understand something of the biological basis of or correlates of the mind and of behavior, but it doesn’t give privileged place to subjective experience and the study of the human subject.

In fact, evolutionary psychology gives privileged place, if I may say so, to a sort of speculation, and doesn’t seem to have a hell of a lot of observation of any kind.

What we’re wanting to stick to is the observation of the mind from the point of view of inner life, of subjective experience.

I think that’s precisely what’s wrong with cognitive and behavioral neuroscience. They have such absurdly simplistic conceptions of psychology, and want to immediately jump to anatomical and physiological levels of explanation, thereby depriving themselves of everything they could learn about this thing called the mind from the point of view of experience. I don’t think that the mind has an experiential aspect — I don’t think that the brain, if you will, has a subjective aspect — for nothing. I think that it reflects something about how this part of nature works, which is different from any other part of nature. And if you don’t avail yourself of all that can be learned from that point of view, you really are going to miss half the picture.” (From  AN INTERVIEW WITH MARK SOLMS.)

Should Freud have the tools neuroscience has today, he might have invented it more than a hundred years ago, no?





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