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Mindbrain, Psychoanalytic Institutions, and Psychoanalysts

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In this book, Antonio Imbasciati criticises the isolationism of traditional psychoanalytic associations, compared to those of other branches of psychology, and their suspicion of neuroscience. Today, affective neuroscience is investigating the unconscious affects, which psychoanalysis has always done with different methods and a different language. The author points out how Freud's energy-drive theory, although contradicted by scientific progress, has continued to characterise, a religiousness underpinning the spirit of psychoanalytic institutions: the icon of Freud. This spirit is accompanied by confusion between different psychoanalytic theories which are often incompatible with one another. The author blames the poor social image that psychoanalysis has earned in the past few years on this confusion of theories and haughty withdrawal into a single presumed orthodoxy. A former President of the IPA, Otto Kernberg, has even predicted the suicide of psychoanalytic institutions.The author has addressed this chaos of theories throughout his life, integrating work on psychoanalysis, experimental psychology, developmental psychology, cognitive science, attachment theory and now neuroscience. In this context, he has developed a new metapsychology, which differs from the one conceived by Freud a century ago with the explanation of the functioning of the human mind in terms of drive. Although criticised for more than fifty years, the Freudian explanation is still considered by the institution as a fundamental competence of psychoanalysts, even though it contrasts with the development of clinical psychoanalysis. The author underlines the great difference between the clinical progress of psychoanalysis and the backwardness, vagueness, and confusion surrounding the theory.A new theory on the origins and functioning of the mind is outlined, which can also be assimilated with our current knowledge of neuroscience. This provides a different concept of the unconscious: neural mnestic structures and mnestic trace - the 'engramme' as the author calls it - instead of drive. This book is intended for all those who are interested in how the human mind works: psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, psychologists, psychology students, mental health operators, psychiatrists, social workers, and researchers in neuroscience.

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Chapter One - Psychoanalysis and Psychology

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A different historical development

Scientific psychology, which came into being at the beginning of the nineteenth century, more than half a century before psychoanalysis, gradually divided into different psychological sciences. Today most of these have become official with their respective names in the legislative systems in different countries. Psychoanalysis, on the other hand, although having been differentiated, but in a less definable way and without official names or recognition and in a somewhat “diluted” way in the confusion between old and new, as we will see, has not been included, in present-day culture, in what are properly called “psychological sciences”, either as a whole or in its various schools. Now that the debates on its scientific nature have ended, today, many—obviously first and foremost psychoanalysts—consider psychoanalysis a “science”, characterised by its specific method, as is appropriate for every science, but its connotation at many cultural levels remains clearly separate from that of the “psychological sciences” and nowadays from what is better termed “sciences of the mind”, understanding the latter in the word “mind” as the impact of the more recent neurosciences.

 

Chapter Two - Cognitive Sciences, Psychoanalysis, Neuroscience

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Psychoanalysis and cognitive sciences: a prejudicial separation

For decades, psychoanalysis and cognitive sciences developed in mutual ignorance, or even contempt. There is an enormous amount of literature on these subjects which I do not think can be suitably reviewed here. I will therefore restrict myself to setting out the personal considerations that I have made in my lengthy experience, simultaneously as a psychoanalyst and experimentalist psychologist, university teacher of general psychology and then of clinical psychology.

Psychoanalysis came into being a few decades after experimental psychology, but its development and above all its cultural success was far quicker than that of the psychological sciences which were gradually differentiated from the common matrix of experimental sciences cultivated in universities. Psychoanalysis, on the other hand, arose from a “private” initiative: its spread and then its subsequent development were fostered by the uproar that very soon, then in the long term, surrounded the statements by Freud with adverse controversies about the discovery of an unconscious psyche that conditions human actions and even corporality. The Freudian innovation revolutionised what psychology was deemed to be at the time: the investigations into what appears to the consciousness of the individual. It was taken for granted a priori that the “mind” consisted of what an individual was aware of; the individual was considered the only and direct intermediary, on condition that he was in good faith, of what in his mind could make him think and act; his sincere introspection was considered truthful about what took place in his mind and how it worked. This conception still continues today at popular level: it remains since people have in mind a simplistic, rudimentary and reductive idea of what thought is; they have lucid, precise and narratable thought in mind, at least to the extent that it appears so to the individual. At the time, this idea was deemed scientific. For everything that could appear more uncertain, almost nebulous—less conscious we would say today—like feelings and affects, the ancient and ambiguous term of “psyche” (=soul?) started to be used, for purely descriptive reasons, but without precise scientific grounds. For Freud as well, who discovered the unconscious, the consciousness remained the pivot of the mind. He was convinced that everything should and could have become conscious, except supposing some obstacle or other to its becoming conscious (Imbasciati, 2013b). Throughout the nineteenth century, “psychology” was by antonomasia the psychology of the consciousness. Speaking of an “unconscious” sounded like a contradiction due to the unanimous conviction of the truthfulness of one's consciousness. Consciousness and knowledge were considered synonyms: it was argued that, if something were not conscious, it could never have been known. So, what Freud was interpreting would have been based on what?

 

Chapter Three - The Origins of the Mind: Prejudices, Ideologies, and Science

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A naive organicism

To approach the topic of how the human mind originates and develops scientifically and organically as we will do in Chapter Four, I believe that some popular prejudices should first be explained in this chapter. These prejudices come from ideologies of philosophical but also scientific history on the investigation of the mind, which are still upheld by illusions alive in the unconscious background of the Western collective imagination.

Today everybody is ready to say that the mind depends on the brain and to clarify the way this is done, attempts are made to specify that it depends “on having a brain”; and a normal brain. If we go to further investigate what this common-sense conviction means, uncertainties, confusion, contradictions, and reductionisms emerge. Is the mind perhaps the product generated by the brain? How? Is the mind the way the brain works? The mind of men is not the same for all. What about the brain then? What on earth is a “normal” brain? Normal for everyone? What does normality of the mind consist of? What is the “functioning” of the brain? Since I am convinced that it is me who directs my thoughts, i.e., my mind, is it me that commands the functions of the brain? Or is it the brain that commands me?! Does mental pathology depend on an ill brain? How? What are the causes?

 

Chapter Four - Neuropsychic Development and the Relational Formation of the Mind

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Preconceptions and prejudices

For years it was believed—and unfortunately the idea still lives on in popular culture—that the foetus and the baby, and the child in his first years of life, developed according to the laws of nature, the nature of homo sapiens, governed (as we had become accustomed by the acculturation of the last century) by genetics. After the first two years of life, the progressive importance of upbringing was considered, deemed as having the greatest impact between the ages of seven and fifteen. The development of all those skills called the “mind” was conceptualised this way, as well as what was called, to differentiate it, “psyche”, by distinguishing affectivity from (supposedly) mere cognition, and from “character”; and also from what has been distinguished from the latter as temperament; or by other names, such as “mood”, personality, passion, tendencies, motivations, or other terms (cf. Chapter Three).

None of this is confirmed by current sciences. The various names shown above are only labels due to incomplete, or even ideologically traditional knowledge of what the human mind really is, of what is today called by that term if connected with the brain, and how the latter develops. These labels are misleading, as they do not correspond to precise entities that can be scientifically identified; the names are not entities, they are not “things”, but only the invention of words, by which we try to conceive of a concept, with the intention of understanding reality. If, as this understanding progresses, more useful concepts are coined and indicated by other names, the old concepts, with the old terms, should be abandoned; they are not “discoveries” (Imbasciati, 1994, 1998b, 2013b) but instrumental inventions, which can be superseded by better ones and therefore no longer used. The reality of how human behaviour originates has been seen today to be far more complex than according to the attempts to conceptualise it by philosophy, then pedagogy with their concepts, and then again by the first biological sciences, genetics, neurology and medical sciences in general, and also psychology, until a few decades ago.

 

Chapter Five - Transgenerationality and Perinatal Clinical Psychology

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Mind and brain

The brain is unlike all the other organs in our body. Strictly speaking, it is not an “organ”. All the “organs” perform their specific function, except for minor variations, whereas the brain does not perform its predetermined functions, except the general one of directing, to a better or lesser extent depending on how it is structured in the individual, all the organs of the body, and generating the mind, which is not the same for everyone. The commonly considered “mental functions”, usually catalogued as memory, thought, language, affectivity, etc., as well as varying from one individual to another, do not correspond to analogous functions or functional areas of the brain. The stubborn efforts (supported by illusions and ideologies, cf. Chapter Four) of over fifty years to localise specific functions in corresponding areas of the brain has proven to be in vain. The brain works since from its billions of neurons connections are formed, which make up neural networks, which in turn have involved and interwoven almost all the areas of the brain. The functions which most properly concern intelligent behaviour, i.e., the whole that people most easily think is connected with the brain, cannot be reduced to that of the common idea, nor are they produced by analogous functional areas of the brain, as is the case for individual functions of other organs, but combinations of some, often very many, neural networks, which are continually in action. Some nuclei of the brain are indispensable for there to be certain effects, but they are not capable of producing these by their own. The neural networks, on the other hand, are not preformed: they are made up by synapses following experience. This is what produces their connections. In other words, the brain has to learn; each learning consists of the construction of new neural networks. What it is capable of doing—its actual functions, not the effect that appears to the common idea—are performed to the extent and in the ways with which that brain has learned them, depending on the structures that have been constructed there.

 

Chapter Six - A New Metapsychology Congruent with Neuroscience

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The icon of “Freudian theory”

I have outlined in the previous chapters how, at the current state of the art of the different sciences of the mind, neurosciences in the first place, it is possible to define what is to be understood by the term “mind”, in its inseparable unity with what we know about the human brain: this is beyond the entrenched prejudicial convictions derived from Western philosophy and theology and from last century's psychiatry, with their concepts and terms, used to try to understand it. A complete or at least adequate comprehension of what appears to us as the extreme complexity of homo sapiens and even more of the human being as he has currently evolved (cf. epigenetics) is anything but easy, even in the light of current sciences; it is anything but easy with respect to the scientific instruments available to study what we could define “the marvellous hardware that builds up its billions of software programs on its own”; it is anything but easy with respect to the conceptualising inference of our conscious reflection on what, within the limits of consciousness, we can reflect on what we feel happening in ourselves.

 

Chapter Seven - The Institution: Doctrine and Ideology

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The holy theory

Clinical psychoanalysis today has changed enormously and a process of integration with respect to the other psychological sciences (in particular developmental, neonatal, and infant psychology, attachment theory) and the neurosciences (Fonagy, 1999, 2001, 2005; Fonagy & Target, 1997; Stern & BCPSG, 2008; Siegel, 1999, 2012; Schore, 2003a, 2003b; Kandel, 2005; Damasio, 1999; Imbasciati, 2005b, 2012a, 2012c, 2013b) is under way. However, an adequate theoretical reformulation (Imbasciati, 2013a, 2013b, 2013c, 2013d) has not corresponded to this change. Psychoanalysis is a clinical science: “clinical” does not mean “to treat” (cf. Chapter Three) but to investigate the mind using a clinical method. The scientific nature of the “clinical method” requires investigating not simply on the single case and on any single result of treatment, but on how to extract from all the cases “treated”, or better modified, a general theory of the functioning of the system on which work has been done. This is the difference that distinguishes the scientist from the craftsman. Therefore, general theories have to be inferred from the clinical practice: if it is a science and not craftsmanship, and if the clinical practice progresses and changes, this means that underlying these there are new and different theories which it should therefore be possible to extract and formulate. Psychoanalysis is not only a technique of therapy, but, as Freud underlined (1923a), an investigation of the functioning of the mind: his On Metapsychology (Freud, 1915) was an attempt, one hundred years ago, to explain the mind and in particular the unconscious mind, with the help of the sciences of the time (Imbasciati, 2011a). The part that definitely is explanatory is made up of the first two articles: it is here that Freud outlines a theory that explains the general functioning of the mind and it is this that people today still identify as “Freud's theory”. In this synthetic expression at the level of popular culture, a part is identified as the whole, a metonymy, as the part that is formulated at explanatory level (the Energy-drive Theory), to which Freud refers throughout his work, is taken as representative of every other description and also as a single and partial explanation; and it is thus assumed precisely as it is an “explanation”.

 

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