Lacan and Science

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The current volume represents an exciting collection of essays critically examining the relation between modern science and Lacanian psychoanalysis in approaching the question of mental suffering. Lacan & Science also tackles more widely the role and logic of scientific practice in general, taking as its focus psychic processes. Central themes that are explored from a variety of perspectives include the use of mathematics in Lacanian psychoalanysis, the importance of linguistics and Freud's text in Lacan's approach, and the central significance attached to ethics and the role of the subject. Constituting an invaluable addition to existing literature, this comprehensive volume offers a fresh insight into Lacan's conception of the subject and its implications to scientific practice and evidence.

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CHAPTER ONE: Theory and evidence in the Freudian field: from observation to structure

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Jason Glynos

There can be little doubt that today, at the dawn of the new millennium, modern scientific discourse occupies a privileged position within the horizon of our everyday experience. It is a position it has occupied since at least the middle of the 19th century; and it would not be exaggerating too much to claim that science—both natural and social—exercises a de facto monopoly over truth in contemporary institutional and popular practices. Just think of the batteries of expert advisors installed in governments and corporations. Witness how modern advertizing relies not only on offering us ever-new products that take advantage of the latest scientific advances but also on the scientific establishment’s seal of approval, its guarantee. Science books, ranging from evolutionary biology, to genetics, to physics and mathematics, enjoy unprecedented popularity. Even those of a devout religious persuasion do not hesitate to invoke science in bolstering the credibility of claims proffered in sacred texts. The fact that we now live in a so-called risk society—wherein science no longer merely seeks to protect us from risks but becomes the very source of risks2 —does not threaten its hegemonic grip. Nor do the “acronymically” designated crises implicating scientific expert knowledge directly (BSE, GMO, etc.)—crises which cannot but stoke the fires of environmentalism (“ludditic”, deep, holistic, mystical, etc.). Even if science appears to have suffered a bit in the popular imaginary, it remains the case that the very detection and regulation of risks created by new science-driven technologies relies on science itself. Institutional and popular faith in science effectively remains intact; and when it suffers set-backs, such faith is merely displaced on to the future, just as it was in the early days of 17th century scientific revolution.3 We are told that, soon, science will provide us with the necessary knowledge, procedures, and products, that will finally put an end to civilization’s discontents, satisfy our desires, and usher in an era of Hollywood happiness. Or maybe not so soon. In the meantime we are advised to take out insurance, whether private or public. In other words, natural scientists refer us to their younger siblings, the actuaries, while they concentrate on pushing back the boundaries of knowledge—a knowledge whose exponential, multidirectional, and virtually uncontrollable expansion is fast becoming a typical feature of today’s capitalist liberal democratic societies.

 

CHAPTER TWO: Psychoanalysis operates upon the subject of science: Lacan between science and ethics

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Jason Glynos

Unlike modern scientific theories which are meant to shed light on nature and not on their practices as such (leaving this task to historians and philosophers of science), psychoanalytic theory is meant to give just such an account of its own practice. And yet, as a praxis, psychoanalysis maintains that it cannot be reduced to theory.

How then are we to make sense of Lacan’s appeals to mathematical formalization as a theoretical ideal for psychoanalysis? It is an aspiration that has created not inconsiderable confusion, leading many to assume that Lacan feels that psychoanalysis is a (mathematical) science. The picture, however, is a lot more complex, not to say paradoxical. For, on the one hand, Lacan argues that psychoanalysis can be made scientific while, on the other hand, he clearly resists subsuming it under science.

So instead of asking the standard question “Is psychoanalysis a science?” this chapter addresses the broader question “What was Lacan’s view on the relation between psychoanalysis and modern science?”2 In pursuit of this objective, I conduct a double inquiry, examining his views both on the scientificity of psychoanalysis and what is tempting to call the “psychoanalysis of science.”

 

CHAPTER THREE: A matter of cause: reflections on Lacan’s “Science and truth”

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Dany Nobus

The main purpose of this contribution is the reconstruction and clarification of Lacan’s argument in his 1965 paper “Science and truth” (Lacan, 1989[1965]). As such, I am concerned neither with the way in which Lacan’s stance towards science developed during the 40 odd years of his engagement with psychoanalysis, nor with how his ideas have been received within the various psychoanalytic schools, even less with the value of his assertions for judging the scientific status of contemporary psychoanalytic theory and practice. Over the past 15 years, numerous writings on Lacan’s changing conceptions of science and their significance for the interface between the psychoanalytic and the scientific discourses have been produced (Regnault, 1985; Milner, 1991, 1997; Miller, 1994; Strauss, 1994; Verhaeghe, 1994; Laurent, 1995[1994]; Fink, 1995; Grigg, 1999), yet this is not the main reason why I have restricted myself to the confines of just one of Lacan’s texts. Indeed, my decision was not so much inspired by the weight of an already existing body of materials, but rather by the consideration that an accurate assessment of Lacan’s formulations on science must be predicated upon a systematic explanation of the core texts in which these formulations are embedded. Since “Science and truth” is one of these key interventions, and since a detailed exposition of its contents does not exist, my contribution may serve both as a benchmark for evaluating the available literature on Lacan and science, and as a springboard for the deployment of new perspectives on the place of science within Lacanian theory. In this way I hope that this essay does not merely serve exegetical purposes, but may be useful as a scholarly study in its own right. I should also mention that the reader who wishes to use my contribution as a guide to Lacan’s “Science and truth” will discover immediately that I have failed to explain some ostensibly crucial aspects of the text, such as the passage in which Lacan proclaimed that the object a is the object of psychoanalysis (Lacan, 1989[1965]:12). These omissions do not stem from imposed restrictions of space, a standard yet invalid excuse for not broaching particular issues in a text, but from my belief that the aspects left out are not central to Lacan’s argument.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: Causality in science and psychoanalysis

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Paul Verhaeghe

“II n’ y a pas de science de l’ homme, parce que l’ homme de la science n’ existe pas, mais settlement son sujet”

Lacan, E.859

Every academic is familiar with the cleft that runs through the university campus: on the one hand we have the “true” science; on the other hand we have the social science, its little brother. This cleft goes back to the birth of the human quest for knowledge, and has been the subject of discussion ever since. The contemporary form of this discussion entails a number of oppositions: objectivity, predictability, laws, explanation go for “hard” science; subjectivity, absence of prediction and laws, and description are supposed to be the epithets of “soft” social sciences. No wonder that the latter strive to prove their genuine scientific character by modelling themselves as much as possible on their bigger brother. Freud was not immune to this impulse, and even Lacan for a certain period hoped to join the real thing. Freud ended up with an impossible profession, and Lacan took his psychoanalytic bearings from science.

 

CHAPTER FIVE: Elements of epistemology

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Jacques-Alain Miller

This is the last of three lectures which I have been invited to deliver.

In my first lecture here I introduced the work and style of Jacques Lacan, and although time constraints did not allow me to go beyond half of what I had planned to tell you, I think I was able to give an idea of the theoretical principles whose uninterrupted development started more than 30 years ago.

In my second lecture I attempted to use the example of the piropo (flirtatious message), which I improvised, as a paradigm, in order to transmit some truths which are fundamental and yet unrecognized about language; in particular, about the function of language in sexual separation, the fading of the reference, the equivocation of language (langue), the misunderstanding of communication.

I am going to dedicate this third lecture to the question of science, and more precisely to respond, as far as I am able, to Professor Cadenas, to whose invitation I owe my presence here (I have already thanked him, and I now thank him again), and whose reaction, after my last exposition, was to say that, in the way in which I presented it, the Lacanian theory appeared to conclude in the impossibility of knowledge. Fair enough. After all, the impossibility of knowledge does not scare me, since knowledge is not science. The difference between knowledge and science appears to me to be fundamental in Lacan’s epistemology, and acceptable well beyond the strict field of psychoanalysis.

 

CHAPTER SIX: Knowledge and science: fantasies of the whole

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Bruce Fink

Over the course of at least 20 years, Lacan repeatedly takes I 1 up the topic of what might be called a “prescientific” type of knowledge and attempts to distinguish it from knowledge in a modern scientific context. That prescientific type of knowledge is associated by Lacan with Aristotelian science, a type of science that precedes the shifts often referred to as the Copernican revolution, though they were not made by Copernicus himself.

Why does Lacan focus on that, and come back to it again and again in an almost obsessive sort of way? Isn’ t it a moot point, of interest only to the history of science? Is Lacan a closet historian in his non-analytic moments?

I think Lacan’s motive here is that psychoanalysis has had a difficult time detaching itself from both philosophy and psychology, both in the public mind and in the minds of analysts, and keeps slipping into all kinds of prescientific constructs, all kinds of simplistic forms of pseudo-science and age-old philosophical notions. If psychoanalysis is to be something more credible than modern psychology—which leads to a proliferation of nosological categories as glorious as imagined ugliness disorder (officially known as “body dismorphic disorder” in the DSM IV)—then it has to examine what science is all about, not simply what people think it is all about.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN: From mathematics to psychology: Lacan’s missed encounters

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David Corfield

Throughout the entire length of Jacques Lacan’s corpus there runs an ongoing enquiry into the relationship between psychoanalysis and science. This enquiry addresses two interconnected issues:

(a) The sense in which psychoanalysis may be considered a science;

(b) The nature of science in the light of psychoanalysis.

There is a potentially problematic circularity involved here concerning the legitimacy of making pronouncements about science from the perspective of a discipline that wonders whether or not it itself should be considered a science. Of course not all circles are vicious—some of them turn out to be virtuous. In this essay we shall be examining the nature of this circle for Lacan.

Members of the Vienna Circle had encountered a similar circularity: If the only sentences that are meaningful are either particular observation statements (e.g., “I perceive at this particular time that particular shade of blue in this particular part of my visual field”) or general scientific laws that are reducible to a set of such particulars, the rest being contentless analytic truths or meaningless metaphysical chatter, under which category were their own writings to be classified? Either their brand of philosophy was to be counted as part of the empirical sciences, or it was merely the logical consequences of tautologies and definitions, or else it was to be dismissed as meaningless. The grounding that scientific knowledge enjoyed did not seem to be available to the study of that grounding. One of the most influential American philosophers, Willard Quine, extracted himself from this bind by arguing that philosophy ought to become naturalised, i.e., to become an integral part of science itself. But in so doing he denied that science was founded on a base of certain empirical knowledge, but rather that it took the form of a web of beliefs on which the world could impinge only indirectly. This, together with Thomas Kuhn’s portrayal of the history of science as the rise and fall of a sequence of incommensurable world views, encouraged a relativism towards science which forms the battleline for much of Anglo-Saxon philosophy of science today.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT: Postures and impostures: on Lacan’s style and use of mathematical science

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Jason Glynos and Yannis Stavrakakis

Introduction

Lacan makes difficult reading. No doubt about it. This, at least, is common ground to sympathizers and detractors of Lacan alike. Clearly, it is an understatement to say that when mathematical science is added to the equation, things do not become any easier. Most of us already feel insecure with the simplest of mathematical statements, let alone references to esoteric-sounding subdisciplines like general topology or knot theory.

When we inquire into the make-up of the universe, all the way from distant galaxies and supernovae to cells, synapses, and quarks, we are not surprised when confronted with a discourse that sounds foreign to us. Scientific discourse is, by and large, opaque and filled with impenetrable jargon that takes considerable time and will to master. People do not expect to understand quantum mechanics and are happy to concede ignorance. On the other hand, when we inquire into human nature, psychic processes, identities and emotions, and the workings of the mind, we expect the corresponding models and discourse to be easily understood. This is because they are supposed to be telling us something about ourselves—something, in other words, over which we each can claim some authority and knowledge. It is a natural expectation that is deeply ingrained. So much so that scientists themselves express frustration at the mind’s reluctance to yield its secrets. So when Lacanian psychoanalysis—which purports to be such a discourse about ourselves—appears to make every effort to thwart straightforward understanding, when Lacan hesitates not a jot in enlisting mathematical science to his cause, this cannot but appear as adding insult to injury.

 

CHAPTER NINE: What causes structure to find a place in love?

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Bernard Burgoyne

One of the last projects proposed by Freud was that of an I enquiry into the processes of premise, postulate, and proof. He was particularly concerned with the way in which such procedures of science relate to the protocol that determines the analytical relation. In the various sections of Freud’s Moses and Monotheism—written in the 4 years leading up to 1938— he tried to produce an account of the psychic prerequisites for the advance of science,1 making a series of hypotheses about what it is in human life that is strong enough to have an overwhelming effect on the power of logic. Since none of the hypotheses that Freud produced in this work lie at all close to the recommendations of common sense, they call into question the nature of and the results of psychoanalytical method. The project that Freud was engaged in was accordingly the sketching of an outline of the structures involved in psychoanalytical technique, and an investigation of the relation of these structures to science.

 

CHAPTER TEN: A Lacanian approach to clinical diagnosis and addiction

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Rik Loose

“It’s a matter of knowing whether psychoanalysts are equal to the task of responding to the anxiety of our time”

J. Lacan

Towards the end of his article Civilization and its Discontents Freud poses a question which he feels he cannot evade. After contemplating the similarities between the development of civilization and the individual he wonders whether it is possible to make the diagnosis that “under the influence of cultural urges, some civilizations, or some epochs of civilization—possibly the whole of mankind—have become neurotic?” (Freud, 1930:144). He immediately points out the danger implicit in making this kind of diagnosis by saying that “we are only dealing with analogies and that it is dangerous, not only with men but also with concepts, to tear them from the sphere in which they have originated and been evolved” (Freud, 1930:144). This is a very important remark.

The tearing apart of concepts and humans

Sometimes, in order to explore a new field or a particular phenomenon for which there are as yet no conceptual tools, the man of science has no choice but to tear concepts away from their original place and position. This must be done with great sensitivity to both the area explored and the area from which the concepts have been borrowed. When concepts and theories are transported from one area of study to another, they sometimes undergo radical changes depending on the object of study and the context they have been taken from. This process can lead to confusion and the criticism that this new application is based on a misunderstanding of their original meaning and application. This form of criticism is grounded on a particular conception of science which suggests that concepts refer to a particular reality or to particular objects in a straightforward and unproblematic way: concepts belong specifically to the objects or reality studied and should not be detached from them and deployed elsewhere. The foundation for this conception of science is a belief that nature contains laws and an order which exist independently of the researcher. Lacan calls the laws and the “order of things” in nature, which supposedly exist independently of the human subject, a “knowledge in the real”. This Lacanian conception of modern science is crucial. It evokes his remarks on the subject of science from “Science and truth”. He indicated there that modern science, which was born in the 17th century, was the precondition for the discovery of the subject of psychoanalysis (Lacan, 1966:6-7). How are we to understand this? Knowledge which exists in nature presupposes a subject for whom this knowledge is meaningful. It also implies a subject who has a desire to know this knowledge. This subject is called the “subject of science” and it is the subject upon which psychoanalysis operates. Modern science made the decision to find certainty in the object and concentrated its efforts exclusively there. Freud discovered, underlying this search for certainty, a doubting subject and set himself the enormous task of studying the relationship between this subject and the object. In this task he stumbled upon the problem of meaning and language as the elements which connect the two, but which also obscure their relationship at the same time.

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN: Lacan between cultural studies and cognitivism

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Slavoj Zizek

I Cultural studies versus the “third culture”

We are witnessing today the struggle for intellectual hegemony (regarding who will occupy the universal place of the “public intellectual”) between the post-modern-deconstructionist Cultural Studies and the cognitivist popularizers of “hard” science, i.e. the proponents of the so-called “Third Culture.” This struggle, which caught the attention of the general public first through the so-called de Man affair (where opponents endeavoured to prove the proto-Fascist irrationalist tendencies of deconstruction), reached its peak in the Sokal-Socid Text affair. In Cultural Studies, “Theory” usually refers to a mixture of literary/cinema criticism, mass culture, ideology, queer studies etc. It is worth quoting here the surprised reaction of Richard Dawkins:

I noticed, the other day, an article by a literary critic called “Theory: What Is It?” Would you believe it? “Theory” turned out to mean “theory in literary criticism.” /…/ The very word “theory” has been hijacked for some extremely narrow parochial literary purpose—as though Einstein didn’ t have theories; as though Darwin didn’ t have theories. [Brockman, 1996:23]

 

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