Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Hippocampus Facilitates Integration within a Symbolic Field

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Hippocampus Facilitates Integration within a Symbolic Field

Article excerpt


This paper selectively explores an integration of work by Donald Winnicott and Wilfred Bion with the neuroscientific evidence base regarding hippocampal function to speculate on something I am calling a symbolic field of thought. I will demonstrate how both theoreticians explored ideas that are foundational to the concept of psychic fields, and how specific integration of symbolic material is fundamental to this form of thought. I will then present neuroscientific evidence that integrates with these ideas and demonstrates how the hippocampus facilitates a first person, integrative symbolization of thought in a way that is linked, but fundamentally abstracted from, being in the external world. This evidence will support the proposal that in healthy form, hippocampal function inherently facilitates both the ongoing symbolization of neuronal stimuli and enables the ongoing reintegration of symbolic elements, forming a dynamic state of stable enough flux within the field itself.

The examination will propose that this process is very common, including its occurrence in such everyday events as a person describing a first person narrative, experiencing an integrated dream, imagining a route, or trying to solve a problem that draws on the use of symbolic information. It is a fundamental component of memory, creativity and thought itself.

However, just as critical as the symbolic field is the evidence of alternate systems of thought that become increasingly evident once the symbolic field is impaired. I will demonstrate how alternate methods of stimuli processing are also common and normal in everyday life, possibly even required for eventual symbolization to occur. This exploration lends itself to speculation of how the symbolic field appears to 'lay between' or 'on top of multiple systems of thought, supporting, but also challenging, some of the theoretical musings of Winnicott, Bion and later theoreticians.

When running well enough, this dynamically integrative process provides the possibility for ongoing psychic adaption. It forms a flexible psychic map that helps individuals navigate their daily lives. The evidence provided is supportive of many psychoanalytic and neuroscientific theories, but expands and challenges others in productive ways. This examination also provides a fundamental framework where each discipline benefits the other in substantial and tangible ways.

The integration of neuroscience and psychoanalysis

There is a controversy regarding the integration of neuroscience and psychoanalysis. On one hand, some authors are exploring possible neurologic underpinnings around psychoanalytic concepts such as object relations (Kernberg, 2015) and dream material (Blechner, 2013). One group has even presented 'The Case for Neuropsychoanalysis' (Yovell et al., 2015) claiming its central relevance to psychoanalysis. However, this idea has been directly challenged by others who point out problems with several neuropsychoanalytic claims, even going so far as to state that several neuropsychoanalytic ideas, in their presented form, are frankly harmful to psychoanalysis as a whole (Blass and Carmeli, 2015). They point out that simply observing an overlap of described phenomenon is not, in itself, valid justification for the adoption of neuroscientific ideas by psychoanalysis, especially when the direct added value to psychoanalysis is unclear or even counter to contemporary psychoanalytic ideas and technique.

I agree with the critique of neuropsychoanalysis made by Blass and Carmeli in that any claim about the integration of neuroscience and psychoanalysis needs to prove and justify its relevance and value to each field with a full, fair and reasoned debate that pays fair heed to the reasoned methodologies of each field. I believe the phenomenon discussed below might meet such criteria.

Fields of interconnected symbols

A symbol is most simply defined as a thing that stands for something else. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.