Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

A Cat Is Not a Battleship: Thoughts on the Meaning of "Neuropsychoanalysis"

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

A Cat Is Not a Battleship: Thoughts on the Meaning of "Neuropsychoanalysis"

Article excerpt

[T]he theory and practice of psychoanalysis presume or induce an attitude of mind and even, all unknown to Freud, a "new philosophy"... Doctor Hesnard approves of those who take care ... to separate psychoanalysis from a scientistic or objectivist ideology ... Here phenomenology brings to psychoanalysis certain categories, certain means of expression that it needs in order to be completely itself. (Merleau-Ponty 1960, 67)

Eric Kandel (1998, 2005), the Nobel Prize-winning proponent of a neurobiological reformation in psychoanalysis, has remarked that the great error in the development of psychoanalysis came when it did notalign itself from the beginning with neurobiological science. "Because psychoanalysis has not yet recognized itself as a branch of biology," he writes, "it has not incorporated into the psychoanalytic view of the mind the rich harvest of knowledge about the biology of the brain and its control of behaviour as it has emerged in the last 50 years" (Kandel 2005, 67). In this view, only by turning decisively to neurobiology- and reconfiguring Freudian psychoanalysis to fit the findings of brain science-can psychoanalysis rescue itself from obsolescence.

The corrective promise of neuropsychoanalysis almost always includes a renewal of Freud's original scientific program. Fonagy's (2003) assertion that only by way of systematic research will psychoanalysis ever sit at the "high table of the scientific study of the mind" (p. 232) is echoed by Turnbull and Solms (2003) with respect to neuroscience: "The high road for psychoanalysis is to engage with the neuroscientific issues which should now directly interest it. This will not be an easy task.... An increasing number of psychoanalysts today are, however, keen to rise to the challenge..." Also, we are told, should the cris de cœur be heard and responded to, then "A radically different psycho-analysis will emerge" (p. 82). This is no doubt true. The question, of course, is whether or not psychoanalysis as we know it can stand up to the philosophical complications that neuropsychoanalysis brings to the field, keeping in mind that philosophical confusion can lead to real consequences on the ground, because such confusion will inevitably seep into how we think (theory) and what we choose to do (practice).

When neuropsychoanalytic authors address problems of epistemological contradiction between psychoanalysis and neuroscience, they usually do so in one of two ways: either a common "objectivist" epistemology is argued or assumed, making psychoanalytic knowledge continuous with knowledge from other sciences, or a pluralism of epistemic approaches is acknowledged but not acknowledged as problematic. Neither response addresses the question of how psychoanalysis, once it enters into partnership with neuro-science, retains its basic identity as the "idiosyncratic science of the individual subject" (Caws 2003). As an explicitly hybrid entity, neuropsychoanalysis by its very nature enjoins us to begin with questions about how, for example, a poetics of dreaming (guided by the subjective experience of dreaming itself, given form by a relational process of narrating and listening, and organized according to psychoanalytic rules of interpretation) should engage with neurocognitive memory studies or neuro-imaging studies of the dreaming brain, whose interests and organizing assumptions are so fundamentally different. I begin from the premise that, until these questions are addressed, the ostensive hybridity of neuropsychoanalysis risks being no more than a juxtaposition of unrelated terms.

The evolution of the neuropsychoanalytic movement has been rapid and impressively influential, perhaps especially in the Anglo-American world. Since the early 1990s many have championed a neurobiological reform of psychoanalysis, among them Yovell, Solms, and Fotopoulou (2015); Kandel (1998, 2005), Solms (1998), Kaplan-Solms and Solms (2000), Pally (2000), Solms and Turnbull (2002), Opatow (1999), and Turnbull and Solms (2003). …

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