Biology, Science and Analytic Truth
C Y So
In the time of Sigmund Freud, Psychoanalysis was not an independent discipline comparing with biology and other medical disciplines not because it did not have a scope of inquiry or uniqueness of theoretical assumptions. For over a century, this polemics has not been settled even the intention to make Psychoanalysis a scientific discipline has been openly expressed by Freud himself. Is Psychoanalysis dead? This discussion has been murmuring for over a century but Psychoanalysis is still among the most uncomfortable and unresting discourses that modern knowledge wants to erase without success. However, the number of the practitioners in psychoanalysis has grown continuously from the West to the East. And there is also a trend to revisit Freud’s invention from the perspectives of neurologists or clinical sciences.
Even the most serious critics against psychoanalysis have found it difficult to deny all of the findings of psychoanalytic research. Meanwhile, to the non-psychoanalytic practitioners; it is even harder to totally neglect the ideas from Freud, if they are serious about the effectiveness of their practices. The more they involve in helping clients in the complexity of the clinical session, the more they found that the evident based research is not enough. They will tend to return to Freud for inspirations or techniques even though they will not acknowledge this.
Is Psychoanalysis dead? Or we have better used another position: Psychoanalysis has always already died and it has claimed its own death as an Oedipal relation with other psychotherapies. Psychoanalysis was created out of a vast pool of knowledge including neurology, biology psychiatry and related medical practices. If neurology, biology and other medical knowledge are normally regarded as empirical science, Freud was looking for a new kind of knowledge, which can go beyond the mere empirical, sensual world of humanity. If one thinks why scientists do not regard Psychoanalysis as a scientific discipline, it is neither because it does not have a unique method of inquiry nor because it lacks a fixed theoretical foundation.
Psychoanalysis has a strong intention to study the phenomena of non-empirical world. Depression was not regarded as sickness in pre-psychiatry age. Psychotic patient is sometime put into the category of supernatural possession. Psychical problem has long time been regarded not as empirical problem for there is no fixed phenomena (on the symptomatic level) or not even a stable reason (cause) behind the symptom (effect). Cause and effect is a focal point of discussion in Psychoanalysis from Freud to Lacan that has aroused different viewpoints even in the circle of psychoanalyst. The cause and effect polemics has long been a discussion related to the scientificity of Psychoanalysis. To Freud, one of his visions is to bring psychoanalysis up to the level of scientific knowledge.
In The Project for a Scientific Psychology, one of Freud’s earliest contributions that shows his vision to make Psychoanalysis the psychology for neurologist, Freud has tried to work out the association between the psychoanalytic cause and its effect. This text was written in his pre-psychoanalytic period, which has long been a work that attracted attention both from the psychoanalysts or natural scientists. In this work, what Freud proposed is very different from the psychoanalytic theory he initiated shortly several years later. Some historical researches point out that Freud, shortly after finishing this text, has given up the whole ideas of this article and not even intended to publish it until 1950s. On November 8 in one of his letter with Fliess, he wrote that the manuscripts has been thrown into a drawer “where they must sleep until 1896”. (quoted from SE 1, 285)
From Freud’s letter to Fliess, he expressed that he felt “overworked, irritated, confused, and incapable of mastering the stuff, so he had put it aside.” The final revision of the text was done on January 1, 1896 with major revision on a letter Fliess and after that the text was then stored unpublished until 1950s. Many researches has tried to trace the connection between the Project and Freud’s subsequent involvement in the theory of Id which seems to have replaced a lot of notions in Project.
Project has proposed an intention to create a psychological theory based on the findings of the psychopathology hoping that the knowledge about the nervous system can provide the cause for working of the psychical process. And based on the findings, Freud hopes that he can find out why the problem of psychical process causes psychopathological diversion. “The intention is to furnish a psychology that shall be a natural science: that is to represent psychical processes as quantitatively determinate states of specifiable material particles…..” (SE 1 295)
Freud’s intention is not only science (i.e. social science or human science) but natural science, which in his mind is best manifested as biology. He has introduced the theory of “Quantitative Conception” which he theorizes the psychical process as the movement of the neuron which is the material particles that can quantify the variation in psychical changes. The main substance of these new discoveries is that the nervous system consists of distinct and similarly construct neurones, which have contact with one another through the medium of a foreign substance, which terminate upon one another as they do upon portions of foreign tissue, [and] in which certain lines of conduction are laid down in so far as they [the neurones] receive [excitations] through cell-processes [dendrites] and [give them off] through an axis-cylinder [axon]. They have in addition numerous ramifications of varying caliber. (SE 1 298) The neurons theory is highly aggressive in the time of Freud who has proposed an idea which today neurologist has adopted and elaborated with the help of modern technologies like clinical brain profiling (Peled, Kandel). The neurons which is not a substance in reality but a constructed agent initiates the flow of psychical energy through their movement and contact with other external agents. The force behind the movement of the neuron is what Freud proposed as (Qh), which means the “quantity of the intercellular order of magnitude” (SE 1 294) The neuron is guided by the principles of inertia and of constancy which lay down the first articulation of “primary” and “secondary” processes. Also, Freud has distinguished two types of neurons which one of them is permeable (f ) while the impermeable system is called (y).
The neurons are separated by a “contact barrier” that impedes the transmission of excitation, or what Freud called “cathexis,” from one to the other. There has been material showing that Freud’s conception may have a connection with his teachers in psychiatry, Ernest Bruck and Theodore Meynert. Ernest Bruck proposed to study the psychical problem based on a physical mathematical and biological model of the brain. During that time, human psychical functioning was viewed not so much as a problem related to the brain, rather than having to do with un-reached non-explainable phenomena. The study of the brain as urged by Ernest Bruck used modern physics.
Theodore Meynert said that mental operation was presented through the action of the neuron while a thought was represented by a pathway that linked up with stimulation through neurons. Since each of us experienced different occurrences and had a different background, then each person has his unique individual pattern of brain connectivity organization. Theodore Meynert called such individual and unique brain organization, ‘Ego.’ (Peled) Meynert argues that egos can present various level of strength and organizing power. An adult’s ego is more developed and their brainpower is stronger than a child’s. And in case when a person is in the state of sleep, his brain will have a weaker power to link the neurons. Meynert even goes further to suggest that in some conditions of insanity, the brain weakening may be more or less permanent. And mental disorder is believed to be a problem in the brain operation. (Fancher) Today, it is known that two types of neurons are present in the nervous system – excitatory and inhibitory.
Both types of neurons communicate through transmission of electrical signals. The neurons can either do so spontaneously or by receiving excitatory signals from other neurons. The difference is that excitatory neurons transmit signals, which cause increased activity in other neurons, while inhibitory neurons send signals, which decrease or inhibit the activity of other neurons. During Freud’s time, only process of excitation has been discovered while the process of inhibition was not even hypothesized. Freud’s Early researches on Neurology Commentator points out that Freud’s biologism roots in his training and was correspondent to the intellectual climate in his time. As the “biologist of the mind,” he tried to establish a discipline grounded on biology that he claimed as “truly a land of unlimited possibility.” (Freud, 18: 60) What is the possibility? Freud has developed groundbreaking researches on neurology and neuropathology.
David Galbis-Reig M.D. in his article “Sigmund Freud, MD: Forgotten Contributions to Neurology, Neuropathology and Anesthesia” has listed down the various major texts by Freud on the issues that had not been discovered by the research of his time. …..Prior to beginning work on his theory of psychoanalysis, Freud (under the tutelage of great thinkers like Charcot and Maynert) made several contributions to the field of neurology and completed four large texts on several topics of interest to neurologists, neuropathologists, and anesthesiologists during the early years of his career. …..It is these forgotten contributions that best demonstrate Freud’s scientific and research capabilities – particularly his ability to observe and describe a variety of disease processes. (Galbis-Reig)
In his earlier career in Neurological research, he has developed his own skill in handling medical research in evident based method. And some of his research results were precedent to upcoming researches of his time. Especially in 1897, when Freud published his manuscript in neurology entitled, Infantile Cerebral Paralysis which provides a strong foundation for Freud’s research about childhood cerebral paralysis and path the way for his to understand its influence on psychopathology of the adult. This research also represented Freud’s premier achievement in the area of childhood cerebral paralysis, and established Freud as a well-respected expert on this topic during his lifetime. It is quite obvious Freud has a strong intention to build up a psychology of the mind based on neurological findings from his teachers as well as his own input related to clinical researches on the hysterics and obessionals. The creative impulse for writing that book is so strong that he has worked intensively and enthusiastically after his visit to Fliess and finished the book within several weeks. However, he has eventually given up the Project, and replaced his vision with enormous study on the theory of id.
We shall not offer any guesswork to his intention before the historians of the psychoanalytic movement can offer more evidence about why he had given up the Project. Although there is a lot of linkage between Project and subsequent notions of psychoanalysis, we cannot undermine the uniqueness of the Project as the foundation for a quantitative research on psychical substance. At this moment, we can only understand that there is still an unsolved relation between natural science and psychoanalysis that Freud has ventured himself. Among recent Freudian researchers, Richard Boothby is one of those that tend to read Freud in a deconstructive way by reading Freud’s frame of reference and metaphorical language. Rather than making judgment on Freud’s biologism, he claims that Freud’s conception is operated by a metaphor of psychic energy.
In what he writes as the “energetics of the imaginary” that Freud’s concept about libido is operated by the metaphor of the energy “functioned as a quantitative principle by means of which the psychical equivalence of manifestly different mental contents could be postulated.” (Boothby, 48) The metaphor has supported the whole mechanism from energy cathexis or investment, which has developed in varieties of displacement, condensation, resistance and repression. This is the frame of reference that validates the whole concept of “drive”. Boothby does not provide a deconstructive “undoing” of Freud’s metaphor, he only points out that Lacan has also supported the notion of energy as important that makes Freud different from Hegal. “…..Lacan claims that in Freud something is talked about, which isn’t talked about in Hegel, namely energy.” (Lacan, Sem II 74)
Boothby also argues that Lacan has separated the real from the imaginary in how Freud splits the biology with psychology. We will come back to this topic at the end of this chapter. Before going into more discussion about how Freud has put a gap between biology and psychoanalysis, I want to go back to my discussion about psychoanalytic causes. Based on clinical psychoanalytic experience, we can summarize several aspects that we can regard as the causes of psychical problem. The Psychoanalytic primal cause is about drive or the hedonistic id, which Freud has put into what he called as the primary process. The primal cause as aroused in the clinical experience is the process of the unconscious that keeps looking for chances to actualize its presence. It is the impulsive force that is more adhered to the raw and inborn needs of the biological aspect of human psyche. The primal cause is mostly the working of the biological needs, however Freud is not satisfied with this primal cause. There is also the conceptual cause, which helps to sublimate the biological process to the level of subjectivity. The conceptual cause is about the symbolic world that is interweaved by law and rules that govern the grouping of species in the universe. What makes community or the position of an individual in a community possible is his/her position in the a prior system. This is the symbolic, linguistic, grouping aspects of human community.
Within this realm, the psychoanalytic subject is put into a realm of meaning (logos). Meaning represents the understanding of the universe as well as the understanding of the subject himself. In this conceptual cause, subject is able to make himself available to the desire of the other, or his or her own desire is also actualized through the exchange of interest in the process. This process is what Freud regarded as secondary process which function is to control and monitor the needs of the id and put it into the constraint of the reality principle (beyond the pleasure principle). The opposition between the primary process and the secondary process has eventually become the opposite principles (i.e. pleasure and reality principle). The conceptual cause is mostly operated by the human cognitive, perceptual and logical thinking.
However, there is another element, which directs the non-conceptual, emotional aspect of being – cause of affect. Affect can arouse desire in being and will make use of suppressed libido force to motivate one for tense and violent behavior. Affect is always the constituent of hysteria and paranoia, but it also supports the working of the obessionals when driving the subject for repetition and also lead to frustration. In the Psychoanalytic experience, the three Freudian causes are not the only available factors (i.e. causes) behind the dynamics of the clinic session. In the analytic session, the subject’s free association actualizes his past experience in present situation. And with the intervention, approval and denial from the analyst, the subject is able to release himself from structural repression from familial relations.
There is however another cause that will twist the relations between the primal cause, conceptual cause and cause of affect. The twist will turn love relations (Oedipal) to hatred, expectation into rejection. The twist will also make transference relations into the double of the primal love. This twist is the force driving for a return to the thing-in-self, which hints or presupposes the termination of the analysis. This is also the realm that opens up dialectics of the subjectivity that Lacan depicted in “The Subversion of the Subjectivity”. In some cases or situation, affect is mistakenly regarded as the driving force for the twist, but here actually twist is more of a structural cause that no affect is needed to support its work. Twist can be a sublimation of the affect and twist will sometimes hinder the affect rather than release it. Therefore, handling of the twist is crucial in psychoanalysis. The twist is para-logical in the sense that it is not as the kind of logical thinking supported by rational process. It is only a way to present the inversion, subversion of the original logics. The purpose could be a way to prevent direct confrontation of the psychical problem with the subject.
To evade from direct confrontation, the defense process will motivate the system for the twist. Repetition in twist is possible when defense process further intensifies the protection of the subject. This is always the reason why psychotic patient has undergone very complicate logical inversion. It is very obvious that the para-logical thinking presents a clear and valid value but to normal person, their thinking is insane. The twist is also the analytic cause, which provides the very specific experience in the clinical session. It is the gaze through ,which the analyst is able to restructure the discourse created out of the subject presented by the work of the primal cause, conceptual cause and the cause of affect. This restructuration, however, is not the work driven from the intention of the analyst nor is a hermeneutic process in other counseling practices. The twist is also driven by the transferential love /hatred which repeats the primal relations and transfer the archived experience as double into the present experience of the subject. The twist is itself a bilateral cause, it initiates the repression, condensation, replacement and the defense which formulates the unconscious presentation of the psychic material; it also provides the same mechanism to undo the unconscious presentation by re-enactment, transference, regression and resistance.
However, one shall bear in mind that the twist is a structural cause, which invents the para-logics of the psychopathological problem as well as provide the clue to undo the suture, which covers up the hidden unconscious presentation. As mentioned, psychoanalysis provides the very unique setting and relations that can help to undo the unconscious presentation. By making uses of the techniques free association, intervention, approval and denial, analysis, the analyst is positioned as the analytic cause that is always already beyond the other psychoanalytic causes (i.e. primal, conceptual, affect) in the unconscious presentation of the subject.
The status of “not being” a part it creates the omniscient of the analyst. In clinical experience, the omniscient and omnipresence of the analyst is the imaginary constitution of the subject, as he tends to position the analyst into all his causes. Analyst is to be the father, the phallus, the logo and the lover. The subject will try every mean to make analyst’s presence in every scene that he needs the analyst to be there. The presence of the analyst is not supposed to be the gazing point but he shall be a part of the imaginary. It is because the analyst does not involve in his imaginary by keeping distant and actualizing its position as the Other that the subject will have to face the unconscious presentation directly. This twist is the undoing process, which puts the subject imaginary into the symbolic process by entering into the verbal dialectics in the analytic discourse with the physical presence of the analyst in the real.