Notes on ethics and psychoanalysis

The degree to which psychology trumpets its scientificity is precisely the correlate of the extent to which it evades the question of its ethics. It is entirely unnecessary for a body of knowledge to be ‘scientific’ in order to be valuable. The scientist-practitioner of psychology needs the ‘science’ to serve as a fig leaf for the praxis.


If your psychological ‘therapy’ is one that a court could or does order, then it isn’t a therapy at all, but an ideological program; and you are not a ‘therapist’, but rather, a kind of cop.


In Australia, AHPRA regulates all medical and allied health professions, both from the standpoint of accreditation, and on ethical matters. The statutory agency is seeking powers for itself that would exceed even those of the police, in that it wants to access the phone and web metadata of all practitioners, without a warrant.

Virtually any meditation on ethics involves the philosopher setting some self-imposed limit somewhere. Ethics generally proceeds on the basis of the ego ideal, reference to the law and to a symbolic reference outside of any particular ethical content. By way of contrast, AHPRA here is proceeding from the obscene superego, the drive which disregards the law and all self-limitation in order to see (and do, and investigate) just one more…

Consequently, the governing body determining the state of ethics in Australian healthcare is itself unethical. “Everything that is not forbidden is compulsory”.


Lacan made the point that the status of the unconscious was ethical, not ontological. The neuropsychoanalysts with their fMRIs are, in the Freudian sense, pursuing a preconscious rather than anything which resembles a psychoanalytic unconscious. In a different context, Levinas makes the point that ethics holds primacy over ontology. The ethics-ontology dichotomy seems to me relevant when discussing questions of intersectionalism, ‘identity politics’, and the like. To ‘check one’s privilege’ is to stick with ontology, or, more precisely, to undertake a (mis)recognition of some ontological status or other. What one does with one’s privilege – here defined as the rights that should be (but are not) universal, open to all – is a question that belongs to ethics.


15 thoughts on “Notes on ethics and psychoanalysis

  1. Interesting points. Of course I think your general point is commendable but a couple of issues occurred to me:

    It is interesting that you bring Levinas into the discussion in reference to identity politics and its related ‘privilege’ discourses, as a counter to those seemingly politico-ethical discourses that do not escape ontology. Not to come across as overly pedantic or anything, I think it would be more correct to say that in Levinas, ethics is prior to, or precedes, ontology, rather than takes primacy over ontology (of course, in the end one might think both claims amount to the same thing, but not necessarily). Not unrelated to this, it seems possible to argue that Levinas’ ethics actually amounts to an extreme – and (clearly) metaphysical – identitarian position, one which is compatible with current human rights discourse, identity politics, and ‘privilege’ discourses as well as liberal politico-ethical concerns in general, however much such things may appear to be rather ‘vulgar’ simulacra of Levinas’ ethics. For Levinas ethics, in the first instance simply using this term to mark what occurs in a metaphysics of recognition, is a position that accounts for the fundamental phenomenology of the other as disclosing the Other; that the other, in a sense, reflects its otherness and in the act of recognition opens up ‘absolute alterity’, or the Other as such, there is the a fundamental ethics founded on a kind of recognition, albeit a recognition that cannot be delimited by ontology (specifically, one could say by way of a pertinent example, a Hegelian-Kojevean dialectics of recognition). Now this space of disclosing the Other qua unassimilable altery, as well as alterity in general, as preceding ontology and necessitating ethics as prior to ontology – then radicalises ethics as responsibility and recognition, and perhaps displaces something that might be considered ‘ethics as ontology’; however, I think one could argue that, though this phenomenological account is able to disclose the Other, it is also (structurally, one might say) limited in its ability to think the Other and, from a psychoanalytic view, one could argue that Levinas, though radical, is delimited by the Imaginary order and hence is only able to go as far as an ethics of recognition (that expunges the political as such) which grants respect and recognition of otherness the force of ethics, which might be seem as the counterpart recognition of identity as assimilation to the same, wherein narratives of otherness are granted a kind of ethical status (see his comments about real world conflicts and human rights etc. and how these comments relate to his ‘Face to Face’ section in Totality and Infinity), and which inevitably leads to the consideration of the Other, Absolute Alterity, as another name for God (which is not quite the same thing as the Other being perceived as another name for the unconscious and, in quick succession, the unconscious as another name for God).

    Obviously the point of your post what not to go into a schematic discussion of Levinasian ethics or metaphysics (and if it serves any purpose at all I could actually go into the claims I’ve made above and argue why I think such is the case, rather than more or less simply asserting such to be the case), but I think in opening up the question of ethics and the ethics of psychoanalysis, it might be useful to discuss why not all ethics which position themselves contra-ontology, so to speak, are equal and, in fact, if, at least in a discursive way, these are adequate descriptions of Levinasian ethics, it might be useful to formulate the ethics of psychoanalysis in a manner that (radically) distinguishes itself from – or at least is able to go further (or farther, if that homonym seems applicable…) such a (phenomenologico-metaphysical) account which arguably, in the final analysis, accords with the current situation. Also, I think importantly this discussion can open up the question of – for lack of a better term – the ‘applicability’ of an ethics which psychoanalysis is able to bring into relief, that is its clinical and extra-clinical ‘applicability’, if such a division is able to be entertained.

    I wonder if you have any thoughts about these comments.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Simon. I’m no specialist when it comes to Levinas, and my general opinion is that there is much that could be written about the relations between he and Lacan. Certainly, I can see where you’re coming from as far as Levinas being compatible with certain sorts of liberal or identitarian discourses.
    Even still, a Levinasian liberalism would be several orders of magnitude better than the naive, inspirational-quote emphasis on being that pervades all sorts of discourses nowadays.This is a theme that I may take up again in the future.

  3. I should point out that there’s been quite a few writers who try to bridge the gap, so to speak, between Levinas and Lacan, and a few who even attempt to marry the two or even argue that the two are intimately compatible – though in fairly academic activity-like manners (see the collection Levinas and Lacan: The Missed Encounter, Mari Ruti’s Between Levinas and Lacan: Self, Other, Ethics, David Ross Fryer’s The Intervention of the Other Ethical Subjectivity in Levinas and Lacan, and of course, what might be seen as the nadir of such an endeavor, Simon Critchley in numerous places, for example, ‘Das Ding: Lacan and Levinas’ and Ethics, Politics, and Subjectivity…); I’ve not come across that much by the way of a psychoanalytically motivated evaluation of Levinas or the relationship between Levinas and Lacan or a more critical analysis of Levinas from a psychoanalytic position – that said, something like Paul-Laurent Assoun’s ‘Le sujet et l’Autre chez Levinas et Lacan’ is a good explicationary analysis, and Badiou has been heavily critical of the simulacrum or a caricature of Levinas, particularly in his book Ethics. Though that isn’t really an informative engagement with Levinas – much more drawing an equivalence between Levinas and contemporary liberalism and human rights discourse. I think Zizek has some interesting comments about Levinas in places. It’d be interesting to explore the topic further as I think Levinas’ work can actually be seen to operate within a certain topos of psychoanalytic thought, to an extent.

  4. You sum up the ground well for our contemporary situation. The problem, as I see it is, to use the categories given of ontology and ethics, resisting a push to ontology. Ethics, is on the side of the One, singular, as Lacan says to live ones drives requires an ethics. Yet, does this not slide into a ontological status of MY being, my want-to-be with which to maintain the social-bond requires me to use ontological categories. It’s hard work… Do you have any thoughts on this?

    • I think it’s true that there is a perpetual risk of a slide back into ontology. The way that I see it, if I can use an analogy, is a bit like the difference between the Imaginary and Symbolic registers. The fact that the Imaginary cannot simply be abolished from human relations needn’t stop us from trying to push toward the Symbolic in our dealings with significant others, and likewise, that ontology is ever-present shouldn’t stop us from trying to push away from ‘well-being’ and toward ethics instead.

  5. I really love your blog and highly recommend it to all my psychoanalytic friends, but I disagree with a point you make in this text. You are wrong with your argument that in a Freudian sense neuropsychoanalysts are just studying the preconscious. First of all neuropsychoanalysts are very well aware of the difference between preconscious and proper psychoanalytic unconscious. Secondly I am afraid you have the tendency here to assume that neuropsychoanalysts don’t do propper psychoanalytic theory or do not understand it correctly, which simply is not true. I am not sure of you are aware that Marc Solms corrected the Standard Edition of Freud’s works. Thirdly you make a classical Lacanian mistake of identifying a lacanian interpretation of Freud with Freud’s position itself. It is allright that Lacan has the position that the unconscious is an ethical category and not a ontological. But it is wrong to draw from that the conclusion that it is the same for Freud. On the contrary for Freud the unconscious is very much a ontological category as he makes very clear with a long series of explanations. There is his extreme example of saying that a nerve-cell is part of the unconscious as it is not represented in consciousnes but is part of the psychic aparatus. Without going to extremes he makes it very clear on his conception of drives or in his various texts on the concepts of psychoanalysis. And to conclude my argument I want to point out, that it is simply not true that neuropsychoanalysts just do fMRI-studies – sorry but that is simply a bad stereotype you are applying. Neuropsychoanalysis does a vast array of methods on brain research and fMRI being one of the less important ones. It is even so that it is considered a very problematic and rather unreliable method within neuropsychoanalysis. Marc Solms promotes to make clinical studies and to understand the relation between brain and psychic apparatus by studying brain damaged patients psychoanalyticaly. You are probably are not aware that the entire field of brain sciences leaves clinicla studies nearly completely neglected as they are considered just bad “experiments by nature”. The consequence is that they ignore clinical patients to the extent that all that is done for brain damaged patients is to give them cognitive training and leave them in their existential predicament – which is horrible! Neuropsychoanalysis not only work in psychoanalysis but in brain sciences and there neuropsychaonalysts are promoting the work with clinical patients, which is something which makes you automatically an outsider and something you get laughed for. That is perfectly ethical, both in the own attitude and in the way of approaching the human and it does help to understand the dimension of the ethical. I heavily recomend you to read “Clinical Studies in Neuro-Psychoanalysis” by Kaplan-Solms and Solms.

    I therefore argue that you should reconsider your judgment on neuropsychoanalysis.

    And to point out what I criticize exactly when I say that it is not a Freudian position that the unconscious is a pure ethical category: Lacan has a way of reading and understanding Freud that could be described with Umberto Eco’s concept of intentio obris. So that whatever the authour of the text says is irrelevant: the truth is in the text itself. This is fair enough and Lacan developed lots of interesting and very valuable theoreis by it. But you simply can not draw the conclusion that that is what Freud intended or what is a propper Freudian position. It is a Lacanian position and both Lacan and Lacanianism are strong enough not to need to refere to Freud or Freudianism to strengthen their positions – they are strong enough by themselves. I woul not disagree that the unconscious is also a ethical category but it isn’t only ethical.
    From a propper Freudian position, i.e. a position derived with an approach of intentio auctoris to Freud, neuropsychoanalysis is perfectly studying the unconscious.

    • Thankyou for your considered remarks.
      I have to concede from the outset that I am insufficiently familiar with some of the key theorists of neuropsychoanalysis, such as Solms.
      I take your point that Lacan’s theory, arising from his ‘return to Freud’ is not the same as Freud in his own terms, and I agree that for Freud, the unconscious is ontological, and psychoanalysis is something which emerges from science. For me, there are some strong strategic reasons for emphasising the ethical over the ontological, and the idiosyncrasies of psychoanalysis over any scientificity. This is because, in my view, at least, the gross ethical and epistemological failings of clinical psychology and psychiatry arise not so much in spite of an ostensible commitment to science and evidence, but, in part, because of it. Politically, I see praxis reduced to a tending of ontological categories, fetishisation of identities, and general atomisation of individuals and, optimist that I am, I like to emphasise the dimensions of speech and action over these sorts of dead-ends. I can appreciate that this may lead, at times, to some statements which may seem lacking in nuance to a neuropsychoanalyst like yourself. I have no disagreement whatsoever that it is ethical for you and your colleagues to attend to the existential plight of patients rather than to administer cognitive exercises, and I wholeheartedly applaud this. I reject the idea that clinical praxis needs to be grounded in stats, fMRIs or questionnaires, and it appears that you do too.
      On the other hand, I think that there are some serious difficulties in making neuropsychoanalysis compatible with Lacanian theory. Some of these difficulties are touched on in this paper. I would have expressed things slightly differently, but I think this raises some important points:

      If the unconscious is structured like a language, then I think we have to consider (among other things) forms of inter-generational transmission of psychic phenomena by a non-biological mechanism. Or, to put it differently, there might be some means of parental trauma, Oedipal structure, etc to be transmitted to subjects without the need for a biological or Lamarckian explanation, and if one accepts this hypothesis, then the need to identify a neural correlate to psychic phenomena is less pressing, and possibly even redundant.
      In the same vein, I wonder how much of psychoanalytic praxis stands to be changed by neuroscientific findings. I was reflecting on the controversial documentary on autism recently, Le Mur. One of the controversies derives from the issue of aetiology. If autism is a form of psychosis, or psychogenic in causation, parents of autistic children start to feel attacked by the supposed aetiology. On the other hand, even if the aetiology were found to be 100% neural or genetic, would analytic practice change? In Lacanian terms, it would still be a matter of the Symbolic being grafted onto the Imaginary via the therapeutic relationship. Perhaps I am missing something, but whilst neuroscientific knowledge may increase the efficiency of this process, I am skeptical about whether it would alter the fundamentals.

      • Hello

        (Please note that I am Germen therefore my English is not perfect, I apologize)

        First I want to empazise that I apreciate to discuss this topic with a lacanian who has basic understanding of neuroscience and does not simply use dogmatic bogey-man arguments. Nonetheless I see at some points some misconceptions about what neuropsychoanalysis is, could be and has to be. As you say yourself you are not familiar with the work of Solms and I hardly suggest you read some of his texts. Apart form the Clinical case studies I recomend The Brain and the Inner World, which the author of the article you quoted did not understand correctly (I will come to that later) and to have at least a superficial look at his book THe Neuropsychology of Dreams. The latter being a complete neuroscientific and not psychoanalytical text, but precisely for that reason it is important that you at least have a glance at it.

        First I whant to present in rough brush-strokes my own position. I am personally German and a devoted Freudian. I have read his entire works in original since the age of 20 (being now 26) and I studied his central writings in depth (i.e. I read them more than once and studied central parts over a long time) (e.g. the Interpretation of Dreams, The Ego and the Id, The Joke, Psychopathology of Everyday-life, The Repression, The Studies on Hysteria, The Unconscious and different texts which are central for the understanding of Freud’s Repression theory. Furthermore I worked over Mark Solms’ translation of Conceptualising the Aphasias into English, when I was with him last summer (your winter); it should apear this or next year. I also highly recomend you to read that text of Freud for two reasons: first it makes clear how Freud sees the relation between brain and psyche. He has a philosophically very refined and critical approach of seeing it and Solms’ position is derived especially from this text, And you should read it, because Freud describes how he understands language and what he calls the speech aparatus (this then being very helpfull to infer how he thinks the psychic aparatus). I am also studing neuropsychology and am in close contact to a group of neurobiologists, and had studied for one year physics before I started with philosophy and psychology.
        When it comes to Lacanian theory I completly accept your expertise, but I have some level of knowledge which is beyond of the avarage non-lacanian psychoanalyst. I study since 19 Slavoj Zizek and have also a very bright Lacanian friend who brought me to the field of neuropsychoanalysis. This Lacanian friend, who introduced me also to lacanian theory, also made an fMRI study on compulsion disorder (Mark Solms said to him: You are Lacanian making fMRI-studies? You are actually an oxymoron). I also visit from time to time the Lacan Seminar in Zurich. So I have rough but precise enough idea of Lacanian theory, to at least be able to get an idea if a Lacanian has a refined position or not and understand basic concepts. I also implemented some aspects of Lacanian theory into my own understanding of the psyche. My relationship towards Lacan is an ambivalent one. There are many aspects of its theory which are brilliant, genious and I consider him to be the first psychoanalyst who really managed to reach Freud’s level until now. There are others I do not agree with (that is what theory is about, isn’t it?) but I especially have a big problem with many Lacanians who are very dogmatic and reductionistic themselves (reducing everything to their own approach) – you are not one of them as far as I can judge it. This is normal for any subject, also in neuropsychoanalysis there are enough people I don’t want to defend at all.

        Let’s come to the content: I completely agree with what you write in your blog usually, what you say in this article is a little slip of intellect in my opinion and was the first time I had to oppose what you said (note: I am also the Albi, who commented at another blog entry). I especially agree with what you say on the role of scientifically. What you say on the role of scientificity nails perfectly the problem. And yet I disagree on the conclusion you draw out of that fact. The conclusion you draw seems to be that the problem is scientificy as such, i.e. that by following scientificity one forgets about the ethical factor. I argue that it is rather so that the focus on scientificity is a rhetorical trick to impose the ideology of the desubjectivation within psychology and brain sciences. They have the dogma that to look at the subject is as such unscientific and they impose it by appealing to scientific rhetorics.
        (Note that with scientific a refer to natural sciences. In German we have for all sciences a umbrella term “Wissenschaft” which actually translates to science. They then brake up into “Naturwissenschaft” (natural sciences or often just sciences) and “Geisteswissenschaft” (the arts or literraly somthing like the sciences of the spirit or mind). You see that the english language is prone for the ideology of imposing scientism as the word which refers to the progress of knowledge (“science”) refers exlusivly to the natural sciences, while in german that term “Wissenschaft” refers to all what happens in university. Of course in Germany dogmatic natural scientists and desubjectovists like CBT-theorists and alike argue that only natural sciences are “Wissenschaften” but in English they do not even have to fight that battle. Maybe you could write a blog entry on this topic. I will now speak of natural sciences for Naturwissenschaft, complete sciences for “Wissenschaften” and mental sciences for “Geisteswissenschaften” or arts.)
        To come back to the rhetoric of scientifity. The point I say it is just a rhetoric ist that from a real natural scientific stand-point the exclusion of subjectivity out of theory is not scientific it is political ideological. From a pure neuroscientific standpoint I consider this to be simply bad natural science and actually psychology nowadays is not even a bad science it is not a science at all. So if neuropsychoanalysis speaks of making natural scientific work and finding natural scientific groundings for psychoanalysis, this does precisely not mean that they move into the direction of experimentyl psychology or antisubjectivist neuroscience, but on the contrary that they develope a new way of thinking within brainsciences as such. It is not about changing psychoanalysis it is rather about changing the brainsciences. Of course we neuropsychoanalysis have also the goal of changing psychoanalysis, but not by means of trying to force psychoanalysis to become itself a natural science, but simply by drawing conclusions from and developing arguments on the natural scientific findings, which then are applied in the field of the mental science of psychoanalysis. Within that discussion (at least an intelligent) neuropsychoanalyst is ready to accept the rules of psychoanalysis as a mental science. We think that our theories are valuable for being good theories, because basing them on natural scientific findings simply makes them good (it is a believe, I admit that), and therefore they should on the long run be able to find followers within the mental scientific field of psychoanalysis. If they do not, maybe this simply means that we have to improve our natural scientific understanding. The same logic applies to our endevor within brainsciences.

        Let me make a remark which simply expresses a general impression I have. When I talk so either a psychoanalyst or a brainscientist about neurospychoanalysis I usually get the reaction that the person fears that I might destroy his or her field; i.e. the neuroscientist fears that I whant to impose spiritual superstition within brainsciences and the psychoanalyst fears I might be someone who continues the program of experimental psychology and CBT within psychoanalysis itself. Hardly anyone ever sees the aspect that I might be first improving his or her field by the standards of the field itself and that I could acutally change the other field in a way he or her might consider to be necessary. I think you had a little tendency towards that reaction (in a soft way). As I said our reference to natural scientificty if actually more about changing brainsciences. When it comes to change psychoanalysis we basically do not advocate scientificty but rather metapsychology and theory, as today within the IPA dominates the kleinian dogma that theory has to subject itself to the clinical situation – of course the clinical situation as she sees fit.

        What do the findings within brainsciences prove and what do the mean – and what do they not prove and mean? If we look at the endevour of natural sciences at a metaphysical and especially epestimiological standpoint they are about finding necessities, that is to say: they want find a metaphysical explanation of the world which describes all aspects we have to take into account. This does not mean that they fully describe the world, but simply that what they describe and consider to be true is something which anyone has to accept regardless of his metaphysical approach. This then also means that their findings are not full, that they have to be filled out by other metaphysical approaches. Intelligent natural scientists like EInstein, Heißenberg, Bohr, Planck and others were perfectly aware of that fact. Heißenberg and Bohr even argued to have found natural scientific evidence for this metaphysical and epistemeological position. That was the reason why Heißenberg as a physist published existential-phylosiphical writings and studied the the meaning of cultural language for the functioning of the world. It was the ideological movement of desubjectivation (i.e. of subjectiong the human to objective necessities like the necessitiy of capital accumulation) which argued that there is nothing apart from what natural sciences can prove and everything else is not a science. This position does not follow from the natural scientific approach. When Freud speaks about natural sciences and psychoanalysis being a natural science he understands natural science as a set of metaphysical and epistemeological asusmptioms and convitions. Psychoanalysis is a science because it makes it possible to describe the subject in such a way that you can bring it in relation with biological theory and bring biological theory in relation to the subject. The big advance and revlution that Freudian psychoanalyiss meant from a natural scientific positioon is that the subject is considered to be part of the metaphysical world just as objects of study of classical natural sciences. Nota bene: that means the subject as such as an subject, not a subject as an conceptualized object with some spooky qualities, no the subject subjectiveness. And this subjectiveness is a necessary approach to our brain and psychic apparatus. Therefor a certain kind of mental scientific theory is needed to understand the brain: and he called it psychoanalysis.
        No this means that neuropsychoalisis simply shows us at the brain level necessities nothing more. It does not give us a complete picture and it certainly does not give us a exhausting theory about subjectivity or the psyche. But it gives us knowledge we have to take into account.
        Please also note that as neuropsychoanalysis is not yet a subject of its own but rather a scientifc-political (Wissenschaftspolitisch) endeveour that tries to bring brainscientific and psychoanalytic knwoledge not only into one room but into one head/brain/person it necessarily has to have two ways of appering two areas of research. One side being the neurscientific works and the other the psychoanalytic theories, the metaneuropsychological being a theory which touches both. So if you want to judge neuropsychoanalysis from a psychoanalytical perspective you have to be aware what you are looking at. YOu can not take a neuroscientific publication and judge it by standards of psychoanysis, that would mean to impose those standrds as general standards. You have to look at the psychoanalytical publications or at least at the meta(neuro)psychological. Actually Freud metapsychology was allready meta(neuro)psychological as he also took his findings from his publication of the aphasias into consideration. He says that the hearing cap of the ego is on the left side (because the speech aparatus was for him on the left side of the brain; today neuropsychoanalysis would not agree on that, but it is a fact that Freud considered neurological findings as relevant for metapsychology).
        And the author of the article makes exactly this mistake of mixing up the difference areas of research of neuropsychoanalysis. When he says that Solms and Turnbull claim that they can make direct observatiuons of neurodynamic processes, he is simply wrong. What they actually say ist that they can find the neurological basis of neurodynamic processes not the processes as such – and in fact they only can observe an indirect image of the neurological processes. This might look like picking words for a psychoanalyst but it makes a big difference – especially within neuroscience.

        Now to the last point: Lacanian unconscious and the brain. Until very few weeks I also hadyour opinion that there is a fundemantal opposition, that it is not possible to find any way of bringing into relation Lacanian unconscious and brain. First I have to make again the point that it is perfectly possible to study freudian unconscious not only preconscious within the brain. When it comes to Lacanian unconscious I simply would correct your statement to “it is not yet possible”. But there are some findings in speech research that are somehow interesting. The German neuropsychologist Poeppl argues that the cortex has a spontaneous (i.e. without our conscious intervention and before we even become aware of it) ot processing inpulses from the outer world in a way we can only understand by using concepts from linguistic e.g. semantics. This he emphazises is not an artifact of our study, but simply the way the telencephalon organises itself. He actually said “Our telencephalon organises itself spontaneously like a languge, this is not the result of our cultural language but rather the precondition of our language. The way it selve organises is not necessaryly language as the langauge we use to articulate us, but a certain logic of process we can only understand through language.”. Now that drew my attention on it because I had to think about Lacan. As primary processe are considered to by largely based on the cortex or telencephalon this would mean that this also holds for primary processes, but note that it woul not hold for drives. And right now I have the hypothesis that there are four kinds of unconscious: preconscious, the repressed, the lacanian unconscious (unconscious as a language) and the drives (which are at the metencephalic- and brainstem-level.

        To come to an end one last remark: This is my position and I can tell you that Mark Solms’ position is pretty close to it with a bigger empazise on the neuroscientific part while I have a bigger emphazise on the psychoanalytic-philosophical part (the last point with the Lacanian unconscious is my personal view not his) and there are others on neuropsychoanalysis who share this rough position. This position thinks that the precondition for neuropsychoanalysis is that there is a subject of brainciences which focuses on the experimental measuring aspects of natural science and a subject of psychoanalysis which focuses on the mind-scientific aspects, and both diregard largely the other field at least when it comes to judge a theory or a concept. Neuropsychoanalysis’ goal is not to get rid of both or to force both to become like the other, rather to change a bit so that the creation of a realtion between both becomes easier, but foremost neurpsychoanalysis only can exist if this two subjects exist as subjects of their own, neuropsychoanalysis being than a dialectical or divided subject: being a subject of its own and being a subject within brainsciences and within psychoanalysis. That means that each scientist has to actively learn both subjects, the assumption being that by learning the other subject he gets more expertise in the other.
        But there are also many who think neuropsychoanalysis is just but about using the other subject as inspiration i.e. that it is enough to talk to each other.
        And there is a group a strongly oppose which argues that it will be possible to create a subject which replaces psychoanalysis and neurosciences by pure theoretical means, i.e. by creating a kind of new theory of all which replaces both subjects. I completely disagree with this position and Solms at least point out that this integration only can come about if we endeveour into both the praxis of neuroscience and the praxis of psychoanalysis. It is impossible to join both fields by creating a theory which translates like an algorythm psychoanalysis into braincience and vice versa. It is not about translating one into the other it is about developing a way of thinking which relies on both ways of thinking and especially of working.

        So there are neuropsychoanalysts one should opose and that I opose. But it is one thing to opose certain parts of a scientific field and to opose the entire field.

        I hope I could give you a precise picture of what neuropsychoanalysis is as a political movement, what it is as a general-scientific approach and what it could be.
        For me personally Lacanianism is an indispensable theory for my scientific thinking.

        Here is a interview with Mark Solms you might find interesting:

      • Thanks for another thorough post. I am not in a position to give it the detailed response it deserves, but perhaps I can make some brief points.
        In Australia (but also, perhaps, in other Anglophone countries), the state of knowledge and practice in ‘mental health’ is utterly dire, and getting worse, yet none of the relevant disciplines have any hesitation to declare themselves ‘scientific’. I think that we agree on this point, though we may disagree on the way that this problem ought to be approached tactically.
        Second, I take your point that if one practices psychoanalysis properly, and does so with the possession of certain neuroscientific knowledge, then one has, in a sense, combined science and ethics without one being excluded for the other. There are at least two difficulties, from my perspective. One, what is the point of the neuroscientific knowledge? If the idea of it is to have a general sense of neural correlates, structure, function, etc, then isn’t there a risk of slipping into a generalised or standardised form of treatment with individual subjects? General neuroscientific knowledge could potentially impede the ethical push in psychoanalysis to take subjects one at a time, and as absolutely singular. Two, the psychoanalysts that I know and respect the most have already studied not only the better part of the analytic canon, but also the poets, the artists, the philosophers, the religions, politics, languages, and the realm of the human sciences. To study neuroscience in a serious way requires a significant further commitment for an analyst. What is the effect of neuroscientific knowledge on psychoanalytic practice, and does this effect justify the heavy toll of neuroscientific study?
        Finally, I think that we may have a different view on Lacan, speech and the unconscious. No doubt, the neural correlates speech can and will be localised within a subject’s brain. No doubt, we can be good Chomskyites and speak of a Language Acquisition Device as a necessary precursor for any human subject to develop speech. Nevertheless, if the unconscious is structured like a language, as Lacan has it, then I think that we have to draw a sharp distinction between speech (which is localisable) and language, which is never reducible to the mind of an individual speaker, but which always arrives via what Lacan calls the Other. If I can borrow from Zizek on this point, the truth of the unconscious, in Lacanian terms, is a bit like the truth in the tv series the X-files – it is ‘out there’, and not to be enclosed within an individual mind or brain.
        Thankyou for the Solms link. I have viewed some of his Youtubes, and I think that he is an eloquent defender of psychoanalysis against its many critics.

      • Further to this last point, which might seem a little obscure, I think we should keep in mind Freud’s paper on Massenpsychologie, which Strachey renders as ‘group psychology’ in the English. On the very first page of the paper, Freud indicates that virtually all psychology is, in effect, a group psychology – ‘only rarely and under certain exceptional conditions is individual psychology in a position to disregard the relations of this individual to others.’ Freud gives an example, citing Bleuler’s ‘autistics’. Later, Freud gives a theory of identification which I think presents a challenge to the sorts of ontology usually present in psychology. To be specific, the individual, as Freud has it, assimilates an element of the Other and organises a part of him or herself on the basis of this assimilation. This becomes a very important part of Lacan’s theory, since the ego is held by Lacan to be based on such an identification (in this case, arising from the ‘specular’, mirror image of the body’s surfaces).
        Whatever the neural basis of identification, it is clear that its mechanism follows from this ‘out there’ ontology. Even if one could describe the neural correlates of identification, it would tell us very little in the absence of a subjective explanation of its significance. This problem arises again and again in psychoanalysis, and whilst it’s more pronounced in Lacan, I think it’s also there in Freud. The subject is, ontologically speaking, woven from the Other, or from the discourse of the Other. (‘Mourning and melancholia’ is another case in point).
        Thus, whilst hysterical symptoms (such as the famous paralysis of Elisabeth von R) are localised within the individual, hysterical discourse is itself symptomatic and necessarily implies an Other beyond the hysterical subject. A neurotic subject may very well have their symptom located in interpersonal entanglements, for instance (the ‘all men are bastards’, or ‘all women are bitches/borderlines’) that one encounters in some subject’s love lives. The paranoiac may very well complain of being the plaything of a menacing and persecutory Other. In these situations, the symptoms and delusions themselves have a structure and function which defies any kind of monadic ontology; one needs an Other with the subject for the symptom/delusion to come to life.

  6. I will first answer the easy questions and then answer to your ontological point, which is very important, but I argue that you are mislead by the naive ontology of most neuroscientists. You therefore base your argument on a wrong ontological approach to the brain. But first things first. The main reason I see the neuroscience as a as the best strategic (not tactical!) way of fighting for psychoanalysis is simply for the fact that it is the only way to get scientific prove for a psychologic theory and for the fact that it is nowadays considered to be the academic subject which studies the human mind (this is simply a ideological appearance, but why shouldn’t we hijack that appearance?). Here again I emphazise that the problem was not an over scientification of psychology but on the contrary a lack of scientification. In fact experimental psychology has (apart from cognitive psychology) no relevant input into neruoscience. It is not a science and all it did was to make a mimikry which made look everydaylife-theories or theories based on a 19th century worldview or prekantian ontology about the human mind like science. It is simply a pseudoscience, and therefore to bring science into it is on the side of psychoanalysis as REAL science is on the side of truth. Of course the word science has been hijacked by ideology and is beeing used by experimental psychology. But I am nonetheless on the side of science…I am a Freudian and a Marxian here and believe on the emancipatory power of science.

    To come to your questions:

    “One, what is the point of the neuroscientific knowledge? If the idea of it is to have a general sense of neural correlates, structure, function, etc, then isn’t there a risk of slipping into a generalised or standardised form of treatment with individual subjects?”

    No the risk is not there. You seem to mix up an ethical point with an epistemological or scientific one. To have a certain kind of knowledge does not influence your ethical approach or position – at least not in the same way than it does influence other people who rhetorically base themselves on that knowledge. I have a radical position: there is no such thing a harmful knowledge. The reason many neuroscientist are people wishing to make standardised treatment like neurofeedback (the most stupid thing a human mind came up with in the realm of treatment of the psyche), is not that they are neuroscientists but that they are people completely subjected to the ruling ideology. What we need is the ethical approach you are talking of within neuroscience itself. To provoke you: Let’s assume we life in the perfect society by your standards. Won’t be there something like neuroscience? I hope there will and then the question arises how to do it. More important is to be aware of what neuroscience actually studies and what is the structure of its knowledge. As it is a natural science the knowledge is a knowledge of necessities, i.e. it describes what biological structures are necessary for certain psychological events or processes and so forth. Therefore it is very helpful to have knowledge about the structure of the necessary preconditions of different processes in order to understand the logic of those processes and from there getting a good metapsychological theory and from there a good psychoanalytic theory. In short: The psychoanalytic treatment is a sovereign where the neurosciences do not interfere, but where they can give some advice and orientation.

    “the psychoanalysts that I know and respect the most have already studied not only the better part of the analytic canon, but also the poets, the artists, the philosophers, the religions, politics, languages, and the realm of the human sciences. To study neuroscience in a serious way requires a significant further commitment for an analyst. What is the effect of neuroscientific knowledge on psychoanalytic practice, and does this effect justify the heavy toll of neuroscientific study?”
    Sorry I don’t like this argument at all. Why? Because you are actually making the point of saying that there is something like good knowledge and something like bad knowledge for psychoanalysts. Apart from that I have never ever met an psychoanalyst who has studied all of those fields in depth. I for my part study philosophy but only those thinkers which interest me, I am far from being a good historian of philosophy. I also study film and music, but not the fine arts or literature, anr away from being a good musiclogist. I also studied war-theory (especially von Clausewitz) but I am far from being an army officer. And so forth. It is not about becoming a specialist in those areas, it is about getting basic knowledge. And therefore this is absolutely no hindrance to study neuroscience. Why not? For the very simple reason that a good neuroscientist should exactly like a psychoanalyst have knowledge in the fields you just mentioned. Today in neuroscience it is told to us that one needs to be a specialist and one should not lose his time reading something else. This is based on the premise that the only way of succeeding is by publishing as much as possible and becoming a specialist. This is simply bullshit: there is nothing dumber than a specialist. Hardly anyone follows the path of developing a good or even brilliant theory and then succeeding by this theory. The only way to do that is by studying the subject of neuroscience: the human mind. How do you do that? Through psychoanalysis. And how do you do that? By studying the human sciences, arts, philosophy and so forth. Brain sciences are not really intellectually exhausting, there is just lots of literature and experiments. You always work in teams and you just have to find people with an high proficiency in experimental methods and a deep knowledge of the literature. Then you simply have your experimental advisors you cooperate and co-publish with. This is absolutely normal within neuroscience. Second a lot of the literature in neuroscience is simply bullshit. There are so many people with so simplistic positions and theories that you really do not need to read all of that. Just as most neuroscientist do not read all of that literature or anything outside neurosciences.

    Does the effect of neuroscientific study on psychoanalytic thinking justify neuroscientific study? Yes indeed! Where to begin? Maybe with Freud who developed psychoanalysis out of neurology and therefore his theory and thinking is not understandable without this knowledge? To be more precise: It is not understandable in the sense that the truth of the text is the intention of the author. I know that for a Lacanian this is not all there is. But it is a fact that there was an author and that he had certain way of thinking that he tried to bring to paper. For me as a German it is quite obvious what Freud wanted to say, as I am in the lucky position not to struggle what Stratchey wanted me to understand, from what he had read ion the text, which had been written by Freud. Maybe for an English or French speaking person the Lacanian approach is the best, but for me this is simply not the case, as I have direct contact with Freud’s words. To argue that language is a failure and we can therefore not reach to the intention of the author is a completely unpsychoanalytic argument. It was precisely Freud’s point that it is the most liable way of understanding subjectivity and the intentions of the subject. Next point: The studies of Jaak Panksepp made me change my understanding of the drives. I really changed the drive-theory in a way that is completely coherent with Freud’s thinking, and those changes made it more diverse more exact and arguably intellectually more satisfying. Moreover I think Freud himself would change his theory if he were to know about these findings. To change the drive-theory is a major effect I would argue. Next point: The PLAY-instinct (or drive? I am not sure yet f I understand it as drive or instinct…not instinct in the sense of Stratchey). This is a major contributiuon to psychoanalysis by the neurosciences.
    But there is more: Freud developed psychoanalysis out of a set of interpretations of phenomena without conscious meaning. Based on a set of neurological and biological assumptions he developed ways of interpreting those phenomena. The Interpretation of Dreams would not have been possible without his neurological knowledge. Psychoanalysis has until now only developed further by developing new theories and like Lacan did by developing the philosophical ground. But no one really developed any other methods of understanding other phenomena like dreams, slips, jokes and alike, although there are still lots of them. Neuroscientific knowledge is necessary to do that and I will do that. For a matter of fact I am working on a theory for a typical psychological phenomenon, which could be a major advance in psychoanalysis. To end this point: You need neuroscientific knowledge to understand Freud’s theoretical thinking properly. By all the deep respect I have for Lacan, I still disagree with the way he understands Freud. I also have a problem with the fact that most Lacanians are unable to draw a distinction between the Lacanian understanding of Freud and Freud’s own thinking. It has to do with the fact that hardly anyone learns German in order to study Freud. Therefore I argue that most psychoanalysts in the world have never read or studied Freud. They simply studied Stratchey. There were times when philosophers learned Ancient-Greek in order to study Plato and Aristotle, just as Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel and Marx did. Nowadays hardly anyone studies German to study Freud, because in the anglosaxon world rules the arrogance of the thought that a translation is the same as the origional text. As a matter of fact Mark Solms did learn German and corrected the entire Standard Edition.

    Now I come to your ontological argument and the hint that language is out there. Quote:

    “On the very first page of the paper, Freud indicates that virtually all psychology is, in effect, a group psychology – ‘only rarely and under certain exceptional conditions is individual psychology in a position to disregard the relations of this individual to others.’”

    “In these situations, the symptoms and delusions themselves have a structure and function which defies any kind of monadic ontology; one needs an Other with the subject for the symptom/delusion to come to life.”

    The first problem is that neuropsychoanalysis does not have a monadic ontology – at least not everyone and not necessarily. The ontological position of neuropsychoanalysis is the ontologic position of Freud: dialectical materialism or dual-aspect monism (as Solms calls it).
    The second problem you argument has is how you understand Other or “object” (in Freud’s sense) with regard to the brain. I argue that you are making a wrong abstract identification. You are identifying or correlating the Other of psychoanalytic theory with a material-contingent person in the material world around the body of the brain. Let me explain it.
    Your point is that language and the psyche develops between the subject and the other – I agree there. But the other or the object which is objected to libidinal investment in Freud’s theory is nothing which is ‘out there’ as you mean it, it is in the brain – ontologically! The crucial point of Freudian psychoanalytic theory is that the subject is not identical with the brain. The subject’s neurological base is within the brain but it is not all of the brain. All objects are part of the psychic apparatus and relate to or are caused by some real objects which are out there, but the real objects which are out there in the material world around us never can become direct content of our subjective contemplation – Freud was not a naïve prekantian scientist! Everything the subject encounters is based in the brain. Freud makes that pretty clear in The Interpretation of Dreams. So when you say that to understand symptoms it is necessary to have an Other this does by no means disqualify brainsciences, because the Other of psychoanalytic theory is not out there in other brains or between the brains, but it is precisely within our brain! The same applies to language. Of course language happens between the different material bodies as it relies on physical waves. But as object of our perception it is always within our brains, even the langauge of other people is when it is perceived by the subject in our brain. The brain does not simply make a representation of an object we perceive. The object we perceive is in the brain! The object outside our body is simply an abstraction but we never reach it in our perception.
    Your problem is that you are grounding your critique of neuropsychoanalysis on a ontological understanding of neuroscience which is still caught in a prekantian conception of the world and on a prefreudian conception – it is of course the ruling conception of brain sciences, so it is understandable you do that. Nonetheless you should give credit to the fact that neuropsychoanalysis does not only have an own position within psychoanalysis but also one within neuroscience and it tries to change neuroscience.
    The real revolution that Freud was for the scientific study of the mind was to implement the Kantian insight and to draw attention to the subject and the subjective experience because it is the closest look we get to the psychic apparatus of other people. Precisely because the objective observation or measurement of other people’s brains does not see the dimension of meaning. Freud’s revolution was precisely to have the insight that the subjective dimension is a real dimension by the standards of natural science. That is to say: In the moment we start studying the brain scientifically the subjective point of view is not any longer something blurring the real, which we therefore can only understand through an objective analysis of the world, but it is itself the real or at least the most direct approximation to it as the objective study is in the case of the outer world. The word “objective” is today identified with “real” or “correct” while “subjective” is identified with “potentially wrong” or “blurred”. But this derives from the sciences studying pbjects outside our body, where a certain ontological approach was usefull – this approach isn’t usefull in our body. As you know when it comes to our mind it is simply wrong to argue that objective is more real than subjective. Freud’s revolution was to bring that insight to brain sciences, and as he was bashed he simply founded psychoanalysis, but he makes it clear in “Zur Einführung des Narzissmus” or “Abriß der Psychoanalyse” that his object of study has all to do wuth the brain. As Freud says we perceive our inner world just as the outer world incompletely and only in parts, as Immanuel Kant put it (Freud refers himself to Kant). Freud makes the subject an ontological being in the world of scientific understanding. So this means for brain science – and this is the point I am trying to make all the time – that it needs psychoanalysis just as psychoanalysis needs them, maybe they need psychoanalysis even more. It is necessary to have theory of the psychic processes which has in mind that what we experience is the content of the system W/Bw a system in our psychic apparatus. The outer world of brain science (i.e. the world outside the brain) is for our experience an abstraction something we do not really perceive and only experience through our movements and the consequences those movements have on us, but always through our subjective perception which is not the world as such. Hence the outer world of natural science is not identical with the outer world of psychoanalysis i.e. the world where our objects of perception and therefore the other is to locate ontologically (although of course the other also has its necessary material base in the material outer world). On the other hand it is not simply so that what happens in the brain is “the psyche” and therefore “brain = psyche” as many stupid neuroscientist tell us. Hence brain can’t simply identified with the content of psychoanalytic theory. Rather the brain contains the neurological basis for the objects and processes neuropsychoanalysis as a theory describes.
    You see, we need a far more complex ontology to make proper brain science and of course psychoanalysis. Brain science is today still caught in a prekantian naivete, the Freudian revolution is that he implemented Kants critique and Hegel’s way of thinking into that science and by doing that developed psychoanalysis. Neuropsychoanalysis is simply about taking up his project and trying to continue it. One part of that is psychoanalysis as he practiced it and this will be something at least I will always defend.
    To make a closing remark: The point of neuropsychoanalysis is not that it can replace psychoanalysis, because psychoanalysis is the precondition of neuropsychoanalysis. Furthermore neuropsychoanalysis does not argue that it can translate everything from psychoanalysis into neuroscience. Nor it is the goal of finding for everything a neuro correlate. The goal within neuro science is to be the best theory which can describe the way the brain functions and therefore showing that psychoanalysis is the best theory of the human mind. Within psychoanalysis neuropsychaoanalysis simply want to be another player and there are far worse players if I think of object-relations-theory.
    To conclude, we should always bear in mind what Marx and Feyerabend said about ideas and theories. They the result of a certain praxis in the world and that praxis will shape and determine them. The big discussion between neuroscientists and psychoanalystst comes to a high extend from the fact that both have a complete different praxis of working with humans. The best way of bringing the theory together is by bringing the praxis together and ending the bullshit of thinking that there can be something like science of the human mind without therapy of the human mind. By this it becomes more practical question and conflict than a theoretical. And there I am always on the side of those who try to help human beings to actualise and develop their subjectivity and who see the subject as ontological being.

      • Thank you for the interview. No worries, I am pretty sure you have far more important things to do than anwering my too long comments. Maybe you can digest this discussion and make a fair and intelligent blog-entry on neuropsychoanalysis.

        I would like to ad a last thing to this debate, because in the end it could be even the crucial aspect although it is not all too theoretical.
        It starts with one mistake of Eric Laurent:
        “People who went to see Freud came to a psychiatrist at a time when no one knew what psychiatry was.”
        As I already pointed out Freud was not a psychiatrist but a neurologist. In the end it is a minor mistake, but a minor mistake which tells a lot about the way in which most psychoanalysts misconceive Freud. It is true that Freud influenced psychiatry but he was nonetheless a habilitated neurologist. Of course psychoanalysis is something different than neurology and Freud himself turned away from the neurology of his time. But nonetheless it is a fact that psychoanalysis was developed first as an applied neurology and than later a wissenschaft based on this basic methods which emerged out of the applied neurology. Of course psychoanalysis then was something different than neurology, nevertheless it evolved out of it. This is important at the moment when we raise the question if neuroscience can help a psychoanalyst. My answer is simple: it obviously helped Freud. Until 1897 Freud was still publishing neurological essays, hence the texts perceived today as the early psychoanalytical texts were at the time seen as a progressive neurology.
        Last but not least it is simply wron that Freud turned towards psychoanalysis when he turned away from neurology. Yes that what Freud turned towards became psychoanalysis, but it was due to his turning to it that it became psychoanalysis. When he turned towards it it was a special project, based on scientific assumptions about the human psyche.
        What Freud did was to take seriously the old positivistic dictum that what we call psyche is ultimately a product of the brain, by turning it on hits head and studying the subjective side with scientific rigor and taking the personal thought and view serious.

        This leads me to the maybe crucial point in this entire topic: the difference of a academic-subject (like neuroscience) as a question or scientific endeavour (How does the brain work? What is the brain?) and as a socio-political group. We tend to mix both up and especially to see the subject as a question as the cause for all problems the socio-political group has. One can see this especially in the attacks of outgroups against the own group, e.g.: Many exeprimental-psychologists say Freud was homophobic because they experienced that many psychoanalysts were homophobic. The reason has to lie in the theory the follow, hence Freud was homophobic.
        I agree with your entire critique against neuroscience (at least in the centrasl points), but your critique affects neuroscience as a social group not as a question or endeavour. Consequently it is wrong to infer that neuropsychoanalysis necessarily has the same problems as the mainstream of neuroscience as a group. Because it ignores that neuropsychoanalysis sees itself as a revolutionary group which tries to takle exactly the key problems you are naming (the exclusion of the subject, the banning of any theory based on subjective experience, the banning of emotions, the praxis of ignoring ontological problems in education, the split between research and clinical work, the ignorance toward interpersonal processes when studying the brain etc.). This is the crucial point of my critique.
        Here I also refer to Zizek who points our the importance of being within an order to make revolutionary changes. He argues that the comunist party of greece is a conservative party because it resits of entering the power strucutre and trying to make changes, while SYRIZA at least tried to takle the situation. The same applies here. You can always make your critique as a lacanian and your critique may even be philosophically refined and correct (as it usually is in your case), but you can nonetheless be easily ridiculed by the power structure. You won’t defeat the existing order by your critique, there is simply far too much money going into neuroscience. (Of course your critique is nonetheless necessary, but so is the work of people who bring those ideas into the field of neuroscience). It is something completely different when you elaborate this critique in form they can understand and even more so when you base research on it that they have to accept as valid research or even as groundbreaking research. This can step by step change the entire field as the biggest group is in the end something like a naive but sincere scientist, i.e. a scientist who really means what he says when he referes to scientific ideals, he or she is simply to naive to understand what he or she is doing or is simply uninformed about what psychoanalysis is.

        To finish this long topic one observation: Why is it that people from both neuroscience and psychoanalysis see neuropsychoanalysis as an attempt to infect their own subject with the bad aspects of the other one? Usually I get to hear from brainscientists the fear and critique that neurpsychoanalysis tries to turn neuroscience in a esoteric-spiritualist new-age-like pseudoscience (as this are the views they have from psychoanalysis) and psychoanalysts fear that psychoanalysis could be turned into a standartised controlled technique which does not any longer treat a person as a subject but simply the brain as an biological organ.
        Where does this fear come from? It obviously is deeply symptomatic reaction, which tells us a lot about the symbolic strucutre of both field and the logic of a having a pseudoconcrete enemy-figure.
        If we take both views together neuropsychoanalysis would at the same time be a spiritualistic and a reductionistic endeavour which refuses to use experimental appraoches to the brain and forces psychoanalysts to use standarticed methods.
        Why hardly anyone tries to see in it the attemp of bringing not the bad aspects of the mytic enemy-figure into the own field but the own position into the other field?
        Could it be that what both sides fear is an actual progress? That both sides are somehow very well aware about their situation with all its symptoms and problems but somehow resist a real progress just as patients do?

        If it is really as psychoanalysts say that it is impossible to study the mind exclusively by means of neuroscience, why is then there a fear against the attemp pf bringing both field together? If it is really as they say than there is nothing to be lost as neuroscience simply will not be able to achive it. In that case is is necessary to take over the power structure to change the rules of the game.

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