How Can Psychoanalysis Survive into the Twenty-first Century? (3) Written by Dr Linda Berman.

Not so sick, my lord,
As she is troubled with thick-coming fancies
That keep her from her rest.
Cure her of that.
Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased,
Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,
Raze out the written troubles of the brain
And with some sweet oblivious antidote
Cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart?


Macbeth. William Shakespeare.




Lady Macbeth

(image: detail of John Singer Sargent’s “Ellen Tarry as Lady Macbeth”, via freeparking/Flickr)

A desperate Macbeth urge his doctors to magically erase unpleasant thoughts and memories from his troubled wife’s mind.

Is this the stuff of dreams? Of science fiction? Perhaps. But just maybe such magic is becoming a little closer to reality.

We might not be able to remove a memory, as Macbeth asks, but we can certainly see some mind- blowing developments in the area of brain imaging.

Metacognition, consciousness of self, can now be measured; our perception of the world around ourselves as it registers in our brain can actually be witnessed on screen:

‘We can quantify your introspection. We can measure the amount of brain activity anywhere in the brain…..Through the use of MRI and ERG we can make the invisible visible…. we can see which areas of the brain are used in different tasks like smelling, sensing, thinking …..’ (Dehaene- video)

Conscious and unconscious activity in the brain is determined and evaluated through the use of such tools, together with an intricate series of experiments. Thus it is that our ways of thinking, to some extent, are becoming observable. It is certainly an exciting time for neuroscience. What was once a futuristic fantasy, is now becoming a reality.

“ By about 2040, there will be a backup of our brains in a computer somewhere, so that when you die it won’t be a major career problem.” (Ian Pearson, quoted in Robinson)

How does all this relate to Freud? Well, what has recently emerged in the field of neuroscience is exciting for adherents of Freud. It is called Neuropsychoanalysis. Research into this new area was pioneered by the neuropsychologist and psychoanalyst, Mark Solms, at the University of Capetown.


Solms underlines the fact that Freud was aware that neuroscience in his time was not sufficiently developed to support psychoanalytic theory. Freud began his career as a neurobiologist, attempting to find science to back up his psychological findings; however, he dropped this, as neuroscience was so undeveloped, and he focussed on the  practice of psychoanalysis.

Freud predicted in 1920 that advances would be made in neuroscience  ‘in a few dozen years.’ As we have seen above, new discoveries and inventions now mean that ‘introspection can be quantified.’

Psychoanalysis is built on the belief that introspection is a powerful force: that thinking has power(M.M.Owen.)

To be able to scientifically measure such brain activity and functioning is wondrous; how Freud would have rejoiced at this new and important knowledge.  For many years, psychoanalytic theory and science followed divergent paths, with little connection.

Freudian theory was on the decline, as we have seen in the previous post. Now, the advent of neurospsychoanalysis means that some aspects of psychoanalysis can be revivified.

Neuropsychoanalysis may be explained as an exploration of the connection between psychoanalysis and neuroscience:

Now, with advances in technology that give us a window on an active brain, we can link brain processes with psychoanalytic concepts – ideas that emphasize the deep unconscious layers of the mind, the central role of emotions and interpersonal relations in mental life, and the importance of fantasy and mental representations.  Neuroscience is rapidly expanding our understanding of the neural circuits involved with conscious and unconscious processes, motivation, emotion, self-regulation, memory, interpersonal relations, and more.  As we bring these domains together, neuropsychoanalysis illuminates how the mind is organized at the deepest levels can inform and enrich brain exploration – and vice versa. NPSA


Image: P. Denker. Prd Brain Scan Flickr.

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