Neuropsychoanalysis: Freud and the brain

Bookslut has an in-depth interview with neuropsychologist Dr Mark Solms, one of the pioneers of neuropsychoanalysis, the field that attempts to test, extend and integrate Freudian ideas with modern neuroscience.

Twenty years ago, Freud’s ideas were considered virtually obsolete by mainstream cognitive scientists, but some recent findings have suggested a neurocognitive basis for some key Freudian ideas.

For example, a 2001 paper by Anderson and Green suggested that people can effectively suppress unwanted memories from consciousness and that the executive system (considered a key control function of the frontal lobes) may be responsible.

More recently, a study of brain injured patients who confabulate (produce false or unlikely memories without intending to deceive) have reported that the false memories are more likely to be positive and emotionally uplifting, suggesting a level of wish fulfilment.

In the interview, Solms discusses the future of neuropsychoanalysis, addresses some of the criticisms, and talks about his new translation of Freud’s complete works.

Link to Mark Solms interview.
Link to Wikipedia page on neuropsychoanalysis.

5 Comments

  1. Posted May 14, 2007 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    Finding a more rigourous framework to test freudian ideas is long waited welcome due to the long repudation of Freud in scientific circles, and because is something like honouring his name because in some sense Freud started neuroscience in the modern sense of the word and practice, before changing his interests to pursue a programm of pure psychology.

  2. Posted May 17, 2007 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    A study finds that confabulated memories are more likely to be positive, so Freud was right? Leaving aside the dubiousness of the suggestion that this finding somehow validates Freud (citation please), his most famous (albeit false) claims about confabulated memories were allegedly concerning early childhood sexual abuse, hardly uplifting: http://tinyurl.com/38zwcj
    With regard to the Anderson et al. claims: Bulevich et al. have recently reported the failure to replicate the results obtained by Anderson et al. (and they report there have been other like failures): http://tinyurl.com/2brwkx
    But in any case, the contentions that the experimental findings of Anderson et al. had the significance the authors claimed in relation to Freud’s theories were subjected to severe criticisms at the time. An apt response has been made by Richard McNally, professor of psychology at Harvard: “If Freud had said, ‘People often try not to think about certain things, and sometimes they succeed in forgetting them, at least for certain periods of time,’ he would never have become an Icon of Western Civilisation. ‘Repression’ defined in this mundane way (i.e., ‘suppression’) lacks all the distinctive trappings of psychoanalysis‚Ķ Therefore why invoke Freud in this experimental report? There is nothing distinctly Freudian about the methods, the findings, or their interpretation.” See also Chapter 6, R. J. McNally, *Remembering Trauma*, Harvard Univ. Press, 2003.
    Mark Solms’ claims about neuroscience validating Freud’s theories (presented by him in suitably bowlderised formulations) have been strongly criticized, e.g., by G. William Domhoff:

    http://tinyurl.com/33uq8m

    On a more modest level, see the following article about Solms’ general comments on Freud:

    http://tinyurl.com/32kxv4

  3. Posted May 17, 2007 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    In what both of us can aggre is that Freud orinally began as a neurologist and initially porpose many advance ideas about the neural underpinnings of certain mental states.
    Scientific testing of freudian ideas as in other areas in the scientific enterprise is just a matter of observation,experimentation, and validation of hypothesis. And now we have to wait for the literature (citation forthcoming or perhaps not); but what evryone wants now is to bring back Freud to the judgement of science not prejudice him “pro forma”.

  4. Posted May 19, 2007 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Certainly Freud showed considerable promise in experimental neuro-physiology when at Br√ºcke’s Physiological Institute, but it is hardly the case that he initially proposed many advanced ideas relating to the underpinnings of mental states. As Robert Holt (*Freud Reappraised*, 1989) writes about the basic underlying assumptions of Freud’s early (unpublished) “Project for a scientific psychology”: “Freud was wrong, as his teachers had been before him.” In fact, according to Malcolm Macmillan (*Freud Evaluated*, 1997 [1993]), Freud held a view of nerve impulses “at variance with the then known facts”. Freud’s attempt to explain mental processes in neurological terms in the 1890s was either brave or foolhardy, according to one’s point of view, but it would be inaccurate to describe it as having advanced our knowledge of the neuroscience of mental states.
    Anibal writes in regard to the scientific testing of Freudian ideas that we have to wait for the literature (presumably meaning in relation to neuroscience). Of course the vast majority of Freud’s ideas are too specific to be tested at the neuroscientific level (see Macmillan 1997 for a massively detailed overall assessment of Freud’s ideas), but at that level many of the recent “Freud was right” claims tend to refer to notions that are not specifically psychoanalytic, and are only thought to be so by people who have little knowledge of the pre-Freudian history of psychological concepts ‚Äì see, e.g., Henri Ellenberger’s *The Discovery of the Unconscious* (1970) and Mark Altschuler’s *Origins of Concepts in Human Behavior* (1977).

  5. Posted May 19, 2007 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    No doubt, you are a great Freudian scholar.
    But i¬¥m in my track, we have to wait to put a neuroscientific signature to Freud¬¥s views, even if they are not seen as completely operationalized nowadays; and moreover, Freud¬¥s spirit of patient-physician dialogue is corroborated by neuroscience (e.g. mirror neurons, theory of mind, empathy studies…)
    I think that you love too much Freud ;)


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