A Neuropsychoanalytic Perspective on the Hard Problem of Consciousness
Why and How Consciousness Arises
At our Feb. 5 Grand Rounds, Mark Solms, PhD, of the University of Cape Town, presented on how the metaphysical experience of consciousness relates to the physical brain—and why psychiatrists should care.
Consciousness Itself is Affect: Felt Uncertainty in the Face of Oblivion
Lecture by Prof. Dr. Mark Solms
Conference: The Depth of the Self. Implicit Motives and Human Flourishing
August 1-3, 2019 in Würzburg, Germany
The “id” knows more than the “ego” admits: neuropsychoanalytic and primal consciousness perspectives on the interface between affective and cognitive neuroscience
Solms, M., & Panksepp, J. (2012). The “id” knows more than the “ego” admits: neuropsychoanalytic and primal consciousness perspectives on the interface between affective and cognitive neuroscience. Brain Sci, 2(2), 147-175. doi:10.3390/brainsci2020147
It is commonly believed that consciousness is a higher brain function. Here we consider the likelihood, based on abundant neuroevolutionary data that lower brain affective phenomenal experiences provide the “energy” for the developmental construction of higher forms of cognitive consciousness. This view is concordant with many of the theoretical formulations of Sigmund Freud. In this reconceptualization, all of consciousness may be dependent on the original evolution of affective phenomenal experiences that coded survival values. These subcortical energies provided a foundation that could be used for the epigenetic construction of perceptual and other higher forms of consciousness. From this perspective, perceptual experiences were initially affective at the primary-process brainstem level, but capable of being elaborated by secondary learning and memory processes into tertiary-cognitive forms of consciousness. Within this view, although all individual neural activities are unconscious, perhaps along with secondary-process learning and memory mechanisms, the primal sub-neocortical networks of emotions and other primal affects may have served as the sentient scaffolding for the construction of resolved perceptual and higher mental activities within the neocortex. The data supporting this neuro-psycho-evolutionary vision of the emergence of mind is discussed in relation to classical psychoanalytical models.
Keywords: affective consciousness; cognitive consciousness; brain evolution; mind evolution; emotions; perception; neuropsychoanalysis
The Conscious Id
Solms, M. (2013). The Conscious Id. Neuropsychoanalysis, 15(1), 5-19. doi:10.1080/15294145.2013.10773711
Two aspects of the body are represented in the brain, and they are represented differently. The most important difference is that the brain regions for the two aspects of the body are associated with different aspects of consciousness. Very broadly speaking, the brainstem mechanisms derived from the autonomic body are associated with affective consciousness, and the cortical mechanisms derived from the sensorimotor body are associated with cognitive consciousness. Moreover, the upper brainstem is intrinsically conscious whereas the cortex is not; it derives its consciousness from the brainstem. These facts have substantial implications for psychoanalytic metapsychology because the upper brainstem (and associated limbic structures) performs the functions that Freud attributed to the id, while the cortex (and associated forebrain structures) performs the functions he attributed to the ego. This means that the id is the fount of consciousness and the ego is unconscious in itself. The basis for these conclusions, and some of their implications, are discussed here in a preliminary fashion.
Keywords: affect, cognition, conscious, ego, id, unconscious
A neuropsychoanalytical approach to the hard problem of consciousness
Solms, M. (2014). A neuropsychoanalytical approach to the hard problem of consciousness. J Integr Neurosci, 13(2), 173-185. doi:10.1142/S0219635214400032
A neuropsychoanalytical approach to the hard problem of consciousness revolves around the distinction between the subject of consciousness and objects of consciousness. In contrast to the mainstream of cognitive science, neuropsychoanalysis prioritizes the subject. The subject of consciousness is the indispensable page upon which consciousness of objects is inscribed. This has implications for our conception of the mental. The subjective being of consciousness is not registered in the classical exteroceptive modalities; it is not merely a cognitive representation, not only a memory trace. Rather, the exteroceptive modalities are registered in the subjective being. Cognitive representations are mental solids embedded within subjectivity, the tangible and visible (etc) properties of which are projected onto reality. It is important to recognize that mental solids (e.g., the body-as-object) are no more real than the subjective being they are inscribed in (the body-as-subject). Moreover, pure subjectivity is not without content or quality. This aspect of consciousness is conventionally described quantitatively as the level of consciousness, or wakefulness. But it feels like something to be awake. The primary modality of this aspect of consciousness is affect. Affect supplies the subjectivity that underpins all consciousness. Some implications of this approach are discussed here, in broad brush strokes.
Keywords: Neuropsychoanalysis; hard problem; consciousness; subjectivity; prediction error; Freud.
What is “the unconscious,” and where is it located in the brain?
Solms, M. (2017). What is “the unconscious,” and where is it located in the brain? A neuropsychoanalytic perspective. Ann N Y Acad Sci, 1406(1), 90-97. doi:10.1111/nyas.13437
This is a brief overview of my “neuropsychoanalytic” perspective on the unconscious. It should make clear how much psychoanalysis has to gain from incorporating the findings of neuroscientific disciplines studying the same part of nature—the workings of the human mind. I hope it makes equally clear what useful new perspectives can be cast on current issues in cognitive neuroscience, if they, in turn, incorporate the findings of psychoanalysis.
Keywords: unconscious; Freud; psychoanalysis; human mind; consciousness; cognitive neuroscience
The scientific standing of psychoanalysis
Solms, M. (2018). The scientific standing of psychoanalysis. BJPsych Int, 15(1), 5-8. doi:10.1192/bji.2017.4
This paper summarises the core scientific claims of psychoanalysis and rebuts the prejudice that it is not ‘evidence-based’. I address the following questions. (A) How does the emotional mind work, in health and disease? (B) Therefore, what does psychoanalytic treatment aim to achieve? (C) How effective is it?
Examination of the hypothesis that repression is premature automatization: A psychoanalytic case report and discussion
Smith, R., & Solms, M. (2018). Examination of the hypothesis that repression is premature automatization: A psychoanalytic case report and discussion. Neuropsychoanalysis, 20(1), 47-61. doi:10.1080/15294145.2018.1473045
This paper is a combined and edited version of two oral presentations by the authors in 2016, under the titles “A case which challenges the neuropsychoanalytic theory of repression” (at the Arnold Pfeffer Center for Neuropsychoanalysis of the New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute) and “Examination of the repression-as-premature-automatization hypothesis, using a psychoanalytic case presentation” (at the 17th International Neuropsychoanalysis Congress, Chicago). The aim of these meetings was to provide analytic material to see if Solms’s neuropsychoanalytic theory of repression as premature automatization, and the related conceptualization of transference interpretation as reconsolidation of memory, could be used to characterize therapeutic action in an analytic case in a new way. If this proved to be possible, then this could have technical implications for the practicing analyst.
Keywords: repression, automatization, prediction, psychoanalytic treatment
The Neurobiological Underpinnings of Psychoanalytic Theory and Therapy
Solms, M. L. (2018). The Neurobiological Underpinnings of Psychoanalytic Theory and Therapy. Front Behav Neurosci, 12, 294. doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00294
This paper sets out the neurobiological underpinnings of the core theoretical claims of psychoanalysis. These claims concern (1) innate emotional needs, (2) learning from experience, and (3) unconscious mental processing. The paper also considers the neurobiological underpinnings of the mechanisms of psychoanalytic treatment—a treatment which is based on the aforementioned claims. Lastly, it reviews the available empirical evidence concerning the therapeutic efficacy of this form of treatment.
Keywords: psychoanalysis, neurobiology, basic emotions, unconscious, repression, efficacy
How and Why Consciousness Arises: Some Considerations from Physics and Physiology
Solms, M., & Friston, K. (2018). How and Why Consciousness Arises: Some Considerations from Physics and Physiology. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 25(5-6), 202-238.
We offer a scientific approach to the philosophical ‘hard problem’ of consciousness, as formulated by David Chalmers in this journal. Our treatment is based upon two recent insights concerning (1) the endogenous nature of consciousness and (2) the minimal thermodynamic conditions for being alive. We suggest that a combination of these insights specifies sufficient conditions for attributing feeling to being.
Keywords: active; affect; consciousness; free energy; hard problem; inference; Markov blanket
The Hard Problem of Consciousness and the Free Energy Principle
Solms, M. (2018). The Hard Problem of Consciousness and the Free Energy Principle. Front Psychol, 9, 2714. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02714
This article applies the free energy principle to the hard problem of consciousness. After clarifying some philosophical issues concerning functionalism, it identifies the elemental form of consciousness as affect and locates its physiological mechanism (an extended form of homeostasis) in the upper brainstem. This mechanism is then formalized in terms of free energy minimization (in unpredicted contexts) where decreases and increases in expected uncertainty are felt as pleasure and unpleasure, respectively. Emphasis is placed on the reasons why such existential imperatives feel like something to and for an organism.
Keywords: hard problem, consciousness, free energy, predictive processing, affect, Freud
Brain and the Inner World: An Introduction to the Neuroscience of Subjective Experience (2002)
About this Book…
The Brain and the Inner World is an eagerly-awaited account of a momentous revolution. Subjective mental states like consciousness, emotion, and dreaming were once confined to the realm of philosophy, psychoanalysis, and the human sciences. These topics now assume center stage in leading neuroscientific laboratories around the world. This shift has produced an explosion of new insights into the natural laws that govern our inner life.
By two pioneers in the field, The Brain and the Inner World guides us through the exciting new discoveries, showing how old psychodynamic concepts are being forged into a scientific framework for understanding subjective experience.
It is not that the mind is reduced to neurobiology. Rather, thanks to neurobiology, we are free to believe in the power of the mind. The neurosciences will soon be able to argue with Plato, Descartes, James, Freud, and Lacan about the mysterious connections between emotions, experience, will, reason, and creativity.
“Solms and his colleagues are making a brilliant, determined, scrupulous, and (one wants to say) tactful endeavor to approach, in a new way, the oldest question of all—the mysterious relation of body and mind.”
—Oliver Sacks, from his Foreword
“This is erudite and fascinating. The authors show us that modern neuroscience allows us to find neurological correlates of some basic psychoanalytical concepts, but in doing so, and this is important, they do not fall into the reductionist explanations so dominant in neuroscience today. Their approach is refreshing and their arguments are well reasoned.”
—Lesley Rogers, author of Sexing the Brain
Mark Solms is a psychoanalyst and neuropsychologist. He is Professor in Neuropsychology at the University of Cape Town (South Africa), Honorary Lecturer in Neurosurgery at the St Bartholomew’s and Royal London School of Medicine, Director of the Arnold Pfeffer Center for Neuropsychoanalysis at the New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, and Chair of the Research Committee of the International Psychoanalytical Association. He is President of the South African Psychoanalytical Association, Associate Member of the British Psychoanalytical Society, Honorary Member of the New York Psychoanalytic Society, and Member of the South African Clinical Neuropsychology Association and of the British Neuropsychological Society. He is a Member of the Academy of Science of South Africa, and Honorary Fellow of the American College of Psychoanalysts and of the American College of Psychiatrists. He has won many prestigious awards, including the Sigourney Award. He has authored a multitude of chapters, articles and books including ‘The Neuropsychology of Dreams’ (1997), and was founding editor of the journal ‘Neuropsychoanalysis’.