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.
This is a revision of Freud’s “Project for a Scientiﬁc Psychology: General Scheme.” It updates the original, sentence for sentence where possible, in light of contemporary neuroscientiﬁc knowledge. The principle revisions are as follows. (1) Freud’s conception of “quantity” (the precursor of “drive energy”) is replaced by the concept of “free energy.” This is the energy within a system that is not currently performing useful work. (2) Shannon’s conception of “information” is introduced, where information is equivalent to unpredictability, and is formally equivalent to “entropy” in physics. (3) In biology, the fundamental purpose of “homeostasis” is to resist entropy – i.e., to increase predictability. Homeostasis turns out to be the underlying mechanism of what Freud called the “principle of neuronal inertia.” (4) Freud’s conception of “contact barriers” (the physical vehicles of memory) is linked with the modern concepts of consolidation/reconsolidation, whereby more deeply consolidated predictions are less plastic (more resistant to change) than freshly consolidated ones. (5) Freud’s notion of sensory “excitation” is replaced with the concept of “prediction error,” where only that portion of sensory input which is not explained by outgoing predictions is propagated inwards for cognitive processing. (6) Freud’s conception of “bound” (inhibited) cathexis, the main vehicle of his “secondary process” and voluntary action is equated with the buﬀering function of “working memory”; and “freely mobile” cathexis (the vehicle of Freud’s “primary process”) is equated with the automatized response modes of the nondeclarative memory systems. (7) Freud’s notion of ω (the system “consciousness”) is replaced by the concept of “precision” modulation, also known as “arousal” and “postsynaptic gain.”
Video Presentations 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… Read More