Biology, Science and Analytic Truth

Cyril C Y Su
In the beginning, psychoanalysis was not regarded as an
independent discipline of inquiry; the patients’ symptom
and psychic phenomena that Freud tried to cover were
believed to be caused by either physical illness or sometimes
mystical experience. To cater the patient’s symptom,
Freud made uses of research fndings from 19th Century
French psychiatrists such as Jean-Martin Charcot. Similar
to Charcot, Freud learnt from the modern psychiatry
and neurology the observation techniques and scientifc
method of inquiry. However, Freud’s interest laid beyond
human’s conscious experience and he rejected adopting
hypnosis and suggestion in clinical setting. What he created
was a new therapeutic format that attempted to uncover
the hidden world of the patient by using a new technique -
talking cure and free association.
The early history of psychoanalysis is a mixing up of
knowledge from researches about the mystical experience,
clinical vignette toward the hysteria and psychotics as well
as contributions from psychologists, psychiatrists, biologists
and practitioners from the other medical disciplines.
Freud put together various phenomena into a scheme of
unconscious system; as he was so eager to create a grand
theory in humanities, he attempted to develop a unique
metapsychological thinking out of research fndings from
different disciplines to support his project. Freud did not
present psychoanalysis merely as a therapeutic format;
he had also extended its theoretical coverage to painting,
literature, religion and mythology. In some of his well known
analysis of literary works and art works, Freud was able
to present some famous interpretations of Shakespeare’s
Hamlet, Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings and Moses. Freud
was right to put those materials into analysis, for Freud’s
analystical readings not only extended our knowledge
about those creative works, it provided the best available
resources to illustrate the theory of the unconsicous and
how it can be used to analyse art pieces and literary works.
Both arts and literature are representations of human
subjectivity. To interpret those content as psychic material
in clinical setting, we immediately access to the validity of
psychoanalytic techniques to a broader spectrum in our
knowledge to the humanity. Also, it was after Freud that
The quotation is from the Standard Edition, Volume 1, p.285. (The Complete
Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Vol. 1-24. London: Hogarth Press 1955-
1974). In this article, reference to Standard Edition will be as “SE” with the
number of Vol and page.

psychoanalytic research on literature and arts has facilitated
a generation of literary theorists and art historians for a
totally new prespective on those disciplines.
The adoptation of literature and arts into psychoanalysis
is tactically helpful to create immediate popularity and
attention; however in so doing the theoretical establishment
of psychoanalysis as a therapeutic discipline has laid the
hidden obstacle among the medical community. Although
Freud has presented a strong inclination and enormous
interest toward clinical research in his earlier career as a
psychiatrist, he was also facinated by the idea of creating
a grand theory to understand human’s psychical problem
within a larger spectrum of knowledge. The analytic truth is
more than a discipline that applies to individual phenomena.
It is based on a general understanding of the human’s subject
and his possibilities. Analytic Truth aims at an ontological
understanding of what makes humans human. It is for this
reason that Freud was not able to continue his research by
solely relying on clinical experience. What he intended to
do and actually what he had done was to testify his theory
among various aspects of human’s experience. Artistic
and literary experiences are the unavoidable or better say
the most welcoming path to go with. Is psychoanalysis a
therapeutic format or a theory in critical practise? Have
Freud even elaborated any theoretical difference between
psychoanalysis as clinical practice and psychoanalysis as
critical theory? The aim of psychoanalytic speech act is
to work through mirage of the unconscious; what the
analyst has been waiting for is to witness the coming of the
patient’s awakening from that mirage. That is the ultimate
concerns in Freud’s formulation. If clinical psychoanalysis
and theoretical psychoanalysis are different, what is/are the
common presupposition(s) that is/are shared by both.
In this article, I would discuss the ontological presupposition
of psychoanalysis as being an empirical science and its
limitation. This judgement will base on a rereading of
Freud’s biologism and machinism initiated by some Post
Freudian theorists including Lacan. I would also like to
discuss psychoanalytic truth as different from philosophical
truth. This will defnitely be a good starting point to discuss
the ontological or onto-psychological presupposition of
psychoanalysis as a unique experience only possible within
the clinical setting. In so doing, this understanding would be
an important support for clinical psychoanalysis which is the
only valid scientifc format available.
MONOGRAM is a theoretical publication of the
Lacan Society in Hong Kong, a professional group to
promote the study and training in psychoanalysis.
Issue 1, 2012
Hong Kong SAR, China
Psychoanalysis was created out of a vast pool of knowledge
including neurology, biology, psychiatry and related medical
practices. If neurology, biology and other medical formats are
normally regarded as empirical science, Freud was looking
for a new kind of knowledge or discourse, which can go
beyond the mere empirical, sensual world of the humanity.
If one thinks why scientists do not regard psychoanalysis
as a scientifc discipline, it is neither because it does not
have a unique method of inquiry nor because it lacks a
fxed theoretical foundation. The question has already been
posted for a hundred years since Freud; I think it is high
time to review why psychoanalysis can not be categorized
or simply why it rejects being categorized as a scientifc
Psychoanalysis has a strong intention to study the
phenomena of non-empirical world. Depression was not
regarded as physical sickness in pre-psychiatry age. Psychotic
patient is sometimes put into the category of supernatural
possession. Psychical problem has long time been regarded
not as empirical problem for there is no fxed phenomena
(on the symptomatic level) or not even a stable reason
(cause) behind the symptom (effect). Cause and effect is
a focal point of discussion in psychoanalysis from Freud
to Lacan. The cause and effect polemics has long been a
discussion related to the scientifcity of psychoanalysis. To
Freud, one of his visions is to bring psychoanalysis up to the
level of scientifc knowledge.
In The Project for a Scientifc Psychology, one of Freud’s
earliest contributions that shows his vision to make
psychoanalysis “the psychology for neurologist”, Freud has
tried to work out the association between the cause and
its effect. It is believed that a stable relations between cause
and effect is a foundation of psychoanalysis as a science.
The Project was written in his pre-psychoanalytic period,
which has long been a work that attracted attention
both from the psychoanalysts or natural scientists. In this
work, what Freud proposed was very different from the
psychoanalytic theory he initiated shortly several years later.
Some historical researches point out that Freud, shortly
after fnishing this text, has given up the whole ideas of this
article and did not even intend to publish it until 1950s. On
November 8 in one of his letter with Fliess, he wrote that
the manuscript has been thrown into a drawer “where they
must sleep until 1896”.
From Freud’s letter to Fliess, he expressed that he felt
“overworked, irritated, confused, and incapable of mastering
the stuff, so he had put it aside.” The fnal revision of the
text was done on January 1, 1896 with major revision
on a letter Fliess and after that the text was then stored
unpublished until 1950s. Many researches has tried to
trace the connection between The Project and Freud’s
subsequent involvement in the theory of Id which seems to
have replaced a lot of notions in The Project.
The Project has proposed an intention to create a
psychological theory based on the fndings of the
psychopathology hoping that the knowledge about the
nervous system can provide the cause for working of the
psychical process. Based on the fndings, Freud hoped that
he could fnd out why the problem of psychical process
caused psychopathological diversion. “The intention is to
furnish a psychology that shall be a natural science: that is to
represent psychical processes as quantitatively determinate
states of specifable material particles…..” (SE 1 295)
Freud’s intention is not only science (i.e. social science or
human science) but natural science, which in his mind is
best manifested as biology. He introduced the theory of
“quantitative conception” which he theorized the psychical
process as the movement of the neuron which was the
material particles that quantifed the variation in psychical
changes. The main substance of these new discoveries
was that the nervous system consisted of distinct and
similarly construct neurones, which contacted with one
another through the medium of a foreign substance and
which terminated upon one another as they do upon
portions of foreign tissue, [and] in which certain lines of
conduction are laid down in so far as they [the neurones]
receive [excitations] through cell-processes [dendrites]
and [give them off] through an axis-cylinder [axon]. They
have in addition numerous ramifcations of varying caliber.
(SE 1 298) The neurons theory is highly aggressive in the
time of Freud who has proposed an idea which today
neurologist has adopted and elaborated with the help of
modern technologies like clinical brain profling (Avi Peled
and Eric Kandel)
. The neurons which is not a substance
in reality but a constructed agent initiates the fow of
psychical energy through their movement and contact with
other external agents. The force behind the movement of
the neuron is what Freud proposed as (Qή), which means
the “quantity of the intercellular order of magnitude” (SE 1
294) The neuron is guided by the principles of inertia and of
constancy which lay down the frst articulation of “primary”
and “secondary” processes. Also, Freud has distinguished
two types of neurons which one of them is permeable (ф)
while the impermeable system is called (ψ).
The neurons are separated by the “contact barrier” that
impedes the transmission of excitation, or what Freud called
“cathexis,” from one to the other. There has been material
showing that Freud’s conception may have a connection
with his teachers in psychiatry, Ernest Bruck and Theodore
Meynert. Ernest Bruck proposed to study the psychical
problem based on a physical mathematical and biological
model of the brain. During that time, human psychical
Avi Peled, Neuroanalysis: Bridging the Gap Between Neuroscience, Psychoanalysis
and Psychiatry. London: Routledge, 2008
Eric Kandel, Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis, and the New Biology of Mind. Arling-
ton: American Psychiatric Press Inc, 2005.
functioning was viewed not so much as a problem related
to the brain, rather than having to do with un-reached non-
explainable phenomena. The study of the brain as urged by
Ernest Bruck used modern physics.
Theodore Meynert said that mental operation was
presented through the action of the neuron while a
thought was represented by a pathway that linked up with
stimulation through neurons. Since each of us experience
different occurrences and had a different background,
then each person has his unique individual pattern of
brain connectivity organization. Theodore Meynert called
such individual and unique brain organization, ‘Ego.’ (Avi
Peled) Meynert argues that egos can present various level
of strength and organizing power. An adult’s ego is more
developed and their brainpower is stronger than a child’s.
And in case when a person is in the state of sleep, his brain
will have a weaker power to link the neurons. Meynert even
goes further to suggest that in some conditions of insanity,
the brain weakening may be more or less permanent. And
mental disorder is believed to be a problem in the brain
operation. (Fancher)
Today, it is known that two types of
neurons are present in the nervous system - excitatory and
Both types of neurons communicate through transmission
of electrical signals. The neurons can either do so
spontaneously or by receiving excitatory signals from other
neurons. The difference is that excitatory neurons transmit
signals, which cause increased activity in other neurons,
while inhibitory neurons send signals, which decrease or
inhibit the activity of other neurons. During Freud’s time,
only process of excitation has been discovered while the
process of inhibition was not even hypothesized.
Commentator points out that Freud’s biologism roots
in his training and was correspondent to the intellectual
climate in his time. As the “biologist of the mind,” he tried to
establish a discipline grounded on biology that he claimed
as “truly a land of unlimited possibility.” (SE 18 60) What
is the possibility? Freud has developed groundbreaking
researches on neurology and neuropathology.
David Galbis-Reig M.D. in his article “Sigmund Freud, MD:
Forgotten Contributions to Neurology, Neuropathology
and Anesthesia” has listed down the various major texts
by Freud on the issues that had not been discovered by
the research of his time. …..Prior to beginning work on
his theory of psychoanalysis, Freud (under the tutelage of
great thinkers like Charcot and Maynert) made several
contributions to the feld of neurology and completed four
large texts on several topics of interest to neurologists,
Raymond Fancher, Psychoanalytic Psychology: The Development of Freud’s
Thought. NY:WWNorton, 1973
neuropathologists, and anesthesiologists during the early
years of his career. …..It is these forgotten contributions
that best demonstrate Freud’s scientifc and research
capabilities - particularly his ability to observe and describe
a variety of disease processes.
In his earlier career in neurological research, he has
developed his own skill in handling medical research in
evident based method. And some of his research results
were precedent to upcoming researches of his time.
Especially in 1897, when Freud published his manuscript
in neurology entitled “Infantile Cerebral Paralysis”
provided a strong foundation for Freud’s research about
childhood cerebral paralysis and pathed the way for him
to understand its infuence on psychopathology of the
adult. This research also represented Freud’s premier
achievement in the area of childhood cerebral paralysis and
established Freud as a well-respected expert on this topic
during his lifetime. It is quite obvious Freud has a strong
intention to build up a psychology of the mind based on
neurological fndings from his teachers as well as his own
input related to clinical researches on the hysterics and
The creative impulse for writing the Project is so strong
that he has worked intensively and enthusiastically after his
visit to Fliess and fnished the book within several weeks.
However, he has eventually given up the Project, and replaced
his vision with enormous study on the theory of id. We
shall not offer any guesswork to his intention before the
historians of the psychoanalytic movement can offer more
evidence about why he had given up the Project. Although
there is a lot of linkage between Project and subsequent
notions of psychoanalysis, we cannot undermine the
uniqueness of the Project as the foundation for a quantitative
research on psychical substance. At this moment, we can
only understand that there is still an unsolved relation
between natural science and psychoanalysis that Freud
has ventured himself. Among recent Freudian researchers,
Richard Boothby is one of those that tend to read Freud
in a deconstructive way by reading Freud’s frame of
reference and metaphorical language. Rather than making
judgment on Freud’s biologism, he claims that Freud’s
conception is operated by a metaphor of psychic energy.
I think this metaphorical swap from quantitative research
to a philosophical mediation of the energetics is one of the
most interesting yet unresolved intellectual turns in modern
history of science.
In what Boothby writes as the “energetics of the imaginary”
that Freud’s concept about libido is operated by the
metaphor of the energy “functioned as a quantitative
principle by means of which the psychical equivalence of
manifestly different mental contents could be postulated.”
(Boothby, 48)
David Galbis-Reig, “Sigmund Freud, MD: Forgotten Contributions to Neurol-
ogy, Neuropathology and Anesthesia” The Internet Journal of Neurology. 2004
Vol 3 Number 1.
Sigmund Freud, Infantile Cerebral Paralysis. Miami: Univ. of Miami Press 1968
The metaphor has supported the whole mechanism from
energy cathexis or investment, which has developed in
varieties of displacement, condensation, resistance and
repression. This is the frame of reference that validates the
whole concept of “drive”.
Boothby does not provide a deconstructive “undoing” of
Freud’s metaphor, he only points out that Lacan has also
supported the notion of energy as important that makes
Freud different from Hegel. “…..Lacan claims that in Freud
something is talked about, which isn’t talked about in Hegel,
namely energy.”
Boothby also argues that Lacan has separated the real
from the imaginary in how Freud splits the biology with
psychology. We will come back to this topic at the end of
this article. Before going into more discussion about how
Freud has put a gap between biology and psychoanalysis.
I want to go back to my discussion about psychoanalytic
Based on clinical psychoanalytic experience, I would like
to propose a scheme in which there are several aspects
that one can regard as the causes of psychical problem.
The psychoanalytic primal cause is about drive or the
hedonistic id, which Freud has put into what he called as
the primary process. The primal cause as aroused in the
clinical experience is the process of the unconscious that
keeps looking for chances to actualize its presence. It is
the impulsive force that is more adhered to the raw and
inborn needs of the biological aspect of human psyche.
The primal cause is mostly the working of the biological
needs, however Freud was not satisfed with this primal
cause. There is also the conceptual cause, which helps to
sublimate the biological process to the level of subjectivity.
The conceptual cause is about the symbolic world that is
interweaved by law and rules that govern the grouping of
species in the universe. What makes community or the
position of an individual in a community possible is his/her
position in the a prior system. This is the symbolic, linguistic,
grouping aspects of human community.
Within this realm, the psychoanalytic subject is put into
a realm of meaning (logos). Meaning represents the
understanding of the universe as well as the understanding
of the subject himself. Governed by this conceptual cause,
subject is able to make himself available to the desire of the
other; otherwise, his or her own desire is also actualized
through the exchange of interest in the process. This
process is what Freud regarded as secondary process which
function is to control and monitor the needs of the id and
Richard Boothby, Death and desire : psychoanalytic theory in Lacan’s return to
Freud. New York : Routledge, 1991.
put it into the constraint of the reality principle (beyond the
pleasure principle). The opposition between the primary
process and the secondary process has eventually become
the opposite principles (i.e. pleasure and reality principle).
The conceptual cause is mostly operated by the human
cognitive, perceptual and logical thinking.
However, there is another element, which directs the non-
conceptual, emotional aspect of being – cause of affect. Affect
can arouse desire in being and will make use of suppressed
libido force to motivate one for tense and violent behavior.
Affect is always the constituent of hysteria and paranoia,
but it also supports the working of the obessionals when
driving the subject for repetition and also lead to frustration.
In the psychoanalytic experience, the three Freudian causes
are not the only available factors (i.e. causes) behind the
dynamics of the clinic session. In the analytic session, the
subject’s free association actualizes his past experience in
present situation. Because of the intervention, approval and
denial from the analyst, the subject is able to release himself
from structural repression from familial relations.
There is however another cause that will alter the relations
between the primal cause, conceptual cause and cause of
affect. This is what we will call as the twist. The twist will
turn love relations (Oedipal) to hatred, expectation into
rejection.The twist will also make transferential relations
into the double of the primal love. This twist is the force
driving for a return to the thing-in-self, which hints or
presupposes the termination of the analysis. This is also
the realm that opens up dialectics of the subjectivity that
Lacan depicted in “The Subversion of the Subjectivity”. In
some cases or situation, affect is mistakenly regarded as the
driving force for the twist, but here actually the twist is more
of a structural cause that no affect is needed to support
its work. The twist can be a sublimation of the affect and
twist will sometimes hinder the affect rather than release it.
Therefore, handling of the twist is crucial in psychoanalysis.
The twist is para-logical in the sense that it is not as the kind
of logical thinking supported by rational process. It is only
a way to present the inversion, subversion of the original
logics. The purpose could be a way to prevent direct
confrontation of the psychical problem with the subject.
To evade from direct confrontation, the defense process
will motivate the system for the twist. Repetition in twist
is possible when defense process further intensifes the
protection of the subject. This is always the reason why
psychotic patient has undergone very complicate logical
inversion. It is very obvious that the para-logical thinking
presents a clear and valid value but to normal person,
their thinking is insane. The twist is also the analytic cause,
which provides the very specifc experience in the clinical
session. It is the gaze through which the analyst is able
to restructure the discourse created out of the subject
presented by the work of the primal cause, conceptual
cause and the cause of affect. This restructuration, however,
is not the work driven from the intention of the analyst nor
is a hermeneutic process in other counseling practices. The
twist is also driven by the transferential love/hatred which
repeats the primal relations and transfers the archived
experience as double into the present experience of the
subject. The twist is itself a bilateral cause, it initiates the
repression, condensation, replacement and the defense
which formulates the unconscious presentation of the
psychic material; it also provides the same mechanism
to undo the unconscious presentation by re-enactment,
transference, regression and resistance.
However, one shall bear in mind that the twist is a
structural cause, which invents the para-logics of the
psychopathological problem as well as provide the clue to
undo the suture, which covers up the hidden unconscious
presentation. As mentioned, psychoanalysis provides the
very unique setting and relations that can help to undo the
unconscious presentation. By making uses of the techniques
free association, intervention, approval and denial, analysis,
the analyst is positioned as the analytic cause that is always
already beyond the other psychoanalytic causes (i.e. primal,
conceptual, affect) in the unconscious presentation of the
The status of “not being” is a part which creates the
omniscient of the analyst. In clinical experience, the
omniscient and omnipresence of the analyst is the imaginary
constitution of the subject, as he tends to position the
analyst into all his causes. Analyst is to be the father, the
phallus, the logo and the lover. The subject will try every
mean to make analyst’s presence in every scene that he
needs the analyst to be there. The presence of the analyst
is not supposed to be the gazing point but he shall be a
part of the imaginary. It is because the analyst does not
involve in his imaginary by keeping distant and actualizing its
position as the Other that the subject will have to face the
unconscious presentation directly. This twist is the undoing
process, which puts the subject imaginary into the symbolic
process by entering into the verbal dialectics in the analytic
discourse with the physical presence of the analyst in the
In Lacan’s Borromean rings, the imaginary is interweaved
with the symbolic and the real. This is the situation in the
analytic session, which helps to undo the unconscious
presentation of the subject. The twist also presupposes
the Lacan’s notion of subject supposed to know. It is that
particular knowledge situation or truthful position that
make the twist possible. The core of the twist is paralogical,
the enclosed logics of the psychical relations. What I meant
by ‘paralogical” is that the working of the twist has to follow
some kind of “associative process” through which the
subject keeps verifying the truth value of the thought-idea
until he comes to the conviction he frmly believes. The
process is not an operation of emotional rendering rather
it is more like a kind of internal mediation for what is true
and what is not true. The position of truthfulness is far more
important than the cause of affect in this operation. While in
the operation of affect, the subject will seek to break down
into pieces his own psychical unity. In another words, affect
drives the subject for intensive splitting of the subjectivity.
However, in the operation of the twist, we see only further
reinforcement of the subject as a gestalt. In the associative
process, the subject invents the logically links between one
event with another and at the end he will come up with a
judgment which he thinks it is perfectly true.
This operation is a process for truth, although we may
not agree with the judgment that is made out of this
“paralogism”. Nevertheless, in clinical session, there should
not be any judgment or suspicious against anything being
spoken by the subject as illogical. The subject may say
something, which is intended to deceive; he may invent
the fact in his personal history. However we fnd that the
subject’s discourse is supported by some kind of logical
reasoning, which is valid in itself. What I mean by valid is
that the reasoning itself has a sequence that is constituent
to the being of the subject. It is always useless to argue with
a psychotic about the logical thinking of his discourse. If we
are a careful listener who understands the reasoning behind
the discourse, one will follow the specifc “logics” involved.
One recent example from a case history is about a
perversion. The subject has a strong emotional urge to
harm her partner if she thinks the partner does not love
her. To show the man loves her, she asks if the man is willing
to accept her request for eye transplant in case she loses
her eyes. As the man does not show immediate approval,
she erupts into strong anger and starts beating the man. In
her description, she provides a reasoning pattern that is an
example of paralogism in the patient. She invests on the
loss of eyes with bodily pain (previous experience in painful
abortion) and then move on to associate her loss of eyes to
her personal loneliness (previous experience of loneliness
and helplessness as a boarding student). Immediately this
is also related to her fnancial insecurity (loss of job) and
loss of pleasure and freedom (especially about freedom in
material enjoyment). And she starts thinking the man will
go with other woman and leaving her at home (suspicious
about the man’s loyalty, remembering of gazing of father’s
sexual scene). It is obvious that the patient is over sensitive
but the link from one notion to another notion is actualized
within a very short time (slightly within one minute). She
starts beating the man and complaining about all the
deeds that the man causes to her. The psychical reasoning
involved here is a self-constructed linkage, a structure, and
a paralogism that has long been posited in her psychical
system. The reasoning is a kind of paralogic thinking that it
is perfectly valid in itself, at least the patient frmly believes
the loss of eyes will associate with the subsequent notions
(i.e. misfortune in life).
As an analyst, we are not in a position to argue with the
patient that the paralogism is not true. What we can do is
to follow the logics of the linkage and analyze to her the
structure of it. The twist itself is what relates the notions
(unconscious presentations) into a sequence. It is also
through the intervention of the analyst that we are able
to undo what are being linked up and return it back to it
original state.
The Project in Scientifc Psychology has long been a major
point of polemics between Freudian and Lacanian. And this
is also the major contribution that refects Freud’s earliest
attempt to build a scientifc psychology based on the
model of biology. Lacan has pointed out that the metaphor
of energy has limited the whole ideas of dynamics in
Freudian psychoanalysis, which constitutes the concepts of
displacement, condensation, resistance and repression. And
this also contributes to Freud’s major conceptualization of
the theory of Id.
The mechanism of energetics associated the ideas of energy
fowing in and out of the psychic system and eventually
under the suppression of the ego that the unconscious
energy is stored in the reservoir. However, this energetic
concept has also faced a lot of criticism. Some critics points
out that the idea of energetic is an outmoded concept in
mechanics in the time of Freud. Roy Grinker suggests that
…..information theory is replacing libido theory and
its energic concomitant….[S]ilently but defnitely the
dual drive theory, never fully accepted even by its
originator, Freud, is being replaeed by a monolithic
theory of motivation (Eros) not too different from
the ancient ideas of life. Life is a process that is there
and necessary. Any other consideration at this time
becomes speculative, science, philosopher or religion.
(Grinker, quoted from Boothby 49)
Grinker’s idea is correct even today as neuroscience retains
the vitality of psychoanalysis with advance research in brain
scanning. The advance in neuropsychoanalysis has posed
hope and vision for the “biological nature of consciousness”
(Kandel 377) The neurologist has started to seek direction
from philosophers and psychoanalysts about the biological
status of mind. Some believe that the consciousness is
separated from the brain and the working of the brain
will have some direct connection with the conscious and
unconscious process. The development of neurology is
directly related to Freud’s vision in The Project of Scientifc
Psychology, especially about the notion of neurons. However,
the modern neurology is still falling short in lack of fnding
about subjective emotion. As from philosopher like Thomas
Negal, the neurology can help to fnd out particular
“neural correlates of consciousness” for particular percept,
such as looking at a red color. This biological and material
concomitant of conscious perception is a big advance in
neurology; however it is still diffcult to identify the subjective
experience of a person such as when a person looks at the
red color and it remind him of his girl friend’s favorable
color. The reason why Freud has withheld the development
of the “scientifc psychology” and turn to psychoanalysis
could be his vision on the lack in developing a concept that
can cater subjective experience. There is no point to have a
universal concept of mind if the concept does not apply to
individual and subjective experience. Modern Neurologist
like Eric Kandel has worked hard to investigate and record
the unconscious process by brain imaging studies.
“[T]he discovery of a correlation between volunteers’
background anxiety and their unconscious neural
processes validates biologically the Freudian ideas that
unconscious mental processes are part of the brain’s
system of information process.” (Kandel 388)
The criticism against the biological research on mind focuses
on the machinist and automatism implied. Even though
we are able to fnd the biological bases of unconscious
process, one tends to believe every single conscious
action (especially not those simple action as lifting a fnger),
there may have multiple reaction correlates in the brain.
And it is even harder to identify the hidden process of
the unconscious. What could be the biological status of
a hidden process, if it is not expressed in the conscious
mechanism as recorded in the brainwork? It is even harder
if the neurologist ever tries to engage in the transference,
regression and dream work, which are proven to be major
tool for reprocessing the unconscious thinking. Criticism
against Lacan’s return to Freud like those from Paul Ricoeur
also points out that Lacan’s linguistic interpretation of Freud
fails to encompass the “energetic-hermeneutic duality” of
Freud. (Ricoeur 129-137)
Lacan does not show a strong inclination toward the
energetic metaphor nor does he ever tries to work out
a scientifc model in the same direction as Freud does in
The Project of Scientifc Psychology. Lacan in his Seminar II
provides one of the best description and clarifcation on
Freud’s biologism. He has pulled the discussion backward to
the very root of biology, which has never intended to be a
science of life as we used to think it is. The founding spirit
of modern biology has tried to retain a vague link with the
notion of life or God. Life is a phenomenon of the spirit in
contrary to death which is the lost of spirit. The difference
between life and death if viewed from the perspectives of
biology is the working or stoppage of the machine itself.
The spirit or life phenomenon is never counted. It is for this
reason that Lacan think Freud’s biologism is anything but
modern biology. What Freud has borrowed from biology
is the notion of a machine – the living machine. And this is
eventually the root of energetic metaphor. The metaphor
itself is not about biology but mechanics. Freudian biology
has nothing to do with biology. It is a matter of manipulating
symbols with the aim of resolving energy questions, as
the homeostatic reference indicates, thus enabling us to
characterize as such not only the human being, but the
Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation. New Haven: Yale UP. 1977
functioning of its major apparatuses.
Freud’s whole discussion revolves around that question,
what, in terms of energy, is the psyche? This is where the
originality of what in him is called biological thought resides.
He wasn’t a biologist, any more than any of us are, but
throughout his work he placed the accent on the energy
function. Energy, I had you observe last time, is a notion
which can only emerge once there are machines. (Lacan
Seminar II 75)
Energy has never been a concept in the time of slavery.
Slavery is not to be count on energy. Only with the machine
as an apparatus that we start have the concept of energy,
which supports the operation of the machine. Lacan is right
to point out the notion of mechanics as the origin of the
energetic. But to him the more important vision is about
“the metaphor of the human body as a machine”. (Lacan
Seminar II 76) This is Lacan’s major theoretical contribution
in psychoanalysis about the work of the symbolic in the
constitution of human subjectivity. The apparatus we call
human body is the embodiment of human understanding
of oneself as a unity. As in a machine, the coordination
between the parts creates a notion of unity; this unity is the
kind of subjectivity from which the subject constitutes the
position of the “I”.
The formulation of the I as a subject is Lacan’s most
revolutionary position in psychoanalysis. In the article “The
Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function as Revealed in
Psychoanalytic Experience”, Lacan initiates a metaphor of
the constituent of human subjectivity which postulates the
psychical scene of the subject in his infancy. The metaphor
created an infant baby who in his sixth to eighteen month
of age suddenly recognizes his own image as a unity
in his mirror image. At the moment of this “situational
apperception”, the subject experiences the pleasure
of playing with the gestalt of the body. This imaginary
recognition does not guarantee the material and bodily
integrity of the subject. In another words, the baby is still
unable to control his own bodily movement and needless
to say about his ability as a living being that is able to live
on his own effort. From a developmental perspective, this
is the moment that a subject enters into the history of
being a human although this “anticipation” is of an imaginary
processing without a solid material foundation. This
development is experienced as a temporal dialectic that
decisively projects the individual’s formation into history:
the mirror stage is a drama whose internal pressure pushes
precipitously from insuffciency to anticipation – and for the
subject caught up in the lure of spatial identifcation, turn
out fantasies that proceed from a fragmented image of the
body to what I will call the “orthopedic” form of its totality
– and to the fnally donned armor of an alienating identity
that will mark his entire mental development with the rigid
structure. (Lacan, Ecrits 78)
The mirror stage is both a moment for initiation of a
new stage as well as a constitutive point for bringing up
a structure to a point of activation. It is both diachronic
(genetic) as well as synchronic (structural). Although the
subject himself has not yet completed a full extension of
a gestalt being nor he has entered into the social dialectic
of the symbolic world, we have seen there is clue to
implement a preparation for handling the exchange
in symbolic world, which is based on the operation of
difference. Lacan’s notion of gestalt is a structure, which is
formulated by the three realm of being: the imaginary, the
symbolic and the real. Comparing with Freud’s topology (Id,
ego and superego), Lacan has tried to evade the emphasis
on machinist thinking in Freud. The energetic model at the
background of the notion of Id is replaced by a structural
concept of imaginary. The imaginary is the distance between
nature and human subjectivity. It helps the subject leaping
from “insuffciency to anticipation”. If there is no imaginary,
the subject itself may not be able to achieve his premature
gestalt in anticipation. The working of the symbolic is the
work of the language, which in structural sense includes all
the major exchange and transaction of signs and symbols.
It encircles the law and order in human community and by
means of the fltering function of language, the symbolic
pins down the position of the subject onto the grid of the
social order.
Although it seems that ego provides the similar function as
the symbolic, however, Lacan does not accept the position
of the ego as what the ego psychology does in 1960s to
1980s America. For Lacan, the symbolic does not include
the function of censoring of the internal drive. The symbolic
process is more of socialization but it does not a strong
conviction to eliminate the activities of the drive. Freud
has proposed a closed system in which the internal drive
from Id will be flter internally by the mechanism of the
ego as a guard against unwanted feeling. The censoring
process is internal while the socialization in Lacan’s
model as explicated in the symbolic is an open system.
The exchange between the subject with his otherness
operates the dialectics which serves functions for building
up knowledge, awareness, perception in the one hand and
create the foundation for the satisfaction of desire or even
the fnal fulfllment of his moral destiny. Lacan thinks ego
is driven by misrecognition. This ego whose strength our
theorists now defne by its capacity to bear frustration, is
frustration in its very essence. Not frustration of one of the
subject’s desire, but frustration of an object in which desire
is alienated; and the more developed this object becomes,
the more profoundly the subject become alienated from his
jouissance. (Lacan, Ecrits 208) The symbolic is opened up for
the realm of desire. Through the exchange on the speech
about desire, the subject is able to access his jouissance in
the symbolic, rather than standing in the realm of imaginary
which only facilitates fantasies. However the ego is working
on a different position. Only with the function to eliminate
the desire (if it is over the limit or it starts to disturb the
psychic equilibrium), the ego will function to flter the desire.
It is for this understanding that Lacan has criticized the
expansion of the function of ego in some of the ego
psychology schools, which has hindered the effciency
of psychoanalysis. It is not diffcult to fnd out that the
energetic model is what behind the scene of the Freud’s
topology. However, it is also because of this metaphor that
Freud’s notion cannot continue his radical attitude toward
Equilibrium, as Freud stresses in his energetic model has
made it impossible to liberate the subject from suppression
and it does not help eliminate the repression and achieve
the kind of freedom in spirit as promised in Freud’s
psychoanalysis. Based on the analytic experience, I fnd that
the energetic model is only good enough to understand
the unconscious process on the surface level. The hidden
motivation of the patient is mostly driven by the sexual
inclination toward the parents. The unconscious thinking
will be driven to reappear during the analytic session either
through verbal recognition or from the transference love
toward the analyst. The energy is always at the background
to push the patient to uncover the hidden thinking. However,
the energy itself does not have a clear direction of where the
session is driving to. It becomes quite often that the analytic
session will go sidetracked or repeating the same element
on and on. In my experience, psychic energy is not reliable
and it does not guide us for fnding the truth if we do not
already have a direction or directive in mind. Freud seems
to advise us to uncover the agency of suppression (phobia
for incest, aggressivity or moral reasoning). He has actually
a notion of structure in mind, which has been expressed in
his notion of psychic apparatus. The patient’s unconscious
is structured in how energy is enclosed. The complexity of
energy fow does not affect the structure itself. The patient
can never escape the psychic structure, which has always
already been framed into the familial structure – the triad
relations between the father, mother and the son.
In Lacan’s theory, the position of the Father as refected in
the actualization of the phallus is the major structural locale
from where we see the fow of the energy. The position
of the mother in the Oedipal relations is another locale,
which links our imaginary with the subjectivity. One of my
clients has never mentioned anything about her father. The
empty speech as in the position of the Father has already
pointed out her reluctant or resistance to “talk about” her
love toward her father. It is so obvious that her love toward
her father is unspeakable. In this case, there seems to be no
psychic element related to her father. And actually she has
brought forward very common episode about the father.
It seems that the psychic energy related to her father is
The author is a psychoanalyst in private practice in Hong Kong. He has
involved in research in Lacanian psychoanalysis since 2000. His articles
and personal blog appears in the publication of the Lacan Society in
Hong Kong and For comments and discussion, please
send to
so low. Nevertheless, unspeakable relationship is always
the most important part of one’s being. This case always
reminds me of the revolution that Freud brought to us is
about something hidden or unawared. If an analyst only
counts on the issue, which carries powerful psychic energy,
what is the whole idea of unconscious which does not
necessarily issue strong energy. Lacan is right to stress on
the notion of structure rather than the energy. The locales
in the structure are best standpoints for us to understand
how the patient’s psychic energy fow fort/da toward the
structure. The analyst is the one whose gaze is on the
structure rather than on the fow. Before I fnish this article
I will discuss how psychoanalytic causes reframe the true
knowledge (truthfulness) of psychoanalytic object (effect).
If Freud thinks that biology can offer some material evidence
to the working of the mental process, it is because he has in
mind an energetic model, which may not be very useful in
analytic experience. It is actually not useful for practitioner to
understand the mental process as a machine. For a practical
and useful end in psychoanalysis, one cannot eliminate the
question about analytic truth as refected in psychoanalytic
experience. And this truth is not the empirical truth in
natural science nor does it only rest upon a closed system.
The analytic truth is dialectic toward materialism (not
as materialist dialectics) as the return to material bases
on ones being is why psychoanalysis is different from
philosophy. It is not even a system, which may help us
return to the knowledge about oneself or the knowledge-
in-itself. We have discussed the four psychoanalytic causes
earlier. They have provided us with the unique scope to
reframe our analytic experience. The analytic truth is what
the causes aiming at, the destination, the path or absolute
knowledge. To start with this understanding, we shall go into
our thinking about the psychoanalytic object which Lacan
regarded as the Other and the object a. “The meaning of
a return to Freud is a return to Freud’s meaning. And the
meaning of what Freud said may be conveyed to anyone
because, while addressed to everyone, it concerns each
person. One word suffces to make this point: Freud’s
discovery calls truth into question, and there is no one
who is not personally concerned by truth.” (Lacan Ecrits
337) In our analytic experience, an analyst cannot escape
the problem of truth. At the earlier stage of the analysis,
most of the patient will assume the analyst will hold all the
truth related to the patient. The analyst is situated at the
position of “subject supposed to know” although he may
not anticipate it. Freud’s discovery is about the hidden truth
of human knowledge. The knowledge is about the subject
himself but he may not be in the position to access it.
Lacan’s idea about analytic truth is a mirage. “Psychoanalysis
is the science of the mirages that arise within this feld”
(Lacan Ecrits 339)

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