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Neuropsychoanalysis: An Interdisciplinary Journal
for Psychoanalysis and the Neurosciences
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Commentary by James H. Schwartz (New York)
James H. Schwartz

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a

Center for Neurobiology & Behavior, 722 West 168th Street—Research Annex, New York,
NY 10032
Published online: 09 Jan 2014.

To cite this article: James H. Schwartz (2000) Commentary by James H. Schwartz (New York), Neuropsychoanalysis: An
Interdisciplinary Journal for Psychoanalysis and the Neurosciences, 2:1, 36-37, DOI: 10.1080/15294145.2000.10773280
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15294145.2000.10773280

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124). however. the epigenetic. [Breasted.) Understandably. The first is obvious: that the functions result from the activity of nerve cells. he is present in the form of information: the genome provides a complete plan for the developmental program. John Hughlings Jackson. if fed properly. which gives the recipe for synthesizing the creature (Pagel. The concept of the little man. The other fundamental assumption about mapping a neural function is that the localization of the increased neural activity will help to explain how the particular function works. Schwartz is professor of Cellular Biophysics & Physiology. however obvious. as done by Penfield) or by assessing the increased blood flow resulting from the metabolic activity of neurons when they fire using modern techniques of imaging-positron emission tomography (PET) scan and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRl). there are aspects of the idea of a homunculus that are formally correct. Schwartz (New York) How seriously should we take Crick and Koch's idea of an unconscious homunculus? The homunculus was defined by Paracelsus in a treatise published in 1572 entitled De natura rerum. Two fundamental assumptions underlie these modern methods of mapping mental functions.C. called the "astonishing hypothesis" by Crick (1993). (Thus. the neural correlates of consciousness (NCC). For the preformist school. the Golem). 1990. the product is an artificial man generated without the assistance of a woman (paracelsus. 1930]. Columbia University. Schwartz Downloaded by [Adelphi University] at 23:57 19 August 2014 Commentary by James H. A little man fully formed in miniature in the sperm would grow after entering the egg. The other school. must be made clear. Although a little man does not actually exist in either gamete fully formed. Then. who saw only worms in his sperm samples. It presumes that consciousness is an ordinary biological phenomenon emerging out of the firing behavior of a specific and identifiable subset of neurons. New York. being arranged precisely as in the mature animal. poid maps of sensory and motor areas in the cortex (Penfield and Rasmussen. A homunculus is produced by incubating sperm in a hermetically sealed vessel for 60 days in horse manure at high temperatures. Still others placed the little man in the egg (PintoCorreia. like Antoni van Leeuwenhoek. the sperm simply acts as a trigger. 117). Nevertheless. At the beginning of the eighteenth century. 1995. 1982. Because it has been so well charted. Perhaps the most extensive mapping of brain function has been accomplished for the visual system. was taken quite seriously by late seventeenth-century biologists to explain the role of sperm in reproduction. 1950). it is clear that localizing lesions in the brain can be medically useful. 1815) and subsequently elaborated and corrected by Paul Broca. but this has been appreciated at least since the seventeenth century B. p. This assumption. The somatypic organization of the primary sensory and motor cortices most likely stems from the . Yet. knowledge about how animals develop was primitive. the usefulness of this second assumption has been most clearly demonstrated with Penfield-type homunculi and other parts of the brain where function is organized somatypically. We now know that neither school was correct and that postulating a little man either in the sperm or in the egg does not provide an adequate explanation of development. Center for Neurobiology & Behavior. Mental functions can now be mapped by direct recordings of neuronal firing using microelectrodes (in human patients during surgery for epilepsy. considered the material within the egg to be formless. nevertheless concluded that man with all of his adult parts first exists as a little animal contained within the sperm. p. and others. where about 30 distinct functional brain areas have been delineated. 1997). the homunculus was regarded as we now regard extraterrestrials-with fear. Some early microscopists actually drew a little man in the sperm. disbelief.36 James H. 1998). Crick and Koch have understandably chosen to focus their attention on the visual system (Crick and Koch. In these regions the structural organization of the brain appears to make mechanistic sense. The arrangements of neurons that follow the body image in the cortex seem immediately intelligible. and satire. Like other instances of artificial men (most notably. and of Neurology and of Psychiatry. One believed that the material in the egg was preformed. Others. these maps are in the craniological tradition initiated by Franz Joseph Gall at the beginning of the nineteenth century (Spurzheim. Crick and Koch tell us that their unconscious homunculus is not to be confused with Penfield's anthroJames H. There were two warring schools. Karl Wernike.

(1995).. Paracelsus: An Introduction to Philosophical Medicine in the Era of the Renaissance. Crick and Koch's formulation of consciousness as an extension of an unconscious homunculus is similar to psychological formulations like Freud's structural theory of the mind and his views on the relationship between consciousness and the unconscious (Freud. The Hermetic and ALchemical Writings of Aureolus Philippus Theophrastus Bombast. Schwartz Center for Neurobiology & Behavior 722 West 168th Street-Research Annex New York. an extension of a neural entity with an as yet indeterminate anthropoid design. Freud. These representations become conscious only in the form of sensory imagery and of spoken and unspoken speech. of Hohenheim. ride bicycles.. 19:1-59. Consequently. J. Quant. Rather.(1998). The Ovary of Eve. To some extent. can be approached experimentally with neurobiological methods.. Chicago: University of Chicago Oriental Institute Publications. What becomes conscious is only a representation of some of the activity of the unconscious homunculus. The Physiognomical System. Consciousness therefore functions as the mind's inner eye. Spurzheim. . Paracelsus (1572). An outline of psychoanalysis.. (1950). .) Without even a clue about the design principle of consciousness. I think wisely. . Penfield. The Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus. 1964. W. New Hyde Park. H. (1923). Waite.. S. James H. Some reflections on visual awareness. C. and motivational. 1961.. Bioi. and that anything arising from within (apart from feelings) that seeks to become conscious must try to transform itself into external perception" (emphasis added). 8:97-107. understanding the relationship between brain structure and consciousness promises to be very difficult. Are we aware of neural activity in primary visual cortex? Nature. Cereb.. Vol. London: Hogarth Press. These philosophical psychological formulations that deal with poorly defined processes and interactions between unidentified parts that potentially should map onto the brain bear resemblance to the homunculus postulated in the seventeenth century to explain the magnificent plan by which the human body develops.. C. G. London: Hogarth Press. Cold Spring Harb. ed. J. neurons tend to be close to the body part they innervate. Standard Edition. .. called Paracelsus the Great. London: Baldwin. but Freud.. 55:953-962. 2nd rev. 1967... the mechanisms that produce qualia. however. What is clear and important about Crick and Koch's idea is the recognition that consciousness. the design principle usually is obvious. De natura rerum. Crick. must drives and feelings first be converted into sensory perceptions to become conscious? Much of the brain's activity takes place in the unconscious and is either extremely difficult to bring into consciousness (like Freud's preconscious) or is never available to consciousness (like the processing of sensory information. 2 vols. Crick and Koch's hypothesis of an unconscious homunculus does not depend on any anatomical localization. New York: Macmillan. ed. Consciousness and neuroscience. motor. Basel: Karger. 1939). puts in a caveat: "It dawns upon us like a new discovery that only something which has once been a perception can become conscious. (1982). The Ego and the Id. & Rasmussen. (As basic a feature as crossing over still remains to be explained. NY 10032 . (1815). and Joy.(1939). Psychical qualities. (1997)... 375:121-123. 1. The Cerebral Cortex of Man: A Clinical Study of Localization of Function. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Crick and Koch cite Freud (1923) as a precursor to the idea that consciousness is indirect.. In simpler animals and early in development.37 Downloaded by [Adelphi University] at 23:57 19 August 2014 Commentary on the Unconscious Homunculus arrangement of neurons and target organs during phylogeny and development. Nothing reaches consciousness directly: perceptions must be processed by the homunculus (which. "Apart from feelings"-here the brain's activities can be divided into three functions: sensory. The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul. The adult organization does not follow the body plan directly. or play the piano). 23:144-147. (1993). A. F. Despite the distortion. W.Koch. the motor plans used to maintain posture. New York: Simon & Schuster. What was correct about that homunculus is that it specified that a precise and complete plan is present in some form. Craddock. as defined. NY: University Books. Pagel. T. (1930). E. it has the quality of a psychological construct involving inferred mental functions only: the homunculus receives information about the world and executes voluntary actions. therefore. Symp. Standard Edition. presumably because the arrangement can be altered during development. While it is difficult to picture how motor activity per se might become conscious. is unconscious). neurons that control adjacent body parts continue to be close together and stay together as the nervous system develops. Now for the First Time Faithfully Translated into English. References Breasted. (1990). Pinto-Correia. Hermetic Chemistry. Cortex..