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Neuropsychoanalysis: An Interdisciplinary Journal for

Psychoanalysis and the Neurosciences
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Commentary by Jorge Canestri (Rome)


Jorge Canestri

Published online: 09 Jan 2014.

To cite this article: Jorge Canestri (2002) Commentary by Jorge Canestri (Rome), Neuropsychoanalysis: An
Interdisciplinary Journal for Psychoanalysis and the Neurosciences, 4:1, 27-31, DOI: 10.1080/15294145.2002.10773375
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Commentary on The Concept of the Self and the Self Representation

and O'Grady, p. 68). He went further to clarify
his use of the term immanent object as distinct
from object of thought. Both are mental but
whereas what he meant by object of thought was
what it is that the thought is about, what he
meant by immanent object was more basic:
``What we think about is the object or thing,
and not the ``object of thought''. If, in our
thought, we contemplate a horse, our thought has
as its immanent objectnot a contemplated horse
but a horse, and strictly speaking only the horse
not the ``contemplated horsecan be called an
object'' (ibid., p. 69).
It is in that sense that I would use the term
object, which is not the same as the term ``object
representation'', the latter I regard as more
developed. What Brentano called the primary
objects are not the objects of introspection they
are the content of mental experience including
thought itself. As I read Damasio the ``proto-self''
is a thoughtless state of being that should become
the core self when further development brings
awareness and experience into play. It is presumably at this latter stage that mental life begins
and it is at that stage that internal objects, which


we might regard as quanta of experience, also

begin. I suspect that David Milrod would not
regard these as ``object relations'' reserving that
term for much more mature phenomena. Is this
dierence just semantic or does it imply some
dierence in how we view the end productthe
mature man. Is ``New York man'' a less primitive
creature than ``London man''? Does the dierent
emphasis that is reected in the use of terms
betoken a dierence of opinion about the
relevance of infantile mentation in the mature
I would like to reiterate that I think David
Milrod's paper is extremely clear and stimulates
the discussion we should be having not only with
the Neuroscientists but amongst ourselves.
Ayer, A. J., & O'Grady, J. (1992), A Dictionary of
Philosophical Quotations. London: Blackwell.

Ronald Britton
30 December 2001

Commentary by Jorge Canestri (Rome)

In his introduction to the section ``A Psychoanalytic Concept of the Self'' of his paper, David
Milrod underlines how in psychoanalytic literature there is a great deal of confusion around the
meaning of terms such as ``the ego'', ``the self''
and ``the self representation''. Does the term
``self'' refer toI quotethe individual or
person, his ego as a psychic structure, to both of
these equally, or to something else? I agree with
the author on the fact that there is confusion, and
I think that his theory, based on a careful
examination of the concept within the framework
of ego psychology, is a step forward in the right
direction, i.e., of clarication within a psychoanalytic model. It represents the rst stage of the
theoretical analysis of a discipline. ``This stage
(internal or intragural analysis) requires the
model or theory to be coherent, with a solid
conceptual system; it should not be contradictory
but, rather, should be able to take into account a
certain number of factors. Every intragural
analysis can improve the internal consistency of
a theory . . . The second stage calls for a
confrontation between two or more theories by

means of an intergural analysis'' (Canestri,

1999). This second step is missing from the text
and the author declares so explicitly when he
speaks of Kohut's ideas. Moreover, Milrod's
paper proposes the creation of an intersection
between the concept of self in psychoanalysis and
the concept of self in the neurosciences, specically through a review of the ideas of Jaak
Pankseep and Antonio Damasio. In Milrod's
work, this intersection seems to me to be the least
successful part and I will subsequently try to
explain why.
But rst of all I would like to clarify that
among the theoretical queries that today's psychoanalysis should explore, probably the main
one is that of building a psychoanalytic theory of
the ``subject'' that takes into due consideration
the precariousness of the conceptualizations that,
through the use of the concept of ``self'', have
attempted to solve the impasse deriving from the
diculties of using only the ego concept. I have
put the word ``subject'' between inverted commas
because this word used in this sense is not usual in
English, and also because I distinguish it from

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``self''. The idea of subject, although it derives
from the Latin subietum (subjected to, subject),
has its modern roots in the evolution of the
Renaissance society and in the birth of scientic
thought. A very supercial review of Western
thinking on this matter shows us that the concepts
of person, of identity and of consciousness are
present in Locke, Berkeley, Descartes and in
others; but the specic concept of subject is linked
to the name of Kant and his concept of a
``transcendental subject''. Kant's subject draws
its consistency from the mere fact of being, not of
appearing to itself with certain characteristics
(1780, Kritik der reinen Vernunft). Although one
can obviously reject the transcendental denition
of Kant's subject (and there are good reasons for
doing do so), it is interesting to note that in his
thinking there is the rst seed of an uncertainty, a
void and a negativity that endanger the possibility
of conceiving a subject that is complete and
unitary. This will reappear in psychoanalysis in
the concept of unconscious, of the slaveries and
the splittings of the ego and of identication as an
incomplete and interminable process. We can
perhaps say that, contrary to Kant, Freud linked
the sentiment of self (Selbstgefuhl) to certain
forms of self representation, but he maintained in
his concept a certain proximity to the negativity
of Kant's idea, inasmuch as his denition of
subject (on the other hand never entirely formulated) does not coincide completely either with
the Selbstgefuhl or Ichgefuhl, or with the representations of the self, or with self-consciousness
In his attempt to give specicity and clear
limits to the concept of self within the school of
ego psychology, Milrod cannot help dragging
along all the ambiguities and diculties that the
history of Western thinking has encountered
when trying to dene the subject. When he
repeats the denition by Hartmann (1950):
``However the opposite of object cathexis is not
ego cathexis, but the cathexis of one's own
person, that is self cathexis . . .'' or when he says
that: ``The self is a term that refers to that
tangible, substantive, individual, etc'', it is dicult not to think that the term ``person'' has
origins that are juridic and of social identityin
that it regards responsibility for one's own
actionsand has also the meaning of theatrical
maskin that it represents the objective aspect of
the recognition of the self. William James knew
something about this when classifying the self
(material, social, spiritual) according to the aspect
that was being considered, while dierentiating it
from the transcendental valence of the ``pure
ego''. The same thing could be said about the

Jorge Canestri
term ``individual''. I would only like to clarify
that without adhering to those analysts who
``advocate the abolition of the term because in
their view it is detrimental to psychoanalytic
theory'' I have the impression that the problem
relative to the self, to self representation and to
the construction of a satisfactory psychoanalytic
theory of the ``subject'' is a rather complex topic
on which I will not dwell further.
I would now like to comment on the author's
use of certain neuroscientic concepts, as he
admits being fascinated by the fact that these
scientists needed the concept of ``self'' in order to
give coherence to their models.
Milrod says that neuroscientists use the term
``self'' in a sense that is dierent from the
psychoanalytical sense, even though, he adds,
neither neuroscientists nor psychoanalysts use it
with the same meaning within their respective
disciplines. In view of this by no means unimportant premise, the essential question is whether
there any point in expecting another discipline to
enlighten us on a concept that we know to be
dierent from the one that interests us. Each
discipline creates concepts that are specic to a
certain stage, that are relevant for that particular
level of exploration and that require equally
specic languages, special annotation systems,
etc. Using concepts or languages of a dierent
stage from the one that interests us or belonging
to other disciplines can give rise to signicant
misunderstandings. I agree with M. Reiser (1985)
when he says that: ``. . . the idea of ``shared''
interdisciplinary boundaries may be misleading.
[. . .] foci of concern, questions addressed, parameters studied, methods of study, levels of
abstraction represented in conceptualizations,
and languages used may be quite dierent
certainly not interchangeable across disciplines''.
Pankseep studies aects in animals and uses
his results, Milrod says, ``to extrapolate to man''.
The fact that animals have feelings does not
necessarily mean that they are also ``conscious'' of
their feelings, or at least it would be useful to say
which denition of consciousness is being referred
to (Damasio and Pankseep do so in their
writings). In Milrod's text there are no specications on the type of animal that is being referred
to: what applies to the larger apes, for example,
does not apply to another mammal.
When the author says that Pankseep ``binds
consciousness and the self closer and closer
together in his work'' we cannot help recognizing
the old proposal by Locke (1690) that also
constituted his limit: the awareness that denes
a person is self-consciousness, the person is the
self. Person, as I take it, is the name for this self''

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Commentary on The Concept of the Self and the Self Representation

(An Essay Concerning Human Understanding,
Chap. XXVII, Of Identity and Diversity). But
this proposition, apart from presenting the
already-mentioned recurrence between person,
self and self-consciousness, is the negation of all
that Freud dismantled with the introduction of
the concept of the unconscious, little does it
matter in what depths of the midbrain we
hypothesize the roots of this consciousness to
be. It is possible to be in accordance with
Pankseep's statement, quoted by Milrod, that a
``neural principle of self representation'' emerges
early on in the cerebral development, just as it is
possible to agree with him when he says that ``the
aective consciousness'' is partly based ``on
motor processes and body image representations''. But apart from the fact that here, too,
the reader is forced to that linguistic vigilance
favoured by Wittgenstein, the problem is revealed
in all its magnitude when Pankseep states that
aective consciousness ``generates consciousness
of self''. If neuroscientists themselves say that our
sense of self is an ``undenable attribute of mind'',
it is because, together with many other philosophers who from the 16th century until today
have pondered on this same undenable attribute,
they have realized that the theme is a very dicult
one. Milrod himself alerts us to the terminological
dierences in the psychoanalytical part of his
work: sense of self (Selbstgefuhl), self and self
representation are not synonyms, but the same
discrimination does not appear in his version of
Pankseep's ideas.
I would like to draw the attention of the
hypothetical reader of these notes to the fact that
my comments are not on the work of Pankseep,
but on the version that Milrod proposes, and on
the use and the usefulness that these ideas, thus
presented, could be for the psychoanalyst. The same
applies to my comments on the ideas of Damasio.
Damasio identies the self with consciousness, inasmuch as the ``sense of self'' is the only
one that could ``identify'' the signs of ``emotion''
as ``emotions''. From this would derive the selfconsciousness, or meta-consciousness of the fact
of knowing. The subsequent division of consciousness into ``core consciousness'' (a sense of
self about the here and now) and ``extended
consciousness'' echoes the distinction made by
Bertrand Russell between ``knowledge by acquaintance'' (simple experience) and ``knowledge
by description'', that is metaconsciousness, or
again, between simple consciousness (here and
now, also in animals) and self-consciousness (in
man and in some anthropomorphic apes, at least
until a certain level). The ``extended consciousness'', says Damasio, ``provides an elaborate


sense of self, an identity, and it places the

individual at a point in historical time with a
past and an anticipated future'', i.e., Russell, i.e.,
self-consciousness. All this was already described
in the English philosophy of the 17th century,
although with less knowledge concerning the
function of the nervous system. Damasio hypothesizes a ``proto-self composed of a collection of
neural patterns which map the state of the
physical structure of the organism'', a proto-self
that would be ``the original self'' and that would
precede the core self and the autobiographical
self. Regardless of the names we choose to give to
the concepts, all this is reasonable as long as it
does not facilitate a reication of functional
concepts that should be inserted into a developmental scheme. Although I may have doubts
concerning its relevance to our discipline, I feel
that Damasio's hypothesis on the structures
involved in the conguration of the second order
neural pattern and their interconnections is
particularly signicant. This is the level at which
the neuroscientist is called upon to oer some
empirical verications.
By following dierent paths, both of the
neuroscientists mentioned arrive at one of the
central problems in which Western philosophy of
the last centuries has been engaged. That is, how
does the individual know that he is himself; how
is this identity preserved in time throughout the
changes that take place; how it is possible to
hypothesize a subject that is the primary structural
foundation of every experience. As psychoanalysts, the question that interests us is how the
authors mentioned above solve this, which
categories do they appeal to, but also what use
can their solutions be to our discipline and how
are they compatible with our experience.
I think two things should interest us regarding this matter in the intersection between
neurosciences and psychoanalysis. The rst is
that the concept of self, in the various meanings
used by Pankseep and Damasio, should be
inserted in a non-linear developmental scheme.
What a psychoanalyst would like to clarify is
when (naturally not in precise temporal terms)
and why, a child is able to dierentiate between
subject-object, me-non me, internal-external, selfnon self, etc. The second is that the ``subject''
proposed by Pankseep and Damasio, although
inhabited by an area to which he has no selfreexive access (and that is dierent from the
Freudian unconscious), does not reconstitute
himselfwhen reaching the third level described
by Damasio, that of self-consciousnessas a
complete and unitary ``subject'' similar to the
``subject'' described by Locke and questioned by

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Freud. The self hypothesized by both the authors
recalls the ``material self'' of W. James (a disciple
of Locke), with the addition of the neuroscientic
knowledge that James did not possess and that is
fundamental. But is the self of Damasio's selfconsciousness dierent from James' ``spiritual
self''? This is a problem that concerns us as
I agree with Milrod when he says that in the
descriptions that these neuroscientists make of the
self, many analysts will certainly nd echoes of
topics that are known to them. And this is
precisely what worries me. I think that this way of
confronting the intersection between neurosciences
and psychoanalysis may not be doing a service to
either of the disciplines involved and could
unfortunately contribute to producing terminological and conceptual confusion.
From the psychoanalytical angle, by far the
most signicant of the paper, I must say the
contrary. The careful examination of the concepts
of the self, sense of self and self representation
deals with eliminating conceptual vagueness and
discriminating the terms used. One may not agree
with the model proposed, that of ``ego psychology'', but it is coherent. For lack of space, I can
make only a few observations from this point of
view. Two in particular I think could lead to a
fruitful exchange, even though remaining within
the author's model.
When he talks about the dynamic interaction
between the self representation and the wished for
self image, a concept in his opinion that is
neglected in literature, he reminds us that Sandler
et al. (1963) labelled the same concept ``ideal ego''
or ``ideal self''. He continues saying that: ``From
this we can see that the importance of the concept
has been underscored by a number of authors.
But none have chosen to elaborate on it''. On this
particular statement I should like to dissent. The
concept of ideal ego, if it is the same concept of
wished for self image, as Milrod says, is not a
concept created ex novo by Jacobson or Sandler,
but the re-elaboration of a concept outlined by
Freud. In ``On Narcissism: an Introduction''
(S.E., vol. XIV, pp. 9394) Freud writes: ``We
can say that the one man has set up an ideal in
himself by which he measures his actual ego,
while the other has formed no such ideal. (. . .)
This ideal ego (Idealich) is now the target of the
self-love which was enjoyed in childhood by the
actual ego. The subject's narcissism makes its
appearance displaced on to this new ideal ego,
which, like the infantile ego, nds itself possessed
of every perfection that is of value. (. . .) He is not
willing to forego the narcissistic perfection of his
childhood; and when, as he grows up, he is

Jorge Canestri
disturbed by the admonitions of others and by the
awakening of his own critical judgement, so that
he can no longer retain that perfection, he seeks
to recover it in the new form (in der neuen Form)
of an ego ideal (Ichideal). What he projects before
him as his ideal is the substitute for the lost
narcissism of his childhood in which he was his
own ideal''. I apologize for the long quotation,
but it clearly shows that Freud sees two stages
and two forms of the ideal: rst of all the ideal ego
appears, and subsequently, in a new form, the ego
ideal. The latter is the consequence of the
admonitions of others and the awakening of a
critical judgement, while the former is totally
narcissistic. However, it must be remembered that
the two forms are the heirs of infantile narcissism
and as such are subject to regression and
degradation, as Freud himself shows us in
``Group Psychology . . .'' We also know that
Freud did not subsequently develop this dierence between ideal ego and ego ideal and that
many psychoanalysts reject it. However, French
psychoanalysis (and not only French) has given it
great relevance and dozens of works could be
quoted. I will mention only some of the authors
who have dealt with this matter: D. Lagache, B.
Grunberger, F. Pasche, P. Marty, A. Green, G.
Rosolato, G. Diatkine, etc. We cannot therefore
say that the concept has not been elaborated.
What should be said is that the concept of ideal
ego and the concept of wished for self image are
not identical nor do they overlap, if only for the
reason that every concept acquires a completed
value within a particular system. The system of
ego psychology concedes to the formation of the
wished for self image an autonomy and a capacity
of ``mature select identication'' that neither
Freud or French (and other) psychoanalysis
would allow it. Personally, I can say that words
like ``idols'' and ``heros'' induce us to think that
disguised forms of narcissistic identication are at
work that I consider to be always present and at
the root of those regressive processes that Freud
refers to when speaking of mass psychology. The
suspicion about a disguised form of narcissistic
identication, even if in an evolute solution, is not
avoided by reference to the hard work the ego
does, even with careful respect of ``reality''. The
fact that the ego develops considering reality
instead of phantasizing (magic thought, etc.) does
not mean that narcissistic (primordial, original,
regressive) expectations are not present in the
content of this kind of identication. But it is
worth remembering again that ego psychology
concedes to the ego much more maturity and
autonomy than other psychoanalytical theories
are willing to recognize.

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Commentary on The Concept of the Self and the Self Representation

The second observation regards the causes
leading to the ``as if'' personalities of Helen
Deutsch. The author mentions the inability to
form ``lasting identications''. It is reasonable to
think that this inability has in its turn some
primary ``causes'', for example a specic weakness of the self, in its turn the result of other
causes. The author says that the identications do
not take place, but remain arrested at the stage of
imitation. What is the cause? He answers by
speaking of decient parental experience and
care. But I think it would help his reasoning if
he used some of Winnicott's ideas on the
environment and, concerning imitation, the by
now classical work by E. Gaddini.
These observations, even though I have
chosen to remain within the system of ego
psychology, lead me to wonder whether today,
in psychoanalysis, it is possible to comprehend
the complexity of our experience from a one and
only monolithic theoretical reference mark. As I
said before, such a strategy has the advantage of
ensuring an internal coherence to the theory, but
it can also have the disadvantage of becoming a


jacket that is too tight.

I insist on the fact that my comments do not
concern the well-known works of Pankseep and
Damasio, in which it is possible to nd the answer
to the questions mentioned above, but they regard
the presentation of their ideas in a way that can
only be evocative. Presented in this manner, they
remain detached from the psychoanalytic model
presented by the author, and they remain in my
opinion confusing and not very useful.
Canestri, J. (1999), Psychoanalytic heuristics. In:
Psychoanalysis on the Move. The Work of Joseph
Sandler, eds P. Fonagy, A. M. Cooper & R. S.
Wallerstein. London & New York: Routledge.
Reiser, M. F. (1985), Converging sectors of psychoanalysis and neurobiology: mutual challenge and
opportunity. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 33(1134):

Jorge Canestri
Rome, 8/10/01

How the Brain Creates the Self

Commentary by Todd E. Feinberg, M.D.

In his article, Milrod examines the self and selfrepresentation mainly from the psychoanalytic
standpoint. I have taken another approach to the
problem of the nature of the self through the
study of patients with brain damage who have
neurological perturbations of the selfconditions
in which a change in the brain transforms the
boundaries of the self, the relationship between
the self and the world, the self to other people and
the self to itself (Feinberg, 1997, 2001). By
studying these patients, and relating the area of
brain damage to the change in the self, one hopes
to learn which areas of the brain contribute to the
self, and in what manner they do so.
Neurological Perturbations of the Self
One condition that alters self-representation is
known as asomatognosia (Feinberg, Haber and
Leeds, 1990). The patient with asomatognosia
fails to recognize a part of his or her own body.
Indeed, asomatognosic patients often totally
reject and disown the body part. Asomatognosia

most commonly occurs as a result of a right

hemisphere stroke in which the severely paralyzed
and largely insensate left arm is rejected. Asomatognosic patients nearly always have left hemispatial neglect, and they tend to ignore the entire
left side of the body and the left hemispace.
Some patients with asomatognosia attribute
ownership of the limb to the doctor, claiming it's
``your hand'' or ``the doctor's hand''. There is a
tendency on the part of some of these patients to
personify their paralyzed limbs. One of my
patients called her paralyzed left arm her ``pet
rock'' and would sing the Everly Brothers hit
song ``Wake Up Little Suzy'' to her arm while
hugging, petting, and kissing it.
Another neurological condition that aects
the self is known as the alien hand syndrome
(Feinberg et al., 1992; Feinberg, Roane and
Cohen, 1998). In the alien hand syndrome, the
patient has a hand that performs actions that
seem purposeful and voluntary, but the patient
claims that the actions are not consistent with
their conscious intentions. In one of my cases with
this condition, the alien left hand answered the