The Analytic Observer

Newsletter of the Chicago Psychoanalytic Society

Chicago Psychoanalytic Society | June 1998 Newsletter

Institute Activities

Each Newsletter Highlights Another Institute Program:

This Month: Psychoanalysis, Neurobiology and Therapeutic Change, Revisited

by Richard Herron, MD


With over 50% of the human genome dedicated to but 2% of the body, the brain, the handsdown choice of the 65th Anniversary Conference of the Chicago Institute was to explore some of the recent findings of neuroscience and its affects upon psychoanalysis. Bob and Barbara Fajardo organized the conference which highlighted Gerald Edelman, Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine. (That dynamic Fajardo duo may well be called upon repeatedly as their efforts were outstanding).

The conference began with Edelman’s presentation entitled "Neural Darwinism: Rethinking Freud’s Biology". Edelman stated that the organization of the million billion possible connections within the brain were a result of the individual’s environmental conditions. He presented empirical data supporting his premise that each individual’s brain selects unique patterns of responding to sensory stimuli not unlike Darwin’s theory that certain species are selected by virtue of their ability to adapt.

Edelman’s two colleagues, Giulo Tononi, MD, and Evan Balban, PhD, then presented their material. Tononi, using examples from the monkey’s visual cortex, demonstrated the many areas of the visual cortex are activated. Each area serving a unique function, for example, specific areas of neurons are activated for size, movement and color and then linked in unique patterns. Balaban transplanting parts of chicken and quail neurotubes demonstrated that bird songs were a product of both their brain structure and what they learned from listening to mature bird songs.

A great lunch on the 9th floor of the Washington Library preceded Barbara Fajardo’s, Virginia Barry’s and Arnold Modell’s attempt to interweave Edelman’s ideas with psychoanalytic theory. Fajardo presented a case which she felt demonstrated the repetition of an earlier learned pattern which required a transference to facilitate a reorganization. Barry utilized some neuroscience’s concepts to better comprehend the repetition of her patent’s non-verbal behavior. Modell discussed how through metaphor affects and memories are linked.

Memories and affects both in the speaker and the Modell implied that metaphor stimulates multiple memories in both the speaker and the recipient, not unlike how many specialized neurons of the visual cortex of the monkey are stimulated by a visual experience.

The Sunday morning panel, chaired by Arnold Cooper, was preceded by Fred Levin’s summary of the Saturday’s efforts. The question "what is the use of this information for psychoanalysis and does psychoanalysis have anything to contribute to neuroscience?" was on everyone’s mind. Many topics were discussed such as how would "consciousness" or the "dynamic unconscious" be represented in Edelman’s scheme. Most panelists felt that psychoanalysis needs to consider modern neuroscientific findings when theory building or run the risk of serious errors of how the mind works. The neuroscientist can use the wealth of material found only in a psychoanalyst’s intimate examination of a person’s psychology to help direct their search. Both groups share the challenge of representing non-linear data in a meaningful and cohesive fashion. For most in attendance the weekend was an awakening to new ideas.

(This author wishes to acknowledge Jay Einhorn, PhD, who willingly shared his notes of the conference which greatly helped in recalling its many events.)

Chicago Psychoanalytic Society | June 1998 Newsletter