Psychoanalysis: Science? Humanity?
We Want a Place or a Palace?
To discuss the position of psychoanalysis as a field of inquiry which offers what Marv Hyman (1994) refers to a “means of access to important information about the emotional lives of individuals” involves an attempt to locate psychoanalysis within the context of other fields. We invariably ask ourselves, implicitly or explicitly, something like: Is our discipline more like poetry/history/philosophy , i.e., situating psychoanalysis in what Kavanaugh (1998) refers to as the Arts of Communication, the Arts of Continuity and the Arts of Critical Thinking or more like medicine and physiology, i.e., the natural sciences? The observation that we have to ask this question at all (or one like it) is itself intriguing. The humanities and the sciences seem to have their own sets of rules which make them distinct, albeit broad, frameworks within which are contained various disciplines of study. For psychoanalysis to belong to one or the other is to say that its rules are best configured according to one or the other. In part, this paper is a quest to investigate and understand some rules and roots. But rules aren’t just rules, which brings us to the images of the title.
The question in the title is framed as a choice between a place or a palace although there could be other choices or both. By framing it as a concise choice in this way, I hope to address some difficult issues within the scope of a brief paper to stimulate thinking. I also faced a curious choice between having a title which worked within the APA programming rules for limiting space vs. one working within the rules of grammar. It seemed as if conflicts amongst rules started before the paper began.
Palaces are places, nevertheless very special kinds of places. However, these words, although similar in spelling, do not derive from the same sources. The word PLACE means a portion of space: an area with definite or indefinite boundaries. It derives from Latin platea which means a “broad street.” A PALACE is the official residence of a royal person. It derives from the Latin Palatium which referred to the Palatine Hill where the residences of the emperors were built. Thus, the title suggests the royal and a road. Can they meet? Part of this inquiry is undertaken to consider whether psychoanalysis operates according to something like the rules of the road or the rules of the king. Let’s look at some of the underpinnings, assumptions or rules of these vast categories as they’d have to pertain to psychoanalysis.
Starting with science as applied to the mind, and more specifically, under the yarn of mental health treatment, is the search for causes. The structure is that of medicine, and the blueprint is that of disease. To treat a disease requires an inventory of the symptoms (i. e., behaviors considered to be abnormal or maladaptive) and a discovery of the causes of the disease, known in medicine as the etiology. Under the aegis of absolute time, cause precedes effect. Diseases of all kinds are often treated before the etiology is discovered, but the goal remains to discover the etiology since that should afford one the best treatment for the disease. The symptoms and symptom holder are slaves to time. Absent a thorough understanding of etiology, the physician might treat the symptoms. But this is considered to be risky.
If psychoanalysis is a science, as being a branch of medicine, then how do we go about uncovering the etiology of the “diseases” that we treat; what diseases do we treat? To cite just one example from the position of scientific psychoanalysis for illustration, Hartmann argued that psychoanalysis was a science of causes and not merely a psychology of understanding. Parenthetically, one will frequently encounter words like “merely” in discussions of whether psychoanalysis is a science. For to not be a science is to be “merely” something else. That is it will have lower status, because science will have the higher standing and is hence a more worth form of pursuit. This position has considered psychoanalysis to have as its goal the “exploration of the causal relationships” or the “laws governing mental activity.” (see Hale, 1995). There would be a concern that a description of subjective understanding is not enough because the actual connections between phenomena might not be revealed in the patient’s subjective experience. Systematic, especially abstract theory became important because of the possibility of teasing out the implications of observations and to suggest decisive steps for further observation in pursuit of the general laws.
Interestingly, Robert Holt has observed that most clinicians never put much stock in the abstract stuff (Hale, 1995). What most psychoanalysts do is listen to the associations of their patients (or however they refer to those with whom they work) and make interpretations from time to time. Therefore, how could this unravel the mysteries of etiology? Or how are these associations being heard? Since this is what psychoanalysts do and if it is medical science, these associations must serve some role in illuminating the causes of the disease which the patient is presumed to possess. Since etiology is cause, and cause always precedes effect, then the associations would have to be clues to the disease of the patient in some crucial manner. But how could they be clues to the true etiology? In one version at some point, the associations must be classified according to a dimension of veridicality, i.e., some associations must be heard as being about the facts of the patient’s background where other associations aren’t. In discovering etiology, the analyst must then determine which of the associations are true facts about the patient’s history and those which are false or fanciful, even if they are considered useful and important for lots of other reasons.
Yet to sit back and determine which of the patient’s associations are true reports of history and which are not sounds riskily close to presuming omniscience. This would depict the analyst’s chair as more like a throne from which he/she can make rulings on such matters, craft decrees and laws. Is that what Freud had in mind by the royal road to the unconscious? It begins to sound as if listening to associations is a dubious method for determining the true factors which have caused the disorder in this scenario, especially since, according to psychoanalytic theory, the subject’s reports are always infused with distortions, i.e., the transference. Can we get the literally true story from such an unreliable witness?
Alternatively, the analyst could understand the patterning of associations as indicative of
particular true causes of symptoms regardless of the truth-value assigned to any particular
associations, because certain patterns of associations would be considered to have
correspondence with certain diseases. We could consider and call upon research which takes
place outside of the context of the analytic encounter, for example. Certainly, much of American psychoanalysis, particularly under the sway of ego psychology, has involved an effort to incorporate systematically the role of the environment for both normal and abnormal functions. Yet we discover another kind of peculiarity for the scientific project of psychoanalysis in this model. Eventually, specific symptom clusters would automatically be indicative of certain causes.Thus the etiology would be determinable not by knowing much about the person at all. This approach may be advantageous in medicine, especially in an Emergency Room.
The subjective could be practically dispensed with. Certain environments could be married to certain symptom clusters, with physiology acting as the pastor, to provide the genesis for etiology and healing. In fact, by using questionnaires in a judicious manner, one might barely have to talk with a person at all to know “what’s wrong” with him - a real time saver. This would complete the cycle from being a slave to time into its master. But does this remain psychoanalysis?
This relates to the another aspect about science as it pertains to psychoanalysis and the study of the mind. The current mind sciences (i.e., especially the neurosciences) are philosophically organized to be materialistic and reductionsitic. Let us consider both of those terms. Reductionism means that complex processes will be discovered to be all based upon simple events, and for our area of concern, simple biological events. Materialism is the position that a physical description of the world constitutes a complete description of the world. Although psychoanalysis developed as a discipline before the neurosciences expanded, the neurosciences have, in essence, come to define what it means to be a mind science. Perhaps this is an illustration of cause preceding effect. The disorders which the psychoanalyst is or has been treating are then redefined as biological diseases. By these standards psychoanalysis invariably falls short as a science of causes, especially considering that we are looking up (or down, depending upon your perspective). Let me explain what I mean here.
A crucial tenet of science, i. e., of a strict logical empiricist bent, is objectivity. Yet objectivity is a very abstract concept which proves elusive to fully define. We try to understand this concept through metaphor (and we’ll leave aside for now what it could possibly ever mean to understand objectivity literally). The prevailing metaphor is that of a perspective, meaning an optical metaphor (see especially Rorty, 1979). Objectivity is presented as a particular kind of looking.
The most typical way to describe this special looking is that it takes place from above. To be objective is to be above and to look down upon. One being objective is above the fray, looking down from on high, perhaps as high as the Palatine Hill (or perhaps from Olympus). It involves a detachment from the passions, from one’s own and that of the masses. Such detachment and such looking from above is certainly vital to much of scientific study.
One does not raise questions about this metaphor for the purpose of dismissively scoffing at the scientific method. The scientific method represents a phenomenal achievement for humankind. The concern must be for the phenomena which are attempted to be put aside in pursuit of the naturalistic methodology employed in many forms of the scientific study of the mind. The optical metaphor of privileged looking (or of passionless scopophilia, if you will) has shortcomings of which scientists are well aware. For even looking from above is a limited perspective. When looking from above, one does not see from below, from the side or from the inside out, to name but a few missing perspectives. Objectivity is meant to include a greater totality than just an above perspective. But where is it coming from? To see from everywhere simultaneously is a mind boggling view point. The optical metaphor appears to suffer from glaucoma because simultaneously seeing from everywhere defies what we presume to know about “looking.” God the king is considered to see all, but how that is accomplished is a mystery no religion fully explains. Alternatively to define objectivity as seeing from everywhere, even when used as a metaphor, is the equivalent of saying that objectivity is the view from nowhere (Nagel, 1986). Also the attempt to eliminate the subjective prejudices of the investigators also is to make certain assumptions about the feasibility of such elimination. Psychoanalysis frequently rediscovers that the individual’s grasp of the world is infused with wishes, memories, fantasies and dreams in a manner that cannot be immediately or fully apparent to the subject of conscious and preconscious mentation (Barratt, 1984). Psychoanalysis strives to understand in as deep a way as possible the individualization of normative experience and not the strictly normative or agreed upon. As Barratt (1984) indicates, logical empiricism offers an epistemology of objectivitythat can tell us nothing about the subject of its architectonic construction.
A plausible view of psychoanalysis could be understood as not reductionistic, materialistic, naturalistic or objectivistic. As such it would be seen as operating at the wrong level of analysis according to objectivist positions. It doesn’t attempt to reduce to what’s below, and according to an objectivistic, reductionsitic position, the lowest level assumes the highest vantage from which to behold truth. Although the ego psychologists attempted to forge a more naturalistic view of psychoanalysis, one that was more testable, even a prominent logical empiricist like David Rappaport said, “If you think I, who am reasonably convinced that psychoanalysis contains certain fundamental truths about human nature, go at a patient knowing what I will uncover, you are wrong...each patient is an entirely new combination of everything” (cited in Hale, 1995). But can such a position as that be fully consistent with the attempt to create a science of the mind which consists primarily of generalizations? Where the individual matters not, but matter matters most? Certainly many empiricists and philosophers of logical positivist’s leanings would wonder.
Consider the following from one of America’s most esteemed philosophers, Daniel Dennett (1991).
This scheme, referred to as heterophenomenology, although seeming to concede subjectivity its own province, claims that it will eventually contain all there is to explain and understand about the mind. This is but one prototype for research. But the sentiments amongst many others are similar. Once we do enough research in this way, goes the fable, we’ll discover all there is to know about the mind. The reasoning is that a thorough 3rd person, dispassionate research paradigm could not help but end up with consciousness. In some ways it sounds like the story of the drunk who loses his car keys in the bushes but looks for them in the street. When asked why he is doing this, he replies that the light is better over here (Searle, 1992). From this epistemology subjectivity seems to have been kidnapped, bound, gagged though perhaps not blindfolded. Subjectivity then appears to have been stuffed in the trunk only to be tossed out and left for dead on the side of the road at a later time.
Subjectivity, for logical empiricist science, encompasses a different meaning of subject, namely enjoining individuals to serve as human subjects. Inspecting the language more closely, we observe that some subjects serve as “controls.” The investigators are “double blind” which makes them rather like Tiresias, the blind seer from Greek epics. Some subjects are “eliminated” from study because they do not possess enough of the inclusion criteria. The subject pool must be kept clean, if not chlorinated. The subject seems to resemble an object. Thus, in an era where science is king, we should declare that the person be a loyal subject. And we can create notably loyal subjects among the nonhumans in pursuit of the functioning of the human mind.
A pivotal myth in psychoanalytic understandings of mind has, of course, involved that of a king, Oedipus Rex. This continues a tradition in which inquiry of the failings/dilemmas/arrogance of kings/royalty, mythical or otherwise, is surmised to have much to reveal to the everyman. Many varieties of contemporary scientific mind pursuits would implore us not to investigate the meanings of myths about kings to learn about mentation but rather to study the behavior of apes. So we are exhorted to dispense with King Oedipus and to embrace King Kong. Thinking of the subject as object has some consequences which deserve consideration.
Hegel indicated that an attempt to investigate rational self consciousness with the same objectivistic and naturalistic epistemology tries to know its own functions as if they were inanimate nature without subjectivity. This would be the mind converting itself into static forms, products rather than processes and grasping knowledge only as universal categories of judgment (Barratt, 1984). This would be mentation depicted as an assemblage of mute, disconnected forms, at best static and linked-as so many things in a bag (Barratt, 1984). Inanimate? Without subjectivity? We could ask whether Hegel was just a wind bag. But let’s consider that even our name suggests his thesis more than we can gather at first glance-if we are inclined to dig a bit deeper.
Since the journal of Division 39, a division of APA, is titled Psychoanalytic Psychology, let’s look at the word Psychology . It derives from the Greek words yuch (mind/soul) and logos (study). This announces to ourselves and the world that we are meant to be engaged in the study of the mind. However, yuch (psyche) is an interesting root for us to have picked. You see, Psyche is what leaves one's body when one dies. As the Greeks appear to have understood it, the psyche is never said to be doing anything in the living human body. When it leaves the body at death, it goes immediately to Hades (Green and Groff, forthcoming). Green & Groff (forthcoming) comment that, “ One important observation is that, despite some superficial appearances, the psyche is not very much like the Christian soul... Most important, it seems to be a mere remnant of the dead person rather than his or her ‘essence,’... Psyches in Hades are unable to speak or act effectively. They are said to ‘flutter’and ‘gibber’ and ‘squeak.’ If not strictly immaterial, they are virtually vaporous; like wisps of smoke. They are mere shades or shadows of the people from whom they have come.” The psyche seems to do little of what we have generally considered psychological. The Greeks had other words which may be more to the point of what we have in mind by mind, especially the word qumos (thumos) which is “the source of all emotions. Friendship and feelings of revenge, joy and grief, anger and fear-all spring from thumos (Green & Groff, forthcoming)." Instead we picked the life force which only achieves its true potential after death. Oh well, better luck next time.
As opposed to an objectification of mentation, psychoanalysis is in the position of articulating that which is deeply subjective and inherent to humanity. As Barratt (1984) says, “... to engage in a disciplined study of the vicissitudes of personal meaning, an inquiry into the interiority of representation and desire by which the human subject articulates itself and its world.” Psychoanalysis has offered that we concern ourselves not with the person’s representations as objects but that we explore the subject’s investments in representations. For example, Brenner (1982) has suggested that drives be understood as “the wish of a particular patient for a particular kind of gratification or at the hands of a particular person under particular circumstances.”
How would such a definition fit within nomothetic world views? How would this understanding of people through psychoanalysis lead to improved prediction and control? Taken from within or as an attempt to graft this proposition onto logical positivism, Brenner’s statement does not appear to be playing by the rules. Instead it sounds more like a recipe for anarchy. In fact some from within psychoanalysis are quite worried about the state of the field.
Some consider the clinical theory of psychoanalysis to be a sprawling mess. Analysts keep making observations which clash with existing formulas (Hale, 1995). The “raw data” of patient sessions seems compatible with rival schools within psychoanalysis, and this mishmash could rive those with nomothetic predilections to seek out an analyst for themselves-if only they are able to figure out which kind? The problem with contradictions or clashing world views is the presumption that there must be only one way to see and describe the one, true, neutral underlying world. It looks as if the “raw” data of patient sessions have been cooked. The data are infused with theory. The apparent facts of patient’s sessions are revealed to be theory-laden. Instead we notice that the understanding of these facts is conditioned by the inner and outer order of the one doing the understanding (Barratt, 1984).
The presumption by the logical empiricist of there being a neutral, underlying world (a monist position about truth and reality) seeks to ground out differences and roll over contradictions. An undertaking of traditional, logical positivist science is to place subjective prejudices into the dungeon in order to reveal the world as-it-is; to encounter the thing-in-itself; to behold the pre-given. It is the search for an unrendered world. As applied to the mind it is the quest for eliminative materialism, the determination that mental processes are nothing but physical processes (Churchland, 1984). Third person models of science may assign subjectivity its own province, but this is often another way of demoting it to the status of the trivial (derived from the Latin Trivium: a place where three roads meet, a fork in the roads, or a public square, the public street). Thus, a logical empiricist framework would dispute subjectivity or psychic realityas being a legitimate avenue to understanding or truth. Public roads don’t lead to the castle. So often science seeks scope, elegance and simplicity. But most importantly, reductionistic and materialistic epistemologies seek to communicate truth through literal statements. Literal derives from the Latin for letter (Litera(lis)), and sees its first usage in the 14th century to designate according with the letter of the Scriptures.
Yet there have been some contradictions in a monistic (one-true-world) epistemology. Namely the subjective is presented as so pervasive, pernicious and powerful that the scientific method must be extraordinarily exacting in order to reveal the world as-it-is. The care, rigor and precision of the method speaks loudly to the belief that biases and hidden agendas may intrude upon the discovery of truth and reality. So we must ask, “is the subjective too powerful or mostly irrelevant?” The contradictions tempt one to say, “come on, guys, make up your mind!” An implicit assumption of this would be that what appear to be multiple worlds or world views will ultimately be revealed to be one under an umbrella of a world of worlds.
Of course the pluralist can ask what the world is like apart from all the versions (Goodman, 1978). As Nelson Goodman (1976) indicates, “We cannot test a version with a world undepicted, undescribed, unperceived but only with other means.” What if truth is not only a solemn and severe lord but is also a docile and obedient servant (Goodman, 1978).
Is literalism the only means of depicting worlds, the only means to exhibit rigor, scholarship, complexity or rightness? That which is literally false may be metaphorically true, and it is metaphor which psychoanalysis, in pursuit of understanding the personal or the deeply subjective, is so well arranged for. That is metaphor for psychoanalysis isn’t used only for the sake of trying to communicate complex ideas to the “lay” public, e.g., as in describing the brain as a giant switchboard and the like, nor as merely a clever or pretty decorative device. Rather it is through metaphor that the analyst can attempt to contact subjectivity in a non superficial manner. Because subjectivity, if it exists, cannot be grasped literally or objectively. Otherwise it wouldn’t be subjective. The enterprise of fully unraveling the human mind by means of strictly naturalistic observation is fatally flawed. The method itself admits as much if only it is listened to. In fact the issue isn’t that the scientific, empiricist method is a problem. It says from the beginning that it is setting aside certain experiences for the sake of “looking” in a way we ordinarily can’t or don’t. Rather a difficulty lies in the appropriation or annexation by some of territory the method itself proclaims does not belong to it or by treating that territory as a mere gibbering wisp of smoke. Perhaps by choosing psyche/logos we gotten what we asked for.
Metaphorical and figurative understandings venture into territory that’s not exactly its own as well, not by decree or proclamation, but rather through a leasing agreement. Because metaphor cannot inherently occupy or own totally the territory of others. The word Metaphor derives from the Greek, metaferein (metapherein) meaning to transfer or transference. Sound familiar? Thus, metaphors aren’t total. If they were, they wouldn’t be metaphors but instead would be the thing-in-itself. Alternatively, metaphors turn it over and drive through, drive by or tap the brakes to look at the view. Metaphors are carriers or transports. As Goodman (1976) notes, “Metaphor, it seems, is a matter of teaching an old word new tricks...Where there is metaphor there is conflict. Application of a term is metaphorical only if to some extent contraindicated....Metaphorical possession is not literal but possession is actual...”
Metaphor is an import/export business. It relies on free trade and open highways. How else to show hidden assumptions, surprising connections, changes in emphases, or effect exclusions oradditions unless there are ways to cross over borders without conquering the territory? And metaphors of all kinds permeate and can structure our understanding of all kinds of situations. For example, psychoanalysis is considered to be contained within the organization of a mental health profession. As such, we are said to be “providing” or “delivering” a service. Within this context are we making “provisions” for the figuarative? Can the service of psychoanalysis be “delivered” by making treatment templates? Are we looking for a specific destination or a journey? Might some roads be extant and others under construction?
Instead of following a prescription of eliminating inconsistencies to find the true pathway, psychoanalysis engages in dialectical processes, namely searching for contradictions. For contradictions show the places where the roads meet and diverge. It is the contrariness of people which signals conflicts. To explore these conflicts is to touch upon humanity in a way generalization cannot. The question is not whether the idiographic or nomothetic approach is the correct one, because the answer depends upon the quest itself. What are you looking for?
But the ventures of both the science and the humanities involve rigorous forms of understanding. Both are disciplined approaches to knowing where each tends to have better tools with which to do its works. If psychoanalysis is science it cannot be the kind of science which treats certain beliefs as articles of faith exempt from scientific inquiry. It cannot be a science which considers the only alternative to science as a source of knowing to be mysticism. For if science takes as given or proven that any other way to knowledge is automatically false, then it would be a science of proclamations. It would be replacing the tyrannies of superstition with a new kingdom, namely the partition of knower and known: the knower treating the known as object; the knower’s motives being considered pure and only for the good; the good being presumed to be unambiguous; the knower conquering the unknown. If that became the sole mission and order for a science of mind, I think it would be time for psychoanalysis to hit the road.
Barratt, B. (1984). Psychic Reality and Psychoanalytic Knowing. Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press.
Bremmer, J. (1983). The early Greek concept of the soul. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Brenner, C. (1982). The Mind in Conflict. New York: International Universities Press.
Churchland, P.M. (1984). Matter and Consciousness. A Contemporary
Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press .
Dennett, D. C. (1991). Consciousness Explained. Little, Brown.
Goodman, N. (1978). Ways of World Making. Indianapolis, IN: Hacket Publishing Co.
N. (1976). Languages of Art. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett
Publishing Co .
Green, C. and Groff, P. (forthcoming). Early Psychological Thought: Ancient Accounts of Mind and Soul. New York: Greenwood Press.
Hale, N. (1995). The Rise of Psychoanalysis in the United States. Freud and the Americans 1917-1985. New York: Oxford University Press.
Hyman, M. (1994). A New Initiative for Psychoanalysis. The
MSPP News Vol. 4 No. 1 .
P. (1998). Rethinking the Influence of Philosophical Premises in
the Psychoanalytic Moment, www.AcademyAnalyticArts.org .
Nagel, T. (1986). The View From Nowhere. New York • Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Rorty, R. (1979). Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Searle, J. (1992). The Rediscovery of the Mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Back to Programs Home Page