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Gedo, J.E. (1991). Between Prolixity and Reductionism: Psychoanalytic Theory and Occam's Razor. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 39:71-86.

(1991). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 39:71-86

Between Prolixity and Reductionism: Psychoanalytic Theory and Occam's Razor

John E. Gedo, M.D.

ABSTRACT

To achieve a coherent theory of mental functioning, psychoanalysis cannot continue to explicate its observations through the "complementary" use of models based on differing premises. Moreover, the current profusion of plausible theories is unmanageably prolix; it is true, however, that theory must account for the complexity of constant shifts of developmental levels in terms of currently used adaptive devices. The simplest possible clinical theory will add to existing theories of motivation and development only the concepts needed to explicate reasons for these shifts in modes of functioning. Motivations are preprogrammed in the brain, so that theories of motivation must be congruent with neurophysiological knowledge. But the current status of a person's organismic motivations can only be inferred on the basis of the affective reactions they generate.

The acquisition of symbolic capacities changes the infant from an organism automatically striving to fulfill a preprogrammed ground plan into a creature of self-awareness able to formulate wishes and to establish those priorities among them best called "self-organization." Thenceforth various wishes may come into conflict; the need to avoid the resultant discomfort gives rise to defensive operations. Defense may take the form of regression, although the latter is generally based on established deficits in the adaptive repertory—"apraxias." If developmental progress takes place, superseded modes of behavioral organization remain forever available for contingencies wherein they are advantageous. The theory presented meets the criteria of "Occam's razor"; it remains to be seen, however, whether it does so at the cost of some reductionism.

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