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Gedo, J.E. (1997). Reflections On Metapsychology, Theoretical Coherence, Hermeneutics, And Biology. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 45:779-806.

(1997). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 45:779-806

Reflections On Metapsychology, Theoretical Coherence, Hermeneutics, And Biology

John E. Gedo

Unable to correlate clinical findings with contemporary neurophysiology, Freud tried to anchor psychoanalysis within biology through a speculative metapsychology. Recently, epistemological objections have led to abandonment of his proposals qua scientific theory, although many still use them metaphorically. Others deny the need for any general theory of mental functions. Some theorists would espouse a hermeneutic basis for psychoanalysis, outside the boundaries of biology; they purport to confine their purview to mental contents but often use concepts based on metapsychological assumptions. Because the meanings of such contents are difficult to determine, their interpretation should be “constructed” in collaboration with analysands. By contrast, trained observers may reliably collect psychobiological data, accumulating knowledge of cognition, affectivity, communication, and the regulation of behavior—matters Freud encompassed via the economic and structural viewpoints. Hence analytic theory should be correlated with the findings of semiotics, cognitive psychology, and brain science. The hermeneutic focus on dynamics and genetics overlooks crucial data, such as the occurrence of trauma, leading to confusion about processes of pathogenesis, working through, and structural change. These and other biological phenomena (such as functional deficits and repetitive enactments) call for interventions beyond interpreting mental contents; improvement depends on learning better to process these contents. Change implies gradual establishment of alternative neural pathways; this does not automatically follow insight. Hence psychoanalysis must deal with intrapsychic phenomena beyond subjectivity. Intrapsychic conflicts represent efforts to ward off archaic mentality (primitive thought processing). Theories divorced from neurocognitive considerations encourage the theoretical fiction that analysands possess an “intact ego.”

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