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Levenson, E. (1998). Awareness, Insight, and Learning. Contemp. Psychoanal., 34(2):239-249.

(1998). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 34(2):239-249

Awareness, Insight, and Learning

Edgar Levenson, M.D.

There is a fusty academic joke that goes like this: René Descartes is ordering tea in a restaurant. The waitress says, “Sir, would you like lemon or milk with your tea?” Descartes reflects, and says, “Mmm, I think not”—and disappears! The joke may well be relevant. We are approaching a swing away from rationalism with its hegemony of the mind—its “I think, therefore I am,” and its “where id was there shall ego be.”

I find the concepts of mind and consciousness, and their relationship to each other, quite confusing. From the spate of literature on the topic, I surmise I am not entirely alone (Chalmers, 1995, 1996; Dennett 1991; Ellenberger, 1970; Horgan, 1996; Meltzoff & Gopnick, 1993; Searle, 1997). I believe that psychoanalytic cure has remained implicitly equated with “mindfulness,” consciousness, in spite of Freud's (1923) effort to resolve the dilemma by anchoring the ego in the domains of both consciousness and unconsciousness. It is important to remember that Descartes wrote two hundred years before Freud. It was not until 1840, only fifty-five years before Freud, that the concept of unconscious mentation was introduced by Laycock and Carpenter. Prior to Carpenter, cerebral functioning was considered to be entirely conscious. Only spinal cord functioning was reflexive, that is, out of consciousness. Hall, a prominent neurophysiologist of the time, believed that “the cerebrum is the organ of the mind.

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