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Verhulst, F. (1999). Psychoanalysis and chaos theory. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 80(3):623-625.

(1999). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 80(3):623-625

Psychoanalysis and chaos theory

Ferdinand Verhulst

Dear Sir,

In volume 78 of your Journal there appeared an interesting paper by Jean-Michel Quinodoz (1997) on psychoanalytic phenomena and concepts and the new possibilities for describing these in terms of chaos theory. The latter is a branch of nonlinear dynamics which is very mathematical in language and methods and which has already many amazing new applications in the natural sciences.

There are many important observations in this paper which are useful to discuss but here I would like to follow up on a remark on page 716: ‘If psychoanalysts have learned much from scientists, might it not also be the scientists' turn to cast an occasional glance in the direction of the psychoanalysts?’ I feel this request is phrased in such a modest way that it can hardly be refused; in fact, inspired by reading Moran (1991) and Vann Spruiell (1993) I wrote a paper (Verhulst, 1994) which is an attempt to do just that. I intend to study in more detail the interesting relationships between psychoanalysis and chaos theory but in this letter I want to restrict myself to a rather fundamental, methodological question which arises out of the paper by Quinodoz (1997).

The question is this: if one uses concepts of chaos theory like ‘strange attractors’ to describe ‘unconscious fantasies’ in psychoanalysis or, as I intend to do in a subsequent paper, to use the dynamics of ‘intermittency’ to describe the evolution of ‘a split personality’, has this description then the status of a model or a metaphor?

Quinodoz answers this question by stating that ‘these ideas open up new perspectives, extending beyond mere metaphors …’ and he labels such comparisons (for instance strange attractor-unconscious fantasy) as ‘analogy-type model’.

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