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Brockman, R. (2001). Toward a Neurobiology of the Unconscious. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 29:601-615.

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(2001). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 29(4):601-615

Toward a Neurobiology of the Unconscious

Richard Brockman, M.D.


I remember my first day of school. I remember my mother holding my hand as she walked me down Hamilton Avenue to what seemed then like a huge brick prison for hapless five and six year olds, many of whom just stood around crying as they awaited their fate. My mother found another little boy, asked his name, “Neal,” he said. “Neal,” she said, “this is Richard.” She told us to hold hands, and to get in line. She nodded to us both and smiled. I remember she wore a green hat. “Goodbye,” she said first to Neal then to me as she walked away. My mother died later that year, and Neal became my best friend. When I close my eyes I can still see that green hat.

I remember a winter break in my sophomore year of college. Four of us decided to take a road trip from New England to Ft. Lauderdale. The word “sophomore” comes from the Greek moros—“more at moron” it says in the Oxford English Dictionary. We all got in the car and headed south along the interstate. After about twenty hours of continuous travel, it was my turn to drive. I got behind the wheel. I remember driving past a sign that read, “Welcome to Georgia,” and then I remember another sign that read, “You are now leaving Georgia.” I remember nothing about ever having driven through Georgia.

I remember orientation on the first day of residency training. A very distinguished emeritus professor walked into the classroom, told the ten of us neophytes how we would be working with some very difficult patients that year, patients that he called “borderline”—a term I had never heard before—and then told us that if there was one thing he wanted us


* Associate Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons Faculty, Columbia Psychoanalytic Institute.

A version of this article was presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in New Orleans on May 7th, 2001, as part of a symposium sponsored jointly by the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Psychoanalysis, chaired by Ann-Louise Silver, M.D. and Edward Nersessian, M.D. and entitled Thinking about Mind and Brain: Psychoanalysts and Neuroscientists Converse.

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