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Globus, G.G. (1974). The Problem of Consciousness. Psychoanal. Contemp. Sci., 3(1):40-69.

(1974). Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Science, 3(1):40-69

The Problem of Consciousness

Gordon G. Globus, M.D.

“Hitherto, nothing whatever has been said of the fact that every psychological theory … should explain to us what we are aware of, in the most puzzling fashion, through our ‘consciousness’; and, since this consciousness knows nothing of what we have so far been assuming-quantities and neurones-it should explain this lack of knowledge to us as well” (Freud, 1895, pp. 307-308).

It is my thesis that Freud never formulated a successful theory to explain consciousness; paradoxically, the unconscious lends itself more easily to metapsychological considerations. Yet the problem of consciousness and its relation to brain seems central to the development of any psychological theory. Such considerations have been left primarily to the domain of philosophy by empirically-minded clinicians and scientists, even though a theory of consciousness seems logically prior to any theory of the unconscious.

In the present paper, I shall first present a critique of Freud's concept of consciousness, find it insufficient, and argue that the lack of a viable theory of consciousness creates a warp in his metapsychological construction. I shall then present an extension of Feigl's (1967) “psychoneural identity thesis,” which holds that the referent of “mental event” terms is identical to the referent of “neural event” terms. Finally, I shall apply this theory of consciousness to several metapsychological issues in order to see how certain aspects of Freud's theory might look, given a different conception of the mind-brain relationship. This application illustrates the fundamental constraints a concept of consciousness imposes upon any psychological paradigm.

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