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Wolff, P. (1971). Review of Psychoanalytic Theory in the Light of Current Research in Child Development. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 19:565-576.

(1971). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 19:565-576

Review of Psychoanalytic Theory in the Light of Current Research in Child Development

Peter Wolff, M.D.

In his opening remarks, Seymour Lustman dispensed with a historical introduction. He wanted to leave adequate time for free discussion because panel members were likely to raise fundamental theoretical questions, and these in turn probably were going to generate heated discussion. A panel of the previous day, on biology and psychoanalysis, had reopened the enduring psychological issue of the relation of psyche and soma, emphasizing that mind is not isomorphic with physiology, and that physiological mechanisms do not explain the functions of mind. Granting that Freud committed logical fallacies in the construction of his theoretical models, Lustman stressed that models or theories are rarely right or wrong, but are best judged by their utility for specified purposes. Their value can only be measured in terms of the "best fit" they provide for a set of phenomena within a chosen realm of discourse. The primary guideline for building theory is to define the range of the phenomena to be accounted for. In Lustman's view, psychoanalysis is not a general theory of psychology, as has sometimes been claimed. It confines itself, primarily, to a limited segment of man's life—most notably to the phenomena that can be theoretically linked with the concept of internal conflict. Psychoanalysis, therefore, cannot hope to replace theories dealing with other facets of human existence. He reviewed some of the epistemological problems inherent to any psychological theory which attempts to give a systematic treatment of subjective experience; that attempts, in other words, to infer what is inside the "black box" from the observation of symbolic behavior. To do so, he drew certain analogies between Wiener's feed-back loops, self-correcting computer models, Piaget's structural model of intelligence, and the psychoanalytic model of "the mental apparatus." Once the realm of discourse has been circumscribed, the next step is to construct an appropriate theoretical model.

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