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Tyson, P. (1998). Developmental Theory and the Postmodern Psychoanalyst. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 46(1):9-15.

(1998). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 46(1):9-15

Developmental Theory and the Postmodern Psychoanalyst

Phyllis Tyson

Psychoanalysis today is in a state of upheaval. This commotion reflects a shift that has taken place throughout the Western world in science, in philosophy, in the arts, and in the personal, social, and cultural aspects of our society. From the age of Enlightenment, which relied on the principles of meaning and rationality, the wider scientific weltanschauung has turned toward questioning the very nature of knowledge. This wider scientific scope has come to be described as postmodernism. From a quest for reason, truth, and objective reality, the scientific world has shifted to an increased valuing of diversity and difference. An emphasis on plurality, multiplicity, uncertainty, and ambiguity has come from a recognition of the complexity of nature and of how little we really know about it. Science has acknowledged that objective reality is not all that objective, that it always has a degree of subjectivity; the boundary between primary and secondary process is a fluid one (see Tyson and Tyson 1990). Many credit Nobel laureate and cytogeneticist Barbara McClintock (see Keller 1983) for a further shift—a shift in attitude about our methods of study. She thought that we should question how we know what we know. McClintock discovered that when she shifted her orientation, or her state of mind, from that of the authoritative observer to being a reciprocal part of the system, she could see things she had not seen before.

This shift in worldview, to recognizing the complexity of nature, began in the late 1920s, in the science of hydrodynamics. It led ultimately to the formulation of nonlinear dynamic systems theory, known popularly as chaos theory because when behavior that appears random or chaotic is considered from a larger perspective, an overall pattern emerges, a pattern that has certain definable principles. With the publication of James Gleick's Chaos: Making a New Science (1987), chaos theory became accessible to the psychoanalyst.

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