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Olds, D.D. (2009). Leap Carefully from Brain to Mind—But it can be Done: Commentary on Vivona. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 57(3):551-558.

(2009). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 57(3):551-558

Leap Carefully from Brain to Mind—But it can be Done: Commentary on Vivona Related Papers

David D. Olds

In this elegant and scholarly paper, Jeanine Vivona draws our attention to a possibly overhasty embrace by analysts of the mirror neuron phenomenon. The advent of Rizzolatti's discovery of mirror neurons has created quite a stir in many areas of psychology, neuroscience, social psychology, and psychoanalysis. V. S. Ramachandran, a leading neuro-scientist, has declared this to be a major finding, in league with the discovery of DNA. Psychoanalysts have jumped on the bandwagon, hoping that the mirror neuron would give crucial insights into psychological phenomena such as empathy, imitation learning, identification, transference, and countertransference. There has then been the inevitable backlash, from several quarters. These would include those who want to slow down the bandwagon to make sure all the claims about mirror neurons have some empirical basis, those who feel that even if there are mirror neurons they are of no consequence for psychoanalysts, and those who oppose the whole neuroscience game as something both useless and even threatening to psychoanalysis.

As part of this backlash, I would mention Sidney Pulver's plenary address (2003) at our Winter Meeting a few years ago, and more recently a much-discussed paper in the International Journal by Rachel Blass and Zvi Carmeli (2007). In the end Pulver took aim more at what he considered the clinical irrelevance of neuroscience to analysts—in other words, his view that none of this neuroscience information affects the way we practice. He allowed that it has probably made some difference to analytic theory. His address was one reason I wrote my paper on interdisciplinary studies and analytic practice (Olds 2006). I wanted to explore whether indeed interdisciplinary science might have some influence on our clinical work.

The Blass and Carmeli paper takes a more extreme view and sees the whole neuroscience effort as bad for us analysts. They make three main points, which are the staples of neuropsychoanalysis bashing.

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