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(2016). An Exchange with Thomas Nagel: The Mind-Body Problem and Psychoanalysis. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 64(2):389-403.

(2016). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 64(2):389-403

An Exchange with Thomas Nagel: The Mind-Body Problem and Psychoanalysis

Anne Erreich: The history of psychoanalytic theorizing has from the start been entangled with the mind-body problem. Freud's famous patients all had somatic complaints that led Freud to revolutionary discoveries about the mind. Freud himself attempted to bridge the mind/body problem with his “Project for a Scientific Psychology,” an effort he abandoned given the primitive level of neuroscience in his day. In abandoning neuroscience, Freud opted instead for a meaning-based theory in which he became a cryptographer struggling to decipher the meaning of his patients’ somatic and behavioral symptoms.

In recent years, the advent of new neuroscience technology, such as fMRI, has led some to attempt to revive Freud's dream of accounting for mind via brain.

The recent prevailing trend in psychiatry has been to reduce human subjective experience to objective characteristics of the brain as a physical organism. On this view, the subjective experience of depression would be understood solely as a chemical imbalance, and treated by an adjustment to brain chemistry. This stands in contrast to the traditional psychoanalytic view, which understands psychic phenomena such as depression as irreducibly tied to internal symbolic content, that is, meaning, in the form of images, thoughts, words, and behavior, to be decoded by the analyst and the patient.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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