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Fast, I. (2006). A Body-Centered Mind: Freud's More Radical Idea. Contemp. Psychoanal., 42(2):273-295.

(2006). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 42(2):273-295

A Body-Centered Mind: Freud's More Radical Idea

Irene Fast, Ph.D.

Freud proposed two sharply contrasting conceptions of the body's place in mental structure. Both were radical departures from established views of the mind. In the first, body-based thought is rooted in the drives and instincts. It is primitive in contrast to the body-free, logical, and rational thought of maturity. Freud remained committed to this view in his formal conceptions of the mind throughout his working life. It remains the one most fully accepted in psychoanalytic thought today.

Less formally, particularly in conceptions of the “accidental” factors that structure the primary processes, “stereotype plates” that pattern our experience, thinking as “action in the mind,” and “internalizations” that form our inner worlds, he suggested an even more radical notion. In this view, “bodily” refers to the behavioral patterns (of personal motivation, action, attitude, wish, and feeling) as opposed to mental ones. Body-based patterns occur primitively, but they may also become mental and structure the mind at the highest levels of sophistication. Neither in Freud's time nor subsequently, however, has it been possible to integrate this second view of the bodily in mental functioning into the accepted psychoanalytic theory of mind.

Now, however, developing perspectives in psychoanalysis provide a framework in which this second view can be accommodated. In this model the mind is initially composed of social-emotional-behavioral patterns (in Stern's useful term, “patterns of lived experience”) established in familial life (Freud's “accidental” factors that form “stereotype plates”). These patterns, articulated and modified in the course of development, can increasingly be activated mentally with or without accompanying bodily action (Freud's “action in the mind” and “internalization”). These, rather than the rational-logical processes of traditional thought, constitute the mature mind.

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