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Knox, J. (2008). Carhart-Harris, Robin. ‘Waves of the unconscious: the neurophysiology of dreamlike phenomena and its implications for the psychodynamic model of the mind’, Neuropsychoanalysis, 2007, 9, 2, pp. 183-211. J. Anal. Psychol., 53(4):579-580.

(2008). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 53(4):579-580

Journal Reviews

Carhart-Harris, Robin. ‘Waves of the unconscious: the neurophysiology of dreamlike phenomena and its implications for the psychodynamic model of the mind’, Neuropsychoanalysis, 2007, 9, 2, pp. 183-211

Review by:
Jean Knox

Edited by:
Ladson Hinton and Marica Rytovaara

This is a fascinating, but tantalizing paper for psychotherapists. Fascinating in offering an account of the neurophysiology of certain dream-like subjective experiences that gives serious consideration to the part played by psychodynamic processes. Furthermore, the author suggests that Jungian models may contribute to an understanding of the type of phenomena he explores here, in spite of maintaining a particular Freudian focus in this paper.

But the paper is also tantalizing, partly because most psychotherapists simply do not have enough knowledge of neurophysiology to be able to evaluate the extent to which the author does or does not achieve one of his main objectives in this paper, ‘the scientific validation of psychoanalytic concepts such as “the unconscious”' (p. 184). In addition, even for psychotherapists who do have a relevant scientific background, there are places where there is not enough information provided for the reader to use to assess aspects of the author's hypotheses. So the reader is left with many exciting ideas and a number of unanswered questions.

The author offers two main arguments. Firstly that ‘the dreamy state, the acute psychotic state, and the psychedelic state all share important phenomenological and neurophysiological similarities to the dream state and can therefore be regarded as dream-like’ (p. 201). The second argument is that:

Since psychodynamic phenomena have been identified in all dreamlike states consistently, by different individuals, at different times, and since these phenomena appear to correlate significantly with a characteristic neurophysiology, then we can say with confidence that the phenomenology is consistent with the biology and therefore amenable to scientific investigation and eventual verification.

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