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Tip: To review The Language of Psycho-Analysis…

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Prior to searching a specific psychoanalytic concept, you may first want to review The Language of Psycho-Analysis written by Laplanche & Pontalis. You can access it directly by clicking here.

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White, J. (2020). Browning, Margaret. (2019). ‘Our Symbolic Minds: What are They Really?’ Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 88, 1, 25-52.. J. Anal. Psychol., 65(4):768-771.

(2020). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 65(4):768-771

Browning, Margaret. (2019). ‘Our Symbolic Minds: What are They Really?’ Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 88, 1, 25-52.

Review by:
John White

Margaret Browning's article ‘Our symbolic minds: what are they really?’ offers a fine example of well-executed multidisciplinary psychoanalytic research. The article welds psychoanalytic clinical theory, recent brain research and substantive philosophy into a potent and coherent argument, including valuable clinical implications. Perhaps the most striking premise of Browning's argument is that ‘consciousness’ or ‘subjectivity’ is not primarily or originally cognitive but affective. This basic affective relationship to the world, Browning argues, though common to all mammals, takes on a unique form in human beings because it is also the source of objectifying symbol systems, such as language and culture. Consequently, a focus on affect is central to psychoanalytic practice.

Browning begins by discussing the work of evolutionary anthropologist and neuroscientist Terrence Deacon, who argues that the co-evolution of the human brain and language is the proper basis of the symbolic mind. On Deacon's account, language and intelligent communication are different, the latter common to all social species, the former distinctive to humans. Communicative referencing probably evolved in social species through members of a species interpreting calls or gestures of other members of the species in situations related to survival, such as potential danger. There is an inherently relational dimension to communication, since it hinges on one member of a species interpreting another. There is also an inherently affective component because communication is based on affective reactions to things conducive or inimical to survival.

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