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Kunstadt, L. (2001). Ongoing Discussion of J. Allan Hobson (Vol. 1, No. 2): Commentary by Lawrence Kunstadt. Neuropsychoanalysis, 3(1):85-101.

(2001). Neuropsychoanalysis, 3(1):85-101

Ongoing Discussion of J. Allan Hobson (Vol. 1, No. 2): Commentary by Lawrence Kunstadt

Lawrence Kunstadt

This letter has three goals. The first is to examine the physiological evidence related to the Solms–Hobson debate over whether dreams are caused by wishes or by brain mechanisms. The second is to present an old theory concerning causality and apply it to this debate. The third is to specifically answer many of the objections Hobson raises against psychoanalysis.


The physiological aspect of the Solms–Hobson debate is nominally over whether there is a significant multior autogenic forebrain contribution to REM sleep dreaming (Solms) or whether the pontine contribution to REM sleep dreaming is sufficient alone to cause dreams (Hobson). The former would be consistent with the Freudian notion of dreams as fulfilling wishes because it is known that the forebrain is involved in higher order thinking. There being no evidence that the pons underlies higher order thinking, the latter allows dreams to be explained away as mere physiology or epiphenomena, just something the brain does.

While this may seem to be an angels-on-a-pinhead debate, what is at stake is the underpinning of the psychoanalytic edifice. Make no mistake about it, this is a case of two world views colliding: psychoanalysis versus reductionism, and an intelligent reductionism at that.

Hobson's challenge to psychoanalysis is bold and threatening: Because [Freud's] dream theory is so foundational, its renunciation forces a major reformulation upon the whole field (p. 158). “Insofar as psychoanalysis remains committed to Freud's view of dreaming … the new results do not provide the faintest modicum of support” (p. 157). It is therefore, to use Freud's apposite phrase, incumbent upon us to make “perspicacious and clear” the evidence, assumptions, and reasoning underlying these two views. Each side's argument rests on three components: empirical data, interpretation of these data, and conceptualizations of the issues.

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