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Frank, D.L. (2009). Biology of Freedom: Neural Plasticity, Experience, and the Unconscious. By François Ansermet and Pierre Magistretti. Translated from the French by Susan Fairfield. New York: Other Press, 2007. 254 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 78(4):1228-1237.

(2009). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 78(4):1228-1237

Biology of Freedom: Neural Plasticity, Experience, and the Unconscious. By François Ansermet and Pierre Magistretti. Translated from the French by Susan Fairfield. New York: Other Press, 2007. 254 pp.

Review by:
David L. Frank

Biology of Freedom is co-authored by a psychoanalyst and a neuroscientist, both from Switzerland. In the preface, they boldly state that “plasticity is no more and no less than the mechanism through which each subject is singular and each brain is unique and free” (p. xvi), and by the time the reader has finished this volume, he or she will have a deeper appreciation of the psychology and biology of the uniqueness of each mind.

The book draws primarily on the work of Freud, Lacan, William James, Antonio Damasio, and Eric Kandel, weaving together their ideas to describe a theory of the unconscious. This theory develops several lines of thinking: the biology of the synapse; the relationship of the synapse to the inscribed psychic trace; observations on specific, bundled, functional neuroanatomic pathways that the authors see as particularly relevant to unconscious mental functioning; and the ramifications of William James's notions about somatic states and the body—that “perception alone … is neutral with regard to emotion” (p. xviii), and that the experience of external as well as of internal reality emerges from links forged between representations and specific somatic states.

The authors would very much agree with Freud's assertion that “the ego is first and foremost a bodily ego.” They state that “the reading or recollection by particular neuronal systems of the somatic state associated with the perception, or with traces it left in the synaptic network, is a determinative factor in subjective emotional experience” (p. xviii). Damasio's ideas about somatic markers—body memories or somatic states that are linked consciously or unconsciously to representations—are given great weight throughout the authors' argument. The somatic state, conscious or unconscious, that comes to be associated with the trace of experience becomes “an integral part of the fantasy process” (p. 106).

The

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