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Written July 2011, Posted on May 26, 2015 by Karnacology.

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Objective Subjectivity
W.M. Bernstein

Freuds ideas about the mind, evolution, and culture were revolutionary. Psychoanalytic theory was
brought into service to treat mental illness because it was developed in a medical context. But the
methods of psychoanalytic investigation, especially free association and dream analysis, were most
suited for learning about the mind, not fixing it. The theory involved thinking objectively and
scientifically about normal and pathological subjective experiences such as feeling good and feeling
depressed. Psychoanalytic therapy involves largely telling a patient this is how your mind works and
this is why it works this way.
But interpretations of subjective experience, regardless of their validity, do not work necessarily to
change the way a person thinks, feels or behaves. Accordingly, medicine got more or less fed-up with
psychoanalysis as a treatment and threw baby out with the bath. What went wrong?
The justified enthusiasm about Freuds ideas resulted in the sort of wishful thinking that usually
accompanies new, deep insights. But devising potential applications of new, basic theory takes time and
effort. For example, numerous applications of the Germ Theory of Disease have emerged from 1890 to
the present. Antibiotics, vaccines, diagnostic tests and other medically useful technologies did not just
appear like Athena, fully formed, out of the heads of Koch and Lister. The followers are, of course,
impatient. The new ideas are so promising, the needs are so great. But the applied work has to be done.
The tension caused by incompletion can cause the generation of symbolic substitutes for real
accomplishments (cf. Wicklund & Gollwitzer, 1982: Symbolic Self-Completion). Any new, valid theory
immediately suggests a range of wonderful, useful applications. Psychoanalytic descriptions of mental
processes indicated that we might be able to predict and control many aspects of mental life. The theory
was quickly rushed into service before fully effective applications had been developed.
Using half-baked ideas works to reduce the tension associated with the incomplete achievement of a
theorys potential. This sort of symbolic activity may be seen variously as creative play, impatience, and
wishful thinking. Some of the symbolic operations are useful. Some of it stands in the way of making
true progress. Part of our behavior in working with an original theory is driven by the Pleasure Principle,
and part is motivated by the Reality Principle. Gratification is usually deeper if delayed somewhat.

----------------------W.M. Bernstein trained in Biology, Social Psychology, Psychoanalysis and Psychopharmacology. He is a Diplomate of the
American Board of Medical Psychology; and, was one of the first psychologists in the US authorized to prescribe psychotropic
medicines. He is the author of A Basic Theory of Neuropsychoanalysis, and The Realisation of Concepts: Infinity, Cognition, and
Health.

The tendency to apply new ideas with primitive methods was exemplified by Alchemy, which took
centuries to evolve into the modern science of Chemistry. It also describes the history of Christianity and
other religions. New, powerful ways to think about life implicit in the Christ Story have been
operationalized in some less than optimal ways by followers anxious to see Christian Theory in action.
The religious followers of Freud too have behaved as if the story is already complete. This sort of
assumption is explicit in the small, Hermeneutical branch of the Psychoanalytic School. But it also
operates implicitly in the field at large. For example, most Psychoanalytic Literature does not cite work
outside of the analytic canon. Psychoanalytic Theory is valid, but it has not been amenable to integrating
advances from cognitive-social theory nor biological theory.
In part, this is because many people seem to assume that there are zero-sum, mutually exclusive
relations between psychological and biological hypotheses; or between ideas studied in the laboratory
and those developed in the clinic. This is expressed by those who say, We dont want to reduce
psychology to biology.
The fact is that it is impossible to reduce psychology to biology because there are no theoretical terms in
biology for subjective experiences of thought or feeling. In the formal sense, Reduction involves
defining terms in the to be reduced theory in terms of the reducing theory (cf. Kemeny and
Oppenheim, 1967). The best example of reduction is how terms in Mendelian Genetics, e.g. gene,
have been defined in terms of Molecular Biology, e.g. strands of DNA.
Maybe its possible, but most people do not have direct sensory experiences of DNA molecules. They do
have subjective experiences of joy, anxiety, depression and so on. Neuropsychoanalytic Theory involves
study of the systematic relations between subjectively experienced mental states and
contemporaneous, objectively measurable brain phenomena which support them. The biology is in
addition to the psychology. It does not do away with it nor reduce it.
My first book, A Basic Theory of Neuropsychoanalysis, involved a consolidation of ideas from the
relevant fields, not a reduction of psychology to biology. And, the book tries to illustrate applications of
the basic theory to diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.
I wrote the book, in part, because I have knowledge of basic theory and applied methods in
psychoanalysis, social psychology, medical psychology and psychopharmacology. Having various
explanatory systems in mind creates a tendency to relate them, to organize a single system that can
hold them all. One wishes to build a new house so that you can put all your stuff in one place. The
house would be bigger than any of the separate systems but might use less space than the constituent
systems considered separately.
In my mind (and surely in the minds of others), aspects of the various theories were attempting to find
their connections to each other. Such conceptual connections are made implicitly by a process
something like (or exactly like) spreading activation (e.g., Collins & Loftus, 1975), as well as conscious
deliberation.
The book was my attempt to spell-out explicitly important connections between the various schools.
This would allow me to throw out junk I didnt need, and build an effective and efficient, conceptual
house that might be expanded sensibly over time. This involved considering the most robust, non2

controversial assumptions from the various fields together on the same page. Theoretical paths
were followed that were at least consistent with central tenets in psychology and neurobiology. Some
new assumptions are added to link the basic ideas. Many of the integrating ideas seem logically obvious
when the various fields are considered together rather than in isolation.
My goal was not to have the last word. Rather, the aim was to produce a framework that could
contain comfortably advances made in psychology and neurobiology since psychoanalytic theory first
emerged. The primitive wish to have the perfect, complete, last word operates to inhibit theoretical
integration, but it is also essential for motivating theoretical work. At some level, no one can get rid of
this wish. It is akin to the desire to find the Logos. The best one can do is see it for what it is, and remain
open to new points of view.