Monthly Archives: July 2015

Don Quixote and ethics , an interpretation from Philosophy at present time, by Spanish philosopher Gustavo Bueno

Excellent blog. I highly recommend it.

Comeniussantaclara's Blog


We have here a very interesting philosophical study upon Don Quixote, made by the most important XXI Century living Spanish Philosopher, Gustavo Bueno I believe it is a valuable research material to the Comenius Project Between Religions and Ethics.A common ground


Gustavo Bueno

Don Quixote,
Mirror of the Spanish Nation

Translated by Brendan Burke
© 2010 FGB · Oviedo

Fundación Gustavo BuenoFundación Gustavo Bueno
Printed on Sunday 20 march 2011

Gustavo Bueno

Don Quixote,
Mirror of the Spanish Nation

Translated by Brendan Burke
© 2010 FGB · Oviedo


Against the interpretation of Don Quixote as a symbol
of universal solidarity, tolerance, and peace

2005. All of Spain celebrates the fourth centennial of the publication of Don Quixote (the printing itself had already been completed by December 1604). This celebration clearly supports the thesis I have…

View original post 18,542 more words

Klein, Personal Experiences and Psychoanalytic Interpretation Part 2

“People thought ‘Blood and the Tracks’ was about me but I don’t write confessional songs” Bob Dylan

In my previous blog-post I briefly discussed Robert M Young’s advice that interrogating the fringes of my memories, distressing experiences, and my dreams may be a better way of understanding Klein’s views on unconscious Phantasies than simply reading her texts. Young put it as follows:

“I offer these reports, somewhat shyly, as a way of inviting you to make similar searches of your memories to glimpse the tips of the icebergs of your own phantasies and psychotic anxieties. They are my version of what Klein calls ‘a cave of dangerous monsters’. My general point is that if you ask the question, ‘What is a psychotic anxiety when it’s at home and not in the pages of an implausible and nearly unfathomable text by Melanie Klein?’, you’ll be less sceptical if you interrogate the fringes of your own memories and distressing experiences and, of course your dreams” (Phantasy and Psychotic Anxieties’ Robert M Young p.71)

In this blog-post I will outline some of my own experiences and anxieties order to see if this can bring me closer to understanding Klein’s texts.

While doing my PhD I also worked full time in a hospital for people with intellectual disabilities, and for a while was also working as a tutor for first year and second year college students. This stressful work load led to me suffering from what eventually got diagnosed as a generalised anxiety disorder. Looking back the anxiety has been a part of me since childhood but it simply became exacerbated later in life through the excessive work load. So before discussing the later anxieties I will try to briefly discuss some general anxieties I had throughout the years.

Firstly I will describe a childhood event which wasn’t particularly frightening and as far as I can remember didn’t lead to any particular anxieties but it was the first time I remember my picture of reality being shattered. As a child I woke up and went down stairs to see my parents however when I walked into the kitchen I was greeted by silence there was nobody there and the room was in darkness. I remember the shock I felt. Up until then I had assumed that when I went to bed life went on around me as normal. It was at that moment I realised that other people had a bed time too and that at night the day time family world no longer went on as I had imagined.

It is hard to date the early memory but I must have been extremely young if I didn’t realise that other people slept. This is possibly my earliest memory. It leads me to later anxieties about sleeping I used to have when I was a child. Lying in bed at night I used to worry about the fact when I would sleep I would in effect not cease to exist. I would lie there in blackness only to be aroused if I had a nightmare or a dream. It used to puzzle me and worry me that I would disappear for the night and have no control till awaking. Despite these fears I was still a good sleeper.

I remember in my late teens reading Jung for the first time and discovering his view that dreams had significance and could be interpreted. His work and some research on Lucid Dreaming made me fascinated with the dreaming process I looked forward to sleeping and dreaming as even nightmares had potential significance. The process of sleeping no longer involved the disappearance of the self but a vehicle of discovery. I no longer accept most of Jung’s claims but he is probably the reason I ended up studying philosophy.

A particular anxiety provoking dream I had was again in my very early twenties. Where I went into a barn to see my mother, and a black blob appeared and slowly started moving around and everything it touched was engulfed in the blackness. Eventually the blackness engulfed everybody, my mother and even me. I woke up feeling dreadful the dream at the time seemed to represent a kind of dread of death which inevitably engulfs and destroys all life.

A later dream I recall was again in my mid-twenties. The dream was of a thousands of planes flying over me and crosses I at first I thought I should marvel at the aesthetic beauty of it all then I realised they were going to kill us all. At the time I again put the dream down to anxiety about death and a belief that being immersed in art and science is only a distraction until the inevitable end comes.

All of these dreams and anxieties were very brief moments in another wise happy life. They show some real anxieties on behalf of a particular child and young adult occurring at various times throughout his life. I now want to move from general anxieties about death, nothingness etc to more particular anxieties which occurred in my twenties.

I associate a lot of these anxieties with being in college. I remember walking out of a class on Richard Rorty and thinking about the fact that (1) My current beliefs are caused because of the current state of my brain. (2) I only believe that my current beliefs are caused because of my current brain states because of the current state of my brain. (3) Therefore I am not justified in arguing that my current beliefs are caused by my current brain states. (4) If I am not justified in believing what I believe how can I justify my belief that my beliefs are caused by my brain states. And so on in an infinite circle. This little problem; is a pretty simple problem, actually it isn’t really a problem at all. However the thought kept repeating in my mind in a loop and I could see no way of solving it and began to feel extremely anxious and my mind raced. Why my mind was put in a spin by such a trivial thought I cannot say. But possible reasons were mountains of coffee drank that day, and being over worked and over tired. However the anxious state of mind stays in my mind because it seemed to occur in response to a trivial thought.

This leads me on to real irrational fears. I went through weeks worrying about nuclear holocaust. This worry was an irrational fear. There was no reason to think that any nuclear attack would happen. I had thoughts about terrorist attacks on nuclear targets in Britain and the slow dying of radiation poisoning that would result for me and people in Ireland as a result of any such attack. My fears were not really based on any knowledge of nuclear power or of the likelihood of an attack. They seemed almost internally driven and went away after a couple of weeks as my mind focused on other things.

The first physical symptom of my anxiety was tightness in my chest which I worried may be a heart condition. I worried about this for days and felt more and more certain something was wrong with my heart. I eventually booked an appointment with a doctor did a variety of different tests including an EEG and determined that my symptoms were down to stress. They disappeared not long after the test.

But a full on anxiety problem developed not long after that which resulted from feeling tingling in my arms which immediately put me in mind of disorders like Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis and Motor Neuron Disease. The onset of symptoms was around April 2007 so it began over eight years ago when I had just turned 30. This led to a long period of severe anxiety and worry which lasted for a long time. Neurological disorders are difficult to diagnose and hence one cannot simply have one’s mind put to ease by attending a GP. My GP argued that my symptoms were not an indication of any neurological disorder. I started to feel severe pains in my muscles and some twitching in my muscles. I began recording every incident of a pain, a twinge or a muscle twitch. I went back to my GP who did a series of motor tests, and blood tests which he said convinced him that there was nothing wrong with me. I however insisted on further tests and I had a CAT scan done, and a MRI scan done both of which came back clear. I knew that in the early stages of MMD and Parkinson’s (less so in MS) people can have normal scans and still have the disorders. So I attended two separate neurologists who after a few motor tests and reading my symptoms which I recorded in great detail they argued that as far as they were concerned there was nothing wrong with me in terms of neurological worries though both they and my GP believed that my worries were psychological in nature.

So after a year of nightmarish anxieties and obsessional checking symptoms, not sleeping well, worrying about death, and disability I decided to go into therapy and to follow my doctors advice and begin a course of the anxiety controlling medicine Lexaphro. After a while in therapy and being on Lexaphro my symptoms began to fade and I got back to a normal life. Looking back I don’t think my concerns were entirely irrational; neurological difficulties often take months if not years to diagnose, they are often misdiagnosed as stress, or some form of psychosomatic order by GP’s. So I wasn’t entirely wrong not to trust their diagnosis I did after feel terrible at the time. Nonetheless on the other side of the coin I was aware about baseless worries about nuclear bombs and heart problems so I had ample reason not to trust my judgement as a diagnostician of my own disorder and to instead trust the trained professionals. Whatever the case it has been over 8 years since my symptoms started and they have disappeared pretty quickly since I underwent analysis and went on medications.

Now after writing this brief history of my experiences with anxiety and my dreams In my next blog I will now try and relate it to Young’s advice that thinking about our own dreams and anxieties can help us understand Klein’s beliefs about unconscious phantasies. The first thing to note is that all of my anxieties and dreams were conscious hence my ability to articulate them. So one wonders what my dreams and anxieties really prove about Klein’s views on unconscious Phantasies? I think to really measure or discuss this in any detail it is important to segregate the different aspects of my anxieties which I have chosen to talk about. I will divide these into three different sections (1) Early childhood worries around night time and falling asleep. (2) Worries and dreams about death. (3) The anxiety disorder and treatment. In each case I will interpret and try to understand my experiences in light of Klein’s notion of unconscious Phantasy. In my next blog-post I will consider multiple interpretations of my symptoms from Freudian, Jungian, Lacanian and Kleinian perspectives to show how my own experiences while interesting don’t really demonstrate the truth or falsity of any psychoanalytic theory.

Klein Personal Experiences and Psychoanalytic Interpretation Part1

As an undergraduate in a philosophy of science class the scientific status of psychoanalysis was discussed on a number of occasions. In particular we discussed Popper’s claim that psychoanalysis was pseudo scientific because it was in principle unfalisifiable. My teacher Brian Garvey correctly noted that for all of Popper’s attacks on psychoanalysis Popper never actually cites actual psychoanalytic texts, nor does he closely analyse Freud’s arguments, and engage with the clinical material in the form of case studies psychoanalysts published. Popper contents himself with anecdotal reports from conversations he had with people like Adler to motivate his criticisms of psychoanalysis.

In a series of blog posts I have evaluated the evidence for various different psychoanalytic claims and have shown that modern psychoanalysis is a properly scientific discipline. I have discussed meta-analysis that show that psychoanalysis has greater clinical success than its other therapeutic rivals. I have also shown that attempts to integrate neuroscience and developmental psychology have helped the discipline improve and develop as we learn more about the world. Nonetheless there are other aspects of psychoanalytic theory that I don’t think stand up to critical scrutiny. In previous blog-posts I have criticised the scientific status of Lacanian Psychoanalysis. In this post I will turn my critical gaze towards the claims of Melanie Klein. My focus will be on her interpretation of the behaviour of children. I will argue that her claims are too unconstrained by the data of experience. Her posits while consistent with the child’s behaviour are entirely lacking in plausibility or empirical support and so should be rejected in favour of simpler interpretations of the child’s behaviour.

In the past when I have criticised the theoretical positions of either Lacan, Klein or their followers I have been chastised on the grounds that the empirical evidence suggests that psychotherapy whether Kleinian or Lacanian is equally effective as treatment. People have misinterpreted my claims as indicating that I think that a therapist who learns a lot of neuroscience will automatically be a better therapist. To be clear from the outset I do not believe any such thing. One of the most aspects of the psychoanalytic encounter is the relationship between the analyst and the analysand. When an analyst is dealing with an analysand they are dealing with them as a person. A massive part of the job involves listening to others in an emphatic manner. The analyst in training has to undergo hours of personal analysis, he has to train in analysing other people, and these skills are shaped and honed over years of practice through talking and listening to people in practice for hours on end day in and day out. These skills, like any other skill e.g. playing football or painting cannot be reduced to propositional knowledge. So for this reason I should emphasise that criticisms of people like Klein etc are not criticisms of their competency as an analyst but theoretical criticisms of their meta-psychological theories.

One of the replies often given to the claim that one is focusing on meta-psychology is: ‘why bother tinkering with well established psychoanalytic theories if it makes little practical difference to clinical practice?’ My hope is that psychoanalysis can develop and improve by integrating itself with sciences like neuroscience, and developmental psychology which study overlapping areas of research. Again though it is important to emphasise that with psychoanalysis things are driven by therapeutic driven practice, and not just theory and observations. Thus Mark Solms correctly notes:

Although we claim that neuroscience has a lot to offer psychoanalysis methodologically, we do not believe that neuroscientific experiments must be the final court of appeal for theoretical work in psychoanalysis, as some critics of Neuropsychoanalysis think we do” (From the Couch to the Lab p. 51)

I am not defending Neuropsychoanalysis in this blog-post but I share Solms sentiment; if I argue that some claim of Klein’s is not supported by findings in developmental psychology, or neuroscience this is not intended as a refutation of the clinical theory (which stands or falls on pragmatic success). Rather I am suggesting that if empirical evidence and logical analysis points to evidential shortfalls in a particular theory, analysts need to ask themselves whether these areas that are not supported by any empirical data outside of the analytic setting; are necessary to their clinical practice, and if they are not then the beliefs need to be rescinded. On the other hand if some theoretical construct in psychoanalysis is considered vital despite having no evidence for it scientifically and plenty of evidence against it, then we need to analyse what the evidence for it is within clinical practice and how other psychoanalytic approaches manage equally successfully without this theoretical construct. Overall the aim is to construct as accurate a model of the mind as possible and this will involve rescinding beliefs in controversial theoretical postulates that are neither necessary for clinical practice nor supported by empirical data.

When dealing with Klein I will be concerned with her views on the mental life of infants. I will first discuss the methodology with which she uses to understand the mental life of children. Klein used children’s play and her interpretation of their play as a way of understanding the mental life of children. For Klein play in children was similar to free association in adults, she also believed that children like adults could develop transference neurosis (Bronstein ‘Technique and Interpretation in Klein’ p.37). She provided her children with toys such as ‘pencils, wooden men and women, carriages, dogs, as well as a wash basin with running water, spoons vessels etc (ibid p.37). She then proceeded to interpret the children’s play with the toys as evidence for the unconscious phantasies of children[1]. It was in the context of her observations of child play that she came up with her hypothesis of child unconscious Phantasy.

Nonetheless while Klein practice seems a reasonable way about drawing inferences about the mental life of the infant. Her claims about what children’s unconscious phantasies are which she derived from her clinical practice seem frankly ludicrous, and one finds oneself in stunned disbelief when reading them. Here are some quotes from her book ‘The Psychology of Children’ which show the type of phantasies she attributed to children:

Here is another game which shows clearly that to Erna’s unconscious the head had the meaning of the penis: a toy man wanted to get into a car and stuck his head into the window, where upon the car said to him ‘better come right inside!’ The car stood for the mother inviting her father to have coitus with her.” ( Klein ‘The Psychology of Children p. 36)

“Erna used very often to play at being mother. I was to be the child, and one of my greatest faults was thumb-sucking. The first thing which I was supposed to put into my mouth was an engine. She had already much admired its gilded lamps saying, ‘They are so lovely, all red and burning’, and at once put them in her mouth and sucked them. They stood to her for her mother’s breast and her father’s penis.” (ibid p. 37)

“The beautifully cut-patterns, for instance representing a table cloth, stood for her parent’ genitals, or the body of her mother restored from the destruction which in Phantasy she had previously inflicted on them” (ibid p.38)

“Once instead of the father, a magician came along. He knocked one child on the anus and then on the head with a stick, and as he did so a yellowish fluid poured out of the magic wand. On another occasion the child – a quite little one this time- was given a powder to take which was ‘red and white mixed together. This treatment made the little child clean, and it was suddenly able to talk and became as clever as its mother. The magician stood for the penis and knocking with the stick meant coitus. The fluid and the powder represented urine, faeces, semen and blood, all of which according to Erna’s Phantasies her mother put in herself during copulation through her mouth, anus and genitals.” (ibid p. 38)

“Erna’s analysis too, demonstrated that theatres and performances of all kinds symbolised coitus between the parents.” (ibid p. 39)


Now it is easy to pick quotes out of context to make anyone look a bit nutty but I can assure the reader that Klein used this type of analysis throughout her writings without giving too much away interms of why she was interpreting children this way. In her defence she was writing for analysts who shared theoretical assumptions with her so her arguments would have been condensed because of her intended audience. Possibly the best expositor of Klein’s views was Susan Isaacs her paper ‘On the Nature and Function of Unconscious Phantasy’ is still considered to be the best summary of the nature of Phantasy. Isaacs argues that there are three main methodological rules of thumb that are important when analysing a child. (1) Attention to detail (2) Observation of context (3) Study of Genetic continuity.

She correctly notes that understanding of speech proceeds the use of speech (with really intelligent children understanding of speech can proceed language use by up to a year.) She argues that children from 8 weeks onwards are distressed by strange faces and reassured by familiar faces. She notes that the surprise that children show to change in stimuli indicate that preverbal infants form judgements, have expectations etc. However despite her confidence a cursory consideration of alternative behavioural explanations shows that her claims are wildly over confident She cites Hazlitt (1933) to show that children understand logical relations (identity, generalisation), long before he can express them in words. She asks the question are phantasies active in children from the time their impulses arrive or are they only retrospectively apparent after the child develops the linguistic ability to put them into words. She says that the phantasies are active along with the impulses with which they arrive. Her emphasis on developmental continuity as opposed to jumps cognitive capacities makes her think that we are justified in applying the same analytic interpretative stance towards young children as we are to adults. But of course this assumption means that if one is not impressed by the evidence for psychoanalytic interpretation of adults then one will not be impressed by psychoanalytic interpretation of children. Over all I would argue that because of her controversial assumptions Isaacs does not provide much empirical support for Klein.


In my readings of Melanie Klein and the phantasies she attributes to young children I find myself thinking that she was a deeply disturbed person projecting her own sick ideas on to the infant. I have yet to come across any evidence that I feel supports her conjectures, from an evolutionary perspective there seems to be no reason why a child would have such sick phantasies about their care takers, neither is there any neurological or developmental data that supports her claims. When I bring up this point people usually point that the evidence comes from the clinical encounter. That listening to patients lends support to psychoanalytic conjectures about the experiences of the clinical infant as described by Klein. This puts me at an impasse; firstly psychoanalysts of equal experience interms of analysing their patients do not all agree on the nature of the early experiences of the ‘clinical infant’ so years of clinical experience doesn’t guarantee that one will end up believing Klein’s theoretical posits. Secondly I am not psychoanalyst myself. So I do not have the years of clinical practice that psychoanalysts have so I am not in a position to judge the validity of the Kleinian views on infant phantasies. But if we accept the view that only psychoanalysts are fit to judge the evidence for psychoanalytic theories then the theory becomes in effect irrefutable by outsiders and insiders probably won’t be too motivated to refute their own theory. If we imagine a similar situation holding with religion or Reki healing where outsiders are given no epistemic authority to criticise it then we are in a sad situation where even the most ridiculous theories will be irrefutable by public criterion. Since psychoanalysts unlike ReIki Healers and Religious nuts claim to be an empirical discipline I presume no respectable psychoanalyst would argue that the evidence or against the discipline can only be tackled by practitioners. So I think the argument that a person cannot criticise psychoanalysis because he doesn’t have clinical experience breaks down in two ways. (1) Theorists with equal amounts of clinical practices often hold wildly different theories about early experiences of the infant and (2) If we accept the fact that psychoanalysis is a closed epistemic community that cannot be judged from the outside why not do the same thing with religions or new age medicine?

So I think that while a psychoanalyst can indeed claim special skills because of years of experience in clinical practice this fact cannot be used as a refutation of critics without this experience. The burden of proof lies with the psychoanalyst to communicate his findings to critics in as clear a manner as possible. There are however some ways that critics can meet psychoanalysts halfway; Freud emphasised that the most important aspect of an analysts training was clinical experience by which he meant analysing people and undergoing analysis oneself. Now obviously if one is not a practicing analyst one cannot gain clinical experience as an analyst (the best substitute is reading case studies of actual clinical practice), however one can undergo analysis. This process will give one an understanding of analysis from within and an experience of the analytic process and its effects on one. Having undergone psychoanalysis for an anxiety disorder I can attest to both the usefulness of the experience and how one learns about the process in a way that simply reading books will not mimic (Obviously my limited experiences of being an analysand do not in any way compare with the years of clinical practice psychoanalysts have). However despite my experiences in analysis and my readings of clinical studies I still find Klein’s analysis wildly far-fetched. It is for this reason that I think the studies Robert M Young’s contribution to the ‘Lacan-Klein dialogues’ was potential gateway to understanding Klein. He offered the following advice:

“I offer these reports, somewhat shyly, as a way of inviting you to make similar searches of your memories to glimpse the tips of the icebergs of your own phantasies and psychotic anxieties. They are my version of what Klein calls ‘a cave of dangerous monsters’. My general point is that if you ask the question, ‘What is a psychotic anxiety when it’s at home and not in the pages of an implausible and nearly unfathomable text by Melanie Klein?’, you’ll be less sceptical if you interrogate the fringes of your own memories and distressing experiences and, of course your dreams” (Phantasy and Psychotic Anxieties’ Robert M Young p.71)

Upon reading these lines I was reminded of why I went into analysis in the first place. I entered into analysis because of a severe anxiety problem. A problem which I underwent psychoanalysis to overcome (I cut the analysis short for financial reasons) and I am medicated to control the anxiety by Lexaphro. Since undergoing the analysis and thinking about my anxiety I have realised that it was an ongoing problem which goes back a long time in my personal history. So Young as offered me an inside track to test Klein’s theories from a personal experience of analysis. Obviously any claims I make based on my own anxieties have virtually no generality but since they may help me understand Klein in my next blog post I intend to analyse my personal anxiety problems to see if they can be made sense of in a Kleinian fashion. This will involve detailed phenomenological descriptions of my anxieties and an attempt to relate them to Kleinian psychology.

[1] A similar technique is used to analyse non-verbal people with Intellectual disabilities; see for example the work of Melanie Sinason in her ‘Mental Handicap and The Human Condition’.

The Clinical Infant and The Reliability Of Memory

“Developmental psychology can inquire about the infant only as the infant is observed. To relate observed behaviour to subjective experience one must make inferential leaps. Clearly, the inferences will be more accurate if the data base from which one is leaping is extensive and well established. The study of intrapsychic experience must be informed by direct observation, as the source of most new information about infants continues to be naturalistic and experimental observations…In contrast to the infant as observed by developmental psychology a different “infant” has been reconstructed by psychoanalytic theories in the course of clinical practice (primarily with adults). This infant is the joint creation of two people, the adult who grew up to become a psychiatric patient and the therapist, who has a theory about infant experience. This recreated infant made up of memories, present re-enactments in the transference, and theoretically guided by interpretations. I call this creation the clinical infant, to be distinguished from the observed infant, whose behaviour is examined at the very time of its occurrence.” ( The Intersubjective World of the Infant p. 15)

Stern’s division of the two infants is extremely interesting and theoretically valuable. The developmental infant is well studied and understood with more and more sophisticated experimental techniques, better cross cultural studies, better recording equipment and availability of neuroscientific tools we learn more and more about the typical developmental milestones of children each day. The clinical infant is a different beast. It is as Stern notes the creation of two people the analysand and the analyst. When a person enters therapy and starts telling their story they are narrating how things seem to them in the present moment. As the therapy proceeds and the analysand sometimes reflects on his childhood a larger picture of who the analysand is and how he became the person he is will emerge.

But of course the analysis isn’t centred entirely on constructing a narrative about the analysand. The analysand will a lot of the time have come to analysis because of some particular issue; neurosis, depression, anxiety etc. Sometimes talk will circle around certain topics week after week, the analysand will have one view about what is bothering him, and the analyst may have another. The analysand may have concerns about what the analyst is thinking, he may gear his talk towards what he thinks the analyst wants to hear etc. Nonetheless it is true, that over time in therapy, that in some cases; cases that could go on for years, a picture of the self does emerge.

This self doesn’t just emerge from the analysand telling his story and the analyst faithfully recording it. The analyst will offer interpretations of behaviour that the analysand talks about. He will interpret slips of the tongue, dreams, the tone of voice that the analysand talks about different people in, he will note logical discrepancies in the way analysand treats different people for equivalent behaviour etc. Sometimes the analysand will agree with the analyst and sometimes not, but with the analyst in the position of the person who knows; the master interpreter of the unconscious etc his views will have more weight for the analyst than most people’s views do. Eventually a picture of the psychoanalytic infant and adult will be constructed and a narrative of how the infant became the adult that arrived in analysis will be constructed.

Now whatever the therapeutic efficacy of this technique, one wonders to what degree it is an accurate biography of the analysand. These are not mere academic questions when Freud (circa the 1890’s) was told by his analysand’s of their early childhood experience of sexual abuse; he took them at their word. He believed that the children were recounting factual material. And he used this “factual” material as evidence for his seduction theory of hysteria. Later he abandoned the seduction theory arguing that so many people were claiming to have been seduced that it was very improbable to have actually happened. This is when he moved towards his theory of childhood sexuality and argued that the reports adults were giving in therapy were reports of unconscious childhood phantasies of seduction. A big problem with the childhood sexuality explanation is that there is a danger that Freud could be told about a real case of sexual abuse, and ignore it because of his theory.

Another major problem is the problem of suggestibility. There have been cases documented where analysts have convinced patients that x or y occurred when there is virtually no evidence that this is the case. The analyst who convinces the patient of this occurring and the patient’s relation with their family is never the same. A tragic version of this story occurred with a patient Carol Myers who through therapy was convinced she had been ritually abused by her family who were allegedly members of a satanic cult. Myers ended up committing suicide and subsequent research indicates that some of the claims Myers made to her analyst Dr Fisher turned out to be wildly false. And there are suspicions that Myers was lead into believing falsehood through suggestions of her therapist. There is ample evidence that false memories can be implanted in a person, for example, the psychologist Elizabeth Loftus managed to implant false memories into her patients see her (1997) Paper ‘Creating False Memories’. Whatever the truth of the Myers case is it does give pause for thought. If analysts are capable of inadvertently placing false memories into their patients this raises serious difficulties with any notion of a psychoanalytic infant being anything other than a made up fiction (albeit a fiction that has some theoretical utility).

Some psychoanalysts have bitten the bullet and claimed that “reality” plays no real role in the psychoanalytic process. In her book ‘Becoming a Subject’ Marcia Cavell gathered together some quotations which reveal this attitude towards reality by some therapists:

Reality”, as we use the term, refers to something subjective, something felt or sensed, rather than to an external realm of being existing independently of the human subject’ (Atwood 1992: 26-27)

The idea of analytic ‘objectivity’ is an intellectual remnant of the one-person psychology paradigm. … Might reducing the object of analysis to the “interaction” between the patient and analyst not mislead us, if it predisposes us to imagine that there is an objective reality “out there” between analyst and patient, that one can be “objective” about. (Fogel et al. 1996: 885)

The psychoanalytic task is not trying to discover something that was already there, in the patients mind, but trying to devise a view of [his] life present and past, that works, i.e. that helps him feel better’ (Renik: 1998: 492)

(The above quotes taken from Marcia Cavell ‘Becoming a Subject 2006 p.72)

This cavalier attitude towards reality may seem harmless, and it could be used to solve the problem raised by Stern of how do we merge the developmental infant with the clinical infant? With this loose attitude towards reality one could simply argue the clinical infant is a theoretical construct which is useful in therapy but it has no reality outside of it. This approach would be fine except analysand’s leave therapy believing in what has been uncovered about his childhood in the therapy. This will have consequences for the child’s relationship with family members and friends afterwards, so it is only ethical that analysts at least try using every tool at their disposal to render accurate accounts of childhood experiences. This is what people like Solms, Stern and Cavell are trying to do as they try to ground psychoanalytic theories in facts of neuroscience, and developmental psychology. It might be worth discussing what they have discovered and see how it relates to Sterns problem of merging the clinical and the developmental child.

Some Neuroscientific and Developmental Facts About Memory:

In his ‘The Interpersonal World of the Infant’ Stern presents some interesting evidence which he thinks demonstrates that we are capable of forming reliable memories from early on in life:

“Is the infant capable of remembering the three different kinds of experience that make up the other main core self-variants-agency, coherence, and affect…It is now clear that there are recall memory “systems” that are not language based and that operate very early (see Olson and Strauss 1984) Motor Memory is one of them. The point is that cued recall for motor experiences can be experimentally demonstrated, as well as inferred from natural behaviour, and that these motor memories assure self-continuity in time. The thus constitute another set of self-invariants, part of the “motor self”…It is well established that infants by five to seven months have extraordinary long-term recognition memory for visual perceptions…for some events, recognition memory appears to operated across the birth gap…Clearly, the infant has the memorial capacities to register, recognize, and recall affective experience so that continuity of the affective self is assured. (Stern: ‘The Interpersonal World of The Infant pp 90-94)

Now while the data that Stern as brought together is impressive sceptics will probably note that it flies in the face of the empirical fact that people typically don’t remember the early years of their childhood. I think that this objection if voiced relies on a crude understanding of the nature of memory. When Stern talks about affective memories, motor memories, and perceptual memories he is not talking about memory as it is ordinarily used (the closest neurological analogue to what we typically mean by memory is Episodic Memory). We typically wouldn’t attribute episodic memory to young children below the age of 12months. But there is plenty of evidence for other types of memory at play as the child learns about his world. It is worth looking at some of this evidence for different types of memory and how they relate to the findings of psychoanalysis.

In his ‘The Brain and The Inner World’ Solms and Turnbull note that there are two areas of storage in the brain for memories:

  1. Long Term Storage: Both recent and remote memory are parts of long term memory (LTM)
  2. Short Term Storage: Refers to information that is in your consciousness right now (derived from events that occurred a few seconds ago) is your short term memory STM. (Sometimes called working memory)

Solms argues that it is quiet likely that the cells that survive the great pruning are deeply consolidated and serve as templates to later experiences.            If Solms is correct about this, and a lot of evidence indicates that he is, then may indicate that early experiences do influence our later lives and that our brains and bodies maybe good at storing these experiences accurately. He goes on to correctly argue, that the distinction between conscious and unconscious memory is very well established in neuroscience (implicit and explicit memories are synonymous with unconscious and conscious memory).

Explicit memory (remembering the day you got your dog, what you were doing etc),

Implicit memory: Not conscious, first person or verbal. It also includes memories of skills, habits and experiences we acquire through experience. This type of implicit memory is called procedural and involves ‘knowing how’ as opposed to knowing that.

PROCEDURAL MEMORY: Is a kind of bodily memory; e.g. knowledge of how to walk, how to cycle a bike, of how to type etc. Procedural memory and abstract memory can be dissociated it is common for patients to lose abilities but to retain the abstract knowledge about the skill they have lost. Procedural memory functions implicitly (unconsciously). Solms notes that as soon as procedural memory becomes explicit it becomes something different either episodic memory or semantic memory. Typically procedural memories are associated with both semantic and episodic memory. This fact is important for thinking about the clinical self. While procedural memory may accurately capture some childhood fact the act of turning it into episodic or semantic memory actively transforms its nature. So to some degree psychoanalytic reconstruction involves a falsification.

Another type of implicit memory is associative memory which Cavell argues is the way in which memories are organised along pathways that are associative and idiosyncratic (Cavell p. 13). She argues that all memory, thought and perception may move along associative networks (she cites Bracknel and Westen both of whom are psychoanalysts not psychologists).

Episodic Memory: Which concerns the specific context of an experienced event including time and place of the event.

Semantic Memory: Is acquired during an event but is stored separately from the memory of the event itself. Cavell notes that semantic memory is a network of associations and concepts that underlies our basic knowledge of the world (word meanings, facts, categories, propositions etc.) Solms and Turnbull et al note that studies of amnesia shows that episodic memories can be destroyed and semantic memories can remain intact (Solms and Turnbull p. 170). It is stored in the form of third person information. Semantic memory is divided into various subcomponents that can be damaged in isolation.

Emotional Memory:

“With a few other writers, LeDoux distinguishes emotional processes from feeling. His view is that ‘a subjective emotional experience, like the feeling of being afraid, results when we become consciously aware that an emotion system of the brain, like a defence system, is active’ The emotional meaning of a stimulus can begin to be appraised by the brain before it has made its way into conscious perception; that is, the brain may evaluate something as threatening – ‘bad’ before the person herself knows exactly what the stimulus is and what is threatening about it” (Cavell p.16)

LeDoux notes that emotional memory has two routes to affect our behaviour; there is the direct route that causes instant behaviour say, for example, a dog was burned by fire in the past and therefore he automatically flinches when around fire. There is also the emotional memory that is processed by the hippocampus provides the amygdala with information around the content of the emotional experience, allowing data from multiple memory systems to be unified into what may become, for a creature who can tell one, a coherent story (ibid p.17). Pre-verbal children register affective experiences before they can use symbols, and this pre-verbal, affectively coloured experiences continue to exert an influence throughout life, (ibid p17). However it is worth noting that while LeDoux acknowledges some similarity with his discoveries and Freud’s there are clear differences. LeDoux argues that there is no evidence that emotional memories are repressed rather they are unconscious in their nature because of the architecture of the brain On the other hand Anderson et al. (2004) show that we can willingly suppress an unwanted memory and that the longer it is suppressed the more thorough the job is (Cavell p. 20).

Overall the neuroscientific data, indicates that emotional, and motor memory are formed very early prior to learning language do serve as a structural template for future life; however a lot more work on the topic needs to be done. Nonetheless Solms and Turnbull claim in “The Brain and The Inner World” that the most vulnerable memories are the most recent ones while the most our earliest are the hardest to destroy because of the process of consolidation may indicate that there is something to the clinical infant that is worth researching into further.

The problem is that these unconscious memories are not unconscious in the sense of beingrepressed they are unconscious because of the structure of the brain. When we translate them into episodic memory we can never be one hundred percent sure of how accurate translation of the memories is. And there is always a risk of the therapist inadvertently implanting false memories into us.

A lot of people come to therapy because their ways of thinking and being have become mal-adaptive. Therapy helps them to rationally reconstruct how their behaviour became mal-adaptive and how they can become happier and healthier people. But we cannot say for certain that the narrative self constructed in therapy reflects reality accurately. We do know that this practice has practical utility John Thor Cornelius has brought together the biggest meta analyses that have been done and shown psychoanalysis performs as good as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in the short term, and better in the long term. So the clinical infant is justified pragmatically even it its epistemic status is somewhat sketchy. To improve the epistemic situation we need further studies into implanted memories and the neuroscience of memory and these facts need to be integrated into neuroscience.

Whatever the fate of the ‘clinical infant’ interms of its epistemic status, an important sense of who we are, is our narrative selves. Our narrative self, is the self we construct in interaction with our social group as soon as we become language users. From the moment people are born they are immersed in a readymade drama. Their name is prepared for them, their room is prepared for them, and they have a place within a family unit who already have a collective narrative (with some individual differences) created by the family about its nature and its relation to the wider word. From about 12months when the child starts triangulate on shared objects of experience with his parents and mouth words the child begins to make his faltering steps into the socio-linguistic world of his family. If the child has brothers, and sisters they will have their own phantasies of who the child is and what his relation is to the rest of the family. Likewise the parents will have similar phantasies about the child and its relation to the socio-linguistic world. A lot of the time the child will have behaviours labelled as good or bad; they will be told that they are good or bad boys by parents, sisters and peers and here will begin a process of judging and describing oneself interms of a relation to the competencies and normative judgements of others.

When people grasp a language with concepts which they share with others and can combine using rules to create a potentially infinite amount of utterances they have the capacity to think about themselves in whatever way they want. But they live in a particular society and their self conception will be constantly in interaction with the norms and idiosyncratic beliefs of the significant others lives that the person lives in. Thus say the person thinks they are generous, or a good singer, an excellent athlete their views on their selves will be judged by public criterion. If, for example, a person who thinks they are an excellent athlete finishes last in every competition they enter their self conception will be wildly at odds with public criterion. If the person has normal abilities to learn from others, and facts in the world his self conception will modify. So the narrative self is sometimes forced into line with public criterion. Though people don’t always test their beliefs about themselves, they don’t always utter them publically, and when they do sometimes people are too polite to correct them. Thus a person who considers himself funny, may elicit polite laughter from his peers, (who really don’t find him funny), he may not see their rolling eyes etc. So a big part of his narrative self is that of being funny. The narrative self is a constantly unfolding self sometimes, shaped by public criterion, and sometimes oblivious to it.

When a person enters into therapy say after a marriage break up they will tell a story about the marriage break up. This will involve descriptions of the spouse’s role in the break up, of his own role and the role of other involved parties. The therapist has no way of verifying the reality of the narrative self, except within the narrow confines of the therapy. Yet the narrative self is a vital part of pretty much all therapies. If we give up ‘the clinical infant’ are we forced to give up the ‘narrative self’? And is this giving up too much e.g. pretty much all therapies? I would argue that we cannot give up the ‘the clinical infant’ but must try to improve our ability to construct one by learning more about neuroscience, and through listening to analysands in as open and honest a manner as possible.

Developmental Psychology, Psychoanalysis and Neuroscience

“Developmental psychology can inquire about the infant only as the infant is observed. To relate observed behaviour to subjective experience one must make inferential leaps. Clearly, the inferences will be more accurate if the data base from which one is leaping is extensive and well established. The study of intrapsychic experience must be informed by direct observation, as the source of most new information about infants continues to be naturalistic and experimental observations…In contrast to the infant as observed by developmental psychology a different “infant” gas been reconstructed by psychoanalytic theories in the course of clinical practice (primarily with adults). This infant is the joint creation of two people, the adult who grew up to become a psychiatric patient and the therapist, who has a theory about infant experience. This recreated infant made up of memories, present re-enactments in the transference, and theoretically guided by interpretations. I call this creation the clinical infant, to be distinguished from the observed infant, whose behaviour is examined at the very time of its occurrence.” ( The Intersubjective World of the Infant p. 15)

Daniel N Stern’s excellent ‘The Interpersonal World of the Infant’ was published thirty years ago. In his book he aimed to update psychoanalysis in light of recent findings in developmental psychology. Freud’s psychoanalytic model had proven to have excellent therapeutic success, but there were aspects of his psychological theories which didn’t make sense in light of developmental psychology. Furthermore there were off shoots from Freudian psychoanalysis, developed by people like Adler, Jung, Klein and Lacan which were equally successful in terms of pragmatic success of theories. A key problem was that despite being equally pragmatically successful in terms of therapy, the theories held contradictory views on the nature of man and on the nature of the unconscious. Since all of the contradictory theories cannot be true at the same time, then we need some way of distinguishing them, so grounding them in empirical findings would seem a great way of doing this[1].

Stern assumes that a sense of self exists long prior to the emergence of language. By sense of self he means non-reflexive awareness. He includes things like, agency, physical cohesion, sense of continuity, sense of affectivity, sense of self which can achieve intersubjecitivity (by 2000 Stern believed that the sense of self and other came together from the start), the sense of creating organisation, the sense of creating meaning (ibid p.7) He notes that from birth babies experience themselves as self’s differentiated from others, there is never an autistic stage of development. From 2-6 months children consolidate this sense of self, there is no symbiotic phase. He argues that infants are excellent reality testers. Some of his observations are clearly highly critical of a lot of psychoanalysts views:

Further, many of the phenomena thought by psychoanalytic theory to play a crucial role in early development, such as delusions of merger or fusion, splitting, and defensive or paranoid fantasies, are not applicable to the infancy period- that is, before the age of roughly eighteen to twenty-four months- but are conceivable only after the capacity for symbolization as evidenced by language emerging, when infancy ends.” (ibid p.11)

Needless to say Stern’s research wasn’t met by universal praise. Some theorists dismissed the relevance of research from outside of psychoanalytic circles (neuropsychoanalysts today are similarly irrationally criticised). While others had more measured criticisms, for example noting the lack of cross cultural data used by Stern, and some developmental psychologists critiqued the fact that the psychoanalytic interpretations went well beyond the facts.

In his 2000 new introduction to the ‘The Intersubjective World of The Infant’ Stern addressed some of the critics of his book and updated his ideas in light of empirical advances that occurred in the 15 years since he wrote the book. In this blog post I intend to draw some parallels between the neuropsychoanalytic research programme which was just beginning at the time Stern wrote his new introduction. I will also discuss some recent evidence from developmental psychology and neuroscience which has emerged in the 15 years since Stern wrote his new introduction.

In his new introduction Stern reminds us that a central finding of his research is that as we go through developmental stages, earlier stages don’t just disappear they remain with us throughout our lives:

“No emerging domain disappears; each remains active and interacts dynamically with all the others. In fact, each domain facilitates the emergence of the ones that follow. In this way, all ways-of-being-with-others remain with us throughout the life span, whereas according to the stage model, all mental organisation can be accessed only by means of a process like regression.” (Stern ‘The Intersubjective World of the Infant XII of 2000 Introduction)

He argued that he switched to the Layered model because the Freudian model of the psychosexual stages of development which postulated discrete stages of development was a disaster at predicting later psychopathology. He also felt that Piaget’s model while good at explaining how the child goes learns how to deal with the inanimate world, things such as number, weight , volume etc was inadequate to deal with a child’s emotional world. Here I think Stern has a point. A big part of my own work over the last few years has been explaining, as Quine put it, how the child goes from stimulus to science. One of the primary weakness of my work is that I have focused almost exclusively on the cognitive aspect of this area. However, neuroscientific data indicates that any supposed naturalised epistemology that ignores the role of the emotional world will be missing out on a large piece of the picture. Computers may be able to calculate without emotion, likewise fictional characters like Spock may reason independent of emotion. However humans interaction with and thoughts about the world are deeply dependent on emotional experiences which influence our cognitive performance. Antonio Damasio’s 1996 Somatic Marker Hypothesis is a good indication of the importance of emotion in human practical reasoning. Mark Solms nicely summed up the importance of Damasio’s results in his ‘The Brain and The Inner World’. By now everybody knows the story of Phineas Gage who in 1840 had an accident which resulted in a rod being shot through his cheek bone up through the frontal lobe of his brain. Gage recovered from the accident, and remained more or less the same in terms of IQ after the accident. However there were noticeable changes to Gage’s personality after the accident, prior to the accident Gage was a responsible savvy member of his community, however after the accident things changed. A physician of the time Harlow described the changes Harlow underwent:

“… The equilibrium or balance, so to speak, between his intellectual faculties and animal propensities, seems to have been destroyed. He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which has previously not been his custom), manifesting but little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint of advice when it conflicts with his desires, at times pertinaciously obstinate, yet capricious and vacillating, devising many plans of future operation, which are no sooner arranged than they are abandoned. … In this regard his mind was radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said that he was “no longer Gage” (Harlow, 1868 p. 327)[2]

Solms notes that cases like Gage’s have puzzled neuropsychologists for years. How could people who measured more or less as normal on intelligence tests behave in ways that are so radically irrational. Damasio’s somatic marker hypothesis showed that what was going wrong with people like Gage was that damage to the frontal lobe meant an impaired ability of the brain to interpret messages from the emotional centres of the brain. As Solms put:

“It appears that poor judgement- and decision making abilities of these patients follow from an inability to use the emotion-learning systems, which provide information about the likely outcome of future decisions. ( ‘The Brain and The Inner World p. 177)

Here Solms is correctly interpreting Damasio’s result in showing the vital importance in practical reasoning. I think any account of Naturalised Epistemology needs to integrate findings like Damasio’s and show to what extent our emotions relate to our practical as well as theoretical reasoning. Stern as a psychoanalyst is keenly aware of the role that emotion plays in our daily life, so it is understandable that he would have found Piaget’s narrow focus on abstract cognitive knowledge a bit restrictive. Sterns look at developmental data confirmed that the (normally developing) child from the beginning experiences the physical world and the world of emotional attachment to others. From the start we are immersed in a world that we care about and has meaning for us, at no stage are we disinterested Cartesian Observers.

As a consequence of this interpretative process we begin distinguishing ourselves from, other agents, and objects in the world. Stern notes:

…This book maintains that Self/Other differentiation is in place and process almost from the beginning” (ibid p. XIII)

This claim of Stern’s, which he backs up with mountains of empirical data, flies in the face of Freud’s claims (and many other psychoanalysts like Klein) about an autistic phase of human development. In her excellent book ‘Becoming a Subject’ Marcia Cavell used both Donald Davidson’s transcendental arguments on the necessity of a self-other and a shared object of experience in order to learn a language and her view is largely consistent with Sterns empirical arguments. Stern’s empirical data backs up Davidson’s claim about the self and other being constituted equally primordially from the beginning. As I said above for similar conclusions argued from a phenomenological point of view see Stolorow’s ‘World, Affectivity, and Trauma’.

Stern goes on to argue as follows:

One consequence of the books application of a narrative perspective to the nonverbal has been the discovery of a language useful to many psychotherapists that rely on the nonverbal. I am thinking particularly of dance, music, body, and movement therapy, as well as existential therapies.” (ibid p. XV)

I think that this aspect of Stern’s work is important to look at. His developmental work has led him in the direction of embodied cognition and he cites approvingly the work of Evan Thompson, Varela etc. For a discussion of embodied cognition see my blog-post’s as well as .Stern’s focus on embodied cognition is congenial to both the existential psychoanalysis of Stolorow etc who were heavily influenced by Heidegger and the Work of Cavell et al who were influenced by Davidson.

“Researchers working within the new perspective of an embodied mind, where the traditional sharp separation between body and mind is no longer maintained, have provided insights into the nature of a primary consciousness that is usable in infancy (e.g., Clark, 1997, Damasio, 1999; Varela, Thompson, and Rosch, 1993) primary consciousness, is not self reflexive, it is not verbalised, and it lasts only during the present moment”

Stern’s work on embodied cognition helps make sense of a real embodied person developing in a shared world with other embodied subjects. His view is a welcome change from the quasi-solipsism favoured by some psycho-therapists. Stern’s leaning on the work of neuroscientist Damasio also helps to create a links with Neuropsychoanalysis. Neuropsychoanalysis is a bridge subject which aims to help develop a mutually helpful exchange of ideas between psychoanalysis and neuroscience. Some of Stern’s work is largely consistent with modern Neuropsychoanalysis. This offers a further bridge between developmental psychology, psychoanalysis, and neuroscience and can help turn psychoanalysis back into the scientific endeavour that Freud always recommended.

Stern notes that all mental acts are accompanied by input from the body. Damasio calls these inputs “background feelings” and Stern calls them “vitality affects” (ibid p. XVII). In Solms and Turnbull’s ‘The Brain and the Inner World’, they also make use of Damasio (1999), distinction between core consciousness which is background awareness of bodily feelings and states, and extended consciousness of the sensory world we experience. Solms notes that we know from brain damage that while our extended consciousness can be destroyed and our core consciousness spared the converse is not true. If a person’s core consciousness is destroyed through damage to the extended reticular and thalamic activating system, all consciousness is destroyed. Damasio’s discoveries show that animals with similar brain physiology to our own will have core consciousness like us.

Stern builds on Damasio’s work arguing that when our background awareness is connected to an intentional object in the external world we achieve primary consciousness which is a state of awareness he thinks other animals lack entirely. It is worth noting that the picture of the embodied nature of consciousness Stern sketches has been supported independently by contemporary researches into consciousness. In her 2013 book ‘Touching a Nerve’ neurophilosopher Patricia Churchland summed up recent research into consciousness. I have discussed her work in detail in another blog-post I recommend people read the post in full to grasp her position on consciousness. Here I will merely outline the aspects of her work that is relevant to the work of Stern.

In her (2013) Touching a Nerve Patricia Churchland outlined what she saw as the current consciousness studies at the present time. She agrees with Dennett that there is no single location in the brain where consciousness occurs, and argues that there are particular structures in the brain (along with looping links connecting those structures) which are necessary for the maintenance of consciousness. She maintains that it is important to distinguish between two things:

  1. The structures that support being conscious of ANYTHING AT ALL.
  2. The structures that support being conscious of THIS AND THAT ( the contents of consciousness)

Now as we saw above Stern and Solms who are both following the work of neuroscientist Damasio make the same distinction. However they describe consciousness of anything at all as the monitoring of our bodies which Stern calls the background music of being alive. In this connection Churchland discusses the work of Nicholas Schiff a neurologist who studies disorders of consciousness. His research led him to the central thalamus and its ingoing and outgoing pathways as giving us the capacity to respond to the world. She argues that there are looping neurons from these upper layers of the cortex projecting right back to the ribbon in the central thalamus (Touching a Nerve p. 235). The looping back allows for maintaining an especially potent but transient connection for a chunk of time.

She also argues that some regions of the thalamus that connect to, for example, the visual area do so in a domain specific manner. So the retina is connected to the LGN in the thalamus, however the LGN projects only to the visual cortex area V1 not to everywhere, not even to everywhere in the visual cortex (ibid p.235). This is typical of other sensory modalities. She calls this a system by system development of a specific signal. She notes that things are different in the central thalamus, the pattern of the central thalamus suggests a different set of functions: be awake and alert or down regulate and doze. She makes the point that the distinction of functions in the thalamus corresponds with the distinction between being aware of something in particular and being aware of anything.

She goes on to say that there are other aspects of the central thalamus which separates it from other cortico-thalamic systems such as the style of neuronal activity. The central thalamus has unique connectivity and unique behaviour. Think of this interms of the awake/sleep cycle. During awake and dreaming states the neurons fire in bursts an unusually high rate (800-1000 times per second). This bursting pattern is not displayed during dreamless sleep. So this strongly indicates that the central thalamus plays a big role in making people conscious.

The ribbon of neurons that is the central thalamus is controlled by the brain cell and regulates the cortical neurons to ready themselves for consciousness. In a nutshell BRAINSTEM+ CENTRAL THALAMUS + CORTEX is the support structure for consciousness.

She goes on to describe what happens when the Central Thalamus is damaged:

  1. If a lesion occurs on one side of the Central Thalamus people tend not to be conscious of the affected side. If both sides are affected then the person is in a coma.

Again this is consistent with Stern and Solms claim that damage to core consciousness destroys consciousness, but we can have our extended consciousness destroyed and still be conscious in an animalistic way.

To be aware of something, say a dog barking one needs to have the brainstem, central thalamus and upper layer of cortex in its on state. Central Thalamic Neurons must be firing in bursts that ride the lower frequency brain wave of 40hertz. In addition the specific areas of the thalamus (for sound and sight, respectively) must be talking to the proprietary areas of the cortex.

Overall one can see that Churchland’s description of the current state of play on consciousness studies is largely consistent with the views that Stern and Solms were working with 15 years earlier.

Stern builds the bridge from self to other through discussing the literature on mirror neurons. He cites Braten (1998) whose work indicates that mirror neurons take effect from the start and are part of the reason we can distinguish between self-other and shared objects of experience. Based on evidence from mirror neurons Stern makes the following claim:

“In light of the new evidence on other-centered-participation shown by infants in their many forms of imitation, as well as the new findings on mirror neurons and adaptive oscillators, I am now convinced that early forms of intersubjectivity exist almost from the beginning of life” (Stern ‘The Interpersonal World of the Infant p. XXII)

Based on Stern’s developmental data (and neurological data) he not only argues that intersubjectivity is there from the start but that there are four main ways of being intersubjectively there with others. (1) Self Regulating Other: Which is involves regulation of things like security, attachment, arousal, activation, pleasure, etc (2) Primary intersubjectivity (which begins around 9 months) where we are linked to the other via other centric participation. (3) Self in the presence of the other: Stern describes this as the type of thinking that occurs when the self is in the presence of another though not interacting with them. (4) The sense of self with others as part of a family triad. Stern argues that by three months the child begins to form expectations and representations of the self as part of a triadic constellation (ibid p. XXIII).

Stern’s four different senses of the self with others are very important. However it is equally important to emphasise the importance of our sense of relatedness to each other against background of a shared world of experience. Psychoanalyst’s Stolorow and Cavell have correctly emphasised that our embodied interaction with a shared world of experience is a necessary condition of any thought. Stern doesn’t deny any of this, as can be seen from above he argues that our sense of a shared world of experience is equiprimordial with our sense of others. Nonetheless I think that it is important to emphasise the point by considering some recent developmental that supports Stern on this point. The epistemological triangle can only be complete when the objective world is added. This is a point that is so obvious (a shared world of experience is ever present) that we sometimes play down this truism. On this issue I think it is important to discuss the relation some psychological data on children’s relation to the world before continuing on discussing the dyadic relationship that exists between people.

Jean Piaget’s experimental research led him to believe that young children at the age of five months do not have an adequate knowledge of objects and that they have to pass through a variety of developmental stages before they will acquire the full concept of an object. Piaget noted that children playing with a ball will not search for it if it runs out of their field of vision. He drew the conclusion that they do not have knowledge of object permanence at this age. As early as the seventies, psychologists such as Bower were questioning Piaget’s view by claiming that these babies do not search for the missing objects because of a problem of coordinating their movement. And since the seventies, it has been common-place to try to test children’s concept of an object by using experiments that do not require coordinated sequences of actions. Bower’s studies have made surprising discoveries: (Here I am citing from Baillargeon, R., Spelke, E, and Wasserman’s paper ‘‘Object permanence in infants’’):

Bower’s studies have yielded four findings that seem to have provided evidence for object permanence in infants well below 9 months. First, 7 week old Infants were found to discriminate between disappearances that signalled the continued existence of an object (e.g. Gradual Occlusion), and disappearances that did not (e.g. gradual dissolution or sudden implosion). Second, 2 month old infants were found to anticipate the reappearance of an object that stopped behind the screen, ‘looking to that half of the movement path the object would have reached had it not stopped’ Third, five month old infants were found to show disruptions in their tracking when an object was altered while passing behind the screen: they tended to look back at the screen, as though in search of the original object. Finally, 5-month-old-infants were found to reach for an object that had been hidden by darkening the room. (1985, 195)


However, Bower’s experiments are not conclusive evidence that children are born with concepts of object permanence. Piaget himself claimed in a personal correspondence with Bower that he could interpret some of these experiments in a way which was consistent with his own theory (ibid., 97). Because of the inconclusiveness of the debate between Bower and Piaget,[3] Baillargeon et al. set up more rigorous tests to show that humans are born with concepts of object permanence. Quine, like Piaget, also argued that Bower’s experiments did not necessarily show that a 4-month-old child has a concept of an object:

True, an infant is observed to expect a steadily moving object to reappear after it passes behind a screen; but all this happens within the specious present, and reflects rather the expectation of continuity of a present feature than the reification of an intermittently absent object. (1969, 24)

Here Quine is interpreting Bower’s famous experiment to mean not that the young child has a concept of an object, but as indicating that the young child expects continuity in his experiences. Baillargeon et al.’s experiment aimed to test this view of Quine and Piaget’s.

They began by testing whether children have what they called The Solidity Principle, which was the principle that a solid object cannot pass through another solid object. An experiment was set up where an object was presented to the child and then occluded. Then another object was rolled towards the occluded object. If the child exhibited surprise that the object moved through the space which seemed to be occupied by first the object, then this would exhibit two things: first, that the child had grasped the Solidity Principle; second, that the child understood object permanence, because he knew the objects still existed when occluded. Baillargeon et al performed this experiment on four month old children. An unargued assumption of the experiment was that the child was exhibiting surprise when he stared at the event longer than when it did not violate the solidity principle and the object permanence principle. When completed the experiment showed that four-month-old infants do seem to reason according to the principle of solidity, and the principle of object permanence.

Quine explained Bower’s experimental results by saying that the child expected the object to return out the other side of the screen because of an expectation of continuity. The child saw the object-shaped thing move towards and behind a screen. So he expected this object-shaped thing to continue moving in the same direction as it started from; hence, the surprise when it did not move out the other side of the screen. For Quine this in no way indicates that our child has a sophisticated concept of an object. However, expectation of continuity does not explain what is going on in Baillargeon et al.’s experiment. The child is exhibiting two beliefs: first, the belief that object-shaped things do not disappear when occluded; second, that object-shaped things are solid, and hence cannot be moved through. Hence the surprise the child exhibits when the object appears on the other side of the screen as though it had passed through the original object. Obviously, expectation of continuity does not explain what is going on in Baillargeon et al’s experiment. So to account for both Bower and Baillargeon’s experimental results, Quine needs to postulate at a minimum that 4 month old children expect object-shaped things not to disappear when occluded, to move in undeviating paths unless stopped by another object-shaped blob, and to have solidity. Research by Baillargeon et al. which I have just outlined indicates that four-month-old children seem to have implicit knowledge of the following five principles about objects:

(1) The principle of solidity.

(2) The principle that objects are three-dimensional.

(3) Objects tend to move on undeviating paths.

(4) Objects move continuously through space and time.

(5) Objects only move when contacted by another object. (Children make exceptions to this principle when they are viewing intentional objects)

This work of Baillargeon et al. indicates that children from a very young age have an intricate knowledge of objects. Stern was aware of some of this work (though a lot of it was discovered after he wrote his book), and he felt important as it is it needs to be looked at alongside data on children’s implicit knowledge of others. Happily there has been a stunning amount of research in this area aswell, people like Simon Baron-Cohen[4] work indicates that prior to learning language, normal children view other people as intentional agents with beliefs, desires etc. Furthermore, there is evidence that such children who lack this theory of mind suffer severe language learning difficulties.[5] The evidence for a pre-linguistic theory of mind has been summed up succinctly by the psychologist Paul Bloom:

What understanding do prelinguistic children have about the minds of others? Consider first sensitivity to what other people are attending to. By around nine months, a baby will naturally follow its mother’s line of regard (Butterworth, 1991), and will also follow her pointing gestures (Murphy and Messer 1977), at about the same age, babies can monitor their parents’ emotional reactions to potentially dangerous situations and react accordingly. For instance when seeing a spider, a baby will be less likely to approach it, if its mother seems fearful than if she seems happy (Zarbatany and Lamb 1985) and when babies are uncertain or hesitant, they check what their mother is looking at and how she is reacting (Bretherton, 1992)… (2000, 67)


Bloom then wonders whether the gaze following is really an indication that the child has an implicit theory of mind, as Baron-Cohen believes it does, or whether the gaze is just an automatic orientating device that has nothing to do with intentional attribution. And he cites an experiment which seems to indicate that Baron-Cohen was indeed correct:

One way to address this question is to ask what sort of stimuli elicit gaze following in babies. A study with 12-month-olds by Johnson, Slaughter, and Carey (in press) reports an intriguing finding. When exposed to a robot who acts contingently with them through beeping and light flashing, but that has no face, babies will nonetheless follow its gaze (the orientation of the front, reactive part of the robot) treating it as if it were a person. But they do not do so if a faceless robot fails to interact with them in a meaningful way. This suggests that gaze following is applied to entities that give some sign of having intentional states, regardless of their appearance, and supports the view that gaze following is related, at least for twelve-month-olds to intentional attribution.(ibid, 62).


In my next blog post I will discuss in more detail how current developmental data, and neuroscientific discoveries support Sterns views on the nature of the self against the view supported by people by Klein. To do this I will describe the developmental data presented by Stern in light of more recent research, and compare this with the extravagant speculations of Klein. By closely analysing Klein’s texts I will show that her claims while perhaps supported by the pragmatic success of her and her disciples is not supported by any empirical data. I will demonstrate that based on current empirical data the more moderate position argued for by Stern is the one that warrants further research. I will also further develop parallels with Neuropsychoanalysis and Sterns position.

[1] I am not here claiming that this was Stern’s motive in writing the ‘Interpersonal World of The Infant’ merely that I think it is a happy consequence of this type of interdisciplinary empirical research.

[2] Quote taken from Solms and Turnbull 2000 ‘The Brain and The Inner World p. 3)

[3] Piaget is not only a strong proponent of the view that the empirical evidence for innate concepts is weak; he also refuses to grant any significance to Chomskies’ poverty of stimulus argument. So Piaget is, in effect, one of the strongest opponents of both the logical and empirical argument for innate concepts. Chomsky and Piaget had a public debate in the 1970 and this debate is recorded in the Book: Piattelli-Palmarini, M EDS Language and Learning:The debate between Jean Piaget and Noam Chomsky.

[4] See Simon Baron Cohen:Mindblindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind.

[5] See for example Cohen’s book Mindblindness, and Kuhl, P. ‘‘Is speech learning gated by the social brain?’’ Developmental Science 10 pp 110-120