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The Brain and the Inner WorldReview - The Brain and the Inner World
An Introduction to the Neuroscience of Subjective Experience
by Mark Solms and Oliver Turnbull
Other Press, 2002
Review by Dan L. Rose
Sep 9th 2002 (Volume 6, Issue 37)

Mark Solms seems a driven man. In his eyes (and in this case, also those of fellow researcher Oliver Turnbull), Psychoanalysis is dying.  In his new text, The Brain and the Inner World, Solms has examined the patient and his diagnosis calls for a swift transfusion of “hard science,” a dose of empirical evidence from what some might consider an unlikely source and, most importantly of all, a change in philosophy that, the authors argue, is more in line with Freud’s original intentions. All this, Solms and Turnbull suggest, can be accomplished by simply embracing neuroscience.  As an aside, he thinks big brother Neuroscience could learn a few things from his ailing sibling.

            Their thesis is presented in a systematic fashion, carefully describing theoretical areas most familiar to practitioners and showing how recent advances in the neuroscience have mapped them physiologically. Simple concepts like how the neuron works are preceded by a careful instruction on how case studies of individuals with localized neurological damage reveal the inner workings of the brain. The first chapter begins with most basic of basics, the aforementioned neuron, types of neurotransmitters, sensory modalities, etc.

The second chapter moves on to the underlying basics, the assumptions and philosophy of the authors.  Beginning with a short history of the “mind-brain problem,” or how what we experience as selfhood arises from neurological sources, Solms and Turnbull divide the possible solutions to this problem into “easy” and “hard” researches. Easy answers refer to those that just locate which neurological processes correlate with a specific function. The hard answer involves telling how it functions. One shows you what parts of the brain make the mind; the other explains how we come to experience consciousness. After giving a brief history of past attempts to answer either easy (much current research is reductive in this sense, they assert) or hard (Descartes’ famous dualism), the authors move to the theoretical lynchpin of the text. Coining their approach “dual-aspect monism,” Solms and Turnbull assert that the mind body problem isn’t a problem at all, just two different points of view. There is one “thing” (the monist part of their philosophy) and two prevailing ways to see it, as mind or brain (the dualist portion). Both metapsychological and physical models of the mind are simply conceptual tools limited by their distinct points of view. Combining the phenomenological, introspective approach of psychoanalytic theory with the physical grounding of neuroscience solves the weakness of each.  They go further by clarifying that the mind itself or the underlying systems that compose it are unconscious. It’s only when the mind itself looks inward that we sense the “me” of the individual.

The following chapters tackle the nature of consciousness with a systematic exploration of current neuroscientific data and a simultaneous return to Freud.  Solms and Turnbull suggest that, like Freud, most mental processes aren’t conscious. Furthermore, they outline consciousness as an evolutionary advantage, the reflexive ability to apprehend our inner state and use it to act in the external world. We become conscious of hunger, reflect on the feeling and then act to seek satiation. Without much strain, the authors suggest, one can see the Freudian Ego in that conception. With just a bit more concentration, the authors suggest that Freud’s Id can be found in contemporary understanding of emotion centers. The core sense of self is essentially emotional, Solms and Turnbull assert. It is the internal signal that is reflected on, that leads to motivated action. They further pull from neuroscientific data to illustrate four basic “command systems” of emotions, suggesting that these are modifiable through experience (what feels one way to you is different for me) and it is the work of the “ego” of consciousness (theoretically linked to the frontal cortex) to respond to these emotions through action or inhibition. Memory is tackled next, with the authors giving a brief summary of how memory is organized across neurological systems and connecting certain aspects of memory to transference and countertransference.

Solms’ specialty, dreams, is given a remarkably detailed account. The authors sketch a concise history of research and current thinking on dreams. Solms and Turnbull take the dominant dream theory to task and, with an impressive list of past and recent data, reinstate some of Freud’s concepts. Using the example of sexual development (something that has significant impact on one’s “inner world”), the authors show how environment and genetic potential are interwoven, making a case against current trends to oversimplify such connections.  Finally, a break-neck drive through the “left brain/right brain controversy” leads the authors to illustrate, with fascinating examples of two individuals with differing disorders of language, how psychoanalytic theory illuminates and assists in negotiating neurological deficit.

The final two chapters offer a summary, a further reconciliation between psychoanalytic theory and neuroscience, a call to change or die for the psychoanalytic community and a description of the new discipline of Neuro-psychoanalysis.  Solms and Turnbull further explore the possible neurobiological support for psychotherapy, connecting the “talking cure” with expanding the inhibitory power of the frontal cortex and giving physiological credence to Freud’s notion that psychopathological cure involves expansion of the ego. The final pages are devoted to the fledgling disciple the authors have pioneered, with an impressive listing of luminaries in the field of neuroscience and psychoanalysis contributing/supporting. Solms and Turnbull conclude with a call for further testing of psychoanalytic theory, the advances in neuroscience that make this testing possible and, as a result, psychoanalytic theory restored to its place in the halls of science.

There is much to admire in this text. The authors display an uncanny ability to translate the obliquity of brain science into a user-friendly package. Solms’ and Turnbull’s skill in gathering and distilling the vast information of current neuroscience, presenting it so as to be understood by the simplest neophyte and connecting it to psychoanalytic theory is a near miracle. In fact, the authors’ ability to simplify extends to psychoanalytic theory itself. Freud can be no less complicated than neuroscience and both are made bite sized by Solms and Turnbull. Furthermore, their opening thesis, that advances in the field of neuroscience beg to be melded with psychoanalytic tried and true, is so eloquently presented and supported, even the most jaded critic must take notice.

            Frankly, the only criticism applicable, in this writer’s view, is their diagnosis of psychoanalytic theory’s ill health and prescription for neuroscientific relief. Certainly, many in the field of both disciplines would disagree. Some might argue that empirical evidence of any kind does away with the subjective nature of psychoanalysis, its life blood. A process rooted in the here and now, flowing between two subjectivities, can only be harmed by the imposition of experience-distant “facts.” Furthermore, the lone practitioner may not find his everyday therapeutic endeavors altered by anything in this book. Many may be left feeling “It ain’t broke, so why fix it,” since nothing in this text suggest problems in technique. If psychoanalysis is dying, why doesn’t it seem to be doing anything wrong?

            That said, Solms and Turnbull are good for psychoanalysis. At best they spark debate, offer jaw dropping insights and poke accepted theory in the eye. In this sense, they follow the best in Freud. Challenging mainstream thought and blowing a few minds in the process, this is what psychoanalysis and all of science needs from its heirs to Freud.



© 2002 Dan L. Rose


Dan L. Rose, Psy.D. is a Clinical Psychologist involved in direct clinical work and training at Columbus State University and in private practice. His interests include psychoanalysis, neuroscience, religion and literature.


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