NYPI EGO ERGO SUM by Allan Hobson

NYPI EGO ERGO SUM by Allan Hobson


Psychodynamic Neurology


J. Allan Hobson

EGO ERGO SUM is the tentative title of a book that I have written during the past year (2011-2012). The title is intended to suggest an alternative theory of human development and human identity to that of two predecessors, René Descartes and Sigmund Freud.

My new protoconsciousness theory is designed to supercede Cartesian Dualism, a philosophical error that derives from illusory subjective experience and perpetuates the religious assumption that the soul survives the death of the body. According to Descartes, the brain and the mind are two causally separate entities, two perfectly synchronized watches created and set in motion by God. I reject Cartesian dualism and suggest that brain and mind are two parts of an integrated system. (1)

My critique of Sigmund Freud’s dream theory (2) is technical and philosophical. I based my original critique of Freud upon mechanistic and functional details that grow out of modern sleep science (3, 4) but I have recently come to the conclusion that Freud was an inadvertent Cartesian. Furthermore, I argue and that the egregious errors of his dream theory impugn many other aspects of psychoanalytic theory so severely that revision is not enough. The outline of a radical revision is proposed whose goal is the scientific psychology that Freud envisaged in this unpublished project of 1895. (5)

In the following chapter by chapter summary of my book (see Table I), I relate several of the arguments to themes that were debated at the recent “Minding the Gap” meeting of the New York Psychoanalytic Society organized and moderated by Lois Oppenheim (May 5, 2012).

Table I. EGO ERGO SUM - Table of Contents














INTRODUCTION. The separation of neurology and psychiatry that occurred at the turn of the twentieth century coincided exactly with Freud’s publication of the Interpretation of Dreams. The result was an unfortunate split into the brainless mind of psychiatry and the mindless brain of neurology. This was nothing more or less than the institutionalization of Cartesian dualism and hold Freud responsible for this unfortunate split. Having failed to create an integrated theory he developed a speculative psychology with no relationship to brain science.

I hold that the two medical specialties need each other, at least conceptually, and indicate my appeal for a reintegration of these now disparate fields in EGO ERGO SUM with the subtitle: Toward a Psychodynamic Neurology. By psychodynamic neurology, I mean to suggest that many phenomena, now referred to as psychodynamic, have a solid base in neurology. Chief among them is the brain basis of dreaming, the subject to which I have devoted my life’s work. EGO ERGO SUM is a preliminary clinical and philosophical superstructure built upon this solid scientific foundation.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND. Freud wanted to create a Scientific Psychology but failed to do so. His 1895 Project was wisely abandoned because, at that time, not enough was known about the brain to make integration possible. Now, 120 years later, we can reexamine the neurological basis of so-called psychodynamics.

We now know the brain basis of dream genesis, dream bizarreness and dream forgetting. We have good and neurologically sound explanations of dissociation, the mechanism that Charcot and Janet introduced to Freud with the fateful slogan “Toujours la chose genital.” This idea set in motion the Freudian emphasis on sexuality at the expense of other theories.

In addition to the Freudian theory of dreams, which I consider to be obsolete and entirely replaceable, are the following Freudian concepts that need remedial attention: 1) the tripartite model of the mind which I revise emphasizing ego and demoting id; 2) the theory of the unconscious which I revise with a theory of two states of consciousness; 3) the concept of infantile sexuality which I reject as ill-founded; 4) the model of ego mechanism of defense which I replace with the idea of ego tactical offense; and 5) the Freudian approach to psychopathology which I reconstruct in neurobiological terms.

Other psychoanalytic shibboleths such as the Oedipus complex, the oral, anal and genital phases of development, and the psychopathology of every day life are also called into question. These ideas, which are speculative, literary and arbitrary have no place in a truly scientific model of the mind.

A more serious, fundamental and problematical critique is the crypto-Cartesianism that I attribute to Freud’s abandonment of neurology. Although he maintained that at some future date the brain basis of psychology would be discovered, Freud persistently denied that any of his claims derived from or pertained to neurology. This claim is unwarranted, impossible and untrue. The claim is unwarranted because the interpretation of dreams and all that followed it is rooted in Freud’s erroneous and incomplete neuroscience. It is untrue and impossible because there can be no psychology that does not have a seamless connection with brain science.

Freud’s claim to the contrary notwithstanding, every psychological principle implies or invokes a neurobiological concomitant and vice versa. Worse yet, the denial of neurology leads to the unpardonable and intellectually impossible separation of mind and brain. This is the crypto-Cartesianism of which I speak critically. The mind does not operate on its own. It is not a separate entity from the brain. It has no set of laws that are all its own.

Instead of a separate discipline, I recommend one that recognizes the brain and the mind to be the objective (third person) and subjective (first person) domains of a unified system whose proper study is bijective mapping between the unified domains.

Instead of a problem, the co-existence of brain and mind provides privileged access to each part via the portal of the other and the opportunity to gauge accuracy and plausibility of either via the concordance of the data from both. It is the failure to find such concordance that prompts me to suggest that we start over. Noble efforts to fit new neurological data down upon the implausible and unwarranted theories of Freud, spearheaded by Mark Solms and his friends are, in my opinion, futile attempts to prove that Freud was after all, right. I say that he was wrong and that his work needs to be placed in modest historical perspective.

The absence of open acknowledgement of the many ways in which Freud was wrong is in keeping with the politically conservative effort to protect psychoanalysis from further discredit but it prevents the useful method of introspection from playing a dignified and salient role in cognitive neuroscience. It is time for psychoanalysis to recognize that Sigmund Freud was an ingenious speculative philosopher, who naturally made mistakes. If he had been judged by scientific standards, he would have been refused credibility in the first place and, even if he were rigorously scientific, his quaint theories would long-since have been abandoned. We all wish that the mind was as easy to study as Freud supposed but we must now acknowledge that the mind is marvelously complex and that it cannot be studied without the help of neuroscience.

The suggestion that Freud created a new science, with its own set of rules, is blatantly preposterous and grandiosely pretentious. Arguments of this type lead critics to assume that psychoanalysis is more religious that scientific and not even the retreat into the humanities can dispel this fear. To correct these trends, psychoanalysis must take part in the neurobiological training of young people who might be capable of bridging the gap between mind and brain, a gap that is now narrowing and thereby offering real opportunities for theoretical and practical reform.

NEUROLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT– Freud cannot be blamed for his ignorance of sleep psychophysiology because its most salient principles followed the discovery of REM sleep, by Aserinsky and Kleitman (6) in 1953 long after Freud was dead. The failure to observe and experiment is nonetheless an important limitation of psychoanalysis, whose tendency is to interpret first and seek corroborative evidence second. A similar oversight is the failure to study the brain at all except as a retrofit of new observations down upon old theories.

Thus it is fair to point out that psychoanalysis never pretended to collect dream reports, to observe people and animals sleeping or to ask the simplest of questions, such as: does the character of dreaming change as a function of the psychoanalytic treatment in individual cases? The necessary age matched control group is easily obtained and would constitute a welcome contribution to the literature since it has been noted that dreams do change with age. As far as I know, such a study has never been performed.

Other relevant science is the now extensive literature on the basic NREM-REM sleep cycle showing that dreaming, instead of occurring in the instant before awakening, as Freud erroneously assumed, is common at sleep onset, in REM and in NREM sleep, especially as sleep lightens over the course of a night.

The dreaming that accompanies about half of sleep is quite different according to the physiology of the sleep with which it is associated. At sleep onset, the dreams are likely to be fleeting. In NREM sleep, the dreaming is likely to be thought like. In REM sleep the dreaming is likely to be hallucinoid, bizarre and sustained. In other words a dream is not just a dream no matter what its provenance and of course, no report is really a dream; it is always just a report. Sensitivity to these caveats has been blurred by the psychoanalytic conviction that only by its own arbitrary methods could any dream be properly understood and that all dreams can be interpreted via the technique of free association.

Thus important phenomenological distinctions were not made by psychoanalysis, which tended, erroneously, to regard all dreaming as the same. The quaint Freudian idea that all dreams expressed wishes was invalidated by the sometimes-abhorrent themes and by the predominance of negative affect in many dreams as Freud recognized but did not adequately address in his 1933 revision paper. (7)

Also overthrown by modern sleep and dream science was the Freudian construct of the day residue, which was supposed to pair up with the unrepressed infantile wish in dream genesis. When an experiential source of dream content could be identified at all (and often none could be found) the peak occurrence was six days before the dream, not the day of the dream. This is a low-tech experiment that could have ben done in 1895.

Freud’s ideas, which persist despite the absence of evidence, include the conviction that waking and dreaming are continuous implying that dreaming is a reaction to daytime experience rather than a preparation for tomorrow often with little or no relation to yesterday.

On a more positive note was the surprising discovery that REM sleep was present in all mammals and birds but absent from submammalian and subavian species. This gave the dream science program a precious animal model. Whether or not non-human animals dreamt, their REM could be investigated using sophisticated neurobiological techniques. Psychoanalysts could not have been expected to make this discovery but the might have wondered about how exclusively human dreaming really was. Self-styled biologists like Freud himself might have guessed that dreaming was part of a much larger picture of adaptation than merely shielding consciousness from disruption infantile sexual wishes.

This biological avenue led to the activation-syntheses hypothesis, advanced in 1977, which provided the first brain-based alternative to Freudian dream theory. According to activation synthesis, dreams were caused by brain activation in sleep, not by repressed infantile wishes. They were bizarre because of the chaotic nature of the activation process, not because of a need to protect consciousness via disguise and censorship. They were forgotten because of deactivation of the memory system not because of a need to repress the forbidden memories.

As to dream meaning, activation synthesis emphasized the revelatory nature rather than the concealment hypothesized by Freud. Dreams were therefore alleged to be best understood when examined directly not via an interpretation scheme involving free association. The Freudian distinction between manifest and latent dream content was thus questioned.

Activation-synthesis evoked a storm of protest from psychoanalysis and debate of the many differences in theory persist until today. The latest objection to activation synthesis comes from Mark Solms whose neuropsychological work has suggested that forebrain structures such as the parietal operculum and deep frontal white matter were essential to dreaming (or at least to dream recall).

Solms now asserts that the functional significance of dreaming is as guardian of sleep. Freud asserted that subjects would wake up if they did not dream. This theory is vulnerable to attack on three counts: (1) no psychological process can exert physiological effect because awareness itself is not causal (2) sleep continuity is physiologically determined, and (3) brain lesion evidence is not sufficient to support the hypothesis.

Activation synthesis has two important advances to bring to this debate. The first is the AIM model, which adds two important elements to the activation (factor A) story. One is input-output blockade of REM (factor I) and the other is chemical modulation (factor M). Factor I is responsible for the continuity of sleep in REM and Factor M results in dream forgetting and to dream bizarreness. According to AIM Factor M, REM sleep is cholinergically modulated and aminergically demodulated. Waking is the opposite. Waking and dreaming are seen as two quite different but cooperative states of consciousness.

Together Factors I and M explain the phenomenological differences between waking and dreaming both of which are brain activated states of consciousness. The second advance is functional: instead of the guardian of sleep idea put forward by Freud and now supported by Solms (8), protoconsciousness theory regards the function of REM to be the positive interaction between the shared brain systems of REM and of waking. Sleep is its own guardian. Dreaming could not and does not have this function. Dreaming is our subjective awareness of a functionally crucial interaction. Dreaming is certainly psychologically meaningful but its meaning is not at all as imagined by Freud and it has no functional role in the preservation of sleep.

The other major advance of scientific dream research is its developmental aspect. In contrast to the evolutionary story, which showed REM to be correlated with high levels of brain development (mammals and birds), REM sleep is most abundant in the early life of those mammalian and avian species that evince it. REM occupies 8 full hours per day in human infancy and the time devoted to REM is even greater in the third trimester of pregnancy.

This fact indicates that REM sleep is functionally significant in the growth and development of the brain in the phylogenetically most advanced animals. This idea immediately suggests a function in the evolution of consciousness itself whose highest form is found in man, the only animal that surely dreams. An idea which I come back to again and again in my new book is that REM sleep with its dreams, is a virtual reality program for the conscious brain-mind and it is consciousness, not the maintenance of sleep, which is the function for which REM was evolved.

Freud’s central theory of the dynamically repressed unconscious is strongly challenged. This radical shift in theory has implications for the whole corpus of psychoanalytic theory, not just the interpretation of dreams. In this EGO ERGO SUM, I suggest across the board changes in the way we suppose that the mind is constructed, maintained and becomes dysfunctional.

A key empirical stimulus to this theoretical revolution is the surprising result of Rechtschaffen’s sleep deprivation studies (9). Although there is wide margin of safety, after three to four weeks all sleep deprived animals lose the ability to control dietary and thermal calories. All sleep deprived animals die of starvation in the presence of limitless food supply and with a wildly fluctuating body temperature. Since mammals and birds are the only animals that regulate body temperature it is striking to note that they are also the only animals which have REM sleep.

The regulation of body temperature is crucial to higher brain function and hence to consciousness. REM is clearly of critical significance not only to dreaming but to the most fundamental housekeeping physiological functions. I explain in detail the implications of these striking facts when I examine their strong implications for brain function. It is for all these cogent reasons that modern sleep and dream science forces us to replace psychoanalytic theory, not just revise it.

INSTINCTS AND EMOTIONS – Freud emphasized instinct in keeping with his Darwinian self description. But he took a very provincial Viennese position when it came to what he considered to be instinctual: many critics thought that he overemphasized sexuality and modern sleep and dream science explains the erroneous assumptions that he made about infantile sexuality. Freud also misunderstood and ignored Darwin’s emphasis on the emotions as serviceable habits that were adaptive and not necessarily symptomatic.