Giuliana Capannelli – Unconscious VS brain


If there is a fundamental concept in psychoanalysis; that is the unconscious. It is from the discovered of the unconscious that Freud established psychoanalysis and the theory started to take shape. Since then it is still a subject of interest but things get complicated because, with Freud, the concept of unconscious cannot be reduced to the opposite of the consciousness. Furthermore, with the evolution of his theoretical elaboration, he included diverse and varied meanings. That’s why one can affirm that the concept of unconscious established one of the fundamental junction points from which the psychoanalysts are differentiated.

The unconscious is a litmus test of the different post Freudian perspectives that have discordant interpretations. Freud himself opened to the possibility of several interpretations.

So, it is not a surprise that the unconscious can be considered the container of what was repressed, the underside of the consciousness. One evoke its irrational, instinctive part or also it is said to be the seat of the drives or defined as a tacit knowledge, a procedural and cognitive unconscious. Of course, each definition has significant clinical consequences.

For example, this definition circulates on the web: “The unconscious is one of the most fascinating concepts of the modern thought because it represents a strange reservoir within our mind where it is contained our most authentic experience of reality, although it is out of our control and consciousness”.

A “strange reservoir” within “the mind” where “our most authentic experience of reality” it is contained, but it is out of “our control”¹

So, if our authentic reality is deposited in some black zones of our mind, the aim of psychoanalysis will be to approach that inaccessible extracting at last our true Ego. Hurray!

In this naive and dichotomous vision, however, the reference to the mind, in spite of a certain reference to materiality, is not still consubstantial with the brain.

Nevertheless, neuroscience, even different kind of approaches of it, are based on the assumption of the coincidence between the mind and the brain and relate the unconscious with the mind, as if the mental and unconscious processes were similar in nature. For more than one, this hypothesis seemed very useful to reinstate the old Freud that was, with the years, a little bit sidelined. Neurosciences, which has the scientific let go and are in this regard automatically considered as relevant, would serve as a walkway to confirm the psychoanalytical theory; as if it was necessary to go through this in order to validate psychoanalysis.  

A psychoanalyst of the caliber of Massimo Ammaniti, subscribed to this idea pointing out the concept of unconscious. He pointed out the innovations of the cognitive neuroscience,  “The change is radical, the unconscious is not only a mingling of passions out of control and disruptive desires but it can be thought as a cohesive and active mental structure that help us to value continuously the experiences we live and to which we reply with our interpretative patterns. This kind of relational unconscious would be basically linked to the right cerebral hemisphere that is strongly active during the first years of life. And maybe that it would agree with Freud who, in his text “The project for a scientific psychology”, conceived the mind as totally rooted into the brain”².

So, there is a passage from the idea of an unconscious out of control and sit of passions to a relational one, “cohesive and active mental structure”, rooted into the brain.

But if psychoanalysis is that, our detractors are right to move against psychoanalysis.

According to Lacan, Miller and others, there is no way to combine the psychic with the organic: there is no space to reduce the subjective psychic structure to the neuronal material of neuroscience, or to read the unconscious as a result of the psychic dimension. Lacan wrote in “The instance of the letter”³: “it is only an abuse of terms that the psychic is confused with the unconscious”.

One more thing, science and psychoanalysis are parallel lines: the first aims for the universal; the second aims to singularity.

With Lacan we have the possibility to extract the radical teaching of Freud on the unconscious getting us far away from the romantic idea of the unconscious as a place of hidden drives or memory by making it, in particular, a fact of speech like it is said in the famous Lacanian passage, “the unconscious is structured like a language”, and like it has been emphasized by Lacan in other contexts.

In the interview to Eric Laurent on Lacan Quotidien n. 576 it was very well explained the meaning of this Lacanian aphorism referring to the last teaching of Lacan, the one related to the speaking body that introduced us to the definition of the real unconscious. The subject was masterfully developed by Jacques Alain Miller during the Introduction of the Congress of WAP in Rio de Janerio (2016) who addresses the passage from the Freudian unconscious to the Lacanian parlêtre, that it is to say the passage from the unconscious as expression of desire, as metaphor, signifier, to the unconscious as jouissance out of meaning, hole of knowledge.

In this ceaseless movement of reorganization of the concept of unconscious, which arises from the clinical practice and the modifications of the speech of the father, the stitches of the neurosciences, instead of freeing us, imprison us. If we do not give in to them as to other sirens singings, we will not stop being surprised by the innovative power of psychoanalysis in spite of those who predict its disappearance.

The unconscious is the evidence of the real of the speech that it is still not written, never the same or embodied in a preset order, that can be only opened to new inventions drew up one by one.

The unconscious: the one all alone.


Translated by Sabrina Di Cioccio
Re read by Lorena Hojman Davis

[3] Lacan J., « L’instance de la lettre dans l’inconscient ou la raison depuis Freud », Ecrits, Paris, Seuil, 1966, p. 514.
[4] Lacan J., « L’instance de la lettre … », Ecrits, op. cit., p. 512 : « dès l’origine on a méconnu le rôle constituant du signifiant dans le statut que Freud fixait à l’inconscient » ; ibid., p. 522 : « Il faut s’y résoudre pourtant. L’inconscient n’est pas le primordial, ni l’instinctuel, et d’élémentaire il ne connait que les éléments du signifiant. ». Lacan J., « Discours de Rome », Autres Ecrits, Paris, Seuil, 2001, p. 137 : « c’est à cet ordre et à nul autre qu’appartient le phénomène de l’inconscient, découverte sur quoi Freud a fondé la psychanalyse ».
[6] Brousse M.-H., « Inconscient », in L’ordre symbolique au XXIe siècle, Scilicet, 2012, p. 190-192.


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