Catherine Lazarus-Matet – Brain Dictionary


“Wasn’t it charitable of Freud to have allowed the misery of speaking beings to say to itself that there is – since there is the unconscious – something transcendent, truly transcendent, which is  but what the species inhabits, namely, language[?]” (1). Will we one day see the major neuroscience programs, such as the Human Connectome Project (2), which map and digitize neuronal connections and the structure of the brain in search of what makes up the human, come to localise the equivoque of the signifier, lalangue, the mark of the drive in words and on the body, at a time when the pointed nuptials of cognitivism, brain imaging and algorithms make possible the victory of the machine over the intelligence of man, as in the game of Go or Poker; victory over his body and his brain, in various effective applications of augmentation, at a time when some researchers see themselves as gods, creators of a new humanity all connected? Daniel Cohen reports that genetic researcher Craig Venter, who was criticised for playing for God countered: “We’re not playing!”. Also, Ray Kurzweil, a futurologist who moved from MIT to Google, predicts this transition of humanity by 2045 (3).

In 1955, Lacan concerned himself with cybernetics, noting the gap between the code and the polysemy of the signifier, he stated: ” The sentence, though, has one unique meaning, what I mean is that it can’t be lexicalised – one makes dictionaries of words, of word usages or locutions, but one doesn’t make a dictionary of sentences.. Hence, some of the ambiguities tied to the semantic element are reabsorbed in the context, through usage and the utterance of the sentence.”(4)  He adds, that codes allow for signs not to be confused with each other except by mistake.

Recent research on establishing a Brain Dictionary from a mapping of cortical areas responsive to words and sounds “allows for the exploration of the complex organisation of the enormous dictionaries that are in our heads” and also explores the field of polysemy. Although the “semantic cortical system” is not yet adequately known, experimentation nowadays offers a greater knowledge of resonant zones with specific semantic fields (5).

Psychoanalysis is more modest in the face of the possible connection of thought to the Cloud, but the billions at stake seem to give fresh legs to the fantasy of some in relation to a unification of language, to reduce the human to a digitised individual. However, there will be no dictionary of sentences, even if science produces intelligence and this is hard to discount as a possibility when science has learned to play the game so well. If nothing is beyond science, then it slips encore into what is beyond sense! As Lacan indicated, if the phoneme does not make sense, “[…] the word does not make sense either, despite the dictionary” (6).

Translation by Raphael Montague
Reviewed by Caroline Heanue

  1. Lacan J., Seminar XX, Encore, W.W. Norton and Co., London and New York, p. 96.
  2. Cf
  3. Cohen D., Il faut dire que les temps ont changé, Paris, Albin Michel, 2018, p.175.
  4. Lacan J., Seminar II, The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, W.W. Norton and Co., London and New York, Lesson of the 15th of June 1978, p.279.
  5. Huth, A.G. et al., Natural speech reveals the semantic maps that tile human cerebral cortex, in Nature, the 18th of April 2016,
  6. Lacan J., La troisième, (1974), in La Cause freudienne no79, Navarin Editeur, 2011, p.23. Unpublished in English.

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