François Leguil – Brain and unconscious


The longevity of the hopes placed in the progress of the science of the brain it is not of lesser interest: it carries the idea that one day one will be able to do without the hypothesis of the subject of the unconscious, either by bypassing it, or by dumbfounding it. As well as all that lasts, it is not a matter of fashion, nor of time, still less about of technological progress, but of faith. A matter of faith, that is to say of quasi-religious belief and, as such, of an ambition sometimes equal of the expectation of these redemptions which would relieve us from the evil which is our incompleteness; from that other which comes to us from the pains we cannot master; finally, that of the faults which a canonical tripartition identifies with what we would be guilty, whereas more often we, ourselves, see the knot which binds to others in the causality of the symptoms.

This hope of one day being able to do without the hypothesis of the unconscious manifests itself in two ways: circumvention, or dumbfounding. From the first one, Lionel Naccache, a neurologist at La Salpetriere and a researcher at INSERM gave, almost ten years ago, one of the most significant examples, almost touching, sincerely assured,  with his text The new unconscious , precisely subtitled: Freud, Christopher Columbus of neuroscience (1), he displayed his beautiful dream that we can marry water and fire by directing an experimental research that, far from forgetting Freud or throw him in the trash of the history of fundamental disciplines, on the contrary, establish the organic evidence of the reality of the unconscious. To bypass the hypothesis invented by Freud would then make the cognitive unconscious something incompatible with the one of psychoanalysts, but also make it something ineliminable by giving it a place other than that which its inventor recognized. In a way, it is a question of considering the Freudian discovery as a considerable theoretical sum, admissible in the eclecticism of the doctrines which are not unnecessarily encumbered, it is true, by the enigmatic complexity of the origin of passions. Declaring the Freudian metapsychological work as incomparable, makes it possible to circumvent it while admiring it, to show that it goes without saying, without needing to put one’s own. Making it be something that is localized thanks to the establishment of general evidence, avoiding the individual evidence.

There is another way to hope to do without the Freudian hypothesis: the dumbfounding. The first announces that the supposition of the subject does not offend the neurological, as long as one puts it in the right place. The second leads the offensive by assuring that innumerable theories can be welcomed at the Holy Table of Science, as long as they are not Freudian. The paradox is if one can speak with the proponents of the first, while remaining rigorous on the “nothing in common”, it is difficult to remain with the followers of the second who do not want to hear, not of us, but of the subject, or of this supposition which makes it possible to disregard all that one knows in order to confront “the real of a man that must be allowed to speak” (2).

It is not unimportant that this obtuse angle, much more moral than cognitive is today preached in Paris at the Collège de France, from which we have our lives drawn so many decisive lessons. When, the President of the National Scientific Council of National Education, Professor Stanislas Dehaene writes: “Do not believe that children are all different. The idea that each of us has his own style of learning is a myth. Brain imaging shows that we have all the circuits and rules of learning … Only by getting to know ourselves better will we be able to make the most of the powerful algorithms that our brains are equipped with … Four slogans summarize them effectively: “Concentrate totally”; “Participate in class”; “Do your exercises”; “Take advantage of each day and every night” (3), what else can we do, but admit that before wanting to ring the alarm bell, we are taken dumbfounded. So much technology, so much knowledge, so much money spent, for such disheartening nonsense. Science without conscience is the ruin of the soul, we learnt in college, as well as in high school. Rabelais, come back! They have become stupid.

With those who think that the Freudian hypothesis may be “cerebralized” we can speak to expose to them the merits of our “nothing in common”, and do it with advantage facing the demands of the truth in rejoicing ourselves that it can be defended in the courteous forms of a speech tournament (4). But against those who believe that nothing is to be considered subjective singularities of failure, of suffering and of simple malaise, we can only remind ourselves of the political duty of making it known to the greatest number that this hymn to the brain is a process of decerebration, a form of intellectual barbarism ( 5).

(1) Naccache (L). The new unconscious. Freud, Christophe Colomb of Neuroscience, Editions Odile Jacob, Paris, 2006.

(2) Lacan (J.), The Discourse of Rome, in: Other Writings, Editions du Seuil, Paris, 2001, p. 137

(3) Dehaene (S.), Learn. The talents of the brain. The challenge of machines, Editions Odile Jacob, Paris, 2018, p. 315 and 318.

(4) Lacan (J.) Comment on psychic causality, in Writings, Editions du Seuil, Paris, 1966, p. 152.

(5) Naccache (L), op. cit., p. 13.

Translated by Polina Agapaki
Re-read by Lorena Hojman Davis

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