Monica Unterberger – The brain in not the mind : two observations

By 1799, Pinel had affirmed already that madness has nothing to do with physical damage in the brain as demonstrated by the absence of injuries in the autopsies. If there were injuries, they had nothing to do with madness and its manifestations.

He declared that what is altered is the function or functioning of the mind. With this shift to what is the present day conception, he inaugurates a clinic as an observation of the phenomena and prepares a theory that explains its causality. Still today, scientists continue to look for causality in the materiality of the organ and the claim to found the unconscious in a biological substrate persists. Science and its real would answer for its cause.

Nothing would be objected to that task of translating the real into formal knowledge: it would be such a neuronal verification!

But the neural, the brain, is not the mind. First observation.

Freud and Lacan investigate the structure that is necessary to conceive the mind that is not the brain or the neuron. The thought, in any case. Ah! Then, it is another problem, another question, other hypotheses to account for the symptomatic manifestations of subjectivity.

Second observation. In the Seminar “L’insu …”, (1977) class 4, Lacan says “the unconscious is always individual”. Even more: “the unconscious is a sediment of language” (1). Can you say that about the brain? It has material support, a configuration, differentiated zones and regions, specific centers, functions, and machinic articulations perfectly recognized, locatable, etc. It is a for-all matrix, equal, universalizable, with measures, weights, the composition of differentiable elements of other organs: it is an organ.

The Freudian invention of the psychic apparatus, if I may put it that way, was his way of upholding that the organism ex-sists the unconscious, as the real ex-sists.

The unconscious is always singular, what does it depend on?

The singular of the unconscious depends on the subject’s use of language. This is universal in structure, although it becomes particular as a language for each being that speaks.

Lalangue, a concept invented by Lacan, depends on the structure of the language, although it is in the use of the words at its disposal that it will capture the whole of sexuality in those words.

Who makes use of those pieces of language that have become lalangue? The subject, who is not only instituted in its encounter but there, it becomes singular.

There is the universal of language, but there is lalangue, as each subject’s own and it is in that use – always contingent – that the parlêtre becomes.

Insofar as singular, it creates an existence: its own way of enjoying it.

But it is true that, as Lacan recalls, there is something centered on the bodily functions, which makes sense of certain things such as, for example, the interest in the brain as an organ and as function that is later applied to all the logistics that neuroscience and technology offer to conquer a new piece of knowledge about the real. Treating this real as a science does: by the number, formal, calculable, maneuverable, that is, what can be homogenized for-all. “The unconscious, insofar as it has no body, but of words” (2) objects to such homogenization.

And that, of which the unconscious is made, is not verified in any photo of the brain: it is threads, ropes, sacks, tissues, knots to which it is convenient to define their edges, in a topology all its own.

Madrid, March 26, 2019

Translated by Lorena Hojman Davis

(1) Lacan, J. – “L ‘insu-que-sait de l’une-bevue …”. Seminar 24, unpublished, class 4 and following.

(2) Idem.

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