A complex sight onto (into) “Conscience”

(English version of the paper published in Rev. da SPPA, Vol XV, n.3, December 2008.)


In this text, reading Mark Solms, the A. returns to Freud’s idea about the mental life being completely unconscious and only a part of it is untrustworthily perceived as conscious. Confronting it with the Complexity Paradigm, it seem compatible with ideas of Spinoza, Maturana, Varela and other present scientists from so disparate fields as physic, mathematic, cybernetics, and neurosciences. Revising these entire field shows that psychoanalysis affected and was affected by all, considering participation about human mind knowledge. The A. discuss about the conscious having the same statute of other senses, as vision and hearing without distinction between mind and body by the simple reason that they are expressions of the same functional unity. Accepting the Complexity Paradigm change will cause few differences to psychoanalytical technique, because Psychoanalysis deals with complexity from its beginning. The comprehension of phenomena, yes, this must be rethought, as it is now well established that there are no “transmission of information”, so what matters is the internal constitution of subjects and their respective autopoiesis.


Conscience, complexity, autopoiesis, psychoanalyse as autopoietic experience


After centuries of conflict over the nature of consciousness, of the dualistic division that begins with the Greeks and culminate with Descartes, it seems that today we can think differently, reframing the problem and dissolving the paradox by changing the point of observation. Firstly, it is necessary to rescue Psychoanalysis pioneering as a complex science from its beginning, by the inclusion of a complex object of study, the unconscious, and the design of multi-causation of neuroses, which Freud adopted early in his research as a solution to explaining the failure of the chain of single cause – single effect. Again we are forced to surrender to his genius and acknowledge that ideas taken for granted today, had already passed through his mind: the status of consciousness as a result of an inner sense is one of them and will be addressed in the text. It is also necessary to take into account the fact that science is a single one, although the various descriptions of its particular aspects. With this, I include here the recent findings of neuroscience, cognitive biology, cybernetics and processing of images, always talking from my place as psychoanalyst.

Our daily experience to exist, see, hear, be aware of oneself, makes it to seem banal and already known experiences, because they are common to us all. But just a little attention and difficulties begins to appear: something as simple as “looking at the sunset,” for example. I see the sun putting down behind the hills of the city of Guaiba, reflecting on the muddy waters of the river of the same name, which is not river, but a “ria” or a lake, and I feel emotions that the reflected light in the clouds evokes for me as an “old time” lived in Porto Alegre for a lifetime. The colors you see are actually breaking the white light from the sun by the prisms formed by the atmosphere about us. Only that? Is much more: the fact that, in the retina, there are three types of receptor cells of light leads to a slight and easy metaphor for the three-color process printing on paper, but one thing is to deposit pigments on a paper, other very different is the stimulus in the retina, the perception that flux along the path in the brain, following to the visual cortex, where each element will be highlighted: color on here, contrast there, the integration of all elements in the frontal cortex, which finally gives me an awareness of what I see. There is not a locus in the brain where it forms a picture like that in the retina. The same source of comparisons is misleading: it appears as a “camera obscura”, but the retina is far from a film or CCD chip of today that “feel” the light in modern digital cameras. It is a living system that transmits impulses, but this is not enough to have vision. We depend on actual action to develop what we later call “vision.” Kittens deprived of walk (because they were being carried on a cart by other little cats) behaved as if they were blind, knocking against objects, dropping by the edges of their platform (Varela et al., 1993 pp. 174-5). Eyes and brains were functional but not “know” how to see because they were move restricted and impeded to establish coupling with their environment. With that, I mean that the organs of the senses are only part of the whole process of perception, dependent on integration with the rest of the organism in a complex and tangled up way. Says Solms (1997):

“The comparisons [that lead to vision] and their results are not properties of the brain and the external world, even if all information necessary to carry out these comparisons are contained in the external world.”

In the perspective of the biology of cognition, we could consider that the external stimulus does not determine the effect on the being, but its structure does (Maturana and Varela, 1984, pp. 130), so not all comparisons are in the external world, may be, not even most of them. Accept this proposition as true means to accept a change of paradigm: there is not something “out there” that I may describe objectively, but all exists in the interaction with the viewer – we must to give up a “positive knowledge” in order to seek to understand the phenomenon studied from the point of view of involved observers. “Everything that is said is said by an observer” is another maximum of the authors, who expresses this change of focus.

One good example of the difficulties in moving paradigms can be found in this dialogue between Gerald Edelman (1992, pg. 210) and Jacques Monod:

“Freud suggested that some threatening events could be retained in memory so they are not accessible to conscious recall.

We cannot forget that these are psychological terms, not structural ones. My deceased friend, the molecular biologist Jacques Monod, used to strongly discuss with me about Freud, insisting that it was unscientific and quite possibly a charlatan. I took the position that, although perhaps not a scientist in the sense that we give the word, Freud was a great intellectual pioneer, especially in their views on the unconscious and the role it plays in behavior. Monod, of rigid Huguenot tradition, replied: “I am absolutely clear about the reasons of my actions and I take full responsibility for them: they all are conscious.” Once, mad about him, I said: “Jacques, let us just put things clear “All that Freud said applies to me and nothing of what he said applies to you.” He replied: “Exactly, my friend.”

In this paper I propose to discuss that, as the dualistic perspective had exhausted their arguments, the “complexity” is the one possible way in order to join again “which was disjointed” as Morin would say. (Morin, 1990)

The emergence of complexity

The paradigmatic revolution began to draw from the 30s with the studies of Alan Turing. He created the logic conditions for a major turning point of cybernetics in the years 40 and 50, bringing to the research objects that were hitherto in the hands of mere speculations of philosophy. Objects such as mind, consciousness and cognition were not systematically and empirically investigated except in the case studies of Freud, this one very little regarded among practitioners of the “hard sciences”. Monod was not alone; in fact, he was among the majority…

The importance of the “Turing machine” was to show that the Cartesian cogito was not as transparent as pretended, because the response obtained in a step of the machine, depends also on its internal state at that time. This brilliant mathematician caused a conceptual revolution, offering logical solutions to the issue of the relationship between mind and matter, hitting the core of classic dualism. The cyberneticists will use this in support to the principle that “what the machine is able to generate is beyond the mechanical” (Dupuy, 1994, p. 34). Thus were born the cybernetics and in its trail, the cognitive sciences. Also emerged the conditions for the development of cybernetic informed neuroscience, which allowed the move in unusual directions, thereby providing a more consistent approach in relation to studies of consciousness.

The first phase of cybernetics, which originated with the project of studying the issues of communication and control in machines and living beings, is still very close to behaviorism. However, distinguishes from that by practicing a non-linear logic, consequence of the principle of recursion. The arrival of Heinz von Foerster to the group, years later, determines another conceptual turn that is known as “second-order cybernetics” in which the core logic is the presence of the observer as part of the observed system. There is a clear and profound shift in science that goes from observed systems to observant systems. Indeed, this intuition was already present in Freud’s thinking in order to handle relations between analyst-analysand, or transference-counter transference, confirming its pioneering in complex science.

The unfolding of complexity and the study of consciousness

In times of complexity, it is up to us to check what changes in our way to see psychoanalysis. We can disagree with Freud’s diagnosis, for example, for the “Man of the Wolves”, but his detailed description allows us to construct other hypotheses derived from different points of view. This may not invalidate what he said, but complete or complexify in most cases. Freud was a scientist who was attentive to the limitations of technology available in his time, saying to accept the hypothesis that some day one may cure neurosis in a different way, perhaps with chemical mediators. On our days the non-invasive examination of living beings permit to foresee his ideal of creating a “scientific psychology”, but we are still far from completing the task. It is interesting to note that our pioneer had a clear idea that the mind does not fluctuated in the air, but depended on its anatomical and physiological substrate: “The Ego is first and foremost a bodily ego” is one of its most quoted phrases. If he abandoned this bias was precisely because he feel the fragility of knowledge of brain physiology available at that time, opting then for a purely psychological approach. The neuronal network that he conceives at the “Project” has computational characteristics of excitation and inhibition that will make sense only many decades after. It is only in 1943 that McCulloch presents

“…a model of brain as a network of idealized neurons. Each neuron receives or not from its neighbors an impulse and he is activated if and only if a weighted sum of 1 or 0 that encode the presence or absence of a pulse in the afferent synapses exceeds a certain threshold, called threshold of excitement. ” (Dupuy, op. pp. 60)

Such an approach is made by Humphrey (2000):

“… human brain and mind are […] a single state of the material world that, in fact, in principle, can be completely described in terms of their microphysical components. We assume that all and each of the mental states is identical to a brain state, mental state m = brain state c, meaning that the mental state and condition of the brain express the same thing in this microphysical level. “

The discussion that follows is that, even assuming these correlations of state, this does not approach us of its cause, there are even some who doubt that they will be accessible to the human mind some day. (McGinn, 1989, apud Humphrey).

“A mental state is a brain state. Assuming this, the recall of a particular event in memory could be described as the simultaneous activity of a given, at least ascertainable, set of neurons. “(Harth, pp. xxi, 1993)

Harth states that such a description would please a classic physic, but physics has also changed, including now Relativity and Quantum Physics, what led to some one to declare, “materialism is dead” – “The machine that works with deterministic precision as if a perfect clock, is no more an appropriate description for most processes in nature.” And this also applies to the brain.

He has a heavy criticism to behaviorism, showing that often we can see situations where there is only “inputs” or “outputs”, or neither of the two, but the brain is functioning at full, as expressed in the figure of a “Thinker”. Also draws attention to the fact that there are no isolated neurons, all belonging to very complex networks where there are feedback paths between the functional groups. The visual occipital cortex, which receives information from the retina and refers to the frontal cortex, also receives a “feedback” from other areas that allows connections to the “already seen”, the experience of life. This loop plus thousands of others that he designates as the “Creative loops”, result in the perception of oneself – the conscience – according his way of seeing.

“Consciousness has imprecise limits and trying to impose sharpness does not add insight.” (Op. cit.) He recognizes at least two distinct meaning: after a severe trauma, may occur different levels of loss of consciousness or, in a second sense, “I can be aware of the presence of something or someone.” In this sense it is called “subjective awareness”.

However, it was a psychoanalyst (!), who drew attention to:

“These loops have been postulated by neurologist Lawrence Kubie already in 1930, in an article published in the journal Brain, entitled “A theoretical application to some neurological problems of the properties of excitation waves which move in closed circuits”. […] In 1941, Kubie, who had become psychoanalyst, conjectures that the neurophysiologic lowering of neurosis lies in reverberating closed loops in which the pulse sequences fall into the trap of an endless circle.” (Dupuy, op. cit.)

Kubie was the only psychoanalyst participant of the “Macy Conferences”​*​, and was the bag-of-hits of the cyberneticians, because they considered that psychoanalysis was a “damn discipline”, but the reverse is also true to some extent, as psychoanalysts like Kubie, himself, or Emanuel Peterfreund and others who where interested in cybernetics, have always been considered cursed among psychoanalysts … Anyway, fact is that psychoanalysis was represented at this moment of epistemological mutation of science.

A leap of seventy years and got to Miguel Nicolelis (2008), which became world famous by a series of electrodes implanted in volitional motor region of the brain of a monkey, Aurora, to record the activity of hundreds of neurons simultaneously. Next he started to use this information to control both the movements of a robotic arm. Aurora uses a joystick to control an electronic game, but soon realizes that she can release the joystick and control the game just by thinking. If she is or not “aware” of what she does is another matter. The basic idea is to use this knowledge of “brain-machine interface” to allow a paraplegic human to command some kind of robot, as an exoskeleton that assists him in their movements.

In January 2008, in his laboratory in the Duke University, US, Dr. Nicolelis (op. cit.) observed a monkey with a set of electrodes implanted in the brain walking on a treadmill and remotely controlling a robot that walked on another treadmill in Kyoto, Japan. The monkey could see the robot moving synchronously with it on a screen. After turning off the treadmill of the monkey the robot continued to walk for some minutes, droved only by the “intent” of the monkey, as if it were an extension of himself. I imagine how much Francisco Varela would like to know about this: it seems one more evidence of his intuition on enaction. Back to this, later.

Another blockbusting question is put on table by research of Professor Kacelnik at Oxford, England that is revealing tool-making conduct in birds of crowd family, and not by essay and error, but apparently by direct intuition. Not only primates, now also birds; our human narcissism is being challenged again.

Nicolelis says that we have so many neurons within the brain as stars in the sky, so we must seek to know this internal universe, yet so little understood. But we do know something. For example, we know that this is a closed neuronal network, which only communicates with the outside world via sensorium by one side and the motor plate of muscles and glands by another (Maturana, 1996). It follows that any pattern of activity that is observed in the brain is not “the” external world or its representation, but the result of structural coupling between the living beings and the environment in which they live. Moreover, if “mind” implies in neuronal network, it is not restricted to the skull, because there are neurons and nerve fibers outside it that map the entire surface of the body and internal organs, including blood vessels. From that follows the “body map”, about what tells us Damasio (1999) and is part of the perception of ourselves, which leads, at the end, to be aware of us. Maturana (1996, pp. 605) draws attention to the fact that these are recurring phenomena, which he differentiates from repeated:

“There is a recursion if the observer can say that the reapplication of a transaction occurs in consequence of its prior application. There is a repetition if the observer can say that an operation is performed regardless of the consequences of their previous achievement. […] When the observer sees a repetition, finds that everything remains the same, but when see a recursion, sees the emergence of a new phenomenological domain. Example: if the driving wheel of a car turns, and it does not move, stays at the same place, the observer sees the move of the wheels as repetitive. However, if the wheels of the car run so that the points of contact with the ground change, and at each new turn the wheels start in a new point, unlike the former, the observer sees a new phenomenon, the movement of the car, and considers the movement of the wheels as recursive.”

This distinction is fundamental to his concept of consciousness:

“… I believe that consciousness occurs as a particular relational dynamic, when an organization operates as a participant in a domain of recursive distinctions in language, and that is not an entity or property of an entity.” (Op. cit., P. 601)

Damasio (1999) says that to understand consciousness is to understand two related problems:

“The first is to understand how the brain engenders in the human body the mental patterns we call, for lack of a better term, the images of an object. Object here designate entities as diverse as a person, a place, a melody, a toothache, a state of bliss, image means a mental pattern in any sensory modality, such as a sound image, a tactile image, the image of a state of well-being. These images communicate aspects of the physical characteristics of the object and can also report the reaction of like or not like that we may have about an object, the plans for it that we can have, or a network of relationships of this object amidst of other objects. […] and the problem of how we get a “movie in brain […] in that rough metaphor…”


“How, in addition to engendering mental patterns for an object, the brain also engenders a sense of self in the act of knowing?” And in the following page: “… I see with certain skepticism the idea of solving the problem of consciousness.”

Apparently he remains in a dualistic paradigm in which, really, there is no solution to the problem of consciousness. I do not agree with Edelman (1992) that thought that the “late” Freud practiced a kind of dualism, not of substance but of properties, when considering that psychological properties should be taken solely on their own terms. To limit to the psychological aspects was actually a strategy, arising from the little information available on brain physiology at that time.

The Psychoanalysis arrives to the problem coming from the opposite direction, and perhaps it is time to share our findings with other scientists in the area. It is essential to make an opening toward multi- and trans-disciplinary groups, under penalty of being isolated in our speech. What is our contribution, then? We have a long experience in dealing with complex objects, even if we may not realize we have it. When Freud introduced the unconscious as a subject of study, leads the disruption of the base of the Cartesian paradigm, even trying to be faithful to Descartes. If the unconscious does not recognize contradictions, if not accept the denial, there is no time and distance, either, as shown in Matte-Blanco (1975), then we are faced with a complex object, even in the roots of our discipline. The first disciples also noted that and proposed the name “complex” for the set of causal factors of a particular clinical picture. Freud did not like this word, fearing that its use waived demand for details of multiple causes, in the idea that if “something has a name, then we know what it is…” In fact, while studying the unconscious, we do it with the conviction that it is part of a subject that is actually the object of our study, yet more complex, so.

Extending the idea of Freud and Solms (op. cit.), I think that consciousness is a property of the same status of vision and hearing: a sense towards inside that makes use of the map of the body (Damasio) and other sources not yet well studied, to organize the internal images we call thought. One of these sources are the role of mirror neurons in human learning, probably important also for the possibility of “putting yourself in the place of the other,” identify with the other.

This idea is consistent with the position of Maturana (1996) when he says that consciousness is produced in the interaction of the functioning of the neuronal network. It is interesting to remember here that Spinoza already thought that “conscience” was to have an “idea of ideas.” (Dupuy, op. pp. 61). So, Freud wanting to be Cartesian was actually Spinozist… What another world, much better, would we have today if the dominant philosophical system had been the one of this excommunicate author…

Awareness and Education

An issue that is added here is of how much conscience is needed to educate. Nicolelis (2008) seems to agree with Maturana and Varela (1984) when he propose the creation of “City of Science” where young people from the poorest and more discriminated regions of Brazil are included in the design of “Fellowship for life”, a commitment for entire lifespan (see http://www.natalneuro.org.br/). When the last authors show that there is no “transfer of knowledge” but this only happens by action of the subject in interaction with their “milieu” are saying that “knowing is living” and “living is to know.” A child learns to speak in about two years just by being immersed in a loveworthy environment that support. In this sense, the brain is a real “machine to grasp” and “learns”, i.e., changes, changes the subject and the world. Indeed we often learn “despite the teachers” as says, for instance, Kernberg (1996) that relate thirty ways to prevent the creativity of candidates in institutes of psychoanalysis, or as stated Pellanda, N. (1996, pp. 227) describing a teacher who complained that a student draw a tree: “But where did you ever saw a purple tree?” when just looking through the window of the classroom al class could see a glorious jacaranda entirely covered with purple flowers.

Or, as I said in Rovereto (2007):

“There is no transmission of knowledge like a transmission of a TV show that is captured on a TV set. Knowledge is re-created every time, inside the mind of every learner, through the action of each subject, and is highly dependent on the affections that are in its origin. Making this the living beings change themselves – including at the level of proteins: making new synapses, changing the architecture of their brain – in a way we found to be the poet Mario Quintana full of right when he says “We are no more the same after stumble the stone in the middle of the road.” Yes, we change physically and emotionally. Yes, we re-invent the wheel each time we add a little more in our memories.”

So, indeed, for learning to occur, the key is the existence of an enabling environment, where no questions are already answered and where the curiosity is encouraged rather than criticized. We are far of this in almost all our public and private schools and in our own institutions (as Kernberg says, above). I would emphasize the importance of initiatives such as Nicolelis, sensitizing the international community to obtain significant funds to achieve their already winning proposal for social inclusion through the teaching of science.

Among us, the fact that there are in SPPA a Study Group of Psychoanalytic Epistemology, among others, shows the evolution toward a vision of science more comprehensive and inclusive.

The place of psychoanalysis in the complexity and the question of consciousness

Conscience, conscious, to be aware, are words that seem to express things in our daily experience, that do not require further clarification. However, understand what is really “conscience” has resisted a rigorous scientific description. It seems obvious that there is a relationship between consciousness and brain activity; that the emergence of consciousness among the living beings is a result of evolution towards complexity of beings, there seems to be no doubt among scientists today; that there is a relationship between the brain grow and progressive increase in the computational ability of it, either; that human beings have a unique status among the living, still less. But why and how are still subjects of much debate.

Of the many times that Freud used the word “conscience” in his writings, it appears that there has been none to define what it is, and many times he used in the sense of “moral conscience”. Like many others, he take for granted that everyone knew from experience, being necessary only to advocate the existence of an unconscious, considered impossible by definition, since “thought could only be conscious”, according to current psychology at the end of the nineteenth century. That “conscience” is a primary axiom in psychoanalysis seems to be indicated also by the fact that Etchegoyen (1987) has not found necessary to use this word in the title of any of the sixty chapters or 409 sub-chapters of his monumental treaty. But it is clear that when one psychoanalyst interprets to his analysand, he does it to the conscious of him, even searching for unconscious effects. Even today it causes discomfort to some scientists that prefer to admit “mental processes not conscious” just to avoid using the term “unconscious” that refers to Freud.

Mark Solms (op. cit.) draws attention that Freud had a different conception of mental activity; it was always unconscious and only indirectly perceived, in secondary and distorted form, by consciousness. Quoting Freud:

“In psycho-analysis there is no choice but for us to assert that mental processes are in themselves unconscious, and to liken the perception of them by means of consciousness to the perception of the external world by means of sense-organs [S.E. 1915, p. 171]

“But these two discoveries – that the life of our sexual instincts cannot be wholly tamed, and that mental processes are in themselves unconscious and only reach the ego and come under its control through incomplete and untrustworthy perceptions” [S.E. 1917, p. 143].

The continuation of this citation may contain an indication of why this part has been so neglected: Freud follows: “- these two discoveries amount to a statement that the ego is not master in its own house”. Together they represent the third blow to man’s self-love, what I may call the psychological one (op. cit.)” (Author’s emphasis)

Probably this is one of his five most quoted phrases in the literature and of scientific journals around the world, and served to strengthen the defenses against the shock of narcissism in us all. However, Solms has surprising statement when he says that

“The fundamental proposition of psychoanalysis is not that merely a region of the mind is unconscious. It is that mental activity is unconscious in itself [emphasis mine]. This implies that consciousness is not merely a portion of mental activity, but a reflection of mental activity, or the perception of mental activity (which is in itself unconscious). According to this proposition, the mental activity is not in a continue causal chain, with some links conscious and others not, instead, the proposal is that mental activity consists of a causal chain that is all unconscious in its essence, and that conscience represents this process a ‘incomplete and not reliable’ form” (Solms, 1997)

Just before had stated that he does not share the view that particular mental states lead to conscience:

“I hope to show that the question ‘How exactly the processes in the brain cause consciousness?” Contains a fundamental design flaw in the nature of consciousness. As a result, the question this way can never be answered.”

In this moment, he leaves, as Freud has done, any attempt to unite the two camps, even saying that wants to make a contribution to it, from a psychoanalytic point of view. In my opinion, there is no conflict between these two proposals, if they are viewed from the standpoint proposed by Varela (1993), as a result of a “enaction“: this author argues that knowledge occurs by action upon the world, as stated in the example of the kittens “blind” for not having learned to see, or rather, not have completed the seeing apparatus in its fullness. “In building his theory, he defends the notion of cognition as a product of both the ontogenetic experience, as the possibilities arising from the innate phylogenetic heritage.” (Terra et al. 2004)  Our structure at this moment is the result of our phylogenetic evolution, which gave us eyes sensitive to three colors, for example (different from birds or other animals that have eyes for two or four primary colors) plus our ontogenetic development: learning to see with those eyes that we were given to us through our action over the world.

Sacks (1984) gives a touching description of this phenomenon when reporting the sequelae of an accident suffered by him, the section of the crural quadriceps tendon in trying to escape from a bull, being alone when climbing a mountain in Norway. Away from medical help, it took days to be operated and many others to be released to move by the surgeon in charge. Then he reports the terrifying experience to feel like alien his own leg, immobilized in a plaster. Just realized that it was he in the moment of throwing it “out of bed” and finding himself felling together on the floor. Twenty years after it happened again to have cut the tendon of the quadriceps of the other leg, this time in New York, with early care and prompt walking. The lack of effect of derealization leads to reflect about the earlier episode, concluding that was the immobility that “erased” the existence of his leg off the “map of the body” (Damásio, 2000), or from the “Penfield Homunculus”. The new perception, then, is that the “Homunculus” is not static but highly dynamic, and the same effect of strangeness may be obtained with arterial occlusion of a member for a few minutes, with a sphygmomanometer. The perception of ourselves is dependent of our moving that triggers “feed-back” that, in turn, updates the map of the body. This is another evidence, in my view, of how the “embodied mind” is paramount, of how much not only the ego, but everything else is “first and foremost, bodily”.

Even today the majority of authors which deal with this issue try to avoid a “definition” of consciousness, just because it is a complex phenomenon that encompasses many dimensions, not always easy to explicit.

The great novelty of psychoanalysis was to explore the unconscious mind, and its main merit comes from that. Freud, as already said, does not goes to the work of defining what is “conscious” or “conscience” but makes use of those words with the sense that the dictionary gives, for example, to say that the Ego is conscious and has a part unconscious, and Super-Ego is completely unconscious. In the decade of fifties of the last century there were, both in the SPPA, which I witnessed, as in most other societies, a clear division between the teachers who said and wrote as above and others that said that Super-Ego had a conscious part, identified with the moral conscience, which hinted the free will, and one which promoted the unconscious repression.

I fear that we, psychoanalysts, when we say that we are not interested in neuroscience, that only psychoanalysis is psychoanalysis and the rest is the rest, or anything, I fear that we are taking an attitude like “what I do not know does not exists” But Freud (1923) said:

“The difficulty of the work of research in psycho-analysis is clearly shown by the fact of its being possible, in spite of whole decades of unremitting observation, to overlook features that are of general occurrence and situations that are characteristic, until at last they confront one in an unmistakable form.”  [S.E. 1923, p. 141]

The Psychoanalysis born in Vienna of the nineteenth century, has a place in this brave new world? The answer depends on the psychoanalysts being willing to leave their safe havens in a purely mental, philosophical theory to accept that the mind does not exist without the body. It is not the question what the relationship “mind-body” is, as if they were two independent entities, separate and therefore able to establish a “relationship”. But if we consider, for example, that they are different manifestations of the same thing, there is no more the paradox. The proper question then is another: how do we know that we call “mind”?


When we change the observation point to see the world through the perspective of complexity, what changes in Psychoanalysis? Probably less than one might expect, by the simple fact that psychoanalysis has to deal with complexity since it’s beginning. Certainly changes the way to explain certain mental phenomena, to understand the difficulties of taking the authorship of the self we see in our analysand, changes the understanding that our interpretations are in fact disturbances requiring to autopoietic reorganization, leading the construction of knowledge and therefore, knowledge of self. But this does not exonerate us of the theoretical consistency of the epistemological rigor of the framework of the analyst. As remembered by Klimovsky (1987, pp. 276):

“…even if a hypotheses had very good practical consequences, clinical and observable, this does not demonstrate it as correct; logics know that, unfortunately, from false reasoning we may deduct true, [… but …] logic does not guarantee anything in relation to what happens if one part from falsehoods.”

By this I mean that these many hundred years of experience in clinical cases described accurately, they remain, even if eventually have to recast the “whys” of why have resulted right or wrong. The fact is that the “psychoanalytical setting” as historically proposed, is shown to be a propitious environment for autopoietic change of personal maturity and expansion of autonomy on the part of both participants in an analysis. Similarly as we can learn “despite” the teacher, you can “cure” a symptom “despite” the psychoanalyst, but obviously this is not a desirable situation. In any case it is important to remember that the structure of the analysand that is critical for their perception of his or her psychoanalyst, and that both form a “team” that or learn to work together or is determined to stalemate as process. Each interpretation, each intervention or even the lack of action only acquires meaning by the autopoietic elaboration of the analysand, while he intuitively mimicry the mental processes that are happening in the mind of the analyst. In turn, responses, conscious or not, above and under the threshold of conscience, provides feedback to the system making progress in self-analysis of the analyst, which unfolds along with the analysand (Pellanda, LE, 1996), in a process that Maturana calls the “structural coupling”

Returning to the start, feeding back the process of complexification started by Freud breaking with Cartesianism, even despite himself, we can say that it is no more expected that interpretation, mutative or not, are capable, by itself, determine the development of a psychoanalytic process. Today we see this process as determined by the structures of analysand and analyst, an interplay of disturbances that trigger changes in the personal autopoiesis of each. Being mental activity unconscious and the consciousness only partial and distorted information of the processes occurring in the whole organism, there is no dichotomy of “mind-body”, in that the involved observer perceives an indivisible whole.


Damásio (1999) O mistério da Consciência. Trad. Laura Teixeira Motta, Companhia das Letras, 2000.

Dupuy, J-P. (1994) Nas Origens das Ciências Cognitivas. Trad. Roberto Leal Ferrreira. Editora UNESP.1995.

Edelman, G. (1992) Biologia da consciência. As raízes do pensamento. Trad.  Jorge Domingues Nogueira. Piaget, Lisboa, 1995.

Etchegoyen, R.H. (1987) Fundamentos da Técnica Psicanalítica. Trad. Cícero Fernandes. Artes Medicas, Porto Alegre.

Freud, S. (1915). The unconscious. In: Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth, 1962, v. 14:166-215.

———-  (1917). A difficulty in the path of psychoanalysis. In: Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth, 1962, v. 17: 137-144.

———- (1923) The Infantile Genital Organization. In: Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth, 1962, v. 19:141-145.

———- (s/d ) Edição Eletrônica Brasileira das Obras Psicológicas Completas de Sigmund Freud. Imago Editora, Rio. CD-ROM.

Harth, E. (1993) The Creative Loop – How the brain makes a mind. Penguin Books, London, 1995.

Humphrey, N. (2000) “How to solve the Mind-Body Problem” – Journal of Consciousness Studies, 7, No. 4, 2000, pp 5-20. Imprint Academic. Thoverton, UK. ISBN 0907845088

Kacelnik, A. – http://users.ox.ac.uk/~kgroup/tools/movies/trial7_web.mov. Accessed at June 2, 2009.

Kernberg, O. (1996) Thirty methods to destroy the creativity of psychoanalytic candidates. Int.J.PsychoAnal. (1996) 77, 1031-1040.

Klimovsky, G. (1987) Aspectos epistemológicos da interpretação psicanalítica. In: Etchegoyen, R.H., Fundamentos da Técnica Psicanalítica. Trad. Cícero Fernandes. Artes Medicas, Porto Alegre.

Matte-Blanco, H. (1975) The Unconscious as Infinite Sets. London, Duckworth.

Maturana, H. (1996) Biologia da autoconsciência. In: Pellanda N. E Pellanda L. (Org.) Psicanálise Hoje: Uma Revolução do Olhar. Vozes, Petrópolis. Pág. 599-623

Maturana, H. & Varela, F. (1984) El Árbol del Conocimiento. Las bases biológicas del entendimiento humano. Editorial Universitaria, Santiago de Chile, 7ª Ed. 1990.

Morin, E. (1990) Introdução ao pensamento complexo. Trad. Dulce Matos. Publicações Instituto Piaget, Lisboa, 1991.

McGinn, C. (1989) “Can we solve the mind-body problem?” Mind, 98, pp 349-66

Nicolelis, M. (2008) http://www.sciam.com/podcast/episode.cfm?id=835EFB22-D4E1-ADD9-068213BE0712AA2C (acessada em Nov. 2008)

Pellanda, N. (1996) “Onde se viu árvore roxa?” Conhecimento e subjetividade. In: Pellanda N. E Pellanda L. (Org.) Psicanálise Hoje: Uma Revolução do Olhar. Vozes, Petrópolis. Pág. 227-246

Pellanda, L.E. (2007) Personal Formation and Psychoanalytical Cure: a complex perspective approach. Proceedings of the 2007 International Human Science Research Conference, Rovereto, 2007. ISBN 978-88-8443-218-6.

———— (1996) Auto-análise pós Psicanálise In: Pellanda N. E Pellanda L. (Org.) Psicanálise Hoje: Uma Revolução do Olhar. Vozes, Petrópolis. Pág. 227-246

Varela, F. Thompson, E., Rosch, E. (1993) – The Embodied Mind.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Sacks, O. (1984) Com uma perna só. Companhia das Letras, Rio, 2003.

Solms, M. (1997) What Is Consciousness? Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 45:681-703

Terra, D., Grandi, A. e Borges, H. (2004) A abordagem enaction para a cognição e suas implicações na modelagem de sistemas inteligentes.  Acessado em http://www.lsi.cefetmg.br/publicacoes/files/Terra-Grandi-Borges-SBRN-2004.pdf em janeiro de 2009.

N.B. –  This work is a chapter of a larger project under the general title of “Psychoanalysis in times of complexity” and includes insights obtained or expanded within the discussions of the “psychoanalytic epistemology study group” of SPPA, and 45 years in construction of knowledge that I share with Nize, making her a autopoietic co-author of everything I write. Grazie a tutti.

  1. ​*​
    With the name of the Macy Conferences, happened between the years 1946 and 1953, a series of ten interdisciplinary conferences that led to the founding of cybernetics as we know today. Under the auspices of the Josiah Macy Foundation, a philanthropic organization devoted to problems of the nervous system, was promoted the meeting of major scientists in a wide range of fields to discuss feedback and circular causality in biological and social systems (http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macy_conferences)

Psychoanalysis and Complex Thought

The Newtonian-Cartesian Paradigm ruled alone from the XVII century until the beginning of XX, when it became more and more evident that it could not give answers to complex phenomena.

Freud discovers and tries to map the unconscious; there is the explosion of knowledge of the infinitesimal world; the emergency of the concept of “auto-organization” that promotes the inversion of entropy in living beings (which does not follow the second law of thermodynamics; in fact, they should not because they are OUT of equilibrium); all this shakes the old paradigmatic building. Then the sciences of complexity appear: Psychoanalysis, Quanta Physics, Thermodynamics of the Dissipative Systems, and so on. The basic assumption of them all is the complexity, whose concept is, to Edgar Morin, ” . . . that . . . which is woven together.”

Life is complex and the classical paradigm violates this, trying to approach it with linear cognitive instruments. Psychoanalysis conforms to another paradigm because the unconscious has a different logic (to Matte-Blanco, a symmetric one) far away from the formal one (Aristotelian or asymmetric, for Matte-Blanco). This new logic is related to the “net” model that characterizes the complexity paradigm, the auto-organization and autonomy, which dynamically interact in the unconscious without melt with each other, nor one excluding the other (Bi-logic to Matte Blanco).

This special moment of the “science in expansion,” to use an expression so cherished to Bion, is a turbulent one, allowing us to invent a way of constructing methodologies of the complex, giving to the epistemological question a Psychoanalytical approach, constructing subject and knowledge at the same time, interacting in the setting in a weave of narrative, or we risk letting Psychoanalysis to be domesticated by a neo-positivism wave and fall again in the formalism that sucks the life of psychoanalytic process (as already seen in some parts of the world).

Psycho-Analysis, The “Santiago Theory”, and its mutual importance

In this poster I want to emphasize the relationship between the theories of Sigmund Freud and Humberto Maturana in those aspects that discriminates human from not human, the formation of conscious mind. The so called “Santiago Theory” states that autopoiesis is the sole and unique form to discriminate living from not living beings [De Máquinas e Seres Vivos, 3ª ed., Artes Medicas, 1997 (1971)]

“The function makes the organ” is at its most when we talk about brain: in no other organ it was demonstrated with so much details how the use configure the anatomy of tissues. To be able to live in language determines the shape and evolution of the brain, without falling in the “kinetogenesis” of Lamarck.

Freud’s “the ego is first and foremost a bodily ego” [S.E., XIX, pg 26] has the most dramatic expression in the interface between body and “psyche,” represented by the brain, in a form deeply interweaved with culture. Anatomy is changing, evolution is changing?

Maturana’s “autopoiesis” is the key to understand this and other puzzling assertive of Sigmund Freud, really a genius living much before his time. For instance, when he declares “We see, then, that the differentiation of the super ego from the ego is no matter of chance (emphasis added); it represents the most important characteristics of the development both of the individual and to the species; indeed, by giving permanent expression to the influence of the parents it perpetuates the existence of the factors to which it owes its origins” (idem, pg. 35) he is anticipating Maturana by several decades. It is the merit of Maturana and Varela to bring attention to the fact that “Mendelian” is not the only form of heredity because there is another that they call “evolution by derivation.” This one is the reason for differentiation of primates that use language from the others that do not. In this sense, construction of knowledge is the same as construction of subject, which is the ultimate aim of Psycho-analysis.

If so, then may be Freud was not so aberrant when he stated the perpetuation of “acquired characteristics?” There are more than Lamarck and Darwin in this world?

Some technological achievements changes the way things are done. After Internet, Congresses like this one will be the locus where we will met people who we learnt to admire and recognize as scientific minds, through the discussions groups. As Negroponte said, “two weeks of group discussions in Internet seems to advance knowledge more than a year used to.”

P.S: Some places to go for more info about autopoiesis:



Personal Formation and Psychoanalytical Cure: a complex perspective approach

(Presented at IHSRC 2007, Rovereto, Italy. Proceedings ISBN 978-88-8443-218-6.)


In this paper the A. reflects on some fundamental concepts of the Complexity Paradigm (auto-organization) and their implications to construction of knowledge and the consequences of this paradigmatic shift to Psychoanalysis. In a necessarily complex approach, it is stated that cognition questions are inseparable of subject construction. From this start point the traditional education is questioned, as is Psychoanalytical formation. The paramount importance of teachers and Didactic Members to renew their concept of knowledge at the light of new discoveries of cognitive sciences, neurosciences and modern Psychoanalytical thinking is stressed.

The “Psychoanalytic cure” occurs in a process that is similar to that of learning: we are learning to become ourselves. So, what is said to one process is valid to the other.

The A. finishes by listing some practical suggestions on how to improve formation in a more integrated way, in accord with the new Paradigm of auto-organization (Autopoiesis) and with the current digital society we live in.


In this paper the A. reflects on some fundamental concepts of the Complexity Paradigm (auto-organization) and their implications to Psychoanalysis, listing some practical suggestions on how to improve psychoanalytical formation in accord with the new Paradigm of auto-organization (Autopoiesis) and with the current digital society we live in.


Still candidate, I heard an anecdote about Freud in his moving to London, being at Paris Gare du Nord, meeting an old mate and answering their “How are you?” with this pearl: “Well, here, trying to learn how to live”. Yes, life is learning. Learning is living. Freud was fond to declare the unity of body and mind (The ego is first and foremost a bodily ego), something neurophysiology is recognizing nowadays as a fundamental mark in mind’s complex organization. Ernest Wolf reviewing a book by Tobias Brochier and Claudia Spies, begins by quoting Freud: “The harshest truths are heard and recognized at last, after the interests they have injured and the emotions they have roused have exhausted their fury” (1910) to justify the difficulty of new ideas to become accepted against the main stream of some era thinking. May be the fury and the emotions aroused by the idea of auto-organization (Autopoiesis) have not yet calmed sufficiently to be generally recognized, but let us follow the fight on.

Man is learning to live and to take advantage of experiences of others in order not to begin again, over and over, much before schools were created and these were set much before science understands how human beings learn, so for many eras it was just take for granted that “it is good so, the way it is”. Now there are no more excuses to perpetuate organizations that, instead of promoting personal construction are prone to undermine it. In schools where the goal is reproduction and sameness, no space is left to original thinking or performing, no really new stuff may be found. There are just repetition and stagnation. I am afraid that too many of our public and private schools and Psychoanalytic Institutes fall inside this classification.

We are now at a crossroads: we may go by the present fashionable way of Cartesian segmentation that brought Western science to stalemate or we may opt by the point of view of unity between body and mind (as a matter of fact, also adopted by Freud…) and advance on how to comprehend the way humans learn. Returning to basics: let us rescue the fundamentals of Psychoanalytical thinking that is the relationship between analyst and analysand, transference and counter-transference, phenomena that constitutes the Psychoanalytic process and may be studied only inside the consulting room, but have consequences outside it.

Considering these basic ideas I will organize my arguments using the Complexity Paradigm as a central axis, providing epistemological support to re-think Psychoanalysis at the light of new scientific evidences.  There are many epistemic consequences to the Psychoanalytical process, derived from this posture, thus some propositions to improve Psychoanalytical Formation are discussed.

Contextualizing the problem

The epistemological (curiosity) drive, to be joined to the life (love) and death (hate) ones, are the key to understand the complex way to make new synapses and change the brain. I am not dismissing the importance of molecular biology or microchemistry, but just stressing we need to see all sides to understand the process that leads to knowledge.

            In the same token that the discovery of sexual hormones did not bring need to modify the psychoanalytical theory of human maturation, because it encompassed that, the new approaches to neurophysiology do not dismiss the old psychoanalytical understanding of the importance of emotions to mind functioning, including memory formation and retrieving. Damasio’s (2004) opening address in the New Orleans 43rd International Psycho Analytical Congress just resumed his findings, (cf. 1994 and 2000) but it was all compatible with Matte-Blanco’s (1988) and Bion’s (1962) view of the mental process. At same time, the new discoveries in science urge us to refine our view of the mental process and the way we use the Psychoanalytical body of knowledge inside our consulting rooms.

            As said elsewhere, Psychoanalysis is not a newcomer to this field of complexity, but a pioneer in recognizing the multifactorial, multi-causality of mental phenomena. It is a pioneer also in the personal formation proposal: the 1925 Berlin Institute tripartite program which included personal analysis (feeling in oneself the characteristics of mind functioning), theoretical seminars (the experience of elders) and the supervised analysis (the “hands on” experience) was a very advanced realization, considered even the present Complexity Paradigm. The problem arises when human fallibleness eroded the program by freezing liberty to explore newness because of group forming in theoretical grounds, promoting a plaster cast on creativity. Rigid programs that should be coursed to an end, valorizing the content over the process of learning became the rule and not the exception. Two extreme examples:  the uniformity we saw in American Societies during the 40s and 50s that delayed for decades the Kleinian thinking to circulate among members and the messianic attitude of some colleagues in São Paulo and Buenos Aires, during the first time Bion came south of the Equator that also delayed for years Bion’s thinking to be known in other Brazilian societies.

            The psychoanalytical experience that should bring openness to candidates was used sometimes to form “families” of adherents that must follow the masters strictly. Many supervisions where used as a mere stage to dismiss the capacities of other analysts or supervisors, if not worse, colluding to organize closed groups that monopolizes Institutes and impede any person with different thinking to approach students (Kernberg, 1996).

            Now what? Throw the baby out with the bath water, forgetting all that was done, and beginning anew? Or, maybe, perfecting the Berlin proposal by opening it to new scrutinies within each Society with the new Complexity Paradigm in mind?  This is what is proposed here.

The quest for auto-organization: “autopoiesis”

            At the end of XIX century, the perception of complex objects in Science, as non-linear equations, demonstrated a new direction to human thinking.  Next, Psychoanalysis and Quantum Physics increase the gap by taking into consideration the latent instead of just the apparent. Then the cybernetic movement in the 40s and 50s gave a fatal coup to the Newtonian-Cartesian Paradigm, becoming a “turning point” by the inclusion of auto-organization and feedback concepts. It is a new, complex science, because it articulates different fields of knowledge: Mathematics, Epistemology and Artificial Intelligence, among others, is comprehended inside this new discipline at the beginning.  Others aggregate afterwards, as for instance, some coming from Human Sciences.

            From the beginning First Order Cybernetics differentiated from behaviorism, for instance, by describing auto-organization as a key feature. Second Order Cybernetics brings the real revolution at showing the openness of systems and the role of the observer as determinant to results. Second order knowledge, metacognition, by its turn, rises the question of autonomy and the possibility of encompassing living beings as study subject. Heinz von Foerster at Macys Conferences proposed e new field: the bio-cybernetics, which brings cognition to the realm of living process and ultimately resulted in a very important and challenging new space for knowledge advance.

            Following this path, Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela contribute with a new approach to understand life process, christening “Autopoiesis” their theory of living as an auto-construction of oneself, in coherence with the milieu. This concept revealed to be very fruitful in many fields (linguistics, sociology, biology) so to become really a meta-concept.

            How we learn, after all? What happens when we may say that someone learned something? Maturana and Varela (1984) say that a new pattern of neuronal activity was set in a complementary way to the others that already exists. They state, as Antonio Damasio does, that “mind” is something that encompasses “brain” but is not restricted to it. Even what you say “brain” depends on criteria on what to include and what not: neurons “are brain”; “nerves” are “not brain” for sure… but, and about the olfactory bulb? Or the retina? Aren’t them made of neurons? So they belong to brain and are not “inside the cranium”, right? The sensory terminals of my big toe may not be “brain” but they do belong to “mind” in the sense that they contribute to the “map of the body” (Damasio, 2000). Brain is a network of neuronal components that communicates with exterior only by its sensory inputs and by the effectors in muscles or glands. “Mind” is an abstract entity that encompasses all what someone says “me”, which has the control of all vital processes, conscious and unconscious. “Conscious” is a product of mind that seems to depend on the “map of the body”, a detailed, mostly unconscious, perception of each point of the body, external and internal, that is set somewhere in the brain, accessible to the many “recursions” that feedback processes of our thinking that we eventually perceive as “consciousness” (Maturana, 1996). The “reality” that mind perceives depends on its sensitive apparatus, so there is no “representation” inside brain: there are only patterns of neuronal activity.

The Portuguese Scientist Clara Oliveira proposes a similar approach when she cotes Atlan:

“Atlan bring our attention to the fact that observation is done by an observer and it is from this position that it make sense to talk about external information as cause of acquired information, produced inside the living being. Atlan remember us that, if we position ourselves inside the organism in cause, it will not correct to speak of external information, for, from this point of view, do not exist the world “of the other side” of their cellular membranes.”

(2004, pg. 25)

            There is no transmission of knowledge, like the transmission of a TV program that is captured in a TV set. Knowledge is re-created each time, inside de mind of each learner, through the action of each subject, and is extremely dependent on the affects that are at its origin. Doing so the living being has changed himself – inclusive at the level of proteins: he has made new synapses, changing the architecture of his brain – in a way that we may discover that the Brazilian poet Mario Quintana is full of reason when he says “We are not the same after stumbling against the stone on the pathway”.  Yes, we change physically and emotionally. Yes, we do re-invent the wheel each time we append something more to our memories.

To live is to exist in congruence with the milieu, in a real complex system that works together, else the life extinguish. This system is complex because it is closed and open, simultaneously. It is closed to any information that come from outside (it is re-created inside) but open to the energy. Bacteria “know” how to live as bacteria and even “learn” how to protect their offspring from bactericides, changing its DNA in congruence with environment (not just surviving the ones that were already resistant). There was a time when all living being were anaerobic. Then came green algae and the media changed: oxygen was a poison for most of them and relatively few subsist today (some in our own mouth, for instance…) either they found a way to protect themselves of oxygen or they perished. Others used the very same poison as a way of life, and, to make a long history short, here we are, breathing oxygen air, living as autopoietic beings, making our own stuff from our milieu, living in congruence with it, for as long as possible and humanity does not degrade environment to the point of no return. “Making our own stuff from our milieu” is a distinctive characteristic of the Autopoiesis theory (Maturana and Varela, 1973). When the first cell completed its membrane to distinguish itself from surroundings, it was concomitantly determining the existence of milieu from where to get its components. So cell and milieu form a system that can only be understand together. Life, repeating, has this complex characteristic of searching for autonomy and connectivity at the same time: we live as individuals realizing our way of life in a net of connections with the environment and other living beings. Affects, love, are the cement that congregates all.

Using this framework we may think the analyst/analysand system as belonging to living systems, i.e., the setting as an autopoietic unity. It is a closed system where conversations works as mutual perturbations, each participant mobilizing his (her) capacity to regain homeostatic equilibrium, each one realizing their own Autopoiesis. Atlan (1979) calls this “learning by noise”, that is, each one is responsible for his own construction process. From this point of view of the Complexity, we may say that any interpretation, for better that could be, is always a “perturbation” and never an “instruction”. It is the analysand the author of their “cure” (in an epistemic sense) and master in constituting of their subjectivity process.

The complexity of interwoven affects is the soil where Psychoanalysis was cultivated, dealing from its firsts days with the complex relationship constructed by family members, parents and children. Not being conscious of all these facts did not prevent humans to learn from the beginning of time on, because the capacity to learn is “wired” in our structure, but knowing them may permit a better approach to realize our potentials.

Toward some proposals: articulating the complex assumptions with Psychoanalysis

            I want to begin this section by recognizing the pioneering of Brochier and Sies (1986) who published a book about Autopoiesis and Psychoanalysis twenty years ago and lament that it seems they received so little attention. They quote Max Plank about the fact that new paradigms use to prevail only after the death of the olds that sustained the former, but it seems that he auto- organization paradigm will not wait to, crushing over all, making “digital analphabets” from most of us.

            If transmission of knowledge is impossible, but to learn is unavoidable, so, how to improve conditions to a better performance? Let us consider the important scientific discoveries that conform the Complexity Paradigm including auto-organization principles, net model of living and autopoiesis, for one side, and the fact that teaching is under siege at all fields, for the other, to re-think our education practices in Psychoanalysis. We need to invent (Maturana, 1996) new pathways to knowledge construction, bringing off the elements the pioneers established and perfecting them. The corner stone of this invention is to think about process and not substance.  It is not “what” you teach that matters, but “how”: you do or say something with one intention, but you cannot guarantee that your interlocutor will perceive your move exactly as you intend, because you will only “disturb” he or she, and it is their internal configuration that will determine the effect, in last instance. My first professor of Psychoanalysis once told he had said “Good Morning” for one psychotic patient and he jumped through the window: it was not a good morning for him, my professor discovered afterward.

As already said, it is our structure that determines the effect, because we are closed to information (that needs to be re-created inside us) and open to energy. Living is to be in congruence with milieu: we do not just capture reality: we are continuously re-configuring ourselves through action and words are also actions. Living is a creative becoming at same time constituting knowledge, reality and being. To think a formation process we need to think about epistemic and ontological maturation as a “non severed”, integral totality. Knowing is becoming; becoming is knowing, as said by Bion, (1965). Or, as stated by Maturana and Varela (1984), with almost the same words: “Knowing is living, living is knowing”.

            Over our corner stone, “process”, we may now construct our bedrock of autopoietic “experience yourself” as proposed by Nietzsche, probably read by Freud, even if he do not cite explicitly. Our theoretical seminars must be fluid, not hardened by formalism or “line by line” reading that pretend to be dissecting the text but just turn it unintelligible by fragmentation. We need also stimulate research practices not in a Cartesian way like step-by-step procedures but something that emerges continuously from the everyday praxis. Seminars must be a complement of personal analysis and supervision in a constructive and articulated way: we must not be phobic about personal questioning during seminars or supervision, as if theses where taboo themes or “out of limits” and not just an integral part of formation. What we intend here is an autonomous appropriation of discussed themes by the candidate in formation, which implies in personal transformation, so “personal” is unavoidable in seminars too. It is a myth to pretend to be completely neutral.

            Complexity Paradigm shows us that it is in fluctuations, destabilizations and re-equilibrations that evolutionary process develops. In order to accomplish it, we need to propose seminars that are defiant, that put questions to be answered, that destabilize and force candidates to reinvent themselves. Bergson (1907) suggests that knowing is to invent questions. Schools (and our Institutes) usually are prone of ready asked questions and frequently already responded ones too.

            We live in nets: why not proportionate a lived discussion group instead of a reproductive one? If we are connected to the WWW (World Wide Web), for instance, we could promote a joint seminar with an equal level group of other Institute, live, on line, to trigger interactions of greater complexity, configuring a majoring spiral in the sense of Piaget, instead of boiling ourselves in the same water all the time. This would sure teach us how to do better discussions in International Congresses, for instance.

            The discussion group via Internet of the International Journal of Psychoanalysis is a good example that should be promoted. By now it is limited to few persons that already have lost the fear of being connected and we should making this a goal to be used by a majority of us. It is not necessary to wait until the next IPAC to be with others: they are at the gunshot of a connected keyboard. Ideally, every candidate in every seminar should have one. More: if we have virtual books and papers like the Freud’s Complete Works that we have in a Brazilian CD-Rom and the PEP collection of journals and books, that would really make a difference. I hope someday we will also have Etchegoyen’s seminal Tech book in CD-Rom format as also Laplanche and Pontalis’ Vocabulary, so to pair them with other tools that we already have in our notebooks.

            By the same token, the “Psychoanalytical cure” is a process where two people share experiences, being the role of Analyst to disturb the analysand in order to permit that he (or she) reconfigure he(she)self, using the auto-organization propriety that humans have as live beings, configuring the autopoietic goal of evolution in congruence with milieu (which in this case, includes the Analyst). There is no chance that the analysand does not perturb the Analyst, so there are always two analyses developing under the same ceiling (Pellanda, 1996). It is not the interpretation that “transmits” knowledge to the analysand, nor is the analyst that have the “power” to modify the analysand. We depend on our structure: it is not the external stimulus that determines what happens, but the structure. The sunlight that bath over a green leave or the skin is one and the same, but the structure of the living being will determine if we get photosynthesis or tan (or yet, burn…). An interpretation cannot be “wrong” or right”, it may be useful or not, in dependence of what happens inside the analysand, what structures we mobilize within the mind.

            The tools to change are already available. If we succeed in using them, we may promote a “Psychoanalytical noosphere” or became part of the total noosphere as anticipated by Teilhard de Chardin, (1955) much before Internet was invented. Then it would be as if we have ubiquity, interacting with many at same time, pushing mankind to new level of humanization.

            In this new level of organization, personal quibbles would be minimized and we should not see anymore the ethics problems that subsist only in closed ambience with secret minutes. To mitigate the problems with human conduct in its origin, we must reinforce ethics as counter-measure, through the transparency of proceedings and clear criteria to personal participation and status progression in societal community. It is not the case to be dupe to pretend that by teaching ethics we will make honest people from psychopathic ones. But if we have a seminar to discuss these questions, sooner or later we will know better in whom to trust. No one can hide himself all the time from all mates. Clear rules to get professional progression inside society ranks, with transparency to the criteria on how to get promotions are conditions of good relationship.

The setting is a privileged observation platform that only Psychoanalysis has, but Complexity Paradigm has also transformed the way we see much of what happens here. It cannot be take as a severed account from the rest of the formation process. If you are modifying what you are through your analysis, you are also changing what you know when you act what was analyzed. If all changes were kept inside consulting room, no progress would be done. 

Every observation is undertaken by an observer that participates in what is observed and only what the observer selects as meaningful is collected. The “hovering attention” that Freud proposes tries to defeat this influence of the observer (in what is observed), but it is only effective to a small account. In the consulting room the process of observing and be observed is shared by both, analyst and analysand, in a recurrent, feedback way of growing knowledge that typifies the complex structure of the ongoing process.       

That Psychoanalysis is a effective way to knowing oneself, as the many successful analyzed people may testify, even if not with the required, by some, “statistical significance”, as if that really mean anything in our field. Some Cartesian scientist suppose to have the monopoly of what is “true” or “reality” but Complexity Paradigm has shaken these certainties. From quantum physics on, we must get acquainted with uncertainty and not knowing. Bion is our master on turbulence; all his works are questioning the linearity of Cartesian Paradigm, even if he does not use these words. Speaking of “catastrophic change” he is not only immersed in the chaotic paradigm (order from chaos) but he is also articulating knowing and being. A new idea, for instance, has a potential disruptive capacity, that brings epistemic and ontological consequences: the non-separation of being and knowing. He says something about in “Transformations”: “Reality has to be been: there should be a transitive verb to be expressly to use with the term reality.” (Bion 1965, p 148) Here we may see a bridge to von Foerster’s thinking about a cybernetic methodology: “Shouldn’t it recommendable renounce to Popper’s criteria and look for principles that practices confirm?” (von Foerster, 1996, pg. 130). Is it not what Bion suggests?

Shouldn’t these ideas be applied in our Institutes, mobilizing the natural capacities of our candidates and teachers in a resonant mood for improving Psychoanalytical progress?

            In short, just a few among many possible propositions, I think we should, for instance:

At local level:

  1. Fight the boringness of seminars making them active search for new, non answered questions
  2. Put emphasis on construction (formation) over reproduction of contents
  3. Seminars on ethics
  4. Provide tools for interactivity:
    1. Connected notebooks
    1. CD-ROMs with Complete Works of Freud (like the Brazilian one) and other distinguished authors (as in PEP CD-Rom)
    1. Journals on line or CD-Rom (PEP)
    1. Discussions groups via Internet, intra and inter societies.
  5. Full integration among the tree feet of formation: seminars, supervised analysis and personal analysis.
  6. Better relationship among members through transparency in proceedings and clear conditions for personal ranking inside each Society.
  7. Effectively promote the “collective intelligence” that Pierre Levy (1994) describes, asking for the participation of all membership via Internet by informal meetings and chats.

At IPA level:

  1. Subside or lower by other means the price of PEP for members.
  2. Patronize discussion groups, regional or theme specific, in order to stimulate interactions and personal acquaintance.
  3. Promote a campaign for more transparency of proceedings and clear criteria for personal promotion in societal ranks.
  4. Promote a campaign on didactic formation as an after-graduate course, including epistemology and ethics among disciplines to be worked on.

At consulting room level:

  1. Be conscious that we are not that powerful mighty that “make” health in our patients or “transmit” knowledge to them with our interpretations.
  2. Understand our role of “disturbing” the analysand in order to let him (she) autopoieticaly regain equilibrium at a higher level.
  3. Be cautious to ear the subtleties of transference and counter-transference in the light of complexity paradigm, which implies in tolerate not knowing and wait to intervene (not properly new, but always at bay, to be remembered).

            Of course implementing these ideal steps will not came all at same time, or at all places equally. The basic quest is to joint scientific excellence with political determination to change. In the living process of trying to do it, new ideas and new problems will arise, so we will always be challenged by life to better understandings, in a truly autopoietic way.


Atlan, H. (1979) Entre o cristal e a fumaça – Ensaio sobre a organização do ser vivo. Trad. de Vera Ribeiro. Zahar Editora. Rio de Janeiro, 1992.

Bergson, H. (1907). Evolução Criadora. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, (1979).

Bion, W. (1962). Learning with experience. In Seven Servants, New York, Jason Aronson, (1977).

———  (1965) Transformations – Change from Learning to Growth. In Seven Servants, New York, Jason Aronson, (1977).

———  (1977) Introduction In Seven Servants. New York, Jason Aronson.

Damasio, A. (1994). O Erro de Descartes: emoção, razão e cérebro humano. Tradução de “The Descartes’ Error” por D. Vicente e G Segurado. Companhia das Letras, São Paulo, (1996).

———— (2000) The Feeling of what Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. Harcourt, Inc. San Diego, New York and London.

———— (2004) The Neurobiology of Feeling: Lecture. CD-Rom Pristine Audio. Int. Psychoanalytical Association.

Foerster, H von (1996) Reflexiones cibernéticas. In Fischer, H.R. y cols. El final de los grandes proyectos. Barcelona: Edisa

Kernberg, O.(1996) Thirty Methods To Destroy The Creativity Of Psychoanalytic Candidates. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 77:1031-1040.

Levy, P. (1994). A Inteligência Coletiva: por uma antropologia do ciberespaço. Trad. Luiz Paulo Rouanet.Ed. Loyola, São Paulo, (1998).

Maturana H. (1996) – Biologia da autoconsciência. In Psicanálise Hoje: Uma Revolução do Olhar. Pellanda, Nize & Pellanda L.E: (Orgs.) Vozes, Petrópolis, 1996.

Maturana, H.; Varela, F. (1973) De Máquinas e Seres Vivos – Autopoiese – A Organização do Vivo. Trad. J.A. Llorens, 3ª Ed. Artes Médicas, Porto Alegre (1997)

Maturana, H; Varela, F (1984) El árbol del conocimiento.  Santiago, Ed. Universitaria, 7a. Edición (1990).

Matte-Blanco, H. (1988) Thinking, Being and Feeling, Rutledge, London.

Oliveira, Clara Costa (2004). Auto-Organização, Educação e Saúde. Ariadne Ed. Coimbra.

Pellanda, L.E. (1996) Autoanalise. In Psicanálise Hoje: Uma Revolução do Olhar. Pellanda, Nize & Pellanda L.E: (Orgs.) Vozes, Petrópolis, 1996.

PEP CD ROM – (1998) Archive 1 (1920-1994). Version 1.0 MAC/PC

Teilhard de Chardin, P. (1955) El Fenómeno Humano. Barcelona: Taurus (1974).

Wolf, E (1989) Review of “Psychoanalyse Und Neurobiologie. Zum Modell Der Autopoiese Als Regulations-Prinzip.” (Psychoanalysis and Neurobiology. Toward a Model of Autopoiesis as a Principle of Regulation.) by Tobias Brochier and Claudia Spies. Psychoanalytic Quarterly 58:105-110

Egoless Psychoanalysis and Supervision as an integral part of personal analysis

(presented as a poster at the Barcelona IPAC – 1997)

The concept of Ego progressively disappears in the work of Melanie Klein, because of her ongoing interest in the relationship of objects in the inner life of infants and adults. Ancient eastern thinking and modern Biology support this position (Varela et al., 1991). They are presently challenging the notion of a localized “self” or Ego, in the same token as Klein’s view. There is no Ego or self independent of the object.

Looking to the contents of a scientific magazine issue dedicated to “Mysteries of Mind”, we find many engineers, mathematicians, computation and physics doctors, besides the expected biologists, psychologists and physicians. The physicist F. David Peat (1991, pg. 5) claims for unification of physics and psychology. Why? He explains: because we need “a new science that would explore ( . . . ) the objective side of human consciousness and the subjective side of matter.” New paradigms are here: there are no more borders between sciences, between inside and out, subject and object, there is no fixed point from where to move the universe: all are relationships, all observation depends on the observer.

The flux of knowledge is further drive away from the topic-Cartesian way of seeing the psychic phenomena to the holistic way (in the sense of wholeness) by the works of Wilfred Bion and Ignacio Matte-Blanco. People are a totality that cannot be severed in parts, organic and psychic, conscious and unconscious, and so on, even if only to describe it in a didactic way. It is no more an “absurd” to describe “psychoanalytic cure” as a process that involves both analyst and analyzand, transference and countertransference, so I can say (1995, 1996), as many do, that this process exists not only during the analytic hour, but lasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week; that it is terminable as a two-person relationship and interminable as a process. It is the “analytic function,” as Bion says, that we redeem and put to work in our patients. When succeeded, it will last for life, because it is a human capacity that all of us have and should develop.

A further step and we must say that the way Psychoanalysis organized the analytic formation of new psychoanalysts has a constructivistic approach, since the Berlin Institute in the twenties, with the personal analysis, supervision and theoretic course, and much before that Piaget coined this concept. To begin with, the word “formation,” already encompasses the wholeness of the process of maturing a person to become a Psychoanalyst.

Being so, the next obligatory step is to consider the supervision as an integral part of the personal psychoanalysis of the candidate. It is still a sin saying that in our Cartesian spaces of discussion. Ferenczi and Rank (1924) thought that “Kontroll-Analyse should have the task of dealing with the unresolved complexes of the candidate (…)” showing that this issue is an old one, but the current voice (following Eitingon opinion) is that one should not interfere with each other and that the supervisor should refrain to “interpret” his supervisionand. But, when you show to the candidate (as Ralph Greenson did: 1967, pg. 220) that he (or she) did not perceive a manifestation of the patient, and he (or she) understands and adds “It may be a blind spot of mine, I had just had a (something) like the patient . . .” [And we known that similarities in the personal histories lend to blind spots] — what is the supervisor doing, if not interpreting?

I cannot “force” someone to know what is the flavor of guaraná soft drink to me, even if he had already tasted it. Experience cannot be “transmitted”. One constructs it acting upon reality, changing both, subject and object. In many occasions I had had the chance to see that supervision is part of personal analysis, beginning by my own, but a patient of mine had provided me with the best example I could find. During a period of her analysis she had “only” three sessions a week, for diverse rationales, including the obvious financial ones. She was supervising with a colleague that is very close to me, not only as an old friend, but also in theoretical points of view, but this detail she ignored. Following the usual criteria, he was very careful in the way he helped her to understand her patients, but, of course, he could not avoid showing her the blind spots eventually happening in session, in a fashion that was very near the way I would do, eventually with the same words I would use. Analyzing in the following session with me, invariably she realized that all seemed as if the supervision fulfilled the “fourth” session that was “lacking,” because, even before the next analytic session, she made insights about many aspects of her involvement with her patient and the development of her countertransference. When she resumed the “four sessions a week” rhythm, the supervision became a “fifth” session, à la British, even if now with another supervisor.

Recognizing that the supervisor is also a “co-analyst” (not an Edipic rival) may help to understand the many ill-fated relationships among analysts, as pointed out in so many texts and contexts. Possibly the blind spots about this theme are more a question of power and politics than anything else. I am sure this subject merits more brain time: a discussion group in one IPA sponsored segment of Internet, perhaps? If we try to systematically observe the way things happen, maybe we are more in the mood to understand life as it is and Psychoanalysis as it should be.


David Peat, F. (1991) The Philosofer’s Stone. Chaos, Synchronicity and the Hidden Order of the World. Bantam Books, New York and Toronto.

Ferenczi, S., Rank, O. (1924) Die Entwicklungsziele der Psychoanalyse cit. by Fleming, J. & Benedek, T. (1966) Psychoanalytic Supervision. Grune & Stratton, New York and London., pg 11.

Greenson, R.R. (1967) The Technique and Practice of Psychoanalysis, Vol I, Int. Universities Press, New York.

Pellanda, L. E. (1995) Auto-análise pós Psicanálise IN Psicanálise Brasileira, Outeiral, J. & Thomas T. (org) Artes Médicas, Porto Alegre.

—————– (1996) Psicanálise hoje: ainda uma revolução? IN Psicanalise Hoje: Uma Revolução do Olhar. Pellanda, Nize, Pellanda L.E. (org) Vozes, Petropolis. http://www.portoweb.com.br/pessoal/olhar

Varela, F, Thompson, E., Rosh, E. (1991) The embodied Mind. The MIT Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England.