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.


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