Freudian Unconscious and Cognitive Neuroscience

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A REVIEW OF THE ‘FREUDIAN UNCONSCIOUS AND COGNITIVE NEUROSCIENCE’ BY VESA TALVITIE, Karnac Books Ltd, London “... [T]he psychological unconscious documented by latter-day scientific psychology is quite different from what Sigmund Freud and his psychoanalytic colleagues had in mind in fin de siècle Vienna. Their unconscious was hot and wet; it seethed with lust and anger; it was hallucinatory, primitive, and irrational. The unconscious of contemporary psychology is kinder and gentler than that and more reality bound and rational, even if it is entirely cold and dry.” Kihlstrom, Barnhardt and Tataryn (1992, p789) quoted in Talvitie (2009, p 2) It was this “hot and wet” perception of Freud’s notion of the unconscious that first attracted me to psychoanalysis. However, the question regarding whether, when neuroscientists speak of unconscious processing, they are speaking in the same terms as psychoanalysts or not, has become of increasing interest to me. It was, therefore, my sense that Talvitie’s work served as something of a bridge between the two paradigms that drew me to it. As is the case with all mental phenomena, the questions as to just how and where the unconscious might be, is associated with the mind-body problem that distinguishes monists and dualists. For monists, mind emerges from brain activity. Dualists hold that mind and brain are separate and cannot be reduced to each other. Dualism has largely fallen out of favour with most neuroscientists and Talvitie (2009) himself is clearly a monist. At the same time, whilst there is consensus that mind or consciousness emerges from neurophysiological processes, there remains a lack of clarity as to how this is achieved. Talvitie (2009, p 50) goes so far as to make the point that cognitive science has little doubt that unconscious matters determine our behaviour. Rather, it is the role and
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