Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Margaret Wilkinson - Jung, Neuroscience, and the Self

"This paper explores the mind - brain relationship, using insights from contemporary neuroscience. It seeks to investigate how our brains become who we are, how subjective experience arises. In order to do this some explanation is given of the basic concepts of how the brain produces our subjective mental life. Current neuropsychological and neurobiological understanding of early brain development, memory, emotion and consciousness are explored. There is also an attempt at mapping the mind - brain-self relationship from a uniquely Jungian perspective. Clinical material is included in order to show the relevance of these insights to our work in the consulting room, arguing the value of the affect-regulating, relational aspects of the analytic dyad that forge new neural pathways through emotional connection. Such experience forms the emotional scaffolding necessary for the emergence of reflective function.

What is the mind? Is it merely the brain at work? Not so. In the 1990's, ‘the decade of the brain’, new research tools have enabled more detailed knowledge of brain processes. Gone forever are the unquestioning days of the dualism of Descartes, when mind and brain could be understood as two entirely separate entities and scholars of one would not have been expected to be acquainted with the scholarship of those who studied the other. Neuroscientists such as Panksepp have become aware that ‘we shall not really understand the brain and the nature of consciousness until we begin to take emotional feelings more seriously, as internally experienced neuro-symbolic SELF- referenced representations’ (Panksepp 1998, p. 339). As neuroscientists still have to come to terms with the emergence of subjective experience, of consciousness and of mind, so those of us whose engagement is with the mind still need to come to terms with the significance of ‘the decade of the brain’ for our own thought and work."
(p. 83)

The emergence of the self

"The last area I have chosen to look at is the self. It is this area of depth psychology where a Jungian perspective is most relevant to the last ten years of empirical studies in neuroscience, although one must always ask what exactly does the writer mean by the word ‘self’. Jung's notion of the self as a totality, and Fordham's notion of the infant as ‘a psychosomatic unity or self’ which will contribute by deintegration to all psychic structures as they differentiate in growth’ are particularly congruent with the work of Damasio, Panksepp and LeDoux. The notion of the awareness of self as a consciousbeing with a mind capable of intentionality, desire, belief and emotion is less compatible with the neuroscientists’ concept of self. Damasio, for example, suggested a ‘preconscious biological precedent’, entirely outside of consciousness, that he termed the ‘protoself’ (Damasio 1999, p. 153). By this he meant an essentially unconscious bodily-based foundation to the self, from which the core self, which we each sense within, may develop.

Neuroscientists stress the importance of zones of convergence that receive and integrate inputs from many different brain areas. Solms and Turnbull note the particular areas of the upper brainstem that receive input from all the sensory modalities and that produce a ‘virtual map’ of the muscoskeletal body. They are adjacent to the area where the mapping of inner visceral states takes place. They suggest that these two maps together, mapping the ‘inner’ and ‘the outer’ generate a rudimentary representation of the whole person, the inner and outer virtual bodies combined (Solms & Turnbull 2002, p. 110). It is this region that also leads Panksepp to posit a coherent foundational process that he terms the ‘self-representation’ or ‘primordial self-schema’ that ‘provides input into many sensory analysers and … is strongly influenced by the primal emotional circuits’. He chooses to call this the SELF by which he means ‘a Simple Ego-type Life Form deep within the brain’. He suggests that the SELF first arises during early development from a coherently organized motor process in the sub-cortical mid-brain, even though it comes to be represented in widely distributed ways through the higher regions of the brain as a function of neural and psychological maturation. He continues: ‘basic affective states, which initially arise from the changing neurodynamics of a SELF-representation mechanism, may provide an essential psychic scaffolding for all other forms of consciousness (Panksepp 1998, p. 309). Thus just as an interactionist developmental view is appropriate for our understanding of archetypal theory, so it is for a full appreciation of the Jungian archetypal view of the self.

In fact, despite Panksepp's choice of Freudian terminology, his understanding of SELF appears to be much closer to that of Jung who argued that ‘The self is not only the centre but also the whole circumference which embraces both conscious and unconscious; it is the centre of this totality, just as the ego is the centre of the conscious mind’ (Jung 1944, para. 44). And ‘The self is a quantity that is superordinate to the conscious ego. It embraces not only the conscious but the unconscious psyche, and is therefore, so to speak, a personality which we also are … There is little hope of our ever being able to reach even approximate consciousness of the self, since however much we may make conscious there will always exist an indeterminate and indeterminable amount of unconsciousmaterial which belongs to the totality of the self (Jung 1926, para. 274).

LeDoux, in his book The Synaptic Self, writes that ‘the self is the totality of what an organism is physically, biologically, psychologically, socially and culturally’, and in so doing comes close to the Jungian view of the self as a totality. He continues, ‘that all aspects of the self are not usually manifest simultaneously and that different aspects can even be contradictory, may seem to present a hopelessly complex problem’. He adds, ‘different components of the self reflect the operation of different brain systems … while explicit memory is mediated by a single system, there are a variety of brain systems that store information implicitly, allowing for many aspects of the self to coexist’ (LeDoux 2002, p. 31). Information processing (including interpretations) is highly biased towards the left hemisphere, towards the explicit, declarative, hippocampal field. For patients who have experienced early relational trauma the key will be stored in the implicit emotional amygdaloid memory of the right hemisphere, known only through ways of being, feeling and behaving. Jung suggested that ‘the existence of complexes throws serious doubt on the na├»ve assumption of the unity of consciousness, which is equated with ‘psyche’, and on the supremacy of will’ (Jung 1934a, paras. 200-203). He noted ‘that the individuation process is confused with the coming of the ego into consciousness and that the ego is in consequence identified with the self, which naturally produces a hopeless conceptual muddle. Individuation then is nothing but ego-centredness.… The self comprises infinitely more than a mere ego’ (ibid., para. 432).
(pp. 90-92)


....However we can say that, although the methods and outcomes of the two disciplines are very different, the findings of neuroscience do tend to confirm the value of the affect-regulating, relational aspects of the analytic dyad.

LeDoux comments: ‘Most of the time the brain holds together pretty well. But when connections change personality too can change … if the self can be disassembled by experiences that alter connections … it also can be reassembled by experiences that establish, change or renew connections’ (LeDoux 2002, p. 307). In the consulting room with many patients our task may well be to enable to help them to come to terms with damaging early relational trauma, laid down in implicit, amygdaloid, emotional memory, revealed in feelings of abandonment, terror and dread. I conclude that the developing emotional connectivity that occurs within the analytic dyad forms the essential psychic scaffolding that enables the complementary work, known traditionally as the talking cure. The vicissitudes of experience within the analytic dyad facilitate the development of self-regulatory capacity and the emergence of the reflective function." (p. 98)

Margaret Wilkinson (2004). The mind - brain relationship. Journal of Analytical Psychology, Vol. 49, pp. 83-101

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