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The Key Role of “Somatic States” in the Inscription of Experience: For a Dialogue Between Psychoanalysis and Neuroscience - 14/01/22

Doi : 10.1016/j.evopsy.2021.12.005 
Jessica Tran The a, b, c, d, e, f,  : Psychologue clinicienne, Chercheur associée
a Inserm, U1077, UMR-S1077, université de Caen Basse-Normandie, Caen, France 
b UMR-S1077, École Pratique des Hautes Études, Caen, France 
c U1077, CHU de Caen, Caen, France 
d Faculté de Biologie et de Médecine, Université de Lausanne, Rue du Bugnon 21, 1011 Lausanne, Switzerland 
e Fondation Agalma, Campus Biotech, Chemin des Mines 9, 1202 Genève, Switzerland 
f Institut universitaire d’histoire de la médecine et de la santé publique de Lausanne Centre hospitaliser universitaire Vaudois, Avenue de Provence 82, 1007 Lausanne, Switzerland 

Corresponding author.
Sous presse. Épreuves corrigées par l'auteur. Disponible en ligne depuis le Friday 14 January 2022

Abstract

Objectives

Beyond their radically heterogeneous epistemologies, the aim of this article is to describe a meeting point for an interdisciplinary dialogue between psychoanalysis and neuroscience, starting from the importance they both give to the role of perception of somatic states in the inscription of experience. Kandel's research on the molecular mechanisms of memory and brain plasticity has demonstrated that experience leaves synaptic traces in the nervous system. At the same time, we have to consider that interoceptive perception, and mainly somatic states, play a key role for the inscription of perceptions coming from the environment. This article thus examines the possibility of a meeting between Freudian theory and recent discoveries by neurobiologists, especially Damasio's theories of “somatic markers.”

Method

My methodology consists in a comparative study of the importance of the role of somatic states for memory and learning, as considered in neuroscientific research, and the influence of the pleasure principle during the inscription of the first memory traces, in Freudian theory. First, I review the significance of interoceptive perceptions in the research protocols for molecular mechanisms of synaptic plasticity. Next, I study the role of the pleasure principle in the inscription of memory traces, according to the Freudian theory of the psychic apparatus. I then emphasize Damasio's theory of “somatic markers” as a crucial meeting point between neuroscience and Freudian psychoanalysis. Finally, I propose a dialogue between neuroscience and psychoanalysis about the significance of simultaneity, a time factor, in the link between representations and somatic states during the inscription of experience.

Results

The role of the body states, in Freudian theory, appears to be fundamental for psychic regulation, especially in the qualitative senses of pleasure and displeasure; considering that the pleasure principle is the main principle for the psychic apparatus. Taking the somatic states into account in the inscription of experience is at the heart of the Freudian theory of the psychic trace. Recent neurobiological research on molecular and cellular mechanisms leading to the inscription of experience also demonstrate the significance of somatic states in learning and memorizing processes. Specifically, according to Damasio's theory of “somatic markers,” the processes of thinking and decision-making are based on the memory of past events and have appeared to be at the service of homeostasis and of the survival of the organism throughout evolution. Understanding our cognitive activity would require taking the brain processes involved in the representation of our body states into account.

Discussion

The latest neurobiological research on the role of the interoceptive perception in cognitive activity, especially Damasio's theory of “somatic markers,” has stunning resonances with some Freudian formulations. Furthermore, simultaneity, a time factor, appears to be decisive in memory processes. The simultaneous perception of a body state and of its representation conditions the possibility of an inscription of traces from experience: we can either consider these to be synaptic traces, from a neuroscientific point of view, or as memory traces, in the Freudian framework. Psychoanalysis and neuroscience both emphasize the role of simultaneity for the inscription of experience. Thus, we can underscore the significance of contingency in “subjective becoming” and in the unique characteristic of the inscription of memory traces.

Conclusion

Psychoanalysis and neuroscience, beyond their heterogeneous epistemologies, can find a meeting point around the importance they both give to the role of the perception of body states in the mechanisms of inscription of experience, through a link called R-S, between an exteroceptive perception and a somatic state. Indeed, the perception of a somatic state S, occurring simultaneously with an exteroceptive perception, conditions the possibility of the inscription of traces, synaptic as well as psychic. Psychoanalysis and neuroscience agree upon the significance of somatic states in the inscription of traces. They both emphasize the influence of simultaneity in the association of perceptive traces. The R-S link is, from both outlooks, a peculiar association, specific to one's experience. Therefore, universal and genetically determined mechanisms such as synaptic plasticity lead to the advent of subjectivity, in the story of each individual.

Le texte complet de cet article est disponible en PDF.

Keywords : Neuronal plasticity, Somatic state, Psychoanalysis, Neuroscience, Memory traces


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 To quote this article please use the 1st princeps French version: Tran the J. Le rôle des états somatiques dans l’inscription de l’expérience : une rencontre entre psychanalyse et neurosciences. Evol psychiatr 2022;87(1): pages (for the paper version) ou URL [date of consultation] (for the electronic version).


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