The old art of analysis and, subsequently, the interpretation of names – an avatar of etymology (analysis) and hermeneutics (interpretation) – has been practiced since the ancient times. We find it in ancient Greece – let us remember Plato and his famous orthotes onomaton: the right use of names – as well as in ancient China – Confucius for instance, who concluded that any good governance depended on a preliminary elucidation of the sense of words. It is also an implicit prompt to question the status the classical term “psychic”, to investigate the ways it should be interpreted within its composed terms like psychiatry, psychotherapy or psychoanalysis. Its origin, as well known, is Greek: psyche meaning “soul” or “vital breath”. In the Romanian language, the relation between the two meanings is obvious, the word roots being the same, one being part of the other. This concomitance also appears in Aristotle’s treatise On Breath, in which the definition of psyche grasps both the “formal” (the soul) and the “factual” – the body (animated): the “soul is the entelechy of a live body, endowed with organs”. The term “entelechy” is an Aristotelian invention. It has three components: en – “in”, then implicitly the dative of telos – telei: “purpose, aim, end”, and the verb echein – “to have”. In one word, the soul/breath is a certain movement (of the body, of course), whose final aim lies in itself. Strangely though, Aristotle’s treatise, which is unfinished, seems to deal with everything but the soul… It is assumed that the part dedicated to the soul “as such” remained either unfinished or was lost. More precisely, what has been preserved includes only the projections of the soul at the level of its various ways of being (embodiment), starting with the vegetal, animal, senses etc. The close relationship between formal and factual – confirmed, among others, also in the Metaphysics, where, in Book VII, any form “in itself” supposes a matter, also “in itself” – seems to suggest that the Aristotelian vision of the soul supposes a “psycho-physical” unity and that, even more, that only its utmost individualization through its (unique) body can individualize it, in its turn, as unique (like Socrates, the unique). To be mentioned that the soul itself represents the final aim of the body, it possesses a certain autonomy and that, to use quantum mechanics language, any factual movement (of the body) supposes a formal matrix (of the soul). It is the reason why Heisenberg introduced matrix calculus into quantum mechanics. Finally, making use of mathematical language here, the movement of the body represents the value path of a function, namely no more than its “image”. Which means that the study of factual movements (of the body) is reduced in this case to the study of its formal functions (of the soul), and this study has a certain “autonomy”, the sense of the movements pertaining to mathematics rather than to experiment. Kant had already concluded that there existed only as much science as mathematics entered into it. Indeed, Einstein’s relativist cinematics is what preceded, and so anticipated, the experimental discovery of light deviation around bodies, not the other way round.
All of this, as we well see, is related with the basic principles of psychotherapy. In the case of psychoanalysis, it touches on its fundamental principle which links the Symbolic (of the soul) to the Real (of the body) through the Imaginary. In psychoanalysis, the dissociation between the Symbolic and the Real is the equivalent of schizophrenia. In a way, general biology supports the same principle when stating that “the function creates the organ”. Which justifies, on the one hand, the association between neurology and psychiatry and, on the other, revives the discussion around the relation between the two. Therefore, it is not at all accidental that this important and especially decisive debate might have taken place within the first school of psychoanalysis, the Freudian one.
Indeed, it must have taken a while until Freud imposed himself in front of some of his colleagues, psychiatrists, and gained accreditation – after the training specially adapted to the requirements of psychoanalytic therapy, extremely difficult in fact for everyone, physicians or not. It is a manner of saying that what Freud had (re)discovered was the autonomy of the mental “logic” from its material support, the brain. Obviously, this did not mean the separation of psychiatry from neurology, but rather the exact positioning of the two specialties within psychotherapy. The same way as, after the great book Science and Hypothesis by Poincaré, the paradigm of physics (the basis of all modern science) also changed – i.e., mathematics always anticipates the experiment, which is meant to factually verify the formal hypotheses, psychiatry should also anticipate the experimental hypotheses of neurology. Another way of saying it is that Einstein’s thinking experiment – Gedankenexperiment – precedes the… experimental one. Eventually the above-mentioned biological adage “the function creates the organ” corresponds to Einstein’s one: “the tensor calculus knows more physics than the physicist himself”. Hence, there is a certain autonomous mental causality even though the neurological effects of the “mental states” are real, and also already assumed, by Aristotle: we cannot think without the body, he had insisted. However, his Organon – the sum of treatises on logic – has nothing to do (directly) with the “physiological states” of the brain. In brief, if we want, for instance, to decipher the “intrinsic” sense of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, we will not reduce it to the electroencephalogram of the subject listening to it. The endorphins taken orally as pills cannot be compared to those produced by music, they have another cause. It is exactly this cause that Freud, a neurologist (!) defended against some of his colleagues, psychiatrists (!) who insisted on the previous medical education of future psychoanalysts. We shall see to what extent they were “right” or, more exactly, what gave to them too the right to question the destiny of proper therapy once the mental cause was established.
With Lacan, elucidation came on the formal level. Thus, there are three mainstays of a psychoanalyst training: the theoretical education (a kind of sui generis Symbolic), the personal analysis (a sui generis Imaginary), and the patient sessions to be attended, set up in the psychiatric hospitals in which the psychiatrists have a psychoanalytical orientation or affinity (a sui generis REAL). The latter is unavoidable and certainly has a deep impact on the participants. Nonetheless, the three fundamental consistencies that make up the human being – the Symbolic (analog of Intellect), the Imaginary (analog of Imagination) and the Real (analog of Sensitivity) – are not independent from one another. They compose what Lacan called a “Borromean knot” (the symbol adopted as coat of arms by the Italian Borromeo family during the Renaissance), the secular version of the three interlinked circles that are closed within themselves, an image proposed by the late scholastics to represent the Holy Trinity: the Father – the Symbolic, origin of the Law, the “legislative power”; the Son – the Imaginary, the image of the Father, the “judiciary power”; and the Holy Spirit – the Real, the operating one, the “executive power”. Consequently, the same way as uniting the Father and the Son is a question of their mediation (as “extremes”) into and through the Holy Spirit (defined as “mediator”), uniting the psychoanalytical theory with its personal practice is a matter of (real) patients’ presentations. It might be said that as the origin of the Holy Spirit is the Father, the Symbolic, so the Intellect, psychoanalytical practice, also has its origin in the Symbolic, namely the Intellect. Hence the conclusion that comes almost immediately: psychoanalysis itself could be converted in a sui generis cognitive therapy.
Would such a conclusion be legitimate?
The answer must be finessed, as the question does not resonate with the authentic spirit of psychoanalysis. Here is why! If we were to refer to the theological origins of the Borromean knot, we shall have to find that the relations between the Symbolic, Imaginary and Real are not cognitive, but rather… personal (i.e., ethical), given that all three theological consistencies represent a Person. Then, if we use the Borromean knot to illustrate the constitution of each human being in itself, defined by the linking between the Symbolic (Intellect), Imaginary (Imagination) and the Real (Sensitivity) – the three consistencies make up a unit, of the human being itself – which requires definition. In Christian theology it is called “Trinity” and it represents the unity of the three hypostases, the inexorable proof of the monotheist character of Christianism. In the long run (by its very monotheist character), Christian theology states that God is Spirit. We have therefore two ways of using the word “Spirit”: one to indicate the link between Father and Son (intra-Trinity level), and another to name the unity of the three hypostases that make the Trinity (extra-Trinity level). It is exactly what Lacan will do. He will use the term “Real” to name both the linking between Symbolic and Imaginary (intro-Borromean level) and the Borromean knot itself, a topological “trinity” (extra-Borromean level). In fact, the above-mentioned scholastic Trinity figure (as one) has been additioned with groups of letters: TRI in the Father circle, NI in the Son circle and TAS in the Spirit circles, while UNITAS was added in the space at the intersection of the three hypostases (at the center of the “knot”). This is the spot where Lacan places the object a, an analog of the Kantian transcendental object – an object of desire, transcendental itself (the noematic “pole”), but also of its offset, the transcendental subject – the noetic “pole” of the one and same desire. In this context, the transcendental object and subject respectively become a sort of “fourth” (element) in the knot. Lacan’s merit is to be the first to detect in Freud’s late works the proofs of the Real, along with those of the Symbolic and the Imaginary. It is the reason of the dissent occurring between him and his Freudian colleagues. Later on, Lacan will also explain how Freud would call the “psychic reality” a sort of “fourth term”, a sui generis unity of the three consistencies already mentioned. The question that arises now, obviously, is inevitable: what or who ensures the unity of consistencies?
Here too, the answer is anticipated by theology, in its Hebrew version, and by philosophy, its Greek version. Indeed, if the human being is created “in the image of God”, the answer to the question “What?” or rather “Who is God?” becomes essential for our European civilization. It is what Lacan himself considers necessary to be closely analyzed. As we know, in the Bible, the answer is addressed to Moses in the Book of Exodus: “I am Who I am”. An answer downright enigmatic, as enigmatic as God’s name, unutterable… In an attempt to “translate” it, we would say that: “The Person is the Being”, or the other way round, “The Being is the Person”, which returns to the two major themes of Judaist theology, on the one hand – the Person (in Hebrew the 3rd person functions as a copula) – and on the other, Greek philosophy – Being (in Greek the copula goes to the 3rd person of the verb “to be”). But, as we see, both are indeterminate, like the Proper Name of God. As a curiosity, in French personne means “person” of course, but also “nobody”, which, by analogy, means that saying about an object that it is, is the same as saying nothing, or, more exactly, saying the… nothing. In our context, all these mean that the answer to “What?” or “Who ensures the unity of the three consistencies?” is equally undetermined. Lacan is even more precise: exceeded by Moses’ attempts to understand (cognitively) God – as Moses was bound to have an answer for all those waiting at the bottom of the mountain – God answers “I am Who I am and that’s it. Spare me your foolish questions!”. God, the Person and the Being are indeed beyond the Symbolic (Intellect), the Imaginary (Imagination) and the Real (Sensitivity). Pushing things forward, as the adage in the Exodus states, God is a subject, not one of his faculties – intellect, imagination or sensitivity. It is not the thought that thinks but the subject, through thought, it is not the imagination that imagines but the subject, by imagination, and it is not the sensitivity that feels but the subject, through sensitivity. The faculties are facultative. Truly, not only thought belongs to the brain, but also imagination and senses. We do not see with the retina. The image is not formed in the eye, but in the brain. The site of an object perception is not at some distance before our nose, nor on the retina, but… behind the nose, a few centimeters away, in the occipital lobe. The brain is therefore the organ that has no specificity, since all the organic functions are projected on it. Hence its great plasticity. Logically, the maladies of a person – those with a psychiatric relevance – will engender effects on the person’s cognitive (and other) functions –, though there are too many cases that proved this theory wrong. Indeed, there are great schizophrenic laureates of the Nobel Prize, not to mention the high and extremely high intellectual performance of autistic persons. Only after the advent of “conscience” (not to be confounded with “science”) upon the scene of Christianity, could Plotin, a neoplatonic philosopher, emerge – we are talking about parakolouthesis, where para- suggests “around science”, not science itself (akolouthesis). Until then, it had been considered that the essence of the human being resided in its intellect or, in other words, cognition. Plotin’s discovery – the subject, the Aristotelian hypokeimenon – is conscience not science, and Kant definitely imposed it in the Critique of Pure Reason, demonstrating that if all the concepts of our intellect suppose determinate syntheses (quantity, quality etc.), the unity of all concepts can no longer suppose a certain, determinate synthesis. It is a matter of conscience, namely an indeterminate synthesis. In mathematics, it is what would be confirmed by Cantor’s Axiom of Choice: in order to compare finite sets we need… infinite sets, more exactly a “variety”, or an inconsistent infinity.