The lexicographer's nightmare

Lois Oppenheim

in From the Couch to the Lab

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199600526
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754753 | DOI:
The lexicographer's nightmare

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‘Nonconscious’ is a term used widely by cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists alike. In fact, it is a defining term of contemporary research in both cognitive psychology and neuroscience insofar as ‘conscious’ has meaning only in relation to ‘nonconscious’ mental function. Similarly, ‘unconscious’ is a term without which psychoanalysis would have no reason for being. Yet neither ‘nonconscious’ nor ‘unconscious’ seems to be used with the consistency required for the kind of interdisciplinary dialogue increasingly needed for a deeper understanding of the mind–brain. Moreover, some in psychoanalysis (e.g. Bromberg, 2006, 2008) are calling for a reconsideration of the core notion of ‘unconscious fantasy’, among others, a notion first introduced by Freud in a letter to Fleiss in 1897 and one that has remained central to psychoanalysis, despite divergences in theoretical perspective, ever since. But if the word ‘unconscious’ itself no longer carries the certainty of meaning it once had, given the growth and significance of neuroscience and its focus on ‘nonconscious’ mentation, how are we to define ‘unconscious fantasy’, ‘unconscious conflict’, or any other such term so that all, no matter the discipline or frame of reference, and know what is meant by it? The objective of this chapter is to illustrate the confusion in usage of terminology, the dependence of the accuracy of theory upon it, and the importance of semantic clarification for the exchange between disciplines that is the sine qua non of our advancement of knowledge.

Chapter.  6534 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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