Neuroscience and the Freudian Revolution

In our recent series of blog post we have been sharing how many psychotherapists are now turning to neuroscience to better understand the mysteries of human behavior.

In our previous post, ‘Freud and the law of association by simultaneity’, we shared that some of Freud’s early theories of the brain were developed after laboratory research he conducted following the completion of his medical training.

Freud suggested that brain was made of cells, and that the nerve cells in the brain are physically separated from one another. LeDoux writes,

“Freud stated that ‘the nervous system consists of distinct and similarly constructed neurons…which terminate upon one another.’ He introduced the term contact barriers to describe the points where neurons abut, and suggested that interactions between neurons across contact barriers make possible memory, consciousness, and other facets of the mind. Although these notions were amazingly sophisticated for their time, Freud felt that progress in understanding the brain would be too slow for his taste and so abandoned a neural theory of the mind in favor of a purely psychological one.”

The fascinating thing is that many of Freud’s psychological theories of the brain built on his early neurological theories of the brain. And while the latter twentieth-century saw Freud fall out of fashion among psychoanalysts, his work is achieving new recognition now that brain science has finally caught up to where he started.

It was the Canadian behavioral psychologist Donald O Hebb who helped to pioneer the groundbreaking work in neuropsychology that has now conclusively proved Freud’s early theory about the brain. This has led to a new appropriation of some of Freud’s insights and suggests some fascinating links between

One of the things that Freud’s neural theory suggested was that the connections between nerve cells develop based on simultaneous associations. In a following post we’ll see the relevance this insight had for the psychological theories Freud went on to develop, and particularly how it relates to the theme that neurons that fire together wire together.

Leave a comment