Nonlinear Dynamics at the Cutting Edge of Modernity: A Postmodern View
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Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 12.3 (2005) 229-234

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Nonlinear Dynamics at the Cutting Edge of Modernity:

A Postmodern View

nonlinear dynamics, modernity, postmodernity, quantum brain theory, free will, self-organization, autopoiesis, autorhoesis

Although nonlinear dynamical conceptu-alizations have been applied to psychia-try for over 20 years,1 they have not had significant impact on the field. Unfortunately Heinrichs' very thoughtful contribution to the discussion is unlikely to move such disinterest. Pragmatically successful paradigms in the phase of Kuhnian "normal science" are highly resistant to change. There is no crisis that besets triumphalist biological psychiatry that might lead to clinical or scientific revolution. At the same time, as I suggest at the end of this commentary, the ideas of nonlinear dynamics may not be revolutionary enough, remaining staunchly within the framework of modernity.

In what follows I discuss four issues related to Heinrichs' article. First, I try to enrich his presentation of nonlinear dynamics by bringing in the role of self-organization in the evolution of nonlinear dynamical brain systems and by making the nonlinear dynamics "tunable." Second, I discuss whether Heinrichs succeeds in avoiding the dualism of the biopsychosocial model that he criticizes. Third, I look at the issue of "free will," which Heinrichs would understandably like to avoid. Finally, I mention a new form of dynamics, namely thermofield dynamics, which I think is more promising than nonlinear dynamics.

Self-Organizing Self-Tuning Nonlinear Dynamical Systems

In the case of psychiatry, we are not considering nonlinear dynamical systems like the weather or an ecosystem, but the brain's neural networks in terms of nonlinear dynamics with all its chaos. There is a principle of such systems of neural networks that Heinrichs does not bring out, although it is extremely important for them. These systems are self-organizing under a Hamiltonian principle of "least energy." To use Hopfield and Tank's (1986) terms, nonlinear dynamical neural networks self-organize toward attractors that minimize the "computational energy" of the system, or for Smolensky (1988), self-organize toward "harmony," or for Globus (1995, 2003), in a Heideggerian vein, self-organize to maximize "belonging-together." In this elaborated framework, rational deliberation is one constraint among many on a self-organizing nonlinear dynamical process. [End Page 229]

Heinrichs brings out beautifully the nonlinear dynamical way of thinking clinically. This is not the dynamics of mechanistic psychodynamics, which features psychological forces in vectorial conflict—id versus superego and their compromises—but a flowing evolution of states in which small changes in initial state may have large effects (nonlinearity) on the state trajectory. To live a life is often to feel surprise, which nonlinear dynamics with its chaotic regimes well portrays.

But there is a way that classical Freud and nonlinear dynamical neural networks do come together—in the "economics," discharges and conservations of libidinal energy, expenditures and credits in Derrida's (1978) accounting. Heinrichs does not mention this similarity. The economic principles differ between Freud's late nineteenth-century thermodynamics and Heinrichs' late twentieth-century nonlinear dynamics, it is true, but it is all economics.

Freud called this economic functioning the "pleasure principle" in which "libido" seeks to discharge its instinctual energy store, reducing the level of instinctual tension. This "primary process" proceeds to an attractor by the quickest, most direct way possible, whereas the "secondary process" defers reduction in instinctual tension, subjecting the primary process to thought. Self-organizing directly to the attractor is the primary process with which the secondary process interferes, introducing deferral.

The economy of nonlinear dynamics pictures a "landscape," a variegated topography with peaks and valleys. Each point on the topography represents a state. Peak points are repellors—for example, states in which the phobic object is approached—and the lowest points of the valleys are attractors—for example, obsessions and compulsions. The path of occupied states self-organizes away from repellors and toward attractors. This topography is an energy landscape. Its dynamics spontaneously tends—"self-organizes"—toward least energy/high-constraint satisfaction. Freud's pleasure principle is just the Hamiltonian least energy...