- Psychoanalysis:Science of the Mind?
In his paper on 'The Science of Psychoanalysis,' Lacewing helpfully distinguishes a central psychodynamic model of the mind, elaborated in the clinical theory of psychoanalysis, from certain of its metapsychological and etiological theories. Critics who view psychoanalysis as unscientific have tended to focus on the lack of evidential support for certain of its developmental claims or the lack of reliability and validity in its theoretical posits. Lacewing claims, however, that the model contained in the clinical theory is much more scientifically respectable than its critics have made out. The data may not always be in, but Lacewing's argument is that there is nothing pseudoscientific about the central model that precludes it in principle from receiving meaningful and objective confirmation or disconfirmation.
I agree about the value of the central and the clinically widely shared psychodynamic model of the mind compared with some of the speculative trajectories or intrapsychic structures posited with too much scientific and dialectical confidence by many early psychoanalysts. I am also convinced by Lacewing's careful and thoughtful disposal of the charges of ineradicable suggestion and confirmation bias in psychoanalysis. In this response, however, I take a step back and offer an alternative take on the best characterization of aspects of the core model. To begin by putting my own cards on the table: much of what Lacewing takes to be empirical truth claim that can be scientifically grounded in independently assayable evidence, I prefer instead to describe as phenomenological articulation of what are already the grounds of psychoanalytic knowing. In this way, I agree with the critics of psychoanalysis who claim that much of the core clinical model is not itself aptly described as scientific, yet I agree too with Lacewing that the critics' criticisms are ill-judged; my argument, however, is that the core clinical model is not so much scientific or unscientific but rather non-scientific. If the central model cannot receive meaningful or objective confirmation or disconfirmation then this, I believe, is not because it is pseudoscientific but rather because we have not really specified what we would be talking about if we were to talk of confirming or disconfirming propositions that—after we have developed the sensibility to grasp the character, and discern the expressive manifestations, of that which they articulate—we might only want to call truistic.
Talk of 'science,' 'evidential support,' 'inferences,' 'explanations,' 'posits,' 'postulates,' 'theoretical claims,' 'underlying causes,' 'mechanisms,' 'data,' 'mental functioning,' and so on largely belongs, as I see it, to a less fundamental stage of the logical food chain than we are commonly at when we articulate to ourselves the core features of the psychodynamic model. (I acquiesce here in talking of a psychodynamic 'model,' although this too could also be questioned; a less committed term might be a psychodynamic 'understanding' of mind.) That is to say, although we can certainly deploy the core model to frame this or that empirical [End Page 113] investigation, it is not, I believe, so clear that the core model is itself best understood as something for which evidence could be sought. Articulations of the main contours of the psychodynamic model are, I maintain, more often more helpfully understood as statements of what can be seen and what we are to call what we see than as articulations of inferences or of anything which it would, in the actual contexts of our lives, make sense to talk of our just being wrong about. By way of analogy: a meteorologist may gather data in support of this or that empirical claim about what goes on in the sky or in the clouds, but if she started trying to gather evidence for the existence of the sky or the clouds themselves, we would rightly be confused. 'There is a sky' might look like a falsifiable empirical claim, and we can, of course, imagine that things may have been otherwise. Nevertheless, for those who have a living grasp of the meaning of 'sky' and 'cloud,' for those who know how to spontaneously apply these terms in their daily life, it is not clear what it would really mean for them to doubt...