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Evolutionary Psychology and Psychoanalysis. On the Nature of the Unconscious

One way in which the dynamic unconscious is justified is by taking into account the evolution and development of the psychical apparatus. It could be argued that evolutionary psychology is the right way to approach this issue. We contend however that the focus on survival value leads to the overestimation of a functional approach being and to neglect of a the structural viewpoint. This has consequences for how the unconscious is defined. Whereas in Freudian metapsychology both stances (the structural and the functional) are present, the structural approach is absent in Smith’s view. As a consequence, the unconscious is reduced to one of its functions, i.e., self-deception. Furthermore, from the structural point of view, the relationship between repression (i.e., the mechanism that generates the dynamic unconscious) and self-deception is reduced to a loose analogy.

Evolutionary and psychoanalytic explanations: how to bridge the gap? Comments on “The evolution of the unconscious” by David Smith

Interdisciplinary approaches are useful because they help to clarify and overcome the blind spots inescapable in any scientific theory. Combining psychoanalytic and evolutionary accounts of the human psychic system can therefore have interesting outcomes. It is important in any interdisciplinary approach, however, to investigate the metaphysical and epistemological presuppositions that serve as background to the theories in question, and to investigate the potential for compatibility on that level. In this paper the metaphysical backgrounds of Freudian-Lacanian psychoanalysis and neo-Darwinian theory of evolution are analysed and tested as to their compatibility. It is argued that evolutionary psychology, in so far as it finds its inspiration in neo-Darwinian theory, is not compatible with psychoanalysis where it is inspired by the theory of complexly organized dynamical systems. One one side, there is a black-boxing of the structural and developmental conditions of psychic systems, and on the other, there is a focus on the ultimate causes, as distinguished from the proximate causes. Taking into account these incompatibilities, it is highly unlikely that evolutionary psychology will prove of much use to psychoanalysis, either in theory or in practice.