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.
Smith (2002), in “The evolution of the unconscious”, states that the Freudian unconscious consists of evolved psychological or biological propensities. In this paper, the author analyses Smith’s statement through a critical discussion of the neo-Darwinian conception of evolution as adaptation. Varela, Thompson and Rosh’s (1993) critique is outlined, and their alternative view on evolution as a sort of “natural drift” is introduced. The central idea is that living beings and their environments relate to each other through a mutual specification or codetermination, a history of structural coupling. The second part of this paper addresses the specific way in which a subject is structurally coupled with its environment through a reading of a passage in the “Project” (1950a). Here Freud discusses the helplessness that characterizes the existence of the human infant. We conclude that the psychic system emerges between the organic and the social level by interpreting the own body in function of the other. Finally the way in which Lacan’s (1977) graph of desire conceptualised the structural coupling of a subject with its environment is addressed. A reading of the graph leads to the conclusion that the unconscious consists, not of evolved but rather, of subverted biological propensities.