Aisling Campbell – Conference Report – 1st Annual Conference on Neuroscientific and Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Emotion

THE LETTER 20 Autumn 2000, pages 219-221

Every once in a while one has the sense of being in the middle of something completely ‘cutting edge’ or ‘state of the art’, hearing something utterly fresh. Such was the sensory experience generated by the inaugural conference on Neuroscientific and Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Emotion, organised by the Anna Freud Centre in London this summer. There is an almost canonical belief that neuroscience and psychoanalysis can never meet -and it has to be said that this view is adhered to far more tenaciously by psychoanalysts than by neuroscientists. However those attending this conference will have had the sensation of having been just about to say themselves that dialogue between the two perspectives was not only possible but also essential for the survival of both. Indeed the result of the conference was similar to that of a good analytic interpretation – while memories of the factual content may have faded, what was articulated seems to resonate with what is below the surface of our thinking and it certainly gave rise to much in the way of further associations. One had the sense of something crucial being articulated without any particular view being privileged as the correct one.

The opening address was given by Dr. Oliver Sacks, well known to most through his popular paperbacks on unusual neurological disorders; the relationship between structure and function is the orienting principle of his writing. Sacks invoked the Freudian notion of the plasticity of memory and presented a number of neurological vignettes in which the process of narrative was fossilized into ‘a pathological changelessness’…


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