How are Freud & Lacan evidence-based?

by Julia Evans on September 15, 2014

This material is taken from notes I made before the Saturday 6th September meeting. They have been expanded to include comments from the group, for which my thanks.

My project, within ‘Interrogating Freud & Lacan’ starts with Sigmund Freud’s Project[i] and an examination of the process he is using to achieve his aim: ‘to represent psychical processes as quantitatively determined states of specifiable material particles and so to make them plain and void of contradictions’.   So the relationship of psychical processes to quantatively determined material particles is what is at stake. With starting at his first paragraph, there is already talk of trying to establish whether there is a relationship between psychical processes and material particles and trying to make this relationship visible by use of evidence.

In continuing, I regress to my undergraduate textbook of ‘Logic’ by Wesley C. Salmon (1963). At the beginning of his book, Salmon states: Logical analysis is concerned with the relationship between a conclusion and the evidence given to support it. So the question being asked is ‘How is the conclusion formed from the evidence?’ Freud continues to test conclusions with evidence throughout the Project – a process which Lacan adopts.

Freud starts: The intention of this project is to furnish us with a psychology which shall be a natural science. ‘Intention’ has a logical definition.  Salmon in his chapter on Logic and Language: ‘It is important to realize that the statement about the definition is different from the definition itself’. So Freud’s aim is to make a strong, plain definition of psychical processes as they relate to material particles.  The intention of a word consists of the properties a thing must have in order to be in the extension of that word. The extension of a word is the class of things to which the word applies; the intention of a word is the collection of properties which determine the things to which the word applies. The meaning of a word may be specified through its extension or its intention. So Freud starts from an intentional definition statement.

If the following quote is taken as a starting point for Jacques Lacan : ‘Mathematical formalization is our goal, our ideal. Why? Because it alone is matheme, in other words, it alone is capable of being integrally transmitted.’ [Seminar XX : 15th May 1973 : Ch XII p2 in Cormac Gallagher’s translation : Information Seminar XX: Encore: 1972 – 1973: from 21st November 1972 : Jacques Lacan : Information here] Lacan’s is also an intentional definition statement only what he refers to is far from ‘plain and void of contradiction’.  Perhaps his use of mathemes is his way to make the relationships visible, which is one of Freud’s aims. Thus, Lacan seems to link his definition to an examination of processes, finding evidence for how they are related.

Freud then lays down two theses. [Note: A thesis is a proposition stated or put forward for consideration, especially one to be discussed and proved or to be maintained against objections. (From http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/thesis)].

First Thesis : The quantitative line of approach. The derivation of (or evidence for) this line of approach is pathological clinical observations. Freud then describes two principles [from https://www.google.co.uk/search  :  Definition of principle : a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour / for a chain of reasoning] : Principle 1 : the principle of neuronic inertia, which asserts that neurones tend to divest themselves of quantity (Q). Principle 2 : Among the various methods of discharge those are preferred and retained which involve a cessation of the stimulus – a flight from the stimulus. However, there is internal complexity – the neuronic system receives stimuli from the somatic element itself. The organism cannot withdraw itself from them as it does from external stimuli; it cannot employ their quantity (Q) for the purpose of flight from the stimulus. So a store of quantity Qη’ sufficient to meet the demands for specific action is kept. So there is a primary function and a secondary one imposed by the exigencies of life.

Second Thesis : The neurone theory.  From histology [ii]: the neuronic system consists of distinct but similarly constructed neurones which only have contact with one another through an intervening foreign substance which terminates on one another. So there is a hypothesis of a current passing from the cell-processes or dendrites to the axone. The function of storage is made possible by supposing that there are resistances which oppose discharge.

After examining the nature of contact barriers, Freud concludes there are two classes of neurone: permeable & impermeable. ϕ represents permeable neurones which offer no resistance and retain nothing and impermeable neurones – Ψ – – offering resistance and retaining quantity Qη’ which is the vehicle of memory and presumably of psychical processes in general.

So Freud is arguing from evidence – clinical & physiological – to establish the definition of psychical processes.

A construction which Freud will test (remember this predates Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams: 1st November 1899 (published as 1900): Sigmund Freud  : Availability given here): p402 of Project for a Scientific Psychology, Part I :

If when dreams are remembered we enquire from consciousness as to their content, we shall find that the meaning of dreams as wish-fulfilments is concealed by a number of Ψ processes all of which we meet with once more in the neuroses and which are characteristic of the pathological nature of those disorders.

Lacan’s main ambition during the 1950s consisted in the recovery of the roots of psychoanalysis, in order to tailor its contemporary practice to the sphere of the subject. This ambition was initially realized through a detailed re-reading of Freud’s case-studies and his papers on technique (See Seminar I: Freud’s papers on technique: 1953-1954 : begins on 18th November 1953 : Jacques Lacan or here & Seminar II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis: 1954-1955: begins 17th November 1954 : Jacques Lacan :Availability given here : This contains a detailed analysis of  The Project for a Scientific Psychology: 23rd & 25th September & 5th October 1895: Sigmund Freud.)

Between 1950 and 1953, Lacan conducted seminars on Freud’s case-studies of Dora (Freud : 1901). The Wolf Man (Freud :1914) and the Rat Man (Freud : 1909) at his house in Paris, the text of which remains unpublished except for a small excerpt from the Wolf Man seminar originally published in Italian (Lacan 1951- 1952 : Seminario su “L’uomo dei lupi” : translated by Alberto Turolla : La psicoanalisi : Vol 6 : 1989 : p9 – 12 : Available here  : Published at www.lacan-con-freud.it). Lacan’s seminar on Dora did provide the backdrop for his 1951 paper ‘Intervention on Transference’ (See Intervention on the Transference (Paris): October 16th 1951: Jacques Lacan or here), and his seminar on the Rat Man informed his 1953 text ‘The Neurotic’s Individual Myth’.(See The Neurotic’s Individual Myth : 1953 : Jacques Lacan or here)

So in discovering the roots of psychoanalysis (an intentional definition), Lacan, as Freud, uses clinical material as evidence. In the early days, this meant a detailed examination of many of Freud’s cases & papers on technique resulting in schemas for understanding the relationship of what is visible to what is concealed.


[i] The Project for a Scientific Psychology: 23rd & 25th September & 5th October 1895: Sigmund Freud  : Available here

[ii] Institute of Biomedical Science : definition of histology  : What is histology? Histology is the study of tissues and organs through the examination of the microscopical architecture of tissues and the relationship between the different types of cells and tissue types found within tissues and organs.  NOTE the use of ‘relationships’ as in both Freud & Lacan