Freud and the Sciences. circa 1900 and circa 2000

Program Sponsorship Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) 2008–2010
Christine Kirchhoff, Gerhard Scharbert

The project followed a counterinvestigation arrangement: While Sigmund Freud crossed the boundaries of contemporary neurology and developed psychoanalysis in his work, psychoanalysis since the 1990s has been (re)discovered from the perspective of neuroscience. The attempt to reunite disciplines, which have been separate since Freud's time, has been carried out predominantly with the help of imaging techniques (fMRI, PET). Its aim has been a unified neuro-psychoanalysis.

The project on the one hand examined the role of scientific references in Freud's development of psychoanalytic theory. On the other hand, it examined the significance of the rediscovery of Freud and what aspects, indicators, and terms become thereby relevant for neuroscience research.

For the period around 1900, the impacts of science and medicine on Sigmund Freud's work were studied, in which emphasis was placed on neuroscience and developmental biology and Darwin's evolutionary theory. Some important factors were French psychiatry of the 19th century, whose reflections on the relationship between delusion and dream or language and symptom have likewise affected Freud's views, as well as the traditions of the Johannes Müller school, which emerged from Freud's teacher Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke. The discussion of particular concepts, such as those defined by Freud with recourse to the vocabulary of contemporary neuroscience, has become independent with respect to its science of origin by having taken on a new meaning within the developing writing on psychoanalysis.
For the time around 2000, the project was able to demonstrate how the terms of psychoanalysis change when they are recast as neuro-psychoanalytic concepts. Difficulties, especially with regard to the position of metapsychology as the driving concept, were identified and analyzed with respect to the implied understanding of subjectivity and culture. Along the lines of psychoanalytic research interest in the »demands of neurosciences,« the question was raised as to which (unconscious) desires and fears are tied to the attempt of a neuroscientific foundation of psychoanalysis. In any case, it must be noted that the dialogue between neuroscience and psychoanalysis is far from over.
The project, whose perspective was particularly shaped by cultural studies and the history of science, managed to position itself as a player within the debate on neuropsychoanalysis (as well as a partner of the International Society for Neuro-psychoanalysis and Marianne Leuzinger-Bohleber, Sigmund-Freud-Institut, Frankfurt a.M.) through meetings and talks with the visiting scientists Tamara Fischmann (Sigmund-Freud-Institut, Frankfurt a.M.) and Christine Zunke (Universität Oldenburg).


Gerhard Scharbert

Über die Pathologisierung von Modernität
Wilhelm Fink Verlag, München, 2011

Christine Kirchhoff, Gerhard Scharbert

Book Series: LiteraturForschung Vol. 15
Freuds Referenzen
Kulturverlag Kadmos, Berlin, 2012

Christine Kirchhoff, Falko Schmieder

Book Series: LiteraturForschung Vol. 19
Freud und Adorno. Zur Urgeschichte der Moderne
Kulturverlag Kadmos, Berlin, 2014

Further Reading

Embodied Simulation and the Coding-Problem of Simulation Theory. Interventions from Cultural Sciences. Lecture by Sigrid Weigel held at the 12th International Neuropsychoanalysis Congress »Minding the Body« in Berlin, June 24-26, 2011 (Interjekte 1/2011)