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Free Energy in Psychoanalysis and Neuroscience

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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01861

The Epistemological Foundations of Freud’s Energetics Model

  • 1Université de Lausanne, Switzerland
  • 2Paris Diderot University, France
  • 3Agalma Foundation Geneva, Switzerland
  • 4Center for Psychiatric Neuroscience, Lausanne University Hospital, Switzerland
  • 5École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland
  • 6Division of Biological and Environmental Sciences and Engineering, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia
  • 7Université de Genève, Switzerland

This article aims to clarify the epistemological foundations of the Freudian energetics model, starting with a historical review of the 19th century scientific context in which Freud’s research lay down its roots. Beyond the physiological and anatomical references of Project for a Scientific Psychology (Freud, 1895a), the physiology Freud makes reference to is in reality primarily anchored in an epistemological model derived from the science of physics. Whilst across the Rhine, the autonomy of physiology in relation to physics was far from being accomplished, as a counterpoint, in France, the revolution in physiology driven by Claude Bernard established itself autonomously in relation to physics,. In contrast, Freud’s scientific landscape is entirely dominated by the science of physics elevated to the rank of an ideal science. The influence of Helmholtz, who is both a medical man and a physicist, has a determining influence on Freud’s training.
The discoveries in physics at this time, in particular the formulation of the principle of ‘conservation of force’ – first principle of thermodynamics – will constitute the points of reference on which Freud will elaborate his energetics model, then subsequently, the idea of economy in his metapsychology. In this way we can retrace both the historic and epistemological path that will lead Freud from a concept based on physics, and more specifically thermodynamic energy, to an idea of nervous energy that constitutes the basis of the concept of “quantity” as it is sated as ‘first fundamental idea’ in Project for a Scientific Psychology (Freud, 1895a). Something that will subsequently evolve, and lead Freud to the introduction of the concept of ‘psychic energy’, this time in a purely metapsychological sense.

Keywords: Energy, Freud, Helmholtz, Thermodynamics, epistemology, Physics

Received: 28 Jun 2018; Accepted: 11 Sep 2018.

Edited by:

Jim Hopkins, University College London, United Kingdom

Reviewed by:

Claudio Colace, Azienda Sanitaria Locale di Viterbo, Italy
Michael B. Buchholz, International Psychoanalytic University Berlin, Germany  

Copyright: © 2018 TRAN THE, Magistretti and Ansermet. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Miss. Jessica TRAN THE, Université de Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland, jessica.tranthe@ens.fr