Research Topic

Free Energy in Psychoanalysis and Neuroscience

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Freud conceived the core hypotheses of psychoanalysis shortly after he began to analyze his own and his patients’ dreams. He first framed these ideas in a ‘psychology for neurologists’, in which he hypothesized that the brain and mind operated to minimize free energy. He retained this structuring ...

Freud conceived the core hypotheses of psychoanalysis shortly after he began to analyze his own and his patients’ dreams. He first framed these ideas in a ‘psychology for neurologists’, in which he hypothesized that the brain and mind operated to minimize free energy. He retained this structuring conception in his account of ‘the mental apparatus’ as minimizing free energy in The Interpretation of Dreams.

We can now see Freud’s account as a prescient anticipation of the neuroscience now being advanced in accord with the free energy principle by Karl Friston and colleagues. In their account, the brain embodies a Bayesian generative model of the causes of sensory impingements, and operates to maintain the variational free energy defined via the prediction error of this model. This paradigm is proving to yield a rigorous overall account of the working of the brain, and one with the scope and structure envisaged by Freud.

In both accounts, free energy originates in sensory impingement -- particularly ‘endogenous [interoceptive] stimuli’ originating in unsatisfied biological imperatives -- and is minimized by motor activity. As Freud speaks this free energy as creating a ‘demand for work’ issuing in ‘specific actions’, Friston speaks of an ‘imperative’ for free-energy minimizing action. In both the minimizing activities require to be learned, via what Freud calls the secondary processes and Friston active inference. In both, again, experiential learning has an innate and fictive prior basis, related to the later phenomenon of dreaming.

Freud describes this fictive basis as the primary process, or phantasy, which is ‘in the apparatus first’; and Friston (together with Alan Hobson) describes it as the product of a genetically specified virtual reality generator, which from birth is entrained in waking by sensory prediction error to become a generative model of the world. Hence for both development in infancy partly consists in the supplanting of the innate fictive process by reality-oriented learning and thought. Likewise for both, as memory and the wake-sleep cycle become established, the unconstrained production of virtual reality/phantasy is relegated to dreaming, where, however, it continues to play a significant regulative role.

These similarities suggest, as Friston and colleagues have maintained, that contemporary free energy neuroscience may provide a neurobiological framework for the investigation of psychoanalytic claims. This Research Topic will seek to examine and advance this project. Submissions on the role of free energy in psychoanalysis, neuroscience, and related fields will be welcome, including those that seek to integrate extant work in psychoanalysis or neuropsychoanalysis with free energy neuroscience.


Keywords: free energy, psychoanalysis, dreams, symptoms, mental disorder


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21 December 2017 Abstract
29 June 2018 Manuscript

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

21 December 2017 Abstract
29 June 2018 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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