Tag Archives: Plato

On Higher Education in America

“Monday Musings”, for November 4, 2013

Volume III, No. 42/136


The Sad State of Higher Education in America

By Assad Meymandi, MD PhD, DLFAPA*

America’s greatness is in danger, not because as a nation we are economically bankrupt. Not because China owns us and could cash in their vast holdings of US treasury bonds and send us in a tailspin. Not because we keep borrowing without restraint and spend the money among other things to buy oil form our declared enemies in the Middle East and pollute the air we breathe, but because America is in mortal danger of ominous decline in education. Every day some flagship university announces that they are doing away with teaching foreign language, revising their curriculum to include more courses on cultural diversity and women studies and fewer courses in math, history and liberal education. The latest such a diatribe is the University of Arkansas. Inside Academe, a publication of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) reports that the University of Arkansas is going down the slippery slopes of academic mediocrity. Here is a bit of history: in order for students to graduate from J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, University of Arkansas, all students were required to take English Composition, philosophy, mathematics, world literature, western civilization, American history, fine arts, science and foreign language. ACTA reports that the University is planning on gutting its stellar core by cutting away important requirements. The University has announced that foreign language requirement would be eliminated, along with Western civilization, philosophy and literature. Math and science would be trimmed, too.

These actions bear disastrous results. For example, 78% of the University of Illinois students surveyed did not know who the author of  “of the people, by the people, for the people” is.  America is losing its memory. We are denying the type of education that imparts love of learning and prepares graduates to become effective workers and informed citizens.  The late Senator Fulbright is turning in his grave… We have replaced studies in chemistry for healthy cooking, understanding mortgages for trigonometry, and a student will be more likely to read “Harry Potter” than anything by Thomas Jefferson. Most disturbing is that our young college students are better versed in a peculiar guilt for their forefathers’ misdeeds than in the proud history of the West’s pre-eminent society. That guilt will further compromise the basic understanding of what is sacred about our nation and the United States Constitution.

Survey after survey shows these startling facts: Americans know more about the TV cartoon known as “The Simpsons” than they do about the First Amendment.  Only one in four American students of higher education can name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.  As a reminder, the five freedoms are freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of press, freedom of assembly, and freedom to petition for redress of grievances.

With the recent turmoil in our beloved University of NC at Chapel Hill, allegations of misdeed and abuse by coaches and sports administrators, which according to the university leaders have eroded “the academic integrity of the University”, we thought a few reflections on American education, are in order.

The basic question is: are our universities citadels of knowledge or a huge stage for entertainment?  America’s higher education seems to be held hostage to sports, athletic programs and entertainment. UNC’s Kenan Stadium’s new east addition costs $70 million dollars, adding thousands of seats, luxury boxes and plush athletic training and tutoring facilities while the infrastructure of the science laboratories are eroding and in ill repair. I never understood a system that rewards a coach with as much as five million dollars a year income, fifteen times the chancellor’s salary, and rewards the science professors, those who deliver the end product of a university, namely, scientific research and knowledge, with comparative pittance. And, Lord knows I have tried to understand this diabolic system but have failed. I fear America’s higher education is on the wrong track.

There are numerous instances today of individuals trying to deprive us from our freedom.  For instance, our freedom of speech is threatened by those who say that the only allowable speech on our college campuses should be politically correct speeches. Our freedom of religion is routinely targeted by groups who want to ban God from our schools, courthouses, and civic buildings. Freedom of assembly is challenged by those who believe the only legitimate protests are the left-oriented kind.

Plato (427-347 BC). Listening carefully to his teacher, Socrates, has outlined in his Dialogue on Education, a curriculum which consisted of music, gymnasium, rhetoric, logic  and mathematics. Some six hundred years later, Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430) in his book The Teacher (he co-authored the book with his teenage son Adeodatus)  recommended a school curriculum that was very much the same as Plato’s. Augustine added learning of one or two non-mother tongue languages. He regretted that he himself did not learn Greek as well as he should have. I believe we must stop transforming our institutions of higher education and learning into arenas of sports and entertainment.

Here in America, I support ACTA because it has many colleges, universities and places of higher education under surveillance to sound the alarm if the basic curriculum of liberal education is diluted.

Readers recall my review of the book Take the Risk by Ben Carson, MD, Professor, pediatric neurosurgery at John Hopkins, who truly epitomizes the fulfillment of American virtues, and what it means to be an American. Ben has performed numerous delicate neurosurgical operations at Hopkins and throughout the world, including separation of twins conjoined in the head and brain. He is a consummate physician, skilled neurosurgeon, and has the soul of a Saint. In his book Take the Risk he talks about how education and education alone, rescued him from the depth of a segregated neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan, marred by drugs, gangs etc., to become one of the world’s most eminent neurosurgeons. He emphasizes (and admonishes) that America is on the slippery slopes of abandoning education and replacing it with sports and entertainment. He argues that America is producing fifty thousand engineers a year, while we need 350,000. How much longer can we import engineers form Bangalore, China and other developing nations?  We are NOT producing nearly enough scientists. America ranks below Ethiopia and Somalia in math and basic science tests, and we do not know much about our own history, language, arts, and basic humanities that connect us with the rest of the world. Look at our daily newspapers- the sport section is the fattest, followed by the entertainment section. Take the Risk is a wakeup call worth reading by parents, educators, rabid sports fans and university Chancellors.

America needs to turn back to its roots.

Our founding fathers gave their lives, their sacred honor to fight a formidably powerful enemy to give us this beautiful Republic. In 237 years life of America, we have done very little to protect and preserve and nurture the gift of America, the gift that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison and other patriots gave us. We submit that every American child by the fifth grade ought to memorize George Washington’s Farewell Address, The US Constitution and John Adams’ Inaugural Address. We should also support organizations such as ACTA to keep a critical eye on the conduct of our colleges and universities lest under social pressure and political correctness, they may dilute the curriculum to accommodate the lowest common denominator in education.

In my university lecture tours, I come across splendid examples of liberal arts curricula that have kept faith. These schools demonstrate reverential devotion to the notion of liberal arts as it was meant to be. They insist on teaching, English composition, philosophy, mathematics (math in Greek means knowledge), world literature, western civilization, American History, Fine Arts, science and literature. One such school is our own Davidson College in NC. Another is Hillsdale College in the boonies of Michigan which has provided education to young people since 1844. We need more schools like Davidson and Hillsdale.


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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On Rumi

Monday Musings for Monday September 30, 2013

Volume III, No. 37/131

Rumi Image

The Life and Poetry of

Mowlana Jalal-Al-Din Mohammad Balkhi Rumi

by Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

Today September 30, is the 806th natal anniversary of Mowlana Jalal-Al-Din Mohammad Balkhi Rumi, the illustrious Persian poet and saint, author of Divan Masnavi, a colossal book of poetry imparting wisdom with its every word. Rumi’s years were September 30, 1207 to December 17, 1273. Divan Masnavi consists of six books and well over 25,000 lines. Faithful readers of this space recall the essay on power of words suggesting to pay special attention to the first word of books read. Rumi’s imposing Divan’s first word is “Listen”, connoting that listening is an act of love…Other sages including a contemporary of Rumi, Persian poet Sheikh Mosleh-Al-Din Saadi (1210-1290) illustrated the importance of listening “one is given two ears to listen and one tongue to speak. So, one must listen twice as much as one speaks..”

Back to Rumi. Mowlana’s work enjoys worldwide acceptance translated into hundreds of languages.  Like the Bible, Saint Augustine Hippo”s Confessions, it is a perpetual best seller.  One of my major concerns is that literary charlatans, especially the phonies who line their pockets by exploiting Rumi, posing as experts, and not knowing Farsi or the Persian culture. They contaminate the literary medium. Be careful what you are dished out is Rumi.

Rumi was a Sufi. He held love (Farsi, Eshgh) as the supreme power that transforms lives. Eshgh, the pathway to salvation…Eshgh, the gate to the world of knowledge, cognition, learning and transcendence. In the contrary to common belief, Sufi is not a branch of Islam. Looking at the writing of Plato who recorded the teachings of Socrat es, we know that Socrates, the Ostad, himself was a Sufi.The Sermon of the Mount and the five part Gospel of Matthew (just like Pentateuch that has five parts) could not have been written by anyone but a sufi or one who holds Love as the ultimate in human to human and human to God relationships. I will devote a series of “MM” on Sufi and Sufism. Rumi held that the solution to human problems lies within. Not in some creepy Morshed (guru) who preaches to just submit your soul and remit your pocketbook…  Although in the 13th century little was known about chemistry of the brain and neurotransmitters, Rumi strongly suggested to seek solution to our problems within (Farsi, doroon), our thoughts, our bodies, and our inner secrets (Farsi, Asrar).

Rumi was anti-cleric, anti-dogma, anti-exclusion, and anti-religious pretense (hypocrisy). The French Philosoph, as he was called, François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1694-1778), the well known 18th century thinker and writer, has referred extensively to the intellectual construct of Rumi and Rumi’s treatment of deism, love and toleration.

Today, celebrating the master’s birthday, I am offering a few lines of Rumi’s wisdom translated by a learned scholar, Nader Khalili.

Ghazal 1393

I was dead
I came alive
I was tears
I became laughter

all because of love
when it arrived
my temporal life
from then on
changed to eternal

love said to me
you are not
crazy enough
you don’t
fit this house

I went and
became crazy,
crazy enough
to be in chains

love said
you are not
intoxicated enough
you don’t
fit the group

I went and
got drunk,
drunk enough
to overflow
with light-headedness

love said
you are still
too clever
filled with
imagination and skepticism

I went and
became gullible
and in fright
pulled away
from it all

love said
you are a candle
attracting everyone
gathering every one
around you

I am no more
a candle spreading light
I gather no more crowds
and like smoke
I am all scattered now

love said
you are a teacher
you are a head
and for everyone
you are a leader

I am no more
not a teacher
not a leader
just a servant
to your wishes

love said
you already have
your own wings
I will not give you
more feathers

and then my heart
pulled itself apart
and filled to the brim
with a new light
overflowed with fresh life

now when the heavens
are thankful that
because of love
I have become
the giver of light.


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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On Cooper’s “Plato” and Trimble’s “The Soul in the Brain: The Cerebral Basis of Language, Art, And Belief”

“Monday Musings” for Monday July 29, 2013

Volume III, No. 28/131


Plato – From Raphael’s School of Athens (1509)

Plato, A Book Review

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*


Edited by John M. Cooper
Associate Editor: D.S. Hutchinson
1809 pages written by
26 contributors
1742 pages of text
Four pages of epigrams (poems by Plato)
61 pages of index
Hatckett Publishing Company, Inc.

Plato’s prose is lyrical.  His reference to his “ostad”/guru/teacher/role model and Baba, Socrates, are odes to knowledge and reverence for love. Most people eponymously link Plato with the book Republic and Symposium. But Plato wrote more. He wrote essays on the law (see below), and social contract.

The book Plato is an almost 1800 page work simply makes an elegant presentation. I have read Plato’s books in many languages throughout my life. But never all of Plato’s in one sitting and not in one huge plate. What a feast! Reading the collected work in proper sequence has been a joy. It has taken me a couple of years to complete the volume, make notes and now offer a review. It has been like climbing a tall mountain one step at a time. Also, a brief review of Michael Trimble’s book related to our four part series “Brain and Behaviour”.

Anatomy of this massive work:

Following the introduction, editor’s notes and acknowledgements, there are about fifty books or chapters, 35 of which are Plato’s dialogues and the rest, some fifteen additional works, such as The Law, complete the volume.  Each of the 35 dialogues is written by a contributor, a luminary of Socratic and Platonic scholarship, among them G. M.A. Grube, Dorothea Frede, Alexander Nehama, Paul Woodruff and D. S. Hutchinson.

The chapter headings are Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Cratylus, Theaetetus, Sophist, Statesman, Parmenides, Philebus, Symposium, Phaedrus, Alcibiades (some think that Plato did not write this book), Hipparchus, Rival Lovers, Theages, Charmides, Laches, Lysis, Eithydemus, protogoras, Gotgias, Meno, Greater Hippias, Lesser Hippias, Ion, Menexenus, Clitophon, Republic, Timaeus, Critias, Minos, Laws, epinomis, Letters, Definitions, On Justice, On Virtue, Demodocus, Sisyphus, Halcyon, Eryxias, Axiochus, topped by an epigram. The Republic, 254 pages long, is essentially a discourse on Justice.

The book starts by asserting that Socrates is the origin of western speculation. Socrates himself as a person is most enigmatic and “maddening.” After all, the fellow never wrote down anything. He never gave long speeches to be recorded. He taught through dialectics and not rhetoric. All his sayings and writings come through Plato, and possibly another contemporary, Xenophon. While Plato was a poet with transcendence and a soul, Xenophon’s writings and allusions to Socrates are technical and matter of fact.  Xenophon’s writings are considered to be pedestrian and pedantic, while Plato’s writings, fluid, poetic and beautiful. The work asserts that Socrates was a super-human. He had or was a Daemon to whom he spoke (very much like hallucination) and as a matter of temper he was always eudemonistic (good demon or good mood.) There is no question that Plato idealized Socrates. Plato portrayed Socrates as the intellectual life of Athens and the Athenians.

The work elucidates that Socrates liked precision, reproducibility and reliance on certainty, thus relying heavily on Pythagoras and Mathematic model of thinking and conceptual architecture of Pythagorean approach to teaching. In the days of Socrates, there were monastic math communities devoted to numerology, re-incarnation and Vedic philosophy. Socrates’ theory of “sense perception” is certainly a reflection of his reliance on Pythagoras and math. Also, he was influenced by Egyptian geometry and mathematics done in Alexandria. However, his concern was not like the pre-Socratic philosophers such as Anaximander, Anaximones, Thales and Pythagoras himself, to concentrate on materials, atoms, science and things. Socrates was concerned about political and moral issues. Socrates was probably the first person with a passion to bridge the gap between material science, morality, and what we now call the humanities and the arts.

While Plato was writing about his mentor, one must realize that he was very angry with Athens because Athens killed Socrates. Plato’s poetry and writing is rife with anger. Plato thinks that Athenians are corrupt and hopeless. He thought they lost the Peloponnesian wars because of their weak moral attitude. They allowed Sicilian invasion which was an absolute disaster to Athens. The dialogues consist of aporitic, often non-conclusive discourse leading to an impasse very much like the deceptive cadence often seen in musical phrases of Beethoven and Richard Wagner. These provoke the reader in further thinking and questioning, producing more dialoguesCredo, Apology and Ion are good examples of aporitic dialogue.

The dialogues reveal that Socrates directly attacked the sophists- the rhetoricians who made a living out of persuading people- regardless of whether their goals were right or wrong. Socrates was a chronic irritant to sophists. It was the sophists who in unison accused Socrates of corrupting the youth of Athens, a charge that led to his condemnation and death. The Republic deals with the question of justice and virtue, emphasizing the virtues of morality and politics. The Republic also examines the issues of ethics, ontology, epistemology, logic and the theory of art. There are many other subjects discussed in Republic, among them drama, philosophy, sex, death, and money, all in a sublime, beautiful and poetic form. Searching for a comparison in languages of Indo-European origin, only the German wordsmith, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (August 28, 1745 to March 22, 1832)* may asymptotically approach Plato’s beauty and style. To realize that Republic was written some 2300 years ago is most astonishing.

There was a remarkable phenomenon in pre-Socratic era, a small Greek colony, Elia, in Italy, around 500 BC, produced a remarkable group of philosophers among them Zeno of Elia, Mellissus Of Samos and Xenophane (not to be mistaken for Xenophan who was a contemporary of Socrates and Plato) who, along with Pythagoras had profound influence on Socrates, his teaching, his method of inquiry and his devotion to daemon of knowledge and virtue. A good bit of this book is devoted to these pre-Socratic philosophers.

The book celebrates Plato’s dialogue.  Many more recent philosophers, like the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza (November 24, 1632 to February 21, 1677) and Scottish philosopher, David Hume (April 26, 1711 to August 25, 1776) have written what appears to be an attempt to mimic Plato’s dialogue. They fail. Hume’s dialogue on the “Nature of Religion” does not make the mark. Plato’s poetry, literary style and philosophical view are apotheoses of virtue, sublimity and elegance, even though the last dialogue was written in the last 10-15 years of his life (he died at the age 80, 428-348 BC).

There is a gripping and autobiographical account, Plato saying that he wanted to be a tragic poet like Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Homer. At the time they were the best sources of education in Greece. But soon he realized that those poets did not deal with “morality of the nation.”  He met his mentor Socrates, burned all his tragic poems and followed Socrates. There are many pearls in the dialogues. The one Phoebus which is devoted to the understanding of love is magisterial reading and Symposium in its entirety is another symphonic poem on love. In reading Plato, I have learned not to get so enchanted by the design of the appointments and furnishing inside of the house, but to take a helicopter ride and view the landscape of Platonic verbal beauty.

Throughout the years of reading and seriously studying Socrates, I have learned that he was not about gaining victory with his interlocutors. He was not after money, and never made a dime form his teaching pursuit. He abhorred the sophists and rhetoricians (the lawyers) for whom the truth was pleomorphic, fluid, mercurial and in a state of flux.  He claimed that the sophists and rhetoricians say what you want to hear and by doing so make money. Socrates told the truth and did not accept money. Sophists taught their students with skills to persuade not necessarily the truth but whatever their individual goals dictated what the truth ought to be. Socrates did not like laziness. It is clear from reading Meno that Socrates condemns laziness because Meno would slip away from dialogue with Socrates and engage in giving long speeches. Dialogue is hard work and is not for the lazy-minded folks like Meno.

Socrates emphasized the primacy of knowledge. He loved definitions. A simple example is if he asked ‘What is an even number?..,’ and the interlocutor would say 2, 4 or 18; Socrates would respond ‘These are examples of an even number. What is the definition of an even number?’ An even number is divisible by two with no remainder…

Socrates stated that human virtue is knowledge. Human vice is ignorance.  From Vedic/Indian/Sanskrit tradition, he learned reincarnation and immortality of the soul. He incorporated knowledge from river valley civilization (Nile/Egypt, Tigris and Euphrates/Mesopotamia) to add to his own vast knowledge of Doric tradition.

Having completed this book makes me feel that I have finished climbing Mount McKinley.  My next project is to read the book to my grand children who gave the book to me in the first place. I recommend same to all. Get a copy and read it to your grandchildren.

The Soul in the Brain: The Cerebral Basis of Language, Art, And Belief

By Michael R. Trimble
304 pages
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007
Baltimore, MD

To further pursue the rhetoric of mind/brain, a book from Johns Hopkins Press, written by Michael R. Trimble, titled ‘THE SOUL IN THE BRAIN: THE CEREBRAL BASIS OF LAGUAGE, ART AND BELIEF” is of interest. In this book the author argues that we should consider how human brain function and structure allow us to have religious beliefs, allow our eyes to flow with tears of joy and sorrow…

Trimble, a neurobiologist colleague, traces some common threads between disorders and talents or pathological traits. He persuasively argues that these unwelcome traits could be the result of injury to specific part of the brain of Homo sapiens, rather than social, economic, or culturally mediated downward drift. He backs the argument with data driven, Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan and fMRI studies. It further erases the artificial barriers of mind/brain dichotomy. The ultimate message of the book is: mental illness is really brain disease. We should avoid the stigma of the label of mental illness and focus on learning more about brain and its anatomical and physiological dysfunctions.


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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On the Brain and Behaviour, Part III

Monday Musings for Monday June 17, 2013

Volume III, No. 22/125


Brain  and  Behaviour,  Part   3

Thinking  About  Thinking,  Episteme,  Chrestomathy

Twenty  First  Century , The  Age  of  Mind

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

Editor’s Note: This is part III of a four part series on Brain and Behaviour. Part I, June 3, 2013, the general topography and physiology of the brain was discussed,  Monday June 10, the topic of Epigentics was explored.  Today we examine the relationship between psychoanalysis and biology.  Next week we will review some of the books about the subject to enhance our understanding of what lies in the future of neuroscience.

In preparing for this essay, obviously I was drawn to psychoanalytic literature of the late 19th and early 20th century. But the further I dug, the more it became obvious that psychoanalysis did NOT start with Freud. Many of Freud’s teachers and predecessors had expounded on the theory of unconscious. Plato, Shake­speare, Kant, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche have all dealt with and expounded on the possibility of the unconscious, the soul and metaphysics. Yes, I was taken all the way back to Aristotle, a student and rival of Plato, whose writings are so very organized and detailed, making the reader feel like they are biting into stone. Aristotle had a lot to say about psyche (soul), God, ether and metaphysical phenomena. Psychoanalysis thrived in the first 60-70 years of the 20th century, but experts fear the threatened demise of the field.  What is the answer? The answer lies with uniting psychoanalysis with biological sciences. Let me elaborate:

In a recent discussion with an academic colleague who was identifying the twentieth century’s greatest achievement as the discovery of the atomic bomb, I argued rather forcefully that the contribution of the twentieth century was advancement of Father Gregor Mendel’s genetics through the discovery and understanding of RNA and DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953. They were awarded Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology in 1962. We celebrated at the University of North Carolina and Research Triangle Park, in 2003, the 50th anniversary of the discovery by having Dr. James Watson amongst us. The understanding of DNA and subsequent expansion of the knowledge and advancement of human genome project which was completed in 2003 by Dr. Craig Venter, Director, The Institute for Genomic Research, in my opinion, was the greatest achievement of the 20th century.

Now, facing the 21st century, with wars going on every corner of the globe, humans killing humans for a few pieces of mud prized as land, the need for understanding human behavior makes psychoanalytic research more urgent.  And I believe we have the opportunity to develop further understanding of ourselves, the new science, the science of mind, provides us with a powerful instrument for further development of the field. If the 20th century was known for the discovery of DNA, genomics and epigenetics, the 21st century will be known for the discovery and understanding of the science of mind. And the promise of establishing such a discipline rests with espousing psychoanalysis with biological sciences, neuroscience and neurobiology. Of course, the concept of scientific understanding of mind is not new. Sigmund Freud in “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” wrote an increase in plasma ACTH and glucocorticoid is a response to stress as adults. Thus, differences in an infant’s interactions with his/her mother–differences that fall in the range of naturally occurring individual differences in maternal care– are crucial risk factors for an individual’s future response to stress. In the same book he further elaborated, “The deficiencies in our description would probably vanish if we were already in a position to replace the psychological terms with physiological or chemical ones….we may expect [physiology-and-chemistry] to give the most surprising information and we cannot guess what answers it will return in a few dozen years of questions we have put to it. They may be of a kind that will blow away the whole of our artificial structure of hypothesis…” Further reference: in his classic paper “On Narcissism” he wrote, “We must recollect that all of our provisional ideas in psychology will presumably one day be based on an organic substructure.” On the cusp of 21st century, we really need a contemporary Freud to orchestrate the disparate parts of the symphony of life, psychoanalysis, biological sciences, genomics, neurosciences and neurobiology to produce the rich symphony of better understanding mind and ultimately life.  Well, we do have a few contemporary Freuds, one is Eric R.Kandel whose most recent book, “The Science of the Mind”, we reviewed in this space. Dr. Kandel who is a Nobel Laureate psychiatrist and professor at Columbia University insists that to save psychoanalysis and pump vigorous life into this elegant field, we need to bring about fusion of the two disciplines of psychoanalysis and biology. Otherwise, there is a wide spread concern about viability of psychoanalysis as a scientific discipline. For example, Jonathan Lear. Others have argued that psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic literature from Freud to Hartmann to Erickson to Winnicott, will be read as a modern philosophical or poetic text alongside Plato, Aristotle, Shake­speare, Kant, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Proust (the literature I went through for preparation of this essay). On the other hand, if the field aspires, as I believe most psychoanalysts do aspire, to be an evolving, active contributor to an emerging science of the mind, then psychoanalysis will survive. There is no doubt that psychoanalysts could and did make many useful and original contributions to our understanding of the mind simply by listening to patients. We must at last acknowledge that at this point in the modern study of mind, clinical observation of individual patients, in a context like “the psychoanalytic situation that is so susceptible to observer bias is not a sufficient basis for a science of mind. Psychoanalysis research is depleted from opportunities to add more knowledge,” so say the late Kurt Robert Eissler (1908-1999) and Hartvig Dahl (1924-2007). Marshall Edelson in his book “Hypothesis and Evidence” offers a persuasive argument that the holy marriage between psychoanalysis and biology must take place: “we must bring psychoanalysis and biology together.”

Psychoanalysis is based on the concept that individuals are unaware of the many factors that cause their behaviors and emotions. These unconscious factors have the potential to produce unhappiness, which in turn is expressed through a score of distinguishable symptoms including disturbing personality traits, difficulty in relating to others, or disturbances in self-esteem or general disposition. As I have suggested earlier, most biologists believe that the mind will be to the twenty-first century what the gene was to the twentieth century. I have briefly discussed how the biological sciences in general and cognitive neuroscience in particular may contribute to a deeper understanding of a number of key issues in psychoanalysis.

As things stand now, psychoanalysis is falling behind biology. Psychoanalysis and biology must marry to reinvigorate the exploration of the mind. I should say at the outset that although we have the outlines of what could evolve into a meaningful biological foundation for psychoanalysis, we are very much at the beginning. We do not yet have an intellectually satisfactory biological understanding of any complex mental processes. In the next century, biology is likely to make deep contributions to the understanding of mental processes by delineating the biological basis for the various unconscious mental processes, for psychic determinism, for the role of unconscious mental processes in psychopathology, and for the therapeutic effect of psychoanalysis.  Biology has the potential to enlighten these deep mysteries at their core.

We have seen that one point of convergence between biology and psychoanalysis is the relevance of procedural memory for early moral development, for aspects of transference, and for moments of meaning in psychoanalytic therapy. We have considered a second point of convergence in examining the relationship between the associative characteristic of classical conditioning and psychological determinacy. Here, I want to illustrate a third point of convergence: that between Pavlovian fear conditioning, a form of procedural memory mediated by the amygdala, signal anxiety, and post-traumatic stress syndrome. Psychoanalysis and cognitive neuroscience would accomplish two goals, one conceptual and the other experimental. We must recollect that all of our provisional ideas in psychology will presumably one day be based on an organic substructure.

The American psychologist best known for his maternal-separation and social isolation experiments on rhesus monkeys, Abraham Maslow, demonstrated the importance of care-giving and companionship in social and cognitive development. He conducted most of his research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As an aside, the etymology of the word companionship comes from Latin for bread—PAIN—nutrition.  Another psychologist, Hans Selye, had pointed out as early as 1936 that humans and experimental animals respond to stressful experiences by activating their hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The end product of the HPA system is the release of glucocorticoid hormones by the adrenal gland.

The prefrontal association cortex has two major functions: it integrates sensory information, and it links it to planned movement. Because the prefrontal cortex mediates these two functions, it is thought to be one of the anatomical substrates of goal-directed action in long-term planning and judgment. Patients with damaged prefrontal association areas have difficulty in achieving realistic goals. As a result, they often achieve little in life, and their behavior suggests that their ability to plan and organize everyday activities is diminished.

What To Do?  What is Next?

For one thing, we must transcend territorial imperative, and learn to speak each other’s language– neuroscientists the language of psychoanalysts, and psychoanalysts the language of neuroscience. For many years both the Association for Psychoanalytic Medicine at Columbia and the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, to use but two examples, have instituted neuropsychoanalytic centers that address interests common to psychoanalysis and neuroscience, including consciousness, unconscious processing, autobiographical memory, dreaming, affect, motivation, infantile mental development, psychopharmacology, and the etiology and treatment of mental illness. The prospectus of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute now reads as follows: “The explosion of new insights into numerous problems of vital interest to psychoanalysis needs to be integrated in meaningful ways with the older concepts and methods as do the burgeoning research technologies and pharmacological treatments. Similarly neuroscientists exploring the complex problems of human subjectivity for the first time have much to learn from a century of analytic inquiry make a significant fraction of psychoanalysts technically competent in cognitive neuroscience and eager to test their own ideas with new methods.” The challenge for psychoanalysts is to become active participants in the difficult joint attempt of biology and psychology, including psychoanalysis, to understand the mind. If this transformation in the intellectual climate of psychoanalysis is to occur, as I believe it must, the psychoanalytic institutes themselves must change from being vocational schools- guilds, as it were- to being centers of research and scholarship.

We have precedence, the Carnegie Foundation commissioned Abraham Flexner to study medical education in the United States. The Flexner Report, which was completed in 1910, emphasized that medicine is a science- based profession and requires a structure education in both basic science and its application to clinical medicine. To promote a quality education, the Flexner Report recommended limiting the medical schools in this country to those that were integral to a university. As a consequence of this report, many inadequate schools were closed, and credentialed standards for the training and practice of medicine were established. To return to its former vigor and contribute importantly to our future understanding of mind, psychoanalysis needs to examine and restructure the intellectual context in which its scholarly work is done and to develop a more critical way of training the psychoanalysts of the future. Thus, what psychoanalysis may need, if it is to survive as an intellectual force into the twenty- first century, is something akin to a Flexner Report for the psychoanalytic institutes.


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine(1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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