Hélène Bonnaud – Does the brain know the drive?


The brain is the new instrument of fashionable speech. This invasion of a neuroscientific reading of symptoms pretends that there are new inventions concerning psychic life. Nothing of the kind. It is simply that a discourse has emerged which takes responsibility for neurobiological knowledge answering certain questions about the origin of symptoms and their cause. Where, then, has the drive that Freud made the heart of the unconscious gone? Does the brain know the drive?

In fact, the brain has replaced the unconscious, up to and including the drive. There is a semantic slippage that operates, giving the brain the same powers as those described by Freud. For example, we didn’t know that it could be responsible for our actions. However, certain publications explain that the brain is responsible for our emotions and determines our symptoms.

Look no further for the reason why your bulimia requires you to eat beyond the feeling of satiety. Your brain is responsible for everything because it secretes the stress hormone that will cause your addiction to food. If you eat too much, it’s because your brain is telling you to!

The impact of the media is such that, even on the couch, some patients make their brain responsible for their bad impulses! They speak of it as the new signifier of their suffering. The brain has taken the place of the unconscious, which would scientifically explain the real of our symptoms. But it would be an unconscious without a subject, a kind of neuro unconscious, but where responsibility is diluted in a discourse taken up with the synaptic functioning of the brain. In psychoanalysis, we are responsible for our symptoms, our actions and even our dreams. This responsibility is part of the concepts of desire and jouissance, whereas the theses on brain function explains the importance of the action of neurotransmitters in behavior. When we are afraid, for example, we secrete a certain hormone, cortisol, which if fear persists, will cause chronic stress that will be accompanied by “inflammatory processes causing allergies or obesity, diabetes or coronary heart disease,” (1) all the way up to fatigue behaviours indicative of depression.

Cortisol is the only culprit of our disorder because it is responsible for stress … Of course, all this chemistry exists – it helps to understand how it works – but accounts for a function that would be true for all. But no psychic symptom is true for everyone. This is what the subject himself says, which is important since he suffers and manifests his suffering in a symptom that he subjectivises by speaking about it to an analyst.

There is no doubt that the drive governs, orders the subject, not according to a quantity of cortisol, but according to our choice of jouissance. And that concerns this fault to which psychoanalysis responds.

Transl.: Janet Haney

(1) “Que fait le stress à notre corps?”, Cerveau et psycho, N°104, p. 56.

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