Miquel Bassols – Un-conscious and Ex-Brain


Das Unbewusste — the unconscious. Freud did not find a better word and Lacan reminds us what he considered its most egregious inconvenience: it is a negative term, which means it could be anything, anything except that which is negated. In addition, that which is negated, consciousness, is a no less ambiguous. No one today knows very well what consciousness is.  Neuroscience keeps looking for it without success in the place where there is more light to find it, in the different zones of the brain, in the chemicals in the synaptic gaps between neurons. Why not look a little bit beyond that, in the neuronal network connected to the brain, in the entire nervous system, for example, in the guts? The guts seem to be as important today for neuroscience that it has earned the title of “second brain” because more dopamine flows through it than the brain. Thinking with your guts no longer appears to be a metaphor, or at least it seems as viable an idea as thinking with your brain. It is like saying: we speak with our tongue.

As far as we are concerned, we begin with the following ethical principal: there is only unconscious in the speaking being. The “un” in unconscious should be read as a topological term, it is an “inside” so interior that it is exterior, an extimacy for the speaking being. The mirage of what we call consciousness is only possible from and in language. It is often said: consciousness and language are two “emerging realities” or “epiphenomena” – actually another two euphemisms – of the speaking being that neuroscience has not been able to locate in any of the parts of the central nervous system.

And the brain. Where is the brain? In the skull, of course. But, only in the skull? It seems that more and more, the most important aspects of the brain are found outside the brain when seen as an anatomic unit. The anatomic limits are always somewhat arbitrary when it comes to defining them by means of their function.  The debate is ongoing: where is, for example, the function of vision, in the eye or in the brain? Techno-science puts into question this unity of the brain by grafting extensions that are more and more indistinguishable from its own nature. Thus the idea of an “exobrain” by the Mexican anthropologist Roger Bartra is interesting.

It is interesting to make a list of all those things that science has not found in the “interior” of the brain: consciousness, language, the quale, the image of the world, the cause of desire… and the list grows every day to the extent that found the hypothesis: the brain is probably emptier than any other thing. We cannot find what we are looking for in it. What is more, there is a nothing incrusted in its substance, or rather, a nothing that is incrusted thanks to language, what Lacan likened to a spider that is fixed to its surface.

So, our topic for Pipol 9 is really real: unconscious and brain do not have anything in common. Rather, they share that nothing that language introduces in the body by erasing the mark, the trace, of the real that is impossible to represent. The nothing that we must investigate.

[1] Jacques Lacan, “Télévision”, Autres écrits. Ed. Du Seuil, Paris 2001, p. 511.
[2] Roger Bartra, Antropología del cerebro. Conciencia, cultura y libre albedrío. Editorial Pre-textos, Valencia 2014.


Translator: Alejandro Betancur Vélez
Re-read by Lorena Hojman Davis

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