Indeed, the nonconscious processes at work in the proto-self are the very conditions of consciousness: ‘‘the proto-self is the nonconscious forerunner for the levels of self which appear in our minds as the conscious protagonists of consciousness: core self and autobiographical self.’’9 The proto-self is thus a ‘‘preconscious biological precedent’’ out of which alone can be developed the sense of self (core self, ‘‘core consciousness,’’ or ‘‘I’’) and the temporal and historical permanence of the subject (autobiographical self, ‘‘invariant aspects of an individual’s biography’’).10
The fact that plasticity does occur in so many brain systems,’’ we read in Synaptic Self, ‘‘raises . . . interesting questions. How does a person with a coherent personality—a fairly stable set of thoughts, emotions, and motivations—ever emerge? Why don’t the systems learn different things and pull our thoughts, emotions, and motivations in different directions? What makes them work together, rather than as an unruly mob?’’6 It is the ‘‘self,’’ incontestably, that allows for this grouping and linking
For most neurobiologists today, the brain is not a simple ‘‘organ’’ but the very possibility of linking, the fundamental organic coherence of our personality, our ‘‘we,’’ a consideration that tends to blur the line between the nervous system and the psyche. Prominent neurobiologists such as Antonio Damasio and Joseph LeDoux now clearly affirm this point: consciousness is nothing other than ‘‘how the owner of the movie-in-the-brain emerges within the movie
interrogating the transition from the neuronal to the mental leads us to interrogate the very core of cerebral functioning, the transition from the biological to the cultural, from the strictly natural base of the mind to its historical—and thus also, necessarily, its political and social—dimension
In fact, it is no longer possible to distinguish rigorously on an ideological level between those suffering a neurodegenerative disorder and those with major social handicaps. As we have observed, any vision of the brain is necessarily political. It is not the identity of cerebral organization and socioeconomic organization that poses a problem, but rather the unconsciousness of this identity
This redefnition of an ill person as cut off from his possible actions on the cognitive level as well as on the emotional and purposive level corresponds to the biologization or ‘‘rebiologization’’ of disturbance mentioned above. From such a perspective, therapy consists frst and foremost in analyzing the mechanisms blocking transmission of information in the neuronal systems. Antidepressants, in their great diversity, all seek to stimulate neurochemical transmission, with the avowed goal of ‘‘restoring and protecting the plastic capacities of the brain.’’44 But plasticity ought not to be confused, as we will see, with the mere capacity to act.
It is therefore not a question of pitting the nobility of ‘‘classical’’ psychoanalysis against the baseness of seeing how a certain conception of fexibility—paradoxically driven by the scientifc analysis of neuronal plasticity—models suffering and allows the identifcation of psychical illness and social illness.
Cerebral space is constituted by cuts, by voids, by gaps, and this prevents our taking it to be an integrative totality.