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This paper summarises the core scientific claims of psychoanalysis and rebuts the prejudice that it is not ‘evidence-based’. I address the following questions. (A) How does the emotional mind work, in health and disease? (B) Therefore, what does psychoanalytic treatment aim to achieve? (C) How effective is it?
The nature/nurture question is an age-old problem. Beyond Evolutionary Psychology deals with the relation between culture, evolution, psychology and emotion, based both in the underlying biology, determined by our evolutionary heritage, and in the interaction of our brain with the physical, ecological and social environment, based in the key property of brain plasticity. Ellis and Solms show how the brain structures that underlie cognition and behaviour relate to each other through developmental processes guided by primary emotional systems. This makes very clear which brain modules are innate or 'hard-wired', and which are 'soft-wired' or determined through environmental interactions. The key finding is that there can be no innate cognitive modules in the neocortex, as this is not possible on both developmental and genetic grounds; in particular there can be no innate language acquisition device. This is essential reading for students and scholars of evolutionary psychology and evolutionary biology.
The purpose of learning is not to maintain records but to generate predictions. Successful predictions remain implicit; only prediction errors (“surprises”) attract consciousness. This is what Freud had in mind when he declared that “consciousness arises instead of a memory-trace.” The aim of reconsolidation, and of psychotherapy, is to improve predictions about how to meet our needs in the world.
Links with the Humanities are to be welcomed, but they cannot be exempted from normal scientific criteria. Any hypothesis regarding the function of dreams that is premised on rapid eye movement (REM)/dream isomorphism is unsupportable on empirical grounds. Llewellyn's hypothesis has the further problem of counter-evidence in respect of its claim that dreaming relies upon hippocampal functions. The hypothesis also lacks face validity.