Phenomenological Psychology

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Understanding Intersubjectivity – Psychoanalytic Formulations and Their Philosophical Underpinnings

May 13th, 2010 by David Kronemyer · 2 Comments

Review of Frie, R. & Reis, B. (2001) “Understanding Intersubjectivity: Psychoanalytic Formulations and Their Philosophical Underpinnings,” Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 37, 297 – 327.

Carl Jung is well-known for his theory of the “collective unconscious,” which is a “psychic system of a collective, universal and impersonal nature identical in all individuals.” Unfortunately Jung also believed the collective unconscious actually exists in the private minds of particular individuals as a feature of their topographic structure, giving rise to internal representations forming the basis for intentional action. This could not possibly be right, creating a serious epistemological problem for adherents of Jungian personality theory.

Over the years several attempts have been made to rehabilitate this aspect of Jung’s thought. One of the most promising is “intersubjectivity theory” (“IT”). IT “seeks to comprehend psychological phenomena as forming at the interface of reciprocally interacting subjectivities, not as products of isolated intrapsychic mechanisms.”  The authors of this article trace the history of IT. They hypothesize individuals do not really have a private mental concept of “self.”  Rather “personality” is a construct formed at the intersection of purposeful human activity and the physical world. This experience always is “context-dependent” and part of an “indissoluble psychological system.” We literally are adrift in an unconscious sea of intercorporality, experiencing a manifold of reality-like experiences, which mainly are socio-culturally determined. Our shared neural states just happen to occur in different physical bodies. Recent research on mirror neurons provides a neurophysiological basis for this idea.

Although scientifically dubious, Jung’s psychology is valuable mainly because it is so constantly suggestive. In my opinion the approach taken by the authors of this article provide the best approach for grounding it empirically.