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The Hidden Spring: A Journey to the Source of Consciousness

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For Mark Solms, one of the boldest thinkers in contemporary neuroscience, discovering how consciousness comes about has been a lifetime’s quest. Scientists consider it the "hard problem" because it seems an impossible task to understand why we feel a subjective sense of self and how it arises in the brain.

Venturing into the elementary physics of life, Solms has now arrived at an astonishing answer. In The Hidden Spring, he brings forward his discovery in accessible language and graspable analogies.

Solms is a frank and fearless guide on an extraordinary voyage from the dawn of neuropsychology and psychoanalysis to the cutting edge of contemporary neuroscience, adhering to the medically provable. But he goes beyond other neuroscientists by paying close attention to the subjective experiences of hundreds of neurological patients, many of whom he treated, whose uncanny conversations expose much about the brain’s obscure reaches.

Most importantly, you will be able to recognize the workings of your own mind for what they really are, including every stray thought, pulse of emotion, and shift of attention. The Hidden Spring will profoundly alter your understanding of your own subjective experience.

432 pages, Hardcover

First published January 28, 2021

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Mark Solms

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 97 reviews
Profile Image for Morgan Blackledge.
551 reviews1,861 followers
July 10, 2021
Oh boy.

Summarizing this one on GR feels like rendering the sistine chapel on a postage stamp.

The book is a swinging from the fences summary of a massive, sprawling, audacious theory.

Summarizing it further is going to be a challenge.

Plus….

Theres a WHOLE lot of it I just don’t actually completely fuckin’ understand.

And I’m 100% not going to re-read this monster.

Not for a while anyway.

As much as I loved it.

Mostly because I’m uncertain about some of the claims.

As I mentioned, Solms ‘swings from the fences’ in his theory of consciousness.

Meaning, he BOLDLY goes for the whole enchilada on a HARD problem.

Namely, the hard problem of consciousness.

So caution is advised.

Plus his theory is a bit outside of the current paradigm.

Which could be good.

Time (and the peer review process) will be the judge.

The basic claim is really simple:

1. Consciousness is a natural phenomena, that is emergent from evolutionarily conditioned biological substrates, and is ultimately wholly describable in physical terms.

That part is not original or all that controversial.

Lots of (most) experts in the field of consciousness studies hold to this opinion.

Including Sir Francis Crick.

After he co-discovered DNA he went into consciousness studies.

In his 1994 book, the Astonishing Hypothesis he made the claim that the entirety of conscious phenomena is an emergent property of the brain (i.e. souls and ghosts don't exist, just brains and nature).

This position, sometimes referred to as monism (as opposed to dualism), denies the duality between matter and consciousness.

In other words, there is only one reality, not two.

Anything and everything (how ever magical, including consciousness and thoughts and feelings and the like) must have a naturalistic, physical basis and (ostensibly) explanation. Even if we don’t currently know what that explanation is.

Most scientists and serious intellectuals are monist.

And more and more regular folks are monist too.

I know I am.

But some (legitimate thinkers and researchers) believe that consciousness is not reducible to physicality or subject to material explanations.

This is essentially the dualist perspective.

Mind and matter are two separate things.

Mind is not reducible to material substrates.

Mind is a ‘non-physical’ phenomena.

Philosophers including Thomas Naglel and David Chalmers are skeptical regarding some or all of the monistic position, arguing that explaining consciousness in terms of it’s neuro-corelates is the “easy problem”, but explaining how (exactly) those mechanisms give rise to the phenomenological experience of being...now that’s the “hard problem” of consciousness.

Solms does a stupendous job of reviewing and clarifying Chalmers position on the Hard Problem of Consciousness, and by the way...

HE CALIMS TO HAVE SOLVED IT.

Yep.

You heard me right.

Solms claims to have solved the hard problem of consciousness.

If this is true, then he will be regarded in the future along side figures like Newton or Einstein.

Thats the main reason why I’m guarded about some of his claims.

They are intergalactic in their epicness.

Anyway.

Another claim Solms makes is:

2. Consciousness is fundamentally affective (not cognitive) in nature, and as such, is emergent from deep brain structures (e.g. the brain stem, or more precisely the periaqueductal gray) as opposed to neocortical regions.

Meaning, consciousness (at its most basic) is more about feelings than thoughts.

That one is somewhat more of a minority position, but Solms is not alone.

His good company includes, to name a few: (a) Jaak Panksap, the brilliant, maverick affective neuroscientist who is perhaps most well known to the general pubic as the guy who tickles rats for research purposes, and (b) Antonio Damassio, another superstar in the field of affective neuroscience, most well known for his breakthrough 1994 book Descartes Error.

A lot (maybe most) researchers assume cognitive functions are responsible for consciousness.

I have to admit, I was fairly seduced by Solm’s (affect=consciousness) argument.

It's pretty convincing.

So….

Another one of Solms claims is:

3. Subjectivity is important to study scientifically.

That one might sound like a no duh.

But the way Solms explores the issue is novel and profound.

I’m here for it.

Another one of Solms claims is:

4. Consciousness is governed via the Friston free-energy principle.

This is where the book gets opaque for me.

The free energy principle is complicated.

But here goes.

The second law of thermodynamics states that the universe tends toward entropy (lukewarm, dead, undifferentiated slag) in the long term.

Friston’s free energy principle asserts that all life, from bacteria to human brains are governed by the common imperative to resist entropy by minimizing “free energy”.

Or, stated in another way, living things seek to minimize differences between their evolutionarily conditioned “expectations” and their current conditions (which tend toward chaos and entropy).

If all of that Fristoniean stuff sounds kind of wanky, it’s because its technical proxy language for what is better represented in mathematical equations.

Or so I’m told…

I should have payed attention in high school.

By the way.

If you’re exhausted by now.

I completely understand.

I am too.

Solms is kind of a beast.

And if this review is a hot mess, and it is.

I have to say.

So is the book.

But in the good way.

And it gets even wilder.

In addition to being a brilliant neuropsychologist, Solms is a formally trained, practicing Neo-Freudian psychoanalyst (which is really unusual now-a-days).

In fact he’s pimping his own brand of psychoanalysis called (you guessed it) Neuro-psychoanalysis which adapts and modernizes psychoanalytic constructs and practices based on contemporary neuroscience, particularly affective neuroscience.

If all of this is a little too much.

I feel you.

I’m staying poolside until the water is a little less brown.

But I have to admit.

I’m excited for someone to snatch the jewel out of the psychoanalytic dungheap.

There is so much of value in the psychoanalytic tradition.

It would be great if someone (necessarily smarter and more energetic than me) could clarify, modernize and revive it.

Additionally, it would be great if someone solved (or at least made progress on) the hard problem of consciousness.

If Solms can do one or both.

Then power to him.

I’m just not 100% sure he's done either based on what I’m reading.

I simply haven't invested enough of my free energy into understanding a few of his claims.

None the less, this is an exciting and thought provoking book.

And Solms is a beyond brilliant and way ballsy dude.

Mad respect.

5 stars.
Profile Image for Leanne.
570 reviews42 followers
March 25, 2021
South African neuroscientist Mark Solms thinks scientists owe Sigmund Freud an apology. Solms, who himself took the unique step of training as a Freudian psychoanalyst in mid-career, says that some of the latest experimental research in brain science suggests that Freud was closer to the truth than anyone realized.

I had forgotten that Freud began his career in biological science. After earning a medical degree in 1881 from the University of Vienna, he went on to work at the Vienna General Hospital, where he became interested in neuropathology. His later development of psychoanalysis would eclipse his background in science, but as Solms reminds us: Freud was fundamentally a reductionist who believed that it was only a matter of time before scientists would be able to locate precisely where in the brain each feeling a patient experienced originated. Questions of feelings, dreams, and consciousness all come down to physics and chemistry, he said. But Freud also realized that he lived in a day when the existing technology would not allow for the kind of scientific investigation required to figure out the biological mechanisms of such elusive phenomena as dreams, feelings, and consciousness. And so he turned to psychoanalysis as a means to probe the inner workings of the human mind.

Fast forward a hundred years. Science has come a long way, but experts are still debating these issues-- especially that of consciousness.

Most scientists and philosophers—but not all—have rejected Cartesian dualism, which posits two distinct substances in the world: bodies, which obey the laws of physics and are mechanistic; and minds, which are non-physical. But even among scientific reductionists, who accept that “mind” can be explained in materialist terms, there remains resistance in accepting that our subjective experience and sense of self is widely shared among other animals. For example, in Peter Godfrey Smith’s new book, Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind, he reckons that most people, if asked, would restrict consciousness to Primates almost certainly, and maybe to other Mammals. But why is this? It was Descartes who argued that physical bodies are mechanistic, and only the human mind that experiences feelings, or has a soul. Godfrey-Smith makes the point that while scientists have mainly pushed aside the notion of mind as something non-materialistic, they still cling to the idea that animals do not have feelings, don’t experience pain and are without “sentience,” which is perhaps a better term than “mind.” And this has had devastating consequences for the animals. You will cringe to learn that until quite recently, scientists were performing amputations on octopus limbs without any pain relief, because they did not recognize that animals feel pain as we do.

Solms points out how our brains are something like an archaeological site: with the oldest part being down in the bottom parts and more recent additions formed on top. As you would expect, the lower down in the brain we go, the more our minds have in common with other animals. Feelings, he says arise “in a very ancient part of the brain, in the upper brainstem in structures we share with all vertebrates.”

And it is down in this ancient “hidden spring” of our brains, down in our brainstem, where Solm is trying to locate not just our dreams and feelings but our consciousness.
His book begins with a moving story about his childhood, when he witnessed his younger brother take a catastrophic fall from a roof and suffer a terrible brain injury. Solms recounts how after the fall, while his brother still looked like his pre-injury self, he seemed different, not just in terms of his cognitive abilities but his personality as well. This led Solms, in his childhood, to ponder questions like: If my brain were damaged, would I be a different person? Where would the original version of me go?

Solms is perhaps best known for his work in the science of dreams. In research conducted with patients who suffered severe brain injuries, he realized that dreams are not associated with REM sleep or the frontal cortex in the way scientists previously believed. Seeing the way that patients whose injuries prevented REM sleep still had dreams, he came up with his hypothesis that dreams originated in the brainstem and were related to the psyche’s reward system. Just as Freud suspected.
And from this, he began to view not just dreams but consciousness itself as connected to our emotions, which are themselves part of an organism’s survival skillset. Anger and fear in the face of danger; lust for procreation; and play and curiosity for being better attuned to the world. This radical decoupling of intelligence from emotion, dreams and consciousness really turns the Cartesian worldview on its head; for in this scientific paradigm, animals are as sentient as we are. And what of our dreams? Well, they are how the body mediates our needs and fears with the pressures of the external world.

This all might sound intuitive: sure, we know dogs dream and crows can use tools and recognize their image in a mirror. And seeing feelings and emotions at the core of consciousness, rather than in our ability to engage in critical reasoning doesn’t seem too far-fetched. What is so ground-breaking about his new book is not the “what” or “how,” but the “where” of consciousness; for in locating it in the brainstem, Solms is doing something new. And this brings us back to Freud in an ironic way, perhaps; since what Freud termed the “unconscious” might be precisely where we might find consciousness.
Considering “consciousness” in terms of scientific reductionism—or what Godfrey-Smith calls biological materialism—Solms, like Godfrey-Smith, likens the rise of “mind” to the way organisms have adapted to cope with the world and something that directs bodily activities.

And this all leads us back to Freud!
Fantastic book!!!!
Profile Image for Paul Ataua.
1,249 reviews119 followers
March 20, 2021
Being both neuroscientist and psychoanalyst, Mark Solms has so much to offer to those interested in the nature of consciousness. Here he argues that consciousness lies not in the cerebral cortex, but in the core of the brain stem. 'The Hidden Spring' is not easy going. There is so much neurological detail that I found myself having to read, reread and spend time digesting paragraphs before finally getting to understand the central claim. I felt good about being smart enough to get the core of the argument, but bad about not being smart enough to assess its value. I guess that understanding will come after twenty or thirty more books. Fascinating read that took me a little further along that road.
Profile Image for Fatman.
117 reviews49 followers
July 5, 2022
A lot to unpack in this one. I won't pretend I have the educational background to understand all of Mark Solms's proposed answer to the perpetual mystery of the what and how of consciousness. But his theory makes sense, it is laid out quite clearly (even to a complete layperson like myself) and his explanations are not inconsistent with the little we already know about the elusive concept of "consciousness". Or rather the little that scientists agree upon.

I was especially impressed by the concept of consciousness as a free-energy-minimizing tool, and the assertion that the brain aspires to zombie-dom. This latter is a tough one to digest, and I refused to accept it. At first. Definitely worth a re-read, but only after my impressions have settled a bit.
Profile Image for Philbro.
6 reviews6 followers
March 13, 2021
I will begin this book review with a micro-review of another recent book. In "A Thousand Brains", Jeff Hawkins lays out a convincing understanding of how the cerebral cortex - the mammalian seat of intelligence - works. He absolutely nails it. What an important step in understanding our brains.

Now turning to "The Hidden Spring", Solms notes right at the beginning, "Since the cerebral cortex is the seat of intelligence, almost everybody thinks that it is also the seat of consciousness. I disagree; consciousness is far more primitive than that. It arises from a part of the brain that humans share with fishes. This is the ‘hidden spring’ of the title." Solms is correct. Thus what Hawkins has done is solve "the easy problem" (ala Chalmers). Solms seeks the solution to the "hard problem" - given how the brain works, how can we then understand what it feels like to be conscious? I do believe Solms, if not actually having solved the hard problem, has at least untangled its main mysteries. This is amazing stuff.

Without exaggeration, I will say the hottest topic at the crossroads of physics and biology right now is non-equilibrium statistical mechanics. That is, life is recognized as a unique event which, contrary to other things in the universe, continually pumps entropy away from itself into the environment, to keep itself alive. Here, entropy is understood in both the thermodynamic and Shannon information-theoretic perspectives. Together with intellectual powerhouse Karl Friston, Solms has put together a "Free Energy" understanding of consciousness, which he deftly presents in Chapter 7. The heart of this model is a self-organizing Markov Blanket which serves as a sensory/motive boundary which sequesters everything inside from the world at large, yet allows for proper sampling of said world.

There is the linchpin insight that solves the hard problem. Such a boundary is what gives us license to take an inner subjective perspective in the first place. Another crucial point, as Solms says, "The answer [to why feelings arose via evolution] starts from the fact that needs cannot be combined and summated in any simple way. Our multiple needs cannot be reduced to a single common denominator; they must be evaluated on separate, approximately equal scales, so that each of them can be given its due." That is, how could you quantify "hunger" vs "warmth" - "need to eat" vs "need for heat" - etc? You can not, hence we have feelings, aka affective consciousness. Affective consciousness naturally precedes cortical consciousness, and in fact is what gives the cortex consciousness.

I'm not sure what else there is to say in a review at this point. Solms has more to say; the book does not end with these insights. Yet, we have arrived at the pièce de résistance. So please, read this book, and take a moment to marvel at what has been done.
1 review1 follower
May 16, 2021
I was with Solms for a good part of the book where he explains the subcortical origin of consciousness, but seeing early on that he was ultimately attempting to "prove" that "consciousness is engineerable", I could not help but roll my eyes again and again.

Ok, so what's the problem with this frankly balderdash idea? Well, the ridiculous claim that reality is at root quantitative - all numbers, 0s and 1s. The author tries to pass this off as it is not a contestable idea, but it purely is. Philosophically, there is no being - no subjectivity - to determinate the reality of a 0 and 1 universe. There is simply force; energy; change. In fact, one could better see that as a qualiative reality, rather than the reverse.

Second, because of this bias towards the impersonal numberness of reality, Solms interprets phenomenal experience as "really" a bunch of 00011110 that the brain is "computing". But this is patently absurd. He is putting all the work on the brains end and acting like you can have a phenomenal experience without a continuous tensegrity of structure moving from the sun, to the earth, to the objects which refract light in certain wavelengths. Again, its a pure solipstistic Freudian bias to see this as a one-part process, and not inherently contrapuntal - point-counterpoint. You cannot have phenomenal experience without light; the electromagnetic energy in the external environment is as much "shaping" the world to be seen as the nervous systems regulatory dynamics are correlating its patterns with that world. The phenomenal experience then should be interpreted as emergent; as entailing both sides of the equation. This idea gets emphasis in Thomas Fuchs "The Ecology of the Brain" where he rightly recognizes that the brains projections, or pejoratively, "hallucinations", are actually about what is actually out there - its constantly about being aligned with the real-life effects of real objects. The sunflower seeds I'm eating are really there; as is the oatmeal, as is the table. The entire world is not an arbitrary construction; even if the brain is "modelling" the informational streams, it is not willnilly "constructing" it. It is absolutely correlated to the reality of the Real; what it 'represents' is the gestalt of what is essentially needed to survive. This means the arrow - seeing the brain can only be understood in terms of the dialectical contrapuntal flows between organism and world, and therefore, in terms of origin of life research and cell behavior - is really outward-inwards; the inwards-outwards "expectation" is always just following what the world has already told it; what the world has 'granted' it vis-a-vis what keeps its metabolic structures moving forward.

This conception of unity course goes against the hyperbolic and frankly promethean fantasies of Karl Friston and the the other AI obsessed cohorts of cognitive science, but that is because their motivation as scientists isn't purely scientific: they're more technologists trying to 'recreate' consciousness - ala Frankenstein, than philosophically honest thinkers. If Solms were to be completely honest with his readers, he'd admit that he is subscribing to an affectless image of the cosmos where 'pure numbers' somehow sit about waiting to be found by humans. He adopts John Wheelers vantage point of a participatory universe, but one can't help but wonder what this really means; how can humans discover some transcendental number domain - how can such a domain be real without some sort of transcendental 'revelation' as to the ontological primacy of such numbers? If you admit to this religious bias, fine. All is dandy. But I think a person seeking more objectivity would be interested in the facts of such a persons development, which in Solms case could not be anymore problematic: a German colony in Namibia owned by de-beers diamond company? Does that sound like a healthy developmental context able to produce the type of 'mood' - or sensitivity to the 'otherness' of the world outside you - that my critique is based in? Given the cultural context and pernicious racism/classism of that period of time, and the irreversible affects on the persons mood - core affecting 'knowing' about the world around him, that is, recognizing that day-to-day relations in such a colony would have made his parents hardened and cold to the perception of human suffering, an effect that wouldn't be 'contained' towards blacks, but would have become generalized in the relations to their children (the author admits that his dad was affectless; almost seeming to imply that the author has reached the right level of affective awareness). Thus, in other words, we perceive the world through the very processes Solms so expertly describes in his book. Our values precede us; we're enculturated and enframed by the others who install their experience of 'being' - their values - in us. And since I consider that developmental context which shaped Solms (and is in other ways behind the lives of so many schizoid scientists) to be a perversion of true human nature - that is, with the the ontogenetical primacy of love - and with that rejection Freuds one person emphasis in his theory of human personality as well as the predictive coding paradigms (not the idea that organisms predict, or project, the meaning of a prospective signal) obsession with the 'engineerability' of mind, I must reject Solms reasoning on the grounds of an ontological nihilism (or nominalism) that has its roots in the contextual effect on a human beings development.

This oversight is glaring in Solms work, where he gives essentially short-shrift to the processes of psychological development. How exactly is this book an example of 'neuropsychoanalysis'? Nothing truly human and complex is spoken about. It's really just an effort to push a promethean fantasy about the engineerability of consciousness. Just a few moments ago I was basking in the beautiful sun in the backyard, soaking up its rays. How does my consciousness of this experience 'fit' within the predictive processing paradigm? Even better; my nephew comes outside. I look at him; he's 3 years old; I feel awe that just 2 years ago he was an infant. This year he can actually go out and enjoy the world - discover the world, on his own two legs. What is this awe I'm experiencing? And how come this awe triggers in me a gratitude - a love - for being able to perceive this, and bear witness to the beauty of being? How does the so-called "zombied" default that our bodies are really seek jibe with this description of my experience? I am certainly conscious of this awe; I am certainly conscious of this love - this gratitude. And contrary to what Solms thinks, there is nothing exhausting or tiring about it. It is quite the reverse: it is an enormously efficient and proficient way to relate to the signals around you. If anything - if one could look at the world in a positivistic sense, it would be that the predictive paradigms correlation - or rather, Solms correlation - between consciousness and "precision" is all about leading to this understanding - to this sensibility of ones existential and ontological unity with the Other. Clearly, of course, this is not the philosophical presupposition that Solms 'mood' provides him with. He perhaps doesn't ascribe - probably because he doesn't experience very deeply - the sort of meaning that I'm describing here. The interplay between the awe that an existential awareness of an external object elicits (my nephew); and the subsequent melding of this awe with a deep love - a gratitude, a joy in being-with-the-other. To nurture them. To bear witness to their Being.

Ok. Since this phenomenological and therefore philosophical sensibility is not present, the issue becomes, how can you engineer consciousness without using the same materials evolution has used? This consideration exposes the fantastical nature of the whole enterprise. In "A World Beyond Physics", Stuart Kauffman notes that the universe beyond the 92 elements of the periodic table is non-ergodic - not ergodic, as the authors sacred "consciousness equation" has it. That is, the ergodicity or nonergodicity of consciousness is not a question of whether the "gist" of what an organism does to stay consciousness can be "collapsed" into a formula, but whether it is thermodynamically workable. Life is living because it can die. If you want to make consciousness, you would first have to engineer life. And as the author of Equations of Life Charles Cockell notes, you cannot make living beings without carbon: silicon will simply not do. It does not possess the properties that carbon does.

So, where does this leave the authors theory about the engineerability of consciousness? Let me go one by one through his theory. More or less, he doesn't think a system needs to be intrinsically thermodynamic in the sense that carbon-based organisms are. The mongrel-demon creature Solms and his friends have in mind would work like this: first, it would 'fight against thermodynamics' through silicon; instead of seeking food to exist like all living organisms do, it would seek electricity - presumably, electrical outlets. They would thus need to 'build into' the machine the need to reenergize itself; but this would require a 'fatigue' detector; a 'pain detector' that could keep track of damages. Solms then makes the imaginative jump to seeing this as forming the ground of an 'anxiety' detector; Fully in idealization mode now, Solms then says that such machines would then form bonds with other machines like it - and so 'care' will emerge. Think of how makeshift and unseemly this entire process is. Only a person who has spent some time studying origin of life research and understands the insurmountable complexities researchers in this field have had in generating a self-reproducing autopoietic systems can look at this intellectual charade and wonder what kind of being - if such a being could exist - would be. First, it wouldn't truly be thermodynamic because unlike in real creatures, where each cell is literally a homeostat that us synergistically integrated with the functioning of an autonomic nervous system which hierarchically responds to the bodies parameters and then adjusts its parameters to meet the bodies needs, this machine-bot creature would not have parts that are operating in such a way; it would have detectors external to the silicon chips that 'read' its states; this differs fundamentally from life insofar as living beings like bacteria and unicellular organisms - in short, organisms without nervous systems - have long been living and acting 'cognitively' withoout recourse to any external neuronal regulation of its energy needs. Nervous systems are emergent properties of living systems; the 'information processing' they supposedly do are ineluctably guided by the thermodynamics intrinsic to every atom, molecule and cell which makes up the system. Furthermore, and even more to the derangement motivating such scientists, living organisms with nervous systems have evolved in a milieu - in an ecological context - which has enabled it to progress in its evolution. Without the inherent compatibility between inner and outer - between the nucleic acids for instance, that living organisms like ourselves continuously receive from external sources like bacteria and viruses, we wouldn't be viable. We are living because of the invisible network of interpenetration that subsists between organisms with nervous systems and the biotic environment overall.

The author cites experiments which show that because a few hundred or so neurons can be replaced with a computer chip that sends radio waves to receiving neurons, that the whole system can in turn be replaced in exactly just a way. But this in no way follows. Just because a very small portion of a house can be replaced with silly puddy without compromising the stability of the house doesn't imply that you can keep doing that. Phase transitions and thresholds are fundamental to how nature operates. The author also says nothing about follow ups about this experiment? How long does this 'replacement' silicon chip last? Is there any damage to surrounding tissues given that our cells have not evolved with reference to errant radio waves? The experiment also deals with the most technically manageable part of the nervous system: motor neurons. And not just that, the nervous system is composed of 86 billion neurons. Its astonishing that so paltry a number could be replaced and the author could then go on to claim that this "proves in principle" that you could replace all neurons with silicon chips without problems. The arrogance is astounding. Imagine the problems that would inevitably arise at each juncture. It's like jenga; take out one piece and the system begins to wobble; take out more and even though you're putting in 'silicon' chips, such chips didn't have billions upon billion of years of adaptive assimilation to reduce errors. The goal, essentially, is to match with computers and silicon what nature could go within with carbon. But to do this, - or rather, to pursue this promethean fantasy - at the expense of the natural world and the environment at large, given what kind of resources would be required to keep such an artificial enterprise going (science and technology today feeds off the surplus created by the neoliberal economy; Solms thinking evidently doesn't go that far).
Profile Image for Andrey Sennik.
14 reviews1 follower
September 7, 2021
“Once feelings evolved — that is, the unique ability we have as complex organisms to register our states — something urgently new appeared in the universe: subjective being. . . Feelings are a legacy that the whole history of life has bestowed upon us, to steal us from the uncertainties to come.”

Sealed in the impenetrable darkness of the cranium, there lives an extraordinary couple whose uncanny relationship mesmerized and boggled philosophers and scientists for centuries. The members of the couple, while very different in nature, live closely interconnected, mutually dependent lives. One of them is known as the body; being made of physical material it is slightly better studied and understood of the two. The second one is referred to as the mind; unlike its physical counterpart, it’s built of the intangible stuff, which historically made it much harder to study.

For a long time and with a great deal of struggle, both science and philosophy have tried to understand why the physical body gives rise to the non-physical mind and how, at the same time, the non-physical mind can control the physical body. The conundrum appeared so challenging it’s often been consigned to the realm of metaphysical phenomena, which implied that it had no viable solution. The resulting enigma was termed “the hard problem.”

Through decades of scientific inquiry, various schools of neuroscience continued to tackle the hard problem from different angles and with different tools, digging up new insights in hopes of arriving at an ultimate theory. In The Hidden Spring, a South African neuroscientist Mark Solms leverages those cumulative insights along with years of independent research in an attempt to further lift the curtain on the formidable problem.

Starting from the times of Sigmund Freud, he makes gradual progress to modern days by examining the findings and history of psychoanalysis, behavioral neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and neurophysiology. Along the way, he introduces the knowns and unknowns in our current understanding of the origin and function of consciousness and presents possible solutions for filling in some of the most fundamental gaps.

To that end, Solms makes three notable departures from the conventions of modern neuroscience and mind studies. First of all, he challenges the view that positions cortex as the basis of consciousness and subjective experience. He suggests that, instead, we need to shift our focus to the lower parts of the brain — specifically, to the brainstem. Next, he argues that consciousness is not at all a cognitive phenomenon and it’s not our intelligence but affective apparatus where it originates in the first place. Finally, he holds that, under the right conditions, the selfsame thing we understand as consciousness can be artificially engineered even outside of a purely biological system. To support these arguments, on top of neuroscience and psychology, Solms employs some sophisticated tools and concepts from statistical physics and information theory. The result of his work is a riveting and audacious theory of consciousness, which, while not fully exhaustive, is astoundingly wholistic and which, if successfully confirmed, may very well go down in history among science’s most pivotal discoveries.

Insofar as the hard problem allows, Solms does his best to lay out his propositions in accessible terms. While still fairly technical, the book remains within the reach of comprehension for a curious and patient reader.

The Hidden Spring is undoubtedly an urgent must-read for anyone looking to better understand the enigma of consciousness, which ultimately is about better understanding what makes us who we are. I recommend this book highly.
Profile Image for Cindy.
143 reviews53 followers
August 3, 2021
"What we are all aspiring to, therefore,
is not pleasure (decreasing need) but zombiedom (no need)."

I came at this as a person who thought the last decent and scientifically acceptable
psychological experiment involved Pavlov's drooling dog. I really liked the idea of
behaviorism, which avoids any kind of subjective mucking around.
So there were some issues and readjusting when it came to getting on board the subjectivity
in science train, which Solms was fully committed to.
But once I let go, and sometimes you just need to, I had a really great time with this book.
Solms redefined what I think of when I think of feelings.
It's not all cry-boohoo feelings. Feelings are basically the body's
way of bringing to your attention a bodily need and guiding you to solve it. Thirst is a feeling.
So is pain. You avoid things that feel "wrong". Feelings are always conscious.
If they're not, they're not feelings.
Solms thinks consciousness in general is feeling*-based, free energy-related, and brainstem-derived.
Even Nagel's What Is It Like to Be a Bat probably should have been What Does It FEEL Like To
Be a Bat?
Solms does not believe that the structures of the human brain possess special biological
consciousness-producing powers, and thinks functional reproduction of particular structures would
suffice when it comes to manufacturing "experience".
Therefore, the author thinks it's possible to build robots that have feelings/consciousness,
and he's working on it right now.
Robots with a self preservation instinct.
Hold on to your Markov Blankets.
924 reviews50 followers
October 26, 2021
Human consciousness, the awareness that that our perceptions are unique to ourselves, is the subject of this book. It’s dense and difficult to read because of the technical research terminology that’s involved, and I can’t say I understood it all. But it was intriguing enough to keep me interested to the end.

It’s Solms' contention that the nature of consciousness my be the most difficult topic in science. What makes consciousness and its study so difficult and controversial, are two puzzles. One is how the mind relates to the body, the so-called “mind/body problem”. How does the physical brain produce your experience of phenomena? The second is how the non-physical stuff control the physical body.

“It seems reasonable to expect a theory of consciousness to explain the fundamentals of why you feel the way you do. It should explain why you are the way you are,” Solms writes. Why does any of this matter? It’s beyond the scope of Solm’s book but if consciousness is understood, then it may mean we are in greater control of our lives.

Solms’ ideas are particularly interesting as he is a proponent of some b asic Freudian theories and has a psychoanalytic background as well as doing neuro science research. He thinks that Freud got a lot of things right, things that a hundred years later are being borne out by neuro research. Freud’s contribution was to emphasize the role that unconscious impulses control our behavior.

Solms agrees with this and argues that almost all of our actions, ones we normally think are controlled by reason and rationality, are actually influenced more by the unconscious. Information processing is accomplished by unconscious habitual means. How has Solms come to this conclusion which doesn’t agree with that of other researchers? Here is where the book is at its most technical, explaining and summarizing research conclusions.

If I understand Solms, he is saying that what we call consciousness is not something “cognitive” such as our awareness of vision, but something “affective,” tied up with feelings. Common sense is wrong, for example, in believing that memory is a conscious brain function. Solms disputes this common sense notion by pointing that research has proven that activities such as reading, face recognition, color perception, movement perception, space recognition, and the like, all take place simultaneously in different parts of the brain. They are not controlled by any conscious effort, but pulled together in a unity independent of any cognitive effort.

The brain and its handling of these perceptions work this way because of efficiency. We function well in all kinds of ways precisely because we do not have to consciously and repetitively do the work; it is done for us unconsciously, and all we do, consciously, is FEEL.
Another question arises – can a device be created that has consciousness? Solms thinks so. Once all of the sources of psychic activity and their mechanisms have been identified and fed into a computer, feeling will arise naturally and there will be a low level of consciousness. But the implications of this are many and still to be worked out.

Solms’ conclusion is not a simplified and satisfying common-sensical one; rather it is that consciousness, based on complex neural research comes from our interior.. At its source is a stream of feelings for which exact causes are still unknown. Solms doesn’t answer any final questions but he is very thorough in describing the issues and problems in the research.
Profile Image for Toby Newton.
155 reviews29 followers
March 21, 2021
Highly interesting, highly technical but clearly written, and highly thought provoking. Mark Solms' analysis of affect's role in consciousness is convincing and his extrapolation of human experience out of the basic mechanisms of a self-organising system seeking to defy entropy, and the problems to which that gives rise after a certain point of complexity is reached, in terms of interpreting the plasticity of needs and wants on the back of bare survival, is illuminating (essentially, it's neurosis, confirmed as a core part of the human condition).

But to my mind Solms has not, in any way, solved the "hard problem" of consciousness. He has shunted the question down a level, from consciousness to feeling, but remains unable to suggest how matter 'feels' in the first place.

"Self-organising systems survive because they occupy limited states; they do not disperse themselves. This survival imperative led gradually to the evolution of complex dynamical mechanisms that underwrite intentionality. Critically, the selfhood of self-organising systems grants them a point of view." But why/how did that "intentionality" arise, suffused with feeling, as against an automatic electrochemical mutual reaction, triggered by physical forces between entities, eventually reaching its limit in terms of the calculable complexity of needs/demands to be met? I'm with Johannes Muller: there's some non-physical element caught up in this, a fundamental constituent part of reality, not yet captured in our reckonings because not yet identifiable let alone measurable.
4,688 reviews48 followers
March 13, 2021
I won this book in a goodreads drawing.

A neurologist trained in psychoanalysis tells us about the brain, and where consciousness comes from. Dense, but readable. I recommend it for those interested in the mind and the brain.
Profile Image for Bogi Takács.
Author 54 books556 followers
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March 30, 2021
Nonfiction about the origin of consciousness, somewhere between a book entirely for laypeople and a book for a more technical audience. I feel like if I put allll my thoughts here, I might as well write an academic kind of book review, and I can't really budget time for that right now.

So I'll just remark that I really liked some aspects of the book (control theory / systems science / etc are really underappreciated in psychology IMO), but near the end I felt increasingly perplexed about why the book did not cite any of the actual empirical results of embodied AI and/or embodied robotics, even though embodied approaches were cited as pure theory. It felt to me like huge chunks of the proposed research program to create artificial consciousness had already been attempted by others. (I might have misread something??) I also missed a discussion of dynamic systems theory approaches, and how they relate to the newly proposed equations - maybe there is something from his colleague Friston? I'm going to go look, because again, this was interesting and thought-provoking.
___________
Source of the book: Lawrence Public Library
Profile Image for Heather Browning.
910 reviews6 followers
June 11, 2021
For the most part, this was a very readable book and I really enjoyed the author's biographical digressions and patient case studies. It was a shame that at times it diverged into some complex and formal work. I strongly agree with one of the fundamental claims - that the origin of consciousness is to be found in feelings rather than perception or cognition, and that consciousness science should thus be focussing more on affect. I just didn't see why this then had to be framed in terms of the free energy principle, which just seemed to me to needlessly add complexity.
Profile Image for Keith Swenson.
Author 15 books49 followers
October 14, 2022
The hard problem of consciousness is thought by many to be unsolvable. Forever beyond our reach. But not Mark Solms and a band of cohorts forging a new frontier. It is amazing how far we have come in the last 10 years.

Consciousness is a topic that everyone seems unable to even define. We all agree we have it, but it is really hard to put a finger on exactly what it is because we have no real references to compare to. You simply have subjective experience, and the objective world, but how they are tied together is not at all obvious.

If like me you have spent hours and hours researching consciousness without many concrete answers, I have to highly recommend this book. It is intriguing. By looking at homeostasis and the free energy principles we seem to be able to describe a system that work in a way very much like consciousness feels. You know, it just might be the answer.

I wish I could say that this book dispels all doubt. It doesn't. There are still many questions, and so many gaps to fill in, yet Solms has taken what appears to be a distinct concrete step forward. Only time will tell, but if interested in consciousness and how it might manifest in a material world, this will certainly be worth the time to read. It will be interested to see what is built in the coming years on this able platform.
Profile Image for Maudaevee.
443 reviews37 followers
April 16, 2021
While I found a lot of the information in this book interesting, it was not easy to get through. There are some dense spots that I had to take a break from. I am still very glad to have read the book and can think of a few friends this will appeal to.
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April 16, 2021
Insight into modern Neurophysical knowledge and a theory of consciousness with wide implications.
Profile Image for Hugh Worrall.
4 reviews
September 3, 2022
Ok. I've made my way through the book. Several times I felt like a wouldn't make it all the way through. It's a beast but very rewarding.
But I think the idea can be summarized more simply for us ordinary people. Here's a go. Consciousness arises in the brain stem area (rather than the cortex) and is fundamentally about 'feeling' (emotion) rather than thinking. As a living organism with boundaries we are in constant struggle with the natural tendency of the universe to head toward entropy - where all energy is evenly distributed (i.e. disorganised) - and this requires 'work'. Being alive means we have needs to satisfy to maintain ourselves and stay alive. Our 'feelings' signal to us that work needs to be done to satisfy our needs. Consciousness helps us assess our multiple needs, against what we have learned about ourselves and the world, triage them, and take actions, in what we hope will be the most effective way.
I do have a criticism. I'm still not sure that Mark Solms answers the question 'why can't we triage our needs, and take action, 'in the dark' (unconsciously) like most of the other things our bodies do?'
I think the reason this question isn't answered properly is because there is insufficient attention (is that a pun of some sort?) paid to what role being a 'social' creature plays in the evolution of consciousness. I would have thought that being 'aware' of self, and our needs, would enable us to communicate our current state, and our needs, to our colleagues and therefore improve our chances of survival. I would have thought consciousness would improve the efficiency and effectiveness of this communication rather than doing it 'in the dark'. I would have thought that consciousness would enable our ability to project these ideas (self and needs) onto others, to help predict their needs and motives. This would also mean we could better help the people we care about (because we understand their needs and motives) and would also be able to assess the threat posed by our our rivals and enemies (not just humans) as well as be able to 'mislead' them if needed.
Maybe this could be a whole new book ... I'm just about to read "Social" by Matthew Leiberman. Maybe that will address this idea ...
Profile Image for Nicholas.
207 reviews21 followers
March 25, 2021
The best book on neuroscience/consciousness I've read to date. The writing is superb, and the book well structured presenting just the right amount of information at the right pace, with the multiple use of allegories to get the point across to ensure the reader understands the theories and concepts in the simplest terms possible.
Profile Image for DR.
182 reviews8 followers
April 9, 2021
The most important book I've read about consciousness hands down. Solms makes an incredibly convincing case that the "hidden spring" of consciousness is not cognition but emotion. Emotions, bubbling up from the evolutionarily ancient brain stem, are the core tool through which all of our elaborate and recently evolved perceptions become conscious. The implications are vast. Still processing.
Profile Image for Kendra.
93 reviews15 followers
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April 21, 2022
I think I will read anything recent written on consciousness and be happy. We know so little about what consciousness actually is, and I find that fascinating. I don’t feel like I can rate this book or have an opinion on the author’s views as this topic still feels really new to me. In a nutshell, Solms seems to say that consciousness is not something other than physicality but just an aspect of homeostasis and self-organizing systems. He gives the example of lightning and thunder— they are not different things.

ASIDE: I was first introduced to the idea that consciousness evolved from affect by reading Other Minds and Metazoa, books about animal minds and the evolution of consciousness. So, Peter Godfrey Smith didn’t state that outright though and I had to infer it— what a revelation! If consciousness didn’t always exist, it would have to evolve, and some consciousness may be different than others, ie: is some consciousness more complex or is it on and off like a light switch? I think his view was that pain/pleasure is a symptom/sign of consciousness. My first thought was that that can’t be right— even if a bee didn’t feel pain, that wouldn’t mean that it wasn’t conscious! How could we know that?

So in this book, Solms talks about Oliver Sacks, certain case studies, disputes the idea that the cortex = consciousness and discusses his view that consciousness exists in the brain stem. He has a bit of an argument with Chalmers on the idea that consciousness exists in all things (just a little bit) — one thing I wish he did more was explain WHY when he makes a concession. He will say in the book that an idea doesn’t make sense, but I want to hear more on why.

The musings on AI were really interesting— I’ll be excited to hear more about the project.


If I were to read this again, I would start with the last chapter first and then read from the beginning. For a lot of the book, I had no idea where we were going or what the author’s views were. He summarizes really well in the end what his views are.

As Solms is a neuroscientist, he focuses a lot on parts of the brain. He is also a psychoanalyst and promotes that as well (it has gone into a bit of a downtrend lately). From what I have read and listened to so far, I’ve gleaned that of all the people that study the brain— neuroscientists, psychologists, behavioral scientists, philosophers (of mind) generally, these people don’t talk to each other and may have a lot of misconceptions about each other’s pieces of the puzzle— the misconception about the Cortex’ purpose, for example. I thought it was great to have his niche perspective on this.
Profile Image for Ashish Rathi.
10 reviews15 followers
January 16, 2022
He nailed it what is the source of consciousness, as I think anatonio damasio solved the problem of hard problem of consciousness in his book self comes to mind , mark solms extend his theory of consciousness by incorporating free energy principle, as he shows affect is primary by showing patient who has only brain stem is conciousness however certain functions are impaired, however patient is definitely aware about his sentient however he clearly shows cortical fallacy which most nueroscientist like stainlas dehaene, Michael graziano, and Joseph Ledoux belive source of conciousness, however he want to show conciousness in terms of mathematical equation which damasio don't believe that it can degrade conciousness to mere algorithm, he think that he can test his theory by making machine Concious however all dillema are there regarding ethical compatibility with our human sentient, anatonio damasio clearly don't believe that machine are as Concious as human or any mamal are Concious, and he mentioned suffering of animal can not be avoided, specially Mamaals who probably suffer more than us
Profile Image for Sam Tornio.
160 reviews4 followers
March 10, 2021
Memoir, hard science, philosophy, even spirituality. At times as straightforward as can be, at others maddeningly complex, but always lucid and rooted in conviction, logic, and, as far as can tell, solid evidence. I’m not really qualified to evaluate his approach to consciousness, but the idea that feelings are at the root of it all — what could possibly make more sense? Highly recommended for the intrepid reader.
94 reviews
July 14, 2022
I was expecting that I would not understand such an in-depths discussion of the neural, psychiatric, computational and cognitive perspectives of consciousness, but I’m surprised that I did and fully enjoyed the reading, thanks to the author’s scientifically clear but also deeply personal writing. Each scientific explanation starts with a short recap of some mysteries surrounding consciousness as a child, like the fear of my own death. This makes the later explanation more intriguing and relatable.
Profile Image for Meg.
107 reviews42 followers
November 9, 2022
I was really happy to be done with this book. No offense to the writing or the intelligence of the author. He has a very fascinating theory, and his depth of investigation seems genuine and concise. I simply struggled to pay attention and to keep up with his inquiries. I had better luck following physics books (and Virginia Woolf books) than this one, and I love neuroscience.

I appreciate that he brought up animal cruelty. As he believes consciousness comes from affects in the limbic system (more primitive brain). If you can feel then you can have consciousness. At least that is how I understood it. More and more animals are showing to be sentient beings, with feelings. This calls into question the enormous cruelty we have imposed on animals throughout our existence and to this day.
Profile Image for Arya Harsono.
72 reviews
July 28, 2021
I always used to question consciousness through a spiritual lens – why is it that I exist and experience life exclusively in my body and not anyone else’s? Based on parallel anecdotes across religions, my working theory was that each of us inhabits a “soul” that is recycled in some metaphysical soul world with every death and birth, not unlike the Disney/Pixar movie. Within these souls lies our “purpose”, subconsciously driving us toward our passions or desires in unexplainable ways. I fantasized that our bodies were machines that house a programming unit that was divinely inserted into our brains at birth.

Whereas I saw consciousness as something external to the human, Solms argues that the brain creates consciousness. But “experience” as we know it is not so simple as an illusion cast by our cognitive processes. Central to his argument is the significance of emotions and how they affect the physical inputs that determine our conscious experience, which is often taken for granted in these discussions.

On localizing consciousness in the brain, Solms uses the fact that children who are missing a cerebral cortex still exhibit emotional reactions to external stimuli to demonstrate that consciousness must not stem from the cortex but rather from the brainstem. He defends this view diligently, though frankly with too much precaution as if anticipating the average reader of this book to be the most scrutinizing, critical neuroscientist and so wanted to cover all his bases. And perhaps for good reason, as his claims have been met with several criticisms and counterarguments from the neuroscience community, which of course is typical for the scientific process. Though for someone with very limited neuroscience knowledge, I was still able to capture the gist of his message, only after tedious re-reading of paragraphs coupled with numerous Google searches.

Even the gastroenterologist who brought my attention to the book found it dense (understandably, they are different fields). Yet he recommended that interested non-neuroscientist readers should just read the introduction, maybe the first few chapters to get a sense of where he’s going, and then skip to the last two chapters and that would be enough to get what you need out of the book without having to trudge through the heavy science. I endorse this reading method and wish I had taken this shortcut instead. In fact, maybe you’re even better off just reading a summary or a review of the book. But I can imagine, for those with the technical appreciation and passion for solving the mystery of consciousness, this book is a rare treat that offers exciting, innovative ideas.
Profile Image for Steve.
924 reviews40 followers
June 29, 2021
Really interesting book about consciousness, by a senior neuroscientist who was also (of all things) trained as a Freudian psychoanalyst. On top of those, he also seems to know a lot about physics and information theory. Needless to say, large chunks of the book were too complex for me, but the remainder was very absorbing and educational.

One of his main points is that the origin and basis of consciousness has more to do with emotions (feelings) and less to do with cognition or perception.
Profile Image for Elbrackeen Brackeen.
573 reviews4 followers
May 27, 2021
To paraphrase a favorite movie quote: Sometimes you just have to let the science flow over you.
Profile Image for Barry Karlsson.
35 reviews
May 28, 2021
Swedish

Neuropsykoanalys & neurofilosofi & empiri

I början av 2000-talet fick Mark Solms och Oliver Turnbull internationell uppmärksamhet med boken "The Brain and the Inner World" (på svenska ”Hjärnan och vår den inre världen”), som var en syntes mellan neuropsykologi och psykoanalys = neuropsykoanalys.

Nu är Solms tillbaka med en fördjupning på samma tema. Jag har läst den nyligen publicerade ”The Hidden Spring” där han utifrån en fenomenologisk och neuropsykologisk teori argumenterar att människans intentionella och prediktiva system inte uppstår i cortex utan i pons, i övre delen av hjärnstammen och VTA, där det retikulära aktiverings-systemet är startmotorn för medvetande och, för att tala med Panksepp med som ett SEEKING-system, medan PFC organiserar och styr upp alla dessa medvetet upplevda impulser (feelings). Det som är extra intressant är prediktionsfelen i dessa energiflöden; framförallt ur ett inhibitions- och uppmärksamhetsperspektiv.

Han är, även om han inte helt avvisar det, delvis kritisk till strikta top-down modeller såsom "high-order-theory" (HOT) á la Joseph LeDoux och Elisabeth Phelbs. Och han ger sig ut på en neurofilosofisk vandring med bland andra David Chalmers och Thomas Nagel och diskuterar dualism och the hard problem och essentiella emotioner (dvs basic emotions, typ rädsla, ilska, glädje...). Hans ingång går delvis på tvärs med Lisa Feldman Barrett's emotionsbegrepp, även om han inte avvisar vare sig konceptualism, konstruktivism eller interoception, så anlägger han helt egna aspekter över vilka de neuroanatomiska korrelaten är som styr upp vad känslor egentligen är.

Efter en lång upptakt i boken med en ojämn redovisning av olika emotionsteorier, neuroanatomiska korrelat och psykoanalys, så diskuterar han balansgången mellan entropi och homeostas - mellan sönderfall och balans – detta i ljuset av intentionalitet att vilja och vara och finnas i världen: vad är det att vara människa? Detta sätts i ett neurofilosofiskt sammanhang med prediktionsteorier á la Andy Clark, och Karl Friston’s teori om ”fri energi”, och med en statistisk djupdykning i Bayes sannolikhetskalkyler, som enligt Solms resonemang har direkt bäring på just medvetande och riktad uppmärksamhet (resting state och salience network) och vad som händer när något, även trivialt, motiverande uppenbarar sig och som vi måste förhålla oss till med emotionella reaktioner för överlevnad och med medvetet upplevda känslor.

Han avslutar boken med en närmast reduktionistisk utvikning kring artificiellt medvetande och säger att han bytt uppfattning att det han tidigare ansåg omöjligt att olika materiella media skulle kunna utveckla självmedvetande, så varför inte ett framtida AI-system, som nödvändigtvis inte behöver vara biologiskt?

FREUD

När Sigmund Freud startade sitt projekt för en vetenskaplig psykologi i slutet av 1800-talet var idén att skapa en naturvetenskap psykologi för att upptäcka de neurala mekanismerna för mänskligt beteende. Hans teorier hade en lång vetenskapsfilosofisk tradition som byggde på praktisk filosofi och akademiskt teoretiserande snarare än på empiri – en tradition till vilken Freud anslöt sig, dock med reservationen att han sade sig prova och fann stöd för teorierna i behandling. Validiteten, replikerbarhet och låg falsifierbarhet i hans omfattande spekulativa begreppsbildning har alltid varit en akilleshäl och föremål för omfattande kritik, inte minst från Karl Popper.

Freuds förslag om kopplingen mellan undermedvetna minnen och den synaptiska klyftan och senare hans psykologiska teoribygge var dock en kreativ (men på den tiden ännu en spekulativ idé) om en fysiologiskt neural konstruktion av medvetande. Ur ett neuroperspektiv kan Freuds bidrag historiskt sett inte överskattas. Han pekade på hjärnan, men främst cortex, som ursprunget till psykisk ohälsa. Och han funderade över om det i den synaptiska klyftan fanns källan till minnet, och om synapsförbindelser i själva verket beskrev utvecklingen av psykisk sjukdom.

Att studera de relativt nyupptäckta nervcellerna var vid slutet av 1800-talet ett pionjärarbete. Nobelpristagaren 1906 spanjoren Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852–1934) hade tidigt under 1880-90 talen visat att hippocampus var en särskilt viktig struktur för minne, och det var rimligt att också utforska hippocampus i mer cellulära termer.

I sina böcker och texte för Mark Solms resonemangen vidare och knyter samman högre kognitiva funktioner såsom styrfunktioner av tänkande, problemlösning, inhibitions-förmåga, tal- och språkförmåga, episodiskt minne, symboliseringsförmåga – med jagkänsla och personlighets-aspekter (ego). Lagringsfunktioner, såsom arbetsminne, och perception knyts ihop med basal medvetenhet och omedvetenhet. Startfunktioner således med det retikulära systemet, som knyts samman med salience network, det vill säga riktad uppmärksamhet, vakenhet, medvetande och drömmar. Det emotionella systemet binds samman med driftskomponenter och limbiska korrelat. Och frontallobs-skador med sänkt exekutiv förmåga, förlorad initiativ-förmåga, skadad integritetskänsla, bristande hämningar, ansvarslöshet, hänsynslöshet och motorisk rastlöshet. Eller att vissa personlighetsstörningar har likheter med vissa prefrontala skador. Och att ”bortträngning” är fenomen som i vissa avseenden går att förena med hotsituationer och molekylär rekonsolidering eller aspekter av vissa högersidiga hjärnskador; etc.

Solms är väl medveten om validitetsproblemet i den tidiga psykoanalytiska teoribildningen, med problem som till exempel medvetandets funktion och dess neuroanatomiska korrelat: Var sitter ”medvetandet”? Vad är ursprunget till ”jagupplevelsen”? var frågor som inte den mest strukturerade observationsmetodik tidigare kunde besvara, skriver Solms, men i The Hidden Spring lutar han ändå åt att medvetandefunktioner har sitt fäste i övre Pons och VTA.

Andra områden som kritiserats är de psykoanalytiska påståendena att felhandlingar har en drift-skuld-konflikt-bakgrund, eller att drömmar har något att säga om det ”omedvetna”. Här försöker nu de nya neuropsyko-analytikerna med Solms i spetsen att vederlägga studier av bland andra Jouvet på 1960-talet och Hobson och McCarley på 1970-talet, som menade att drömmar och REM-sömn var sidoeffekter av hjärnstamsfunktioner och helt enkelt bara var att likna vid en neurologisk artefakt, och att man därför borde utesluta teorier om högre cerebralt styrda kognitiva funktioner, och att drömmandet därmed är en slags neural restprodukt.

Hobsons och McCarleys forskning och kritik var ett av bidragen till den upptornande krisen inom psykoanalytiska rörelsen som ledde fram till den berömda konferensen inom amerikanska psykiatriska förbundet, APA, år 1976, där man med en omröstning direkt ifrågasatte drömmen som en ”kungsväg till det omedvetna”.

Idag visar Solms’ studier åter att drömfenomenet är betydligt mer neuroanatomiskt komplext än vad som fanns kunskap på 70-talet.

Dagens fMRI-forskning visar, enligt Solms, att det finns ett samband mellan kärnor i pons – som agerar startmotor och tycks fungera som en slags drömgenerator – och söksystemet i prefrontala cortex, som styr tankeinnehållet i drömprocessen.

Inom neuropsykoanalysen talas ännu i linje med Freuds hypotes om förträngda minnen att dessa tillstånd skapas vid en konflikt där individen en gång inte kunde hantera eller härbärgera smärtan som mellan två disparata behov eller krav, exempelvis ett överlevnadsmässigt behov av anknyt-ning till en psykiskt våldsam förälder, utan dolde detta både för sig själv och för omgivningen med hjälp av glömska (förträngning) av det illavarslande hotande objektet (den lynnige föräldern) eller projektion av egna impulser till någon annan. Delar av dessa fenomen beskrivs inom KBT och Aaron Beck som ”dysfunktionella tankar” och beskriver i princip samma fenomen men med en annan teoretisk ram.

Freuds metod att närma sig dessa frågor var via den fria associationen. Hans tidiga modell var att tankar var konstruerade via neurala nätverk, där ena tanken eller associationen kunde leda till nästa i en hierarki av nätverk. Detta var i början av mikroskopin och man hade nyligen upptäckt hjärncellernas neurala struktur och med en stark tysk empiris forskning med Wundts introspektiva metod i spetsen, var Freud en del av denna tidiga form av neuropsykologi.

Psykoanalys beskrivs ibland som ett långsiktigt förändringsarbete som påverkar personens förhållningssätt och förmåga att adaptivt bättre och bättre balansera mellan stabilitet och flexibilitet i olika komplexa situationer. Det är inte katharsis, eller den plötsliga psykiska befrielsen som är den primära upplevelsen, utan den gradvisa, nästan omärkliga, uppdateringen av minnen som avtäcks lager för lager.

En illustration till detta är Anton Ehrenzweig som skrev i boken The Hidden Order of Art hur det undermedvetna var som skiktade strukturer, såsom arkeologiska avlagringar, och han spekulerade i att fysik och psykologi kunde, som hos en konstnärs kreativa process mötas och återupptäcka och bearbeta gamla upplevelser och minnen i ett nytt sammanhang, i ett nytt skimrande ljus – eller mörker... Det psykoanalytiskt karakteristiska repetitiva återvändande samtalet till associativa minnen, är komponenter av tekniker som antingen oavsiktligt eller intuitivt, inte ligger långt från olika metoder för minnesrekonsolidering. Detta är tankar som på 2010-talet åter lyfts av Eric Kandel i hans båda böcker The Age of Insight och Reductionism in Art and Brain Science.
Profile Image for Andrew.
151 reviews4 followers
October 28, 2022
Dense.
There is a lot here and if you aren’t familiar with the field of the brain you’ll find yourself rereading portions.

The book discusses what previous people thought and discovered. Then shows how we’ve built on that information over centuries. Sometimes tossing out the old ideas, sometimes rediscovering the old ideas. Also, several interesting studies and experiments discussed where portions of the brain were damaged or missing.

If your interested in the brain. Worth a read.

April 4, 2021
Heady stuff

Mark Solms has done an admirable job of making a very difficult and mysterious concept so accessible. It makes a very interesting read but requires patience and interest to follow him in this journey. Overall a very nicely written book and hope it gets the attention it deserves.
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