Spanish 460: Psychoanalysis and Neuroscience: The Mind-Brain Problem

Cross listed with NBB 471 and LACS 490. 3 credits. Credits applicable towards the major in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology and the minor/major in Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

Since the early 1960s, Argentine culture has been permeated by the vast array of trends informing psychoanalysis. You will often hear Argentines say that Buenos Aires is a city in which there are more psychoanalysts than patients, and, in fact, Argentina did experience a diaspora of psychoanalysts and psychiatrists who established their practices across the globe. Back at home, however, mental health professionals kept going at it against many challenges posed by dictatorial governments and religious prejudices. During dictatorships, this controversial discipline (often associated with Marxism) gradually became the intellectual bastion that challenged the establishment, defied normative sexuality, and nursed revolutionary movements. Since the advent of democracy in 1983, psychoanalysis in Argentina gained significant ground: today it can be easily found in scientific and popular literature, rock music, films, cartoons, TV shows, and radio broadcasts hosted by mental health patients, such as the popular radio show "La Colifata". Even the language Argentines use on a daily basis is traversed by a vast variety of terms associated with the discipline. Though today psychoanalysis is part of Argentine mainstream culture, the Buenos Aires district commonly known as “Villa Freud” (where most psychoanalysts and psychiatrists have their offices) continues to showcase its edgy and alternative flavor.

Against this colorful background, the global emergence of the neurosciences over the past ten years has exercised an increasing impact on the Argentine psychoanalytical community. This development, in turn, led to reassess long-standing assumptions ingrained in protocols followed by mental health professionals who viewed the problem of the mind from a psychoanalytical standpoint. Argentine experts pursuing their doctoral degrees in the US and Europe brought back to their native country new approaches to the mind-brain problem frequently compounded with new technological methods. President Cristina Kirchner’s recent brain surgery, performed by one of the foremost Argentine neuroscientist, gave impetus to the visibility of the discipline across the media. Today, the literature associated with neuroscience can be found anywhere in the city, to the point that a TV show hosted by two renowned neuroscientists in the Canal Encuentro ("El cerebro y yo") discusses the organizing principles of neuroscience as new high-tech keys that would eventually unlock the mystery behind our minds. Even the most competitive Argentine soccer teams face the dilemma of choosing between their traditional psychoanalysts and new experts in neurosciences who employ new technologies associated with the discipline to maximize their players' competitive potential.

The course introduces students to these two disciplines and how they shaped the way in which humans have constructed their own subjectivity during the last century. The course focuses on the foundations of psychoanalysis and neuroscience and on the dialogues and misunderstandings existing between them in Argentina. Students are guided in the exploration of the relationship between brain and mind, the unconscious, and the social and political construction of modern subjectivity across urban cultures. The reading and visual materials selected for the course place students in the local context that contributed to disseminating both the science and the process through which they became broad cultural phenomena. Professors frequently complement in-class instruction with guided field trips that further the dialogue between theory and local context. To this end, students will attend talks delivered by renowned psychoanalysts at the Asociación Psicoanalítica Argentina, and will also visit mental health institutions such as the Hospital Borda and the Hospital Neuropsiquiátrico Moyano.