The birth of the homo psychologicus: The chronicle of a death foretold
We must start the search for the origins of the homo psychologicus, somewhat paradoxically, with its apparent death. For, we can observe that the psychological, or put more correctly, the psychic or the subjective, today has little or no space anymore in mainstream Academia1 nor in the mainstream psypractices. Let me illustrate the widespread phobia for the psychic with a little anecdote. Once at a broad philosophical conference I gave a paper on emotions in politics with the title carrying explicit references to psychoanalytic authors. Apparently this had drawn the attention of a notorious Freud and Lacan-basher who I saw taking the first row at my session. ‘Emotions,’ thus he started after my paper, ‘are nothing more, nothing less than brain activity. The rest are stories!’ I answered politely that stories constitute a legitimate field of studies in their own right – which made little impression to be honest. It was only afterwards – it is always afterwards that the good arguments come – that I thought that I should have referred to the movie The Matrix. In that science-fiction movie machines and technology have become autonomous and for their survival they tap electricity and energy from the human beings. The humans are held prisoners in embryonic water-filled cradles and serve as batteries. However, as the first such ‘human resources’ died en masse, the human beings were connected to a supercomputer which generated a virtual reality. This virtual life keeps ‘the crops’ alive. How to understand this? It is clear that the psychic life as such is needed to make the system work. Hence, is it not the radical conclusion to make that, instead of body warmth and electricity, the machines foremost feed on the psychical and subjective life – in other words, the stories – produced by the humans? The humans live the (albeit virtual) life the machines themselves lack. Perhaps we can find here a basic scheme: if in The Matrix the machines live by proxy of the humans, this shows how the human being itself experiences life. Life is always somewhere else, with someone else, in another space, in another time. We do not have
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reassuring in their supposedly firm and certain ground. Today however, we are no longer so keen on the novelist stories. Could it be that the uneasiness or even the anger they provoke should be read as the signs of our times? Today the mainstream psy-experts talking about brain scans, neurotransmitters, and senso-motor skills can hardly be said to be the advocates of the psychical dimension. It is not about the stories; it is about body warmth and electricity, nothing more! This emotionality involved in discarding the subjective dimension might indicate that we are not merely assisting the death of the homo psychologicus; maybe its death should be classified as a suspicious death. Those who proclaim the end of the human of the stories at least do not give this species much breathing space. The subjective and the psychic dimension is like a strange disease, an obscene secret that has to be discarded and denied. Of course, the inquiries in this book will in the end reveal that the skandalon2 will always return: the death of the homo psychologicus can only be a staged death: the new neuro-biological man has not freed itself from psychologisation, on the contrary: as we will see, it is still ridden by unavowed stories. But for now, this first chapter will try to disentangle the different story lines and assess the possible motives of the fall of the homo psychologicus by turning the gaze backwards to its origins. And there we will see that if the birth of the homo psychologicus has not already brought us a stillborn child, then at least its story reads as a chronicle of a death foretold.