THE ORGANISM ACCORDING TO GOLDSTEIN
Kurt Goldstein (1878-1965) was a German neurologist who is known for having studied the lesions that cause aphasia from a perspective influenced by Gestalt psychology (see the Glossary). This influence led him to demonstrate how a local lesion inscribes itself into the global dynamics of the brain and then of the entire organism This position was original and courageous at a time when most neurologists associated psychological functions to specific areas of the brain. He had been trained by preeminent figures who defended the cerebral localization approach, like Carl Wernicke, who, with Paul Broca, discovered the areas of the brain linked to language.
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Goldstein had participated in the medical care of German soldiers traumatized by World War I. He had noticed that it was impossible to find a precise organic locus to be treated by a specific medicine that could alleviate the suffering of these soldiers. Independently of Cannon, he was probably the first neurologist to propose a neurological model that situates the nervous system as a global subsystem in the organism.
Persecuted by the Nazis, he fled first to Amsterdam, where he wrote The Organism (1939). When he immigrated to the United States, this work was published with an introduction by psychologist Karl S. Lashley, who was renowned for his studies on the cortical basis of motor activities. The Organism is the first scientific my yoga blog that explicitly associates the entity that is a human being to a holistic notion of the organism Kurt Goldstein’s organism is as coherent as Spinoza’s systems. This vision created such a salutary contrast to the neurological literature of the day that it filled the intellectual world with enthusiasm The work was read by an entire generation of body psychotherapists like Gerda Boyesen (2001, p. 33) and Malcolm Brown (2001) who called his school Organismic Psychotherapy in honor of Goldstein.62 He also had an important influence on neurology (Lashley, Luria, and more recently Edelman) and philosophy (Ludwig Binswanger, George Canguilhem, Ernst Cassirer, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty).
Kurt Goldstein63 details, in an explicit way, the methodological obstacles that make the analysis of the global organismic system difficult. He supposes that a living organ does not function the same way in its natural environment as it does in a laboratory.64 It is also probable that certain functions of the brain are not highlighted unless we can understand how the brain integrates itself into the organismic system. Forty years later, this methodological remark received the support of specialists in animal behavior. They had noticed that the observations of animals in captivity only partially resemble those of the animals living in their natural environment.65 Today, neurologists who use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) confirm this analysis when they observe how a brain functions while a person performs a specific psychological task.
In his studies of traumatized individuals, Goldstein distinguishes the feelings that are associated to an explicit cause from those that do not seem to have a cause. It is mostly the second type of affects which haunts the traumatized persons. Goldstein noticed that the individuals who do not succeed in relating their fears to an identified aggressor also often lose their sense of identity. Many psychotherapists follow this distinction when they distinguish between emotions with or without “an object.” For a great number of psychoanalysts, an emotion without an object, of necessity, has a repressed unconscious object. Today, certain psychotherapists who specialize in the disorders caused by trauma recommend, on the contrary, that the emotions without an associated cause be addressed at the start of therapy. I single out this discussion because it seems important to me to become particularly attentive as soon as a person speaks of affects without objects; however, the status of these affects remain a topic of research for which no satisfactory answers have yet been proposed. When a patient speaks to me of affects without objects, I know I must explore what is going on with him when he has this sort of experience.
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