Time and its representations: at the crossroads between psychoanalysis and neuroscience

Sylvie Tordjman
Journal of Physiology, Paris 2011, 105 (4-6): 137-48
Representations of time and time measurements depend on subjective constructs that vary according to changes in our concepts, beliefs and technological advances. Similarly, the past, the future and also the present are subjective representations that depend on each individual's psychic time and biological time. Nonetheless, the construction of these representations is influenced by objective factors (cognitive, physiological and physical) related to neuroscience. Thus, studying representation of time lies at the crossroads between neuroscience and psychoanalysis. Furthermore, these objective factors are supposed to meet criteria of scientific validity, such as reproducibility. However, reproducibility depends on the individual's state that will not be exactly the same later, due precisely to the passage of time. The criteria of scientific validity are therefore only applicable if we place ourselves at time "t". This does not take into account lifespan biological changes. In fact, it is not neuroscience that is opposed to psychoanalysis based on this notion of subjectivity, illustrated by the concept of temporality, but rather the use and interpretation of neuroscience centered on taking snapshots. We can assume that focusing on present time, in particular instantaneity rather than infinity, prevents us from facing our own finitude. Individuals with autism provide us a good illustration of this idea. Through their autistic behaviors, they are totally focused on the present moment and create repeated discontinuity out of continuity. The hypothesis stated here is that children with autism need to create stereotyped discontinuity because discontinuity repeated at regular intervals might have been fundamentally lacking in their physiological development, due to circadian rhythm alterations. In conclusion, the question is raised that both the current use of neuroscience and the current representation of time might be a means of managing our fear of death, giving us the illusion of controlling the uncontrollable, in particular the passage of time.


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