More than a century ago psychoanalysis set neurology and psychiatry an unprecedented challenge by revealing that the effects of the unconscious are more potent than those of consciousness, and that unconscious drives are constantly trying to surface in conscious life. Freud would often remark that psychological acts do not just float about in the air and that one day, perhaps not even so far off, the combined efforts of biologists and psychoanalysts would come up with a common explanation for psychic processes. Today, mutatis mutandis, the neurosciences are challenging psychoanalysis with experimental and clinical models that are clarifying the language of the neurons, the brain’s plastic capacity, and other crucial aspects of the human mind.
Over the last fifty years a genuine revolution has taken place. The rapid development of methods of neuro-imaging (non invasive techniques for investigating the cerebral functions in their functional version which show the brain’s activity while we are performing an action, thinking, becoming emotional, and so on) and, above all, the ever closer matching of experimental and clinical data, have ushered in a new era of research, making progress that until recently was simply unimaginable. Nonetheless, the neurosciences are facing a number of questions that cannot be eluded. For example, how does the brain generate states of awareness? Do the activities of consciousness involve only limited zones of the brain or is it a global phenomenon in which the brain plays only a part, albeit a highly significant one? Or again, if consciousness were due to the activity of specific regions, would it involve the activity of specific types of neurons or a variety of anatomical substrata? In this case, which level would be correlated: the intracellular structures, the synapses, or specific neuronal stratifications? We shall not be able to make much progress until we can throw light on these questions.

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