Presentation of Henri Ey's life's work.

Pr Norman Simms Univ. of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand

Mentalities/Mentalités Journal Vol 14, N° 1, 1999

About: Robert M. Palem. La modernité d'Henri EY: L'organo-dynamisme. Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1997. 132 pp.


Henri Ey's (1900-1977) life's work was an attempt to unify psychiatry and psychoanalysis, which means no less than bringing together a view of the mind as a functional process of the whole body focussed on the brain and a view of the mind as an intellectual-emotional product of the individuel growing, living and developing in historical society. It involves also something more than co-ordinating two différent sorts of medical regimes and descriptions of mental illness. The lengthy career of this Catalan scientist shows that it also requires a thinking through some of the greatest philosophical problems of the last several hundreds of years, from the Enlightenment to the present, taking into account as a further conséquence the bases of Western civilization in its classical, medieval and Renaissance roots. Like other great French thinkers of this century, Ey was self-consciously aware of this task and confronted it in a series of books written over more than fifty years as the implications and the opposition to his work became clearer to him.

Though we do not agree -or have the expertise to judge and make an assessment- on all the points in all of Ey's writings, especially the clinical, as summarised and expounded in this brief study by Robert M. Palem, what does seem clear is that what the Catalan scientist-philosopher (philosophe) set out to synthesise accords well with the emerging programme of this journal, as we too attempt to reconcile psychoanalysis, psychiatry (in its specific form of psychohistory), and the history of mentalities, with our particular focus not on the aetiology or cure of mental illness but on its effects on individuels living in the matrix of history.


Our task here will be to give a resumé of Palem's seven chapters and to comment on the key points pertinent to the endeavour of Mentalities/Mentalités and The Institute for the History of Mentalities. This should help clarify our own problems, questions, and programme of study further.


Chapter 1, "L'organo-dynamisme d'Henri Ey: Définition" sets out to define the nature of this Organo-dynamism at the heart of Ey's lifework, his attempt to describe and explain the nature of mental activity in terms neither of a purely physiological nor a (depth-) psychological phenomenon, but rather as a synthesis of the two. He is therefore as much concerned with the organism as the organisation of the mind-brain, and therefore attempts to bridge the gap between psychiatrists and psychoanalysts. We believe that this is the direct correlate of modern studies of the mind and that Ey must therefore be seen as a pioneer in the field.

Chapter 2, "Précurseurs et genèse de l'idée (concept) organo-dynamique" establishes the scientific and philosophical roots of Ey's synthesis. While the immédiate influence is Jackson, one must look back through Cuvier and beyond to the classical guides in Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus and Hippocrates, along with Zeno and Chrysippus, to name but a few, who have developed the ideas of an architectonic ontology (a growing and developing organisation of the mental faculties and passions) and of vitalism (the organic, self-inspiring quality of nature). Yet Ey gives a peculiar twist to this tradition by running through the scholasticism (such Catholic doctors of the Church as Aquinas) of the Middle Ages to the Rationalists of the Enlightenment (from Leibniz to Kant) in order to establish his views on the bases of hierarchical forms and an architectonics of being. Yet to this heritage he adds the dynamises (Maine de Biran, Bergson, Krüger and Würzberg), particularly in the sense of a bipolar evolution-dissolution (Ribot and Janet) and the transformiste (Spencer and Jackson), with their concern to consider the psyche as a dynamic, living being which unrolls its structure through ontogenesis. Significantly, we also have to see what Ey is not, and which traditions he backs off from: namely, the dualists, especially the Cartesian tradition of separating the spirit from the body and the professors of monomania, in which mental illnesses are treated as singular entities.


With Chapter 3, "John Hughlings Jackson and Jacksonism", Palem comes to immédiate influences in the development of Ey's scientific philosophy and philosophical science. Jackson (1835-1911) was a neuro-psychiatrist from Yorkshire inspired by the evolutionary thinking of Herbert Spencer, and so indirectly to the theories of both Lamark and Darwin. Palem sets out what he considers the four key concepts in Jacksonist evolutionary thinking -differentiation, spécialisation, coopération and intégration. Among the eight points Palem makes, there are two of salient interest to us. One is that "In the organo-dynamism of Ey, the principle (that a progressively evolved function includes its primitive predecessor) becomes: superstructures contain and frame infrastructures. This is," according to Palem, "a psychopathology which inverts disymmetrical relations" (p. 21). Although this is probably a too rigid way to state the case, I think we have here a key principle for understanding how the mind -as the sum of the processes of the organic brain-body's sentience- transforms and yet retains its own historical (ontogenetic) consciousness as both species-unit, individuel somatic unit, and group-identity (in a variety of stable and fluid collectivities).

The next point Palem makes in the way Ey adopts and adapts Jackson's evolutionary principles is that "Pathology is the mirror inversion of évolution, of ontogenesis: it is an involution, an insubordination, destructuration, disintegration, dissolution, decomposition, disorganisation of the favour in favour of "loss of control" (Anstie)..." (p. 21). What it is not, therefore, is a "regression" in Freudian terms, and only distantly related to Lacan's sense of a hierarchy of phenomena. As will be evident soon, this principle forms the basis of Ey's notion of the unconscious as something created by a breakdown consciousness, and not the other way round.

What Ey tries to do is to bring Freud and Jackson together, or at least to go back to the place where they were once close, and then to develop a new synthesis based on both men's mature thoughts, so that "there is no pure psychogenesis and so that an organic disorder lies at the base of all mental illness" (p. 23), since "the body is the organ of the mind" (p. 25). What Jackson lacks, such as the notion of a hierarchy of deep structures of instinct and affect in the personality, can be compensated for from a Freudian perspective (p. 25). Thus the concepts of Jackson are given a sense of evolution, history, and personal development, the personality having a history, an ontological growth, and an integration into social groups.


Chapter 4, "Ce qu'apporte Ey: l'organo-dynamisme ou néo-jacksonisme," looks more carefully at what Ey has contributed to neo-jacksonism. For Ey, the term "organic" has a metaphorical sense of organisation which, despite what Palem sees as an exaggerated French enthusiasm, conceives the brain as the organ for integrating the relations of life and the human body as a hierarchized system. Following Janet, Ey understands the nervous system as orchestrating the various relations of life, such as intellectuality, praxis, linguistic fonctions, conditioned reflexes, as well as psychic energising fonctions and the integrating or synthesising fonctions of consciousness (p. 33).

Yet psychiatry is not reduced to neurology, and Ey becomes a philosopher by dealing with the dialectic between the two sciences. By speaking rather of a conscious being than of consciousness as a reified mind, the unconscious emerges as a breakdown or abandonment of consciousness. This results from Ey's organicism constituted not by nerves but by nervous fonctions and processes. From this emerges the notion that sleep is an integrative function and the dream is at once the guardian and prisoner of sleep. Thus Ey says, "The unconsciousness of sleep is still a state of consciousness and, may I add, of cesnorship, but of another species" (p. 39). Consequently, he argues that "all mental pathology is the effect of disorganisation in the conscious being and consists lat once and necessarily a negative structure (analogous to sleep) and a positive structure (analogous to the dream)" (p. 39). There is also in his scheme an idea which can be traced back to the early nineteenth century "Psychist" Heinroth, of "the pathology of liberty", namely, the loss of freedom to consciously control thoughts which is the essence of mental illness (p. 45).

The purpose of therapy, then, is twofold: first, to restore the individuel to consciousness and liberty, meaning moreover that no one can be fully healthy except in a liberal society -and not, for instance, in Nazi Germany; and second, to undertake this therapeutic programme the psychiatrist must be as free as possible him or herself (p. 47). What the psychiatrist/analyst does is to continue the processes of psychogenesis in which the individuel develops into the fullness of consciousness -and individuel freedom in a civilization of liberalism (p. 49). It is not, however, that the unconscious is pathological per se, but is now defined as that part of the mind which has not yet fully been liberated. Pathology occurs when fonctions of the mind are disintegrated and slip back into the state of unliberty, that is, unconsciousness. Because of these moral and historical values, Ey's psychiatry is also an anthropology in which being and becoming human depends on the attainment of liberty and consciousness both as an individuel and as a member of society. Mental illness therefore involves a "double dissolution" (p. 53), the loss of individuel consciousness and the diminution of the individual personality as a functional member of society.

In this way, we are told, Ey builds his organo-dynamism as a synthesis of Jackson, Freud, and Janet (p. 57), the individuel being becoming free through the species and individuel development of consciousness, the overcoming of drives back into the unconscious, and the growth of a social personality. This shows where Ey's main modifications of classic psychoanalysis lie: the Freudian hierarchy of Id, Ego and Superego can now be centred in a field of consciousness where Id and Ego overlap. The Superego would then be a projection forward of the ideal self and therefore in the place where consciousness pushes itself, while the area of Id contains both what is in the process of becoming conscious as Ego and what is sublimated and lost to consciousness.

A significant factor in all these transformations is the power of time, of developmental movement, or the ontogony of the individuel growing from infancy to maturity, along with the intellectuel and emotional formation of increasing consciousness of self, and, finally, the participation of the individuel in group experiences, both those which are continuing from a time before the individuel was born-language, culture, ideological debates, social and family relationships-and those which come into being by the presence of the evolving personality-friendships, marriage, parenthood, artistic and scientific creativity.

In other words, the hierarchical scheme of the mind Ey inherited from Freud is turned into a multi-layered evolutionary model with reversible and integrative possibilities. The danger that threatens normal growth of consciousness and liberty is a form of negative entropy, a self-destructive drive that opposes liberty because it seeks a relapse into unconsciousness, and its effects of disintegration, disorganisation, and slippage create the various mental illnesses. These diseases, however, are not merely functional products of the mind's emotional and intellectuel activities. They manifest failures in the physiological processes themselves. As contemporary science confirms, they are at once the cause and the effect of electro-chemical constituants of the brain-body nervous system. For instance, stress changes the chemistry of the brain, just as lesions and invasive germs do, with motor, affect, and intellectuel conséquences. At a more abstract level, instead of memories or ideas stored up in the mind, there are only chemical discharges and complex sheets of synaptic connectors which can come unstuck in various ways. Treatments come from both drugs or dream-analysis, from physiological therapies or counselling.

Palem writes that "Ey introduced, beginning in 1970, a psychophilosophical dimension into the Jacksonian model of neurology, and this gave renewed life and a considerable expansion to its model" (p. 74), and the epistemologist C.J. Blanc has noted a key relationship between Ey's theory of three worlds and Karl Popper's work. There are other,philosophical connections noted in this chapter, particularly in the last years of Ey's attempts to construct a structural phenomenology to explain the pathology of mental illness: a dialectic of absence and desire, of deficit and intentionality (p. 76). Another key feature of Ey's attempt to add a temporal dimension to the concept of the mind is his adaptation of what Von Weisaecker calls a Gestaltkreis, or cycle of structure, relating history and form into the dialectic of spirit and letter of the organo-dynamic (p. 77).

Finally, the brain-mind dichotomy is expanded to include the body as an open system,, that is, as Palem explains, the psychic body -and it is a body fixed in time--is animated by the same movement which never ceases to incorporate the world into its own organisation (p. 79). This concept of the psychic body also implies a subordination of the unconscious to the consciousness, a bipolar concept: "between these two poles there circulates a current of sense which is the same direction as its movement," of the id travelling towards the ego which is to come, in conformity with the earliest assertions of Freud (p. 80).

This brings us to the fifth chapter of La modernité d'Henri Ey, "Les quatre thèses fondamentales de l'organo-dyanmisme", the Four Fundamental Theses of organo-Dynamism. Palem reports these four points as:

1. that which evolves and which is virtual in a psychic organisme constructed for self-defence dissolves itself;

2. the modalities of dissolution;

3. the complementary pathogenesis, negative and positive, of symptom; and

4. the classification of neurological and psychiatrie symptoms according the levels and the partial or global character of the dissolution. (p. 83)


Evolution is an appropriate word to describe these phenomena, because of the functioning of time in the conception of Ey's organo-dynamic brain-mind-body structure, and it means that each human being's personality is a product of both species development and social integration, as well as growth of the neuronal and emotional dialectic of the individuel. Similarly, phenomenology allows us to see that "mental illness" is constituted by a "régression which confers on the symptoms their formal qualities" and its essentially negative structure (p. 86). Palem goes on to explain that "The pathogenic process is a destroyer of the structures of the conscious being (synchronically and diachronically), integrated in and by its order (its control and direction). This process liberates the forces of the unconscious, under the forms of automatisé and fanaticism," making it -and this is a key element in Ey's whole approach- the mirror image of évolution, of the original ontogenesis; it is therefore an involution, an entropic movement, an insubordination or even a regression (p. 87). A passionate monist, Ey would say that the organisation which dissolves is also the psychic body-for, as Palem points out, they are the same thing.

In this way, the old dilemma of psychogenesis and organogenesis loses its power, since the whole process of the mind in relation to the brain and the body is one of heterogeneity. In clinical terms, this leads to what Ey calls the principle of antinosography (p. 88). For the concept of the organo-dynamic mind inserts itself into the vitalism of traditional medicine and moreover reintroduces and re-established the concern for the human personality into the study of mental problems (p. 90). The conscious being has two structures -one of which, the synchronie, as Palem explains, is the field where conscience is lived in reality; and the other, the diachronic- which is where the ego is constituted by its own history, or as Palem, puts it, its axiological being (p. 93).

Like Russian dolls, François Jacob explains, the mind Ey constructs hierarchicizes space, size, and evolutionary direction, so that pathology is contained within existence as the unconscious is held within consciousness" (p. 94) As Ey himself puts it, "the psychic contains the biological which is also what it depends on" (p. 95). Unlike Freud, who sees things from the bottom up, Ey tends to look at the mind from above. For the mind is neither conscious nor unconscious, but a process which includes the reciprocal relationship between surface and depth.

Chapter 6, "Critiques de l'organo-dynamisme" offers a brief survey of the objections raised to Ey's work and the kinds of response he and his followers have given. One of the key confrontations has been between Lacan and the organa-dynamists. Ey's argument is that while the consciousness needs to be restored to a major role in the workings of the mind, it is in itself not the ego, or reason, no more so than it is really all id and unconsciousness. It is also not only a question of recognising in a human being a conglomerate of neurones and synapses, as Edelman calls for, but of a more complex personality with a history as both an evolving individuel and a member of an historical society, taking psychiatry and psychoanalysis beyond Althusser into moral philosophy and traditional arguments deriving from Plato and Aristotle.


The seventh and last chapter, "La portée de l'organo dynamisme" contains a question as a sub-title: "L'organo-dynamisme a-t-il encore un avenir?" Does organo- dynamism still have a future? To begin answering this question, Palem sets Ey's science besides psychoanalysis and biologically-based psychiatry, and of course he sees that organo-dynamism's role is to reconcile these two competing views of the mind and of therapy, and to develop the best that each has to offer. With the moral philosophy that turns the programme also into an anthropology -the study of mankind in its species, individuel, and social development- Palem sees Ey is trans-anatomical and trans-catagorial (p. 117). The mind cannot be understood merely as a physical organ (the brain even adding the psychic body) or as merely a hydraulic machine repressing and releasing psychic energies from unconsciousness to consciousness and back again. Nor can the moral and social questions that arise in historical groups be dismissed: no more so than can deep unconscious forces be neglected in the study of how we evolved as a species, how each individuel grows into his or her own body's emotional and intellectuel identities alone- and as part of a family, a clan, a guild, or a nation. Above all, what Ey teaches is that the psychic being, the human individuel, must be approached with dignity and offered a chance to attain as much freedom -and therefore consciousness- as possible.


Norman Simms

University of Waikato

Hamilton, New Zealand