Realities -- Realités -- Realitäten 

Date and venue postponed to 2021:

25th to 28th of March, 2021 


NICE / France



It is with great pleasure that we invite you to the 33rd conference of the EPF, which will take place in Vienna from April 2nd to 5th 2020 and where we will be welcomed by both the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society (WPV) and the Vienna Psychoanalytic Association (WAP).

For our Conference, we have chosen the title ‘Realities’ because our present time with its new technological achievements has changed and intensified the age-old question of the nature of being and reality. Of course, as psychoanalysts we are mainly concerned with psychic reality, following a concept that Freud had already begun to develop in 1895[i] with his distinction between "thought-reality" and "external reality" which had led him to formulate: “Thus thought accompanied by a cathexis of the indications of thought-reality or of the indications of speech is the highest, securest form of cognitive thought-process.”

The ancient and medieval philosophy agreed on the conception that being was not created by the mind but was discovered by man. But already Protagoras had formulated an early question about the object and the subject of reality when he stated that man is the measure of all things, "of being as it is, and of non-being as it is not." However, the reliability of sensory knowledge has always been regarded as fraught with problems: think of Plato's famous allegory of the cave, according to which people cannot perceive the physical world, that surrounds them, as anything else than a mere shadow. For Plato, only the spiritual ideas represented the real of the world. Aristotle, on the other hand, rehabilitated sensory perception, because according to him, it always provides the soul with the knowledge of a form which is true - decisive then are the subjective judgments and sensory ideas, "phantasms", which can also lead to errors. A path, starting from the scholastic escalation of the problem of universals and the quarrel between realistic and nominalist views, leads to the skepticism of Descartes, or Locke and Hume, and finally to Kant's subjectivist-phenomenalist theory of knowledge, to which Freud (1915) also adhered when he wrote: „In psycho-analysis there is no choice for us but to assert that mental processes are in themselves unconscious, and to liken the perception of them by means of consciousness to the perception of the external world by means of the sense-organs. We can even hope to gain fresh knowledge from the comparison. The psycho-analytic assumption of unconscious mental activity appears to us, on the one hand, as a further expansion of the primitive animism which caused us to see copies of our own consciousness all around us, and, on the other hand, as an extension of the corrections undertaken by Kant of our views on external perception. Just as Kant warned us not to overlook the fact that our perceptions are subjectively conditioned and must not be regarded as identical with what is perceived though unknowable, so psycho-analysis warns us not to equate perceptions by means of consciousness with the unconscious mental processes which are their object. Like the physical, the psychical is not necessarily in reality what it appears to us to be.”

Just as with Freud the object of conscious and unconscious mental processes is not the world itself but a mental idea of ​​it, be it the inner or the outer world (Cavell 1993), the conception of reality has also been transformed in modern physics. For example, Heisenberg (1945) pointed out that the naturalist faces a "profound change in the structure of the whole reality”, where the word "reality" denotes the totality of the connections between the formative consciousness and the world as its objectifiable content. In 1930, he explained that modern atomic physics does not deal with the nature and construction of the atoms, but with the processes we observe when we observe the atom. According to him, the weight is always on the term 'observation process': “The process of observation can no longer simply be objectified, its result not directly made into a real object " (quoted after Schulz 1972).

Our contemporary psychoanalytic thinking is totally in line with this process philosophy. Freud still took an internalistic perspective from the point of view of the first person ("I am, I feel, I think") and faced the problem of how the psychic apparatus controlled by the pleasure principle and the drives can also be adapted to reality. Whereas Freud believed to find the answer in a combination of rationalism and empiricism, we now tend to rather follow the 'perspective of the interpreter or third person' in Cavell's sense and thus an externalistic view. This point of view from the third person incorporates the deeply influential factor of the public sphere, connecting the individual via the experience of language games (see Wittgenstein 1958) and behavior with the world of other speakers. In the child's interactions with its parents, the development of language and the associated meaning of the world cannot be separated from the interactive actions, whereby both, non-symbolic and symbolic, levels of psychic reality in connection with the associated affects are formed. Meaning and reality of the world are conveyed through an emotionally tinged and publicly shared language, which at the same time allows the child sufficient room for developing and creating its own fantasies. While, on the one hand, these fantasies are influenced by the outside world, they can, on the other hand, also have an impact upon the child's environment. Thus, a dialectical conception of reality develops.

The psychoanalytic method also follows a process model and uses the interactional understanding from the perspective of the third person in order to allow for a sense of mental and affective reality in all involved, but especially in the patient. To this reality belong both fantasy and imagination. Third-person-perspectives include basic psychoanalytic concepts such as Bion's concept of maternal reverie, essential to capture inner reality, or the theory of mentalization as developed by Fonagy, Target et al., which emphasizes playing with different modes of psychic reality, like the ‘psychic equivalence’ mode and the ‘pretend mode’. And, according to Laplanche, infantile sexuality emerges in the encounter with the alterity of adult sexuality. The common point of reference for all of these concepts is to be found in the above-mentioned concept of psychic reality, in which, according to Britton (1998), belief takes on a central importance, because belief and accepting something as true lend to psychic processes the power of reality, much like human perception does lend it to physical processes. That the sense of reality is determined by active mental processes and can be guided in completely opposite directions is clinically - as well as in the case of artistic productions in literature or film – reflected in the fact that the reality presented and believed and expressed in fantasies, may either promote emotional liveliness or else may lead away from it.

In view of the actual technological development, our possibilities of experience have multiplied, but at the same time uncertainty and skepticism about the authenticity of inner and outer reality have increased. The emergence of the virtual world has intensified the dialectic between inside and outside and created in the inner experience a tension between one´s own fantasy and virtual presence. For example, for many children and adolescents today, the number of their virtual "followers" is more significant than actually meeting up with their friends in person. Do these virtual "friends" belong to the physical outer world, or do they belong to the realm of normal inner fantasies, or do they rather represent a new form of internal reality? In addition to the conventional experience of space and time, for many people life occurs in a virtual, but quasi-real Second Life. Apart from the physically authored Ego or I many virtual-real Egos or I-s enter the scene. Are these present-day phenomena comparable to Winnicott´s transitional phenomena and potential space; or are they ultimately stifling the emergence of a creative imagination? What about the relationship between fiction, fantasy and reality? Already Walter Benjamin (1935) had dealt with the change of art through the development of reproducible photography and film. Are we perhaps facing today not only yet another change in aesthetics, but rather an aggravation of the conditions that open the floodgates to a multitude of manipulative options for distorting reality? Which are the 'real' fake news: those which designate uncomfortable realities, or rather those which intend to deny the uncomfortable realities by using false images? What impact does the increasing use of robots as a substitute for humans or human body parts have on our sense of reality? Are they a part of us or are they a part of the outside world, or are they ultimately revealing themselves as a chimera made up of both dimensions? We would like to discuss these and other related questions at our conference.

We want to thank the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society (WPV) and the Vienna Psychoanalytic Association (WAP) for their generous hospitality. We also wish to express our thanks for the dedicated preparation of this conference to the Scientific Committee and to the Local Committee as well.

The presidents of the EPF member societies and the EPF Executive wish all participants an inspiring and personally successful conference.

Jorge Canestri  President

Heribert Blass  Vice-President and Chair of the Scientific Committee

Martina Burdet Dombald  General Secretary