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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Revival of the Death Instinct. A View from Contemporary Biology.

A rereading of Freuds Beyond the Pleasure Principle reveals remarkable echoes of language and conceptualization to modern cell biological principles. The similarities between the death instinct and apoptosis (programmed cell death) are noted in particular. An overview of apoptotic mechanisms in the cell is provided, including a description of genetic controls by genes homologous to those of lower organisms; a cascade of effector proteins (caspases); regulation by internal and external cellular signals; intracellular controls active in triggering, modulating, or promoting apoptotic activity; and the presence of pro-and anti-apoptotic genes. These examples enhance an understanding of the dichotomies, paradoxes, and dialectics that made the death instinct and related ideas so troublesome to subsequent authors in and outside psychoanalysis. Using a convergence of cell biologys views on cell death to update Freuds original understanding, one can better comprehend the coexistence of instincts and tendencies toward life and death, the advantages to the organism of establishing a steady state, and the potential consequences, mental and physical, of its perturbation. Examples from case studies and literature illustrate the usefulness of an approach guided by this synthesis.