skip to main content

Stephan Doering: What is true?

Written by Stephan Doering
Published date 14 April 2019

What science and arts have in common is the unavailability of truth. Natural sciences usually follow an empirical epistemology, i.e. experiments or evaluations are planned and conducted according to hypotheses, they use “objective measures”, and yield “valid” results. An artist creates a highly subjective image of reality, an idea, a fantasy, or a concept using his or her personal intuitive or heuristic epistemology. Both, if successful, create a picture of something that has been invisible before – be it covered, unconscious, implicit, not yet verbalized, or simply unknown. An artist makes something visible that contains an aspect of truth that can be experienced and intersubjectively shared by recipients, a scientist uncovers a formerly unknown existence, correlation, or causality of phenomena of any kind.

diagram on the super ego

What both need is first of all a choice of their measures, strategies, techniques, and in the end an interpretation of their results, of the findings, or of an inspiration. There is no objective truth in which result ever, because it is determined by the choice of the pathway towards the results and their interpretation. The astrophysicist as well as the neuroscientist need to add something to their data (derived from measurements and experiments), something that is more than merely data, that adds meaning to their numbers. The art historian needs a theory, why certain artists did what they did, and why art in society developed in one way or the other. The artist uses his or her knowledge of nature and the human to express or depict intuitively derived content. Finally, the psychoanalyst uses both ways and tries to combine heuristic and empirical approaches to try to understand unconscious processes of the mind. Freud in his 1933 so called structural model of the mind (see image) described the id – the realm of drives – as a completely unconscious entity, whereas ego and super-ego – responsible for adjusting to the external reality and moral instance, respectively – do reach out into the conscious parts of the mind. In his famous quote from the same volume Freud spells out the aim of psychoanalysis: “Where id was, there the ego shall be.” Unconscious content of the mind should become explicit, symbolised, and verbalised by means of the psychoanalytic process. A new intersubjectively shared “truth” is being created by the patient and the analyst, with the latter employing the results of empirical as well as heuristic psychological research.

Thus, psychoanalysis might function as a blueprint for other sciences by bringing together different epistemological approaches while keeping in mind that an objective truth will never be available.

Reference: Freud, Sigmund, 1933-40. New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. London: Imago Publishing.

Related content

Picturing the Invisible: A journey begins

Picturing the Invisible: A journey begins

Reflections on the first Picturing the Invisible workshop that took place on 27-28 March at Sir John Soane's Museum.