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September Scientific Meeting

September 26, 2020 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm



Western New England Psychoanalytic Society

Scientific Meeting

Saturday, September 26th         4pm–6pm


For the safety of our community our Scientific Meetings will be held online via Zoom until it is safe to resume meeting in person. As always, these meetings are free and open to the public, but you must RSVP in advance to attend. See below for important CME/CE certificate details.



The Use of an Object: Artificial Intelligence,

Destruction, and the End of Empathy

Presenter: Oscar Hills, MD

Discussant: T. Wayne Downey, MD

Homo habilis, an almost three million year old hominin, is frequently credited with the extensive use of the stone scraper blade in the stone tool industry of his time. We did not come up with another invention for a million and a half years. In 1949, mathematician and homo sapiens, John von Neumann conceived of modern computer architecture and a mere seventy years later, we now have multilayered neural network artificially intelligent agents using stochastic genetic algorithms to perform one after another feat that people have traditionally said computers will never be able to do. The video game, Breakout, is routinely beaten by a machine that learns to play it better than any human in a matter of hours, without having any concept it is playing a game. A machine named Alpha Go not only beat the greatest players alive, but also made what is widely considered to be the most imaginative and beautiful move in the three thousand year history of the game, now legendarily referred to simply as Move 37. The simplest example of the AI genetic algorithm at work is complexity scientist, Melanie Mitchell’s Robby the Robot who plays a game traversing a 12 by 12 grid littered with cans, as though on a busy beach, and he wins the game by picking up the most cans in the fewest moves. After several minutes and several thousand runs, his strategy is better than any human’s, and, he has figured out how to use some of the cans as an auxiliary random access memory, that is, he has developed the ability to use a piece of the environment as an aid in accomplishing his task. He has evolved the ability to use an object as a tool. The recent history of AI has been one of increasingly complex tasks yielding to problem solving abilities. I propose that psychoanalysis is a) not as complex a task as we tend to imagine insofar as it involves detecting and illustrating dynamically unconscious mental activity through the analysis of utterances in relation to the analyst, and b) well suited to powers of a well trained AI agent which will emerge in the none too distant future. This agent will far exceed the human ability to conduct psychoanalysis. Here in the abstract, we pause to allow readers, likely having been left in high dudgeon by this assertion, to recover. In Winnicott’s chapter, “The Use of An Object and Relating Through Identifications,” he reminds us that relating by identification, through which an object becomes meaningful, depletes the subject to some degree because projective mechanisms result in something of the subject being found in the object. Built upon object relating, to Winnicott, is the use of an object, meaning that the object can act as a life tool, that is, be used in the world, only to the extent that it belongs to a shared external reality and thus as free as possible of its projective dimension. The path from object relating to object use, he says, is the most difficult in all of human emotional development. In unconscious fantasy, this path requires the continual destruction of the object relation, followed by the survival of the object, followed by the presence of a renewed object composed of a more robust reality than previously. Winnicott summarizes this process as, “’Hullo object!,’ ‘I destroyed you.’ ‘I love you.’ ‘You have value for me because of your survival of my destruction of you.’ ‘While I am loving you I am all the time destroying you in (unconscious) fantasy.’” This is to say that the survival of the object has promoted the subject’s life amongst real-world objects. In psychoanalysis, the thrust up this gradient of abstraction and the adaptive utility that accompanies it is provided by extensive transference work in the domain of aggression. Absent this, whether in psychotherapy or analysis, we are left suggesting, cajoling, and even begging our patients to do battle with the Fundamental Attribution Error, and to imagine what might really be going on with another person. We easily become exasperated, critical, and impatient at how difficult it seems to be to contemplate that perhaps the boss is lying awake at night thinking about him- or herself rather than about you and your deficiencies. The point of this paper is to emphasize that this developmental transformation is emotional and not cognitive except in the broad psychoanalytic sense that affect is the leading edge of cognition. We have witnessed this just now, in fact, because the reader, and forgive me for generalizing, hates the idea that “a machine” will surpass our psychoanalytic capacities. While it is plainly obvious that this is so, we easily reassure ourselves with increasingly far-fetched tall tales about uniquely human attributes. It seldom crosses one’s mind that should our AI agents bother concerning themselves in the long run with psychoanalysis, this is doubly good news. First, it is a sign they are still working on our behalf, and second, your analyst will now be better at it than any human. The further point is that in the unlikely event this does not turn out to be wholly true, your distaste for the idea is not born out of your uncanny ability to know why not, but rather out of your emotional difficulty in granting independent existence to “the other.” You are already involved with a machine in a transference problem more thorny than your nagging feeling that Alexa and Siri do not take you seriously. At best, the problem is that the machine is made up of projections, feelings that the machine is cold, hard, unthinking, unfeeling, and yet malevolent. At worst, you are aggressively “othering” the machine, extruding it into a hostile realm of exclusion, an enemy, less than human. It is hard enough for us humans to accept our animality, much less the mechanicality of that very same attribute. Sartre says, “By the mere appearance of the Other, I am put in the position of passing judgment on myself as on an object, for it is as an object that I appear to the Other.” This is in essence the Golden Rule, and the dialectic of enduring solitude in the service of togetherness is the birthplace of empathy. Finally, this paper is not about the imminent fall of humanity to the ascendance of far better adapted machines, but rather a prepositional boundary marker reminding us of how challenging it is for all of us, not just our patients, to live with, instead of for, under, above, nearby and any of a multitude of other distant forms of proximity.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Define deep neural networks and genetic algorithm
  2. Explain why the idea of machine intelligence is emotionally threatening irrespective of any truth in its existence.
  3. Demonstrate a heightened readiness to analyze patients using a better transference based model of emotional development in favor of a simplistic cognitively based idea of mentalization.


CME/CE Details:

In order to receive CME or CE credits participants must attend the full program and complete an evaluation. A link to the evaluation will be presented at the close of the program and also sent via an email reminder within a few days. If you are not a WNEPS member you will be assessed a fee of $10 upon completing the evaluation. 

This activity has been planned and implemented in accordance with the accreditation requirements and policies of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) through the joint providership of American Psychoanalytic Association and WNEPS. The American Psychoanalytic Association is accredited by the ACCME to provide continuing medical education for physicians.

The American Psychoanalytic Association designates this Live Activity for a maximum of 2 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s)™. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.

IMPORTANT DISCLOSURE INFORMATION FOR ALL LEARNERS: None of the planners and presenters of this CME program have any relevant financial relationships to disclose.

This program is being reviewed for Continuing Education Credit hours by the NASW, CT to meet the continuing education criteria for CT Social Work Licensure renewal.

A Certificate of Attendance for WNE Programs can be used to fulfill CE requirements for CT Psychologists




September 26, 2020
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Event Category:


Online via Zoom
CT United States
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The Western New England Institute
For Psychoanalysis