Matte-Blanco, Ignacio (1908-1995)

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Chilean physician, Ignacio Matte-Blanco waas born at Santiago de Chile on October 3, 1908, and died on January 11, 1995, in Rome. The scion of an old Chilean family, he was educated at the German Gymnasium at Santiago and graduated as physician-surgeon at the University of Chile in 1930.

Before leaving Chile for London, Matte-Blanco was in analysis with Fernando Allende Navarro, Latin America's first qualified psychoanalyst. He trained at the Maudsley Hospital and in psychoanalysis at the London Institute, where he supervised with Anna Freud and James Strachey, becoming a member of the British Society in 1938. Then he worked in New York with mathematician Courand, who encouraged his seminal paper on the relationship of set theory and psychoanalysis. Returning to Chile in 1943, he became the founder and guiding soul to the Chilean Society and a noted professor of psychiatry at the University of Chile from 1949 untill his departure for Rome in 1966. He was a professor of psychiatry at the University of Chile Medical School, 1949-1966, and at Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Rome, 1970-1974. He remained a teacher and a center of innovative discussion up to his death.

Matte-Blanco's pioneering paper, presented at the First Latin American Psychoanalytic Congress in Buenos Aires in 1956, "Expression in Symbolic Logic of the Characteristics of the System Ucs., or the Logic of the system Ucs.," appeared in the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis in 1958. His two main books, The Unconscious as Infinite Sets (1975) and Thinking, Feeling and Being (1988), were published in London. Relevant papers published in Italian are not widely known.

In the idea that much of the wealth of our clinical practice is simply not seen because it does not fit with the theories we use, Matte-Blanco redresses in terms of modern logic Freud's fundamental distinction of primary and secondary processes in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a) and later, in "The Unconscious" (1915e). Absence of contradiction between the representations of diverse impulses and the ensuing absence of negation; displacement; condensation; atemporality; and substitution of external by psychic reality, that is, the qualities ruling in the unconscious, differ drastically from those secondary processes, this is, of Aristotelian, symbolic or scientific logic. Building upon von Domarus's "logic of the attribute" found in schizophrenic thought, Matte-Blanco holds that the characteristics of the unconscious derive from two principles: 1) The principle of Generalization: Unconscious logic does not take account individuals as such, it deals with them only as members of classes, and of classes of classes. 2) The principle of Symmetry: The Unconscious can treat the converse of any relation as identical to it; that is, it deals with relationships as symmetrical. The Freudian qualities of the unconscious result from the principle of Symmetry, or from both principles operating together. Thus, atemporality derives from symmetry, which precludes order in a temporal series, and displacement treats two individuals as members of the same class. Later on Matte-Blanco restates this saying, after Frege, that the unconscious operates in terms of propositional functions.

Jorge L. Ahumada

Work discussed: Unconscious as Infinite Sets, The. An Essay in Bi-logic.

See also: Chile; Federación psicoanalítica de América latina; Italy.


Etchegoyen, R. Horacio, and Ahumada, Jorge L. (1990). Bateson and Matte Blanco: Bio-logic and bi-logic. International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 17, 493-502.

Jordán-Moore, Juan-Francisco. (1995). Ignacio Matte-Blanco. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 76,1035-1041.

Matte-Blanco, Ignacio. (1975). The unconscious as infinite sets. London: Duckworth.

. (1988). Thinking, feeling and being (Eric Rayner and David Tuckett, Trans.). London: Routledge.

Rayner, Eric. (1996). Unconscious logic. London: Routledge.