Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 179–194

Affection of contact and transcendental telepathy in schizophrenia and autism



DOI: 10.1007/s11097-010-9193-8

Cite this article as:
Murakami, Y. Phenom Cogn Sci (2013) 12: 179. doi:10.1007/s11097-010-9193-8


This paper seeks to demonstrate the structural difference in communication of schizophrenia and autism. For a normal adult, spontaneous communication is nothing but the transmission of phantasía (thought) by means of perceptual objects or language. This transmission is first observed in a make-believe play of child. Husserl named this function “perceptual phantasía,” and this function presupposes as its basis the “internalized affection of contact” (which functions empirically in eye contact, body contact, or voice calling me). Regarding autism, because of the innate lack of affection of contact, intersubjective perceptual phantasía does not occur spontaneously. Consequently, autistics do not engage in make-believe play but in stereotyped and solipsistic play. Without the formation of perceptual phantasía, there is no differentiation between phantasía and perception. For this reason, people with Asperger's syndrome consider conversation not an immediate communication of thought but a logical transmission of concepts. Schizophrenia is characterized by a distortion in the internalized affection of contact, resulting in a disturbance of perceptual phantasía, and this later is covered by various symptoms—for example, delusion as a pathological kind of communication of thought. This delusion is based on the pathological internalized affection of contact represented by a terrifying Other.


AutismSchizophreniaCommunicationPerceptual phantasíaPhantasieleibAffection of contactTranscendental telepathyIntersubjectivity


The diagnosis of schizophrenia and autism in Japan

Autism is a developmental disorder related to certain neurological problems. This disorder is said to be distinguished from psychosis. Nevertheless, psychiatrists sometimes cannot decide whether an adult patient is schizophrenic or autistic, especially if he (she) does not show any obvious delusions. In Japan, autism—especially Asperger's syndrome, that is autism with normal intelligence—became known only within the last twenty years, even in psychiatric settings, and it is often said that during the last period, an intelligent autistic was assessed as hebephrenic schizophrenic (Yoshikawa 2005).1 Autistic people who have a secondary mental difficulty sometimes show brief episodes similar to schizophrenic delusions.

In this study, I would like to present a phenomenological analysis of autism and schizophrenia so as to measure the structural difference in their communication.2 Following a phenomenological analysis of the “make-believe” play of normal children, I would describe the play of children with autism who found a subsequent communication modality and then to proceed to a study of schizophrenic delusions in terms of the structure of intersubjectivity.

Affection of contact and Phantasieleib

Before beginning my analysis, I would like to define my own conceptual tools used in this study. The first such tool is called “affection of contact.” I consider that the starting point of normal communication is not in empathy (Husserl) or sympathy (Merleau-Ponty) but what I call “affection of contact,” which functions with eye contact, with body contact, and in a voice that is addressed to me.3 I would like to emphasize that affection of contact is not limited to eye contact. It is an affection of dynamism that comes from another and aims at my body. Some neurological research also confirms that the impact of eye contact is distinguished from apprehension of the meaning of the whole face (I. Kimura 2005, pp. 17 et 29).4 It is a transcendental moment which functions without any concept, even without the recognition of the body of others. It is a phenomenon irreducible to the perception of the eyes; when one tries to perceive the eyes of others, he (she) loses eye contact with them. Even a newborn who responds to his (her) mother's face has it (Meltzoff and Moore 1977; Farroni et al. 2002). To have an immediate empathy with the body of others, one must be already capable of eye contact.

My second key concept is Phantasieleib. Phantasía is the translation of Husserl's concept of Phantasie, which paradoxically is the “imagination without clear image,” the “imagination without intentional object.” I am referring to the analysis proposed by Mark Richir in his recent books (Richir 2000; Richir 2004). Phantasieleib constitutes the core or “center” of the world of phantasía; it can be regarded as the living body (Leib) in the world of phantasía which is nonfigurable and nonrepresentable: Richir called it Phantasieleib, following Husserl's notion of the Phantasie-ich (Richir 2000, 137).

Transcendental telepathy—playing with dolls and Husserl's perceptual phantasía

Before discussing autism and schizophrenia, I would like to outline a formal structure of play with dolls (playing house make-believe play, etc.) found in the typically developing child, and which seems to be the basis of verbal and nonverbal communication. Outlining this formal structure will help us to clarify the particularity of autism and schizophrenia. In this type of play, the child uses a stone as a “cake” while he or she plays the role of “mother.” Here, the perception of a stone works with phantasía of “cake,” and living body (Leib) plays the role of “mother” in phantasía. Husserl names this double function “perceptual phantasía.”5 In perceiving and handling the stones, a child sees them as “cake,” and he (she) simulates the “eating.” He (she) plays the role of the mother, while being aware that he (she) is not actually the mother, that the stone is not actual cake to eat, and that the doll is not a real baby. Here, phantasía and perception work together without being confused.

The phantasía of a “cake” in the perception of this stone may have no image of this cake; more precisely, there is no Bildobjekt (image–object; Hua XXIII, 18sq.). Paradoxically, there is no specified image in the perceptual phantasía. It is also surprising that, given my gesture that presents in the phantasía a “cake” made of a stone, my partner “sees” immediately in his (her) phantasía the same “cake” behind the stone. My partner has no more accurate image of the cake than me. Thus, we share the same phantasía of “cake” mediated by the perception of a stone and without a specified image. Two children share the same “cake” in phantasía; since there is neither picture (Bildobjekt) nor its referent (Bildsujet), it is useless to ask whether this “cake” is identical between players or not. Paradoxically, and strangely because of the absence of image and of reference, the contents of the two children's phantasía are not comparable, and for this reason, the question of their identity or difference is not asked in this experience of “cake.” There is a uniqueness without identity of the phantasía shared by several players. There may be a misunderstanding, and I may never know exactly what you think, but still, we believe we share a single phantasía. And we live in only one world of phantasía. The identity and difference between the phantasía of two persons are introduced when reflection and doubt occur (in this comparative review, one passes from the level of the perceptual phantasía to the level of logical judgment where the quality of experience is altered). As long as they remain in the perceptual phantasía, players live together in one world and share the one perceptual phantasía. Looking at a pantomime, an audience can share a scene that is played by actors without using language. This shows that the communication of phantasía is not due to the conceptual identity.

It is a “telepathy” of thought (phantasía) which is not supernatural but which works implicitly in our everyday communication; we can call this function transcendental telepathy, without which there would be no spontaneous communication (see Murakami 2010). Here, “telepathy” means the transmission of thought, and “transcendental” means the implicitness and universality of this phenomenon which functions behind empirical spontaneous communication. Transcendental telepathy is the perceptual phantasía which occurs between players.

This transcendental telepathy is structurally distinct from Husserl's empathy and sympathy (“sociabilité synchrétique” in Merleau-Ponty 1997, 209sq.); empathy is apperception of the body of other, while telepathy is the transmission of one's phantasía. For Husserl, the experience of other (Fremderfahrung) is the chief topic, while it is the aspect of communication that is important in the concept of transcendental telepathy. Sympathy as Merleau-Pontian intersubjectivity is the immediate sensitivity to the emotion and kinesthesis of others, whereas telepathy is the spontaneous transmission of thought (phantasía). These three moments are related to each other but are not the same thing.

The important character (but one ignored even by Husserl) of perceptual phantasía is that intersubjectivity plays a crucial role in it. At first, a stone becomes a “cake” only when a child makes this “cake” with his (her) play-partner. It is only afterward that the child can play alone (see “Capacity to be alone” in Winnicott 1965).

I see my partner's body at the same time, and in this double manner, I “see” the role played by him (her). My partner “sees” also in a double manner. I cannot decide if his (her) gaze aims at me or at the role played by me: here, we cannot presuppose two gazes or two affections of affection of contact. There is only one gaze—one affection of contact—that simultaneously straddles the world of phantasía and the perceptual world. Thanks to this crossover, perception and phantasía interpenetrate each other. In short, perceptual phantasía is constituted by affection of contact, perception, and phantasía (and the living body and Phantasieleib of players). Without eye contact, without affection of contact, there would be no perceptual phantasía, no transcendental telepathy (absences of which are typical of autistic experience).

What I called transcendental telepathy is the core structure behind an empirical communication in typically developing people. With this function, the communication of thought (phantasía) occurs spontaneously and irresistibly. We automatically share our thought. It does not depend on the willingness of the interlocutor. When two people meet, transcendental telepathy automatically fires, and they cannot escape this function.

It is important to underline that the communication of thought is not that of concept but of phantasía. To understand concepts and logical propositions requires unequivocal determination of their lexical meaning. In contrast, perceptual phantasía does not require this kind of determination. Daily use of language generally presupposes communication in the phantasía.

For this reason, the use of ambiguous language does not disrupt verbal communication. For example, the expression “a few” means a different amount depending on the context; most of us determine its meaning through the context transmitted in transcendental telepathy. And an Asperger's adult often cannot understand this sort of expression that depends on context for its meaning.

People with autism do not use transcendental telepathy in their communication. The conversation of autistic people and those with Asperger's does not revolve around the thought of the interlocutor but proceeds on the basis of the lexical meaning of pronounced words. They try to understand the meaning of concepts. The transmission of concepts is the essence of their communication. For this reason, it is difficult for them to understand an ambiguous phrase and the implied context of the situation.

These three concepts—Phantasieleib, affection of contact, and transcendental telepathy—will be used as conceptual tools for the following discussion.

The stereotyped repetitive play of autism and the lack of transcendental telepathy

The lack of affection of contact

Autistic children (mainly boys) are immersed in a particular type of repetitive play in which they carefully place small cars in a line. Or they continue to move an object (a toy, a pencil, wire, etc.) just in front of their eyes. When they play in this way, no one can intervene to divert their attention. They are not aware of eye contact, of the voice of others calling them, or of physical contact. When their play is interrupted, they start to get angry, but this “anger” is in fact a panic rather than anger and is not intended to disturb the other. They fall into a panic because they have lost the harmony of their world. In short, affection of contact does not exist in the repetitive play of autistic children.

Autistic children who subsequently discover affection of contact may then have eye contact with others. Once they have contact with others, they cease their stereotyped play. Even in the case of higher-functioning autistic boys who “graduated from” stereotyped play, they restart it if they are in a stressful situation or if they are tired or bored. This incompatibility between stereotyped play and affection of contact concerns the structure of their experience. The world of repetitive play does not have others; it is inherently solipsistic.

This experience is related to their communion with things. I quote the experience of Donna Williams:

“Pink streetlight!” I exclaimed, racing across the street, oblivious to all else, to stand stock-still beneath this fifteen-foot Illuminous God [...] I stood beneath the God-like symbol, hypnotically getting further and further ‘inside’ of it. (Williams 1996a, 19)

Without contact with others, an autistic child in such a state has a “contact” with things. Communion with perceptual objects presupposes the function of Phantasieleib, which sympathizes not with other human beings but with an inanimate object. Unlike Phantasieleib in typically developing children, which resonates with the body of another person (neurologically, this is the function of “mirror neuron system”), the Phantasieleib resonates with an inanimate object. They probably use the same parts of the mirror neuron system as are used in nonautistic people, although not for the body of others but for their favorite objects (Grelotti et al. 2005).6 Only when it collaborates with affection of contact (and this is one reason why I stress the importance of the affection of contact) does this mirror neuron system work with the human body.

The lack of distinction between perception and phantasía—the absence of perceptual phantasía

I presupposed hitherto the existence of Phantasieleib in autistic people, but I did not speak of their phantasía. Assisting to a stereotyped play, one might feel that the autistic person is absorbed in the phantasía. But as a result of observations, I temporarily conclude that in autism, there is no world of phantasía distinct from the perceived world (even if the Phantasieleib of autistic persons communicates with perceived things). The appearance of absorption in the phantasía seems in reality to be the result of a lack of contact with others. Certainly, children have their own closed world in which they live, but it is not necessarily the world of phantasía. More precisely, they do not distinguish the world of phantasía from that of perception. And they do not see the world as something intersubjective. This world exists exclusively for them. It is a true solipsistic world where there is nobody. It is for this reason that autistics appear, to an observer, to plunge into the phantasía. Correspondingly, the Phantasieleib (which is not clearly differentiated from Leib) works in this undifferentiated world. One proof supporting this hypothesis is that children immersed in their stereotyped play never collide with objects around them. Where they attracted by phantasía as distinguished from perception, they would be unable to avoid obstacles and would fall to the ground.

It is not only a matter of the nondistinction between phantasía and perception, but also of the absence of perceptual phantasía. By playing with dolls, a typically developing child does not really eat his (her) stone-cake. In contrast, an autistic child—one a little more developed than the one who plunges into the repetitive game—can certainly play with dolls, but he (she) really eats the toy or stone. This important proof of nondiscrimination between phantasía and perception in autism shows the difficulty in the setup of perceptual phantasía.7 The perceptual phantasía is a very complex phenomenon, because it is both differentiation and penetration of phantasía and perception with apperception of them and because it implies a complicated structure of intersubjectivity.

A pure imagination (Einbildungskraft)

The cars parked in a line exclude not only perceptual phantasía but also the social or cultural significance of these cars. The stored objects are not objects in the (cultural and social) world. There is no Zuhandenes or Vorhandenes in the Heideggerian sense.

Yet, it is also mysterious that an autistic child prefers abstract and artificial figures such as car model and cartoon characters. This kind of figure is not found in wild nature. Although the autistic child ignores the cultural world, he (she) is attracted by an artificial object fabricated in a cultural world. What is the status of this cultural and social world where the human being disappears?

The abstract figure is paradoxically a highly cultural phenomenon in spite of its lack of cultural connotation. On this point, the repetitive play of the autistic child who is fond of an abstract figure is not the slightest manifestation of mental retardation, but indicates rather the sophistication of one aspect of the human faculty that aspires to abstract figure.

Yet, it is difficult to determine the nature of the preference for the abstract figure in the play of autistic children. One might be inclined to say that it is a function inherent to the phantasía. But because the distinction between perception and phantasía is not established in young autistic persons with lower functioning, one cannot use the function of phantasía to explain this phenomenon.

Among philosophical concepts, imagination (Einbildungskraft) in the Kantian sense seems most appropriate here, since the imagination, as a function of the gathering in the intuitive phenomenon (Kant 1790, 28), indiscriminately operates in both perception and phantasía. According to Kant, thanks to common sense (ibid., 64), we may share the imagination without using the concept. In my vocabulary, Kantian “common sense” is phantasía shared in transcendental telepathy. For this reason, a judgment of beauty can be unanimous even without concept. In contrast, the repetitive play of children with autism is not shared by others (the child does not play with others, and he refuses the intervention of others; moreover, we do not know the meaning of this play). There is no “common sense” in the experience of autism. We can define this repetitive play as the solitary function of the imagination (Einbildungskraft) without common sense (perceptual phantasía). This pure imagination constitutes the basis of the inclination toward abstraction that I just mentioned.

Incidentally, if a child is too stuck in this stereotyped play, his (her) general development also stops. For ongoing development, the imagination must be combined with other functions (especially with the affection of contact and the category in the Kantian sense). We have outlined the structure of human creativity on another occasion (Murakami 2010).

This character contrasts with the schizophrenic experience, because this pure Einbildungskraft indicates the absence of Exteriority in the world of the autistic person, while the schizophrenic suffers from the intervention of an unknown Exteriority or Otherness in their perceptual world.

In short, the lack of affection of contact in autistic infants and the lack of the distinction between phantasía and perception prevent them from the development of doll-play—of transcendental telepathy. As a consequence, they develop a stereotyped kind of play which uses a pure form of Einbildungskraft.

The schizophrenic delusion as pathological telepathy

Autistic monolog and schizophrenic monolog

In autism, there is another phenomenon that is structurally comparable to repetitive play. It is monolog—or, more precisely, delayed echolalia—where the child is immersed in imitation, for example, the imitation of a commercial or a favorite scene from a cartoon. In my experience, a boy imitates a voice, and a girl imitates a visual scene. In delayed echolalia, the autist speaks utterly alone, not even speaking to someone in his phantasía. The echolalia is the reproduction of perception and not the internalization of conversation with others.

The monolog in schizophrenia differs from this delayed echolalia as monolog that we find in autism. The monolog in mental illness (including schizophrenia) is the internalization of conversation, and it involves the affection of contact: patients respond to hallucinated voices that are real for them (and even more real than is the perception). This monolog in response to a hallucinated other differs therefore from the monolog as autistic reproduction of sound.

Incidentally, people with Asperger's syndrome who love monolog talk to someone in their phantasía (in this regard, they are distinguished from the autistic person with lower function). Even if their monolog is not a delayed echolalia, there seems to be a difference with schizophrenic monolog. For people with Asperger's syndrome, others in their phantasía do not have a real otherness. For such a person, the world and others in it are literally constituted in his (her) consciousness by himself (herself). They live virtually in a “solipsistic intersubjectivity” where the existence of others is compatible with the solipsism. The monolog of people with Asperger's syndrome is no longer delayed echolalia but the reproduction of his world of solipsistic intersubjectivity with a weak otherness. In contrast, the terrifying Other in the schizophrenic hallucination has an acute otherness.

Flexure of transcendental telepathy in schizophrenia

For a schizophrenic, it is often difficult to have a spontaneous communication, as Minkowski and Bin Kimura have shown (Minkowski 1927, B. Kimura 1988). He (she) often suffers from this failure (in contrast, an autistic in lower function does not know its existence). The schizophrenic suffers because he (she) has lost the possibility of transcendental telepathy that he (she) had previously used. The various symptoms of schizophrenia (delusions of influence, delusions of persecution, verbal hallucination, etc.) show precisely this alteration of transcendental telepathy.

Aline believes that there is a conspiracy to injure her. All people who know her are informed of it. That’s why she does not want to meet with them. In the street, someone might follow and magnetize her. This conspiracy is also present at table. Any change in her place at the table is a new type of aggression against her. She has an electrical device in the neck, around which her enemies can act on her electrically. She cannot say anything about the precise nature of the evil that people wish to impose upon her. (Binswanger 1965, 75)

[Suzanne says] “In X, there was a painting: a girl who had a basket and a dog. The clouds were crossed out. For me it was a sign. I thought Alain [her lover in the delusion] was drinking. The girl was me.” (Pankow 1987, 56)

A schizophrenic loses the possibility of smooth and spontaneous communication with others. Hallucination and delusion are grafted onto the gap in response to the failure of transcendental telepathy. Behind the symptoms, there is loss of the structure once established. If a patient reads a message for him (her) in all perceptual objects, this delusional attitude can be called excessive perceptual phantasía formed with a delusional Other; it is an excessive make-believe play. It replaces transcendental telepathy with pathological telepathy. The perceptual phantasía is no longer a thought communicated by the interlocutor, but all perceptual objects have a double meaning (so to speak a “pathological” perceptual phantasía) transmitted by unknown others. Another type of schizophrenic communication is represented by the heroine of Turn of the Screw by Henry James, where she—the home tutor—reads a delusional meaning into each word of her pupils. (Although schizophrenia is not mentioned by name in the novel, the experience and conduct of the heroine are typically schizophrenic. James's sister suffered from schizophrenia, and experience as described in the works of James is often schizophrenic).

In transcendental telepathy, people constitute perceptual phantasía with their interlocutor. In pathological telepathy, the interlocutor is replaced by an impersonal and horrifying Other. A higher power is often attributed to this Other.

People with autism sometimes show a brief episode of delusion of persecution, like a schizophrenic, when they have a severe problem in their social life and fail to be adapted to the environment. But in general, these delusion-like phenomena seem like a traumatic flashback.

Autistic people discover eye contact late, and when they discover it, it is very difficult for them to have intuition of others' emotion and thought. This is because in their case, another functional difficulty consists—to use the term of phenomenological argument—in the coordination of different types of phenomena. These include the apperception of the other's figure, the other's affect, and the kinesthesis of other's body. In the case of a typically developing person, these heterogeneous phenomena are immediately combined into only a single intuition; eye contact is immediately and irresistibly related to the intuition of other's emotion. But autistic people cannot intuitively grasp emotion and kinesthesis in watching an other's face, as has been shown in much research on problems of the mirror neuron system in autistic people. This is the reason why the real other is for him (her) something terrible (Murakami 2008a, ch. 1); it is not an impersonal and delusional other who replaces the real other as in schizophrenia. Certainly, sometimes, an autistic thinks that others always know his (her) intention. However, this does not indicate the schizophrenic sort of delusion of control but rather an autistic solipsistic intersubjectivity, where others do not become perfectly other persons but remain somewhat the products of the autistic's consciousness.

In short, schizophrenia implies the a posteriori destruction of transcendental telepathy. The hole dug in his (her) experience is the loss of possibility of human relationship. When a patient attempts to fill this hole with symptoms, an impersonal and delusional Other arises to replace it. The gap in his (her) experience is related to the distortion of intersubjectivity and that is why the delusion that fills this gap takes the form of affection of contact, that is to say, of the impersonal and terrifying Otherness. In contrast, autism is the intrinsic lack of transcendental telepathy. The gap occurs in general at the edge of their solipsistic intelligibility; even if the other becomes terrifying, this other is a concrete person who is horrible because he (she) exceeds the autistic's solipsistic world (whereas schizophrenics are afraid of an unknown exteriority which terrifies them). The emergence of exteriority in the solipsist world where there should be no exteriority is the origin of autistic panic.

Internalized affection of contact as a basis for transcendental telepathy—for a phenomenological theory of schizophrenia

Flexure of affection of contact in schizophrenia

The function of perceptual phantasía clarifies the difference between autism and schizophrenia with respect to their modes of communication. I have called the immediate communication of thought through perceptual phantasía “transcendental telepathy.” This transcendental telepathy structurally presupposes the transcendental possibility of affection of contact. This transcendental possibility is empirically found, for example, in one's maternal care. The repeated affection of contact accompanied by strong emotion will be internalized as a basic structure of the subject (this is what psychoanalysis calls an “internalized object”). This internalized affection of contact as a basis of the subject is a source of psychological security. I would like to deepen this function of the internalized affection of contact.

Autistic babies do not have internalized affection of contact (even with their mother; sometimes they do not recognize their mother's face and some of them even refuse breastfeeding because of the allergy to body contact). This lack is not due to any defect in the mother's care but to a physiological problem in the child's brain that prevents the formation of perceptual phantasía and transcendental telepathy. In this respect, this trouble with eye contact is closely related to the dependence of the autistic child's modality of communication on lexical meaning.

In contrast, the dysfunction of transcendental telepathy in schizophrenics seems to be based not on the lack but on the loss or the distortion of internalized affection of contact. In this sense, the classical theory of the “double bind” in Gregory Bateson (1904–1980, an American anthropologist and psychologist), which demonstrated the structural failure of communication between schizophrenics and their mothers, still has a theoretical value. The “double bind” is constituted of three stages: “A primary negative injunction. [...] A secondary injunction conflicting with the first at a more abstract level, and like the first enforced by punishments or signals which threaten survival. [...] A tertiary negative injunction prohibiting the victim from escaping from the field.” (“Toward a Theory of Schizophrenia” in Bateson 1972, 206–207). I quote a case from Bateson.

A young man who had fairly well recovered from an acute schizophrenic episode was visited in the hospital by his mother. He was glad to see her and impulsively put his arm around her shoulders, whereupon she stiffened. He withdrew his arm and she asked, “Don’t you love me any more?” He then blushed, and she said, “Dear, you must not be so easily embarrassed and afraid of your feelings.” The patient was able to stay with her only a few minutes more and following her departure he assaulted an aide and was put in the tubs. (Bateson 1972, 217)

It is not necessarily the problem of logics, as thought Bateson, but the structural failure of communication expressed in this “double bind” that may possibly trigger schizophrenia (the “double bind” situation is not always observed in the family of schizophrenic; the important thing is the structural failure of communication and not the family's problem). The double bind structure results in the distortion of the internalized affection of contact. Because of this structural distortion, each empirical affection of contact becomes somewhat dislocated in this case. In contrast, autistics do not know this sort of distortion because of an innate weakness of affection of contact. In place of internalized affection of contact, they use self-holding or self-stimulation (for example, in a stereotyped behavior) as a basis of security. Thus, these two types of communication difficulty have different structures.

Here, I quote a case of phobia in an infant of 6 months which shows very well the relationship between internalized affection of contact and transcendental telepathy. This case is not schizophrenic, but it shows exactly the critical moment for the onset of schizophrenia.

Taken on my knees she cries incessantly, but does not show hostility. [...] Given back to her mother she shows no interest in the change and continued to cry, crying more and more pitifully [...] At one consultation I had the child on my knee observing her. She made a furtive attempt to bite my knuckle. Three days later I had her again on my knee, and waited to see what she would do. She bit my knuckle three times so severely that the skin was nearly torn. She then played at throwing spatulas on the floor incessantly for fifteen minutes. All the time she cried as if really unhappy. Two days later I had her on my knee for half an hour. She had had four seizures in the previous two days. At first she cried as usual. She again bit my knuckle very severely, this time without showing guilt feelings, and then played the game of biting and throwing away spatulas, while on my knee she became able to enjoy play. After a while she began to finger her toes, and so I had her shoes and socks removed. The result of this was a period of experimentation which absorbed her whole interest. It looked as if she was discovering and proving over and over again to her great satisfaction, whereas spatulas that can be put to the mouth, thrown away and lost, toes can not be pulled off. (Winnicott 1971, 49)

On Winnicott's lap, the girl discovers that her attacks do not destroy Winnicott. With this discovery, she started playing with the tie and spoons, and finally, she discovered her own body.

There takes place in this simple case the original foundation (Urstiftung) of play (which will become play with a doll, using a perceptual phantasía) and the consequential discovery of her own body. Initially submerged in the aggressive drive, the child becomes, thanks to the “holding” of Winnicott (Winnicott 1971, 11, 112, etc.), capable of controlling her own movement and enjoying play that she herself creates. These processes also initiate the basic structure of the world, namely the distinction between one’s own body and the body of others, between the body and the world, between perception and phantasía, etc.

According to the theory of Melanie Klein (Klein 1975, ch. 1), the aggressive drive of the child functions primarily in the phantasía.8 A child is afraid of revenge or feels guilty. This is the Kleinian theory of the paranoid–schizoid position and the depressive position. Influenced by Klein, Winnicott considers that the aggressive drive of the child becomes the healthy energy of creativity only when the environment (mother, father, etc.) “survives” this aggressive acting out (Winnicott 1971, 5). The affection of contact with Winnicott supports the Phantasieleib of the child against his or her own aggressive impulse. From the phenomenological point of view, this “survival” means the stability of the internalized affection of contact which backs up the Phantasieleib. The Phantasieleib becomes the organ of perceptual phantasía and of transcendental telepathy.

If the destruction of internalized affection of contact by his (her) own primitive aggression is avoided, the subject recognizes that aggression in phantasía does not damage the perceptual reality. Aggression is now represented in make-believe play. Phantasía and perception are differentiated with this recognition.9

Excessive aggressiveness is an example of various triggers that may destroy the internalized affection of contact. We now understand how the relationship between internalized affection of contact and transcendental telepathy is important to describe schizophrenic experience. The failure of communication as a failure of transcendental telepathy covered over by delusion can be closely linked to the fragility of the internalized affection of contact (which is often symbolized by a terrifying and mysterious Otherness that is beyond any concrete other person).

Winnicott calls this support of Phantasieleib by the internalized affection of contact “holding.” He considers the loss of holding in the early years of one's life (probably before the acquisition of language) as the fundamental structure of schizophrenia: it is what he calls “breakdown” (Winnicott 1989, 87sq.). Here is the description of primitive agonies due to breakdown.
  1. 1.

    A return to an unintegrated state. (Defense: disintegration.)

  2. 2.

    Falling forever. (Defense: self-holding.)

  3. 3.

    Loss of psychosomatic collusion, failure of indwelling. (Defense: depersonalization.)

  4. 4.

    Loss of sense of real. (Defense: exploitation of primary narcissism, etc.)

  5. 5.

    Loss of capacity to relate to objects. (Defense: autistic states, relating only to self-phenomena.)

    [...]It is my intention to show here that what we see clinically is always a defense organization, even in the autism10 of childhood schizophrenia. The underlying agony is unthinkable.

    It is wrong to think of psychotic illness as a breakdown; it is a defense organization relative to a primitive agony [...]. (Winnicott 1989, 89–90)


The lack of stability in her affect shows that the girl on Winnicott's knees suffers from the state close to “breakdown.” Winnicott also discovers that the human being, losing the integration of body, feels an interminable falling and the separation of body and psyche. It is not only the physical falling down and the lack of real support, but also falling and lack of support in the Phantasieleib. Therefore, patients continue to experience this fall repeatedly in their nightmare or in their inexplicable angst. This means that the affection of contact provides a support for Phantasieleib.

“Holding” is both physical support of the body provided by others and support of Phantasieleib, without which there would be no organized phantasía, that is to say no integration of thought. Winnicott tries to re-establish this support of Phantasieleib, as in the case of the girl on his knees. For example, he remains silent for 2 or 3 h with his patient (Winnicott 1971, ch. 4). After 2 h of silence, the patient noticed for the first time the presence of Winnicott in front of her. The gaze of Winnicott “holds” the mind (phantasía) of the patient, and she finally achieves the more structured and creative thought which is tied to the activity of her daily life. There is another example in Winnicott. According to Margaret Little (British psychoanalyst; Winnicott analyzed her as a potentially psychotic patient), Winnicott literally holds her head in his hands during the session, dominated by silence and lasting 1 h and a half (Little 1990, ch.5). To restore the unity of her living body and her creativity, Little needed the hands of Winnicott, which held her head and her disintegrated Phantasieleib.

“Ground” of Phantasieleib

At the end of his life, Husserl discovered the ground (Erde) as immobile basis for the living body (Leib; Husserl 1940). The living body always indicates the absolute “zero point” of the constituted world on the basis of this immobile ground. Even when the body is on the airplane, it feels still and finds its zero point in relation to this still ground. The ground of the living body is not the physical earth, but a particular phenomenon found only by a phenomenological point of view.

Instead of the ground of body, I would like to attain, through Winnicott's analysis, a “ground” of Phantasieleib upon which phantasia is organized and developed. Phantasieleib as matrix of phantasía is invisible and unrepresentable. The ground of Phantasieleib is still more hidden than the invisible Phantasieleib. If the act of thinking is something related to the function of phantasía, this ground of Phantasieleib must be something completely hidden to everyday thought. This ground of Phantasieleib is nothing but the internalized affection of contact (or the transcendental possibility of affection of contact). This ground is destroyed in schizophrenia. And being intrinsically without affection of contact, an autistic develops his (her) structure of Phantasieleib in a different way. The disintegration of thinking in schizophrenics does not only mean the malfunctioning of grammatical syntax or of intelligence, but also the destruction of the ground of Phantasieleib as the organ of thinking.

With schizophrenic patients, Winnicott often discovered very early trauma that was beyond memory and which occurred before the acquisition of language. This mentioned case of Winnicott's shows very well the relationship between schizophrenia and internalized affection of contact. But in Pankow, schizophrenics are considered as children of an obsessive (and perverse) mother whose own mother is also somewhat pathological (Pankow 1977, 98: Dolto also made the same observation [Dolto 1987, 72–73]).11 The mothers of schizophrenic patients consider the patient not as an independent person but as part of her own body. Sometimes, there is also incest. In this case, it is not the loss of affection of contact, but its distortion that triggers schizophrenia.

Let me return to the case of the girl in Winnicott's account. The girl on his lap discovers the integration of her Phantasieleib and her body through Winnicott's holding. The presence of Winnicott is decisive. When she bites Winnicott in the first two sessions, she does not consider Winnicott as a human being but simply as an inanimate object (she is not even interested in her own mother). It is as if Winnicott were an obstacle. At the third meeting, the girl notices for the first time the presence of Winnicott as a human being (hence the affection of contact with him), and she now realizes his presence. It was at this moment that the integration of her living body and the support of her Phantasieleib take place. This case shows well that the “ground” of Phantasieleib is nothing but the internalized affection of contact. The girl discovered here for the first time in an effective way the affection of contact—which previously operated in a virtual manner—and the creativity of phantasía.

In this section, internalized affection of contact has been revealed as the basis for transcendental telepathy; the basic trouble of schizophrenia lies in its distortion.


This paper has discussed the phenomenological difference between the intersubjectivity of autism and that of schizophrenia from the point of view of several phenomena that neuroscience calls “eye contact” and “mirror neuron system.” Although the argument is not based on the neurological evidence but on observations and the psychotherapeutic literature, the argument advanced here does not contradict the neuroscience, and the phenomenological research can eventually provide an alternative model for understanding the neurological evidence.

I termed the spontaneous communication of phantasía (thought) by means of perceptual object or language “transcendental telepathy.” This is nothing other than the perceptual phantasía (discovered by Husserl) that functions intersubjectively (this aspect is ignored by Husserl). This moment has a close relationship with a mirror-neuron system, and it would suggest another approach to study this system. Transcendental telepathy and the creativity of Phantasieleib in it presuppose as their basis the transcendental possibility of affection of contact (which functions through a gaze aiming at me, body contact, or a voice calling me). This can be a subject for a further investigation.

Regarding autism, because of the innate lack of affection of contact, transcendental telepathy does not occur spontaneously. Consequently, the autistic does not have a make-believe kind of play but a stereotyped sort of play. Without the formation of perceptual phantasía, there is no differentiation of phantasía and perception. It remains only a pure imagination (Einbildungskraft) without social context. Autistic people's trouble with the mirror-neuron system is thus structurally related to their stereotyped play. For this reason, people with Asperger's syndrome do not consider conversation as an immediate communication of thought but as a transmission of concepts.

Schizophrenia is a disorder of internalized affection of contact resulting in the weakening of transcendental telepathy, a disturbance which is covered over by the various symptoms. The patient's pathological communication of thought (delusions) is based on the pathological affection of contact with a terrifying Other.


Recently, some important psychiatrists and pediatric specialists in Japan organized a roundtable to discuss this topic (Nakayasu et al. 2008; Murakami 2008b).


Since 2003, I have conducted field work at the National Center for Child Health and Development (Tokyo, Japan) where I concentrate on work with autistic children.


Affection of contact (I used affection d’appel in French) is a concept of my own making. Allow me to cite my own text: “The eye contact of others precedes the perception of his body. In the natural situation of the non-autistic, the experience of others—before being perception of their body—is first of all experience of a glance, the call of a voice or body contact. This experience does not require knowledge of the other and the baby responds to the facial expression of his (her) mother. We call ‘affection of contact’ this primordial experience [...]. (which is an independent [and transcendental] ‘category’ irreducible to other moments of transcendental subjectivity).” (Murakami 2008a, 17)


Eye contact particularly activates the superior temporal sulcus and amygdala (Hooker et al. 2003; Wicker et al. 1998), while the recognition of the whole face concerns, for example, the fusiform.


“Bei einer Theateraufführung leben wir in einer Welt perzeptiver Phantasie, wir <haben> ‘Bilder’ in der zusammenhängenden Einheit eines Bildes, aber darum nicht Abbilder. Wenn Wallenstein oder Richard III auf der Bühne dargestellt wird, so handelt es <sich> sicherlich um abbildliche Darstellungen, obschon es eine zu erwägende Frage ist, inwiefern diese Abbildlichkeit selbst ästhetische Funktion hat. In erster Linier hat es sicher nicht die Abbildlichkeit, sondern die Bildlichkeit im Sinn der perzeptiven Phantasie als unmittelbare Imagination.” (Hua XXIII, 514–515): Husserl considers that the perceptual phantasía is a sort of imagination. But as Richir has showed, a perceptual phantasía does not necessarily have a precise image (Richir 2008).


Therefore, even if an autistic child is so locked on himself (herself) that we cannot make direct contact with him (her; in other words, even if there is no affection of affection of contact), we can play with him. By mimicking his (her) behavior, we can participate in his (her) repetitive play and he (she) meets our gesture (even if he (she) does not respond to us as a person). In other words, Phantasieleib works in him (her) and that allows him (her) this “sympathy” with the gesture of others (but without affection of contact and without forming transcendental telepathy).


Intelligent autistic adults distinguish well between phantasía and perception. But they seem to attribute the same reality to the phantasía as to the perception.


More precisely, as I said, children at this stage do not distinguish perception from phantasía because of the absence of transcendental telepathy which establishes this distinction and this is why the aggression in the phantasía becomes “acting out” in the real world.


Therefore, at the stage of the paranoid–schizoid position, I think there is still no distinction between perception and phantasía, and this is also why the birth of transcendental telepathy as a result of this “survival” shows the differentiation of phantasía and perception.


This “autism” is a feature of schizophrenia and is not the name of the developmental disorder.


I feel close to the theory of schizophrenia proposed by Gisela Pankow (1914–1998, German psychoanalyst who practiced in Paris). She states that: “in the hebephrenic, a gap in the emotional life is completed by a hallucination or by an action without apparent purpose, because the other is not confronted” (Pankow 1987, 29). Pankow believes that the excessive symbiosis (sometimes incest) of schizophrenics with their mother or father and the lack of paternity (hence lack of the social law) are the basis of schizophrenia. When there is no differentiation between the child and mother, there will be no transcendental telepathy, which is communication between independent subjects; [in the family of schizophrenics] “the mother is a part of her own child, so the mother has no children. The child is part of her mother and the child has no mother” (Pankow 1977, 106–107).



I thank Dr. Masutomo Miyao for his kind support throughout the entire research.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011