The Island of Drive: Representations, Somatic States and the Origin of Drive

  • Pierre J. Magistretti
  • François Ansermet


Freud defined the drive as “a concept on the frontier between the mental and the somatic”. Today this view that was based on clinical observations interpreted within the psychoanalytical framework, can be revisited in light of the current neuroscientific notions of neuronal plasticity and somatic states. Indeed, through the mechanisms of plasticity experience leaves a trace that forms the neural basis of a representation of the experience. Such a representation R is associated with a somatic state S in the sense taken from the “somatic marker” model of Damasio. Thus, the internal reality of the subject, particularly the unconscious one, is constituted by such connected R’s and S’s. In the model discussed here, the posterior insula represents the primary interoceptive cortex where information about somatic states S converges, while in the anterior insula the connection between R and S can take place and establish a neurobiological correlate for the notion of drive. The authors posit that the re-representations of S associated with R in the anterior insula may correspond to the ‘Vorstellungsrepräsentanz’ postulated by Freud. They further propose that the tension between R and S, established in the anterior insula, is discharged according to the notion of drive through the motor arm of the limbic system, namely the anterior cingulate cortex which is heavily connected with the anterior insula.


Insula Anterior cingulate cortex Drive Somatic states Vorstellungsrepräsentanz Freud 


  1. Ansermet, F., & Magistretti, P. (2007a). Biology of freedom: Neural plasticity, experience, and the unconscious. New York: Other Press.Google Scholar
  2. Ansermet, F., & Magistretti, P. (2007b). An unexpected phone call: How drives originate and what becomes of them. In F. Ansermet & P. Magistretti (Eds.), Biology of freedom (pp. 133–146). New York: Other Press.Google Scholar
  3. Ansermet, F., & Magistretti, P. (2010). Les énigmes du plaisir. Paris: Odile Jacob.Google Scholar
  4. Arminjon, M., Ansermet, F., & Magistretti, P. (2010). The homeostatic psyche: Freudian theory and somatic markers. Journal of Physiology, 104, 272–278.Google Scholar
  5. Craig, A. D. “Bud” (2003) Interoception: The sense of the physiological condition of the body. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 13(4), 500–505.Google Scholar
  6. Craig, A. D. “Bud” (2009). How do you feel – now? The anterior insula and human awareness. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 10(1), 59–70.Google Scholar
  7. Damasio, A. R. (1994). Decartes’ error: Emotion, reason, and the human brain. New York: Putnam.Google Scholar
  8. Damasio, A. R. (1996). The somatic marker hypothesis and the possible functions of the prefrontal cortex. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, 351(1346), 1313–1420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Damasio, A. R. (2010). Self comes to mind: Constructing the conscious brain. New York: Pantheon.Google Scholar
  10. Freud, S. (1915a). Instincts and their Vicissitudes. S.E. XIV.Google Scholar
  11. Freud, S. (1915b). The unconscious. S.E. XIV.Google Scholar
  12. Freud, S. (1925). A note on the mystic writing pad. S.E. XIX.Google Scholar
  13. Lacan, J. (1979). The four fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis. (Jacques-Alain Miller, Ed., Alan Sheridan, Trans.). London: Penguin Books. (Original work published 1964)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory of Neurogenetics and Cellular DynamicsÉcole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, EPFL-SV-BMILausanneSwitzerland
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryUniversité de Genève, HUG/SPEAGenèveSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations