Sigmund Freud is the founder of Psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis or dept psychology proposes to look inside people's heads (interiority) and from doing so understand what forces shaped them and who they are, as opposed to social psychology that looks at the exterior (iority) and appreciates the environmental forces that allegedly shape peoples personalities and behaviors. Freud and his cohort dominated psychology during the first half of the twentieth century. They were gradually replaced by Ivan Pavlov, John Watson and B.F Skinner's behaviorism; the later were in turn replaced by today's biological psychology.
100 MEN OF IDEAS #2 SIGMUND FREUD
Ozodi Thomas Osuji
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was an excellent writer and probably should have won the Nobel Prize in literature. A scientist he was not, for nothing he wrote could stand rigorous scientific analysis. It was probably because Freud crafted excellent prose that folks were blinded to the fact that he was essentially writing fiction under the guise of science.
Freud was a fraud; he managed to fool mankind into believing that stuff he probably wrote under the haze of cocaine addiction is science. (This man endured over thirty operations on his jaw, mouth cancer, rather than quit his addiction to cocaine. Apparently, he used cocaine to anaesthetize the pain in his mouth.).
Freud was born in Vienna, Austria to Jewish parents. He studied neurology and psychiatry (during his time they were undifferentiated into separate disciplines) at the University of Vienna.
Apparently, Freud was desperate for a means to attain fame and when it became obvious that he was not going to fulfill his wish through neurological practice he latched unto what was then called talking cure.
The idea of talking cure was that by talking about their problems people obtained symptom reduction or even cure. This included from disorders that were clearly somatic in origin.
There is no evidence that talking cures medical disorders. Nevertheless, Freud persisted in his methodological approach to healing neurosis. He would have his patients lie on his famous couch and talk about their issues without trying to check what they said. This is called free association.
As Freud saw it, society forces folk to repress certain desires and thoughts and those are now in what he called the ego unconscious. Repressed ideas in the ego unconscious, he believed, still influence what the individual thinks or does in his presumed conscious life.
Freud was at war with the logical positivism of the nineteenth century. Logical positivism (David Hume, John Locke etc) is part of the enlightenment philosophy that through pure reason human beings could understand themselves and their world and make appropriate changes in themselves where change is needed. To enlightenment thinkers, reason is God and through it all human problems could be understood and solved. Anything that is not rational is not worthy of discourse. In this light religion, which is not predicated on reason, is not worthy of discourse (and is still not part of our logical positivistic, empiricist universities).
To the positivists, Freud said wait a minute, human beings do not always act rationally. Even when they believe that they are thinking and acting rationally an unconscious aspect of them that contains irrational material makes sure that they act irrationally.
As Freud sees it, human beings have an unconscious layer to their conscious mind. In that unconscious are forces that make sure that human beings would not act rationally. To act rationally human begins must first come to Freud (Psychoanalysts) and analyze their personal psychologies, understand what is in their unconscious minds that is thwarting their efforts to be rational (Freud was a clever businessman; through his hypothesis he directed customers to his business and made a decent living from charging them money to heal them of their supposed neurosis.)
As Freud sees it, human beings have forces that are not rational and that are in the ego unconscious mind. Those forces he gave cute names, one of which is Id.
The Id contains the libido (sexual desires). Human beings, Freud holds, are polymorphously sexually perverse. They can desire any kind of sex: with members of the opposite gender, heterosexuality, with members of the same sex, homosexuality, with animals, bestiality, with pain associated sex, sadomasochism etc. Indeed, they desire sex with members of their families.
As Freud sees it, it is society and socialization that influences which sexual preference a person gravitates to. But left alone a person even has incestuous desire for sex with his mother, father, siblings etc. These sexual desires are lodged in the individual's unconscious mind.
In the same unconscious mind are internalized social norms that stipulate approved sexual behavior. In our Christian culture heterosexuality within marriage is the approved sexual behavior. Thus in the unconscious is the superego forces.
A third force, what Freud called the ego, acts as a sort of referee balancing the demands of the id and the strictures of the superego.
The three forces, id, ego and superego are, as it were, at war in the individual's mind. These warring forces make sure that the individual seldom reasons and acts rationally.
The individual, therefore, ought to come to Freud for psychoanalysis. He ought to lay on the couch, free associate and project his resentment of his father and society for frustrating his sexual desire to the analyst (this is called transference) and the analyst ought to sit quietly and just listen to the patient ramble about what took place in his childhood (much of what folk remember about their childhood is actually not correct but made up or embellished). Eventually, the analyst analyzes what the patient said. It is not the analysis that supposedly heals the patient; it is the Cathexis, the dredging of what was lodged in the unconscious that supposedly makes the patient feel released from his paint up emotions. Freud was operating under the illusion that human beings are like energy and that when that energy is not let to flow that it is stored in their minds and eventually must be released or lese it causes problems for them, causes them neurosis.
Freud employed many methods to get at the patient's unconscious mind, including free association and dream interpretation. Freud believed that dreams are the royal road to the unconscious mind, that they help us understand the patient's desires that society forbade hence repressed into his unconscious and gratified in dreams.
Are dreams mere gratification of our frustrated day time desires? Some may be but not all dreams. There are all sorts of dreams. Dreams serve many functions for us. Some persons claim that in dreams they sometimes communicate with the spiritual world. Albert Einstein claimed that he understood his theory of special relativity from a dream. The point is that dreams are more complicated than Freud's psychoanalytic reductionism would have us believe.
How does the animal brain produce dreams? In dreams we (and animals) see a world that looks like our day world; how did our brain produce it? If our brains can produce our nightly dreams they could also have produced our day world. Hinduism posits that the day world is a dream.
Let us say that no one has explained dreams and their functions; they are certainly not Freud's silly explanation.
Freud wrote many books and had enormous impact on the world. None of his ideas, as Karl Popper pointed out, can be falsified or verified; therefore they are not scientific ideas. In fact, many of them are silly ideas.
I agree with Hans Eysenck that Freud set back psychology by, at least, a hundred years. If Emil Kraepelin's biological psychology had progressed without obstruction by the diversion of psychoanalysis (and Pavlov/Watson/Skinner's superficial behaviorism) we would by now have had a science of psychology. As it is, psychology is still not a science in the sense that its postulations can be tested and verified (rather than merely accepted on faith...belief is in the domain of religion).
Freud had obsessive-compulsive neurotic personality (with authoritarian tendencies). He insisted on his ideas and God help you if you disagreed with him.
Initially, many people were fascinated by his unorthodox ideas but as they get to learn what the man was saying they were repulsed and tried to correct him. The moment one tried to correct this little bedroom Napoleon he went ballistic and went to war trying to discredit one. The man was not beyond even using what folk told him in so-called private analytic sessions to blackmail them. If one had told him that one has certain socially unapproved habits Freud, or through his surrogates, would make that supposedly privileged information he has on one public. This miscreant did everything in his power to discredit any one who opposed his silly ideas. And if one had refused to confide in him he would say that one was resisting analysis, blocking insight into ones self, not wanting to know what is in ones unconscious mind. Either way, one loses with Freud. And all these is notwithstanding Freud's own weaknesses, his addiction to cocaine, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, having sex with his sister in-law, and getting her pregnant and inducing her to have abortion and other shenanigans!
As a result of his rigidity, inflexibility and inability to accept criticism and correct his misguided ways, many of Freud's early disciplines left him. He surrounded himself with weak personalities, such as Otto Rank and Ernst Jones (a man who was accused of fondling his female patients).
Alfred Adler, Carl G. Jung, among many, left Freud and founded their own brand of psychoanalysis. Freud then embarked on trying to discredit them. He made much ado about Jung's interest in spirituality; apparently, one cannot believe in God and still be a scientist (Freud tried to use Jung's spirituality to make him out as a mad man...this is like a kettle calling a pot black).
Freud was a dangerous neurotic, really. Nevertheless, his ideas took hold and influenced the first half of the twentieth century psychology. Indeed, he influenced much of the last century's literature, even philosophy. This goes to show you about the power of believed ideas.
If an idea is believed, even if it is false, and acted on, it influences society. Nazis believed in the nonsense of human inequality and acted on it and affected society.
There is suggestive evidence that Freud knew that some of his ideas were false and falsified data to support them. This man was a charlatan of the first order. He so craved fame that he was ready to do anything to get it, including telling lies about the cause of his patients so-called illness, such as hysteria.
Hysteria (now called conversion disorder, multiple personality disorder) was not caused by repressed sexual desires. In multiple personality there is evidence that the patient had experienced trauma. Generally, such woman was sexually abused in childhood. I would add that she probably inherited a body that disposed her to respond to sexual abuse with hysteria for not all sexually abused girls react with hysteria.
I believe that the individual's inherited biological constitution (plus actual experiences) produces psychological disorders. I do not buy the idea that many psychological issues are psychosomatic, that is, that folk use their minds to cause their physical problems. Physical problems are caused by physical problems, mind merely responds to them.
I have asked many persons whether they had sexual desires for their parents and siblings. Of course a few deviants had inappropriate sexual desires for their parents and siblings but that is an exception rather than the rule. Thus Freud's Oedipal Complex is a made up story. In oedipal complex Freud hypothesized, and, apparently, believed in his hypothesis, that the girl child desires sex with her father and the boy child desires sex with his mother. He said that the child then recognizes that the parent is much larger than him and could kill him for been a rival for the opposite parent's sexual favors. The father could kill the boy for wanting to have with his wife. Afraid, the child represses his sexual desire for his mother. Then he converts his fear to pleasing the parents and in the process learns his behaviors, thus internalizes gender appropriate behaviors.
This is pure fantasy. I would say that Freud was making up these silly stories; he was confabulating, as psychotics and drug addicts do, and believing in his palpable lies. This man wrote voluminously but said nothing of relevance.
Late in life Freud hypothesized that inherent in people is a wish to return to a state of peace, to death. He twisted the oriental (Hindu, Buddhist) idea of Nirvana, Samadhi...quest to escape from this world and attain oneness with God and attendant peace and joy) to mean that people have a wish to die and return to undifferentiated matter. As it were, people are born with a desire for life (Id) and a desire for death (Thanatos), and those two conflicts in their lives and add to their apparent irrational behaviors.
Freud does not know a damn thing about religion, his twisting the goal of Oriental religion to mean desire for death is very dishonest of him. One can begin to understand why folk were angry at Freud. The Nazis particularly were angry at him and his books were the first they burned. Unfortunately, the Nazis generalized their anger at this charlatan to all Jews and came to see all Jewish scholars as dishonest and as filling the world with lies and therefore not to be trusted. Indeed, they even suspected that Albert Einstein, a Jew, was telling lies with his general and special relativity theory, after all at that time it had not been verified. We should not paint a whole group with a wide brush; nevertheless, Freud is an annoying creature.
This man said nasty little things about just about every group. Regarding women he hypothesized that they feel castrated because they do not have male sex organ (penis) and that they tend to have penis envy. How so, did he ask women and they told him that they felt castrated and envied male penis?
The women I know prefer their sex equipment to the male version. In so far that they envy men it is not penis but their power in society. In our world men control every thing and it makes sense for women to feel resentful of this unnatural order of things.
Freud even has disrespect for what he called primitive societies (see his Totem and Taboo). He talked nonsense about primitive societies. What primitive societies? The Igbo society that I know of is far more advanced than any European society that I know of. Let us just ay that Freud did not know what the hell he was talking about.
The sad aspect of it all is that this man who essentially said nothing truthful still dominated the nascent discipline of psychology for over fifty years! It took a lot of doing to dislodge psychoanalysis from academic psychology. Even then this voodoo science has not been laid to rest. In so-called psychotherapy psychoanalysis still has influence hence patients pay their psychotherapists to listen to them talk about their life issues and supposedly cure them. Alas, they are not cured.
A so-called neurotic can go to therapy for a life time and talk about her issues forever and not correct them. What corrects her issues is accurate understanding of her body and rationality.
Luckily, psychology has moved to biologic tendencies rather than the talking mumbo jumbo of Freud and his disciples (the man saw himself as Jesus and was out to save the world and gathered disciples to him; apparently, he had savior complex, a savior indeed, a savior who could not heal his obsessive-compulsive neurosis and addiction to drugs and eventually committed suicide by having a doctor friend of his inject him with morphine to put him out of his misery).
Freud's Fraud is one reason why folk must aspire only after the truth and not permit those who are called authority figures to bamboozle them into accepting what is not true as true.
However, Freud's notion of unconscious mind has some relevance. But that is because it was not really his idea. Philosophers like Arthur Schopenhauer, Frederick Nietzsche, even psychologists like William James talked about the role of the unconscious in human behavior before Freud did.
One does not want to leave the reader with the impression that there was nothing useful in Freud. He was useful to the extent that he got people wanting to understand their psychological problems. He did not understand those problems or their cause and had no cure for them. Nevertheless, he did mankind some good by getting folk to accept that they have issues that they need to address.
All of us have psychological issues. Those issues arise as our biological equipments try to adapt to the exigencies of the physical and social world. Each of us has psychological problems that are epiphenomenal to the body he inherited and the society he is socialized in. He can understand those issues through reasoning rather than deny them.
The idea of ego defense mechanisms is another useful psychoanalytic concept though not as they understood them. As we shall see when we review Alfred Adler, Adler talked about folk feeling inferior and compensating with superiority. This feeling is empirical enough but the question is where did the capacity to feel inferior and seek superiority come from? Could it be because children felt powerful before feeling powerless? If so where did they feel that power? Could there be a metaphysical aspect to human beings that psychoanalytic reductionism cannot dismiss?
In the here and now world the force we need to grapple with is our bodies and their effects on us. We have to study biology, chemistry and physics and see how they operate in our bodies. Freud's neurotics probably inherited bodies that are quick to fear arousal hence tended to develop anxiety disorder. That is to say that neurosis is a function of inherited body that quickly throws up the neurotransmitters implicated in anxiety. Neurosis or anxiety disorder was not caused by psychological factors but by biological factors (unbalanced excitatory neurotransmitters or inhibitory neurotransmitters....see the role of Acetylcholine and GABA in anxiety disorder).
Freud got impressionable scholars to focus on searching for the cause of neurosis in the wrong place. They ought to have focused on the neurotic's body, not on his so-called unconscious.
In conclusion, Freud is one of those persons who though they were saying nothing still influenced their age.
We have a lot of work to do to exorcise the ghost of Freud from psychology, so as to make the discipline a scientific one.
Ernest, Jones. (1981). The life and Work of Sigmund Freud. New York: Basic Books.
Eysenck, Hans. (1986) Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire. London: Pelican.