From psychoanalysis to neuroscience

To: Boluwatife Ayobami:


Ozodi Osuji

 Thanks for your response. What it tells me is that you understand that the self is a complex entity composed of many sides and is not easily explained. Your exploration of the Freudian concepts of Id, Ego, and Superego is on the spot.

     Let me just make the following addendum. The Id is supposed to represent inherited instincts like aggression and sex; the superego is learned, or should we say, internalized social norms, one’s culture now in one’s mind and its demands that one behave in a certain manner or else one is punished by one’s society; the ego represents a kind of referee balancing the desires of the Id and the strictures of the superego.

     In Freudian categories, when all three aspects of the psyche are balanced one is supposed to be normal; when there is disbalance there is abnormality, such as neurosis.

    Psychoanalysis did not deal with psychoses, mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, manic depression, aka bipolar affective disorder, delusion disorder, those are in the purview of psychiatry. Freud did venture into schizophrenia in his analysis of a German judge, Schreiber, who dressed like women, what now we would call transgender but during Freud’s time such behavior was considered part of the schizophrenic syndrome; paranoia, according to psychoanalysis, for example, is seen as a product of repressed same-sex attraction. Let us leave the speculations of psychoanalysis, they are interesting but a waste of time; I spent many years doing that.

     Psychoanalysis limited itself to anxiety neurosis. If one is neurotic one goes to psychoanalysts to try to enable one to balance the three warring and conflicting parts of one’s psyche.

      For example, the ID may be overactive (such as in Nigerians with uncontrolled libido who engage in polygamy and or having many, as they say, side chicks), or aggression may be excessive (as in those who easily get into fights, meaning that they have not been tamed by social strictures…sports is supposed to give folks channels, outlets to put their aggression to positive use, going to war is another means of exorcising aggression; the ego balances Id and superego.

    Freud believed that in the process of socialization that we drive into our ego unconscious minds those aspects of us that      our learned social norms, rules, mores, laws consider inappropriate and are punished by our superego should we think about them or do them. For example, most societies have taboos over certain sexual practices and if one even thinks of them, one feels guilty; that is, one is punished by one’s internalized and interiorized social norms/one’s society now in one’s mind, now acting as the superego, for trying to cross the line of appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.

      In our ego unconscious minds are all sorts of desires, rational and irrational that make our behaviors sometimes irrational. The psychoanalyst tries to balance them by listening carefully and helping the patient (who is supposed to have issues in his unconscious mind) to free associate, engage in transference relationship with the analyst, see him as his father and project his issues to him, so that he solves them, to say whatever comes to his mind, unblocked and unchecked by reason, and the analyst figures out the roots of one’s neurosis.

     The oedipal complex may not have been resolved in neurotics (one is supposed to have polymorphous, perverse sexuality and desires having sex with one’s parent of the opposite gender, if not both and that got to be resolved).

     A lot is done to get the patient to accept the cultural norms of his people and operate as a normal person does without much conflict with his society and people.

      Freud is one way of looking at neurosis. My path accepts Alfred Adler’s individual psychology; here, folks are examined to understand their struggles to cope with their environment. We all perceive the environment, physical and social, as overwhelming and try to master it, control it. In trying to manage our environment we develop need for power.

      The neurotic is said to be a person who seeks excessive power over other people, is seeking superiority and in the process has conflicts with other people; Adlerian psychoanalysis gets the neurotic to redirect his power drive and or use it to serve social interests; that is the aim of Adlerian psychoanalysis.

     I already talked to you about Karen Horney’s psychoanalysis; here, the child rejects his real self and uses his imagination to create a false, imaginary ideal self and pursues it; there is conflict between his real self and ideal self, and the result is called the basic anxiety found in neurotics.

     For what it is worth, much of what we now call personality disorders used to be called neuroses, such as paranoid, schizoid, schizotypal, narcissistic, histrionic, borderline, antisocial, avoidant, dependent, obsessive-compulsive and passive aggressive personality disorders; the neurotic is normal but has many issues with people. For example, Donald Trump, any analyst would call a neurotic or in today’s language he would be said to have narcissistic and anti-social personality disorders.

     Neurotics tend to be above average in intelligence (mental retardation is any IQ under 70,  2% of the people have mental retardation; over 85% of the people have average IQ, between 85-115; about ten percent of the people have above average IQ, 118-130; and about 2% of the people have superior IQ, anything over 132; IQ of over 140 is genius level,  it occurs randomly but cannot really be predicted).

     There is Carl Jung’s psychoanalysis; it adds the component of collective unconscious, and spirituality to the mix; Jung posits that what has taken place in all human history is reposed in our collective unconscious minds and somehow influence our thinking and behavior. He posited such concepts as introversion, extraversion, ambiversion; the crux of his psychoanalysis is his belief that spirituality is a necessary component of the human psyche.

      In the 1960s, many psychologists rejected the excessive concentration on trying to figure out what is in the individual’s unconscious minds and fixing them. Psychologists began emphasizing social learning theory. B.F. Skinner, for example, says that there is no way that we can verify the conclusions of psychoanalysis with the scientific method of observation, verification, experimentation and falsification, therefore, we ought to ignore them and, instead, concentrate on the individual’s learned behaviors, and where there are problems try to modify them (called behavior modification) with classical and or operant conditioning.

     In today’s psychiatry environment the emphasis is on biology; for example, most human behavior is attributed to issues with the individual’s biochemical balances in the central nervous system, brain and spinal column, or lack of them. Thus, attention is paid to the various neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, neuropiniphrine, acetylcholine and others) and the various ions such as potassium, calcium, phosphor, magnesium ions (what is an ion…you are sharp and ought to know that)and see how they operate in the human brain (at the synapses of neurons a whole lot of chemical reactions take place, read up on neurotransmissions in the brain).

      In an over simplified way, we can say that psychotics, such as schizophrenics tend to have excessive dopamine and the neuroleptic medications given to them are supposed to work on the dopamine receptors in their brains  and try to balance them; manic folks tend to have excessive adrenaline and the various anti mania medications tend to reduce the level of excitatory neurotransmitters in their brains; depressed persons tend to have less serotonin and anti-depressant medications tend to help accumulate that neurotransmitter in their brains; anxious persons tend to easily release certain neurochemicals associated with flight and fight, fear response and the various anxiolytics, antianxiety medications help balance them. 

     Simply stated, today, human behavior and abnormal behavior in particular, is explained not through the yardsticks of Freudian psychoanalysis but through studying brain science, aka neuroscience.

      I can go on and on; however, the salient point is that we have moved from psychoanalysis to learning theories, aka behaviorism to today’s neuroscience. But we are getting carried away from the question that I asked you, are we not?

      The question is, what is the real self as opposed to the false, ideal self? I do not know what the real self is, and no one knows, either.

     You obviously have a very inquisitive mind, a mind that wants to learn a lot; you are truly sharp, my friend; you are the type of student that professors love to have in their classes. You clearly have superior IQ. You are one Nigerian I would love to talk to; I tend to enjoy talking to folks with superior IQ; average persons bore me to death!

      I enjoy reading your poems for they give us insights into human nature and behavior.

Ozodi Osuji

November 3, 2021

PS: Since my response to your foray into psychoanalysis, what used to be my forte, is detailed, I will share it with the public. Cheers, my brilliant young man.

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