Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Interpretation of Dreams 1

In a post at the end of March 2008 I made quite a good stab at giving an introduction to Freud's major book, namely The Interpretation of Dreams under a title called "From Breakdown to Breakthrough."  See this link.  However, here I wish to make other preliminary remarks without, if at all possible, going over old ground already discussed adequately there.  I might add that I am still reading this book as well as can be seen from these posts many secondary sources.  I find that I can only progress slowly with the Freudian text not because of its difficulty, but because of its very comprehensiveness and because as I arrive at one or another insights therein I find myself rushing off to a secondary source to check this fact or that fact. I do, of course, realise, that no amount of secondary texts can make up for the rich reward to be gained from looting the primary sources as it were.  However, please bear with me, I do promise to write my own appreciation of The Interpretation in these posts at some time, hopefully soon.   For the moment these many different posts with reference to this book must suffice.

As to what kind of literature this opus may be we are all quite at sea.  It is on a par, I think and feel, with another great opus Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1864) which is the classic defence of the religious opinions of John Henry Newman - which is an autobiography cum development of religious opinions, as well as a record of friendships and influences to name but a few strands that went to make up this wonderful work.  Likewise with Freud's The Interpretation written in Austria some thirty-five years later.  While Freud's opus is superficially about dreams it is also an autobiography and a compendium of the fundamental ideas of psychoanalysis up until around 1900, the date of its publication.  It discusses among other things the Oedipus Complex, Repression, struggle between Desire and Defence and a veritable wealth of case histories.  It also gives us insights into contemporary Viennese society, professional medical rivalries and indeed anti-Semitism.

I have already noted in other posts that Freud's own writings are easy to read as, like Newman, he was a consummate stylist who reworked the drafts of his writings. Once again Peter Gay in his magisterial work Freud: A Life For Our Time alludes to Freud's agonising over his stylistic faults and the possible lack of clarity in his new book.  (see op.cit., 104).

Gay also points out an interesting little piece of information with respect to Freud's struggles about the style and form of the book.  Apparently he had shared much with his good friend Wilhelm Fliess, not least the fact that he was going to use a quotation from Goethe at the front of the book.  However, Fliess persuaded him not to use it as it was too sentimental and Freud chose one instead from the seventh book of Virgil's Aeneid.  This motto reads: "Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo" which translates as "If heaven I cannot move then hell I will arouse."  This is a marvellous motto that Freud deliberately chose.  If his readers were not wholly or even partially accepting of his ideas, well then he must create a hellish commotion.  As I have already pointed out many times before this Freud was nothing if not controversial and contentious.  He knew he was writing insights that would provoke much reaction and not a little opposition.  Here is Gay in commentary on this chosen line from Virgil:

Reading proofs in September 1899, he predicted to Fliess that there would be an outraged outcry, a veritable "thunderstorm" over the nonsense, the foolishness, he had produced: "Then I'll really hear from them!"  His dream book was going to leave the higher powers of Vienna unmoved; the unimaginative professors who had called his ideas a fairy tale, the bigoted bureaucrats who would not give him his professorship, were not likely to be converted to his views.  No matter: he would raise the powers of hell against them.( Op. cit., 105)

Above a picture of Rodin's famous "The Kiss", taken at the Musée Rodin last year.

Struggling with one's Demons

In an effort to get to grips with life and its essentially personal meaning we are forced to forge metaphors.  Sometimes we even strain our very own credulity and gullibility in establishing our images for this important task.  One such metaphor is that of struggling with one's demons, or even facing one's demons.  I have often heard those poor creatures amongst us who struggling with various addictions using this particular metaphor or indeed variations thereof.  In Peter Gay's magisterial biography of Sigmund Freud we read in this context:

The fundamental task of psychoanalysis, he once wrote to novelist Stefan Zweig, was "to struggle with the demon" - the demon of irrationality - in a "sober way."  But, he added, this very sobriety, which reduces that demon to a "comprehensible object of science," only made his ideas about the nature of human nature seem all the more dismaying, all the more unacceptable.  (Freud: A Life for Our Time, Max Press, London, 2006, xvii)

Again the introduction to his own wonderful foundational work on dreams, The Interpretation of Dreams (1898, 1900) - and it is important to point out that this book was the most valuable of all Freud's discoveries according to himself - Ritchie Robertson writes:-

Writing to his medical colleague, confidant, and fellow Jew Wilhelm Fliess (1858-1928), he compared the effort of writing it to the struggle with the angel which left the biblical Jacob permanently lame: "When it appeared that my breath would fail in the wrestling match, I asked the angel to desist; and that is what he has done since then.  But I did not turn out to be the stronger, although since then I have been limping noticeably.  Yes, I really am forty-four now, an old somewhat shabby Jew..."  (The Interpretation of Dreams, Oxford, 1999, vii).

Robertson notes Freud's "wry disparagement" of self here.  So Freud did have a sense of humour.  We must also note that Freud was a trenchant atheist and we read about this in many of his letters, even in letters to his fiancée and future wife Martha Bernays.  However, Freud was widely read in the religion that he dismissed so trenchantly.  He would have realised that what he was dealing with were psychic energies which could easily be personalised in metaphoric and imaginal ways in the personae of angels etc.

Dream work for Freud would prove extraordinarily important in this ongoing struggle as it were to come to grips with the unknown within our very psyche, with making the unconscious stuff therein conscious; bringing as it were the hidden "objects" or fears or the various repressed experiences out from the shadowy corners of the unconscious mind into the bright light of day of the conscious mind if we may sustain our metaphor here.

I have already alluded in a previous post to the derivation of the word demon or daimon and to its psychic role.  See Daimon.

Without a doubt Freud struggled with his own demon or demons, perhaps the singular of the word is the preferred one here, and who among us does not? Freud's major contribution to psychotherapy (of which psychoanalysis, his own particular invention, is but one method among many) is in shining the light of consciousness into the darker corners of the psyche so that we can better describe and tame and domesticate our very own wild demon as it were. In so doing he is essentially a healer of souls - also, of course, a metaphor here.

As to how far we go in the search for our own truth is a good question.  I think and feel that we should go as far as we humanly and possibly can within the constraints of our own responsibilities to our families and our places of work.  As to how far we should be brutally honest and transparent to others I think and feel is altogether another question.  Some secrets we probably should keep to ourselves.  This I have discussed at more length in two other posts.  See  In conclusion here I wish to return to Peter Gay's above quoted magisterial work.  With respect to Freud's self-revelation he has the following wise words to say.  They are, I feel, interesting to ponder with respect to secrets in general and to secrets revealed in psychotherapy:

As he ruefully observed more than once, few humans have disclosed their feelings, their ambitions and wicked wishes, with such sublime disregard for their reputation.  He reported and closely analyzed  some of his most revealing dreams; he recorded some embarrassing memories of his early years.  On the other hand he dammed the stream of self-disclosure the moment he felt it threatened to wash away his cherished secrets.  "Whoever is quick to reproach me for such reserve," he wrote, reasonably enough, after abruptly terminating the interpretation of his famous dream of Irma's injection in mid-revelation, "should himself try to be more candid than I."  As a fearless researcher he exposed most of his innermost being to public scrutiny; as a good bourgeois, he valued his privacy, immensely.  (Op. cit., xvi.)

In many places Freud describes himself as a scientist and as a doctor and researcher and indeed clinician.  However, it is also revealing that he also used metaphors to describe his task like "archaeologist."   I should like to add the metaphor or image as "miner of the spirit."  However, in one of his many personal letters to his good friend Wilhelm Fliess he described himself as a "conquistador by temperament, an adventurer if you want to translate this term, with all the inquisitiveness, daring, and tenacity of such a man." (Letter, 1900, quoted op.cit., xvi)

Indeed Freud was an adventurer of the psyche or personality or of the depths of the unconscious.  As an adventurer he was well equipped personally, professionally and intellectually.  As I have already pointed out in an earlier post the central motif to his foundational book The Interpretation of Dreams is that of journey.  For such a journey into "the heart of darkness" of the psyche, if I may steal a metaphor from Joseph Conrad, a brave explorer like Freud was only equal to the task, and Freud, being such a conquistador did risk all: his reputation as a Doctor and as a highly regarded personage in society.  He did also suffer much misunderstanding, the contumely of fellow professionals and indeed outright opposition and vilification.

Above I have uploaded yet another picture I took of one of Rodin's sculptures as the Musée Rodin in Paris.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Smooth Operation of the Mind Machine

My title today is deliberately mechanistic.  I agree somewhat with the psychologist Dr Helen Graham that Freud developed a theory of mind or personality "which is conceived like a machine." (Soul Medicine: Restoring The Spirit to Healing, Gill & Macmillan, 2001, 143).  In this respect the Id, the Ego and the Superego are component parts of the apparatus that goes to make up the mind.  However, it is important to point out that Freud never ever equated the mind with the brain.  I have already pointed out that each of these different parts or components or aspects of the mind are in perpetual conflict, literally at war, one with another. Martin and Barresi point out in their comprehensive history of the Soul/Self from the ancient Greeks and Hebrews right up to modern day philosophers and psychologists:  "As Plato had done before, Freud saw mental health or psychological well-being as the establishment of a harmonious relationship between the three elements that constitute the mind." (The Rise and Fall of Soul and Self: An Intellectual History of Personal Identity, Columbia University Press 2006, 246)

On the occasions that I manage to teach some Freud to my senior students at school I explain Freud's structural model as being like a see-saw with The Id at one end and the Superego at the other with the Ego underneath as a fulcrum as it were.  This is probably an overly simplistic simile but it gets across the idea that the Ego is constantly trying to keep the other two aspects of the psyche in balance - this my senior students can get their heads around as it were.  However, I'm consciously aware always that similes are just that similes or verisimilitudes; metaphors are metaphors that never truly catch the real thing.  However, I'm not really as fully sure as Dr Helen Graham that Freud would have been a literalist about his own use of language; that he would have been a materialist or a mechanist in the strict understanding of those terms as Graham would have us believe.

Graham persists in using mechanistic verbs and nouns to describe Freud's structural model of the mind and proceeds to describe the Freudian mind machine thus:  It is

"made up of components, the Id, the Ego and the Superego, each driven and regulated by various forces whose integrity is maintained by mechanisms that defend it from breakdown - 'defence mechanisms.'  The whole system is fuelled by a basic energy or libido (literally to pour) that flows through the psyche and empowers or drives it... (op.cit., 143-144)

The reasonable and reasoning Ego tries to control the primordial Id which is seething with impulses, desires and instincts.  It seeks to defend conscious awareness from these primitive feelings by various means like repression, denial and projection.  At one and the same time the Ego tries also to meet the demands, remonstrations and criticisms of the Superego which has internalised the values and standards of society mediated through the parents.  The Ego, then, works away to attempt to mediate or to fine a balance between these opposing aspects of the person.  In this way it strives to unify the processes of the psyche.  Dr Graham adds that when the Ego fails in this task

...neurosis or disorder occurs.  The psychotherapist is rather like an engineer who can look into this complex psychic machinery and identify its problems through careful analysis of its workings and, in principle at least, set it working again.  Freud termed this process Psychoanalysis.  It was essentially a diagnostic technique, with the therapist trying to find out how the person ticks just as an engineer might with a machine...

Freud advocated a cleansing of the mind, or catharsis, by looking inwards with the aim of achieving that desirable ego state, a balance between the Id and the Superego...The dynamic aspect of Freudian psychotherapy, like that of Newtonian physics, consists in describing how the material objects interact with each other through forces essentially different from matter.  These forces, the most fundamental of which are the instinctual drives, notably the sexual drive or libido - have definite directions and can reinforce or inhibit each other. (op. cit., 144 - 145)

I have bolded and italicised the mechanistic nouns and verbs which Dr Graham uses to reinforce her contention that Freud was a reductionist, a materialist and a determinist or mechanist - call it by whichever apt term you wish.  I will admit that she is at least 80% correct in her contention.

Au-dessus j'ai mis en place une photographie de la Grande Roue a Paris.

Conflict as Central to Freud and Psychoanalysis 2

My last two posts were about the growth in complexity of Freud's notion of the psyche.  As he progressed in his research and in his clinical work he began to realise that the human mind is way more complex than he had at first thought.  He realised early in the 1920s that the topographical model of the psyche was not complex enough to do justice to the intricacy of the human mind.  In the second last post before this one I alluded to the fact that Freud had begun to see that the unconscious wishes and impulses are in conflict with our very defences and that not just the impulses and wishes were unconscious but also our very defences seemed to be so too.  Hence he needed to complement his topographical model with a structural one of the mind.  As Mitchell and Black so well put it: "When Freud began to perceive the basic conflictual seam in the psyche as not between conscious and unconscious but inside the unconscious itself, a new model, the structural model, became necessary to delineate the primary constituents of mind." (Freud and Beyond: A History of Modern Psychoanalytic Thought, Basic Books, 1995,  20)

The Structural Model

This is the model with which practically everyone who knows even a little about Freud is acquainted with, at least with his terminology which has entered common parlance, namely Id, Ego and Superego.  These according to Freud are the major components of the self or mind or personality, call it what you will for the moment.  It is very important to note that this structural model puts these three major components in the unconscious.  (At least so argue Mitchell and Black, though some authors would argue that the Ego is conscious while the Superego straddles all three strata Conscious, Preconscious and Unconscious.)  These Ego, Id and Superego are not topographical regions or layers as it were as we saw in his previous model.  Rather they are distinct agencies at war or in conflict with one another.  Hence my title above and my reference to conflict in the last two posts before this one. Freud said of the Id that it is "a cauldron full of seething excitations." (quoted Mitchell and Black, op.cit., 20).  Remember, as I have already pointed out, that Freud was a Darwinian, a fervent atheist who sought to reduce whatever humankind is to some scientific understanding.   Humankind is little more than a very sophisticated animal.  Indeed for Freud human beings were not yet fully evolved.  Hence there was a split or a rift in their very nature.  In other words human beings were torn between their dark bestial motives (Id) and civilized conduct and demeanour (mores and manners and morals of society).  On the one hand then there was humankind's animal nature (Id) and its cultural aspirations.  Hence humans are literally driven to seek pleasure, but society and civilization reign this rapaciousness in because control of passions is necessary - otherwise there would be murder, rape and strife of all kinds.  Hence human beings in civilized society learned quickly to conceal both from themselves and others these base bestial motivations. Moreover, with the aid of internalised parental rules and regulations the Superego (a type of Conscience) is formed.  The Ego, with the aid of this Superego represses, regulates and reigns in the bestial impulses of the Id.  In this way safety both of the self and others and society at large is maintained to the greatest extent humanly possible.  Again Mitchell and Black put it succinctly:

The result is a mind largely unknown to itself, filled with secrets and disavowed impulses, sexual and aggressive.  It is the pressure of those impulses in the "return of the repressed" that creates neurotic symptoms whose code Freud felt he had broken. (op. cit., 21)

Now I shall look at these three aspects or components of the psyche one by one.


1. The Id (Latin for "It")

This is the most primordial or most primitive part of the psyche.  It is biologically determined and it operates on the Pleasure Principle which I have described at length in a previous post - Principles.   It seeks pleasure and avoids pain.  It is concerned with immediate gratification and can be quite destructive.  It contains all those basic animal and instinctual drives concerned with the sexual, the aggressive and the satisfaction of all bodily needs.  In other words the Id is the psychic representative of our biology or of our biological or organic make-up.  It is basically irrational and impulsive.  In the newborn baby all the processes are Id processes - for the baby it's simply want want want. Hence much tension is created for the baby if desires go unsatisfied.  This tension can only be released through the satisfaction of needs (real solutions like feeding etc) and (b) through fantasy.  If we were ruled entirely by the pleasure principle, we might find ourselves grabbing things we want out of other people's hands to satisfy our own cravings. This sort of behaviour would be both disruptive and socially unacceptable. According to Freud, the id tries to resolve the tension created by the pleasure principle through the primary process, which involves forming a mental image of the desired object as a way of satisfying the need.  (For my own discussion of primary and secondary processes see this post: Processes ) Dr Anthony Storr underlines the fact that the Id is the oldest part of the mind from which the other structures are derived.  He goes on to quote Freud: "The id contains everything that is inherited, that is present at birth, that is laid down in the constitution..." (Quoted: Freud: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, 2001, 60) The Id functions in the irrational and emotional part of the mind. It contains all the basic needs and feelings. It is the source for libido (psychic energy). And it has only one rule and that is the “pleasure principle”: “I want it and I want it all now” - Principles In transactional analysis, Id equates to "Child".

2.   The Ego: (Latin for "I")

The Ego operates on the Reality Principle which I have discussed elsewhere - Principles. It seeks to control the Id's demands until the appropriate time and place.  The key word associated with the Ego is balance.  As the infant develops and attempts to adapt to the demands of the outside world, the Ego emerges.  It operates as I have said on what's termed the Reality Principle.  This means essentially that the Ego delays gratification of needs until the appropriate time and place.  Another way of talking about the balancing role of the Ego is to state that it is rather like an executive or a manager of the personality.   We may say that it attempts to strike a balance between the realities of the outside world and the irrational self-seeking drives of the Id.  The prime function of the Ego is self-preservation.  Once again I find Storr quite clear in his explanation here.  He quotes Freud as saying that "the Ego is first and foremost a bodily ego." (quoted op.cit. above, 60-61).  By this, Storr explains, Freud means that the Ego, being originally derived from sensations springing from the surface of the body (and hence from the outside world), is a projection of the surface of the body. The Ego realises the need for compromise and negotiates between the Id and the Superego.  The Ego's job is to get the Id's pleasures but to be reasonable and bear the long-term consequences in mind.  The Ego denies both instant gratification and pious delaying of gratification.  The term ego-strength is the term used to refer to how well the ego copes with these conflicting forces.  To undertake its work of planning,  thinking and controlling the Id, the Ego uses some of the Id's libidinal energy.  In transactional analysis, Ego equates to "Adult".   The ego is the component of personality that is responsible for dealing with reality. According to Freud, the ego develops from the id and ensures that the impulses of the id can be expressed in a manner acceptable in the real world. The ego functions in both the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious mind (giving the lie to those that state that the ego is purely conscious). The ego also discharges tension created by unmet impulses through the secondary process, in which the ego tries to find an object in the real world that matches the mental image created by the id's primary process.

3 The Superego: (Latin for "Over-I")

This term refers to the moral or Right and Wrong deciding aspect of the personality.  It emerges in the young child between the ages of 4 to 6 years.  With this aspect of the personality the growing child internalizes the moral sanctions, rules and inhibitions, even taboos which exist in the surrounding culture.  In short the Superego can be regarded as the product of repeated conditioning by parental injunctions and the criticism indeed of all significant others or adults. The Superego is the last part of the mind to develop.  It might be called the moral part of the mind. The Superego becomes an embodiment of parental and societal values. It stores and enforces rules. It constantly strives for perfection, even though this perfection ideal may be quite far from reality or possibility.  Its power to enforce rules comes from its ability to create anxiety.  The WIKI succinctly describes the role of the Superego thus:

Freud's theory implies that the super-ego is a symbolic internalization of the father figure and cultural regulations. The super-ego tends to stand in opposition to the desires of the id because of their conflicting objectives, and its aggressiveness towards the ego. The super-ego acts as the conscience, maintaining our sense of morality and proscription from taboos. Its formation takes place during the dissolution of the Oedipus complex and is formed by an identification with and internalization of the father figure after the little boy cannot successfully hold the mother as a love-object out of fear of castration.

The super-ego retains the character of the father, while the more powerful the Oedipus complex was and the more rapidly it succumbed to repression (under the influence of authority, religious teaching, schooling and reading), the stricter will be the domination of the super-ego over the ego later on — in the form of conscience or perhaps of an unconscious sense of guilt (The Ego and the Id, 1923).

In Sigmund Freud's work Civilization and Its Discontents (1930) he also discusses the concept of a "cultural super-ego". The concept of super-ego and the Oedipus complex is subject to criticism for its sexism. Women, who are considered to be already castrated, do not identify with the father, and therefore form a weak super-ego, leaving them susceptible to immorality and sexual identity complications.

(see the following link for the rest of the WIKI article: Structural Model)

In a healthy person, according to Freud, the Ego is the strongest so that it can satisfy the needs of the Id, not upset the Superego, and still take into consideration the reality of every situation.  Not an easy job by any means, but if the Id gets too strong, impulses and self gratification take over the person's life.  If the Superego becomes too strong, the person would be driven by rigid morals, would be judgmental and unbending in his or her interactions with the world. 

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Towards a Structural Definition of the Psyche - Freud

Not alone is Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) the founder of psychoanalysis but also one can legitimately claim that he is the father of modern psychotherapy per se.  However, I am at one with Mitchell and Black that we must disabuse the minds, not alone of neophytes but of the public in general, of the myth that psychoanalysis is largely the work of one man, namely Freud. (See Freud And Beyond, xvi).

However, let us remind ourselves that Freud was firstly a medical practitioner, and hence it is nearer the truth to claim that he is most essentially a pioneer in psychological medicine.  In keeping with his medical training practically everything in his own practice and even in current Freudian psychotherapy  "bears the unmistakable imprint of the physician's consulting room - a fact that is evident not only in its terminology but also its framework of theory." (C.G. Jung, quoted Soul Medicine: Restoring The Spirit to Healing, Helen Graham, Newleaf, 2001, 142)  Needless to say the analyst's couch is originally the doctor's couch.

Freud and Science

Freud was very much a man of his times and the nineteenth century was essentially the century of the ascendency of science.  As I have outlined in previous posts he was influenced greatly by many eminent physicians and researchers who all had a scientific and methodic approach to their subject (humankind and its illnesses - physical and mental) like Ernst Brucke, Jean-Martin Charcot and Josef Breuer.  Freud deeply believed that his own creation - namely psychoanalysis - was completely scientific.  He saw himself in relation to psychiatry or more properly psychoanalysis like Newton in relation to the field of Physics or like Darwin in relation to Biology or the theory of evolution.  Here I would like to quote Dr. Helen Graham again as her words are a marvellous summary of the Freudian approach to science:

Freud wished to establish psychotherapy as a scientific discipline fully consistent with the thinking of the time.  So he used the basic concepts of nineteenth-century physics in his descriptions of psychological phenomena and subsequently made unjustified and mistaken claims to have established psychology on foundations of any other science, such as physics."  In so doing Freud fooled himself and many of his followers, but in the process he developed  "a model of consciousness which dispensed with spiritual aspirations and made them disreputable."  The emergence of a soulless psychology can therefore be attributed in good measure to his influence." (Op. cit., 143)

I return here briefly to one of my favourite writers on psychiatry and psychoanalysis namely Dr Anthony Storr who states succinctly that despite Freud's high scientific claims for psychoanalysis that it is not and could never be a science in the sense in which physics or chemistry are sciences quite simply because "its hypotheses are retrospective and cannot be used for prediction and most are insusceptible of final proof." (Storr, Freud: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, 2001, 16)

However, while psychology (psychoanalysis, or indeed psychiatry per se, I think) can never be a natural science like Chemistry or Physics, it is a human or social (or personal) science.  Freud, after all was a trained medical doctor who had a considerable amount of clinical experience.  He was a good clinician and a marvellously good observer of human nature.  His theories and practices did use the findings of the sciences, and in this secondary sense one could allow for their being scientific.  The present writer is at one with Storr in contending that psychoanalysis is a Weltanschauung (that is, a comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world especially from a specific standpoint; a world-view or outlook) and a Hermaneutic System. (an investigative or interpretative system of human behaviour, institutions, speech etc)

Above I have uploaded yet another picture of one of Rodin's marvellous creations - the Rodin Museum, Paris.