Freud: the last great Enlightenment thinker
January 20, 2012 9:23 AM   Subscribe

Freud: the last great Enlightenment thinker. Freud never held out the hope of tranquillity. Rather, he aimed to reconcile those who entered psychoanalysis to a state of perpetual unrest...psychoanalysis does not so much promise inner peace as open up a possibility of release from the fantasy that inner conflict will end.
posted by shivohum (71 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Was disappointed that this was not a link to a Freud Name Generator.
posted by Fizz at 9:29 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I doubt that Freud ever intended on being the Aristotle of our time. He's someone who had some interesting ideas, did some pioneering research, and made attempts to look at humans in a holistic way. Perhaps he would think it silly that future generations were wasting time debating whether or not his ideas were God's truth rather than continue to question and study the mind and its tics.

But, I don't think he's "out of fashion" because of his pessimistic view of humanity, more that we just have more research and options available now. Some owing to his efforts but many more not. Most people in psychology today have enough of a hard scientific background that axioms about pathos that Freud stood for just simply become untenable.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:40 AM on January 20, 2012


Odd title, really, for a piece that's arguing that Freud utterly repudiated the Enlightenment and that is basically championing Freud because he's opposed to everything that John Gray sees as a vestige of Enlightenment thought in the contemporary world. He's "the last great Enlightenment thinker" only because he's the one who finally killed the Enlightenment. Or would have done if people weren't such poopy heads and were able to understand him the way John Gray does.

It's a pretty poor piece, really--although he's right in many ways about the ways in which Freud is an anti-Enlightenment figure. His account of contemporary critiques of Freud is just woefully inadequate, though. The notion that Freud is widely rejected now because psychologists refuse to believe in anything other than a tabula rasa model of the mind is frankly shockingly uninformed.
posted by yoink at 9:43 AM on January 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Freud was a cocaine enthusiast, which would square with the "unrest," thing.
posted by jonmc at 9:43 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


OK, they're not the same guy, but the fact that the author of this piece shares his name with the author of one of the crappiest works of pop psychology ever is really amusing me.
posted by kmz at 9:51 AM on January 20, 2012


Freud is out of fashion in the sciences for various reasons, good and bad. Freud was writing at the dawn of psychology as a science, and before the broad application of what we think of as scientific methods to psychology. When psychologists began to practice scientific reductionism, with crude models and experiments, there was no room for Freud's big messy theories. If you're a behaviorist and your experimental models deny the existence of the mind, then there is certainly no way to accommodate something like the theory of reaction formation. Because science was limited to crude experimental models, detailed speculation on what was happening in the mind did not even seem like science. Psychological science is much more sophisticated now, but it is the methodological grandchild of behaviorism and that historical connection still informs its view on the status of Freud.

Nonetheless, psychology today sometimes vindicates Freudian concepts, like reaction formation (check out the footnote). As our psychological reductions become more fine-grained, big ideas about the mind (like those championed by Freud) are becoming tenable and even fashionable. Possibly Freud should be seen as something like the Adam Smith of psychology -- someone who came along before the discipline adopted scientific methods, but who had so many good ideas that their relevance persists even today.
posted by grobstein at 10:00 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


OK, they're not the same guy, but the fact that the author of this piece shares his name with the author of one of the crappiest works of pop psychology ever is really amusing me.

The John Gray of this article is actually an extremely interesting writer, although I suppose he's not above criticism himself. Black Mass was a good book regardless.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:01 AM on January 20, 2012


Freud was a cocaine enthusiast, which would square with the "unrest," thing.

Oh, so that is what's wrong with my cousin Neal. He sold his car because he's filled with an overwhelming sense of "unrest".
posted by Fizz at 10:04 AM on January 20, 2012


Psychological science is much more sophisticated now, but it is the methodological grandchild of behaviorism and that historical connection still informs its view on the status of Freud.

Psychology as a discipline still has physics envy and is unfortunately grounded on the dead-end proposition that the mind is essentially a machine. The resulting focus on the nomothetic, statistical, experimental approach to investigation makes it exceedingly difficult to investigate the great and messy passions of the heart in any way that respects the distinctiveness of individual experience and its context.
posted by shivohum at 10:11 AM on January 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


I read a few years ago, in a usually reliable newspaper, that Freud's explanation for why women have traditionally been the ones responsible for the home and hearth was that women were, for anatomical reasons, unable to submit to the strong human urge to put out the fire by urinating on it. I have not seen this brilliant explanation for traditional gender roles mentioned anywhere else; is there anyone here who knows if Freud really wrote that?
posted by martinrebas at 10:12 AM on January 20, 2012


Freud like so many others of his time, stood between the radical Enlightenment whose father was Spinoza, and the moderate Enlightenment (or, better, counter-Enlightenment) led by Kant. Ultimately, he solidified his position on the side of former.
posted by No Robots at 10:16 AM on January 20, 2012


is there anyone here who knows if Freud really wrote that?

I dimly remember reading something along those lines in de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, although I don't remember whether she was paraphrasing Freud or came up with it herself.
posted by theodolite at 10:17 AM on January 20, 2012


Metafilter: filled with an overwhelming sense of "unrest".

Also: Metafilter: unable to submit to the strong human urge to put out the fire by urinating on it.
posted by Blue_Villain at 10:22 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


is there anyone here who knows if Freud really wrote that

Yes, he did. He was a little obsessed with the theme. Among other places you'll find it in Civilization and its Discontents.
posted by yoink at 10:22 AM on January 20, 2012


Although, to be precise, it is the male's resisting the desire to pee on the fire which is the real key to civilization:
Putting out the fire by micturating – a theme to which modern giants, Gulliver in Lilliput and Rabelais' Gargantua, still hark back – was therefore a kind of sexual act with a male, an enjoyment of sexual potency in a homosexual competition. The first person to renounce this desire and spare the fire was able to carry it off with him and subdue it to his own use. By damping down the fire of his own sexual excitation, he had tamed the natural force of fire. This great cultural conquest was thus the reward for his renunciation of instinct. Further, it is as though woman had been appointed guardian of the fire which was held captive on the domestic hearth, because her anatomy made it impossible for her to yield to the temptation of this desire.
posted by yoink at 10:30 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sometimes I think that whole "all Freud could think about was sex" thing is overblown, but then I read something like that. Hoo boy.
posted by kmz at 10:39 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Freud also believed fear of spiders was caused by the hysterical fear of one's own "dangerous mother" (but to be fair, he probably ripped that idea off Jung, since it seems related to the idea of the spider as an archetype of dangerous motherdom).

The more damning criticisms of Freud's intellectual relevance and legitimacy tend to focus on the fact that his "big idea" contributions to psychology (as distinct from his more bizarre, detailed "insights," like his ideas about the root causes of arachnophobia) all more or less predated his arrival on the scene in one form or another. There's reams of scholarly evidence, for instance, thatFreud's ideas about the unconscious and the role of unconscious motivations on behavior had been swirling around in human culture as conventional wisdom long before he showed up to claim credit for discovering these ideas.
Of all the myths about the history of psychoanalysis, this seems to be the most widespread, and it is odd that it continues to flourish in otherwise well-informed circles. The view which Rycroft summarizes above not only was not original with Freud, it was a commonplace conviction of British and European philosophers and psychiatrists before Freud was twenty.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:41 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The more damning criticisms of Freud's intellectual relevance and legitimacy tend to focus on the fact that his "big idea" contributions to psychology (as distinct from his more bizarre, detailed "insights," like his ideas about the root causes of arachnophobia) all more or less predated his arrival on the scene in one form or another.

Well, there's that. And then there's the fact that so many of the things that actually were original to Freud turn out to be wrong. And there's the fact that he was pretty brazenly dishonest in writing up his famous clinical histories.
posted by yoink at 10:43 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, definitely with you there, yoink. Didn't mean to downplay the import of the more blatantly fraudulent aspects of his clinical practices.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:55 AM on January 20, 2012


Isn't the point not that Freud was the only one to affirm the innate savagery of the human psyche, but that this view is nowadays disregarded?
posted by No Robots at 11:17 AM on January 20, 2012


Psychology as a discipline still has physics envy and is unfortunately grounded on the dead-end proposition that the mind is essentially a machine.

Well given that Freud got their discipline started with a torrent of unwarranted assertions pulled entirely out of his ass, it's understandable that researchers in psychology might want to err on the side of making claims they can actually justify.

Or at least that's my ignorant layman's impression of Freud, based on every statement of his I've ever seen quoted, but not actually having read any of his books or anything. And this article really did nothing to disabuse me of that notion.

Which is a shame, because I hoped it might answer something I've been wondering since listening to David Rakoff's nifty piece on This American Life about his stint playing Christmas Freud, "What, if anything, did Freud actually get right?"
posted by straight at 11:41 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The resulting focus on the nomothetic, statistical, experimental approach to investigation makes it exceedingly difficult to investigate the great and messy passions of the heart in any way that respects the distinctiveness of individual experience and its context.

It's the false dilemma song! Won't you help and sing along? Bum bum bum...
posted by IjonTichy at 11:43 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


David Cronenberg on Freud's chair
posted by homunculus at 11:58 AM on January 20, 2012


Not until you really start reading about Freud do you understand a few things about him and how important he really was. As much as people dismissively handwave Freud away, the fact remains he really was the real impetus and the resulting catalyst that has formed modern psychology. Yes, just like Darwin, there were popular theories floating around already and he took them and ran with them. There are a lot of things he got "right" also, but he was a stubborn guy. He had some basic ideas and worked the hell out of those, and it wasn't until much later that he broadened his scope.

I was thinking about this recently, though. I thought maybe I should keep a handy list around of his accomplishments, and post them whenever the Freudlulz started up.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:00 PM on January 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


"What, if anything, did Freud actually get right?"

That we don't always do things for the reasons we think we do them. And that we can learn something about motivations we're not consciously aware of by careful self-observation.
posted by escabeche at 12:12 PM on January 20, 2012


I was thinking about this recently, though. I thought maybe I should keep a handy list around of his accomplishments, and post them whenever the Freudlulz started up.

If you can come up with one, please share it. But you might find it hard to find any that aren't controversial. Some people claim he invented psychoanalysis--his so-called "talking cure," but he didn't actually "invent" that either. I used to be a big fan/defender of Freud myself, but after learning more about the truth behind most of his wildly exaggerated if not outright dishonest claims about positive clinical results, I changed my mind (for example, the case of "Anna O.", the first patient that Freud famously claimed to have cured of her various "hysterical" ailments using his "Patented Talking Cure" turned out not to have been cured at all). Which I guess only confirms yoink's point above.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:19 PM on January 20, 2012


That we don't always do things for the reasons we think we do them. And that we can learn something about motivations we're not consciously aware of by careful self-observation.

But psychologists before Freud already knew that! And there are examples of this view being present in culture as the conventional wisdom in one form or another going back even further than that.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:21 PM on January 20, 2012


That we don't always do things for the reasons we think we do them. And that we can learn something about motivations we're not consciously aware of by careful self-observation.

Both of those themes can be found in William James' Principles of Psychology (1890), which isn't exactly an obscure work.
posted by IjonTichy at 12:22 PM on January 20, 2012


For godsakes, read some Poe.
posted by New England Cultist at 12:23 PM on January 20, 2012


He should have written something about the drive of small men to pull everyone else down to their level.
posted by No Robots at 12:25 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Or the tendency of even smaller ones to fawn over transparent charlatans with God complexes, perhaps?
posted by saulgoodman at 12:32 PM on January 20, 2012


You are welcome to wallow in your Id. I choose to grasp the hand that may save me from mine (and yours).
posted by No Robots at 12:41 PM on January 20, 2012


Sigh ... some people just seem intent on saying here that Freud, your favorite psychologist/ philosophical anthropologist, sucks.

And yet, Freud has a massive body of work, some of it more fruitful than other parts:

Some examples:

His attempt to explore the idea that the unconscious is not just a deeper-lying or more sedimented version of consciousness, i.e. his attempt to understand how the unconscious ought not be understood using the categories and frameworks that we use to define/ understand conscious.

His vigorous, determined, and fruitful (but still problematic) exploration of what the human drives are, which is of course a concept that goes back to Aristotle at least. There's so much to his theory of the drives that still raises so many questions that are difficult for psychology to answer, such as the role of Anlehnung or anaclisis in the development of the drives, why harmony of the drives is so difficult, how different parts of our bodies seem to be experienced as having drives of their own, how these drives which may initially be sexual can indeed pass through a form of 'sublimation' that allows for the production of great works of culture, or an attachment to 'higher' ethical values, his later development of an idea of the death drive, his honest struggle with how the drives may be motivated by pleasure and displeasure and why these last are in fact so difficult to give a proper definition of, ... Talking of false dichotomies, it's ludicrous to say that Freud had nothing original to say because his work has its philosophical and psychological work that preceded him (Schopenhauer, Brentano, Charcot ...). All these remain philosophically and psychologically important topics that have not yet been able to be satisfactorily 'resolved,' with psychology for the most part for instance entirely dismissing or ignoring the paradoxes of pleasure and displeasure in their mutual determination.

His daring theories (!) of what constitutes psychological trauma, where he showed scientific principle in truly wavering and hesitating as to which best accounts for the feeling of being disturbed, rocked or violated by a psychological trauma, on the one hand, and the 'untraceability' or murkiness of the trauma event, on the event, on the other, which makes it so that persons traumatized oft have an urge to repeat, re-imagine, or relive the trauma again and again. These very poignant and incisive 'phenomenological' observations, as I would call them, have yet to refuted and indeed remain important starting points for trying to understand what is going in psychological trauma.

With these suggestions I think I'm just scratching the surface. Hopefully the stupider comments I've made on this site will not preclude your consideration of them, and of what might still be interesting in Freud.
posted by rudster at 12:41 PM on January 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


I just happen to be persuaded that Freud was a bargain-variety Victorian-era fraud and huckster (it was a period plentifully populated by quacks, after all), and that much more supple and sophisticated insights into the composition and inner workings of the human mind were offered thousands of years earlier by Siddharta Guatama.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:49 PM on January 20, 2012


I'm not here to champion Freud or anything, saulgoodman, and I'm aware he wasn't the most original cat in the game. But that doesn't mean he wasn't the one to make people realize "we should be doing this instead of that" or "think about this instead of that". It' also kind of hard for me to take the unoriginal claims as a strike, should we start talking about how Darwin isn't that great? And, yes, I am aware that an intentional mystique was built up around the man by him and his followers. He had a strong drive to be famous, and was constantly looking for something to publish to accomplish that. His mother constantly catered to her wonder son, that the palm reader said "would be a great man". So, yeah, you don't have to tell me how Schopenhauer talked about the Id long before Freud ever did. The guy has faults, but that doesn't mean he wasn't important.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:00 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Regarding TFA, I found this egregious enough that I couldn't read any longer:

"Today the idea that psychoanalysis is not a science is commonplace, but no part of Freud’s inheritance is more suspect than the theory of the death instinct. The very idea of instinct is viewed with suspicion. Talk of human instincts, or indeed of human nature, is dismissed as a form of intellectual atavism"

First of all, this passage fails to admit the possibility of an objection to the "death instinct" that's not founded on a complete denial of human nature, and furthermore, he doesn't even have the decency to quote a single writer making the kind of ridiculous argument he's decrying. Skimming forward for pages and pages and pages, the first time he actually engages with and critiques anyone specific, it's a Hollywood filmmaker.
posted by IjonTichy at 1:05 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


You're right, P.o.B. I think I'm just excessively bitter, because I used to be such a fan-boy. When I later learned that so many of Freud's accounts of clinical successes were either dubious or outright fabrications, I was bitterly disappointed and disillusioned. But no doubt, he was an important, major historical figure--if only for his role as one of the most visible promoters of the newly-emerging, formal practice of psychology.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:10 PM on January 20, 2012


Ultimately, this is about cultural destruction, about how a dialogue in which Freud played a significant role was cut off by the destruction of Europe’s intellectual integrity, particularly with the Nazi jewicide. It seems to me that the merit in the article is in calling for a reappraisal of the intellectual currents of pre-1939 Europe in order to see what of value lies in the rubble.
posted by No Robots at 1:13 PM on January 20, 2012


Idk. He lived to be 84(?), and he moved in '38, a year before he died. One thing you can pin on Freud was that he really didn't give a shit what other people thought. Tossed Adler out of his group after 2 or 3 meetings. Jung and him made a break after something like 3 years. He really wasn't about having discussions as much as he liked listening to himself be correct. Being that he didn't take criticism or others opinions in much regard at all; he was hardly ever "wrong" in that respect.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:34 PM on January 20, 2012


There was tremendous intellectual ferment in Freud’s time, touching all aspects of human thought and activity. Freud personifies this cultural phenomenon for many people. Perhaps a reexamination of Freud will lead to reexamination of some of his contemporaries. I’m thinking in particular of Constantin Brunner, whose psychological theories are, in my view, far richer than those of anyone else, primarily because they explicitly draw from Spinoza.
posted by No Robots at 1:46 PM on January 20, 2012


That we don't always do things for the reasons we think we do them.

"The heart is devious above all else/it is perverse/who can understand it?"
Jer 17:9 (This was a time when the terms "heart" and "mind" were pretty interchangeable).

The concept that baser motivations (of which we're frequently unaware, or not honest about) are the cause of human behavior is a fundamental philosophical component of Christianity as well. The writings of Paul and of Augustine both acknowledge the divided nature of human intentions.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 1:53 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Or Blaise Pascal: Le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point.
Or Hume: Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions.
Or Schopenhauer passim.

The notion that Freud "discovered" the concept of unconscious motivations is just risible. What Freud did do was come up with a complex mapping of the unconscious mind. The only problem being that there's simply not a shred of evidence supporting that particular mapping as having any meaningful existence in reality.

If you want to say that there's some contribution Freud made to the understanding of the human mind it really has to be something that is both original and true. Frankly, I think you'll struggle to find any.

He did, I think, make an enormous contribution to literary modes of interpretation (which is why literature departments remain by and large the only places left on university campuses that are interested in Freud). Unfortunately he seems never to have been introduced to the concept of confirmation bias--he was always happy to believe that any plausible story he could construct must be true if it struck him as true. But he is a master at weaving plausible accounts of the underlying meaning of narratives. This is a useful skill for teasing potential meanings out of literary texts. It is an extremely dangerous skill if you're actually trying to arrive at the truth about somebody's mental condition.
posted by yoink at 2:44 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Who before Freud asserted that children were sexual beings, that we often respond to new people as if they were significant figures from our past, that early childhood familial rivalries and loves are crucial in the development of personality, that a lot of seemingly mysterious behaviors are actually compromises between unconscious desires and prohibitions, that dreams are neither prophetic nor meaningless nor merely residues of previous memories, that sexual fetishes are simply a minor modification of tendencies we all have, that every minor thought that comes to mind and every trivial behavior is meaningful and repays attention, that depression and anger against a loved one may be connected, that fantasies and daydreams express important things about a person's psychology, that extended and formal sessions of listening and interpretation could make people feel and function better, that trauma affected memory, and on and on...

Freud was highly original in both idea and rhetoric: often tendentious, vague and even unscientific, but, without a doubt, a genius -- anyone who wants to wrangle with the human mind must come to serious terms with his ideas.
posted by shivohum at 2:55 PM on January 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Shihovum, your list contains lots of stuff that Freud did, indeed, assert. Would you care to point out the ones that are both A) original to Freud and B) have been conclusively or even preponderantly proven to be true? I'm not seeing any.
posted by yoink at 3:10 PM on January 20, 2012


I'm pretty sure most of those things are original to him and also true, though if you have evidence to the contrary, I'd love to hear it. If you want an extensive review of how science has in fact proven a whole lot of what Freud said, look up Drew Westen's excellent article, The Scientific Legacy of Sigmund Freud. And that article is conservative - it mainly counts only a very narrow kind of proof.
posted by shivohum at 3:18 PM on January 20, 2012


As opposed to all the other constructs that totally map reality and are true? They are constructed abstracts for a reason.

Seriously folks, Freud and his works are commonly taught to Psych students the world over. Psychoanalysis and Psychodynamic theories are commonly implemented in treatments and they *gasp* work. Take whatever umbrage you want with that, but most of the criticism here is hardly critical.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:23 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought you might cite Westen, shivohum. Personally I find that article to reek of desperation--anything Freud said, no matter how self-evident or commonplace (such as that people can have ambivalent feelings--gasp!), that we continue to believe--even if for reasons radically opposed to Freudian theory--gets placed in the "win" column for Freud. But if we're going to have a battle of authorities, here's a short, handy refutation of Westen by an equally eminent psychologist: John Kihlstrom. We can agree, I think, that even if we leave aside the question of which one is correct, the fact that two such eminent people in the field disagree so radically means that none of these ideas has become part of the bedrock of contemporary psychological studies.

Freud and his works are commonly taught to Psych students the world over

No, they're not. Unless they're also taking English classes along with their psych classes. See e.g. this article.
posted by yoink at 3:40 PM on January 20, 2012


I'm pretty sure most of those things are original to him and also true, though if you have evidence to the contrary, I'd love to hear it.

How could anyone possibly know or find out whether or not any of these statements are true?

* that a lot of seemingly mysterious behaviors are actually compromises between unconscious desires and prohibitions,
* that dreams are neither prophetic nor meaningless nor merely residues of previous memories
* that sexual fetishes are simply a minor modification of tendencies we all have,
* that every minor thought that comes to mind and every trivial behavior is meaningful and repays attention
posted by straight at 3:50 PM on January 20, 2012


the fact that two such eminent people in the field disagree so radically means that none of these ideas has become part of the bedrock of contemporary psychological studies.

That's simply not true. Transference, to take one example, is very much a Freudian concept that is accepted by every brand of therapist. Defense mechanisms are absolutely validated and accepted by pretty much everyone. The very idea of talk therapy, sans hypnosis, for mental illness is Freud's idea!

--

How could anyone possibly know or find out whether or not any of these statements are true?

It's an interesting question. Depends on your standard of evidence. Generations of therapists have found them useful and true. That's one standard of evidence. People have gained a great sense of self-understanding and clarity from them. That's another standard. That's enough for a lot of people.

But scientists have of course come up with clever experiments and studies to test them as well. No doubt, of course, that these things ARE difficult to measure and even if they can be measured, doesn't mean they have actually been measured rigorously.

For example, if dreams aren't meaningless but are in fact related to desire and prohibition, you might, for example, expect that drug addicts have dreams related to their addictions. And this is in fact the case.

Or if sexual fetishes were modifications of tendencies we all have, you might expect them to be far more widely distributed in the population than was thought before Freud. And that too is the case.

Or if mysterious behaviors were compromises between desires and prohibitions, you might expect that different parts of the brain were responsible for each these and could be shown to interact in the production of these behaviors. And that too seems to be the case.

Not to say it's all squared away, but it's not totally unmeasurable.
posted by shivohum at 4:12 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's simply not true. Transference, to take one example, is very much a Freudian concept that is accepted by every brand of therapist. Defense mechanisms are absolutely validated and accepted by pretty much everyone. The very idea of talk therapy, sans hypnosis, for mental illness is Freud's idea!

Again, it all depends what you mean by these terms. "Talk therapy" is as old (at least) as Catholic confession, for example. Transference is as old as having a crush on your confessor. Defense mechanisms have been described by every competent observer of human foibles since the dawn of time (what is Darcy's rudeness to Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice but a defense mechanism brought on by the conflict between his desire for her and his consciousness of his high social status?). The novel is full of patient descriptions of these forms of behavior from its inception (Freud, after all, loved to find archetypes of almost everything he described in literature--often classical literature).

What's significant about the Freudian theory of transference et al. is the particular etiology of these psychological processes, not the fact that they occur at all. And nothing--nothing at all--of those very elaborate theoretical accounts is still widely held to be valid in contemporary psychological thought.
posted by yoink at 4:25 PM on January 20, 2012


For example, if dreams aren't meaningless but are in fact related to desire and prohibition, you might, for example, expect that drug addicts have dreams related to their addictions. And this is in fact the case.

Actually, under any theory of dreams I've ever heard of, people who spend a lot of time in their waking life thinking about and doing some activity are liable to dream about it. This is a pretty good example of the kind of desperate attempt to chalk up a "win" for Freud that I described earlier.
posted by yoink at 4:28 PM on January 20, 2012


No, they're not. Unless they're also taking English classes along with their psych classes. Seee.g. this article.

Nope, sorry you are absolutely wrong, and that article does not say what you are saying. BUT let's say for instance that Freud is not being taught in Psych classes (which is a highly amusing sentence for me to type, as I am a psych student and I've been taught Freud (not that i have special insight or anything)) then as a thought experiment; where are the psychoanalysts coming from? Magical Psychology Land isn't churning them out. Honestly though, do you think any reputable Psych dept wouldn't at least spend, idk, maybe an hour talking about one of the first and most prominent figures in psychology?

anyone possibly know or find out whetheror not any of these statements are true?

As opposed to almost any other psychologists work that you will not be able to verify one way or the other?
posted by P.o.B. at 4:30 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


And nothing--nothing at all--of those very elaborate theoretical accounts is stillwidely held to bevalid in contemporary psychological thought.

Nahhh, you're just spinning wheels here.
posted by P.o.B. at 4:35 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Again, it all depends what you mean by these terms.

Yes. What I mean by these terms is the way they're fully specified. Finding some vague cousin-of-a-cousin precursor doesn't count, or else no one is ever original in any field, ever.

"Talk therapy" is as old (at least) as Catholic confession, for example.

No it's not. No one thought of systematically listening to someone and interpreting their words, with some kind of scientific system in mind, as a way to cure mental illness. This to me seems like a desperate attempt to deny a real Freudian contribution.

Transference is as old as having a crush on your confessor.

First off, transference is more than erotic transference. But secondly, can you point me to some thinkers who said that having a crush on your confessor is due to the fact that they resemble in some critical way parents or other significant figures from the past? Or that the crush is a reinstantiation of childhood feelings felt towards these figures?

what is Darcy's rudeness to Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice but a defense mechanism brought on by the conflict between his desire for her and his consciousness of his high social status

A description of an instance of human behavior is very different from a theory that explicitly names the class of behaviors and places it within the framework of an overall theory. People described apples falling before Newton came up with the concept of gravity.

Actually, under any theory of dreams I've ever heard of, people who spend a lot of time in their waking life thinking about and doing some activity are liable to dream about it.

The evidence is far more specific than that.
posted by shivohum at 4:41 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Freud and his works are commonly taught to Psych students the world over

No, they're not. Unless they're also taking English classes along with their psych classes. See e.g. this article.


My college psychology textbook is not absolutely current (Gleitman, 5th edition, 2000) but it's close and there are 20+ Freud cites in the index so I think you are wrong.

Regarding the peeing on fire. There may be a compulsion but I think it is easily quenched as boiled piss smells absolutely terrible and I would be surprised if any man ever did it twice.
posted by bukvich at 4:45 PM on January 20, 2012


Honestly though, do you think any reputable Psych dept wouldn't at least spend, idk, maybe an hour talking about one of the first and most prominent figures in psychology

Yes, I'm quite sure they spend an hour or two talking about him. That would rather seem to prove my point.

And yes, there are a few departments that specialize in psychotherapy--these departments are no longer in the mainstream of psychological studies, however. They are also very much in the minority.

There are places you can go to study chiropractic--that does not mean that chiropractic is widely held to be valid science. (Not, to be fair, that there is an exact analogy between psychoanalysis and chiropractic--I offer the latter as a limit case to illustrate the point).

What I mean by these terms is the way they're fully specified.

Great--then we're back to my point that not a single one of those "fully specified" theories is widely accepted as having been validated within contemporary psychological studies. You can't have it both ways. You can't say "well psychologists still talk about defense mechanisms" when what you mean is that they still address observable instances of the kind that were well recognized by, say, Jane Austen. If your claim is that "psychologists still widely adhere to the precise details of the Freudian theoretical account of defense mechanisms" then the claim is simply false.
posted by yoink at 4:50 PM on January 20, 2012


BUT let's say for instance that Freud is not being taught in Psych classes (which is a highly amusing sentence for me to type, as I am a psych student and I've been taught Freud (not that i have special insight or anything)) then as a thought experiment; where are the psychoanalysts coming from? Magical Psychology Land isn't churning them out.

Generally agree with you shivohum, but you should know that the question of "where are all the new psychoanalysts coming from?" doesn't properly have the rhetorical force you're assigning it. In the US at least there's a crisis of talent in psychoanalysis; few young people want to become psychoanalysts. The intellectual caliber of the people who do enter psychoanalytic training is far, far below what it was in the golden age of the field. This is partly because psychoanalysis and Freud are out of fashion, and partly because there are now so many other paths to becoming a psychotherapist.
posted by grobstein at 4:52 PM on January 20, 2012


Interesting article.

There is one significant reason why Freud is unfashionable these days: because fashions change. Freud was wrong about many things, but his best ideas, like his view of the unconscious mind, are so obviously taken for granted nowadays that it is easy to dismiss him.
posted by ovvl at 4:57 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


My college psychology textbook is not absolutely current (Gleitman, 5th edition, 2000) but it's close and there are 20+ Freud cites in the index so I think you are wrong.

That's pretty hilarious. The Gleitman text dates back to the 60s (although it has, of course, been consistently revised). When Gleitman, who was a renowned teacher of introductory psychology, was asked to prepare the text one of the first problems he raise was "what to do about Freud"? And why? Because in his own introductory psychology lectures (and this is in the 1960s!) he didn't bother with Freud. He taught some optional evening classes about Freud to interested students, but didn't consider Freud important enough to teach in his regular classes. (The story is referenced here--it's Google Books so you can't read the whole thing, but you can see enough to get the point).

I think, perhaps, that tells you a little more about the position of Freud in the field of psychology than the fact that he crops up in the index a few times in later versions of the textbook.

My point is not that Freud is the name that must not be uttered--it's that the vast majority of academic departments of psychology teach a version of the science that owes very, very little to the theoretical frameworks Freud developed.
posted by yoink at 5:04 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Generally agree with you shivohum, but you should know that the question of "where are all the new psychoanalysts coming from?" doesn't properly have the rhetorical force you're assigning it.

Oh, that wasn't me :)... I fully agree with you on this point.

--
You can't say "well psychologists still talk about defense mechanisms" when what you mean is that they still address observable instances of the kind that were well recognized by, say, Jane Austen.

Again, you're not seeing the distinction between describing a behavior and describing a class of behaviors. Freud established classes of unconscious, motivated mechanisms that would entail certain empirical predictions. Not everything he said about those unconscious mechanisms was correct; that doesn't mean that what he said was no different than what went before. Did Jane Austen create a theory that might entail subliminal defense mechanisms used to ward off the fear of mortality, as has been proven in numerous social psychology experiments? I thought not. The creators of theories like these are very explicit about their debt to psychodynamic thought.

And of course what about the example of transference I gave above? It's also a proven phenomenon that even cognitive behavioral therapists will readily accept.

I'm hardly support everything Freud did or said, but I feel the need to state the screamingly obvious truth -- denied only because it's currently fashionable to do so, and because what he said was subtle and often unpalatable -- that he was a tremendously original and important figure in the study of the human mind.
posted by shivohum at 5:11 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, I'm quite sure they spend an hour or two talking about him. That would rather seem to prove my point.

Well, you really didn't have a point but rather an opinion, and i'm not trying to be unfair here, but i can't tell where your merely asserting opinion and where you're trying to assert fact.

doesn't properly have the rhetorical force you're assigning it. In the US at least there's a crisis of talent in psychoanalysis

Oh, I'm fully aware I'm positing assertions on shaky ground, but this whole argument isn't really sound.

And I'm just getting started in grad schools, and it looks like i may be going far away to get in a program that is close to what i want. Not for Psychoanalysis, though. Or I may change my mind, or just settle.
posted by P.o.B. at 5:14 PM on January 20, 2012


Thank you yoink that is some great stuff.

Perhaps it's like alchemy and chemistry, where Paracelsus and Agrippa would be the Freud character and then you get somebody else (and I doubt we know who it is yet) playing the part of Dalton and Lavoisier and Mendeleev.

For what it is worth, the majority of practicing therapists I know who got trained in Freudian paradigm have never completely given it up. There is a science of psychology on the one hand and an art of psychotherapy on the other which can have very little overlap for a lot of the practitioners.
posted by bukvich at 5:16 PM on January 20, 2012


I fully agree with you on this point.

I don't know why, but i find this hilarious.
posted by P.o.B. at 5:27 PM on January 20, 2012


Well, you really didn't have a point but rather an opinion, and i'm not trying to be unfair here, but i can't tell where your merely asserting opinion and where you're trying to assert fact.

I've linked to a 2008 NYT report on a Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Assocation study vividly establishing how little psychoanalysis is taught in contemporary American universities. I'm really not sure how you think this amounts to me asserting an "opinion" I've pulled out of thin air.

I've also linked to an admittedly anecdotal but also rather vivid historical account of the origins of one of the most widely used undergraduate psychological textbooks in the nation which demonstrates explicitly that Freud was considered a controversial figure of relatively little significance in terms of the material to be taught in such a textbook.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, though, that an ardent champion of psychoanalysis should seem to find it difficult to distinguish between evidence and opinion ;)
posted by yoink at 5:27 PM on January 20, 2012


Have a cigar, boys.
posted by Burhanistan at 5:35 PM on January 20, 2012


Have a cigar, boys.

That one's not big enough.
posted by yoink at 5:49 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thank god we're not arguing about something important like football.
posted by shivohum at 6:02 PM on January 20, 2012


Yeah, but people don't shovel a bunch of made up shit about players and then stand back and say "but i have proven without a doubt my opinion is true! Look at this article! Have you looked at it? Good. You see how it is an editorial piece on football and upholds my opinion? Glad we cleared that fact away! Now look at this textbook. It is the most important textbook ever. What? Because I said so! QED SUCKERS! Now, run along!"
posted by P.o.B. at 6:10 PM on January 20, 2012


Or maybe they do. I don't follow sports talk.
posted by P.o.B. at 6:11 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


For Christ's sake P.O.B, its not an op ed piece. It's a report on a quantitative study actually counting up how many courses on Freudian psychotherapy are being offered at US universities. If you have a single scrap of evidence suggesting that the study is somehow incorrect of flawed then it might be worth bringing it forward.
posted by yoink at 8:04 AM on January 21, 2012


I was mostly messing around and apologize if I came off harsh. But:

Freud and his works are commonly taught to Psych students the world over

No, they're not. Unless they're also taking English classes along with their psych classes. See e.g. this article


Okay, so let's clear this up and simplify. I still stand by my original statement, which you categorically denied and then demurred to "maybe a little". Correct? I'm not trying to point out dishonest conversation, just want to be clear on how much you think he is taught, if at all. Do we need to clarify between Freud and Psychoanalysis? Erikson, Fromm, and others fall under psychoanalytic framework, are you saying they are not taught also? Ate you saying that there are not many classes specifically based around Freud? That is a no-brained and agree with. I never said he was the most popular guy around, and of course he is out of style. I never denied that. Classes specifically based around Freud are hard to come by, that is not a surprise. How does that fare against other psychologists? I don't know and neither do you. I wouldn't doubt that he doesn't garner as many classes as Jung, but there simpler, more applicable, and "better" ideas out there for some of his work.

Let me reiterate that the article does not say what you're saying. Not at all. All they did was look for references to psychoanalysis. So what does that mean? Looked at the title of the classes? Looked at the description for the classes? I don't know, all we have is an NYT article with a couple of blurbs about it's unpopulararity. Yeah, big surprise there. Ah, yes. On 2nd look it is course descriptions. Do you still want to stick with that article as reference for backup? I don't think I've seen psychoanalysis listed in any of the course descriptions for my classes either, so you got me there.

You say he's not even in basic psych texts. Correct? Really? Before I go on do you really want to stick with that one also? I mean five minutes on Amazon will cure you of that "neurosis". ;)
posted by P.o.B. at 12:48 PM on January 21, 2012


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