Monday, February 05, 2024

The Applied Science of Psychoanalytic Therapy

In my previous post, I discussed essential concepts of Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis, that is, his basic science. This month I want to present the practice or applied science of psychoanalytic therapy.
Engineers presuppose fundamental concepts of physics and chemistry, along with additional concepts unique to their specialty. Subsequently they apply all of this knowledge to specific cases to build particular, concrete machines and particular, distinct bridges to enhance human life. History, the concretes of a specific case, as well as theory, the universals of the science, are both involved in the practical application of concepts to achieve a specific goal.
Similarly, psychoanalytic therapists take Freud’s basic concepts of psychoanalysis, along with specific knowledge of each patient’s personality, character, and history, and apply these notions to help the individual patient become more independent and happy.
The essence of psychoanalytic therapy, according to Freud, is the process of talk therapy with the goal of making the unconscious conscious. It means unearthing or digging deep—he often uses archeology as a metaphor for psychotherapy—in the unconscious to find repressed ideas associated with disturbing events and to encourage the patient to re-experience the original emotions. This “abreaction,” which I suggested in my October post was an early form of derepression, became less important (33-34, 219) in Freud’s later years when he began to put more emphasis on the patient’s effort of overcoming resistance to recall and talk about what was painful and repressed.
The treatment method of talk therapy, as I mentioned last month, was learned from Josef Breuer (30) who encouraged his patient Anna O. to reminisce about early disturbing experiences that might have led to her conversion hysteria (paralyzed arm among other psychosomatic ailments). In the process of this therapy she said jokingly that she was chimney sweeping, but more seriously described the method as the talking cure. In the early years, Breuer and Freud called this the cathartic method, a cleansing or purifying of the soul. For some years, Freud used hypnosis to overcome resistance, gradually abandoning it in favor of the talk method of finding connections to early and forgotten events, thoughts, and emotions.
In the last two sentences of Lecture 31 in Freud’s 1933 New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, he writes, “Where it was, there should become I. [Therapeutic effort] is a cultural achievement somewhat like the draining of the Zuyder Zee” (translation Bruno Bettelheim, 61, 62, my italics). That is, just as the Dutch reclaimed land from the sea, so also therapists help patients reclaim their conscious souls (the I) from the unconscious it.*
An important concept of therapy that Freud discovered by chance was transference, the idea that patients, as they improve, begin to associate the therapist with an important person from childhood, usually a parent, thus transferring their feelings about this person, both good and bad, to the therapist (An Outline of Psychoanalysis, 29-32). Often the patients feel an unconditional love (which Carl Rogers, 61-62, in later years called an “unconditional positive regard”) from the therapist that they likely did not experience from their parents. Sometimes, though, anger and hostility may be felt, depending on the type of childhood the patient experienced. And on occasion a patient of the opposite sex may fall in love with the therapist—one young female patient flung her arms around Freud’s neck, convinced that they were in love with each other, and Breuer’s patient, Anna O, at the end of her treatment persuaded herself that she was carrying his baby!
Once Freud identified these transference reactions, he identified their value in therapy. Once the patient realizes these feelings toward the therapist are displacements, the patient becomes more motivated to overcome resistance to probe more deeply into the unconscious to identify forgotten, repressed thoughts and feelings.**
The applied science of psychotherapy as developed and practiced by Freud does not differ much from what nearly all psychologists and psychiatrists do today. Freud’s so-called free association is more of a probing of the patient’s subconscious in an uncritical, unjudgmental manner to encourage thoughts and emotions to rise to consciousness. Freud’s technique, as becomes clear in his many discussions of therapy, is not the caricature we sometimes see today with the therapist saying repeatedly, “uh-huh, uh-huh,” and not much else. In fact, Freud often explores a patient’s line of thought and offers hypotheses about earlier unconscious ideation. His goal, after all, is to help patients gain or regain their independence—Freud’s word (Outline, 26).
The Freudian couch? Initially a gift from a patient in 1890; the carpet covering added by Freud “gave his patients a non-medical bed to lie on” and “the sense of being sheltered from one’s daily cares.” In addition, many patients were female and in his day understandably uncomfortable talking about sex while looking at a man. Freud also did not want his patients attempting to read his facial expressions, nor did her take notes, which he believed to be distracting.
Free association? Einfall, according to Bettelheim (94-96), a word that  means sudden or chance idea or thought, would lead Freud to ask, “What comes to mind?” or “What is connected with that?” Freie assoziation were words used by Freud only after the technique had become established and then Einfall was described and translated into English as such. The modifier “free” or  freie, Bettelheim writes, puts too much emphasis on the need for conscious effort, rather than emotional spontaneity coming from the unconscious.
The fundamental rule of psychoanalytic therapy, as Freud refers to it, is that nothing is off the table for discussion (Outline, 28-29). Whatever connections come to mind, including especially painful, nonsensical, or allegedly unimportant, thoughts must be expressed while on the couch. This includes the content and memory of dreams.
Assessment of Freud. Contributions to psychology? Nearly everything—from the nature of the conscious and subconscious mind to the cause of neurosis and its treatment in therapy. Talk therapy today is the dominant technique of psychotherapists (unless, unfortunately, they are the psychiatrists who prescribe psychotropic drugs to allegedly treat and cure psychological problems). What else would therapists do but talk to their patients? What nearly all today do not do is mention the words introspection, free will, or the sub- or unconscious, the former two because they are afraid of being accused of being “unscientific” or even religious, the latter, unless they are psychoanalysts, of being accused of Freudianism.
Over the years, ideation has become more explicit as thinking errors in cognitive psychology and in the work of Yochelson and Samenow on the criminal personality. It has become more precise as core evaluations in the psychology of Edith Packer (chap. 1).
As for Freud’s alleged weak ego—the I—let me quote him in Inhibition, Symptom, and Fear (162).*** In this work, Freud points out the “numerous voices” (other psychoanalysts) who seem to want to make the so-called weakness of the I one of the “central pillars” of psychoanalysis. Freud responds: “Shouldn’t their sheer awareness of how repression actually works deter psychoanalysts in particular from so enthusiastically embracing such an extreme and partisan position?” The whole point of therapy being to reclaim and support the I.
What does impinge on and reduce the power of the conscious mind to control our lives is Freud’s determinism. His search for non-volitional causes of behavior is what I believe led him to focus heavily on the drives, rather than ideation, and specifically on the alleged death or destructiveness drive to explain the harmful and detrimental behavior of his patients. Though the notion of a strong unconscious has a long history, going back to Plato, free will is what enables us to learn how to introspect to explain and change our feelings deriving from an un- (or sub-) conscious “chaos” or “cauldron full of seething excitations,” as Freud describes it (New Introductory Lectures, 91). The chaos is something we have put there, and this means we can, through introspection, clean up the mess.
With good parenting and teaching, one would hope, psychology of the future will help prevent the mess from occurring in the first place.
* The standard translation (100) of the first sentence is “Where id was, there ego shall be.” Or, as I rephrased it in an updated form in Independent Judgment and Introspection (176), using the psychology of Edith Packer, “Where subconscious, mistaken conclusions were, there confident and independent self-assertion shall guide.” See Bettelheim’s discussion (61-64) of Goethe’s Faust, which Freud knew well, and Faust’s struggles to reclaim his soul from the devil—an apt analogy to describe what many of Freud’s patient’s felt, and most likely, what many patients today feel.
** Edith Packer minimized the value of transference, but did describe herself as a “friend for hire,” which I would say was a strong motivating force for patients who likely, at the time, did not have many good, that is, understanding and helpful, friends.
*** This 2003 translation uses the word “fear” instead of the customary “anxiety” because, the translator notes, it is the typical German meaning of Angst. When Freud means anxiety, he uses the word Ängstlichkeit or Angstneurose for anxiety neurosis (note 3, 264-65).
Postscript to Students of Ayn Rand. I regret having to make the following comment about Ayn Rand and Leonard Peikoff. I see no evidence that either one read much or any of Sigmund Freud. Rand wrote that Freud was one of Europe’s “hand-me-downs” and Peikoff caricatured Freud’s view of man as an “ordure [excrement]-strewn pervert.” I believe that this post and my previous six about Freud speak for themselves. Ayn Rand said to both Nathaniel Branden and Edith Packer that she did not know anything about psychology. Having known Dr. Peikoff for many years, I do not believe he knows much about it either. A strong infusion of psychology into Ayn Rand’s philosophy is desperately needed today.

Wednesday, January 03, 2024

The Basic Science of Psychoanalysis

“Basic sciences,” as I wrote in last month’s post, “are fundamental sciences, such as physics, biology, and psychology, on which applied sciences rest, such as, respectively, engineering, medicine, and psychotherapy.”
Let me now summarize in brief the basic science of psychoanalysis. Freud says that human beings possess needs that give rise to drives, or urges to act, to satisfy those needs. The process requires mental activity to identify what will satisfy the need and action to attain it. The causal impetus from these mostly unconscious biological drives is what Freud calls the “pleasure principle,” though a better translation of lust, according to H. F. Brull, would be joy or desire.
For example, when dying of thirst on a hot summer morning, I often feel a strong desire for a glass of water and experience joy in its consumption. The “reality principle” of our reasoning mind, however, can interfere with, detour, or adapt my unconscious drive because of what is required for daily life in the world.
The I may remind us, in other words, as it often does me, soon after drinking the cold glass of water that perhaps it was not a good idea and that sips of water with food would have produced a better outcome. The upper I, our memories of parental influence (plus other influences), may also have something to say about this reminding us not to drink too much water on an empty stomach in the morning, unaccompanied by food.
This in a highly simplified nutshell is the essence of Freud’s theory of normal psychology. Deficiencies in meeting our innate (psychological) needs lead to neurosis.
Hunger and thirst, of course, are not the drives that Freud focuses on, though he does use them as analogies.* His main drive is the libido, a Latin word adopted by him that means wish, desire, or love. In his younger years it meant the sex urge, but he broadened it later to mean emotional energy that originates in our sexuality, expressing our sense of self. When connected to the I-drive, it emphasizes and expresses self-assertion (Brull’s preferred translation for Selbstbehauptung, as opposed to the standard translation of “self-preservation”). Libido is the life force or love drive that motivates us.
Sense of self can be interpreted as self-esteem, which Freud was not unaware of as a psychological need, and he did observe its deficiency in many of his patients. Freud, however, did not emphasize self-esteem as a need or drive, though in several places he quotes patients expressing precisely what Edith Packer calls core evaluations. “I always had a low opinion of myself,” says one patient (Studies on Hysteria, 278). And “I can’t accomplish anything. I can’t succeed in anything,” says another (Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 59). Loss of love in childhood, says Freud, can lead to “a legacy of diminished self-feeling amounting to a narcissistic scar” (58), the German word for self-feeling being Selbstgefühls, which also can be translated as self-esteem, though the former is probably more correct.
Self-feeling, rather than self-esteem, is more in line with Freud’s concept of narcissism, a self-absorption of children, and adults who are physically or mentally ill. That is, narcissists lack maturity (in the case of children) or health (in adults) to allow themselves to focus on and love—that is, to invest one’s libido in—other people or even material goods to enhance their lives. Being in love, says Freud, increases our self-feeling by reducing narcissism. Suffering neurosis, however, reduces self-feeling, which leads to various symptoms, including the sense of inferiority that most neurotics experience.
Narcissism for Freud is inherent in all of us from birth as part of the libido drive that most of us do not and probably cannot overcome. Sublimation, or rising above the lower biological drives, means, for example, pursuing de-sexualized artistic or intellectual careers. Such paths, however, he says, are not open to everyone.
In my words, I would say that the libido drive is the pursuit of values, including romantic values, in oneself and in the pleasure of the company of others. The pursuit of mistaken or unhealthy values then is what leads to neurosis.
In childhood, this pursuit of values includes the exploration of our sexuality.
According to Freud, sexuality develops in childhood in three stages of sensuousness: the oral, sucking of the breast and thumbs; the sadistic-anal, of learning to control defecation (and maybe even playing with the feces) coinciding with teething and therefore “sadistic” biting (though I would put “terrible twos” here, the beginning of self-assertion, but Freud does not mention it); and the genital, with all the questions about where babies come from and the differences between the sexes that follow, and of course, the pleasure of touching the genitals.
This was radical for Freud to assert in his time, that sexuality begins before puberty. Sexuality, as he points out, is a broader term than the sex or sexual relations of adults. His Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality is a daring and non-judgmental (that is, de-moralized) masterpiece for his time, covering all forms of sexuality, which include all the known deviations from penile-vaginal intercourse. A fixation on the foot or a piece of clothing—fetishes, in other words—or inversions (for example, voyeurism at the same or opposite sex), Freud points out, develop early and cause neurotic problems in adulthood.
Freud focused so much on sex because his Victorian culture produced in his patients problems that derived from their early childhood experiences, and especially from the often negative reactions of their parents. Women, for example, may not have been taught or known anything about sex and young men, in addition to suffering threats of having their penises cut off, were considerably bothered by coitus interruptus, the withdrawal method of birth control, and impotence.**
When the libido, also called the Eros drive, misfires, the death or destructiveness drive leads us to a “flight into illness” and “withdrawal from reality” (Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, 54). The misfiring produces “excitation” (one of Freud’s neurophysiological terms) experienced during disturbing or frightening events, often in childhood, that were not dealt with appropriately at the time. Thus, the emotions of multiple events are condensed and displaced into a symptom, while the ideation of the events is repressed.
In my summary of the “Little Hans” case (October post) I pointed out how anxiety, the fear with no apparent object, is experienced in response to the “excitations” of disturbing events, which can also be described as a misfiring or blocking of the libido, and how the ideas associated with the events are subsequently repressed or pushed out of conscious awareness, not recurring sometimes until adulthood and then only as neurotic symptoms. Repression is the fundamental defense that the I uses to protect itself, but there are other defenses, such as reaction formation, projection, and regression, as well as displacement and sublimation.
Most of these concepts of defense—reaction formation the exception—predate Freud, but he gave them new and more developed meanings, especially as they apply to psychology. The Oedipal Complex is original to Freud and is his metaphor for childhood injury that results from parental reactions to the overemphasis of libido on one parent, usually the mother, and underemphasis on the other, the father.
The above, I hope, presents a sense of Freud’s large and complex system, or at least some of his key concepts. Next month, Freud’s applied science of psychotherapy.
* See especially Freud’s (90-92) discussion of the evolution of psychoanalytic theory that began with what he called the “popular” distinction between the drives of hunger and love.
** Josef Breuer (21), from whom Freud learned the method of talk therapy, in 1880-82 treated a twenty-one year old woman whose “sexuality,” he described, “was astonishingly undeveloped.” The woman was Bertha Pappenheim but in print was referred as Anna O.

Friday, December 08, 2023

Freud as Scientist

As I have written before (1, 2), the essence of science and scientific method is “conceptualization, the mental process of generalizing to identify universals and applying previously formed universals to understand particular cases.*
The former is a process of induction and is called basic science, the latter a process of deduction (1, 2) and is called applied science. Most scientists perform both types in varying degrees, some spending most of their time on basic science, others on application.
Scientific method, which seeks to identify the distinguishing characteristic of a physical or mental entity under study and the causal relations between an entity’s attributes and other entities and their attributes, always involves experimentation—testing and trying one’s ideas against the real world. It may or may not be controlled experimentation. Statistical methodology and exact measurement (Applying Principles, 322-24) do not constitute the essence of science, but they can be adjuncts to the formation of universals and both may be helpful in applying those universals.
The present post rests on Ayn Rand’s theory of concepts (chap. 1-2), which emphasizes measurement omission in the formation of concepts and therefore in the identification of universals. Looking at an individual concrete instance of a concept means considering all of the concrete’s characteristics. These include quantitative ones that are typically measured by a precise unit, as is the physical sciences. And it includes qualitative characteristics that are typically measured approximately, as in the human sciences.
Basic sciences are fundamental sciences, such as physics, biology, and psychology, on which applied sciences rest, such as, respectively, engineering, medicine, and psychotherapy.
Sigmund Freud is an excellent example of both a basic and applied scientist of human nature, of the human science of psychology. Psychoanalysis is the basic theory, while psychoanalytic therapy is the applied science or practice of the basic theory. Freud called psychoanalysis the “science of the unconscious,” or depth psychology, while psychology in general, according to Freud, is the science of the soul, which consists of three parts: our conscious reasoning mind and seat of emotions (the I—see last month’s post on English translations), our conscience (the upper I), and unconscious (the it). Freud was an atheist his entire life, as well as a determinist, so the soul for him is not immortal nor do we have free will.
Freud as scientist, we might say, is a post-Kantian, modern Aristotelian (see especially chap. 3).“Post-Kantian” means that consciousness has an active, creative nature or identity, while “modern Aristotelian” means that an active, creative consciousness can, guided by Aristotelian logic, accurately perceive reality. A modern Aristotelian in this sense rejects Aristotle’s naïve realism that the essence of a thing is “out there” in the thing but retains his premise of the primacy of existence. Consciousness does not create or distort reality, as Kant and many other philosophers say, or reflect or mirror it, as the naïve realists think. The modern Aristotelian holds that consciousness creates—note the different meaning here of “create,” as opposed to how the Kantians and other primacy-of-consciousness philosophers use the term—concepts and principles based on what it has correctly recognized or identified of reality.
As a student, Freud attended the lectures of Aristotelian scholar Franz Brentano and was influenced by him. This is indicated in particular by Freud’s frequent use of the words “nature and essence,” often followed by “origin” (cause) of a mental process that he was trying to identify. He never went looking for Kantian noumena or so-called intrinsic essences or Newtonian algebraic equations. (Freud in fact rarely mentions Kant in his writings.) He does, however, recognize that both normal and abnormal psychologies exhibit quantities of emotional energy that are measured approximately on an ordinal or qualitative scale of less and more.  
In Independent Judgment and Introspection (78-79), I point out how Freud spent many years working out the correct meaning of repression as distinguished from the more general concept of defense, clarifying the two in 1926 (97-99, 110-12). In those earlier years he had considered the two synonymous. He recognized finally that repression is a response to anxiety and attempt to allay it, not a cause of anxiety, as he had earlier thought. It is neurotic anxiety that gives rise to the neurotic need for repression.
This is conceptualization, and it is how science works.
Or as Freud wrote in An Outline of Psycho-Analysis (31), “Every science is based on observations and experiences arrived at through the medium of our psychical apparatus” (that is, our mental processes), though psychology differs from physics in that psychology uses its mental processes to study and make inferences about mental processes, where physics uses the mental processes to make inferences about the external world. Both sciences often infer what is not directly perceivable. This last Freud describes as unrecognizable or invisible—“unerkennbar” in scare quotes in Freud’s German. The standard translation is “unknowable,” but Freud’s meaning clearly is not Kantian. He means that gravity and molecules are no more directly perceivable than the processes of our subconscious minds.
In addition, Freud points out, our awareness (through sense perception) of the physical world, provides “insight into connections and dependent relations which are present” in that world, reproduced in our minds as thought and knowledge that enable us not just to understand external reality, but also to anticipate and change it. And because the procedures of the science of psychology are “quite similar” to those of physics, says Freud, our awareness (through introspection) of the mental world provides similar insight about “connections and dependent relations” of the conscious and subconscious mind, to understand both and to anticipate and change (that is, treat through introspective analysis) their mental functioning (Outline, 83).
The “thought and knowledge” that accumulates in our minds, whether of physics or psychology, consist of concepts and principles, and the process of forming and applying concepts and principles is conceptualization. To put this in Ayn Rand’s terms, science is the mental process of identifying the nature of entities and their attributes—physical or mental—including in particular the motions of the entities caused by those attributes. This last is Aristotelian causality based on formal causation, or as Rand puts it, causality is “identity in action.”
Science thus identifies entities and their attributes and causes and effects (connections and dependent relations) by constructing and defining concepts that identify the nature and essence of those entities and attributes.**
To add one more point, Freud as scientist, in the words of philosopher Walter Kaufmann (80), often considers “objections and alternatives,” many of which we still hear today, but were addressed and answered by him in his time, the accusation of “pan-sexualism” just being one example. As Kaufmann writes, considering objections and alternatives is the “essence of critical thinking.”***
Let me conclude this post with a description of science and scientific method, especially as it applies to psychology, written by Freud in partial answer to the religious dogmatism of his critics.

This is the way of science: slow, groping, laborious. . . . Through observation one learns something new, now here, now there, and at first the pieces do not fit together. One formulates surmises and makes auxiliary constructions that one takes back when they are not confirmed; one requires a lot of patience, readiness for all possibilities, renounces early convictions lest under their compulsion one should overlook new and unexpected factors; and in the end all this exertion proves worthwhile, the scattered finds do fit together, one gains an insight into an altogether new piece of psychic processes, is done with the task and ready for the next one. Only the help that [controlled] experiments provide for research has to be dispensed with in analysis. (Kaufmann translation, 79-80; see standard translation in New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, 215-16).
This is conceptualization.
Next month: “The Basic Science of Psychoanalysis.”
* And, to emphasize, scientists are not the only ones performing these mental processes. We all perform them, generalization especially in our younger years of parental and formal education, application every day using our acquired knowledge to guide our lives.
** As this post demonstrates, Freud was most emphatically a scientist, which means he and  his theory of psychoanalysis are in no way “pseudo-science,” as the positivists and, especially, Karl Popper (1, chap. 1; 2, 74-75), like to say.
*** I would say that the essence of critical thinking is the formulation of concepts and principles that correctly recognize or identify, that is, not contradict, the facts of reality. It is the ability to perceive reality through unfiltered or discolored lenses. Considering objections and alternatives is one of the main ways we test and try our ideas against reality, that is, remove contradictions.

Friday, November 03, 2023

Reading Freud: In General and in English Translation in Particular

Reading Sigmund Freud is a challenge, something I have been doing for several months. One reason is his approach to the science of psychology and a second is the English translations.
Freud was trained as a medical doctor specializing in neurophysiology at the University of Vienna, though in his first year he attended the lectures of Aristotelian scholar Franz Brentano and was influenced by him. As a young man, Freud worked six years in a physiology lab and three more in a hospital where he focused on cerebral anatomy. In 1886, at age 30, he opened his medical practice and began treating patients for psychological problems. He did not close the practice until shortly before his death in 1939.
In 1895, Freud drafted a “Project for a Scientific Psychology,” premised entirely on neurophysiology, but it was never completed or published in his lifetime, most likely because his treatment of patients convinced him of the need to view psychology as a mental science. While Freud in his mature and later life was neither a materialist nor a reductionist, some neurophysiological jargon permeates his work, such as charge and discharge of energy, excitation, and innervation. He was a determinist his entire life, but the reader can overcome this obstacle by focusing on his conceptualizations of psychology and his methods of therapy.
The worst challenge in reading Freud is the translations. I do not know German, though I have frequently consulted several online and printed German-English dictionaries, and occasionally have looked at this website,, where many of Freud’s works are posted as bilingual texts, English on one side of the page, German on the other.
My references for criticism of the translations are three native German speakers: philosopher Walter Kaufmann (20-27), Austrian-born psychologist Bruno Bettelheim (all of his 112-page book, Freud and Man’s Soul), and Freud biographer Peter Gay (465-66). The three overlap in their critiques, though Bettelheim’s is the most extensive.
I will focus on mistranslations and neologisms, but let me first give Kaufmann credit for setting the tone by asserting that the English translations of philosopher Immanuel Kant improve Kant’s writing style (!), while the translations of Freud make him worse. He also says that Freud’s “style is so colorful that the best translations often cannot be more adequate than black-and-white photographs of great paintings.”
Kaufmann goes on to cite Peter Gay (see footnote in my August post) who said the translations make Freud more diffuse and verbose (prolix) and gentrified, scholarly, academic (genteel) than he really is. The word in my mind is sterile.*
Bettelheim (5-8, 108) says the translations make Freud impersonal and abstract with Latinized and Greekized words and sometimes translate him in the passive voice when Freud uses the active. Freud is even made to sound behavioristic, apparently in order to make him more “scientific,” which in philosophic terms means more positivistic, which Freud was not!
Bettelheim became aware of the problems with the English translations when he was at the University of Chicago’s Orthogenic School from 1944-73. His staff and students, as non-German speakers, read Freud in English, which made them view him and psychoanalysis “at a distance.”
The most egregious (my word) mistranslation is of the German word trieb, translated throughout as “instinct.” The real meaning is drive, the urge to act when a need is not being satisfied. The hunger drive is offered by Freud as analogous to his life and death drives. (More on these next month). Freud rarely uses the German equivalent for instinct (instinkt) and only to refer to the alleged automatic knowledge that guides animal behavior.**
The use of “instinct” makes Freud look unscientific and an advocate of innate knowledge. Freud uses the term “drive” as a cause that “makes somatic demands upon the mind,” but these demands are changeable and compete with one another (An Outline of Psycho-Analysis, 17). They are not instincts.
Indeed, Bettelheim (105) insists that the title of Instincts and Their Vicissitudes, one of Freud’s later works in English, should be translated as “Drives and Their Mutability.”
The most egregious neologism—this time “egregious” is Peter Gay’s word—is the Greek import  cathexis. Freud wrote using common German words, Besetzung being one of them with many connotations. The meaning of the word as Freud used it is occupation, as in military occupation. It is sometimes translated in other languages as load or investment (of emotion). Freud suggested the word “interest,” and in the 1926 summary of psychoanalysis, written by Freud, the words “affective charge” are used. Besetzung is a term of value and emotion and the “occupation” is a quantity—high or low, strong or weak—of emotional energy.
Thus, I might say I am highly “cathected” in the family dog, or rather, “occupied” with a lot of value and emotion in him. My brain, however, still freezes when I come upon cathexis or any of its word forms (hypercathexis, anticathexis, etc.) in the translations. I must pause to review the context of the word before continuing.
Another neologism, parapraxis, can be dispensed with quickly. Fehlleistungen means faulty action or achievement, or in common English parlance Freudian slip—of the tongue, pen, memory. Why the Greek?
Other mistranslations (Bettelheim, chap. 8): id, ego, and superego in German are das Es, das Ich, and das Über-Ich. They should be what they are, and are so translated in the French and Spanish editions, the it, the I, and the upper-I. “The it,” a word used by Friedrich Nietzsche and a contemporary physician of Freud’s, was chosen to describe the unconscious because Freud’s patients would say something like, “It got me again” or “It makes life unbearable.” “The I,” in German can mean the self or personality; “self” is the word I substitute when reading the English. Über can mean above or over, but I like Bettelheim’s “upper-I,” because it emphasizes that our conscience is a part of our minds (implying that we put it there), not some compartment separate from the self or mind. The Latinizations make Freud and our understanding of the mind sterile. Cold technical jargon, as Bettelheim says (53).
Though many more mistranslations can be found in Bettelheim’s book (chap. 10) and in Independent Judgment and Introspection (81n56), one final one is for the subject of psychology as Freud discusses it. The German word is Seele, which means soul, and Seele, Freud points out, is the German translation of the Greek word for soul, psyche. Thus, psychology is the science of the soul, not mind or consciousness, though it can include both, and soul is neither immortal nor related to religion. For Freud, according to Bettelheim (77), soul means “that which is most valuable in man while he is alive.” It is not just the seat of reason, but also, and perhaps more importantly, the seat of emotion. It defines who we are and what motivates us.***
To conclude and say something positive about the translations, James Strachey was editor and translator of what is called the Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. It was a major accomplishment, twenty-four volumes published between 1953 and 1974, every volume with an excellent index and an abundance of footnotes and bracketed comments that explain, for example, someone from Freud’s era whom we would not today recognize. It is still the most significant scholarly work in English on Freud. There is supposedly a “Revised Standard Edition” coming out soon, but I have not yet seen it.
Next month, “Freud as Scientist.”
* Kaufmann, I should further point out, makes it clear that Freud was neither dogmatic nor intolerant. The smears against him, aside from much suspicion, laughter, outrage, and disgust thrown at psychoanalysis by the local Viennese who had not read him, derive from the resentments and complaints of Freud’s former devotees, Alfred Adler and Carl Jung (Kaufmann, 195-204, 325-50). The former, in particular, referred to psychoanalysis as “filth and fecal matter” (Kaufmann, 199). Gay (410) acknowledges that Freud is a “determinist, [but] not a fatalist,” a reference to the misunderstanding that we are allegedly and completely controlled by the unconscious, which ignores Freuds frequent assertions that in therapy the unconscious must be made conscious.
** Today, the concept “instinct” should be dispensed with as invalid. Biologists have made great progress in explaining animal behavior, whether it is how to hunt (they learn from their parents, siblings, or by trial-and-error), to migrate to warmer weather (birds use information from the sun, stars, and magnetic field), or to find their way home (cats use the magnetic field and scent).
*** After completing this essay, I discovered H. F. Brull’s excellent 1975 paper, “A Reconsideration of Some Translations of Sigmund Freud.” A native German speaker, born in Berlin, Brull at age twelve, in 1933, emigrated to the United States. For most of his career he was a social worker with children and high school students. Brull asserts that psychoanalysis is “at once a scientific method for investigating the mind of man and a therapy for tortured souls.” I will be referring to this paper more in a later post.
And the more I read Freud, the more I discover additional criticisms of the standard translations, as well as improved contemporary ones (published within the last twenty-five years). Here are two: Beyond the Pleasure Principle and Other Writings (2003) and The Penguin Freud Reader (2006).

Wednesday, October 04, 2023

Freud on Neurosis and Psychotherapy as Illustrated in the Little Hans Case

The aim of psychotherapy, according to Sigmund Freud, is to make the unconscious conscious by uncovering repressed ideation, that is, ideas associated with the emotion of a triggering or traumatic event, and verbalizing the repressed ideas while also reexperiencing or reliving the emotions that were displaced to a symptom or symptoms. The process is called abreaction in the English translation.*
Psychological problems—neurosis—often result from repressed childhood injury, Freud discovered, but may also occur later in life. And not all such problems result from sexual trauma as a child, a view called “pan-sexualism,” which Freud’s critics accuse him of saying. (See Freud’s denial in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, preface to fourth edition and elsewhere).
Freud wrote several case histories to exhibit his method of therapy, as well as his theory of the causes and cures of neurotic symptoms. Let me illustrate this with a summary of his “Little Hans” case about a five-year-old boy with a phobia of horses. The case was published in 1909.
Though Freud only met with the boy once, when he was not quite five, the case is an excellent example of why he thought psychoanalysts do not need to have an MD degree to practice psychoanalysis, which many of his medical critics thought, including especially American physicians.**
The parents in this case were not medical doctors, though they knew Freud. The father of Hans attended Freud’s Wednesday night group (which in 1910 became the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society) and Hans’s mother had been Freud’s patient. They were both encouraged by Freud to use minimal coercion in their parenting and neither laugh at nor bully Hans about his phobia. The father conducted most of the analysis by asking non-judgmental questions, taking Hans’s answers seriously, and sending letters with the answers to Freud. This occurred over the first five months of 1908 before and after Hans turned five.
Hans’s main symptom was the phobia of horses, which began as an anxiety of unknown origin while walking in the street with his father. At the time he wanted to go home to “coax” (cuddle) with his mother. On another occasion while walking with his mother, he became afraid that a white horse would bite him.  Upon questioning by his father, Hans recalled an event  some time earlier when he witnessed a large work horse fall and “make a row” with its feet. This frightened Hans considerably as he thought the horse might be dead. Subsequently, in early 1908, Hans was hesitant to go out into the busy street in front of his home where many horse-drawn carts and coaches would be seen. His anxiety had transformed into a mature phobia of horses.
The emotions of anxiety and fright that became the phobia are displacements from the repressed cause, according to Freud. Let us explore the possibilities. There were several.
From the age of three, Hans, like most boys his age, became interested in his “widdler” (penis, or wiwimacher in the German) and “widdling.” He also naturally became fascinated by the widdlers of others, including those of animals, and curious about whether his baby sister and mother had widdlers. He was especially fascinated by the largeness of the widdlers of giraffes and horses. He liked touching his.
At about three-and-a-half, his mother (apparently reverting to older methods of parenting) saw him in this activity and told him that if he keeps touching it she will call the doctor to have it cut off. Because it was implied by his mother that this “activity” was naughty and dirty, Hans acquired what Freud calls a castration complex with the fears becoming repressed. This was also about the time his sister Hanna was born, of whom he soon became jealous.
Other issues were relevant. His parents, unfortunately, told him that his baby sister was delivered by stork, which led to speculation of how that happens. More particularly, when it became obvious that babies somehow come from the mother, Hans wondered how. From the mom’s rear end, for example?
Freud was critical of the parents for not informing Hans about the differences in sex organs of boys and girls and for not enlightening him about sexual intercourse between his mother and father. This last is important for Freud because he found that children who witness or hear their parents having sex usually conclude that it is an act of violence with the dad harming the mother. Freud concluded that if the parents had been more open about these two issues, the phobia of Hans could have been resolved more quickly. According to the father, Hans never witnessed his parents having sex—although he did sleep in their bed until he was four.
The central issue for Hans revolves around what Freud calls the Oedipal complex, which does not mean that five-year old boys want to have sexual intercourse with their mothers. It is metaphor summing up common issues that arise between children and their parents, especially when there is an attachment to the mother and lesser feeling toward, and in some cases alienation from, the father. The Oedipal myth is about self-discovery, which is what psychoanalytic therapy is about.
Hans did show more attachment to his mother than to his father, but Hans’s dad was unusual—for dads then and now—by being so lovingly interested in and patient to help Hans with his phobia, or “nonsense,” as Hans referred to it, talking to him about widdlers, babies (his sister), large and small animals (and their widdlers), and often encouraging him to go out to the street where horses could be seen to test his “nonsense.” That Hans was aware of his nonsense as an issue indicates his eagerness to seek a remedy.
Sometimes, when the family was on summer vacation away from Vienna, the dad would have to return to the city for business. Hans once said, “When you’re away, I’m afraid you’re not coming home,” which was then followed by a benevolent emphasis by his father that he always comes home.
The attachment to his mother is shown as follows. The “seduction” scene, as Freud refers to it, using the word broadly, not literally, occurred when Hans’s mother was giving him a bath and he said to her, “Why don’t you put your finger there?” (on his widdler). His mother responded that that would be piggish and improper. On another occasion, which Freud describes as a second seduction, Hans said to his mother that his aunt recently said that he has a “dear little thin­­-gummy.” And once after an anxiety dream, Hans awoke crying, “I thought you were gone and I had no Mummy to coax with.” In addition to these issues of attachment to his mother, Hans was not able to see her during her confinement (last several weeks) of pregnancy. Much of this came out during the Q&A sessions with his father.
In early April, 1908, Hans and his father paid a brief visit to Freud. Observing the two sitting opposite him and listening to Hans describe how he disliked the black thing around the horses’ mouths (the bridle strap above the nose that usually holds a metal bit for control), Freud made a connection between the bridle and the father’s black mustache. Freud said that because Hans is so fond of his mother, he must think his father is angry with him. The father responded by asking why Hans would think such a thing, since he, the father, had never scolded or hit him. But yes, Hans intervened, you did hit me once, which happened as a reflex hit after Hans had head butted him in the stomach!
After this short visit to Freud, the father reported that Hans’s phobia began to retreat, as Hans was more open to talking about his repressed wishes. Many additional concrete details that cannot be summarized here, including associations between his feelings toward horses and his feelings toward his parents, followed in Hans’s life, but more intimate Q&A sessions occurred between Hans and his father, such as: Do you wish your sister had not been born? And on a different occasion, do you wish she would fall into the bath water and die? Both answers were yes, the psychological meaning being that his sister was robbing him of his parents’ love. And such an occurrence (her death) would leave more time for him to spend with his mother.
These verbalizations about his sister, father and mother, and his widdler (the castration complex) constitute the ideation Freud talks about that led to a gradual melting of his symptoms of anxiety and fright of horses.
Near the end of this period, Hans experienced and talked about a number of fantasies with his father, including his wish to marry his mummy and, sometimes, his wish that his father would go away. One day, Hans’s father saw him playing with imaginary children and said to him that boys cannot have children to which Hans responded, “I know. I was their Mummy before, now I’m their Daddy.” Who’s their Mummy? the father asked. “Mummy, and you’re their Grandaddy” (Freud’s italics).
To this, Freud concluded, “The little Oedipus had found a happier solution than that prescribed by destiny” (for Oedipus the King). Hans’s father wrote to Freud shortly afterwards, “A trace of his disorder still persists, though it is no longer in the shape of fear.”
It was the content of the Q&A sessions with the father, as well as the comments made by Freud during the visit with him, that constitute the ideation associated with Hans’s emotions, the emotions that troubled him sufficiently to transform them into a fear of horses. And it was this ideation that Freud asserts is necessary to be made explicit and conscious (which in an adult would likely have long since been deeply repressed). The various expressions in Hans’s words of his fears and anxieties were the “abreactions” Freud refers to as being essential for successful therapy. The job performed by Hans’s father got Hans to bring out or “work off and get rid of” the ideas and emotions of the triggering events, which then encouraged the displaced emotions in the symptoms to melt away.
Hans’s father was Max Graf (1873–1958), a Viennese musicologist. Hans was Herbert Graf (1903–73), a highly successful opera producer and director, including twenty-four years between 1936 and 1960 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City (read interview in Opera News, 1972). At age nineteen, Herbert visited Freud, who described him as a “strapping youth” who seemed to have survived “puberty without any damage” and, though his parents had divorced and remarried, kept his emotional life intact by going through “one of the severest of ordeals” (the divorce).
In this post, I have deliberately used a minimum of Freud’s technical terms, including especially the many questionable English translations. Next month, I will address the challenge of reading Freud in general and in specific the English translations.
* Freud’s word in German is abreagieren, which means to work off or get rid of. As mentioned in the first post in this series, I prefer the word subconscious to Freud’s “un-,” but when quoting or citing Freud will use unconscious. I consider them similar, though not synonymous. Abreaction in modern terms seems close to derepression.
** From 1926–32, American psychoanalysts succeeded in getting a law passed making it illegal for anyone to practice psychoanalysis without the MD degree (Bettelheim, 33–34). Today, a master’s degree is the minimum, but a degree with “doctor” in it is still preferred. In 1926 Freud wrote The Question of Lay Analysis to argue why laypersons (non-doctors) should be allowed to practice his method and theory.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Two Kinds of Association in Our Conscious and Subconscious Minds

In my 2008 book Montessori, Dewey, and Capitalism (86), I wrote:

Freud was the first to identify that humans possess a dynamic, integrating subconscious, the activities of which he called primary process; he called the activities of the conscious mind secondary process. The subconscious is the portion of the mind that we are not aware of, so when asleep all activity of the mind is subconscious; when awake whatever we are not currently focusing on is subconscious. “Dynamic” means continuously active in the sense that our minds are constantly making connections whether we are awake or asleep; if awake, the connections are being made whether we are aware of what is going on in our minds or not. In short, the subconscious can be thought of as a “connection-making machine” (with no concessions to mechanistic materialism intended).
Dreams are the prototype of the subconscious, observed Freud, but dreams are often distorted and illogical (or certainly less logical than the processes of the conscious mind). But, he continued, and insisted throughout his career, every action of our minds has a cause. What is the exact nature of these subconscious mental processes? And what causes the connections that are made?
Psychiatrist Eilhard von Domarus (cited in Independent Judgment and Introspection, 89n8), based on his work with schizophrenics, hypothesized that the subconscious, at least in part, and subsequently called the Von Domarus principle, is guided by the formal fallacy in logic called the undistributed middle term. For example, in the syllogism: all dogs are four-legged animals; all cows are four-legged animals; therefore, all dogs are cows, the middle term is the one that appears in each premise but not in the conclusion. Four-legged animals is the middle term that is not distributed, which means that because four-leggedness is in the predicate of both premises neither accounts for all four legged animals. That dogs and cows have four legs does not mean they are otherwise the same.
The fallacy is one of overgeneralization—assuming that because two things have one attribute in common, they are overall the same. Young children, until they learn better, make the dogs-and-cows mistake. Members of indigenous tribes (or other adults who are being careless) also make the mistake.
And schizophrenics have drawn conclusions like this: The Virgin Mary is a virgin; I am a virgin; therefore I am the Virgin Mary. The predicate term “virgin” is not distributed. Or, they have said: Switzerland loves freedom; I love freedom; therefore I am Switzerland.
Silvano Arieti (229-41), agreeing with von Domarus, called the logic of our subconscious primary process “paleologic” and the reasoning of our conscious secondary process “Aristotelian.” The former is paleo because it is old or archaic, predating our educated control of thoughts using Aristotle’s discoveries, especially his three laws of logic. Children have not yet learned the skill of competent reasoning and schizophrenics in their psychotic episodes are living “waking dreams,” having fled reality and being controlled entirely by their subconscious (“flight from the unsatisfying reality” in Freud’s words).
Arieti recognized that the errors of schizophrenics are errors of association and generalized them, in somewhat less technical terms than the fallacy of undistributed middle, as the identity of predicates. The schizophrenic, young child, and indigenous person assume that because the predicates in their thoughts are identical, their subjects must overall be the same.*
When we are fully conscious, our subconscious is still operating and can make seemingly random associations, but the associations are not totally random. For example, a friend at dinner complains that the food is not well cooked, so I might say, “By association, that reminds me of last week when I was served almost raw chicken,” the predicate being poorly cooked food. And we often experience similar kinds of associations.
What determines the selection of predicate, considering that there exists a nearly unlimited field of possible predicates? “Emotional factors,” says Arieti (236). These emotional factors are especially important in understanding schizophrenics, who frequently come up with enormously bizarre connections not unlike those made in dreams. In last month’s post I made passing reference to one’s “private meanings” in understanding the meaning of symbols in dreams. Neither Freud (that I have read so far) nor Arieti use these words, but private meaning is on the Freud Museum’s website. Knowing a person’s emotions and emotional generalizations helps explain seemingly arbitrary associations.**
What these associations of the subconscious mind are not are the associations—let me now call them connections—of concept formation, the secondary process of the reasoning mind.
We now are talking about two different kinds of association.
The conscious mind is able to both connect and keep separate two entities with the same characteristic. The dog has four legs and the cow has four legs, but a cow and a dog are not overall the same. When we form concepts we look for fundamental or essential similarities.
Ayn Rand (45-46) gives us the rule of fundamentality to enable us to dismiss four-leggedness as the most essential characteristic of dogs or opposable thumbs, for example, as the essential distinguishing characteristic of human beings. The rule also allows us to dismiss the fact that all humans are capable of building roads, which other animals cannot do, but “building roads” is not the essence of being human. The rule says that the essential distinguishing characteristic of a concept must cause and explain all or most of the other distinguishing characteristics. This gives us the fundamental characteristic(s) and only the capacity to reason meets the rule (and causes and explains the ability to build roads).
This process is the operation of Aristotelian logic at its best. The conscious secondary process gives us control, should we choose to exercise it, over the content and processes of our minds.
The paleologic of the subconscious mind cannot, and does not, follow the rule of fundamentality. It follows the rule of “identity of predicates.”
Having said this, we can to some extent still control our subconscious mind. If we focus and volitionally exercise our conscious Aristotelian logic over time, we can correct the errors of the subconscious.
We can also influence the subconscious in problem solving of the creative process. When working on a problem—say, writing an essay—we usually beforehand must do a certain amount of research and thinking about the issue, building up a substantial context for the problem. To sleep on it, a suggestion some of our teachers may have taught us, now allows our associational subconscious to go to work. Sometimes, not always, we may have a solution or part of a solution the next morning.
And, occasionally, when I’ve seen a particularly distressful movie, I have been able to tell my subconscious at bedtime, “I don’t want to dream about this,” and often it works.
The significance for Freud of primary process in its dream operations, and especially for purposes of psychotherapy, is that the process is essentially the same process operating in the formation of neurotic symptoms, namely condensation and displacement. What seem to be random associations are condensed and displaced emotions with the ideation, the ideas originally associated with the emotions, repressed. And, identity of predicates and overgeneralization are more specific operations in the formation of these symptoms, which will be discussed next month.
* A valid Aristotelian syllogism, for example, would be: all dogs are four-legged animals; Fido is a dog; therefore, Fido is a four-legged animal. “Dog” is the middle term and is distributed in the first, major premise, because it tells us all dogs are four-legged. Aristotelian logic focuses primarily on the classification of subjects, rejecting the identity of predicates. In this syllogism the subject Fido is a member of the category “dogs” and therefore has four-legs. Arieti (236) is mistaken when he writes, “In Aristotelian thinking only identical subjects are identified.” It is more complicated than that. In the above syllogism, the subject of the conclusion is identified as belonging to the predicate of the major premise.
** And by association, “private meanings” reminds me of Alfred Adler’s private logic “to indicate neurotic reasoning, [though his] followers, including [Rudolf] Dreikurs, broadened [the term] to cover thinking patterns of both normal and abnormal psychologies” (Independent Judgment, 65-66n26). Emotion is probably the guiding link in all associations that our conscious or subconscious minds make. (Cf. Freud on wish fulfillment in dreams as discussed in last month’s post.) Subconscious “emotional generalization” is what psychologist Edith Packer has called the effect of repeated, habitual emotional responses to similar persons, objects, or events, formed—by association—without explicit conceptual identification (1, chap. 3; 2).

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Dreams and the Subconscious*

Aristotle said dreams, as paraphrased by Sigmund Freud (The Interpretation of Dreams, 36-37), are “mental activity of the sleeper in so far as he is asleep.” They are not supernatural messages from the gods.
Freud’s study of dreams said they are harmless hallucinations when asleep, unconscious urges expressed as a wish or urges from our “day’s residues” (waking life) expressed as a wish, or some combination.
He did not say that dreams are all about sex, as some critics have alleged! (And symbolism, sexual or otherwise must be related to the dreamers private meanings.)
Let us elaborate.
By analyzing an enormous number of dreams of both normal people and people with psychological problems, Freud provided a valuable contribution to psychology, the identification of primary and secondary processes of consciousness and a better understanding of the unhealthy processes.
For dreams in particular, he gave detailed descriptions of their nature, including a terminology to use for analysis and a three-part classification of them.**
“Manifest content” is the actual events of the dream that we experience, weird and distorted as they may be. “Latent content” is the underlying dream thoughts that evoked the dream. And “dreamwork” is the mental process that transforms the latent into the manifest. The work of dream analysis is to trace this transformation and identify the meaning of the dream.
Manifest dreams, Freud thought, are considerably condensed, versus the actual events of a memory, and exhibit a great deal of displacement, that is, the shifting or substitution of minor elements from reality to major ones in the dream or vice versa, or some mixture. As often occurs a single dream can have several elements, including contraries or contradictions side by side one another.
The simplest and most fundamental dream is the child’s direct wish fulfillment. For example, a little girl who was ill during the day and forbidden to eat strawberries experienced an elaborate dream of eating “strawbewwies and omblet” during the night. And a little boy whose hike to a nearby mountain was cut short for lack of time dreamed of his conquering the mountain.
Of course, adults can experience direct wish fulfillments, such as having to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and dreaming of sitting beside a waterfall, or of being hungry and dreaming of a gourmet meal, or, yes, of dreaming about sex. But most of our dreams are distorted. Why?
In addition to the direct wish fulfillment, Freud classifies dreams as either anxiety dreams or punishment dreams. In my case, if I may cite a recurring dream, I retired from teaching in 2015, but find myself since dreaming about being late for class and/or unprepared, which never happened in thirty-six years of teaching. And in some versions, the building I am belatedly trying to get into to teach a class is the junior high school I attended in my hometown! (Anxiety dreams can be experienced as nightmares, though I have not experienced these dreams that way.).
The underlying dream thoughts: I do have an anxiety about being late to any appointment and prefer to arrive five to ten minutes before the appointed hour. How is this a wish? Freud would say that when asleep my subconscious brings up the repressed anxiety and emotions of embarrassment and humiliation about being late, then distorts the wish of being on time, turning my latent dream thought into a distorted manifest dream, perhaps as a caution to be extra careful about appointments.
And the junior high school building? I think there is an element of direct wish fulfillment here, as I do have a fondness for the building. Both of my older brothers attended it when it was a senior high school and I attended many an enjoyable performance in the school’s auditorium, plus basketball games in the gymnasium and high school football games in the nearby stadium. But no, I never had a desire to teach in that building. One might say, “all school buildings look alike,” hence the displacement.
Punishment dreams often dredge up unpleasant events from the past that the dreamer experienced as embarrassing or humiliating, sometimes resulting in a sense of guilt. A well-known author in his younger years was a tailor, which he preferred not to think about, but repeatedly dreamed about those years. Similarly, Freud admits that he was not particularly competent when working as a young man at the Chemical Institute, yet in his successful older years continually dreamed about those humiliating days. How is this wish fulfillment?
Punishment dreams, says Freud, are not wishes of subconscious drives or memories, but of “a special critical and prohibiting agency” in the mind, the above-I, Über-ich in Freud’s German (New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, 34).*** Punishment dreams are a wish of punishment for the sense of guilt from earlier days.
At this point, Freud discusses the issue of traumatic dreams, especially those of war trauma or, in modern terms, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Trauma is experienced as the emotion of fright, which is terror deriving from an unpreparedness for and surprise at the severity of the threatening event. Freud concedes that it is difficult to call these dreams wish fulfillments and suggests that the dreamwork fails to transform the memories into a wish fulfillment.
Let me object, though, and suggest that, as Freud acknowledges, all psychological processes are continuums from normal to abnormal, thus the punishment and traumatic dreams may be variations on the anxiety dreams. We all differ in how we react to negative events in our lives, depending on the level of self-esteem we each have, other inner resources, and the severity of the trauma. And there are war veterans who do not suffer PTSD.
Sleepers who have traumatic dreams are often awakened feeling acute anxiety, because the dreams just as often are exact replicas of the traumatic event. The dream and anxiety indicate the amount of fright experienced during the initial event, along with the lack of preparedness for such a terror. Afterwards, an emotion of guilt that says, “why me?” can easily arise—that is, a guilt for having survived the terror when one’s comrades did not. Punishment dreams? Sounds like it.
Freud’s work on dreams, answering the critics in his time who regarded dreams as meaningless, considerably elaborated Aristotle’s identification of dreams as mental activity while asleep.
His work led him to make an important distinction between the actions of our subconscious mind and the conscious level of reason. He called the former “primary process,” because it arose in the evolutionary process before our human conscious mind, which he called “secondary process.” The higher animals exhibit a primary-process consciousness, and a modicum of choice, though not a true, self-aware volitional consciousness.
Primary process seems random, meaning no predictable pattern, but as Freud demonstrated dreams are not random. He recognized that the source of psychological problems, both neurotic and psychotic, this last called by many thinkers “waking dreams” (Interpretation, 115), can be found in our subconscious primary-process minds.
Which is why Freud wrote many times that the goal of psychotherapy is to “make the unconscious conscious.”
Later psychiatrists, Eilhard von Domarus and Silvano Arieti, based on their study of schizophrenics, offered additional explanations how our subconscious mental processes do have a logic to them, albeit a lesser logic than what our conscious minds are capable of generating.
(To be continued next month)
* See the appendix to Independent Judgment and Introspection, 177-80, for my reasons for considering the prefix “sub-” more correct than Freud’s “un-” when talking about consciousness.
** In addition to The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), Freud discussed dreams in the shorter book On Dreams (1901) and in chapters or segments of later works: Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (part II, 1915-17), New Introductory Lectures (lecture xxx, 1933), and in the highly concise but incomplete posthumous publication An Outline of Psychoanalysis (chap. v, written in 1938, published in 1940).
*** Freud wrote Über-ich, the above- or over- I. Latinized English translations make Freud “both more prolix and more genteel than he really was,” giving us such neologisms as superego. “Prolix and genteel” are the words of Freud biographer Peter Gay (quoted in Kaufmann, 23). They mean diffuse and verbose (prolix) and gentrified, scholarly, academic (genteel). More on the English translations in a later post.

Sunday, July 02, 2023

Mises and Epistemology (part three of a three-part series)
(Go to part one)(part two)

The human sciences aim to explain the causes of human motivation and behavior, healthy and effective, as well as harmful, and to guide humans in their choices and action to achieve chosen goals. This includes all applied human sciences whose aims are to get things done and done well. Economics is not just a highly deductive science, but also highly applied in that its aim is to define the principles of cooperation under a division of labor that will secure peace and prosperity in a social setting.*
Let us now continue with a few additional epistemological issues in Mises’ writing.
4. The specific understanding. The two fundamental methods of cognition, according to Mises and the Kantian philosophers, are conception and understanding. Concepts, we have seen from part one of this series, according to Kant, are limited to the phenomenal world, which means we cannot know concretes. This poses a problem in particular for historians, since their work is to explain concrete human events of the past. The solution in German philosophy is the specific understanding (Human Action, 49-50). Mises writes:

It is the method which all historians and all other people always apply in commenting upon human events of the past and in forecasting future events….The scope of understanding is the mental grasp of phenomena which cannot be totally elucidated by logic, mathematics, praxeology, and the natural sciences.
The philosopher Bergson, according to Mises, called this cognitive power “intuition,” which sounds antithetical to reason and mystical. And it is, because for Kant concepts and reason, which he had to limit to make room for faith, cannot know true reality.
But a correct theory of concepts proves we can know reality. This cognitive power is not properly described as a “specific understanding,” but as the application of previously formed universal concepts, a deductive process. Since our concepts refer to all concretes of a particular type, we live our daily lives applying our previously learned knowledge to identify correctly the specifics we confront. Thus, Sherlock Holmes deduced that Watson just came back from Afghanistan, based on Watson’s tan and signs of having been wounded. And our medical doctor deduces that our cough and runny nose are instances—symptoms—of a cold.
Application (1, 2) is the mental process of identifying a this (concrete) as an instance of a that (concept). It is what historians do and what we all do every day.
5. Regularity in human action, but no constants. Mises (Human Action, 1) is correct to state that there is “a regularity in the sequence and interdependence of market phenomena,” but no “constant relations” (56), or standard unit that can be used to make quantitatively exact measurements of human behavior. Which means no algebraic equations can be identified or used as in physics and chemistry.
Human behavior is not deterministic because of free will, which Mises does not explicitly endorse, though he does say that human action is teleological, which is another instance of his Aristotelianism. But because of the observed regularity that is present in human nature, principles and laws of economics, such as the laws of marginal utility and supply and demand, can be formulated and used to interpret current and past economic events and to make predictions, albeit not mathematically precise predictions. This is Mises’ rejection of the positivist demands for a mathematical economics.** (See In Defense of Advertising, 127-30.)
Indeed, the inability to formulate mathematically precise propositions and equations is true of all human sciences, basic and applied, not to mention of all the branches of philosophy. Positivism has corrupted our understanding of science, the actual essence of which is conceptualization, which means measurement omission even in the formulation of the equations of physical science. (See In Defense of Advertising, 153-58; Independent Judgment and Introspection, 72-81.) Most measurements, especially statistics, produce historical data, not universal knowledge of cause-effect relationships.
6. Subjective value. I touched on this subject in a previous post based on what I call Ayn Rand’s general theory of value, but more needs to be said.
Mises (Human Action, 96) is mostly correct when he states, “Value is not intrinsic, it is not in things. It is within us; it is the way in which man reacts to the conditions of his environment.” Values, and all concepts are within us. Essences and values are not “out there” in the thing. They are not metaphysical. We, using the tools, or mental processes of our consciousness, create, construct, or form concepts, including the concept of what is valuable. But values are objective in the epistemological sense—if the identification of what is valuable contributes to the flourishing of human life.
Yes, there is a distinction between object and subject, meaning objects are “out there” and whatever goes on in our minds is subjective, but that is a different usage. Customer value judgments are subjective because their judgments come from inside their heads, but they may or may not be epistemologically objective (correctly identified as beneficial for or harmful to them).
Mises—and the positivists—talk about the necessity of all sciences being “value-free,” which means “shoulds” and “oughts” do not belong in science. This derives from Kant who faced a dilemma between ethical values that come from the nature of the mind (not the requirements of human life) and free will that comes from the noumenal world, but is unknowable. Positivists “resolved” the dilemma by explicitly making all values subjective.
Economics for the most part is a practical science, establishing principles of how to increase wealth for everyone. One can say that price controls are both immoral and impractical—immoral because of the harm to human life caused by injecting force into voluntary trading and the consequent shortages that result, thus introducing values into the discussion, and impractical because wealth for everyone is decreased, not increased. It is only increased, if in fact it is, for certain privileged groups.
Yes, there are those today who say that all issues are moral and political, proclaiming “consumers should or ought not to buy that product” or “that bridge should not be built in that location.” In a free society where individual rights, especially property rights, are respected, such shoulds and oughts would be minimal. Applied sciences assume that actions to be taken are moral and legal, then provide guidance to the achievement of particular goals. The actions are assumed to be moral and legal because the aim of applied science, all sciences actually, is to improve life.
Two final quotations from Mises about values: “By means of its subjectivism, the modern theory becomes objective science” (Epistemological Problems of Economics, 192). And: “it is in this subjectivism that the objectivity of our science lies” (Human Action, 21).
Mises is stating that the theory of marginal utility answered the water-diamond paradox of the classical economists who had assumed values are “out there” intrinsic to reality. If “subjective” is understood as explained above and can be viewed as epistemologically objective, then Mises is correct.
I prefer to call our values, market values in particular, “psychological,” which makes them epistemological, not metaphysical. Restating Mises’ second quotation, I would say, “it is in this recognition that values are psychological, not intrinsic or metaphysical, that the validation of economics lies.” (See In Defense of Advertising, 175-78.)***
In the first paragraph of the Preface to the Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science, Mises writes, “This essay is not a contribution to philosophy. It is merely the exposition of certain ideas that attempts to deal with the theory of knowledge ought to take into full account.” Mises in dealing with these issues is taking steps toward a post-Kantian Aristotelian foundation of economics. Those who would advance economics further can build on his work.
The present three-part series has been my attempt to deal with some of the issues, based on Ayn Rand’s epistemology. It is also my encouragement to students of Ayn Rand to take the work of Mises as both profound and serious. There is much to be learned from him.
* All sciences, basic and applied, use induction and deduction throughout (cf. Aristotle, Posterior Analytics, in McKeon). The applied sciences—medicine, engineering, psychotherapy, and the business disciplines, among others—are predominantly deductive, drawing their basic principles from the more fundamental sciences.
** In technical terms, the physical sciences measure the world using interval and ratio scales, the former using equal intervals from one number to the next (1 to 2 is equal to 4 to 5) and the latter requiring equal intervals and a true zero point to produce valid ratios (for example, Kelvin temperature, but not Fahrenheit or Celsius, which are scaled at the interval level). In the human sciences, measurement is teleological using ordinal numbers and ordinal scales (A is better than or preferred to B and B to C). Relationships of means to ends are graded or ranked because we do not have a unit that serves as a standard of measure in the way interval and ratio scales do. The intensity of preference in the intervals of two people preferring A to B may or may not be equal; we do not know. See Stevens and cf. Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 32-34, 223-25.
*** Ayn Rand in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (16-17) distinguishes between market value, or price, as socially objective value, “the sum of the individual judgments of all the men involved in trade at a given time” and philosophically objective value, “as value estimated from the standpoint of the best possible to man.” Understanding this last means philosophically objective values are not much involved in economics, as no such value should or ought to be mandated by law, or priced a certain way.

Read part one, part two.

Thursday, June 08, 2023

Mises and Kant (part two of a three-part series)
(Go to part one)(part three)

Aristotle’s categories, detailed in his work called The Categories, are fundamental concepts of reality, such as entity, quality, action, etc.
Immanuel Kant, using some of those terms, describes categories as fundamental, innate concepts that prevent us from knowing true, noumenal reality. We can only know appearances, says Kant, called the phenomenal world. This creates the impossibility of perceiving “things-in-themselves,” which means concept formation is limited and cannot know concretes (Rickert 1; 2, chap. 5).
This is what makes reason impotent to know reality and in essence is Kant’s disastrous influence on later philosophy. It has confounded nearly all who have followed him, including economists such as Ludwig von Mises.
But let us go back to birth—of an infant. Perception, which is to say, knowledge of concretes, begins at birth. The infant cries when hungry and cries when having to eliminate. We know this because infants, after a short time out of the womb, will give us a cute smile when sated and when vacated. This is one of our (the infant’s) first perceptions of concretes.
Awareness of the concretes of reality is not, or rather should not be, a philosophical problem. We live and act in the world of concretes, which in fact are the so-called things in themselves. A theory of concept formation that incorporates concretes is what has been needed for hundreds of years. Ayn Rand, I submit, has provided this solution and the answer to the philosophical problem of universals (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology).
A child at around one or two, after learning some elementary words, begins to form and apply universal concepts, such as “ball,” “dog,” and “table.”
In briefest essence, the child, according to Rand’s theory of concept formation, observes differences and similarities in the world and focuses on the similarities of what we eventually call a ball, dog, or table. Similarities of, say, tables are abstracted from the concretes by omitting their measurable differences, then by integrating the similarities into a new mental entity called a concept. The mind is “so constituted as to be capable of this process,” to borrow a few words from Aristotle (Posterior Analytics, 100a13), which means the child does not have to think about that particular process for it to happen.
The concept, using Rand’s metaphor, is like a file folder that includes all concrete, specific tables past, present, or future, observed or not. The (mental) omission of measurements gives us the essential distinguishing characteristic and the nature of the concept as universal. A word labels it and its definition summarizes its meaning, tying it to the general category from which it was differentiated, and to all of those observed and unobserved concretes, its referents “out there” in reality.
This is the inductive process of concept formation. Application is the deductive process of recognizing an object initially unfamiliar to us and identifying it as an instance, a concrete, of the concept table.
Now let us see what we can say about some of Mises’ confusions caused by German, especially Kantian, philosophy.
1. A priori categories and the logical structure of the human mind (Human Action, chap. 1 & 2). If by “logical structure of the human mind,” Mises means that consciousness has an active nature, or identity, then he is correct, but Mises says that such categories as causality and human action are innate, prior to experience like, allegedly, mathematics and logic. Therefore, deduction is the fundamental method of praxeology (human science).
The a priori/a posteriori distinction, however, is a false dichotomy. All cognition is cognition of reality. If our concepts are true—correctly recognizing or identifying reality—then the most abstract concepts, such as the law of non-contradiction, integral calculus, causality, human action, and the law of supply and demand, are all derived from reality and therefore are empirical. The chain of abstractions required to arrive at these concepts may be extensive, but if true, will be anchored in the perceptual world. In the same way that “human-made object” is anchored in the perceptual world, derived initially from “tables,” “chairs,” and “beds,” and connected to the abstraction from abstraction “furniture,” and still further connected to the broader abstraction of the human made, all the different categories and subcategories of objects that humans create. This last notion of a broader concept becomes a big file folder holding all human-made objects.
Mises does not seem to have a notion of abstractions from abstractions, only directly perceivable concretes (an apparent influence from positivism) and the innate categories from which all of economics is supposedly deduced. Indeed, economics is a highly deductive science of application, but its basic concepts and laws are empirically and inductively derived from experience. The concept of human action is not a self-evident axiom, as Mises asserts. Action is an attribute of all living organisms, human action of human beings.
2. More on the logical structure of the human mind (Human Action, 35).
Mises writes, “The human mind is not a tabula rasa on which the external events write their own history.” True. Reality does not write on our minds. We actively identify it.
“[The mind] is equipped with a set of tools for grasping reality.” True. We have tools, such as perception, conceptualization, evaluation, etc. They are mental processes that we have the innate capacity or potential to perform. And they constitute the nature or identity of consciousness. But they are not content. Tabula rasa means there is no content in our minds at birth.
“Man acquired these tools, i.e., the logical structure of his mind, in the course of his evolution from an amoeba to his present state.” True. “But these tools” Mises continues, “are logically prior to any experience.” They are built-in from birth, yes, and we use them, as mental tools, to identify, not passively receive, reality and to guide our choices and actions.*
3. Does Mises believe we can know reality? Yes, and this, along with his methodological individualism and emphasis on the nature of things (money, capitalism), makes him Aristotelian, or as Hülsmann (liii) says, “a representative of Aristotelian realism.” In his last book on epistemological issues, Mises writes, “From the praxeological point of view it is not possible to question the real existence of matter, of physical objects and of the external world” (Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science, 6).
In Human Action (36), though, he is more equivocal: “It is idle to ask whether things-in-themselves are different from what they appear to us, and whether there are worlds which we cannot divine and ideas which we cannot comprehend. These are problems beyond the scope of human cognition.”**
To clarify, nothing is unknowable—with emphasis on the -able—to the human mind. We do not live in a phenomenal world, unable to know the noumenal. We live in reality. And the appearance of a bent stick in water is a correct perception of what looks like, or rather appears to be, a bent stick, though with the use of our sense of touch and our knowledge of the causal effects of light in water, we know that the thing-in-itself stick is not bent. (See the form-object distinction in Rand, 279-82.)
To be continued next month. At this point, let me emphasize that my comments about Mises are not meant to be serious criticisms of his work. His accomplishments are vast and exemplary, even his partially mistaken epistemology, and especially considering his professional life where he was not offered a professorship in either Vienna or New York. In spite of this he taught and wrote tirelessly as a decades-long lone voice for laissez-faire capitalism. He needs to be read.
* Ayn Rand rejects the correspondence theory of truth and the misleading notion of “grasping” reality, a relic of naïve realism (though she does use the word in a metaphorical sense). Hers is an identification theory of truth. Our minds must actively focus on reality and form those concepts to identify correctly what is “out there.” The “out there” is what Rand would say is metaphysical, whereas the “in here,” the mental processing of our consciousness, is epistemological. The empirically derived and recognized principles of the applied science of logic, and especially the law of non-contradiction, are the tools by which we judge whether or not our mental content has correctly identified reality or contradicted it.
** This quotation apparently is Mises’ way of dismissing as unimportant Kant’s dilemma of appearance versus reality and of asserting his emphasis on analyzing the world in which we live—the Aristotelian world. A few pages later (Human Action, 39), he writes, “Praxeology conveys exact and precise knowledge of real things,” and in Ultimate Foundation, 18, he says, “We see reality, not as it ‘is’ and may appear to a perfect being, but only as the quality of our mind and of our senses enables us to see it,” which I would take to mean reality with no Kantian distortions.

Read part one, part three.