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Burying Freud

[ Burying Freud Homepage | Freud's Seduction Theory Homepage ]

Tallis on Freud

A brief and clear essay. Right in many details, mistaken overall. I may have more to say if I read Webster. In what follows, you may get the impression that I defend psychoanalysis only by attacking the competition. Let me concede, then, at the outset that two wrongs don t make a right. But let me invite you to reflect as well on the possibility that that if psychoanalysis and its competition are faulty, then this may say something about the complexity of Homo sapiens. You mention:

And yet his reputation is deeply mysterious. ... Medawar (ref 3) expressed similar sentiments: "Opinion is gaining ground that doctrinaire psychoanalytic theory is the most stupendous intellectual confidence trick of the twentieth century: and a terminal product as well- something akin to a dinosaur or a zeppelin in the history of ideas, a vast structure of radically unsound design and with no posterity."

First, Medawar. Medawar is a Popperian philosophically and methodologically; he is also an immunologist. The later Popper was primarily concerned with things biological and psychobiological, and so they make a good fit. Popper critiqued psychoanalysis very effectively early on, and Medawar went to town with this critique. It is interesting how Medawar focusses on Popper's critique of psychoanalysis, and neglects his even more devastating critiques of associationism, behaviourism and the conditioned reflex. This taking out of context is Medawar at his most peculiar.

Popper in his later years was radically Darwinian in his psychobiology. This Darwinian advance has been continued in the work of Nobel laureat Gerald Edelman (Neural Darwininsm, the Theory of Neuronal Group Selection, etc.), who, like Medawar, is an immunologist (among other things). In the light of Popper's philosophy and Edelman's psychobiology, it is not only Freud who has suffered a negative verdict. In philosophy, inductivism and positivism are refuted. In psychology, associationism, behaviourism, learning theory, cognitivism and all theories that conceive of the brain as involved in information processing are also refuted by a Popper-Edelman critique. All these theories suffer from logical contradiction. The contradiction allows for all of them to engage in question begging -- the logical counterpart of what you think is wrong with psychoanalysis: that the conclusion is suggested at the outset, so that whatever comes up is taken as confirmatory. The question begging also involves circularity, whereby the theory created the facts that supported the theory, as you later say about psychoanalysis. What is so fascinating to me is why so much is made of the psychoanalytic negation, while the refutation of these other equally pseudoscientific ideologies gets no press at all.

Then there is Grunbaum. You ought to be cautious about using words such as "quack". The presence of contradiction in a theory guarantees that the theory is, at some level, nonsense. Much of Freud's nonsense was derivative nonsense: borrowed from 19th century inductivism and scientism. We can rightly criticize him for it. But the nonsense continues even today, in theorists who ought to know better. Grunbaum, for example, is a paragon of 19th century inductivist nonsense. If Popper were still alive, and cared, he could make short shrift of him. Medawar, though peculiar, gets his Popper right, while Grunbaum always misses the point. So I find it simply silly, even comically anachronistic, to see critics of Freud quoting Grunbaum as some advance over the Popperian critique of Freud. The Popperian critique is far more devastating of a Grunbaum than of a Freud. Your essay suffers from this incoherence.

The scientistic ideology is every bit as self-immunizing of criticism as the psychoanalytic one. Psychoanalytic self-immunization needs to be expunged, of course. Popper did much of this decades ago. You say his critique has not perturbed true believers in the psychoanalytic camp. Nor, remarkably, has it perturbed true believers in the other psychological camps. It is not only Freud's theories that have an inbuilt survival kit, even though the scientistic ideologues might employ different defenses against contradiction. Scientistic psychologists, refuted by Popper, seize on his critique of psychoanalysis and trumpet out the very sins in psychoanalysis that render their own psychologies contradictory. In this context, I would invite you to contemplate the psychoanalytic concepts of projection, splitting and acting out.

So, perhaps like Robinson, I smile at the idea of someone disposing of Freud "once and for all" and achieving "a definitive critique", like having some satisfying bowel movement. How many critics need to make their definitive critiques? Doesn't Grunbaum think he has already done this? Even though he seems to need to do it over and over? and even though he had to work very hard to argue that Popper hadn't done it already so that he could go ahead and do it himself. So then then I wonder what Webster's strategy will prove to be.

The idea of a work of "synthesis", which aims to impress by "bringing together the immense recent research" is an idea which itself betrays a mistaken inductivist prejudice. In any case, I always enjoy the interpretation or deconstruction of legends. Understanding the personal origin of a given hypothesis is a central psychoanalytic concern. But the idea that scientific hypotheses are the product of a method that delivers "generalisable" conclusions is inductivist nonsense. Just check with Medawar, who gets it right.

The example of the Oedipus complex is a good one. The origins of the hypothesis are psychologically interesting. As Popper has convincingly argued, the origins of any hypothesis are also irrelevant to its truth. Let's assume that Freud arrived at the Oedipus hypothesis while reflecting on the memory of his naked mother in a train. This is interesting, and also candid. It might also be very interesting to find out that Newton was obsessional and vindictive, and so hypothesized that to every action there would be an equal and opposite reaction. If this were so, would it have any bearing on the status of his hypothesis? Not at all. Would it be more scientific to argue that his hypothesis was "postulated on the basis of data acquired" from his dispassionate observations of nature? Not at all. In fact, the latter would be inductivist nonsense. Logically, data cannot function as the basis of hypotheses. The error is called "the fallacy of affirming the consequent".

Is it odd that Freud overgeneralised? No, overgeneralisation is a characteristic of human thought. It is not something we do on purpose. Are you right in arguing that Freud and his followers engaged in confirmatory bias. Yes! Is Esterson right in showing how Freud muddled his own conjectures of what was going on with his patients' accounts of what they later remembered? Yes, this kind of confirmatory bias happens all the time. Lakatos, another Popperian, borrowed Popper's idea of a "metaphysical research program" to talk of a "scientific research program" which functions to protect its inner core, while allowing for innovation in the periphery. This is the case with science in general, not just with psychoanalysis. Lakatos gets it right, to a point, thought he himself engages in a bit of scientific face-saving by changing Popper's unsettling "metaphysical" to the more sanctimonious "scientific".

Was Freud brutally inquisitorial with uncooperative analysands? Yes, by today's standards he certainly was. Was this more like rape of the mind than history taking? Yes, on occasion it was. Did it lead to catastrophic diagnostic errors? Yes. Does this go on today? Yes. Only by psychoanalysts? Not at all. I see it going on quite routinely today by nonanalyst psychiatrists who invoke DSM-IV to label patients as this or that, despite the fact that the patients concerned do not fulfil the diagnostic criteria. When I point this out, they invoke "clinical experience". It happens most often when the psychiatrist doesn't like the patient.

Do you believe that Freud built up a theoretical edifice on the basis of a minute corpus of empirical data? Do you believe that theories can in principle be built on the basis of data? Then you are guilty of the central inductivist error that Popper and Medawar highlight. Your own affiliation with an old-fashioned quasi-scientific methodology become of interest. But I do agree that Fliess's ideas did betray "lunatic numerological notions and mystical fantasies". But again, beware of words such as "lunatic". Lunacy or delusion is not employed when the lunacy is shared with a significant cultural group. Fliess and Freud did not suffer from a folie-a-deux, but from a folie-a-plusieurs, just as you do in your covert inductivism. Like pseudoscientific psychoanalysis, you cover this error with the rhetoric of science. Do the "keepers of the flame policing the archives", as you aptly name them, suppress the Fleissian roots of some of Freud's thought? Yes, indeed. When keepers of other pseudoscientific flames suppress embarrassments, does this make the press? No. Again, curious about that!

Was Freud a selfless searcher after truth, a man of granite-like integrity, utterly incapable of fraud or even self-deception? Or was he a master narrator and builder of myths, desperate for academic glory, ruthlessly ambitious, brutally insensitive, unscrupulous, unrepentant, a supreme manipulator of friends and colleagues in his endless quest for self-promotion? An impressive example of splitting! Melanie Klein would be proud of you! If Freud is right about members of Homo sapiens, then he could not possibly have been utterly incapable of fraud or self-deception. As for the rest, it is a question of degree. By the way, you commit the inductivist error again in your invocation of a portrait "firmly rooted in documentary evidence". Is Ernest Jones obsequious? Absolutely!

First it was "quack", then "lunatic", and now "crank". Again, beware of the pot calling the kettle black. Freud was not incapable of self-deception, and neither are you or I. I wish I wrote as well as he did, and perhaps you do too. I like one bit of your prose: "difficult, technical, tough minded, and counterintuitive. "Counterintuitive" is especially important. I recommend that you reread Popper and Medawar. Not on psychoanalysis, but on "real science. You may find it quite counter to your own intuition.

Was Freud both liberating of prudishness, and prudish at the same time? Yes! What would he call this? A compromise formation. Has psychoanalysis to some extent become a secular religion? Yes! Often tiresomely and oppressively so. The movement he founded -- it is remarkable how Janet founded no movement, and his ideas died; and how Jung and Adler were less adept at movement-founding, and their ideas have gained less currency than Freud's. It is important not to equate movement-success with doctrine-truth. It is also important to notice when mistaken doctrines engender covert movements rather than transparent ones, as we have seen with behaviourism and cognitivism.

Then you get on to the fascinating question of the purported "hundreds of thousands of disciples who may not be psychoanalysts but who have derived from his theories a belief in the central importance of certain kinds of repressed memories and in the therapist's privileged access to them. In the previous decade, Freud was trashed for having trashed the "seduction hypothesis, and those doing the most active trashing were the "hundreds of thousands of disciples who may not be psychoanalysts but who have derived from his theories a belief in the central importance of certain kinds of repressed memories and in the therapist's privileged access to them. And now in this decade he is trashed for having come up with the "seduction hypothesis" in the first place. What's a man to do? By the way, "hundreds of thousands" is a bit exaggerated, by about 2 orders of magnitude. Membership in the International Society for the Study of Dissociation peaked 2 years ago at 3000. It has since dropped to about 2600. And Freud didn't come up with the idea all by himself, you know. Remember, you are trying to argue that he wasn't such an original thinker as he liked to make out. The connection of trauma to dissociation or repression was current in 19th century French psychiatry.

You cite Crews as an authority estimating that 1,000,000 families have been affected by therapist-inspired charges of sexual molestation, supposedly uncovered by the awakening of repressed memories. How would Crews test his hypothesis that the "million" cases were therapist-inspired rather than real? You like to play the polarity of orthodox-oedipal-fantasy-interpreting-analyst versus recovered-memory-therapist, and Freudians can only be at either extreme. They can't be somewhere inbetween. Again, Melanie Klein would be proud of you! Don't you see how self-serving and pseudoscientific it is to use statistics generated by a legal defense lobby, the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, which coined both "recovered memory therapy" and "False Memory Syndrome", to pass blanket judgment on what certain clinicians are doing in the field?

Your invocation of "the testimony of ordinary people" is a sop to commonsense intuition. But remember: you have claimed that scientific thought is counterintutitive. You cannot have your cake and eat it too. What are your criteria for "ordinariness".

Your discussion of repression has two moments of preaching to the converted.

First of all you say that the unconscious is supposed to be composed of psychic elements that have been actively repressed rather than simply not yet brought into full consciousness. This was Freud's rationale for the topographical system: dividing the descriptive unconscious into the Preconscious and the dynamic Unconscious. So I think you are mistaken when you claim that 'Freudians' confuse "things of which we are conscious but are not yet conscious of reflectively" i.e. the Preconscious, with the Unconscious.

Your second moment of preaching to the converted is in the context of: the theory of repression is both unnecessary and incoherent. ... As Sartre (ref 18) pointed out, the unconscious has to know what it is that has to be repressed in order (actively) to repress it; it has also to know that it is shameful material appropriate for repression. If, however, it knows both these things, it is difficult to understand how it can avoid being conscious of it. Sartre's argument is Freud's very argument for moving from his topography (Ucs, Pcs, Cs) to his systemic (id, ego, superego) metapsychology. In the latter, the ego is both conscious and unconscious, and the ego's defense mechanisms, such as repression, become part of the Unconscious. Sartre's argument only holds if you equate the mental with the conscious. This kind of verbal game is typical of French rationalism at its most smug, and of British commonsense empiricism at its most colloquial. Uncommon bedfellows. The point you (and Sartre) miss is very simple. There are things that patients remember with a little attention, or with a reminder, or whatever. And there are things that patients remember only after a great deal of work. Sometimes they don't remember at first, but play it out with the therapist in the therapeutic relationship. This is called acting out in the transference. There are things that are forgotten because of absense of motivation to remember, and things that are forgotten because of motivation to forget. Sartre's argument holds only if you suppose that motives are necessarily conscious. If you don't want to call the very hard kind of remembering the remembering of what is *repressed*, then perhaps you would be so kind as to come up with a word which you would prefer. Unless, of course, you don t think that this sort of thing happens in therapy, or, that if it does, that we shouldn t talk about it.

Webster's story-telling, I refer to stories above (deconstruction of legends, origins of hypotheses, group lunacies, ideologies or secular religions, histories of movements, etc.). Stories are interesting. Movements are political. All sorts of things happen. Let's keep it in context. Read Stephen Hawking on Issac Newton. The man was a petty bully. The status of a theory is not derivative of the vicissitudes of its birth. Let us indeed explore the biological, gnostic, Manichean, puritanical sources of Freud's thought. Let us also explore how these have evolved since. Let us also explore the Aristotelian metaphysical sources of inductivism, associationism, positivism, cognitivism, and information-processing models of the mind. As Popper reminds us, scientific hyhpotheses originate in myths. This is true of psychoanalysis. It is also true of its competitors. It is certainly true of your own covert inductivism. Read Aristotle's De Anima for its source.

You return to the question of sexuality. You claim that Freud separated "clean mind from dirty body, lifting Man out of Nature by favouring abstraction over incarnation." Again, and again, is this vintage Webster? Or is it Webster recanting vintage Freud on obsessive-compulsive defenses to sexual anxiety? And turning it back on Freud to tell him to practice what he preaches? I'm all for the latter.

Webster goes on to Darwin as an alternative. I invoked Edelman earlier. Why does this Nobel-prize-winning neuroscientist not trash Freud? Why does he quote him heuristically? I would be interested in hearing if you think Edelman's theories help better account for the distinctive features of humankind that you believe a Darwinian account is able to do, and where Edelman also falls short.

What do you mean when you say that Freud's theories have always been there? Do you mean from the time of your birth, since you "first came to reflective consciousness"? I wonder (it would seem that a number of them have not been there for you). Vulgarizations convey a bit, and distort a great deal.

You say Webster's book is liberating. Bravo! If so, it ought to make better psychoanalysts out of those who read it. If I do, I'll let you know if it does or not.

Best wishes.

John A. O'Neil, MD, FRCPC
Department of Psychiatry, McGill University;
Psychoanalyst, Canadian Psychoanalytic Society.

 


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Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM

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Burying Freud

[ Burying Freud Homepage | Freud's Seduction Theory Homepage ]

Tallis on Freud

A brief and clear essay. Right in many details, mistaken overall. I may have more to say if I read Webster. In what follows, you may get the impression that I defend psychoanalysis only by attacking the competition. Let me concede, then, at the outset that two wrongs don t make a right. But let me invite you to reflect as well on the possibility that that if psychoanalysis and its competition are faulty, then this may say something about the complexity of Homo sapiens. You mention:

And yet his reputation is deeply mysterious. ... Medawar (ref 3) expressed similar sentiments: "Opinion is gaining ground that doctrinaire psychoanalytic theory is the most stupendous intellectual confidence trick of the twentieth century: and a terminal product as well- something akin to a dinosaur or a zeppelin in the history of ideas, a vast structure of radically unsound design and with no posterity."

First, Medawar. Medawar is a Popperian philosophically and methodologically; he is also an immunologist. The later Popper was primarily concerned with things biological and psychobiological, and so they make a good fit. Popper critiqued psychoanalysis very effectively early on, and Medawar went to town with this critique. It is interesting how Medawar focusses on Popper's critique of psychoanalysis, and neglects his even more devastating critiques of associationism, behaviourism and the conditioned reflex. This taking out of context is Medawar at his most peculiar.

Popper in his later years was radically Darwinian in his psychobiology. This Darwinian advance has been continued in the work of Nobel laureat Gerald Edelman (Neural Darwininsm, the Theory of Neuronal Group Selection, etc.), who, like Medawar, is an immunologist (among other things). In the light of Popper's philosophy and Edelman's psychobiology, it is not only Freud who has suffered a negative verdict. In philosophy, inductivism and positivism are refuted. In psychology, associationism, behaviourism, learning theory, cognitivism and all theories that conceive of the brain as involved in information processing are also refuted by a Popper-Edelman critique. All these theories suffer from logical contradiction. The contradiction allows for all of them to engage in question begging -- the logical counterpart of what you think is wrong with psychoanalysis: that the conclusion is suggested at the outset, so that whatever comes up is taken as confirmatory. The question begging also involves circularity, whereby the theory created the facts that supported the theory, as you later say about psychoanalysis. What is so fascinating to me is why so much is made of the psychoanalytic negation, while the refutation of these other equally pseudoscientific ideologies gets no press at all.

Then there is Grunbaum. You ought to be cautious about using words such as "quack". The presence of contradiction in a theory guarantees that the theory is, at some level, nonsense. Much of Freud's nonsense was derivative nonsense: borrowed from 19th century inductivism and scientism. We can rightly criticize him for it. But the nonsense continues even today, in theorists who ought to know better. Grunbaum, for example, is a paragon of 19th century inductivist nonsense. If Popper were still alive, and cared, he could make short shrift of him. Medawar, though peculiar, gets his Popper right, while Grunbaum always misses the point. So I find it simply silly, even comically anachronistic, to see critics of Freud quoting Grunbaum as some advance over the Popperian critique of Freud. The Popperian critique is far more devastating of a Grunbaum than of a Freud. Your essay suffers from this incoherence.

The scientistic ideology is every bit as self-immunizing of criticism as the psychoanalytic one. Psychoanalytic self-immunization needs to be expunged, of course. Popper did much of this decades ago. You say his critique has not perturbed true believers in the psychoanalytic camp. Nor, remarkably, has it perturbed true believers in the other psychological camps. It is not only Freud's theories that have an inbuilt survival kit, even though the scientistic ideologues might employ different defenses against contradiction. Scientistic psychologists, refuted by Popper, seize on his critique of psychoanalysis and trumpet out the very sins in psychoanalysis that render their own psychologies contradictory. In this context, I would invite you to contemplate the psychoanalytic concepts of projection, splitting and acting out.

So, perhaps like Robinson, I smile at the idea of someone disposing of Freud "once and for all" and achieving "a definitive critique", like having some satisfying bowel movement. How many critics need to make their definitive critiques? Doesn't Grunbaum think he has already done this? Even though he seems to need to do it over and over? and even though he had to work very hard to argue that Popper hadn't done it already so that he could go ahead and do it himself. So then then I wonder what Webster's strategy will prove to be.

The idea of a work of "synthesis", which aims to impress by "bringing together the immense recent research" is an idea which itself betrays a mistaken inductivist prejudice. In any case, I always enjoy the interpretation or deconstruction of legends. Understanding the personal origin of a given hypothesis is a central psychoanalytic concern. But the idea that scientific hypotheses are the product of a method that delivers "generalisable" conclusions is inductivist nonsense. Just check with Medawar, who gets it right.

The example of the Oedipus complex is a good one. The origins of the hypothesis are psychologically interesting. As Popper has convincingly argued, the origins of any hypothesis are also irrelevant to its truth. Let's assume that Freud arrived at the Oedipus hypothesis while reflecting on the memory of his naked mother in a train. This is interesting, and also candid. It might also be very interesting to find out that Newton was obsessional and vindictive, and so hypothesized that to every action there would be an equal and opposite reaction. If this were so, would it have any bearing on the status of his hypothesis? Not at all. Would it be more scientific to argue that his hypothesis was "postulated on the basis of data acquired" from his dispassionate observations of nature? Not at all. In fact, the latter would be inductivist nonsense. Logically, data cannot function as the basis of hypotheses. The error is called "the fallacy of affirming the consequent".

Is it odd that Freud overgeneralised? No, overgeneralisation is a characteristic of human thought. It is not something we do on purpose. Are you right in arguing that Freud and his followers engaged in confirmatory bias. Yes! Is Esterson right in showing how Freud muddled his own conjectures of what was going on with his patients' accounts of what they later remembered? Yes, this kind of confirmatory bias happens all the time. Lakatos, another Popperian, borrowed Popper's idea of a "metaphysical research program" to talk of a "scientific research program" which functions to protect its inner core, while allowing for innovation in the periphery. This is the case with science in general, not just with psychoanalysis. Lakatos gets it right, to a point, thought he himself engages in a bit of scientific face-saving by changing Popper's unsettling "metaphysical" to the more sanctimonious "scientific".

Was Freud brutally inquisitorial with uncooperative analysands? Yes, by today's standards he certainly was. Was this more like rape of the mind than history taking? Yes, on occasion it was. Did it lead to catastrophic diagnostic errors? Yes. Does this go on today? Yes. Only by psychoanalysts? Not at all. I see it going on quite routinely today by nonanalyst psychiatrists who invoke DSM-IV to label patients as this or that, despite the fact that the patients concerned do not fulfil the diagnostic criteria. When I point this out, they invoke "clinical experience". It happens most often when the psychiatrist doesn't like the patient.

Do you believe that Freud built up a theoretical edifice on the basis of a minute corpus of empirical data? Do you believe that theories can in principle be built on the basis of data? Then you are guilty of the central inductivist error that Popper and Medawar highlight. Your own affiliation with an old-fashioned quasi-scientific methodology become of interest. But I do agree that Fliess's ideas did betray "lunatic numerological notions and mystical fantasies". But again, beware of words such as "lunatic". Lunacy or delusion is not employed when the lunacy is shared with a significant cultural group. Fliess and Freud did not suffer from a folie-a-deux, but from a folie-a-plusieurs, just as you do in your covert inductivism. Like pseudoscientific psychoanalysis, you cover this error with the rhetoric of science. Do the "keepers of the flame policing the archives", as you aptly name them, suppress the Fleissian roots of some of Freud's thought? Yes, indeed. When keepers of other pseudoscientific flames suppress embarrassments, does this make the press? No. Again, curious about that!

Was Freud a selfless searcher after truth, a man of granite-like integrity, utterly incapable of fraud or even self-deception? Or was he a master narrator and builder of myths, desperate for academic glory, ruthlessly ambitious, brutally insensitive, unscrupulous, unrepentant, a supreme manipulator of friends and colleagues in his endless quest for self-promotion? An impressive example of splitting! Melanie Klein would be proud of you! If Freud is right about members of Homo sapiens, then he could not possibly have been utterly incapable of fraud or self-deception. As for the rest, it is a question of degree. By the way, you commit the inductivist error again in your invocation of a portrait "firmly rooted in documentary evidence". Is Ernest Jones obsequious? Absolutely!

First it was "quack", then "lunatic", and now "crank". Again, beware of the pot calling the kettle black. Freud was not incapable of self-deception, and neither are you or I. I wish I wrote as well as he did, and perhaps you do too. I like one bit of your prose: "difficult, technical, tough minded, and counterintuitive. "Counterintuitive" is especially important. I recommend that you reread Popper and Medawar. Not on psychoanalysis, but on "real science. You may find it quite counter to your own intuition.

Was Freud both liberating of prudishness, and prudish at the same time? Yes! What would he call this? A compromise formation. Has psychoanalysis to some extent become a secular religion? Yes! Often tiresomely and oppressively so. The movement he founded -- it is remarkable how Janet founded no movement, and his ideas died; and how Jung and Adler were less adept at movement-founding, and their ideas have gained less currency than Freud's. It is important not to equate movement-success with doctrine-truth. It is also important to notice when mistaken doctrines engender covert movements rather than transparent ones, as we have seen with behaviourism and cognitivism.

Then you get on to the fascinating question of the purported "hundreds of thousands of disciples who may not be psychoanalysts but who have derived from his theories a belief in the central importance of certain kinds of repressed memories and in the therapist's privileged access to them. In the previous decade, Freud was trashed for having trashed the "seduction hypothesis, and those doing the most active trashing were the "hundreds of thousands of disciples who may not be psychoanalysts but who have derived from his theories a belief in the central importance of certain kinds of repressed memories and in the therapist's privileged access to them. And now in this decade he is trashed for having come up with the "seduction hypothesis" in the first place. What's a man to do? By the way, "hundreds of thousands" is a bit exaggerated, by about 2 orders of magnitude. Membership in the International Society for the Study of Dissociation peaked 2 years ago at 3000. It has since dropped to about 2600. And Freud didn't come up with the idea all by himself, you know. Remember, you are trying to argue that he wasn't such an original thinker as he liked to make out. The connection of trauma to dissociation or repression was current in 19th century French psychiatry.

You cite Crews as an authority estimating that 1,000,000 families have been affected by therapist-inspired charges of sexual molestation, supposedly uncovered by the awakening of repressed memories. How would Crews test his hypothesis that the "million" cases were therapist-inspired rather than real? You like to play the polarity of orthodox-oedipal-fantasy-interpreting-analyst versus recovered-memory-therapist, and Freudians can only be at either extreme. They can't be somewhere inbetween. Again, Melanie Klein would be proud of you! Don't you see how self-serving and pseudoscientific it is to use statistics generated by a legal defense lobby, the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, which coined both "recovered memory therapy" and "False Memory Syndrome", to pass blanket judgment on what certain clinicians are doing in the field?

Your invocation of "the testimony of ordinary people" is a sop to commonsense intuition. But remember: you have claimed that scientific thought is counterintutitive. You cannot have your cake and eat it too. What are your criteria for "ordinariness".

Your discussion of repression has two moments of preaching to the converted.

First of all you say that the unconscious is supposed to be composed of psychic elements that have been actively repressed rather than simply not yet brought into full consciousness. This was Freud's rationale for the topographical system: dividing the descriptive unconscious into the Preconscious and the dynamic Unconscious. So I think you are mistaken when you claim that 'Freudians' confuse "things of which we are conscious but are not yet conscious of reflectively" i.e. the Preconscious, with the Unconscious.

Your second moment of preaching to the converted is in the context of: the theory of repression is both unnecessary and incoherent. ... As Sartre (ref 18) pointed out, the unconscious has to know what it is that has to be repressed in order (actively) to repress it; it has also to know that it is shameful material appropriate for repression. If, however, it knows both these things, it is difficult to understand how it can avoid being conscious of it. Sartre's argument is Freud's very argument for moving from his topography (Ucs, Pcs, Cs) to his systemic (id, ego, superego) metapsychology. In the latter, the ego is both conscious and unconscious, and the ego's defense mechanisms, such as repression, become part of the Unconscious. Sartre's argument only holds if you equate the mental with the conscious. This kind of verbal game is typical of French rationalism at its most smug, and of British commonsense empiricism at its most colloquial. Uncommon bedfellows. The point you (and Sartre) miss is very simple. There are things that patients remember with a little attention, or with a reminder, or whatever. And there are things that patients remember only after a great deal of work. Sometimes they don't remember at first, but play it out with the therapist in the therapeutic relationship. This is called acting out in the transference. There are things that are forgotten because of absense of motivation to remember, and things that are forgotten because of motivation to forget. Sartre's argument holds only if you suppose that motives are necessarily conscious. If you don't want to call the very hard kind of remembering the remembering of what is *repressed*, then perhaps you would be so kind as to come up with a word which you would prefer. Unless, of course, you don t think that this sort of thing happens in therapy, or, that if it does, that we shouldn t talk about it.

Webster's story-telling, I refer to stories above (deconstruction of legends, origins of hypotheses, group lunacies, ideologies or secular religions, histories of movements, etc.). Stories are interesting. Movements are political. All sorts of things happen. Let's keep it in context. Read Stephen Hawking on Issac Newton. The man was a petty bully. The status of a theory is not derivative of the vicissitudes of its birth. Let us indeed explore the biological, gnostic, Manichean, puritanical sources of Freud's thought. Let us also explore how these have evolved since. Let us also explore the Aristotelian metaphysical sources of inductivism, associationism, positivism, cognitivism, and information-processing models of the mind. As Popper reminds us, scientific hyhpotheses originate in myths. This is true of psychoanalysis. It is also true of its competitors. It is certainly true of your own covert inductivism. Read Aristotle's De Anima for its source.

You return to the question of sexuality. You claim that Freud separated "clean mind from dirty body, lifting Man out of Nature by favouring abstraction over incarnation." Again, and again, is this vintage Webster? Or is it Webster recanting vintage Freud on obsessive-compulsive defenses to sexual anxiety? And turning it back on Freud to tell him to practice what he preaches? I'm all for the latter.

Webster goes on to Darwin as an alternative. I invoked Edelman earlier. Why does this Nobel-prize-winning neuroscientist not trash Freud? Why does he quote him heuristically? I would be interested in hearing if you think Edelman's theories help better account for the distinctive features of humankind that you believe a Darwinian account is able to do, and where Edelman also falls short.

What do you mean when you say that Freud's theories have always been there? Do you mean from the time of your birth, since you "first came to reflective consciousness"? I wonder (it would seem that a number of them have not been there for you). Vulgarizations convey a bit, and distort a great deal.

You say Webster's book is liberating. Bravo! If so, it ought to make better psychoanalysts out of those who read it. If I do, I'll let you know if it does or not.

Best wishes.

John A. O'Neil, MD, FRCPC
Department of Psychiatry, McGill University;
Psychoanalyst, Canadian Psychoanalytic Society.

 


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Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM

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