Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), A Perspective

by Dr. Parviz Dehghani​

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), A Perspective

Who was he? He dies in the same year when the Movie, ‘Gone with the wind’ came to the theaters. 10 years before that the greatest figure in the fight at the o.k. corrals in tombstone Arizona died in 1929. His name was Wyatt Earp.

Even though Freud seems to have denied studying philosophy at one time, he said, ‘When I was young, the only thing I longed for was philosophical knowledge.’ Perhaps as he got older he forgot what he had said when he was young. He was a psychologist from Austria, who invented ‘psychoanalysis’. He  influenced Western thought and philosophy tremendously. His memorable works are ‘The interpretation of Dreams, The psychopathology of Everyday Life, and Three Studies on Sexuality and Future of an illusion’. He went to medical school to become a doctor. Thought he was a physician not a philosopher, he said as we mentioned before, ‘when I was young, the only thing I longed for was philosophical knowledge, and now that I am going over from medicine to psychology, I am on the process of attaining it’.

What did he mean when he said that? Can philosophical knowledge be achieved through psychology?

What is psychoanalysis any way? Freud first argued that ‘certain childhood experiences are repressed by the Ego into Unconscious’. So Unconscious is where all these experiences are restored. These experiences that the child feels would evoke condemnation and are connected to the child’s sexual identity in relation to one or both of its parents. The second component of his theory is about the separate, empirical assertion, that such repressed memories are the reason for psychological disintegrations, specifically nervous illness. Therefore, Freud explains psychoanalysis as ‘a procedure for the treatment of the medically ill’.

This is exactly where Freud had to admit that he had studied Plato’s philosophy and had connected with his idea of reincarnation. On the one hand, the influence of Buddhism on him and on the other hand, Plato’s belief in rebirth and transmigration of the soul made him think about his idea of psychoanalysis. If Freud worried about early childhood experiences, Plato went beyond the birth days of those little kids into their passed lives. Freud’s is time bond and it is as valuable as it was for Hegel’s philosophy. But where is the influence of Hinduism and Buddhism on his psychoanalysis when it comes to time, because time was an illusion for those two Religions. But why time becomes so important for Freud? The determinism of both Marx and Freud takes shape in time. When God became time and history, determinism becomes king. For Karl Marx economic process is determined by casual connections and once it reaches an anomaly, then there’s a need for a revolution. For Freud what ever happened to us when we were children determined whatever we do in our lives. It sounds a little like the idea of karma, which are actions and their consequences.

When he was just a little kid, for example, his next door neighbor molested him, namely had anal sex with him. When he was a grown person he had the same thing with a passing friend of his at his apartment. Had this not happened to him at his childhood, he never would have done that to his friend? This is an example of what Freud had in mind.

It is amazing that both of these great figures, that is, Marx and Freud came from Jewish background and both used determinism in their approach to their projects. As far as we know none of them believed in their Religions. However, they were just ethnically were Jewish. We don’t see that in Nietzsche. This element of determinism existed in the Old Testament. ‘Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated’ (not exact quote) is mentioned in the Bible. Did God determine who would get His grace and who wouldn’t? This created a lot of problems for St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas and continued till the early days of theological investigations in the United States of America.

Apparently Freud was selective in what he had learned from certain philosophical and religious personalities throughout his life. Coming from the Biblical tradition though he was atheist or agnostic perhaps, he couldn’t have accepted the cyclical notion of history or thinking of time as an illusion. I guess we can say the same thing regarding Karl Marx.

Plato argued that once we’re born we forget where we had come from and what kind of knowledge we had gained in our past life. We ought to remember but we cannot. To remember the past, we should move up in a vertical direction. Angels were moving up and down the ladder stretched into the sky. In the symbolism of the cross, we have a vertical and horizontal elements present. Once we have reached the highest point we’ll experience the true knowledge. This is when we can remember our past lives. Buddha experienced this after he was enlightened. He remembered his past life stories. This is exactly what is absent in Freud’s work. This transcendent and vertical Reality is missing in his philosophy. The fact of Spirit doesn’t exist for him. We’re left with mind and body. No wonder why many scholars, for the past decades, have been going back to when the traditional psychology had dealt with the Spirit factor in the way they treated psychological illnesses among people of their communities for thousands of years. Spirit is the rode around which the snake of psyche is wrapped. Now instead of the snake the body of Christ is on the cross replacing the snake of Lucifer in the garden of paradise. Once the element of Spirit is missing, the snake we’ll create havoc killing 21, 19 children and two teachers in Texas. As we write, there’re million people with psychological problems all around us. It is only the matter of time when another disaster will occur. Where is Freud when we need him? I personally don’t believe he would have any clue as to why some people act the way they do. In the Movie ‘all about Bob’   these delicate psychological issues are discussed. In this movie we learn how even some psychologists themselves need help.

A commentator has made a point that this kind of medical treatment is very unusual, because nothing much is involved in the meeting between the doctor and patient except conversation. This sounds more like Socratic Method called ‘dialogue’, which is to let the truth emerge through this process. Long before Socrates we have a conversation or a dialogue between Krishna, the Avatar or the incarnation of Vishnu, the god and Arjuna a ruler in ‘Bhagavad-Gita’.

Here is another attempt by Freud into the culture of India and Hinduism. The dialectic method was not new with Socrates as we can see. However, the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna was not for the truth to be manifested, because the former is actually god and there’s a difference between god and human being. After all Truth is present in this dialogue, which is Krishna.

The doctor’s ‘treatment’ is about educing repressed memories from patient through interpreting the answers to Freud’s questions. I see a similarity between this method and Socratic one. Socrates’ mother was a mid-wife and later on he used this analogy to show how we as teachers are to bring about what is in our students. He didn’t believe we would add anything to our students by teaching them but in reality we elicit what they know. Socrates must have had a belief in reincarnation like Plato going back to Pythagoras. This is almost the reverse of what we have in our educational system, which is mostly about reading and writing. The oral tradition was what education was all about in ancient time. Students didn’t memorize but remembered. With Socrates and Plato we learn that we have already been somewhere else in our past lives in which we were knowledgeable about the Forms of perfections. Form or what it was in Greek, ‘Ideae’ was introduced by Plato not Socrates. Nonetheless, its roots are present in the latter. In Freudian language our memories of our lives before we were born have been forgotten. Of course, this is not what Freud argued but this was what Plato and thousands years before him the Hindus and Buddhist had lived their life accordingly. For Freud certain   experiences belonging to our childhood are ‘repressed’ by the Ego into the Unconscious. What is missing in Freud’ analysis is that our behaviors are not only the results of our early childhood experiences, but they are the consequences of our past lives, which are forgotten due to being in the realm of opinions rather than pure knowledge. We’re in a dark room or blindfolded with an elephant wondering what we’re experiencing. Freud connected with the great sources of ancient knowledge in Hinduism and Buddhism with Plato and Schopenhauer but he failed to take the element of searching for our past lives. Perhaps that is why he didn’t have a place for Spirit in his psychological investigations. His book on the interpretation of dreams had nothing to do with what had happened historically with Joseph during the time of Pharaoh. Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream saved not only Egypt but the life of thousands of people. Joseph had a divine knowledge into the future while Freud didn’t. Cross represents the Divine and the world. Although we’re in this world we’re not of it. Like a tree, our roots are in the ground but our branches reach the sky.

Freud’s method of psychoanalysis has made many critics such as Sir Karl (Raimund) Popper, the British philosopher born in Austria to question the scientific position of Freud’s practice. Popper argues that since the doctor’s interpretation is neither objective nor ‘testable’ and is secure to be scrutinized by the habits of doctor-patient confidentiality, there’s no objective way to measure the consequences of psychoanalytic procedure. There’s no doubt it has been popular and successful. However, just because it has worked for some it doesn’t mean it is right approach to our psychological illnesses. David Hume warned us that we cannot infer ‘ought’ from ‘is’. Just because it is, it doesn’t mean it ought to be. This is something perhaps William James, our beloved American philosopher and psychologist of the 19th century seems to have missed.

There’re several logically independent assertions. One is that we can understand personalities through interpreting the responses received once we question the person, which is philosophically subjective. Second one is the interpretation provided by such an account manifests some objective truth regarding the patient. The third one is that this process of ‘conversation and interpretation’ can adequately treat nervous illnesses. The popularity of this method could be ascribed to the truth of any, all or none of these requisitions.

 When Freud says that psychoanalysis is predicated upon the idea that some early childhood experiences are suppressed into the Unconscious by a publically responsible Ego, it invites criticism. Ego represses the impulses of the Unconscious according to Freud. It ascribes particularly conflicting intentional agency to specific locations of the mind. This is where Jean- Paul Sartre (1905-80), the French philosopher, novelist, and dramatist criticized Freud’s psychology for being unintelligible, because it proposes that the conscious inspector, namely the Ego, represses unconscious desires. If the Ego is not conscious of the unconscious impulses, how could it be in a situation to be aware that they must be suppressed?

Regardless of Sartre’s criticism even on his determinism, philosophy has had a good reaction to Freud’s psychoanalysis, which is again against what Hume said long time ago.

Freud has claimed that his psychology introduced a novel ‘Copernican revolution’, which reminds us of what Kant had said concerning his philosophy long before Freud. Copernicus, as we know, discovered that the Earth was not at the center of the Universe; Darwin later on came up with the idea that human being is not lord and master of the animal kingdom, but simply a continuous extension of it. It is interesting to note that recently a relic was discovered in India going back to 4000 years ago. It is a little statue of a human being sitting in meditational position, namely in a lotus posture. It has two horns and it looks like his head is on fire. On its forehead we read, ‘The lord of the animals’. After all it was Aristotle who said, ‘Man is a rational animal’. What a difference there’s between the figure of a human being with an elephant head called Ganesh, which is a Hindu god and what we see in the movie ‘sheep’ in which a little kid with a sheep head appears.

Darwin, by claiming that due to evolution animals have changed throughout centuries and we’re no exception here, in other words we also have evolved from some form of intelligent monkeys. Give enough time we’ll sooner or later find out that we’re no different from them. Time became an important factor in the 19th century and this is the result of time being the master over us. Some scholars believe Darwin and his ideas died in Europe but in America we still put this great mind on a pedestal and worship him. DNA analysis has shown that once we compare the chromosomes of chimpanzees and human beings there’s a difference, which separate them from us. I should know about it having worked in the cytogenetic department for a number of years.

From a religious point of view since God has created all of us, he is the Lord over all of us. Of course, we have no right to use animals unnecessarily and abuse them. This subject perhaps is what this movie; ‘sheep’ is all about, namely animal abuse.

According to Freud he has proven that the conscious mind, or the self, is not ‘master of its own house’, unlike what rationalists and philosophers following Descartes had presupposed long time ago.

Hegel set the stage for all these great thinkers to take the reality of time seriously in history. Time being a horizontal reality fitted in with the philosophy of Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, and Darwin.

Through the enlightenment Buddha proved that yes, we can penetrate the wall and remember our past lives. After all, shamans could reach their ancestors through hours of meditation and ask them questions. The conscious mind is not powerful enough to do so. Joseph was able to master his own house, because he had the power of God behind him.

(Philosophy, 100 essential thinkers, by Philips stokes, p.139)