Charcot died in Morvan, France, on August 16,1893


Charcot died in Morvan, France, on August 16,1893

The Unconscious

Before we turn to the really big names, let's look at the concept of the unconscious, so strongly associated with psychoanalysis. Most historians agree that the first mention of such a concept was Leibniz's discussion of «petite perceptions* or little perceptions. By this he meant certain very low-level stimuli that could enter the mind without the person's awareness — what today we would call subliminal messages. The reality of such things is very much in doubt.

Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776-1841) was the author of a texbook on psychology, published in 1816. But, following Kant, he did not believe psychology could ever be a science. He took the concepts of the associationists and blended them with the dynamics of Leibniz's monads. Ideas had an energy of their own, he said, and could actually force themselves on the person's conscious mind by exceeding a certain threshold. When ideas were incompatable, one or the other would be repressed, he said — meaning forced below the threshold into the unconscious. This should remind you of Freud's ideas — oxcopt that Herbart had them nearly a century earlier.

Schopenhauer is often seen as the originator of the unconscious, and he spoke at great lengths about instincts and the irrational nature of man, and freely made use of words like repression, resistance, and sublimation. N iot/sehe also spoke of the unconscious: One of his most famous statements is «My memory says I did it. My pride says I could not have done that. In the end, my memory yields ».

Karl Eduard von Hartmann (1842-1906). He blended the ideas of Schopenhauer with Jewish mysticism (the kaballah) and wrote Philosophy of the Unconscious in 1869, just in time to influence a young neurologist name Sigmund Freud.

The reader should understand that there are many theorists with little or no use for the concept of the unconscious. Brentano, forefather of phenomenology and existentialism, did not believe in it. Neither did William James. Neither did the Gestalt psychologists. Memories, for example, can be understood as stored in some physical state, perhaps as traces in the brain. When activated, we remember — but they aren't in the mind — conscious or unconscious — until so activated.

Sigmund Freud

Freud's story, like most people's stories, begins with others. In his case those others were his mentor and friend, Dr. Joseph Breuer, and Breuer's patient, called Anna O.

Anna O. was Joseph Breuer's patient from 1880 through 1882. Twenty one years old, Anna spent most of her time nursing her ailing father. She developed a bad cough that proved to have no physical basis. Shede-veloped some speech difficulties, then became mute, and then began speaking only in English, rather than her usual German.

When her father died she began to refuse food, and developed an unusual set of problems. She lost the feeling in her hands and feet, developed some paralysis, and began to have involuntary spasms. She also had visual hallucinations and tunnel vision. But when specialists were consulted, no physical causes for these problems could be found.

If all this weren't enough, she had fairy-tale fantasies, dramatic mood swings, and made several suicide attempts. Breuer's diagnosis was that she was suffering from what was then called hysteria (now called conversion disorder), which meant she had symptoms that appeared to be physical, but were not.

In the evenings, Anna would sink into states of what Breuer called «spontaneous hypnosis*, or what Anna herself called « clouds*. Breuer found that, during these trance-like states, she could explain her day-time fantasies and other experiences, and she felt better afterwards. Anna called these episodes « chimney sweeping* and «the talking cure*.

Sometimes during «chimney sweeping*, some emotional event was recalled that gave meaning to some particular symptom. The first example came soon after she had refused to drink for a while: She recalled seeing a woman drink from a glass that a dog had just drunk from. While recalling this, she experienced strong feelings of disgust...and then had a drink of water. In other words, her symptom — an avoidance of water — disappeared as soon as she remembered its root event, and experienced the strong emotion that would be appropriate to that event. Breuer called this catharsis, from the Greek word for cleansing.

It was eleven years later that Breuer and his assistant, Sigmund Freud, wrote a book on hysteria. In it they explained their theory: Every hysteria is the result of a traumatic experience, one that cannot be integrated into the person's understanding of the world. The emotions appropriate to the trauma are not expressed in any direct fashion, but do not simply evaporate: They express themselves in behaviors that in a weak, vague way offer a response to the trauma. These symptoms are, in other words, meaningful. When the client can be made aware of the meanings of his or her symptoms (through hypnosis, for example) then the unexpressed emotions are released and so no longer need to express themselves as symptoms.

In this way, Anna got rid of symptom after symptom. But it must be noted that she needed Breuer to do this: Whenever she was in one of her hypnotic states, she had to feel his hands to make sure it was him before talking. And sadly, new problems continued to arise.

According to Freud, Breuer recognized that she had fallen in love with him, and that he was falling in love with her. Plus, she was telling everyone she was pregnant with his child. You might say she wanted it so badly that her mind told her body it was true, and she developed an hysterical pregnancy. Breuer, a married man in a Victorian era, abruptly ended their sessions together, and lost all interest in hysteria. Please, understand that recent research suggests that many of these events, including the hysterical pregnancy and Breuer's quick retreat, were probably Freud's «elaborations* on reality.

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