FREUD: THE DEVLOPMENT OF METHODS
FREUD: THE DEVLOPMENT OF METHODS
A Formation of the Founding Concepts of Psychoanalysis
THSIS SUBMITED FOR THE DEGREE
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
BY YOAV YIGAEL
SUBMITTED TO THE SENATE OF TEL-AVIV UNIVERSITY
(Revised March 2004)
Late in 1886, Freud presented his impressions from his studies with Charcot in two lectures. These lectures are the first formal testimony of Freud’s interest in and attitude towards the subject of hysteria. Hardly anything in this initial position, which is heavily influenced by Charcot, is originally Freud’s. Approximately fourteen years later, towards the end of 1899, Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams, one of the most original contributions to the study of the psyche and a landmark in western intellectual culture. In the course of the intervening fourteen years, Freud adopted six different methods for the treatment of hysteria and other neuroses, together with a similar number of theoretical models that served to explain them.
The present research and the method underlying it are shaped by four main assumptions:
1. Apparently disparate and clashing components of the various therapeutic/research methods and theories of the neuroses should be viewed as points on a sequence that describes one thought process or research enterprise.
2. A consistent and systematic reconstruction should be able to conform to the framework of a list of parameters, so that it may be evaluated in relation to itself and to other reconstructions.
3. This sequence, which covers the above-mentioned period, should be viewed as the developmental process of Freud’s conception of the neuroses and the structure of the psyche in general.
4. Careful reconstruction of Freud’s cognitive-developmental process should enable the construction of a general model, i.e. the definition of a concept of ‘development’ as such, regardless of the object of development.
Choosing Freud’s process of thought as the subject of my research led me to many considerations:
A. First of all, the contents and subjects dealt with had to be familiar to me and within the range of my understanding. I would not be able to follow the thought processes of a mathematician, physicist, chemist, linguist, etc. because of my lack of specific knowledge and understanding of these fields. Every thought process deals with specific contents. Even if the emphasis is on the process, it is still necessary to thoroughly understand these contents.
B. The originality of the contents and idea is important in that it allows for focus on the process and for a minimization of the question of influence and learning from others. Based on this understanding, originality becomes a parallel to the deactivation of irrelevant variables in laboratory research.
It is important for the contents and ideas to influence the area it proposes to deal with as well as other areas as evidence of their intensity (and not just their accuracy).
This study does not mean to deal with the evaluation of contents, ideas and
influences; but rather, with the processes by which they are created. If contents
and ideas manage to “sink their line” into different areas, then there must be
something in the process that created them which explains their intensity.
C. The evidence must be as complete as possible so that minute changes can be noted. Freud is known for being a frank writer, one who tried to explain his considerations without hiding his failures.
D. The consistency of the thought process may only be truly evaluated in retrospect and on the basis of reconstruction. However, even the most introductory contact with the material leaves one with some sort of an impression. Thus, in spite of the changing ideas and viewpoints, the subject remains more or less the same. In this light, it is easy to understand why Freud continually researched the same field – deviance from normalcy, and normalcy itself.
The raw material, or, in other words, the research data are constituted by the texts Freud wrote in the years under discussion: articles, drafts, letters, etc. The assumption is that all the available texts make up a kind of historical mapping of the cognitive development Freud underwent, with each text presenting the sum total of Freud’s knowledge at a particular point in time, constituting a point on the continuum of his thought process. A further assumption is that by forging connections among these various texts it is possible to arrive at a reconstruction of the entire process of thought. As regards methodology, the research was carried out under the assumption that in the study of developmental processes, changes in the object of study should be considered relative to the object of study itself. In terms of the research at hand this means: changes in Freud’s thought in relation to his own thought (when dealing with adjustment, for instance, change is assessed in relation to the object’s environment)..
First Part: Reconstruction of the Process in the Years 1886-1892.
Freud’s thinking can be presented in the two following alternative ways:
1. As a series of discrete but causally connected theoretical-therapeutic steps, each of which has its distinct theoretical-therapeutic model.
2. As ‘movements of thought’ that link the various steps into one overriding thought process.
Since these two types of presentation are crucial to the present research, I shall further enlarge upon them.
1. Theoretical-therapeutic steps
First step: Historical mapping . Background: Up to Charcot, hysteria was considered a disease which eluded any specific symptomatology . Freud introduces a number of symptoms that had been identified by Charcot (e.g., sensory disturbances). He considers the disease hereditary, and its outbreak as the result of recent trauma. The phenomena (hysteria and the neuroses in general) are explained by reference to pathology of the nervous system which is not seen in terms of damage but rather as specific forms of reaction of the system, i.e. as a deviation from the nervous system’s normal functioning. The recommended treatment: methods for relaxation of the nervous system (rest, massage, hot baths, electrical-magnetic treatment).
Second step: Along with the extension of the list of physical symptoms, there is a first mention of psychological symptoms: changes in associative patterns, inhibited voluntary action, and intensified or lowered affect. The phenomena are explained by reference to changes in the normal distribution over the stable amount of excitation. Psychological changes take place on an unconscious level, identical to autonomous brain activity. Onset of the disease results in -or is accompanied by- an altered state of consciousness. Recommended treatment: suggestive hypnosis as a way of counterbalancing and redressing the traumatic experience.
Third step: Distinction between hysteria and hypnosis. Freud points at many commonalties between hysteria and hypnotic phenomena, in terms of behavioral manifestations as well as in principle (similarity between illness and treatment). Each, however, belongs to a different conceptual framework. Hypnosis should be seen in the context of states of consciousness stretching between the poles of sleep and wakefulness, while hysteria should be regarded in terms of contents of consciousness on the continuum of awareness: conscious and unconscious contents. The distinction between hysteria and hypnosis yields two different explanations of hysteria.
Fourth and fifth steps: The parallel development of two theses explaining hysteria, and with them, two treatment methods. Both theses acknowledge the importance of unconscious contents. The first, ‘antagonistic’, thesis emphasizes the opposition between conscious intentions and wishes, on the one hand, and unconscious fears and doubts., on the other. Freud’s treatment method here is similar to what we call, today, the paradoxical approach. The second , ‘cathartic’, thesis envisions the reconstruction of the traumatic experience, and emotional and verbal expression of repressed memories. ‘Opening up’ the organizing principle and the disclosure of memories and of unconscious contents leads to the formulation of a new unifying principle: sexuality. Until then sexuality plays no role in Freud’s thinking, neither on the level of symptomatology and psychic phenomena, nor on that of causality and explanation. Sexuality gains its central theoretical position as the result of an intellectual effort: the identification of an organizing principle for a variety of unconscious contents and forms that bear no direct relation to sexuality.
The first stage of this research comes to a halt at a period during which Freud identified two principles, which were to underlie his future enterprise: sexuality and constancy. These two principles enable us to examine the main features of the process through which they came to be identified.
2. The shape of ‘movements of thought’
Constant movement between the surface level and the deeper level characterizes Freud’s form of thought, throughout the entire first period. The description of the phenomena, its circumstances, etc. are accompanied by the search for a hidden organizing idea. This idea enables for the unifying and explaining of most of the evident phenomena. The richer, more differentiated and more complex the description of the disease’s evident phenomena, the more effort is necessary to clarify, expand and understand the hidden organizing idea. At a certain point in the process, the contents of the hidden idea “open up” and are exposed to observation (antagonistic contents, forgotten traumatic memories). The moment when the hidden organizing principle “opens up”, is exposed and observed, is identified by Freud as being a new hidden organizing principle: sexuality. The shape of Freud’s thought movements from the level of evident phenomena to that of the hidden organizing principle may also be described as the movement of withdrawal and convergence. Withdrawal expands(?) the phenomena and their convergence or concentration by means of the hidden organizing principle. As soon as the organizing idea itself withdraws (as is the case with most unconscious contents), a new principle or idea from the new organizing center – sexuality – is created. It is important to note that the subjects and contents, withdrawn or concentrated, are subject to change. What does not change is the shape of the movement itself – withdrawal and convergence. Until this occurs, there is no evidence of the existence of sexuality in Freud’s world of thought; neither at the symptomatic level, nor at the level of causality and explanation. The presentation of sexuality as a central theoretical concept is a product of an act of thought – the identification of an organizing principle for various unconscious contents and response types, having no direct relation to sexuality.
An additional characteristic line, that of transference, is typical of the way in which Freud’s thinking proceeded. Terms, concepts, distinctions and ideas occurring at first in one context are transferred to another one. This can be easily observed in the case of the notion of constancy. The discussion concerning deviations from the basic level of excitation began in the context of the nervous system. This pattern then moved to the level of physiological phenomena (low or high level of sensation, sensitivity changing into pain); it continued with reference to psychic phenomena (intensification and repression of sensations) and returned to relate to the nervous system (changes in mental states affect neural inhibition or over-stimulation). Subsequently the notion appeared in connection with alterations in the excitation level and their relation to mental states (wakefulness-hypnosis-sleep) and next it occurred in regard of contents of altered states of consciousness (accumulated traumatic experiences). Finally, the notion of a deviation from the basic excitation level can be observed to function as an organizing principle on the neural as well as the psychic levels.
Another movement of thought that touches upon the meaning of terms and their changes of placement is that which progresses “from description to theory”. Many terms, such as “resistance”, “defensiveness”, “repression” and others, appear first as descriptions of behavior, action, movement, purpose, etc. Only afterwards do they become concepts upon which theories are constructed. What was once only a secondary measure that could be replaced by a similar yet different term, is transformed into one of the fundamental parts of the structure.
Another movement in Freud’s thinking that I would like to mention here is the form of change on the methodological level. During the period under consideration Freud changed his therapeutic method about three times (with each such therapeutic method constituting a method of observation and data collection as well). These changes in treatment method can be seen to be guided by two types of consideration: (a) the level of reality: effectiveness of the method, return of the symptoms, etc., and (b) the level of theory: the concepts and ideas by means of which Freud explains the nature of the illness to himself. Only when these two conditions obtain and when Freud can go no further in studying and explaining the pathology by means of a given therapeutic method, he changes therapeutic method. Thus the creation of one intellectual foundation by means of a certain method leads Freud both to its rejection and the staking out of a subsequent method.
Second stage - the point at which the current study sets out.
Second Part: Reconstruction of the Process During the Years 1893-1895
Towards the end of 1892, Freud formulates two general principles that summarize and direct his thoughts and work on the subject of hysteria: “sexuality” and “constancy” (excitation level). The “constancy principle” relates to the energetic economy of the mental apparatus and describes experiences in a quantitative-mechanical way, such as intensity, accumulation, unloading , normal and abnormal paths, etc. The “sexuality principle” characterizes most of the contents repressed from consciousness, which are connected to sexual subjects. The effects, disconnected from the repressed contents, create the symptoms of hysteria. The problem presented to Freud was that each principle developed in a different direction, came out of a different point of view, and gave a different explanation for the “fragmentation of consciousness”, which characterizes hysteria. The “constancy principle” is based on the explanation, originated by Charcot and Brewer, that ties trauma to an altered state of consciousness. This fragmented consciousness is explained by different and unconnected states of awareness. In this altered state of awareness, a sort of “foreign nucleus” or “secondary consciousness” is created out of the accumulated experiences that have become disconnected from normal routes that usually allow us to break down such experiences. The “sexuality principle” explains fragmentation of consciousness as being the result of unbearable contents of a sexual nature, which we have forced out of our consciousness. The “foreign nucleus” or “secondary consciousness”, are, from this point of view, the sum of sexual contents that have been rejected by our consciousness.
From this point on, Freud was faced with two main problems:
First, how to create a consistent connection between the two principles and second, how to define the contradictions between the two explanations as the reason for fragmentation of consciousness
Freud will only partially deal with these two problems. As regards the first, it is important to note that, in essence, the very identification of these two principles opens up a whole new group of subjects which were previously outside the range of Freud’s theoretical discussions. Through the description of events presented in Studies on Hysteria, Freud tries to “crack open” and understand the structure of the “foreign nucleus”. He examines the connection between the somatic plane and the psychic plane as it relates to the subject of sexuality. At the same time, Freud includes the sexuality and constancy principles in relation to other neuroses. Most of the discussions on other subjects lead Freud to examine the possibility of forging the sexuality and constancy principles into one. This attempt was one of the motivating forces responsible for the writing of The Project, which began in 1895.
The solution to the second problem proceeds in a different way. At the beginning of 1893, Freud begins working with a new treatment technique – pressure – rendering hypnosis unnecessary. The altered sense of awareness connected to trauma, is characterized by Charcot, Brewer and others as being similar to the state of consciousness characterized in hysteria. Thus, if hypnosis is no longer necessary in order to reach the traumatic contents; so too, is there no longer a need to assume that fragmentation of consciousness means an altered state of consciousness. In the treatments Freud presents in Studies on Hysteria, he establishes, from different angles, the idea based on the sexuality principle that the “foreign nucleus” is made up of accumulated sexual contents which have been rejected by our consciousness. Freud begins to develop new comparisonsand concepts to help explain the reason for fragmentation of consciousness and the status of those contents which have no place in our awareness. Up until this stage, awareness, in Freud’s works, was perceived as a known variable, a given, and basically taken for granted. These rejected contents, then, became the new subject of Freud’s research. In an attempt to attain new formulations for the somatic-psychic structure from a neurological point of view, Freud presented the opposite question: How to explain the question of consciousness in somatic terms? This is an additional subject which Freud will try to find answers for in The Project. Towards the beginning of 1895, Freud began to realize the necessity of creating a conceptualized framework, one that would be coherent and unifying for the subjects which occupied him.
Studies on Hysteria reveals several discontinuities in the process of Freud’s thinking. Though it was originally intended to present his approach to hysteria with reference to the cathartic method, the work does in fact only include only one case that illustrates it (the case of Emmy). This was the first time Freud used the cathartic method -prior to his discovery of the role of sexuality. The first treatment under the cathartic method already encapsulates the beginnings of the next method (pressure). When a chain of memories rises to consciousness it brings with it the inception of a new chain. From a developmental point of view this means that a new system always already contains, from the outset, the core of the system that will follow it
Having identified the principle of sexuality, Freud now is motivated to develop a method that will not have to rely on hypnosis (pressure). The focus of the new method moves from being traumata and states of consciousness (cathartic method) to the conflict between sexual contents and moral commitments and the former’s repression (the cases of Lucy and Elisabeth). Here too, the novel method holds the first seeds of the subsequent method (free association) from its beginning: the need for the therapist’s intervention to start the process of recollection or free association, and the motif of the forbidden wish. A third model attributes the pathology to the child’s premature introduction to sexuality (the case of Katharina)
In parallel to the Studies, Freud also publishes a number of articles which center on the role of sexuality on the somatic level, on mental states. Here Freud uses the second element, ‘constancy ‘, together with the notion of sexuality. By means of these two, Freud explains anxiety neurosis and neurasthenia as a deviation from the normal level of sexual arousal -somatic and psychic. This attempt to yoke together these two forces -conflict and quantitative changes- in order to explain the neurosis is one of the factors that will lead Freud to write the Project
In the middle of 1895, Freud sets out on the ambitious Project Toward a Scientific Psychology. The stated objective of the Project is to present and explain all psychic processes on a quantitative basis: a kind of road map of the nervous system. Freud never completed the Project nor did he try to publish the material . To gauge the place and role of the Project in Freud’s thinking, the present study had to be divided into two tracks. One of these (the continuation of the reconstruction) goes beyond the Project to subsequent works, and tries to find the connection with it, earlier work and the Project. Thus, for instance, it emerges that in the Project, Freud tries out a schema for an explanatory model of the neuroses that brings together all three models he held previously. The second track looks back to find out what made Freud write the Project in the form of a kind of evolutionary development of the nervous system (an untypical approach for Freud at this point in time)
Third Part - Reconstruction Continued: 1895-1897
As a result of certain ideas that came to fruition while working on the Project, which he now abandoned, Freud developed one single causal explanation for all the neuroses: seduction theory. This theory, perhaps Freud’s most serious clinical error, is the outcome of an attempt to combine two lines of thought. The first of these originates in work that preceded the Project and that distinguishes between an asexual and a sexual phase (childhood and adulthood, respectively). The second line of thought evolves from the Project and differentiates between two different thought processes (primary and secondary). Even though seduction theory is basically flawed, it allows Freud to connect between these two lines of thought and thus open up a new field of investigation: the world of the child as it is reflected in the accounts of his adult patients
This new direction of his research brings a substantial change to Freud’s perception of the unconscious. If, up to the Project, the unconscious featured as a kind of clearinghouse for rejected sexual contents, with the introduction of seduction theory it becomes a structure containing infantile fantasies, identifications and impulses. These insights pave the way for the introduction of yet another line of thought: the dream as wish fulfillment (not necessarily sexual). The identification between the primary process on the one hand, and fantasies and dreams on the other, clears the way for self-analysis. Having abandoned his seduction theory and acknowledged that in his clinical work he cannot distinguish between a repressed memory of an experience and fictive experience, Freud now looks whether he can make this distinction as regards himself. He himself becomes -in his own words- his most important patient
Fourth Part - Conclusions
The conclusions of the research focus on three aspects: (a) the concept of ‘development’ and the aim of developmental theory; (b) parallel process as a method of the developmental process, and (c) the research in its entirety: presentation of main conclusions with reference to the existing literature
Following is the definition of the concept of ‘development’ that was constructed in the course of the research:
The process whereby at least two internal planes change, coordinate and adjust to one another. These planes operate according to different princples though they originate in the same system. The two planes operate jointly as a hierarchically structured system
This definition is sufficiently flexible to cover various developmental characteristics that emerged in the course of the research, e.g., change in relation to itself, or the emergence of the complex from the simple. The definition is also wide enough to be applicable in various fields that undergo change in which development occurs
The method of the developmental process -the parallel process- is exemplified by the links created between the self-analysis and the writing of the Interpretation of Dreams. These two great enterprises had different and unrelated starting points: the search for rules to distinguish between recollected experience and fictive experience, in the first case, and that for a way of deciphering dream wishes in the second. In both cases, however, Freud was facing a similar problem: deception and masking as inherent components of psychic structure. It was only through working in parallel with these two processes and observing connections between them that Freud was able to make progress. These two levels of discourse (the reconstruction and the structures) which dominate the entire research enterprise offer further evidence of the presence of the parallel process in developmental research. The method operates most fully and extensively in evolution and constitutes part of the definition of the concept of ‘development’ : the mutual coordination and adjustment of two internal planes that operate according to different principles
At the center of the study of the composition of psychological structure lies the issue concerning the parts and the whole. How, for instance, can we achieve a clear view of the psychological reality if we don’t study each of its components in the greatest possible depth? But, then, how to research the elusive parts of the structure without the guidance of a good general picture? The present study claims that an investigation addressing both these concerns is possible, and its object should be the highest, most complex achievements of the psychological structure. It is these very achievements that best illustrate and express the functions by which they themselves were brought about. Therefore both the whole and its parts are best examined under these conditions. At this point in time, it does not seem likely that we shall be able to investigate the highest levels of human thinking under laboratory conditions. The thought processes of individuals like Freud, Darwin, or Piaget are at their most exemplary when their subjects deal with issues that interest them, when they define their ideas, thoughts and conclusions. It is hard to conceive that it might be possible to submit people like this to laboratory-type research -and even if it were, the very conditions would probably affect their production and reduce it to the level typical of any other subject. Alternatively, it might be feasible for texts, too, to become accepted as legitimate data sources for the study of thought processes. In fact, texts offer themselves as rich, exact and complex data sources and as such are unmatched by any other human product. This opens up a new inroad to the study of thinking as a whole and in its components. Thus, the study of texts as superior expressions of the thought structures and processes of those who authored them allows us to research the highest levels of human ability together with providing a vast choice of examples from all fields of human activity. The exposure of the intellectual structure that underlies a textual entity contributes beyond our understanding of the given text to our grasp of thought processes and the structure of the human psyche in general. It may even be that the study of the emergence of the central ideas and concepts of major theories, like Freud’s, constitutes a contribution to human knowledge that is itself of no lesser proportion than that of the ideas it investigates. An entire intellectual complex, including both the process and its achievements, always exceeds each of its separate components
To return to the beginning of the current research, i.e. the process through which the founding notions and concepts of psychoanalysis originated. The approach that has evolved in the course of this work is complicated and, more than anything, it stands in need of further elaboration. On the one hand, the study gauges the foundations of psychoanalysis’ basic concepts to an extent that psychoanalysis itself has not so far achieved. On the other, it links the discussion of these concepts to a field hardly touched by psychoanalysis, namely, abstract conceptual thought (the emergence of ideas and concepts). As concerns the subjects more central to psychoanalysis, e.g. the affective function, symbolic and associative thinking, psychic functions like the ego, or wishes, this study has only made a first inroad. It is possible to identify a significant difference between the psychoanalytic model and the approach of the present study to the structure of the human psyche in general, but work on its components and details is still in its beginnings. The masculine-feminine structure; the stages of psychological development and deviations from them; identification and definition of psychic functions; psychopathologies and their treatment - in these and many other topics the difference between the approaches has only been suggested and they will need further examination.