Sacred Disorder | Cliff Bostock's blog – 'Finally, I came to regard as sacred the disorder of my mind' (Rimbaud)

Wow, there’s such a thing as the unconscious!

Christopher Lane, author of Shyness: How a Normal Behavior Became a Sickness, has a superb column on the Psychology Today website this week. It’s a critique of David Brook’s New Yorker essay on neuroscience and psychology.

Lane makes this point:

What’s striking about… the article… is the idea, articulated most forcefully since the mid nineteenth century, that our social forms have evolved imperfectly to fit our biological and evolutionary needs. That principle certainly is not news. The problem is that much of Brooks’s article repeats it as if it were.

He goes on to observe:

“A core finding of this work” on brain science, Brooks writes, as if to a drumroll, “is that we are not primarily the products of our conscious thinking. The conscious mind gives us one way of making sense of our environment. But the unconscious mind gives us other, more supple ways.”

That’s new? Perhaps if one hasn’t read much Freud it may appear so. Yet Brooks, in the article, grapples with an age-old misfit between culture and biology that Freud pinpointed in the late nineteenth century, then helped greatly to assuage, including through the “talking cure,” a concept still very much with us today.

Any student of depth psychology will feel inspired to high-five Lane for this observation. Like him, I’ve repeatedly read during the last few years about neuroscience’s “surprising” revelation of unconscious processes. Occasionally, they note that, in this, contemporary science is validating Freud’s basic observations. But usually, like Brooks, they do not.

Freud has been mindlessly demonized for years. He’s only survived in the academic world in literature departments, with the few exceptions of schools that offer study in depth psychology. (Jung has been banished altogether for the most part.)

A few years ago, a friend who was a student at one of the schools of professional psychology (and a “closet Jungian”) told me her program didn’t include more than a few days’ study of the unconscious. It, and Freud’s other theories, were regarded as historical artifacts with no use in clinical practice today.

Online, I recently ended up in a debate with a psychology student who dismissed Freud with a litany of utter falsehoods. Of course, he turned out not to have read Freud and to be parroting his professors.

It does bear mention that the psychoanalytical community itself misrepresented Freud in some respects. It clung to Freud’s early explanation of homosexuality’s origin as over-identification with the mother, for example. Freud in fact recanted this, admitting that, for all he knew, the cause was over-identification with the father. In any case, he wrote to the mother of a gay man, there was nothing wrong with being gay. So, he was actually quite ahead of his time in that respect too.

It’s fascinating to watch arguably the most influential thinker of the 20th century fall into disrepute and oblivion for observations that now re-emerge without any acknowledgment of their history. It’s an example of the short-sightedness of contemporary psychology — but that’s another post. In fact, it’s a dissertation.

(Photo credit: Flickr.)

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