25 August 2007

More on Freud

My feeling on the book has not changed, but I thought I ought to clarify a few things. First off, Freud was one of the pioneers in psychology. It's unfortunate that he seems to have turned his theory into a religion, but that's not to say that it didn't do some good in its time. Probably his most important contribution was the idea of the "unconscious," of things going on in the mind that we're not consciously aware of. Nowadays we know that a lot of bodily functions are subconsciously regulated by the brain, and that a lot of things that we don't consciously notice do wind up stored somewhere in the brain anyway. Likewise, the "ego" is as good a name for the mind's conscious, thinking voice as any other. The superego makes no sense to me whatsoever.

I'm not saying that it's never a useful idea; just that it's not useful to me. As far as I'm concerned, Freud has come up with a single visualization for the layers of the mind. We frequently use visualizations in taiji to try and help our bodies get into the correct posture. The thing that students quickly learn is that not everyone responds to the same visualization. You get someone like Freud who seems to have a guilt complex, then the superego imagery will work for that person. You get someone like me with no overarching guilt complex, and I'm just going to say, "Eh? Superego? Are you mental?"

For me, the seven chakras provide a more useful visualization. I would like to think that there's some physical reality behind the chakras, but I have absolutely no evidence for it. My subjective responses have been colored by the things I've read about chakras and hence expected from them when I started playing with the idea. I find them to be a useful diagnostic tool to check on things that might be bothering me subconsciously. Not foolproof, certainly not scientific, but useful nonetheless, and a big part of how I survived last year.

Likewise, I expect that Freud's system was useful to him and to patients with experiences and problems similar to his. I think that he overestimated the universality of his visualization, however, excepting the idea of a "hidden" dimension of the mind. (Other critics have stronger, harsher criticisms; you can get a taste of these in Wikipedia's article on Freud.)

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