"You have realized that the dream is a pathological product, the first member of the class which includes hysterical symptoms, obsessions and delusions, but that it is distinguished from the others by its transitoriness and by its occurrence under conditions which are part of normal life."
This passage connects dreams with forms of mental illness - according to Freud, both are products of repressed, unconscious urges. This is important for understanding the place of dreams in Freud's theory of psychoanalytic treatment; dreams provide evidence of repressed urges that are also the causes of mental suffering. Understanding these causes requires the analyst to interpret the patient's dreams, and reveal to them the underlying reason for their neurotic, hysterical, or obsessive symptoms. In other words, despite their 'transitory' nature, dreams provide the core evidence of the truth and value of psychoanalysis.
"The shutting-off of mental life from reality at night and the regression to primitive mechanisms which this makes possible enable this wished-for instinctual satisfaction to be experienced in a hallucinatory manner as occurring in the present."
This passage describes the dreaming process. Freud's purpose here is to explain why dreams should be considered a privileged source of information about the patient's unconscious, or id. Dreams provide a glimpse into the psyche that nothing else can, because in waking life, the ego acts as a buffer between our unconscious desires and external reality. In sleep, the ego is relaxed, which allows the id more leeway to select images, symbols, and associations that it will combine into a dream and thereby fulfill its instinctual urges. Overall, Freud works in this collection to stress that dreams are not simply meaningless events, but are in fact the gateways to our inner mental life.
"I have shown you from examples that by their application occult facts have been brought to light which would otherwise have remained unknown. Psycho-analysis cannot give a direct answer to the question that no doubt interests you most – whether we are to believe in the objective reality of these findings. But the material revealed by its help makes an impression which is at all events favorable to an affirmative reply."
Freud refuses to presume that occult phenomena and mysticism are completely bogus; instead, he approaches the matter scientifically and without (admitted) prejudice. Freud’s point is that human investigations must be aware of the prejudices they face – intellectual, psychological, and historical – in order to avoid making hasty judgments that limit us from better understanding the human condition. Freud’s lecture on dreams and occultism discusses several examples from his own case studies, in which events of an occult nature seemed to take place. Freud contends that these studies suggest to him that thought transference and other such forms of "telepathy" are in fact possible. But in the end, Freud implies that these occult phenomena lead us back to psychoanalysis, and to the mysteries of the human unconscious. The implicit argument of the lecture is that critics of psychoanalysis should investigate the science without prejudice (as Freud does with occultism), since they will undoubtedly discover that it contains objective validity.
"Thus a child’s super-ego is in fact constructed on the model not of its parents but of its parents’ super-ego; the contents which fill it are the same and it becomes the vehicle of tradition and of all the time-resisting judgments of value which have propagated themselves in this manner from generation to generation."
Freud argues here that humans are not born with an inherent sense of morality, but rather slowly learn about moral standards from parents and then internalize them in the form of the super-ego. He makes a somewhat historical argument here, suggesting that society evolves through what parents pass down to children; social standards ultimately construct the super-egos of individuals in this way. By extension, the argument is that much of what makes society work is rooted in our unconscious make-up. By suggesting that psychoanalysis can help explain social and historical issues, Freud makes a powerful implicit argument for the validity and importance of his science.
"It is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle. The logical laws of thought do not apply to the id, and this is true above all of the law of contradiction."
This passage describes the id, which is a dark part of our psychic life that cannot be directly accessed by our ego or conscious awareness. The existence and centrality of the unconscious was one of Freud's most groundbreaking discoveries, and he takes great pains here and elsewhere to define it in a scientific fashion. The id is a repository of instinctual desires and energies, but it lacks a clear-cut will and only strives to purse pleasure. In the id, contradictory impulses can join up, there is no clear demarcation of time, and repressed impulses can gather and remain there indefinitely. The id knows and contains nothing but “Instinctual cathexes seeking discharge.” Only psychoanalytic therapy, Freud claims, can bring these impulses to consciousness, dissolve their energy and thereby relieve the patient of psychic suffering.
"If it is true that – at some immeasurably remote time and in a manner we cannot conceive – life once proceeded out of inorganic matter, then, according to our presumption, an instinct must have arisen which sought to do away with life once more and to re-establish the inorganic state."
This passage introduces Freud's controversial concept of the death-instinct. What Freud wishes to suggest is that humans have an inherent drive to destroy themselves. However, aware that such a claim draws knee-jerk resistance, he tempers his language, speaking of "organic material" and thereby suggesting that the drive is larger than humans. Though he later admits that the death-instinct is mixed with the instinct to create (Eros), Freud makes a bold claim here, producing one of his most enduringly controversial ideas.
"I believe we have found this specific factor, and indeed where we expected to find it, even though in a surprising form. Where we expected to find it, I say, for it lies in the castration complex. After all, the anatomical distinction [between the sexes] must express itself in psychical consequences."
This passage presents Freud's belief that the castration complex is they key turning-point in the development of girls. He argues that young girls are essentially similar (in the psychic sense) to boys early in life: the mother is the central object of affection. However, sooner or later, girls shift their object-cathexis from the mother to the father, which Freud interprets as an expression of the castration complex. By using the castration complex to explain the psychic development of both boys and girls, Freud makes a bold claim that is groundbreaking in its attempt to transcend the superficial distinctions between genders provided by biology, but controversial in its innate assumption that a desire for a penis is inherent and universal.
"The failures we meet with as therapists are constantly setting us new tasks and the demands of real life are an effective guard against the overgrowth of the speculation which we cannot after all do without in our work."
This quotation illustrates a recurring theme in Freud's lectures, and in his theory of psychoanalysis at large. Encountering difficulties has been key to psychoanalytic investigation from the beginning, and especially since its early discovery of the unconscious as a powerful force shaping psychic life. And this point holds true for clinical as well as for theoretical concerns - in both instances, the analyst must embrace difficult encounters, not shy away from unpleasant truths, and use these experiences to adjust or modify the current theories. Though Freud says this ostensibly to chastise some of his pupils, the implicit argument is that psychoanalysis legitimately uses the scientific method, and is therefore a legitimate science. It does not operate at the whims of the analyst, but is instead concerned with discovering objective truth.
"Religion is an attempt to master the sensory world in which we are situated by means of the wishful world which we have developed within us as a result of biological and psychological necessities."
In his lecture on the possibility of a Weltanschauung, Freud is highly critical of the undue power that religion exerts on human life. He claims that religion was once helpful to society, as it helped humans internalize their fear of external demons (which he implies did not exist). However, religion has since obscured the fact that it was initially constructed to act as a type of father figure: to provide a sense of protection, to provide knowledge of the universe and its origin, and finally to provide a set of moral rules and codes of behavior. Freud's point is that all of these functions of religion can be accounted for by our early childhood fears and needs, and that psychoanalysis shows the concept of religion is grounded in the early image of the father as powerful, protecting, and knowledgeable being. Unfortunately, in its attempt to elevate itself over science, religion has ignored this genesis, and attempted to denigrate the scientific method that has proven so valuable to society throughout the ages.
"The prohibition against thought issued by religion to assist in its self-preservation is also far from being free from danger either for the individual or for human society. Analytic experience has taught us that a prohibition like this, even if it is originally limited to a particular field, tends to widen out and thereafter to become the cause of severe inhibitions in the subject’s conduct of life.”
In this passage, Freud explains why he believes religion to be a threat to the precepts of rational thinking and the importance of scientific inquiry. It is not what religion offers to certain individuals, but what it demands of everyone else. Religion, in order to maintain its hold over society in the face of challenges by science, attempts to elevate its claims above those of scientific, rational investigation. But Freud argues that this is quite dangerous, since repression leads to psychic sickness. What happens, therefore, in a case of full social repression, is a dangerous inhibition on society overall. Paired with the unquestionable gains that the scientific method has made for mankind, Freud's argument is loudly stated: we must give free reign to the rational spirit of inquiry, and allow it to take us wherever its investigations lead.
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