Thursday, March 30, 2006

Long story short: Freud sucks

That's the gist of this authoritative response Frederick Crews had to a recent Newsweek cover story about the pervasive influence of Freud on popular culture.

Freud's status as the poster boy for psychiatry has always been a personal frustration for me for the reasons that:
1.) I see Freud as a psuedoscientist who was able to utilize insight and his great intellect to fashion powerful (yet, false) narratives about the way the human mind works
2.) The quack theories Freud is best known for reflect poorly on the respectability of the discipline
3.) The fields of behavioral and cognitive psychology, along with the field of neuroscience, have made amazing strides in our understanding of human consciousness that are obscured by the shadow Freud casts over popular awareness.

So I was glad to see Crews's response do a good job of explaining why Freud should not be taken seriously.


John Lombard said...

Yes, when I was younger I thought they were useful metaphors, but now I'm not even sure of that. They're not valuable even as literature -- better to have a phenomenology that confirms with what we know about the mind and the brain.

Psyberian said...

I believe that Freud's exposition of defense mechanisms is insightful. He also, from what I understand, explains that what he was doing was just theorizing - he wasn't authoritarian about it. So he didn't intend for his ideas to be taken as "gospel."
What is strange to me is, although I have an M.S. in psychology, I never have read Freud in depth. I promised myself I would do that, but have yet to do it and I graduated over a devade ago.

Hume's Ghost said...

But Freud wasn't just theorizing, he was putting his ideas into practice in the form of psychoanalysis.

Impatient Patient said...

Thank you!! I hate Freud- so you have just made me thrilled. I won't go into how badly his ideas have affected medicine- real medicine- but thank you!!!!

Psyberian said...

But Hume's Ghost, you can't fault the man for going with what he believed were his best theories. That doesn't contradict the statement that he put forth his ideas as just what they were - ideas.

I will agree that there is a lot to criticize about Freud though. Freud was at once a blessing and a curse to psychology. His theories sparked a lot of research, but a lot of what he contended didn't pan out and some of it wasn't even empirically verifiable.

But let's give him what credit he deserves. The idea of a subconscious by itself was a huge paradigm shift.

Hume's Ghost said...

I credit Freud for bringing attention to the field of psychology and for sparking interst in the study of the mind and for popularizing the notion of unconscious processes (this idea was not original to Freud, see William James for example.)

"you can't fault the man for going with what he believed were his best theories. That doesn't contradict the statement that he put forth his ideas as just what they were - ideas."

I fault him for treating people based on his pseudoscientific psychological theories (recall Popper came up with his philosophy of falsification as a specific response to Freud). If they were just ideas he wouldn't have made them the foundation of his pscychoanalytic therapy.

Psyberian said...

Well Hume’s Ghost, you have a point about Freud using pseudoscience to treat his patients and he is guilty of that. But the whole practice of psychology in general is not rooted in hard science anyway.

OK William James, and I would even say Nietzsche (who called himself a psychologist at one point) really knew about the subconscious, but Freud’s exposition of it in all (or many) of its forms was what really made an impact.

But don’t get me wrong – I feel sort of strange defending Freud since he did have all kinds of faults. For example, his recommending cocaine use to patients, his theories overemphasing sex, etc.

Popper was fascinating by the way. But I think he was too critical of science since, if nothing else, it works from a pragmatic epistemology.

Thank you for your thought-provoking blog.

Psyberian said...

Correction - I mentioned Popper above, but was actually thinking of Thomas Kuhn. Sorry for the confusion. It has been over a decade since I’ve been in college and somehow got the two mixed up - although they are very different. Anyway, Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is what I had in mind.

Hume's Ghost said...

Ok, that makes more sense. The bit about Popper being critical of science had me confused.

Anonymous said...

When you think about it, Freud probably caused psychological damage indirectly to thousands. Freud's theories on incest undoubtedly served to cause additional distress to those who had been abused, and to shelter those who had done it to them.