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Freudian Slips – Glitch in the machine or key to countless possibilities?

FC&P New York Cocktail Party shoot: Is he envious of my ciggie?

Alexandra Xubersnak – FC&P New York Cocktail Party shoot: Is he envious of my ciggie? via Flickr

Parapraxis, the Freudian Slip

Parapraxis is an obscure word for a pretty common idea—The Freudian Slip. The founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, was the first to try to analytically explain its occurrence.

In the Psychopathology of Everyday Life Freud says parapraxes are unintentional acts resulting from an unconscious wish, desire, attitude or thought.¹

This could involve forgetting names and sequences of words. But classic examples of parapraxes are slips of the pen or tongue.

Imagine a guest at a cocktail party accidentally saying, “I love your horse” instead of, “I love your house.”

For Freud, the hidden, unconscious meaning of the slip points to the person making it. From the above, the slip-maker could be an avid equestrian or, more in line with Freudian thinking, an intensely sexual person (the horse being a traditional symbol of virility).

miss_millions – my freudian slip(pers) via Flickr

Along with aggression, Freud attributed tremendous significance to the libido. The example for “Freudian slip” given at Wikipedia is even more directly related to sex, which again, for Freud is one of two innate drives.²

In general use, the term ‘Freudian slip’ has been debased to refer to any accidental slips of the tongue. Thus many examples are found in explanations and dictionaries which do not strictly fit the psychoanalytic definition.

For example: She: ‘What would you like—bread and butter, or cake?’ He: ‘Bed and butter.’³

Jung’s Challenge

Freud’s best student C. G. Jung was also keen on studying parapraxes. Becoming a luminary in his own right, Jung tried to explain parapraxes in relation to the shadow.

Jung’s idea of the shadow is both personal and collective. An irruption of shadow contents into daytime life could arise from an unresolved personal complex, the greater forces of the collective unconscious or some combination of the two.

Contrary to Freud’s theory, Jung says that slips do not necessarily point to the person making them. Not exclusively, at any rate. Jung believes that slips can involve an entire situation among several or many people, near or possibly across distance and time.

Freud recognizes the importance of others in the formation of the unconscious. But unlike Jung, he doesn’t talk about instantaneous, thematic connections across distance and time. So Jung arguably prefigures today’s transpersonal psychology, whereas Freud does not. In fact, Freud’s private letters ridicule Jung’s interest in parapsychology.4

Mankind the Information Processor

Like most things in life, there are even more alternative explanations for Freudian slips.

For many secular people accepting cognitive psychology5 there is no need for a personal unconscious or greater, transpersonal connectivity. A purely cognitive theory of parapraxes goes like this:

In contrast to psychoanalytic theorists, cognitive psychologists say that linguistic slips can represent a sequencing conflict in grammar production. From this perspective, slips may be due to cognitive underspecification that can take a variety of forms – inattention, incomplete sense data or insufficient knowledge. Secondly, they may be due to the existence of some locally appropriate response pattern that is strongly primed by its prior usage, recent activation or emotional change or by the situation calling conditions.

Some sentences are just susceptible to the process of banalisation: the replacement of archaic or unusual expressions with forms that are in more common use. In other words, the errors were due to strong habit substitution.6

Image via Wikipedia

Meaning, Wisdom and Everlasting Life

There may well be some truth to this. But cognitive psychologists tend to overlook the possibility that aspects of secular, holistic and theological explanations may actually work best together.7

Many researchers dismiss slips, mistakes and accidents as flukes brought on by stress, distraction, patterning, sleep deprivation or malnutrition. But people like Dr. Charles Brenner believe that parapraxes have profound implications:

In the mind, as in physical nature around us, nothing happens by chance, or in a random way.8

Perhaps one way of differentiating attitudes toward parapraxes is to ask whether we learn something of value from them. Are they just glitches in the machine or is something greater going on?

For me, thinkers like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett move through life like horses with blinkers. They see themselves and their world as nothing more than a complex outcome of biochemical processes originally formed by chance. Not unlike robots equipped with sophisticated AI, Dawkins and Dennett may learn how to avoid the next bump in the road after stumbling over the first one. And they may learn how to maximize pleasurable activity.

The full human being, however, is so much more. From life’s lessons we acquire enhanced spiritual meaning and wisdom, which far surpasses the mere avoidance of stumbling blocks and pursuit of ephemeral pleasures.

Image via Wikipedia

¹ Sigmund Freud, Psychopathology of Everyday Life. London: Penguin, 2002 [1901].

² Freud postulates innate drives for sex and aggression, which later came to include Sabina Spielrein‘s thanatos, or death instinct.

³ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freudian_slip

4 See my PhD, p. 283-284.

5 Usually seen as somewhat flimsy science, even among scientists.

6 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freudian_slip

Just as Intelligent Design attempts to fuse Darwinism and Creationism, several explanations may better approximate reality than only one.

Charles Brenner, M.D. Elementary Textbook of Psychoanalysis. New York: Anchor Books, 1957, p.2. This worldview matches my own and perhaps the meaning of the ancient Greek word Kairos – things happening “at the right time.” Kairos in the New Testament (composed in Greek) means at “the appointed time in the purpose of God.” See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kairos

Related » Parapraxes, Accidents and Necessary Mistakes

 Top 10 Crazy Facts About Psychiatry In The 19th Century (listverse.com)

 6 Marketing Insights Pulled Straight from a Psych.101 Textbook (grasshopper.com)

 Three lessons to fix America and prevent global decline (scroll.in)

 Doctor’s Diary: How to treat nightmares (telegraph.co.uk)


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Freud’s Reality Principle (German: Realitätsprinzip) – Is that all there is?

Hanging man artwork, in Prague, Czech Republic, a work by David Cerny intended to depict Sigmund Freud.

In Sigmund Freud‘s personality theory, the reality principle is a learned psychological function that seeks to gratify instinctual desires (id) through adaptation to the external world.

The reality principle exists in a state of tension with the innate pleasure principle. The instinctual id always wants instant gratification. The rest of the psyche (ego, superego) limits and directs the id so that its incessant demands are appropriately expressed, both personally and socially.¹

That is Freud’s theory of normality. Sadly, however, we often we hear in the news instances – and lawsuits – where the id reigns supreme by eclipsing or habitually overshadowing the rest of the psyche. And if an imbalanced person happens to have power over others, say in the workplace, sometimes they can get away with abusive behavior and, perhaps, other crimes for quite some time before victims come forward.

I have great respect for Freud as a true pioneer in trying to systematize the psyche. However, my main critique of Freud’s view has to do with his understanding of external “reality.” For Freud, external reality is limited to the material and the social. Freud was openly hostile to religion and religious ideas. This hostility put him at odds with his star pupil, Carl Jung, whose analytical psychology also became a leading force, especially among writers, artists and depth psychologists interested in more than just sex, aggression, secular life (Freud’s eros) and death (thanatos).

¹ I took a memorable first-year humanities course at York University directed by a Freudian analyst, Dr. Don Carveth. Although soaking up the professor’s wise words as far back as the early 80s, I remember the general theory very well. Reading Kendra Cherry’s excellent summary also helped to flesh out this short entry » https://www.verywell.com/what-is-the-reality-principle-2795801, as did Charles Rycroft’s clear and concise » https://www.amazon.com/Critical-Dictionary-Psychoanalysis-Penguin-Reference/dp/0140513108


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Regression – Childish vs. Contemplative

coloring time

Jenn Vargas – coloring time via Flickr

In Freudian psychoanalytic theory regression is a defense mechanism in which the ego partially or fully revisits an earlier phase of libidinal¹ development.

This process is generally viewed as a backward step, one brought on by unresolved anxiety that challenges ‘normal’ functioning. It is also maladaptive because the person re-experiences anxiety clustered around an infantile stage of psychological development. In very real sense, one becomes fixated at an earlier developmental stage and aspects of the world are interpreted though the lens of an anxious child.

Not surprisingly, regression can contribute to negative personality characteristics. In the extreme, we get the paranoid, the grandiose, the manipulator, the pathological liar, or some combination thereof.

That’s the down side of regression.

However, consciously chosen regression – for example, creative play, reading childhood books or listening to old records – need not be maladaptive. Returning to earlier pastimes and pleasures in a controlled way can be therapeutic. It helps to integrate the total personality and possibly leads to increased awareness, experience and wisdom.

As a personal example, one of my favorite controlled regressions is listening to music from different periods of my childhood and young teen years. When I listen to my old favorites now, it’s almost like I psychologically ‘travel’ and connect with aspects of my former self. This can lead to an increased appreciation of where I was at within a given era. But this isn’t something I do on a regular schedule. For me, the right time to revisit and reflect simply arises, and discerning that time is more an art than a science. And when the time isn’t right, old tunes just sound like old tunes… stale, small and uninspiring.²

Hanging man artwork, in Husova street, central Prague, Czech Republic, a work by David Cerny intended to depict Sigmund Freud.

In a nutshell, the main difference between healthy and unhealthy regression depends on whether one

  • consciously participates in opportunities to remember, feel and reflect

or

  • unconsciously plays out old neuroses, over and over like a broken record

I touched on this in a piece influenced by the late, great sociologist Max Weber, “Childish or Childlike?

But not all childish people are necessarily fixated to something from early childhood. This is just a theory. Some believers in reincarnation, for instance, believe that we can be fixated to trauma occurring in past lives. On the other hand, geneticists would probably say that some people are simply born sensitive or anxious, and their anxiety and the resulting distortion of ‘reality’ has little or nothing to do with early childhood or past lives. Meanwhile, philosophers ask “what is reality?”

My point is that we should consider various perspectives but never get caught up in a single one, because that’s a kind of fixation too.

¹ Libido commonly refers to sexual energy or the supposed “sex drive” but for Sigmund Freud and his followers, the meaning is far more nuanced. See

See also

² Or as The Bard put it, “stale, flat and unprofitable.”


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Reductio ad absurdum – An old school way of saying “take the flipside” or “take it to the limit”

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

Reductio ad absurdum [Latin: “reduce to the absurd”] is a method of argumentation said to

  • prove a statement to be true by demonstrating the contradiction, absurdity and therefore impossibility that would result if it were untrue

or

  • prove a statement to be false by taking its assertions and implications to their logical endpoint

Example for the first type of reductio ad absurdum

English: Queen Christina of Sweden (left) and ...

Queen Christina of Sweden (left) and René Descartes (right). Detail from René Descartes i samtal med Sveriges drottning, Kristina. Pierre Louis Dumesnil. Museo nacional de Versailles. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Consider the French philosopher René Descartes famous line, I think, therefore I am.

And its falsification: I think, therefore I am not.

Here one can ask: If a person thinks that she or he does not exist, who is doing the thinking?

By falsifying the original statement, the ensuing absurdity apparently proves the original statement to be true.

The depth psychologist Carl Jung uses a form of reductio ad absurdum to try to refute the Buddhist notion of no-self; that is, the Buddhist idea that individuality is an illusion. Jung asks: Who experiences the bliss of Nirvana if no self is present to experience it?

This might seem clever and amusing but Buddhists could reply that the center of consciousness merely shifts from illusory individualism to actual totality.¹

Example for the second type of reductio ad absurdum

Crime Time

Crime Time (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Consider the argument, sometimes heard today, that it’s okay to do crime because everyone is a sinner and the whole world is corrupt.

If one takes that to its logical conclusion we get:

It’s not okay to do crime because if the whole world didn’t resist sin, corruption and crime we’d have violent, lawless chaos.

¹ This stance is not accepted by those who believe that individual souls have a relationship with the godhead.

Related » Anatman, Theism


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Reaction Formation – A neurotic response to fear

Freud Quiere Bailar + OU

Freud Quiere Bailar + OU. Póster del concert a Sidecar. 31, Gener, 2008 by Wookie Sidecar via Flickr

In Sigmund Freud‘s psychoanalytic theory, reaction formation is a defense mechanism in which a repressed, socially unacceptable impulse is expressed in an exaggerated, opposite way. The original impulse, perceived as bad or anxiety producing, remains unresolved in its unconscious, infantile form. This feeds the flames of a neuroses.

An example of a reaction formation would be the LGBT hater who represses his or her own LGBT fantasies. Another would be the disordered criminal who denigrates the so-called “mentally ill.”

Reaction formation isn’t always a lifelong sentence. With increased personal maturity it may lead to the successful sublimation of the original, fearful impulse. Sublimation, according to Freudian theory, means redirecting something negative into a socially acceptable channel.¹

A socially acceptable response to a fearful impulse would be, for instance, the mother who sublimates sexual desire for her son into buying him fine clothing.

English: Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud (Wikipedia)

However, some maintain that this is not the best solution. Different thinkers each have unique solutions. But generally, they say that the optimal solution is to resolve socially unacceptable impulses through analysis, prayer or other spiritual techniques for purification. In other words, become conscious of the impulse to transcend it.

Other theorists say it’s impossible to eradicate sexual desires, appropriate or not. At best one can just “put them in the right place,” within the psyche. But this essentially medical, psychiatric view is at odds with accounts from saints like Faustina Kowalska who wrote about the divine gift of celibacy

Reaction formation has also been discussed in the context of hostage taking and other oppressive situations like the holocaust. Here the victim actually comes to like or even love their oppressor.³ This seems to be a desperate attempt to make good of a lousy situation where one or more creeps exercise physical, economic or cultic power over a victim who, deep down, really doesn’t like it.4

¹ Wikipedia says this is an unconscious process but it need not be. Many people are aware, for instance, that they redirect their anger and frustration into something positive, like housecleaning or other undesirable tasks. One “attacks” the problem.

² See also http://www.religious-vocation.com

³  The concept of reaction formation has been used to explain responses to external threats as well as internal anxieties. In the phenomenon described as Stockholm Syndrome, a hostage or kidnap victim ‘falls in love’ with the feared and hated person who has complete power over them. Similarly paradoxical reports exist of powerless and vulnerable inmates of Nazi camps creating ‘favourites’ among the guards and even collecting objects discarded by them. >> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reaction_formation

In a less extreme sense, one could ask how many wives, husbands and priests would continue in their “loving” relationship or vocation if it didn’t bring economic security. That might sound cynical but I think, in some cases, it’s a realistic question.

Related  » Reversal

References

  • Charles Rycroft, A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1977, pp. 136-137.


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The idea of the Self

Sophie – Who Am I?

The human self, being the basis of personal identity, has been variously understood.

Some theorists say the self is the agency that says “I.” According to this view, the self is the conceptual, reflective part of ourselves that apparently remains unchanged from the first instance when, to as long as a person can think about, the idea of “I.”

In most developmental psychological systems, this is the ego, not to be confused with egotism or egoism. Theorists subscribing to this view may or may also believe in a transcendental, unchanging core to selfhood.

Alternately, some suggest that individuals possess multiple selves. Here the self is viewed as “the personality or organization of traits.”¹ In the wider arena of psychological and New Age theory, the idea of multiple selves may or may not involve the belief in an eternal, unchanging aspect (or aspects) of the self.

The Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing spoke of a true and false self in his book The Divided Self. As reported by some of his so-called “schizoid” patients, the true self is “deeper” than the false self.²

Jasinthan Yoganathan Who am I ? “One of the best questions i have asked myself!”

From the standpoint of Western Philosophy, the question of self belongs to ontology (the study of being) and phenomenology (the study of experience). However, ontology and phenomenology are arguably influenced by cosmology (theories about the character of the universe) and ethics (questions about right and wrong). Sadly, some thinkers fail to integrate these different branches, offering at best partial theories about the self (which in the wrong hands can probably do more harm than good).

Sigmund Freud‘s theory about the self is limited to two main factors—nature (instinctual drives of sex, aggression, love and death) and society (parents, significant others and social institutions). Freud viewed God and notions of an afterlife as illusions created to satisfy unconscious psychological desires and wishes. And this limiting worldview had a significant impact on his outlook.

Freud’s brightest student, Carl Jung, advanced psychoanalytic theory by suggesting the possibility of archetypal aspects of the self. Archetypes in Jungian theory are often misunderstood. While they do have a transcendental component, according to Jung they are also grounded in the body. So archetypes represent aspects of the self believed to exist beyond and yet inherent to the body. Through their representation in activities like dreaming, art and architecture, they manifest in the mundane world as archetypal images.³ For Jung, even the self is an archetype—an archetype of wholeness.

Víctor Nuño Indifference or hope | Indiferencia o esperanza “Is it so easy to distinguish one from the other? Where’s the limit between them?”

In many interpretations of Biblical Christianity the true, essential self is not of this world but created to enjoy an otherworldly, everlasting heaven:

If any one would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake will save it (Matthew 16:24-25).

For Hindus, those in agreement with the philosopher/sage Sankara tend understand the true self (atman) as identical with an invisible, underlying aspect of creation (brahman). Once liberated, the self loses all sense of individuality.

But Hinduism isn’t quite that simple. Ramanuja‘s school of Visistadvaita presents another Hindu perspective where the true self is said to ultimately retain some sense of individuality, even as it finally comes to rest for all eternity in the godhead.

Most schools of Buddhism claim that there is no self. For Buddhists, the whole concept of individuality is just an illusion that we apparently must overcome en route to enlightenment. This includes the notion of the conceptual “I” and, perhaps, more radically, the idea of an eternal or everlasting self. For Buddhists, both are illusory.

A branch of New Age believers say we have numerous slightly different selves coexisting in parallel or multiple universes, all unified by an “oversoul” existing above, beyond and yet within those multiple realities. A good example of this point of view can be found in the Seth Books by Jane Roberts.

William III painted in the 1690s by Godfried Schalcken via Wikipedia

In a witty and regal vein, King William III (William of Orange) was among those who have pondered the nature of the self.

As I walk’d by my self
And talk’d to my self,
My self said unto me,
Look to thy self,
Take care of thy self,
For nobody cares for Thee.
I answered my self,
And said to my self,
In the self-same Repartee,
Look to thy self
Or not look to thy self,
The self-same thing will be.

¹ J. P. Chaplin, Dictionary of Psychology, Bantam 1985, p. 414.

² See R. D. Laing, The Divided Self.

³ Some may not see dreams as part of the mundane world. But when we remember them, they become part of our daytime reality.

Related » Alchemy, Anatman, Atman, William Blake, Collective Unconscious, Conscience, Defense Mechanism, Karma Transfer, Maya, Numinous, Persona, Pollution, Postmodernism, Third Eye


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The Shadow

Keira Knightley at the presser for A Dangerous Method, a movie that explores the intense relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud at TiFF in Toronto. September 10, 2011

In the psychology of C. G. Jung, the shadow is the unconscious, evil side of human nature.

The shadow apparently is one of the first aspects of the unconscious psyche encountered in Jungian analysis.

Jung says its positive side is expressed through creativity and humor. According to this view, the representation of the shadow’s darkness in non-violent, socially acceptable channels (e.g. art, music, literature, photography or controlled “acting out”) facilitates mastering it. Otherwise, the shadow could conceivably control the ego.

Marina del Castell Shadow puppetry

If merely repressed, Jung says the shadow might find an opening through the cracks of the psyche and momentarily express itself in disturbing ways. This view depends on a model of the psyche where psychic energy is always seeking expression. If overly contained, psychic energy might boil over and “flip its lid” like a covered pot on a stove with no steam vents.

This might account for the cruel actions toward children by Sister Francesca at the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa.

Another version of the shadow appears as a comic strip, pop culture figure, “Only the shadow knows…” And more recently, the science fiction TV program, Lexx, features His Divine Shadow as the archdeacon of darkness.

Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jung and other figures like Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell argued that the shadow carries or evokes some degree of numinosity. So if we go to a movie and become fascinated say, with the Joker (Batman) or Darth Vader (Star Wars), we’re almost having a kind of “religious” experience in that we’re going beyond our everyday consciousness into something different and captivating.

Debates continue in religion, the humanities and social sciences as to whether this kind of practice is a healthy venting (or possibly redirection) of unavoidable negative impulses or something that simply fans the flames of evil.

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Related » Archetype, Darth Vader, Demons, Dracula, Hermann Hesse, Franz Kafka, Self, Steppenwolf, Trickster, Vampires, Witch, Yoni