Sunday, June 20, 2010

"Humanity's Naïve Self-Loves"

I recently came across the following quote from Freud:

"Humanity has in the course of time had to endure from the hands of science two great outrages upon its naive self‑love. The first was when it realized that our earth was not the center of the universe…The second was when biological research robbed man of his peculiar privilege of having been specially created, and relegated him to a descent from the animal world…But man's craving for grandiosity is now suffering the third and most bitter blow from present‑day psychological research which is endeavoring to prove to the 'ego' of each one of us that he is not even master in his own house, but that he must remain content with the veriest scraps of information about what is going on unconsciously in his own mind…This is the kernel of the universal revolt against our science." (A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis, Eighteenth Lecture)

(Freud's conception of the psychoanalytic unconscious is not the one accepted by cognitive scientists today, and I don't know whether or not the above was truly at the root of criticism he faced. But, Freud was perhaps more right than he could have known about the third "outrage" to humanity's naive worldviews. Modern research on the cognitive unconscious in psychology and cognitive neuroscience has presented a wealth of evidence that picks away at the notion of a unified, directly-known, causal, conscious self.)

In any case, sort of sums things up, huh?

6 comments:

Shilton HaSechel said...

This makes one wonder what the biggest factor in evolution-denial is. Is it the contradiction of Genesis or is the lowering of man from his former uniqueness?

MKR said...

Freud may have been right to attribute the "universal revolt" (I don't have the German text, but I suspect that "resistance" would be a better translation than "revolt") against psychoanalysis to its deposition of the ego from its former supreme position, but he flatters himself unduly in describing psychoanalysis as a "science." The psychoanalytic theory of the mind is a speculative conception, not a scientific theory, and any research being done today on unconscious mental capacities has little to do with his theory of the unconscious.

JewishGadfly said...

Shilton--

Yeah, that's definitely something I had in mind in posting this. As I have commented elsewhere, there is also the fact that thinking through the details of evolution makes it hard to believe in Divine providentialism. I'm pretty curious as to how these things come together to create denial of evolution.

MKR--

Agreed. Speculative inferences based on case studies does not a science make. But, it's pretty interesting that modern research on the unconscious does still carry this implication that he noted.

Shilton HaSechel said...

Something else I find interesting is Orthodox Jews (even some UO) have no problem becoming psychologists but many shy away from studying evolution. (Maybe evolutionary biology just isn't a "Jewish" job)

I wonder if Orthodox psychologists really understand the implications of their work.

MKR said...

Shilton's observation reminds me of something that happened during the year that I taught at the University of Cincinnati. I applied to the health service to arrange some consultations with a psychotherapist. I eventually found myself in the office of a guy in a kippah, who is a professor of psychiatry there. Later, I happened on his name in an article in the New York Times, in which he was described as "ultra-Orthodox." That, I thought, can't be right: a guy with that much secular learning who is practicing and teaching psychiatry (and wearing normal clothes and a trimmed beard) can't be ultra-Orthodox, can he? If that's right then I don't understand what the term means.

JewishGadfly said...

It's a good question. But, it's a broad field, I guess. Frum people can become doctors while avoiding evolutionary biology, after all...