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40. Фрейдовские понятия бессознательного и неосознаваемого М. Гилл (Freud's Concepts of Unconsciousness and the Unconscious. Merton M. Gill)

40. Freud's Concepts of Unconsciousness and the Unconscious. Merton M. Gill

(Supported by Research Scientist Award, National Institute of Mental Health, K5-MH-19, 436)

University of Illinois, Chicago, USA

This paper reviews Freud's concepts of unconsciousness and the unconscious. It argues that the former is a purely psychological conception which is consistent with a self-contained discipline while the latter is a physical conception which is an implicit neuropsychology -referred to in psychoanalysis as metapsychology-considered to be the underlying somatic explanation of psychic functioning. Freud's opposing views that psychic function can and cannot be explained by somatic considerations are described. The position is taken that Freud's conception of the U с s. or id as a substantive with specific content related to bodily instinctual impulses is a natural science theory which is neither derivable from nor testable by the specifically psychoanalytic data from the psychoanalytic therapeutic situation-

In the belief that a symposium such as this one should include a statement of Freud's views on the unconscious I have taken that as one of my tasks. I shall also include a critique of one of his two major conceptions of the unconscious. To begin with it is important to note that Freud believed that "The division of the psychical into what is conscious and what is unconscious is the fundamental premiss of psychoanalysis; and it alone makes possible for psychoanalysis to understand the pathological processes inmental life..." (1923, p. 13)

Otherwise expressed, Freud regarded consciousness as not the essence of the psychical but only a particular quality which psychical processes might or might not have. That is, those features of conscious psychic life which lead us to see it as psychological may be present without consciousness - indeed most of psychic life is without the quality of consciousness. (1923, p. 13) Ordinarily, conscious psychic life does not present an unbroken continuity of meaningfulness but by inferring unconscious processes of the same types of mean-ingfulness as the conscious ones the gaps can be filled in and psychic life becomes continuous.

Freud made this same point on numerous occasions with the explicit intent of refuting what he regarded as the common mistaken presumption that consciousness is an indispensable feature of what is psychological in contrast to what is physical. He rejected any compromise on the point, refusing for example to accept the designation "psychoid" or the idea that what seemed to be unconscious psychological processes included some degree of consciousness, however minimal (1923, p. 15).

He likewise rejected other conceptions and designations which purported to be alternatives to his view. While he agreed that in cases of multiple personality there is an oscillation of consciousness from one personality to another he insisted that a latent coconsciousness differed from an active unconscious. He likewise found Janet's concept and usage of subconscious as vague and illdefined, "calculated to stress the equivalence of what is psychical to what is conscious". (1900, p. 615)

Though it is not possible in the compass of this paper to show how Freud's clinical experience led him to his conclusions about unconsciousness, it may be noted that he especially emphasized hypnosis, and in particular post-hypnotic suggestion, the psychopathology of every-day life, and dreams.

Having insisted that psychological processes are mainly non-conscious, Freud's next major step was to insist that this non-conscious, psychological life is not merely something potential which has to become conscious to be active but is active even without the attribute of consciousness, that is, demonstrates the same kind of processes to be found in conscious psychological life, even to the point of problem solving.

There followed another major step: These active unconscious psychological processes can be divided into two major types, those which can become conscious with relative ease and those which cannot. Freud referred to these two types of unconscious as both descriptively unconscious but only the second as dynamically unconscious. He named the first kind preconscious and the second unconscious.

The use of the term dynamic for unconscious has sometimes given rise to the misunderstanding that preconscious processes are latent while only unconscious processes are active. That is incorrect. Both are active but while preconscious processes can relatively easily become conscious one encounters difficulty in attempting to make dynamically unconscious processes conscious.

There are two further principal steps to be detailed in this Freudian scheme, steps to which I will later direct my critique.

The first step is that whereas up to now we have been speaking of processes, Freud also conceived of the entities in relation to which these processes occurred as comprising demarcated groupings which he called systems, thus subdividing the mind according to what are called the topographical systems. He designated three such systems and signalized the distinction between processes and systems by labelling the systems by nouns- They were Cs., the conscious system, P с s.., the preconscious system, and U с s., the unconscious system.

The second further step was a fateful one. Freud divided into these same systems the opposing processes which he considered to be contending with each other in the manifold conflicts which he discerned as accounting for many both pathological and normal processes- Whereas there is no apriori reason why he should not have regarded the opposing processes as both seeking expression, he saw one as seeking expression and the other as seeking to prevent such expression. Those which sought to prevent expression he labelled defensive while those which sought expression but were prevented from doing so he called re-pressed. He labelled these same defensive processes "resistance" when exhibited in relation to a therapist's efforts to bring them to expression in the form of consciousness.

By singling out that feature of defensive processes which prevented repressed processes from coming to consciousness he thus divided the contending processes into systems named according to their relationship to consciousness. The defensive processes were allocated to the Pes. and С s. and the processes defended against to the U с s. He called the activity of the defending processes repression and he referred to the processes defended against as the repressed?

The reason I have called this step a fateful one was that it opened the way to designate a special class of motivations as the ones seeking expression in contrast to that class of motivations which sought to keep them from expression. The class seeking expression was referred to as the instinctual impulses and these were in turn related to bodily needs, in particular sexual.

Otherwise expressed this meant that the opposing processes were no longer granted equivalent status in relation to seeking expression. Only one group was considered to be doing so while the other was seeking to prevent it.

That this is a correct assessment of Freud's position may be seen in how he revised this scheme when he encountered the fact which contradicted it. That fact was that defensive processes could be just as unyieldingly dynamically unconscious as those which he called repressed. In recognition of this contradiction he redesignated his systems by a scheme which came to be called structural in contrast to the earlier topographic- He no longer named his systems in terms of their relationship to consciousness- What had been Ucs. became id, while what had been P с s. and С s. became ego. At the same time he proposed a "differentiating grade" within the ego, which he called the superego* The relationship of the superego designation to the contradiction he had encountered was this: it was precisely those motivations which he grouped into the superego which showed most vividly that what he had called defensive could also be dynamically unconscious for it was the superego motivations which defended against the coming to expression of that class of motivations which he was calling the repressed. (Gill, 1963)

The evidence that he had in fact thus divided the classes of motivations is made clear by his description of the id. He explicitly described it as the psychical representation of the instinctual impulses which were in turn derived from the body.

In other words, though he had thus disposed of the error of assuming that defensive processes had ready access to consciousness while the processes defended against did not, he was still left with a class distinction between processes seeking expression and processes seeking to prevent such expression.

An alternative scheme would have been to conceptualize the contending processes as equally striving for expression and to sever the idea of processes seeking expression from any special relationship to the body, but such a scheme would have violated his conception of a hierarchy of psychic processes with the base of the hierarchy constituted by the somatic "drives". Freud thus developed two major concepts of unconsciousness. One was a purely psychological conception in which dynamic unconsciousness was an index to the presence of a conflict impeding the expression, both in awareness and overt action, of those unconscious processes. The other was a conception of a psychic system in which a special class of dynamically unconscious processes, those related to the body, were specified as those whose expression was impeded by the conflict: It is this special relationship to the body which is one of the more subtle expres-ions of Freud's confounding psychological processes with physical processes despite his repeated efforts to disentangle them.

The confounding of the two results in the fact that psychoanalysis includes two intertwined theories, one which is called metapsychology and one which is called the clinical theory. I believe it can be demonstrated that Freud's metapsychology is a group of hypotheses relating to the physical substrate of psychological processes (Gill, 1976). Even more easily can it be demonstrated that Freud regarded the physical substrate of psychological processes as explaining them. This view is exemplified in his statement that "...we must recollect that all our provisional ideas in psychology will presumably some day be based on an organic substructure..." (1914a, p. 78)

Directly contrary to this view is Freud's explicit insistence that a knowledge of the physical substrate of psychological processes will not illuminate them. Here are two explicit such statements. "As far as their [uncosneious psychological processes] physical characteristics are concerned... no physiological concept or chemical process can give us any notion of their nature". (1915, p. 168) and "We know two things about... our psyche... its bodily organ... and c.our acts of consciousness... if it la knowledge of a direct relationship between these end points 1 existed, it would at the most afford an exact localization of the processes of consciousness and would give us no help toward understanding them". (1938, pp. 144-145)

The most persuasive evidence that Freud's metapsychology is a neuropsychology lies in tracing its continuity from its first formulation in explicit neuropsychological terms through the corpus of Freud's writings in which the neuropsychology is sometimes explicit but more often implicit. That first formulation was in the remarkable document called "The Project for a Scientific Psychology" or "A Psychology for Neurologists", written in 1895 but not published until posthumously. (1950) Dr. Karl Pribram and I have reexamined it in a recent monograph (1976).

The overwhelming majority of psychoanalysts adhere to that one of Freud's views which holds that neuropsychology is explanatory of psychology, that is, that psychoanalysis is a natural science whose explanations lie in the natural science dimensions of space, force and energy. There is, however, a growing body of opinion among psychoanalysts which upholds that other view of Freud's, that psychoanalysis is a self-contained science dealing with human m eanings whose primary technique is the interpretation of such meanings.

Freud's concept of dynamic unconsciousness is one of meaning while his concept of the U с s. or id is a natural science concept- The Ucs. or id is a natural science concept in two senses. In the formal sense it is so because it designates the system as a substantive with a locus. It is sometimes argued that to designate it a substantive is only a metaphor which one must take care not to reify. But to call something a metaphor does not mean it is not a substantive and there is no way to employ it as a substantive without its reifica-tion.

In addition to its formal usage the concept of the Ucs. or id is clearly a natural science concept in that it has specific contents which are endowed with energies and exert forces, that is, act in the dimensions of physics and biology. These contents, as I have indicated are instinctual representations, that is, psychic expressions of bodily needs endowed with energies which in some inexplicable way have been transferred from the soma. Clearly, issues of the relationship between mind and body are involved. Freud expressed two contrary opinions as I have noted: mind is to be explained by body or mind is to be explained in its own terms. It is crucial to note that to choose the latter alternative is not to deny that there is a material substrate for psychological processes.

The choice of the latter alternative in no way discards the Freudian discoveries about unconscious functionings What it does is to propose that they be described in a language in which they are a mode of functioning of the human being as an agent. In language terms they become an adverbial description of the acting human being.

I have yet to mention in relation to unconsciousness a Freudian discovery which many observers consider his greatest contribution. It is that there are two different types of psychic functioning, the primary process, usually though not always associated with dynamically unconscious processes and the secondary process usually though not always associated with conscious processes. The primary process includes such features as displacement, condensation, symbolization, timelessness, and a toleration of coexisting contraries with no need for reconciliation- The secondary process is in general the antithesis of the primary process and includes ordinary logical thought.

It is sometimes argued that the explanation of the primary processes is that they reveal the activity of "mobile" energy whose sole aim is discharge, whereas the secondary process is carried out by "bound" energy which is capable of delay in discharge as it takes reality factors into account.

This explanation is one more example of the confounding of the psychical and the physical. For the mobile energy derives its characteristic by being alleged to be the instinctual energy of bodily drives. A purely psychological theory can account for the same phenomenological distinctions between primary and secondary processes by explaining the difference for example between impetuous and restrained actions in terms of their meanings to the person as active agent.

This discussion of the difference between the physical and psychological concepts of unconsciousness exemplifies the more general critique of Freudian metapsychology as seen in the writings of George Klein (1973) and Roy Schafer (1973, 1976), among others. Recently Schafer has been proposing a systematic language embodying the principles here being barely mentioned. This "action language", as he calls it, is a systematization of the "clinical" language of psychoanalysis and rejects the metapsychological natural science language, whether that be in physico-chemical terms like force, energy, and mechanism or biological terms like function, structure, and drive.

Two major contrasting positions have appeared in the psychoanalytic literature on the relation between the metapsychological and psychological theories of Freud. The one holds that psychoanalysis requires a metapsychology but that what is wrong with the current one is that it is based on an outmoded neurology and/or biology. The other holds that psychoanalysis requires no metapsychology, that the psychological theory of psychoanalysis is a self-contained discipline and that the present intertwining of psychology and metapsychology in the language and concepts of psychoanalysis should be disentangled. The usual proposal of those who wish to substitute a new metapsychology for the present one is some form of information theory (Peterfreund, 1971). It would require detailed discussion to adequately justify my conclusion, but here I can only state it. Information theory is a natural science theory and its use in psychology has not been in its technical sense but only as a metaphor which simply restates familiar propositions in new dress and whose lure is that it connotes meaning in its nontechnical sense.

The disadvantages of metapsychology are not merely that it is in fact speculative neuropsychology without accepting the obligation of conforming to the physical facts but also that it stifles research by providing pseudoexplanations and by discouraging researchers who fail because they try to work in the natural science framework which is inappropriate to the data of psychoanalysis. One result of this misalliance is the undue emphasis given to the need for interdisciplinary research and the failure to conduct systematic research on the data of the psychoanalytic therapy situation itself.

There are strong forces working against any significant change in the role which metapsychology will play in psychoanalysis in addition to the reluctance of most psychoanalysts to disagree with one of Freud's major positions. The metapsychology is consistent with infantile psychosexual phantasies in which the mind is indeed a metaphor for the body and is thus a material entity which takes in, holds, and ejects substances. Furthermore, the ascription of motive power to the impersonal forces of metapsychology makes easier the disavowal of personal responsibility for one's actions.

It is also true that the position espoused here seems to deny the central role which the body plays in the psychoanalytic view of personality development. In fact it does not do so. What it does do is to insist that just as the psychological meaning of a stimulus from the outside world cannot be determined by its external dimensions so too for a stimulus from the body. The familiar phenomena of infantile sexuality are construed in psychoanalysis in terms of their meaning to the individual.

In more specific relationship to the theme of this paper, even those who are willing to grant that conscious processes can be understood in a solely psychological frame of reference feel that unconscious processes demand a knowledge of their somatic substrate for their elucidation (Rubinstein, 1967). I have already quoted Freud to the effect that unconscious processes are to be understood in the same dimensions as conscious processes to make a continuous whole of what are otherwise the inexplicable gaps in conscious processes. Freud regarded the concept of repression as an inevitable conclusion from the facts of psychic life not an hypothesis which required validation by the demonstration of its somatic substrate, (1914b, pp. 16-17).

Of course the position of this paper does not exclude the necessity for a metapsychology, that is a neuropsychology for a comprehensive science of man. It does propose a somewhat narrower definition of psychoanalysis than some. It considers the special data of psychoanalysis to be that elicited in the psychoanalytic therapeutic situation. It considers that while the insights derived from such data can contribute to a comprehensive science of man they can do so only by being integrated with the particular insights relating to other disciplines, and that in such an integration psychoanalytic insights will be seen in perspectives different from that of the psychoanalytic therapeutic situation.

For the reader relatively unfamiliar with psychoanalysis I stress that the position taken here is radically different from the usual one. I believe it correctly states Freud's views, however. An independent judgment on the merits of the controversy described here could be made only after a far more detailed examination of the contending positions.


Freud, S. A Project for a Scientific Psychology. 1895, Standard Edition 1. London: Hogarth Press, 950

Freud, S. The Interpretation of Dreams. 1900, Standard Edition 5. London: Hogarth Press, 1953.

Freud, S. On Narcissism: An introduction. 1914a. Standard Edition 14 London: Hogarth Press, 1957.

Freud, S. On the History of the Psychoanalytic Movement. 1914b, Standard Edition 14. London: Hogarth Press, 1957.

Freud, S. The Unconscious. 1915, Standard Edition 14. London: Hogarth Press, 1957.

Freud, S. The Ego and The Id. 1923, Standard Edition 19. London: Hogarth Press, 1961. FREUD, S. An Outline of Psycho-analysis. 1938, Standard Edition 23. London: Hogarth Press, 1964.

Gill, M. M. Topography and systems in psychoanalytic theory. 1963. Psychological Issues, 10. New York: Int. Univ. Press.

Gill, M. M. Metapsychology is not psychology. 1976, Psychology versus Metapsychology. M. Gill and E P. Holzman, editors, Psychological Issues, 36. New York: International Universities Press.

Klein, G. Two theories or one. 1973, Bulletin Menninger Clinic 37, 102-132.

Peterfreund, E. Information, systems, and psychoanalysis. An evolutionary, biological approach to psychoanalytic theory. 1971. Psychological Issues 7, Nos. 25/26. New York: International Universities Press.

Pribram, K. and GILL, M. M. Freud s "Project" reassessed. Preface to contemporary cognitive theory and neuropsychology. 1976, London: Hutchinson and Co.

Rubinstein, B. Explanation and mere description: A metascientific examination of certain aspects of the psychoanalytic theory of motivation, in: R. Holt, ed., Motives and Thought, Psychological Issues, Nos. 18/19, 1967. New York: International Universities Press.

Schafer, R. Action: Its place in psychoanalytic interpretation and theory. 1973. Annual of Psychoanal. 1. New York: Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Co.

Schafer, R. A New Language for Psychoanalysis. 1976. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

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