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Biography of Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud is regarded as one of the greatest minds of the 19th and 20th centuries. He revolutionized our ideas on how the human mind works. Freud began the discipline of Psychoanalysis, which is still associated with his name . Freud’s influence, although contained during his early years, spread at the start of the 20th century, and most people in western society view human behaviour at least partially in Freudian terms. Although some of his ideas were met with abhorrence and disagreement, it is safe to say that Freud is the most important and influential psychiatrist and cultural philosopher of the last 150 years.

Question 1:
Sigmund Freud was born on 6th May 1856, in Freiberg, Moravia, (now Pribor, Czechoslovakia) and died on the 23rd September 1939, in London. Freud inherited his sense of humour, his shrewd scepticism, his liberalism and freethinking from his father, Jakob Freud. From his mother, Amalie Nathansohn, he inherited his sentimentality. His amazing intellect, however, was his own . Several childhood events stood out in Freud’s memory, and contributed to Freud’s development of psychoanalytic theories. For example, before his younger brothers birth, Freud had almost exclusive access to his mother attention, but after the birth he had to share her . Freud admitted “having evil wishes” against Julius, who died at the age of eight months. Freud viewed this event as the beginning of a life-long tendency towards self-reproach . Another important event in Freud’s childhood was his penetration into his parent’s bedroom out of (sexual) curiosity, only to be told off by an irate father .

Freud’s formal education began at nine, at high school, graduating summa cum laude . None of the traditional Jewish trades appealed to Freud, whose intense intellectual abilities had become clear. Freud insisted that at no time in his life did he feel “any particular predilection for the career of a doctor. I was moved rather by a sort of curiosity, which was, however, directed more towards human concerns than towards natural objects” . It was through his study of medicine at University of Vienna, 1873-1881, that Freud became interested in neurology, and later, psychology.

Question 2:
Freud reflected his historical context in a number of ways. During Freud’s educational years, several European physicians and neurologists were developing their own explanations into the functioning of the human mind. Their research helped to influence Freud’s own. For example, in 1886 Freud studied in Paris under French psychiatrist Jean-Martin Charcot, who introduced him to hypnosis. When Freud returned to Vienna, he worked with Viennese physician Joseph Breuer, who influenced Freud greatly. Breuer used a technique called “the talking cure” to treat his patients. The “talking cure” was used on the first psychoanalytic patient. Breuer’s “talking cure” helped Freud develop his concept of “free association .” There were many other neurologists, such as Charlot and Helmholtz, whose research inspired Freud’s.

Question 3:
Freud is almost single-handedly responsible for founding a new branch of science, referred to as Psychoanalysis. Charles Brenner claims that “psychoanalysis is a body of hypotheses concerning mental function and development in man” (16). Freud developed many founding ideas in the field of psychoanalysis, including the interpretation of dreams, repression/censorship mechanism functions in the human mind, rationalizing and projecting of subconscious thoughts or desires, and the power of the unconscious to induce inspiration and discover past psychological disorders. Most importantly, Freud established his theory that unconscious motives control behaviour .
Freud developed a general description of the human psyche, detailing both our conscious and our unconscious minds . Our conscious mind contains those thoughts, ideas, desires, etc. that we know about . This mass of ideas represents “ego-consciousness”, the dominant ideas and characteristics of one’s personality . The other section of our mind is referred to as the unconscious. Although we do not know what thoughts, ideas, etc. lay hidden in the unconscious; it can affect us in a number of ways. The unconscious causes us to have ideas, moods, thoughts and images in our conscious minds. This is advantageous because we couldn’t develop conscious minds without new material from our unconscious. However, this is also a disadvantage because these things sometime interfere with our conscious thinking and planning . Freud proposed that “the oppression of unconscious desires and thoughts can lead to illnesses which have no conventional medical explanation .” These illnesses include neurosis, schizophrenia, and hysteria, all diseases of the mind . Freud showed that we repress things that destroy our idea of what we are, and ideas that cannot be accepted within the organization of conscious . The act of repressing unwanted ideas is also referred to as censorship.

Freud classified mental activity to exist at three levels: the Id, the Ego, and the Superego. The Id is the centre of our primitive instincts; it caters to the business of gratifying our desires and pleasures. A newborn infant is the personification of the Id. The Ego develops out of the Id as the child grows. The Ego recognizes the existence of a world beyond, and acts as censor to the Id, checking the desires for immediate gratification, and recognizing the larger picture. The third state is the Super-Ego . The Super-Ego is often called our conscience, and it tells us when our thoughts are “bad” or “improper.” According to Freud, there exists a continuing battle between the Id and the Super-Ego .
The Freudian theory that has become most influential is Freud’s work on the ability of dreams to show us the very makeup of our unconscious. Freud, at the opening of his book entitled The Interpretation of Dreams, declares, “In the following pages I shall provide proof that there is a psychological technique that allows us to interpret dreams, and when this procedure is applied, every dream turns out to be a meaningful psychical formation which can be given a identifiable place in what goes on within us in our waking life” . Freud proposed that dreams are not random thought processes. Rather, dreams are developed as our unconscious tries to communicate with our conscious . Freud argued that dreams are “wish fulfilments”. However, in adults, the wishes that are to be fulfilled are still disguised, because censorship is at work on what we will permit ourselves to think. Although this censorship, or repressive mechanisms, is much weaker while we are asleep, it is still strong enough to distort our wishes . Freud showed that we must distinguish between the actual dream as we recall it in the morning and the real meaning of the dream . By analysing a dream, we can get a clear view into that person’s unconscious.

Question 4:
Freud’s influence is far reaching. Freudian ideas arrived during a time of change. People of the early 20th Century were trying to rebel against the dominating moral standards of the time, and this rebellion was greatly shaped by Freudian ideas. Freudianism aroused a great deal of curiosity among several groups, professional fields, students, and individuals. Freud’s investigative methods for psychology may be his greatest influence, yet he also influenced education, philosophy, and social life. His disciples, including Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, went on to expand Freud’s original theories .

Question 5:
Many of Freud’s hypotheses and theories were met with criticism and abhorrence. Nearly all the criticism regarding Freud’s work can be summarized in two points; Freud’s interpretations were arbitrary and distasteful, and his conclusions, being repulsive, must be untrue. Both these points are linked. Freud was the first psychologist to describe children as sexual beings, which linked his theories of the function of the superego to control impulses. However, in Freud’s time of Victorian society, the middle-class Viennese reacted with abhorrence to this suggestion of “sexuality of a child” and made him very unpopular. But Freud had basis for these claims. “Thus the mother becomes an intrusive rival for the girl. As an example, a particularly gifted and lively girl declared point blank: ‘Mommy can go away now. Then daddy will have to marry me and I’ll be his wife” . Because Freud regarded many disorders were based in sexual fantasies and references, his conclusions tended to possess many references to sexuality. These were not greeted with any larger amount of enthusiasm. Freud also encountered criticism of the scientifical nature of his psychoanalytical discipline. It has been regarded by scientists as too speculative to be classed as a science, citing its lack of testability (37).

“It has become a journalistic clich? to speak of Freud as one of the revolutionary founders of modern thought and to couple his name with Einstein’s.”. However, when one sees the vast impact that Sigmund Freud has made on the western worlds way of viewing itself, it is hard not to link his achievements with those of other extraordinary minds. To quote Freud’s biographer, “ If the human race is lucky enough to survive for another thousand years, the name Freud will be remembered as that of the man who first ascertained the origin and the nature (of the) human mind, and pointed the way to achieving some measure of control over them” .

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