In his work, moment after moment, an analyst lives intimately with the human passions. Lust, greed, envy, hate – the seven deadly sins and more; love, charity, faith – the heavenly virtues and all the beatitudes; these assail him endlessly. While he is not to be caught up in the emotional tempest that storms about him unremittingly, it is in such an atmosphere that he must exist. One consequence of this incessant exposure must be satiety, a feeling of fullness, of overripeness, the defense against which is the antagonistic feeling of monotony. Only a “surprise,” only a sudden, unpredictable event, can restore to the analyst who has reached the satiation point that quickening of interest, of zest, necessary to refresh his senses and render him once more sensitive in the way he must be if he is to perform efficiently. Fortunately, such “surprises” are not lacking.
By confinement, I refer to the actual physical fact of enforced immobility that is the condition of work for people such as I. Everything we do takes place in the consulting room. Activity, movement, is denied to us. The great dramas of which we partake, the tremendous conflicts, the shattering experiences – these come to us, come to the rooms in which we sit and listen. Eternally, we are spectators – rather, auditors. Sometimes, it cannot be denied, one chafes against the sheer physical constriction of such a life; one longs for movement; one becomes physically restless, hungering for the air of the outdoors, for the vigorous employment of the limbs and for the distant use of eyes against horizons rather than walls. Finally, one tires of words, words, words. The long vacations habitual with analysts are one antidote, and it is to be observed how they drift to the mountains and the sea in an annual effort to feed their appetites for mobility and space.
Robert M. Lindner – The Fifty Minute Hour p.277
Freud argued that religious belief is an illusion. And he meant this in a precise sense: a belief is an illusion if it is derived from human wishes. Illusions are by their very nature misleading. For people take their beliefs to be responsive to the way things are. So if a belief is held in place by wishes, people are misled about their orientation to the world. Beliefs can be true or false; the same holds for illusions. It is not out of the question for an illusion to be true. The essential problem for an illusion, then, is that we are mistaken about the basis of our commitment to it. We take it to be a belief based on the responsiveness to the world; in fact, it is held in place by primordial wishes of which we are unconscious.
Freud’s argument is oblique. He does not address religion directly; and ostensibly he makes no claims about whether religious beliefs are illusions. That is, whatever the truth of religious claims, the fact that we believe them is not based on that truth, but rather on infantile wishes. His expectations seems to be that once we recognize these beliefs as illusions, and come to see the kind of wishes they gratify, the temptation towards religious belief will fall away. At the very least, we will see that we ought to give up religious belief.
Jonathan Lear – Freud p.203
Appearances to the contrary, there is nothing in Freud’s critique of morality that calls this Socratic-Platonic picture into question. Freud thinks he is entitled to infer from the pathology of, say, the moral masochist to the idea that everyone with a superego, living a recognizably moral life is thereby unhappy. But this is an argument from pathology that is not valid. If happiness were simply equated with pleasure, then any restriction of pleasure would be a restriction on one’s happiness. And if pleasure were simply equated with the gratification of one’s wishes, then any restriction on gratification by the superego would be a source of unhappiness. But there are significant reasons for doubting whether either of the antecedents in these conditionals is true. An analyst-teacher of mine once said, ‘The only thing worse than an Oedipal defeat is an Oedipal triumph.’ Succeeding in gratifying all one’s wishes is not the route to happiness.
Jonathan Lear – Freud p.202
[Freud] wants to show that morality and religious beliefs have different origins and serve different purposes than they claim. These are grand reflections about the meaning of western civilization. And they are, in my opinion, the least valuable aspect of Freud’s work. Precisely because they are so far removed from his clinical work, crucial assumptions in his arguments are unjustified, inferences are dubious and his conclusions are not established. I do not think this part of Freud’s work will stand the test of time.
Jonathan Lear – Freud p.192
For in addition to our long-standing puzzlement over the human condition, we are also ever-tempted by complacency when it come to self-understanding. And we live in an age when that complacency has, at least for the time being, been shaken. We can see that complacency in a package of beliefs that were in full flower at the end of millennium:
- That we can find out all we need to know about human behavior and motivation by conducting polls, examining democratic votes, choices made in the market–place, and changing fashions. In short, human motivation is essentially transparent.
- That all human disagreements are in principle resolvable through rational conversation and mutual understanding. Each of us is acting on the basis of what we think is reasonable, if we keep trying to understand the other’s point of view, we shall eventually resolve our disagreement or at least reach a point where we can ‘agree to disagree.’
- That we have reached ‘the end of history’: the epochal struggles of historical change are over; what is left is basically a homogenizing process of ‘globalization.’
- That all serious psychological problems will soon be treatable either by drugs or neurosurgery. Anti-depressants provided the paradigm. What hitherto looked like intractable suffering can be treated by a drug which affects neurotransmitters in the brain. Since every psychological problem must make some difference in the brain, eventually we will discover what that is and learn how to change it. Thus,
- The only form of psychotherapy that is needed is rational conversation. A person may suffer from a ‘cognitive error’: he may believe, for example, that he is an unsuccessful person, and will thereby continue to fail. But then all one really needs to do is point out his mistake. He will come to see himself as successful and will thereby start to succeed. Or we can simple teach people new behaviors so that they can cope better. Behavioral therapy or cognitive therapy is all we need. And thus,
- ‘Freud is dead’: His account of a ‘talking cure’ – psychoanalysis – has about as much validity as invoking Zeus.
It is possible to hold any of these beliefs without holding the others, but one can see how they all hang together to form a certain outlook about what humans are like. And what makes this outlook powerful is that there is truth in each of the beliefs: we can find out much about humans via empirical polls, it is always useful to seek mutual understanding, there is a process of globalization occurring, neuroscience will make remarkable advances in treating psychological suffering, rational conversation can be a big help, and Freud was wrong about many of his beliefs and deserves to be criticized. What, then, is the problem? It lies in the implicit assumption that this picture gives us the whole truth about human beings. Herein lies the complacency. We are encouraged to think that this outlook gives us an account of human motivation without remainder. We can thus dismiss any darker accounts of human motivation which do not already fit this picture.
Jonathan Lear – Freud p.1
Freud insisted that a developing infant must experience frustration if he is ever to perceive an independently existing world. It is from the disappointment that the breast cannot forever magically meet the infant’s wishful lips that the infant begins to differentiate himself from the world. And it is through all the frustrating descendants of this primal frustration that the world comes to have psychological reality for him. A necessary condition of there being a world for this person is that it be a world that is not immediately responsive to his wishes. And so, one might say it is the essence of the world that it could never be better than good enough.
Jonathan Lear – Love and Its Place in Nature p.157
One way to get to these contents [of the infantile mind] might be to treat Hans as forming a community of one. The meaning of “widdler” would then be given by what Hans does and would call a “widdler.” The focus on Hans’s actual and potential use will give us Hans’s dispositions to call things “widdler”. But there is a problem which confronts any attempt to determine what this disposition is. Would Hans call an elephant’s trunk a widdler? An anteater’s nose? A large draining cyst? An octopus’s tendril? We have no way of answering these questions. We may see a certain coherence in Hans’s way of going on, but it is not sufficient for us to feel confident that we can go on to use the expression in respect to these problematic cases. More importantly, there does not seem to be any way to investigate what the disposition is without possibly altering it. Suppose, for instance, that Hans had called an elephant’s trunk a widdler. Is there any room for thinking that he might have made a mistake, even by his own lights? Suppose that we pointed out to Hans that this elephant also had a penis or a vagina; suppose, too, that we showed Hans that the elephant urinated through his penis, and that he used his trunk both as an olfactory and as a prehensile organ. It is not clear how Hans would respond. He might decide that the elephant has two widdlers. But let us suppose that he revises his original judgment: he comes to deny that the trunk is a widdler and asserts that the penis is one. There is no way to decide whether Hans has corrected a mistake in his own use of widdler or whether he has revised the concept of a widdler in the light of our teaching.
There is, then, a severe limit to the extent to which anyone can go native in a tribe that consists of one three-and-a-half-year-old speaker. Any attempt to focus in on what he means will to some extent draw his attention to our perceptions of salience. In trying to enter his linguistic community, we inevitably draw him into ours. There seems to be a gap that cannot be completely closed between the conceptual content of a mental state and the content of an infant’s mind.
Jonathan Lear – Love and Its Place in Nature p.102