Science At Your Service
The Man Who Changed Your Mind
By John Pfeiffer
An attractive girl hurried down a side street in Vienna and climbed a flight of stairs to a doctor's office. It was not her first visit. The small doctor, his pale face contrasting sharply with his thick black beard and dark piercing eyes, listened closely as she told a strange story. She had stabbing pains in the right side of her face. Her skin was so sensitive that the lightest touch was enough to make her scream in agony.
But the cause of her disorder was not physical. It came out after the doctor had asked his shrewd questions. They brought the disclosure that, some time before, a married man who was a friend of her father had dropped in at the girl's home and begun making ardent advances. Shocked and angry, she had slapped him hard across the right cheek. Now her face was hurting in the same place.
The diagnosis: hysterical pain resulting from feelings of guilt. She was strongly attracted to that man despite herself, and relief came when she recognised that her pain was a neurotic expression of remorse.
That was more then fifty years ago, and the case stands as a landmark in medical history. For the doctor was destined to become one of the greatest healers of all time - and to rank with Darwin and Einstein as a shaper of world thought. Today a tablet, put up two years ago, marks the site of his former office and home: "In This House Lived and Worked Professor Sigmund Freud, the Founder of Psycho-analysis."
Freud pioneered in exploring the human mind. He probed deep into the Unconscious. He became convinced that sex is king of the Unconscious, that out most important sexual drives remain hidden and disguised. The girl's case was the first detailed account to be published about the new treatment called psycho-analysis. But at the time of her visits, Freud at 44 was a comparative unknown, not always able to support his wife and six children comfortably, and still groping towards his ultimate discoveries.
1956 was Freud's centenary. He was born 100 years earlier in Freiburg, Moravia, then part of Austria, the eldest of eight children and his mother's favourite (she called him "my golden Sigi"). His father was an unsuccessful Jewish wool merchant, and the Freuds soon had to leave town because business was slumping and anti-Semitism rising. The family settled in Vienna.
Freud never felt strongly attracted to medicine. His "original purpose" was to do scientific research, and necessary courses could be obtained only by enrolling for a medical degree at the the University of Vienna. But by the time of his graduation in 1881, Freud felt he could never earn enough money as a laboratory scientist. He settled temporarily for being a physician.
The 26-year-old doctor was so pathetically poor and in debt that his daily budget allowed only three shillings for meals and eightpence of cigars, "a scandalous amount." Invited to visit wealthy friends he had to borrow a colleague's overcoat because his own was full of holes.
It was at this time Freud fell in love - at first sight - with Martha Bernays who had come to visit his sisters. He was a passionately jealous suitor, and did not simmer down until he could afford to wed Martha four years later. Immediately, he set out to win a reputation for himself. Perhaps he was in too much of a hurry. For Freud made the serious blunder of going all out for a "magical" new pain-killer extracted from coca leaves, without sufficient clinical tests. Convinced the substance was harmless, he recommended it to his patients and the medical profession.
The substance was the narcotic cocaine. And soon reports were rife that a number of patients, including one of Freud's best friends, had become addicts.
Did this tragic experience have anything to do with turning Freud away from conventional medicine? Certainly the first hints of psycho-analysis can be traced to this period, when Freud, who had specialised in neurology, recognised that most of his patients were afflicted with mysterious nervous disorders which neither he nor any other physician could really heal. An entirely new technique was imperative.
An important step in the gradual evolution of this technique arose from a case treated, with the aid of hypnosis, by a close friend, Dr. Josef Breuer. The patient told Dr. Breuer she had been sitting at her sick father's bedside and fell asleep, with her arm hanging over the back of the chair. When she awoke, the arm felt paralysed, and she had been unable to move it ever since. Dr. Breuer was amazed to note that while the hypnotised girl was telling this story, the paralysis disappeared.
To explore the connection between memories and neuroses, Freud also tried hypnotising his patients. (The analyst's couch is an inheritance from those days.) Some cases were improved but, in others, symptoms had a way of coming back.
Still searching, he arrived at a completely radical concept in 1892. The clue came when he interrupted a woman patient to ask a question, and she scolded him for breaking her chain of thought. He took the hint. From then on, he made increasing use of the famous "free association" approach, in which the patient is encouraged to talk continuously and say whatever comes into his mind.
But his most sensational and controversial conclusion was yet to come. This was that sex was at the root of neurotic troubles. Freud, a child of the Victorian Age, resisted the notion for years. He had been genuinely shocked the first time a gynaecologist asked him to treat an emotionally disturbed patient, with the casual remark that only a healthy sex life could cure her. He had heard similar remarks earlier form Dr. Breuer and the great French neurologist and hypnotist, Jean Charcot. But, despite his embarrassment, Freud followed up such insights regarding sex and neurosis, while others never did.
Thus he became the first to conquer a vast new world of the mind. Imagine a massive iceberg floating on some troubled sea. The part above the surface represents the conscious mind. But Freud concluded this was only a fraction of the whole. To him, the invisible bulk of the ice-mountain represented the Unconscious, the source of primitive cravings and wishes. Thus he believed we literally do not know our own minds: that all of us, ailing and healthy, are driven by powerful hidden urges.
Such urges, he said, were primarily sexual, a point he summarised in one of his most famous statements: "No neurosis is possible with a normal sex life." He also found that our basic behaviour patterns, the expressions of our desires, were formed at an age when we could do nothing about it; that we are what we are because of things that happened in early childhood.
These ideas shocked the world. People dominated by Victorian attitudes considered the open discussion of sex outrageous. At one medical meeting, Freud was interrupted repeatedly by hoots and derisive laughter. Some critics regarded psycho-analysis as "pornography," and much worse. But Freud kept on writing and treating.
But, while Freud lived to see his ideas accepted, his last years were not happy ones. He was permitted to leave Vienna when Hitler moved in, only after American and English analysts had raised thousands of pounds to pay a "debt" which the Nazis claimed was due to them. The Nazis banned psycho-analysis, and burned his books; and, in 1939, Freud died of cancer of the jaw - an exile in a house in Hampstead, London.
But it was merely the exile and death of the man. His scientific spirit has found a home everywhere and remains immortal.
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Sharpen Your Wits
- Whose nine-volume autobiography has the title Ego ?
- Which London district commemorates in its name a British victory over the French in July 1906?
- Which European politician was born as Josip Broz?
- Is a "theic" a) an actor in heavy tragedy, b) an excessive tea-drinker, or c) a long-headed Irishman?
- Does "sus. per coll." mean a) the meeting is adjourned, b) payment by the column, or c) the person was hanged?
- Were Swift's Struldbrugs - immature, immobile, immortal, impartial, or impecunious?
- What are the final four words of Rupert Brooke's sonnet, The Soldier?
- In which country are an elephant and a donkey emblems of the two political parties?
- Would you say four pints of water weighed 2 lb., 5 lb. or 8 lb.?
- What has often been called the Forth Estate?
- Which island in the AEgean Sea had given its name to a lettuce?
- "But where are the snows of yesteryear?" Which French poet asked this question?
- If you witnessed "auscultation" would you see a) a doctor with a stethoscope, b) a conjurer with a pack of cards, or c) a matador with a bull?
- Will the year 2000 be a leap year?
- Which two of these novels did Jane Austin NOT write - Mansfield Park, Gryll Grange, Pride and Prejudice, Framley Parsonage, Sense and Sensibility?
- In which year did Stanley find Livingstone?
- How many pennies once equalled one groat?
- Which newspaper took over the Daily Dispatch in 1955?
- Which battles do the three stripes on a sailor's collar commemorate?
- What is a quarter of the number which is six less than twice a third of twenty-seven?