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Freud: The Interpretation of Dreams, Chapter 7F

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F. THE UNCONSCIOUS AND CONSCIOUSNESS; REALITY

If we look more closely, we may observe that the psychological considerations examined in the foregoing chapter require us to assume, not the existence of two systems near the motor end of the psychic apparatus, but two kinds of processes or courses taken by excitation. But this does not disturb us; for we must always be ready to drop our auxiliary ideas, when we think we are in a position to replace them by something which comes closer to the unknown reality. Let us now try to correct certain views which may have taken a misconceived form as long as we regarded the two systems, in the crudest and most obvious sense, as two localities within the psychic apparatus -- views which have left a precipitate in the terms 'repression' and 'penetration'. Thus, when we say that an unconscious thought strives for translation into the preconscious in order subsequently to penetrate through to consciousness, we do not mean that a second idea has to be formed, in a new locality, like a paraphrase, as it were, whilst the original persists by its side; and similarly, when we speak of penetration into consciousness, we wish carefully to detach from this notion any idea of a change of locality. When we say that a preconscious idea is repressed and subsequently absorbed by the unconscious, we might be tempted by these images, borrowed from the idea of a struggle for a particular territory, to assume that an arrangement is really broken up in the one psychic locality and replaced by a new one in the other locality. For these comparisons we will substitute a description which would seem to correspond more closely to the real state of affairs; we will say that an energic cathexis is shifted to or withdrawn from a certain arrangement, so that the psychic formation falls under the domination of a given instance or is withdrawn from it. Here again we replace a topographical mode of representation by a dynamic one; it is not the psychic formation that appears to us as the mobile element, but its innervation.[1]

Nevertheless, I think it expedient and justifiable to continue to use the illustrative idea of the two systems. We shall avoid any abuse of this mode of representation if we remember that ideas, thoughts, and psychic formations in general must not in any case be localised in organic elements of the nervous system but, so to speak, between them, where resistances and association-tracks form the correlate corresponding to them. Everything that can become an object of internal perception is virtual, like the image in the telescope produced by the crossing of light-rays. But we are justified in thinking of the systems -- which have nothing psychic in themselves, and which never become accessible to our psychic perception -- as something similar to the lenses of the telescope, which project the image. If we continue this comparison, we might say that the censorship between the two systems corresponds to the refraction of rays on passing into a new medium.

Thus far, we have developed our psychology on our own responsibility; it is now time to turn and look at the doctrines prevailing in modern psychology, and to examine the relation of these to our theories. The problem of the unconscious in psychology is, according to the forcible statement of Lipps,[2] less a psychological problem than the problem of psychology. As long as psychology disposed of this problem by the verbal explanation that the 'psychic' is the 'conscious', and that 'unconscious psychic occurrences' are an obvious contradiction, there was no possibility of a physician's observations of abnormal mental states being turned to any psychological account. The physician and the philosopher can meet only when both acknowledge that 'unconscious psychic processes' is 'the appropriate and justified expression for an established fact.' The physician cannot but reject, with a shrug of his shoulders, the assertion that 'consciousness is the indispensable quality of the psychic'; if his respect for the utterances of the philosophers is still great enough, he may perhaps assume that he and they do not deal with the same thing and do not pursue the same science. For a single intelligent observation of the psychic life of a neurotic, a single analysis of a dream, must force upon him the unshakable conviction that the most complicated and the most accurate operations of thought, to which the name of psychic occurrences can surely not be refused, may take place without arousing consciousness.[3] The physician, it is true, does not learn of these unconscious processes until they have produced an effect on consciousness which admits of communication or observation. But this effect on consciousness may show a psychic character which differs completely from the unconscious process, so that internal perception cannot possibly recognise in the first a substitute for the second. The physician must reserve himself the right to penetrate, by a process of deduction, from the effect on consciousness to the unconscious psychic process; he learns in this way that the effect on consciousness is only a remote psychic product of the unconscious process, and that the latter has not become conscious as such, and has, moreover, existed and operated without in any way betraying itself to consciousness.

A return from the overestimation of the property of consciousness is the indispensable preliminary to any genuine insight into the course of psychic events. As Lipps has said, the unconscious must be accepted as the general basis of the psychic life. The unconscious is the larger circle which includes the smaller circle of the conscious; everything conscious has a preliminary unconscious stage, whereas the unconscious can stop at this stage, and yet claim to be considered a full psychic function. The unconscious is the true psychic reality; in its inner nature it is just as much unknown to us as the reality of the external world, and it is just as imperfectly communicated to us by the data of consciousness as is the external world by the reports of our sense organs.

We get rid of a series of dream-problems which have claimed much attention from earlier writers on the subject when the old antithesis between conscious life and dream-life is discarded, and the unconscious psychic assigned to its proper place. Thus, many of the achievements which are a matter for wonder in a dream are now no longer to be attributed to dreaming, but to unconscious thinking, which is active also during the day. If the dream seems to make play with a symbolical representation of the body, as Scherner has said, we know that this is the work of certain unconscious fantasies, which are probably under the sway of sexual impulses and find expression not only in dreams, but also in hysterical phobias and other symptoms. If the dream continues and completes mental work begun during the day, and even brings valuable new ideas to light, we have only to strip off the dream-disguise from this, as the contribution of the dream-work, and a mark of the assistance of dark powers in the depths of the psyche (cf. the devil in Tartini's sonata-dream). The intellectual achievement as such belongs to the same psychic forces as are responsible for all such achievements during the day. We are probably much too inclined to overestimate the conscious character even of intellectual and artistic production. From the reports of certain writers who have been highly productive, such as Goethe and Helmholtz, we learn, rather, that the most essential and original part of their creations came to them in the form of inspirations, and offered itself to their awareness in an almost completed state. In other cases, where there is a concerted effort of all the psychic forces, there is nothing strange in the fact that conscious activity, too, lends its aid. But it is the much-abused privilege of conscious activity to hide from us all other activities wherever it participates.

It hardly seems worth while to take up the historical significance of dreams as a separate theme. Where, for instance, a leader has been impelled by a dream to engage in a bold undertaking, the success of which has had the effect of changing history, a new problem arises only so long as the dream is regarded as a mysterious power and contrasted with other more familiar psychic forces. The problem disappears as soon as we regard the dream as a form of expression for impulses to which a resistance was attached during the day, whilst at night they were able to draw reinforcement from deep-lying sources of excitation.[4] But the great respect with which the ancient peoples regarded dreams is based on a just piece of psychological divination. It is a homage paid to the unsubdued and indestructible element in the human soul, to the daemonic power which furnishes the dream-wish, and which we have found again in our unconscious.

It is not without purpose that I use the expression in our unconscious, for what we so call does not coincide with the unconscious of the philosophers, nor with the unconscious of Lipps. As they use the term, it merely means the opposite of the conscious. That there exist not only conscious but also unconscious psychic processes is the opinion at issue, which is so hotly contested and so energetically defended. Lipps enunciates the more comprehensive doctrine that everything psychic exists as unconscious, but that some of it may exist also as conscious. But it is not to prove this doctrine that we have adduced the phenomena of dreams and hysterical symptom-formation; the observation of normal life alone suffices to establish its correctness beyond a doubt. The novel fact that we havé learned from the analysis of psycho-pathological formations, and indeed from the first member of the group, from dreams, is that the unconscious -- and hence all that is psychic -- occurs as a function of two separate systems, and that as such it occurs even in normal psychic life. There are consequently two kinds of unconscious, which have not as yet been distinguished by psychologists. Both are unconscious in the psychological sense; but in our sense the first, which we call Ucs., is likewise incapable of consciousness; whereas the second we call Pcs. because its excitations, after the observance of certain rules, are capable of reaching consciousness; perhaps not before they have again undergone censorship, but nevertheless regardless of the Ucs. system. The fact that in order to attain consciousness the excitations must pass through an unalterable series, a succession of instances, as is betrayed by the changes produced in them by the censorship, has enabled us to describe them by analogy in spatial terms. We described the relations of the two systems to each other and to consciousness by saying that the system Pcs. is like a screen between the system Ucs. and consciousness. The system Pcs. not only bars access to consciousness, but also controls the access to voluntary motility, and has control of the emission of a mobile cathectic energy, a portion of which is familiar to us as attention.[5]

We must also steer clear of the distinction between the superconscious and the subconscious, which has found such favour in the more recent literature on the psychoneuroses, for just such a distinction seems to emphasise the equivalence of what is psychic and what is conscious.

What role is now left, in our representation of things, to the phenomenon of consciousness, once so all-powerful and overshadowing all else? None other than that of a sense-organ for the perception of psychic qualities. According to the fundamental idea of our schematic attempt we can regard conscious perception only as the function proper to a special system for which the abbreviated designation Cs. commends itself. This system we conceive to be similar in its mechanical characteristics to the perception-system P, and hence excitable by qualities, and incapable of retaining the trace of changes: i.e. devoid of memory. The psychic apparatus which, with the sense-organ of the P-systems, is turned to the outer world, is itself the outer world for the sense-organ of Cs., whose teleological justification depends on this relationship. We are here once more confronted with the principle of the succession of instances which seems to dominate the structure of the apparatus. The material of excitation flows to the sense-organ Cs. from two sides: first from the P-system, whose excitation, qualitatively conditioned, probably undergoes a new elaboration until it attains conscious perception; and, secondly, from the interior of the apparatus itself, whose quantitative processes are perceived as a qualitative series of pleasures and pains once they have reached consciousness after undergoing certain changes.

The philosophers, who became aware that accurate and highly complicated thought-structures are possible even without the co-operation of consciousness, thus found it difficult to ascribe any function to consciousness; it appeared to them a superfluous mirroring of the completed psychic process. The analogy of our Cs. system with the perception-systems relieves us of this embarrassment. We see that perception through our sense organs results in directing an attention-cathexis to the paths along which the incoming sensory excitation diffuses itself; the qualitative excitation of the P-system serves the mobile quantity in the psychic apparatus as a regulator of its discharge. We may claim the same function for the overlying sense organ of the Cs. system. By perceiving new qualities, it furnishes a new contribution for the guidance and suitable distribution of the mobile cathexisquantities. By means of perceptions of pleasure and pain, it influences the course of the cathexes within the psychic apparatus, which otherwise operates unconsciously and by the displacement of quantities. It, is probable that the pain-principle first of all regulates the displacements of cathexis automatically, but it is quite possible that consciousness contributes a second and more subtle regulation of these qualities, which may even oppose the first, and perfect the functional capacity of the apparatus, by placing it in a position contrary to its original design, subjecting even that which induces pain to cathexis and to elaboration. We learn from neuro-psychology that an important part in the functional activity of the apparatus is ascribed to these regulations by the qualitative excitations of the sense-organs. The automatic rule of the primary pain-principle, together with the limitation of functional capacity bound up with it, is broken by the sensory regulations, which are themselves again automatisms. We find that repression, which, though originally expedient, nevertheless finally brings about a harmful lack of inhibition and of psychic control, overtakes memories much more easily than it does perceptions, because in the former there is no additional cathexis from the excitation of the psychic sense-organs. Whilst an idea which is to be warded off may fail to become conscious because it has succumbed to repression, it may on other occasions come to be repressed simply because it has been withdrawn from conscious perception on other grounds. These are clues which we make use of in therapy in order to undo accomplished repressions.

The value of the hyper-cathexis which is produced by the regulating influence of the Cs. sense-organs on the mobile quantity is demonstrated in a teleological context by nothing more clearly than by the creation of a new series of qualities, and consequently a new regulation, which constitutes the prerogative of man over the animals. For the mental procèsses are in themselves unqualitative except for the excitations of pleasure and pain which accompany them: which, as we know, must be kept within limits as possible disturbers of thought. In order to endow them with quality, they are associated in man with verbal memories, the qualitative residues of which suffice to draw upon them the attention of consciousness, which in turn endows thought with a new mobile cathexis.

It is only on a dissection of hysterical mental processes that the manifold nature of the problems of consciousness becomes apparent. One then receives the impression that the transition from the preconscious to the conscious cathexis is associated with a censorship similar to that between Ucs. and Pcs. This censorship, too, begins to act only when a certain quantitative limit is reached, so that thought-formations which are not very intense escape it. All possible cases of detention from consciousness and of penetration into consciousness under certain restrictions are included within the range of psychoneurotic phenomena; all point to the intimate and twofold connection between the censorship and consciousness. I shall conclude these psychological considerations with the record of two such occurrences.

On the occasion of a consultation a few years ago, the patient was an intelligent-looking girl with a simple, unaffected manner. She was strangely attired; for whereas a woman's dress is usually carefully thought out to the last pleat, one of her stockings was hanging down and two of the buttons of her blouse were undone. She complained of pains in one of her legs, and exposed her calf without being asked to do so. Her chief complaint, however, was as follows: She had a feeling in her body as though something were sticking into it which moved to and fro and shook her through and through. This sometimes seemed to make her whole body stiff. On hearing this, my colleague in consultation looked at me; the trouble was quite obvious to him. To both of us it seemed peculiar that this suggested nothing to the patient's mother, though she herself must repeatedly have been in the situation described by her child. As for the girl, she had no idea of the import of her words, or she would never have allowed them to pass her lips. Here the censorship had been hoodwinked so successfully that under the mask of an innocent complaint a fantasy was admitted to consciousness which otherwise would have remained in the preconscious.

Another example: I began the psychoanalytic treatment of a boy of fourteen who was suffering from tic convulsif, hysterical vomiting, headache, etc., by assuring him that after closing his eyes he would see pictures or that ideas would occur to him, which he was to communicate to me. He replied by describing pictures. The last impression he had received before coming to me was revived visually in his memory. He had been playing a game of checkers with his uncle, and now he saw the checkerboard before him. He commented on various positions that were favourable or unfavourable, on moves that were not safe to make. He then saw a dagger lying on the checkerboard -- an object belonging to his father, but which his fantasy laid on the checkerboard. Then a sickle was lying on the board; a scythe was added; and finally, he saw the image of an old peasant mowing the grass in front of his father's house far away. A few days later I discovered the meaning of this series of pictures. Disagreeable family circumstances had made the boy excited and nervous. Here was a case of a harsh, irascible father, who had lived unhappily with the boy's mother, and whose educational methods consisted of threats; he had divorced his gentle and delicate wife, and remarried; one day he brought home a young woman as the boy's new mother. The illness of the fourteen-year-old boy developed a few days later. It was the suppressed rage against his father that had combined these images into intelligible allusions. The material was furnished by a mythological reminiscence. The sickle was that with which Zeus castrated his father; the scythe and the image of the peasant represented Kronos, the violent old man who devours his children, and upon whom Zeus wreaks his vengeance in so unfilial a manner. The father's marriage gave the boy an opportunity of returning the reproaches and threats which the child had once heard his father utter because he played with his genitals (the draughtboard; the prohibited moves; the dagger with which one could kill). We have here long-impressed memories and their unconscious derivatives which, under the guise of meaningless pictures, have slipped into consciousness by the devious paths opened to them.

If I were asked what is the theoretical value of the study of dreams, I should reply that it lies in the additions to psychological knowledge and the beginnings of an understanding of the neuroses which we thereby obtain. Who can foresee the importance a thorough knowledge of the structure and functions of the psychic apparatus may attain, when even our present state of knowledge permits of successful therapeutic intervention in the curable forms of the psychoneuroses? But, it may be asked, what of the practical value of this study in regard to a knowledge of the psyche and discovery of the hidden peculiarities of individual character? Have not the unconscious impulses revealed by dreams the value of real forces in the psychic life? Is the ethical significance of the suppressed wishes to be lightly disregarded, since, just as they now create dreams, they may some day create other things?

I do not feel justified in answering these questions. I have not followed up this aspect of the problem of dreams. In any case, however, I believe that the Roman Emperor was in the wrong in ordering one of his subjects to be executed because the latter had dreamt that he had killed the Emperor. He should first of all have endeavoured to discover the significance of the man's dream; most probably it was not what it seemed to be. And even if a dream of a different content had actually had this treasonable meaning, it would still have been well to recall the words of Plato -- that the virtuous man contents himself with dreaming of that which the wicked man does in actual life. I am therefore of the opinion that dreams should be acquitted of evil. Whether any reality is to be attributed to the unconscious wishes, I cannot say. Reality must, of course, be denied to all transitory and intermediate thoughts. If we had before us the unconscious wishes, brought to their final and truest expression, we should still do well to remember that psychic reality is a special form of existence which must not be confounded with material reality. It seems, therefore, unnecessary that people should refuse to accept the responsibility for the immorality of their dreams. With an appreciation of the mode of functioning of the psychic apparatus, and an insight into the relations between conscious and unconscious, all that is ethically offensive in our dream-life and the life of fantasy for the most part disappears.

'What a dream has told us of our relations to the present (reality) we will then seek also in our consciousness, and we must not be surprised if we discover that the monster we saw under the magnifying-glass of the analysis is a tiny little infusorian' (H. Sachs).

For all practical purposes in judging human character, a man's actions and conscious expressions of thought are in most cases sufficient. Actions, above all, deserve to be placed in the front rank; for many impulses which penetrate into consciousness are neutralised by real forces in the psychic life before they find issue in action; indeed, the reason why they frequently do not encounter any psychic obstacle on their path is because the unconscious is certain of their meeting with resistance later. In any case, it is highly instructive to learn something of the intensively tilled soil from which our virtues proudly emerge. For the complexity of human character, dynamically moved in all directions, very rarely accommodates itself to the arbitrament of a simple alternative, as our antiquated moral philosophy would have it.

And what of the value of dreams in regard to our knowledge of the future? That, of course, is quite out of the question. One would like to substitute the words: 'in regard to our knowledge of the past.' For in every sense a dream has its origin in the past. The ancient belief that dreams reveal the future is not indeed entirely devoid of truth. By representing a wish as fulfilled the dream certainly leads us into the future; but this future, which the dreamer accepts as his present, has been shaped in the likeness of the past by the indestructible wish.

[1]This conception underwent elaboration and modification when it was recognised that the essential character of a preconscious idea was its connection with the residues of verbal ideas (The Unconscious, Collected Papers, vol. iv, p. 98).

[2]Der Begriff des Unbewussten in der Psychologie. Lecture delivered at the Third International Psychological Congress at Munich, 1897.

[3]I am happy to be able to point to an author who has drawn from the study of dreams the same conclusion as regards the relation between consciousness and the unconscious. Du Prel says: 'The problem: what is the psyche, manifestly requires a preliminary examination as to whether consciousness and psyche are identical. But it is just this preliminary question which is answered in the negative by the dream, which shows that the concept of the psyche extends beyond that of consciousness, much as the gravitational force of a star extends beyond its sphere of luminosity' (Philos. d. Mystik, p. 47). 'It is a truth which cannot be sufficiently emphasised that the concepts of consciousness and of the psyche are not co-extensive' (p. 306).

[4]cf. here the dream (Sa-tnroV) of Alexander the Great at the siege of Tyre (p. 13, note 4).

[5]Cf. here my remarks in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, vol. xxvi, in which the descriptive, dynamic and systematic meanings of the ambiguous word 'unconscious' are distinguished from one another.


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