September 10, 2017


Freud the Egotistical Fraud? : a review of Freud: The Making of an Illusion (Matthew Hutson, 9/10/17, The Washington Post)

Freud's life has been digested and redigested for decades, but Crews, an English professor and former psychoanalysis advocate, takes on this period because, he says, it's been overlooked except by proselytizing partisans who distort the record. Plus, the complete set of Freud's letters from this period to his fiance, Martha Bernays, has recently been released.

The driving force of the narrative is Freud's yearning to become famous -- for anything. In school, he was keenest on philosophy and entered medicine not out of interest or aptitude but for a living. His first stab at notoriety came with a useless cell-staining method he overhyped in scientific papers Crews describes as "crass propaganda."

Next he turned to cocaine, which he expounded as a cure-all (and habitually injected). Freud tried to treat his friend's morphine addiction with cocaine, rendering him doubly addicted, then fraudulently championed the fiasco as a string of successes with multiple patients. He even sold fake data to a cocaine manufacturer and pseudonymously published an academic article praising his own work.

Freud's engagement with psychotherapy began in 1885 on an extended visit to a Parisian hospital. There he witnessed the treatment of "hysteria," a grab bag of physical and psychological symptoms thought to be psychogenic -- and distinctly feminine -- and he took note of hypnosis as a method of inquiry. Essentially, the staff would knowingly or unknowingly induce women to act out, and punish them if they didn't, using sedatives or clitoral cauterization. Apparently, Freud liked what he saw. He returned to Vienna and opened up shop.

Far from a passive listener, he insisted that patients had been sexually abused as children, and if they failed to recall anything, he would describe the episodes in detail. Many patients went away fuming -- or laughing.

Freud's claims skirted falsifiability, the quality of being testable, a bedrock of the scientific method. Resistance to his lurid suggestions, he argued, meant only that he was onto something: Heads I win, tails you really do want to fellate your father. He also conspired to excommunicate any analyst from the movement who dared to subject his ideas to critical scrutiny. As Freud wrote to a close colleague, he was only "fantasizing, interpreting, and guessing" toward "bold but beautiful revelations." He claimed: "I am actually not at all a man of science, not an observer, not an experimenter, not a thinker. I am by temperament nothing but a conquistador."

As a result, he made claims about humanity based not on the evidence his patients presented but on hunches about his own hang-ups.

...was that Marxism, Darwinism and Freudianism were all, necessarily, unfalsifiable theories that flattered their propounders.

Posted by at September 10, 2017 8:40 AM