FREUD’S PYRAMID, WHO ELSE IS WATCHING?
There is more to you. That which is deep down inside, untapped, hidden, and scared. At times like this, we can think of those things. Shut up in our houses, just like we are shut up inside.
I could have said we are hiding in our hearts, or in our brains, our stomachs, or in our loins. Or perhaps in our souls. That is where we think we are. But since, at this time, I want to talk about Freud, I would like to know where he would place you, if he were to meet you here, in our times.
Sigmund Freud was an explorer of the unknown. All such places are so, of course, except his journeys were darker than most. His place, more difficult to find. In fact, it could only be seen as a reflection in a mirror, glimpsed only with your side sight, when abandoning your focus. Examined in your dreams. And that was Freud’s greatest contribution. He explored the unconsciousness mind.
His journey was worthy, and staying home now might allow you to explore your own structure. Your being. A two-syllable word standing for trouble. Studying the deeper things that keep us moving forward. Or just stopped in place, deeply troubled.
So while you sit at home, and often alone, think about what Freud found in his own solitary journeys. Though he was never psychoanalyzed himself, you may find some of yours in his own description. Why not take a look? There is not much else to do during this pandemic.
So how to describe Freud’s monumental thinking. Discoveries that he described in 1899, but took 20 years to be discovered. He had probed the unconscious. And, before him, no one took that concept seriously. The unconscious mind, that is.
Oh, there were soothsayers, entrail discerners, astrological interpreters, séance seers, and any number of practitioners using “magical parlor tricks” [rattlesnake fern spores can give you that burst of smoky flame when thrown in a fire]. And maybe some that is still going on between lovers and friends, politicians, and preachers.
Freud described you by interpreting your dreams. Not as a soothsayer, but by listening to what you were saying. His theories were controversial. And he developed them to conclusions not accepted by all. The Oedipus complex, for example. The complicated stages of childhood development and the relationship with your parents as you grew older.
But those theories are not the topics of this essay. Rather, Freud’s theories about the Id, Ego, and Superego. Freud called them the “It” [das Es], the “I” [das Ich], and the “Over I” [uber Ich]. You know what they mean. They are best understood through the use of an allegory. Here, an “Iceberg,” reduced to a 2-dimensional drawing.
Imagine this. An “Iceberg” that is you. And most of you is hidden, showing only what you want to show others above the water. Your ego is the right half of that which can be seen. But it actually extends below the water’s surface, and is in contact with the animal-like Id below hidden.
The left half above the water is your Superego, which extends deep down into your unconscious, below the water, where most of it lies in contact with your Id. That below the water is your unconscious mind. It is an area that can give you much brilliance or trouble. Just ask your Super Ego [you do talk to yourself, don’t you?], that part which is above the water!
There are, in that “Iceberg,” two areas of overlapping jurisdiction. One is the area just barely above the waterline. It is an area of which you are just barely conscious. But at that point, contacting the water, there is an area where the waves are moving. We call this area your “Preconscious.” This is where your knowledge and skills reside. Anything you already know and can call up on command.
The second area of overlapping interests was not originally the center of Freud’s focus. It was developed by his daughter, Anna, also a psychoanalyst. It is where the Ego reaches down below the water, into the unconscious, and interacts with the Id. Both together, but you don’t know it. And what develops there influences your behavior. It was called “Ego Psychology” in its early descriptions, and evolved into one of the threads of modern psychoanalysis.
It is in this area where your “defenses” develop. Develop to obscure from yourself what is going on down there. Defenses are the way the Ego keeps the Id disguised. Some of us do it better than others. Defenses like “denial,” “projection,” “resistance,” and even “humor.” And, of course, much of your Superego is under water, too, interacting unconsciously with the Id and the Ego. Quite a mix rising up to portray you.
How does a psychoanalyst discover what’s down there? This was Freud’s greatest contribution. Dream analysis. Not hallucinations, or things he made up. Observations. The starting point of any scientific investigation. Dreams with linkages or condensations of remembered things. Things that are an amalgamation and composite of your true feelings hidden by images to conceal their real meaning. Images that are displaced, or symbols of something other. All in that turmoil that you might imagine exists at the interface between the conscious and unconscious places. That is what Freud thought.
But your dreams might just be garbage, however. The disposition of the day’s detritus. The sorting through of residue, although that may be part of dream analysis, too. And science knows that when we sleep, the intercellular spaces between our brain cells are enlarging to facilitate this flushing and sweeping.
And what about our evolving neurosciences? We have studied the physical basis of memory, and know now where in the brain much of that happens. How to perceive and motor about? Look to the amygdala, the cerebellum, and in reflex pathways. And as for remembering things and events that have happened, look to the medial temporal lobe and hippocampus.
Was Freud right? How can explorers in the dark unknown see what is beyond? But much more always lies beyond that described. Was Freud right in this “psychoanalysis?” Or will the neuroscientists finally be able to explain what he found?