Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Freud, Sexuality and Spirituality

(continued from previous)

So is Freud relevant?

Nowadays it has become the accepted wisdom that Freudianism is dead. But so many of his ideas are now considered commonsensical that it is almost a joke to reject him by name without knowing which of his ideas are still current and on what level of discourse.

I could go into this in some depth, and I think that especially for devotees it would be salutary to consider these points.

The relations of sexuality to love and to spirituality are the complexes that need to be decoded. I tend to accept Freud's monistic view of psychic energy, or consciousness, and not make a radical distinction between material sexuality and spirituality at all. Now this will seem counterintuitive for those people who do make such a radical distinction. Kama andha-tama, prema nirmala bhaskara and all that. But if we say that they are generic opposites, that is erroneous. They are simply different ends of one continuum or spectrum, that of desire.

Lust is fundamentally a desire, integral to consciousness, for love or union, but one that is misdirected through ignorance. Prema is that same desire, refined and properly directed. In both cases, the object of the desire for a kind of transcendent union, reminiscent of the union one had with the mother in the womb, or even, one might say, of the experience of the transcendent love the mother and father had at the time of conception. The immediate causes of the perversions of love arise in some disruption of this ideal at a very early age. The distant causes are based in our samskaras.

One who is in a perverted state of knowledge thinks of love in self-centered terms and only through identification with the body. This is what Freud calls the Id, the animal instincts. Through sublimation, the psychic energy of the Id is channeled into creativity and acts of a higher order. Such sublimation thus, practically speaking, defines the human being.

This concept of sublimation is universal in all human cultures and religions. For Freud, it is what sets the human apart from the animal. It has been especially mapped in Tantric psycho-physiology as the chakra system, through which the consciousness is elevated until it rises the cerebral region. Such sublimation, however, may also be a misdirection of these energies. In such cases, we subconsciously substitute indirect goals for the direct goal of love.

The special feature of the Tantric conception is that it recognizes that it is the sexual energies that are being channeled. They do not seek to cut one off from those energies artificially. Because in fact, the sexual energies are not sexual energies at all, but psychic ones, spiritual ones that are only identified as sexual when one is completely in bodily consciousness.

The Sahajiya concept recognizes something more in all this than the simple play of energies. It recognizes that the goal of these energies is the finding of love. But that requires an understanding of the two levels or two kinds of Rasa-lila. For the Sahajiya, mere pessimism about the nature of material sexual relations is an inadequate response to the problem of love.


Anonymous said...

Freud's theory is far from dead. It is still a widely used theory in scientific research (not just arts, film, philosophy and literature)

It is mainly his psychoanalysis that came under fire. Some of his patients he claimed cured by psychoanalysis weren't cured at all. They became crazier as ever or just downward angry by all his suggestions. In Freud's view this anger was of course some form of transfer and thus proof of his theory. Malcolm Macmillan made nice studies about him in this respect

Later behavorist scientists tried to discredit his theory further, but they weren't really succesful. Freud's theory still goes, but under many different names of course.

You make a good point though about sublimation. Sublimation is something to be studied. Sublimation used to be considered as something that makes men succesfull if they succeed, and hopeless losers if they fail. Women are on the safe side.

Hesitant Iconoclast said...


Freudianism is dead. This is the simple fact that none of his observations on the workings of the mind, subconscious, id, or whatever else, correspond to what we know of psychological or neurological function today.

It is true that his ideas continue to be influential today, and that is the only reason why his name still circles today and why his ideas are taught in University psychology degree courses: because for some time he was an extremely influential figure. His ideas, however, have been shown to be bunk.

If anyone accepts this or not is not my concern, I've only spoken the fact.

Hesitant Iconoclast said...

I unfortunately omitted something: some freudian understandings and (counselling) practices are still carried out in some psychiatric circles, but only in the sense of psychiatric counselling. As a way to understand the workings of the mind, etc., freudianism remains dead.

Anonymous said...

Something which is dead better remain dead. Otherwise it will be alive again. And that absolutely isn't according to current observations. Although it cannot be said that it won't be in accordance with future observations. Science has no limits.

Jagat said...

My experience is that ideas never entirely die, but remain dormant until they come back in a slightly different form. The idea of a God in human form was dead and buried and now look, we are worshiping Radha and Krishna and we think we have the best understanding of God.

Anonymous said...

'This is the simple fact that none of his observations on the workings of the mind, subconscious, id, or whatever else, correspond to what we know of psychological or neurological function today.'(hesitant iconoclast)

The above is not true.
His theory has yet to be falsified by neuroscience. Even the famous neurosurgeon Wider Penfield who used electrical stimulation to map the brain and whoes findings still stand today concluded:
"Because it seems to be certain that it will always be quite impossible to explain the mind on the basis of neuronal action within the brain, and because it seems to me that the mind develops and matures independently throughout an individual's life as though it were a continuing element,...... I am forced to choose the proposition that our being is to be explained on the basis of two fundamental elements."

The ones actually in the field of neuroscience are a lot more modest about what they know about faculties like willing and deciding. Even the faculty of memory is still a great mystery. Memories are not located in the cortex, not in the hippocampus, but they have something to do with the process. How is still a big mystery. Penfield's discovery of experiential responses by electrical stimulation, put questionmarks behind some of the most referred theories of modern day cognitive psychology about memory, but not behind Freud's, because Freud's theory is more in line with modern day psychology of evolution (read Buss).

So be carefull to arrogantly state that neuroscience is well on its way to map the brain. Some amazing discoveries are made about information processing and so on, but they are mostly based on the computer analogy, which cannot explain the workings of the more complex human faculties.

Deepak Chopra uses quantumphysics to proof points and fool the ignorant. The ones that came up with quantumphysics in the first place are a lot more modest about what they know.

"If anyone accepts this or not is not my concern, I've only spoken the fact. " (hesitant Icon)

Who has the facts on his side is king of illusion.

L.O.V.E. (Michael Jackson)
P.E.A.C.E. (John Lennon)
O.R.A.L.P.H.A.S.E. (Sigmund Freud)
O.C.D (Moi)
F.A.C.T. (Hesitant Iconoclaust)
S.A.H.A.J.I.Y.A (Jagadanandadas)

Jagat said...

While we are on Freud, the following is interesting. Thanks to Michael Valle.

Hesitant Iconoclast said...

Sounds like the last anonymous is our old friend Shiva. As I mentioned, I have only spoken the fact concerning the currency of Freud's ideas in modern psychology and neuroscience. When I was undertaking my Bachelor's in Psychology, this is what I was taught about Freud: the only reason we were studying his ideas was simply to understand what they were, because he was an influential figure in the field for a very long time. We studied Jung too. Freud's ideas have since been shown to be bunk: there is no 'subconscious', no 'id', no 'ego', none of it. These terms (ego, etc) exist of course in the english language to denote various expressions of self and self-consciousness, but as a way to understand the workings and structure of the mind (which is what Freud tried to do), it simply is invalid.

When I went on to study cognitive neuropsychology, it was easy to see why. By learning about brain structure, we know that different areas 'specialise' in different functions. This is not always so when considering how brain regions efficiently work with one another, but it is enough to recognise that there are certainly 'hubs' of activity. When Shiva speaks of memory being a mystery, it isn't. The only mystery lies in the details of each brain interaction, but it enough to note that the bulk of memory-related activity involve the amgydala and hippocampus. So when Shiva says that Freud has yet to be falsified by neuroscience, this has no meaning. When the arguments about Freud's relevance rage in psychology, neuroscience makes the issue much simpler: There is no neuroscientific evidence for a 'subconscious', 'id', etc. Functions like memory can be traced to specific brain structures.

It has little to do with early 20th-Century figures like Wilder Penfield and their discoveries, but everything to do with modern findings based on recent research. In many cases, but not always, new discoveries can overthrow old findings. This is certainly true of Freud. Perhaps one can pay more attention to new discoveries instead of educating oneself with internet articles and the like. Why Freud was Wrong may be a step in the right direction.

As for the mentions of Deepak Chopra and quantum physics, there is nothing further to say about either of them.

Hesitant Iconoclast said...

Jagat, interesting link. Freud did make some interesting remarks on religion. You may find this article interesting: The Future of an Illusion.

Anonymous said...

Hesitant Iconoclast,

Thanks for your reaction. I can see where it comes from and you obviously know more than your average person about psychology.

But still, as the trained psychologist you are, you jump to conclusions way to fast.

First of all... I am not Shiva, not in any holistic sense and not in the internet-Shiva-commentator sense either.
Secondly it is kind of arrogant to assume I have all my findings from the internet only and do not keep myself up to date with new findings in the field. I work as a psychiatrist in a government run rehab clinic in Germany. So I do read up once in while.

With all respect, since we coincidentally share some interests here, I am not convinced by what you have to say about the brain. I appreciate psychologists (neuro and alike) for their usefull work in research, statitistics and so on.
Concerning the elektrochemical workings of the brain and localizations my experience tells me to be more carefull and don't jump to conclusions too fast based on the newest discoveries (however fantastic they may sound). It could be just the pendulum swinging.
I have some problem with all the cognitive based computer models used as blueprints for the workings of the human brain. The two worlds are related, no doubt, since one, the human brain, invented the other, the no-brain-unconscious computer. To use the latter to explain the first is exactly what many cognitive psychologists do. Cognitive neuropsychologists then add the human brain to the equasion and there we are...
Again neurologists are more modest and also know more about the brain in a biomedical sense. Their research has more meaning to me. If the neuropsychologists are asked to shed their light on something it is usually if we are totally out of options and all the tarot-oracles are on a holiday.

Hesitant Iconoclast said...

I suggest you seek clarification regarding the respective roles of psychiatry, psychology, neuropsychology, etc., for the things you say are in almost total conflict with the theory and practice with which I work with on a daily basis.

You may be interested in conferring with Dr. Walter van den Broek, a Dutch psychiatrist.