Sigmund Freud is probably the second name that comes to mind after someone mentions psychology. There have been a lot of controversies regarding his theories, yet his work continues to be fundamental to human psychology and human brain.
Born in 1856 to Galician Jewish parents in Austria, Freud fled Nazi persecution and became a doctor of medicine. He founded psychoanalysis and finally died in exile in the United Kingdom: all this in the 19th century! Yet, research shows that he was way ahead of his time, and maybe ours too.
Evolution of Freud’s interest in Psychology
His interest in neurology stemmed from his fascination with philosophy. During one of his fellowships in Paris, he worked with a well-renowned neurologist who was working on conducting research into hypnosis. It was then he stepped into the unchartered territory of hypnosis that finally paved the way for him to stop at psychoanalysis. Freud
Freud founded psychoanalysis, and that’s an undisputed fact. It is through modification of this theory and trial and error in other things that he came across the Freud Seduction Theory, Oedipus and Electra complex, sibling rivalry, etc. Thereon, he set on the journey to postulate radical and new beliefs related to human sexuality.
Freud's contribution - Psychoanalysis
Early in his career, he started working in the neurological disorders department. However, his ideology, a belief in philosophical theories as well as psychoanalytic insights, drew attention and drew analogies with the works of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. Even though Freud claimed that his work was not inspired by either of the two, there is evidence that dates back to the time Freud was 17. His friend attested that he, in fact, had read Nietzsche after all.
Freud’s legacy is contested because of other reasons too. One school of thought contends that Freud belonged to psychiatry. In the US, to become a psychiatrist, psychoanalysis was taught in the course of their time at medical school. However, the demarcation between psychologists and psychiatrists is that the latter aren’t doctors, so they dismiss his theories as a whole.
This evidence was kept hidden for nearly 90 years! On 24 January 1895, He’d written a letter to his friend Wilhelm Fliess about a dangerous experiment he was planning to perform. In his letter, he wrote, “Now only one more week separates us from the operation,” [his friend was the person who was to perform the surgery] “My lack of medical knowledge once again weighs heavily on me.”
There is the fact that Freud’s postulates and theories are centuries old and are based on a lack of empirical data, outdated concepts of the brain, and questionable evidence. It is still undisputed that he wasn’t wrong about the basic reasoning of how the mind works (even though it may be incomplete); however, it is agreed that he may have been wrong about a lot of details.
The reason why Freud is so notorious in his field is because he did not accept criticism of any form. He had the tendency to block out his colleagues whose opinions differed with his. He wanted his work to be accepted as the supreme truth, even when he had little to no evidence to support his claim.
Freudian Theories are important for Brain Research
His claims may lack substantial data, but they are far from being outdated. His claims that his experience of talk-therapy with upper-class Viennese women is an accurate set of data to extrapolate to humanity are absurd.
Over a period of time, colleagues that had fallouts with him started coming up with their own theories. Even his own theories grew to have manifold versions of them, which is why it became difficult to trace the original one.
All that kept aside, what we fail to acknowledge is that at the end of the day, this man did belong to the 18th century. Where most parts of the world were engaged in war or his own countrymen were seeing the dark Hitler phase, he was busy contributing to the field of psychology. We shouldn’t forget that at one point in time, he was hailed up to the standard of Marx and Darwin.
Yet, to say that the influence of his work is solely limited to literary theorists would be to rob him of his due credit.