The ongoing self-destruction of psychoanalysis

Critique of Psychoanalysis

Abstract: The current ‘theoretical chaos’ in psychoanalysis depends on an insufficient metaphysical groundwork, leading to self-destructive consequences. Empirical science must be buttressed by a metaphysical foundation, or else empirical findings cannot be comprehensively understood. It results in confusion. To remedy this, psychological theorists must delineate a system of metaphysical principles, including ethical principles. The term ‘metaphysical’ is understood as “the system of principles underlying a particular study or subject” (Webster’s dictionary).

Keywords: critique of psychoanalysis, metaphysic, Oedipus, Proteus, empiricism, rationalistic neurosis, psychological monomorphism, pluripotent unconscious, projective transidentification, Nicholas Maxwell.


In order to come to grips with the theoretical chaos in psychoanalysis one cannot depend on the empirical method alone. It has been suggested that careful examination and review of clinical material allows us to demonstrate the kinship of theories. But this method is not workable because it would soon turn into a Sisyphean project. A particular subset of empirical material is capable of validating a great number of meta-theories. (The fact that the moon is round, yellow and perforated with holes, supports the theory that the moon is a Swiss cheese!)

There is no sense in which psychoanalysis/analytical psychology, or any other science, is purely “empirical”. In fact, science depends on a long chain of underlying metaphysical assumptions. In order to find a remedy for the disintegration in psychoanalytic thought theorists must conform to one major metaphysic, something which other branches of science have largely attained. Is there an alternative route? Will psychotherapists eventually consent to one major meta-theory, by means of integration of meta-theories? I don’t think this process is forceful enough to alone solve the problem.

What fundamental postulates are required in order to do good science? If theorists had recourse to basic principles they could begin to censure themselves. Comparatively, if a physicist comes up with something that violates the law of conservation of energy, he will immediately discard his own theory. David Bohm, a prominent physicist, once invented a sophisticated new causal quantum theory (cf. Goldstein, 2011). But it was rebutted by the physical community because it severely violated the principle of locality (i.e. that forces have effect locally in space, and not over random distances).

What would happen if prominent “psychologist” David Bohm presented a brilliant new psychological theory? Since journal editors have not recourse to principles that facilitate judgment, he would certainly be published. Typically, he would found a new psychological school, and his proselytes would ever be engaged in brawls with competing schools. The Bohmian theorists would work to patch up the theory when its drawbacks become apparent. By adding new complicated theoretical outgrowths one can always patch up a theory that is misaligned with empirical reality. This is how the Ptolemaic astronomers did it.

This portrays how matters stand in today’s science of the human psyche. It springs from Freud’s operationalistic and positivistic view of science. He expected his own meta-theory to be accepted as foundational. Such a dogmatic standpoint is always a mistake. A meta-theory (meta-psychology) can never be foundational. Only principles of a metaphysical nature can be foundational. A sound system of metaphysical principles has the advantage that it can inform several theories of therapy. (Otherwise it would be too rigorous, i.e., it would be unscientific, a reversion back to the metaphysical system builders of the 17th century.)

A harmonious science

A common notion of metaphysics does not imply that theorists are obliged to adopt a ‘firm belief’ grounded in metaphysics. It’s not a religious concept. Its function is mainly to exclude theories that do not conform, in order to establish a harmonious science. By way of an example, all societies on earth follow the principle that one mustn’t steal (Thou shalt not steal). Otherwise, there wouldn’t exist any societies, at all (nor any human beings). So this is a ‘necessary principle’, i.e., similar to a metaphysical postulate. But who wouldn’t steal in order to save his own starving child? I’d say, only a few strongly religious persons, who ‘believe’ that this rule was instituted by God. Nevertheless, all sociologists, including non-believers, are likely to accept it as a necessary principle and would refrain from developing a theory that controverts this maxim.

Most journal editors, and rectors at psychological institutes, would probably discriminate against any theorist who controverts the maxim that ‘the analyst should under no circumstance invoke sexual relations with a patient’. He can be shut out on the grounds that he breaks this rule. There is no need to analyse his arguments, although they might be very clever. So it is a matter of expanding this set of rules, which will make life easier for editors, rectors, theorists and students. On this view, it is the ‘demoralizing consequences’ of not abiding by certain rules, which is the heart of the matter. Future psychoanalysts will continue to make mistakes in the consulting room, but they won’t be able to publish their theoretical mistakes. This is the immediate healing consequence of adopting a common metaphysic.

Theories that lead to demoralizing consequences are by philosopher of science Nicholas Maxwell (1984, 2002) termed ‘rationally neurotic’. He says that ‘…neurosis can be interpreted as a methodological condition from which any aim-pursuing entity can suffer’ (2002, p.260). Any theoretical edifice, or institution, whose true objectives are at odds with its declared aims, and due to this breeds inconsistency of reason, is bound to produce theoretical confusion and damaging social repercussions. He says that it is necessary to acknowledge the import of the underlying metaphysical tenets, and to provide an hierarchy of values which is free of inconsistencies.

Maxwell also explains that rationalistic neurosis prevails when science says that its basic aim is to improve knowledge of factual truth as such, when actually the real aim of science is to improve knowledge of an explanatory truth. When misrepresentations of aims occur then we have a neurotic problem in the theoretical framework. It causes scientists to lie to themselves, and this is neurotic. Furthermore, the search for truth must be a search for valuable truth, anything else is neurotic. Maxwell wrote a good sum up in Metaphilosophy, Vol.33, No.3, April 2002.

I think it is quite probable, from this perspective, that many psychologists are lying to themselves. Those theorists would be biting their own tail if they work to improve knowledge about their own explanatory truths. Maxwell’s remedy is to apply a form of psychoanalysis on the different theories to expose their inherent neurosis.

Metaphysical and ethical principles

Today, in leading psychological institutes and journals, certain meta-theories are disallowed, regardless of their factual import. Instead of shutting out certain meta-theories or theorists, leading journals and institutes could choose to discriminate against contributions that contradict certain metaphysical principles, regardless of the theoretical affiliation of the author or lecturer. Such a list of principles could be publicly declared. The following proposal is merely a sketch.

A suitable first principium would be the dichotomy ‘conscious-unconscious’, as its removal would lead to neurotic consequences, on lines of Maxwell. As André Green (2005) points out, there have been theoretical attempts to remove this property. It could also be postulated that the two psychic realms are to be viewed as ‘relative’ opposites (and not absolute), which implies that the unconscious is always integrable by nature (even if it’s not practically possible). Probably the dichotomy can be derived from a postulate of, e.g., ‘the relative nature of the continuum of consciousness’, in which case the dichotomy becomes a derived principium, which is good. Viewing these opposites as relative obviates the reification of the unconscious. A clear partition of ‘conscious-unconscious’ is a developmental ideal in psychogenesis. If a person reaches adulthood without having attained such a configuration of psyche, then he would suffer from a neurosis of some sort.

A principium of ‘oneness-manifoldness’ stipulates another important fact about this dichotomy. The unconscious is by nature manifold, whereas the synthetic nature of consciousness comes to expression in ego unity. Such a principium would allow room for many different notions of unconscious multiplicity: complexes, drives, archetypes, internal objects, etc. But it’s clear that ‘multiple-self’ theorists would contradict the principle of conscious oneness whereas ‘conflict theorists’ have discarded the necessary demarcation line between conscious and unconscious. Along with certain schools of the phenomenological brand (which repudiate any form of metaphysic), these schools would, with time, end up in the shadows, if they would not come to revise their theories.

It is also possible to augment the list of ethical rules, beyond the well-known sexual prohibition. Let’s take, for instance, the well-known theoretical argument that the analyst, as a means to an end, must work to facilitate patient-analyst transference. Against this, it is possible to argue that it is generally demoralizing to promote theories that imply gratification of the analyst’s own narcissism. To “invoke projection”, and making false impressions, is all the more easy with psychologically frail patients. It could be argued that any theoretical argument that imparts psychological power to the analyst must be rejected.

Think of the considerable consequences if we were to adopt only this little clause: ‘the therapist should under no circumstance regard projection as a solvent for psychic disorder’. We would still have to deal with the theory of the transference, but a never-ending theoretical palaver would cease. Moreover, it would imply the rejection of certain of D.W. Winnicott’s (1896-1971) theories. He employs projection as a solution in that he teaches the patient to make use of hatred, and thereby to employ projection as a solvent for his own problems (cf. Winther, 2003, here). In this way the solution of vicarious suffering is invoked, something which ought to be disallowed in psychology. So, clearly, a lot of dead meat could be cut away. (Nota bene: this would not imply the rejection of all contributions employing a Winnicottian perspective, unlike how most journals today reject all contributions from authors of opposing schools).

The notion of ‘metaphysical principles’ is not a fabrication of a philosophical mind unconnected with reality. It is elementary realist politics to instate a metaphysical axiom of ‘conscious-unconscious’, depicting two different domains, postulating a good degree of unconscious autonomy. This makes sense, and follows the demands of logical consistency, but it will also have wholesome consequences in the therapeutic relation. If anybody wishes to build a theory void of this dichotomy he is free to do so. It’s just that his books will not be listed in the reading lists of the psychological institutes, and his articles won’t be published in prominent journals. His theory will lead a life in the shadows, much like the extant medieval disciplines of alchemy and astrology. These disciplines are happy to be shut out because they avoid a lot of brawls. It’s good for everybody.


A perspective of ‘interiority’ is essential to science. However, many a psychologist has adopted an ideal of science in a reductive format, i.e. as the recording of empirical observations. Such a standpoint has its roots in Husserl’s phenomenology, but finds no support in the scientific enterprise. Adopting a perspective that builds on interiority would emphasize our own capacity of ‘metaphysical cognition’. Previously I mentioned some metaphysical principles already in use in the ‘hard sciences’. These derive from our remarkable ability to determine what ‘makes sense’ and what should be deemed ‘morally good’.

Nobody knows what ‘number’ and ‘the four rules of arithmetic’ are, as such. Apparently, they derive from our human interiority: they “make sense”, and they are “self-evident” principles. The Pythagoreans were astounded by the discovery of the harmonic relations of the length of strings, and how it builds on numerical relations. Even today, physicists express wonderment over their own capacity to calculate the ongoings of phenomena in remote parts of the universe or the ongoings in the early universe.

Einstein’s general theory of relativity was finally confirmed by a single observation involving star refraction. At this occasion, he said that if his theory didn’t work, this would prove that God had made a serious mistake in the design of the universe. This is the finest example of empirical science; yet, it speaks of a completely different attitude than what is current among many phenomenologically, or operationalistically, inclined theorists of psychology. String theory, however, has not been blessed with that single empirical observation that will undergird the enormous theoretical labour pursued at physical institutes. Its predictive capability of an 11-dimensional space is breathtaking.

Scientists of other branches have an immense trust in their own interior capabilities, i.e. that it is enough with pen and paper to do good science. Why, then, can’t psychologists begin to believe in their own capacity of delineating what ‘makes sense’, and what is ‘morally good’? Many a psychoanalysts has a misguided urge to come down to facts and says that we must focus on therapeutical data. Erich Fromm criticises the naive notion of science prevalent among many psychologists today. They obviously think that silent observation of facts will cause the theory to be created by itself, and that creative thinking shall be reduced to a minimum (cf. Fromm, 1979, ch.I.3).

In his time, Aristotle conceived of many important metaphysical principles, but in his ‘first version’ of science he constantly made the error of ‘jumping to conclusion’. He observed the trajectory of an arrow and immediately formulated his erroneous theory that the arrow flies until the force ceases, and then it falls to the ground. Many psychologists have, after making empirical observations, followed the same pattern of ‘jumping to conclusion’. During medieval times Aristotle was the infallible authority, which implied that theorists worked to improve knowledge about Aristotelianism, and tended to forget about empirical reality, as such: “Aristotle said that… Hence, I conclude that…”

This state of affairs is clearly recognizable in psychoanalysis. Perhaps the “Aristotelian phase” of psychology is a necessary initial phase, but it’s high time to move on to the modern paradigm of science. Empirical reality will be the judge as to which theory is the best, and not the relative status of the persons that conceived them. Freud has enormous status, but we are forced to conclude that on several occasions he, like many a lesser theorist, jumped to conclusion. It is necessary to leave behind personality cult, including the Aristotelian scientific method.

A pluripotent unconscious

The unconscious is pluripotent, that is, it is not fixed as to developmental potentialities. Because of this, psychoanalysts will always make their own discoveries. Not long after Freud had discovered the sexual neurosis, Adler came along and discovered the power neurosis, while Jung managed to identify the existential neurosis.

Had psychoanalysts postulated in advance that the unconscious is plural by nature, psychoanalysis wouldn’t have to suffer disintegration. But it is still possible to accommodate several schools under the same roof, provided that they make some crucial concessions, especially that of a ‘plural view of the unconscious’, coupled with a ‘clear division of conscious-unconscious’.

There is no clear division if the unconscious is viewed as the backyard of ego consciousness. Then it’s more or less the same. Despite all the evidence mounted against it, the unmotivated tenet that the unconscious is solely composed of repressed and introjected contents continues to make a mess of psychoanalytic theory and persists in creating distress in the consulting room. The demoralizing consequences are obvious. If the individual cannot maintain an inner division of “me” and that “other me” (something which is much more vaguely sensed than the ego), then the unconscious will amalgamate with the outer world. It leads to identification with the collective. As a result, due to mechanisms of projection and identification, there can be no real awareness of the outer “other” with whom to have a dialogical relationship, and different forms of pathological consequences will ensue, often coupled with enmity.

Moreover, any variant of ‘psychological monomorphism’, where an unconscious hegemonic formative factor is postulated, whether ‘narcissism’ (Kohut), or ‘oedipality’ (Freud), etc., will predispose the analyst to a prejudicial standpoint. In the therapeutical setting it’s inescapable that, for instance, ‘narcissism’ will be projected. In the relation, this is quite damaging. Hence it is essential that an unconscious manifoldness be postulated, regardless of how the different theorists choose to label the entities of the unconscious. It’s clear that the principle of an “unconscious otherness” (for want of a better term) is violated in a monomorphic unconscious. Such an unconscious is not regarded as “other” because, at large, it is already known. It is predictable in advance. The consequences of such theories are demoralizing, i.e. they are neurotic, as such.

The solution, simplistically formulated, is to take all the monomorphic models and put them under the same roof of a pluripotent unconscious. A plural unconscious has the advantage of curbing the analyst’s projections. For example, if a dream expresses a certain ‘aggrandizement’, we cannot immediately conclude that the content has its abode in the ego, and thus argue that the patient gives expression to repressed narcissism. The content might, indeed, be one among the many genuine ‘deep sea creatures’, which perhaps nobody has laid eyes on before.

The preconception that all unconscious contents originate from the conscious sphere has caused unspeakable damage. The misinterpretation of ‘pseudohomosexual anxiety’ makes a good example (vid. Ovesey, 1979). Psychoanalysts had to grapple with the observation that heterosexual male patients now and then give expression to homosexual anxieties and fantasies. But, from whence comes the homosexual content? Many subjects hadn’t experienced any conscious homosexual leanings before. Today we know that anxieties about being homosexual are frequently symbolic reflections of failure in masculine aspiration and competitive defeat in power struggles. The fantasy of incorporation of the penis then appears as an attempt at magical repair. So this is an example of a reparative fantasy that forms in the unconscious and which has never before existed in the conscious sphere.

However, before this was accepted, psychoanalysts believed that the fantasies derived from the homosexual component of an ‘innate bisexuality’, which had become repressed when the subject was determined as heterosexual. Regrettably, Freud ‘jumped to conclusion’ and adopted this notion. Because of his great status, psychoanalysts would perpetuate it and proceed to mishandle patients who became even more anxious (vid. Marmor, 1965).


It is possible to integrate the monomorphic theories in an unconscious multiformity. As an example I emulate Freud’s structural theory (’The Ego and the Id’), under the condition that we give up its neuroscientific connotations. It is reasonable to argue that Freud formulated the structure of the psyche in terms of an unresolved Oedipal pattern. Since the Id is dominated by the pleasure principle it coincides with a positive mother complex. The superego can be understood as the reactive constitution of an unconscious negative father complex. A contributing factor is that the conscious “heavenly Father” has always been regarded as the ‘summum bonum’ (whereas the negative Father took on the insignia of horns, hooves, and trident). In this psychic configuration, the father (largely, the superego) threatens the Oedipal boy with retaliation should he seek pleasure in the lush motherly garden.

Freud had empirical grounds for formulating the psyche in this way. In his time many patients were caught up in this dilemma, and to them this psychic picture was relevant. In a sense, Freud’s structural model is “salvaged” as we realize that it is still, to a degree, appropriate for many a patient. From the perspective of the history of science the structural model will probably be abandoned, but I would prefer to see it contained in a plural model of the unconscious. Otherwise, I’m afraid, we would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. An orthodox Freudian could be viewed as an expert on the Oedipus complex and its ramifications. We cannot afford to downgrade all that knowledge and literature simply because it builds on the structural model. The question is, is the conservative Freudian willing to undertake a revision of his meta-theory in order to integrate it with a pluripotent unconscious model? He might, due to castrative anxiety, hesitate to go against papa Freud.


The unconscious is the singularly most important discovery of science. Still, due to their own pragmatic nature, many a psychotherapist seems to think that the daily work with patients is what really matters, and we really don’t need to bother much about the ongoing self-destruction of psychoanalysis. Such people behave like irresponsible children, unconcerned about the survival of their common heritage. It’s my conjecture that the unconscious notion is vital to the survival of advanced civilization in the future.

A turning back to Freud is not the answer, because he is the one ultimately responsible for this mess. Although, Freud was the discoverer of the unconscious, he also cut the first sod for its demise as a concept. The devaluation of the unconscious is the very root of the evil. In rationalistic modernity, the multifarious and impenetrable nature of the unconscious is not tolerated. Instead, there must be exacting formulas and full control. It’s like everything must be exposed in stark sunlight.

Let’s have a look at the Oedipus tale, again, because it is also the tale of psychoanalysis. After Oedipus’s encounter with the cat goddess (the Sphinx) he joyfully scurried down the road, proudly announcing, “Hurrah! I have solved the riddle of the Sphinx! I have reduced the unconscious to a simple formula, and put it in a little box!” But the unconscious enigma cannot be resolved once and for all. Sooner or later it will have its revenge. Oedipus’s mistake was that he convinced himself that he had succeeded in seeing through the cat’s enigma. Although he succeeded in liberating Thebes from her regime of terror, he unknowingly remained a captive to her.

The first to ascend the throne of king Oedipus was Sigmund Freud. He exposed the rottenness of the contemporary psyche; took neurotic patients seriously, and cured them of their disturbances and fixations. However, because he thought he had seen through the Sphinx, he adopted a monomorphic view of the unconscious. The consequence is obvious; if we already know what’s in the unconscious realm, it will lose its potent significance. Freud said that he had grown tired of analyzing dreams, because he knew already in advance what they would bring up. The land of Thebes lay barren.

Enters the next Oedipus Rex: Alfred Adler. He committed the customary patricide, and answered the Sphinx’s riddle by his one-eyed notion of ‘striving for power’. By this contrivance, he fancied, the unconscious was largely emptied of content. He concluded that there exists no great boundary between the conscious and unconscious personality. Their respective contents are largely the same. Thus, he more or less gave up dream interpretation. “Neuroses have all just one purpose: to falsely raise the ill person in the eyes of those around.”

This summarizes the tragic story of psychoanalysis: to oust the father and become king oneself, and surround oneself with followers. One can accomplish this by formulating a reductive answer to the Sphinx, and create a school of one’s own. A hubristic one-eyedness is the golden rule of psychoanalysis. A modern day Kleinian says that the foremost unconscious content is the introjected mother-child dyad. To Kohut, an innate narcissism is what makes up the whole enchilada. And this goes on and on. Everybody hopes to build a career and become King Oedipus. Psychoanalysts are bound to submit to personality cult or, alternatively, to commit patricide en masse, introducing a new one-eyed monomorphic view of the unconscious. To account for a few ‘case histories’ is reckoned as good empirical science. From this “empirical” material the psychoanalyst, like Aristotle, ‘jumps to conclusion’ and formulates a new hubristic hypothesis. This is not how good science is made.

What do psychoanalysts of today really mean by the term ‘unconscious’? It is become, in many quarters, a watered down concept. What ever happened to Freud’s Urphantasien, which implied that the psyche had its roots in the archaic mind? The surrealists loved that notion, and anthropologists, such as Géza Rôheim, joined in and exemplified with the “surrealistic” ideas of the primitive people.

Invariably, if a monomorphic model is adopted, a devaluation of the unconscious will automatically take place. The unconscious concept, as a powerful self-governed region of the psyche, becomes watered down. Such theories will function as Procrustean beds. As an example of devaluation, I mentioned Adler who came to view unconscious contents as replicas of conscious contents. There are many other examples. The object-relational school is mainly interested in our personal ‘memory bank’ that contains experiences of earlier relations. This is really what they mean by the term ‘unconscious’. I think it coincides rather well with Freud’s concept of ‘preconscious’. The ‘unconscious’, as such, has been surgically removed. Kohut, with his self-psychology, chose instead to view the narcissistic pattern as foundational, simply because his own patients conformed to this structure of psyche. Thus, a neurotic pattern was instated as constitutive of normal personal psychology, and a new monomorphic model was formulated.

It’s high time for psychoanalysts to realize that it’s not necessary to apply the Oedipal solution of ‘killing’ the unconscious over and over again. Instead, the Sphinx can be domesticated, but like all cats it will always remain closest to itself.


I here provide some alternative metaphors of an essentially heterogeneous unconscious nature, capable of encompassing several conceptions of the human psyche. Proteus, son of Poseidon, is a proper myth to illustrate the multiformity of the unconscious (but not of our conscious self, like Robert Lifton argues in ‘The Protean Self’). Proteus was a Greek ocean god capable of assuming different forms (King Oedipus, too, as well as any). Persons wishing to learn the future had to catch hold of him, and hold on, as he assumed dreadful shapes, including those of wild animals and terrible monsters. If all his ruses proved unavailing, Proteus resumed his usual form and told the truth. In some way, this myth seems to tell us to embrace all the different forms of the unconscious. Only then will it reveal the truth.

Another fine illustrative example is Stanislaw Lem’s novel ‘Solaris’, where a space ship orbits a planet that appears to be strangely alive. When the crew makes observations of the global sea surface, the liquid apparently responds by attempting to procreate plasmic shapes. The shapes are indistinct, and it seems like they are trying to formulate something. If the planetary sea is understood as the pluripotent unconscious, then the space ship is the ego. The planet shows itself capable of fabricating concrete manifestations of the crew’s expectations, longings, and fears (not only deriving from childhood memories).

Psychoanalysts, today, are discussing notions of projective transidentification, which implies that projections can activate the unconscious of another party so that the projections are confirmed. It is a capacity of consciousness to energize the unconscious so that it comes to life, partly according to the expectations of consciousness itself.

Such considerations might further a malleable view of the unconscious. The phenomenon is probably part of the explanation why psychoanalysts can always find empirical confirmation of their monomorphic models of the unconscious. Reading Nietzsche, one’s own power complex is likely to be activated. Afterwards, one is capable of activating another person’s power complex by entering a transference relationship with him/her. Comparatively, in analytical psychology there is much emphasis on the anima/animus complex. This has, in some circles, grown to proportions of modern day animism. The effect, as usual, is a curious form of reductionism, and a smothering of the unconscious. Is the anima a constitutional characteristic of rural Chinese, for example? I doubt this.

While insisting on its unknowable nature, it’s still possible to conceive of conscious and unconscious as relative opposites. The unconscious is integrable and not to be viewed as an unscientific and transcendental sphere of ultimate unknowability. The “living otherness” of the unconscious can be illustrated by another metaphor. The unconscious is so vast that it cannot possibly be imbued with light, as we cannot muster such energy of consciousness. If a person enters a huge cave with a torch he cannot illuminate the whole place. Instead, he can go to different places and see what is there. However, as he proceeds to illuminate some other place the first will fall into darkness again. So he doesn’t really know what’s going on at the first location anymore because the unconscious is malleable. In fact, the very act of illuminating a portion of the cave will cause things to grow at this very location. So if our speleologist goes back to the first place he will find that it doesn’t look quite the same. But this does not mean that it’s totally unpredictable, because it’s more like the growth of a tree.

This, I’d say, is the secret reason why the psychoanalytic method works in the first place. By cautiously illuminating the unconscious cave, things start to grow inside. One day the patient has grown out of his problem, and we don’t quite understand how this has come to pass.

Is there a risk that such a notion of the unconscious, as a “living other”, develops into a form of obscurantism? I don’t think so, not if we connect it with a metaphysical groundwork governing which cogitations are appropriate. Thanks to the uniformity of the conscious sphere, it is capable of counterbalancing a manifold unconscious.


The final (and most sketchy) chapter in this essay concerns the problem of reification of the unconscious, another notorious problem. This implies that the unconscious comes tailored and ready-made, so to speak. There are “unattended trains of thought” (Freud) and wholly unconscious cognitive processes going on, as if we are dealing with ‘multiple consciousnesses’ inside one person (Jung, et al.). This is the very opposite of the more static and technical models that, in practice, reject an autonomous unconscious. A reified unconscious is counterproductive because unconscious entities (such as archetypes) are soon assimilated to consciousness. They suffer ‘routinization’, as is also said about religious phenomena). According to American psychologist Edward F. Edinger every living unconscious “archetype” must assimilate to the ego (including the Christ!) (cf. Winther, 1999, here). This is a consequence of the reification process; as unconscious entities are assimilated they become petrified. So this is yet another way of neutralizing unconscious autonomy. The consequence is pathological.

Arguably, unconscious ‘representations’ and unconscious ‘cognitive processes’, such as Urphantasien are conceivable without resort to reification, that is, allowing for part-consciousnesses, transcendental entities (in the guise of archetypes), etc. Could not unconscious cognitive processes be driven by slight conscious attention, as occurs in dreams and in reduced states of consciousness, e.g. when projection occurs, when experiencing diffuse feelings or while making bodily expressions, etc.? Consciousness timeshares its contents between a focused consciousness and several slow “background processes”, performing an archaic form of symbolic thinking that brings certain advantages. Am I not, in fact, “thinking” when I take different bodily postures? While I remain unaware of any underlying “thoughts”, I am not wholly unaware of the bodily postures. On this view, the unconscious cognitive process is driven by a slight energy of consciousness, similar to how forms are conjured from the sea in Stanislaw Lem’s novel, ‘Solaris’. Isn’t a choreographer also performing unconscious cognition when applying his conscious aesthetic judgment?

Why must cognition solely be connected with focused consciousness and abstract thought? Why does Wilhelm Wundt say that there cannot be an ‘unconscious representation’ because there is nobody there to ‘have’ it? My consciousness can, by minimal attention, energize unconscious processes whose ‘meaning’ is unknown to me. An artist can express meaningful contents although being unaware of it.

It seems like we don’t need to postulate an ‘absolute unconscious’, on lines of Freud and Jung (although it is questionable whether they actually do this). We can maintain conscious-unconscious as relative opposites (i.e. the unconscious is less conscious) and retain the notion of autonomous unconscious contents. The clear partition of conscious and unconscious is contingent on the ‘unknown meaning’ of unconscious processes that are driven by, mostly passive, conscious energy.

A philosopher would never accept the notion of a clear partition of conscious-unconscious. Why does such a partition necessitate the philosophically untenable reification of the unconscious? And why is it philosophically untenable to postulate a dynamic unconscious capable of creating representations alien to the ego?


A healing of psychoanalytic theory must be sought. It will require a unified concept of psychoanalysis where the wheat is sifted from the chaff according to metaphysical and ethical principles that have been stipulated in advance. To put an end to the downward spiral of psychoanalysis, psychoanalysts need to adopt a plural view of the unconscious, which implies that the unconscious is viewed in less technocratic terms, and is appreciated for its living “otherness”. Such an unconscious can become the ‘common ground’ that will conciliate the warring theories.


© Mats Winther, 2005


A psychoanalysis of psychoanalysis

The following is an alternative portrayal of the psychoanalytical predicament in psychological and not metaphysical terms. Because Freudianism represents a too extreme and one-sided standpoint, it harbours its own opposite. Among psychoanalytic authors, the negation of psychoanalysis often comes to expression in the externalization of the psychological problem, in association with Lacanian theory — French airy-fairy philosophy.

If we study the development of psychoanalysis, and its Babylonian confusion of ideas, we may observe a very typical state of affairs. In the journals, psychoanalyst embrace ideas that are wholly antithetical to the original concepts. French philosophy, phenomenological methods on lines of Husserl, a dull and unthinking relation to reality in the collecting of phenomenal facts. Everything is experienced as up-to-date and fresh, although it has been dead for a long time in philosophical circles and in science.

Why have matters taken this turn? In the psychoanalyst’s unconscious has constellated the antithetical opposite of a one-eyed and unreasonable standpoint. This would explain the notorious obsession with Lacan et al., because a projection has fallen out on books representing the contradictory standpoint. In fact, the constellated complex represents an equally unreasonable standpoint, at the opposite compass point. Since the theory corresponds to an unconscious complex that surfaces, it is subjectively experienced as something new and fresh.

Psychoanalysis carries a self-destructive element within its own body, because the founding theory is too narrow. That’s why psychoanalysts compulsively negate their own theory with reference to contradictory and irrational theoretical frameworks. They are suffocating inside their narrow worldview. Hence, when psychoanalysts happen upon something by Lacan, Derrida, or perhaps Sartre’s extreme form of existentialism, then the projection falls out, because it represents the antidote to Freudianism. The result, for psychoanalysis, is total dissolution. It corresponds to Freud’s death-wish.

Thus, psychoanalysis, as such, carries its own enemy within itself. As psychoanalysts are unconscious of the inner conflict, the “enemy” remains projected. Subject to this projection is often Jung and the Jungians. As a sister discipline, Jungian psychology is not at all antithetical to Freudian theory, but represents an enlargement of it, due to the inclusion of the spiritual passion. On the other hand, Lacan’s framework, for instance, is like deadly venom to psychoanalysis. In order to partake of such venom, the antagonistic element must be projected on something else — a well-known psychological strategy.

Baffled and perplexed, the outside onlookers can only conclude that psychoanalysis is working toward self-destruction, in a grand manifestation of Thanatos. The flip side is that the ongoing self-destruction could give us a better understanding of the death-drive, as a self-destructive force conditioned by a too narrow ideological culture of consciousness, which has become hardened and impenetrable. Arguably, the stifling effect gives rise to a self-destructive theme, in that an unconscious complex is constellated, which has a poisonous and dissolving effect on an rigid conscious standpoint.

Psychoanalysis, science, and political correctness (added 2011-02-13)

Psychoanalysis sets out to uncover that which is anathema to the conscious standpoint. Therefore it has no effect if psychoanalysis manages to present empirical proofs — the results are simply ignored by the politically correct community. The psychoanalyst, representing the unconscious, is an attorney for politically incorrect content. Should one of the many psychoanalytic branches be wholly accepted in academia, then we know that the branch is dead and no longer represents the unconscious — it merely parrots the conscious standpoint in new language. Therefore it has become ineffective. Comparatively, the empirical findings of astronomers, physicists and chemists, are accepted because they do not collide with current mores and ideologies.

What serves as an illustration is that psychoanalytic research has presented empirical evidence that conversion therapy of homosexuals is relatively successful, verifying it with follow-up studies. [1] A study by Nicolosi, Byrd & Potts accounts for the therapy of 882 patients, with a 33% success rate of conversion. But these empirical facts stand in opposition to the politically correct mores which say that homosexuality is always quite natural and is never of neurotic origin. Hence the empirical facts are ignored.

This is the problem which psychoanalysis cannot circumvent. Another example: white Americans dream about Afro-Americans all the time. What is an analyst going to say to a patient who dreams about a black fellow? If he is politically correct he might argue that the African-American represents the longing to be a successful member of society, a rocket engineer perhaps. But a psychoanalyst representing the unconscious standpoint will perhaps say that “the dream image of the Negro stands for an instinctual creature with a small brain and big male member — an outcast and a loser in civilized society.” The unconscious regularly makes such embarrassing formulations.

The unconscious does not heed to political correctness, and the psychoanalyst is forced to speak it out loud. Imagine, then, what would happen if a psychoanalytic lecturer were to discuss the images of the unconscious in an academic setting. That’s why psychoanalysis proper, cannot be accepted in academia. Freud stood up and talked about “the penis”, and women’s sexual feelings, when they were supposed to have none. It was intolerable, and remains so to this day.

Carl Jung was at least as controversial as the Freudians in exposing the Nietzschean fantasies residing in the unconscious, exemplified by the Aryan hero Siegfried (cf. Wiki, here). The archetypal hero represents an archaic side of the psyche which has unconsciously risen to the status of a role model, putting our civilization under the spell of illusory heroism (cf. Winther, 2011, here).

Had not the things that psychoanalysts brought up been intolerable, they would not have properly represented the unconscious standpoint. Then they would not have been good psychoanalysts. Psychoanalysis has the problem that it must divulge that very phenomenon which people don’t want to hear about. People don’t want to hear that the unconscious governs 70% of their decisions. Nor will they accept that they have unconscious racialist prejudices (vid. Hirschfeld, 1996).

Moreover, psychotherapists, such as M-L von Franz, Barbara Hannah, Kathrin Asper, Colette Dowling, Liam Hudson & Bernadine Jacot, have found that women are often very cold and calculating on the inside (cf. Winther, 2010, here). They tend to be leechlike and bent on feeding on men, economically or otherwise. They often want to be taken care of like little girls. Women are always gossiping and never tire of maligning people, causing social damage. If psychoanalysts presented proofs to support such findings, they would be ignored or maligned.

On the contrary, society is today determined to present women as “more empathic” than men, having greater “social capacity”. “Scientific research” is presented to bolster this idea. Reductionistic experiments are set up so that results can be interpreted according to politically correct tenets. Such studies may therefore be published and read. But should psychoanalysts disclose the truth that really dwells in the unconscious, they would be castigated, or simply ignored. A psychoanalytic lecturer, presenting the dark truth about womankind, would be thrown out of university. A third of the visitors to porno sites are women, and the number is growing. In autumn 2010 a child pornography ring was revealed in Sweden, in 12 different cities. 23 out of 24 felons were women (cf. The Local, here).

The developments in psychoanalytic thought are predicated on Freud’s and his followers’ constitutional extraversion. I do not argue that extraversion is the root of evil, I am only trying to analyse its effects on the psychoanalytic movement. The attitudinal standpoint of extraverted psychoanalysts is simply damaging to the movement, as psychoanalysis adjusts to political correctness and to the conventions of tidiness, such as the holy dogma of “experimental empirical science”. It’s like their aim is to remove any sign of the spontaneous forces of the unconscious from the intellectual life of psychoanalysis. Accordingly, IJPA [2] discontinued its discussion group, to the frustration of many a psychoanalyst. The extraverted careerist cannot stand the untidy, uncontrolled, and spontaneous products of free discussion. The ideal remains a tidy society according to perfect rules, under the antibiotic rays of a scorching sun, which allows no room for spontaneous life.

So this explains the hypochondriacal reactions of many a psychoanalyst when exposed to free discussions involving psychology. One would expect them to be eagerly interested in the subject matter, but they have already read about it in a book, similar to how the Islamists have found the definitive truth in the Quran. The extraverted careerist won’t allow room for the unconscious. He has no tolerance at all for the “Ugliest Man” of psychoanalysis. This is all the stranger as psychoanalysis depends on the notion of the unconscious. The first “backstabbers” to appear in psychoanalysis were Carl Jung and Alfred Adler. They are still viewed as the traitors who stabbed the sun-hero in the back.

All they did was to reveal the truth about the unconscious, and Jung even maintained that it can never be written to the pages of a book. The truth about the unconscious cannot be nailed down. But such a notion does not conform with the heroic way of thought, drawing on the solar principle: only the manifest is real but potentiality lacks relevance. Psychoanalysis, as so many movements in science, philosophy and religion, grows stale due to routinization. It is unconsciously involved in the self-destructive dynamic of the sun hero.

The conclusion is that the ambition of building an empirical scientific basis to bolster psychoanalysis, as discussed in IJPA and elsewhere, is unlikely to meet with success. Psychoanalysis must reveal the unconscious, but people don’t want to hear about it. To this is added the fallacious nature of the scientific method when applied in a human setting, as an article by Jonah Lehrer bears witness to (cf. Lehrer, 2010, here)

Notes and references

1. For examples of empirical studies, see the following publications:

Freud, A. (1951). ‘Some clinical remarks concerning the treatment of male homosexuality’. IJAP 30:195.

Bieber et al. (1962). Homosexuality – a psychoanalytic study of male homosexuals.

Mayerson & Lief (1965). ‘Psychoterapy of Homosexuals’ in Marmor, J. (ed.), Sexual Inversion, p.302.

Masters & Johnson (1979). Homosexuality in Perspective.

Nicolosi, Byrd & Potts (1997). ‘Retrospective Self-Reports of Changes in Homosexual Orientation.’ (here)

2. International Journal of Psychoanalysis.

‘23 women charged after child porn sting’. The Local. (here)

Freud, S. (1927). The Ego and the Id.

Fromm, E. (1979). Greatness and limitations of Freud’s thought. London: Abacus (1982).

Goldstein, S. (2011). ‘Bohmian Mechanics’. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edward N. Zalta (ed.) (here)

Green, A. (2005). ‘The illusion of common ground and mythical pluralism’, Int J Psychoanal, 86:627-32.

Hirschfeld, L.A. (1996). Race in the Making – Cognition, Culture, and the Child’s Construction of Human Kinds. The MIT Press/A Bradford Book.

Lifton, R.J. (1995). The Protean Self: Human Resilience In An Age Of Fragmentation.

Marmor, J. (ed.) (1965). Sexual Inversion. New York, London: Basic Books.

Lehrer, J. (2010). ‘The Truth Wears Off – is there something wrong with the scientific method?’ Dec. 13, 2010 Issue. (here)

Maxwell, N. (1984). From Knowledge to Wisdom. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

   ----------   (2002). ‘Is science neurotic?’. Metaphilosophy, 33, 3, 259-99.

‘Nibelung’. Wikipedia article. (here)

Ovesey, L. (1979). Homosexuality and Pseudohomosexuality.

Wallerstein, R. S. (2005). ‘Will psychoanalytic pluralism be an enduring state of our discipline?’, Int J Psychoanal, 86:623-6.

Winther, M. (1999). ‘Edinger – the ego prophet’. (here)

   ----------   (2003). ‘Winnicott’s Dream – A Critique of Winnicott’s Thought as a Form of Mystical Narcissism’. (here)

   ----------   (2007). ‘Psychoanalysis at the crossroad’. (here)

   ----------   (2010). ‘A Critique of Feminism’. (here)

   ----------   (2011). ‘Hero worship’. (here)

See also:

Bickhard, M. ‘The Tragedy of Operationalism’. (here)