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Chapter 1 - The Unconscious

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 September 2023

Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen
Affiliation:
University of Washington
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Summary

Freud is not the first to have admitted the existence of unconscious psychic processes. Since the discovery of the reflex function of the spinal cord, many researchers had speculated that this reflex action also extended to the higher areas of the nervous system. For these psychophysiologists, reflex action is the very foundation of psychic activity, and consciousness (the ego) emerges from a background of unconscious automatisms that it inhibits, delays, and represses. Freud inherited this notion from Charcot who postulated that hysteria and hypnosis were a regression to this “unconscious cerebration” caused by a “traumatic shock.” This was the starting point of Freud’s initial theorization of the “psychical apparatus” as well of his first attempts at a therapy of the neuroses: psychical activity is governed by unconscious “primary processes” that tend towards an immediate “discharge” but are slowed down by the “secondary processes” of the conscious ego; the psychotherapy of the neuroses aims at bringing the unconscious part of the mind under the control of the conscious by lifting the pathogenic repression that caused the “dissociation” of the traumatic memory.

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Chapter
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Freud's Thinking
An Introduction
, pp. 9 - 29
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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