The Unconscious | Study Guide

Sigmund Freud

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Sigmund Freud

Years Published





Nonfiction, Psychology

At a Glance

Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) is recognized as one of the founders of modern psychology, and yet his focus on psychoanalysis has become marginal within the field of psychology. Since psychoanalysis relies on interpretation, its theories are difficult to test, and thus they are out of step with empirical neuroscience. Even so, Freud's ideas have penetrated far beyond psychology, taken up by artists, writers, and literary theorists. In many of his books Freud acts as a charming guide to the psyche, at once provocative and literary, plainspoken, and witty. In later years he wrote wide-ranging books about the ills plaguing human society, such as Civilization and Its Discontents (1930). But the seven essays gathered in The Unconscious show Freud at his driest and most scientific.

The scientific validity of Freud's ideas has been contested. The Austrian-born British philosopher Karl Popper (1902–94) famously called psychoanalysis a "pseudoscience" because its propositions could not be falsified in scientific experiments. Probably nothing in The Unconscious would have changed Popper's opinion. In a footnote to Chapter 1, Freud cautions that his history of a primitive organism is just a story, an instructive "fiction." In Chapter 4 he admits that his topography of the mind has no basis in a map of the brain. Regardless, The Unconscious reveals the explanatory reach of Freud's ideas regarding the irrational, self-conflicted, sometimes creative, sometimes thwarted human psyche.

About the Title

The text of The Unconscious gathers seven essays by Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) that focus on one of his central ideas: that an individual's mind has thoughts, desires, and fears that they are not aware of. These essays examine the ways this mental realm of the unconscious might affect someone's behavior and mental health. Finally, "The Unconscious" is also the title of one of the essays.


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