Dreams, Darwin, and Freud

Majid Ali, M.D.

Darwin would have wanted me to observe the observable order of nature diligently, closely, and without preconceived notions. That would have been great advice. I would have liked that. Freud would have wanted me to submissively follow the dictates of his mind. No, thank you, I would have replied.

When we are asleep, we are not dead. Darwin would have told me in matters of dreams. Our brain cells do not go dead when we sleep, he would have added. He would have then invited me to imagine how the unfiltered firing of neurons would create images that may be outside the reality of wakefulness but within the context of our larger physical reality and the range of our desires and hopes. That would have sound reasonable to me.

Freud would have told me to marvel at his ability to spin yarn about dreams, and mindlessly accept his concoctions as gospel truth. I would have been amused.

Darwin would have exhorted me to makes thousands of observation of physical phenomena and draw as few conclusions as possible. Freud would exhorted: just believe what I ask you to believe, never mind the observable facts of the natural order of things. He would have wanted me to believe only what he wanted me to believe.

Darwin would have invited me to wonder about why Muslims always see Prophet Muhammad wearing a green turban and riding a black horse while the Christians only see Christ wearing a white robe and riding a white horse. He would have encouraged me to look around and see if there were exceptions to that.

Freud would have stubbornly told me that my dreams mean only what he wrote in his book, never mind he never visited the country of my birth nor exchanged one word with my parents. He would have claimed to be expert on my life without ever knowing me—without any knowledge of my hopes, my ambitions, my imagination.

Darwin and Freud On Subconscious

Darwin would have counseled me to keep expanding my interest in life around me—people, plants, and animals—and keep growing by learning, understanding, and knowing. He would have coaxed me to be loyal to my powers of observation and reason—and allow newer observations to deepen the understanding of older observations. He would have encouraged me to think for myself and reflect on how my perceptions and insights change with passing years. He would have spoken about ecologic relationships and holism. Darwin saw consciousness as an ever-evolving kaleidoscope of one’s being. He would have been puzzled by anyone’s notions of dividing the conscious from something that others might call subconscious.

Freud would have lectured me on his manufactured subconscious. He would have rebuked me if I had asked, “Which subconsciousness, Mr. Freud? Are you talking about my subconscious when I was a six year old boy? Or was it my subconscious when I was sixteen years old? Or when I was twenty six? Or forty six? Or sixty six? It is hard for me to imagine how incensed he might become if I were to ask him about his own “subconscious-es”? Of his twenties? Or of thirties? Of or fifties? Specifically, how his subconscious-es might have changed with passing years. Gurus do not suffer such questions well. And Freud, of course, considered himself to be the master guru for all times.

Freud’s Clinical Successes

Freud amuses me enormously. He created psychoanalysis as clinical method for treating the sick by dialoging with the patient. He claimed to have developed successful therapeutic techniques (free association, transference, and others) for success in the analytic process. This is all well known.

What is not known well is that Freud left the record of only six patients. None of them by his admission go better. What a clinical record of a doctor!

A Fascinating Window to Freud’s Mind

Below is text from one of Freud’s letters to Carl Gustav Jung sent from Vienna on April 16, 1909. He addressed Jung as “adopted as an eldest son, anointing you as my successor and crown prince— in partibus infidelium —that then and there you should have divested me of my paternal dignity…”

The fourth paragraph of the letter includes the following most revealing text about Freud himself: “My conviction began in 1899. Two events coincided at that time. The first was my writing The Interpretation of Dreams (which you know is dated ahead to 1900); the second, my being assigned a new telephone number, which I have to this day; 14362. It is easy to establish the link between these two facts: in the year 1899, when I wrote The Interpretation of Dreams . I was 43 years old. What should be more obvious than that the other figures in my telephone number were intended to signify the end of my life.”

The other figures in my telephone number (62) were intended to signify the end of my life!

It is noteworthy that Sigmund Freud died at 83.

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