The Status of Thought in Early Freud (2014)

Jasna Koteska "The Status of Thought in Early Freud", (Belgrade Journal of Media and Communications, No. 5. The Urgency of Thought I, edited by Gil Anidjar, Belgrade, 2014),  21-49.

The text is available at this page.
You need to go to the bottom of the page where No.5 issue is published, and then click on the text you want to read.

The text was presented at The Urgency of Thought (23-25 May 2014) Belgrade conference. You can watch the presentation on YouTube here.

The Status of Thought in Early Freud
Jasna Koteska

Two Possibilities of Thinking Thought

Contrary to popular belief, the early Freud’s obsession was not so much concerned with emotions or with hysteria as such, but with the unfathomable nature of thought, with the question of how does one think.  Freud was aware of the swiftness with which thought can lead to pathologies and opted to champion the perspective of the slowness of thought. This late theory gave birth to the discipline known today as psychoanalysis. The following essay argues that early Freud expressed two different perspectives on thinking. The discussion means to examine both perspectives, but also to vindicate the suppressed theory that anticipated the existence of synapses and mirror neurons in order to better understand the complexity of Freud’s insights into thinking.

In 1895, the year psychoanalysis was born, Freud had produced two manuscripts, each dealing with the problem of thought, Studies on Hysteria and Project for a Scientific Psychology.

These two manuscripts touch on a score of questions related to thinking: Can humans think? What is the utilitarian value of thinking? When does thinking start and stop, if ever? What does it mean that there exists a failure in thinking? Why is there repetition in thinking? What does the splitting of consciousness mean? How does it affect thinking?  Is nonthinking a thinking of some sort? Can one think with one’s body? Can the body be read as a philological map of painful hieroglyphics? Can the symptom be understood as the semantically saturated residue of thought imprinted on the body, an imprint left on the body after the tiring process of thinking is over? Is hysteria just an older language of thinking humanity? Is hysteria the only valid answer to thinking? What should be the adequate speed needed for thinking? Should one think in the shortest possible intervals between perception and action? Should thinking be diminished in favor of action or should it be accelerated to the point where it actually annuls itself, or vice versa?  Should thinking be slow, or performed in such a way that the perceived moments will not only be registered but will also be processed? How is the mind to be slowed if one is to prevent thoughts from cracking off and tripping the subject down? Is an overactive mind already a non-active one? How deep (in the depthlessness of one’s being) should one delve in order to slow-think and how to orchestrate this process? Is slow-thinking a variation of a trance? Is it possible to synchronize the pulsations of the thinking mind so that it fuses with the circulation of the blood? Why were transference phenomena and thought transference, a peculiar interest of both Charcot and Babinski since 1876 at the Salpêtrière clinic? Why were they so important to the early Freud that he kept the term “transfer” as legacy of that tradition? Can slow-thinking reorder the nature of thoughts and the nature of things? And finally: can my thinking think the other’s thoughts? Freud offered two irreducibly different answers to these questions, and, as we shall see, two completely different concepts with regard to the nature of thought. In Studies on Hysteria he advocated for slow thinking, while in Project for a Scientific Psychology he introduced the idea that thinking has almost no utilitarian value, so much so that it might as well be reduced to a minimum, and whenever possible be urgently overtaken by acting.

Perplexed by the extravagant suggestion of two mutually conflicting concepts, and horrified that he would be seen as someone who does not know how to think thinking, Freud decided not to publish one of the two manuscripts. Studies on Hysteria saw the light in May 1895; Freud published it together with Josef Breuer; the book had a fairly good reception in the Vienna medical circles, its fame only grew larger through the years and decades that followed. It became known later as the Ur-book of psychoanalysis. Most of the basic concepts of psychoanalysis in its core are to be found in this pioneering book. As history showed, Freud chose wisely. The second manuscript had a much different destiny. Freud never published it, he considered its task impossible, even dangerous, and he left it unfinished. It reemerged only fifty years later with the rest of his forgotten letters to Fliess, and when in old age he was presented with it, he did his best to destroy it; the enigmatic manuscript carried no title, the title Project for a Scientific Psychology was later given by James Stretchy, and it was published only posthumously in 1950.

Wilhelm Fliess (right)
On numerous occasions in 1895 Freud confessed to Fliess that he considered the Project for a Scientific Psychology to be the single most important text he ever wrote. And by 1895, Freud, then a physician, neurologist and semanticist of hysteria, had already published a staggering number of 200 neurological books, articles and reviews. But the manuscript was indeed different from everything he wrote prior or after it. Freud had a huge ambition with regard to it: he wanted to introduce psychology as a natural science, where the psychical processes would be presented as quantitatively determined states. His 1895 correspondence with Fliess makes it obvious he was very excited while simultaneously experiencing immense difficulties while writing. By the time of its completion, Freud had still not formulated the theory of free association; he knew nothing of the existence of the id; there were few hints on how to treat unconscious material, and so forth. But he knew that he had discovered something very important. The first mention of the manuscript is in Freud’s letters to Fliess from April 27, 1895: “I have never before experienced such a high degree of preoccupation.” Later: It “has always been my distant, beckoning goal” (May 25, 1895). “Even the psychological construction behaves as if it would come together, which would give me immense pleasure. Naturally, I cannot yet say for certain. Reporting on it now would be like sending a six-month fetus of a girl to a ball..” (June 12, 1895). “The ‘Psychology’ [i.e., the manuscript –JK] is really a cross to bear … All I was trying to do was to explain defense, but I was led from that to explain something from the core of nature.” (August 16, 1895). “Everything seemed to fall into place… I can scarcely manage to contain my delight.” (October 20, 1895). But, by November 8, 1895 he was already reluctant to publish it, and wrote to Fliess that he could not complete it, and was throwing his notes into a drawer “where they shall slumber until 1896.” The last we hear about it is from November 29, 1895: “I no longer understand the state of mind in which I hatched the ‘Psychology’; I cannot conceive how I could have inflicted it on you.”[1] After these remarks, the manuscript disappeared for the next half century.

Freud’s excitement was not ungrounded. His forgotten manuscript today stands closer to the neurosciences than any single work Freud ever wrote. In it, Freud anticipated the existence of synapses (he called them contact barriers), which were discovered only in 1897, two years after the text was written. He also anticipated the existence of mirror neurons (mirror neurons are to psychology what DNA is to biology), which were discovered only in the mid-1990s (1992 and 1996 consequently), and exactly one century after the manuscript was written. In “Freud and the Scene of Writing,” Derrida claimed that Freud’s Project for a Scientific Psychology should be read as a theory that memory is the essence of the human psyche. Since Freud also advanced a radical idea about the nature of thinking, I propose to extend Derrida’s argument to include thought itself, as well the perception/action coupling, empathy, and consciousness. But first, what did Freud discover about the nature of thinking in the book he did publish, Studies on Hysteria?

Studies on Hysteria: Slow Thinking

Contrary to common knowledge, Studies on Hysteria, a collection of five clinical histories, as well as theoretical papers by Breuer and Freud, is not a book about emotions, it is a book about the nature of thought. Emmy von N., Freud’s first clinical case from the book, suffered from a periodical inability to speak. When encountering a rupture in speaking, Emmy von N., would instead produce a sound of clacking, a bird-like noise, which Freud compared to the sound of a capercaillie.[2] By slowly reconstructing her past, Freud came to a conclusion that her “animal”, audial, tic-like hysteria originated when her younger daughter was sick. Emmy von N. wanted to be as calm as possible in order to nurture her child. But, Fanny Moser (her real name) was also the young wife of an elderly gentleman, Heinrich Moser, whom she married when she was twenty-three years old (he was sixty-five), so she also wanted to have fun. What Emmy von N. encountered was the problem of two thoughts, incompatible one to another. One idea, one thought is: “let’s be a good mother”. But, the other thought is: “but, let’s have fun.” Both commands cannot coexist, both according to the social standards of decency and propriety of her time, but also to the general incongruity of pleasure and duty, two things which contradict each other completely, so she cannot decide. If she elects one thing, she will immediately negate the other, and so she does not choose, nor does she refuse one or the other; yet by refusing both commands she leaves the incongruent concepts of enjoinment and duty undecided.

But, by postponing the decision, by deciding to abstain from deciding, she somehow announces the end of thinking: a space for a “different kind of thinking” opens. Here an important twist occurs, and Freud saw it clearly: if Emmy von N. cannot decide to which protocol she will subject herself to: if she deliberately adjourns the election of one command over the other, then the decision will be made by her own body, which now starts to “think” and “decide” instead of her. The symptom is produced as a contrivance that will equally satisfy both factors: the power of affirmation (of her duty as a mother, over her enjoyment as a woman), but also the power of negation of the same pair. The resolution comes in the form of a symptom, and by developing the symptom of clacking, paradoxically, she does find a release from the cognitive glitch. The acoustic tic frees her both from the obligation to stay calm and nurture the child, but also prevents her from having fun, since she has a symptom now, so she cannot truly enjoy herself anymore. In her clinical case, Freud references Darwin’s remark that tics are a way of washing off too much tension. Darwin’s example was that of a dog wagging its tail; Freud offers the image of a person who is being affected by painful stimuli, but instead of screaming, she continues to sit still, she keeps her head and mouth still, but she starts drumming with her feet. The motor innervations help a person to get rid of extra stimuli, and by developing an acoustic resemblance to the animal, by falling ill, Emmy von N. paradoxically finds a healthy way of getting rid of extra meaning, of incompatibility of concepts.

Elisabeth von R., another clinical case from the same book, suffered from a periodical inability to move her legs, although without apparent physiological reason. Her illness fired off when she fell in love with the husband of her dying sister. She loved her sister dearly, but her sister was dying - that is one complex of ideas. But she also fell in love with the husband of her loving sister – which is another complex of ideas. Were she to visit her sister, she would risk seeing her sister’s husband as well. Since thought proved incapable of solving two conflicted ideas, it was again “overtaken” by the body, which in turn paralyzed her leg. That way she did solve the problem: she could no longer walk to visit her sister, but she could also no longer go for regular short walks with her sister’s husband.

Anna O.’s symptoms also emerged as a consequence of a particular form of nonthinking, the impossibility of binding together the disparity of thoughts. Anna O. wanted to stay by her dying father in order to nurture him. While there, she overheard noises from the neighborhood; a party was taking place nearby. If she attended the party (that’s one idea), she would be unable to nurture her father (that’s another idea), so her arm got paralyzed. Thus, contrary to the common opinion that hysteria is a freeing of emotions, the emptying of affects, “she is now in a crisis of tears, she shouts, soon she will be relieved.” In a letter to Fliess, Freud suggested that hysteria is an utterly calculated and regulated cognitive operation. If two or more incompatible ideas cannot find resolution in thinking, thinking is “overtaken” by the immediate organic body, thinking is “kidnapped” by the body, which then starts to “think” on its own. The product of that thinking is inscribed into the body. Its name: the symptom. When the medium of the body overtakes thinking, the body is sort of transubstantiated into a kind of a “mind”. The disparity in thoughts produces symptoms, which are scattered, broken thoughts, thoughts that has undergone some conversion from cognitive into somatic language, but are still products of thinking. They are residues of thinking, they are half-thoughts, after-thoughts, and can be read and interpreted just as thoughts can.

Through these cases, Freud and Breuer realized that people suffer from ideas, and not from bare emotions. Of course, people suffer from emotions as well (a person can be sad, or happy, or surprised, or disgusted, or angry, or fearful), but emotions alone never cause a somatic problem. Generally, Freud seemed not to make a big difference between thinking and feeling. Although he continually wrote about the importance of emotions, he largely ignored his own theories of emotion, focusing instead on what is semantically hidden behind emotions. In the index to the volumes of the Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (1956-1974) in English, one finds that there are “only five entries alluding to emotions” and even if “the index is remiss in this regard”, Murray writes, the word emotion only appears “no fewer than 580 times”, according to the concordance of the digitalized Freud.[3] In all other cases, Freud talked about affections (affects are fully indexed there), which are denominators of a more general quality of mood (emotions are just specific components of the said affects). After discovering that people largely suppress ideas, and rarely repress emotions, Freud replaced the hypnosis and the Breuer’s cathartic method (both were suitable for releasing strongly repressed emotions) for the method of free association, which proved more adequate for strongly suppressed ideas.

Studies on Hysteria opened with Breuer’s question: does trauma occur because life became too fast? Following the doctrine of his day, Breuer answered affirmatively: Yes, pathologies arise because a person is exposed to “too much stimuli”. Faced with the abnormal acceleration of life, a person escapes into what Breuer called the splitting of consciousness (or double consciousness). Breuer’s most famous example of the non-pathological splitting of consciousness is an image of a person who reads a book in the most correct grammatical order, only to realize, after finishing the reading, that she did not understand a word of what she read. For Freud, paradoxically, this practice is a healthy way of putting the mind on pause. People perform various activities, but only some of them are directed towards an actual goal. Rituals, religious and others, as well as repetitive activities: knitting, playing video games, etc. are performed in such a way that they don’t affect thinking. There is something utterly mindless in repetition, and although executed within a gigantic hive of activity, these actions are a specific types of non-activity, “passive activities", mostly mechanical, almost deranged; they freeze the individual, reduce the possibility for the failure of action, and minimize hesitations. Freud noted the tendency of patients to form false connections. The acceleration of life twists the senses; senses can still register the events, but the mind no longer can process the information, and it escapes into dizziness, into vertigo-like state: the splitting of consciousness. What happens to a person who lives in a culture where she is deprived of slowness? A person has been promised that for what she has lost running up and down the fast streets of today, she will later be compensated by slowly cultivating her past in the psychoanalyst’s cabinet. This established psychoanalysis as a movement for slow thinking, a discipline opposing the ideological commands of urgency. (Once, I was urging my 10-years old son to do something. All of a sudden he replied with a line from the episode of the Smurfs series: “Don’t just do something, stand there!” the precise opposite of the usual sentence, with which we hurry each other: “Don’t just stand there, do something!” And is this sentence not the essence of psychoanalysis? Yes, precisely that: pause and wait! There are situations, when the best solution possible is to resist the temptation to engage immediately.) Although hysteria was a century-old diagnosis, the real epidemic of hysteria did not occur prior the second half of the 19th century and the modernization of society. By the time Charcot was appointed as head physician at Salpêtrière in 1862, some five to eight thousand women (one percent of the entire population of Paris) were housed there.[4] Speed splits the person in two: one of her remains in the conditione prima and the second is already in the conditione seconda (Breuer’s terms from Studies on Hysteria). But, where to locate the invisible wound, where it resides? How to slow being in such a way that the secret will reveal itself? How to capture and seize the traumatic encounter? Charcot did not consider himself a theoretician of hysteria, but someone who was able to see hysteria better than others. Attacked for producing the symptoms he claimed to discover, Charcot replied: “It would be something truly miraculous if I could create these diseases according to my caprice and my fantasy. But the truth is that I am there absolutely only the photographer; I inscribe what I see”.[5] Charcot loved the visual, he was a man of refined taste in visual arts, also a great caricaturist. On the back of the original photographs of hysterics stored at the Salpêtrière archives, instructions are written in pencil as to how to photograph the hysteric women. When Freud returned from Paris to Vienna, he decided to go in the opposite direction. Charcot privileged a knowledge based on the gaze, Freud based his upon hearing. And peculiarly enough, both of them privileged two different epistemological methodologies grounded precisely on the two senses with which they personally had some problems (Charcot in reality had one lazy eye turned inwards and he privileged seeing; Freud often confessed that he was amusical, he didn’t like music and could only tolerate opera, since there was still a clear dramaturgical model in opera, but he wanted to “hear” the trauma speak).
Josef Breuer

Addressing the attacks that psychoanalysis is just a form of magic, thirty-one years later, in The Question of Lay Analysis, Freud responded: “Quite true. It would be magic if it worked rather quicker. An essential attribute of a magician is speed -- one might say suddenness -- of success. But analytic treatments take month and even years: magic that is so slow”.[6] Freud’s response suggests that psychoanalysis is not magic precisely because it works in the realm of slowness; slowness guarantees its scientific character. Magic is connected to urgency. And psychoanalysis is not magic because it works slowly. Borch-Jacobsen located psychoanalysis in the history of trance, arguing that it is a chapter in a long cross-cultural tradition to use various trancelike phenomena as part of their therapeutic practices.[7] If we situate early Freud in the neurology of his time, we find that late 19th century neurology, including Charcot’s Salpêtrière, experimented with the so-called transference phenomena, the possibility that the diseases can be displaced and transferred to plants, animals, and inanimate objects, even to other operators, to other people. In 1876 Charcot started studying métalloscopie and métallothérapie, two doctrines according to which if the hysterical symptoms are repeatedly transferred from one side of the body to the other  by the application of electricity or magnets on the skin, the symptom somehow grows weaker and eventually disappears. The central nervous system was envisioned “as a complex circuitry of displaceable energy”; the word Besetzung (“cathexis”) was first used by Freud’s teacher, Theodor Meynert, to explain that a neuron has an energy which circulates. Kravis argues that when Freud borrowed the term “transfer” he was well aware of Charcot’s terms ‘le transfert’, or ‘la loi du transfert’ and he consciously decided to use the term as a continuation of the same tradition of healing.[8] In 1890s Freud often referred to psychoanalysis as “slow magic” or “faded magic”. If we understand magic as an attempt to replace the order and the connectivity of things, by the order and connectivity of our thoughts, then psychoanalysis indeed breaks the tissues of the external social reality, and by slowly reconstruct it, it induces more meaning.

Studies on Hysteria also envisioned the central nervous system as the circulation of displaceable energy, as a “reservoir of nervous tension.” Breuer conceptualized sensibility as a fluid, “whose total quantity is fixed and whenever it pours into one of its channels in greater abundance becomes proportionally less in the others.”[9] Yet, something was still missing in order to capture the true nature of the wound, and slowness (and resting and meditation) were not sufficient answers to trauma. What exactly troubles the hysteric? Breuer warned that the abundance of stimuli also creates motor pathologies. He argued that “a man who stands still releases anxiety even more”; people cannot bear peace endlessly. The person who does absolutely nothing is even more irritated than the one who works and Breuer said that if a person is awake, but is not working, she is even more restless; she is waiting to spend energy, but since the energy is not flowing in any direction, it causes even more anxiety. The energy is not only unused, its force is also aimless (although, technically speaking, energy is always already aimless; energy does not have a vector). How, then, is the wound generated? Freud offered an answer only fifteen years later, at the second lecture delivered at the Clark University in America in 1909 where he introduced the metaphor of shopping, saying that what causes hysteria is the ideological landscape: “(T)he hysterical patient reminds one of a feeble woman who has gone out shopping and is now returning home laden with a multitude of parcels and boxes. She cannot contain the whole heap of them with her two arms and ten fingers. So first of all one object slips from her grasp; and when she stoops to pick it up, another one escapes her in its place, and so on.”[10] When a hysteric falls apart, she falls apart because of the “shopping of concepts”, of what is being offered on the ideological landscape: a hysteric tries to follow the doctrine of her day; she tries to be a good mother (Emmy von N.), a good daughter (Anna O.), a good sister (Elisabeth von R.), a good relative (Katharina), and a good employer (Lucie R.), and at the same time, she also tries to obey the command: let’s have fun! Once she realizes she cannot subscribe to both prerogatives, she falls apart, and by falling ill, she transforms an already existing perfect home into a medical room.

Between 1893 and 1898 Freud offered three possible answers on how to exit the impossible ideological landscape that troubled the hysteric. Curiously enough, all of the solutions offered were situated precisely in the realm of the same landscape: animals, chains and caves.

Animals. Freud’s bestiary (1893). When a hysteric develops nonthinking, and when she falls down into the horizontal, she actually falls closer to the animal. Freud’s volumes are populated with animals; animals are an important part of his theory of subjectivity. Emmy von N. was producing bird-like sounds, Little Hans was obsessed with horses, dogs, and wolves, and it was not until he cut short his obsession with horses, that he was once again welcomed to rejoin the order of humans. Freud would not permit the Wolf Man to become wolf, his wolves needed to be turned into dogs, into his parents. Rat Man empathized with rats: when young he liked to bite people; hysterics resemble domesticated animals and Freud was a tamer of sorts. President Schreber’ case is filled with insects, butterflies, worms, snakes. Why so many animals, both domesticated and wild? Falling into the horizontal, which every mammal “knows how to read”, served not only as a liberator from the incongruity of thought, but also as a sexual operator. Nonthinking opens a space for jouissance (“If I am not able to think/decide any longer, if I am unable to decode what is expected of me, I can, just as well, join the animal world, and my deprivation of thinking will serve my own enjoyment, just like it serves animals”). However, the sexualization of hysteria was also the physicians’ discovery, their most precious product. Critics warned that most of Charcot’ hysterics not only resembled one another, they also resembled  animals: “(A)t the command of the chief of staff, they begin to act like marionettes, or like circus horses accustomed to repeat the same evolution”.[11] What is the ontological status of a hysteric who becomes like a hybrid beast, a composite of animal and human; how to define her? In his obituary to Charcot from 1893, dedicated to the only person who, in the lonely years of the 1890s, Freud worshiped as a hero, we read that Charcot stands between two paradigms, that of: “Cuvier… great comprehender and describer of the animal world surrounded by a multitude of animal forms” and that of “the myth of Adam, who, when God brought the creatures of Paradise before him to be distinguished and named, may have experienced to the fullest degree the intellectual enjoyment which Charcot praised so highly”.[12] Charcot, a neuropathologist, is positioned between both paradigms, not by chance. The implication is that between the dead, the animal, and the divine, the living being is the one who is not complete, she crawls, crumbles, slides, creeps, drags, limps, regresses, breaks down, falls apart just as the Salpêtrière hysterics. Twenty-seven years later, in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), Freud gave full meaning to this concept, when referring to human destiny, he said: “What we cannot reach flying, we must reach limping”.[13]

Chains (1896). How to orchestrate slow-thinking, how to help a hysteric slowly stand on her feet again? The answer was offered in the much-discussed paper The Aetiology of Hysteria (1896) where Freud wrote: “Imagine that an explorer arrives in a little-known region where his interest is aroused by an expanse of ruins, with remains of walls, fragments of columns, and tablets with half-effaced and unreadable inscriptions… If his work is crowned with success, the discoveries are self-explanatory: the ruined walls are part of the ramparts of a palace or a treasure-house; the fragments of columns can be filled out into a temple; the numerous inscriptions, which, by good luck, may be bilingual, reveal an alphabet and a language, and, when they have been deciphered and translated, yield undreamed-of information about the events of the remote past, to commemorate which the monuments were built. Saxa loquuntur! (Stones talk!).”[14] The master of slow-thinking, the analyst, Freud tells us, should adopt the methodology of the archeologist, and he introduced the metaphor of chains. It can happen, Freud tells us, that a patient cannot immediately recall the traumatic scene. How to arrive to that scene? Freud answers: She, the analyst, should follow the chains of associations! One chain will not always elegantly lead to another chain, trauma is not arranged like a string of pearls, chains ramify, and are interconnected like genealogical trees, “one chain of associations always has more than two links”, but which traumatic chain should one follow? Do these chains have some logical ending? Yes they do, Freud responded. In all cases, the natural ending will be the stage of childhood and in order to reconstruct it, one has to follow a reverse chronology, that of an archeologist, who also moves in the reverse manner. Freud’s early vision of the psyche is that of an archeological playground; the analyst will encounter many mysteries and ruins, but if she employs her labor with enthusiasm, one brick will adhere to another, and after a while, the fragile territory will rise up again to display the magnificent buildings from the past. Freud proposed that in order to orchestrate the slow-recovery, one should treat the psyche as a spatial category. How to visualize the space of the psyche, what does it look like? It looks like an archaeological site, but it is deprived of the skies, nor is there any sea or forest. Wild winds blow there, but geography actually does not exist. Between the castle and the columns, between the palace and the treasure-house, and in between the stones that talk, there is no actual topography, no natural features. What exists there is an inattentive, abstracted materiality of ghostly thoughts. These thoughts from the past are tranquil, shallow; actually they are flat, as if put into frozen horizontal lines. The site is made of past, sedate, horizontal, fallen thoughts. The flat thoughts of the past can eventually grow; after all they are rooted there. One should remember over and over again that the objects which the analyst-archeologist discovers are not our usual firm and solid objects, they are just ghostly residues of objects, half-objects, emptied of their true substance; they, too, are leveled, horizontal, just as past thoughts are. Thoughts never choose objects there; the objects of thoughts are formless, except when they manifest themselves on the surface of the body, on the horizontal landscape of the fallen hysteric’s body. Since they are only parts of the psyche, and not firm object, the analyst, the archeologist of the psyche, is not really a “digger”, she is not a “conservator-restorer”. Psyche is an excavation site, but the excavated parts are also those of the psyche. Since the past thoughts are leveled, they have no form, so when they grow, they can grow in all directions, and can acquire any form: the shapes of clouds, or of the sky, of the ocean, or closer to the Freudian doctrine: they can become castles, palaces and treasure-houses. The space of the psyche is ontology turned into geography. The space is an archeological excavation site, but only the psyche can write its own “bodily psyche” there. Geography can never truly be erased there. The material of this space is the psyche itself, and the buildings and the geography to be excavated, are composed of psychological material. The figure loses the logical status of a structure or even that of a frame, and the analyst, too, needs to transform herself into a gazing and hearing subject, who turns her eyes and ears inwards while attempting to lead the patient toward recognizing the lost objects of her psyche. Once the patient recognizes the lost objects in this city of ghosts, once she recognizes the phantom thoughts from her psyche, only then can she truly recover the lost chains of events past, and slowly rebuild the imaginary homeland, the lost skies, and the sea too, but most importantly for Freud, she can recover the lost castle, the lost treasure-house.
Jean-Marten Charcot

Up! Freud established that in the geometrical metaphor of the psyche, the past’s formless objects still have the potential to rise up, to undulate again. Freud envisioned the psyche of the hysteric similarly to her fallen body. Just as the body of hysteric falls down into horizontal, her psyche, too is a horizontal body, populated by formless ghosts, phantoms emptied of their substance, therefore also flat and horizontal. The analyst’s job, now, is to inflate those subspatial horizontal forms and give them a vertical dimension, so that the hysteric can rise up again. Freud imagined the process of slow-thinking precisely as the reverse process of the hysteric’s falling into horizontal. Since the hysteric fell into horizontal, the process of recovery should be a lifting procedure, progressively standing up on her feet again. Up! Slowly climbing the stairs from animal back to human; she will recover fully only when she rises again.[15] The mysterious patient “E”, who was identified through Freud’s correspondence with Fleiss, helped Freud distill the idea that the psyche can be slowly rebuilt, one memory block after another, until the patient stands straight, erect, upright again!

Caves (1898). In the iconic scene from his book Metastases of Enjoyment (1996) Slavoj Žižek tells an episode when Freud visited the Škocjan caves of Slovenia. It was the spring of 1898, two years after The Aetiology of Hysteria, where Freud proposed that the analyst should go deeper, “as deep as the infantile experiences”. But, how deep? Caves offered the answer. In 1898 in the midst of his walk in the fascinating dark universe of the Slovenian cave, Freud suddenly met another visitor to the caves, the Mayor of Vienna, Dr. Karl Lueger, a right-wing populist and notorious anti-Semite. By making the wordplay with his surname Lueger, which in German immediately associates with Lüge, a lie, Freud came to understand, in Žižek’s interpretation, that: “(W)hat we discover in the deepest kernel of our personality is a fundamental, constitutive, primordial lie, the proton pseudos, the phantasmic construction by means of which we endeavor to conceal the inconsistency of the symbolic order in which we dwell”.[16] Descending into subterranean caves for Freud served as a metaphor for entering the netherworld of the unconscious. The “chains of associations” he introduced in the 1890s opened a possibility for yet another metaphor, that of caves, where in the hidden depthlessness of being, what the person will discover is not the truth about herself, but on the contrary, as Žižek says, she will discover a primordial lie, “the natural state of the human animal is to live in a lie.”[17] Freud used the metaphor of the cave in Totem and Taboo (1913) where he connected caves with several concepts already discussed here: thoughts, lies, and magic. Freud asserted that only one field of our civilization has retained the idea of the omnipotence of thoughts, and that is the field of art. He also claimed that “art did not begin as art for art’s sake”. Art originally worked not to please, but to evoke and conjure up, which is why the primitive artists left the paintings of animals in the darkest and most inaccessible parts of the caves, in order to secure them. Primitive art was created by faith in the supremacy of thoughts, Freud tells us; thoughts were considered all-powerful, real just as events are real; primitive art was considered as the process of “telling the truth”. Caves were seen by Freud as sites of a supreme lesson, namely, that an “original thought” may appear, but paradoxically that thought will always have to be one that negates the person as a holder of truth. Commoners do not spend much of their time thinking about eternal truths, but artists do. Primitive artists left testimonies in the “darkest and most inaccessible parts of the caves” that what a person finds when she faces herself is her primordial lie. Truth appears only when the subject disappears. The completed subject is a lie. In the caves the truth is visible and even palpable, and Werner Herzog’s documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010), tells such a story about the Chauvet Cave discovered in southern France, which contains the oldest human painted images yet discovered, crafted some 32,000 years ago, twice as old as the Lascaux caves. The striking part of the film is that the painter left palm prints on the paintings, but on each of the prints the opposable thumb is missing. The most common artist of the Paleolithic is the one who has one or several fingers disfigured.[18] Why? One hypothesis says that young hunters were undergoing initiations, in which they were having some of their fingers cut off, but a second hypothesis says that if digits are missing, it is because it is a mythogram, it is meaningful; the artist is trying to tell us something; he wants to leave a testimony: everybody has five fingers, but I, the artist, must tell you that no perfect model exists; all that is perfect is a lie. The only perfect model of a human is a human who is disfigured, wounded, who limps and breaks down. Just like the falling down of Freud’s hysterics later.

Project for a Scientific Psychology: Fast Thinking

Project for a Scientific Psychology, the manuscript Freud largely overlooked and that was only published posthumously, offered not only a gloomier vision of the human capacity to think, but paradoxically it also offered a much broader vision of a human being than anything Freud produced prior or after 1895. What is so disturbing about this 90-pages handwritten enigmatic manuscript or neurological document? In it, Freud produced a complicated structure of three systems of neurons (φ, ψ and ω), two general theorems (the principle of inertia and the principle of constancy), two conditions of quantity (Q and Qή, standing for external and internal quantity), two biological rules of attention and defense, the difference between memory and perception, and finally: he tried to explain the connection between reality and thought.

Freud opened the text with the thesis that every life form tends to establish the zero state as a primary state, in what he called the principle of inertia. Freud wrote: “The original trend of the nervous system [is] to keep Q (external quantity) at [the level of] zero.”[19] Although the organism tries to withdraw from the external stimuli as much as it can, it cannot stay in inertia all the time and is obliged to abandon it, because of the second principle, the principle of constancy, according to which the organism requires a minimum of quantity to keep the fulfillment of basic needs (such as hunger, respiration, sexuality) at sufficient levels, therefore the principle of constancy can be equated with that of homoeostasis. However, the trend toward inertia persists. The nervous system is an inheritor of the general irritability of protoplasm; the organism prefers those paths of discharge which involve a cessation of the stimulus, in what Freud called “flight from stimulus”. Both principles will be later transformed into his complex notions of the pleasure principle and the reality principle, which are foreshadowed here in the Project. Freud’s obsession with the principle of inertia continued through the years, and he reintroduced it again in 1920 in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (there he called it the Nirvana principle), both terms representing a clear anticipation of the death drive. As early as 1895 Freud said that the principle of inertia serves as a common movement toward a zero state, towards death. Life is just an extension of death, life is just a “very rare species of death", as Nietzsche called it. It is a version of the eternal return to the deathly state of inactivity, an insurance that the organism eventually dies; it should die by its own death, and not by something harmful from the external reality. The drive is destined to ensure that life returns to the inorganic, and that the return to death must already occur within life, and from life.

Seeing life as a rare extension of death had serious implication on thinking. In the Project Freud said that he doesn’t have a high opinion of the human capacity for thinking. the human being is generally a nonthinking being. Hysteria is only one proof that a human being is a nonthinking being. Accordingly, hysteria can be treated as an older language of humanity. Humans are prone to develop a kind of nonthinking; it is deeply rooted in the primordial lie (the proton pseudos) that resides in the depthless being. Nothing in human is evolutionarily directed towards thinking, says Freud. Moreover humans tend to distort the results of perception and to modify the image of reality in favor of the principle of inertia. The network of charged neurons never inform objectively about physical reality, they tend to fabricate reality, and this process of false perceptions Freud called false knowledge. He writes: “It is very difficult for the ego to put itself into the situation of mere ‘investigation’. The ego almost always has purposive or wishful cathexis, whose presence during investigation, as we shall see influences the passage of association and so produces a false knowledge of perceptions.”[20] Freud introduced the term Proton Pseudos (borrowed from Aristotle’s Organon). Its original meaning “the first lie”, served  Freud as an explanation that a person always forms false premises and false conclusions, as a result of “preceding falsity”. The neurons tend to bring us a lighter version of reality, and although the ego “wants to know” what is happening in reality, it only wants to know as far as it keeps the cathexis (the concentration of mental energy) on lower levels. Ego is curious about learning, at the same time it is not interested about  learning, it ignores reality. Ego will keep track of reality only as long as it is not dissatisfied with the results it receives. The minute it gets worrying information, it is prone to falsify reality. Freud says: “The unpleasure through neglecting cognition is not so glaring as that from ignoring the external world, though at bottom they are one and the same. Thus there is in fact also an observing process of thought in which indications of quality are either not, or only sporadically, aroused, and which is made possible by the fact that the ego follows the passage [of association] automatically with its cathexis. This process of thought is in fact far the more frequent, without being abnormal; it is our ordinary thought, unconscious, with occasional intrusions into consciousness.”[21] What we usually call thinking is merely an attempt to keep up with a measure of reality. Although the ego wants to keep up with reality, it loves to store it into the unconscious. When a subject thinks, it is only an intrusion as thinking. The conscious attempt to think is just an exclusion to  the cognitive processes, which would take place even without our conscious presence. Thinking is a dream-like, unconscious process in which our consciousness is but an intruder. In this vision, thinking acquires the quality of an almost instinctual process. The ego is irresponsible and lazy, it resists the information from the outside world, it also falsifies it, and the principle of inertia guarantees that ego will soon be saved from thinking. What complicates the desire of the ego to forever stabilize in accordance with the principle of inertia is not just the principle of constancy (homoeostasis), but also information coming from the outside world. Although the ego tries to ignore reality, the information is still powerful enough to force the ego to leave the inertia principle. Still, once the ego recognizes the reality signs, once it is forced to concentrate and to observe, the ego will immediately re-gain its status quo by faking reality, pretending it is observing it, while it is merely making false perception, thus faking thinking, in what Freud called false knowledge.

In contrast to the whole western tradition of philosophy that defines the human as a thinking being, Freud determines it is a nonthinking being. Then, why do we think at all? What is the purpose of thinking? In chapter 18 of the Project for a Scientific Psychology, entitled Thought and Reality, Freud writes: “The aim and end of all thought-processes is thus to bring about a state of identity, the conveying of a cathexis Qή [sic], emanating from outside, into a neurone cathected from the ego.”[22] Freud essentially says: the practical meaning of thinking is to establish a process of identification, to be able to say: “This bird is a bird”. The minute identification is established, the need for thinking stops. Ultimately, thinking will stop even if no action follows thinking. Freud believed that thinking is just a release of tension which comes in the form of identifying the information that come from the outside world, and what remains in the outside world are just the residues of thoughts (“Uh-huh, what I see is a fish”. The moment identification is established, and the object is recognized, it closes thinking). Freud made a distinction among several types of thinking: practical, reproductive and cognitive. Practical and reproductive types are similar: they don’t have any goals. Their structure, however, is different: practical thinking starts from perception and comes to a certain critical idea. Reproductive thinking, on the contrary, starts with the need to review some critical idea and arrives to perception. Cognitive thinking (Freud also called it critical and research thinking) is always associated with discontent, and unpleasure is the most inherent value of critical thinking. According to Freud, it is so, because there is a “logical error” in thinking. The error consists of the fact that thinking is unable to stop itself! Thinking cannot stop from constantly reviewing a given situation. Freud considered that the most important aspect of thinking is the ability to stop, to pause, in order to protect precisely the biological prerequisites for thinking. But even cognitive thinking is not thinking, Freud tells us: it consists of giving opinions, validations, and judgments. If my desire overlaps with my reality, my universe does not need any thinking. If parts of my desire are overlapping with my reality the space for some kind of thinking opens, but it is always something from the realm of remembrance. In other words Freud did not consider every, or even any, thought to be a manifestation of thinking.
Sigmund Freud

If we summarize Freud’s findings related to thought from the Project for a Scientific Psychology, we can offer the following points: 1) The most common version of a thought is a judgment, validation, or opinion, and as such, they don’t really qualify as thinking; 2) A thought which manifests itself as reproductive thinking is almost always comparable with recognition, which is a lower version of thinking; 3) Thinking rarely comes in the form of the so-called “pure act of thought”,[23] but even when it comes as a “pure act of thought” it has little evolutionary value except for the fuzzy idea that it will be useful in some potential future. 4) There is no instant gratification from thinking, therefore pure thinking is also a source of discontent (Freud: “It is quite generally the case that we avoid thinking of what arouses only unpleasure, and we do this by directing our thoughts to something else.”[24] 5) Thinking is hard. There are so many things that distract thinking in other directions, but for Freud paradoxically that is a healthy way to stop wasting time and to preserve energy for practical deeds. 6) Thinking often raises itself above the ego, and the ego then starts to be dependent on thinking, for thinking pumps the ego up, instead of the ego just using thinking for its survival purpose. 7) The thought paradox is that although practical thinking develops prior to cognitive thinking, cognitive thinking is still just an introduction to practical thinking: the subject needs to think in order to situate herself better into her surroundings, yet she needs to situate herself better in order to think. 8) Cognitive thinking is a luxury that also drags all sorts of vices (subjectivity, incompleteness, uselessness). One should think practically, and that narrows down thinking to some kind of practical action. 9) The thinking human is already someone who expels herself from the “normal” psychological processes, because thinking is a fertile ground for all kinds of perversions, contradictory impulses and desires. Thinking attracts pathologies. All of these conclusions do not imply that Freud in the Project advocated for a sentimental Rousseauism or that he glorified the illiterate man as good historical “material” of the Darwinian evolution. Freud did not imply that the preferred subject is the one who talks from his experience and who doesn’t offer any interpretations of what he has been through. On the contrary, Freud considered thinking to be almost an impossible operation, so complicated that is not easily reachable for humans.

Further on, things get more complicated. Building on the premises that thinking is almost an impossible operation, Freud came to a conclusion that “the state of waiting” established between perception and action (and that is - thinking itself) is actually useless! In the closing chapter of his Project for a Scientific Psychology, one encounters the following, enigmatic recommendation about the nature of thinking: “The process of thought must now be considered still more closely. Practical thought, the origin of all thought-processes, remains, too, their final aim. All other kinds branched off from it. It is an obvious advantage if the arranging of thought, which takes place in practical thought, need not wait to occur till the state of expectation but can have occurred already: because (1) this will save time for the specific action to take shape, (2) the state of expectation is far from being particularly favourable for the passage of thought. The value of promptitude in the short interval between perception and action is shown when we consider that perceptions change rapidly. If the thought-process lasts too long, its product will have become useless in the meantime. For that reason we ‘think ahead’.”[25]

Freud concluded the manuscript with an unexpected enigmatic conclusion: Think fast! Think quickly! Think in “the short interval” between perception and action, so that the perception should already be an action. He explained that “the perceptions change rapidly”, so rapidly, that the product of our thinking “becomes useless in the meantime”. This recommendation clearly transforms thinking into an excess, a surplus which has little utilitarian value, therefore we need to “think ahead”; we “need not [to] wait”! We should “arrange thoughts” in such a manner that the “state of expectation” needed for thinking is downsized to zero! There is an obvious profit from such an operation, says Freud, because when we spare ourselves from thinking, an “obvious advantage” occurs, namely we “save time for the specific action to take shape”! Instead of thinking, “save time” for acting! Thinking should have ended even before it truly began. The only useful thinking is the one that directly leads to action. Thinking should happen before starting. But how to think in such a fashion that thinking annuls itself? How to think in such a way that you erase precisely the protraction that the thinking requires?

The radical command (“act, don’t think”) diverges from everything Freud publicly advocated in 1895.  It is in direct contradiction with Studies on Hysteria, but also with his considerations throughout his career (for example, Civilization and its Discontents, 1930, is based on the premise that the capacity of humans to postpone action in favor of thinking is the most important feature of civilization). Why was Project for a Scientific Psychology different? Why after a complicated neurological investigation into the human organisms, and in a text that Freud considered to be his magna opus, why did Freud all of a sudden proclaimed that thinking is an error? Furthermore, not only is this contradiction embedded in early Freudian theory on thought, it is also that Freud’s theory on thought from the Project was largely overlooked by the psychoanalytical tradition. Freud talks about the speed needed in thinking (even thinking downsized to zero in favor of action) in the Project, yet he insisted that one should think slowly in Studies on Hysteria. Should Project for a Scientific Psychology be read as a recommendation for the urgency of thought? Freud was a thinker of paradoxes, his whole life was devoted to discovering the paradoxes of the human psyche, and in 1895 he too became a victim of such a paradox. But was it really a misfortunate overlooking that he produced two divergent theses, or was it that Freud actually wanted to produce an antithetical body of knowledge? The two manuscripts from 1895 contradict or even negate one another, and often within the same books. But what connects both theories of thinking is that both of them offered a reading of two qualities of thinking, of two types of thought: thinking close to nonthinking, and thinking as acting.  Thus, we are suggesting that they be thought of in terms of a principle of complementarily, similar to the theories of light in physics: wave and corpuscular theories.

The same contradiction is to be found fifty years earlier, in Kierkegaard’s book Two Ages: A Literary Review (1846). Kierkegaard spoke of two eras: The Age of Revolution and The Present Age. Revolutionary age is an age of action, a passionate age. There, thinking is reduced to a minimum, one just makes a decision (Kierkegaard did not talk about action, but about decision), everything is done without much thinking, even- and this is important- if it is a wrong decision! The present age, on the other hand, is a period devoid of passion, reflective, marked by contemplating; nothing really happens there, a person is all the time in a “seductive uncertainty of reflection”,[26] and life is decaying because it is becoming endlessly embedded in one’s inner thoughts (a theme perfectly illustrated by Lars von Trier’s film Dogville, 2003, which tells a story of a woman arriving in the small town of Dogville; she tries to win acceptance of the inhabitants, but she ends up being raped, molested, and subjected to all kinds of sadism and torture. Yet she keeps “offering her own death to others as the ultimate act of friendship”, as Derrida would say about friendship. In Kierkegaardian terms, both sides, the villagers and the female character, are “acting”, even when they are making the ultimate wrong decisions; the most disgusting character in the movie, however, is the writer and philosopher, who constantly contemplates the moral issues, and runs from one group to another, and offers “consolations”: “Okay, they raped you, but still they are good people”, or: “Okay, she is disturbing your social order, but she means no harm”, as the ultimate example of the Kierkegaardian man from the present age, holder of the true decay of life that takes place when one constantly reflects and contemplates). In the Project, Freud questioned precisely this: is it possible for humans to perform the urgency of thought, to act immediately? And he opted for the age of revolution (in Kierkegaardian terms) an age without thought. 

Freud was aware that the suspension of thought brings about urgency. Is this not the case when the urgency of thought equals Revolution? And what does it mean? To answer this question we must depart from Freud’s theory and take a look at some of the historical events related to thinking and revolution closest to Freud’s time. The first example of a revolution one encounters is the October revolution. What did this revolution mean for the nature of thought? We find the answer thirteen years after Project for a Scientific Psychology was written, and around the time when Freud was about to publish his study on Little Hans (1909). In 1908 Maxim Gorky was on Capri, together with a group of Bolshevik emigrants. He wanted to organize a philosophical debate and he invited Lenin to be his guest. Although Lenin considered Gorky a bourgeois, he appreciated his talent and respected him as one of the rare Russian writers who could help the Revolution. Lenin immediately replied to Gorky, but clearly set the conditions of his visit: “Dear Alexei Maximovich, I should very much like to see you, but I refuse to engage in any philosophical discussion.”[27] Lenin wasn’t a naïve political strategist, he knew he would need support from all the emigrants. His excuse did not mean that he was afraid of the connection between philosophy and politics, thinking that it would be devastating to the politics. Nor did he excuse himself because he considered theory unimportant; on the contrary, Lenin is the creator of the doctrine of anti-spontaneism, meaning that without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement. Yet the philosophy he wanted was philosophical innocence, he wanted thinking to be only a remnant of politics. The episode is analysed by Althusser in his essay Lenin and Philosophy, where he called it an act of “Lenin’s laughter”.[28] Lenin is asking Gorky the most complex question about the nature of thought: But, tell me, what will that thinking be like, after we have come to the threshold of the thinkable? Think that! Until then, I will laugh at your philosophical debates.

When one becomes revolutionary, when one decided (in Kierkegaard’s terminology) or already acted (in Freud’s terms) or, when thought has reached the threshold of the thinkable, what will thought be like? The drama of the previously said, places thought in the era of the unthinkable, in the sense in which Sartre declares Engels and Lenin “unthinkable”. One of the most important sources for the theory of socialism was the monk Deschamps (considered Hegel’s predecessor) from the 18th Century. In the book The Real System or the Word of the Metaphysical and Moral Conundrum (1769) he says that a condition for higher changes in the consciousness is to burn all books. Deschamps was not selfish, he thought that the last book to be burned would certainly have to be his. (In Emmerich’s film The Day After Tomorrow, 2004, such an extreme situation is described, the ultimate conditions under which such magnitude of the decay of thought is possible. A small group of people hides from the Ice Age that threatens to destroy the northern hemisphere, and one scene takes place at the City Library on 42nd Street in New York, where the survivors have to warm themselves with what they can find – the books. When a girl picks up a book by Nietzsche to throw into the fire, an elderly man tells her that one of the greatest philosophers in the world must not be burnt. She replies “Nietzsche was in love with his sister”.) If a critical mass of people is missing, if morality is tightened, the question is: what happens to thought? Is it that the first thing that will disappear is thought itself? In the documentary Welcome to North Korea (2001), there is one grotesque scene that takes place in the only library, the “People’s House of Education” in Pyongyang. In the scene, the authors of the documentary enter the room where the volumes of Kim Il Sung’s personal teachings are kept and his teachings are collected in 3,078 volumes! With this number Kim Il Sung becomes the most prolific writer in the history of civilization. But, more importantly, Lenin’s question to Gorky’s circle (“What will we think when thought reaches its end?”) gets its concrete historical answer here. Kim Il Sung’s volumes are the most correct answer to Lenin’s laughter. It is possible that thought will continue once it has reached the threshold of the thinkable, but that thought will have the form of Juche-teaching. When we have reached the end of thought, thought can then produce an infinite number of volumes. A massive amount of destruction of thought, Freud warns us, can happen precisely by way of uninterrupted thinking. Freud also said that the most important aspect of thinking is the ability to stop, to pause, in order to protect precisely the biological prerequisites for thinking.

However, Freud never proclaimed the urgency of thinking to be an act of revolution. Instead, Project for a Scientific Psychology had one clear concern: how to think thinking from an evolutionary perspective. For Freud most of what is out there are only some practical decisions about what kind of life one wants to commit oneself to; the only modus through which thinking manifests itself, for Freud, is a living without much cognitive thinking, only with some version of pragmatic thinking. Freud considered that it is impossible to arrive at what he called “total thinking”, its total facilitation (Bahnung), because it would produce a collapse of the ability to differentiate between the perception of reality and reality. That is why total, completely satisfying thinking can never occur, thinking can never be pleasurable thinking. If it is pleasurable thinking, it will dismiss reality. The nature of thinking is always thinking as half-thinking, thinking in discontent; humans are not capable of genuine, brilliant thinking, because that thinking would refute reality, which in turn would refute the very possibility of thinking. At the moment thinking completely satisfies the body, at that very moment the border between reality and fiction will cease to exist.

Yet, there is something even more disturbing in the Project for a Scientific Psychology. Freud suggested that actions are never really products of thinking; actions have always already happened; actions occur prior to thinking; they exist before thinking even happens. What does this mean? How is it possible that action happens prior to thinking? The answer is connected to another concept important to Freud: the problem of identification. When I want what other wants, I am actively in a place where “I want to overtake the place of the other”, as Freud writes in relation to Lucy R. in Studies on Hysteria. When I mimic something, it is not a conscious attempt to imitate the other, it is not a conscious choice, and I am not acting. The neurotic is never a liar, Freud says. We simply do not exist without existing in the field of the Other, essentially the same thing Lacan repeated in his seminar on the Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis: “I can do no more than suggest the extraordinary consequences that have stemmed from this handing back of truth into the hands of the Other, in this instance the perfect God, whose truth is the nub of the matter, since, whatever he might have meant, would always be the truth-even if he had said that two and two make five, it would have been true”.[29] (A colleague of mine from the Faculty of Philosophy in Skopje, upon hearing this quote, replied to me: “It might very well be the truth, but only under condition that what follows it that two and three will have to make six”).

The neurotic is never a liar. What a human is, is always what exists in the field of the Other, and is actively connected to the concept of identification. What does this mean? In Studies on Hysteria Freud implied that “bodily thinking” arrives only after thinking failed. In Project for a Scientific Psychology Freud changed his mind, and said that cognitive and judgmental thinking are connected to bodily cathexis, while reproductive thinking is connected to psychical cathexis. If “the aim and the end of all thought-processes” is to establish a state of identity, Freud said, then  establishing the state of identity first occurs at the level of the body, and only later does it appear as reproductive thinking, which takes place at the level of the psyche. It takes time to filter the information coming from outside; the body is faster, it receives the information faster. The body “thinks” first, through its “kinetic thinking”, through bodily sensations, and in the Project Freud introduced the idea that thinking always comes with some “bodily resonance”; while I am thinking, I am also thinking with my body. Thought always comes with some “motor activity”. Freud writes: “The idea and the movement only differ quantitatively, as we have learnt from experiments on thought-reading. If thought is intense, no doubt people even speak out loud.”[30] Freud warned that there are many situations when it is hard to make a difference between physical reality and psychological reality, that which is in me and that which is outside of me. When I remember some movement, my body often repeats the movement. The neurotic often cannot distinguish between her thoughts and the real events. She can be haunted by her guilty consciousness, and although she knows her thoughts are not the same as the external reality, her thoughts are still taken as seriously as if they were real events. To explain this phenomena Freud developed three different types of reality: thought reality, external reality and psychological reality and he gave justification for the confusion of those three, by explaining that neurologically speaking, the idea of movement and the movement are not qualitatively different, but only quantitatively so. It means that both are made of the same materials, the only difference lies in their intensity. Freud introduced the notion of motility and said that for the neurons it makes no difference if the motor activity is performed or not. This led to the discovery of something more extreme than Freud ever imagined possible-the anticipation of mirror neurons. In the chapter Though and Reality Freud writes: “While one is perceiving the perception, one copies the movement oneself -- that is, one innervates so strongly the motor image of one's own which is aroused towards coinciding [with the perception], that the movement is carried out. Hence one can speak of a perception having an imitation-value. Or the perception may arouse the mnemic image of a sensation of pain of one's own, so that one feels the corresponding unpleasure and repeats the appropriate defensive movement. Here we have the sympathy-value of a perception.”[31]

The importance of these lines is everlasting. This was the earliest neurological anticipation of the existence of mirror neurons. This concept later paved the path for Lacan’s most famous principle that “Desire is the Desire of the Other.” It was not Lacan’s but Freud’s initial idea, and for the first time it was stated precisely in the Project for a Scientific Psychology. Freud noticed the strange phenomena that movement is not only a movement of oneself, but an imitation; it is the innervations of the motor image I copy. It meant nothing in scientific terms until the middle of the 1990s when a strange class of neurons were discovered, and were given the name, mirror neurons. This new class of neurons was explained by the strange interconnectivity between self and other. Here is one popular description of how mirror neurons work (from Wired magazine): the child looks at her mother as she picks up the keys. The child thinks “mommy wants to play”. The husband watches his wife as she picks up the keys. He trembles “this time she is really leaving me”. How do these people know what the other is thinking? How do they judge their intentions? The child can also come to a conclusion that mommy wants to leave, or the husband can also think that his wife wants to play. But they are not mistaken. They know! They know precisely because of the existence of the mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are active when the subject is in the process of performing a certain task: for example, raising her own hand, and in that sense they are insignificant. But the same neurons fire off when their owner sees someone else performs the same task, when the other raises her hand, too. They are activated by a kind of empathy, a simulation of the activity of the other. It means that the conduct of the other is produced but at the same moment it is also reproduced in me! So each conduct comes not as one and individualistic, but always, at least, as double, i.e. doubled activity. That is then a case when between me and the other there is a relation that is not mediated in a physical sense, but in the sense of a simulation, what Freud in the Project called “copying the movements”, “a perception having an imitation-value”, and “sympathy-value of a perception”. Although the activity of the brain is identical in both subjects, the one watching won’t raise her hand in reality, as the one that is being watched. That is because most of the time, a strong brain inhibition will stop the one watching from activating her motorics. But, the uneasy feeling we have when someone is having an injection, for example, is a proof that these inhibitors don’t always block my reactions. In short, mirror neurons for the first time gave rise to the idea that there is a primitive, unmediated dialogue between the subject and the other, and that is something of great importance for the constitution of subjectivity. There is an actual concurrency between me and the other, and it is not just an empty abstraction, or a poetic metaphor, but an essential psychological synchrony, i.e. relatedness. The timelines of the subject facing the other are identical, and between them there is always one that is repeated, i.e. a duplicated timeline, but only one of the two is interrupted. This was a new idea, and much radical one from everything Freud produced in 1895. He did not proceed with publishing it, but its existence should be noted as extremely important for our understanding of humans.


Freud’s position on the relation of thought to action is a composite of two perspectives. One of them became psychoanalytical doctrine; the other perspective got suppressed in psychoanalytical studies, but is making its presence known, and therefore has to be taken into consideration in any full accounting of early Freud’s position on thinking. The suggestion is that perhaps they be considered in a complementarily way, a known scientific principle in explaining the nature of light in physics.

In Studies on Hysteria (1895) Freud argued that the symptom is a particular form of thinking, a kind of nonthinking, and a product of incongruent ideas; he suggested that the cure should come by adopting slow-thinking which will uplift the fallen hysteric. This paper tried to read Freud’s manuscript together with two texts that gravitate around it, Freud’s obituary Charcot (1893) as well as his controversial The Aetiology of Hysteria (1896). In all three texts, Freud offered several methodologies on how to slow-think. Freud asserted that: 1) the analyst should treat the body as the thinking body, and symptoms as the hieroglyphs of nonthinking, 2) the analyst should perform the investigation of the chains of associations; 3) the analyst should perform the task of archeological reconstruction of the netherworld of the psyche, and finally 4) the analyst should dive into the kernel of one’s being, as in a cave, where the proton pseudos resides. Although Freud was already shaping his concept of the unconscious, his early work remains closely connected to the Cartesian universe, and his subject consisted mainly in a thinking subject. Thinking and being are the same for early Freud; everything psychological possesses a notion, which renders it thinkable in its essence, in what it is, and even when it is not thinkable, it is still in the realm of thinking.

Project for a Scientific Psychology offers a completely different concept. The manuscript was mainly overlooked by the psychoanalytical tradition, for in it, Freud proposed a radically different theory of thought. Here, the human being is no longer a thinking being; humans don’t have a capacity for thinking, therefore wherever possible thinking should be immediately replaced by acting; one should think fast, and in the shortest possible intervals between perception and action, so that thinking annuls itself even before it starts. Freud considered “total thinking” impossible, for it would produce a collapse in the difference between the perceptions of reality and reality. But, in this enigmatic manuscript Freud also suggested that action, paradoxically, always already happens prior to thinking. This opened the possibility that action initially is not even happening in the field of the subject, but is always already happening in the field of the other. This, in turn, made the radical expansion of the Freudian subject feasible, but it also lead to the earliest anticipation of the mirror neurons known in psychoanalytical literature. The overlooked manuscript of Freud today stands closer to the contemporary investigations into how human mind thinks, than anything Freud wrote prior or after 1895.

[1] Freud, Sigmund, SE Pre-Psycho-Analytical Publications and Unpublished Drafts, Volume I (1886-1899), ed. James Strachey, (London: Vintage, 2001), 283.
[2] Freud, Sigmund and Breuer Joseph, Studies on Hysteria, ed. James Strachey, (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 49.
[3] Murray, Sherman, “Emotional Communication in Modern Psychoanalysis: Some Freudian Origins and Comparisons,Modern Psychoanalysis, vol. 8 (1983), 176.
[4] Appignanesi, Lisa and Forrester, John, Freud’s Women (London: Basic Books, 1992), 63.
[5] Roth S., Michael. Memory, Trauma, and History. Essays on Living with the Past (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), 63.
[6] Freud, Sigmund, The Question of Lay Analysis, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990), 6.
[7] Borch-Jacobsen, M, The Emotional Tie: Psychoanalysis, Mimesis, and Affect (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992), 114.
[8] Kravis, Nathan, M, “The ‘Prehistory’ of the Idea of Transference”, (The International Review of Psycho-Analysis, vol. 19, 1992), 13.
[9] Freud, Sigmund and Breuer Joseph, Studies on Hysteria, 196.
[10] Freud, Sigmund, Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2008), 21.
[11] Adler, Amy. “Symptomatic Cases: Hysteria in the Supreme Court’s Nude Dancing Decisions” (American Imago, No. 64, 2007), 306.
[12] Freud, Sigmund, Charcot (1893), in The Freud Reader, edited by Peter Gay, (London: Vintage Books, 1995), 50.
[13] Freud, Sigmund, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, edited by James Strachey, (New York: W.W.Norton & Company, 1962), 58.
[14] The Freud Reader, edited by Peer Gay, 98.
[15] Freud was aware that not everything from this archeological playfield would be uplifted, some ghosts of the psyche remain fragmented, and titles of his clinical cases indicate this awareness: Dora was published with the addition “Fragments of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria”, Rat Man with ”Notes Upon A Case of Obsessional Neurosis”, Wolf Man with “From the History of an Infantile Neurosis”.
[16] Žižek, Slavoj, Metastaze uživanja (Beograd: XX vek, 1996), 6.
[17] Ibid, 6.
[18] Krauss, Rosalind E. 1998. The Optical Unconscious, (New Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1998), 151.
[19] Freud, Sigmund, SE Pre-Psycho-Analytical Publications and Unpublished Drafts, 305.
[20] Ibid, p. 374.
[21] Ibid, p. 373.
[22] Ibid, p. 332.
[23] Ibid, p. 330.
[24] Ibid, p. 351.
[25] Ibid, p. 383.
[26] Kierkegaard, The Present Age (New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2010), 6.
[27] Althusser, Louis. Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2001), 11-13.
[28] Ibid, 13.
[29] Lacan, Jacques. Four Fundamental Principles of Psychoanalysis, (New York: W.W. Norton &Company, 1998), 36.
[30] Freud, Sigmund, SE Pre-Psycho-Analytical Publications and Unpublished Drafts, 367.
[31] Ibid, 333.

The Status of Thought in Early Freud
Jasna Koteska


The article argues that early Freud produced two antithetical theses about the nature of thought. Koteska proposes that in Studies on Hysteria (1895) Freud read hysteria as a consequence of incongruent thoughts and therefore, to tackle it, he introduced the perspective of slowness of thought, which gave birth to psychoanalysis. The other thesis Freud proposed almost in parallel in his largely overlooked manuscript Project for Scientific Psychology (1895). Herewith, in a contrast statement, Freud suggested that thinking has almost no utilitarian value and therefore thinking should be urgently replaced by action. However, Koteska’s article proposes that the two contrasted Freudian theories of thinking should be thought of in terms of a principle of complementarity. Namely, they should be viewed through the concept of transfer, known in the mid-19 century French neurology as the transference phenomena and used by Freud to work with hysteria. Koteska also suggests that Freud was the first to extend the concept of transfer to both thoughts and actions in his Project for Scientific Psychology, which is the earliest psychoanalytical anticipation of mirror neurons, discovered in the late 20th century neuroscience.


Sigmund Freud, thought, Studies on Hysteria, Project for a Scientific Psychology.


Jasna Koteska is a Macedonian writer and theoretical psychoanalyst. She is a full time professor of literature, theoretical psychoanalysis and gender studies at the University Ss. Cyril and Methodius in Skopje, Republic of Macedonia. She published over 200 articles on the variety of topics including intimacy, sanitation, trauma, abject, ressentiment, repetition, miniaturization, and gestures, which were translated in twelve languages. She is also author of six books, including The Freud Reader. Early Psychoanalysis (2013), Communist Intimacy (2008) and Sanitary Enigma (2006).


Post a Comment