Go to the Home page Go to the prior page (Renegade) Go up one level to the The Monographs page Go to the next page (Letters) The Ninth Street Center
The Monographs

Freud and the Scientific Method [1980]
by Paul Rosenfels

When Paul was in high school he won a national contest in American History. Realizing he had a talent for understanding people, he decided to try to understand why men fight wars. For several years he filled notebook after notebook with hurried scribbling about his research and tentative hypotheses -- notebooks that were later burned by the family caretaker because, after all, they were "all used up."

Recognizing that war was a fundamentally irrational activity for a species otherwise triumphant in evolutionary terms, he saw that his study of human behavior would have to go deeper than man's rational façade -- so dutifully transcribed by historians -- to find the true causes of war. Perhaps the new theories about the "unconscious mind" would contain the answers?

Paul's genius, I think, had a lot to do with the fact that no matter how far he would travel down a false path, he would always remain true to his ideals and somehow find his way, however painfully, back to the main road. But some hypotheses, it turns out, think nothing of eating up decades of your life without so much as a thank you. This one led Paul to earn an M.D. and be trained at Chicago's prestigious Institute for Psychoanalysis. It wasn't until he had actually spent a few years trying to help real patients that he realized that something was desperately wrong with the Freud paradigm.

He was, of course, not alone in this. In the 1950's and 60's he watched with satisfaction as one analyst after another rebelled against the inherent cynicism and anti-humanistic determinism of psychoanalysis and migrated toward more optimistic approaches to the curing of mental illness. The old paradigm judged society in toto to be incurable. The new paradigm said that civilized humans spend their adulthood in a permanent growth process, marked of necessity by transient failures and aborted misadventures, and that society, while imperfect, could still progress over time. Paul decided to devote the next phase of his life to coming up with his own way of looking at human nature, a way that didn't assume we had a "death instinct" or that social harmony is based merely on sublimated sex.

Many years later, when Paul's creative work was finished and he no longer hated Freud, he realized that the new insights which had proven themselves with scores of students and hundreds of Center members might give him a basis for rethinking the entire Freud fiasco. This monograph, then, is not a diatribe against what was by then already a dead pseudoscience. These days, after all, most of us place "the unconscious mind" at the top of our list of favorite oxymoron's, and any high school student knows enough to laugh at such hapless concoctions as the Oedipus complex. Instead, it is a sympathetic treatment of an ambitious and talented but misguided man who was, in the final analysis, as much a product of his time and place as we are of ours. Paul's real concern, as the title implies, is the scientific method.

Opening passage:

Introduction. I have never believed that the world needs a St. George to conquer the dragon of Freudian error. I believe that ordinary rational men who are not captured by professional status images can see the artificiality and lack of genuine love for humanity that characterizes his theories. Once this insight has become established in men's minds, what use can it be to follow Freud into all the byways and sidetracks with which he sought to cover up his own sense of being on shaky ground? How many times does an individual have to prove that one and one is two? . . .

See the full text of this monograph (177Kb)


Subscribe to The
Paul Rosenfels Community

[D:\dh\web\NSC\3\HTP\Freud.htp (40 lines) 2005-08-12 18:13 Dean Hannotte]