By Dr Myint Zan
Gentle reader: During the past 24 hours while you slept, you dreamt. You may not recall your dream, but you did dream or so say, contemporary neurologists and scientists.
For millennia there have been many treatises, tracts or plain ‘hocus pocus’ views about dreams human apparently dream when they were/are asleep. On 24 November 1899 Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams (first edition, in German Die Traumdeutung) was published perhaps initially in Vienna, Austria. This article, in part, commemorates the 121st anniversary of Freud’s ‘dream book’.
151st anniversary of first publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species and 121st anniversary of Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams
On 24 November 1859 Charles Darwin (12 February 1809-19 April 1882) published a scientific landmark Origin of Species (short title) (in English). Exactly 40 years later on 24 November 1899 Sigmund Freud (6 May 1856-23 September 1939) published his Interpretation of Dreams (first edition in German).
One of Freud’s biographers the late Peter Gay (20 June 1923-12 May 2015) observed (in my opinion somewhat anomalously) that there were much less interest and excitement, on their first publications, of Freud’s book compared to that of Darwin’s 40 years earlier. As the late Professor Andrew S. Watson (2 May 1920- 2 April 1998) Professor of Law and Psychiatry at the University of Michigan Law School observed, in 1995, with a smile when I mentioned Peter Gay’s comment to him ‘It is very difficult to compete with that (Darwin’s) book]’. I might just add ‘rightly so too’ (see below).
Two Biographies of Freud and No Person Being ‘Wholly Praised or Wholly Blamed’
In 2018 I read the book Freud/Fraud: The Making of an Illusion published in 2017 and written by Professor Frederick Crews (born 20 February 1933). As can be easily discerned from the title it is a critical indeed scathing critique of Freud and almost everything Freudian.
In contrast, another biography of Freud published about 30 years earlier (as can be easily seen, again, from the title) Freud: A Life for Our Time by Peter Gay (first published 1988) can be described, generically, as hagiographical.
But then stanza or Verse 228 of the Dhammapada states: ‘there never was, there never will be nor does there exist now a man [now ‘person’] who is wholly praised or wholly blamed’.
Freud perforce becoming a ‘Pyi Pyae’ in the last 18 months of his life
Almost literally in the last year of Sigmund Freud’s life, he became — to employ a term first devised and used by mainly the ancien (not ancient) (previous) Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) regime a Pyi Pyae ပြည်ပြေး The term Pyi Pyae is very derogatory and should not be translated as ‘expatriate’. Even the more elaborate ‘one who ran away from his mother country’ does not quite capture the derogatory and vitriolic nature of the epithet used by the then BSPP hacks which, sadly, indeed outrageously is still being used in the Burmese middle school history textbook (Grade VIII) as of 2019.
Freud had to leave his native Austria for Britain in June 1938, and he died there just over a year later in September 1939.
Freud Not becoming a Nobel laureate either in Medicine or in Literature
Peter Gay wrote that in 1929 the Nobel Committee decided not to seriously consider Freud any more for the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology. This decision was made after a referee (whose name we do not know, maybe a previous Nobel laureate in medicine) opined, in effect, that Freud’s theories were (and are), in the context of the medical field, not scientific. Peter Gay stated in his biography that in Freud’s diary of October 1929, there was a short note to himself that he was ‘passed over for the Nobel prize’.
Considering Freud’s fame or notoriety (based on one’s perspective) did Freud’ need’ the Nobel prize in medicine even if he might have arguably coveted it?
Another ‘iffy’ history or query: should Freud have been awarded the Nobel prize for literature instead? (He didn’t get it either) (see below).
Not 3rd after Copernicus and Darwin but a 3rd after Montaigne and Nietzsche?
Freud wrote in one of his essays that Nicolas Copernicus (19 February 1473-24 May 1543) by proving the heliocentric theory and Charles Darwin (12 February 1809-19 April 1882) by stating that homo sapiens are a product of evolution and not ‘special creation’ had ‘dethroned humans from the pedestal’. Freud stated that he took the next step — after Copernicus and Darwin by arguing, perhaps ‘proving’ in his view — that humans are not rational animals, but they are in bondage, amidst the clutches so to speak of unconscious motives, desires and indeed perhaps, at times, even ‘evilisms’ that lurked in what he termed the Id in the human psyche.
The audacity (so to speak) of Freud to compare himself with these two great scientists prompted the late Harold Bloom (11 July 1930-14 October 2019)) a famous literary critic and Distinguished Professor of Humanities at Yale University to write that Freud who wanted to be a ‘third after Copernicus and Darwin’ can be considered as a third after Montaigne (28 February 1533- 13 September 1592) and Nietzsche (15 October 1844-15 August 1900) as a modern literary figure of great importance. Bloom meant that Freud was more of a modern essayist like Montaigne and Nietzsche rather than a pucca (‘pure’) (medical) scientist.
Bloom had a Chapter in his book The Western Canon (first published 1994) entitled ‘Freud: A Shakespearean Reading’. Bloom stated that William Shakespeare (23 April 1564-23 April 1616) not Freud was the world’s first psychologist and that Freud’s writings could be analyzed from a Shakespearean viewpoint. At the same time, (unlike Frederick Crews who has virtually nothing complimentary to say about Freud) Bloom also wrote that Freud was ‘possibly the best mind of our [20th] century’ [sic, quoted exactly as it was written].
Freud’s theories in the light of non-falsifiability thesis of Karl Popper
The philosopher of science Sir Karl Popper (28 July 1902-17 September 1994) was also critical of Freudianism asserting that Freud and Marx’s theories can be ‘supported’ by their admirers by ‘extracting from any social phenomena to claim that their theories are right’. He mentioned Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity of 1905 which was proven right (because it was capable of being proven wrong (unlike Marx’s and Freud’s theories) in 1919 by an expedition led by the astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington (28 December 1882-22 November 1944) through scientifically recording the celestial phenomena during and after an eclipse that occurred in May 1919 that can be observed in a few parts of the world.
Two Freud admirers and their research work
There are at least two Freud admirers whom I personally know. The late Professor Andrew S. Watson of the University of Michigan Law School in the United States (in whose class ‘Law and Psychiatry’ yours truly stood co-equal first and obtained the grade of A plus and a Certificate of Merit for Winter Term 1982) was a Freudian as can be seen from his book Psychiatry for Lawyers (first published 1969).
Professor Melford Spiro (26 April 1920 -18 October 2014) was an anthropologist and Burma scholar. In his book Buddhism and Society: A Great Tradition and its Burmese Vicissitudes (second edition, 1982) at page xii Professor Spiro wrote about’ the genius of Sigmund Freud whose theories help me perceive at times resolved Myanmar social phenomena studied from an anthropological viewpoint’.
Lieb und Arbeitrk (‘To Love and To Work’)
I first learned of the statement (rightly) attributed to Freud from Andrew Watson’s Psychiatry for Lawyers. In the German language, in part, it reads Lieb und Arbeitrk’ [To] love and [to] work’ should be one of the characteristics and indeed tasks of a ‘mature person’, Freud had stated.
Is there any justification to juxtapose not necessarily to compare it with contrast or even to analogize between what Freud meant by ‘love’ and the Buddhist concept (in Pali language) of metta with metta ‘loving-kindness’? Compare it with the Buddhist concept of မေတ္တာ metta translated from the Pali language as ‘loving-kindness’?
The dedicated, valiant efforts that are being made by admirable people the world over to overcome the once-in-a-century scourge by the name of Covid-19 that afflicts the planet, it is submitted, displays service to humanity inspired by ‘love’ in the sense of what Freud meant and also that of metta ‘loving-kindness’.