EMPIRICISM vs FORMULA IN PSYCHOANALYSIS

By William Markiewicz

Romanticism was a triumph of Empiricism. Rationalism took its revenge by putting formula on a pedestal. Psychoanalysis oscillates between them.

Romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz in his 'Books of Nation and Pilgrimage' describes in biblical style the story of a dying mother surrounded by consulting doctors. One says: "I will treat her with Brown's method." The others object, "Bad is Brown's method, it's better for her to die than to be treated by it." Another proposes a different method and the doctors make the same objection. It goes on and on until the son screams: "Mother!" The mother opens her eyes and the doctors are chased out. It's a strong diatribe against the idea that everything can be resolved with formulas. In this case it was a metaphor for the political situation in Mickiewicz's day. Of course, pure Empiricism isn't viable either; it would be a formula for 'anti-formulas' and so a denial of itself.

Freud, creator of psychoanalysis, introduced his formula of the subconscious driven by sex, Eros, Thanatos..., basically applying it to all of humanity leaving relatively little space for individual differences. For Jung the healthy individual is the one who remains well connected to the stem of the collective un/subconscious. For him the ancestral spirit is more important than, for instance, sex, which is just a part of the whole picture. Of course, being doctors, not pure scholars and philosophers, they couldn't remain totally faithful to their formulas. So empiricism, as in all creative endeavours, mingled constantly with theory.

Freud saw limits in the purely psychological approach, believing that the future of psychology was in biochemistry. Freudian maverick Wilhelm Reich with his Orgon theory and Orgontherapy turned toward physics -- his own kind of physics -- rather then to biochemistry like Freud. Contrary to Freud who left the use of biochemistry to future therapists, Reich was actually using his 'Orgon devices' and was accused of fraud. Personally I don't doubt his sincerity. Being, like Freud, a 'formula man' he believed that with the right formula a perfect way of life could be attained. In his book 'The Function of the Orgasm', his diagrams show how only straight heterosexual intercourse gives complete sexual satisfaction, the basis of the most healthy life. I can imagine some homosexual objecting: 'I don't care if somebody else experiences some intensity I don't. I don't miss what I don't know just like I'll never miss the beauty of some extinct species or the smell and taste of some extinct plant. All I know is that I'm happy with my partner and with my lifestyle, and that's enough for me!' In the same vein a young woman athlete in whom doctors discovered the masculine gene declared on TV: "I don't care about my genes, I know that I'm a woman!"

Andre Maurois in one short story, I don't remember the title, denied the importance of the subconscious. For him 'deep' subconscious truth is less important than the conscious, obvious truth, because the latter guides our meaningful life. Our subconscious, if revealed to us, may serve marginally as a warning or indication about something that may or may not happen. As a French humorous story illustrates: "there was a man ... who looked very much like a precursor, but nobody, not even himself, knew of what."

Adler, with his personalized psychology, was more of an empiricist than his colleagues, and in this he was somewhere between psychiatry and 'dear Abby' rather than in psychoanalysis per se.

Only clear things can be defined, which is a tautology. A clear pathological condition fits the appropriate terminology. The same is true of the feeling of health (health is absence of sickness). But the more complex things are the more they belong to the field of intuition, art, empiricism, and distance themselves from pure knowledge and pointed definitions. Diagnosis is important, theory is important, but too many interpretations bend reality into a theory. A tragi-comical illustration comes from the past when dentists used some alloys that picked up radio waves and people filled psychiatrists' waiting rooms because who could believe that a normal person heard music in his head!? How many people became intoxicated with various medications and ended up as psychotics until the true reason was discovered? One science fiction parody describes how an earthling was connected by mistake to a psychoanalytical Martian device and ended by believing that he was a Martian! Dreams are not always revealing, neither is the 'spontaneous' talk induced on the psychoanalyst's couch. Hypnosis may be more imprint than revelation. Probably in therapy, as in teaching, the most fruitful encounter between therapist and patient, or between professor and student, is the encounter between the intuitions facing each other.

The same happens to societies; why is democracy the most successful system? Because it takes away rules rather then adding them.

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