Freud, Sigmund – The Interpretation of Dreams

  • psyche/ nous/ association: Sigmund Freud, in “The interpretation of dreams”, started a dialogue that is continuing even today when more than a hundred years have passed from then. From the start I want to make clear that Freud is not using the concepts of “psyche” and “nous”, even though the terminology of “association” belongs to him. Searching from the sources of dreams identified till then, he concludes that “dreams are phenomena of our own psychic activity” (Chapter 1, Section E): neither in the senses (internally or externally situated), nor in the organs or the body is to be found the spring of our dreams; but in the “psychic activity”: so the mind (nous) gets involved in the dance of dreams with the soul (psyche). And the two partners – mind and soul – are bound by chains of causality, a word that Freud dislikes to use and replaces it with “associations”. So, in any interpretation of a dream, we start from the effects – namely, the dream – and, regressing, we search for their causes in the past – either the very short past (few days ago), or the very long past (more specifically in childhood): “we start from dreaming and waking life and go back to the symptom of them” (Chapter 2) and this regression is realized through “association”. In short, even though the statement – the soul is bound by causality to mind – is nowhere to be found in his work, from the previous two citations it is crystal clear that that is what Freud was pointing to. For instance, the meanings of our dreams are hidden in the recurring events that started a few days before and, if not, then more surely in far away and forgotten times of childhood. Those past events are transformed and translated in such a way by our mind that they reappear again, in our dreams, in new clothes: these clothes are so special and obvious like emperor’s new cloths from the famous fairy tail.
  • manifest dream/ latent dream/ dream work: I believe that the most debatable parts of his work are to be found in Chapter 6 – where Freud is presenting a logic of translation, or a logic of transformation; and in Chapter 7 – a chapter that is laying the foundation of his perspective on the “psychic activities” called “systems” or, better, “processes”. So, according to Chapter 6, the manifest dream represents “the words” and “the images”; the latent dream is “the ideas”; while the dream work is special by its “translation” and “transformation”. In short, the ideas are translated (transformed) in words and images. And Freud found four laws of translation (transformation): 1) the condensation – in fact a process of subtraction: only parts of ideas are illustrated in the words and images of the dreams; 2) the secondary revision that is a process of addition: starting from a couple of ideas found in waking life, the dream is telling a much more complicated and elaborated story; 3) the displacement, that is: a process of the dream that reverses and modifies the accents, the importance and that hierarchies of the walking life. And, finally, 4) the representation where an element found in dream is synthesizing many persons, objects and ideas from everyday life. Starting from these laws, Freud interpreted one of his dreams (called “Non vixit” [vixit = wellbeing] and much mistaken for “Non vivit” [vivit = alive]) that was hiding his complicated relationship with his cousin when both of them were children. In fact, in this dream Freud presented himself like an abandoned house haunted by ghosts where the following rule ruled: what he loved most, he also hated most – a fact mirrored also in his later relationships with Adler, Jung and others. Or, in the words of Freud: “An intimate friend and a hated enemy have always been indispensable to my emotional life; I have always been able to create them anew, and not infrequently my childish ideal has been so closely approached that friend and enemy have coincided in the same person; but not simultaneously, of course, nor in constant alternation, as was the case in my early childhood” (p. 447). And: “Thus, I find it quite comprehensible that revenants should exist only as long as one wants them, and that they can be obliterated by a wish (…) But the revenants are the successive incarnations of the friend of my childhood; I am also gratified at having replaced this person for myself over and over again” (p. 449). (For more detailed explanations, please re-read the pages 391-395 and 442-451 of his work).
  • Ucs/ Pcs/ Cs: The final chapter, Chapter 7, names three systems (in a topological model) or process (in a dynamical model): 1) the Ucs that is a shorthand for “unconscious” and “primary process”, 2) the Pcs that means the “preconscious” and the “secondary process” and 3) the Cs that is the “conscious”. Freud arranges these systems (processes) along an axis that represented the flow of information: he is saying that the flux of information is from senses through unconscious/ pre-conscious to conscious. In other words, even that I’m accustomed with the process of learning – say, for instance, learning to ride a bike – where first I pay much effort of being conscious for every step and, after a while, with a due repetitions over a certain time, those steps become unconscious; well, even that I’m accustomed with this process, Freud is saying that I’m wrong. According to him, all the information of our senses is flowing into the unconscious, from there to preconscious, and finally, with a little luck, they arrive in the conscious. And from there, from the conscious, the information is flowing again backwards to the senses. So, let’s say that, according to Freud, I’m a neurotic patient and I love to go on hikes. Accordingly, the unconscious and the preconscious are in a continual strikes and fights and, in my case, when I’m back at home I will not be able to tell the story of my journey and the events that occurred – like the songs of the birds, the blows of the wind, the shine of the sun, the meeting of a bear, the fighting with the hunter, and so on and on. For all these events somehow remained stuck in the strikes and fights between the unconscious and the preconscious. In conclusion: by me, the model of Freud is strange and this strangeness is given not by the presence of the three systems/ processes in the mind, but by the way they are in relationship with the external world (i.e. perception) and the internal world (i.e. memory). So the strangeness is given by the flow of the information concerning the three systems/ processes.

Chapter 6:

Chapter 7:


  • Sigmund Freud (1013): “The interpretation of dreams”, Translated by A. A. Brill, Unwin Brothers LTD.

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