The Legacy of Freud

Sunday, February 9, 2014

What is it

Did you really want to eat that last piece of cake, or were you secretly thinking about your mother? Sigmund Freud, who might have suggested the latter, established the unconscious mind as a legitimate domain for scientific research. He was the first to seriously study dreams and slips of the tongue, and he proposed that neurotic behavior could be explained by beliefs and desires that we repress. However, many of Freud’s theories have been rejected as unscientific, and his particular brand of psychoanalysis is all but obsolete. So why is Freud still worth remembering? John and Ken get Oedipal with Stanford historian Paul Robinson, author of Freud and His Critics, for a program recorded live at the Marsh Theater in Berkeley.

Listening Notes

John begins the show by introducing a man who needs little introduction: Sigmund Freud. As John says, many view the father of psychotherapy the “intellectual icon of the twentieth century.” While Ken agrees that Freud is an icon of the last century, both hosts question Freud’s ongoing relevance: after all, didn’t most of his theories (including penis envy, Oedipus syndrome, and castration anxiety) turn out to be false? And, what’s more, didn’t Freud espouse largely sexist and patriarchal dogma? John says that even Freud’s most fascinating theory—that many of our thoughts and impulses remain hidden to the conscious mind—was essentially ripped off from Plato. Ken defends Freud, and jokingly psychoanalyzes John, asking if he had a bad experience with a Freudian that he’s suppressing.

The hosts take a break, and Kaitlyn Esh—the show’s Roving Philosophical Reporter— explores modern psychotherapy (description below). When the hosts come back, they introduce guest Paul Robinson, a professor of history at Stanford University. Robinson explains that as an intellectual historian of the twentieth century, the importance of Freud is impossible to ignorable, regardless of his modern day reputation. The three professors discuss how Freud considered himself a scientist, and what his attitude was towards philosophers and literary masters. All the while, the Ken, John and Paul work to try and figure out whether or not we should still pay any credence to Freud.

After the three answer audience questions and enjoy a long-ranging conversation that covers the feminist movements of the last century, the separate spheres of the humanities and the social sciences, the time comes to reach a conclusion on Freud. John explains that he’ll always like to read Freud, and considers him a great thinker, expesically when it comes to an analysis of religion. Ken calls Freud an amazing cultural critic with an ambitious goal of grounding cultural criticism in science—but, unfortunately, the science he ended up using towards that goal was dubious at best.

Roving Philosophical Reporter (seek to 5:30): Kaitlyn Esh explores Freud’s continuing influence of psychotherapy. She talks Neil Brast, psychotherapist from Palo Alto, about how Freud—for all his faults—created the concept of the “talking cure,” something that remains foundational in modern day therapy.

Sixty-Second Philosopher (seek to 42:25): Ian Shoales humorously mediates on the trope of the “shrink” in pop culture, in shows like the Sopranos and movies by Woody Allen and Alfred Hitchcock. Somewhere between Freud and now, the pipe-smoking deep thinkers with elbow patches bled over into monster movies. 

 
 

Paul Robinson, Richard W. Lyman Professor in the Humanities, Stanford University

 
 
 

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