What’s the latest scientific insight about unconscious beliefs, desires, and motivations? Do contemporary experimental psychologists do any better than Freud? Could anyone do worse? On this week’s show we’re asking: What has replaced Freud?
What Is It
Although the concept that we can have thoughts and desires hidden from consciousness can be traced back to antiquity, it was Freud who truly popularized it in the twentieth century. Now Freud’s theory of the unconscious mind has mostly been abandoned for being unscientific and lacking in empirical evidence. So what has replaced it? Are newer theories that reference “automatic systems” or “implicit attitudes” any more scientific than Freud’s? And why is so much research about the unconscious mind being conducted in business schools? Josh and Ray are quite conscious of their guest, Blakey Vermeule from Stanford University, author of "The New Unconscious: A Literary Guided Tour."
What’s the latest wisdom about the unconscious mind? Can modern scientists do better than Freud? Josh admits that Freud popularized the idea that we often don’t know why we do the things that we do, but he takes issue with the fact that many of Freud’s claims were unscientific and had no evidence. Ray pushes back by pointing out that science isn’t a static enterprise, and modern science is also struggling with a replication crisis.
The philosophers welcome Blakey Vermeule, Professor of English at Stanford University, to the show. Blakey believes that we’ve made a terrible mistake in ditching the Freudian framework, since it emphasized a deep lack of access to the unconscious mind. Ray brings up the work of 20th century psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, and Blakey explains their concept of the dual process brain. Josh asks if the pessimism of other prominent figures such as Nietzsche or Milgram compares to that of Freud, to which Blakey responds that what has truly been lost in the post-Freudian collapse is the shared sense of meaning making.
In the last segment of the show, Josh, Ray, and Blakey discuss behavioral economics, the importance of transcendence, and the need for the humanities. Ray wonders about how to exactly situate meaning, prompting Blakey to emphasize that humans have a tremendous need to impose order on a disordered world. In the emergence of new fields and studies after Freud, Blakey argues that humanists, those who tell stories and make meaning, have been largely left out of the conversation.
- Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 4:14) → Holly J. McDede seeks out testimonies about repressed and false memories.
- From the Community (Seek to 42:48) → Diane from Portland, Oregon questions the inherent cruelty in nature and the problem of evil.
What's the latest wisdom about the unconscious mind?
Can modern scientists do better than Freud?
Could anyone do worse?