Saturday, June 30, 2007

Psychoanalysis and Science

Found Todd Dufresne’s new book Against Freud on the new book shelf. It is interviews with Freud critics, so a nice introduction and survey. These are people who are, for the most part, strongly against Freud and psychoanalysis. The most famous of the critics is Frederick Crews. One of the many problematic points he makes has always stood out. He says that psychoanalysis has not been demonstrated to be true using experimentation as in science.

Has poetry or literature been proven true in this way? Since they haven’t, should they not be sources of truth and knowledge and used as guides to living? I know Freud wanted psychoanalysis to be a science and some analysts believe in it as a social science, and it has been tested using scientific experimentation, but it doesn’t have to be thought of only in that way.

We can even acknowledge the institutional pathology of psychoanalysis and the damage caused by crude practitioners, but I think Crews would go further to say that it cannot be used well. Yet there are certainly people who have had successful, life-changing analyses. Even if it is a small minority, we’d like to know how that occurred if, as Crews says, the method is rotten.

I think the wiser perspective to take is that there are many perspectives on living that can serve as life-guides and that particular ones appeal to particular people. Various life-guides are beneficial to various people and these same life-guides that are beneficial to some people can be damaging to other people, or are simply not appealing. They each have their strengths and limitations. Generalizations can be made about how various life-guides craft people; there are types – the holy-roller, the gentle pacifist, the Type A go-getter, the reflective neurotic – none of which capture any individual, but can serve as guides to understanding which parts of a person may have been developed and which may have been neglected or are lacking.

Crews assumes there are modes of knowing that put one in touch with reality, like science. But if we think in terms of a coherence theory of truth then any way of conceiving of life for the purposes of living it successfully will be self-reinforcing. To shift from being a scientific type to a poetic type to a therapeutic type to a fundamentalist type to an astrological type, will take a conversion experience, just as Crews experienced in his move from psychoanalysis to scientific anti-psychoanalysis.

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