An Outline – Freud (1940)

Chapter VIII

Chapter VIII The Psychical Apparatus and the External World

ALL of the general discoveries and hypotheses which I brought forward in the first chapter were, of course, arrived at by laborious and patient detailed work of the kind of which I have given an example in the previous chapter. We may
now feel tempted to make a survey of the increases in knowledge that we have achieved by work such as this and to consider what paths we have opened for further advances. In this connection we may be struck by the fact that we have
so often been obliged to venture beyond the frontiers of the science of psychology. The phenomena with which we were dealing do not belong to psychology alone; they have an organic and biological side as well, and accordingly in the
course of our efforts at building up psycho-analysis we have also made some important biological discoveries and have not been able to avoid framing new biological hypotheses. But let us for the moment keep to psychology. We have seen that it is not scientifically feasible to draw a line of demarcation between what is psychically normal and abnormal; so that that distinction, in spite of its practical importance, possesses only a conventional value. We have thus established a right to arrive at an understanding of the normal life of the mind from a study of its disorders—which would not be admissible if these pathological states, neuroses and psychoses, had specific causes operating in the manner of foreign bodies.The study of a mental disorder occurring during sleep, which is transient and harmless and which, indeed, performsa useful function, has given us a key to the understanding of the mental diseases which are permanent and injurious tolife. And we may now venture on the assertion that the psychology of consciousness was no better capable of understanding the normal functioning of the mind than of understanding dreams. The data of conscious self-perception, which alone were at its disposal, have proved in every respect inadequate to fathom the profusion and complexity of the processes of the mind, to reveal their interconnections and so to recognize the determinants of their disturbances.The hypothesis we have adopted of a psychical apparatus extended in space, expediently put together, developed by the exigencies of life, which gives rise to the phenomena of consciousness only at one particular point and undercertain conditions—this hypothesis has put us in a position to establish psychology on foundations similar to those of any other science, such, for instance, as physics. In our science as in the others the problem is the same: behind the attributes (qualities) of the object under examination which are presented directly to our perception, we have to discover something else which is more independent of the particular receptive capacity of our sense organs and whic approximates more closely to what may be supposed to be the real state of affairs. We have no hope of being able to reach the latter itself, since it is evident that everything new that we have inferred must nevertheless be translated back into the language of our perceptions, from which it is simply impossible for us to free ourselves. But herein lies the very nature and limitation of our science. It is as though we were to say in physics:‘If we could see clearly enough we should find that what appears to be a solid body is made up of particles of such and such a shape and size and occupying such and such relative positions.’ In the meantime we try to increase the efficiency of our sense organs to the furthest possible extent by artificial aids; but it may be expected that all such efforts will fail to affect the ultimate outcome. Reality will always remain‘unknowable’. The yield brought to light by scientific work from our primary sense perceptions will consist in an insight into connections and dependent relations which are present in the external world, which can somehow be reliably reproduced or reflected in the internal world of our thought and a knowledge of which enables us to‘understand’ something in the external world, to foresee it and possibly to alter it. Our procedure in psycho-analysis is quite similar. We have discovered technical methods of filling up the gaps in the phenomena of our consciousness, and we make use of those methods just as a physicist makes use of experiment. In this manner weinfer a number of processes which are in themselves‘unknowable’ and interpolate them in those that are conscious tous. And if, for instance, we say:‘At this point an unconscious memory intervened’, what that means is:‘At this pointsomething occurred of which we are totally unable to form a conception, but which, if it had entered our consciousness,could only have been described in such and such a way.’ Our justification for making such inferences and interpolations and the degree of certainty attaching to them of courseremain open to criticism in each individual instance; and it cannot be denied that it is often extremely difficult to arrive ata decision—a fact which finds expression in the lack of agreement among analysts. The novelty of the problem is toblame for this—that is to say, a lack of training. But there is besides this a special factor inherent in the subject itself; forin psychology, unlike physics, we are not always concerned with things which can only arouse a cool scientific interest.Thus we shall not be very greatly surprised if a woman analyst who has not been sufficiently convinced of the intensity ofher own wish for a penis also fails to attach proper importance to that factor in her patients. But such sources of error,arising from the personal equation, have no great importance in the long run. If one looks through old text-books on theuse of the microscope, one is astonished to find the extraordinary demands which were made on the personality of thosewho made observations with that instrument while its technique was still young—of all of which there is no question to-day.

I cannot undertake to attempt a complete picture here of the psychical apparatus and its activities; I should find myself hindered, among other things, by the circumstance that psychoanalysis has not yet had time to study all those functions equally. I shall therefore content myself with a detailed recapitulation of the account in my opening chapter. 

The core of our being, then, is formed by the obscureid, which has no direct communication with the external world and is accessible even to our own knowledge only through the medium of another agency. Within this id the organic instinctsoperate, which are themselves compounded of fusions of two primal forces (Eros and destructiveness) in varying proportions and are differentiated from one another by their relation to organs or systems of organs.

The one and only urge of these instincts is towards satisfaction, which is expected to arise from certain changes in the organs with the help of objects in the external world. But immediate and unheeding satisfaction of the instincts, such as the id demands, would often lead to perilous conflicts with the external world and to extinction. The id knows no solicitude about ensuring survival and no anxiety; or it would perhaps be more correct to say that, though it can generate the sensory elements of anxiety, it cannot make use of them. The processes which are possible in and between the assumed psychical elements in the id(theprimary process) differ widely from those which are familiar to us through conscious perception in our intellectual and  emotional life; nor are they subject to the critical restrictions of logic, which repudiates some of these processes as invalid and seeks to undo them.

The id, cut off from the external world, has a world of perception of its own. It detects with extraordinary acuteness certain changes in its interior, especially oscillations in the tension of its instinctual needs, and these changes become conscious as feelings in the pleasure-unpleasure series. It is hard to say, to be sure, by what means and with the help of what sensory terminal organs these perceptions come about. But it is an established fact that self-perceptions— coenaesthetic feelings and feelings of pleasure-unpleasure—govern the passage of events in the id with despotic force. The id obeys the inexorable pleasure principle. But not the id alone. It seems that the activity of the other psychical agencies too is able only to modify the pleasure principle but not to nullify it; and it remains a question of the highest theoretical importance, and one that has not yet been answered, when and how it is ever possible for the pleasure principle to be overcome. The consideration that the pleasure principle demands a reduction, at bottom the extinction perhaps, of the tensions of instinctual needs (that is,Nirvana) leads to the still unassessed relations between the pleasure principle and the two primal forces, Eros and the death instinct.

The other agency of the mind, which we believe we know best and in which we recognize ourselves most easily— what is known as theego—has been developed out of the id’s cortical layer, which, through being adapted to the reception and exclusion of stimuli, is in direct contact with the external world (reality). Starting from conscious perception it has subjected to its influence ever larger regions and deeper strata of the id, and, in the persistence with which it maintains its dependence on the external world, it bears the indelible stamp of its origin (as it might be‘Made in Germany’ ). Its psychological function consists in raising the passage [of events] in the id to a higher dynamic level (perhaps by transforming freely mobile energy into bound energy, such as corresponds to the preconscious state); its constructive function consists in interpolating, between the demand made by an instinct and the action that satisfies it, the activity of thought which, after taking its bearings in the present and assessing earlier experiences, endeavours by means of experimental actions to calculate the consequences of the course of action proposed.

In this way the ego comes to a decision on whether the attempt to obtain satisfaction is to be carried out or postponed or whether it may not be necessary for the demand by the instinct to be suppressed altogether as being dangerous. (Here we have the reality principle.) Just as the id is directed exclusively to obtaining pleasure, so the ego is governed by considerations of safety. The ego has set itself the task of self-preservation, which the id appears to neglect. It [the ego] makes use of the sensations of anxiety as a signal to give a warning of dangers that threaten its integrity. Since memory-traces can become conscious just as perceptions do, especially through their association with residues of speech, the possibility arises of a confusion which would lead to a mistaking of reality.

The ego guards itself against this possibility by the institution ofreality-testing, which is allowed to fall into abeyance in dreams on account of the conditions prevailing in the state of sleep. The ego, which seeks to maintain itself in an environment of overwhelming mechanical forces, is threatened by dangers which come in the first instance from external reality; but dangers do not threaten it from there alone. Its own id is a source of similar dangers, and that for two different reasons. In the first place, an excessive strength of instinct can damage the ego in a similar way to an excessive‘stimulus’ from the external world. It is true that the former cannot destroy it; but it can destroy its characteristic dynamic organization and change the ego back into a portion of the id.

In the second place, experience may have taught the ego that the satisfaction of some instinctual demand which is not in itself intolerable would involvedangers in the external world, so that an instinctual demand of that kind itself becomes a danger. Thus the ego is fighting on two fronts: it has to defend its existence against an external world which threatens it with annihilation as well as against an internal world that makes excessive demands. It adopts the same methods of defence against both, but its defence against the internal enemy is particularly inadequate. As a result of having originally been identical with this latter enemy and of having lived with it since on the most intimate terms, it has great difficulty in escaping from the internal dangers.

They persist as threats, even if they can be temporarily held down. We have heard how the weak and immature ego of the first period of childhood is permanently damaged by the stresses put upon it in its efforts to fend off the dangers that are peculiar to that period of life. Children are protected against the dangers that threaten them from the external world by the solicitude of their parents; they pay for this security by a fear ofloss of love which would deliver them over helpless to the dangers of the external world. This factor exerts a decisive influence on the outcome of the conflict when a boy finds himself in the situation of the Oedipus complex, in which the threat to his narcissism by the danger of castration, reinforced from primaeval sources, takes possession of him.

Driven by the combined operation of these two influences, the contemporary real danger and the remembered one with its phylogenetic basis, the child embarks on his attempts at defence—repressions—which are effective for the moment but nevertheless turn out to be psychologically inadequate when the later re-animation of sexual life brings a reinforcement to the instinctual demands which have been repudiated in the past. If this is so, it would have to be said from a biological standpoint that the ego comes to grief over the task of mastering the excitations of the early sexual period, at a time when its immaturity makes it incompetent to do so. It is in this lagging of ego development behind libidinal development that we see the essential precondition of neurosis; and we cannot escape the conclusion that neuroses could be avoided if the childish ego were spared this task—if, that is to say, the child’s sexual life were allowed free play, as happens among many primitive peoples.

It may be that the aetiology of neurotic illnesses is more complicated than we have here described it; if so, we have at least brought out one essentialpart of the aetiological complex. Nor should we forget the phylogenetic influences, which are represented in some way inthe id in forms that we are not yet able to grasp, and which must certainly act upon the ego more powerfully in that earlyperiod than later. On the other hand, the realization dawns on us that such an early attempt at damming up the sexualinstinct, so decided a partisanship by the young ego in favour of the external as opposed to the internal world, broughtabout by the prohibition of infantile sexuality, cannot be without its effect on the individual’s later readiness for culture.The instinctual demands forced away from direct satisfaction are compelled to enter on new paths leading to substitutivesatisfaction, and in the course of thesedétours they may become desexualized and their connection with their originalinstinctual aims may become looser. And at this point we may anticipate the thesis that many of the highly valued assetsof our civilization were acquired at the cost of sexuality and by the restriction of sexual motive forces.

We have repeatedly had to insist on the fact that the ego owes its origin as well as the most important of its acquired characteristics to its relation to the real external world. We are thus prepared to assume that the ego’s pathological states, in which it most approximates once again to the id, are founded on a cessation or slackening of that relation to the external world. This tallies very well with what we learn from clinical experience—namely, that the precipitating cause of the outbreak of a psychosis is either that reality has become intolerably painful or that the instincts have become extraordinarily intensified—both of which, in view of the rival claims made on the ego by the id and the external world, must lead to the same result. The problem of psychoses would be simple and perspicuous if the ego’s detachment from reality could be carried through completely. But that seems to happen only rarely or perhaps never.

Even in a state so far removed from the reality of the external  world as one of hallucinatory confusion,one learns from patients after their recovery that at the time in some corner of their mind (as they put it) there was a normal person hidden, who, like a detached spectator, watched the hubbub of illness go past him. I do not know if we may assume that this is so in general, but I can report the same of other psychoses with a less tempestuous course. I call to mind a case of chronic paranoia in which after each attack of jealousy a dream conveyed to the analyst a correct picture of the precipitating cause, free from any delusion.An interesting contrast was thus brought to light: while we are accustomed to discover from the dreams of neurotics jealousies which are alien to their waking lives, in this psychotic case the delusion which dominated the patient in the day-time was corrected by his dream. We may probably take it as being generally true that what occurs in all these cases is a psychicalsplit. Two psychical attitudes have been formed instead of a single one—one, the normal one, which takes account of reality, and another which under the influence of the instincts detaches the ego from reality. The two exist alongside of each other.

The issue depends on their relative strength. If the second is or becomes the stronger, the necessary precondition for a psychosis is present. If the relation is reversed, then there is an apparent cure of the delusional disorder. Actually it has only retreated into the unconscious—just as numerous observations lead us to believe that the delusion existed ready-made for a long time before its manifest irruption. The view which postulates that in all psychoses there is asplitting of the ego could not call for so much notice if it did not turn out to apply to other states more like the neuroses and, finally, to the neuroses themselves. I first became convinced of this in cases offetishism. This abnormality, which may be counted as one of the perversions, is, as is well known, based on the patient (who is almost always male) not recognizing the fact that females have no penis—a fact which is extremely undesirable to him since it is a proof of the possibility of his being castrated himself. He therefore disavows his own sense-perception which showed him that the female genitals lack a penis and holds fast to the contrary conviction. The disavowed perception does not, however, remain entirely without influence, for, in spite of everything, he has not the courage to assert that he actually saw a penis. He takes hold of something else instead—a part of the body or some other object—and assigns it the role of the penis which he cannot do without.

It is usually something that he in fact saw at the moment at which he saw the female genitals, or it is something that can suitably serve as a symbolic substitute for the penis. Now it would be incorrect to describe this process when a fetish is constructed as a splitting of the ego; it is a compromise formed with the help of displacement, such as we have been familiar with in dreams. But our observations show us still more. The creation of the fetish was due to an intention to destroy the evidence for the possibility of castration, so that fear of castration could be avoided. If females, like other living creatures, possess a penis, there is no need to tremble for the continued possession of one’s own penis. Now we come across fetishists who have developed the same fear of castration as non-fetishists and react in the same way to it. Their behaviour is therefore simultaneously expressing two contrary premisses. On the one hand they are disavowing the fact of their perception—the fact that they saw no penis in the female genitals; and on the other hand they are recognizing the fact that females have no penis and are drawing the correct conclusions from it. The two attitudes persist side by side throughout their lives without influencing each other.

Here is what may rightly be called a splitting of the ego. This circumstance also enables us to understand how it is that fetishism is so often only partially developed. It does not govern the choice of object exclusively but leaves room for a greater or lesser amount of normal sexual behaviour; sometimes, indeed, it retires into playing a modest part or is limited to a mere hint. In festishists, therefore, the detachment of the ego from the reality of the external world has never succeeded completely. It must not be thought that fetishism presents an exceptional case as regards a splitting of the ego; it is merely a particularly favourable subject for studying the question. Let us return to our thesis that the childish ego, under the domination of the real world, gets rid of undesirable instinctual demands by what are called repressions. We will now supplement this by further asserting that, during the same period of life, the ego often enough finds itself in the position of fending off some demand from the external world which it feels distressing and that this is effected by means of adisavowal of the perceptionswhich bring to knowledge this demand from reality. Disavowals of this kind occur very often and not only with fetishists;and whenever we are in a position to study them they turn out to be half-measures, incomplete attempts at detachmentfrom reality. The disavowal is always supplemented by an acknowledgement; two contrary and independent attitudesalways arise and result in the situation of there being a splitting of the ego. Once more the issue depends on which ofthe two can seize hold of the greater intensity.

The facts of this splitting of the ego, which we have just described, are neither so new nor so strange as they may at first appear. It is indeed a universal characteristic of neuroses that there are present in the subject’s mental life, as regards some particular behaviour, two different attitudes, contrary to each other and independent of each other. In the case of neuroses, however, one of these attitudes belongs to the ego and the contrary one, which is repressed, belongs to the id. The difference between this case and the other [discussed in the previous paragraph] is essentially a topographical or structural one, and it is not always easy to decide in an individual instance with which of the two possibilities one is dealing. They have, however, the following important characteristic in common. Whatever the ego docs in its efforts of defence, whether it seeks to disavow a portion of the real external world or whether it seeks to reject an instinctual demand from the internal world, its success is never complete and unqualified. The outcome always lies in two contrary attitudes, of which the defeated, weaker one, no less than the other, leads to psychical complications. In conclusion, it is only necessary to point out how little of all these processes becomes known to us through our conscious perception.


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