This article introduces the main man behind all of this interesting subject and how the brain functions.
Sigmund Freud was born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1856. His father was a small time merchant, and his father’s second wife was Freud’s mother. His family moved to Vienna when he was four years old, and though he often claimed he hated the city, he lived there until it was occupied by Germany in 1938. Freud’s family background was Jewish, though his father was a freethinker and Freud himself an avowed atheist.
He was a good student, and very ambitious. Medicine and law were the professions then open to Jewish men, and in 1873 he entered the University of Vienna medical school. He was interested in science above all; the idea of practicing medicine was slightly boring to him. He hoped to go into neurophysiological research, but pure research was hard to manage in those days unless you were independently wealthy. Freud was engaged and needed to be able to support a family before he could marry, and so he determined to go into private practice with a specialty in neurology.
Discovery of hypnotism
During his training he befriended Josef Breuer, another physician and physiologist. They often discussed medical cases together and one of Breuer’s would have a lasting effect on Freud. Known as Anna O., this patient was a young woman suffering from what was then called hysteria. She had temporary paralysis, could not speak her native German but could speak French and English, couldn’t drink water even when thirsty, and so on. Breuer discovered that if he hypnotized her, she would talk of things she did not remember in the conscious state, and afterwards her symptoms were relieved.
In 1886, Freud returned to Vienna, opened a private practice specializing in nervous and brain disorders, and married. He tried hypnotism with his hysteric and neurotic patients, but gradually discarded the practice. He found he could get patients to talk just by putting them in a relaxing position (the couch) and encouraging them to say whatever came into their heads (free association). He could then analyze what they had remembered or expressed and determine what traumatic events in their past had caused their current suffering.
Publishing his own ideas
In 1900, Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams, and introduced the wider public to the notion of the unconscious mind. In 1901, he published The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, in which he theorized that forgetfulness or slips of the tongue (now called “Freudian slips”) were not accidental at all, but it was the “dynamic unconscious” revealing something meaningful. To many, these ideas seemed to be making science out of a folk art, but Freud had still more controversial ideas to come. He concluded that the sexual drive was the most powerful shaper of a person’s psychology, and that sexuality was present even in infants. He shocked society when he published these ideas in 1905. His most well-known theory is that of the “Oedipus complex” — that in children (boys, that is) there is a sexual attraction towards the mother and a sense of jealousy to the point of hatred of the father. He later developed a parallel theory for girls.