Freud: Celebrity Fraud
Let this be a lesson on misplaced trust in confident-sounding authority figures. This guy was SO WRONG!
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was THE celebrity psychologist at the turn of the 19th century. The Austrian psychologist was prolific, bold and arrogant. His theories were standard fare in textbooks, using words and concepts he invented: id, ego, super-ego, the unconscious, Oedipus complex, female hysteria, psychoanalysis. His visage, with white beard, glasses and cigar, probing the subconscious influences of some patient on a couch, is easily recognizable even today. He spawned many disciples and imitators. The adoration and affection heaped on this man as a scientist was incalculable in his day.
But now look at the title of a piece in Live Science by Benjamin Plackett: “WAS FREUD RIGHT ABOUT ANYTHING?”
The expected answer, and the answer defended in the article, is a resounding NO.
Plackett spoke with Frederick Crews, a professor of English at the University of California at Berkeley. Crews was a Freudian until he began to examine Freud’s “science.” His methods were the opposite of science, Crews realized:
He started out with a theory and then worked backward, seeking out tidbits to reinforce his beliefs and then aggressively dismissing anything else that challenged those ideas….
“Freud passed himself off as a scientist. He was very sensitive to objections and would simply laugh at an objection and claim the person making it was psychologically ill,” Crews told Live Science.
Well, this tactic worked… for awhile. Now, many psychiatrists and philosophers discredit Freud and call him a pseudoscientist, even though some of his terms and concepts refuse to die. For instance, psychologist Tom Stafford throws Freud a ring buoy in this statement at The Conversation, “Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, famously talked about the influence of parents and upbringing on behaviour, and he probably wasn’t 100% wrong.” Well, even a broken clock can be right twice a day. At the National Post, Barbara Kay said, “Time has proven unkind” to the theories of Freud, and that’s putting it mildly. According to Crews, Freud’s theories were downright nutty.
“Statistically, it’s conceivable that a man can be as dishonest and slippery as Freud and still come up with something true,” Crews said. “I’ve tried my best to examine his theories and to ask the question: What was the empirical evidence behind them? But when you ask these questions, then you eventually just lose hope.“
For instance, Freud’s theory of the “Oedipus complex,” that boys wanted sex with their mothers and wanted to murder their fathers, is “just about the craziest idea that anyone ever had,” Crews says. Freud just made it up. Then to make it worse, he cut-and-pasted the idea for girls, creating the “Elektra complex” that envisioned girls wanting to have sex with their fathers. “It’s completely ludicrous.”
Freud would also turn his own fake-science theories on his critics as ammunition:
“He would always be totally convinced he knew what was wrong with his patients and then simply browbeat them until they agreed. When patients disagreed, he didn’t entertain the notion that he could be mistaken,” Crews said. “He invoked his favorite concepts, chiefly repression, and would say the patient’s unconscious secretly harbored Freud’s ideas but was too scared to confront them. That’s the exact opposite of testing ideas.“
Plackett gives one sentence to another psychologist who is not as critical of Freud as Crews is. But it amounts to faint praise:
“Freud was right about ‘day residue’ in dreams,” said Robert Stickgold, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “But the whole psychoanalysis thing, and the role of childhood sexuality, was totally bonkers.”
Totally bonkers. That’s the conclusion of today’s scientists about the greatest psychoanalyst of the early 20th century. Freud’s theories were “hopelessly vague,” untestable, and… bonkers. Through the force of his own personality, this self-proclaimed expert browbeat everyone else in the field with insinuations that they were harboring complexes in their unconscious minds that didn’t allow them to see the truth of his theories.
Anyone who trusts Freud should get his head examined.
Who else has been trusted uncritically as an expert? Barbara Kay has some suggestions:
Back when the world was young, I was taught that four visionaries’ theories shaped modernity: Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein. Of them, only Einstein’s could be subjected to scientific scrutiny. The rest remained hypotheses, resistant to such standard scientific tests as falsifiability, replicability and predictability, but so beautiful in their comprehensiveness that the intelligentsia accepted them for what they were not: settled science.
Freud was a fraud, whose theories are now considered totally bonkers. Marx is largely dismissed except in certain halls of academia and among the most ruthless dictators in the world today, but after 148 million murders by Marxist totalitarians, one could hope he will be completely forgotten soon. What about Darwin?
Time has proven unkind to Freud’s and Marx’s theories, but very kind to Darwinism. Why? Shhh. If you dare to ask, you invite ridicule. Because the minute one expresses doubt about Darwin’s basic premise that all life-forms, including humans, descend from a common ancestor through the simple processes of random, heritable variation and natural selection, one admits the possibility of a counter-theory — Intelligent Design — that is considered anathema to the intelligentsia, since it implies, you know, the G-word.
Well, Darwin is on the way out, too. Kay writes about David Gelernter’s recent defection from the Darwin stronghold. It could be a premonition of the biggest collapse in the history of science.
Someone should collect all the bluffing, arrogant defenses of King Charlie and the most vociferous condemnations of those who critique his ideas, and then save them for posterity. When King Charlie is beheaded (figuratively), it will serve as a lasting testament to the vulnerability of expert opinion. These “intellectual giants,” so exalted by academia, rise up only to fall in due time. Why? Because they build houses of cards on the quicksand of human opinion rather than on the rock of God’s word. One little word shall fell them.
Contrast their short-lived influence with the global, eternal influence of Jesus Christ. Someone wrote about that “one solitary life” (quoted from AllAboutJesusChrist.org):
“Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty and then for three years was an itinerant preacher. He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put his foot inside a big city. He never traveled more than two hundred miles from the place where He was born. He never did one of those things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but himself….
“While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed on a cross between two thieves. While he was dying his executors gambled for the only piece of property he had on earth – His coat. When he was dead, He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
“Nineteen long centuries have come and gone and today He is the centerpiece of the human race and the leader of the column of progress. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever were built, all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life.”
It’s not pomposity, but truth, that will endure.