Freud and the unconscious

Mick Power delves into the unconscious and finds several of Freud’s ideas alive and well.
Many people believe that Freud discovered the unconscious, while the more cynical would even claim that he invented it. However, the magnificent history of the subject — The Discovery of the Unconscious (Ellenberger, 1970) — has over 400 pages before reaching the chapter on Freud. From the point of view of modern psychology, perhaps the most significant of this earlier work was by one of Freud’s intellectual heroes, Helmholtz, who wrote about the importance of unconscious processes in visual perception. A second important line from a contemporary of Freud’s, Pierre Janet, focused on a number of puzzling phenomena that still engage us today. These include phenomena such as hypnotism, and the temporary but substantial loss of memory seen in so-called ‘fugue’ states (a loss of awareness of one’s own identity, often involving wandering away from home as a reaction to emotional stress), and behaviours such as sleepwalking.

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