The Therapist as Scientist; before Inventing Psychoanalysis, Freud Dissected Fish and Studied the Anatomy of the Human Brainstem

By Kalb, Claudia | Newsweek, March 27, 2006 | Go to article overview

The Therapist as Scientist; before Inventing Psychoanalysis, Freud Dissected Fish and Studied the Anatomy of the Human Brainstem


Kalb, Claudia, Newsweek


Byline: Claudia Kalb

The year is 1876 and Sigmund Freud's scientific career is about to begin. The id, the ego, the superego? Nowhere to be found. When he travels to the University of Vienna's zoological station in Trieste, Italy, sometime around his 20th birthday, the young med student embarks on a far less esoteric task: hunting for the testicles of the eel. For millennia, the animal's mating habits had confounded scientists, including Aristotle. Could Freud solve the mystery? Not exactly. Four hundred dissected eels later, the organs remained elusive. But Freud did acquire enough material to write his first scientific paper. Title: "Observations on the Form and the Finer Structure of the Lobular Organs of the Eel, Organs Considered to be Testes."

Long before the Oedipus complex, Sigmund Freud was a hard-core scientist. Early on, it was eel gonads; later, he studied the cellular underpinnings of the human brain. There were limits, however, to Freud's scientific pursuits--brain scans hadn't been invented yet, DNA wouldn't be discovered until after his death and, eventually, Freud abandoned biology for psychology. But today, as neuroscientists unravel the molecular pathways that make us think and feel and dream, the seeds of Freud's ideas are finding their way into the lab. Researchers are tapping into the chemistry of the unconscious, exploring the theory of repression, even testing ways to block traumatic memories.

What they are finding does not necessarily prove Freud right or wrong--MRIs cannot begin to measure the subtleties of human emotion--and the work is still in its infancy. But after decades of polarization between neuroscience (the study of the brain) and psychoanalysis (exploration of the mind), the two fields are beginning to find common ground. Freud, says Dr. Jack Gorman, president of Harvard's McLean Hospital, would have approved: "I think he'd be right there with us in the lab."

It was in the lab that Freud's interest in science exploded. After the eel, he studied the nervous system of the lamprey and the crayfish, even devising his own novel staining method so he could see the details of living cells more clearly under the micro-scope. By the early 1880s he had moved on to the human brainstem. In elegant drawings, which will be exhibited by the New York Academy of Medicine in May, Freud sketched spinal neurons and fiber pathways in meticulous detail. Science became Freud's mistress. "Precious darling ... I am at the moment tempted by the desire to solve the riddle of the structure of the brain," he wrote in a letter to his fiancA[c]e, Martha Bernays, in May 1885. "I think brain anatomy is the only legitimate rival you have or will ever have."

But brain anatomy alone could not earn Freud the money he needed to marry and start a family. So "very begrudgingly," says Mark Solms, director of the International Neuro-Psychoanalysis Centre in London, Freud began to study live patients, too. He diagnosed cases of cerebral hemorrhage and spinal inflammation. He published volumes on cerebral palsy and aphasia, a loss of language due to brain injury. And, after studying with the neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot in Paris, he began treating adults with "hysteria," a catch-all diagnosis for symptoms which had no clear physical explanation, like hallucinations and temporary blindness. "This is when Freud began to realize that the study of the mind was important," says Dr. Regina Pally, a psychoanalyst at UC Los Angeles. "He discovered when he talked to patients that there were emotional conflicts going on that were being expressed in symptoms." Something bigger--the unconscious--Freud posited, must be at work.

At the time, brain science was relatively primitive and matters of the mind were largely the province of philosophers. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Therapist as Scientist; before Inventing Psychoanalysis, Freud Dissected Fish and Studied the Anatomy of the Human Brainstem
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.