On Freud & Jung

Dreams play a key role in the respective psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.  Freud argued that dreams are “the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious,” whereas Jung asserted that “dreams are the fertile soil from which most symbols grow.”  Each adopted very different theories about the nature and significance of the dream, however, and very diverging strategies for interpreting them. Compare and contrast Freud and Jung’s ideas regarding the nature of dreams.  Which do you find most appealing and why? Which has the most efficacy for interpreting works of art? Finally, above all, which theory best acknowledges the ethical or moral dimension, that is, the act of taking responsibility for one’s own dreams?

With the end of the 19th century, dreams had lost their mythical qualities as messages of impending doom from the divine. The Interpretation of Dreams sealed this by questioning the composition and the reasons for the dreams we have, it also set the foundation for psychoanalysts to develop and to disagree on. Freud’s analysis of dreams came from the core belief of there being an unconscious which controls one’s perceptions, actions and thoughts. Though Jung and Freud ascribed to different frameworks for their psychoanalytic methods, their ideas were grounded in the fact that there is an unconscious and a conscious mind. In 1913, Carl Jung parted ways with Freud and the conflict was mainly because of his rejection of Freud’s idea of life energy being a purely sexual one. What Jung did, I feel, is that he questioned Freud’s own confirmation biases by putting them into a more encompassing box for which Freud was not ready. This is a commonly seen confrontation between geniuses, where two rigid worlds collide on the same ground they stand upon.

While Freud believed in a primal libidinal unconscious to be the sole explanation of human action, Jung saw it as an important force, but that which was not alone in shaping our minds. He went on to further subdivide the unconscious into the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. Unlike Freud, who believed neuroses to be only rooted in childhood trauma, Jung also believed that the repression of traits by the individual themself, as the ego wishes no association with that thing or trait, caused neuroses – thus repressions can happen throughout one’s life. Another reason for what might have led to these differences can be seen in the interesting parallel of both Freud and Jung being the sons of men who were a religious authority in some capacity, the former’s father was a Rabbi and the latter’s was a pastor – their relationships with their mothers also differed. A maternal authority in the case of Freud and the lack of, which Jung substituted with his own understanding or anima, explains exactly (in a very Freudian way) as to why the two men might have differed. The inclination of Jung towards Eastern religions is his anima, which could identify and relate to,  and thus sought, its presence in the Eastern cultures where gods exist in both masculine and the feminine forms. This was something completely neglected by Freud to the point where one could safely say that most of his observations were Eurocentric. Though, Jung was more accommodating to the other views, Freud’s views formed a stepping stone without which probably we won’t have had the clarity to grasp Jung’s ideas.

On Dreams:

According to Freud, dreams are a wish-fulfilment, which is a response to the repression of our unconscious primal urges – these sexual urges are kept in check by the society but are always present in our minds. The dream-work must allow the release of this pressure of repression, which the censor tries to regulate, else it would lead to neuroses. Dreams address to these these developmental milestones by making it possible, as an interface, for these thoughts to be comprehensible. Anything and everything was grounded in the Freudian idea of the Oedipus Complex, but these had to be first dug out, identified and ‘cleaned’ to be understood as the symbols that they are. The experiences of the day, which condense into imagery (an individual imagery compared to a symbolic one) in the mind, hold some meaning which points back at what went wrong. A psychoanalyst would, thus, interpret these symbols and almost reverse-engineer it down to what might have been the cause and put it in a way that is tangible to the patient – it is a dive from a leaky boat of this real world into the sea of dreams to bring back up what might have caused the holes. Meanwhile, Jung’s idea of the dreams included the collective unconscious which he believed to be the instinctual element we have inherited from our ancestors. What we see in our dreams are symbolic representations, not of the Oedipal kind, but instinctual. These go much deeper into the humanity’s heritage and thus span culture. While Freud, for example, would look at anything in a dream that was pointed as a representation of the penis; Jung would add more room to think by saying that the penis in itself could be a representation of something else. The personal unconscious would thus work with the symbols from the collective to hint at what was wrong and would also try to fix it. Freud saw dreams as a day residue from previous day, integrating the information as a continuation of life while Jung saw dreams as a separate integration not related to real life with new areas of psychic exploration that could provide sudden burst of personal insight. But giving Freud his due credit, the Jungian instinct could be seen as a more developed form of the primal unconscious which he talks about. Freud’s only mistake was that he focused solely on the sexual element of it.

Religion & Dreams:

Both Freud and Jung also had differing opinions on religion – Freud, being anti-religious, saw it as a mass neuroses which sought to establish a parental figure for an individual. Jung saw religion as the tool to reach self-realization, which was also a form of psychotherapy. The knowledge that had enlightened Siddhartha to become the Buddha was this Jungian self-awareness and management of mental suffering.

He went beyond the scope of Abrahamic faiths and Graeco-European myths which influenced them to study Eastern philosophies and faiths. And being the rational man that he was, he did disagree with certain aspects of them, (as grounding one’s beliefs completely in one story or fable can yield to biases as held by Freud), his ideas encompassed their teachings as well. Studying the symbols from the East, he could, in a way, back his theory of there being a universal collective unconsciousness. Thus, the Jungian individual as being a loose collection of living sub-personalities – as a plurality loosely linked into a unity – could be one of the reasons why pagan cultures had gods for such human attributes. Emotions had always been personified as gods that transcend the psychological entity. Jung saw a constant interaction between dream and the reality where dream occupies uncertainty and fleshes out an unknown reality. Dream does its best to express a reality that is beyond conscious comprehension. And as all of this is very real when we are asleep, dreams might just be the temporary oceanic feeling of oneness Freud addresses to, where both matter and the mind are united.

Science of Dreams:

Freud had a hardline physiological explanation for his hypothesis of dreams, which relied on the presence of electrical activity in the brain during sleep. It must be noted that until then the existence of electric activity was known, but its behavior had not been studied until much later. Freud thought that dreams function by keeping us asleep for longer whereas Jung saw them as a way to reintegrate the traits to be reassessed. Sleep, according to Freud, was the best when it was completely dreamless –  ie. there ought to be no mental activity but modern day studies have shown otherwise. Jung’s explanation was beyond what can be called scientific at that time, he believed in there being more to just than the firing of the neurons. The firing of the neurons in the brain was not random but was something that generated an abstract structure. Now, we can see how science has taken us to a point where we question reality itself through the existence of multiverses. There is another theory which brings back some science into Jung’s ideas. It has been suggested that sleeping provided us an evolutionary advantage. People who get adequate sleep live healthier and have lesser chances of developing mental problems. The explanation is that the ancestors would dream up the anxieties which would influence their decision making in the real world, thus increasing the chances of their survival. And perhaps this is why a collective unconscious exists that stays omnipresent in the realm of dreams. Another interesting thing is that the influence of Jung’s thoughts on this collective unconscious memory is also visible in Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents. It is just that Freud saw it as an anxiety that society banked upon to survive while Jung could have seen it as what had made the human society survive – two sides to the same coin.

Realizations from meanings:

Freudian interpretation of dreams is more about looking into the past to explain what was while Jung uses it to pave way into a productive future. I feel more in line with Jung’s ideas, though both the individuals were in their own way trying to help people out – I feel that dreams hold some key to a future. One such personal experience has been of a recurring dream I had had of my teeth falling in clumps, which I immediately informed my parents about. They were shocked and the fear was very much visible on their faces, because for them, this meant that a harm would come to the head of the household. My father, who at that time had been battling cancer during that time, died a month later. I think of this dream again and again, as it holds both a Jungian facet as well as a Freudian one. The hardships a family must face for a long period of time when a member suffers from an illness, such as cancer, provides so many inputs that get repressed over time. Looking up the meaning of this dream tells us that it commonly hints at illness in the family – I see it as one such symbol from the collective unconscious. The question is, as Jung might have put it, was I awake back then to realize and learn from it?

Creativity & Art:

Humans are bound to interpret symbols, we seek patterns in everything and that is what sets us apart from rest of the animals. This is both a boon and a bane. While we process a vast amount of information on a daily basis to survive, the intake also consists of what we have not used. It needs to be explained. And dreams do just that. Rightly so, Freud believed that there was something really informative to dreams. In the generation of these explanations and ideas lies creativity and thus comes the influence of dreams on the arts. While Freud believed that the dream had to be a slip through the censor (thus almost having a attribute to its nature), Jung believed that the dream tries to communicate with the individual as clear as it can. The dream, thus, can be considered to be the birthplace of thought just as how the artist is the birthplace of culture. Jung saw creativity as the push towards the unexplored which was sourced in the realm of dreams. It is supposed to be a place where anyone and everyone (regardless of how they are in waking life) thinks in images.

Ancient cultures did so by attributing these dreams to a power that was beyond their explanation, and this might have been the very source of myths and stories which were later represented through various paintings, stories, plays and sculptures. Both Freud and Jung believed that the birth of mythology and literature was from the dream and that they shared the mode of information presentation through a narrative structure. Though dreams bear a relationship to how one’s day has been, it is also nature speaking of its own accord. Jung believes that the dream happens to you because nature creates it – that means something is thinking within us. But once, the myths and stories were found have much more than what the gods would engage in, a new approach was presented where dreams and the recurring themes within them were discussed differently by creatives.  Dali and Hitchcock immediately come to mind when it comes to artistically exploring the inner facets of the mind through this non-religious Freudian lens. An example, that too an extreme one, is of the mythological stories across cultures with the theme where a mortal woman gets raped by a god. The symbol, though explained back then through stories of gods, still lives in the form of women having dreams of being sexually assaulted. Cultural norms also play into account on how the dream in itself gets interpreted – and this includes Freud himself. And as we know that most of his patients were not completely cured of their neuroses, it does tell us a lot about how at that time, an interest in the topic of childhood abuse and whatever piqued the interest of the times was used as an explanation of dreams. This is also a point that Jung in a way frees his postulate from.

Freud sees art as having no value but yet being something which we could not do without. Art, through a Jungian lens, is what our dreams have made out from the massive inputs we receive both as individuals and as a collective. It needs to be analysed by the mind  and this analysis can lead to a spiritual self realization, but also shake one’s grounds of belief entirely. This self realization can be therapeutic and thus art can address to this, which is a release by itself of the images in one’s mind that need to be shown. The Jungian theory gives a more responsible approach to the individual by putting the power back into the hands of the person, they can learn from their dreams themselves and use it as a way to better themselves. It hints at action rather than reliance on someone else’s explanation of one’s own reality. This process can be spiritual or religious but it is creative nonetheless – we might think of creativity in a very traditional mindset as being able to write or draw but there is much more to that. Creativity exists in all forms of work. There have been countless cases of mathematicians dreaming up solutions to the most impossible problems, at times with a divine intervention – the genius Ramanujam would often attribute the knowing the answers to the toughest mathematical problems to the Goddess of Learning, who would tell him the solution in his dreams. And in other cases, people try to achieve these states, to learn more about themselves through meditation or medication.

Numerous writers, philosophers and artists have tried to explore the realm of dreams but none can be sure except for that it is yet something really uncanny and subjective about our lives which we have become completely used to. What might be someone else’s dream is either a very unpleasant or intriguing experience for the other – and that is what, I feel, certain art films and artworks aim to address. Jung’s mere realization of there being a self which spread beyond this mind and that there is an collective unconscious that connects us might just explain for this fascination with dreams and all that is dream like. Then again, the ideas of Freud (as he had postulated for the human mind), stand in between and within these newer like in a city with an ancient past.

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aishwaryauniyal

A bit like you.