Freud Meets Homer

Mark Adair

Scientific and artistic genius occasionally converge on obscure, but critical human problems. Of such problems, the frailty of our reality testing is perhaps the weightiest.

Reality testing is the capacity to distinguish stimuli originating in the outside world from those originating in the inner world. Hallucination is the most violent threat to this crucial function, but because it is uncommon in the populace, not the most pernicious. Other self-deceptive strategies derive from hallucination – denial, repression, reaction formation and so on.[1] They are more active in our daily lives, and more prone than hallucination, therefore, to corrupt our perceptions of reality, or realities, of our inner and outer worlds.

Our tendency to disable reality testing by these unconscious strategies of self-deception is the Achilles’ heel of humanity, because these devices arrest both personal and public psychological growth. When deployed on a wide scale, they undermine the social order, as perhaps we are seeing today.

Sigmund Freud with his daughter Mathilde and his biographer Alfred Ernest Jones in 1938.

On this central problem of our existence, two great minds, separated by gulfs of time, culture and occupation, somehow converged. The first was Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), a 19th-century neurologist turned psychoanalyst, who discovered the meanings of dreams. Freud, like Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein, two other scientific geniuses of the later 19th and early 20th centuries, was deeply educated in Classical culture, literature and languages.

Hundreds of citations from Greek literature, philosophy and science inform, illustrate and adorn Freud’s 23 volumes of work, and will convince any reader of his immersion in Hellenic culture. Oedipus’ tragedy, and the disturbing relationship between Chronos and Uranus, for example, informed the analytic concepts of, respectively, the Oedipal complex and castration anxiety. Allusions to Apuleius, Archimedes, Aristotle, Democritus, Euripides, Homer, Ovid, Pythagoras and Virgil, and other literary, philosophical and scientific illuminati from the Greco-Roman world, clarify and enrich all Freud’s meditations, from his earliest writings in the late 1880s to his death in 1939.

And by thinking in Greek fashion – using analogy, empiricism and speculation – to formulate his theories, Freud made advances unachievable by those unschooled in this Hellenic approach to problem solving. To exemplify his debt to the Greeks, on a subject pertinent to our interest here, I’ll point out that Freud was able to postulate an essential function of the ego – adumbrated by the great 5th/4th-century BC Greek philosopher Plato – that reconciles drives, conscience and reality. He named this ego function reality testing, a function that requires a subsidiary ego function, tension-tolerance.

Freud’s chair for patients in his Viennese consulting room (photograph by Edmund Engelman, 1938).

Tension-tolerance is implicit in the teachings of Classical culture, which valorized self-restraint and, above all, self-knowledge. Tension-tolerance made possible Classical culture’s unswervable resolve to learn more and more about both the inner and outer worlds. This ethic, admittedly an ideal, is sometimes called paideia. Freud’s immersion in paideia helped him identify tolerance for reality, both internal and external, as the main challenge to the human mind.

We of course know much less about Homer, the second luminary addressed in this paper. He seems to have lived and written in the 8th century BC. He is perhaps our most beloved ancient poet, credited with authorship of the Iliad and Odyssey, and called by Plato “the teacher of Greece”. If Plato was right, then Homer was not just the teacher of Greece but also, by extension, the teacher of Freud and every other Humanities student up through the late 19th century. Perhaps it was their common educational culture that allowed Homer and Freud, these two major educators, after a delay of 2,600 years, to connect on the problem of hallucination.

Much like a dream, hallucination is a mental act of omnipotence: it fulfils a wish in defiance of external reality. In this essay we’ll consider hallucinations that wishfully restore lost love objects. Homer’s aperçus on our universal struggle with hallucination occur in both the Iliad and Odyssey. Presently we’ll focus on the single most eloquent of these passages, but first, for psychological context, we’ll look at the same insight in Freud.

Homer singing, Paul Roussel, c.1903 (Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France).

Some intellectual background for this insight will be useful. Freud made his first speculation on hallucination (in neonates) within an early, little-known work of his: the Project for a Scientific Psychology, written in 1895/6.[2] He wrote it in his late thirties, when he was crossing the perilous vocational threshold from neurology to psychoanalysis. The Project was Freud’s effort to systematize, in neuropsychological terms, the basic functioning of the human mind. Many concepts and terms explicitly formulated and defined there, neurological concepts accessible to empirical testing, underpin what we call Freud’s metapsychology, which is an ensemble of conceptual models, including  the “psychical apparatus”, mental “agencies”, and “repression”. These models were, however, until the last quarter of the 20th century, inaccessible to scientific verification.

Time and again, in Freud’s popular works like Civilization and its Discontents (1933) or his foundational works like The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), Ego and the Id (1923) and an Outline of Psychoanalysis (1939), neuropsychological concepts from the Project bubble up from below, invisibly, guiding his fascinating journey into the mental underworld. Dissatisfied, however, with the Project’s incompleteness, Freud never published it. It didn’t see the light of day until 1950, eleven years after his death.

Freud in 1921 (photograph by Max Halberstadt).

Although 20th– and 21st-century culture fell into fear and loathing of Freud, and wished him dead (or, better far, never to have been born), the Project’s ideas, and their derivative metapsychological concepts like ego, id, primary and secondary process, bound and unbound energy, cathexis, etc., seemed to find, in the neuroscientists’ laboratory, sanctuary from the attacks aimed at Freud by the society that he still scandalizes. Several neuroscientists and neuropsychoanalysts, in particular the South African Mark Solms,[3] have progressively harmonized these models with actual structures and functions of the physical brain. And from the late 20th century on, many of our most influential brain scientists have mined Freud’s opus for helpful clues to the hidden mind. [4]

Let’s hone in now on Freud’s insight in the Project: the newborn baby, before it develops more mature defenses against pain – even before it develops durable memories of the transience of pain and its remediation – deploys hallucination. When the baby gets hungry, for example, and feels this as endless, global torment, the pressure of its wish to be fed becomes, instantaneously, the perception of being fed. The infant might, for example, feel its lips around the nipple, and its tongue bathed in warm sweet milk. Or it might hear the mother’s approaching footsteps, see her face floating in the empyrean above it, perceive any of the obscurely-remembered concomitants of maternal relief, and turn those fragmentary memories into a perception.

Maternity, Auguste Renoir, 1885 (Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France).

When, however, the hallucinated perception fails to extinguish hunger, this primal disillusionment, as I call it[5] doubles the baby’s agony and inflicts a mnemic wound, a mental injury, a lasting caution against hallucination. The memory of this cruel awakening urges the baby to think first, to remember first, to delay hallucination and instead do the mental work of distinguishing internal from external reality. Most infants, having suffered that brutal lesson, readily abandon hallucination as a defense against pain. This is one of the earliest advances in mental growth.

Freud points out that no one, however, entirely renounces hallucination; instead, we retain that device in dreams, which continue to hallucinate (disguised) satisfactions of wishes. Society retains the device in a group daydream, akin to a delusion, that is made to seem real by mutual grooming among scientists, media, economists, and the public, and revolves around the fantasy that human cleverness and technology will omnipotently conquer every threat to human life, every frustration to human wishes.

Long before Freud, as we’ll now see, Homer, in symbolic narrative, recreated both the infantile hallucination and the agony of disillusionment:

Homer and his guide, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1874 (Milwaukee Art Museum, WI, USA).

In Book 9 of the Odyssey, Odysseus and the remnants of his crew, trying to return to Ithaca after Troy’s Fall, frustrated at every turn by Poseidon’s indignation at Odysseus’ blinding of the sea-god’s son, the Cyclops, wandering the sea, ever hungrier, happen upon Aeaea, the island of the enchantress Circe. She invites his sailors into her home with promises of food, and then, most inhospitably, turns them into pigs. Odysseus forced her to restore them to their accustomed form, and to tell him what he must do to succeed in his νόστος, his homecoming. She breaks the appalling news that he must voyage to the home of Hades, seek out and extract from the seer Tiresias his final instructions. In Hades, Odysseus meets the shades of many of the dead. He is shocked to see his mother among them. After his consultation with Tiresias, he talks with her, and asks what killed her, and she replies:

“ἀλλά με σός τε πόθος σά τε μήδεα, φαίδιμ ̓ Ὀδυσσεῦ,
σή τ ̓ ἀγανοφροσύνη μελιηδέα θυμὸν ἀπηύρα.”

“… but it was heartbreak over your absence, it was craving your intelligence, bright Odysseus, and it was longing for your sweet kindness – that is what took away my life.”

Odysseus tells what happens next:

ὣς ἔφατ ̓, αὐτὰρ ἐγώ γ ̓ ἔθελον φρεσὶ μερμηρίξας
μητρὸς ἐμῆς ψυχὴν ἑλέειν κατατεθνηυίης.
τρὶς μὲν ἐφωρμήθην, ἑλέειν τέ με θυμὸς ἀνώγει,
τρὶς δέ μοι ἐκ χειρῶν σκιῇ εἴκελον ἢ καὶ ὀνείρῳ
ἔπτατ ̓. ἐμοὶ δ ̓ ἄχος ὀξὺ γενέσκετο κηρόθι μᾶλλον,
καί μιν φωνήσας ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδων·
“μῆτερ ἐμή, τί νύ μ ̓ οὐ μίμνεις ἑλέειν μεμαῶτα,
ὄφρα καὶ εἰν Ἀΐδαο φίλας περὶ χεῖρε βαλόντε
ἀμφοτέρω κρυεροῖο τεταρπώμεσθα γόοιο;
ἦ τί μοι εἴδωλον τόδ ̓ ἀγαυὴ Περσεφόνεια
ὄτρυν ̓, ὄφρ ̓ ἔτι μᾶλλον ὀδυρόμενος στεναχίζω;”

So, she spoke, and I yearned, as I turned her words over in my mind, to take hold of the shade of my dead mother. Three times I rushed upon her, and my soul urged me to clutch her, but three times she flew from my arms, like a shadow or a dream. And bitter pain welled up in me, as I spoke: “Mother of mine, why now won’t you stay for me, hungering to hold you, so that here in the House of Hades, throwing our dear arms around each other, we might take our fill of chilling lamentation? Why does Lordly Persephone send this phantom to me, so that still more I groan in grief?” (202–14)[6]

I bring line 210 (emboldened) to the attention of Greek readers who observe syllabic quantity and the restored pitch accents. They will hear, in the strident, rolling vowels, and the frequent mu’s – seven times repeated – the unmistakable mewling of an infant.

Anticlea appears to Odysseus, Henry Fuseli, 1800 (National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, UK).

Thus did the great poet, or one of his predecessors, tap the human well of preverbal memory, extract one of our most fateful experiences, and render it intelligible with the power of poetry: the inexpressible anguish of wishful expectation blasted by reality; the mortification of one’s omnipotence exposed as impotent; the chilling edification that more often than not, as Greek tragedy also taught, one cannot trust one’s own mind.

Why is this insight, taught by two geniuses separated by millennia, by language, by culture, so important? This is the lesson, the epiphany that humanity so ruinously has forgotten: presumption is easy, but often fallacious, and always dangerous; self-knowledge is laborious, frustrating, and best taught by psychological pain. Our species, unwilling to bear, even for the sake of its survival, the requisite labor, frustration and pain to understand its self-deceptiveness, unwilling to abandon its collective sense of invincibility – another child of hallucination – trusted its own mind. It believed in the omnipotence of its cleverness, technology and numbers. It presumed to imperialize the Earth, just as Penelope’s suitors, to use another Homeric allusion, believed their numbers could with impunity imperialize Odysseus’ home, and hubristically denied the prospect of self-destruction.

Mark Adair is a practising psychoanalyst who has published in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, Psychoanalytic Quarterly, and Journal of Clinical Psychoanalysis. As Assistant/Associate Professor on Dartmouth Medical School’s clinical faculty, he trained psychology interns and psychiatric residents for thirty years. And as an amateur Classics scholar, he sang Homer in the original Greek to both public and scholarly audiences, lectured at the Classical Association of New England Summer Institute, and published an original translation of a debated passage in Plato’s Timaeus for Classical Journal. He has also written for the literary journal Bibliophilos and produced a feuilleton for Daily Bulletin, newspaper of the American Contract Bridge League Championships.

Further Reading

I’ve already mentioned the works of Mark Solms, the neuro-psychoanalyst. But many important scientists with no vocational connection to psychoanalysis have also supported Freud’s discoveries.  Neurosurgeon and neuroscientist Karl Pribram was the inaugural winner in 1999 of the Dagmar and Vaclav Havel Award for uniting the sciences and the humanities. In 1976 he called Freud’s Project “a Rosetta Stone for… making communication between [neurological and behavioral referents] possible”.[7] After that, Antonio Damasio, Joseph LeDoux, Jaak Panksepp, V.S. Ramachandran and Eric Kandel also tried to integrate Freud’s neuropsychological ideas into a neuroscience struggling to reflect the richness of human experience. Nobel Laureate Kandel, in particular, distinguished psychoanalysis as “still… the most coherent and intellectually satisfying view of the mind”.[8] Freud was ahead of his time 120 years ago, and counting.

To understand Freud, nothing can replace the reading of the primary texts, at least in English, available as the Standard Edition, cited above. Freud is, by the way, a beautiful stylist, and to read him carefully, like reading Homer carefully, is to become a better writer.

I might recommend the reader begin with Five Lectures (1909), delivered to a lay audience at Clark University in the same year. This happened during Freud’s only trip to America, the country he ungraciously described, on confronting the monumentalism of New York City as his ship sailed into New York Harbor, “a gigantic mistake”. Before he left for his trip from Vienna his friends would ask him why he would want to go to a country he disdained (because of American prudery and greed for dollars), and he would tell them, “to see a wild porcupine”. He was trying – maybe remembering disappointed hallucinations? – to restrain his wishes for a positive reception of his lectures, which he was sure would offend some Americans. Both his lectures and his pursuit of the porcupine (on a side trip to upstate New York) were, however, successful.

After the Five Lectures, I’d recommend Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams (1900), maybe one of the most important intellectual and scientific achievements of the 20th century. Chapter 7 of Freud’s masterpiece, admittedly hard going but well worth the effort, explicates his theory of the infantile hallucination and its relationship to dreaming.

For a comprehensive, impassioned and beautiful exposition of the richness of Greek culture and education and the foundations of the humanistic education that flowed from it down through the centuries until the late 1800s, the student will want to devote many hours to the study of famous Classicist Werner Jaeger’s three-volume Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture, (Blackwell, Oxford, 1939–44), available in paperback.

I might also recommend, for the student determined to become a real Classicist and learn the language of Homer, Pharr’s Homeric Greek: A Book for Beginners (first published in 1918, and still in print via the University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK). For the restored pronunciation of Ancient Greek, the student should consult the late Stephen Daitz’s explanations and recordings in The Pronunciation and Reading of Ancient Greek: The Living Voice of Greek and Latin Literature (first published in 1981, and still in print via Bolchazy-Carducci, Wauconda, IL).

Glossary of Terms

Bound energy: mental energy that, in its movement toward discharge, is checked and controlled. In common terms, we might associate bound energy with self-restraint and careful decision-making.

Castration anxiety: fear of genital loss or injury, often experienced as feelings of defectiveness or inferiority.

Cathexis: the investment of the psychic energy of a drive in a mental representation (image, symbol, fantasy, idea or concept). This investment may be conscious or unconscious.

Conscience (see Superego)

Defense mechanism: any unconscious strategy by which the ego protects itself against danger. Danger can be defined as any change liable to threaten the integrity or stability of the bio-psychological individual or group. Both internal excitations and external situations unpleasureable to the ego (that is, phenomena adverse to individual or group equilibrium) can initiate these changes. Dangers can include, among others: unpleasantness, anxiety, shame, guilt, and the loss of self-esteem any of these feelings might cause.

  1. Reaction formation (supports repression): a defense consisting of the replacement in conscious awareness of a painful idea or feeling by its opposite. Acts of apparent kindness and generosity, meant to replace in consciousness what is actually hatred or hostility (because awareness of these emotions would stimulate guilt) are often signs of reaction formation.
  2. Repression: consists of the expulsion and withholding from conscious awareness of an idea or feeling.
  3. Denial: a primitive or early defense in which the ego avoids becoming aware of some painful aspect of reality. To bolster this effacement of reality, a fantasy is formed in the mind that contradicts the disagreeable and unwelcome fact. Thus, a helpless, frightened child may comfort himself with a fantasy of being powerful or even omnipotent.

Dream: a universal and normal regressive phenomenon occurring during sleep in which thought processes and affects are represented in predominantly visual and (less frequently) auditory form. Dreams are disguised (often by condensation and displacement) hallucinatory expressions of wishes, even when these are the superego’s wishes.

Drive (see Instinct)

Education: Systematic learning that, by increasing students’ knowledge of inner and outer reality, helps them reach the true aims of their lives and optimize their humanity. Under this definition, psychoanalysis is education to inner reality.

Education tends to inoculate the mind against wishful believing (omnipotence or magical thinking).

Ego: a group of functions with an early beginning and subsequent growth. They are susceptible to numerous disturbances and may improve in the course of psychoanalytic treatment.

The outstanding function of the ego is adaptation to reality, a function that sometimes takes strange forms.

Energy, psychic: a hypothetical force in metal functioning considered analogous, but not equivalent, to the concept of energy used in physics.

External reality (external world): the outer world of the individual’s environment, as distinguished from the reality of his psychic life.

Humanism: a devotion to studies that promote human culture and mental growth, an education rooted in classical letters, guided by an individualistic, secular, critical spirit of inquiry. Humanism is “education deliberately modeled on a certain ideal conception of human nature …. the intellectual search for the true nature of man.” (Jaeger)

Humanism is older than the liberal arts. Humanism emerged directly from the Hellenic Greek preoccupation with the ideal human life. The liberal arts did not appear until the late 5th century AD.

In pursuit of the ideal concept of human nature, Humanist scholarship, which comprises both the humanities and the natural sciences, was handicapped in its study of the internal world. Humanism depends on rationalist inquiry, on what is called in psychoanalysis, secondary process thinking, a predominantly logical, conscious, controlled mode of thought, as distinct from the fantastic, mostly unconscious, and massive discharges of unbound energy involved in primary process thinking, the mode of thinking prevalent in dreams and facilitated by free association. Humanism was thus barred from a deeper understanding of the internal world.

Id: a totally unconscious part of the mental apparatus, representing the sum total of wishes arising from the individual’s needs, needs indicated by their “mental representations,” that is, the drives.

Instinct: A controversial English translation of the German “Trieb” used by Freud to represent an evolutionarily determined, innate, constant motivational force. Many psychoanalysts have instead translated “Trieb” as “drive”.

Internal world (internal reality/psychic reality): the conviction of the reality of the psychic world that exists unconsciously and is felt inside the person. This world consists of objects (people, or parts of people, including the subject) experienced as concretely real, engaging in relations with each other. These internal objects and their relations can cause real external change in the subject. The analyst Karl Abraham described how, within several months after his father’s death, his black hair turned as grey as his father’s had been, and back to black again.

The internal world is the totality of a person’s mental representation of his physical instinctual life and of his thoughts, feelings, dreams and fantasies, memories and perceptions — regardless of whether or not they accurately reflect or correspond to objective reality. This totality comprises both conscious and unconscious elements.

Mental growth: a psychical transformation from incoherence to coherence, stimulated by exposure to truth. The mind cannot grow unless a person decides to recognize, tolerate and reflect on pain, rather than evade it.  When we tolerate pain, thought emerges: we scan our memories; we perform a rational analysis of the meaning of the pain; and we make predictions. Thought is intended to manage the pain and understand it — its cause, quality, and course.

Mental growth is a movement from evasion, to acceptance, of realities; reality includes inner pain, regret, shame and guilt.

Metapsychology: an orienting and systematizing framework around which clinical data and lower-level psychoanalytic propositions can be organized. Metapsychology has six viewpoints: dynamic, economic, topographic, structural, genetic and adaptive.

Object: a loved person.

Oedipus complex: a characteristic grouping of drives, aims, object relations and fears universally found at the height of the phallic phase (3-6 years old). During this period the child strives in a limited way for sexual union with the parent of the opposite sex and death or disappearance of the parent of the same sex.

Oedipal conflict: a conflict between the urge for sexual union and castration anxiety.

Omnipotence: the fantasy of unlimited power, especially by thoughts and wishes, a global fantasy sometimes described as magical thinking. Omnipotence, in psychoanalytic theory, is the belief that thoughts alone are able to gratify wishes without the help of corresponding actions or an available external object. The omnipotence of primitive defense mechanisms, particularly those associated with fantasies of taking in, expelling and annihilating objects, external or internal, tend to dissolve the real distinctions between self and others; these defensive fantasies are used to avoid experiences of separateness and of (deep) envy. The frustration of omnipotence often excites negativism, stubbornness and, in extreme cases, catatonia (mutism, stupor, waxy flexibility, catalepsy).

Paideia: the title of a scholarly work by Werner Jaeger, early 20th century German Classicist. Paideia, loosely translated, is the educational and cultural spirit of the ancient Greeks, embodied in their literature. Paideia is an unswervable resolve to learn more and more about both the inner and outer worlds. This movement, preserved in Humanism, initially contradicted the prevailing aristocratic ethos; it asserted that character and virtue could be earned with effort, not just passed through bloodlines.

Primary process: refers both to 1) a mode of psychic energy discharge and 2) a type of thought process.

  1. This mode is characterized by the mobility of cathexis (the immediate discharge of energy and its facile shifts in attachment) as contrasted with delayed discharge (the secondary process).
  2. A primitive, irrational type of wishful thought characterized by condensation, displacement and extensive use of symbols, the kind of thought characteristic of dreams.  The primary process strives to hallucinate the experience of satisfaction, (that is, achieve a “perceptual identity” with that experience) whereas the secondary process seeks conceptual similarities to that experience.

Psychoanalysis: 1) a branch of science developed by Sigmund Freud and his followers, devoted to the study of the conscious, preconscious and unconscious minds. 2) A method of psychotherapeutic treatment lasting many years, consisting of at least five weekly sessions, encouraging a regression in which derivatives of forbidden wishes and repressed memories find expression in the relationship between the analyst and patient. These derivatives often occasion anxiety, and evoke defenses against their raw expression. Interpretation, over time, draws wishes, defenses, and their conflicts into the patient’s consciousness and gradually gives the patient’s ego more control over them. It was to this process Freud referred when he wrote, “Where id was, there ego shall be.”

Reality: refers to both internal (psychic) and external reality.

  1. Internal (psychic) reality designates the totality of a person’s mental representation of his psychical/instinctual life and of his thoughts, feelings, dreams and fantasies. This comprises both conscious and unconscious elements. Psychic reality is reality experienced in evolving stages of development in the emotional and intellectual life of the individual.
  2. External reality is reality as it appears to an objective adult observer brought up in a scientific tradition.

Reality principle: Modes of action and thought that take into account, and are shaped by, the exigencies and conditions of real life. Under the influence of the reality principle, the logical and rational appraisal of cause-effect relations in the outside world, in coordination with a growing awareness and understanding of oneself and of the needs, feelings, demands, actions and thoughts of other people, shape behavior and tame the drives.

The early infantile mode of uninhibited and unmodified searching for the satisfaction of needs and wishes and avoidance of pain (pleasure principle) is gradually replaced, in the course of normal development, by reality-adaptive modes of thought and action. This maturational process is conceptualized as the substitution of the reality principle for the pleasure principle. Maturation involves delays, postponements, renunciations and other more complex inhibitions and transformations of drive discharge and need satisfaction.

Reality-testing: an ego function consisting of the capacity for assessing the authenticity of elements of the internal and external worlds.

Secondary process: predominantly logical, controlled thinking characterized economically by the use of minimal amounts of neutralized psychic energy. This is compared with, and in practice often opposed to, the free fantasies and massive discharges of unbound energy involved in the primary process.

Secondary process introduces the concept of delay, or postponement, of immediate discharge — a necessary precondition for logical thought — as distinguished from primary process, which strives for immediate discharge.

Self-knowledge: a cultivated habit of searching for signs of self-deception; a habitual striving to recognize and remember one’s characteristic strategies (defense mechanisms) of avoiding consciousness of tensions or emotional pain. Self-knowledge is not seeking to know why we do what we do, that is, our hidden motives, so much as seeking to know how we typically keep those motives hidden from ourselves.

Superego: the group of psychic functions that, in their manifest expression, appear as moral attitudes, conscience, and a sense of guilt or shame.

The superego consists of both: 1) critical and punishing functions that evoke feelings of guilt and shame and 2) protective and rewarding functions which set up ideals and values grouped under the term ego ideal.

Tension: a condition in body or mind of being stretched or strained, or a sensation suggesting this condition, caused by any force, internal or external, which disturbs physical or emotional equilibrium. Tension is a condition of strain produced by anxiety, need, or any sense of mental, emotional or physical disequilibrium.

Tension-evasion: a tendency toward immediate and (mentally) unmediated obliteration of the perception of tension.

Unbound energy: mental energy that flows toward discharge in the speediest and most direct fashion possible. This is the predominant behavior of mental energy in dreams. In common language we might associate it too with “instant gratification.”

Unconscious: either the quality of being outside mental awareness or the dynamic state of exclusion from mental awareness.


1 For the meanings of these and all other psychoanalytic terms and phrases in this article please consult this list. A glossary has also been included as an appendix to this essay.
2 This and almost all other Freud writings can be found, and are best consulted in S. Freud (J. Strachey ed.), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vols. 1-24. Hogarth Press, London, 1959).
3 See, for example, K.K. and M. Solms, Clinical Studies in Neuro-Psychoanalysis: Introduction to a Depth Neuropsychology (2nd ed., Karnac, London).
4 M.M. Owen, “Freud in the scanner,” Aeon, 7 December 2017.
5 M. Adair, “A speculation on perversion and hallucination,” International Journal of Psychoanalysis 74.1 (1991) 81–92.
6 Here and above, author’s translation and italics.
7 K.H. Pribram and M.G. Merton, Freud’s Project Reassessed: Preface to Contemporary Cognitive Theory and Neuropsychology (Basic Books, New York, 1976).
8 E. Kandel, “Biology and the future of psychoanalysis: A new intellectual framework for psychiatry revisited,” American Journal of Psychiatry 156.4 (1999) 505.