Psychoanalysis and Scientific Method


Psychoanalysis and Scientific Method: A Theological Query

C H A R L E S R. S T I N N E T T E , JR. Scientific inquiry, we are told, begins not with facts, but with a problem. The problem I want to share with you has to do with one of those apparent assumptions in the received tradition of psychoanalysis, i.e., the mechanistic model of man and its counterpart, scientific method (narrowly conceived in terms of objective validation). I have a growing feeling that this model is getting in the way of the scientific exploration of the radically new image of man that psychoanalysis has unearthed. At the same time, I am aware that such an assertion by a theologian is risky. Aside from the possibility that my proposal may be simply defensive, I am also acutely aware that it may constitute presumptuousness. I am not even sure that I have understood correctly the implied assumptions from which psychoanalysis has developed. However, I accept the risk as one who lives within a community of concerns created by psychoanalysis and as one who affirms the freedom of its discipline. In short, I come not to defend religion or to bury psychoanalysis, but to enjoy the freedom of dissent afforded by both. Even more I am inclined to share the sentiment of Henry David Thoreau that "there is more religion in man's science than science in man's religion." Before I launch into a discussion of the particular problem I want to bring to your attention, it may be helpful to remind ourselves, in a summary way, of the shape and character of the differing communities represented by science and theology: both are communities of shared beliefs, of basic attitudes toward life that are reinforced by communal sanctions and controlled by commonly held methods of verification.1 Paper read at a meetingof the ChicagoBranchof the Academy.


Journal of Religion and Health

Historically, at least, the basic attitude of science is conveyed by the belief that man is one with nature, that nature includes human nature, and that it is intelligible in and of itself. Intelligibility proceeds without resort to superordinate wholes and within the calculus of the structures, processes, and dynamics of evolutionary development. The principles of determinism, entropy, and economy of basic energy are some of the tools by which the scientific community hopes eventually to abstract a generalized, unitary theory. The method of verification in science is of particular importance to our concerns. Traditionally it has emphasized the need for objective observation, replication, and what is called "epistemic correlation," i.e., between empirical observation and theoretical formulation. In the theological community, on the other hand, man's oneness with nature is qualified by the fact that man is nature become self-conscious. This is his problem. As a part of nature, yet transcending nature in self-awareness, imagination, and reason, man experiences alienation. His existence is ineluctably ambiguous. As a creature rooted in nature, he is in anguish over his lack of harmonious integration with nature. Choice is his fate--and his memory of choice as well as his anticipation of the future makes of him a creature of history whose self-understanding is inescapably rooted in divine purpose and meaning that he discerns in history and nature. Faith is man's existential response to the perception of such meaning. Theology becomes, then, a method of rational and existential correlation within the faith community. Its method of verification is rooted in the subject-object unity of faith and its task becomes one of judging the appropriateness of religious symbols in correlation with man's self-understanding in faith. Epistemic correlation here refers to the relation between religious expression and experienced faith.

Psychoanalysis and scientific method When we turn to a discussion of psychoanalysis and scientific method, we are impressed with the problems of membership that the former has experienced in relation to the scientific community. True enough, Freud and his successors have conceived of themselves as scientists. The problem lies in the area of how membership in the scientific community is to be conceived and, specifically, how "scientific method" is defined. In his discussion of psychological understanding, Franz Alexander explains that such understanding is based upon observation of another and

Psychoanalysis and Scientific Method


interpretation via introspection by the observer. "Another's motives can be understood," Alexander explains, "from one's own reactions in similar situations. "'2 It should be noted that the possible sources of error in such judgments are recognized and dealt with in the supervisory training of analysts. However, the assumption that minds can study minds by this method of disciplined subjectivity runs into conflicts with scientific method as the expression is commonly understood. It also raises questions in my mind about some of the other assumptions from science that psychoanalysis appears to have incorporated. Freud defined psychoanalysis as "a dynamic conception which reduces mental life to the interplay of reciprocally urging and checking forces. ''8 In his History of Psychoanalysis, he identified the concepts of resistance, transference, and unconscious motivation as constituting the canons for membership in the psychoanalytic community. The influence of nineteenth-century science with its investment in mechanistic philosophy (i.e., that all the activities of the living organism are ultimately to be explained in terms of its component molecular parts) is too well known to need detailed discussion. David Rapaport gives a succinct summary in his discussion of Helmholtz and Freud: The influence of Helmholtz on Freud's theory is seen in the postulate of thoroughgoing determinism, in the central position of the pleasure-pain principle (and the primary process) which is patterned on the concept of entropy, in the reality principle (and the secondary process) which is patterned on the principle of least action and on the "economic principle" which is patterned on the principle of conservation. 4 The early Freud, at least, was clear in his assumption that the mental is based on the organic and that there are only organic processes whose consequences manifest themselves in psychological phenomena. The psychic is epiphenomenal to the organic. Later, especially in his Interpretation of Dreams and in his growing respect for the integrative capacities of the ego, Freud appears to have moved toward a more psychological and epigenetic view in which, as Philip Rieff has put it, "the body exists as a symptom of mental demands. ''5 Whether this is the case or not, we are familiar with the emergence of "ego psychology" within psychoanalysis, with its emphasis upon the conflict-free, relatively autonomous function of the adaptive ego as evidenced particularly in the activities centered in motility, perception, and thinking. However, it must be pointed out that one of the chief theoreticians of "ego psychology", i.e., Heinz Hartmann, does not regard this greater emphasis on the


Journal of Religion and Health

adaptive and autonomous functions of the ego as implying either intenfionality (in the sense of positing a self) or a departure from a basic biological orientation as a framework of explanation. 6 Indeed, psychoanalytic psychology remains, as Franz Alexander has described it, "a mechanical, or better, a dynamic science [that] describes the functions of the mind as mechanisms or dynamisms.'a Psychoanalysis as a scientific method was put to the test in a crucial way when Sidney Hook convened a conference on Psychoanalysis, Scientific Method, and Phitosophys at New York University in x958. In that meeting Heinz Hartmann delivered one of the major papers, in which he focused on psychoanalysis as a scientific theory. He referred to Freud's earlier efforts at metapsychology, i.e., the systematic attempt to organize the working hypotheses of psychoanalysis---id, ego, superego, the dynamic and economic aspects of their energetic systems, etc.--i~nto a general theory that would account for human behavior. In his response to this paper Professor Ernest Nagel maintained that if psychoanalytic theory is "intended" as a science of human behavior in the same sense that Boyle's "theory of gases is a set of assumptions which systematizes, explains and predicts certain observable [mark the word "observable"] phenomena of gases," it (i.e., psychoanalytic theory) is defective both in the relation of logical structure to empirical content and in the nature of supporting evidence. It seems dear, then, that if one defines scientific method as strict epistemic correlation between empirical evidence (objectively defined) and theoretical formulation, it is doubted whether psychoanalysis is able to present data that meet the test of validity. 9 At the same time, one must raise the question whether scientific method so conceived is appropriate and fitting to its object, i.e., the human being whose knowledge is uniquely a gestalt, an integration of subjective and objective dimensions in the very act of knowing itself. Alexander has questioned whether or not the behaviorists may be dassified as psychologists in view of the fact that they "observe only the outward manifestations of the inner l i f e . . . ," thereby ignoring what man can tell about his own inner psychic life when mind studies mind. 1~ In a similar vein, I wonder if therapeutic psychology is legitimately a study of human beings unless it is willing to see the person at all times as the internal observer as well as the observed--an agent whose unique capacity to integrate internal and external history is the very mark of his humanity.

Psychoanalysis and Scientific Method


Psychoanalysis and the model of man We pose the question whether scientific inquiry is to be limited by methodological imperialism or whether we are to give heed to another canon of scientific reason, namely that research methods must be appropriate to the object of study. What has psychoanalysis discovered in its study of man? What may be said about man as man? As we reported earlier, Franz Alexander holds that psychological understanding is possible because one man's observation of another may be interpreted by means of introspection in the observer. "This understanding is possible," Alexander explains, "because the object observed is a being similar to the observer, Both are human personalities. ''11 Now this recognition of the similarity between observer and the observed has profound significance for the model of man that has emerged out of psychoanalysis. It moves beyond passive mechanistic models of mind and, as the "one genus" hypothesis of Harry Stack Sullivan, provided the rationale for significant therapeutic work with schizophrenics whose illness is now more likely to be regarded essentially as a failure to cope with the hazards of being human. Indeed, I suggest that the grounding of psychological understanding in the human capacity for observation and reflective introspection provides a significant building block for a needed science of man. By placing emphasis upon the human phenomenon rather than upon psychological or mechanistic reductions, it opens the way for multidisciplined understandings of the same phenomenon. Alfred North Whitehead has suggested that the human tendency is to forget that what we see and think is conditioned by an angle of vision. There are no universal categories that exhaust the meaning of any phenomenon--only perspectives that must be defined in relation to their presuppositions and other angles of vision. This does not necessarily mean a continuing and destructive warfare between conflicting perspectives. Rather every perspective stands under the inexhaustible depth and complexity of the phenomenon itselfwwhich may be revisited again and again for new insight. This recognition of the provisional character of every formulation and of the primacy of the phenomenon itself as a corrective to perspectives is not inconsistent with Freud's method of interpretation. "It is only by means of a progressive analysis of the material of observation," Freud wrote, "that they [i.e., provisional concepts and ideas] can be made clear and find a significant and constant meaning.''12 We are suggesting that although psychoanalysis continues to use some language


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that reflects a mechanistic or biologically-limited view of the human organism there are, nevertheless, irrepressible signs of another essentially more human model that is emerging. This is not only indicated in the adaptive and autonomous interpretations of ego psychology, but actually is a reassertion of Freud's fundamental discovery, i.e., that psychic facts have a sense or meaning that must be deciphered. And deciphering is a matter for human dialogue and introspective reflection. The concept of verstehen, or understanding, that grows out of an imaginative participation in another's position (and is thus an example of the union of subject and object in knowing) would have been known to Freud through his study with Brentano. It is interesting to reflect upon the possible effects upon psychoanalytic history and interpretation if Brentano's act psychology and his concept of "intention" had appeared earlier as a counterforce to Anglo-Saxon empiricism and its reductionistic tendency. It appears that, without intending to do so, psychoanalysis has been at work reconstructing a revised anthropology out of its own experience and progressive reinterpretation. One manifestation of this reconstruction is the work of Marjorie Brierley in her book, Trends in Psychoanalysis. Miss Brierley suggests "neo-realistic humanism" as the attitude implicit in psychoanalysis that may be used in building a new integrating model of man--one that takes account of his propensity for meaning and his irreducible humanity. In such a view, Miss Brierley writes, " . . . mind has ceased to be a static structure or a substantial thing and has become a dynamic entity, a nexus of activities and a sequence of adaptive responses." The psychologist, she writes, has to deal not with ideas, but with persons acting. TM

The transference god: another perspective Perhaps you have been wondering when I would get to the conflict between theology and psychoanalysis. The fact is that I conceive of the conflict not as one between theology and psychoanalysis as such, but with regard to the models of reality and man that have been used to interpret the findings of psychoanalysis. The overevaluation of one method of validation (i.e., the empirical-objective), the reductive tendency of biological mechanism, and the antihistorical bias of Freud have combined, I believe, to prevent psychoanalysis from fully recognizing its common cause with other humanistic disciplines or with theology as a human enterprise. Somewhere

Psychoanalysis and Scientific Method


Paul Tillich has written that in any conflict between scientific discipline and religion the primary question is whether this conflict is centered in a reasonable description of empirical reality or is, in fact, a conflict between ideologies, presuppositions, and assumptive worlds. My quarrel is not with psychoanalysis as a scientific enterprise or with its method of disciplined subjectivity, but with its metapsychological inferences, which seem to imply a model of man that does not take into account the humanity of man revealed by its method. The meaning of psychoanalysis clearly implies that man as man can never be understood from the outside. While such outside perspectives are relevant and necessary for research, diagnostic predication, and control, the living reality eludes their understanding--as Emily Dickinson warned the surgeons, Underneath their final incisions Stirs the culprit--life! Perhaps I can illustrate my primary point by reference to the psychoanalytic conception of religion as a transference phenomenon. Freud's interpretation of religion as born of the residual helplessness of man and the projection of God as a fantasied recovery of the intimacy and warmth of early childhood is well known. From his own experience with patients, Freud concluded that religion is an "obstinate illusion" that in its cultural form becomes "the universal obsessional neurosis of man." The conceptual foundation for Freud's concept of transference was laid in his paper, "Two Principles of Mental Functioning." Here Freud developed his classic thesis regarding the primary processes governed by the pleasure (id) principle that are gradually superceded by the secondary processes governed by the reality principle (ego). However, the primary mode retains its power by way of covert influences, as Freud explains, With the introduction of the reality-principle one mode of thought-activity was split off; it was kept free from reality-testing and remained subordinated to the pleasure principle alone. This is the act of phantasy-making, which begins already in the games by children and later, continued as day-dreamingabandons its dependence on real objects.14 The transference phenomenon that Freud experienced and dealt with in psychotherapy is here given a significant epistemological statement. And it is in the light of this understanding that Freud saw the role and function of religion: as a universal obsessional neurosis, it provides substitute gratification for primary needs and it


Journal of Religion and Health

also redirects instinctual impulses by cult and rite. As an "obstinate obsession" born of the need to make tolerable the fate of man in civilization, religion prematurely resolves the inescapable tension between internal and external history, surface and depth, primary and secondary needs. Surely there is little room for questioning Freud's appraisal, for it is precisely this abortive role of religion that has come to the fore in contemporary cultural analysis. Indeed, the "need-fulfilling" character of religion has been demonstrated scientifically, most recently, by one of our own colleagues, Dr. Edgar Draper, who condudes, For whatever reasons, he [i.e., man] has preserved a religion for himself to meet his needs. Living religions serve man's needs; those sects and cults that are deceased died when man's needs were unfulfilled by their provisions.15 However, as long as we look only at the "need-fulfilling" function of religion and fail to appraise its claim or the particular context within which it operates, there is little basis to judge its appropriateness. Freud was inclined to interpret it as a transference neurosis. Interpretation, we assume, does not remove the continuing need of man to find means of integrating the processes that Freud described as two principles of mental functioning. Indeed, the two. modes of knowing have been identified and described in various ways from Heraclitus to David Bakan, whose book, The Duality of Human Existence, has recently been published (Chicago, Rand McNally,

2966). The transference phenomenon represents both the fundamental predicament that the human being faces and his effort, however abortive, to resolve the tension brought about by his two modes of knowing. Man is the creature, as Malinowski put it, who lives by the transformation of instinctual needs into symbolic satisfactions. We live not merely by the satisfaction of needs, but by the meaning we attach to need. The claim of religion upon man is its promise of ultimate meaning. In human form it is always a transference phenomenon--often more enslaving than freeing. But like every transference phenomenon, it represents the human thrust toward "a happy issue out o f . . . affliction." Although Freud regarded transference as the strongest form of resistance to cure, he also recognized its indispensable function in "making the patient's buried and forgotten love emotions actual and manifest, for in the last resort no one can be slain in absentia or in effigy. ''16 At another crucial moment in human history, Augustine prodaimed that man loves God not knowing that he loves God. It is the business of

Psychoanalysis and Scientific Method


theology, he said, to identify that love in the vicissitudes of human history and destiny. If man hides from God in transference religion, he is also found of God, whose love is both steadfast and new every morning. Like some Jacob in the desert night, psychoanalytic man has wrestled with principalities and powers, with spiritual wickedness in high places. The journey undertaken to find a partner was interrupted by sleep and clarified in a dream. The journey was resumed after that desert encounter. And Jacob never forgot the meaning of the experience--beyond its awesome and terrifying temper: "Surely the Lord was in this place and I knew it not!" See! Attend!

References I. See Robert K. Merton's discussion of the community of science as "an ethos of an emotionally toned complex of rules, prescriptions, mores, beliefs, values and presuppositions which are held to be binding..." as presented in Social Theory and Social Structure. Glencoe, the Free Press, 2957, footnote p. 541. 2. Alexander, Franz, Fundamentals of Psychoanalysis. New York, Norton Library paperback, 2963 . 3. Freud, S., as quoted in Healy, W., Bronner, A., and Bowers, A., The Structure and Meaning of Psychoanalysis. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2938, 19. xv. 4. Rapaport, David, The Structure of Psychoanalytic Theory. New York, International Universities Press, I96o, p. 12. (Psychological Issues, Vol. II, No. 2, 296o, Monograph.) 5. Rieff, Philip, Freud: The Mind of the Moralist. New York, Viking Press, I959, 19. 6. 6. See Hartmann, Heinz, in Ego Psychology and the Problem of Adaptation. Edited by David Rapaport. New York, International Universities Press, 2958, p. 362 ft. 7- Alexander, op. cit., p. i8. 8. Hook, Sidney, ed., Psychoanalysis, Scientific Method, and Philosophy (Papers at Second Annual New York University Institute of Philosophy, I958). New York, New York University Press, 1959. 9. It is interesting that at the same conference Lawrence S. Kubie ("Psychoanalysis and Scientific Method") expressed the opinion that "interpretations" in psychoanalysis may be seen as "possible" or "probable," but that they are "adequate, unique and necessary" is less likely. "Analysis," he wrote, "has rarely been able to present data that meet this ultimate criterion of validity." (Op. cit., p. 63.) Io. Alexander, op. cit., p. 33. ii. Ibid., p. 23. I2. Freud, S., An Autobiographical Study. London, The Hogarth Press, I935, p. I28.


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x3. Brierley, Marjorie, Trends in Psychoanalysis. London, The Hogarth Press, x951, pp. Io2-Io3. I4. Freud, S., "The Principles of Mental Functioning." In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. IV. London, The Hogarth Press, 1946, p. I6. I5. Draper, Edgar, Psychiatry and Pastoral Care. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., PrenticeHall, 2965, p. 125. 16. Freud, S., "The Dynamics of Transference." In Collected Works, op. cit., Vol. II, I946, p. 32o.

Psychoanalysis and scientific method: A theological Query.

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