Vygotsky. The Historical Meaning of The Crisis in Psychology: A Methodological Investigation
Precisely what the dependency of each psychological operation upon the general formula means can be illustrated with any problem that transcends the boundaries of the special discipline that raised it.
When Lipps [1897, p. 146] says about the unconscious that it is less a psychological problem than the problem for psychology, he has in mind that the unconscious is a problem of general psychology. By this he wished to say, of course, no more than that this question will be answered not as a result of this or that particular investigation, but as a result of a fundamental investigation by means of the general science, i.e., by comparing the widely varying data of the most heterogeneous areas of science; by correlating the given problem with several of the basic premises of scientific knowledge, on the one hand, and with several of the most general results of all sciences, on the other; by finding a place for this concept in the system of the basic concepts of psychology; by a fundamental dialectical analysis of the nature of this concept and the features of being that it corresponds to and reflects. This investigation logically precedes any concrete investigation of particular questions of subconscious life and determines the very formulation of the problem in such investigations.
As Munsterberg [1920, p. v], defending the need for such an investigation for another set of problems, splendidly put it: “In the end it is better to get an approximately exact preliminary answer to a question that is stated correctly than to answer with a precision to the last decimal point a question that is stated inaccurately.” A correct statement of a question is no less a matter of scientific creativity and investigation than a correct answer – and it is much more crucial. The vast majority of contemporary psychological investigations write out the last decimal point with great care and precision in answer to a question that is stated fundamentally incorrectly.
Whether we accept with Munsterberg [1920, pp. 158-163] that the subconscious is simply physiological and not psychological; or whether we agree with others that the subconscious consists of phenomena that temporarily are absent from consciousness, like the whole mass of potentially conscious reminiscences, knowledge and habits; whether we call those phenomena subconscious that do not reach the threshold of consciousness, or those of which we are minimally conscious, which are peripheral in the field of consciousness, automatic and unnoted; whether we find a suppression of the sexual drive to be the basis of the subconscious, like Freud, or our second ego, a special personality; finally, whether we call these phenomena un-, sub-, or superconscious, or like Stern accept all of these terms – it all fundamentally changes the character, quantity, composition, nature, and properties of the material which we will study. The question partially predetermines the answer.
It is this feeling of a system, the sense of a [common] style, the understanding that each particular statement is linked with and dependent upon the central idea of the whole system of which it forms a part, which is absent in the essentially eclectic attempts at combining the parts of two or more systems that are heterogeneous and diverse in scientific origin and composition. Such are, for instance, the synthesis of behaviorism and Freudian theory in the American literature; Freudian theory without Freud in the systems of Adler and Jung; the reflexological Freudian theory of Bekhterev and Zalkind; finally, the attempts to combine Freudian theory and Marxism (Luria, 1925; Fridman, 1925). So many examples from the area of the problem of the subconscious alone! In all these attempts the tail of one system is taken and placed against the head of another and the space between them is filled with the trunk of a third. It isn’t that they are incorrect, these monstrous combinations, they are correct to the last decimal point, but the question they wish to answer is stated incorrectly. We can multiply the number of citizens of Paraguay with the number of kilometers from the earth to the sun and divide the product by the average life span of the elephant and carry out the whole operation irreproachably, without a mistake in any number, and nevertheless the final outcome might mislead someone who is interested in the national income of this country. What the eclectics do, is to reply to a question raised by Marxist philosophy with an answer prompted by Freudian metapsychology.
In order to show the methodological illegitimacy of such attempts, we will first dwell upon three types of combining incompatible questions and answers, without thinking for one moment that these three types exhaust the variety of such attempts.
The first way in which any school assimilates the scientific products of another area consists of the direct transposition of all laws, facts, theories, ideas etc., the usurpation of a more or less broad area occupied by other investigators, the annexation of foreign territory. Such a politics of direct usurpation is common for each new scientific system which spreads its influence to adjacent disciplines and lays claim to the leading role of a general science. Its own material is insufficient and after just a little critical work such a system absorbs foreign bodies, submits them, filling the emptiness of its inflated boundaries. Usually one gets a conglomerate of scientific theories, facts, etc. which have been squeezed into the framework of the unifying idea with horrible arbitrariness
Such is the system of Bekhterev’s reflexology. He can use anything: even Vvedensky’s theory about the unknowability of the external ego, i.e., an extreme expression of solipsism and idealism in psychology, provided that this theory clearly confirms his particular claim about the need for an objective method. That it breaches the general sense of the whole system, that it undermines the foundations of the realistic approach to personality does not matter to this author (we observe that Vvedensky, too, fortifies himself and his theory with a reference to the work of Pavlov, without understanding that by turning for help to a system of objective psychology he extends a hand to his grave-digger). But for the methodologist it is highly significant that such antipodes as Vvedensky-Pavlov and Bekhterev-Vvedensky do not merely contradict each other, but necessarily presuppose each other’s existence and view the coincidence of theft conclusions as evidence for “the reliability of these conclusions.” For this third person [the methodologist, Russian eds.] it is clear that we are not dealing here with a coincidence of conclusions which were reached fully independently by representatives of different specialties, for example the philosopher Vvedensky and the physiologist Pavlov, but with a coincidence of the basic assumptions, starting points and philosophical premises of dualistic idealism. This “coincidence” is presupposed from the very start: Bekhterev presupposes Vvedensky – when the one is right, the other is right as well.
Einstein’s principle of relativity and the principles of Newtonian mechanics, incompatible in themselves, get on perfectly well in this eclectic system. In Bekhterev’s “Collective reflexology” he absolutely gathered a catalogue of universal laws. Characteristic of the methodology of the system is the way imagination is given free reign, the fundamental inertia of the idea which by direct communication, omitting all intermediate steps, leads us from the law of the proportional correlation of the speed of movement with the moving force, established in mechanics, to the fact of the USA's involvement in the great European war, and back again – from the experiment of a certain Dr. Schwarzmann on the frequency limits of electrocutaneous irritation leading to an association reflex to the “universal law of relativity which obtains everywhere and which, as a result of Einstein’s brilliant investigations, has been finally demonstrated in regard to heavenly bodies.”
Needless to say, the annexation of psychological areas is carried out no less categorically and no less boldly. The investigations of the higher thought processes by the Wurzburg school, like the results of the investigations of other representatives of subjective psychology, “may be harmonized with the scheme of cerebral or association reflexes.” Never mind that this very phrase strikes out all the fundamental premises of his own system: for if we can harmonize everything with the reflex schema and everything “is in perfect accord” with reflexology – even what has been discovered by subjective psychology – why take up arms against it? The discoveries made in Wurzburg were made with a method which, according to Bekhterev, cannot lead to the truth. However, they are in complete harmony with the objective truth. How is that?
The territory of psychoanalysis is annexed just as carelessly. For this it suffices to declare that “in Jung’s doctrine of complexes we find complete agreement with the data of reflexology.” But one passage higher it was said that this doctrine was based on subjective analysis, which Bekhterev rejects. No problem: we live in the world of pre-established harmony, of the miraculous correspondence, of the amazing coincidence of theories based on false analyses and the data of the exact sciences. To be more precise, we live in the world – according to Blonsky (1925a,p. 226) – of “terminological revolutions.”
Our whole eclectic epoch is filled with such coincidences. Zalkind, for example, annexes the same areas of psychoanalysis and the theory of complexes in the name of the dominant. It turns out that the psychoanalytic school developed the same concepts about the dominant completely independently from the reflexological school, but “in our terms and by another method.” The “complex orientation” of the psychoanalysts, the “strategical set” of the Adlerians, these are dominants as well, not in general physiological but clinical, general therapeutic formulations. The annexation – the mechanical transposition of bits of a foreign system into one’s own – in this case, as always, seems almost miraculous and testifies to its truth. Such an “almost miraculous” theoretical and factual coincidence of two doctrines, which work with totally different material and by entirely different methods, forms a convincing confirmation of the correctness of the principal path that contemporary reflexology is following. We remember that Vvedensky too saw in his coincidence with Pavlov a testimony of the truth of his statements. And more: this coincidence testifies, as Bekhterev more than once showed, to the fact that we may arrive at the same truth by entirely different methods. Actually, this coincidence testifies only to the methodological unscrupulousness and eclecticism of the system within which such a coincidence is observed. “He that toucheth pitch shall be defiled,” as the saying goes. He who borrows from the psychoanalysts – Jung’s doctrine of complexes, Freud’s catharsis, Adler’s strategical set – gets his share of the “pitch” of these systems, i.e., the philosophical spirit of the authors.
Whereas the first method of transposition of foreign ideas from one school into another resembles the annexation of foreign territory, the second method of comparing foreign ideas is similar to a treaty between two allied countries in which both retain their independence, but agree to act together proceeding from their common interests. This method is usually applied in the merger of Marxism and Freudian theory. In so doing the author uses a method that by analogy with geometry might be called the method of the logical superposition of concepts. The system of Marxism is defined as being monistic, materialistic, dialectic etc. Then the monism, materialism etc. of Freud’s system is established; the superimposed concepts coincide and the systems are declared to have fused. Very flagrant, sharp contradictions which strike the eye are removed in a very elementary way: they are simply excluded from the system, are declared to be exaggerations, etc. Thus, Freudian theory is de-sexualized as pansexualism obviously does not square with Marx’s philosophy. No problem, we are told – we will accept Freudian theory without the doctrine of sexuality. But this doctrine forms the very nerve, soul, center of the whole system. Can we accept a. system without its center? After all, Freudian theory without the doctrine of the sexual nature of the unconscious is like Christianity without Christ or Buddhism with Allah
It would be a historical miracle, of course, if a full-grown system of Marxist psychology were to originate and develop in the West, from completely different roots and in a totally different cultural situation. That would imply that philosophy does not at all determine the development of science. As we can see, they started from Schopenhauer and created a Marxist psychology! But this would imply the total fruitlessness of the attempt itself to merge Freudian theory with Marxism, just as the success of Bekhterev’s coincidence would imply the bankruptcy of the objective method: after all, if the data of subjective analysis fully coincide with the data of objective analysis, one may ask in what sense subjective analysis is inferior. If Freud, without knowing it himself, thinking about other philosophical systems and consciously siding with them, nevertheless created a Marxist doctrine of the mind, then in the name of what, may one ask, is it necessary to disturb this most fruitful delusion: after all, according to these authors, we need not change anything in Freud. Why, then, merge psychoanalysis with Marxism? In addition, the following interesting question arises: how is it possible that this system which entirely coincides with Marxism logically led to making the idea of sexuality, which is obviously irreconcilable with Marxism, into its cornerstone? Is not the method to a large extent responsible for the conclusions arrived at with its help? And bow could a true method which creates a true system, based on true premises, lead its authors to a false theory, to a false central idea? One has to dispose of a good deal of methodological carelessness not to see these problems which inevitably arise in each mechanical attempt to move the center of any scientific system – in the given case, from Schopenhauer’s doctrine of the will as the basis of the world to Marx’s doctrine about the dialectical development of matter.
But the worst is still to come. In such attempts one often simply must close one’s eyes to the contradictory facts, pay no attention to vast areas and main principles, and introduce monstrous distortions in both of the systems to be merged. In so doing, one uses transformations like those with which algebra operates, in order to prove the identity of two expressions. But the transformation of the systems to be merged operates with unities that are absolutely different from the algebraic ones. In practice, it always leads to the distortion of the essence of these systems.
In the article by Luria [1925, p. 55], for example, psychoanalysis is presented as “a system of monistic psychology,” whose methodology “coincides with the methodology” of Marxism. In order to prove this a number of most naive transformations of both systems are carried out as a result of which they “coincide.” Let us briefly look at these transformations. First of all, Marxism is situated in the general methodology of the epoch, alongside Darwin, Comte, Pavlov, and Einstein, who together create the general methodological foundations of the epoch. The role and importance of each of these authors is, of course, deeply and fundamentally different, and by its very nature the role of dialectical materialism is totally different from all of them. Not to see this means to deduce methodology from the sum total of “great scientific achievements”. As soon as one reduces all these names and Marxism to a common denominator it is not difficult to unite Marxism with any “great scientific achievement,” because this was presupposed: the“coincidence” looked for is in the presupposition and not in the conclusion. The“fundamental methodology of the epoch” consists of the sum total of the discoveries made by Pavlov, Einstein, etc. Marxism is one of these discoveries, which belong to the “group of principles indispensable for quite a number of closely-related sciences” Here, on the first page, that is, the argumentation might have ended: after Einstein one would only have to mention Freud, for he is also a “great scientific achievement” and, thus, a participant in the “general methodological foundations of the epoch.” But one must have much uncritical trust in scientific reputation to deduce the methodology of an epoch from the sum total of famous names.
There is no unitary basic methodology of the epoch. What we have is a system of fighting, deeply hostile, mutually exclusive, methodological principles and eachtheory – whether by Pavlov or Einstein – has its own methodological merit. To distill a general methodology of the epoch and to dissolve Marxism in it means to transform not only the appearance, but also the essence of Marxism.
But also Freudian theory is inescapably subjected to the same type of transformations. Freud himself would be amazed to learn that psychoanalysis is a systemof monistic psychology and that “methodologically he carries on... historical materialism” [Fridman, 1925, p. 159]. Not a single psychoanalytic journal would, of course, print the papers by Luria and Fridman. That is highly important. For a very peculiar situation has evolved: Freud and his school have never declared themselves to be monists, materialists, dialecticians, or followers of historical materialism. But they are told: you are both the first, and the second, and the third. You yourselves don’t know who you are. Of course, one can imagine such a situation, it is entirely possible. But then it is necessary to give an exact explanation of the methodological foundations of this doctrine, as conceived of and developed by its authors, and then a proof of the refutation of these foundations and to explain by what miracle and on what foundations psychoanalysis developed a system of methodology which is foreign to its authors. Instead of this, the identity of the two systems is declared by a simple formal-logical superposition of the characteristics – without a single analysis of Freud’s basic concepts, without critically weighing and elucidating his assumptions and starting points, without a critical examination of the genesis of his ideas, even without simply inquiring how he himself conceives of the philosophical foundations of his system
But, maybe, this formal-logical characterization of the two systems is correct? We have already seen how one distills Marxism’s share in the general methodology of the epoch, in which everything is roughly and naively reduced to a common denominator: if both Einstein and Pavlov and Marx belong to science, then they must have a common foundation. But Freudian theory suffers even more distortions in this process. I will not even mention how Zalkind (1924) mechanically deprives it of its central idea. In his article it is passed over in silence, which is also note worthy. But take the monism of psychoanalysis – Freud would contest it. The article mentions that he turned to philosophical monism, but where, in which words, in connection with what? Is finding empirical unity in some group of facts really always monism? On the contrary, Freud always accepted the mental, the unconscious as a special force which cannot be reduced to something else. Further, why is this monism materialistic in the philosophical sense? After all, medical materialism which acknowledges the influence of different organs etc. upon mental structures is still very far from philosophical materialism. In the philosophy of Marxism this concept has a specific, primarily epistemological sense and it is precisely in his epistemology that Freud stands on idealist philosophical grounds. For it is a fact, which is not refuted and not even considered by the authors of the “coincidences,” that Freud’s doctrine of the primary role of blind drives, of the unconscious as being reflected in consciousness in a distorted fashion, goes back directly to Schopenhauer’s idealistic metaphysics of the will and the idea. Freud [1920/1973, pp. 49-50] himself remarks that in his extreme conclusions he is in the harbor of Schopenhauer. But his basic assumptions as well as the main lines of his system are connected with the philosophy of the great pessimist, as even the simplest analysis can demonstrate.
In its more “concrete” works as well, psychoanalysis displays not dynamic, but highly static, conservative, anti-dialectic and anti-historical tendencies. It directly reduces the higher mental processes – both personal and collective ones – to primitive, primordial, essentially prehistorical, prehuman roots, leaving no room for history. The same key unlocks the creativity of a Dostoyevsky and the totem and taboo of primordial tribes; the Christian church, communism, the primitive horde – in psychoanalysis everything is reduced to the same source. That such tendencies are present in psychoanalysis is apparent from all the works of this school which deal with problems of culture, sociology and history. We can see that here it does not continue, but contradicts, the methodology of Marxism. But about this one keeps silent as well.
Finally, the third point. Freud’s whole psychological system of fundamental concepts goes back to Lipps : the concepts of the unconscious, of the mental energy connected with certain ideas, of drives as the basis of the mind, of the struggle between drives and repression, of the affective nature of consciousness, etc. In other words, Freud’s psychological roots lead back to the spiritualistic strata of Lipps’ psychology. How is it possible to disregard this when speaking about Freud’s methodology?
Thus, we see where Freud and his system have come from and where they are heading for: from Schopenhauer and Lipps to Kolnay and mass psychology.’ But to apply the system of psychoanalysis while saying nothing about metapsychology, social psychology and Freud’s theory of sexuality is to give it a quite arbitrary interpretation. As a result, a person not knowing Freud would get an utterly false idea of him from such an exposition of his system. Freud himself would protest against the word “system” first of all. In his opinion, one of the greatest merits of psychoanalysis and its author is that it consciously avoids becoming a system. Freud himself rejects the “monism” of psychoanalysis: he does not demand that the factors he discovered be accepted as exclusive or primary. He does not at all attempt to “give an exhaustive theory of the mental life of man,” but demands only that his statements be used to complete and correct the knowledge which we have acquired through whatever other way. In another place he says that psychoanalysis is characterized by its technique and not by its subject matter, in a third that psychological theory has a temporary nature and will be replaced by an organic theory.
All this may easily delude us: it might seem that psychoanalysis really has no system and that its data can serve to correct and complete any system of knowledge, acquired in whatever way. But this is utterly false. Psychoanalysis has no a priori, conscious theory-system. Like Pavlov, Freud discovered too much to create an abstract system. But like Molière’s hero who, without suspecting it, spoke prose all his life, Freud, the investigator, created a system: introducing a new word, harmonizing one term with another, describing a new fact, drawing a new conclusion, he created, in passing and step by step, a new system. This implies that the structure of his system is unique, obscure, complex and very difficult to grasp. It is much easier to find one’s way in methodological systems which are deliberate, clear, and free from contradictions, which acknowledge their teachers and are unified and logically structured. It is much more difficult to correctly evaluate and reveal the true nature of unconscious methodologies which evolved spontaneously, in a contradictory way, under various influences. But it is precisely to the latter that psychoanalysis belongs. For this reason psychoanalysis requires a very careful and critical methodological analysis and not a naive superposition of the features of two different systems
Ivanovsky (1923, p. 249) says that “For a person who is not experienced in matters of scientific methodology all sciences seem to share the same method.” Psychology suffered most of all from such a misunderstanding. It was always counted as either biology or sociology and rarely were psychological laws, theories, etc., judged by the criterion of psychological methodology, i.e., with an interest in the thought of psychological science as such, its theory, its methodology, its sources, forms and foundations. That is why in our critique of foreign systems, in the evaluation of their truth, we lack what is most important: after all, it is only from an understanding of its methodological basis that we can correctly assess the extent to which knowledge has been corroborated and established beyond doubt (Ivanovsky, 1923). And the rule that one must doubt everything, take nothing on trust, ask each claim what it rests on and what is its source, is, therefore, the first rule and methodology of science. It safeguards us against an even grosser mistake – not only to consider the methods of all sciences to be equal, but to imagine that the structure of each science is uniform
The inexperienced mind imagines each separate science, so to speak, in one plane: given that science is reliable, indisputable knowledge, everything in it must be reliable. Its whole content must be obtained and proven by one and the same method which yields reliable knowledge. In reality this is not true at all: each science has its different facts (and groups of analogous facts) which have been established beyond doubt, its irrefutably established general claims and laws, but it also has pre-suppositions, hypotheses which sometimes have a temporary, provisional character and sometimes indicate the ultimate boundaries of our knowledge (at least for the given epoch); there are conclusions which follow more or less indisputably from firmly established theses; there are constructions which sometimes broaden the boundaries of our knowledge, sometimes form deliberately introduced ‘fictions’; there are analogies, approximate generalizations etc., etc. Science has no homogeneous structure and the understanding of this fact is of the greatest significance for a person’s understanding of science. Each different scientific thesis has its own individual degree of reliability depending upon the way and degree of its methodological foundation, and science, viewed methodologically, does not represent a single solid uniform surface, but a mosaic of theses of different degrees of reliability” (ibid., p. 250).
That is why (1) merging the method of all sciences (Einstein, Pavlov, Comte, Marx) and (2) reducing the entire heterogeneous structure of the scientific system to one plane, to a “single solid uniform surface,” comprise the main mistakes of the second way of fusing two systems. To reduce personality to money; cleanliness, stubbornness and a thousand other, heterogeneous things to anal erotics (Luria,1925), is not yet monism. And with regard to its nature and degree of reliability it is a fundamental error to mix up this thesis with the principles of materialism. The principle that follows from this thesis, the general idea behind it, its methodological meaning, the method of investigation prescribed by it, are deeply conservative: like the convict to his wheelbarrow, the character in psychoanalysis is chained to childhood erotics. Human life is in its inner essence predetermined by childhood conflicts. It is all the overcoming of the Oedipal conflict, etc. Culture and the life of mankind are again brought close to primitive life. [But] it is a first indispensable condition for analysis to be able to distinguish the first apparent meaning of a fact from its real meaning. By no means do I want to say that everything in psychoanalysis contradicts Marxism. I only want to say that I am in principle not dealing with this question at all. I am only pointing out how we should (methodologically) and should not (uncritically) fuse two systems of ideas.
With an uncritical approach, everybody sees what he wants to see and not what is: the Marxist finds monism, materialism, and dialectics in psychoanalysis, which is not there; the physiologist, like Lenz (1922, p. 69), holds that “psychoanalysis is a system which is psychological in name only; in reality it is objective, physiological.” And the methodologist Binswanger remarks in his work dedicated to Freud, as the only one amongst the psychoanalysts it seems, that precisely the psychological in his conception, i.e., the anti-physiological, constitutes Freud’s merit in psychiatry. But he adds [1922, p. v] that “this knowledge does not know itself yet, i.e., it has no insight into its own conceptual foundations, its logos.”
That is why it is especially difficult to study knowledge that has not yet become aware of itself and its own logos. This does by no means imply, of course, that Marxists should not study the unconscious because Freud’s basic concepts contradict dialectical materialism. On the contrary, precisely because the area elaborated by psychoanalysis is elaborated with inadequate means it must be conquered for Marxism. It must be elaborated with the means of a genuine methodology, for otherwise, if everything in psychoanalysis would coincide with Marxism, psychologists might develop it in their quality as psychoanalysts and not as Marxists. And for this elaboration one must first take account of the methodological nature of each idea, each thesis. And under this condition the most metapsychological ideas can be interesting and instructive, for example, Freud’s doctrine of the death drive.
In the preface which I wrote for the translation of Freud’s book on this theme, I attempted to show that the fictitious construct of a death drive – despite the whole speculative nature of this thesis, the not very convincing nature of the factual confirmations (traumatic neurosis and the repetition of unpleasant experiences in children’s play), its giddy paradoxical nature and the contradiction of generally accepted biological ideas, its conclusions which obviously coincide with the philosophy of the Nirvana, despite all this and despite the whole artificial nature of the concept – satisfies the need of modern biology to master the idea of death, just like mathematics in its time needed the concept of the negative number. I adduced the thesis that the concept of life has been carried to great clarity in biology, science has mastered it, it knows how to work with it, how to investigate and understand living matter. But it cannot yet cope with the concept of death. Instead of this concept we have a gaping hole, an empty spot. Death is merely seen as the contradictory opposite of life, as not-life, in short, as non-being. But death is a fact that has its positive sense as well, it is a special type of being and not merely non-being. It is a specific something and not absolutely nothing. And biology does not know this positive sense of death. Indeed, death is a universal law for living matter. One cannot imagine that this phenomenon would in no way be represented in the organism, i.e., in the processes of life. It is hard to believe that death would have no sense or just a negative sense.
Engels [1925/1978, p. 554] expresses a similar opinion. He refers to Hegel’s opinion that only that philosophy can count as scientific that considers death to be an essential aspect of life and understands that the negation of life is essentially contained in life itself, so that life can be understood in relation to its inevitable result which is continually present in embryonic form: death. The dialectical understanding of life entails no more than that. “To live means to die.”
It was precisely this idea that I defended in the mentioned preface to Freud’s book: the need for biology to master the concept of death from a fundamental viewpoint and to designate this still unknown entity which no doubt exists – let it be with the algebraic “x” or the paradoxical “death drive” – and which represents the tendency towards death in the processes of the organism. Despite this I did not declare Freud’s solution to this equation to be a highway in science or a road for all of us, but an Alpine mountain track above the precipice for those free of vertigo. I stated that science needs such books as well: they do not reveal the truth, but teach us the search for truth, although they have not yet found it. I also resolutely said that the importance of this book does not depend upon the factual confirmation of its reliability: in principle it asks the right question. And for the statement of such questions, I said, one needs sometimes more creativity than for the umpteenth standard observation in whatever science (see pp. 13-15 of Van der Veer and Valsiner, 1994).
And the judgment of one of the reviewers of this book showed a complete lack of understanding of the methodological problem, a full trust in the external features of ideas, a naive and uncritical fear of the physiology of pessimism. He decided on the spot that if it is Schopenhauer, it must be pessimism. He did not understand that there are problems that one cannot approach flying, but that one must approach on foot, limping, and that in such cases it is no shame to limp, as Freud [1920/1973, p. 64] openly says. But he, who only sees lameness here, is methodologically blind. For it would not be difficult to show that Hegel is an idealist, it is proclaimed from the housetops. But it needed genius to see in this system an idealism that stood materialism on its head, i.e., to distinguish the methodological truth (dialectics) from the factual falsehood, to see that Hegel went limping towards the truth.
This is but a single example of the path towards the mastery of scientific ideas: one must rise above their factual content and test their fundamental nature. But for this one needs to have a buttress outside these ideas. Standing upon these ideas with both feet, operating with concepts gathered by means of them, it is impossible to situate oneself outside of them. In order to critically regard a foreign system; one must first of all have one’s own psychological system of principles. To judge Freud by means of principles obtained from Freud himself implies a vindication in advance. And such an attempt to appropriate foreign ideas forms the third type of combining ideas to which we will now turn.
Again it is easiest to disclose and demonstrate the character of the new methodological approach with a single example. In Pavlov’s laboratory it was attempted to experimentally solve the problem of the transformation of trace-conditional stimulii and trace conditional inhibitors into actual conditional stimuli. For this one must “banish the inhibition” established through the trace reflex. How to do this? In order to reach this goal, Pavlov resorted to an analogy with some of the methods of Freud’s school. Trying to destroy the stable inhibitory complexes, he exactly recreated the situation in which these complexes were originally established. And the experiment succeeded. I consider the methodological technique at the basis of this experiment to be an example of the right approach to Freud’s theme and to claims by others in general. Let us try to describe this technique. First of all, the problem was raised in the course of Pavlov’s own investigations of the nature of internal inhibition. The task was framed, formulated, and understood in the light of his principles. The theoretical theme of the experimental work and its significance were conceived of in the concepts of Pavlov’s school. We know what a trace reflex is and we also know what an actual reflex is. To transform the one into the other means to banish inhibition etc., i.e., the whole mechanism of the process we understand in entirely specific and homogeneous categories. The value of the analogy with catharsis was merely heuristic: it shortened the path of Pavlov’s experiments and led to the goal in the shortest way possible. But it was only accepted as an assumption that was immediately verified experimentally. And after the solution of his own task the author came to the third and final conclusion that the phenomena described by Freud can be experimentally tested upon animals and should be analyzed in more detail via the method of conditional salivary reflexes.
To verify Freud via Pavlov’s ideas is totally different from verifying them via his own ideas; and this possibility as well was established not through analysis, but through the experiment. What is most important is that the author, when confronted with phenomena analogous to those described by Freud’s school, did not for one moment step onto foreign territory, did not rely on other people’s data, but used them to carry through his own investigation. Pavlov’s discovery has its significance, value, place and meaning in his own system, not in Freud’s. The two circles touch at the point of intersection of both systems, the point where they meet, and this one point belongs to both at the same time. But its place, sense and value is determined by its position in the first system. A new discovery was made in this investigation, a new fact was found, a new trait was studied – but it was all in the[framework of the] theory of conditional reflexes and not in psychoanalysis. In this way each “almost miraculous” coincidence disappeared!
One has only to compare this with the purely verbal way Bekhterev [1932, p.413] comes to a similar evaluation of the idea of catharsis for the system of re flexology, to see the deep difference between these two procedures. Here the interrelation of the two systems is also first of all based on catharsis, i.e.,
discharge of a ‘strangulated’ affect or an inhibited mimetic-somatic impulse. Is not this the discharge of a reflex which, when inhibited, oppresses the personality, shackles and diseases it, while, when there is discharge of the reflex (catharsis), naturally the pathological condition disappears? Is not the weeping out of a sorrow the discharge of an impeded reflex?
Here every word is a pearl. A mimetic-somatic impulse – what can be more clear or precise? Avoiding the language of subjective psychology, Bekhterev is not squeamish about philistine language, which hardly makes Freud’s term any clearer. How did this inhibited reflex “oppress” the personality, shackle it? Why is the wept-out sorrow the discharge of an inhibited reflex? What if a person weeps in the very moment of sorrow? Finally, elsewhere it is claimed that thought is an inhibited reflex, that concentration is connected with the inhibition of a nervous current and is accompanied by conscious phenomena. Oh salutary inhibition! It explains conscious phenomena in one chapter and unconscious ones in the next!
All this clearly indicates the theme with which we started this section: in the problem of the unconscious one must distinguish between a methodological and an empirical problem, i.e., between a psychological problem and the problem for psychology. The uncritical combination of both problems leads to a gross distortion of the whole matter. The symposium on the unconscious showed that a fundamental solution of this matter transcends the boundaries of empirical psychology and is directly tied to general philosophical convictions. Whether we accept with Brentano that the unconscious does not exist, or with Munsterberg that it is simply physiology, or with Sehubert – Soldern that it is an epistemologically indispensable category, or with Freud that it is sexual – in all these cases our argumentation and conclusions transcend the boundaries of empirical psychology.
Among the Russian authors it is Dale who emphasizes the epistemological motives which led to the formation of the concept of the unconscious. In his opinion it is precisely the attempt to defend the independence of psychology as an explanatory science against the usurpation of physiological methods and principles that is the basis of this concept. The demand to explain the mental from the mental, and not from the physical, that psychology in the analysis and description of the facts should stay itself, within its own boundaries, even if this implied that one had to enter the path of broad hypotheses – this is what gave rise to the concept of the unconscious. Dale observes that psychological constructions or hypotheses are no more than the theoretical continuation of the description of homogeneous phenomena in one and the same independent system of reality. The tasks of psychology and theoretical-epistemological demands require that it fight the usurpationist attempts of physiology by means of the unconscious. Mental life proceeds with interruptions, it is full of gaps. What happens with consciousness during sleep, with reminiscences that we do not now recollect, with ideas of which we are not consciously aware at the moment? In order to explain the mental from the mental, in order not to turn to another domain of phenomena – physiology – to fill the pauses, gaps and blanks in mental life, we must assume that they continue to exist in a special form: as the unconscious mental. Stern [1919, pp. 241-243] as well develops such a conception of the unconscious as both an essential assumption and a hypothetical continuation and complement to mental experience.
Dale distinguishes two aspects of the problem: the factual and the hypothetical or methodological, which determines the epistemological or methodological value of the category of the unconscious for psychology. Its task is to clarify the meaning of this concept, the domain of phenomena it covers, and its role for psychology as an explanatory science. Following Jerusalem , for the author it is first of all a category or a way of thinking which is indispensable in the explanation of mental life. Apart from that, it is also a specific area of phenomena. He is completely right in saying that the unconscious is a concept created on the basis of indisputable mental experience and its necessary hypothetical completion. Hence the very complex nature of each statement operating with this concept: in each statement one must distinguish what comes from the data of indisputable mental experience, what comes from the hypothetical completion, and what is the degree of reliability of both. In the critical works examined above, the two things, both sides of the problem, have been mixed up: hypothesis and fact, principle and empirical observation, fiction and law, construction and generalization – it is all lumped together
Most important of all is the fact that the main question was left out of consideration. Lenz and Luria assure Freud that psychoanalysis is a physiological system. But Freud himself belongs to the opponents of a physiological conception of the unconscious. Dale is completely right in saying that this question of the psychological or physiological nature of the unconscious is the primarily, most important phase of the whole problem. Before we describe and classify the phenomena of the unconscious for psychological purposes, we must know whether we are operating with something physiological or with something mental. We must prove that the unconscious in fact is a mental reality. In other words, before we turn to the solution of the problem of the unconscious as a psychological problem, we must first solve it as the problem for psychology.