FREUD

Richard Wollheim

Fontana, London, 1971


That this is a philosopher's study of Freud may be apparent from a certain unworldliness in the face of questions of energy. With the general aim of expounding an extolling Freud's theories, Wollheim makes a dutiful nod to physics in this passage, but otherwise quite uncritically recounts the rather un-physical behaviour of energy in the mind:

"there is energy or quantity, known as Q, whose flow through this network [of neurons] is governed by the laws of physical motion. The working principle of this model is that of 'neurotic inertia', or the Constancy Principle, according to which the apparatus has a tendency to divest itself of energy, or to reduce tension, where tension is identified with the accumulation of energy. From the Constancy Principle we can, however, immediately infer a difference within the neurones, between sensory neurones, which receive stimulation, and motor neurones, which control movement or action. For energy arises from stimuli and it is got rid of, or discharged, through motor activity, of which the preferred form is flight." (p.45)

We are apparently to suppose that the energy for flight, the "preferred form" (?) of motor activity, is derived from stimuli, rather than, say, food.

Recounting the idea that some neurons constitute a store of energy, or, to use the jargon, are 'cathected', he explains that,

"From this fund energy is sent out to various parts of the system as and when it is wanted: sometimes to boost the flow of energy, sometimes... to retard or control it. (p.48)

Note the view, pre- information theory, that what would be needed was conduits for energy to be piped here and there as in some old pumping machine.

To end on a more positive, if austere, note, Wollheim draws attention to one of Freud's more admirable views:

"There are few things that so effectively divide him from our own more enthusiastic age as his refusal to believe that it is in any way the mark of a good or generous mind to give way to hope. On the contrary, Freud thought that mankind collectively had most to fear from the phenomenon of 'illusion': that is to say, from beliefs moulded by wishes." (p.220)


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Paul Taylor 2002