A Problem of Scientific Influence
B. Burgoyne and Darian Leader

Authors’ Bios

In October 1895, Freud completed a work that has since been given a multiplicity of titles by its various editors. This nameless work remained unpublished for fifty-five years before receiving a first name, given by the editors of the original German publication: Princess Marie Bonaparte, Anna Freud, and Ernst Kris. The baldness of this first baptizing led to their choice being subsequently abandoned, but the original title under which Freud’s Project made its name in the world was Entwurf einer Psychologie – “Project for a Psychology”. Already however, in this 1950 edition, the editors were drawing attention to the similarity of theme, and probability of influence, between Freud’s work and a text published in 1894 by Freud’s teacher and colleague, Sigmund Exner: “Project for a Psychological Interpretation of Psychical Phenomena”. The term “project” which is common to both titles is lost in the current Spanish translation of Freud’s Works, where the Exner work is translated as “Intento de explication…” and in this willingness to ignore words, the translators follow in the footsteps of the 1954 English translation, where the Exner title appeared as “Outline of a Physiological Explanation…”. The relation between psychology and physiology in these two works has been fairly inadequately treated: there are a number of complex problems involved, none of which lead to the commonly made assumption that physiology has priority over psychology in Freud’s text. In a tradition that tends to rely on science only as a source of authority, physiology is often treated as a synonym for the scientific base of psychological research, yet it is clear that the physiological work of Freud’s colleagues is unintelligible without the consideration of detailed philosophical assumptions and arguments that are germane to their work. The hypothesis that such a scientific orientation was adopted, and then soon left behind by Freud misrepresents the problems of science that Freud was grappling with; and distorts any proper perspectives on the subsequent development of his work. The theme of a scientific psychology, so lacking in these variant titles, reopens the field of problems that enable one to grasp the conceptual framework of nineteenth century German psychology, and to bring to light the way in which desire is the real problematic of Freud’s Project. Standard categories such as ‘mechanism’, ‘materialism’, ‘biologism’, or ‘psychophysics’ are impotent in the face of the problem of reconstructing the real nature of the influences on Freud’s work, and help only in eliminating from the Freud literature the key variable of desire.

The 1950 editors had named the Project by taking Freud’s own words – in a truncated form: the phrase that Freud uses in the introductory preamble to his work is “it is the intention of this project to provide a scientific psychology”, and it is this fuller phrase that James Strachey chose to reinstate for his 1954 English translation: “Project for a Scientific Psychology”. It was the dual theme thus resuscitated that created the earliest style of interpretation of Freud’s project during the 1950s: the aim of the Project according to these schools was to create a scientific theory of the mind, based on the kind of physiological principles found in Exner. Implicitly, this orientation is followed in the Spanish translation of the Project, which in addition reverts to yet another title for Freud’s work – this time one formed by a criss-crossing of themes, picking up the term “project” from the beginning of the work, and conjoining it to a phrase used in a letter to Fliess, “the psychology for neurologists”. This obscures the problem of the nature of science, and in particular the problem of the variety of the scientific programmes adopted by Freud, and their possible coherence. Jones represents this tradition, when he says of the Project in his 1953 biography of Freud, “one suspects that an important immediate stimulus” was Exner’s Project; James Strachey represents the end of its domination when he says in the commentary to his second translation of the Project, prepared for volume One of the Standard Edition in 1966 that the aims of the project can be compared “with Exner (1894), with a similar title and a similar programme, very differently carried out”.

The equating of the aims of Exner’s programme with those of Freud’s has produced also a secondary gain. Both in Freud’s time and in ours, the stress on problems of the body at the expense of consideration of relations between the body and the mind has paradoxically had the effect of desexualizing the motives of psychoanalysis: as Freud reports in his Introductory Lectures, the triumphant discovery of the theme of childbirth as an underlying leitmotif in many cases of hysteria provided those authorities who were looking for it with the semblance of a refutation of Freud’s general theory of sex. The physiological reductionist is generally led to the same conclusion about psychoanalysis: “there’s nothing sexual about childbirth”.

The sexual nature of feeding at the breast has recently been denied by an author attempting to provide a “comprehensive intellectual biography” of Freud, and the grounds for the denial turn out to be that Freud was supposedly a “crypto-biologist”, influenced by “psychophysics”, and thus unable to avoid the distortion of clinical findings by this prior commitment to metaphysics. Such absurdities are fairly common in the literature that tries to construct programmes of influence on Freud’s work, thereby hoping to tame Freud’s clinical work by subjecting it to a world-view. In Sulloway’s case, this search for influencing “myths” leads him to attempt to describe the Project in some detail, without making one single reference to desire. The problem of desire is juggled away by a large proportion of authors writing on the Project. Perhaps it is time to center the question of influence on this question of the place of desire.

In Strachey’s revised translation, the frequent references to desire (”Begierde”) in the German original of Freud’s text are always rendered by the term “craving”. Why Strachey opted for this avoidance of desire is unclear: the hypothesis that he preferred to censor terms that he took to be redolent of Hollywood in favor of terms that he took to be allusive of science, is as likely as any. Clearly a problem at issue is of how to iquestions of the nature of desire within a scientific theory – and it precisely this embarrassment that led to the invention of the “schools of influence” put forward by interpreters of Freud’s work in the 1950s. Siegfried Bernfeld’s important papers of the late 1940s set the initial terms of the debate. His labeling of a tradition within the’ German scientific tradition as “the Helmholtz School of Medicine” set the fashion for a historiography founded on “schools”; it has subsequently been shown in numerous articles, that there was simply no such thing as a school of Helmholtz. Those writers who uncritically adopted Bernfeld’s term were led to the relative discounting of the “schools of Naturphilosophie” and of “vitalism” present in nineteenth century German science. This in turn led many commentators to assume that well-established explanatory categories were readily available, and that, for the most part, they were made up of taditions local to the circumstances of Freud’s writing, and as often as not created in the work of his colleagues. Jones, for example, claims to spot the influence of the “Helmholtz-Brucke school…powerfully reinforced by Meynert”, whilst using this orientation to speculate that the term “quantity… is probably derived from Breuer”. Now there is no doubt that this term “quantity” derives from the German psychologist who first introduced the idea that the structure of the mind underlying the production of the qualities of experience is amenable to the language of mathematics, Johann Friedrich Herbart, who had these themes from the very beginning of the nineteenth century. That Jones is oblivious of this merely indicates that the pioneering work of Maria Dorer, which he cites, on the immense influence on Freud of Herbart, has been largely unread. The theme of the relation of Freud and Herbart had first been introduced by Louise von Karpinska, in 1914, but Dorer’s book produced an extensive development of Karpinska’s claim, detailing common themes in Herbart and Freud at length. The topics she works on include the following herbartian concepts – threshold of consciousness; repression; the generation of a field of forces from the conflictual interaction of mental representations; the corresponding interrelation of the domains of quality and quanta and quantity; the energy of free and bound representations; inhibition; the relation of drives to instincts; the narrowness of consciousness, and its dependency on mental representations; the determination the ego through the conflict between repressed and unrepressed representations; the dependency of perception, observation, reproduction and affect on the domain of representations; the notion of rows and networks of representations, and the dependency of the concepts of space and time on these networks; the concepts of good and bad in drive functioning, the partial working of the nervous system; and desire and affect as determined by the conflict and tension within the network of representations. Affect, by the way, Herbart understood as the “ending of peace of mind” brought about by the conflictual effect of the network of representations on the body, and on the structure of the mind. All of these themes therefore, were understood to be part of the influence of Herbart on Freud, by anyone familiar with Dorer’s work, and within the psychoanalytical tradition, from as early as 1932. It is common in the modern literature for this work of Dorer’s to be saluted as a significant source, without any detailed reference to the content of her arguments, as is done, for instance, in the Doctoral thesis of Lothar Julicher. So the real tradition of Herbart has not had any effective influence in the contemporary formulations of the problem of the relation of physiological and psychological variables in Freud’s work. Jones, in his Freud biography, seems confused about all of these influences. He talks about the “slight volume” by Dorer, and contrasts it to the “huge tome” by Exner. Both of these writings are in fact comparable to a book of normal length, and given that some German psychology texts of the 1890’s extend to well over a thousand pages, there is something clearly amiss with Jones’s standards of comparison.

What any of these later commentators could have noticed, if they had attended to it, is that Herbart is emphatic in claiming that psychology, in the mathematical mode that he gives it, is a grounding for the sciences of space and time, and that physiology in particular is a derivative of psychology. There thus appears the opposite motive from that proclaimed by Exner in his title. The mathematician Riemann, in particular, could have enlightened readers of the Jones history as to the most appropriate formulation of the study of quantity in Herbart’s psychology. Riemann took the mind to be subjected to the dynamics of representations (Vorstellungen), governed by a herbartian calculus, “the psychic-masses occurring in the soul appear to us as representations: their varying internal state determines the changing qualities of these representations”. The “reproduction of a representation” Riemann took to be the most general and “simplest” element of the subsequent theory of thinking, and the further development of these theories led both Riemann and Herbart to develop a theory of the mental space of representations. In his Psychologie als Wissenschaft of 1824, Herbart writes: “psychological phenomena are not in space, but space itself…The question is not where sensations come from, but how sensations acquire the from of space”, and apart from the work of Gauss on geometry, these hervartian motives are the only antecedents cited by Riemann in the programme of work which was to become its own non-Euclidean formulation of a new basis for the theory of space. Psychologists such as Helmholtz were clearly aware of this development, and hence cognizant of the orientation or Herbart’s program. The main text in which the outlines of Herbart’ s program are announced is this Psychology as Science, a title in fact much closer to Freud’s themes of 1895 than are the phrases of Exner’s tome. Compare the openings of the two books: Herbart’s Psychology as a Science starts with the following preamble: – Die Absicht dieses werkes… The intention of this work lies in bringing about an investigation of the mind similar to the researches of the natural sciences … and to trace mental phenomena through an examination of the facts, through careful conclusions, through reasoned, proved, determined hypotheses, finally – where it can be done – through the consideration of quantities, and through reckoning.” Freud’s project starts with the following phrases: Es ist die Absicht dieses Entwurfs… It is the intention of this project to produce a psychology that is like a natural science, that is to say, to represent psychical processes as quantitatively determined states of specifiable material parts, and thereby to present them in a demonstrable and consistent way.”

So where can Freud have found these herbartian themes? There exist in the literature various tales about the sources of Freud’s knowledge of Herbart, but they seem fairly mythical. However, one which has not yet to our knowledge been indicated in the literature is Wilhelm Fridolin Velkmann von Volkmar, the fourth edition of whose psychology text appeared in two volumes in 1894 and 1895. Freud is mentioned in this 94/95 edition, as is Breuer, and it would seem probable that Freud knew of the work for this reason alone. Quite independently of this, Freud would have encountered Volkmann’s work through his contacts with Brentano. In the 1874 and later editions of Brentano’s psychology text, Volkmann is mentioned as a herbartian: indeed Volkmann changed the title of his book radically on its second edition in 1875, paralleling the title chosen by Brentano, so there are some grounds for believing that Volkmann saw his book as contesting the same field as that covered by Brentano, but from a different “standpoint”, this second standpoint being the program developed by Herbart.

So what does this display? The conjuring away of desire we have shown to be implicit in the program of physiological reduction of Freud’s work. The other side of this coinage is apparent when the content of Volkmann’s herbartian program is investigated: in this work, the theme of desire is ubiquitous. There are clearly themes of desire in Freud’s Dream-book and also in his Project, but there is only one reference to Herbart in the former, where Freud quotes from the 1892 re-issue of Herbart’s Collected Works. The text he refers to is Herbart’s Psychology as a Science, and the [text is lost] statement in such terms seems more scientific”. Volkmann was certainly concerned with the problem of psychology as a science, but as a preliminary, he took it that a study of the construction of the concepts of space and time was necessary, and that this study; was to be based on the functioning of Vorstellungen. The consequence of this particular dynamics of the mind would include a theory of the representation of the body, an account of the localization and projection of sensation, a theory of the external object, of perception, of sense-deception, and of hallucination. Moreover, Volkmann moves from this to an account of the ego viewed from three orientations: the ego as a sensational and desiring body, as a reproducing and desiring inner structure, and as a thinking and willing subject. The themes he raises in this account are the problem of inner perception, and self-consciousness and attention, and the thematic of abnormalities of the ego. He concludes with an account of thinking and desire, in particular the themes of concept, judgment, and deduction, and the relation of emotion and affect to Vorstellung, sensation, and thinking. Under the investigation of the structure of desire he includes the concept and varieties of desire, and their relation to the concept of satisfaction, the relation of satisfaction to Vorstellungen and to affect, the question of the interaction of desires, and the bearing of this problem on the distinction between drive and instinct. The final themes of the book constitute formulations of the problems in the relation of freedom, reason, passion and action. The earlier themes had included the questions of mediated and unmediated Vorstellungs-dynamics, the relation of old Vorstellungen to newly acquired ones, the fixation of Vorstellungen, the function of sleep, and the interaction of mind and body. Reflex movement, instinctual movement, and the transformations brought about by the development of speech, are investigated in the context of the question of the functioning of memory and imagination, and in particular the dream as a function of unmediated reproduction, and the general ability of a mathematical psychology to analyze the whole of these notions. The famous list of “24 themes” which Jones gives as his summary of the Project, together with the whole of Jones’s gloss on these themes, can best be fitted into the volkmannian scheme, rather than into some physiologized “scientific” schemata.

The formulations of desire in the herbartian tradition owe their construction to Herbart’s debt to Leibniz. The action of an internal principle “which effectuates the change or the passage from one perception to another”, is taken by Herbart to constitute the notion of the displacement of one Vorstellung towards, or away from, another representation, which process he takes to be the operation of desire. It is this tradition which leads Volkmann to talk of the “release of the tension” of desire in relation to the experience of satisfaction, a notion recapitulated in Freud’s Project, where Freud writes “the tension of desire dominates in the ego”. Now, not only are the terms desire and wish often interchanged and regularly misrepresented in other ways by translators of the Project, but this particular statement appears regurgitated in the French translation as “une aspiration ardente cree dans le moi une certaine tension”, and in the first of Strachey’s two translations as “the craving involves a state of tension in the ego” – a version faithfully and literally repeated in the Spanish translation. That the tension is not in the ego but within the structure of desire, and that the ego is dominated by this state of desire are two immediate consequences of Freud’s text, both lost completely in these translations. That the desire is generative of states of wishing, and of expectation, as well as of all forms of thinking, is something that we can only expect to be garbled in most existing translations. We hope that it is clear from these comments that any translation undertaken from within the herbartian tradition would have felt no temptation to produce such tamperings with Freud’s text.

The theory of the ego in Herbart is constructed on the notion that the antagonism between Vorstellungen needs to produce the transcendence (Aufhebung) of a Vorstellung as a prerequisite to the functioning of the ego. This is developed into a distinction between mediated and unmediated reproduction of Vorstellungen, and the notion of mediated reproduction in Herbart seems to bear exactly upon the notion introduced by Freud in the Project under the heading of “reproductive thinking”. Herbart’s description of this process is as follows: “a complex a + αis reproduced by means of a new perception which is similar to a”, whereupon this complex finds itself opposed by a complex a + β where β is antagonistic to α: an example of this being the following the perception of a trout brings to mind the complex of a fishing-holiday where one catches trout; this comes into conflict with the complex attaching to the trout of the need to work, which inhibits the affect-less presentation of the first complex. Herbart’s comment is that “the α is the source of an unpleasant feeling, which may pass over into desire, namely towards the through – α -reproduced object, in cases where the inhibition through β is weaker than the push from α”. The formulation in Freud is the following: first the primary succession of association is determined as taking place in the absence of antagonistic interaction with other invested neurones. Secondly, the process of reproductive thinking is constructed as a secondary process, operating through the conflict between investments. Thirdly, the

Herbart example of the two complexes a + α, a + β, is congruent to Freud’s presentation of the two complexes a + b, a + c in reproductive thinking. The most famous instantiation of this is given by Freud in terms of the child’s relation to the breast: the complex a + b is the wished for perception of the breast-with presented-nipple, and if a + c is the presentation of the breast-allowing-adverse- access, then a + c mayor may not allow a path to be traveled from it towards a representation of the desired-object. In this field of the relation of Vorstellung and desire, Freud and Herbart regularly turn out to be attempting to solve the same problem.

What then is the problem of desire? The antagonism between representations in Herbart is prior to the construction of the ego, just as the tension of desire is given priority by Freud over the functionings of the ego. As a consequence, the dialectic of desire exists for both authors on a level that is presupposed in object- relations, and this is very unfortunate for any reading that wants to set up the ego as an autonomous zone, free from such conflicts. It is in these same texts that one finds the claim that the ego is structured as a symptom: “(the particular characteristics of hysterical compulsion) hyper-intense representations confer on the ego its special properties”. It can be seen that” in these circumstances, most of the classical theories of thinking devised within the traditions of philosophy, are challenged by such results from within the domain of psychology and psychoanalysis. No world-view can govern psychoanalysis, since thinking, and particularly scientific thinking, is subject to the results flowing from its domain. Hence, it seems, Freud set out to write the Project, and hence, it seems, he worked within the psychological tradition of Herbart.

Still, the “Helmholtz tradition” was meant to be a powerful image within the field of science, and some authors are still convinced by it. There is still a prevalent notion in the history of the life sciences that science takes over from philosophy, and this attitude is exemplified by Holt’s remark that the Project was “a) 1 ambitious attempt to be as scientific, in the nineteenth-century helmholtzian sense, as possible, which meant to be rigorously materialistic and mechanistic”. In the Bernfeld myth, the Helmholtz position is presented as an assertion of the dominance of physiology, whereas those who were working closely with Helmholtz were aware that the relation between psychology and physiology constituted a problem, to which duBois- Reymond’s extremism represented an infuriated reaction of impotence. The confusion, however, as regards the nature and prestige of science, is long-standing. Even Merz, in his turn-of-the- century classic survey of European thought, says “Muller’s school has the merit of having … chased away the vague notions of the older metaphysical school, and diffused the truly scientific spirit”. However, Merz has at least the merit of identifying a school associated with the program of Johannes Muller, Helmholtz’s teacher, and unlike the Bernfeld construction, this interpretation at least has some historical basis. Metz also indicates the falsity of the view that “there only remained mechanism and materialism” for the German scientist of this period: “it is well known”, he says “that none of the great men to whom we are indebted for the real extension of our knowledge of biological phenomena favored or embraced this view”. As Cohen and Elkana point out, in their edition of Helmholtz’s Epistemological Writings, the supposedly anti-metaphysical Helmholtz of the 1840s – the base for the school of Helmholtz’s mythology introduced by Bernfeld – represents an image of German science very far from the actual preoccupations that governed Helmholtz in his work. The Kantian introduction originally intended to preface Hemhortz’s 1847 paper ‘On The Conservation of Force’ was omitted from the paper only on the advice of duBois-Reymond, and however much Bernfeld may have been taken by the resulting myth, Freud could hardly have been similarly deceived: “most of the discarded material” seems to have been included in the lecture given by Helmholtz for the Anniversary Celebrations of the University of Berlin: The Facts in Perception, given in 1878, and published in 1884 in the popular edition of Helmholtz’s works.

These issues are complex; and some – such as the warfare between the research-programs of vitalism and materialism are beyond the scope of the problem of the direct influences on Freud’s Project. Some others however, have fairly direct consequences for the nature of Freud’s work: there is for instance some gain to be had in replacing the problem of the relation of the “Helmholtz school” and Freud, by the problem of the relation of Freud to Helmholtz.

Helmholtz – in The Facts in Perception – takes Locke as the authority on the relation between “our corporeal and mental make-up”. Moritz Schlick – in his notes to the 1921 edition of this work – refers the general distinction of quantity and quality, in its turn, to Locke and Galileo. Now, such philosophical and scientific traditions are regularly referred to by Herbart and Volkmann, and indeed it is largely their school that is responsible for the maintenance of problem-traditions of this kind. In this sense, there is a community of tradition between the herbartian school and the program of Helmholtz; the whole problematic of Vorstellungen, in particular, is best raised in such a context. Helmholtz, in his Berlin address, develops his consideration of Vorstellungen to the following point: “the representation (Vorstellung) of different things…one beside another, can in this manner be acquired”. At this point it is clear that Helmholtz takes the study of space and time to be a derivative of the study of Vorstellungen, since “one beside another” is a spatial concept, and he takes it to be such. In fact, he goes further, since he makes clear in this respect his reliance on Riemann: “Thus it is not a linear sequence, but a surface-like ‘one beside another’, or in Riempnn’s terminology “a second-order manifold”. This sort of consideration is called by Helmholtz “metamathematical”, and he is aware that in accepting the term, he is placing his studies within a contemporary debate about the relation of mind and space: “The name ‘metamathematical’ was of course bestowed in all ironical sense by opponents, and modeled upon metaphysics. But … we may very well accept the name”.

Considerations of topology and surface may seem difficult, but they have been accepted by the proponents of theories of perception ‘as germane to the formulation of issues in this field since the time of the Greeks. Freud is working within this tradition in the Project, as can be seen from a study like Koppe of neurone, synapse, and contact-barrier where a dialectic of topological nearness and energetic investment is displayed as being essential to the question of localization and nearness in the psychic structure. Effectively what is being claimed in this tradition is that a study of topological space is intrinsic to an analysis of the structure of the mind. Only in such a way, it seems, are the real problems of the relations of science and philosophy, of psychology and physiology, of body and mind, developed rather than rendered more obscure. This pathway to analysis was of, course taken by Jacques Lacan, at many junctures in his work. It is being further developed by his school – as recent articles by Nathalie Charraud demonstrate. The continuation of this work can be hoped to establish what in reality was the content of the program of Helmholtz, and of Freud.