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Reich, W. (1924). General: Paul Schilder. Das Unbewusste. Zeitschrift für die gesamten Neurologie und Psychiatrie, 1922. Bd. 80.. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 5:471-474.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: General: Paul Schilder. Das Unbewusste. Zeitschrift für die gesamten Neurologie und Psychiatrie, 1922. Bd. 80.
(1924). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 5:471-474
The author examines the psychic unconscious from various angles. He considers its relation to the sense-organs and its function of objectivity (Gegenstandsfunktion), and he discusses the part it plays in the impressions produced by experiences undergone by the subject, and in 'that form of automatism which assumes bodily shape'. He is evidently thinking throughout only of the physical, the non-psychic. Further, he touches on the unconscious as shown at work in various psychic experiences: in actual experience, in experiences on a lower level of consciousness, in the Freudian unconscious (in the systematic sense), and in the forgotten past. According to Schilder all these psychic experiences are conscious, though 'in a peculiar mode' which he calls 'spheric' (sphärisch): 'It will be seen that I uphold the thesis which, according to Freud, is untenable, namely, that everything psychic is conscious'.
The author does not call in question the individual facts from which was deduced the psycho-analytical concept of the unconscious (= the repressed). On the contrary, he asserts: 'The sphere is identical with Freud's system Ubw'. When, as here, a writer recognizes the individual facts which form the basis of a certain theory, yet regarding a given phenomenon from a different point of view, reduces to a different formula
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the subject of his observation, we require that the new theory shall demonstrate its right to existence. If fresh heuristic possibilities or practical consequences can be indicated they may be accepted as adequate proof.
Schilder's exposition of the unconscious is largely based, in so far as he deals with the unconscious in the psycho-analytical sense at all, on investigations into the evolution of thought. He posits that all thought is the result of a biological disposition, that is to say, of an instinct. From the purely phenomenological standpoint he describes the mode of existence (Gegebenheitsweise) of all that is objective as follows: 'Every image, everything objective, lies in a sphere which comprehends all that is essentially similar to, or partially identical with, that object. Further, in that sphere is included everything which has at any time by virtue of our individual experience approximated in time or space to that object. That which appertains to an image or a concept may be designated its sphere. Every experience will in the first instance evoke a response in the sphere as a whole. … Every thought, every image which emerges, follows an intention (Intention), a biological disposition. The sphere indicates roughly the general trend of that disposition; the finished concept corresponds to an ultimate biological goal. … Where hindrances to the attainment of such biological goals present themselves the intention remains confined within the sphere, never reaching its proper goal, but only one which is associatively akin to it'. Here we have the correct translation into terms of phenomena of the processes of repression and displacement.
It follows from this that repression in Freud's sense would have the additional function of inhibiting the development of thought; thought would remain on the most primitive level, i.e. embedded in the sphere. Thus, for example, a repressed name might yet be represented in consciousness by the feeling of having it 'on the tip of one's tongue'. In such a case the analyst says that the name is repressed in the systematic sense, that is to say, unconscious, and against this statement no objection could be urged. Nor can exception be taken to the assumption that traces of a thought which fully unfolds itself only after many hours of analysis did already exist at a very early stage in the process. We may assume, too, that patients of some practice in self-observation could communicate to us much more of the content of their consciousness from moment to moment. One has been able quite plainly to discover in one's own analysis how in moments of apparent absence of thought the field of vision of one's consciousness is full of odds and ends, sketchy outlines and beginnings of thoughts which one can but seldom get hold of. Thus we are bound to admit that the scope of consciousness is wider than a superficial self-observation would lead us to suppose. But Schilder takes a very bold step when, basing his statements on this fact, he postulates by analogy the consciousness of all mental processes regarded, as it were, not merely in
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cross-section, but in longitudinal section also. How does he picture to himself the contemporaneousconsciousexistence in the mind of all past experience? It is precisely this question which we should like to have seen answered in this paper. We know that it was this problem of the latent psychic content which led to the introduction of the concepts subconscious, co-conscious, etc., in non-analytical psychology, and to the postulate of a preconscious and unconscious in psycho-analytical theory.
What the author himself has to say on this question is highly obscure: 'Are we then to suppose that the past is in consciousness at all and, if so, by what is it represented? I know that the assumption that everything past exists in the background of experience, on the margin, seems strained, nevertheless, for reasons into which I cannot here go in detail, I believe it to be the truest. Conscious experience, too, is indestructible; as psycho-analysis shows, it can return unchanged into full consciousness. From this we might infer that the past exists on the deepest level of consciousness and not after the manner of the sphere(?). Nevertheless, the past constantly sends forth derivatives into the sphere, so that every experience has, as it were, a double representation—that which pertains to the sphere (in the unconscious) and that which pertains to a low level of consciousness, in the preconscious'.
Now what is the heuristic value of this assumption? So far from being valuable, the attempt to conceive of the psycho-analytical unconscious phenomenologically as conscious is bound to lead to that confusion which psycho-analysis has obviated by proposing the concept of the 'unconscious'—a fact emphasized by Freud in the discussion which followed when at a meeting an account was given of this work of Schilder's.
The unconscious, as such, cannot be comprehended; all Freud's proofs of the existence of the psychic unconscious are indirect (post-hypnotic suggestion, discontinuity of consciousness, ignorance of the origin and aim of symptoms, infantile amnesia, etc.). The postulate of a psychic unconscious is according to Freud 'entirely legitimate and necessary'. Schilder's attempt to rescue Freud's conception of the unconscious from the claws of critical objections by assigning to that conception a peculiar conscious mode of existence has miscarried, and moreover, cannot be maintained. No doubt he does not in general underestimate the importance of the psycho-analytical unconscious, but in the interests of this notion of his he certainly has done so in this work. The problem of symbol-formation is only touched upon, and the question of the nature and effect of the primal scene (Urszene), one of the most important in the whole analytical theory of the unconscious, is not mentioned.
The fact of physiological forgettingbeing indispensable to the economics of thought stands in diametrical opposition to Schilder's postulate.
Schilder certainly does not question the fact that unconscious wishes and fears can find expression in conversion-symptoms. We cannot,
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however, suppose that the psychic import of 'organ-speech' is in the patient's consciousness in any form whatsoever.
Quite recently psycho-analytical research and theory have shown a tendency to expand the realm of the unconscious; the boundaries between the somatic and the unconscious-psychic are disappearing, and the belief that 'organic processes must be regarded as in essence the same as instinctual mechanisms' follows from the new knowledge and conjectures—penetrating, as they do, into the depths of the human mind. But even this view of Schilder's, which we should be glad to share, contradicts the statement: 'All that is mental is also conscious'.
The discussion of the evolution of thought is of interest to the psycho-analyst. This discussion is the sequel to a former work of Schilder's.1 In this a piece of formal psychology has been evolved on a basis of the analytical psychology of instinct and the views of the phenomenologists. But it seems dangerous to try to effect a union between the phenomenological, psycho-analytical, and biological points of view, if it must be at the cost of valuable theoretical formulations. We should have esteemed it an important addition to our theoretical notions, if Schilder had contented himself with demonstrating that in the light of more subtle, so to speak, histological considerations a piece of unconsciousmaterial can be proved to have a consciousexistence.
1 'ber Gedankenentwicklung, ' Zeitschrift für die gesamten Neurologie und Psychiatrie, 1921.