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Fliess, R. (1956). Phylogenetic Vs. Ontogenetic Experience—Notes on a Passage of Dialogue Between 'Little Hans' and his Father. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 37:46-60.

(1956). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 37:46-60

Phylogenetic Vs. Ontogenetic Experience—Notes on a Passage of Dialogue Between 'Little Hans' and his Father

Robert Fliess, M.D.


The assumption of phylogenetic inheritance of 'dispositions' (i.e. modes of reaction) and 'content' (i.e. memory traces of experiences of past generations) was to Freud 'an unavoidable boldness, without which we cannot advance a single step' (1). If the priority for this hypothesis belongs to Jung, if Freud was slow in adopting it, it was because he regarded it as 'a methodological error to seize upon a phylogenetic explanation before the ontogenetic possibilities have been exhausted', and because 'obstinately disputing the importance of infantile prehistory while at the same time freely acknowledging the importance of ancestral prehistory' (2), as did Jung, seemed to him arguing against reason.

Phylogenesis is with Freud, methodologically speaking, a remainder. 'It is only, ' he sums up, 'in the prehistory of the neuroses that we see the child lay hold of this phylogenetic experience where his experience fails him. He fills in the lacunae in individual truth with prehistoric truth; he puts the experience of his ancestors in the place of his own' (3). In other words, the hypothesis is necessitated by clinical observation. 'In studying reactions to early traumata we often find to our surprise that they do not keep strictly to what the individual himself has experienced, but deviate from this in a way that would accord much better with their being reactions to genetic events and in general can be explained only through the influence of such' (4).

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