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Johnson, B. (2006). Commentary on “Freudian Dream Theory, Dream Bizarreness, and the Disguise-Censor Controversy”. Neuropsychoanalysis, 8(1):33-40.

(2006). Neuropsychoanalysis, 8(1):33-40

Commentary on “Freudian Dream Theory, Dream Bizarreness, and the Disguise-Censor Controversy” Related Papers

Brian Johnson

There is a deadly problem at the heart of the psychoanalytic method of creating theory via consulting-room observations. This problem has been termed “the language game” by Wittgenstein (Kenney, 1973, pp. 14-18). Imagine that we all have a box into which no one else can look (a version of this example comes from Robinson, 2004). I say that what is in my box is a “beetle” because it contains a ladybug. You say yours contains a “beetle” because in it is a staghorn. A third person says theirs contains a “beetle” because in it is a sowbug. A fourth says that theirs contains a “beetle” because in it is a cockroach.

Because in each case it is only one person who can look in his or her own box, agreement requires that we all believe that we know the definition of “beetle,” that the definition has been met by our observation, and that we are all seeing the same thing. There is no way to independently verify whether we know what a “beetle” is or that we have met the requirement of seeing a “beetle.” In brief, “the language game” means that if we report our findings based on empathic contact with patients, the requirement for uniform terminology cannot be met. The social agreement on the meaning of the color “red” might be uniform because we can all look at “red” things and confer, but we have no way of knowing if our experience of “empathy,” “repression,” “primary process,” or any other psychoanalytic phenomenon that we experience in our patients is exactly the same as the experience of another.

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