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Deri, S. (1990). The Homeostatic and the Representational Function of the Symbolic Process; with Reference to the “Rat Man's” Obsessive Ideation. Psychoanal. Rev., 77(4):525-534.

(1990). Psychoanalytic Review, 77(4):525-534

The Homeostatic and the Representational Function of the Symbolic Process; with Reference to the “Rat Man's” Obsessive Ideation

Susan Deri

Freud's field of investigation was the irrational component in human behavior. His discovery of the symbolic meaning of a neurotic symptom, as well as of dream imagery, emphasized the hidden, disguised content behind the manifest aspect of the symbol. By this discovery, he was able to show that these seemingly freak phenomena can be ordered into the generally unified and meaningful context of human behavior. Psychoanalysis, then, concentrated on decoding the hidden and the unconscious from the manifest verbalizations and imagery offered by patients. In this context, the symbolizing process was considered as the outcome of repression. Ernest Jones (1912), in his essay “The Theory of Symbolization” sees symbolic modes of thought as more primitive and representing a reversion to some simpler and earlier stage of mental development.

He then points out that symbol formation implies noting resemblances rather than differences. This, according to Jones, represents a tendency of the primitive mind of children, savages, and the insane. Jones seems to consider only the pathological aspect of symbolization. However, noting resemblances rather than differences is the essence of concept formation. Concepts, indeed, are symbols. If not for noting the resemblances rather than the differences, symbolic perception and cognition could not be established, and total chaos would reign.

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