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Sigmund Freud: Interpreter of Dreams

from Program One


A young doctor in the age of Darwin, Freud looks to the unconscious mind for clues to illness.

Narrator: Life experience turned Lewis away from faith in God. But Freud believed that his atheism was the result of an intellectual process.

To the young Viennese neurologist, religion could not explain the complexity of the human condition. This problem led him to the most critical insight of his life and his work.

Sander Gilman: Freud gets a fellowship to go to Paris. And he's going to go to Paris to work on neurological diseases of children, with a man who was the world's greatest expert — a man named Jean-Martin Charcot. Charcot is working with hysterics — that is, people who have physical symptoms that don't seem to have a physical cause.

Harold P. Blum: What Charcot demonstrated to Freud was that he could induce symptoms through hypnosis that mimicked and mimed the same symptoms that hysterics showed without hypnosis. So he could induce paralysis, convulsions, blindness and it made Freud realize there were mental processes that go on very significantly outside of conscious awareness.

Peter Neubauer: He puzzled about hypnosis. How is it that I can affect a human being's mind without his consciousness? What goes on here, that there is a powerful influence without the knowledge and the cognition of the patient?

Narrator: Freud returned to Vienna convinced that neurotics could be treated with hypnosis. Then, he went a step further. Through experimentation, he found he could get the same result simply by letting his patients speak in free association. No one had tried that before.

Gilman: It's important to understand that Freud is trained as a materialist neurologist. A neurologist deals with people who are ill who come into the office and say, "I am not feeling well," and the doctor says to them, "Where does it hurt?" and they go, "It hurts right here." The psychiatrist, at this point, is running asylums. He is not dealing with individual patients, he is dealing with mentally ill people, as a group. The psychiatrist doesn't talk to their patients, because they assume they're crazy, they can't communicate.

Narrator: By listening carefully to patients, Freud uncovered forbidden, often sexual feelings that the patient had repressed — which then made them sick. This discovery was so threatening to Freud's professional colleagues that they completely rejected him.

Freud: Word was given out to abandon me, for a void is forming all around me. This year for the first time my consulting room is empty. For weeks on end I see no new faces, cannot begin any new treatments.

Narrator: Deeply in debt, Freud struggled to support his family and his aging parents who had never recovered from the failure of his father's business. ...

But on Freud's 35th birthday, his father gave him the cherished family Bible.

Ana-Maria Rizzuto: Jacob Freud gave the Bible to him with a most moving dedication, composed into a very particular way of petitioning Freud to return to the Torah.

Freud: [Reading] My dear son, in the seventh year of your life the spirit of the Lord began to move you and said to you: Go, read in my Book that I have risen, and there will be opened to you the sources of wisdom, of knowledge, and understanding. You have looked upon the face of the Almighty have heard and striven to climb upwards, and you flew upon the wings of the Holy Spirit.

Rizzuto: Each sentence had a profound Biblical meaning and at the same time a profound personal meaning for his son to whom he was addressing the dedication.

Freud: [Reading] ... For the day on which you have completed your 35th year I offer it you for a remembrance and a memorial of love. From your father, who loves you with unending love, Jacob Freud.

Rizzuto: He invited him to use the book again and to get the richness from the book. But Freud could not do it.

Narrator: Five years later, Jacob Freud's long life came to an end.

Freud: The old man's death affected me deeply. I valued him highly and he meant a great deal in my life. By the time he died his life had long been over, but at death the whole past stirs within one.

Blum: The death of his father was a notable point in further launching Freud toward an introspective examination of his own internal feelings. It left him somewhat depressed, somewhat anxious, but also in a very analytic frame of mind.

Freud: In my inner self the whole past had been reawakened by this event. I now feel quite uprooted. There is still very little happening to me externally, but internally something very interesting. I am led to my own dreams.

As I fall asleep, "involuntary ideas" emerge ... fermenting and simmering in me ... Masses of bristling riddles lie round about. ... They lead me through all the events of my childhood.

Neubauer: Since Freud primarily wanted to be the explorer of the unconscious, he raised the question, how can I get access to it? What are opening windows to take a look in to the unconscious mechanisms. And then he said the dreams — dreams while I'm not conscious, my brain produces a variety of images, pictures and stories beyond my consciousness. So it must be within the unconscious. So the dream gives me access to the function of the unconscious

Narrator: The founder of psychoanalysis turned his new technique on himself. For four years he carefully analyzed his own dreams, with startling results.

Freud: My libido toward my mother was awakened, on the occasion of a journey during which we must have spent the night together and there must have been the opportunity of seeing her nude. In my own case, I discovered that I was in love with my mother and now consider it a universal event in early childhood.

Narrator: Through his dream work, he recalled a scene with his father that revealed his childhood admiration and disappointment in this powerful figure.

Freud: My father began to take me with him on his walks and reveal to me his views on the world. One time he related to me a story that left a profound impression on my life, though not the one that he had hoped.