Science Weekly podcast: The power of the virus, and supercooperators

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Carl Zimmer introduces his new book A Planet of Viruses, and Harvard professor of biology and mathematics Martin Nowak lauds the role of cooperation in evolution

Sigmund Freud, father of psychoanalysis, (1856-1939) was an Austrian neurologist who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis. Freud is best known for his theories of the unconscious mind and the mechanism of repression, and for creating the clinical method of psychoanalysis for investigating the mind and treating psychopathology through dialogue between a patient (or “analysand”) and a psychoanalyst. Freud established sexual drives as the primary motivational forces of human life, developed therapeutic techniques such as the use of free association, discovered the phenomenon of transference in the therapeutic relationship and established its central role in the analytic process; he interpreted dreams as sources of insight into unconscious desires. He was an early neurological researcher into cerebral palsy, aphasia and microscopic neuroanatomy, and a prolific essayist, drawing on psychoanalysis to contribute to the history, interpretation and critique of culture.



Freud has been influential in two related but distinct ways: he simultaneously developed a theory of the human mind‘s organization and internal operations and a theory that human behavior both conditions and results from how the mind is organized. This led him to favor certain clinical techniques for trying to help cure mental illness. He theorized that personality is developed by a person’s childhood experiences.


Discussion: The Genius of Sigmund Freud




Freud began his study of medicine at the University of Vienna in 1873. He took almost nine years to complete his studies, due to his interest in neurophysiological research, specifically investigation of the sexual anatomy of eels and the physiology of the fish nervous system. He entered private practice in neurology for financial reasons, receiving his M.D. degree in 1881 at the age of 25. He was also an early researcher in the field of cerebral palsy, which was then known as “cerebral paralysis.” He published several medical papers on the topic, and showed that the disease existed long before other researchers of the period began to notice and study it. He also suggested that William Little, the man who first identified cerebral palsy, was wrong about lack of oxygen during birth being a cause. Instead, he suggested that complications in birth were only a symptom.

Freud hoped that his research would provide a solid scientific basis for his therapeutic technique. The goal of Freudian therapy, or psychoanalysis, was to bring repressed thoughts and feelings into consciousness in order to free the patient from suffering repetitive distorted emotions.

Classically, the bringing of unconscious thoughts and feelings to consciousness is brought about by encouraging a patient to talk in free association and to talk about dreams. Another important element of psychoanalysis is lesser direct involvement on the part of the analyst, which is meant to encourage the patient to project thoughts and feelings onto the analyst. Through this process, transference, the patient can discover and resolve repressed conflicts, especially childhood conflicts involving parents.

After experimenting with hypnosis on his neurotic patients, Freud abandoned it as ineffective. He instead adopted a form of treatment where the patient talked through his or her problems. This came to be known as the “talking cure” and its goal was to locate and release powerful emotional energy that had initially been rejected or imprisoned in the unconscious mind. Freud called this psychic action “repression”, and he believed that it was an impediment to the normal functioning of the psyche, even capable of causing physical retardation which he described as “psychosomatic.”  The “talking cure” is widely seen as the basis of psychoanalysis.

In his forties, Freud experienced several, probably psychosomatic, medical problems, including depression and heart irregularities that fuelled a superstitious belief that he would die at the age of 51. Around this time Freud began exploring his own dreams, memories, and the dynamics of his personality development. During this self-analysis, he came to realize a hostility he felt towards his father, Jacob Freud, who had died in 1896. He also became convinced that he had developed sexual feelings towards his mother in infancy (“between two and two and a half years”). Freud considered this emotionally difficult period to have been the most creative period of his life.

Freud argued for the importance of the unconscious mind in understanding conscious thought and behavior and called dreams the “royal road to the unconscious”, meaning that they illustrate the “logic” of the unconscious mind. Freud’s theory of dreams has been compared to Plato‘s. Ernest Gellner writes that, “Plato and Freud hold virtually the same theory of dreams.”

Freud developed his first topology of the psyche in The Interpretation of Dreams (1899) in which he proposed that the unconscious exists and described a method for gaining access to it. The preconscious was described as a layer between conscious and unconscious thought; its contents could be accessed with a little effort. One key factor in the operation of the unconscious is “repression“. Freud believed that many people “repress” painful memories deep into their unconscious mind. Although Freud later attempted to find patterns of repression among his patients in order to derive a general model of the mind, he also observed that repression varies among individual patients. Freud also argued that the act of repression did not take place within a person’s consciousness. Thus, people are unaware of the fact that they have buried memories or traumatic experiences.

Later, Freud distinguished between three concepts of the unconscious: the descriptive unconscious, the dynamic unconscious, and the system unconscious. The descriptive unconscious referred to all those features of mental life of which people are not subjectively aware. The dynamic unconscious, a more specific construct, referred to mental processes and contents that are defensively removed from consciousness as a result of conflicting attitudes. The system unconscious denoted the idea that when mental processes are repressed, they become organized by principles different from those of the conscious mind, such as condensation and displacement.

Eventually, Freud added to the system unconscious, with the concept of the id, ego, and super-ego. Throughout his career, however, he retained the descriptive and dynamic conceptions of the unconscious.

Freud provided the basis for the entire field of individual verbal psychotherapy. Later systems have differed about therapy and technique in certain respects, but all of them have been constructed around Freud’s basic discovery that if one can arrange a special set of conditions and have the patient talk about his difficulties in certain ways, behavior changes of many kinds can be accomplished.  Today Nobel laureate, Eric Kandel MD, does research and teaches neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University, acknowledging his Freudian foundation; and Zanvel A. Liff  PhD, modest but brilliant, practices Freudian psychoanalysis in New York City, with great success. Dr. Liff was President of the Division of Psychoanalysis of the American Psychological Association.


Freud spent most of his life in Vienna. From 1891 until 1938 he and his family lived in an apartment at Berggasse 19 near the Innere Stadt or historical quarter of Vienna. As a docent of the University of Vienna, Freud, since the mid-1880s, had been delivering lectures on his theories to small audiences every Saturday evening at the lecture hall of the university’s psychiatric clinic. His work generated a considerable degree of interest from a small group of Viennese physicians. From the autumn of 1902 and shortly after his promotion to the honourific title of außerordentlicher Professor, a small group of followers formed around him, meeting at his apartment every Wednesday afternoon, to discuss issues relating to psychology and neuropathology. This group was called the Wednesday Psychological Society (Psychologischen Mittwoch-Gesellschaft) and it marked the beginnings of the worldwide psychoanalytic movement.

This discussion group was founded around Freud at the suggestion of the physician Wilhelm Stekel. Stekel had studied medicine at the University of Vienna under Richard von Krafft-Ebing. His conversion to psychoanalysis is variously attributed to his successful treatment by Freud for a sexual problem or as a result of his reading The Interpretation of Dreams, to which he subsequently gave a positive review in the Viennese daily newspaper Neues Wiener Tagblatt. The other three original members whom Freud invited to attend, Alfred Adler, Max Kahane, and Rudolf Reitler, were also physicians.  They had kept abreast of Freud’s developing ideas through their attendance at his Saturday evening lectures. In 1901, Kahane, who first introduced Stekel to Freud’s work, had opened an out-patient psychotherapy institute of which he was the director in Bauernmarkt, in Vienna. In the same year his medical textbook, Outline of Internal Medicine for Students and Practicing Physicians was published. In it he provided an outline of Freud’s psychoanalytic method.

Max Graf, a Viennese musicologist and father of “Little Hans“, who had first encountered Freud in 1900 and joined the Wednesday group soon after its initial inception, described the ritual and atmosphere of the early meetings of the society:

The gatherings followed a definite ritual. First one of the members would present a paper. Then, black coffee and cakes were served; cigar and cigarettes were on the table and were consumed in great quantities. After a social quarter of an hour, the discussion would begin. The last and decisive word was always spoken by Freud himself. There was the atmosphere of the foundation of a religion in that room. Freud himself was its new prophet who made the heretofore prevailing methods of psychological investigation appear superficial.


By 1906 the group had grown to sixteen members, including Otto Rank, who was employed as the group’s paid secretary. Also in that year Freud began correspondence with Carl Gustav Jung who was then an assistant to Eugen Bleuler at the Burghölzli Mental Hospital in Zurich. In March 1907 Jung and Ludwig Binswanger, also a Swiss psychaitrist, travelled to Vienna to visit Freud and attend the discussion group. Thereafter they established a small psychoanalytic group in Zurich. In 1908, reflecting its growing institutional status, the Wednesday group was renamed the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society.


After the publication of The Interpretation of Dreams in November 1899, interest in his theories began to grow, and a circle of supporters developed.



Freud’s Psychoanalytic Couch in Vienna…………………moved to the London Museum

Sigmund Freud’s Theories of Dreams

According to Freud, dreams are pathways into our unconscious. Fears, desires and emotions that we are usually unaware of make themselves known through dreams. To Freud, dreams were fundamentally about wish-fulfillment. Even “negative” dreams (punishment dreams and other anxiety dreams) are a form of wish-fulfilment; the wish being that certain events do not occur.


Freud believed that although our dreams contain important messages, they are encoded – disguised. The unconscious mind doesn’t speak any verbal language therefore it must communicate with us via symbols. Some of these symbols are near-universal, others very personal to us and our individual life experiences.


Freud thus distinguished between the “manifest content” of dreams (what we actually dream) and the “latent content” of dreams (the unfulfilled wish that the dream represents).

Dream content is rarely presented by the mind in a simple and direct fashion. Instead a complex dream is constructed from the basic elements. The raw dream symbols are distorted via condensation (compression, conflation and omission of dream elements) and “displacement” (shifting emphasis). This is followed by a process of “secondary revision” that takes all these (by now distorted) elements and assembles them into some more or less coherent narrative structure.

Freud went further and suggested that very often our conscious mind actively tries to reject the messages of our dreams; we “repress” this knowledge. Dreams are often an expression of a repressed wish that we would rather not admit to – they thus indicate psychic conflict that can in turn be at the core of mental disturbance.

Because of this complexity dreams require analysis to discover their true meaning. This process takes considerable time as a body of recorded dreams needs to be built up and analysed.

Freud’s main technique for analysing the dream was free association. Here the dreamer is encouraged to look not at the direct content of the dream but at the thoughts and emotions it generates.These will then lead to other thoughts and emotions and so on. At its simplest free association is simply saying whatever comes into your head.

As a simple example, assume your dream included birds. This image might remind you of feeding the birds as a child, which might lead to a memory of one particular day in the park, which might remind you of your mother, etc.

The job of the Freudian analyst is to record the chain of associations and assist the dreamer’s self-understanding. Freud would look at each individual component of a dream and use each as a starting point for free association then attempt to pull all the threads together into an overall analysis. In this way the dreamer can “sneak up” on repressed emotions.



Science is not illusion. But it would be an illusion to suppose that we could get anywhere else what it cannot give us.

— Sigmund Freud, 1927



Sigmund Freud by Andy Warhol





Freud saw that society creates mechanisms to ensure social control of human instincts. At the root of these controlling mechanisms, he thought, is the prohibition against incest. He further speculated that this taboo had its genesis in the guilt stemming from the murder of a powerful patriarch: after the tyrannical father is killed, the sons continue to follow the patriarchal dictates by which they have always lived. For Freud, the past is not something that can be completely outgrown by either the individual or society but rather is something that remains a vital and often disruptive part of existence. The emphasis on the past being alive in the present is a central theme in psychoanalytic approaches to the individual and society.

Evolution and Inheritance

In his writings on the origins of society, Freud combined his own theories of psychological conflict with Darwinian views on how the earliest humans lived in organized groups. Freud borrowed freely from contemporary anthropology. He even adopted ideas that had already lost scientific credibility, such as the notion that we physically inherit aspects of our ancestors’ experience.


[The] primitive stages can always be re-established; the primitive mind is, in the fullest meaning of the word, imperishable.

— Sigmund Freud, 1915


Freud understood culture, as he did dreams and symptoms, as an expression of desires in conflict with one another and with society. He thought religion, art, and science could be richly rewarding. But he emphasized that culture is the product of impulses denied a more directly sexual or aggressive satisfaction. If these cultural practices fail to alleviate the conflicts at the heart of the human psyche, what then, Freud asked, are the consequences for the individual? If forms of social life fail to meet basic psychological needs, what then are the consequences for society of these unfulfilled desires? These remained for Freud the vital questions about the relation between our civilization and ourselves.


Follow the Leader

The questions that Freud asked about groups are basic to all political philosophy: why do people follow leaders and why do individuals deny some of their desires in order to live together? Freud’s consideration of these questions led him to think that life in society necessarily frustrates some of our fundamental desires.


Home Movies of Sigmund Freud 1930 to 1939




International Psychoanalytical Association (1910 to Present)

Who Can Be a Psychoanalyst?

As the movement grew, the question of who could become a psychoanalyst acquired economic and intellectual urgency. In this work, Freud argued against making a medical degree the prerequisite for psychoanalytic training. The core of the training entails undergoing analysis oneself.


The (IPA) is an association including 12,000 psychoanalysts as members and works with 70 constituent organizations. It was founded in 1910 by Sigmund Freud, on an idea proposed by Sándor Ferenczi. Its first Secretary was Otto Rank.

The IPA is the world’s primary accrediting and regulatory body for psychoanalysis. Its mission is to assure the continued vigour and development of psychoanalysis for the benefit of psychoanalytic patients.

The IPA’s aims include creating new psychoanalytic groups, stimulating debate, conducting research, developing training policies and establishing links with other bodies. It organizes a large biennial Congress which is open to all.

In 1902 Sigmund Freud started to meet every week with colleagues to discuss his work and so Psychological Wednesday Society was born. By 1908 there were 14 regular members and some guests including Max Eitingon, Carl Gustav Jung, Karl Abraham, and Ernest Jones, all future Presidents of the IPA. Society became the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society. In 1907 Jones suggested to Jung that an international meeting should be arranged and Freud welcomed the proposal. Meeting took place in Salzburg, on 27 April 1908 and Jung named it the “First Congress for Freudian Psychology” and it is later reckoned to be the first International Psychoanalytical Congress, even so the IPA had not yet been founded.

IPA was established at the next Congress held at Nuremberg in March 1910. Sigmund Freud considered an international organization to be essential to advance his ideas. In 1914 Freud published a paper entitled History of the Psychoanalytic Movement

Regional Organizations of the IPA

  • Brazilian Federation of Psychoanalysis
  • Confederation of Independent Psychoanalytic Societies
  • European Psychoanalytical Federation
  • Federation of Psychoanalytic Societies of Latin America – FEPAL
  • North American Psychoanalytic Confederation

Constituent Organizations of the IPA

Constituent Organisations Europe including Australia, India and Israel

  • Australian Psychoanalytical Society
  • Belgian Psychoanalytic Society
  • Belgrade Psychoanalytical (Provisional) Society
  • British (Provisional) Psychoanalytic Association
  • British Psychoanalytical Society
  • Czech Psychoanalytical Society
  • Danish Psychoanalytical Society
  • Dutch Psychoanalytical Association (Genootschap)
  • Dutch Psychoanalytical Group (NPAG)
  • Dutch Psychoanalytical Society
  • Finnish Psychoanalytical Society
  • French Psychoanalytical Association
  • German Psychoanalytical Association
  • German Psychoanalytical (Board Provisional) Society (DPG)
  • Hellenic Psychoanalytical Society
  • Hungarian Psychoanalytical Society
  • Indian Psychoanalytical Society
  • Israel Psychoanalytic Society
  • Italian Psychoanalytical Association (AIPsi)
  • Italian Psychoanalytical Society
  • Madrid Psychoanalytical Association
  • Norwegian Psychoanalytical Society
  • Paris Psychoanalytical Society
  • Polish Psychoanalytical (Provisional) Society
  • Portuguese Psychoanalytical Society
  • Spanish Psychoanalytical Society
  • Swedish Psychoanalytical Association
  • Swedish Psychoanalytical Society
  • Swiss Psychoanalytical Society
  • Vienna Psychoanalytic Society

Latin America

  • Argentine Psychoanalytic Association
  • Argentine Psychoanalytic Society
  • Brasília Psychoanalytic Society
  • Brazilian Psychoanalytical Society of Porto Alegre
  • Brazilian Psychoanalytical Society of Ribeirão Preto
  • Brazilian Psychoanalytic Society of Rio de Janeiro
  • Brazilian Psychoanalytic Society of São Paulo
  • Buenos Aires Psychoanalytic Association
  • Caracas Psychoanalytic Society
  • Chilean Psychoanalytic Association
  • Colombian Psychoanalytic Association
  • Colombian Psychoanalytic Society
  • Córdoba Psychoanalytic Society
  • Freudian Psychoanalytical Society of Colombia
  • Mato Grosso do Sul Psychoanalytical Society
  • Mendoza Psychoanalytic Society
  • Mexican Association for Psychoanalytic Practice, Training and Research (MAPPTR)
  • Mexican Psychoanalytic Association
  • Monterrey Psychoanalytic Association
  • Pelotas Psychoanalytic Society
  • Peru Psychoanalytic Society
  • Porto Alegre Psychoanalytic Society
  • Psychoanalytical Association of The State of Rio De Janeiro – Rio IV
  • Psychoanalytic Society of Mexico – Park Mexico
  • Recife Psychoanalytic Society
  • Rio de Janeiro Psychoanalytic Society
  • Rio III Psychoanalytic Association
  • Rosario Psychoanalytic Association
  • Uruguayan Psychoanalytical Association (APU)
  • Venezuelan Psychoanalytic Association

North America including Japan

  • American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA)
  • Canadian Psychoanalytic Society
  • Institute for Psychoanalytic Studies (IPS) (Provisional)
  • Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research (IPTAR)
  • Japan Psychoanalytic Society
  • Los Angeles Institute and Society for Psychoanalytic Studies (LAISPS)
  • New York Freudian Society (NYFS)
  • Northwestern Psychoanalytic Society (NPS) (Provisional)
  • Psychoanalytic Center of California (PCC)
  • Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California (PINC) (Provisional)

IPA Study Groups

  • Asunción Study Group
  • Croatian Psychoanalytical Study Group
  • Guadalajara Psychoanalytic Study Group
  • Moscow Psychoanalytic Society (Study Group)
  • Moscow Society of Psychoanalysts (Study Group)
  • Northern Ireland Association for the Study of Psycho-Analysis (NIASP) – Study Group
  • Psychoanalytic Society for Research and Training (SPRF) (Study Group)
  • Romanian Society of Psychoanalysis – Study Group
  • Turkish Psychoanalytical Study Group

Vienna Arbeitskreis for Psychoanalysis Study Group (WAP)