Freeman Dyson and Freud (and James) regarding Kahneman

Freeman Dyson is a gentle-man (both), so is his son George. I know them both: George was a guest in my class. Dr Dyson is smart, clever and brilliant (all different). Dr Dyson reviewed (NYRB) D. Kahneman “Thinking Fast and slow”, which reminds me too much of Gigerenzer: “Bounded rationality, The adaptive toolkit”. I like Gigerenzers’ take on our bounded rationality more than Kahneman whom is too certain of his interpretation of humans’ doing. (with really not much evidence).

In any case, what took me by surprise, reading the review, was Freeman exhilarating view (I mean forward) of Freuds’ work and its relevance today in the neurosciences. Eric Kandel had brought attention to Freuds’ misreading by the neurointelligentsia  in a couple of articles back in 2000/2001 (Am. J of Psych and Science?). The Biology of Freedom (Ansermet, Magistretti) is a recent discussion of the role of the unconscious in our conscious rational life and behaviour (ja!).

Dyson: “One thing that is notably absent from Kahneman’s book is the name of Sigmund Freud. In thirty-two pages of endnotes there is not a single reference to his writings. This omission is certainly no accident. Freud was a dominating figure in the field of psychology for the first half of the twentieth century, and a fallen tyrant for the second half of the century. In the article on Freud in Wikipedia, we find quotes from the Nobel Prize–winning immunologist Peter Medawar—psychoanalysis is the “most stupendous intellectual confidence trick of the twentieth century”—and from Frederick Crews:

Step by step, we are learning that Freud has been the most overrated figure in the entire history of science and medicine—one who wrought immense harm through the propagation of false etiologies, mistaken diagnoses, and fruitless lines of enquiry.

In these quotes, emotions are running high. Freud is now hated as passionately as he was once loved. Kahneman evidently shares the prevalent repudiation of Freud and of his legacy of writings.”   wowowow

More: “It is understandable that Kahneman has no use for Freud, but it is still regrettable. The insights of Ka

plasticity (

hneman and Freud are complementary rather than contradictory. Anyone who strives for a complete understanding of human nature has much to learn from both of them. The scope of Kahneman’s psychology is necessarily limited by his method. His method is to study mental processes that can be observed and measured under rigorously controlled experimental conditions. Following this method, he revolutionized psychology. He discovered mental processes that can be described precisely and demonstrated reliably. He discarded the poetic fantasies of Freud.’  wowowow

I’ll continue later, I had a left  eye hemorrhage. The hemorrhage is gone. Continue. I had no idea that Kandel was born in Vienna: how appropriate. In his 1999 article in The American J. of Psy., he states:  “it would be unfortunate, even tragic, if the rich insights that have come from psychoanalysis were to be lost in the rapprochement between psychiatry and the biological sciences”; psychoanalysis should be  “embedded in the sciences of human cognition,” where its ideas “can be tested.”  Neuroscientists and psychologists tend to throw statements like those out of the window. In a visit to Northwestern Department of Psych, I gave a couple of seminars about Jung, dreams, archetypes, dreams and other Freudian stuff to the horror f the ‘scientific’ psych faculty: them really thought they were scientists. Great thinkers, yes, scientists no.

In the biology of freedom, Ansermet and Mastratteti essentially say that the organic (the brain mass) marks the mental and the mental marks the organic (this sounds so Spencer Brown), neuroplasticity providing the muscle for bringing the unconscious unto the argument.  I like this.

Then FD proceeds to discuss James in relation to Kahns’ hypothesis, but yo’ll have to read the thing. I have no energy left to comment.

Note added in proof: George is an expert kayak builder. He spent time in Alaska learning from the aleuts to build seal skin hunting kayaks. Aleuts would go in week long hunting trips without getting off the thing, almost. One of my students’ uncle (Moses Tcheripanoff from one the Pribiloff islands) was an expert too. He wasnt a “scientist”. This is called expert knowledge. Technology? You betcha!


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