Freud, Sigmund

(1856–1939)
   The son of a wool merchant who had migrated from Galicia to Habsburg Bohemia to Leipzig to Vienna, Freud showed great intellectual promise even as a young boy. For the last six years of his secondary education at the Sperlgymnasium, he ranked first.
   Freud’s initial medical training was as a physician and clinical neurologist. He worked in the laboratories of some of the University of Vienna’s most prominent experimental physiologists, among them Ernst Wilhelm Brücke (1819–1892), who was especially interested in developmental embryology and the forces that drove it, and Theodore Meynert (1833–1892), a noted experimentalist in the physical anatomy of the brain. Much research led Meynert to conclude that human beings had a primary ego, which arose through an infant’s awareness of the disconnect between its body and its environment. This process took place in the lower cortex. A secondary ego, the result of socialization, controlled these perceptions. It was housed in the upper cortex. In 1885–1886, Freud was in France with the neurologist and psychiatrist Jean Charcot. Here the young physician first made the link between psychic disorder, in this case hysteria, and physical symptomology.
   Back in Vienna, Freud befriended the physician Josef Breuer, from whom he learned the techniques of arousing the repressed experiences of patients, who recalled them while under hypnosis. Studies on Hysteria (1895) was the work of both men. Freud would abandon hypnosis in his practice rather quickly, but he pursued the study of the role that subconscious data and recollection played in human psychology. The Analysis of Dreams (1900) was an extended summary of both his findings and his theories and laid the foundations for modern psychoanalysis. A lecture tour to the United States in 1909, where Freud appeared at Clark University in Massachusetts, marked the beginning of his international reputation.
   Although Freud himself was the guiding spirit of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society and hoped to see his ideas propagated through its auspices, his findings were not well received in the Austrian capital. Notions such as infant sexual experience troubled the moral convictions of many. The essentially psychic rather than physical nature of his “cures” led his empirically oriented colleagues in Vienna to question his work closely and skeptically. Freud’s theories and clinical methods found a far greater welcome in Berlin and New York after World War I. Nor did his ventures into social psychology, such as Civilization and Its Discontents (1929), persuade all readers. His practice in Vienna remained lucrative, however, until he was forced to flee the city in 1938 after the Anschluss. He died in London.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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