April 21st, 2011 // 7:35 am @ Oliver DeMille
Freud has too much power in our current world. Those who practice in the mental health fields know that little of Freud is still used in modern psychology; and most others only read Freud, if at all, from a few selected readings in a basic psychology course from college. But Freud’s lasting legacy comes from another source—one that has significantly influenced our modern world in ways little understood.
Freud’s view of reality and truth dominates much of the modern world, even among people who have never closely read or studied his writings. One glaring example can be found in Freud’s teachings about science.
He wrote that science:
“…asserts that there is no other source of knowledge of the universe, but the intellectual manipulation of carefully verified observations, in fact, what is called research, and that no knowledge can be obtained from revelation, intuition, or inspiration.
“It is inadmissible to declare, that science is one field of human intellectual activity, and that religion and philosophy are others, at least as valuable, and that science has no ability to interfere with the other two, that they all have an equal claim to truth, and that everyone is free to choose whence he shall draw his conviction and in which he shall place his belief.
“Such an attitude is considered particularly respectable, tolerant, broad-minded, and free from narrow prejudices. Unfortunately, it is not tenable…. The bare fact is that truth cannot be tolerant and cannot admit compromise or limitations, that scientific research looks on the whole field of human activity as its own, and must adopt an uncompromisingly critical attitude towards any other power that seeks to usurp any part of its province.”
In short: In the Freudian worldview, science is the only source of truth for any and all fields of knowledge, and it must take “an uncompromisingly critical attitude” toward any other source of knowledge. We might call this The Freud Doctrine.
The debates between “science” and “religion” are well known. In fairness, religion has often taken half of the same stance—that God’s wisdom applies to all areas of knowledge—and at times even the second half of the model—that religion should therefore have a critical attitude toward science and other sources of knowledge. Indeed, the injustices heaped upon Copernicus and Galileo, among others, are clear examples of church overreach into the works of science.
But it is Freud’s argument that science is above philosophy that has perhaps had the most negative impact on modern politics and society. Science gets its knowledge through experimentation, and it has become a field dominated by experts and specialists. Most religions claim knowledge through revealed writings, and they are also nearly all subject to the authority of official leaders. Indeed, the professionals of science and religion have long battled each other in many arenas.
In contrast, philosophy, as much as it had accepted leaders in ancient times, is now wide open to the masses. Freud’s attack on philosophy therefore amounts in our day to a decree that the common sense of the regular citizen and the reason of the average person must be overseen by the “true” and “accepted” wisdom of the experts—who, of course, base their conclusions on research, scientific methodology and therefore “real truth” rather than the “inferior thinking of the common man.”
Whether Freud meant by “philosophy” the work of philosophy professionals in the academy or the daily reason of the people is irrelevant; in our time a literal elite class of professionals, experts and officials apply his teaching like a prime directive—without questioning assumptions and with immediate rancor for any who question the dogma of the primacy of scientific research. “The Freud Doctrine” is a reality in our world.
There are a number of problems with The Freud Doctrine, the idea that only the professionals and experts understand the truth because only they rely entirely on credible research, and that the rational thought of non-experts and the non-credentialed (and even those with prestigious credentials whose conclusions are outside the expert consensus) is simply inferior.
First, this idea isn’t even internally consistent. For example, the accepted experts in this model systemically disagree with each other—the top experts in the social sciences, hard sciences and mathematical fields often come up with widely divergent conclusions as they attempt to deal with a given problem. At a deeper level, few mathematical schools of thought agree on many of the basics, and the gaps in agreement between biologists, chemists and physicists are legendary. Add the practical fields like medicine and engineering, and the conflicts are epic. How can we truly trust the experts when so many of them disagree on so much?
Second, on a logical level, the Freudian-based worldview isn’t even tenable. For example, Freud’s insistence that only experimental knowledge has any basis of truth, that everything else is “not tenable” and must be resisted in “intolerant” and “uncompromising” ways, leaves out at least two important fields of knowledge that are highly credible in the modern perspective: mathematics and logic. Put simply, neither mathematics nor logic is experimental. In fact, all the major arguments against using religion or reason to find truth also discredit the validity of logic and math. Yet the modern faith in experts includes mathematics and formal logic along with the hard sciences.
“Since 1983 we’ve reformed the education system again and again, yet more than a quarter of high-school students drop out, even though all rational incentives tell them not to. We’ve tried to close the gap between white and black achievement, but have failed. We’ve spent a generation enrolling more young people in college without understanding why so many don’t graduate.
“One could go on: We’ve tried feebly to reduce widening inequality. We’ve tried to boost economic mobility. We’ve tried to stem the tide of children raised in single-parent homes. We’ve tried to reduce the polarization that marks our politics. We’ve tried to ameliorate the boom-and-bust cycle of our economics. In recent decades, the world has tried to export capitalism to Russia, plant democracy in the Middle East, and boost development in Africa. And the results of these efforts are mostly disappointing.
“The failures have been marked by a single feature: Reliance on an overly simplistic view of human nature. Many of these policies were based on the shallow social-science model of human behavior. Many of the policies were proposed by wonks who are comfortable only with traits and correlations that can be measured and quantified.”
There are many other examples. Legislatures have trusted experts, the citizenry has trusted experts and legislators, and the results have been less than exemplary. When policy is based on research and experimentation, common sense is sparsely applied and, it turns out, desperately needed.
This is not an indictment of science. Most scientists would observe the limp results of too much Ivory Towerism and alter their hypotheses and policies. The major problem with The Freud Doctrine as it has evolved to date is that our policies give full lip service to science, use the gravitas of “science” to shut down views from religion or art or worst of all common reason, and then ignore science as it becomes entirely politicized in our legislatures and especially in bureaucratic implementation and judicial oversight.
The tragedy is that the whole process flies above the active participation of the common citizen. After all, unless you are a professional scientist or researcher, Freud’s system has discredited anything you have to add. Professional politicians get around this by citing the experts, as do professional journalists. But the citizens—they are relegated to the gallery, where they are told to observe as long as they stay quiet and don’t disturb the process.
The Internet has changed all this, or at least it has started the change. The experts (predictably) complain that much of what is written online doesn’t meet rigorous scientific standards. Thank goodness for that! The shift is evoking the return of a long-underutilized human ability among the regular citizenry—listening to and learning truth from analytical reason. Lots of the online analysis is shallow, misleading or false, which causes readers to turn on their reason and really think things through. A new period of deep-thinking citizens is emerging.
The war between “truth by experts” and “truth from widespread individual reason” (Freud vs. Jefferson) has just begun, but the results seem inevitable. Barring a shut-down of open dialogue, the future of independent thinking and the freedom it usually engenders is bright.
He is the co-author of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller LeaderShift, and author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.