Testing, Testing

A reader raises some interesting objections, in Letters and then at my suggestion in a comment, on our Freud-skepticism.

For example, there may be an alternative explanation for Jedlika’s finding that children of mixed race couples are more likely to marry someone of the same race as the opposite sex parent, but it is prima facie evidence for oedipal feelings that cannot be ignored.

I haven’t read the study in question – but just to deal with what is said in that sentence, I have to say I am not convinced. I am in fact quite skeptical. It seems to me that it is not at all obvious that oedipal feelings are the only possible explanation for why children of mixed race couples would tend to marry someone of the same race as the opposite sex parent. Other explanations leap to mind – for instance the idea that marriageable people in general are of the same race as the opposite sex parent. Of course one can by fiat simply equate notions of what makes people ‘marriageable’ with oedipal feelings, but again, that’s not the only possible conclusion. And in any case, the basic disagreement with Freud’s Oedipus complex is not mostly to do with sexual feelings for the opposite sex parent, but with such feelings in infancy. It’s the infancy part that Freud was adamant about, and that many colleagues disagreed with him about. Freud wasn’t just saying that everyone has sex on the brain, he was saying that everyone has sex on the brain starting with infancy. Would Jedlika’s findings as described above seem to corroborate the Oedipus complex in infancy? I don’t see why they would.

I googled Fisher and Greenberg, and found a review by Richard Webster. Not a fan of Freud’s, of course – but let’s see what he says all the same.

Once again, they have failed to recognise that Freud was at least right about one thing: that psychoanalytic theories, being based on the psychoanalyst’s unique access to the hidden realm of the unconscious, are not susceptible to empirical investigation.

And they are both clinical psychologists themselves, so the same problem arises in their own line of work. Clinical psychologists have an as it were vocational skepticism about the value of empirical investigation.

In an effort to discover whether Freud’s penis=baby equation was correct, and whether it is indeed true that some women have babies to supply themselves with the penises that they lack, Fisher and Greenberg tell us that they ‘reasoned that if pregnancy is somehow a penis equivalent for women, they should have increased unconscious phallic sensations or feelings at that time’. Omitting to consider the equally plausible Freudian hypothesis that pregnancy, by supplying a ‘real’ phallic substitute, might lead to a decrease in phallic fantasising, our intrepid researchers go on to devise a ‘phallic scoring system’ based on a count of responses to the Holtzman Inkblot Test involving ‘projections, protrusions and elongations’ that Freud would have deemed phallic. Having administered this remarkable test to a group of presumably puzzled pregnant women, they concluded that (though no data are given) ‘the findings were nicely congruent with the hypothesis’. No doubt they were also nicely congruent with all manner of other hypotheses that Fisher and Greenberg, intent on looking at the world through Freudian spectacles, never paused to formulate.

Well…you see what I mean. If that’s Fisher and Greenberg’s idea of an empirical investigation, then – I remain unconvinced.

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