Are We Blank Slates? Freudian Reflections on Self, Soul, Spirit Psychology Part 2

Are We Blank Slates? Freudian Reflections on Self, Soul, Spirit Psychology Part 2

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Myth 1. Freud Believed and founded Psychoanalysis on Tabula rasa

As someone over a decade into my training as a Psychoanalyst I had never heard or seen theoretically or in practice that Freud believed in and founded psychoanalysis outside of biology, genetics and neurology while also using Tabula rasa, “blank slate” as a foundational piece for Psychoanalysis against the advice of those around him.

I have to give credit to Psychaonalyst Dr. Goodwin for giving me the article that gave me the source of this myth about Freud. I’ll link the article down below so you can read it in full, but I’ll read one paragraph from it to so we can see where this myth about Freud came from.

“In his influential Basic Principles of Psychoanalysis, among the most significant texts to have introduced the ideas of Sigmund Freud to American readers, A. A. Brill stated that for Freud ‘the child’s mind, when born, is, in the words of Locke, a tabula rasa, a blank slate.’ Brill’s text has been superseded as a characterization of psychoanalysis; indeed, it has been argued by Forrester precisely that ‘in Freud’s account, the child is not a passive ‘tabula rasa’ but rather begins with a range of intersecting and countervailing properties and propensities. Nonetheless, Brill’s influence lingers in the popular translation of tabula rasa as ‘blank slate”, which has now become an everyday figure of speech. However, Brill’s is anything but a precise translation. Tabula rasa, in Latin, referred to the state of a tablet after the inscriptions in the surface of wax had been removed. The tabula rasa is generally taken today to mean a state of formlessness prior to text, in line with Brill’s ‘blank slate’. However, if we attend more closely, it can be observed that a more precise translation would be ‘a slate that has been blanked’, the effect of the erasure of text. Thus Nietzsche, ever the classical philologist, deploys the term to mean ‘to make room for something new’ (Duschinsky, 2012, pp. 510).”

Let’s put to the side how tabula rasa has been mistranslated and misused in popular culture since this is something that popular culture commonly does just as Dr. Strachan points out when he correctly states that popular culture put value into the word “ego” when Freud and Psychoanalysis, who founded the term, did not.

But, the fundamental foundation of Psychoanalysis, which are present before birth, are the drives, the unconscious and the id to name just a few.

We do not have full control over what we do. We have this unconscious before we have life experiences so we are not the sum total of our life experiences.

This is part of what Forrester is talking about when he talks about the, “range of intersecting and countervailing properties and propensities (pp. 510)”, that the child is born with. To add to this, Freud also spoke about constitution which I made a comment about in my first video on Dr. Strachan’s talk.

Freud was writing in the late 1800’s through the early 1900’s and there was no such thing as “genetics” in science at the time. But, he and many other scientist, understood that something was there before nurture which constituted a person. So, There is no such thing in Psychoanalysis as, “We are the sum-total of our life experiences.” If we did believe that, we would be closer to behaviorist believing that you just have to change a behavior for health.

Lets take this a half of step further. Freud gave us the 3rd Ego Blow to Humanity. Because of him presenting us with our unconscious, which neuroscience now has shown us to actually have, he made it that we had to understand that we are not the master’s of our own home because of our unconscious. We do not have full control over what we do. We have this unconscious before we have life experiences so we are not the sum total of our life experiences.

Lastly, Freud knew this because he was a student of evolution, biology and most importantly, he was a famous neuroscientist before he ever created Psychoanalysis.

Let’s debunk the second myth that Freud, “Did get into some neurology.”

Myth 2. Freud, “Did get into some neurology.”

Psychoanalysis is “still the most coherent and intellectually satisfying view of the mind”

Freud was a famous neurologist who created technique of staining nervous tissue that and laid the foundational work for the discovery of the neuron. He was also the first to describe the structure and function of a part of the brainstem called the medulla oblongata, and the white matter tracts connecting the spinal cord and cerebellum. These are just a few of his major works and discoveries in neuroscience before he ever created Psychoanalysis. If someone tells you that he wasn’t a key scientist who laid the foundational work to establish neuroscience as a discipline, along with the father of neuroscience Santiago Ramóny Cajal, then they’re wrong. Freud did much more than, “doing some neurology.” (The Guardian)

But, Freud knew that the science of neuroscience and its tools were too young and that the tools of the future would prove and modify what he was going to find and had found through studying the unconscious through psychoanalysis.

And we can see over 100 years after the first writings of Freud, he is correct.

Psychoanalysis was founded by a famous and influential neurologist who based his new science of exploration of the unconscious in biology, neurology and philosophy. Now in the present neurology has come back and to psychoanalysis to be, as Dr. Mark Solms psychoanalyst and neurologist said, “In May 2004, in an article in Scientific American, “Neuroscientists are finding that their biological descriptions of the brain may fit together best when integrated by psychological theories Freud sketched a century ago” (p. 114). Eric Kandel, the 2000 Nobel Laureate in physiology, was quoted in that article, stating that psychoanalysis is “still the most coherent and intellectually satisfying view of the mind” (Shepherd, 2005, pp. 44-45).”

All right everyone. That was my quick myth busting on two myths about Freud and psychoanalysis. Reading, discovering, conversing and writing on this has been very enlightening for myself as a student of psychoanalysis and has started many conversations with myself and other analysts. I hope things bring you all new thoughts, new ideas and starts new conversations for you and those around you. And please don’t take this as an attack on Ryan or Dr. Strachan just as I didn’t take it on attack on Freud or Psychoanalysis. When you see something being said incorrectly about you, it’s constructive to start a dialog and show how what is said about you is incorrect while leaving space for further mutual understanding. This is how you can disagree with others without corrupting your soul and spirit.

Again I thank Ryan and Dr. Strachan for letting me interact with their important talks. I again recommend you watch all of Ryan’s videos on his channel Sorting Myself Out and especially the three talks he has with Dr. Strachan. They’re important talks to listen to.

I’ll catch you all next time.


Duschinsky, R. (2012) Tabula Rasa and Human Nature. Philosophy, 87,pp 509 -529. doi:10.1017/S0031819112000393

Shepherd, M. (2005). Toward a Psychobiology of Desire: Drive Theory in the Time of Neuroscience. Mod. Psychoanal., 30A(1):43-59.

The Guardian (2014). Freud was a pioneering neuroscientist.

If you’re interested in some of my other content here is my Guide: 14 Differences Between Toxic & Loving Relationships. This will walk you through the different parts of these kinds of relationships so you can identify what kind of relationship you are in so you can see if you can create positive habits in this relationship or need to take different action.

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