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ON THE IMPORTANCE OF THE UNCONSCIOUS IN PSYCHOPATHOLOGY
When we speak of a thing as being "unconscious" we must not forget that from the point of view of the functioning of the brain a thing may be unconscious to us in two ways— physiologically or psychologically. I shall only deal with the subject from the latter point of view. So that for our purposes we may define the unconscious as "the sum of all those psychological events which are not apperceived, and so are unconscious."
The unconscious contains all those psychic events which, because of the lack of the necessary intensity of their functioning, are unable to pass the threshold which divides the conscious from the unconscious; so that they remain in effect below the surface of the conscious, and flit by in subliminal phantom forms.
It has been known to psychologists since the time of Leibniz that the elements—that is to say, the ideas and feelings which go to make up the conscious mind, the so-called conscious content—are of a complex nature, and rest upon far simpler and altogether unconscious elements; it is the combination of these which gives the element of consciousness. Leibniz has already mentioned the perceptions insensibles—those vague perceptions which Kant called "shadowy" representations, which could only attain to consciousness in an indirect manner. Later philosophers assigned the first place to the unconscious, as the foundation upon which the conscious was built.
But this is not the place to consider the many speculative theories nor the endless philosophical discussions concerning the nature and quality of the unconscious. We must be satisfied with the definition already given, which will prove quite sufficient for our purpose, namely the conception of the unconscious as the sum of all psychical processes below the threshold of consciousness.
The question of the importance of the unconscious for psychopathology may be briefly put as follows: "In what manner may we expect to find unconscious psychic material behave in cases of psychosis and neurosis?"
In order to get a better grasp of the situation in connexion with mental disorders, we may profitably consider first how unconscious psychic material behaves in the case of normal people, especially trying to visualize what in normal men is apt to be unconscious. As a preliminary to this knowledge we must get a complete understanding of what is contained in the conscious mind; and then, by a process of elimination we may expect to find what is contained in the unconscious, for obviously— per exclusionem—what is in the conscious cannot be unconscious. For this purpose we examine all activities, interests, passions, cares, and joys, which are conscious to the individual. All that we are thus able to discover becomes, ipso facto, of no further moment as a content of the unconscious, and we may then expect to find only those things contained in the unconscious which we have not found in the conscious mind.
Let us take a concrete example: A merchant, who is happily married, father of two children, thorough and painstaking in his business affairs, and at the same time trying in a reasonable degree to improve his position in the world, carries himself with self-respect, is enlightened in religious matters, and even belongs to a society for the discussion of liberal ideas.
What can we reasonably consider to be the content of the unconscious in the case of such an individual?
Considered from the above theoretical standpoint, everything in the personality that is not contained in the conscious mind should be found in the unconscious. Let us agree, then, that this man consciously considers himself to possess all the fine attributes we have just described—no more, no less. Then it must obviously result that he is entirely unaware that a man may be not merely industrious, thorough, and painstaking, but that he may also be careless, indifferent, untrustworthy; for some of these last attributes are the common heritage of mankind and may be found to be an essential component of every character. This worthy merchant forgets that quite recently he allowed several letters to remain unanswered which he could easily have answered at once. He forgets, too, that he failed to bring a book home which his wife has asked him to get at the book-stall, where she had previously ordered it, although he might easily have made a note of her wish. But such occurrences are common with him. Therefore we are obliged to conclude that he is also lazy and untrustworthy. He is convinced that he is a thoroughly loyal subject; but for all that he failed to declare the whole of his income to the assessor,...