Lesson 20- Freud and the Holy Trinity
At the end of my last program, I suggested that since, based on modern brain research, that we are two distinct persons, even though we think of ourselves as one, then the idea of there being more than one person in one being is no longer as mysterious as we thought. It appears that all rational beings, because they have reflective brains, are at least two persons in one and, of course, we know through the revelation of Jesus, that God, who is the Super-Rational Being who created the universe, is three persons in one. If this true, then logic says that all rational beings, being made in the image and likeness of the Supreme Rational Being, ought to be three persons in one also.
This is not a new idea since the great philosophers of the Church have played with this idea when they spoke about our minds being made up of Intellect and Will. Saints, like St. Thomas Aquinas, compared the Intellect to Jesus and the Will to the Father, and now modern psychology has established a physical basis for both of them. The Intellect sounds very much like the left lobe of the brain and the Will sounds like the right lobe.
Not only have church philosophers played with the idea of the human mind having a triune nature but so have secular thinkers. Sigmund Freud, a Jewish doctor who developed the psychoanalytic theory of psychiatry which, at one time, greatly influenced our approach to mental illness, theorized that the human mind was made up of three principle: the Id, spelled ID, the Superego, and the Ego. It is interesting to look back upon his theory in light of the new discoveries in brain research. Most of his observations are based on intuition, which came from observing his own feelings, since they did not have the factual information that we have today.
Freud was one of the first to suggest that there was an Unconscious Mind which was capable of motivating human behavior in a way in which our Conscious Mind was unaware. Most people, throughout history, would say, "not only do I do what I think but I always know why I do it." Therefore, the idea that we might be motivated by thoughts of which we were not aware seemed a bit absurd. However, Freud was impressed by a man named Messer who was entertaining crowds and parties throughout Europe by putting people into a trance-like state in which they performed absurd and amazing feats at the suggestion of Dr. Mesmer. Because of him a new word was added to our language: the word mesmerize which is more commonly known as hypnotize.
Freud was interested in this because, according to the people who were mesmerized, they had no conscious recollection of what they had did during this hypnotic state. Not only that, Mr. Mesmer was also able to plant post-hypnotic suggestion in their minds which, continued to motivate their behavior even after they had been awakened from their trance. For example, he might say, "You will have no recollection of what you have done. However, after you awake every time someone mentions your name, you will stand up and sing "God save the queen." Both of these things suggested to Freud that there was an unconscious mind that was able to motivate conscious behavior even though the person had no conscious awareness of why he was acting in that way.
Therefore, Freud said that when we are first born, we live in a world of mental unconsciousness where only the principle of the mind known as the Id was functional. The Id he said was our unconscious animal mind which operated according to the Libido or Pleasure Principle. In other words, it operated according to the principles of hedonism which says, "Whatever gives me pleasure is good; and whatever gives me pain is bad." The Id was an impulsive animal which was totally self-centered and its favorite word was "ME!" Everything it did was centered on "Me!" and it had little or no consideration for the rights or feelings of others. Being impulsive, it would do anything, anywhere, anytime, anyhow, with anyone as long as it brought it pleasure. As far as it was concerned, every itch deserved to be scratched and the traffic light was always green telling it to "GO!" In today's philosophical perspective, it would subscribe to statement like "Just do it!" and "Let it all hang out!" Obviously, it was amoral because, being a slave to its impulses, it never asked what the real purpose of anything was. Its only question involved whether it would bring pleasure or pain.
If Freud is right, then every human baby, despite its cuddly and attractive demeanor, is an Id because it is totally self-centered. It is incapable of thinking of others and it wants what it wants when it wants it. It doesnt care and couldnt care whether you have to get up early to go to work and that waking up at 3:00 a.m. to answer its demand for food is not very considerate of it. A minister once put it this way. He said that although we speak of little babies as being angels, the truth is that a hungry baby, if it had the power and coordination, would willingly shoot its caretaker if he/she were too slow in responding to its need. This might be a slight exaggeration but it isnt too far off the mark.
From a babys perspective, the whole world revolves around him and his needs and, as adults we tolerate this self-centeredness because we understand that the baby doesnt know any better. However, consciously or unconsciously, most parents start to lay down the rules and regulations which the society expects its members to follow.
First, we start to train the baby to follow a schedule which is more compatible with the needs of the other people in the household. We start to teach him that there is a time for everything and, whether he likes it or not, his whims are not what makes the world go around. If we fail to do this, the baby will continue to dominate everyone elses life.
Since Id's are very impulsive and chaotic beings, they urinate and defecate wherever and whenever they feel like it. If this were not brought under rational control, our floors and yards would be covered with human waste. Obviously, we have to house train our children just as we house train our pets who, if Freud is correct, have double Id minds and have to be trained through the use of pleasure or pain.
Freud says that human society and civilization could never have come about if human beings had remained on the Idish level because it would be an animalistic world in which the only order which could existed would have to be imposed from the outside by the dominant members of society over the weaker ones. The operating principle would be "might makes right!" Therefore, for human society and civilization to exist there had to be a second principle of the brain known as the Superego. The Superego is what we commonly call our conscience because it contains all of the laws and taboos which every culture uses to bring the impulsive behavior of it members under social control so that it is possible for people to live together.
The job of the Superego is to repress the uncontrollable desires and impulses of the Id. The struggle between the two has sometimes been artistically portrayed as a powerful, wild animal in a cage that is trying to push open a trap door in the roof of the cage so that it can get out while, standing on top of the cage, is a human-like person who is trying to hold the trap door shut. The Superego favorite words to the Id demands are, "Thou shalt not!... Thou shalt not steal! Thou shalt not rape! Thou shalt not kill! ... Its the law! For example, in our culture, the Superego is the voice of the Old Testament of the Bible with its numerous, detailed laws designed to control every aspect of the people lives. We, of course, are mostly familiar with the Ten Commandments but there are many other laws mentioned in the Old Testament which had to do with specific situations. One, for example, says that it was unlawful for the wife of any man to claw the testicles of her husbands opponent in a fight. I bet you never heard that one from the Sunday pulpit.
Yet, it is the laws of every society which most accurately reflect the hearts and values of the people in that society because, first, the absence of a law tell you what they permit, and the presence of a law tells you what they forbid. You dont need a law unless there are a significant number of people who want to do what the law prohibits. Therefore, if you want to know what kind of people are in a society, look at their laws. You dont need a law against drugs or child molestation unless you have people taking drugs or molesting children. Thus, the law that I just mention is a reflection of the kind of people that Moses was trying to lead from Egypt to the Promised Land. Pretty animalistic, wouldnt you say?
Eventually these laws became so detailed and limiting that they had put people in legal straightjackets. Every time they were ready to act, they had to check out a laundry list of laws to see if it were permissible. Thus a religious Jew in the time of Jesus had laws for eating, for sleeping, for working, for playing, for hygiene etc. It was enough to drive a person insane and that is why St. Paul, who was a very strict Jew, almost with a sigh of relief, says "I am no longer under the law. I have been set free by Christ Jesus Jesus, Himself, had accused the Scribes and Pharisees of laying heavy legal burdens upon the people by applying the letter of the law but entirely missing its spirit. Laws, he said, were made for the benefit of the people not to make their lives miserable. In fact, says Jesus, the whole law could be summed up in two statements: love the Lord God with your whole mind, your whole heart, your whole self and love your neighbor as yourself.
Anyway, to get back to Freud, the Id was the lawless one while the Superego was the lawmaker and the conflict between them, says Freud, was the source of mental illness. The conflict could be compared to a running car in which the driver was pushing the gas pedal to the floor while, at the same time, applying pressure to the brake pedal with all his might. In essence, the driver was telling the car to ""Go!" and "Stop!" at the same time and with equal force. The result would be that the car would begin to shake. The same, says Freud, happens to our body when the Id is saying, "Go!" while the Superego is saying "Stop!" with equal force. The body is fighting itself and if some compromise is not reached, it, like the car in my previous example, is going to breakdown and fall apart.
Therefore, say Freud, there has to be a third principle of the mind, which he calls the Ego, which is our conscious mind, whose job it is to break the stalemate by creating a compromise solutions through a process called sublimation. For example, the Id, seeing a female that excites it sexually, wants to jump out of a bush and take her forcibly. The Superego responds by saying "Thou shalt not rape," and the battle is on. The Ego, or Conscience Mind, steps in and says to the Id, "The Superego is right. You just cant go around raping every woman that attracts you." The Id responds by saying, "But I really want her!" "Then," says the Ego, "If you are that serious about her, introduce yourself, get to know her, ask her for a date, wine and dine her, tell her of your interest in her, buy her a diamond ring, ask her and her family if you could marry her and then make a permanent commitment to her by marrying her. That way, you get what you want and the Superego, the keeper of the law, gets what it wants, and everybody is happy."
This process is called sublimation and basically what it means is that the Ego tries to find a culturally permissible outlet for the blind and instinctual urges and drives of the Id. By doing this, it makes it possible for a large group of Ids to living harmoniously in organized society and to create complex civilizations. If the Ego fails in its job, then there are two possible outcomes. The first is that the Id overpowers the Superego, escapes from its cage and creates chaos in society. The second is that the Superego overpowers the Id with so many restrictions that eventually the pressure becomes so great that, like a steam kettle with no outlet for the expanding steam, there is a psychic explosion in which the person either has a nervous breakdown or the Id burst out of its cage and, the previously quiet and law-abiding person, suddenly goes on a rampage of violence and destruction.
Every once in a while, we read in the paper where a young man who was an Eagle Scout and an exemplary member of his church suddenly picks up a gun and begins to shoot people at random. From Freuds perspective, this is an example of where the repression of the Superegos laws, either coming from parent and other authority figures or from the scrupulous conscience of the person himself, became so great that an explosion was inevitable. In other words, we cant be too hard on ourselves or on others without running the danger of creating a psychic explosion. The Book of Proverbs says the same thing when it advises parents not to continually frustrate their children. In other words, teach them positive outlets so that youre not constantly saying "No!" to them. Sometimes, we hear other people say to someone who is overly strict or legalistic, "Lighten up!" which means, "Don't be so serious all the time."
Civilization then, according to Freud, is the result of the successful attempts by the Ego to find legal and moral outlets for the blind, animalistic impulses of the Id. If, for example, our animalistic Id has an instinctual need to fight territorial wars so as to reinforce its identity and to win the attention of females for mating purposes, then, the civilizing Ego has to find a way to satisfy this need and at the same time enforce the Superegos law against killing other human beings. Through sublimation, it invents athletic competition in which the males form teams based on territorial identity and fight territorial battle on a football field where the combatants wear protective clothing to prevent serious injury and men in striped shirts run up and down the field enforcing the rules of the war. "Fifteen yards penalty for unnecessary roughness! "Roughing the quarterback!", "Pass interference!" are just some of the laws they enforce.
Meanwhile, in the stands are other territorial animals, whose Ids are caught up in the turf battle taking place on the field. The men are cheering and wearing the number of their favorite player and the pretty girls are drooling and wishing that they could have a date with one of the "hunks" on the field. Its a perfect solution. The Id gets a chance to exercise its instinctual need to defend territory, display male dominance to the females, reinforce its territorial identity and the Superego does not have its moral rule of "Thou shalt not kill!" violated. Later we will explore how the history of human civilizations, at least from the perspective of Freuds theory, is the result of the Ego finding ways to sublimate- that is redirect our animalistic impulses into socially acceptable channels.
Freud is often blamed for the "Roaring Twenties" in our country because it was after his theories were published here that some of those who read or misread him concluded that the Victorian puritanical standards, especially in regards to sex, were the source of many mental "hang-ups." As a result, the modestly dressed women of the 1890s who were very restricted in the way that they dressed and where they were allowed to go and what they were allowed to do, gave way to the "flapper" in the "Roaring Twenties" who drank, smoked, wore short, sexually provocative dress and did wild, sexually provocative dances like the Charleston. Society went from the socially restrictive world of the 1890s where the Superego had the upper hand to the socially permissive world of the 1920s where the Id had the upper hand.
Authoritarian parents who were strict disciplinarians were replaced by permissive parents who were afraid that if they repressed little junior too much that he would have a mental breakdown. The strict schools, both public and private, which were based on the strict European model were replaced by lenient schools based on the model of Progressive Education in which administrators and teachers, afraid of repressing the "free expression" of their students, allowed one standard after another to erode away or to be replaced by a more lenient one.
Where before, the emphasis was on the responsibility of the child to meet the standards set by the adults, who represented the Superego, the adults were now constantly soul searching themselves to see how they were responsible for the childs failure, and the children, who, being young were mostly dominated by the Id, sensing their newly acquired power, became the standard setters for the society. The world had been turned up-side-down. The children were now leading and the adults were following and today we are witnessing the continuing consequences of that trend that began in the 1920s as words like "freedom" and "choice" have become sacrosanct or sacred and words like "discipline" and "responsibility" are looked upon with suspicion.
I said that this reversal is often blamed on Freud because the changes were brought about by people who had read, or misread his theories. I believe that they had misread him because he wasnt saying the repression was wrong. In fact, he was saying that unless the animalistic impulses of the Id were repressed by the social laws of the Superego, civilization would not be possible. His point was that you couldnt put a straightjacket on these impulses which allow them "no expression" without doing serious psychic damage to the person. In other words, these impulses are natural and necessary. The problem is that they are blind and unconscious and thus do not fully understand the purpose of the impulse. Sex is not dirty. If fact, according to the Church, it is sacred because it allows us to share in the creative powers of the Creator by bringing into existence new life based on our own values. Therefore, the solution to its proper use is not to ignore, minimize, or reject it. Rather, we should fully understand its true nature and cooperate with God by using it in the proper context. It is people, like the pornographers, who by using it out of context make it "dirty" and "sleazy." The true focus of sex is not the orgasm, its the miracle of the child. When it is used properly, it is a reflection of the Trinitarian Creator Himself where the Father and the Son interact to produce the Holy Spirit just as the husband and wife interact to produce the child. Our real problem is not that we know too much about sex. The real problem is that we know too little about it.
Anyway, whether Freud was properly understood or misunderstood, the sexual revolution is often traced to him because he did place an extreme emphasis on sex as the primary motivational force in human behavior. Freud and his followers seemed to trace every ailment in their patients and in society to repressed sexual feelings. In fact, one of his most famous or infamous theory, according to how you look at it, was the Oedipus Complex which was based on the Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex in which, Oedipus fulfills the prophecy of a fortuneteller by unknowingly growing up to kill his father and marrying his mother. The full story is too long to tell here and, if you are interested, you could look it up. Anyway, according to Freud, one of the first desires that the Id has that the Superego has to repress is the desire to kill its father, whom it sees as a competitor for its mothers affection, and to marry its mother. Since in most, if not all, societies this is forbidden by the Superego, then it is one of the first conflicts between the Id and Superego that has to be resolved if the child is going to have a healthy mental life. Personally, I dont buy into the theory. Its true that little children, both male and female, do become deeply attached to their mothers as the primary care givers and that they jealously guard their right to her exclusive attention. However, this is not limited to the attention give to the father. Last week I witnessed one of my grandchildren, who is almost two, cry and pull at his mothers dress as she was trying to feed his newly born brother. His mother, who has a wry sense of humor and a wise heart, look down at him and with a gentle voice said, "Tommy Boy, you have to learn to share." It was obvious that he did not want to share her with anyone else and this had nothing to do with incestuous desires.
However, if we accepted Freuds Oedipus Theory, how, according to his theory, could the child solve the problem of wanting to kill his father and marry his mother? His Id, according to Freud, is seeking an incestuous relationship with her; his Superego is shouting "Thou shalt not!" and his Ego is left with the problem of finding a solution that will resolve the conflict. The answer is that the child will strive to win his mothers attention by performing well in various areas of life. He will achieve in school and in sports, both of which are socially approved activities, and by doing so he will draw attention away from his father and to himself. Then, driven by his desire to win her attention, he will grow up and become a successful adult who will find a girl who reminds him of his mother and marry her.
Its a nice story and a good example of how sublimation is suppose to work but I think that reality is a lot more complex than this. I know young boys who have done the same thing not to win the attention of their mother but rather of their fathers. In fact, I think that it is the fathers attention and approval more often than the mothers that drive little boy to perform because maternal love is always there unconditionally while fathers love is perceived as being related to performance.
However, our main interest in Freud is not his Oedipus Complex but rather the fact that, through intuitive insight, he concluded that our minds were composed of three principles the Id, Superego, and Ego which suggests that, even from a secular point of view, that there is something Trinitarian about our minds.
This has always fascinated me because, if there is one thing that distinguishes the Christian concept of God from all other concepts, it is the mystery of the Trinity. Christianity alone makes the claim that there is only one God but that He contains Three Persons and, whenever we were asked to explain, we "begged the question" by saying that it was a mystery. Our opponents, with a sly smile would wink and say, "Oh yeah! Its a mystery that allows you to 'cop out' of having to explain why it is true." But what else could we do? The only reason that we believed it was because it was revealed to us by Jesus and we were stuck with it.
Thus, throughout the history of the Church our philosophers and theologians have struggled with the question of how there could be more than one person in one being. St. Patrick tried to explain it through the simple example of the three leafs on the shamrock. Medieval philosophers, with a little more sophistication, used terms like Intellect and Will that suggested some type of dualism in our minds. However, the solution still eluded us because our theories were based on intuitive speculation and there was no objective physical evidence to support them.
It seemed impossible for there to be more than one person in one being because we ourselves were one being and we were only one person. Or were we? Now it appears that the objective, physical evidence is that our sense of being one person is an illusion.
Listen to the article by Maya Pines in the New York Times Magazine where I first came upon the findings of the brain scientists when they first split the "corpus collosom" which is the communication link between the left and right hemisphere of our brains:
"Because of (this) the brain scientists have begun to wonder whether our normal feeling of being one person is also an illusion, even though our brains remain whole. Are the two halves of our brain integrated into a single soul? Is one half always dominant over the other? Or do the two persons in our brains take turns at directing our activities and thoughts?"
This might be the biggest discovery in human history in terms of understanding ourselves, others, and God. And it might vindicate Christianity for its previously absurd belief in a Trinitarian God. According to these finding, it really is possible for more than one person to be in a single being.
Not only is it possible; its a fact. Since the split-brain operation, we know that we are at least two persons in one being. It is the basic difference between animals and us because, according to these researchers, other mammals, although they possess the double lobed brain, each of their lobes is a duplicate of the other. Their two lobes cant interact because they are both the same person, therefore they cant dialogue with each other. We could say that we have dialectical brains and they dont, because we are looking at reality from two points of view and they only have one point of view, with both brains thinking the same thing.
But lets take it a step further. Freud said that there were three principles of the mind and modern brain research says that there are three major lobes of the brain. The right lobe or hemisphere which is an intuitive, impulsive, speechless, creative artist which expresses its subjective feelings non-verbally through art and symbols; the left lobe which is a logical, reflective, scientific, verbal, craftsmen which expresses objective facts through words and mathematics; and the frontal lobe, which overlaps both of them in the front of our skulls and is the seat of judgment and action. In other words, the frontal lobe flows from the interaction of the other two lobes because, sitting in the center as it does, it listen to the artistic side coming from the right lobe which is concerned with form and beauty and weighs it against the logical side coming from the left lobe which is concerned with purpose and function. The judgment and action that it then takes flows from the integration of form and function which are the perspectives coming from the other two lobes.
Are you thinking what Im thinking? Hove they discovered why the Jews were correct when they said that we were made in the image and likeness of God and why the Christians are correct when they say that this one God contains three persons: the Father, who is the Creator, the Son, who is the craftsman, and the Holy Spirit, who is the Creative Energy needed to carry the plan to completion.
It makes you wonder what the Nicene Creed really means when it says, "We believe in the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son." This sounds very similar to "we believe in the Frontal Lobe which proceeds from the interaction of the right and left lobe of the brain. Think about it!
Well, I see that my time is up. Heres Dom.