108 years ago today, sigmund freud’s most significant work, the interpretation of dreams, was first published (it was later forward-dated to 1900). dreams, freud thought, were “the royal road to the unconscious”. chapter one of this book starts with these words:
in the following pages, i shall demonstrate that there is a psychological technique which makes it possible to interpret dreams, and that on the application of this technique, every dream will reveal itself as a psychological structure, full of significance, and one which may be assigned to a specific place in the psychic activities of the waking state.
further, i shall endeavour to elucidate the processes which underlie the strangeness and obscurity of dreams, and to deduce from these processes the nature of the psychic forces whose conflict or co-operation is responsible for our dreams.
like so many other scientists and psychiatrists, he was a little overenthusiastic in what exactly a new technique or discovery could do. i know of no psychologist worth her or his salt who is convinced that every dream will reveal itself as freud described, or that it can always be “assigned to a specific place in the psychic activities of the waking state”.
nevertheless, freud’s contribution to our understanding of psychology today are immeasurable and got us all moving in a dramatically new direction (to what degree it was only freud who devised these ideas is a matter of debate. often ideas are “in the air”. you may want to read here for some thoughts on how and whether freud was influenced by nietzsche, for example).
by “us all” i literally mean pretty much every even semi-educated person anywhere in the world today. everything from arts to education to marketing strategies to politics is embued with findings that originated as a direct result of freud’s writings.
and this book is where it all began. it is the book that first talks about the ego, and introduces the idea of the oedipus complex.