On Sigmund Freud's Complexes

    Precise definitions are essential for our ability to integrate concepts. Suppose we define dog as "a four-legged animal that barks and wags its tail", and "animal" as "a pluricelular living being that moves around". Although those are very simple definitions, they still allow us to integrate both concepts, and conclude, for example, that every dog is a living being. In the absence of a definition, we would, at best, be able to perceive that there is some sort of relationship between dogs and animals, without ever properly identifying the nature of that relationship.

    Pre-conceptual associations are even vaguer because, as I explained in the previous post, they are not subject to volitive analysis. In the absence of the concept "dog", we would be left with only a set of observations, grouped together based on non-essential aspects. We would still be able to associate our many perceptions of dogs with one another, because of a perceived similarity in what was observed, yet we could just as easily associate them with other perceptions, for whatever reasons. We could, for example, associate all our perceptions of dogs which happened to take place while we felt hungry with every other perception that happened while we felt the same.

    Just as we can create more abstract concepts by integrating previous concepts, we can create wider associations based on previous associations. Just as we can create the concept "furniture" from concepts like "couch", "table" and "chair", we can group our hypothetical "situations in which I was hungry" association with a "situations in which I felt pain" association, because of the common feeling of discomfort, or even with the association of "things that happened around noon", simply because both share many of the same observations. These large clusters of associations between associations are what Freud calls "complexes".

    Because they are not denoted by a symbol, and thus cannot be volitionally brought to mind, pre-conceptual associations cannot possess a definition. Because they do not possess definitions, contradictory associations cannot be integrated. To resolve a contradiction between complexes requires identifying its associations by means of a symbol, thus bringing them into the conceptual realm, and into the individual's volitional control. After turning associations into concepts, one needs to define them, so that the contradictions can be properly identified.
    To make the idea more concrete, think of a child who was raised in an abusive home, in which honesty was punished with physical violence. Due to the actions of its parents, this child will develop a number of specific pre-conceptual associations between "acting honestly" and "suffering punishment", which will be grouped into the same complex because of its many similarities. At the same time, its actions outside the household will follow the opposite logic, and it will develop a number of associations between "acting honestly" and "achieving value". To the extent that both complexes remain pre-conceptual, their contradictions will remain unidentified, and therefore unresolved. The individual will suffer chronically, maybe adopting the implicit premise that "one must follow a set of values outside, and another at home".

    The explicit adoption of good values is not enough to solve the psychological chaos caused by contradictory complexes. Just like a good idea does not erase a bad idea in one's mind, a set of explicitly adopted good values does not erase a myriad of pre-existing contradictory associations. In fact, those pre-conceptual associations might make them perceive values as something to be ignored.

    A is A, and a mental existent is what it is. The solution is not to superimpose good ideas on bad emotions (I will deal with the effects of this type of action another day), but to identify the main associations that make up both complexes and the moment they were created, and articulate them explicitly. Only by bringing the pre-conceptual value-judgements that give rise to our emotions to the conceptual realm, we can alter them volitionally.

  -  April 14th, 2020