Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), the father of modern psychological thinking, graduated in medicine in Vienna in 1881. He soon became a well-known psychiatrist. His fame in the world of psychology is comparable to that of Albert Einstein in physics. He wrote the classic The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900. He was the first psychiatrist to apply scientific methods to the study of dreams. He observed and collected information from his patients and then used the analytical approach to explain their dreams and to clinically manage them. Whether his perception of what the mind really is like or whether his theories of dreams are correct or not is unimportant. What is amazing is that he was able to classify the mind into compartments and at the same time relate these compartments to each other. So the mind became a dynamic structure, and this revolutionized the concept of how the mind works.
Machines and engines were the fascinating inventions of the late 19th century. Freud could have been influenced by the generation and transformation of energy in the new technology of those days, such as the working of the steam engine, in which steam energy is generated and transformed into mechanical energy. He postulated a concept of how the unconscious mind works, and this concept was similar to the working of the engine. The mind generates energy all the time, and this requires release. Our conscience manipulates this energy, like a filter or a valve system, letting some through and changing the rest into a form that is harmless to the system. He divided the mind into three compartments and these compartments are actively related to each other (see diagram below). He called the primitive instinct the id. This generates primitive drives
and energy all the time. These drives, mostly sexual in nature, were taboo to the social custom at the time of Freud. Our conscience he called the super-ego, which is formed by the incorporation into the psyche of the moralizing ideals of our parents and other authoritative figures. The super-ego constantly criticizes and censors some of the instinctual drives from the id. Some of these are suppressed and some transformed to other formats. The product of this dynamic manipulation eventually comes to the surface and becomes part of our conscious mind. The ego is this realistic part of the mind.
He applied the concept of these dynamic activities of the three compartments into the mechanics of dream activities. When we are dreaming, the id is constantly discharging energy which requires immediate release or satisfaction. It is like a primitive child with no realistic thinking nor organization. He called this the primary process of thinking in contrast to the more mature logical reasoning. He called this primitive thinking the dream thoughts, and the format of this the latent dream.
These dream thoughts come into conflict with the super-ego, for most of these thoughts are from the sexual drive and are unacceptable to the ego. A process of censorship changes the format of the dream thoughts to more acceptable forms. A great deal of compromise and disguising activity takes place. With the help of symbols and disguised ideas, the mind is now presented with symbols and activities more acceptable to the ego. The final result is the format of the
dream we really experience and this is called the manifest dream. The process of changing the dream thoughts into the manifest dream is called the dream works.
Freud developed a list of symbols that the dream censor uses. His sexual sign language seems endless. In an attempt to disguise the true nature of the dream thoughts, the unconscious uses a wide variety of normal everyday objects to disguise the sexual desire. All elongated objects, such as sticks, swords, knives, daggers, cigars, tree trunks, and umbrellas, may stand for the male sex organs. Whereas all containers, such as boxes, cases, chests, cupboards, ovens, ships, and vessels of all kinds, stand for the female sex organs.
Freud later abandoned the use of hypnosis and dream interpretation to treat his patients. He replaced this with an entirely new system called 'free association'. He asked his patients to lie down on his couch and to say whatever came into their minds. This technique allowed better communication between the therapist and the patient, at the same time allowing the patient to understand himself better. Freud was the first person to attempt to interpret dreams scientifically and to apply this clinically to help his patients. Nowadays there are many theories of why we dream and of how dreams should be used in clinical analysis and treatment.