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Darwin/Freud: The Descent of Mom

The first Homo neanderthalensis skull was discovered in 1829, 42 years before the publication of Darwins The Descent of Man. Since then, scientists have debated over Neanderthals place in in relation to humanity with an ever-expanding collection of physical evidence. The consensus is that the two species coexisted, and most evidence points to at least low level inbreeding. However, the extent of genetic influence between humans and Neanderthals is still only broadly understood. We do know, of course, that only one species survived to modernity, but this also raises the question of how humans supplanted Neanderthals. The most conservative hypothesis is that humans had certain evolutionary advantages (like advanced tools and language) that gave them more longevity. To determine the extent of influence, scientists look for Neanderthal genetic markers in the human genome. Of course, many of the similarities between humans and Neanderthals can be attributed to their common ancestor, so it is of the utmost importance to discriminate between what truly belongs to one species and what belongs to the genetic line. Ideas propagate themselves through intellectual history like genetic code through genealogical history, raising debates about influence between landmark thinkers that recall the dynamics of the human/Neanderthal discourse. Sigmund Freud and Charles Darwin will stand in as the coexisting species of thought. This essay seeks to determine whether Darwinian genetic signatures are present in Freuds Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality and Beyond the Pleasure Principlein other words, whether intellectual inbreeding makes Freud a Darwinist. Analysis will occur on two fronts. Freud tried to mark his own place in intellectual history, so his self-evaluation will be considered first. However, Freuds opinion of himself and of his influences is not the ultimate litmus test of Darwins influence. Thus, this paper will also directly discuss Freuds work, removed from any analysis of authorial intent or self-perception. It will be demonstrated with both historical and textual evidence that although there are similarities to be found between Darwin and Freud, they are more essentially attributed to their common ancestor, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck.

Freud directly argued for the influence of Lamarckian thinking on psychoanalysis in several written correspondences with Georg Groddeck, Karl Abraham, and Sndor Ferenczi. In a 1917 letter to Groddeck, a physician, he says a consistent application of Lamarcks theories of evolution turns into a conclusion of psychoanalytic thought (Letter to Georg Groddeck, 37). Thus, Freud viewed psychoanalysis as a direct descendent of Lamarckian evolution, but this does not necessarily exclude Darwin as a more recent descendant. After all, Darwinian evolution is even more obviously linked to Lamarck than Freud. To Abraham, a fellow psychoanalyst, Freud said (also in 1917), The idea is to put Lamarck entirely on our ground and to put change through adaptation of ones own body and the subsequent change through transformation of the external world into a unified psychoanalytic/Lamarckian context (Letter to Karl Abraham, 361). Both of the aforementioned letters refer to collaboration between Freud and Sndor Ferenczi, which sought to both explain psychoanalysis as a product of Lamarck, and retroactively shoehorn psychoanalytic thought into Lamarcks theories. Admittedly, these letters represent a relatively brief period of Freuds interest in the intersection between Lamarck and psychoanalysis, as there is no mention of Lamarck in any of Freuds writings before 1916 or after 1918. However, the Lamarckian concept of need largely informs Freudian thought through the course of his career, and directly contradicts Darwin. According to Lamarck, organisms change over the course of their lifetime according to what they need to survive. This adequately explains the same set of observations Darwin dealt with, but in a technically incorrect way. For example, Lamarck would posit that pre-human societies most acutely needed language and advanced cognitive capacity to survive, so these adaptations would develop slightly over the course of an individuals life. This mechanic is called autoplastic adaptation. The improvement would be passed on to offspring, who would therefore start at an advantage, but still respond to the need for intelligence and improve further. Darwin would say natural variation in pre-human intelligence led to varying levels of reproductive success. Smarter and more communicative individuals passed on those traits, leading to long-term change in the species. Organisms do not directly adapt to their surroundings.

Lamarck and Darwin can sometimes be confused because Darwins theory of natural selection can sound like autoplastic adaptation when spoken of only casually. People often say natural selection caused the giraffe to evolve a longer neck so it could reach higher food sources, but strictly speaking, this is an exclusively Lamarckian way of saying it. The giraffe example highlights the following fundamental difference between the two: there is a teleological element to Lamarck; there is no such teleology in Darwin. The difference arises because Lamarckian change is direct whereas Darwinian change is indirect. Therefore, if Freud were to support the Lamarckian side of the teleological coin, it would provide evidence that Lamarck is the true crotch (technical term; I looked it up) from which the Freudian and Darwinian branches of science diverge. It could not be said, were this to be shown, that Freud is a Darwinist, because most similarities between the two would originate at or before Lamarck. I say most because, as in the history of Neanderthals inbreeding with humans, there can still be an exchange of genetics (or ideas) after the critical point of divergence. Freud did occasionally compare himself to Darwin, but did not actually equate the content of the theory of natural selection with psychoanalysis. He says in The Resistances to Psycho-Analysis that the majority of objections to his theories are due to the fact that powerful human feelings are hurt by the subject-matter of the theory. Darwins theory of descent met with the same fate (Resistances to PsychoAnalysis, 221). He places himself and Darwin in the same intellectual/historical context, but only insofar as they both challenged the commonly accepted anthropocentric knowledge of their time. According to Freud, intellectuals have thus far dismantled humanitys self-love cosmologically (Copernicus), biologically (Darwin), and psychologically (Freud himself). Therefore, the most that can be said is that Freud was Darwinian in the degree of his innovation and the nature of his impact. But if originality makes him a Darwinist, one could also argue that Michael Jacksons classic album Thriller is Darwinist. To briefly clarify a potential misunderstanding of the argument advanced here, Freud was only Lamarckian in matters of psychology. He fully acknowledged the superiority of Darwinian biology, frequently mentioning Origin of Species and The Descent of Man as landmark biology texts rather than any of Lamarcks works. However, although Freud believed in Darwinian evolution (and, by extension,

rejected Lamarckian evolution), this does not support the conclusion that Freud is a Darwinist. Freud is more than a mans name; it is shorthand for Freuds body of work, the vast majority of which deals with strictly psychological concepts. Therefore, Lamarckian and Darwinian ideas should only be considered as they might apply to the Freudian sphere of psychoanalysis. However, there is one specifically Darwinian characteristic of Freudian thought that represents a true exchange of ideas post-Lamarcklike the post-split interbreeding of Neanderthals and humans. The only time Darwin entered Freuds domain was the 1872 publication of The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, which according to Freud consists of actions which originally had a meaning and served a purpose (Frlein Elisabeth von R, 181). In the same way, Freud details in Three Essays how characteristics of human behavior are manifestations of long-forgotten instincts; the most famous of these is the Oedipus complex. This idea is not present in Lamarcks work, and therefore cannot be attributed to the common ancestor. Regardless, this parallel idea in Freud and Darwin is small relative to the larger ideas of psychoanalysis and natural selection. It has very little relevance to The Descent of Man. One estimate states that Neanderthal-specific DNA accounts for around 5% of the human genome (Wall). A similar number is a reasonable valuation of Darwin-specific signatures in Freud. Psychoanalysis hinges on the existence of unconscious desire, as does Lamarckian evolution. So Freud is completely within reason to claim that evolutionary need is nothing but the power of unconscious ideas over ones own body (Letter to Karl Abraham, 361). The unconscious serves as one of the only plausible methods of introducing teleology into hard science. Although there is a teleological facet in both Freud and Lamarck, Freud invests more of his argument in it, particularly in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. The concept of the death drive introduced in the speculative latter portion is inherently anti-Darwinian. Though it is not representative of the body of work for which Freud is best remembered, the death drive is his most drastic turn away from Darwinian evolutionary biology. Whether understood as manifesting itself in animal behavior or exclusively on the cellular level, there is no way to reconcile the idea with The Descent of Man or Origin of Species.

Darwinian evolutionary mechanics are concerned only with the present. When organic matter evolves according to Darwin, there is no preserved record of the previous state of being. Species strive for nothing in particular, but the premises of natural selection (variation, fitness, heredity, etc.) create the appearance of a general striving. One may point to the self-preservation instinct as a striving element, but the struggle for life is actually a result of the pre-existing principles of natural selection. Those organisms with a self-preservation instinct are more likely to survive to procreation. Ironically, self-preservation according to Darwin extends beyond the pleasure principle: it is probable that instincts [such as selfpreservation] are persistently followed from the mere force of inheritance (Darwin, Ch. IV). However, Freuds death drive, indecipherable to an undergraduate as it may be, definitely requires that organisms and cells unconsciously respond to a set of circumstances other than the present circumstances (i.e. a vague memory of inorganic matter or the previous state of being). Furthermore, unlike the self-preservation instinct, there is no course by which it could have arisen as a result of Darwinian evolution. Given that organisms procreate and pass on their traits (including, as in the above Darwin quotation, their instincts), any variance in the intensity of the death drive between organisms or cells would quickly eradicate the drive from the gene pool. On the other hand, autoplastic adaptation allows for a more arbitrary retroactive assignment of biological needs. That is, Lamarckian dynamics have poor predictive properties; they only explain what has happened. The ideas put forth in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality also reinforce Freuds reputation for privileging the past (In Our Time). He says We shall be in even closer harmony with psycho-analytic research if we give a place of preference among the accidental factors [in sexual development] to the experience of early childhood (Three Essays, 240). Early impressions shape the individual in ways foreign to Darwin. In The Transformations of Puberty section of Three Essays Freud directly supports the concept of autoplastic adaptation of the psyche. He declares it decisive that sexual tension is accompanied by an impulsion to make a change in the psychological situation (Three Essays, 209), in the same way an animal might be compelled to adapt to its environment in Lamarcks worldview. Most Freudians processes are based on the individual changing in response to an environmental challenge. Defense

mechanisms such as repression and sublimation correspond to Lamarckian biological needs. The reality principle, which Freud discusses in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, reconciles the baser instincts among the difficulties of the external world (Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 10). If Freud wanted to reformulate his theories to more closely parallel Darwinian evolution, he could say instincts develop over long periods of time and on a societal rather than individual level. In fact, he says society is responsible for the transformation and regulation of instinct, but not for the instincts themselves. Finally, Freuds discussion of inversion and how the sexual object is chosen corresponds very closely with the Lamarckian concept of use and disuse. According to Lamarck (and completely contradicting Darwin), the mechanism by which biological needs were fulfilled over the course of an organisms life was based on the consistent use of a potential adaptation. Returning to a previous example, a single giraffes neck would slightly elongate over time because of the giraffes constant striving to reach higher food (use). If food existed only at ground level, the giraffes neck would remain the same (disuse). Similarly, Freuds determining factors of homosexuality all have to do with certain elements being present or absent in a persons development. He says inversion among hysterics can sometimes be explained by the loss of a parent, because the remaining parent absorbs the whole of the childs love, which can be enough to sway the child toward the same sex.. In other words, the child is no longer using love toward the opposite sex, and it subsequently fails to develop. According to Freud, legal prohibition of homosexuality also decreases the rate of inversion for much the same reason; people are artificially made to use their sexual instincts only in one direction, which solidifies their sexual orientation. Though Freuds legacy is obvious in modern psychology, his specific theories have fallen somewhat out of favor. Darwin on the other hand, who never set out to revolutionize psychology, is being increasingly incorporated into current understanding of psychological phenomena. How did psychoanalysis become something of a remnant of history whereas evolutionary psychology is thriving? Scientists are asking themselves the same question about Neanderthals and humans. No definitive answer exists, but the aforementioned conservative hypothesis is that humans (analogous to evolutionary psychology) had crucial adaptations that allowed them to out-compete the Neanderthals (analogous to

psychoanalysis) with whom they coexisted. Two plausible but less widely believed hypotheses say humans either violently wiped out Neanderthals, or merged into one Neanderthal-tinged human population. In the case of Freud and Darwin, one could make an argument comparable to either of the three, but that is not the subject of this paper. Just for kicks though, I will propose the following Lamarckian hypothesis: psychology needed Darwinian evolution, and has grown accordingly.


Darwin, Charles. The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. Vol. 1. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Project Gutenberg. Web.
Freud, S. (1920). Beyond the Pleasure Principle. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XVIII (1920-1922): Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Group Psychology and Other Works, 1-64 Freud, S. (1893). Frlein Elisabeth von R, Case Histories from Studies on Hysteria. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume II (1893-1895): Studies on Hysteria, 135-181 Freud, S. (1917). Letter from Sigmund Freud to Karl Abraham, November 11, 1917. The Complete Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Karl Abraham 1907-1925, 361-362 Freud, S. (1917). Letter from Sigmund Freud to Georg Groddeck, June 5, 1917. Int. Psycho-Anal. Lib., 105:36-38 Freud, S. (1925). The Resistances to Psycho-Analysis. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XIX (1923-1925): The Ego and the Id and Other Works, 211-224 Freud, S. (1905). Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905). The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume VII (1901-1905): A Case of Hysteria, Three Essays on Sexuality and Other Works, 123-246 "Psychoanalysis and Its Legacy." In Our Time. BBC Radio. 4 Feb. 1999. Radio.

Viegas, Jennifer. "First Love Child of Human, Neanderthal Found." Discovery News. N.p., 27 Mar. 2013. Web. 01 May 2013. Not directly cited, but used to construct the introduction. Wall, Jeffrey D., and Michael F. Hammer. "Archaic Admixture in the Human Genome."Current Opinion in Genetics & Development 16.6 (2006): 606-10. ScienceDirect. Web. 1 May 2013.