Iqbal’s Rejection of the Freudian Unconscious

جراءت ہے تو افکار کی دنیا سے گزر

ہیں بحر خودی میں ابهی پوشیدہ جزیرے

کهلتے نہیں اس قلزم خاموش کے اسرار

جب تک تو انہیں ضرب کلیمی سے نه چیرے

Go beyond the world of thought, if you dare
There are still unexplored islands in the ocean of the self;
This silent sea will keep all its mysteries hidden from you
Until you strike to part its waters
With the staff of Moses.

This advice was given by Iqbal “To the Psychologist,” in his work Baal e Jibreel, or The Children of Gabriel. It was an era when new scientific research was rapidly being carried out in every field of science, and psychology was no exception. While giving this advice, Iqbal may have been particularly addressing that one great name whose theories had recently made a revolution in the realm of Psychology. The man was none other than Sigmund Freud.

In 1899, Freud published his book “The Interpretation of Dreams,” and gave a completely new perspective to psychology. Freud’s theory and method of Psychoanalysis revolved around the Unconscious Mind, the ultimate source and cause of all behaviour, and the storehouse of thought.

Though the Unconscious had been mentioned before by several psychologists, it was Freud’s extreme emphasis on the Unconscious and its role entirely in the shaping of personality which gave it a unique and exclusive status in Freud’s newfound psychoanalysis. According to his theory, almost every action, thought, idea, and even errors and mistakes sprung from the Unconscious, which was a dark, uncovered part of the mind, filled with memories, often unpleasant, and repressed passions and instincts. This repression often led the individual towards neurosis.

Freud divided the mind into Conscious, Preconscious and Unconscious. He also gave a tripartate (3 part) model of personality: id, ego and superego. The larger part of personality, including the Id and Supergo lay submerged in the Unconscious, while only the ego was present in the Conscious mind. As the Unconscious was a warehouse of thoughts, memories, desires and instincts, it was the real cause of most of our behaviour. Hence, behaviour was mostly influenced by what lay suppressed, repressed within the Unconscious ,  and we thereby had not much conscious control over our actions or behaviour. A mind so helpless, that it cannot even consciously control its own actions, let alone fashion its own destiny, was the new model presented by modern psychology.

This new psychological theory did not appeal to a man who almost around the same time was also putting forth a theory of personality, and painting a rather different picture of the human mind. His name was Muhammad Iqbal, Lawyer, Politician, Philosopher and Poet, the very man whose ideas gave birth to a nation and led to the founding of a new state.

Iqbal, considered Western civilization to be “an extension of Islamic civilization,” and he not only acknowledged the influence of a number of western thinkers upon his ideas and thought but was also profuse in their praise. Yet, his deep misgivings about the Freudian theory of the Unconscious, were openly expressed in Lecture 1 of his famous Reconstruction:

“I cannot help saying that the main theory of this newer psychology does not appear to me to be supported by any adequate evidence. If our vagrant impulses assert themselves in our dreams, or at other times we are not strictly ourselves, it does not follow that they remain imprisoned in a kind of lumber room behind the normal self. The occasional invasion of these suppressed impulses on the region of our normal self tends more to show the temporary disruption of our habitual system of responses rather than their perpetual presence in some dark corner of the mind.”

By limiting human nature and personality to the Unconscious, Freud took the soul away from the individual, rather the same way Darwin’s theory of Evolution took the soul away from Humanity. It may come as no big surprise that Freud was greatly influenced by Darwin’s Origin of Species.

Iqbal, in his works, presented an alternative to Freud’s Unconscious mind. According to Iqbal the self or ego has two sides, the Efficient Self and the appreciative self.

“… the self in its inner life moves from the centre outwards. It has … two sides which may be described as appreciative and efficient. On its efficient side it enters into relation with what we call the world of space. The efficient self is … the practical self of daily life in its dealing with the external order of things which determine our passing states of consciousness … The time in which the efficient self lives is, therefore, the time of which we predicate long and short… We can conceive it only as a straight line composed of spatial points …. A deeper analysis of conscious experience reveals to us what I have called the appreciative side of the self.”

The Efficient Self, thus can be equated with the Conscious of freud’s theory, the outward, temporal part of the self or ego, which is in touch with the “real” world as experienced  by our sense-perception, the self which exists in space-time.

The other part of the self/ego, which can be equated with the Unconscious, is the Appreciative Self, which is the inner, deeper, uncovered and undiscovered part of the self. The goal of life actually lies in uncovering this hidden part of the ego:

“With our absorption in the external order of things …, it is extremely difficult to catch a glimpse of the appreciative self. In our constant pursuit after external things we weave a kind of veil round the appreciative self which thus becomes completely alien to us. It is only in the moments of profound meditation, when the efficient self is in abeyance, that we sink into our deeper self and reach the inner centre of experience.”

IT is here that we see the similarity between the two: the Appreciative self, like the Unconscious, is buried deep within our mind, is covered in veils and is generally inaccessible to us in our day to day lives. This similarity, however, ends there. While the Unconscious appears by Freudian definition a dark and dingy vault where memories, which were meant to be forgotten, lie much like moth-eaten and decayed corpses, reeking of negativity, the Appreciative Self appears as a glowing pearl, the essence of all purity and goodness contained within the human body and soul, which lies hidden and covered by veils which our daily, temporal lives cast over it. It is a light waiting impatiently to be released.

“In the life-process of this deeper ego the states of consciousness melt into each other. The unity of the appreciative ego is like the unity of the germ in which the experiences of its individual ancestors exist, not as a plurality, but as a unity in which every experience permeates the whole.”

Thus, for the Appreciative Self, there is no Conscious, Preconscious or Unconscious, but a unity of experience in which consciousness reaches the highest levels of self awareness. This is what Iqbal calls existence in real non-serial time, a concept which does not appear too far-fetched in the light of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, which itself speaks of the illusion of time! Hence, Iqbal’s advice to the psychologist is to move beyond the cage of serial time to enter the realm of the appreciative self where time stands with unlimited possibilities and destinations…

3 Comments

  1. Salam,

    I like to call Freud, “the soldier of Plato”.

    I would like to suggest some additions if you agree.

    The theory of unconscious is also rejected by the facts of conscious experiences. Time experienced serially, by the efficient side of the self, means that a new second comes only after the previous second has passed, hence, it cannot be said that one experiences multiple seconds at a given instance, as in the concept of the “stream of consciousness” by the psychologist, William James. Thus, the theoretical idea of thought, after it has passed, receding into an unconscious lacks scientific proof.

    The appreciative self as it experiences time non-serially experiences time not by thought or cognition but is felt and it appears before the consciousness as a super-eternal, now, with the past or the future not present as independent dimensions of time but the past moving along and working in the present and the future present in the now only as an open and undetermined possibilities of knowledge, wholly determined by the course of actions taking place in the present.

    Thank you again for this wonderful article. 🙂

    Regards,
    Barkhia Umar

    Like

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