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Burying Freud

[ Burying Freud Homepage | Freud's Seduction Theory Homepage ]

Response to Rolf Hamburger on penile erections in REM sleep

Rolf Hamburger quotes Carl Sagan's claim that the occurrence of penile and clitoral erections in REM (dreaming) sleep demonstrates the validity of Freud's insights about the primacy of sex. The notion that this phenomenon supports Freud's views is by no means as self-evident as Sagan thought. In Paul Chodoff's article 'A critique of Freud's theory of infantile sexuality' the following passage occurs: "The occurrence of penile erection in male children has always, so far as I know, been accepted unequivocally as a manifestation of sexual behaviour. However, the recent confirmation by Fisher and associates. [reference omitted] of a very high correlation between REM sleep and penile erection suggests another possible interpretation of at least some of the erections occurring in infants and children. It is now well established that REM, or dreaming sleep, is associated with a metabolic state which differs materially from the metabolic state of either wakefulness or nondreaming sleep, and which is manifested by alteration of a number of body functions. [reference omitted] Thus, the occurrence of penile erections during REM sleep may represent simply another of the nonspecific expressions of this altered metabolic state. It may have no more specific significance than, say, the hypotonia which also occurs in connection with REM sleep" (American Journal of Psychiatry, 123: 5, November 1966, p.512)

Chodoff reports that REM sleep is present during a considerably higher percentage of the sleeping time of infants and children than that of adults, and since penile erections tend to be synchronous with REM sleep, this again suggests that the erections may not be primarily a sexual phenomenon. It seems unlikely that infants and children have a greater sexual drive than adults. Incidentally, the quotation from Sagan suggests he was rather naive about Freud and not very well informed about late nineteenth century Vienna. He apparently swallowed the story propagated by Freud that the Viennese were sexually repressed and responded to his sexual theories with horror. Several scholars and commentators have pointed out that Freud's Vienna was sexually permissive and that sexual themes flourished in the theatre and literature at that time.

Rolf Hamburger writes that Einstein died before experiments confirmed the accuracy of his 'speculation' concerning the effect of gravity on light. This is just plain wrong. The solar eclipse experiment of 1919 provided corroborative evidence in support of the light-bending prediction of general relativity. The predicted red shift in the light emitted by stars with very high gravitational fields was also confirmed prior to Einstein's death. Rolf Hamburger writes as if the prediction of the bending of light were an isolated 'speculation', but of course it was but one consequence of a highly complex theory. 'Speculation' is a strange word to use in connection with a theory which took many years of arduous labour to complete and is regarded by virtually all knowledgeable physicists as one of the great intellectual achievements in human history. Among other things it accounted for the miniscule 42 seconds of arc per century precession of the perihelion of Mercury which previously had been a complete mystery. (This effectively counts as a corroboration of the general theory of relativity as the latter was not developed with the specific intention to account for the Mercury perturbation.)

August 1997

Allen Esterson

A correction and further remarks from Allen Esterson

In my response to Rolf Hamburger I stated that the red shift in the light emitted by stars with high gravitational fields was confirmed prior to Einstein's death. However, according to the recent biography of Einstein by Albrecht Foelsing, the confirmation of this consequence of general relativity theory was not achieved until after Einstein's death. An interesting discussion of the experimental verification of general relativity theory can be found in Steven Weinberg's book Dreams of a Final Theory (Vintage edition, 1993, pp. 71-77).

Note also that in my reference to 42 seconds of arc per century in relation to the planet mercury I should have said that this was the DISCREPANCY between the measured value for the precession of the perihelion of mercury and the value predicted by Newtonian theory.

Further to my comments on penile erections, Paul Kline, who is sympathetic towards Freudian theory, also rejects the claim that the occurrence of penile erections during dreaming vindicates Freudian theory on the primacy of sex. (Psychology and Freudian Theory, Routledge, 1984, pp. 90-91)

January 1998

Allen Esterson

 


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Burying Freud

[ Burying Freud Homepage | Freud's Seduction Theory Homepage ]

Response to Rolf Hamburger on penile erections in REM sleep

Rolf Hamburger quotes Carl Sagan's claim that the occurrence of penile and clitoral erections in REM (dreaming) sleep demonstrates the validity of Freud's insights about the primacy of sex. The notion that this phenomenon supports Freud's views is by no means as self-evident as Sagan thought. In Paul Chodoff's article 'A critique of Freud's theory of infantile sexuality' the following passage occurs: "The occurrence of penile erection in male children has always, so far as I know, been accepted unequivocally as a manifestation of sexual behaviour. However, the recent confirmation by Fisher and associates. [reference omitted] of a very high correlation between REM sleep and penile erection suggests another possible interpretation of at least some of the erections occurring in infants and children. It is now well established that REM, or dreaming sleep, is associated with a metabolic state which differs materially from the metabolic state of either wakefulness or nondreaming sleep, and which is manifested by alteration of a number of body functions. [reference omitted] Thus, the occurrence of penile erections during REM sleep may represent simply another of the nonspecific expressions of this altered metabolic state. It may have no more specific significance than, say, the hypotonia which also occurs in connection with REM sleep" (American Journal of Psychiatry, 123: 5, November 1966, p.512)

Chodoff reports that REM sleep is present during a considerably higher percentage of the sleeping time of infants and children than that of adults, and since penile erections tend to be synchronous with REM sleep, this again suggests that the erections may not be primarily a sexual phenomenon. It seems unlikely that infants and children have a greater sexual drive than adults. Incidentally, the quotation from Sagan suggests he was rather naive about Freud and not very well informed about late nineteenth century Vienna. He apparently swallowed the story propagated by Freud that the Viennese were sexually repressed and responded to his sexual theories with horror. Several scholars and commentators have pointed out that Freud's Vienna was sexually permissive and that sexual themes flourished in the theatre and literature at that time.

Rolf Hamburger writes that Einstein died before experiments confirmed the accuracy of his 'speculation' concerning the effect of gravity on light. This is just plain wrong. The solar eclipse experiment of 1919 provided corroborative evidence in support of the light-bending prediction of general relativity. The predicted red shift in the light emitted by stars with very high gravitational fields was also confirmed prior to Einstein's death. Rolf Hamburger writes as if the prediction of the bending of light were an isolated 'speculation', but of course it was but one consequence of a highly complex theory. 'Speculation' is a strange word to use in connection with a theory which took many years of arduous labour to complete and is regarded by virtually all knowledgeable physicists as one of the great intellectual achievements in human history. Among other things it accounted for the miniscule 42 seconds of arc per century precession of the perihelion of Mercury which previously had been a complete mystery. (This effectively counts as a corroboration of the general theory of relativity as the latter was not developed with the specific intention to account for the Mercury perturbation.)

August 1997

Allen Esterson

A correction and further remarks from Allen Esterson

In my response to Rolf Hamburger I stated that the red shift in the light emitted by stars with high gravitational fields was confirmed prior to Einstein's death. However, according to the recent biography of Einstein by Albrecht Foelsing, the confirmation of this consequence of general relativity theory was not achieved until after Einstein's death. An interesting discussion of the experimental verification of general relativity theory can be found in Steven Weinberg's book Dreams of a Final Theory (Vintage edition, 1993, pp. 71-77).

Note also that in my reference to 42 seconds of arc per century in relation to the planet mercury I should have said that this was the DISCREPANCY between the measured value for the precession of the perihelion of mercury and the value predicted by Newtonian theory.

Further to my comments on penile erections, Paul Kline, who is sympathetic towards Freudian theory, also rejects the claim that the occurrence of penile erections during dreaming vindicates Freudian theory on the primacy of sex. (Psychology and Freudian Theory, Routledge, 1984, pp. 90-91)

January 1998

Allen Esterson

 


human-nature.com
Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM

US -
 Search:
Keywords:  

Amazon.com logo

UK -
 Search:
Keywords:  

Amazon.co.uk logo

 | Human Nature | The Human Nature Daily Review | Psychiatry Research Online |