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May 6: Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud (1856)

Sigmund Freud

It was on this date, May 6, 1856, that Sigmund Freud was born in Freiberg, Moravia (now Pribor, in the Czech Republic). Freud was 3 years old when the family fled during the anti-Semitic riots, and moved to Leipzig. Later, it was on to Vienna where Freud stayed, and worked, for most of his life. He first considered a career in law, but changed to medicine which he studied at the University of Vienna in 1873. He taught as professor of neurology there from 1902-1938.

Freud founded modern psychoanalysis and guided the systematic study of neuroses out of the supernatural realm of demon-possession and into the science of physical causes of mental maladies. Freud turned the old theory on its head, considering religion the disease rather than the cure of mental problems.

In a 1927 work, The Future of an Illusion, Freud wrote, "Religion ... comprises a system of wishful illusions together with a disavowal of reality, such as we find in an isolated form nowhere else but in amnesia, in a state of blissful hallucinatory confusion." And also, "Religion is comparable to a childhood neurosis." In his last published work, Moses and Monotheism (1939), Freud wrote,

Religion is an attempt to get control over the sensory world ... If one attempts to assign to religion its place in man's evolution, it seems not so much to be a lasting acquisition, as a parallel to the neurosis which the civilized individual must pass through on his way from childhood to maturity.

In a letter to Charles Singer, Freud wrote, "Neither in my private life nor in my writings, have I ever made a secret of being an out-and-out unbeliever." Additionally, he wrote in a 1933 letter to Ernest Jones, "What progress we are making! In the Middle Ages they would have burned me. Now they are content with burning my books." Ever the scientist, Freud followed the conclusions indicated by the data he collected. The man who famously asked, "What does a woman want?" ("Was will das Weib?") died in London on 23 September 1939.

Originally published May 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.

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Ronald Bruce Meyer

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