According to its opening words, "not everyone will like this book", and probably that is true. In particular, people who still believe in psychoanalysis, or just that Sigmund Freud was a great thinker who advanced our understanding of human psychology, will hate this book. Others who have espoused more recent sets of irrational beliefs, such as "intelligent design", will find much to dislike. All of these may well constitute a majority of the reading public, but they should still leave a substantial minority who will appreciate Frederick Crews's surgical skill in dissecting much of the nonsense that passes for science.
Much of the early part of the book is devoted to Freud, not only to his ideas, but also to his character as a person and his lack of concern for the well-being of his patients. As a former believer in Freudian analysis, Crews uses his expert knowledge to demolish it thoroughly, noting Freud's inconsistencies, his failure to cure his patients, his lack of interest in subjecting his theories to tests and so on. Karl Popper long ago concluded that what distinguished psychoanalysis from real science was that real science is "falsifiable" -- it is subject to tests that are potentially devastating -- whereas pseudoscientific theories can accommodate absolutely any observation. Rather surprisingly, Popper is not mentioned in the book, though lesser philosophers of science like Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend do make brief appearances. Nonetheless, it is clear that Crews has absorbed the essential idea of falsifiability.
A more recent abuse of science is to be found in claims that repressed memories of childhood abuse can be "recovered" by appropriate therapy, and even that the supposed abusers themselves can be induced to "remember" their past crimes.Read more ›
Nobody, it seems, can argue more vigorously than a convert. Even, as in this case, a convert away from a belief. In this collection of delicious critiques, Crews opens with an assault on a belief he once held - the value of psychoanalysis. Crews had been enamoured of Freud's explanations of the mind until he looked more closely at the evidence. "Looking more closely at the evidence" forms the theme of this collection. The "wise" here, are those who have promoted several academically-based causes without considering the evidence underlying them.
The "evidence" in the Freud segment of the book comes in the form of the Viennese doctor's own statements, in letter or book form. Crews discovered Freud to be more concerned with his own grandeur than in the well-being of his "patients". Even during "therapeutic" sessions, Freud paid little or no attention to his patients - a fundamental in the "free association" process. As the doctor developed his notions of the ego, superego and id, he began manoeuvring his patients into fitting his notions. This pernicious tactic was furthered by Freud's followers, particularly in the United States. "Therapists" became adept at formulating scenarios and badgering their subjects until those unfortunates accepted roles they'd never experienced. This practice became prevalent in the "repressed memory" movement that saw families destroyed and innocents jailed for acts never committed.
The essayist's most expressive prose takes full flight in the chapters on the US phenomenon of "creationism". For this topic, Crews leaves few writers unscarred. It's easy, of course, to unravel the inconsistencies and convoluted propositions of the current wave of creationist writers.Read more ›
Let's be clear about this: "Follies of the Wise" is one sharp book. Comprised of essays written from 1993 and onwards, it includes `The Unknown Freud' and `The Revenge of the Repressed'. Even though Frederick Crews is widely regarded as the fiercest Freud-basher around, these essays by no means deal exclusively with his perception of psychoanalysis as being largely unscientific and the dangers of the recovered memory movement. Writing extensively on UFO's, theosophy and creationism as well as post-structuralism, he dissects anything unscientific, superstitious and snobbish. The last two essays beautifully conveys his love for Kafka and Melville. Furthermore there are two appendixes containing interviews with the author. To be critical is sometimes equated with being offensive. Granted, his style can perhaps hardly be characterized as being mild-mannered, but there is nothing rancorous in it either. There is a difference between being acute and being acrimonious. To me, Frederick Crews is an intrepid advocate of critical thinking and he just happens to be a gifted writer as well. Highly recommended.
Was this review helpful to you?
I bought this book because I liked the author's essays in The New York Review of Books. I admire his razor-sharp intelligence and his fearlessness in tackling "sacred cow" subjects. This collection doesn't disappoint in that respect. But it covers the same ground over and over again. The essays are grouped by theme, so if you read them in the order they are presented you start feeling that the author is beating a dead horse. I'd say only about half of the pieces in the book are worth reading; the rest need only a quick skim. But the ones worth reading are REALLY worth reading. Get the book from the library if you can. If not, I do recommend buying it, but with reservations.
Was this review helpful to you?