Animistic Thought (International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis)
Freud drew the concept of animism from anthropologists such as Herbert Spencer, James George Frazer, Andrew Lang, Edward Burnett Tyler, and Wilhelm Wundt, who used it to refer to the tendency, thought to belong to people in primitive cultures and children, of attributing a soul to things and thus ascribing an intentionality to phenomena that would otherwise be understood in mechanistic causal terms. In psychoanalysis, the concept of animism is inextricably connected with projective mechanisms.
The connection between animistic thought and the mechanism of projection appears in 1912 in relation to some details concerning the relation between taboo and danger. This is a psychic danger because in the consistently applied animistic view of the universe of a person in a primitive culture, "every danger springs from the hostile intention of some being with a soul like himself, and this is as much the case with dangers which threaten him from some natural force as it is from other human beings or animals" (Freud, 1918 , p. 200). Freud continued: "But on the other hand he is accustomed to project his own internal impulses of hostility on to the external world" (p. 200).
The concept of animism is further developed in Totem and Taboo (1912-1913a), in which it is related to magic and the omnipotence of thoughts. Here Freud attributes a world-view to animism, as an intellectual system, in which it is conceived as a vast whole that starts from a specific point. This first conception of the universe held by humanity is a mythological conception that gives way first to the religious and then to the scientific world-view. Its particular interest for psychoanalysis lies in its psychological aspect, which is associated with the representation of souls that populate the universe and which, being separable from their original material ties, can be transposed into others. This led Freud on to the common ground that gave rise to superstition, as well as the belief in the existence of unconscious determinations or the negation of chance at an individual psychic level. Far from shying away from this kind of connection, Freud used it in 1915 as the basis for his justification of the hypothesis of the unconscious by recalling that consciousness can only ever be attributed to another person by analogy, just as animism confers a similar consciousness to that of the human being on things, plants or animals. This process of inference, which Freud designates here by the concept of identification, also justifies, with reference to the subject himself, making "the assumption of another, second consciousness which is united in one's self with the consciousness one knows" (1915e, p. 170). The need to go beyond animism in order to be able to believe in the role of chance in external eventshat is, in order not to succumb to superstitionecurs on several occasions in Freud's work (1933a ), particularly in relation to the inability to conceive of death as anything other than the result of a murder, whether this is through incompetence or negligence in the case of a doctor (Mijolla-Mellor, 1995).
The concept of animism seems to be inextricably linked with Freud's philosophical reflection on the different forms of world-view Weltanschauung in particular the religious form that animism precedes and from which it differs, particularly through its connection with magic based on the belief in the omnipotence of thoughts, a belief that is also found in obsessional neurosis.
Finally, Freud found in animism a foundation not only for suggestion as a therapeutic technique but for the form in which it persists in the conduct of the analytic treatment. In this case it concerns a form of animism without a magical act, which is entirely based on "the overevaluation of the magic of words and the belief that the real events in the world take the course which our thinking seeks to impose on them" (1933a , p. 166).
SOPHIE DE MIJOLLA-MELLOR
See also: Certainty; Omnipotence of thought; Primitive; Projection; Thought; Totem and Taboo.
Freud, Sigmund. (1912d). On the universal tendency to debasement in the sphere of love. SE, 11: 177-190.
(1912-13a). Totem and taboo. SE, 13: 1-161.
(1915e). The unconscious. SE, 14: 159-204.
(1918 ). The taboo of virginity (Contributions to the psychology of love III). SE, 11: 191-208.
(1933a ). New introductory lectures on psychoanalysis. SE, 22: 1-182.
Mijolla-Mellor, Sophie de. (1995). Meurtre familier. Approche psychanalytique d'Agatha Christie. Paris: Dunod.
Roheim, Geza. (1930). Animism, magic, and the divine king. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner.