Over at Frontal Cortex on the newly expanded ScienceBlogs, Jonah Lehrer compares Malcolm Gladwell (author of Blink, in which he discusses rapid, unconscious, "snap" decision-making) to Sigmund Freud:
Sigmund Freud was also a master prose stylist, wasn't particularly interested in the neurological foundations of his theories, and loved theorizing about the all powerful unconscious. (Like Gladwell, he also loomed large in mass culture and had a talent for giving his books pithy names, although I'm pretty sure Freud never made the rounds of the corporate lecture circuit...) Blink could have been a great book. It could have really explored the modern science of unconscious thinking.
I haven't read Blink yet, so this post isn't about the book. Instead, I am concerned about the trivialize of Freud. Freud was a brilliant man. (No, he wasn't obsessed with sex.) Much of psychoanalysis has been put aside, but it was Freud who recognized that there can be pathology in thought. He recognized that there is value in introspection. He created the idea of the therapeutic relationship, and these ideas have woven their way into the fabric of our lives.
Freud was a visionary. His power came, not from being a literary stylist (he didn't even write in English), but because he presented a compelling new vision of humanity. Today, that vision is dated. Popular conceptions of psychoanalysis inevitably simplify it, and those simplifications seem very trite.
Nevertheless, Freud's vision of the human psyche changed the way we think about ourselves so fundamentally, we take it for granted. For some people, no argument with our spouse is complete unless we have introspected about our motives. Did I really tell here what I was angry about? Is there another issue I'm not facing? The idea that our motives can be hidden from ourselves came from Freud.
As parents, we worry how our parenting will affect our children when they grow up. That came from Freud.
As I've said before, I'm not a psychoanalyst. But I have to respect Freud's vision, his creation of a whole new way to help people, and his contribution to our current culture.