The Freud Museum


The Archaeological Metaphor 1

"I am working on the assumption that our psychical mechanism has come into being by a process of stratification: the material present in the form of memory traces being subject from time to time to a re-arrangement in accordance with fresh circumstances - to a re-transcription. Thus what is essentially new about my theory is the thesis that memory is present not once but several times over, that it is laid down in various species of indications... I should like to emphasize the fact that the successive registrations represent the psychical achievement of successive epochs of life."

Letter to Wilhelm Fliess, December 6 1896

The quote above is somewhat ambiguous. Freud means both that (1) an experience is stored in the brain as a memory in several registrations (eg. images, words, tactile impressions and so forth) rather than as a single 'entity', and (2) that at different developmental stages our memories become reorganized so that we have 'memories' from different stages relating to the 'same' experience. This means, for instance, that a memory of an experience at a later stage might be associated with unpleasurable emotions, while the same memory at an earlier registration might be emotionally coloured as 'pleasurable' (or vice versa). Keeping with this example, Freud would assume (1) that something happened in development to turn the one state into the other, and (2) both of these states are active in the mind of the adult (or older child) even though only one of them is conscious.

Freud elaborated the model suggested by the above quotation in the seventh chapter of The Interpretation of Dreams, 1900.

Exercises and discussion topics:
What is the difference between memory and experience?

Think of some situations in your life when a memory has seemed 'more real' than the original experience (eg. because you were 'too involved' to notice at the time; because your memory is based on what other people have told you, and so on).

General discussion about memories and how we change our feelings about things over time.

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