Lecturer's Précis - Freud (1933)

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First published online 10:23 BST 30th April 2002, Copyright Derek J. Smith (Chartered Engineer). This version [2.1 - link to graphic] dated 09:00 BST 3rd July 2018

An earlier version of this material appeared in Smith (1999). It is reproduced here with minor amendments and supported with hyperlinks.


Sigmund Freud as Cognitive Modeller (Example Five of Five)

Read firstly Freud (1891), Freud (1896), Freud (1900), and Freud (1923).

Here is how the 1923 diagram had evolved in Freud's thinking by the time he wrote "New Introductory Lectures" in 1933.

Freud's (1933) Classic Hierarchical Diagram - Mark II: Here, from New Introductory Lectures, we see a later variant of the 1923 diagram. The unconscious is now shown explicitly at the point where the ego shades into the id, and the preconscious remains at the point where the ego shades into the perceptual consciousness. The superego has been included for good measure, but has been offset to a position where it can monitor what the ego is up to. Once again, however, the information flowlines have been left (infuriatingly) implicit. Upon inspection, the role of the id turns out to be rather troublesome, because if we take at face value Freud's assertion that "the id has intercourse with the external world only through the ego" (p111) we would have to show the information flow descending from the apex and returning upwards to it rather than the other way around!

If this diagram fails to load automatically, it may be accessed separately at



Redrawn from Freud (1933/1964:111). This version Copyright © 2002, Derek J. Smith.


There are many points of similarity between the more mature Freudian diagrams (the 1923/1933 versions) and the control hierarchy diagrams shown in, say, Wundt (1902) or Craik (1945). For example, both adopt a three-level control hierarchy wherein each level owes it to its neighbours to keep private as much of its processing as it can. But they differ, of course, in considering the motivation for this secrecy - a Freudian would see it as a matter of the psychosexual acceptability of the material concerned, whilst a control engineer would see it merely as a matter of efficiency or inefficiency. Either way, what emerges is a layer cake of qualitatively different memory types with quantitatively different rights of access to consciousness.



Freud, S. (1933/1964). New Introductory Lectures. Harmondsworth: Penguin. [Being the Penguin edition of the 1964 Strachey translation of the German original.]

Smith D.J. (1999). Freudian Structures in the Computational Mind: Some Lessons from the Study of Ritual Sacrifice. Cardiff: UWIC. [ISBN: 1900666111] [Transcript of paper presented 15th April 1999 to the 13th Annual Conference of the History and Philosophy of Psychology Section of the BPS, York.]