Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious

By Sigmund Freud


Most modern psychology developed along the lines of Locke's view that the source of human knowledge was through experience. Locke believed that all information about the physical world comes through the senses and that all correct ideas can be traced to the sensory information on which they are based. However, some European psychologists remained loyal to Descartes' ideas that some mental organisation is innate and this concept still plays a role in theories of perception and cognition.

Complimentary to this philosophical background, psychology also received contributions from physiology. German physiologist Johannes Müller tried to relate sensory experience both to events in the nervous system and to events in the organism's physical environment. The first psychologists, Fechner and Wundt, introduced experimental methods for measuring sensations in terms of physical magnitude of the stimuli producing them, and in 1879 Wundt founded the first laboratory of experimental psychology. So, it was from this scientific climate that Freud developed his theories of psychoanalysis and dream interpretation, calling attention to the instinctual drives and unconscious motivational processes that determine people's behaviour.

Behind all of Freud's work, however, was his belief in the universal law of determinism. In terms of physical phenomena this may have been derived from his experience in Brucke's laboratory, - i.e. the school of Helmholtz. But in extending this into the field of mental phenomena he may have been influenced by his teacher, the psychiatrist Meynert and maybe the philosopher Herbart.

This book on jokes, on being published, was greeted by a more prepared audience than some of Freud's earlier works. It can be seen in the frequent references to The Interpretations of Dreams that familiarity with his theories and work is often assumed by Freud. These were, understandably, liberties that he could not take in his first books.