The mental mechanisms which underlie such commonplace occurrences as forgetting names or words and making slips of speech, writing or conduct have been investigated by the psychoanalytic method. It seems that "besides the simple forgetting of proper names there is another forgetting which is motivated by repression." "To avoid the awakening of pain through memory is one of the objects among the motives of these disturbances. In general one may distinguish two principal cases of name-forgetting: when the name itself touches something unpleasant, or when it is brought into connection with other associations which are influenced by such effects."
1S. Freud. Psychopathology of Everyday Life. English edition by A. A. Brill. All quotations in this section are from this work, except those otherwise specified.
The following passage is quoted by Ernest Jones from The Life of Charles Darwin: "I had, during many years, followed a golden rule, namely, that whenever a published fact, a new observation or thought came across me, which was opposed to my general results, to make a memorandum of it without fail and at once; for I had found by experience that such facts and thoughts were far more apt to escape from the memory than favorable ones."
"There are some who are noted as generally forgetful, and we excuse their lapses in the same manner as we excuse those who are short-sighted when they do not greet us in the street. Such persons forget all small promises which they have made; they leave unexecuted all orders which they have received; they prove themselves unreliable in little things; and at the same time demand that we shall not take these slight offenses amiss - that is, they do not want us to attribute these failings to personal characteristics but to refer them to an organic peculiarity. I am not one of these people myself, and have had no opportunity to analyze the actions of such a person in order to discover from the selection of forgetting the motive underlying the same. I cannot forego, however, the conjecture per analogiam, that here the motive is an unusual large amount of unavowed disregard for others which exploits the constitutional factor for its purpose."
Brill has observed that "We are more apt to mislay letters containing bills than cheques." l
Freud cites the following report furnished by a young engineer: "Some time ago I worked with many others in the laboratory of the High School on a series of complicated experiments on the subject of elasticity. It was a work that we undertook of our own volition, but it turned out that it took up more of our time than we expected. One day while going to the laboratory with F., he complained of losing so much time, especially on this day, when he had so many things to do at home. I could only agree with him, and he added half jokingly, alluding to an incident of the previous week: 'Let us hope that the machine will refuse to work, so that we can interrupt the experiment and go home earlier.' In arranging the work, it happened that F. was assigned to the regulation of the pressure valve, that is, it was his duty to carefully open the valve and let the fluid under pressure flow from the accumulator into the cylinder of the hydraulic press. The leader of the experiment stood at the manometer and called a loud 'Stop!' when the maximum pressure was reached.
At this command F. grasped the valve and turned it with all his force - to the left (all valves, without any exception, are closed to the right). This caused a sudden full pressure in the accumulator of the press, and as there was no outlet, the connecting pipe burst. This was quite a trifling accident to the machine, but enough to force us to stop our work for the day, and go home. It is characteristic, moreover, that some time later, on discussing this occurrence, my friend F. could not recall the remark that I positively remember his having made."
1 A. A. Brill. Psychanalysis: Its Theories and Practical Application.
"These as well as other similar experiences have caused me to think that the actions executed unintentionally must inevitably become the source of misunderstanding in human relations." " And this is, indeed, the punishment for the inner dishonesty to which people grant expression under the guise of ' forgetting,' of erroneous actions and accidental emotions, a feeling which they would do better to confess to themselves and others when they can no longer control it."
"Chance or symptomatic actions occurring in affairs of married life have often a most serious significance, and could lead those who do not concern themselves with the psychology of the unconscious to a belief in omens. It is not an auspicious beginning if a young woman loses her wedding-ring on her wedding-tour, even if it were only mislaid and soon found. I know a woman, now divorced, who in the management of her business affairs frequently signed her maiden name many years before she actually resumed it."
"The common character of the mildest as well as the severest cases, to which the faulty and chance actions contribute, lies in the ability to refer the phenomena to unwelcome, repressed, psychic material, which, though pushed away from consciousness, is nevertheless not robbed of all capacity to express itself."
"One may possibly be disinclined to consider the class of errors which I have here explained as very numerous or particularly significant. But I leave it to your consideration whether there is no ground for extending the same points of view also to the more important errors of judgment, as evinced by people in life and science. Only for the most select and most balanced minds does it seem possible to guard the perceived picture of external reality against the distortion to which it is otherwise subjected in its transit through the psychic individuality of the one perceiving it."