Perceptual Identity

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The Freudian notion of perceptual identity refers to the goal pursued by the pleasure-seeking primary process by means of hallucination. Perceptual identity is opposed to thought identity, which thought seeks by means of the secondary process.

The notion of perceptual identity is essentially articulated in Freud's "Project for a Scientific Psychology" (1950c [1895]) and The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a). Yet the clinical, developmental, and anthropological dimensions of Freudian thought help one to grasp its full import, beyond the defining opposition between primary and secondary processes. Indeed, the issue of perceptual identity brings into play that of hallucination, which is fundamentally related not only to psychopathology but also to analytic clinical practice as such.

By means of hallucination, the primary process seeks to forestall any schism between the id and reality, and so it seeks to neutralize the ego, since the task of the latter is to negotiate the inevitable conflicts between the two. Perceptual identity presupposes a foreclosure of meaning in the sense in which Jacques Lacan discussed it, a result of the identity, in representation or affect, between the aim of the drive and perception. In melancholia, perceptual identity unifies the absent or lost object and the aim of perception; this permits a substitution of the past for the present and future, and preserves the lost object as a substitute satisfaction. By contrast, thought identity presupposes an elaboration of the lost objecthence the detour inherent in the activity of thought.

Cogitative thought processes may seek thought identity in perceptual identity. The great mystics demonstrate this, as do intuitionist currents in philosophy (for example, intellectual intuition in German idealism). Perhaps perceptual identity enhances speed of thought and gives rise to flashes of brilliance, whose importance to creativity should not be underestimated.

Dominique Auffret

See also: Experience of satisfaction; Pleasure/unpleasure principle; Infantile omnipotence; Mnemic trace/memory trace; Thought identity; Wish, hallucinatory satisfaction of a.


Freud, Sigmund. (1950c [1895]). A project for a scientific psychology. SE, 1: 281-387.

. (1900a). The interpretation of dreams. SE, 4: 1-338; 5: 339-625.

Lagache, Daniel. (1982). La psychanalyse et la structure de la personnalité. In his Œuvres complètes, Vol. 4, 1956-1962. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Mijolla-Mellor, Sophie de. (1992). Le plaisir de pensée. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.