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Condensation, along with displacement, is an essential process in dream work and more generally in primary-process thinking. We tend to view it as a way of attributing, to a person or representative object, characteristics and properties that, from the point of view of latent thoughts, belong to other persons or objects. In reality, if we go by Freud's text in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a), condensation, like displacement, does not proceed directly by modifying the content of a representation. All dreams are made up of latent dream thoughts, each of which corresponds to one or several chains of associations, with each link being initially charged with a psychic intensity. Dream work consists in changing the location of these fragmentary intensities without either increasing or reducing their global value.

In displacement, one assigns to link A in a chain of associations the intensity initially associated with link B. Condensation, in contrast, operates by bringing intensities together. When two chains of association intersect, it assigns to the common link the sum of the intensities of the two intersecting chains. This nevertheless indirectly alters the representation because, in the manifest content of the dream, a link will not figure if it does not retain an intensity. By displacing the intensities of several chains to their common link, condensation makes it possible to represent all of the chains by a single link. Hence, there is an economy of means that contributes to censorship. As a result, when one link takes the place of several chains, this makes it more difficult to read through to the wish corresponding to those chains.

Condensation thus has an indirect effect on the figural content of representations. It does not create chimeras that bring together in one element the attributes of others. Nor does it engage in metonymy, in which one of the links represents one or several chains of association. It is a process that operates by displacing intensity, but when the intensity of several chains is brought to bear on their common link, condensation seeks to represent them all.

When explaining the effect of condensation, Freud used the metaphor of italics. A representative link whose intensity has been reinforced by condensation has a status comparable to that of a word in italics in a text. This metaphor calls for two remarks. First, the intensity added to a fragment of a representation through condensation makes it possible, like italics, to stress the importance of the representation. This added intensity indicates at the manifest level that the representation stands for the different latent chains intersecting at the link. Second, typographical emphasis warps the texture of a text and invites us to look for links other than those offered by successive statements. Typographical emphasis is an invitation to abandon linearity and search for the dreamer's associations.

The notion of intensity is complex. The term indicates the psychic interest of a particular idea. But we may well ask whether this interest should not be extended to the affect associated with each chain of associations or the instinct that determines each association.

Although Freud studied condensation particularly in relation to dreams, especially in The Interpretation of Dreams, he also describes the effect of this process in other manifestations of primary-process thinking, such as jokes, forgetting names, slips of the tongue, and symptoms. In these latter domains, however, it is sometimes quite difficult to distinguish between condensation and overdetermination. In both cases, as the result of a transformation, a representation substitutes for more elaborate thought content. Both processes seem to proceed by increasing intensity, that is, by economic modification, and this results in the reorganization of the thought content. But whereas condensation can be viewed as a sum of intensities relative to forces acting in the same direction, overdetermination appears more as an appropriation of content by heterogeneous if not antagonistic forces. In fact, the content of an overdetermined representation acts as a fulcrum for opposing logics and conflicting systems (such as the preconscious and the unconscious). A thought content (or representation) resulting from the interaction of forces pushing for the fulfillment of an unconscious wish and forces opposing it (the censor) is a good example of overdetermination but not of condensation, since the censor is not part of the latent dream thoughts. However, as soon as the signifying element begins to represent conflict (as in the case of a symptom), the difference between condensation and overdetermination is more difficult to establish.

Laurent Danon-Boileau

See also: Dream; Dream work; Identification; Jokes; Metaphor; Primary process/secondary process; Representability; Slips of the tongue; Unconscious formations; Unconscious, the; Work (as a psychoanalytical notion).


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

. (1905c). Jokes and their relation to the unconscious. SE, 8: 1-236.

. (1916-1917a [1915-17]). Introductory lectures on psycho-analysis. SE, 15: 9-239; 16: 243-463.

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con·den·sa·tion / ˌkänˌdenˈsāshən; -dən-/ • n. 1. water that collects as droplets on a cold surface when humid air is in contact with it. 2. the process of becoming more dense, in particular: ∎  the conversion of a vapor or gas to a liquid. ∎  (also condensation reaction) Chem. a reaction in which two molecules combine to form a larger molecule, producing a small molecule such as H2O as a byproduct. ∎  Psychol. the fusion of two or more images, ideas, or symbolic meanings into a single composite or new image, as a primary process in unconscious thought exemplified in dreams. 3. a concise version of something, esp. a text.

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Condensation occurs when one of the three states of matter in which a gaseous (vapor) substance transforms into a liquid. It is the reverse of vaporization. As a vapor cools, it gives off energy in the form of latent heat. The release of heat causes each vapor molecule to shrink and move more slowly. Strong intermolecular forces (kinetic-molecular theory of gases) push the smaller gas molecules together; the bonding initiates the transformation into a denser, liquid form called condensate.

Condensation can occur from cooling processes such as distillation and steam engine production, or by exerting pressure in a manner that reduces the volume of the gas. Evidence of condensate is often found on a bathroom mirror after a hot shower, or on the outside of a "sweating" soda can as it warms to room temperature . Meteorological phenomena such as clouds , fog , and dew are also a result of condensation. Clouds form when rising hot air collides with air in cooler elevations.

In chemistry , condensation is defined as a reaction involving the joining of atoms in the same or different molecules. Chemists often use the process of condensation to eliminate simple molecules, such as water or alcohol, to form a heavier, more complex compound.

See also Evaporation; Hydrologic cycle

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condensation, in physics, change of a substance from the gaseous (vapor) to the liquid state (see states of matter). Condensation is the reverse of vaporization, or change from liquid to gas. It can be brought about by cooling, as in distillation, or by an increase in pressure resulting in a decrease in volume. Certain natural phenomena, such as dew, fog, mist, and clouds, are the result of the condensation of water vapor in the atmosphere; the formation of dew illustrates well the fundamental principles involved in such phenomena. The explanation of condensation can be found in the kinetic-molecular theory of gases. As heat is removed from a gas, the molecules of the gas move more slowly, and as a result, the intermolecular forces are strong enough to pull the molecules together to form droplets of liquid. Similarly, reducing the volume of the gas reduces the average distance between molecules and thus favors the intermolecular forces tending to pull them together.

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the grouping together or making thicker or denser, esp. by evaporation; the action of crowding togetherWilkes.

Examples: condensation of manufacturing populace, 1828; of thought and expression, 1794; of water drops.

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condensation Formation of a liquid from a gas or vapour, caused by cooling or an increase in pressure. More particularly, it is the changing of water vapour in the air into water droplets, forming mist, cloud, rain, or drops on cold surfaces.

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condensation See connected graph.