Acta Neurochirurgica

, Volume 160, Issue 6, pp 1235–1242 | Cite as

Sigmund Freud—early network theories of the brain

  • Werner Surbeck
  • Tim Killeen
  • Johannes Vetter
  • Gerhard Hildebrandt
Review Article - History of Neurosurgery


Since the early days of modern neuroscience, psychological models of brain function have been a key component in the development of new knowledge. These models aim to provide a framework that allows the integration of discoveries derived from the fundamental disciplines of neuroscience, including anatomy and physiology, as well as clinical neurology and psychiatry. During the initial stages of his career, Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), became actively involved in these nascent fields with a burgeoning interest in functional neuroanatomy. In contrast to his contemporaries, Freud was convinced that cognition could not be localised to separate modules and that the brain processes cognition not in a merely serial manner but in a parallel and dynamic fashion—anticipating fundamental aspects of current network theories of brain function. This article aims to shed light on Freud’s seminal, yet oft-overlooked, early work on functional neuroanatomy and his reasons for finally abandoning the conventional neuroscientific “brain-based” reference frame in order to conceptualise the mind from a purely psychological perspective.


Sigmund Freud History Language Structure-function connectivity Brain networks 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and animal rights and informed consent

All authors confirm that his article does not contain data from any studies with human participants.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Austria, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Werner Surbeck
    • 1
    • 2
  • Tim Killeen
    • 1
  • Johannes Vetter
    • 2
  • Gerhard Hildebrandt
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of NeurosurgeryKantonsspital St. GallenSt. GallenSwitzerland
  2. 2.Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and PsychosomaticsPsychiatric Hospital, University of ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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