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The term psychic apparatus (also psychical apparatus, mental apparatus) denotes a central, theoretic construct of Freudian metapsychology, wherein an implicit intake and processing of information takes place, and thereby acts on said information in pursuit of pleasure by way of resolving tension through the reactional discharge of “instinctual impulses”.
The apparatus, as defined by Freud, includes pre-conscious, conscious, and unconscious components. Regarding this, Freud stated:
We assume that mental life is the function of an apparatus to which we ascribe the characteristics of being extended in space and of being made up of several portions [Id, ego and super-ego].— Freud, An Outline of Psychoanalysis (1940)
We picture the unknown apparatus, which serves the activities of the mind, as being really like an instrument constructed of several parts (which we speak of as 'agencies'), each of which performs a particular function, and which have a fixed, spatial relation to one another: it being understood that by 'spatial relation'—'in front of' and 'behind', 'superficial' and 'deep'—we merely mean, in the first instance, a representation of the regular succession of the functions.— Freud, The Question of Lay Analysis (1926).
It is a hypothesis, like so many others in the sciences: the very earliest ones have always been rather rough. 'Open to revision', we can say in such cases ... the value of a 'fiction' of this kind ... depends on how much one can achieve with its help.— Freud, The Question of Lay Analysis (1926)
Moreover, in emphasizing the immateriality of the psychic apparatus, Freud dismissed the matter of its physical substance:
That is not a subject of psychological interest. Psychology can be as indifferent to it as, for instance, optics can be to the question of whether the walls of a telescope are made of metal or cardboard. We shall leave entirely to one side the material line of approach.— Freud, The Question of Lay Analysis (1926)
Freud's psychic apparatus is intended to be a means by which our subconscious interacts with the external world. This central psychic apparatus would control the relationship between other existing apparatuses within the unconscious (neural, language, and memory), the basic drives of the person- functioning in the pursuit of satisfaction-, and the constant stream of stimuli from the reality in which one interacts with on a day-to-day basis. Though seemingly related, it was never specified by Freud whether the introduction of the Id, ego, and superego was intended to replace or expand the psychoanalytic model of the psychic apparatus. It has been theorized that it may have been a temporary placeholder prior to the conception and public introduction of ideas such as the id, ego, and superego, making it a foundation upon which Freud could further his expansion of a physiological and mental correspondence in relation to human functioning. However, the most commonly held belief within the psychoanalytic community is that the model of the psychic apparatus was intended by Freud to be the "whole" in which many parts- such as the id, ego, and superego- function throughout, in search of pleasure and avoidance of pain. This following of the pleasure principal is seen to be a “central element in the organization and structuring of the psychic apparatus.” Psychoanalyst and theorist Hans Loewald argued that the interactions between the external world and our internal systems- such as the psychic apparatus and ego- lead from being fluid systems to highly differentiated systems.
Knowledge of the psychical apparatus was acquired through the study of the development of human beings. Id was the name given to the venerable of these tangible domains. In this domain we find that everything has been inherited, everything that was present at birth. Due to the world we find ourselves in, a segment of the id has developed to provide organs. These organs are able to receive stimuli and function as protection, through some adaptation, to act as a mediator between the id and the world. This segment or mediator, has been known as the ego. The ego is then able to satisfy the needs between the id in relation to reality.
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- The Psychical Apparatus, Sigmund Freud (1940)