Wilhelm Fliess  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Wilhelm Fliess (October 24, 1858October 13, 1928) was a German otolaryngologist who practised in Berlin. On Josef Breuer's suggestion, Fliess attended several conferences of Sigmund Freud in 1887 in Vienna, and the two soon formed a strong friendship. Through their extensive correspondence and a series of personal meetings ("congresses" as Freud described them), Fliess came to play an important part in the development of psychoanalysis.

Fliess developed several idiosyncratic theories, such as reflex nasal neuroses, postulating a connection between the nose and the genitals, and vital periodicity, forerunner of the popular concepts of biorhythms that never found scientific favor outside of psychoanalytic circles, though others, such as the idea of innate bisexuality, were incorporated into Freud's theories. Freud referred occasional patients to him for treatment of their neurosis through anaesthetization of the nasal mucosa with cocaine, and through nasal surgery. Together, Fliess and Freud developed a Project for a Scientific Psychology, which was later abandoned.

Emma Eckstein (1865-1924) had a particularly disastrous experience when Freud referred the then 27-year old patient to Fliess for surgery to remove the turbinate bone from her nose, ostensibly to cure her of premenstrual depression. Eckstein haemorrhaged profusely in the weeks following the procedure, almost to the point of death as infection set in. Freud consulted with another surgeon, who removed a piece of surgical gauze that Fliess had left behind. Eckstein was left permanently disfigured, with the left side of her face caved in. Despite this, she remained on very good terms with Freud for many years, becoming a psychoanalyst herself.

Fliess also remained close friends with Freud. He even predicted Freud's death to be near the age of 51, through one of his complicated bio-numerological theories ("critical period calculations"). Their friendship, however did not last to see that prediction out: in 1904 their friendship disintegrated due to Fliess's belief that Freud had given details of a periodicity theory Fliess was developing to a plagiarist. Freud died at 83 years of age.

Freud ordered that his correspondence with Fliess be destroyed. It is only known today because Marie Bonaparte bought their letters and refused to permit their destruction.

Fliess's son Robert was also a psychoanalyst.


  • Wilhelm Fließ: Die Beziehungen zwischen Nase und weiblichen Geschlechtsorganen (in ihrer biologischen Bedeutung dargestellt), VDM Verlag Dr. Müller, Saarbrücken 2007. (In German.)
  • Sigmund Freud: Briefe an Wilhelm Fließ 1887–1904. S. Fischer Verlag, 2. Auflage (incl. Errata und Addenda) 1999.
  • With Sigmund Freud: The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 1887–1904, Publisher: Belknap Press, 1986, Template:ISBN
  • Ernest Jones:
    • — (1953). Sigmund Freud: Life and Work. Vol 1: The Young Freud 1856–1900.
    • — (1955). Sigmund Freud: Life and Work. Vol 2: The Years of Maturity 1901–1919.
    • — (1957). Sigmund Freud: Life and Work. Vol 3: The Last Phase 1919–1939. London: Hogarth Press.
  • Robert Fliess:
    • Psychoanalytic Series, Volume 1: Erogeneity and Libido : Addenda to the Theory of the Psychosexual Development of the Human.
    • Psychoanalytic Series, Volume 2: Ego and Body Ego: Contributions to Their Psychoanalytic Psychology
    • Psychoanalytic Series, Volume 3: Symbol, Dream and Psychosis.

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