Jacy Young is a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey in the UK. She completed her doctorate in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University in 2014.
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In his new book The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and The Power of Seeing (Crown, 2017), Damion Searls presents the first biography of Hermann Rorschach and the history of the Rorschach Test. A story that is largely untold, Searls starts with the childhood of Rorschach and brings readers through his growth as a psychiatrist as he created an experiment to probe the mind using a set of ten inkblots. As a visual artist, Rorschach incorporated his ability to think about visuals and his belief that what is seen is more important than what we say. After his early death, Rorschach’s Test found its way to America being used by the military, to test job applicants, to evaluate defendants and parents in custody battles and people suffering from mental illness. In addition, it has been used throughout advertising and incorporated in Hollywood and popular culture. A tragic figure, and one of the most influential psychiatrists in the twentieth century, The Inkblots allows readers to better understand how Rorschach and his test impacted psychiatry and psychological testing. Searls’ work is eloquently written and detailed, pulling in unpublished letters, diaries and interviews with family, friends and colleagues. Searls’ well researched text presents insight into the ways that art and science have impacted modern psychology and popular culture.
A recent article in the Bulletin of the History of Medicine may be of interest to AHP readers. Exploring the happenings at the New York State Lunatic Asylum, Kathleen Brain describes how the antebellum asylum asserted ownership over the prevention of suicide and the ramifications of this claim. Full details below.
““The Weight of Perhaps Ten or a Dozen Human Lives”: Suicide, Accountability, and the Life-Saving Technologies of the Asylum,” by Kathleen M. Brian. The abstract reads,
By accounting for the law’s productive capacity to structure asylum physicians’ encounters with suicide, this essay argues that the antebellum asylum was a technology for the preservation of life. The essay first shows how suicide’s history as a crime encouraged popular attributions of suicide to insanity. What began as a tactic to protect survivors, however, ended by bolstering the professional claims of asylum medicine. Initially it appeared there was much to gain from claiming suicide as their own, but dominion over prevention in fact rendered asylum physicians and their staffs vulnerable in unanticipated ways: for while agents of suicide were effectively evacuated of legal responsibility, a variety of laws made physicians more accountable than ever. Focusing on medical superintendent Amariah Brigham and his staff at the New York State Lunatic Asylum shows how the anxiety of assuming guardianship over the suicidal created networks of accountability that profoundly affected daily life.
“Scientific Study of Magic: Binet’s Pioneering Approach Based on Observations and Chronophotography,” Cyril Thomas, André Didierjean and Serge Nicolas. The abstract reads
In 1894, French psychologist Alfred Binet (1857–1911) published an article titled “The Psychology of Prestidigitation” that reported the results of a study conducted in collaboration with two of the best magicians of that period. By using a new method and new observation techniques, Binet was able to reveal some of the psychological mechanisms involved in magic tricks. Our article begins by presenting Binet’s method and the principal professional magicians who participated in his studies. Next, we present the main psychological tools of magicians described by Binet and look at some recent studies dealing with those mechanisms. Finally, we take a look at the innovative technique used by Binet for his study on magic: the chronophotograph.
“A Particular Kind of Wonder: The Experience of Magic Past and Present,” Peter Lamont. The abstract reads,
Wonder may be an important emotion, but the term wonder is remarkably ambiguous. For centuries, in psychological discourse, it has been defined as a variety of things. In an attempt to be more focused, and given the growing scientific interest in magic, this article describes a particular kind of wonder: the response to a magic trick. It first provides a historical perspective by considering continuity and change over time in this experience, and argues that, in certain respects, this particular kind of wonder has changed. It then describes in detail the experience of magic, considers the extent to which it might be considered acquired rather than innate, and how it relates to other emotions, such as surprise. In the process, it discusses the role of belief and offers some suggestions for future research. It concludes by noting the importance of context and meaning in shaping the nature of the experience, and argues for the value of both experimental and historical research in the attempt to understand such experiences.
“The Synthetic Experiment: E. B. Titchener’s Cornell Psychological Laboratory and the Test of Introspective Analysis,” by Rand B. Evans. The abstract reads,
Beginning in 1900, a major thread of research was added to E. B. Titchener’s Cornell laboratory: the synthetic experiment. Titchener and his graduate students used introspective analysis to reduce a perception, a complex experience, into its simple sensory constituents. To test the validity of that analysis, stimulus patterns were selected to reproduce the patterns of sensations found in the introspective analyses. If the original perception can be reconstructed in this way, then the analysis was considered validated. This article reviews development of the synthetic method in E. B. Titchener’s laboratory at Cornell University and examines its impact on psychological research.
“The Method of Negative Instruction: Herbert S. Langfeld’s and Ludwig R. Geissler’s 1910–1913 Insightful Studies,” by Robert W. Proctor and Aiping Xiong. The abstract reads,
Herbert S. Langfeld and Ludwig R. Geissler published insightful articles during the period of 1910–1913 using what they called the Method of Negative Instruction, which anticipated much current research on action control and the role of instructions. We review their studies and relate the findings to contemporary research and views concerning task-irrelevant congruency effects and deception, concluding that their work has not received the credit it warrants. We also call for contemporary researchers to revisit prior studies, especially ones conducted before the cognitive revolution in psychology, to enrich their knowledge of the field and improve the quality of their research.
“The great cat mutilation: sex, social movements and the utilitarian calculus in 1970s New York City,” by Michael Pettit. The abstract reads,
In 1976, the animal liberation movement made experiments conducted on cats at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) one of its earliest successful targets. Although the scientific consensus was that Aronson was not particularly cruel or abusive, the AMNH was selected due to the visibility of the institution, the pet-like status of the animals, and the seeming perversity of studying non-human sexuality. I contextualize the controversy in terms of the changing meaning of utilitarian ethics in justifying animal experimentation. The redefinition of ‘surgeries’ as ‘mutilations’ reflected an encounter between the behavioural sciences and social movements. One of the aims of the late 1960s civil rights movements was to heighten Americans’ sensitivity to differing experiences of suffering. The AMNH protesters drew inspiration from a revived utilitarian ethics of universal organismic pain across the lines of species. This episode was also emblematic of the emergence of an anti-statist, neo-liberal ethos in science. Invoking the rhetoric of the 1970s tax revolt, animal liberationists attacked Aronson’s ability to conduct basic research with no immediate biomedical application. Without denying the violence involved, an exclusive focus on reading the experiments through the lens of utilitarianism obscures what ethics animated Aronson’s research.
“Putting attachment in its place: Disciplinary and cultural contexts,” by Marga Vicedo. The abstract reads,
This paper examines the reception of John Bowlby’s and Mary Ainsworth’s ethological theory of attachment among anthropologists and cultural psychologists. First, it shows that from Margaret Mead’s criticisms in the mid 1950s to the present, many of them have challenged the main tenets of attachment theory but attachment theorists ignored those challenges. Second, it argues that we need to understand the different disciplinary goals of psychology and anthropology after WWII in order to illuminate the lack of attention to children’s cultural context in attachment research. The privileging within psychology of laboratory data over field observations supported the rise of attachment research focused on the strange situation procedure and contributed to the neglect of ethnographic data about children in their socio-cultural milieu. Recognizing the importance of studying children in context, however, recent studies by anthropologists and developmental psychologists sensitive to the power of culture have deepened the challenge to attachment theory.
“L’esprit (dé)réglé: Literature, Science, and the Life of the Mind in France, 1700–1900,” by Florence Vatan and Anne Vila. The abstract reads,
The case studies presented in this special issue illustrate the unique appeal that the puzzle of the mind exerted across fields of knowledge in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They highlight the diversity of approaches and perspectives that the exploration of the mind elicited in literature, philosophy, and the sciences de l’homme. They also testify to the conceptual challenges and persistent nebulousness that surrounded the notion of esprit and its close associates. That fluidity of meaning was, in its way, productive: it provoked debates about the nature of the self, the precarious status of consciousness, and the relevance of human exceptionalism.
“Comment l’esprit vient aux filles… et comment les garçons le perdent: Maladie d’amour, médecine et fiction romanesque au XVIIIe siècle,” by Alexandre Wenger. The abstract reads,
This article proposes a commentary on a little known novel, Les Amours du chevalier de Faublas, written between 1787 and 1790 by Jean-Baptiste Louvet de Couvray. The objective is to show a rivalry that existed in the second half of the eighteenth century between the novel and medical treatises as ways to document knowledge of the human mind. Taking as a point of departure the problematic polysemy of the term “esprit” in the eighteenth century, this article reveals how Couvray’s novel engages in therapeutic writing. Its main hypothesis is that as a fictional narrative, the novel discusses the madness of love and the disturbances of the mind.
‘Disciplining Bergson: Cinematographs as Epistemic Devices, 1896-1922’
Henri Bergson’s use of the cinematograph as a metaphor for scientific epistemology had a major impact on twentieth-century conceptions of science: even today, many philosophers of science regard the relation between recording mechanisms and embodied observers as critical to our understanding of objective knowledge. Yet little is known about the extent to which Bergson’s characterization of cinematographs as epitomizing a pervasive ‘fragmentation’ of nature into lifeless ‘snapshots’ reflected actual scientific practice during the early twentieth century. This talk will address cinematographic experimentation by such contemporaries of Bergson as Charles Scott Sherrington, Hugo Münsterberg, and Max Wertheimer. In doing so, it will suggest that as well as expressing a broader trend towards the mechanical analysis of nature, cinematograph-centred experimentation contributed to a disciplinary divergence between psychological and physiological science during the first decades of the twentieth century. It will further highlight how this changing disciplinary structure came to haunt Bergson’s philosophy during the 1920s. Ironically, the prominence that Bergson gave to his to cinematographic metaphor prevented him from adapting his philosophy to a mode of scientific organization that grew up around the devices themselves.
‘C.G. Jung’s Interpretation of Girolamo Cardano’s Dreams’
Between 1936 and 1941, Carl Gustav Jung presented a seminar on children’s dreams and the historical literature on dream interpretation in Zurich. As part of the seminar Jung analysed twelve dreams of Girolamo Cardano. These sessions do not only give a peek into Jungian dream interpretation in practice, but also demonstrate how Jung used Cardano’s dream reports to corroborate his ideas about archetypes, the collective unconscious, synchronicity and the harmonization of opposites. In his book on dreams, titled Synesiorum somniorum omnis generis insomnia explicantes, libri IV (1562), Cardano defends the merits of dream interpretation and offers a philosophical explanation for his views. Central to his dream theory is the idea that the cosmos is a unified, harmonic and animated entity. The universal harmonic interrelations between all cosmic phenomena provide the basis for Cardano’s theory of dream interpretation. In this paper I will investigate how and why Jung used Cardano’s dream reports to revive the Renaissance notion of a unitary harmonic world as the eternal ground of all empirical being. Moreover, I will analyse why Jung was prepared to make a ‘salto mortale’ to appropriate Cardano’s dreams, while at the same time he considered him as ‘a free thinker who was more superstitious than primitives.’
Warren S. McCulloch (1898–1969) adopted many identities in his scientific life—among them philosopher, poet, neurologist, neurophysiologist, neuropsychiatrist, collaborator, theorist, cybernetician, mentor, engineer. He was, writes Tara Abraham in this account of McCulloch’s life and work, “an intellectual showman,” and performed this part throughout his career. While McCulloch claimed a common thread in his work was the problem of mind and its relationship to the brain, there was much more to him than that. In Rebel Genius, Abraham uses McCulloch’s life as a window on a past scientific age, showing the complex transformations that took place in American brain and mind science in the twentieth century—particularly those surrounding the cybernetics movement.
Abraham describes McCulloch’s early work in neuropsychiatry, and his emerging identity as a neurophysiologist. She explores his transformative years at the Illinois Neuropsychiatric Institute and his work with Walter Pitts—often seen as the first iteration of “artificial intelligence” but here described as stemming from the new tradition of mathematical treatments of biological problems. Abraham argues that McCulloch’s dual identities as neuropsychiatrist and cybernetician are inseparable. He used the authority he gained in traditional disciplinary roles as a basis for posing big questions about the brain and mind as a cybernetician. When McCulloch moved to the Research Laboratory of Electronics at MIT, new practices for studying the brain, grounded in mathematics, philosophy, and theoretical modeling, expanded the relevance and ramifications of his work. McCulloch’s transdisciplinary legacies anticipated today’s multidisciplinary field of cognitive science.