Category Archives: Books

Another New Books Network Podcast Interview: Elizabeth Barnes on The Minority Body

From the New Books Network of podcasts is a new interview with Elizabeth Barnes on their recent book The Minority Body: A Theory of Disability.  As New Books Network describes,

We are all familiar with the idea that some persons are disabled. But what is disability? What makes it such that a condition–physical, cognitive, psychological–is a disability, rather than, say, a disease or illness? Is disability always and intrinsically bad? Are disabilities things to be cured? Might disabilities be merely ways of being different? And what role should the testimony and experiences of disabled persons play in addressing these questions?

Barnes argues that, at least for a range of physical conditions characterized as disabilities, disabilities are merely ways in which bodies can be different, not ways of their being intrinsically badly off. She argues that this view of disability as mere difference has important implications for broader moral and social issues concerning disabled persons; she also argues that her view is better able to respect the experiences and testimony of disabled persons.

The full interview between Robert Talisse and the author can be heard here.

 

 

Share on Facebook

New Books Network Podcast Interview w/ Scott Selisker on Human Programming

New from the New Books Network of podcasts is an interview with Scott Selisker on his recent book Human Programming: Brainwashing, Automatons, and American Unfreedom.  As New Books Network describes, Selicker’s book

offers readers a fascinating new history of American anxieties along the borderland between the machine and the human mind. Demonstrating the way that a variety of fields influence and coproduce one another, Human Programming follows the metaphor of the automaton through news media, fiction, psychology, cybernetics, film, law and back again. Along the way, Selisker engages academic work on labor automation, posthumanism, affect and emotion, and techno-Orientalism.

Through careful interpretation of books on American soldiers returning from the Korean War, the trial of Patty Hearst, the narrative logic of Snow Crash and Blade Runner, the central conflicts of Homeland and the Manchurian Candidate, and the baffled news reports on John Walker Lindh, Human Programming “offers a new literary and cultural context for understanding the human automaton figure” as it has appeared and reappeared over the half century, and explores how the metaphor of the automaton has “shaped American conversations about the self and other, the free and unfree, and democracy and its enemies, since World War II” (7, 8). Beginning with a prehistory in WWII propaganda, this timely study comes up to a present in which we replace our employees with touchscreens, rely on machine learning to translate our conversations, use proprietary software to plot our routes, and deny the human freedom of our fellow citizens.

The full interview can be heard online here.

Share on Facebook

New Fiction: Skinner’s Quests

A new novel, by Richard Gilbert, offers of fictionalized account of what might have happened had B.F. Skinner and Sigmund Freud met. Skinner’s Quests is described as follows:

Two of the best known psychologists of the twentieth century, B.F. Skinner and Sigmund Freud, never met. What if they had met? What if, as well, the young B.F. Skinner had discussed matters of mutual interest with Ludwig Wittgenstein, the century’s best known and most eccentric philosopher, also living in England in 1939?

Skinner’s Quests, a novel of ideas and relationships, describes a fictional trip to England by Skinner in May and June 1939. He traveled from his home in Minneapolis to London and Cambridge via Montreal and Glasgow. He returned via Lisbon and New York.

Skinner had two quests. Both were conceived by philosopher and political activist Bertrand Russell, then at the University of Chicago. Both were to do with Russell’s former student Ludwig Wittgenstein – already the 20th century’s preeminent philosopher.

One quest was to correct what Russell regarded as Wittgenstein’s futile flirtation with behaviorism. (Russell had misunderstood Skinner’s position.)

The other quest, in collaboration with the White House, was to exploit Wittgenstein’s association with Adolf Hitler. The two were born a few days apart and were at high school together. Moreover, in 1939 Wittgenstein was involved with the German government, negotiating exemptions for his family from the Nuremburg (Race) Laws. He was also pally with the Soviet government.

Skinner had little interest in Wittgenstein. He welcomed the trip – over the strong objections of his wife – for a chance to meet Sigmund Freud, who was dying in London. Skinner was an admirer of Freud’s writings, even though he disagreed with much of what the founder of psychoanalysis had to say. Skinner met Freud, and Freud’s daughter Anna. In Cambridge, Skinner met Alan Turing as well as Wittgenstein. This was just after Turing had devised the modern computer and before he become a key figure in British cryptanalysis.

During the odyssey, Skinner met with other real and several fictional characters. Some of his encounters were romantic. Some were merely social. Some had a sinister edge that reflected the time of his travels, made during one of modern history’s most fraught periods.

Skinner’s odyssey had mixed success. He had little apparent impact on Wittgenstein, but he clarified his own thinking about several matters and provided information of possible value to the White House. Early in his odyssey, Skinner had visions of being the Darwin of the twentieth century, doing for psychology what Darwin had done for biology in the nineteenth century. Freud cautioned Skinner that his disregard for free will could become associated with totalitarianism. Skinner let the matter rest, at least for the moment.

The book will appeal to readers interested in some or all of these topics: psychology, philosophy, language, evolution, transportation in the 1930s, and the politics of North America and Europe just before the Second World War.

Share on Facebook

New Book: Purpose and Cognition: Edward Tolman and the Transformation of American Psychology

Soon-to-come from Cambridge University Press is a new volume on psychologist Edward Tolman and his influence on American Psychology. Purpose and Cognition: Edward Tolman and the Transformation of American Psychology, is written by psychologist David W. Carroll of the University of Wisconsin, Superior. The book is described on the publisher’s website, as discussing

the development of Edward Tolman’s purposive behaviourism from the 1920s to the 1950s, highlighting the tension between his references to cognitive processes and the dominant behaviourist trends. It shows how Tolman incorporated concepts from European scholars, including Egon Brunswik and the Gestalt psychologists, to justify a more purposive form of behaviourism and how the theory evolved in response to the criticisms of his contemporaries. The manuscript also discusses Tolman’s political activities, culminating in his role in the California loyalty oath controversy in the 1950s. Tolman was involved in a number of progressive causes during his lifetime, activities that drew the attention of both state legislators in California and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It treats Tolman’s theoretical and political activities as emanating from the same source, a desire to understand the learning process in a scientific manner and to apply these concepts to improve the human condition.

 

Share on Facebook

New Book: The Psychopath Machine: A Story of Resistance and Survival

Steve Smith has recently published a book detailing his experiences as a patient at Oak Ridge, the maximum security forensic mental hospital in Penetanguishene, Ontario, in the late-1960s and 70s. Details about Smith’s book, The Psychopath Machine: A Story of Resistance and Survival, and further information on Oak Ridge can be found on his website. (AHP’s previous coverage of Oak Ridge and details on the digital exhibit, Remembering Oak Ridge, can be found here.) The book is described as follows:

When Steve Smith set out to hitchhike from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to Canada’s west coast back in 1968, he was just an eighteen-year-old hippie with an appetite for adventure. But a short way into his journey, a reckless decision to steal a car landed him in police custody. Afraid of getting caught with the two tabs of acid in his pocket, Steve popped them into his mouth. It was one of the worst decisions of his life.

Mistaking his drug trip for a mental breakdown, the authorities placed him in Ontario’s notorious Oak Ridge mental health facility. While there, not only did he find himself shoulder-to-shoulder with people like notorious child killer Peter Woodcock and mass murderers Matt Lamb and Victor Hoffman, he also fell into the hands of someone worse: Dr. Elliot T. Barker.

Over the next eight months, Barker subjected Steve and the other patients to a battery of unorthodox experiments involving LSD, scopolamine, methamphetamines, and other drugs. Steven also experienced numerous other forms of abuse and torture.

Following his release, Steve continued to suffer the aftereffects of his Oak Ridge experience. For several years, he found himself in and out of prison—and back to Oak Ridge—before he was finally able to establish himself as a successful entrepreneur.

Once he began investigating what happened to him during his youth, not even Steve was prepared for what he would discover about Barker, Oak Ridge, and one of the darkest periods in Canada’s treatment of mental health patients. The question remains: Was Oak Ridge and Dr. Barker trying to cure psychopaths or trying to create and direct them?

Share on Facebook

New Book: The Friendship of Kahneman and Tversky

Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman

A new book on the famous collaboration – and friendship – of psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman has just been released. The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds, is written by Michael Lewis whose previous book Moneyball was turned into a motion picture in 2011. Reviews have appeared in the New York Times and The New Yorker and an excerpt from Lewis’s book was recently featured in Vanity FairAs Lewis writes,

When they wrote their first papers, Danny and Amos had no particular audience in mind. Their readers would be the handful of academics who happened to subscribe to the highly specialized psychology trade journals in which they published. By 1972 they had spent the better part of three years uncovering the ways in which people judged and predicted—but the examples that they had used to illustrate their ideas were all drawn directly from psychology, or from the strange, artificial-seeming tests that they had given high-school and college students. Yet they were certain that their insights applied anywhere in the world that people were judging probabilities and making decisions. They sensed that they needed to find a broader audience.

The full Vanity Fair piece can be read here.

Share on Facebook

Psychobook is Perfect for Your Coffee Table

A soon to be published book from Princeton Architectural Press may be just what every psychologist and historian of psychology has been waiting for to  adorn their coffee table. Psychobook is a lavishly  illustrated volume documenting the history of psychological testing.

As a recent piece in The New Yorker puts it,

“Psychobook” comprises an eclectic assortment of tests from the early twentieth century to the present, along with new artworks and whimsical questionnaires inspired by the originals. These materials are interlaced with vintage and contemporary photographs, portraits, collages, and film stills of psychologists analyzing patients or staring incisively into space, sometimes in idiosyncratically decorated Manhattan offices. It’s not immediately clear why this book exists, but it would probably look great in a therapist’s waiting room.

Put it on your wish list now.

Share on Facebook

Controversy Brewing over Suzanne Corkin and Patient H.M.

Henry Molaison (know as H.M. in much of the published literature)

As we recently reported on AHP a new book on the infamous case study of H.M. has subjected this work to increasing scrutiny, especially with respect to the actions of psychologist Suzanne Corkin, chief H.M. researcher who also served as gatekeeper of other researchers’ access to H.M. Corkin died in May of this year, while H.M. (now known to be Henry Molaison) died in 2008.

Backlash against Luke Dittrich and his book, Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets, has been growing since a lengthy piece adapted from the book appeared in the New York Times Magazine last week. (Further pieces on Dittrich’s book can be found on Psychology Today and the NYTMag’s Science of Us, among many other sources.) Particularly controversial have been three points: (1) reports that Corkin destroyed the records related to H.M.; (2) claims that Corkin suppressed reports of an additional lesion in H.M.’s brain; and (3) questions regarding the appropriateness of appointing a a non-relative as H.M.’s conservator.

Dr. James DiCarlo, head of the MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, has written a letter to the New York Times disputing these claims. Additionally, reports are circulating that a group of roughly 200 neuroscientists have written to the Times claiming that Dittrich’s work “contains important errors, misinterpretations of scientific disputes, and unfair characterizations of an MIT neuroscientist who did groundbreaking research on human memory” (from here; also see here and here for more). The letter signed by this group can be read in full here.

In response to DiCarlo’s claims Dittrich has written a post for Medium outlining his position and evidence regarding each claim. Included in Dittrich’s post is a 7-minute audio clip from an  interview he conducted with Corkin wherein she can be heard asserting that records concerning H.M. were destroyed. The audio can be heard here.

Share on Facebook

New Books Network Podcast Interview: Sabine Arnaud’s On Hysteria

Now available on the New Books Network is an interview with Sabine Arnaud on her recent book On Hysteria: The Invention of a Medical Category between 1670 and 1820. As the New Books Network describes,

Sabine Arnaud‘s new book explores a history of discursive practices that played a role in the construction of hysteria as pathology. On Hysteria: The Invention of a Medical Category between 1670 and 1820 (University of Chicago Press, 2015) considers a wide range of issues that are both specific to the particular history of hysteria, and more broadly applicable to the history medicine. Arnaud pays special attention to the role played by language in the definition of any medical category, basing her analysis on a masterful analysis of a spectrum of written medical genres (including dialogue, autobiography, correspondence, narrative, and polemic) that have largely been forgotten by the history of medicine. Arnaud asks, “What made it possible to view dozens of different diagnoses as variants of a single pathology, hysteria?” The answer can be found in a long process of rewriting and negotiation over the definition of these diagnoses enabled this retrospective assimilation, which was driven by enormously diverse political and epistemological stakes. In a series of fascinating chapters, the book interweaves the history of hysteria with studies of gender, class, literature, metaphor, narrative, and and religion. It’s an expertly-researched and compellingly-written account that will amply reward readers interested in the histories of medicine and gender.

The full interview can be heard online here.

Share on Facebook

New Books Network Podcast Interview: Rebecca Lemov’s Database of Dreams

Now available from the New Books Network of podcasts is an interview with Rebecca Lemov on her recent book, Database of Dreams: The Lost Quest to Catalog Humanity. As the New Books Network describes,

Rebecca Lemov‘s beautifully written Database of Dreams: The Lost Quest to Catalog Humanity (Yale University Press, 2015) is at once an exploration of mid-century social science through paths less traveled and the tale of a forgotten future. The book is anchored around the story of Harvard-trained social scientist Bert Kaplan, who embarked on, in her words, a dizzyingly ambitious 1950s-era project to capture peoples dreams in large amounts and store them in an experimental data bank. While unique in scope, Kaplan’s project can be characterized as the culmination of efforts to apply techniques of personality capture–projective testing, dream analysis, and life history–in cross-cultural research on indigenous peoples, an effort to account for the full spectrum of human life amidst the encroachment of modernity upon cultures based, for example, in oral traditions.

Richly documenting the entanglements of Kaplan and others in their attempts to render subjects as data, Lemov throws the transactional nature of anthropology into relief. A data point for an ethnographer can be many things for a research subject: cash for buying American niceties, a beer, a dream lost in the act of recounting, even a permanent mark of distrust. The book is also a history of a technology which never came to fruition: the futuristic reader for Kaplan’s Microcards was never realized, and the boxes of cards became dispersed and lost their value as a total archive of human personality. Lemov argues that we would do well to regard the fate of Kaplan’s database as a parable for our age by calling attention to the information loss upon which the technologies of documentation that saturate our present rely. What, then, will become of our compressed audio files, forgotten social media accounts, and backup hard drives stashed in the back corners of drawers?

The full interview can be heard online here.

Share on Facebook