Tag Archives: consciousness

2017 Cheiron Book Prize: Susanna L. Blumenthal’s Law and the Modern Mind

Cheiron: The International Society for the History of the Behavioral and Social Sciences has announced their 2017 Book Prize winner. Congratulations to Susanna Blumenthal!

Cheiron awards the 2017 Cheiron Book Prize to Susanna L. Blumenthal (Julius E. Davis Professor of Law and Associate Professor of History at the University of Minnesota) for Law and the Modern Mind: Consciousness and Responsibility in American Culture (Harvard University Press, 2016). Dr. Blumenthal’s book contributes much to our understanding of the quandaries that lawyers and jurists faced and explored as they considered the appropriate legal relations between human activity and culpability, particularly over the course of the nineteenth century.

During the early years of the American republic, as the precedents following from inherited position fell away, jurists found themselves having to consider matters of standing, evidence, and responsibility in new ways. In doing so, they found that human subjectivity took on new consequences. Well into this process, Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. wrote in 1894, “In a proper sense the state of a man’s consciousness always is material to his liability.” Relying on extensive knowledge of the primary sources (including routine civil and criminal cases), Blumenthal provides historians, psychologists, anthropologists, and other readers with an invigorated understanding of the emergence of refined notions of the individual (generally white men, at that time): they became singular legal persons, and there were circumstances by which such legal persons could be held culpable for their actions or culpability might be limited due to mental impairments of various sorts.

Blumenthal’s prose is lucid and subtle. Her exposition is both magisterial and thought-provoking. For example, the historical examination of the jurisprudence of insanity illuminates contemporary attitudes toward ‘others’—children, women, and slaves.

Members of the 2017 Cheiron Book Prize Committee: Jennifer Bazar, Elissa Rodkey, Gerald Sullivan (Chair), and Phyllis Wentworth.

The 2017 Cheiron Book Prize will be formally presented at the annual meeting of Cheiron, June 22-25, at Mississippi State University, Starkville.

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History of psychology in Nautilus

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The popular publication on science, Nautilus, offers two recent features relevant to our readership.

The first is an adroit biographical and theoretical sketch of distinctive psychologist and historian of psychology Julian Jaynes. In addition to a survey of the impact his opus The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind  made upon its publication, focus is also placed on current interpretations of his polarizing thinking, and the ways in which it can be said to have anticipated persistent “vexations” in neuroscience. Find here.

The second, in spite of a somewhat click-baity title, provides a rather nuanced and concise history of research on gender differences in ‘spatial skills,’  touching on the various tensions that are at play in any discussion of why females are currently understood to struggle with spatial cognition, including the perennial oversimplification of  a nature/nurture dichotomy, social construction, neuro plasticity, sexism in STEM fields, and even evolutionary explanations. Find here. 

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“The First Modern Battle for Consciousness”

The latest issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies, 14(11), includes an article by David Berman and William Lyons that examines “the first modern battle for consciousness.”

Here is the abstract:

This essay investigates the influences that led J. B. Watson to change from being a student in an introspectionist laboratory at Chicago to being the founder of systematic (or radical) behaviourism.  Our focus is the crucial period, 1913-1914, when Watson struggled to give a convincing behaviourist account of mental imaging, which he considered to be the greatest obstacle to his behavourist programme.  We discuss in detail the evidence for and against the view that, at least eventually, Watson rejected outright the very existence of mental images.  We also discuss in detail whether or not Knight Dunlap was the crucial influence on his eventual rejection of mental images.  Finally we consider whether Watson’s rejection of mental images was bolstered by some personal incapacity as regards imaging or whether his rejection was more like a form of ‘ideological blindness.’

Two related resources are also included below.

Continue reading “The First Modern Battle for Consciousness”

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