As recently announced on AHP, a new book by historian of psychology, and magician, Peter Lamont has just been released. AHP had the pleasure of interviewing Lamont about his new book: Extraordinary Beliefs: A Historical Approach to a Psychological Problem. The full interview follows below.
AHP: How did you become interested in the history of extraordinary beliefs and the role of psychologists in supporting and challenging the existence of extraordinary phenomena?
PL: Well, I used to be a magician (but I’m alright now). As a history student, I funded my studies by working as a close-up magician. Later, I joined the Koestler Parapsychology Unit, based within the Psychology department, to work on the psychology of magic. Since then, I’ve combined my interests in history, magic and the paranormal, and since I now work as a historian in a Psychology department, it seemed only polite to discuss the role of psychologists in all this.
AHP: It seems as though psychologists have been investigating extraordinary phenomena – including mesmeric, spiritualist, psychic, and paranormal phenomena – since the very beginning of scientific psychology. Why did the discipline take such an early interest in the extraordinary?
PL: One reason, as others have long pointed out, is boundary-work. Psychical Research was an ideal Other by which scientific psychologists could construct their own scientific credentials and worth. But the same arguments were going on well before the birth of the academic discipline, and I think it makes more sense to see this as something with wider relevance, as an opportunity for people (including psychologists, because psychologists are people too) to construct their own expertise and worth. Continue reading
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A new book by historian of psychology, and magician, Peter Lamont has just been released. Extraordinary Beliefs: A Historical Approach to a Psychological Problem offers an account of the continuing appeal of the extraordinary. As described on the Cambridge University Press website:
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Since the early nineteenth century, mesmerists, mediums and psychics have exhibited extraordinary phenomena. These have been demonstrated, reported and disputed by every modern generation. We continue to wonder why people believe in such things, while others wonder why they are dismissed so easily. Extraordinary Beliefs takes a historical approach to an ongoing psychological problem: why do people believe in extraordinary phenomena? It considers the phenomena that have been associated with mesmerism, spiritualism, psychical research and parapsychology. By drawing upon conjuring theory, frame analysis and discourse analysis, it examines how such phenomena have been made convincing in demonstration and report, and then disputed endlessly. It argues that we cannot understand extraordinary beliefs unless we properly consider the events in which people believe, and what people believe about them. And it shows how, in constructing and maintaining particular beliefs about particular phenomena, we have been in the business of constructing ourselves.
The winter 2012 issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences (JHBS) has just been released online. Regular readers of JHBS may notice something different about the journal this year. The journal’s cover has been redesigned to now feature an image related to one of the articles included in the issue (right). Included in this first issue of 2012 are articles on the place of extraordinary psychological phenomena in the discipline, the work of Timothy Leary post-Harvard, Kurt Goldstein’s neurolingustic research, and the revival, in sociology, of interest in Max Weber’s work during the 1970s and 1980s. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“The making of extraordinary psychological phenomena,” by Peter Lamont. The abstract reads,
This article considers the extraordinary phenomena that have been central to unorthodox areas of psychological knowledge. It shows how even the agreed facts relating to mesmerism, spiritualism, psychical research, and parapsychology have been framed as evidence both for and against the reality of the phenomena. It argues that these disputes can be seen as a means through which beliefs have been formulated and maintained in the face of potentially challenging evidence. It also shows how these disputes appealed to different forms of expertise, and that both sides appealed to belief in various ways as part of the ongoing dispute about both the facts and expertise. Finally, it shows how, when a formal Psychology of paranormal belief emerged in the twentieth century, it took two different forms, each reflecting one side of the ongoing dispute about the reality of the phenomena.
“Timothy Leary’s mid-career shift: Clean break or inflection point?,” by David C. Devonis. The abstract reads,
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The psychologist Timothy Leary (1920–1996), an iconic cultural figure in the United States in the 1960s and afterward, has received comparatively scant attention in the history of psychology. Continue reading