Tag Archives: Mesmerism

New Exhibit! Mind Maps: Stories from Psychology at London’s Science Museum

London’s Science Museum is now exhibiting Mind Maps: Stories from Psychology. Supported by the British Psychological Society (BPS), the exhibit is on display until August 12, 2014 and is free for all visitors. The video above provides a quick look behind the scenes of the exhibit and a number of items from the exhibit are further highlighted on the Science Museum’s website here. The exhibit, the brain child (pun intended) of the Science Museum’s BPS Curator of Psychology Phil Loring,

explores how mental health conditions have been diagnosed and treated over the past 250 years.

Divided into four episodes between 1780 and 2014, this exhibition looks at key breakthroughs in scientists’ understanding of the mind and the tools and methods of treatment that have been developed, from Mesmerism to Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) bringing visitors up to date with the latest cutting edge research and its applications.

Bringing together psychology, other related sciences, medicine and human stories, the exhibition is illustrated through a rich array of historical and contemporary objects, artworks and archive images.

Updated: Much more on the exhibit on both BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio 4, the latter featuring an interview by Claudia Hammond with curator Phil Loring and the music of the glass harmonica. Reviews of Mind Maps: Stories from Psychology can also be found at the Huffington Post and The Telegraph.

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Interview: Lamont on Extraordinary Beliefs

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 ProblemThe 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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New Book: Peter Lamont’s Extraordinary Beliefs

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:

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.

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August HoP: Sex, Mesmerism, Addiction, & More

The August 2012 issue of History of Psychology is now online. Included in this issue is a Special Section: Beyond Kinsey, Sex and American Psychology, which examines some of the psychological research funded by the Committee for Research in Problems of Sex. Stay tuned to AHP later in the week for a special interview with Peter Hegarty, Michael Pettit, and David Serlin, the authors whose articles make up this section.

In addition to the Special Section: Beyond Kinsey, Sex and American Psychology, the issue includes article that address the history of addiction interventions, the roots of psychology in Italy, behavior analysis in Brazil and its pedagogical connections, Lurena Brackett and mesmerism in the nineteenth century United States, and Jean Piaget’s psychological factory. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

Special Section: Beyond Kinsey, Sex and American Psychology.

“Beyond Kinsey: The committee for research on problems of sex and American psychology,” by Peter Hegarty. The abstract reads,

This introduction to the Special Section of History of Psychology argues for greater attention to psychological research on sex in the decades before the publication of the Kinsey volumes. Drawing on scholarship by Adele Clarke, Donna Haraway and Wade Pickren, this introduction argues for the centrality of the psychological research projects funded by the Committee for Research on Problems of Sex (CRPS), chaired by psychologist Robert Yerkes after 1921. The three individual papers all speak to opposition to the functionalist approach to sex often attributed to Yerkes’ CRPS.

“Getting miles away from Terman: Did the CRPS fund Catharine Cox Miles’s unsilenced psychology of sex?” by Peter  Hegarty. The abstract reads, Continue reading

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New in Social History of Medicine

There are a number of articles in the just released May issue of Social History of Medicine that may be of interest to AHP’s readers. In a piece on music and hypnosis, James Kennaway explores the long and complicated relationship between music and selfhood from the time of Mesmeric uses of the glass harmonica (left) to more recent concerns about brainwashing. Additionally, two articles in the issue explore aspects of asylum history. The first discusses the role of the Irish Famine of the 1840s in Irish asylums, while the second explores efforts to control suicide in English public asylums in the latter half of the nineteenth century. A further piece delves into views on alcoholism in mid-to-late twentieth century Yugoslavia. Full titles, authors, and abstract follow below.

“Musical Hypnosis: Sound and Selfhood from Mesmerism to Brainwashing,” by James Kennaway. The abstract reads,

Music has long been associated with trance states, but very little has been written about the modern western discussion of music as a form of hypnosis or ‘brainwashing’. However, from Mesmer’s use of the glass armonica to the supposed dangers of subliminal messages in heavy metal, the idea that music can overwhelm listeners’ self-control has been a recurrent theme. In particular, the concepts of automatic response and conditioned reflex have been the basis for a model of physiological psychology in which the self has been depicted as vulnerable to external stimuli such as music. This article will examine the discourse of hypnotic music from animal magnetism and the experimental hypnosis of the nineteenth century to the brainwashing panics since the Cold War, looking at the relationship between concerns about hypnotic music and the politics of the self and sexuality.

“Revisiting a ‘Demographic Freak’: Irish Asylums and Hidden Hunger,” by Melinda Grimsley-Smith.The abstract reads, Continue reading

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Royal Commission Report on Animal Magnetism

A translation of the 18th century French Royal Commission Report on animal magnetism commissioned by King Louis XVI has been posted on the Skeptic‘s website. This investigation into the veracity of animal magnetism, or mesmerism, was undertaken by group of individuals that included Antoine Lavoisier, American Benjamin Franklin, and a number of other prominent intellectuals. The piece is introduced by Skeptic founder Michael Shermer who provides the following description of mesmerism:

The German physician Franz Anton Mesmer was the “discoverer” of animal magnetism, and he has ever since been remembered whenever we are “mesmerized” by something that seems to draw us to it like a magnet. The analogy is appropriate, for Mesmer reasoned that just as an invisible force of gravity binds the planets together, and an invisible force of electricity flows through various substances, and an invisible force of magnetism draws iron shavings to a loadstone, so an invisible force — animal magnetism — flows through living beings.

The Commission’s report, as well as Shermer’s introduction to it, can both be read here.

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“The Astrological Roots of Mesmerism”

In a forthcoming article in Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences historian of science Simon Schaffer (left) examines the influence of astrology on Franz Anton Mesmer’s development of mesmerism.

The abstract to Schaffer’s article, “The astrological roots of Mesmerism,” reads:

Franz Anton Mesmer’s 1766 thesis on the influence of the planets on the human body, in which he first publicly presented his account of the harmonic forces at work in the microcosm, was substantially copied from the London physician Richard Mead’s early eighteenth century tract on solar and lunar effects on the body. The relation between the two texts poses intriguing problems for the historiography of medical astrology: Mesmer’s use of Mead has been taken as a sign of the Vienna physician’s enlightened modernity while Mead’s use of astro-meteorology has been seen as evidence of the survival of antiquated astral medicine in the eighteenth century. Two aspects of this problem are discussed. First, French critics of mesmerism in the 1780s found precedents for animal magnetism in the work of Paracelsus, Fludd and other early modern writers; in so doing, they began to develop a sophisticated history for astrology and astro-meteorology. Second, the close relations between astro-meteorology and Mead’s project illustrate how the environmental medical programmes emerged. The making of a history for astrology accompanied the construction of various models of the relation between occult knowledge and its contexts in the enlightenment.

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Merton, Mesmerists, and More in JHBS 2010

The first issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences for 2010 has just been released online. The winter 2010 issue of JHBS includes four all new articles which explore topics as diverse as mesmerism, race relations, and the golden section, as well as eight book reviews.

In “Merton as Harvard Sociologist: Engagment, Thematic Continuities, and Institutional Linkages” Lawrence Nichols, Professor of Sociology at West Virginia University, examines the importance of the years sociologist Robert Merton (pictured at right) spent at Harvard University. Early intersections of mesmerism and Asian mind-body practices are explored in “The Mesmerists Inquire about “Oriental Mind Powers”: West Meets East in the Search for the Universal Trance,” by David Schmit, of the Department of Psychology at St. Catherine’s University, while in “The Individual and “The General Situation”: The Tension Barometer and the Race Problem at the University of Chicago, 1947-1954″ Leah Gordon, of the School of Education at Stanford University, investigates the triumph of individualistic conceptions of the cause of racial oppression in the post-war United States. In the final article, John Benjafield, Professor Emeritus at Brock University, explores the use of the concept of the golden section in early American psychology. Continue reading

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The First Use of Ether for Anesthesia

Mind Hacks has put me on to an article in the Boston Globe about the day that ether was first used to produce anesthesia for the purposes of doing surgery. It begins:

The date of the first operation under anesthetic, Oct. 16, 1846, ranks among the most iconic in the history of medicine. It was the moment when Boston, and indeed the United States, first emerged as a world-class center of medical innovation. The room at the heart of Massachusetts General Hospital where the operation took place has been known ever since as the Ether Dome, and the word “anesthesia” itself was coined by the Boston physician and poet Oliver Wendell Holmes to denote the strange new state of suspended consciousness that the city’s physicians had witnessed. The news from Boston swept around the world, and it was recognized within weeks as a moment that had changed medicine forever. Continue reading

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