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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The March 2013 issue of the History of Psychiatry is now online. Included in this issue are a number of articles ranging from morbidity and mortality caused from melancholia, to a revisiting of the mental hygiene movement, and even to William James’ psychical research. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“The morbidity and mortality linked to melancholia: two cohorts compared, 1875–1924 and 1995–2005,” by Margaret Harris, Fiona Farquhar, David Healy, Joanna C Le Noury, Stefanie C Linden, J Andrew Hughes, and Anthony P Roberts. The abstract reads:
For over a century, melancholia has been linked to increased rates of morbidity and mortality. Data from two epidemiologically complete cohorts of patients presenting to mental health services in North Wales (1874–1924 and 1995–2005) have been used to look at links between diagnoses of melancholia in the first period and severe hospitalized depressive disorders today and other illnesses, and to calculate mortality rates. This is a study of the hospitalized illness rather than the natural illness, and the relationship between illness and hospitalization remains poorly understood. These data confirm that melancholia is associated with a substantial increase in the standardized mortality rate both formerly and today, stemming from a higher rate of deaths from tuberculosis in the historical sample and from suicide in the contemporary sample. The data do not link melancholia to cancer or cardiac disease. The comparison between outcomes for melancholia historically and severe mood disorder today argue favourably for the effectiveness of asylum care.
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The April 2012 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. This month’s issue is a special issue, guest edited by Elizabeth Valentine, on the topic of parapsychology, occultism, and spiritualism. The eight all new articles in the issue explore the history of psychology’s relationship to spiritualism and other occult matters across the globe; most specifically in the Netherlands, the United States of America, Germany, Britain, France, Spain, Hungary, and Japan. (Pictured above is medium Eusapia Palladino, the subject of one of the issues articles, in a seance in 1898.) Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“Psychical research and parapsychology interpreted: Suggestions from the international historiography of psychical research and parapsychology for investigating its history in the Netherlands,” by Ingrid Kloosterman. The abstract reads,
One of the reasons the history of parapsychology and its ancestor psychical research is intriguing is because it addresses a central issue: the boundaries of science. This article provides an overview of the historiography of parapsychology and presents an approach to investigate the Dutch history of parapsychology contributing to the understanding of this central theme. In the first section the historical accounts provided by psychical researchers and parapsychologists themselves are discussed; next those studies of sociologists and historians understanding parapsychology as deviant and even potentially revolutionary are dealt with; third, more contemporary studies are examined whereby enterprises such as parapsychology are understood as central to the culture in which they arose. On the basis of this analysis a new direction in the historiography of the subject is suggested in the fourth section, centred upon the relation between parapsychology and psychology in the Netherlands throughout the 20th century. In the Netherlands not only were pioneering psychologists such as Gerard Heymans (1857–1930) actively involved in experiments into telepathy, the first professor in parapsychology in the world – Wilhelm Tenhaeff (1894–1981) – was appointed in 1953 at Utrecht University and in the 1970s and 1980s parapsychology had its own research laboratory at Utrecht University in the division of psychology. This unique situation in the Netherlands deserves scholarly attention and makes an interesting case to investigate the much-neglected connections between the fields of psychology and parapsychology in the 20th century. The connections between psychology and parapsychology might help us to understand why parapsychology came to be regarded as a pseudoscience.
“Psychical research and the origins of American psychology: Hugo Münsterberg, William James and Eusapia Palladino,” by Andreas Sommer. The abstract reads, Continue reading
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University College London’s Centre for the History of Psychological Disciplines has issued a call-for-papers for a conference on Psychical Research in the History of Medicine and the Sciences. The two-day conference will be held September 14 and 15 2012 at University College London and will feature Ivor Grattan-Guinness and Sonu Shamdasani as keynote speakers. 300 word abstracts are due June 15, 2012. The full call-for-papers follows below.
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PSYCHICAL RESEARCH IN THE HISTORY OF
MEDICINE AND THE SCIENCES
14-15 SEPTEMBER 2012, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON
PROF. IVOR GRATTAN-GUINNESS
& PROF. SONU SHAMDASANI
The UCL Centre for the History of Psychological Disciplines invites original papers for a two-day conference on social, intellectual, epistemological and methodological aspects of psychical research and parapsychology in relation to orthodox medicine and the sciences in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Abstracts for 20-minutes papers should be around 300 words long and must be submitted by 15 June 2012.
We plan to publish a selection of papers in an edited volume.
For enquiries and abstract submissions, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Deadline for abstract submissions: 15 June 2012
The Spring 2010 issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences has just been released online. The issue features articles on the role of psychologist William McDougall (left) in the professionalization of psychical research, an investigation of the early twentieth century connections (or the lack thereof) between intitutionalist economics and psychology, as well as the relationship between rational decision making and measurement in the post war years. A further article explores the early critiques of sociologist Talcott Parson’s social theory. Titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“A nice arrangement of heterodoxies: William McDougall and the professionalization of psychical research,” by Egil Asprem. No abstract provided. Asprem provides the following overview of the article’s aims:
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Seeing that there was a growing dissatisfaction with the staunch behaviorism that had swept the American psychology community since Watson’s breakthrough in the 1910s, McDougall would appear as its most vociferous opponent in America. This opposition he would link closely with psychical research. By seeking such entanglements McDougall attempted to heighten the prestige of psychical research and urge its professionalization as a part of the university system. Continue reading