Anthony Enns on Apocryphal Psychotechnologies

A recent piece, “Apocryphal Psychotechnologies,” published in Continent may interest AHP readers. Contintent is “a platform for thinking through media. text, image, video, sound and new forms of publishing online are presented as reflections on and challenges to contemporary conditions in politics, media studies, art, film and philosophical thought.” As author Anthony Enns writes,

Apocryphal technologies are particularly interesting for the study of technological imaginaries precisely because they blur the boundaries between the legitimate and the illegitimate or the plausible and the implausible. For instance, it is often difficult to distinguish apocryphal technologies from real technologies because they tend to be based on the same underlying principles and assumptions. The aspirations that inform apocryphal technologies can also inform real technological innovations by serving as a springboard for new ideas or by anticipating the development of new inventions. The combination of fantastic effects and apparent plausibility also makes apocryphal technologies particularly suitable for conspiracy theories, which similarly encourage a belief in the impossible by imposing a veneer of truth and veracity. Unlike imaginary technologies, therefore, apocryphal technologies can promote faith in technological progress as well as fear of technocratic control. The following paper will explore the desires and anxieties that inform apocryphal technologies by examining a series of electronic devices that allegedly influenced (or were influenced by) the mind. While the claims made about these machines were not supported by scientific research, they were all based on a common understanding of the mind as an electronic apparatus that was subject to modification and manipulation, and they reflected a shared desire for a perfect mind-machine interface, which was imagined as a source of either unlimited power or complete powerlessness. At the same time that these psychotechnologies blur the boundaries between the legitimate and the illegitimate or the plausible and the implausible, therefore, they also illustrate the uneasy tension between utopian aspiration and dystopian paranoia—particularly with regard to the future of humanity.

The full piece can be read online here.

New JHBS: mid-20th c. popularization of psychoanalysis, influence of psychoanalysis on Religion and Human Evolution, and more

The Winter 2020 issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences is now online. The issue includes a number of book reviews, as well as the following articles:

“Franz Joseph Gall’s non?cortical faculties and their organs,” Paul Eling and Stanley Finger. Abstract:

Franz Joseph Gall (1758–1828) is remembered for his claims that behavior results from a large number of independent mental faculties, and that these faculties are associated with cortical organs. Apart from the 26 faculties he localized in the cerebrum, he also recognized one faculty (reproductive drive) in the cerebellum. This picture, however, is based on Gall’s presentations in his well?known later works, his four volume Anatomie et Physiologie. These books reflect the outcomes of Gall’s thinking. They were steered by the observations and feedback he received in Vienna and while presenting his theories in the German states and neighboring countries between 1805 and 1807. Examining his lists before what he published in Paris shows how his faculties were changing. Notably, and as shown here, he had previously included several faculties associated with brainstem structures, in addition to the cerebellum, which he would continue to associate with some reproductive behaviors.

“The return of the repressed. On Robert N. Bellah, Norman O. Brown, and religion in human evolution,” Matteo Bortolini. Abstract:

As much as Robert Bellah’s final work, Religion in Human Evolution, has been studied and dissected, no critic underlined the importance of psychoanalysis for its main argument and its theoretical framework. The paper shows the influence exerted by a controversial interpreter of Freud, Norman O. Brown, on Bellah’s ideas, intellectual profile, and writing style in the late?1960s and early 1970s. While in search for a new intellectual voice, Bellah was struck by Brown’s work and began to make intensive use of his book, Love’s Body, both in his teaching and in his research of the early 1970s, during his so?called “symbolic realism” period. While Bellah abandoned Brown’s ideas and style in the mid?1970s, some of the basic intuitions he had during that period still survived as one of the major theoretical intuitions of Religion and Human Evolution.

“Bishop Fulton J. Sheen: America’s public critic of psychoanalysis, 1947–1957,” Paul M. Dennis. Abstract:

This paper examines the role of Bishop Fulton Sheen in the popularization of Freudian psychoanalysis in the United States during the 1940s and 50s. Social historians argue that Freudian ideas were pervasive in American culture during this period. While their claim speaks mainly to the impact of psychoanalysis on the cultural elite and college educated, they also suggest that Freudian ideas affected ordinary men and women. In the former case, the group impacted is small and not representative of the population as a whole; in the latter, the evidence is sparse and impressionistic. Neglected in their consideration is the influence of Fulton Sheen whose opinions on Freud reached an audience of 30,000,000 during the height of the popularity of his TV show, Life is Worth Living. Sheen’s audience was more inclusive and representative of mainstream America. The negative and highly cautionary view of psychoanalysis he presented to many Americans was contrary to that which was promoted to and embraced by many of the college educated and likely shaped both their views of Freud and psychoanalytic therapy.

Facets of an Academic’s Life: A Memoir

A new memoir from psychologist Michael Wertheimer will be of interest to AHP readers. The autobiography, Facets of an Academic’s Life: A Memoir, is available now from Springer and is described as follows:

This is the life story of the oldest living member of the famous Wertheimer family, beautifully narrated and richly illustrated from the author’s vast stock of memorabilia and his unfailing memory. It is a memoir, but at the same time a document of the exodus of German-speaking psychologists to the New World, which left the homeland scientifically shattered. This lovingly-written pictorial archive of 80 years of the history of modern psychology, shaped by the momentous events of WWII, belongs on the shelf of every psychologist, theoretical, experimental, and clinical, as it gives us the story of how the scientific heritage in Europe and America merged to form the broad and strong disciplines now in our hands, told by one of its premier historical representatives.

Prof. em. Lothar Spillmann, University of Freiburg, Germany

Guidelines for Authors: Publishing Historical Scholarship in American Psychologist

AHP readers interested in getting their historical work to a broad audience will be interested in the new guidelines for authors interested in publishing historical scholarship in the American Psychologist, the flagship journal of the American Psychological Association. The guidelines, written by Associate Editor Alexandra Rutherford, outline some of the considerations interested authors should keep in mind before submitting work to the journal. The full guidelines can be found online here.

“A dangerous method? Psychedelic therapy at Modum Bad, Norway, 1961–76”

AHP readers following the literature on the history of psychedelic treatments will be interested in a new piece in press, and now online, at History of Psychiatry:

“A dangerous method? Psychedelic therapy at Modum Bad, Norway, 1961–76,” by Petter Grahl Johnstad. Abstract:

After many years of disregard, the use of psychedelic drugs in psychiatric treatment has re-emerged in recent years. The prospect that psychedelics may again be integrated into mainstream psychiatry has aroused interest in long-forgotten research and experience from the previous phase of psychedelic therapy, which lasted from the late 1940s to the 1970s. This article will discuss one large-scale psychedelic therapy programme at Modum Bad Nervesanatorium, a psychiatric clinic which treated 379 inpatients with psychedelic drugs during the years 1961–76. The psychiatrists there initially regarded the psychedelic treatment as efficacious and without serious negative reactions, but reports of long-term harm have since surfaced. This article discusses how insights from Modum Bad might benefit the new generation of psychedelic treatment efforts.