Inhibition and metaphor of top-down organization

A piece now in press at Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences may be of interest to AHP readers: “Inhibition and metaphor of top-down organization,” Roger Smith. Abstract:

The paper discusses the metaphorical nature and meaning of a concept, inhibition, ubiquitous in physiological, psychological and everyday descriptions of the controlling organization of human conduct. There are three parts. The first reviews the established argument in the theory of knowledge that metaphor is not ‘merely’ figure of speech but intrinsic to language use. The middle section provides an introduction to the history of inhibition as a concept in nervous physiology and in psychology. This emphasizes the conjoined descriptive and normative character the concept has had, integrating science and the ordinary person’s understanding of the achievement of top-down control in organized systems. The last section introduces a different dimension to the history and logic of control, pointing out that ‘economic’, as opposed to hierarchical, models of control also exist. The conclusion asserts the flexible, particular character of metaphor, encompassing mental and bodily realms – and hence the importance of historical work for its comprehension

The Science of Evil on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4’s Archive on 4 has just aired an episode on the Holocaust and social psychology: “The Science of Evil.” As the programme describes:

How attempts to understand the Holocaust created a science – social psychology. This Holocaust Memorial Day (Jan 27th) marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Attempts to understand racism, antisemitism and the horrors of Nazi ideology led to the creation of a new field of science. Social psychology is the investigation of how our thoughts, feelings and behaviours are influenced by others. This Archive On Four is about the science of evil and five of its pioneers: Kurt Lewin, Solomon Asch, Henri Tajfel, Serge Moscovici and Stanley Milgram. They were all Jewish. They all lost family in the Holocaust. They were all driven by one question. How could it have happened? David Edmonds speaks to among others, Moscovici’s son, Milgram’s daughter and two of Tajfel’s former students.

The episode can be listened to online here.

Forthcoming in History of Psychiatry: Harlow, Bowlby, and Bettelheim; Freud on Alice of Battenberg; and More

A number of articles now forthcoming in History of Psychiatry may be of interest to AHP readers. Details about the pieces, all online now, follow below.

The nature of love: Harlow, Bowlby and Bettelheim on affectionless mothers,” Lenny van Rosmalen, René van der Veer, Frank C. P. van der Horst. Abstract:

Harry Harlow, famous for his experiments with rhesus monkeys and cloth and wire mothers, was visited by psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby and by child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim in 1958. They made similar observations of Harlow’s monkeys, yet their interpretations were strikingly different. Bettelheim saw Harlow’s wire mother as a perfect example of the ‘refrigerator mother’, causing autism in her child, while Bowlby saw Harlow’s results as an explanation of how socio-emotional development was dependent on responsiveness of the mother to the child’s biological needs. Bettelheim’s solution was to remove the mother, while Bowlby specifically wanted to involve her in treatment. Harlow was very critical of Bettelheim, but evaluated Bowlby’s work positively.

Wild melancholy: On the historical plausibility of a black bile theory of blood madness, or hæmatomania,” Jan Verplaetse. Abstract:

Nineteenth-century art historian John Addington Symonds coined the term hæmatomania (blood madness) for the extremely bloodthirsty behaviour of a number of disturbed rulers like Ibrahim II of Ifriqiya (850–902) and Ezzelino da Romano (1194–1259). According to Symonds, this mental pathology was linked to melancholy and caused by an excess of black bile. I explore the historical credibility of this theory of ‘wild melancholy’, a type of melancholia that crucially deviates from the lethargic main type. I conclude that in its pure form Symonds’ black bile theory of hæmatomania was never a broadly supported perspective, but can be traced back to the nosology of the ninth-century physician Ishaq ibn Imran, who practised at the Aghlabid court, to which the sadistic Ibrahim II belonged.

The madness of Princess Alice: Sigmund Freud, Ernst Simmel and Alice of Battenberg at Kurhaus Schloß Tegel,” Dany Nobus. Abstract:

During the winter of 1930, Princess Alice of Battenberg was admitted to Kurhaus Schloß Tegel, where she was diagnosed with schizophrenic paranoia. When Freud was consulted about her case by Ernst Simmel, the Sanatorium’s Director, he recommended that the patient’s ovaries be exposed to high-intensity X-rays. Freud’s suggestion was not based on any psychoanalytic treatment principles, but rooted in a rejuvenation technique to which Freud himself had subscribed. In recommending that psychotic patients should be treated with physical interventions, Freud confirmed his conviction that the clinical applicability of psychoanalysis should not be extrapolated beyond the neuroses, yet he also asserted that a proper consideration of endocrinological factors in the aetiology and treatment of the psychoses should never be excluded.

Psychiatric wards of Soochow Elizabeth Blake Hospital (1898–1937): a missing piece in the history of modern Chinese psychiatry,” Tingwei Fan, Qing Hu, Ming Liu. Abstract:

The history of modern psychiatry in China began at the end of the nineteenth century, as a result of the work of missionaries. Soochow was one of the first cities to establish a hospital for the treatment of mental patients, but historians knew little about it. It provided a valuable service from 1898 to 1937. In the 1930s, there were 200 beds in the psychiatry and neurology section, making it the most influential psychiatric hospital in East China. After Soochow was occupied by the Japanese army in 1937, the hospital was destroyed and shut down.

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.