Special Smith-sonian Feature

Historian of Science and Emeritus Reader at Lancaster University, Roger Smith, has recently published two books and a journal article. The first book, Free Will and the Human Sciences in Britain: 1870-1910 is a discussion of late Victorian debats on free will, with reference to British Psychology. The second book, Between Mind and Nature: A History of Psychology, is a classic account of the history of psychology. The book chronicles how psychology became the discipline it is today set in the various social, cultural, political, and national contexts. Included in the discussion are major figures in psychology, such as, Freud, Jung, and Pavlov. Smith’s third publication comes in the form a journal article. Titled “‘The sixth sense’: towards a history of muscular sensation”, the article discusses the history of knowledge on the muscular sense. Below are full abstracts:

Free Will and the Human Sciences in Britain: 1870-1910:

From the late nineteenth century onwards religion gave way to science as the dominant force in society. This led to a questioning of the principle of free will – if the workings of the human mind could be reduced to purely physiological explanations, then what place was there for human agency and self-improvement?

Smith takes an in-depth look at the problem of free will through the prism of different disciplines. Physiology, psychology, philosophy, evolutionary theory, ethics, history and sociology all played a part in the debates that took place. His subtly nuanced navigation through these arguments has much to contribute to our understanding of Victorian and Edwardian science and culture, as well as having relevance to current debates on the role of genes in determining behaviour.

Between Mind and Nature: A History of Psychology:

We live in a psychological age. Psychologists are prominent and active in every sphere of modern life. We understand ourselves in psychological terms. It was not always so: psychology has a history. The word ‘psychology’ suggests the idea that there is, or will be, a unified, true knowledge of the mind. Yet today ‘psychology’ is a family name for a bewildering range of beliefs regarding what psychologists know and do. There has always been an intrinsic interest in knowing how people think about themselves, how they see their spiritual or material nature. And in turn, what people think psychology’s relation is to religion, politics, the arts, social life, the natural sciences and technology is a fundamental part of our human story.

Between Mind and Nature tells the fascinating story of how psychology has developed to become a defining practice of our time. The many and varied approaches to psychology are explained in terms of their historical, cultural and national contexts, with the major figures encountered along the way, such as Descartes, Freud, Jung and Pavlov, placed in the broader history of humanity’s perspectives on the mind and brain.

In this book Roger Smith explores the ‘big questions’ bound up in this history: what is human nature? Is natural science the only rational way of thought? Will psychology provide answers to human problems? Does the very notion of being an individual, of having a ‘self’, depend on social and historical conditions? Will the brain explain mind? The uniquely human quest for knowledge of the mind is illuminated in this impressive, cogent account.

“‘The sixth sense: towards a history of muscular sensation”:

This paper outlines the history of knowledge about the muscular sense and provides a bibliographic resource for further research. A range of different topics, questions and approaches have interrelated throughout this history, and the discussion clarifies this rather than presenting detailed research in any one area. Part I relates the origin of belief in a muscular sense to empiricist accounts of the contribution of the senses to knowledge from Locke, via the iddologues and other authors, to the second half of the nineteenth century. Analysis paid much attention to touch, first in the context of the theory of vision and then in its own right, which led to naming a distinct muscular sense. From 1800 to the present, there was much debate, the main lines of which this paper introduces, about the nature and function of what turned out to be a complex sense. A number of influential psycho-physiologists, notably Alexander Bain and Herbert Spencer, thought this sense the most primitive and primary of all, the origin of knowledge of world, causation and self as an active subject. Part II relates accounts of the muscular sense to the development of nervous physiology and of psychology. In the decades before 1900, the developing separation of philosophy, psychology and physiology as specialised disciplines divided up questions which earlier writers had discussed under the umbrella heading of muscular sensation. The term’kinaesthesia’ came in 1880 and ‘proprio-ception’ in 1906. There was, all the same, a lasting interest in the argument that touch and muscular sensation are intrinsic to the existence of embodied being in the way the other senses are not. In the wider culture–the arts, sport, the psychophysiology of labour and so on–there were many ways in which people expressed appreciation of the importance of what the anatomist Charles Bell had called ‘the sixth sense’.