Jacy Young recently completed a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey in the UK. She earned her doctorate in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University in 2014.
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Being Brains offers a critical exploration of one of the most influential and pervasive contemporary beliefs: “We are our brains.” Starting in the “Decade of the Brain” of the 1990s, “neurocentrism” became widespread in most Western and many non-Western societies. Formidable advances, especially in neuroimaging, have bolstered this “neurocentrism” in the eyes of the public and political authorities, helping to justify increased funding for the brain sciences. The human sciences have also taken the “neural turn,” and subspecialties in fields such as anthropology, aesthetics, education, history, law, sociology, and theology have grown and professionalized at record speed. At the same time, the development of dubious but successful commercial enterprises such as “neuromarketing and “neurobics” have emerged to take advantage of the heightened sensitivity to all things neuro. Skeptics have only recently begun to react to the hype, invoking warnings of neuromythology, neurotrash, neuromania, and neuromadness. While this neurocentric view of human subjectivity is neither hegemonic nor monolithic, it embodies a powerful ideology that is at the heart of some of today’s most important philosophical, ethical, scientific, and political debates. Being Brains critically explores the internal logic of such ideology, its genealogy, and its main contemporary incarnations.
Professor Fernando Vidal (Centre for the History of Science, Autonomous University of Barcelona)
Are we our brains? Starting in the “Decade of the Brain” of the 1990s, “neurocentrism” became widespread in most Western and many non-Western societies. Formidable advances, especially in neuroimaging, have bolstered this “neurocentrism” in the eyes of the public and political authorities, helping to justify increased funding for the brain sciences. The human sciences have also taken the “neural turn,” and subspecialties in fields such as anthropology, aesthetics, education, history, law, sociology, and theology have grown and professionalized at record speed. At the same time, the development of dubious but successful commercial enterprises such as “neuromarketing and “neurobics” have emerged to take advantage of the heightened sensitivity to all things neuro. Skeptics have only recently begun to react to the hype, invoking warnings of neuromythology, neurotrash, neuromania, and neuromadness. While this neurocentric view of human subjectivity is neither hegemonic nor monolithic, it embodies a powerful ideology that is at the heart of some of today’s most important philosophical, ethical, scientific, and political debates. Being Brains critically explores the internal logic of such ideology, its genealogy, and its main contemporary incarnations.
The November 2017 issue of the American Psychologist is devoted to the 125th anniversary of the American Psychological Association. AHP readers will be especially interested in an article exploring this 125 year history:
“125 years of the American Psychological Association,” by Christopher D.Green and Robin L. Cautin. Abstract:
The American Psychological Association (APA) began 125 years ago as a small club of a few dozen members in the parlor of its founder, G. Stanley Hall. In the decades since, it has faced many difficulties and even a few existential crises. Originally a scientific society, it spent the decades between the world wars figuring out how to accommodate the growing community of applied psychologists while still retaining and enhancing its scientific reputation. After World War II, with an expanded mandate, it developed formal training models for clinical psychologists and became an important player in legal cases pertaining to civil rights and other social justice issues. With practitioners taking an ever-greater role in the governance of the organization in the late 1970s, and the financial viability of the association in doubt in the 1980s, many psychological scientists felt the need to create a separate organization for themselves. The 1990s and early 2000s brought more challenges: declining divisional memberships; a legal dispute over fees with practitioners; and a serious upheaval over the APA Board of Directors’ cooperation with governmental defense and intelligence agencies during the “war on terror.” These clashes appear to have precipitated a decline in the association’s membership for the first time in its history. The APA has faced many storms over its century-and-a-quarter, but has, thus far, always ultimately found a way forward for itself, for its members, and for the wider discipline of psychology.
Women make up a majority of members of the British Psychological Society (BPS), women have been instrumental in shaping what psychology is today, and women may be the face of the subject for many decades to come. Yet inequality remains steadfast. The History of Psychology Centre’s seventh annual Stories of Psychology event traced the history of women within psychology and celebrated 30 years of the Psychology of Women Section.
Sophie Bryant, Beatrice Edgell, Alice Woods, Caroline Graveson, Mary Smith, Nina Taylor, May Smith, Helen Verrall, Nellie Carey, Jessie Murray, Julia Turner, Jane Reaney, Laura Brackenbury, Ida Saxby, Susan Isaacs and Victoria Hazlitt – these were the first female members of the BPS. The Society, founded in 1901, was unusual for a scientific society in the early 20th century in that it allowed women to join.
Marston’s private life created scandal (the film begins in 1928 when prohibition was in full swing and, while Cole Porter might have penned Anything Goes in 1934, it was clear that, at the time, very little went – in the American bedroom at least). He had a complex three-way relationship with his wife Elizabeth and research student Olive Byrne, the three of them often sleeping together, which lost him his job as a lecturer and got him kicked off campus. Like Liam Neeson’s Kinsey (2004), here was one psychologist whose theories and sex life became deeply intertwined… quite literally in this case as Marston’s fondness for ropes and sado-masochistic role-play became more and more apparent. It is fascinating how much it dominated – if that’s the mot juste – the early Wonder Woman comic strips.
The film somehow avoids making it seem salacious, however. By concentrating heavily on Elizabeth and Olive, one strident, one shy, and played superbly by Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote, the two emerge as characters more interesting and maybe more important than Luke Evans’s Marston. In fact, there is a deliberately feminist tone to the proceedings, a touch ironic given how much Marston made of the differences between men and women. Like Hitchcock (2012), which emphasised how important his wife Alma was to the Master of Suspense’s films, so it is here with Marston’s theories and indeed Wonder Woman herself, at least as much an empowered female icon as a fetishistic male fantasy. Marston put it this way: ‘Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world.’
The December 2017 issue of History of Psychiatry is now online. Articles in this issue explore connections between psychology, psychiatry, and philosophy, nineteenth century insane acquittal policy, LSD experiments in the United States Army, the use of ECT for mass killing by the Nazis, and much more. Full details below.
“Con Drury: philosopher and psychiatrist,” by John Hayes. Abstract:
Maurice O’Connor Drury (1907–76), an Irish psychiatrist, is best known for his accounts of his close friendship with the eminent twentieth-century philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein. His only book, The Danger of Words (1973), was well received by those who had an interest in the relationship between psychiatry, psychology and philosophy. This article concentrates on Drury’s experiences, studies and writings in these fields.
“Insane acquittees and insane convicts: the rationalization of policy in nineteenth-century Connecticut,” by Lawrence B Goodheart. Abstract:
A current situation in Connecticut of whether a violent insane acquittee should be held in a state prison or psychiatric facility raises difficult issues in jurisprudence and medical ethics. Overlooked is that the present case of Francis Anderson reiterates much of the debate over rationalization of policy during the formative nineteenth century. Contrary to theories of social control and state absolutism, governance in Connecticut was largely episodic, indecisive and dilatory over much of the century. The extraordinary urban and industrial transformation at the end of the Gilded Age finally forced a coherent response in keeping with longstanding legal and medical perspectives.
The Winter 2017 issue of the American Journal of Psychology is now online. Included as part of the journal’s continuing 130th anniversary coverage are articles on S. S. Stevens’s work on scaling and early work foreshadowing ecological psychology. A further article in the issue offers a digital history of authorship in the American Journal of Psychology and the Psychological Review. Full details below.
“S. S. Stevens’s Invariant Legacy: Scale Types and the Power Law,” by Lawrence M. Ward. Abstract:
S. S. Stevens was one of a number of prominent psychologists who published seminal articles in The American Journal of Psychology (AJP). Indeed, the first or, arguably, most important articles in several of his research strands were published there. In this brief treatment of his monumental work, I review these articles and some of their sequelae, both in Stevens’s own work and in that of others, in an attempt to sketch out how Stevens’s contributions in AJP helped form the development of experimental sensory and perceptual psychology throughout the 20th century. I focus on his work in psychophysical scaling, because in my opinion that has been his most important legacy. Indeed, the article that probably generated the flurry of work in psychophysical scaling that persisted into the 1990s was a brilliant work published in 1956 in AJP. In that article Stevens not only demonstrated the validity and reliability of direct scaling (in this case magnitude estimation and production) but also investigated a range of factors that could affect its results, anchoring the later work that led to its adoption as the fundamental and most popular approach to psychophysical scaling still in use today. In this section I also expand on a few of the modern directions in which this work has gone. Stevens also published in AJP classic articles on the localization of sound, the dimensions of sound, the relation of volume to intensity, and the neural quantum in pitch and loudness discrimination. He even contributed an article on scaling coffee odor. His work is a stellar example of how AJP has influenced psychological science then and now.
The Pope and the Unconscious. The speeches of Pius XII on Psychotherapy in 1952-1953, Agostino Gemelli’s Commentary, and Psychoanalysis in Italy
Professor Marco Innamorati (University of Rome, Tor Vergata)
The attitude of the catholic environment towards Psychoanalysis followed a strange historical trajectory. The first period, from the first Italian psychoanalytic writing until about 1950, was marked by a complete opposition. After World War II, there were attempts outside Italy to integrate Psychoanalysis within catholic culture, while the Italian Catholics stayed clear from Freud for quite a long time. A very important role was played by the two speeches about Psychotherapy given by Pius XII in 1953, at the opening of two congresses: the World Congress on Psychotherapy, in Rome, and a medical congress in France. The speeches showed an open attitude towards psychotherapeutic practices in general, but contained admonishing words against reductionist and materialist theories. They were interpreted differently in Italy and abroad. In the United States it seemed obvious that Pius XII wanted to open the doors to Psychoanalysis; in Italy the same words were interpreted as an absolute and total prohibition of psychoanalytic therapy. Such a “non expedit” was factually effective until the pontificate of Paul VI. The second interpretation was expressly suggested by Agostino Gemelli, who at the time was the most influent personality of Catholic psychology in Italy. Gemelli published a book containing an in-depth hermeneutics of the Pope’s words, deducing an opposition towards Freud’s psychoanalysis and Jung’s analytical psychology. Actually, the Vatican did not refute neither the American interpretation, nor Gemelli’s. Our talk will deepen the historical context and the reasons for this hermeneutical divide.
Though underexplored in contemporary scholarship, the Victorian attempts to turn aesthetics into a science remain one of the most fascinating aspects of that era. In The Outward Mind, Benjamin Morgan approaches this period of innovation as an important origin point for current attempts to understand art or beauty using the tools of the sciences. Moving chronologically from natural theology in the early nineteenth century to laboratory psychology in the early twentieth, Morgan draws on little-known archives of Victorian intellectuals such as William Morris, Walter Pater, John Ruskin, and others to argue that scientific studies of mind and emotion transformed the way writers and artists understood the experience of beauty and effectively redescribed aesthetic judgment as a biological adaptation. Looking beyond the Victorian period to humanistic critical theory today, he also shows how the historical relationship between science and aesthetics could be a vital resource for rethinking key concepts in contemporary literary and cultural criticism, such as materialism, empathy, practice, and form. At a moment when the tumultuous relationship between the sciences and the humanities is the subject of ongoing debate, Morgan argues for the importance of understanding the arts and sciences as incontrovertibly intertwined.
“Dewey and Lewin: A Neglected Relationship and its Current Relevance to Psychology,” by Francesco Paolo Colucci and Monica Colombo. Abstract:
In this paper, we explore the neglected relationship between Dewey and Lewin. Adopting a historical and theoretical perspective, we offer an interpretative framework for explaining why both scholars and their legacies may have been insufficiently recognized or misunderstood within psychology. Their relationship is discussed with particular reference to a common theoretical basis and conception of activity. The connections of their work with the Cultural Historical School and with Gramsci’s thinking are suggested. We hold that from this perspective, Dewey and Lewin can be seen to contribute to contemporary psychology—action research in particular—by furthering its “emancipatory social relevance.”
A great many theorists have argued that the defining feature of modernity is that people no longer believe in spirits, myths, or magic. Jason ?. Josephson-Storm argues that as broad cultural history goes, this narrative is wrong, as attempts to suppress magic have failed more often than they have succeeded. Even the human sciences have been more enchanted than is commonly supposed. But that raises the question: How did a magical, spiritualist, mesmerized Europe ever convince itself that it was disenchanted?
Josephson-Storm traces the history of the myth of disenchantment in the births of philosophy, anthropology, sociology, folklore, psychoanalysis, and religious studies. Ironically, the myth of mythless modernity formed at the very time that Britain, France, and Germany were in the midst of occult and spiritualist revivals. Indeed, Josephson-Storm argues, these disciplines’ founding figures were not only aware of, but profoundly enmeshed in, the occult milieu; and it was specifically in response to this burgeoning culture of spirits and magic that they produced notions of a disenchanted world.
By providing a novel history of the human sciences and their connection to esotericism, The Myth of Disenchantment dispatches with most widely held accounts of modernity and its break from the premodern past.