Category Archives: Books

The Outward Mind: Materialist Aesthetics in Victorian Science and Literature

Benjamin Morgan’s The Outward Mind: Materialist Aesthetics in Victorian Science and Literature explores efforts to make aesthetics scientific, including within experimental psychology. The book is described as follows:

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.

 

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The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences

Jason A. Josephson-Storm’s recently published book, The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences, may interest AHP readers. The book is described as follows:

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.

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Psychoanalysis in Britain, 1893–1913: Histories and Historiography

Philip Kuhn’s recently published book Psychoanalysis in Britain, 1893–1913: Histories and Historiography will be of interest to AHP readers. Kuhn’s account of the history of psychoanalysis in Britain looks at therich engagements with psychoanalysis in the country during Ernest Jones time abroad in Canada.A recent review of the book, by Fuhito Endo, in Medical History can be found here.

The book is described as follows:

Historians and biographers of psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, psychology, medicine and culture, even Wikipedia, believe Ernest Jones discovered Freud in 1904 and had become the first English-speaking practitioner of psychoanalysis by 1906. Psychoanalysis in Britain, 1893–1913 offers radically different versions to that monolithic Account propagated by Jones over 70 years ago. Detailed readings of the contemporaneous literature expose the absurdities of Jones’s claim, arguing that he could not have been using psychoanalysis until after he exiled himself to Canada in September 1908. Removing Jones reveals vibrant British cultures of “Mind Healing” which serve as backdrops for widespread interest in Freud. First; the London Psychotherapeutic Society whose volunteer staff of mesmerists, magnetists, hypnotists and spiritualists offered free psycho-therapeutic treatments. Then the wondrous Walford Bodie, who wrought his free “miraculous cures,” on and off the music-hall stage, to adoring and hostile audiences alike. Then the competing religious and spiritual groups actively promoting their own faith healings, often in reaction to fears of Christian Science but often cow-towing to orthodox medical and clerical orthodoxies. From this strange milieu emerged medically qualified practitioners, like Edwin Ash, Betts Taplin, and Douglas Bryan, who embraced hypnotism and psychotherapy. From 1904 British Medical Journals began discussing Freud’s work and by 1908 psychiatrists, working in lunatic asylums, were already testing and applying his theories in the treatment of patients. The medically qualified psychotherapists, who formed the Medical Society for the Study of Suggestive Therapeutics, soon joined with medical members from the Society for Psychical Research in discussing, proselytizing, and practising psychoanalysis. Thus when Jones returned to London, in late summer 1913, there were thriving psychotherapeutic cultures with talk of Freud and psychoanalysis occupying medical journals and conferences. Psychoanalysis in Britain, 1893–1913, with its meticulous research, wide sweep of vision and detailed understanding of the subtle inter-connections between the orthodox and the unorthodox, the lay and the medical, the social and the biographical, as well as the byzantine complexities of British medical politics, will radically alter your understanding of how those early twentieth century “Mind Healing” debates helped shape the ways in which the ‘talking cure’ first started infiltrating our lives.

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Ruth Leys’s The Ascent of Affect: Genealogy and Critique

 Ruth Leys’s just published The Ascent of Affect: Genealogy and Critique is sure to interest AHP readers. Leys explores twentieth century efforts to understand emotions, analyzing the work of psychologists like Silvan Tomkins, Paul Ekman, and Richard Lazarus. The book is described as follows:
In recent years, emotions have become a major, vibrant topic of research not merely in the biological and psychological sciences but throughout a wide swath of the humanities and social sciences as well. Yet, surprisingly, there is still no consensus on their basic nature or workings.

Ruth Leys’s brilliant, much anticipated history, therefore, is a story of controversy and disagreement. The Ascent of Affect focuses on the post–World War II period, when interest in emotions as an object of study began to revive. Leys analyzes the ongoing debate over how to understand emotions, paying particular attention to the continual conflict between camps that argue for the intentionality or meaning of emotions but have trouble explaining their presence in non-human animals and those that argue for the universality of emotions but struggle when the question turns to meaning. Addressing the work of key figures from across the spectrum, considering the potentially misleading appeal of neuroscience for those working in the humanities, and bringing her story fully up to date by taking in the latest debates, Leys presents here the most thorough analysis available of how we have tried to think about how we feel.

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Matthew Jones’ Reckoning with Matter: Calculating Machines, Innovation, and Thinking about Thinking from Pascal to Babbage

Matthew L. Jones’s Reckoning with Matter: Calculating Machines, Innovation, and Thinking about Thinking from Pascal to Babbage may interest AHP readers. As Lorraine Daston notes in her recent Critical Inquiry review of Jones’ book:

Woven like a scarlet thread through Jones’ account of the ingenuity, stamina, skill, and sheer will to believe required to keep at the improvement of calculating machines until they were reliable enough to be used widely (not until the 1870s) is the puzzle of what, if anything, mechanical calculation has to do with thinking. Pace almost all histories of computers that trace a lineage from Babbage to John von Neumann via Alan Turing, Jones answers: not much. Although some of the inspired tinkerers, such as Charles Stanhope, did toy with the idea that mechanical calculation was a materialization of thought, Jones concludes that the fact that machines could (eventually) be made to calculate did not immediately suggest the idea of artificial intelligence. On the contrary: calculation ceased thereby to count as intelligence.

The book itself is described on the publisher’s website as follows:

From Blaise Pascal in the 1600s to Charles Babbage in the first half of the nineteenth century, inventors struggled to create the first calculating machines. All failed—but that does not mean we cannot learn from the trail of ideas, correspondence, machines, and arguments they left behind.

In Reckoning with Matter, Matthew L. Jones draws on the remarkably extensive and well-preserved records of the quest to explore the concrete processes involved in imagining, elaborating, testing, and building calculating machines. He explores the writings of philosophers, engineers, and craftspeople, showing how they thought about technical novelty, their distinctive areas of expertise, and ways they could coordinate their efforts. In doing so, Jones argues that the conceptions of creativity and making they exhibited are often more incisive—and more honest—than those that dominate our current legal, political, and aesthetic culture.

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The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument Over What Makes Living Things Tick

Jessica Riskin’s The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument Over What Makes Living Things Tick may be of interest to AHP readers, particular its exploration of agency and intelligence. The book is described as follows:

Today, a scientific explanation is not meant to ascribe agency to natural phenomena: we would not say a rock falls because it seeks the center of the earth. Even for living things, in the natural sciences and often in the social sciences, the same is true. A modern botanist would not say that plants pursue sunlight. This has not always been the case, nor, perhaps, was it inevitable. Since the seventeenth century, many thinkers have made agency, in various forms, central to science.

The Restless Clock examines the history of this principle, banning agency, in the life sciences. It also tells the story of dissenters embracing the opposite idea: that agency is essential to nature. The story begins with the automata of early modern Europe, as models for the new science of living things, and traces questions of science and agency through Descartes, Leibniz, Lamarck, and Darwin, among many others. Mechanist science, Jessica Riskin shows, had an associated theology: the argument from design, which found evidence for a designer in the mechanisms of nature. Rejecting such appeals to a supernatural God, the dissenters sought to naturalize agency rather than outsourcing it to a “divine engineer.” Their model cast living things not as passive but as active, self-making machines.

The conflict between passive- and active-mechanist approaches maintains a subterranean life in current science, shaping debates in fields such as evolutionary biology, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence. This history promises not only to inform such debates, but also our sense of the possibilities for what it means to engage in science—and even what it means to be alive.

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Pain, Pleasure, and the Greater Good: From the Panopticon to the Skinner Box and Beyond

A new book from from University of Chicago Press may be of interest to AHP readers. As described on the publisher’s site, Cathy Gere’s Pain, Pleasure, and the Greater Good: From the Panopticon to the Skinner Box and Beyond asks

How should we weigh the costs and benefits of scientific research on humans? Is it right that a small group of people should suffer in order that a larger number can live better, healthier lives? Or is an individual truly sovereign, unable to be plotted as part of such a calculation?

These are questions that have bedeviled scientists, doctors, and ethicists for decades, and in Pain, Pleasure, and the Greater Good, Cathy Gere presents the gripping story of how we have addressed them over time. Today, we are horrified at the idea that a medical experiment could be performed on someone without consent. But, as Gere shows, that represents a relatively recent shift: for more than two centuries, from the birth of utilitarianism in the eighteenth century, the doctrine of the greater good held sway. If a researcher believed his work would benefit humanity, then inflicting pain, or even death, on unwitting or captive subjects was considered ethically acceptable. It was only in the wake of World War II, and the revelations of Nazi medical atrocities, that public and medical opinion began to change, culminating in the National Research Act of 1974, which mandated informed consent. Showing that utilitarianism is based in the idea that humans are motivated only by pain and pleasure, Gere cautions that that greater good thinking is on the upswing again today and that the lesson of history is in imminent danger of being lost.

Rooted in the experiences of real people, and with major consequences for how we think about ourselves and our rights, Pain, Pleasure, and the Greater Good is a dazzling, ambitious history.

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Happier? The History of a Cultural Movement That Aspired to Transform America

Now available from Oxford University Press is a historian Daniel Horowitz‘s new book, Happier? The History of a Cultural Movement That Aspired to Transform America. Happier? explores the history of positive psychology and happiness research and is described on the publisher’s website as follows:

When a cultural movement that began to take shape in the mid-twentieth century erupted into mainstream American culture in the late 1990s, it brought to the fore the idea that it is as important to improve one’s own sense of pleasure as it is to manage depression and anxiety. Cultural historian Daniel Horowitz’s research reveals that this change happened in the context of key events. World War II, the Holocaust, post-war prosperity, the rise of counter-culture, the crises of the 1970s, the presidency of Ronald Reagan, and the prime ministerships of Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron provided the important context for the development of the field today known as positive psychology.

Happier? provides the first history of the origins, development, and impact of the way Americans — and now many around the world — shifted from mental illness to well-being as they pondered the human condition. This change, which came about from the fusing of knowledge drawn from Eastern spiritual traditions, behavioral economics, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and cognitive psychology, has been led by scholars and academic entrepreneurs, as they wrestled with the implications of political events and forces such as neoliberalism and cultural conservatism, and a public eager for self-improvement.

Linking the development of happiness studies and positive psychology with a broad series of social changes, including the emergence of new media and technologies like TED talks, blogs, web sites, and neuroscience, as well as the role of evangelical ministers, Oprah Winfrey’s enterprises, and funding from government agencies and private foundations, Horowitz highlights the transfer of specialized knowledge into popular arenas. Along the way he shows how marketing triumphed, transforming academic disciplines and spirituality into saleable products. Ultimately, Happier? illuminates how positive psychology, one of the most influential academic fields of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, infused American culture with captivating promises for a happier society.

 

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On the Other Hand: Left Hand, Right Brain, Mental Disorder, and History

A new book from Johns Hopkins University Press may be of interest to AHP readers. On the Other Hand: Left Hand, Right Brain, Mental Disorder, and History by Howard I. Kushner is described as follows:

Since the late Stone Age, approximately 10 percent of humans have been left-handed, yet for most of human history left-handedness has been stigmatized. In On the Other Hand, Howard I. Kushner traces the impact of left-handedness on human cognition, behavior, culture, and health.

A left-hander himself, Kushner has long been interested in the meanings associated with left-handedness, and ultimately with whether hand preference can even be defined in a significant way. As he explores the medical and cultural history of left-handedness, Kushner describes the associated taboos, rituals, and stigma from around the globe. The words “left” and “left hand” have negative connotations in all languages, and left-handers have even historically been viewed as disabled.

In this comprehensive history of left-handedness, Kushner asks why left-handedness exists. He examines the relationship—if any—between handedness, linguistics, and learning disabilities, reveals how toleration of left-handedness serves as a barometer of wider cultural toleration and permissiveness, and wonders why the reported number of left-handers is significantly lower in Asia and Africa than in the West. Written in a lively style that mixes personal biography with scholarly research, On the Other Hand tells a comprehensive story about the science, traditions, and prejudices surrounding left-handedness.

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Managing Madness: Weyburn Mental Hospital and the Transformation of Psychiatric Care in Canada

Managing Madness: Weyburn Mental Hospital and the Transformation of Psychiatric Care in Canada, by Erika Dyck and Alex Deighton, is now available from the University of Manitoba Press. The book is described on the publisher’s website as follows:

The Saskatchewan Mental Hospital at Weyburn has played a significant role in the history of psychiatric services, mental health research, and community care in Canada. Its history provides a window to the changing nature of mental health services over the twentieth century.

Built in 1921, the Saskatchewan Mental Hospital was billed as the last asylum in North America and the largest facility of its kind in the British Commonwealth. A decade later, the Canadian Committee for Mental Hygiene cited it as one of the worst institutions in the country, largely due to extreme overcrowding. In the 1950s, the Saskatchewan Mental Hospital again attracted international attention for engaging in controversial therapeutic interventions, including treatments using LSD.

In the 1960s, sweeping health care reforms took hold in the province and mental health institutions underwent dramatic changes as they began moving patients into communities. As the patient and staff population shrank, the once palatial building fell into disrepair, the asylum’s expansive farmland fell out of cultivation, and mental health services folded into a complicated web of social and correctional services.

Managing Madness examines the Weyburn mental hospital, the people it housed, struggled to understand, help, or even tried to change, and the ever-shifting understanding of mental health.

Full details here.

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