Category Archives: General

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.

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.