Interpreting Mach: Critical Essays

A new edited volume may interest AHP readers, Interpreting Mach: Critical Essays. Book description and table of contents follow below.

This volume presents new essays on the work and thought of physicist, psychologist, and philosopher Ernst Mach. Moving away from previous estimations of Mach as a pre-logical positivist, the essays reflect his rehabilitation as a thinker of direct relevance to debates in the contemporary philosophies of natural science, psychology, metaphysics, and mind. Topics covered include Mach’s work on acoustical psychophysics and physics; his ideas on analogy and the principle of conservation of energy; the correct interpretation of his scheme of ‘elements’ and its relationship to his ‘historical-critical’ method; the relationship of his thought to movements such as American pragmatism, realism, and neutral monism, as well as to contemporary figures such as Friedrich Nietzsche; and the reception and influence of his works in Germany and Austria, particularly by the Vienna Circle.

Table of Contents
Introduction: A New Mach for a New Millennium John Preston

  1. Ernst Mach’s Piano and the Making of a Psychophysical Imaginarium Alexandra Hui
  2. Mother’s Milk, and More: On the Role of Ernst Mach’s Relational Physics in the Development of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity Richard Staley
  3. Meaningful Work: Ernst Mach on Energy Conservation Daan Wegener
  4. Mach on Analogy in Science S. G. Sterrett
  5. Ernst Mach’s Enlightenment Pragmatism: History and Economy in Scientific Cognition Thomas Uebel
  6. On the Philosophical and Scientific Relationship between Ernst Mach and William James Alexander Klein
  7. Ernst Mach and Friedrich Nietzsche: On the Prejudices of Scientists Pietro Gori
  8. Abstraction, Pragmatism, and History in Mach’s Economy of Science Lydia Patton
  9. Holding the Hand of History: Mach on the History of Science, the Analysis of Sensations, and the Economy of Thought Luca Guzzardi
  10. Ernst Mach and the Vienna Circle: A Re-evaluation of the Reception and Influence of his Work Friedrich Stadler
  11. Narratives Divided: The Austrian and the German Mach Michael Stöltzner
  12. Phenomenalism, or Neutral Monism, in Mach’s Analysis of Sensations? John Preston
  13. The Case for Mach’s Neutral Monism Erik C. Banks.

From Melancholia to Depression: Disordered Mood in Nineteenth-Century Psychiatry

A new open access book, From Melancholia to Depression: Disordered Mood in Nineteenth-Century Psychiatry by Åsa Jansson, will interest AHP readers. The book is described as follows:

This open access book maps a crucial but neglected chapter in the history of psychiatry: how was melancholia transformed in the nineteenth century from traditional melancholy madness into a modern biomedical mood disorder, paving the way for the emergence of clinical depression as a psychiatric illness in the twentieth century? At a time when the prevalence of mood disorders and antidepressant consumption are at an all-time high, the need for a comprehensive historical understanding of how modern depressive illness came into being has never been more urgent. This book addresses a significant gap in existing scholarly literature on melancholia, depression, and mood disorders by offering a contextualised and critical perspective on the history of melancholia in the first decades of psychiatry, from the 1830s until the turn of the twentieth century

Nation on the Couch: Inside South Africa’s Mind

A new book from Wahbie Long may interest AHP readers, Nation on the Couch: Inside South Africa’s Mind. Description from the publisher:

Provocative, insightful and brilliantly written by Professor Wahbie Long, Nation on the Couch explores life in our beloved country through the lens of psychoanalysis. By focusing on the idea of a ‘political unconscious’, it argues that there is much to be learnt from excavating the inner life of South Africans, which can illuminate the external problems that beset us from all sides. It will challenge readers to rethink the way we see ourselves, why we do what we do and why we are who we are. 

Fanon’s Psychiatric Hospital as a Waystation to Freedom

A recent piece in Theory, Culture and Society may interest AHP readers: “Fanon’s Psychiatric Hospital as a Waystation to Freedom” by Nancy Luxon. Abstract:

What does it mean to develop psychiatric method in a colonial context? Specifically, if the aims of psychiatry have traditionally been couched in the language of ‘psychic integration’ and ‘healing’, then what does it mean to practice psychiatry within structures that organize and reinforce the exclusions of colonialism? With these questions, this article examines Frantz Fanon’s psychiatric practices in light of his radical political commitments. I argue that Fanon’s innovations with the institutional form of the psychiatric hospital serve to intervene differently in psychic conflict. Notably, these changes offer different ways to diagnose and respond to patients, along with different strategies for managing psychic disintegration in colonial contexts. The result is a rethinking of the relation between material and imagined worlds, and so the emergence of the hospital as a waystation between a colonial context and a political freedom yet to come.

Foucault’s Critique of the Human Sciences in the 1950s: Between Psychology and Philosophy

AHP readers may be interested in a recent piece in Theory, Culture and SocietyFoucault’s Critique of the Human Sciences in the 1950s: Between Psychology and Philosophy” by Elisabetta Basso. Abstract:

This paper is based on the archives of Michel Foucault collected (since 2013) at the manuscripts department of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris. Our investigation focuses in particular on the documents of the 1950s, in order to study the role of the reflection on anthropology and phenomenology at the beginning of Foucault’s philosophical path. This archival material allows us to discover the tremendous work that is at the basis of the relatively few works that Foucault published in the 1950s. The access to the 1950s documents enables us at last to investigate the reasons for the seemingly sharp break that divides these works from the works published by Foucault in the 1960s and the 1970s, in which emerges the archaeological refusal of phenomenology and anthropology, as well as the strong criticism against any form of psychopathological discourse.

Review Article: Writing the history of postcolonial and transcultural psychiatry in Africa

A review article in History of the Human Sciences by Ana Antic may interest AHP readers. Antic reviews recent scholarship on the history of psychiatry in Africa in “Writing the history of postcolonial and transcultural psychiatry in Africa,” focusing on two recent books:

Katie Kilroy-Marac, An Impossible Inheritance: Postcolonial Psychiatry and the Work of Memory in a West African Clinic. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2019, 288 pages, ISBN: 9780520300200

Yolana Pringle, Psychiatry and Decolonisation in Uganda. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019, 259 pages, ISBN: 9781137600943

Special Issue of HHS: Normality: A collection of essays

A just-released special issue of History of the Human Sciences, “Normality: A collection of essays,” will interest AHP readers. Full details below.

“Normality: A collection of essays,” by Peter Cryle, Elizabeth Stephens. Abstract:

This article introduces a collection of articles written in response to a recently published intellectual and cultural history of normality by Peter Cryle and Elizabeth Stephens. It points to the fact that this special issue considerably extends and enriches the topical range of the book. The articles that follow discuss, in order, schooling in France at the time of the Revolution, phrenology in Europe and the US from 1840 to 1940, relations between commercial practice and scientific craniometry in 19th-century Britain and France, psychology in late 19th-century France, case studies in sexology and psychoanalysis in Central Europe, and biotypology in Southern Europe and Latin America.

“‘The Revolution is to the human mind what the African sun is to vegetation’: Revolution, heat, and the normal school project,” by Caroline Warman. Abstract:

This article focuses on a slightly earlier period in its investigation of the meanings of and associations with the term normal than Cryle and Stephens have done in their recent book. It looks at the establishment and rapid demise of the Ecole normale (normal school) in Paris in 1794–5, founded on the same model as a school for the manufacture of arms that had operated in spring 1794, and suggests that this model was not only responsible for some of the problems the Ecole normale experienced, setting up unachievable expectations of rapid efficacy, but also had an impact on what its name was assumed to mean. Moving between, on the one hand, an analysis of explicit (and opposing) definitions of what the term normal meant, and, on the other, an account of how the Ecole normale was set up and what it was set up to do, this paper agrees with Cryle and Stephens that the term was ‘formed in controversy’, and fills in the intellectual and philosophical context from which the notion of the statistical norm would emerge.

“Phrenology and the average person, 1840–1940,” by Fenneke Sysling. Abstract:

The popular science of phrenology is known for its preoccupation with geniuses and criminals, but this article shows that phrenologists also introduced ideas about the ‘average’ person. Popular phrenologists in the US and the UK examined the heads of their clients to give an indication of their character. Based on the publications of phrenologists and on a large collection of standardized charts with clients’ scores, this article analyses their definition of what they considered to be the ‘average’. It can be concluded that phrenologists were some of the first to teach individuals to see their identity in relation to an imagined statistical community.

Hat sizes and craniometry: Professional know-how and scientific knowledge,” by Peter Cryle. Abstract:

This article examines the relation between commercial activity and knowledge-making, looking at hatmakers in order to open up a more general question about the overlap between the knowledge practices of 19th-century science and those of everyday commercial culture of the time. Phrenology also claims attention here, since it can be said to have occupied an intermediate position between science and commerce. From time to time during the first half of the century, phrenologists attended to hatmakers in the hope of gleaning knowledge from their commercial experience, but after about 1860, scientific craniometers took a very different view. Physical anthropologists like Paul Broca believed that the skull was the key source of data on which to build a scientific anthropology of race or ethnicity. Observers drew the attention of Broca and his colleagues to the existence of a commercial device called the conformateur des chapeliers, used by hatters to determine head shape. But Broca was far less inclined to welcome hatmakers into the domain of craniology than the phrenologists had been. Whereas phrenologists had found validation in common sense, any widely available understanding of racial types was considered by Broca to be a distraction from the work of science and a potential distortion of its data. Far from the welcoming curiosity shown by London-based phrenologists, the anthropological enterprise led by Broca defined itself as scientific in part by the strictness with which it considered and dismissed such approximate and informal ways of knowing.

“Félida, doubled personality, and the ‘normal state’ in late 19th-century French psychology,” Kim M. Hajek. Abstract:

The case of Félida X and her ‘doubled personality’ served in the last quarter of the 19th century as a proving ground for a distinctively French form of psychology that bore the stamp of physiology, including the comparative term normal state. Debates around Félida’s case provided the occasion for reflection about how that term and its opposites could take their places in the emerging discursive field of psychopathology. This article centres its analysis on Eugène Azam’s 1876–77 study of Félida, and the ways his framing of the case was adopted or critiqued by subsequent researchers. Azam initially deployed the label normal state in a routine manner, in contrast to his use of condition seconde to designate Félida’s other state; this pairing served, I argue, to anchor the scientific legitimacy of Félida’s extraordinary psychological manifestations. Unpacking the conceptual associations of Azam’s use of normal state, we find it marked as qualitatively distinct, temporally fixed, and most of all individualized; this without becoming normative. It was only through responses to and criticism of Azam’s study that there emerged a more generalized sense of normality against which pathological (hysteric) subjects’ comportment could be contrasted. Félida’s case itself constitutes a highly individualized reconfiguration of the concept of a normal state, while the subsequent framing of doubled mental states provides a valuable vantage point from which to consider the articulations between the language of emerging French psychology and its evolving subjects of enquiry.

“Normal enough? Krafft-Ebing, Freud, and homosexuality,” Birgit Lang. Abstract:

This article analyses the slippery notions of the normal and normality in select works of Richard von Krafft-Ebing (1840–1902) and Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) and argues that homosexuality became a ‘boundary object’ between the normal and the abnormal in their works. Constructing homosexuality as ‘normal enough’ provided these two key thinkers of the fin de siècle with an opportunity to challenge societal and medical norms: Krafft-Ebing did this through mapping perversions; Freud, by challenging perceived norms about sexual development more broadly. The article submits that the scientific logic presented in Krafft-Ebing’s seminal case study compilation Psychopathia Sexualis and Freud’s early theoretical writings and cases, including Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), was itself haunted by notions of norms and the normal that were not always easy to resolve, and sometimes involved a certain amount of inspired conjecture on the part of both thinkers in order to develop and validate their differing tripartite models of normality. Krafft-Ebing imagined homosexuality as a variation of the normal by generalizing a gay male experience. He also recorded the obstreperous cases of homosexual women based largely inside the clinic but by and large ignored this evidence. Freud inextricably bound homosexuality to normality (and vice versa) by redefining homosexuals as a group to include individuals with unconscious same-sex desire. Doing so allowed him to conceptualize the fear of homosexuality as crucial in the formation of neurosis and psychosis, and at the same time put him at odds with relevant early identity politics.

“Types, norms, and normalisation: Hormone research and treatments in Italy, Argentina, and Brazil, c. 1900–50,” by Chiara Beccalossi. Abstract:

Displacing the physiological model that had held sway in 19th-century medical thinking, early 20th-century hormone research promoted an understanding of the body and sexual desires in which variations in sex characteristics and non-reproductive sexual behaviours such as homosexuality were attributed to anomalies in the internal secretions produced by the testes or the ovaries. Biotypology, a new brand of medical science conceived and led by the Italian endocrinologist Nicola Pende, employed hormone research to study human types and hormone treatments to normalise individuals who did not conform to accepted medical norms. Latin American medical doctors, eugenicists, and sexologists took up biotypology with enthusiasm. This article considers the case studies of Italy, Argentina, and Brazil, and analyses the work of medical doctors who adopted a biotypological mode of reasoning and employed to various extents hormone therapies in their practice. By focusing on hormone therapies that aimed to normalise secondary sexual characteristics and the sexual instinct, the article suggests that while the existence of normality was contested to the point that a number of medical scientists argued that no such thing existed, the pursuit of normality was carried out in very practical terms through the new medical technologies hormone research had introduced.

“After the normal, by Elizabeth Stephens. No Abstract.

Gustav Fechner and the soul of the world

A new article in Revista Helius will interest AHP readers: “Gustav Fechner and the soul of the world,” by Marcio Luiz Miotto. Abstract:

The present work intends to outline the notion of Panpsychism in Gustav Theodor Fechner’s philosophical project, especially from the analysis of the book Über die Seelenfrage, from 1861. For this purpose, the article restores the question of the relations between his philosophical project and the Psychophysics, since classical interpretations of Fechner generally view these two competencies as separate. Second, the article addresses historical questions about Fechner and Psychology (and about philosophy and science), as well as the importance of Naturphilosophie in his project. Finally, the analysis of Fechner’s arguments in defense of Panpsychism is carried out and the relations between this view and Psychophysics are analyzed again.

Public Books: Eugenics Powers IQ and AI

A recent piece in Public Books will interest AHP readers. In “Eugenics Powers IQ and AI” Natasha Stovall writes,

It is eugenics that secretly sits at the heart of not only IQ but AI. Unless there are radical changes, the next century will bring the championing of the superiority of artificial white intelligence, and the reification of its power.

The father of Silicon Valley founder Frederick Terman was one of the most celebrated psychologists in American history, Lewis Terman. From his half-century perch at Stanford University, the elder Terman vigorously injected the idea of a measurable, scientifically validated, racialized “intelligence” into the American consciousness. Terman’s lifetime of writings and advocacy makes clear the racist underpinnings of his ideas. He was deeply invested in a fantasy of hierarchical intelligence in which “gifted,” mostly white children are groomed for leadership and influence, and everyone else is slotted into supporting roles in the industrial machine. Intelligence, as Terman conceived it in 1916, is narrow, fixed, hereditary, and variable across ethnic groups, and always higher among white and more affluent children. This notion of intelligence lives on robustly in the IQ tests and other standardized measures that psychologists, educators, and employers use today.

Read the full piece here.

Psychological theory as administrative politics: Boris Lomov’s systems approach in the context of the Soviet science establishment

AHP readers will be interested in a new piece in History of the Human Sciences, “Psychological theory as administrative politics: Boris Lomov’s systems approach in the context of the Soviet science establishment” by Vladimir Konnov. Abstract:

The article is a study into the advent of the ‘systems approach’ in Soviet psychology in the 1970s. This arose mainly through the theoretical publications of B. F. Lomov, written after he had been appointed director of the newly established Institute of Psychology. These publications are examined as reflections of those interests related to the sociopolitical role of the director of this leading psychology institution, which was officially charged with building a common theoretical and methodological framework for all Soviet psychology. The main goal of these texts, predetermined by the role of their author, was to advance a theoretical scheme that made possible a formal unification of the schools of psychology, and which at the same time promoted an image of psychology as a research field that was both capable of achieving practically applicable results and compatible with the new ‘big science’ trend.