BBC Radio 4 recently broadcast The Truth and Nothing but the Truth in which psychologist Geoff Bunn explores lie detecting technologies, past and present. In this episode, much like in his recent book The Truth Machine: A Social History of the Lie Detector, Bunn explores the creation of lie detectors by psychologists and others, as well as the link between this work and pop culture icons Dick Tracy and Wonder Woman. An excerpt from the episode can be heard here. As described on the BBC Radio 4 site,
Dr Geoff Bunn discovers that Dick Tracy and Wonder Woman both have starring roles in the history of lie detection. The culture of the comic book influenced the cultural perception of science then, and now colourful brain images from fMRI scans direct the public’s view of what science can achieve. But does seeing parts of the brain light up when a subject lies provide any more concrete proof of what is true and what is not than did measuring heart and sweat rate in the traditional polygraph?
Dr Geoff Bunn investigates the latest lie detecting technology with the help of Steven Rose, Emeritus Professor of Neuroscience at the Open University and Geraint Rees, Director of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience. He discovers that the early history of the lie detector features a psychologist, William Marston, who went on to create the comic book character Wonder Woman, and an amateur magician, Leonarde Keeler, who was an inspiration for the comic strip hero, Dick Tracy.
He explores the history of the American obsession with lie detection, aided by Ken Alder, Professor of History at North Western University and Garyn Roberts, biographer of Chester Gould, who created Dick Tracy. He investigates Wonder Woman at the Travelling Man comic book shop in Manchester with the help of Dr Joan Ormrod, co-editor of the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics. And he hears from Bruce Burgess, founder of Polygraphs UK, who uses his company’s services.
You can listen to the full episode, The Truth and Nothing but the Truth, here.
BBC Radio 4 has just aired an episode on the history of mental illness. The episode, Mad Houses, explores three museums of madness in Europe in anticipation of the establishment of a museum of mental illness at Bedlam Hospital in the coming years.
As described on Radio 4’s website,
Ken Arnold explores how three European countries variously tell the history of mental illness. What do museums of madness tell us about who we were and who we are? Ken Arnold, Head of Public Programmes at the Wellcome Trust, visits three of Europe’s old ‘mad houses’ that are now museums in Aarhus in Denmark, Haarlem in the Netherlands and Ghent in Belgium. Two of these institutions still function as psychiatric hospitals. Each has unusual, beautiful and terrifying objects on show ranging from straight-jackets to lobotomy tools, and also collections of ‘outsider art’, but each is also strikingly successful at evoking for their visitors different (and sometimes wildly different) views of madness – strange, worrisome, extreme mental states.
Ranging from a pitch-dark solitary confinement cell to the brightly coloured papier-mache dolls made by long term inmates, from the era of shackles to the era of the talking cure, the history of Europe’s reaction to the madness in its midst as shown by these museums is long and still shifting. Britain doesn’t yet have a national museum of mental illness or psychiatry. Bedlam Hospital in London will take on this role in years to come. What might we learn from the mad houses of Europe?
The episode can be heard online here.
BBC Radio 4 has produced dramatizations of two of Freud’s most famous cases: Dora and the Wolf Man. Only the audio of the former is available online for the next 5 days. The Wolf Man dramatization will air this Saturday, and should be available online afterwards. Descriptions of both programs from the Radio 4 website follow below.
Deborah Levy’s dramatisation of Sigmund Freud’s iconic case study ‘Dora’ translated by Shaun Whiteside.
1899 finds a father imploring Sigmund Freud to treat his daughter after discovering her intention to end her life. When Dora first comes to Freud she suffers from a loss of voice, a debilitating cough and a limp. Dream analysis is the key to unlocking the causes of Dora’s condition, and as Freud’s treatment continues, secrets, seduction and betrayal are uncovered.
Deborah Levy’s dramatisation of Sigmund Freud’s iconic case study ‘The Wolf Man- The History of an Infantile Neurosis’ translated by Shaun Whiteside.
It is 1910 when the depressed son of a wealthy Russian landowner arrives in Vienna. Sergei Pankejeff, 24 years old, is suffering from debilitating fears and phobias. Freud’s treatment of Pankejeff is centred around an enigmatic dream his patient had as a very young child; a dream of white wolves. Freud invites Sergei to return to his childhood as a means of understanding his current depression. Analysing the child inside the man Freud unlocks the meaning of the wolves that haunt Sergei’s dreams.
Go have a listen before it’s too late!
After posting about BBC Radio4’s new program A History of the Brain earlier this week, we bring to your attention yet another BBC Radio4 production: The Lobotomists. To mark the 75th anniversary of the first lobotomy performed in the United States, the program explores the work of Portuguese doctor Egas Moniz who first developed the lobotomy (or leucotomy), as well as the work of neurologist Walter Freeman and neurosurgeon Sir Wylie McKissock, who took up the procedure in the United States and Britain respectively. The Lobotomists can be heard online here and AHP’s previous posts on Walter Freeman and lobotomies can be found here.
A lengthy description of The Lobotomists is available on the program’s website and reproduced below:
2011 marks a 75th anniversary that many would prefer to forget: of the first lobotomy in the US. It was performed by an ambitious young American neurologist called Walter Freeman. Over his career, Freeman went on to perform perhaps 3,000 lobotomies, on both adults and later on children. He often performed 10 procedures or more a day. Perhaps 40,000 patients in the US were lobotomised during the heyday of the operation – and an estimated 17,000 more in the UK.
This programme tells the story of three key figures in the strange history of lobotomy – and for the first time explores the popularity of lobotomy in the UK in detail.
The story starts in 1935 with a Portuguese doctor called Egas Moniz, who pioneered a radical surgical procedure on the brain. Continue reading BBC Radio4: The Lobotomists
Starting today, BBC Radio4 is airing a 10-part series on the history of the brain. A History of the Brain, has been written and produced by historian of psychology Geoff Bunn (left), of Manchester Metropolitan University. As described on the program’s website,
Dr Geoff Bunn’s 10 part History of the Brain is a journey through 5000 years of our understanding of the most complex thing in the known universe. From Neolithic times to the present day, Geoff journeys through the many ideas of what the brain is for and how it fulfils its functions. While referencing the core physiology and neuroscience, this is a cultural, not a scientific history. What soon becomes obvious is that our understanding of this most inscrutable organ has in all periods been coloured by the social and political expedients of the day no less than by the contemporary scope of scientific or biological exploration.
The first episode in the series, on the topic of trepanation, aired today and can currently be listened to online. Further episodes, each 15 minutes long, air weekdays at 1:45pm on BBC Radio4 and will be available online thereafter. Descriptions of the first 6 episodes in the series – all those airing this week, as well as the episode to air next Monday – are currently available on the program’s website:
In Episode 1: A Hole in the Head, the focus is on trepanation, the practice of drilling holes in the skull believing that such operations might correct physiological or spiritual problems. Trepanation reveals much about the understanding of the brain from Neolithic to recent times. The Ancient Egyptians, however, rarely trepanned, even though their Secret Book of the Physician, one of the oldest medical texts in the world, shows that they recognised how damage to the brain can paralyze limbs on opposite sides of the body. Believing the heart to be the core organ, they discarded the brain altogether at death, since it had no part to play in the afterlife.
In Episode 2: The Blood of The Gladiators, the focus is Ancient Greek scholarship, with Hippocrates’ astonishingly prescient belief in the brain as the chief organ of control and his debunking of the myth of the ‘sacred disease’ with his assertion that epilepsy was the result of natural causes. Yet the belief that a cure lay in the magical properties of blood persisted for centuries. Continue reading BBC Radio4: A History of the Brain