Warren S. McCulloch (1898–1969) adopted many identities in his scientific life—among them philosopher, poet, neurologist, neurophysiologist, neuropsychiatrist, collaborator, theorist, cybernetician, mentor, engineer. He was, writes Tara Abraham in this account of McCulloch’s life and work, “an intellectual showman,” and performed this part throughout his career. While McCulloch claimed a common thread in his work was the problem of mind and its relationship to the brain, there was much more to him than that. In Rebel Genius, Abraham uses McCulloch’s life as a window on a past scientific age, showing the complex transformations that took place in American brain and mind science in the twentieth century—particularly those surrounding the cybernetics movement.
Abraham describes McCulloch’s early work in neuropsychiatry, and his emerging identity as a neurophysiologist. She explores his transformative years at the Illinois Neuropsychiatric Institute and his work with Walter Pitts—often seen as the first iteration of “artificial intelligence” but here described as stemming from the new tradition of mathematical treatments of biological problems. Abraham argues that McCulloch’s dual identities as neuropsychiatrist and cybernetician are inseparable. He used the authority he gained in traditional disciplinary roles as a basis for posing big questions about the brain and mind as a cybernetician. When McCulloch moved to the Research Laboratory of Electronics at MIT, new practices for studying the brain, grounded in mathematics, philosophy, and theoretical modeling, expanded the relevance and ramifications of his work. McCulloch’s transdisciplinary legacies anticipated today’s multidisciplinary field of cognitive science.
The 2016 edition of Osiris, the annual thematic journal of the History of Science Society, is now available. This year’s volume explores the “History of Science and the Emotions.” A number of articles may be of interest to AHP readers, including pieces on mother love and mental illness, panic disorder and psychopharmacological, and Emil Kraepelin’s work on affective disorders. The full titles, authors, and abstracts are provided below.
“An Introduction to History of Science and the Emotions,” by Otniel E. Dror, Bettina Hitzer, Anja Laukötter, Pilar León-Sanz. The abstract reads,
This essay introduces our call for an intertwined history-of-emotions/history-of-science perspective. We argue that the history of science can greatly extend the history of emotions by proffering science qua science as a new resource for the study of emotions. We present and read science, in its multiple diversities and locations, and in its variegated activities, products, theories, and emotions, as constitutive of the norms, experiences, expressions, and regimes of emotions. Reciprocally, we call for a new reading of science in terms of emotions as an analytical category. Assuming emotions are intelligible and culturally learned, we extend the notion of emotion to include a nonintentional and noncausal “emotional style,” which is inscribed into (and can reciprocally be generated by) technologies, disease entities, laboratory models, and scientific texts. Ultimately, we argue that emotional styles interrelate with broader emotional cultures and thus can contribute to and/or challenge grand historical narratives.
A special issue of Medical History devoted to “Soul Catchers – A Material History of the Mind Sciences” is now available. The issue includes a number of articles – on drawing as an instrument, soul photography, and more – that may interest AHP readers.
Editorial: “Soul Catchers: The Material Culture of the Mind Sciences,” by Katja Guenther and Volker Hess.
“Brain Ways: Meynert, Bachelard and the Material Imagination of the Inner Life,” by Scott Phelps. The abstract reads,
The Austrian psychiatrist Theodor Meynert’s anatomical theories of the brain and nerves are laden with metaphorical imagery, ranging from the colonies of empire to the tentacles of jellyfish. This paper analyses among Meynert’s earliest works a different set of less obvious metaphors, namely, the fibres, threads, branches and paths used to elaborate the brain’s interior. I argue that these metaphors of material, or what the philosopher Gaston Bachelard called ‘material images’, helped Meynert not only to imaginatively extend the tracts of fibrous tissue inside the brain but to insinuate their function as pathways co-extensive with the mind. Above all, with reference to Bachelard’s study of the material imagination, I argue that Meynert helped entrench the historical intuition that the mind, whatever it was, consisted of some interiority – one which came to be increasingly articulated through the fibrous confines of the brain.
In the March 2016 issue of The Psychological Record includes an article by Roger K. Thomas exploring the priority dispute between Shepherd Ivory Franz and Otto Kalischer over who first combined animal training with brain extirpation. Full details follow below.
“Priority Disputes in the History of Psychology with Special Attention to the Franz–Kalischer Dispute About Who First Combined Animal Training with Brain Extirpation to Investigate Brain Functions,” by Roger K. Thomas. The abstract reads,
Shepherd Ivory Franz (American) and Otto Kalischer (German) each claimed to have been the first to combine animal training and brain extirpation to study brain function, a methodological approach that historians assert fundamentally changed subsequent neuropsychological research. Each defended his claim in 1907 in back-to-back commentaries in the journal Zentralblatt für Physiologie. Before considering details of the Franz versus Kalischer dispute, it was deemed useful to consider priority disputes in general and to revisit the priority claims for who discovered the “conditioned reflex” and whether Pierre Flourens was the “father” of brain extirpation as examples of this type of research. Consideration of the Franz–Kalischer dispute began with a brief history of the study of brain function to provide background and context for the Franz–Kalischer dispute. For additional context, biographic sketches of Franz and Kalischer are presented. Then, details of the dispute are presented and discussed followed by conclusions that include that Franz (The American Journal of Physiology, 8, 1–22, 1902) preceded Kalischer (1907a) and that it is highly unlikely that anyone before Franz had used his combination of innovative methods. Finally, the perceived importance of being first to combine animal training with brain extirpation is represented by quotations from several authors of history or psychology textbooks and one author of a history of neuroscience textbook.
Using a 2013 PNAS article titled Sex Differences in the Structural Connectome of the Human Brain as case study, the authors “tracked the journey of the PNAS research from its initial scientific publication, through a university-issued press release, into its reception in the traditional news media, online reader comments and blog entries.” Acccording to the abstract, their analysese “suggested that scientific research on sex difference offers an opportunity to rehearse abiding cultural understandings of gender. In both scientific and popular contexts, traditional gender stereotypes were projected onto the novel scientific information, which was harnessed to demonstrate the factual truth and normative legitimacy of these beliefs.”