Now available from Configurations:
“Late Enlightenment Crises of Facts: Mesmerism and Meteorites,” by Simon Schaffer. Abstract:
Scientific communities have frequently denied claims that later prove justified: such episodes are used in debates about the conventions that govern decisions about matters of fact. Instructive cases of such decisions and reversals occurred during a serious crisis of facts that erupted in Enlightenment Europe from the 1780s. Establishment of scientific facts relied on appropriate groups to produce and judge them, but during such periods of radical social instability, these systems were in trouble. Notions of popular superstition and of over-sophisticated imagination were then used to manage fact claims. Plebeians were reckoned superstitious and incapable of imagination; genteel elites could seem too prone to imaginative fancy, too skeptical of received doctrine. Examples of the late Enlightenment fact crises especially evident during controversies around animal magnetism, which seemed to dramatize refined vulnerability to imagination, and around aeroliths, the widespread and allegedly vulgar superstition that stones could fall to Earth, illuminate issues of authority and evidence that continue decisively to affect public sciences, traditional customs, and their claims to produce effective factual knowledge.
The British Library has somewhat of a mesmeristic theme going on with their programming this season:
On their Untold Lives blog, Christopher Green (a different Chris Green than ours at York) writes about the career of Annie De Montford, a popular mesmerist who worked in the UK and the US in the 1880s. Read it here.
De Montford is also featured in the library’s ongoing exhibit Victorian Entertainments: There Will Be Fun, along with other historical figures who worked as magicians, pantomimes, and conjurors. The show is free, and on until March 12th. More information can be found here.
Not least, a talk will be given on March 6th by Wendy Moore titled The Mesmerist: Science vs Superstition in the Victorian era. From the flyer: ”
“…when mesmerism wafted over the Channel from France, physician John Elliotson was intrigued and resolved to harness its benefits for medicine. But his surgeon friend Thomas Wakley, editor of the influential Lancet, was disturbed and soon determined to expunge all trace of mesmerism from British shores.
Their battle throws into sharp focus fundamental questions about the fine dividing line between medicine and quackery, between science and superstition, in a Victorian society bedazzled by the magic of the music hall. And it poses questions – about hypnotism and other alternative therapies – for us today too.”
Further details with time and location can be found here.
The Wellcome Collection has launched an interactive exhibit Mindcraft. As introduced in the video above,
Mindcraft explores a century of madness, murder and mental healing, from the arrival in Paris of Franz Anton Mesmer with his theories of ‘animal magnetism’ to the therapeutic power of hypnotism used by Freud.
Through an immersive scrolling interface including image galleries, video, and interactives, Mindcraft will take you on a journey that asks who really is in control of their own mind, and where does the mind’s power to harm or heal end?
Mindcraft is written by author and curator Mike Jay, and developed by award-winning digital agency Clearleft. Mindcraft can be explored on a desktop browser or tablet.
Explore Mindcraft online here.
London’s Science Museum is now exhibiting Mind Maps: Stories from Psychology. Supported by the British Psychological Society (BPS), the exhibit is on display until August 12, 2014 and is free for all visitors. The video above provides a quick look behind the scenes of the exhibit and a number of items from the exhibit are further highlighted on the Science Museum’s website here. The exhibit, the brain child (pun intended) of the Science Museum’s BPS Curator of Psychology Phil Loring,
explores how mental health conditions have been diagnosed and treated over the past 250 years.
Divided into four episodes between 1780 and 2014, this exhibition looks at key breakthroughs in scientists’ understanding of the mind and the tools and methods of treatment that have been developed, from Mesmerism to Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) bringing visitors up to date with the latest cutting edge research and its applications.
Bringing together psychology, other related sciences, medicine and human stories, the exhibition is illustrated through a rich array of historical and contemporary objects, artworks and archive images.
Updated: Much more on the exhibit on both BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio 4, the latter featuring an interview by Claudia Hammond with curator Phil Loring and the music of the glass harmonica. Reviews of Mind Maps: Stories from Psychology can also be found at the Huffington Post and The Telegraph.
As recently announced on AHP, a new book by historian of psychology, and magician, Peter Lamont has just been released. AHP had the pleasure of interviewing Lamont about his new book: Extraordinary Beliefs: A Historical Approach to a Psychological Problem. The full interview follows below.
AHP: How did you become interested in the history of extraordinary beliefs and the role of psychologists in supporting and challenging the existence of extraordinary phenomena?
PL: Well, I used to be a magician (but I’m alright now). As a history student, I funded my studies by working as a close-up magician. Later, I joined the Koestler Parapsychology Unit, based within the Psychology department, to work on the psychology of magic. Since then, I’ve combined my interests in history, magic and the paranormal, and since I now work as a historian in a Psychology department, it seemed only polite to discuss the role of psychologists in all this.
AHP: It seems as though psychologists have been investigating extraordinary phenomena – including mesmeric, spiritualist, psychic, and paranormal phenomena – since the very beginning of scientific psychology. Why did the discipline take such an early interest in the extraordinary?
PL: One reason, as others have long pointed out, is boundary-work. Psychical Research was an ideal Other by which scientific psychologists could construct their own scientific credentials and worth. But the same arguments were going on well before the birth of the academic discipline, and I think it makes more sense to see this as something with wider relevance, as an opportunity for people (including psychologists, because psychologists are people too) to construct their own expertise and worth. Continue reading Interview: Lamont on Extraordinary Beliefs