A new book by historian of psychology, and magician, Peter Lamont has just been released. Extraordinary Beliefs: A Historical Approach to a Psychological Problem offers an account of the continuing appeal of the extraordinary. As described on the Cambridge University Press website:
Since the early nineteenth century, mesmerists, mediums and psychics have exhibited extraordinary phenomena. These have been demonstrated, reported and disputed by every modern generation. We continue to wonder why people believe in such things, while others wonder why they are dismissed so easily. Extraordinary Beliefs takes a historical approach to an ongoing psychological problem: why do people believe in extraordinary phenomena? It considers the phenomena that have been associated with mesmerism, spiritualism, psychical research and parapsychology. By drawing upon conjuring theory, frame analysis and discourse analysis, it examines how such phenomena have been made convincing in demonstration and report, and then disputed endlessly. It argues that we cannot understand extraordinary beliefs unless we properly consider the events in which people believe, and what people believe about them. And it shows how, in constructing and maintaining particular beliefs about particular phenomena, we have been in the business of constructing ourselves.
The August 2012 issue of History of Psychology is now online. Included in this issue is a Special Section: Beyond Kinsey, Sex and American Psychology, which examines some of the psychological research funded by the Committee for Research in Problems of Sex. Stay tuned to AHP later in the week for a special interview with Peter Hegarty, Michael Pettit, and David Serlin, the authors whose articles make up this section.
In addition to the Special Section: Beyond Kinsey, Sex and American Psychology, the issue includes article that address the history of addiction interventions, the roots of psychology in Italy, behavior analysis in Brazil and its pedagogical connections, Lurena Brackett and mesmerism in the nineteenth century United States, and Jean Piaget’s psychological factory. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
Special Section: Beyond Kinsey, Sex and American Psychology.
“Beyond Kinsey: The committee for research on problems of sex and American psychology,” by Peter Hegarty. The abstract reads,
This introduction to the Special Section of History of Psychology argues for greater attention to psychological research on sex in the decades before the publication of the Kinsey volumes. Drawing on scholarship by Adele Clarke, Donna Haraway and Wade Pickren, this introduction argues for the centrality of the psychological research projects funded by the Committee for Research on Problems of Sex (CRPS), chaired by psychologist Robert Yerkes after 1921. The three individual papers all speak to opposition to the functionalist approach to sex often attributed to Yerkes’ CRPS.
“Getting miles away from Terman: Did the CRPS fund Catharine Cox Miles’s unsilenced psychology of sex?” by Peter Hegarty. The abstract reads, Continue reading August HoP: Sex, Mesmerism, Addiction, & More
There are a number of articles in the just released May issue of Social History of Medicine that may be of interest to AHP’s readers. In a piece on music and hypnosis, James Kennaway explores the long and complicated relationship between music and selfhood from the time of Mesmeric uses of the glass harmonica (left) to more recent concerns about brainwashing. Additionally, two articles in the issue explore aspects of asylum history. The first discusses the role of the Irish Famine of the 1840s in Irish asylums, while the second explores efforts to control suicide in English public asylums in the latter half of the nineteenth century. A further piece delves into views on alcoholism in mid-to-late twentieth century Yugoslavia. Full titles, authors, and abstract follow below.
“Musical Hypnosis: Sound and Selfhood from Mesmerism to Brainwashing,” by James Kennaway. The abstract reads,
Music has long been associated with trance states, but very little has been written about the modern western discussion of music as a form of hypnosis or ‘brainwashing’. However, from Mesmer’s use of the glass armonica to the supposed dangers of subliminal messages in heavy metal, the idea that music can overwhelm listeners’ self-control has been a recurrent theme. In particular, the concepts of automatic response and conditioned reflex have been the basis for a model of physiological psychology in which the self has been depicted as vulnerable to external stimuli such as music. This article will examine the discourse of hypnotic music from animal magnetism and the experimental hypnosis of the nineteenth century to the brainwashing panics since the Cold War, looking at the relationship between concerns about hypnotic music and the politics of the self and sexuality.
“Revisiting a ‘Demographic Freak’: Irish Asylums and Hidden Hunger,” by Melinda Grimsley-Smith.The abstract reads, Continue reading New in Social History of Medicine
A translation of the 18th century French Royal Commission Report on animal magnetism commissioned by King Louis XVI has been posted on the Skeptic‘s website. This investigation into the veracity of animal magnetism, or mesmerism, was undertaken by group of individuals that included Antoine Lavoisier, American Benjamin Franklin, and a number of other prominent intellectuals. The piece is introduced by Skeptic founder Michael Shermer who provides the following description of mesmerism:
The German physician Franz Anton Mesmer was the “discoverer” of animal magnetism, and he has ever since been remembered whenever we are “mesmerized” by something that seems to draw us to it like a magnet. The analogy is appropriate, for Mesmer reasoned that just as an invisible force of gravity binds the planets together, and an invisible force of electricity flows through various substances, and an invisible force of magnetism draws iron shavings to a loadstone, so an invisible force — animal magnetism — flows through living beings.
The Commission’s report, as well as Shermer’s introduction to it, can both be read here.
In a forthcoming article in Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences historian of science Simon Schaffer (left) examines the influence of astrology on Franz Anton Mesmer’s development of mesmerism.
The abstract to Schaffer’s article, “The astrological roots of Mesmerism,” reads:
Franz Anton Mesmer’s 1766 thesis on the influence of the planets on the human body, in which he first publicly presented his account of the harmonic forces at work in the microcosm, was substantially copied from the London physician Richard Mead’s early eighteenth century tract on solar and lunar effects on the body. The relation between the two texts poses intriguing problems for the historiography of medical astrology: Mesmer’s use of Mead has been taken as a sign of the Vienna physician’s enlightened modernity while Mead’s use of astro-meteorology has been seen as evidence of the survival of antiquated astral medicine in the eighteenth century. Two aspects of this problem are discussed. First, French critics of mesmerism in the 1780s found precedents for animal magnetism in the work of Paracelsus, Fludd and other early modern writers; in so doing, they began to develop a sophisticated history for astrology and astro-meteorology. Second, the close relations between astro-meteorology and Mead’s project illustrate how the environmental medical programmes emerged. The making of a history for astrology accompanied the construction of various models of the relation between occult knowledge and its contexts in the enlightenment.