The New York Times‘s Retro Report has produced a new video on the history of lobotomy, First, Do No Harm. As Retro Report describes,
For centuries scientists have studied the brain and still our understanding, particularly when it comes to the treatment for those suffering with severe, often untreatable mental illness, remains elusive. As scientists around the world are beginning ambitious programs to study the human brain in unprecedented ways, Retro Report explores the evolution of the surgical and biological treatments over the decades. From the brutal, but once considered mainstream treatment of lobotomy to biological cocktails, to the beginnings of what many hope will be a more elegant understanding of the brain through technology.
When they wrote their first papers, Danny and Amos had no particular audience in mind. Their readers would be the handful of academics who happened to subscribe to the highly specialized psychology trade journals in which they published. By 1972 they had spent the better part of three years uncovering the ways in which people judged and predicted—but the examples that they had used to illustrate their ideas were all drawn directly from psychology, or from the strange, artificial-seeming tests that they had given high-school and college students. Yet they were certain that their insights applied anywhere in the world that people were judging probabilities and making decisions. They sensed that they needed to find a broader audience.
“Labyrinths” was well received when published in England this summer. Yet throughout the first half of the book, no matter how much I squinted, I could not discern why. The subject is rich, definitely, and Jungian analysis has a groovy, woo-woo sort of appeal. But Ms. Clay’s sourcing is thin. She devotes pages of filler to the glorious architecture of Middle Europe — sounding uncomfortably close to the sales pitch for a Viking River Cruise — and to the menu at the Jungs’ wedding, and to the wares of the Bahnhofstrasse, and to the costume of the day.
It all seems a clumsy attempt at trompe l’oeil, to give the illusion of depth. My l’oeil wasn’t tromped.
Perhaps most striking is how remarkably adaptable Emma was — and how familiar her predicament still feels. Any semi-sentient observer of American politics has a pretty good idea of what it’s like for a smart woman to bind her fortune to a charismatic man with a wandering eye, a fellow who creates a gravitational warp so pronounced that all objects go rolling in his direction.
And Emma, too, followed in her husband’s footsteps, which at the time made her a true pioneer. Eventually, at Carl’s urging, Emma underwent her own analysis. She became an analyst once their five children were grown. She lectured; she traveled with Carl to conferences; she wrote a book about the symbolism of the Holy Grail.
As TheNew York Times reports, Winston Mosesley has died in prison at the age of 81. Mosesley infamously raped and murdered Kitty Genovese in New York City in 1964. The story that 38 bystanders stood by and did nothing as Genovese pled for help during the attack inspired the development of the “bystander effect” within psychology, which describes the diffusion of responsibility that occurs when events are witnessed by multiple individuals. That 38 bystanders in Genovese’s case witnessed the attack and did not intervene, however, has been discredited. (For more on the Genovese case see here.) The full New York Times piece, which describes the Genovese case and its historical significance, can be read online here.
The New York Times‘s Retro Report has produced a short documentary on the now infamous case of Sybil. As the article accompanying the documentary notes,
The “Sybil” story began in the mid-1950s. At its center were the Minnesota-born Ms. Mason and her intense relationship, first in the Midwest and later in New York, with a psychoanalyst, Cornelia B. Wilbur. Dr. Wilbur’s determination that Ms. Mason had 16 personalities — people of varying manner and ages, including two who were male — did not come about in a vacuum. She was well aware of “The Three Faces of Eve,” a 1954 report by two psychiatrists who worked with a woman said to have had three distinct personalities. (As Eve in a 1957 film based on that study, Joanne Woodward won an Academy Award for best actress. Years later, she did a neat Hollywood pivot by playing the psychiatrist in the first movie version of “Sybil,” with Sally Field as the patient.)
Dr. Wilbur did not write up her findings in some dry professional journal. Instead, she went looking for a large audience, and enlisted a writer, Flora Rheta Schreiber, to produce what became a blockbuster. But as the years passed, challengers began to speak up. One was Herbert Spiegel, a New York psychiatrist who said that he had treated Ms. Mason when Dr. Wilbur was on vacation. Dr. Spiegel described his patient not as a sufferer of multiple personality disorder but, rather, as a readily suggestible “hysteric.” A harsher judgment was rendered in the 1990s by Robert Rieber, a psychologist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a New York City school where Ms. Schreiber taught English. After listening to tape recordings that he said Ms. Schreiber had given him, he concluded that “it is clear from Wilbur’s own words that she was not exploring the truth but rather planting the truth as she wanted it to be.” Debbie Nathan, a writer interviewed for this Retro Report documentary, piled on still more skepticism in her 2011 book, “Sybil Exposed.” Perhaps inevitably in a dispute of this sort, counter-revisionists then emerged to denounce the doubters and to defend “Sybil” as rooted in reality.