“‘A more perfect arrangement of plants’: the botanical model in psychiatric nosology, 1676 to the present day,” by Daniel Mason and Honor Hsin. Abstract:
Psychiatric classification remains a complex endeavour; since the Enlightenment, nosologists have made use of various models and metaphors to describe their systems. Here we present the most common model, botanical taxonomy, and trace its history from the nosologies of Sydenham, Sauvages and Linnaeus; to evolutionary models; to the later contributions of Hughlings-Jackson, Kraepelin and Jaspers. Over time, there has been a shift from explicit attempts to pattern disease classification on botanical systems, to a more metaphorical use. We find that changes in the understanding of plants and plant relationships parallel changes in the conceptualization of mental illness. Not only have scientific discoveries influenced the use of metaphor, but the language of metaphor has also both illuminated and constrained psychiatric nosology.
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.
The March 2015 issue of Science in Contextis now online. Guest edited by Stephen T. Casper (left), the articles in this special issue explore the roles played by context in the brain and mind sciences. To quote the epilogue written by Roderick Buchanan, the included essays “illustrate the changing cultural form and function of the biopsyche disciplines – disciplines that are both sciences and technologies of selfhood. To varying degrees, each essay actively engages Paul Forman’s  thesis on modern and postmodern cultural valuations of science and technology.” Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow.
“Of Means and Ends: Mind and Brain Science in the Twentieth Century,” by Stephen T. Casper. The abstract reads:
What role does context play in the mind and brain sciences? This introductory article, “Of Means and Ends,” explores that question through its focus on the ways scientists and physicians engaged with and constructed technology in the mind and brain sciences in the twentieth century. This topical issue addresses how scientists, physicians, and psychologists came to see the ends of technology as important in-and-of themselves. In so doing, the authors of these essays offer an interpretation of historian Paul Forman’s revisionist and highly contextualist chronology of the twentieth century, which presents the comparatively recent tendency to aggrandize the ends of technology as evidence of a major, epochal transformation in the epistemic culture of twentieth-century American science. This collection of papers suggests that it was in the vanguard of such fields as psychology, psychiatry, and neurophysiology in North America and Europe that the ends and applications of technology became important in-and-of themselves.
A new issue of Journal of the History of the Neuroscience is now online. Included in this issue are articles on psychosurgery as a transnational movement, artists and phantom limbs, and sex and gender in organology. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“A Transnational Perspective on Psychosurgery: Beyond Portugal and the United States,” by Brianne M. Collinsa & Henderikus J. Stam. The abstract reads,
The history of psychosurgery is most often recounted as a narrative wherein Portuguese and American physicians play the leading role. It is a traditional narrative in which the United States and, at times, Portugal are central in the development and spread of psychosurgery. Here we largely abandon the archetypal narrative and provide one of the first transnational accounts of psychosurgery to demonstrate the existence of a global psychosurgical community in which more than 40 countries participated, bolstered, critiqued, modified and heralded the treatment. From its inception in 1935 until its decline in the mid-1960s, psychosurgery was performed on almost all continents. Rather than being a phenomenon isolated to the United States and Portugal, it became a truly transnational movement.
The rise and widespread acceptance of psychosurgery constitutes one of the most troubling chapters in the history of modern medicine. By the late 1950s, tens of thousands of Americans had been lobotomized as treatment for a host of psychiatric disorders. Though the procedure would later be decried as devastating and grossly unscientific, many patients, families, and physicians reported veritable improvement from the surgery; some patients were even considered cured.
The Lobotomy Letters gives an account of why this controversial procedure was sanctioned by psychiatrists and doctors of modern medicine. Drawing from original correspondence penned by lobotomy patients and their families as well as from the professional papers of lobotomy pioneer and neurologist Walter Freeman, the volume reconstructs how physicians, patients, and their families viewed lobotomy and analyzes the reasons for its overwhelming use.