A special issue of Centaurus on “The promises of science. Historical perspectives,” guest edited by Annette Mülberger and Jaume Navarro includes an article of interest to AHP readers.
“The persuasive rhetoric of a manifesto (1870): Ribot’s promise of an “independent” psychological science,” by Annette Mülberger. Abstract:
Here, I take a closer look at a manifesto in the history of psychology: the introduction to the book entitled “La psychologie anglaise contemporaine.” It was published in 1870 and written by the French psychologist and philosopher Théodule Ribot (1839–1916). First, I review the use of the label “manifesto” in the historiography of psychology. Then the aim, rhetoric, and arguments of Ribot’s text are examined, as well as the intellectual atmosphere surrounding it. Through this research, I hope to contribute to a better understanding of the aims and some immediate reactions to Ribot’s text. My analysis focuses on his understanding of psychology as “independent science.” Ribot’s manifesto contains criticism of the prevalent philosophies of his time, namely eclectic spiritualism and the positivistic schools. Within this setting, Ribot tried to present his psychology as ideologically neutral, aiming at revealing “psychological facts.” My interpretation portrays Ribot’s tone as optimistic, framed in terms of a promise and an invitation; I see his text as primarily an attempt to attract collaborators through a broadly defined scientific project. He envisaged an almost boundless field of empirical research, based on the promise of intellectual freedom and scientific progress.
Jason A. Josephson-Storm’s recently published book, The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences, may interest AHP readers. The book is described as follows:
A great many theorists have argued that the defining feature of modernity is that people no longer believe in spirits, myths, or magic. Jason ?. Josephson-Storm argues that as broad cultural history goes, this narrative is wrong, as attempts to suppress magic have failed more often than they have succeeded. Even the human sciences have been more enchanted than is commonly supposed. But that raises the question: How did a magical, spiritualist, mesmerized Europe ever convince itself that it was disenchanted?
Josephson-Storm traces the history of the myth of disenchantment in the births of philosophy, anthropology, sociology, folklore, psychoanalysis, and religious studies. Ironically, the myth of mythless modernity formed at the very time that Britain, France, and Germany were in the midst of occult and spiritualist revivals. Indeed, Josephson-Storm argues, these disciplines’ founding figures were not only aware of, but profoundly enmeshed in, the occult milieu; and it was specifically in response to this burgeoning culture of spirits and magic that they produced notions of a disenchanted world.
By providing a novel history of the human sciences and their connection to esotericism, The Myth of Disenchantment dispatches with most widely held accounts of modernity and its break from the premodern past.
A new issue of Revista de Historia de la Psychología is now available online. Articles in this issue explore the work of Charles Richet (right), Gustav Ichheiser, José Ingenieros, and Rudolf Allers, as well as the history of pedology in Russia and Bulgaria. Titles, authors, and English-language abstracts follow below.
“El concepto de inteligencia inconsciente en la obra de Charles Richet (1850-1935),” by Manuel Sánchez de Miguel, Carlos Mª Alcover, and Izarne Lizaso. The abstract reads,
The phenomenon known as spiritualism reached its maximum popularity and expansion in the period from the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. The French physician and physiologist Charles Richet, Nobel Prize in physiology (1913) represents the attempt to consolidate a new experimental science known as metaphysics dedicated to the study of unknown phenomena as an alternative to spiritualistic theories. This multifaceted researcher advocates the rigorous study of the strange phenomena based on their knowledge of physiological psychology, a middle course of study located between the spiritualist called scientific medicine and scientific psychology. This paper analyses his biography and his work, the controversies raised by spiritualist current and orthodox medicine on the phenomenon of mediums, linking to the historical study of the genesis and evolution of the concept proposed by Richet, the unconscious intelligence, misunderstood term and relegated to historical oblivion.
“No hay nada malo en ser diferente: notas sobre la psicología crítica de Gustav Ichheiser,” by Eduardo Crespo. The abstract reads, Continue reading New Issue of Revista de Historia de la Psychología →
Wilhelm Wundt is best known as the founder of first laboratory dedicated specifically to experimental psychology. But he titled the journal that published his famous laboratory’s research Philosophische Studien (Philosophical Studies). Why was that? If his aim was to distinguish between the old philosophical psychology and the new experimental psychology, why confuse the matter by associating himself so closely with philosophy?
First, Wundt was not opposed to philosophical psychology. He just thought that philosophy could be enhanced by adding experimental methods to its toolbox. His Leipzig professorship was, after all, in philosophy, and he wrote a number of treatises on philosophical problems far removed from his experimental work. But still, why didn’t he title his journal something like Psychologische Studien (Psychological Studies), since it reported the psychological research of his students and himself?
The answer is that there was already a journal in Germany entitled Psychische Studien (Psychical Studies) that published work on spiritualism and paranormal phenomena. Wundt regarded this as unscholarly nonsense, and he did not want his own work to be confused with it in the public mind, so he went with the “Queen of the Sciences” instead: philosophy.
Andreas Sommer has just retweeted an excellent little 2013 article on that “other” journal at his blog, “Forbidden Histories.” You can read it here.
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 →
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 April 2012 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. This month’s issue is a special issue, guest edited by Elizabeth Valentine, on the topic of parapsychology, occultism, and spiritualism. The eight all new articles in the issue explore the history of psychology’s relationship to spiritualism and other occult matters across the globe; most specifically in the Netherlands, the United States of America, Germany, Britain, France, Spain, Hungary, and Japan. (Pictured above is medium Eusapia Palladino, the subject of one of the issues articles, in a seance in 1898.) Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“Psychical research and parapsychology interpreted: Suggestions from the international historiography of psychical research and parapsychology for investigating its history in the Netherlands,” by Ingrid Kloosterman. The abstract reads,
One of the reasons the history of parapsychology and its ancestor psychical research is intriguing is because it addresses a central issue: the boundaries of science. This article provides an overview of the historiography of parapsychology and presents an approach to investigate the Dutch history of parapsychology contributing to the understanding of this central theme. In the first section the historical accounts provided by psychical researchers and parapsychologists themselves are discussed; next those studies of sociologists and historians understanding parapsychology as deviant and even potentially revolutionary are dealt with; third, more contemporary studies are examined whereby enterprises such as parapsychology are understood as central to the culture in which they arose. On the basis of this analysis a new direction in the historiography of the subject is suggested in the fourth section, centred upon the relation between parapsychology and psychology in the Netherlands throughout the 20th century. In the Netherlands not only were pioneering psychologists such as Gerard Heymans (1857–1930) actively involved in experiments into telepathy, the first professor in parapsychology in the world – Wilhelm Tenhaeff (1894–1981) – was appointed in 1953 at Utrecht University and in the 1970s and 1980s parapsychology had its own research laboratory at Utrecht University in the division of psychology. This unique situation in the Netherlands deserves scholarly attention and makes an interesting case to investigate the much-neglected connections between the fields of psychology and parapsychology in the 20th century. The connections between psychology and parapsychology might help us to understand why parapsychology came to be regarded as a pseudoscience.
“Psychical research and the origins of American psychology: Hugo Münsterberg, William James and Eusapia Palladino,” by Andreas Sommer. The abstract reads, Continue reading New! Special Issue History of the Human Sciences →