(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘psychoanalysis

“What I should have been, you see, is a neurologist”*…

Franz Anton Mesmer; drawing by David Levine

It was in a mood of irritable skepticism that the Scottish surgeon James Braid attended a public demonstration of Animal Magnetism—in which people were said to fall into trances—on the night of November 13, 1841. From everything he had read and heard about the trances that occurred at the bidding of the operator—the person who induced the trances—he reports that he was “fully inclined to join with those who considered the whole thing to be a system of collusion and delusion, or an excited imagination, sympathy, or imitation.” After observing the demonstration, he considered that the trances were quite genuine, but at the same time he felt satisfied “that they were not dependent on any special agency or emanation passing from the body of the operator to that of the patient as animal magnetizers allege.” He returned to the demonstration when it was repeated by popular demand a week later, and on this occasion he felt that he had identified the cause of these mysteriously punctual onsets of “nervous sleep.” He was to devote the last eighteen years of his life to the topic, and under the proprietary title of Hypnotism he explained and redescribed the process in terms which would have been unrecognizable to its eighteenth-century discoverer, Franz Anton Mesmer…

With its intriguing combination of occult powers, clairvoyant trances, and invisible weightless fluids, animal magnetism seemed to guarantee the existence of a reality beyond the world of the senses, and many people saw it as an irresistible alternative to an increasingly mechanized picture of the universe.

The remarkable Jonathan Miller— remembered as a partner of Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, and Allan Bennett in Beyond the Fringe and for his later career as a distinguished stage and opera director, but trained as a doctor– explains how Mesmer’s “animal magnetism” was wrangled by doctors and scientists into “hypnotism,” and how it birthed an understanding of the Unconscious that pre-dates Freud… and that’s undergoing a renaissance, as it’s proving more useful than the psychoanalytic version that obscured it for a century: “Going Unconscious” (an unlocked essay from The New York Review of Books archive).

* Jonathan Miller


As we go deep, we might send polymathic birthday greetings to William Whewell; he was born on this date in 1794. A scientist, Anglican priest, philosopher, theologian, and historian of science, he was Master of Trinity College, Cambridge.

At a time when specialization was increasing, Whewell was renown for the breadth of his work: he published the disciplines of mechanics, physics, geology, astronomy, and economics, while also finding the time to compose poetry, author a Bridgewater Treatise, translate the works of Goethe, and write sermons and theological tracts. In mathematics, Whewell introduced what is now called the Whewell equation, defining the shape of a curve without reference to an arbitrarily chosen coordinate system. He founded mathematical crystallography and developed a revision of  Friedrich Mohs’s classification of minerals. And he organized thousands of volunteers internationally to study ocean tides, in what is now considered one of the first citizen science projects.

But some argue that Whewell’s greatest gift to science was his wordsmithing: He created the words scientist and physicist by analogy with the word artist; they soon replaced the older term natural philosopher. He also named linguisticsconsiliencecatastrophismuniformitarianism, and astigmatism.

Other useful words were coined to help his friends: biometry for John Lubbock; Eocine, Miocene and Pliocene for Charles Lyell; and for Michael Faraday, electrode, anode, cathode, diamagnetic, paramagnetic, and ion (whence the sundry other particle names ending -ion).


“I am told there are people who do not care for maps, and I find it hard to believe”*…


The confluence of different GPS technologies have led to more and more stunning map and data visualizations. Added bonus: casual map lovers have something to explore during periods of procrastination.

Last week, to the joy of data nerds everywhere, the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government launched a database of interactive maps that use public sector data to visualize various city and community services, histories, and statistics. It sounds dry until you check out the selection of 200 mapping projects. Particularly interesting, deep dive-worthy ones include a map of immigrant communities across the U.S., a map of public art in Philadelphia, a visualization of the variety of trees in New York City, a map detailing the history of redlining and other forms of housing discrimination in Louisville, Kentucky [above]. and a map of access to high-speed internet in Kansas City, Missouri

… and 195 others, including this  visualization that answers the question “is the American dream still affordable?” and where:

More background at The Outline and at the Ash Center’s announcement page.  Browse at their Data-Smart City Solutions Database search page.

* Robert Louis Stevenson


As we celebrate charts, we might send analytic birthday greetings to a man who drew epoch-making maps of a very different sort, Sigismund Schlomo Freud; he was born on this date in 1856.  The father of psychoanalysis, he revolutionized the field of psychotherapy– so much so that later practitioners have often failed to recognize Freud’s scientific predecessors.  Throughout his work (in such books as Interpretation of Dreams and the New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis) he emphasized the role of unconscious and non-rational functioning, going against most contemporary thought by suggesting that dreams and “mistakes” may have affirmative meaning.



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May 6, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way”*…


The nature of consciousness seems to be unique among scientific puzzles. Not only do neuroscientists have no fundamental explanation for how it arises from physical states of the brain, we are not even sure whether we ever will. Astronomers wonder what dark matter is, geologists seek the origins of life, and biologists try to understand cancer—all difficult problems, of course, yet at least we have some idea of how to go about investigating them and rough conceptions of what their solutions could look like. Our first-person experience, on the other hand, lies beyond the traditional methods of science. Following the philosopher David Chalmers, we call it the hard problem of consciousness.

But perhaps consciousness is not uniquely troublesome. Going back to Gottfried Leibniz and Immanuel Kant, philosophers of science have struggled with a lesser known, but equally hard, problem of matter. What is physical matter in and of itself, behind the mathematical structure described by physics? This problem, too, seems to lie beyond the traditional methods of science, because all we can observe is what matter does, not what it is in itself—the “software” of the universe but not its ultimate “hardware.” On the surface, these problems seem entirely separate. But a closer look reveals that they might be deeply connected…

Find out how the central problem in neuroscience is mirrored in physics at “Is Matter Conscious?

For more on the conscious controversy– what is it?  who/what has it?– see also “Consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms. For consciousness is absolutely fundamental. It cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else.”

* Kingsley Amis


As we think, therefore are, we might send analytic birthday greetings to Sigismund Schlomo Freud; he was born on this date in 1856.  The father of psychoanalysis, he revolutionized the field of psychotherapy– so much so that later practitioners have often failed to recognize Freud’s scientific predecessors.  Throughout his work (in such books as Interpretation of Dreams and the New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis) he emphasized the role of unconscious and non-rational functioning, going against most contemporary thought by suggesting that dreams and “mistakes” may have affirmative meaning.



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May 6, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Anatomy is destiny”*…


For much of recorded history the human body was a black box—a highly capable yet mysterious assemblage of organs, muscles and bones. Even Hippocrates, a man who declared anatomy to be the foundation of medicine, had some interesting ideas about our insides.

By the early Renaissance, scientists and artists were chipping away at this anatomical inscrutability, and illustration was proving a particularly effective way to spread what was being learned via human dissection. There remained one nagging issue, however: accurately representing the body’s three-dimensional structure on a flat, two-dimensional piece of paper. Some artists relied on creative uses of perspective to solve the problem. Others began using flaps…

See 16th century scholars peel away anatomical ignorance one layer at a time at “How Flap Illustrations Helped Reveal the Body’s Inner Secrets.”

* Sigmund Freud


As we peek inside, we might send verbose birthday greetings to Josef Breuer; he was born on this date in 1842.  A physician, he made key discoveries in neurophysiology.  His work in the 1880s with his patient Bertha Pappenheim, known as Anna O., developed the talking cure (cathartic method) and laid the foundation to psychoanalysis as developed by his protégé, Sigmund Freud.

(Though Breuer’s treatment of Anna O. was not nearly as successful as he and Freud claimed, she eventually overcame her symptoms to become an innovative social worker and a leader of the women’s movement in Germany.)



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January 15, 2017 at 1:01 am

“…theoretical considerations require that what is to-day the object of a phobia must at one time in the past have been the source of a high degree of pleasure”*…


In 1955, in the wake of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency investigation into the corrupting influence of comic books (and the now largely-discredited but then damning testimony of Frederic Wertham), E.C. Comics, which had been singled out as an offender, inaugurated an “educational” series, “New Direction,” with the series Psychoanalysis.  Each issue, drawn by Jack Kamen (whose earlier work had included Tales from the Crypt), narrated the clinical experiences of three patients in analysis…

The series– realistically recounting the sessions of patients, each cured by their therapists– bewildered retailers and readers alike.  It was cancelled after four issues.  Within 5 years EC publisher William Gaines had shifted his attention completely to what was, in 1955, a nascent side project for Harvey Kurtzman:  Mad.

Read more about Psychoanalysis— see more covers, find precis of the storylines– at “Curious ‘Psychoanalysis’ comics from the 1950s.”

* Sigmund Freud, The Sexual Enlightenment of Children


As we’re gently informed that our time is up, we might recall that it was on this date in 1936 that neuropsychiatrist Walter Freeman and his friend and colleague, the neurosurgeon, James W. Watts performed the first pre-frontal lobotomy in the U.S.  Freeman and Watts had learned of the technique from it’s “inventor,” Egas Moniz, a Portuguese surgeon who’d performed the very first lobotomy (or “leucotomy” as it’s also known) earlier that same year.  Now out of favor and largely out of practice, Freeman and Watts developed a method that was the basis for procedures– an estimated 40,000 in the U.S.– conducted until around 1960, when the practice effectively ceased.  But in headier days, lobotomies were the rage: Moniz shared the 1949 Nobel Prize for Medicine “for his discovery of the therapeutic value of leucotomy in certain psychoses.”

Site of borehole for the standard pre-frontal lobotomy/leucotomy, as developed by Freeman and Watts



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September 14, 2014 at 1:01 am

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