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Revolution in Mind

The Creation of Psychoanalysis

Revolution in Mind by George Makari
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A masterful history of one of the most important movements of our time, Revolution in Mind is a brilliant, engaging, and radically new work—the first ever to fully account for the making of psychoanalysis. In a sweeping narrative, George Makari demonstrates how a new way of thinking about inner life coalesced and won followers who spread this body of thought throughout the West. Along the way he introduces the reader to a fascinating array of characters, many of whom have been long ignored or forgotten.

Amid great ferment, Sigmund Freud emerged as a creative, interdisciplinary thinker who devised a riveting new theory of the mind that attracted acolytes from the very fields the Viennese doctor had mined for his synthesis. These allies included Eugen Bleuler, Carl Jung, and Alfred Adler, all of whom eventually broke away and accused the Freudian community of being unscientific. Makari reveals how in the wake of these crises, innovators like Sándor Ferenczi, Wilhelm Reich, Melanie Klein, and others reformed psychoanalysis, which began to gain wide acceptance only to be banished from the continent and sent into exile due to the rise of fascism.

Groundbreaking, insightful, and compulsively readable, Revolution in Mind goes beyond myth and polemic to give us the story of one of the most controversial intellectual endeavors of the twentieth century.

HarperCollins;
Title: Revolution in Mind
Author: George Makari
 
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Excerpt


Chapter One

A Mind for Science

It's wrong to say I think. Better to say: I am thought . . . I is an other.


—Arthur Rimbaud, 1871

As the Enlightenment cast scientific rationalism up to celestial bodies and down to squirming microscopic life, there was one object that seemed impossible to penetrate: the mind. The French champion of science and rational skepticism, René Descartes, established this in his Discourse on Method when he declared the "I" was beyond rational inquiry, being nothing other than the immaterial soul described by Church fathers. Religious beliefs regarding inner life would prove durable and influential, but during the second half of the nineteenth century such notions began to lose some credence, and in that ceded ground a science of mental life took root.

When Sigmund Freud arrived in Paris in 1885, France had established itself as the center for cutting-edge research on psychological matters. Few scientists in Berlin or Vienna bothered to investigate the psyche, the "I," the soul, the self, or the mind—realms tainted by religion or speculative metaphysics. In Paris, however, scientists were drawn to the study of the inner world, thanks to a new method. That method, the psychologie nouvelle, transformed France into a hotbed of study for somnambulism, human automatisms, multiple personality, double consciousness, and second selves, as well as demonic possessions, fugue states, faith cures, and waking dreams. The marvelous and miraculous made their way from isolated villages and abbeys and carnival halls, from exorcists and charlatans and old mesmerists, into the great halls of French academic science.

The birth of this new psychology came as France itself was being reborn. Nearly a century after its revolution, the French suffered a humiliating defeat to the Prussians in 1870, resulting in the fall of Emperor Louis Napoleon III and the birth of the Third Republic. Many blamed this military debacle on French science and its failure to keep up with the advances made in German lands. French Republicanism combined anticlericalism with a commitment to revitalizing science. As the authority of the French Catholic Church to dictate thinking on the soul waned, a bold, new scientific psychology emerged.

At the time, psychology was considered a branch of philosophy, not science, but the champion of the psychologie nouvelle, Théodule Ribot, set out to change that. Born in 1839, the son of a provincial pharmacist, Théodule was forced by his father to become a civil servant. After three years of drudgery, he announced that he was off to Paris to try and gain entrance into the elite École Normale Supérieure. Two years later, Ribot won a spot at that university, where he quickly took a dislike to the reigning spiritualist philosophy championed by Victor Cousin. A strange brew of reason and faith, Cousin's psychology mixed notions of the soul and God along with naturalistic descriptions of the mind.

Ribot could not abide this. Despite being denounced by local clergy, he set out in search of a method that might make psychology fully amenable to scientific inquiry. Plunging into the writings of British thinkers, Ribot emerged in 1870 with Contemporary English Psychology (The Experimental School). Despite the dry title, the book opened with a spirited manifesto that would define psychology in France for decades to come.

Conventional notions of philosophy and science both made objective study of the mind impossible, Ribot explained. He attacked philosophies like those of Descartes and Cousin, insisting that psychology must rid itself of metaphysics and religion. Psychologists could not comment on transcendental questions, nor honestly speak of the soul. And they could not rely on the armchair methods of philosophy, but needed to employ the methods of natural science.

For all this, Ribot had an eager audience. Many of his contemporaries were ready to jettison older philosophies of the soul for naturalistic study. But how was psychology to be remade into a science? To answer that question, Ribot took on a different set of critics, led by the fiery prophet of science, Auguste Comte. Despite leading a marginal erratic life, Auguste Comte achieved extraordinary influence over late nineteenth-century European intellectuals, politicians, and scientists. In 1855, the Frenchman laid out a history of all human knowledge, declaring that the most primitive stage was theology, myth, and fiction, which then progressed to a second stage of metaphysical abstraction. In the end, philosophical notions would be surpassed by the most perfect state of knowledge which was scientific and "positive." Hence Comte's program was dubbed positivism. With the rise of the Third Republic in 1870, Comte's vision of progress was embraced by the French political elite as a model for both science and social reform.

Comte's thinking posed a great dilemma for Ribot, for the founder of positivism believed an insoluble problem lay at the heart of psychological knowledge. Psychologists relied on self-observation to get at things like thought, feeling, and desire. Such interior observation—the knowledge that came from a mind looking in at itself—was exactly what constituted subjectivity. Therefore, Comte concluded psychology could never be objective, and his quick survey of prior efforts seemed to support this damning conclusion:

After two thousand years of psychological pursuit, no one propo-sition is established to the satisfaction of its followers. They are divided, to this day, into a multitude of schools, still disputing about the very elements of their doctrine. This interior observation gives birth to almost as many theories as there are observers.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, anyone who sought to establish principles for a scientific psychology—including John Stuart Mill in England, Franz Brentano in Austria, and William James in the United States—would have to take on Auguste Comte's devastating indictment.

Comte pointed positivists down the only tenable path he saw for psychology: the field should restrict itself to observable signs such as physiognomy or behavior. To the embarrassment of his admirers, Comte thereby predicted that the future of psychology lay in phrenology. Initially conceived as the study of brain localization, phrenology had degenerated into quackery and the study of cranial lumps and bumps, based on the belief that these protuberances reflected mental capacities and deficits. By the time Ribot took up his pen, Comte's suggestion was ridiculous.