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PSYC 215 Lecture Notes - Edwin Smith Papyrus, Mania, Antoine Lavoisier

Course Code
PSYC 215
John Lydon

of 2
Many cultures throughout history have speculated on the nature of the mind, soul, spirit, etc. For
instance, in Ancient Egypt, the Edwin Smith Papyrus contains an early description of the brain,
and some speculations on its functions. Though other medical documents of ancient times were
full of incantations and applications meant to turn away disease-causing demons and other
superstition, the Edwin Smith Papyrus gives remedies to almost 50 conditions and only 1
contains incantations to ward off evil. It has been praised as being similar to what is today
considered common knowledge, but must be recognized as having originated in a very different
In Asia, China had a long history of administering tests of ability as part of its education system.
In the 6th century AD, Lin Xie carried out an early experiment, in which he asked people to draw
a square with one hand and at the same time draw a circle with the other (ostensibly to test
people's vulnerability to distraction). Some have claimed that this is the first psychology
experiment, and, therefore, the beginnings of psychology as an experimental science. India, too,
had an elaborate theory of "the self" in its Vedanta philosophical writings. Medieval Muslim
physicians also developed practices to treat patients suffering from a variety of "diseases of the
mind". Ahmed ibn Sahl al-Balkhi (850934) was among the first, in this tradition, to discuss
disorders related to both the body and the mind, arguing that "if the nafs [psyche] gets sick, the
body may also find no joy in life and may eventually develop a physical illness." Al-Balkhi
recognized that the body and the soul can be healthy or sick, or "balanced or imbalanced." He
wrote that imbalance of the body can result in fever, headaches and other bodily illnesses, while
imbalance of the soul can result in anger,anxiety, sadness and other nafs-related symptoms. He
recognized two types of what we now call depression: one caused by known reasons such
as loss or failure, which can be treated psychologically; and the other caused by unknown
reasons possibly caused by physiological reasons, which can be treated through physical
The scientist Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) carried out experiments in visual perception and the
other senses, including variations in sensitivity, sensation of touch, perception of colors,
perception of darkness, the psychological explanation of the moon illusion, and binocular
vision. Al-Biruni also employed such experimental methods in examining reaction time.
Avicenna, similarly, did early work in the treatment of nafs-related illnesses, and developed a
system for associating changes in the pulse rate with inner feelings. Avicenna also described
phenomena we now recognize as neuropsychiatric conditions, including
hallucination, insomnia, mania, nightmare, melancholia, dementia, epilepsy, paralysis, stroke, ve
rtigo and tremor. Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar) described disorders similar to meningitis,
intracranial thrombophlebitis, and mediastinal germ cell
tumors; Averroes attributed photoreceptor properties to the retina
and Maimonides described rabies and belladonna intoxication. Witelo is considered a precursor
of perception psychology. His Perspectiva contains much material in psychology, outlining
views that are close to modern notions on the association of ideas and on the subconscious.Many
of the Ancients' writings would have been lost had it not been for the efforts of the Christian,
Jewish and Persian translators in the House of Wisdom, the House of Knowledge, and other such
institutions, whose glosses and commentaries were later translated into Latin in the 12th century.
However, it is not clear how these sources first came to be used during the Renaissance, and their
influence on what would later emerge as the discipline of psychology is a topic of scholarly
Early psychology was regarded as the study of the soul (in the Christian sense of the term). The
modern philosophical form of psychology was heavily influenced by the works of René
Descartes (15961650), and the debates that he generated, of which the most relevant were the
objections to his Meditations on First Philosophy (1641), published with the text. Also important
to the later development of psychology were his Passions of the Soul (1649) and Treatise on
Man (completed in 1632 but, along with the rest of The World, withheld from publication after
Descartes heard of the Catholic Church's condemnation of Galileo; it was eventually published
posthumously, in 1664).Although not educated as a physician, Descartes did extensive
anatomical studies of bulls' hearts and was considered important enough that William
Harvey responded to him. Descartes was one of the first to endorse Harvey's model of the
circulation of the blood, but disagreed with his metaphysical framework to explain it. Descartes
dissected animals and human cadavers and as a result was familiar with the research on the flow
of blood leading to the conclusion that the body is a complex device that is capable of moving
without the soul, thus contradicting the "Doctrine of the Soul". The emergence of psychology as
a medical discipline was given a major boost by Thomas Willis, not only in his reference to
psychology (the "Doctrine of the Soul") in terms of brain function, but through his detailed 1672
anatomical work, and his treatise "De Anima Brutorum" ("Two Discourses on the Souls of
Brutes"). However, Willis acknowledged the influence of Descartes's rival, Pierre Gassendi, as
an inspiration for his work.
Also influential on the emerging discipline of psychology were debates surrounding the efficacy
of Mesmerism and the value of phrenology. The former was developed in the 1770s by Austrian
physician Anton Mesmer (17341815) who claimed to use the power of gravity, and later of
"animal magnetism", to cure various physical and mental ills. As Mesmer and his treatment
became increasingly fashionable in both Vienna and Paris, it also began to come under the
scrutiny of suspicious officials. In 1784, an investigation was commissioned in Paris byKing
Louis XVI which included American ambassador Benjamin Franklin, chemist Antoine
Lavoisier and physician Joseph-Ignace Guillotin (later the popularizer of the guillotine). They
concluded that Mesmer's method was useless. Abbé Faria, an Indo-Portuguese priest, revived
public attention in animal magnetism. Unlike Mesmer, Faria claimed that the effect was
'generated from within the mind’ by the power of expectancy and cooperation of the patient.
Although disputed, the "magnetic" tradition continued among Mesmer's students and others,
resurfacing in England in the 19th century in the work of the physician John Elliotson (1791
1868), and the surgeons James Esdaile (18081859), and James Braid (17951860) (who
reconceptualized it as property of the subject's mind rather than a "power" of the Mesmerist's,
and relabeled it "hypnotism"). Mesmerism also continued to have a strong social (if not medical)
following in England through the 19th century (see Winter, 1998). Faria's approach was
significantly extended by the clinical and theoretical work of Ambroise-Auguste
Liébeault and Hippolyte Bernheim of the Nancy School. Faria's theoretical position, and the
subsequent experiences of those in the Nancy School made significant contributions to the later
autosuggestion techniques of Émile Coué. It was adopted for the treatment of hysteria by the
director of Paris's Salpêtrière Hospital, Jean-Martin Charcot(18251893).