Special issue of Medical History: “Soul Catchers – A Material History of the Mind Sciences”
The July 2016 special issue of Medical History is now available. Guest edited by Katja Guenther and Volker Hess, it is entitled “Soul Catchers – A Material History of the Mind Sciences” and contains a number of articles that may be of interest to H-Madness readers.
Katja Guenther and Volker Hess, Editorial: Soul Catchers: The Material Culture of the Mind Sciences
The article discusses attempts to visualise the soul on photographic plates at the end of the nineteenth century, as conducted by the French physician Hippolyte Baraduc in Paris. Although Baraduc refers to earlier experiments on fluidic photography in his book on The Human Soul (1896) and is usually mentioned as a precursor to parapsychological thought photography of the twentieth century, his work is presented as a genuine attempt at photographic soul-catching. Rather than producing mimetic representations of thoughts and imaginations, Baraduc claims to present the vital radiation of the psyche itself and therefore calls the images he produces psychicones.
The article first discusses the difference between this method of soul photography and other kinds of occult media technologies of the time, emphasising the significance of its non-mimetic, abstract character: since the soul itself was considered an abstract entity, abstract traces seemed all the more convincing to the contemporary audience. Secondly, the article shows how the technological agency of photography allowed Baraduc’s psychicones to be tied into related discourses in medicine and psychology. Insofar as the photographic plates displayed actual visual traces, Baraduc and his followers no longer considered hallucinations illusionary and pathological but emphasised the physical reality and normality of imagination. Yet, the greatest influence of soul photography was not on science but on art. As the third part of the paper argues, the abstract shapes on Baraduc’s plates provided inspiration for contemporary avant-garde aesthetics, for example, Kandinsky’s abstract paintings and the random streams of consciousness in surrealistic literature.
Cornelius Borck, Animating Brains
A recent paper famously accused the rising field of social neuroscience of using faulty statistics under the catchy title ‘Voodoo Correlations in Social Neuroscience’. This Special Issue invites us to take this claim as the starting point for a cross-cultural analysis: in which meaningful ways can recent research in the burgeoning field of functional imaging be described as, contrasted with, or simply compared to animistic practices? And what light does such a reading shed on the dynamics and effectiveness of a century of brain research into higher mental functions?
Reviewing the heated debate from 2009 around recent trends in neuroimaging as a possible candidate for current instances of ‘soul catching’, the paper will then compare these forms of primarily image-based brain research with older regimes, revolving around the deciphering of the brain’s electrical activity. How has the move from a decoding paradigm to a representational regime affected the conceptualisation of self, psyche, mind and soul (if there still is such an entity)? And in what ways does modern technoscience provide new tools for animating brains?
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