Who Was the Greatest Psychologist?
In most realms of human endeavor, no one person ever stands out as clearly greater than the other greats in that field. It would be impossible to say who was the greatest philosopher, or physicist, or artist, or baseball player, or movie star. Because so many are great, no one person ever shines brightest.
Psychology is an exception — Charles Darwin does tower over this field.
Born 204 years ago on February 12, Darwin was deeply interested in comparing human and animal psychology as a test case and fascinating application of evolutionary theory.
His careful naturalistic observation, combined with deep psychological insight, completely changed how we understand human nature.
Darwin’s most fundamental conclusions:
•We are animals — just part of the grand tableau of creation, not its purpose.
•Our instincts, emotions, and intellect evolved from a common primate ancestor — just as completely as did our bodily form.
•We can understand ourselves best by studying the psychological, as well as the physical, steps in that evolution.
•Our psychology is the product of the natural and sexual selection of reproductively adaptive chance variants — it was not preplanned or inspired by divine intervention.
•The mind and its consciousness are a product of brain functioning in a way that is not essentially different than digestion is a function of the gut.
•Psychology can be studied using the standard experimental and observational tools of science.
•People all over the world, despite differences in their current customs, are brothers and sisters within one human species, sharing the same basic emotions and intellectual endowment.
•The child is father to the man — we can learn about the psychology of the individual and evolution of the species by carefully studying the maturation of behaviors in infants and children.
•Instincts are not completely fixed but interact with the environment.
•Unconscious forces play a large role in influencing are our behaviors.
And Darwin also established novel methods of psychological study that have since become standards in the field:
•His statement that we can learn more about ourselves by studying baboons than by reading the great philosophers created the field of evolutionary psychology and provided the opportunity for deep insights into human motivation and behavior.
•Darwin’s Biographical Sketch of an Infant detailing his minute, naturalistic observations of the day to day emotional, intellectual, interpersonal, and moral development of his eldest son created the field of child development.
•Darwin’s method of studying emotions and facial expressions using photographs he commissioned for this purpose is still an enormously fruitful research tool.
•Darwin conducted the first survey in psychology — a written instrument gathering information from scientists and missionaries to show the universality of human emotions all around the world.
•Darwin also pioneered in subjective introspection, including the self analysis of his own dreams.
It is startling that Darwin had made most of his major psychological discoveries before his 30th birthday and even before he realized that natural selection is the mechanism of evolution.
He kept these findings in a drawer for 35 years before finally publishing them — partly because he was a meticulous collector of facts before presenting theories; partly because he realized that the world was not ready for such a materialistic view of man; and partly because he didn’t like confrontation with critics.
Newton modestly described himself as a dwarf sitting on the shoulders of the preceding giants. In psychology, it was Freud sitting on Darwin’s shoulders — ingeniously applying Darwin’s evolutionary insights to the wide world of psychological symptoms, dreams, myth, art, anthropology, and the vicissitudes of everyday life.
Freud was 26 when Darwin died and they never met, but almost all of his mentors were enthusiastic Darwinists.
In Freud’s day, psychologists and neuroscientists all spoke ‘Darwin’ even if they didn’t always realize it; just as today we all unconsciously speak some dialect of ‘Freud’.
Freud’s biographer Ernest Jones called Freud ‘the Darwin of the mind.’ In fact, Darwin was the Darwin of the mind, with Freud as his great popularizer.
The most important step forward in our understanding human psychology was the realization that much of our mental life is automatic, unconscious, and outside the control of our reason or will.
Lots of philosophers, scientists, and writers helped explore this realm of the unconscious, before and after Darwin.
But Darwin was by far the most important because, by connecting the mind of man with our primate past, he was able to fill in so many of the blanks — explaining why we do what we do and feel what we feel.
Psychology since has been an enormously exciting, but mostly derivative, elaboration of the grand model intuited by Darwin 175 years ago. We now have the wonderful new tools of neuro and cognitive science to explore how brain makes mind — but our modern conception of human nature was all there in Darwin’s notebooks.
the case for my therapist Shakespeare 😉
Can Shakespeare Help You Score This Valentine’s Day?
Want to spice things up this Valentine’s Day? Forget flowers and chocolate — a soliloquy just might do the trick. After all, William Shakespeare isn’t known as the “Bawdy Bard” for nothing. Kim Askew and I — we’re the authors of the new Shakespeare-inspired YA novels Exposure and Tempestuous — have 15 reasons he still reigns supreme in the dictums of debauchery. And who knows? You might just learn a thing or two.
1. “Is this a dagger… or are you just happy to see me?” Those ubiquitous daggers and swords in Shakespeare are manly weapons in more ways than one, if you get our phallic drift. (Frankly, anything pointy in his plays should “arouse” your suspicion, including “Cupid’s fiery shaft” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.)
2. More pelvic-thrusting than The Thunder Down Under When staged, Shakespeare’s ribald jokes tend to come in tandem with unabashed pelvic undulations from over-exuberant thespians who, for better or for worse, make Elvis’s gyrations look downright puritanical. C’mon, guys, we “get it” already!
3. X-rated double entendres Those most fluent in Elizabethan English can vouch for the fact that the Bard’s lines are extremely licentious once you figure out what it actually means “to raise a spirit in his mistress’ circle” or “hide [a] bauble in a hole.”
4. Men in codpieces and ample-bosomed wenches. Enough said.
5. Those fairies and sprites are some kinky creatures. Ever get the sense that Shakespeare’s scantily-clad, supernatural characters are busy engaging in crazy non-stop orgies in the forest when they’re not having a laugh at the expense of the humans they come across? Just us, then? Huh.
7. All the kids are doing it! Ah, young love. Juliet Capulet was a mere 13 years old when she did her “amorous rites” with Romeo, who, presumably, wasn’t too much older than she.
8. Taboo-lah-lah! Did Hamlet have the hots for his mom? English professors speculate as much, given his frankly disconcerting obsession with Gertrude’s sex life. (Laurence Olivier started it, but Mel Gibson and Glenn Close went there too, and then some, in the 1990 film .)
9. Like a Virgin? Shakespeare apparently did. Ophelia’s virginity has been the subject of much debate among scholars and she even sings a song about losing her virginity: “Let in the maid, that out a maid never departed more.” And, of course, we already mentioned the practically pre-pubescent Juliet.
10. Best. Euphemisms. Ever. “The beast with two backs” (Othello) … “Groping for trout in a peculiar river” (Measure for Measure) . .. “puppets dallying” (Hamlet). Schoolboys have been snickering over this stuff for centuries.
11. Even his titles were dirty! In the Bard’s day and age, “nothing” was slang for a certain lady part, giving the title Much Ado About Nothing an extra nudge-nudge, wink-wink meaning.
12. Bestiality? Sorta. Titania, the fairy queen in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, has the hots for a donkey-headed Bottom, and while they don’t explicitly do the deed in the play, that’s probably only because even Shakespeare had to draw the line somewhere.
13. Cross-dressing, and lots of it. Shakespeare embraced gender-bending long before drag queens and Iggy Pop made it cool. Heroines pretend to be men in As You Like It, Twelfth Night, and The Merchant of Venice (among others), which was way more scandalous in Shakespearean times than the men donning dresses to portray his ladies on stage.
14. He dabbles in S&M, too! Who needs Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey playing “submissive” and “dominant” when you’ve got Katherina and Petruchio from The Taming of the Shrew? We’re not sure what they were getting up to in the bedroom, but with banter like, “I swear I’ll cuff you, if you strike again,” well… whips and riding crops may have factored in.
15. He’s a most highbrow purveyor of smut. It’s lewd and crude, but the fact that it’s “Shake-speeyah!” makes it okay for kids, nuns, and puritanical librarians to wholeheartedly embrace the literary porn. You don’t need a brown paper cover when you’re reading the greatest writer of all time!
Love lasts eternally
Karen E. Bender: “You Will Outlast the Earth”
In this blog, I highlight passages that I’ve found in my travels through books. I hope readers will post quotes of their own, or comment on those they see here. I’m curious, too, about your reactions to the books you read. What kinds of words and sentences strike you most deeply? What do you look for when you read? What books are precious to you? Which do you always recommend?
“‘When will I die?’
His beautiful, worrried face gazed at her. She looked away; she did not want to answer this, at this age — five! Already he wanted to kill his innocence. She pressed the two of her children to her body. Never. She wanted to say never. You will live and live, you will outlast the earth. This moment will not vanish. But each moment melted the instant it happened; they would step out of her arms in a matter of months, they would stumble across the junior high school cafeteria into high school and college dorm rooms and then into middle age and their gradual descent. What would their end be? They stared at her, alarmed. She was going to break them the news of their deaths. Here it was, at five, already — by giving them to the world, she had sentenced herself to this. She wanted to lie, but they would see through it. “Honey. I don’t know. Don’t worry. A long time.” — Karen E. Bender’s A Town of Empty Rooms
Years ago, not long after our first child was born, my husband looked at me one evening, his face full of shock and dismay, and said, “Parenthood is nothing but love and worry.” This passage from Bender’s wise and lovely novel reminded me of that overriding fact of parenthood, that these children of ours, these treasures that we brought into the world, will not live forever. In this scene, the mother, Serena, has to face her son, Zeb, as he confronts his own mortality. Serena’s thoughts, odd and unexpected but also completely rational, perfectly capture the way in which intense love slams against unavoidable heartbreak.