By Liah Greenfeld
In the 16th century, in England, several remarkable things happened:
Social mobility, inconceivable before, became legitimate and common;
The ideal of Romantic love between a man and a woman emerged and “true love,” as we understand it today, was added to the human emotional range;
The word “people,” which earlier referred to the lower classes, became synonymous with “nation,” which at the time had the meaning of “an elite”;
Numerous new words appeared, among them “aspiration,” “happiness,” and “madness”;
The English society, previously a society of hierarchically arranged orders of nobility, clergy, and laborers under the sovereignty of God and his Vicar in Rome, was redefined as a sovereign community of equals;
The nature of violent crime, personal and political, changed, with crime that was not rational in the sense of self-interested becoming much more common;
The attitude to pets, especially dogs and cats, changed, transforming these animals in many cases from living multi-purpose tools to our friends and soul-mates;
The pursuit of growth — rather than survival, as was the case before – became the goal of the economy;
Mental diseases which were later to be named “schizophrenia,” “manic-depressive illness,” and “depression” were first observed, shifting the interest of the medical profession, in particular, from other, numerous, mental diseases that were known since the times of antiquity.
Were these things connected? And, if they were, what were the connections between them? These are the questions I shall be exploring in this blog.
In the course of these explorations we shall
Arrive at a new interpretation of mental diseases with uncertain organic basis, such as schizophrenia and affective disorders, and find their actual causes – sought by psychiatrists without success for the past two centuries;
Resolve the mind/body, or psychophysical, problem which Western philosophy has not been able to resolve in over two millennia, and define the mind;
Redefine what it means to be human, when human life begins, and where the difference between us and other animals lies;
Deepen our appreciation of Shakespeare and Darwin;
Learn to understand (and thus, at the very least, make the first step towards the ability to prevent) tragedies such as Newtown mass shooting and Boston Marathon bombing;
Acquire a new and surprising angle at modern poetry and detective fiction;
Reconsider the bases of psychology;
And prove the empirical reality of the soul.
Possibly, we’ll do more, but certainly no less. This is my promise to the readers of this blog and I invite them to hold me accountable, if any part of it remains unfulfilled.
I come to this online activity after thirty years of research, thinking, and teaching on the subject of modern culture, that is, of the culture of modern societies. It is impossible to understand modern culture without the comparison with other type of cultures, and it is unproductive to study any culture without attention to its relation to the individual mind. Thus, though a social scientist, not a psychologist, by training and profession, I have been led by my research itself to focus on psychology’s central topics, and by the results of this research to conclude that looking at these topics from the social science point of view has a lot to offer to those interested in them. It is a great pleasure for me, therefore, to join the Psychology Today blogging community.
[Originally published in The Modern Mind on Psychology Today]
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