Human beings have always been interested in understanding the inner workings of our brains. We aim to understand what causes things like mental afflictions, character traits, and behavioral patterns by studying the psychology of the human mind. Today, psychology maintains strict research standards, uses complex and revolutionary equipment, and is studied in billion dollar studies from highly accredited journals, universities, and scientists. This sample psychology paper from Ultius will attempt to explore the time before we had any of these modern amenities and neurological knowledge. A time when people were even more confused by human behavior, thoughts, and emotions and sought to explain them in several ways that seem ridiculous by today’s scientific standards.
Pre-Psychology of female hormones
It is no secret that men and women do not always understand each other. This sentiment was shared by the ancient Greeks, who also believed that the reason for this lack of understanding could be attributed to a rather absurd sounding explanation. They believed that physical and mental differences between men and women were caused by women’s ‘wandering wombs’. Philosophers who are well-renowned for their contributions to academia, such as Plato and Hippocrates, were avid supporters of this theory and sought to educate others on the subject.
The Greeks actually believed that a woman’s womb could wander around her abdominal cavity spontaneously, causing all the differences between men and women that they could not understand. The physician Aretaeus of Cappadocia even called the womb, “an animal within an animal” that “moved of itself hither and thither in the flanks” according to Matt Simon of Wired Magazine. Aretaeus argued that the womb could move wherever it wanted within a woman’s abdominal cavity and was capable of knocking into other organs. The direction the womb traveled in determined its effect; if it moved upwards, it could cause things like less physical strength than men and headaches, while a downward movement could cause a loss of sensibility (Simon).
According to Aretaeus, the womb did happen to have one weakness, thankfully. He believed the womb would move towards fragrant smells and away from unpleasant ones. Luckily, a womb could be lured back down when pleasant scents were applied to woman’s thighs and vagina or the woman was made to sniff foul smells. Another common treatment was for women to be pregnant as often as possible to keep the womb otherwise occupied. The belief that the womb was the cause of physical differences between men and women survived for several hundred years. Eventually, the idea of hysteria was more commonly attributed to actual mental illness rather than a womb with a mind of its own.
Dream Interpretation before psychology
Even though there is not a lot of scientific evidence to support the validity of dream interpretation, it is rather popular and, it always has been a common pre-psychology theory. Despite accuracy of biblical historicity, the Bible reads often of dream interpretation in order to predict the future or make an important decision. The book of Daniel speaks of magicians and wizards who interpret dreams for a living, deciphering symbols and themes and attempting to discern meaning from them. Daniel himself won favor from the king when he told His Majesty that his dreams of precious metals, clay, and mud were representative of Babylon and other future kingdoms (The Bible). Joseph, son of Jacob, also gained favor from royalty, and later wealth and position, for his ability to interpret the dreams of the pharaoh.
Common dreams and their supposed meanings
- Being chased: This supposedly represents anxiety, or a problem being ran away from.
- Being in school: It is believed that whatever lesson or test we face in school, is representative of a lesson we failed to learn from our past.
- Death: Death is more related to a dramatic change for the dreamer than a direct vison of dying. Something new may be about to replace something old.
- Falling: It is believed that the thought of falling represents something out of control in your life.
- Nudity: Being exposed emotionally or psychologically is often represented by nudity.
- Sex: Said to represent connections with the dreamers, or desired connections with other’s the dreamer is close to (Dreamscloud).
Ancient China also believed in the power of dream interpretation. Dreams were considered to be an assessment of reality and individual identity. Chuang Tzu, the most famous Taoist after the great Lao Tzu, had a dream about a butterfly that is the most prominent dream to be recorded in Chinese Philosophy (Chan). Chuang Tzu had a dream that he was a butterfly. His dream felt so vivid and real that when he awoke to find himself human, he could not tell if he was simply a man who had dreamt of being a butterfly or a butterfly who was dreaming it was a man. The ancient Chinese people viewed dreams as a philosophical exploration of ourselves.
Sigmund Freud also placed emphasis on the interpretation of dreams. He spoke of the symbolism that could be found in our dreams in his book The Interpretation of Dreams. Freud believed that dreams are a way in which our subconscious can indulge in wish-fulfillment fantasies. While we sleep, our brains can express our innermost desires and whims. We dream of the things we want and have nightmares about our failure to obtain them (Freud). These days, scientists use dreams in the practice of several theories, including problem-solving and memory consolidation. Still, many people seem to conform to the Freudian way of regarding dreams; studies have found that many Americans are as likely to skip a plane ride if they have a dream of a crash the night before as if a plane has crashed recently on their specific route (Hartley).
Phrenology was first established around the year 1800 by Franz Gall. Gall believed that the brain was the source of one’s intelligence and personality. This doesn’t seem too crazy, does it? Well, Gall also believed that it was possible to determine one’s intelligence and patterns of behavior by measuring the shape, bumps, and valleys in one’s skull (Hartley). Clearly, Gall did not exactly have everything exactly right, he was not entirely wrong, either. He theorized that one’s brain was the organ of the mind, which is the basis for neuroscience (“The History of Phrenology”). Gall suggested that different traits could be connected to different regions of the brain, which is true. However, there are several things about Gall’s theories that are downright false. For example, the idea that you can determine someone’s intelligence or personality traits by the shape of their skull is rather ridiculous.
A pre-psychologic approach to racism
Gall believed that parts of the brain that controlled the functions we utilized the most would grow larger while those we ignored or neglected would shrink, much like a muscle. Phrenologists argued that the skull would bulge out in certain areas to accommodate the areas with more brain tissue. Therefore, they could measure the larger parts of a patient’s skull and determine their dominant character traits (Hartley). Modern science recognizes that this is not a legitimate theory, but some people still refer to it anyway. Commonly, phrenology is used in an attempt to ‘prove’ the superiority of European white males over any other demographic, which is obviously baseless.
The Rhine Research Center in North Carolina has been researching the subject of parapsychology for almost a century. Despite the fact that psychology studies concepts that have been proven to exist rather than those that have failed to produce valid and dependable results, the center aims to explain the things that science has thus been unable to (The Rhine). The subject of parapsychology includes a wide number of paranormal phenomena, including tarot card reading, but focus mainly on clairvoyance, those who can predict the future, psychokinesis, and telepathy.
Psychology doesn’t include “psychics”
The popularity of parapsychology really peaked during the late nineteenth century. At this time, many well-respected, prominent academics and educators became members of the Society for Psychical Research in London. Despite its rampant support and countless believers, the field of parapsychology lost its notoriety when a large number of the Society’s claims failed to hold up to rigorous and repeated scientific research and examination. The craze really came to an end, though, in 1884 when Charles Richet performed an experiment to test the validity of clairvoyance. In his experiment, he sealed playing cards in envelopes and had his subject, a supposed clairvoyants, guess the suit and number of the cards. When the subject was incredibly successful, there was a call for the experiment to be repeated for a group of scientists. This time, the subject’s success was reduced to the equivalent of statistical chance (Hartlet). After this, the subject really lost support and many people dismiss parapsychology as folly. Still, though, the Rhine Research Center continues its experiments and studies to this day.
This theory is a little bit different from the others included above because, though the ideas involved seem like they belong to an earlier time, conversion therapy is not at all a thing of the past. Conversion therapy is the ‘treatment’ of gay, lesbian, and bisexual patients, an effort to make them heterosexual. Conversion therapy is currently illegal in the state of California. However, it is currently practiced rather widely across the United States, particularly by therapists belonging to the American Association of Marriage and Therapy (Hartley). Conversion therapy operates under the assumption that any sexuality besides hetero is a mental disease that results in a lack of morality and strong character.
The method aims to change the sexual orientation of the patient to heterosexual, which is done so through various therapies and ministries, often religious or cultural in nature. The American Psychological Association and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) do not support any of the assumptions made about the character of non-heterosexuals or the practices of conversion therapy, nor did any other reputable health organization (Hartley). Opposed by every major medical organization, conversion therapy is considered to be harmful to both the individual being exposed to it and society as a whole. Convincing a person that their sexual orientation is a mental disorder or is against a higher power, religious or cultural, is both damaging and cruel.
Causing more harm than help
The American Psychological Association reports that conversion therapy results in a lower threshold for noticing surrounding prejudice. In addition, studies show that this method of ‘treatment’ often results in a growing self-hatred for the individuals exposed to it. The idea that a lack of moral stamina could result in an actual disease, let alone homosexuality, certainly sounds like it belongs in the days of pre-psychology. Alarmingly, though, it is still in practice today across the United States and it seen by some as a valid and effective form of therapy.
From the beginning of our existence, humans have sought to untangle the mysteries and complexities of our minds. We have long understood that our brain chemistry and performance has an effect on our behavior, personality, and emotions and have pursued scientific explanations as to exactly how this happens. While modern science allows us to gather valid and reliable information through studies, experiments, equipment, and research, these things were not always at our disposal.
As a result, humans have developed several pre-psychology theories over the past few centuries that were highly accepted at the time, but certainly seem ridiculous now. The ideas that a woman’s womb could wander about her body and cause physical ailments, dreams held the answers to our futures, our intelligence can be determined by our skull shape, psychics exist, and homosexuality is a mental disorder would never stand up to today’s rigorous scientific standards and practices. As this sample short essay from Ultius notes, our understanding of such things has greatly progressed with time, and these theories are no longer considered valid by most.
Chan, C.W. “The Butterfly Dream”. The Philosopher. The Journal of the Philosophical Society of England, n.d. Web. Sep. 2016.
Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. Macmillan, 1913.
Hartley, Connor. “Top 10 Bizarre Pre-Psychology Theories”. ListVerse. ListVerse, 27 Apr. 2016. Web. Sep. 2016.
Simon, Matt. “Fantastically Wrong: The Theory of the Wandering Wombs That Drove Women to Madness.” Wired. Wired, 07 May 2014. Web. Sep. 2016.
The Bible. King James Version, Oxford UP, 2000.
“The History of Phrenology”. Phrenology.com. LHOON, 1998. Web. Sep. 2016.
The Rhine. Rhine Research Center, 2016. Web. Sep. 2016.
Dreamscloud. “14 Common Dreams and Symbols and Why They’re Important” Huffington Post. Web. 13. Jan. 2014.
American Phycological Association. “Just the Facts about Sexual Orientation and Youth”. American Phycological Association. Web. n.d.
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