Re: Other roots of memetics

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Mon 31 Mar 2003 - 02:21:24 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "Re: Other roots of memetics"

    >From: "Bruce Howlett" <>
    >To: <>
    >Subject: Re: Other roots of memetics
    >Date: Mon, 31 Mar 2003 07:33:33 +1000
    >Hi Keith.
    >I hate being the "nay" sayer, but predictive is out of reach, almost by
    >definition. I say "almost" because I do accept the "egg already falling"
    >short term possibility, but still with some reservations. The one good
    >predictive tool we have is demographical statistics. But psychohistory is
    >still science fiction. If I have time over the next few days I will expand
    >my comments, as I think that the sooner we stop trying to turn memetics
    >into some sort of magical social engineering tool, and concentrate on the
    >benefits it delivers to ethnographic and cultural anthropology work, the
    The psychohistory I've been reading about recently is more like a hybrid of history and psychoanalysis than science fiction. I'm not familiar with Asimov's spin in the Foundation series.

    Peter Loewenberg's book _Decoding the Past: the Psychohistorical Approach_
    (1983. Alfred A. Knopf. New York) is strongly in the psychoanalytic tradition. There's a piece on the psychobiography of Theodor Herzl (the ur-Zionist) in that book which is quite interesting, but I must say I came away from that essay knowing more about Herzl's penis than I thought I'd ever care to. That's psychoanalytical spin for you.

    Another book _Varieties of Psychohistory_ (1976. Springer Publishing Company. New York) has essays by all sorts of people, Loewenberg included. There's also pieces by Irving Janis (on groupthink) and by Carl Jung. I haven't gotten to Jung's essay yet. Would that make Jung a psychohistorical precursor?

    There's a section of this latter book devoted to the history of childhood, and though I take it with a grain of salt, there's stuff discussed which I've never really thought about which was prompted by this section, like how childhood itself has evolved over the years. I never knew what swaddling was and I'm pretty sure my parents never subjected me to that, thank goodness. There's also some discussion of infanticide (yipes!) that's disturbing.

    I don't see much of anything predictive in this hybridization of traditional Freudian psychoanalysis and history. It sems to me that *these* psychohistorians are just trying to use psychological tools (primitive ones in being Freudian in direction) to dig a little deeper into historical events. I still have my reservations about this sort of psychohistory, but I'd agree that historians should know a bit about psychology and vice versa.

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