newsletter: summer 2017

Welcome to the third cultural-clinical psychology newsletter. We aim to post summaries here three times a year. Feel free to contact us a month in advance if you want us to add something.

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paracelsus & frye on the open mind

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“The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician. Therefore the physician must start from nature, with an open mind.”

Paracelsus (1493-1541), Selected Writings (1951)

“I am not dismissing such explanations: one should doubtless keep an open mind about them, though an open mind, to be sure, should be open at both ends, like the food pipe, and have a capacity for excretion as well as intake.”

Northrop Frye, The Great Code (1982)

burgess & kleinman on translation

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“Translation is not a matter of words only: it is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture.”

Anthony Burgess, Is Translation Possible? (1984)

“Medical, including psychiatric, research often proceeds as if translation was a nuisance to be managed in much the same way as one controls the demographics in matched samples. For psychologists, translation looms as a larger concern but one that is reduced to a technical problem in research methods … For the ethnographer, in contrast, translation is neither a nuisance nor a strictly technical question. Rather, translation is the essence of ethnographic research. In anthropological studies, description of indigenous categories of thought, modes of communication, and patterns of behavior is at heart the translation from one cultural system into another. That translation is what the ethnographer spends her days doing–i.e., getting it right from the native point of view. Having achieved a valid understanding of the local context in its own terms, the ethnographer then undertakes another type of translation in which she puts her findings into terms and categories appropriate for transcultural comparison. That kind of translation is the final, not as in psychiatry the first, step in research.”

Arthur Kleinman, Rethinking Psychiatry (1988)

marsella on the cultural background

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“When a clinician is dealing with a patient the biological and psychological variables often appear more suspect than the more indirect cultural variables in which they are embedded, fostered, and nurtured. It is easier to speak of anxiety as mediated by biochemical processes or psychological stressors than to talk of the cultural foundations of the problem.”

Anthony Marsella, Culture, Self, and Mental Disorder (1985)

johnson and blake on generalization

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“Nothing can please many, and please long, but just representations of general nature. Particular manners can be known to few, and therefore few only can judge how nearly they are copied. The irregular combinations of fanciful invention may delight awhile, by that novelty of which the common satiety of life sends us all in quest: but the pleasures of sudden wonder are soon exhausted, and the mind can only repose on the stability of truth.”

Samuel Johnson, Preface to Shakespeare (1755)

“What is general nature? Is there such a thing? What is general knowledge? Is there such a thing? Strictly speaking all knowledge is particular.”

“To generalize is to be an idiot. To particularize is the alone distinction of merit. General knowledges are those knowledges that idiots possess.”

William Blake, On Reynolds (1798)

jencks on heritability estimates

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“There is, then, a critical difference between the way we estimate the ‘heritability’ of a trait and the way we usually interpret such estimates. Since there is no practical method for separating the physical and social effects of genes, heritability estimates include both. This means that heritability estimates set a lower bound on the explanatory power of the environment, not an upper bound. If genetic variation explains 60 percent of the variation in IQ scores, environmental variation must explain the remaining 40 percent, but it may explain as much as 100 percent. If, for example, genes affected IQ scores solely by affecting children’s appearance or behavior, and their appearance or behavior then affected the way they were treated at home or at school, everything genes explained would also be explicable by environmental factors.”

Christopher Jencks, Genes and Crime (1987)

gould and borges on taxonomies

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“What other taxonomies might revolutionize our view–for taxonomies are theories of order?”

Steven Jay Gould, Animals and Us (1987)

“These ambiguities, redundancies, and deficiencies recall those attributed by Dr. Franz Kuhn to a certain Chinese encyclopedia entitled Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. On those remote pages it is written that animals are divided into (a) those that belong to the Emperor, (b) embalmed ones, (c) those that are trained, (d) suckling pigs, (e) mermaids, (f) fabulous ones, (g) stray dogs, (h) those that are included in this classification, (i) those that tremble as if they were mad, (j) innumerable ones, (k) those drawn with a very fine camel’s hair brush, (l) others, (m) those that have just broken a flower vase, (n) those that resemble flies from a distance.”

Jorge Luis Borges, The Analytical Language of John Wilkins (1942)

james on human types

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“Individuals are types of themselves and enslavement to conventional names and their associations is only too apt to blind the student to the facts before him. The purely symptomatic forms of our classifications are based on the expressive appearances that insanity assumes according to the temper and pattern of the subject whom it affects. In short, individual subjects operate like so many lenses, each of which refracts in a different angular direction one and the same ray of light.”

William James, cited by Eugene Taylor, The 1896 Lowell Lectures