The sound of a swinging pendelum

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History of dissociation

When a pendulum swings one way, there will often come a different reaction that ultimately leads to a shift in view. This means that theories will be created, updated and ultimately rejected if it does not explain the data collected in a good way. This is especially true for psychology, where theories and ideas have been proposed and opposed in a consistent fashion. When we had no other way than our minds to study the insides us, this was particularly true. The history of psychology is in some way a very recent one, but it is also an old one, since philosophers have tried to understand thought and behavior since we were able to. Plato, Aristoteles, Descartes and so on, all tried to construct models on how we could live a good life, and what determined it. Descares, for example, thought we had a body (matter) and a mind. He thought those were divided from each other, and this thought is still alive today when people discuss if a psychiatric condition is biological or psychological (most people now think its a combination of both). Locke, proposed that we were “tabula rasa”, which meant we were born ready to take in the world as we wanted, but that is not so. We are influenced by our genes and what we experience in the womb. We are “ready” for the world we come into, but the meaning we make of it is created along the way. We are probably the only species who need this, who has to have meaning in addition to just existing. For example we are born with a knowledge about what gives us pleasure: Milk, warm objects, a nice voice and so on. We automatically approach that, like the baby searching for the nipple. Baby`s automatically cry when they need something, this is also something they were born with.

Back to how something goes back and forth. I will demonstrate this principle with using examples from the history of psychology.

Mind over matter

I have already mentioned Descartes`s name. Many people know the name and maybe some of his theory. Descartes thought we where divided in soma/matter and in mind/consciousness. This was a popular thought, that in some ways relate to the idea of an eternal soul, that we meet in many religions. This dualism has shaped how our society is constructed and how we treat each other. If we believe there is a soul, that will go to heaven or hell after we die, we will want not to sin (we want pleasure in heaven, not pain). Descartes was sure about this division, and a lot of others, were, too. Then the princess of Bohemia comes along. She asks Descartes: If mind and matter really are divided, then how can they interact? Descared`s answer was that there must be a place in the brain where it happens, and proposed the pineal gland. This actually did nothing to strengthen his argument, since the pineal gland is itself biological tissue. When we got the methods to study the brain, we found out there is no “soul” in the pineal gland, so new theories tried to explain our thoughts and actions (the pendulum swung).

The uterus and the devil

One had a phenomena (for example, extreme mood swings in women) that had to be explained. In the start the one of the explanations could be that the uterus was too dry. For that reason, it had to “find” moisture in the body, and did so by “wandering” around in the body. When it wandered around, it explained why moody women “twisted” and seemed so agitated. In borderline PF-disorder some of the symptoms can be constant shifting moods, strong emotions, flashbacks and analgesia to pain (the same symptoms “hysteric” women had). The uterus theory was after a while challenged, since it couldn`t explan why men without an uterus could have the same symptoms. Another theory explaining some of these symptoms, was that our “nervous system” had literally been “shaken”. But that did not explain why people who hadn`t been “shaken” had the same symtoms. Another popular theory was phrenology, where different “bumps” in the brain were related to different personality characteristics.

When we didn`t know much about psychology, stress-symptoms could even be explained as manifestations of a devil possessing the “patient”. Exorcism was then the solution. After a while, people started to criticise the theory, and again the pendulum swung to new explanations that fit the data better. One of the new explanations was the theory of “hysterics”. Hysteria was a popular term when Freud was young, and he was very interested in the phenomena, and ultimately this led to his grand psychoanalytic theory.

All these examples, show how we make theories, clarify them, challenge them, or even discard them, if they don`t fit the knowledge we have collected by different means. We actually do this all the time, as children. We explore by putting things in our mouth, to see if it is edible (we learn some things are not) and must make another category for it (it is an animal, and they should not be eaten, at least not when they are alive). This way we learn and become who we are today. This means that through history, we have explained many of the same “symptoms” with different theories that also influence how we “treat”” those symptoms.

War-time and new theories

When the war came, the condition of PTSD was not particularly known. After the war, however, a lof of men got a variety of symptoms. It could be mood-swings, irrational behavior (anger over “nothing”) or flashbacks. This also had to be explained, and when we knew more about biology, we learnt that certain things happened in a stressful situation, like adrenaline being released in the body. When they came back from the war, this still happened even when there was no real threat around them.

The mind and body works together, and this ultimately lead to the theory about dissociation.

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One thought on “The sound of a swinging pendelum

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