Rewriting the Soul–Ian Hacking

I must admit that at this very moment I have not yet finished the text, but what I have read and the lecture yesterday (which was enormously helpful) leave me with more than enough to think about. My reaction to Rewriting the Soul thus far is similar to Silencing the Past by Trouillot–I am extremely disturbed. Reading these texts (and by extension, certain philosophers) never fail to tip your world and significantly alter most assumptions we hold–especially regarding people and practices we normally have so much faith in (medicine, government etc.)

Even more incomprehensible is, as other people have mentioned, the psychologists’ tendencies to actively seek and encourage personality disorders. I struggle to understand what would motivate anybody to do such a thing; perhaps diagnosing people granted them satisfaction? Furthered their personal theories and projects? It is always striking how confident some men can be about their own little formulations and theories–enough so to ruin the lives of or traumatize patients. The mind is surely uncharted water, but that they plunge in so deep with so much certainty…

Of multiple personality/dissociative identity disorder, the most fascinating aspect is that the number and character of the alters follow popular cultural trends (from 3 to 16 alters following the releases of those movies) and are often moulded after terrible stereotypes of other ethnicities and races. Perhaps this was another consequence of presumptuous psychologists.

2 thoughts on “Rewriting the Soul–Ian Hacking

  1. mbos

    I also found the increase in the average number of alters following those films quite shocking. It goes hand in hand with the idea that therapists are perhaps the cause for the disorder, for both show how suggestible people can be. Perhaps it was augmented by the fact that it was trusted professionals that were telling these patients that they were ill but I still found it amazing that a disorder could be created simply by suggestion.

  2. Christina Hendricks

    I can certainly see how this text may be disturbing (though I expect Nietzsche and Freud may have been as well, just in different ways). And I like the way you’ve framed it in terms of upsetting one’s usual assumptions and expectations; I think that is exactly what Hacking is trying to do.

    About the psychologists seeking and encouraging multiple personality…my reading of this phenomenon according to Hacking (though I may not be right in this) is that such activities probably occurred unconsciously. Perhaps that’s also what you mean. The point is that I don’t think they were trying to fool their patients, knowing all the while that what they were suggesting was just making up a disorder that the patients didn’t really have. My reading of this is that the idea of there being, in reality, particular categories of people, particular kinds of disorders, can lead one to look for those and see them in places where others might see something else (if they thought that such categories didn’t exist, or that they were mostly interested in a different type of category). One might tend to focus on certain features of a person that fit, and ignore those that don’t. And then one might be so convinced that the patient fits that category that one thinks one is doing the best thing for them by treating them in the way that one thinks is best for treatment.


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