The search for a science of the mind

P12_Kuper_a_1080478hAdam Kuper at the Times Literary Supplement:

In the early twentieth century, a handful of Cambridge men, young medical doctors mostly, established modern anthropology, neuroscience, psychology and psychotherapy in Britain. Ben Shephard sums up their quest as “a search for a science of the mind”, which was certainly a large part of it, but they were interested in a great many other things as well. They were close associates who influenced one another, but it would be a mistake to exaggerate the coherence of their projects or the extent to which they shared a common sense of what they were after. Because they were so eclectic and ranged so widely, they were not installed as ancestor figures in the disciplines into which the human sciences were beginning to fragment, even if they were influential in the committees that helped to shape the new professional institutions. Their names are therefore mostly unfamiliar today. Shephard rescues them from the oubliette of disciplinary histories and presents them as members of a cohort: a network of eccentric, wilful, brilliant men who were prepared to go anywhere, try anything, to advance the scientific understanding of human nature.

Central members of this cohort were brought together in the 1898 “Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits”, that narrow stretch of sea, with numerous islands, which separates Australia and New Guinea. The expedition was organized by a zoologist, Alfred Haddon.

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