The Anthropology of Medicine: From Culture to Method

By Lola Romanucci-Ross; Daniel E. Moerman et al. | Go to book overview

15
SCIENCE OF THE MIND IN CONTEXTS OF A CULTURE

LAURENCE R. TANCREDI

Since the mid- 1950s there has been a revolution not only in the practice of psychiatry but in the dominant ideology of what occurs in the formation and mediation of behavior. Historically the concepts of man and his behavior have been informed by a view of external influences on man. During the pre-Christian era in Greece ( Simon 1978), the identity (psyche) and seat of man's behavior was perceived as midway between the gods and man himself. Homer had no term for "self," nor did he portray the psyche as a reflecting, thinking, feeling center of activity of living persons, certainly not an activity within the person. As Simon suggests, Homer did not perceive of people thinking for themselves ( Simon 1978:56). Rather they are engaged in dialogue with a god, another person, or even parts of themselves. Hence concerns of good and evil, though clearly understood within a framework of societal values, did not essentially originate in the individual, nor were they attributable to personal responsibility in the sense in which Western man conceives of that notion. Man was as much a victim as a perpetrator.

Madness was similarly understood in terms of external forces. Some 3,000 or more years ago, before man could write and begin the process of objectifying knowledge, he was led by the impulses of oracles and those who heard voices. These voices were frequently perceived as coming from the gods, who would give advice on how to deal with novelty and stress. It was an era of reliance on subjective experience -- often understood as a predominantly right-hemisphere function ( Jaynes 1977) -- as there was no way to categorize and systematize thinking, a phenomenon which became possible only with the written word.

Plato constructed a model of mental functioning in which the mind was a battlefield where parties within the person fought for dominance and con

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