Advances in the History of Psychology has just alerted me to a fascinating short article on the work of the influential 18th-century physician Samuel Tissot, who wrote a book arguing that concentrating on books for too long damaged the mind.
The 18th century was when books were becoming cheap enough to be widely available to the middle classes and it’s interesting that this new cultural development produced a similar pseudo-medical concern about damage to the mind that we often hear today, but in a completely different direction.
While modern day technological doom-sayers suggest that technology damages the mind because it interrupts concentration, 18th century technological doom-sayers suggested that reading damaged the mind because it required too much concentration.
Neither have an evidence base, but I maintain a morbid interest in medicalised concerns about new technology and cultural innovations, which often take the same basic form but cite a cause which is always curiously in line with the authors’ prejudices.
It turns out Tissot, like many of this medical contemporaries, was also obsessed with masturbation, which he cited as the cause of madness and a host of other psychological problems.
Catholic church aside, it seems a ridiculous view to us now, but it was widely held by some of the most prominent and influential medical men of the time.