Category Archives: Remembering

Why do we forget names?

A reader, Dan, asks “Why do we forget people’s names when we first meet them? I can remember all kinds of other details about a person but completely forget their name. Even after a lengthy, in-depth conversation. It’s really embarrassing.” Fortunately the answer involves learning something fundamental about the nature of memory. It also provides […]

The real history of the ‘safe space’

There’s much debate in the media about a culture of demanding ‘safe spaces’ at university campuses in the US, a culture which has been accused of restricting free speech by defining contrary opinions as harmful. The history of safe spaces is an interesting one and a recent article in Fusion cited the concept as originating […]

A medieval attitude to suicide

I had always thought that suicide was made illegal in medieval times due to religious disapproval until suicidal people were finally freed from the risk of prosecution by the 1961 Suicide Act. It turns out the history is a little more nuanced, as noted in this 1904 article from the Columbia Law Review entitled “Is […]

The echoes of the Prozac revolution

The Lancet Psychiatry has a fantastic article giving a much needed cultural retrospective on the wave of antidepressants like Prozac – which first made us worry we would no longer be our true selves through ‘cosmetic pharmacology,’ to the dawning realisation that they are unreliably useful but side-effect-ridden tools that can help manage difficult moods. […]

Oliver Sacks has left the building

Neurologist and author Oliver Sacks has died at the age of 82. It’s hard to fully comprehend the enormous impact of Oliver Sacks on the public’s understanding of the brain, its disorders and our diversity as humans. Sacks wrote what he called ‘romantic science’. Not romantic in the sense of romantic love, but romantic in […]

Pope returns to cocaine

According to a report from BBC News the Pope ‘plans to chew coca leaves’ during his visit to Bolivia. Although portrayed as a radical encounter, this is really a return to cocaine use after a long period of abstinence in the papal office. Although the leaves are a traditional, mild stimulant that have been used […]

Context Is the New Black

The New Yorker has one of the best articles I’ve ever read on the Stanford prison experiment – the notorious and mythologised study that probably doesn’t tell us that we ‘all have the potential to be monsters’. It’s a study that’s often taught as one of the cornerstones of psychology and like many foundational stories, […]

An alternative history of the human mind

Nautilus has an excellent article on a theory of consciousness that is very likely wrong but so startlingly original it is widely admired: Julian Jaynes’ theory of the bicameral mind. Based on the fact that there is virtually no description of mental states in the Ancient Greek classic The Iliad, where the protagonists are largely […]

A visual history of madness

The Paris Review has an extended and richly illustrated piece by historian Andrew Scull who tracks how madness has been visually depicted through the ages. Scull is probably the most thorough and readable historian of madness since the death of the late, great Roy Porter, and this article is no exception. Modern psychiatry seems determined […]

Half a century of neuroscience

The Lancet has a good retrospective looking back on the last 50 years of neuroscience, which in some ways, was when the field was born. Of course, the brain and nervous system has been the subject of study for hundreds, if not thousands, of years but the concept of a dedicated ‘neuroscience’ is relatively new. […]

A misdiagnosis of trauma in Ancient Babylon

Despite the news reports, researchers probably haven’t discovered a mention of ‘PTSD’ from 1300BC Mesopotamia. The claim is likely due to a rather rough interpretation of Ancient Babylonian texts but it also reflects a curious interest in trying to find modern psychiatric diagnoses in the past, which tells us more about our own clinical insecurities […]

A new year with an old friend

I’ve just found a curious article in the scientific journal Clinical Anatomy which reprints a Victorian story called ‘Celebrating new year in Bart’s dissecting room’ where the corpses come to life. It finishes with some interesting observations about the psychological impact of dissecting a dead body as a rite of passage for medical students. The […]

The celebrity analysis that killed celebrity analysis

Most ‘psy’ professionals are banned by their codes of conduct from conducting ‘celebrity analysis’ and commenting on the mental state of specific individuals in the media. This is a sensible guideline but I didn’t realise it was triggered by a specific event. Publicly commenting on a celebrity’s psychological state is bad form. If you’ve worked […]

Madness, murder and mental healing

London’s innovative biomedical centre, the Wellcome Collection, have created a fascinating interactive story on how ‘mesmerism’ and hypnosis played an important role in the history of mind and madness. It’s written by the fantastic Mike Jay, who has penned many excellent books on the high-strangeness of the early science of the mind in the 1800s, […]

Cushing’s abandoned brains

I’ve just found a great short documentary about the abandoned brain collection of pioneering neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing. The video describes how Cushing’s archives, which genuinely involved hundreds of brains in jars, as well as rare slides and photos of the early days of brain surgery, were rediscovered in the basement of Yale University and restored […]

An earlier illusory death

For such an obscure corner of the medical literature, Cotard’s delusion is remarkably well known as the delusion that you’re dead. This was supposedly first described by Jules Cotard in 1880 but I seem to have found a description from 1576. It’s worth noting that although Cotard’s delusion has come to represent ‘the delusion that […]


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