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Who Was Frederic William Henry Myers?

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The scientific study of consciousness in the late 19th century, which took place in Western countries across disciplines such as neurology, physiology, neuropathology, psychology, psychiatry and philosophy, appears to have striking parallels to current crossdisciplinary developments in the neurosciences. The 19th century period, however, has received little scholarly attention from historians of medicine, psychology, or science. Historians of depth psychology have investigated the area as part of the history of psychiatry, but cleaved most closely to the versions presented by early psychoanalysts- turned-historians, who have consistently portrayed Freud as the only legitimate history of the period, thus marking the territory of the late 19th century as inherently Freudo-centric. More recently a new line of historiography emanating from the work of the late Henri Ellenberger has launched a post-Freudian perspective in which the classical depth psychologies of Freud, Jung, and Adler may now be understood in a wider and deeper historical context defined by the development of a so-called French, Swiss, English, and American psychotherapeutic axis between 1881 and 1918, before the advent of psychoanalysis. Chief among the prime movers of this axis was Frederic William Henry Myers, graduate of Cambridge University, and co-founder of the Society for Psychical Research in England in 1882. Myers' grasp of the literature of the day regarding the scientific study of consciousness was both profound, and highly influential, particularly on such figures as William James. Since the period itself has yet to be fully reconstructed, the identity of Myers and his contribution to the scientific study of consciousness remain obscure, but are also receiving new attention in the area of modern consciousness studies.
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Keywords: American Society for Psychical Research; Boris Sidis; Carl Jung; Charles Richet; Edmund Gurney; Frederic William Henry Myers; Jackson Putnam; Pierre Janet; Richard Maurice Bucke; Sigmund Freud; William James; automatism; consciousness; degeneration; dissociation; hypnosis; hysterical blindness; spiritualism; subliminal

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Saybrook University, 747 Front Street, 3rd floor, San Francisco, CA, 94111-1920, USA, Email: [email protected]

Publication date: January 1, 2010

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