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Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personality and the Sciences of Memory.

Ian Hacking's Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personality and the Sciences of Memory investigates the lessons to be learned by studying the phenomenon of multiple personality. The book divides into two major sections: the first describes the recent history of multiple personality, and the second focusing on the period 1874-1886. Each section has a great deal to offer the specialist and non-specialist alike. Hacking provides a wealth of fascinating historical data, and presents compelling critical analyses of many of the central issues concerning multiple personality. His ultimate interest, however, seems to be in using multiple personality as a case study to make more general points about the way in which the sciences of memory have replaced traditional discussions of the soul, and to offer a provocative account of the indeterminacy of past events.

The first section traces the rise of multiple personality over the past few decades. In the early 1970s, Hacking notes, "multiple personality had seemed to be a mere curiosity" (p. 8). Now, in the 1990s, there has not only been an explosion in the number of reported cases, but a widespread popular interest in the phenomenon as well. Multiple personality has been the subject of talk show discussions, popular books, and newspaper and magazine articles. Hacking explores the development of multiple personality within both the clinic and popular culture, detailing the contributions of the major figures, writings and events in what he calls today's "multiple movement".

In the course of this modern history, Hacking touches on most of the major concerns, questions and controversies that have become part of the discussion of multiple personality - e.g. skepticism concerning the very existence of multiplicity; the puzzle over why those exhibiting multiple personalities are so disproportionately women, and the controversy over the role of therapeutic suggestion in the etiology and development of multiple personalities. Hacking's exposition of these topics is peppered throughout with apt and well-aimed criticisms, many of which are fairly straightforward applications of basic moves in epistemology and the philosophy of science. For instance, he provides an analysis of some of the naive confusions and conflations involved in the discussion of whether multiple personality is a real phenomenon; points out the way theoretical expectations can affect observation and interpretation, cautions against confusing conceptual revision with empirical discoveries, and so on.

Hacking makes a good case that the modern discussion of multiple personality contains misposed questions, infelicitous methodologies, and illegitimately drawn conclusions, and should be subjected to closer philosophical scrutiny. Since many of Hacking's,criticisms are fairly elementary philosophically, however, they will be of more interest to the non-philosopher than to the reader with philosophical training.

Mixed in with this basic critical work, however, is some more philosophically sophisticated material concerning the connection between multiple personality, child abuse, and memory. Hacking believes that the explosion of interest in multiple personality over the last several years has received a great deal of its impetus from the growing interest in child abuse as a social cause. Contemporary concerns about child abuse - together with increased publicity - have provided a particularly telling context in which to foster a widespread awareness of the phenomenon of multiple personality and may, Hacking suggests, even be implicated in multiplicity's very existence. Hacking provides a fascinating account of the evolution of our modern conception of child abuse out of the Victorian notion of cruelty to children. This allows him to point out salient features of the modern conception - most notably the idea of a "syndrome of child abuse" in which the abuser is considered to suffer from an illness, and the special emphasis on sexual abuse. These features of our current understanding of child abuse make it particularly well-suited to act as a host for multiple personality; they also contribute to one of the most bitter and highly-publicized controversies in the theory of multiple personality - the controversy over "recovered memories."

Hacking takes up this issue, which relates closely to his core concerns, towards the end of the first section. At one extreme in the debate are those who argue for the existence of widespread ritualistic sexual abuse of children, often connected with Satanic cults. It is claimed that the abused children often repress the memories of their suffering entirely, but can sometimes recover them in adult life, either spontaneously or with the help of therapy. At the other extreme are those who view the claims of widespread Satanic abuse as completely outrageous, and suggest that the alleged memories of such abuse are absurd falsehoods placed into the minds of vulnerable patients by misguide - or even unscrupulous - therapists. There are, naturally, many positions in between.

In addressing this extremely volatile topic, Hacking gracefully avoids the sensational aspects of the debate and gets immediately to the philosophical core. Although he expresses some negative opinions about the more radical claims and practices associated with recovered memory, for the most part Hacking is less interested in answering the question of whether recovered memories are true than in investigating what that question presupposes. The debate over the accuracy of recovered memory rests, Hacking argues, on the assumption that there is a fixed truth about personal memory, and that finding that truth will reveal the secrets of the person. Ultimately Hacking will argue against this assumption, but first he considers the period during which it is first formulated and linked to issues of multiplicity.

The second section of the book skips abruptly back in time to the period 1874-1886. This is, says Hacking, "when a wave of multiplicity swept over France, when the sciences of memory firmed up, and when the idea of trauma, previously used only for a bodily wound or lesion, came also to apply to psychic hurt" (p. 128). Hacking tells us that his aim in this section is "to understand the underlying configuration of knowledge that simultaneously brought into being the sciences of memory, psychic trauma, and multiple personality" (p. 128). He begins with a riveting account of the early cases of "double consciousness" which came to the fore within the context of an interest in hysteria and hypnosis. He demonstrates that initially questions of memory and forgetting were not especially closely associated with the splitting of personality, the relevant feature in these cases being the existence of two distinct sets of personal traits. He then describes the rise of the memory sciences within the climate of republican positivism in France, and the process by which the notion of trauma - initially referring to the physical effects of accidents - came to be associated with psychological events instead. The fascination with doubling, the rise of the sciences of memory, and the psychologization of "trauma" conspire, argues Hacking, to create a conceptual link between memory, personality, and multiple personality.

This link is especially clear in Hacking's detailed description of the first case of multiple (as opposed to double) personality, in which each personality was connected to a specific memory which was taken to be implicated in its genesis. Although Hacking acknowledges the deep difference between multiplicity as understood in the late 1800s and our modern conception, he shows convincingly that some of the central features of multiple personality as it is now understood originated in the period 1874 - 1886. In particular, he shows the growth of the assumption that the splitting of personality is linked to forgotten trauma, and the crystallization of the presupposition that there are fixed truths, to be known about personal history.

These are the assumptions Hacking challenges in the closing sections of the book. He argues that in the case of certain intentional actions there can be a real indeterminacy about whether they occurred. There are cases, says Hacking, where being given a new set of concepts with which to view past actions (e.g. sexual harassment or child abuse) can change the way we think about the past and thereby have real effects in the present. The question of whether those actions really occurred (e.g. can we say the secretary of 1940 was really sexually harassed at a time when the concept was not well-formulated?) is not a question with a simple "yes" or "no" answer. There is an important sense, Hacking claims, in which the past can be changed by new interpretations of it, and in this sense there can be truths about the past which were not true in the past (p. 249).

although I am not entirely convinced by Hacking's argument here, it is extremely provocative and quite often persuasive. It will not, of course, satisfy those who wish to know whether the allegedly remembered Satanic cults really exist or particular physical acts took place. Hacking acknowledges that many facts about the past are determinate and cannot be changed by reinterpretation, and the facts in question here will undoubtedly be among them. His aim, however, is to convince us that the most interesting question is not about the truth of these extreme recovered memories, but rather about the metaphysical presuppositions which must be made for the question of truth to even arise.

Hacking's book accomplishes a great deal. This is, of course, a strength, but it is also sometimes a weakness. He seems to be offering, at one and the same time, an intellectual history of multiple personality and a series of philosophical arguments concerning the metaphysical presuppositions underlying the multiple personality debate. It can be frustrating difficult to tell which he is doing at any given moment. In the service of his historical goal, Hacking discusses a number of topics that seem more or less unrelated to his central themes. He has, for instance, chapters on gender and multiplicity, on the lessons about mind, body and personal identity which can (or cannot) be learned from multiple personality, and on multiple personality and schizophrenia. These are quite interesting, but it is not obvious how they connect with the rest of the book - whether there is a unifying structure beyond a study of all issues relating to multiple personality into which they are supposed to fit. The same is true of many local discussions within the chapters. Even more disturbing, there are many cases where Hacking seems to be putting forth controversial views or evaluations which he does not defend, but rather follows immediately with the disclaimer that his purpose is not to settle these issues, but merely to describe them. While the descriptive purpose is certainly a legitimate one, too often it feels as if Hacking is retreating behind it after having started to take position on an issue.

These are, however, fairly minor complaints. Even if the big picture is sometimes hard-to find, the details of Hacking's discussion are enthralling and illuminating. He manages to avoid altogether the sensationalism usually associated with treatments of multiple personality, providing an informative history and raising deep and important philosophical issues.
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Author:Schechtman, Marya
Publication:Mind
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1996
Words:1794
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