A brilliant and comprehensive history of the creation of the modern Western mind.
Soul Machine takes us back to the origins of modernity, a time when a crisis in religious authority and the scientific revolution led to searching questions about the nature of human inner life. This is the story of how a new concept—the mind—emerged as a potential solution, one that was part soul and part machine, but fully neither.
In this groundbreaking work, award-winning historian George Makari shows how writers, philosophers, physicians, and anatomists worked to construct notions of the mind as not an ethereal thing, but a natural one. From the ascent of Oliver Cromwell to the fall of Napoleon, seminal thinkers like Hobbes, Locke, Diderot, and Kant worked alongside often-forgotten brain specialists, physiologists, and alienists in the hopes of mapping the inner world. Conducted in a cauldron of political turmoil, these frequently shocking, always embattled efforts would give rise to psychiatry, mind sciences such as phrenology, and radically new visions of the self. Further, they would be crucial to the establishment of secular ethics and political liberalism. Boldly original, wide-ranging, and brilliantly synthetic, Soul Machine gives us a masterful, new account of the making of the modern Western mind.
Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Makari (Revolution in Mind: The Creation of Pychoanalysis) performs an extended excavation of the mind, an entity that has repeatedly resisted significant unearthing, in this grand study. As Makari shows, the very idea of the mind is also relatively modern. In an account that spans 155 years, from 1660 to 1815, Makari examines the disparate disciplines of medicine, religion, philosophy, and politics, uniting them in a vivid pursuit of the mind, while also highlighting the many individual minds that contributed to each discovery. Over the course of this long narrative, two distinct concepts of the mind as soul and as machine repeatedly diverge and are then reconciled, so that the history of the mind emerges not as a linear narrative but rather a series of ruptures. Makari might alienate some readers with the sheer volume of information produced by this thorough approach, yet he conveys that information with flair, humanizing the great thinkers of the past with the vibrant detail of characters in a novel. For all its length, this history of the elusive concept that defines human identity is consistently, startlingly immediate.