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[Xmca-l] Re: Oliver Sacks/Romantic Science

Sure David, and my comments on this topic carry all possible caveats. I referred to a "style of Romantic Science" particularly because Larry had correctly mentioned the idea of units of analysis (whole-in-the-part) as a "definition" of Romantic Science. I think it is clear that that style of Romantic Science was not what was meant in relation to Sacks. Mike can tell us what he meant. But so far as I know, the key attributes of Romantic Science are "delicate empiricism" and keeping the whole person/organism before you and eschewing analysis. There seem to be quite different ways of giving shape to these ideas.

*Andy Blunden*
On 1/09/2015 12:29 PM, David Kellogg wrote:
I think the problem with this view of romantic science is that it completely precludes building a psychology on a sociology. In that sense (and in others), Vygotsky wasn't a romantic scientist at all. Vygotsky certainly did not believe in "total immersion in the individual case"; such an immersion is a refusal to rise to the level of theory. I'm not sure Luria was romantic that way either: "the Man with a Shattered Mind" and "The Memory of Mnemonist" are really exceptions. Remember the main criticism of Luria's book "The Nature of Human Conflicts" was always that it was too quantitative.

There are, of course, some areas of psychology that are well studied as case histories. Recently, I've been looking into suicidology, and in particular the work of Edwin Shneidman, who pioneered the linguistic analysis of suicide notes (and who appears to have been influenced, as early as the 1970s, by Kasanin and by Vygotsky's work on schizophrinia). Now you would think that if ever there was a field that would benefit from total immersion in the individual case, this is one. But Shneidman says that suicide notes are mostly full of trite, banal phrases, and as a consequence very easy to code--and treat quantiatively (one of his first studies was simply to sort a pile of real and imitation suicide notes and carefully note the criteria he had when he made correct judgements). And of course the whole point of Durkheim's work on suicide is that the individual case can be utterly disregarded, since the great variations are sociological and the psychological variables all seem trivial, transient, or mutually cancelling when we look at suicide at a large scale (as we must these days). Shneidman says he has never read a suicide note he would want to have written.

David Kellogg

On Tue, Sep 1, 2015 at 9:21 AM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net <mailto:ablunden@mira.net>> wrote:

    As little as I understand it, Larry, Oliver Sacks'
    style of Romantic Science was his complete immersion
    in the individual case before him, and development of
    a science of complete persons. The paradigm of this
    type of science was Luria. A limit case of
    "Qualitative Science" I suppose. The opposite is the
    study of just one aspect of each case, e.g. facial
    recognition, and the attempt to formulate a "covering
    law" for just this aspect.
    *Andy Blunden*
    On 1/09/2015 8:40 AM, HENRY SHONERD wrote:

        I recall in an obituary in the NYTimes that
        naysayers were cited in reviewing Oliver Sacks’
        life work. I am wondering if some of that push
        back was related to his practice of romantic
        science, which, if I understand from things Andy
        has written, involves immersion in the phenomena
        of interest in search of a unit of analysis.
        Goethe, for example, immersed himself in the
        phenomena of living things. His writing prefigures
        the cell as a unit of analysis, but the technology
        of microscopes could not confirm such a unit until
        later on. Your contrasting Bruner and Sacks makes
        me wonder if the subject, not just the object, is
        at issue. Different styles of research bring
        different construals. This may be the bane of
        objectivist, empiricist science but does it really
        make Sacks less of a researcher and just a lowly

            On Aug 30, 2015, at 7:02 PM, mike cole
            <mcole@ucsd.edu <mailto:mcole@ucsd.edu>> wrote:

            Hi Laura-- I knew Oliver primarily through our
            connections with Luria and
            the fact that we
            independently came to embrace the idea of a
            romantic science. He was a shy
            and diffident person. You can get that
            feeling, and the difference between
            him and Jerry Bruner in this regard in the
            interview with them that someone
            pirated on
            to youtube.

            Jerry is very old but last heard from by me,
            engaging intellectually all
            the while.


            On Sun, Aug 30, 2015 at 5:18 PM, Laura Martin
            <mailto:martinl@azscience.org>> wrote:

                Thanks, Mike. A number of years ago I had
                the privilege of spending an
                evening with Sacks when Lena Luria was
                visiting Jerry Bruner and Carol
                Feldman in NY.  I stood in for Sylvia who
                couldn't make the dinner - it was
                an extraordinary evening in many ways.  Do
                you ever hear from Bruner? I
                wonder if he's still active.


                Sent from my iPad

                On Aug 30, 2015, at 3:29 PM, mike cole
                <mcole@ucsd.edu <mailto:mcole@ucsd.edu>>

                Dear Colleagues ---

                I am forwarding, with personal sadness,
                the news that Oliver Sacks has
                succumbed to cancer.
                Its not a surprise, but a sad passing indeed.
                ---------- Forwarded message ----------

                Date: Sun, Aug 30, 2015 at 3:07 PM
                Subject: NYTimes.com: Oliver Sacks Dies at
                82; Neurologist and Author
                Explored the Brain’s Quirks
                To: lchcmike@gmail.com

                  Sent by sashacole510@gmail.com
                <mailto:sashacole510@gmail.com>: Oliver
                Sacks Dies at 82; Neurologist
                and Author Explored the Brain’s Quirks
                GREGORY COWLES

                Dr. Sacks explored some of the brain’s
                strangest pathways in best-selling
                case histories like “The Man Who Mistook
                His Wife for a Hat,” achieving a
                level of renown rare among scientists.
                Or, copy and paste this URL into your
                browser: http://nyti.ms/1LL040D
                get unlimited access to all New York Times
                articles, subscribe today. See
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                ensure delivery to your inbox, please add
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                Copyright 2015
                | The New York Times Company
                | NYTimes.com 620 Eighth Avenue New York,
                NY 10018


                It is the dilemma of psychology to deal as
                a natural science with an
                object that creates history. Ernst Boesch

            It is the dilemma of psychology to deal as a
            natural science with an
            object that creates history. Ernst Boesch