Speaker: Henry Cowles, Assistant Professor of the History of Medicine and of History, Yale University
How do I know what you think—or that you think at all? This is the so-called “problem of other minds,” a philosophical puzzle that gained new meaning in the Gilded Age. Under the star of evolution, American practitioners of the human sciences probed a range of “other minds” for common elements. These human scientists came to agree that, across gaps of age, gender, race, class, and even species, minds worked by a single set of steps: the scientific method. Science, in other words, became a fundamental feature of all thought, human and otherwise. Human scientists in the Gilded Age proposed “the scientific method” as a solution to the problem of other minds. This lecture, which is part of a larger project on the rise of the human sciences in the American Gilded Age, zooms in on urgent attempts to explain a range of mental functions in terms of the theory of evolution by natural selection. Drawing on case studies from child study, animal psychology, and psychiatric anthropology, I will track the use of evolutionary theory as both a justification of such comparative studies and as a tool for comprehending the contents of other minds. Each case study illuminates a different trajectory by which a theory of developmental life was repurposed in the scientific study of mental lives imagined as far different from the scientists’ own.
This event is free and open to the public.
This event is part of the New York History of Science Lecture Series.
New York University
Gallatin School of Individualized Study
Columbia University in the City of New York
City University of New York
The New York Academy of Sciences
The New York Academy of Medicine