Reconsidering “Brain mythology”

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Josef Hlade


Theodor Meynert, Emil Kraepelin, Karl Jaspers, brain anatomy, brain mythology


This essay attempts to reconstruct the historical origin of the term “brain mythology,” which is used very often today to summarize the status of brain anatomy around 1900. It asks whether this negative term can appropriately encapsulate such status as the analysis tries to show that it came from a special direction of psychiatry that was generally very skeptical about somatic-oriented psychiatry. The reconstruction shows that “brain mythology” was formulated by pupils of Emil Kraepelin. This essay argues that their accusations, culminating in the accusation “brain mythology,” can be traced back to reasons of principle related to the adoption of Wundt’s “heuristic principle of parallelism,” which Kraepelin incorporated into psychiatry. The principle argues for an independent psychic causality; for that reason alone, a strict localization of mental illness was excluded, and the value of somatic psychiatry is fundamentally questionable. This paper attempts to show that the term originated within the Wundt tradition and was also the result of skepticism about reductionism. This raises the question of whether it would not be better to describe the term, alongside objective criticism, more in the sense of a polemic between different schools of thought.

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