King's College London
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Mind Matters: neuroscience and psychiatry

William B Carpenter

The son of a Unitarian minister, the comparative anatomist and marine biologist William Benjamin Carpenter (1813-85) desired to reconcile the findings of physiologists such as Charles Bell and Marshall Hall, who had ascertained that much of the operation of the nervous system was unconscious, with pre-existing notions, derived from Locke and Hartley, concerning the unproblematic translation of the mind’s encounter with the external world into sense-perceptions.

The cerebrum receiving sensations as depicted in William B Carpenter's Principles of mental physiology, with their applications to the training and discipline of the mind, and the study of its morbid conditions. London: Henry S King, 1874 [Institute of Psychiatry Historical Collection h/Car]The cerebrum receiving sensations as depicted in William B Carpenter's Principles of mental physiology, with their applications to the training and discipline of the mind, and the study of its morbid conditions. London: Henry S King, 1874 [Institute of Psychiatry Historical Collection h/Car]Unlike the purely physiological concerns of many neurologists, Carpenter, as a practising physician, had practical concerns with the causes of insanity and interests in hypnotic, ‘mesmerised’ and dreaming states of mind, during which the conscious volition of mind was suspended.

Carpenter resolved this issue by studying cerebral localisation. He stressed the separation of the lower, automatic sensory-motor centres from the cerebrum, which, he stated, is ‘restricted to intellectual operations; understanding, by that term, the operations which are concerned in the formation of a voluntary determination’. The cerebrum could receive sensations (as depicted in this illustration), but sensations were not situated in the cortices.

While physiologists influenced by Todd, such as Hughlings Jackson and Ferrier, rejected this distinction, it had considerable influence on the work of Henry Maudsley. According to Maudsley, Savage and other contemporary alienists, a lack of development of the cerebrum and a preponderance of the unconscious mind in individuals could lead to psychoses, whereas an over-development of self-consciousness in others could cause neuroses. They laid great stress on this, particularly with respect to female psychology, about which they had very stereotypical assumptions.

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