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LEGENDS AND MYTHS: A BASIS FOR SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH? RICHARD E. DAVIS* Introduction The human condition has been enhanced considerably by those biochemists and pharmacologists who have applied the scientific method to probe ancient myths and legends. For example, the mystical powers of the snakeroot plant of India, either ignored or ridiculed by scientists for decades, were dispelled with the isolation and identification of its active alkaloid in the 1930s and 1940s [I]. Similarly, the legend ofthe leaves of the foxglove plant, digitalis, lay unprobed until William Withering opened the scientific door. The coco leaves of the Peruvian Incas, which contained cocaine, lay unexplored until Karl Koller (and Sigmund Freud) plumbed their depths. The yellow astringentofthe Chinese physicians whose alkaloid extract today we know contains ephedrine finally was stripped of myth because of the work of Drs. K. K. Chen and C. F. Schmidt. And the extract from the South American poison dart that we know today as curare is but one more in a long list of such substances which once were the source of myth or legend. It is my hypothesis that distinguishing among fact, part truth, and groundless superstition in myth and legend; searching for hidden treasures ; and exposing useless or harmful myths by scientific study are responsible tasks for human behaviorists, as well as for biochemists and pharmacologists. Such tasks offer a tempting avenue for initiating scientific research in human behavior. To illustrate this (and, I hope, to entice others into considering this avenue for their scientific endeavors), I will briefly describe two projects I undertook to explore the validity of commonly held contemporary Portions ofthis material were presented at the World Congress of Psychiatry, Honolulu, Hawaii, 1977.»Director, Family and Child Psychiatric Clinic, Johnson County, Suite 308, 8500 West 110th Street, Overland Park, Kansas 66210.© 1983 by The University of Chicago. AU rights reserved. 0031-5982/83/2602-0325$01 .00 198 I Richard E. Davis · Legends and Myths beliefs (myths?) about human behavior—one about child rearing and one about medical education practices—and I will identify two other projects undertaken by others. Such myths continue to be espoused by many today, yet they may indeed be little more than entrenched devotions. The problem is that today's unquestioned beliefs frequently become tomorrow's most knowledgeable question. Many of our current beliefs (which seem at the time to be irrefutable) do not successfully bear the weight of newer experience and expanding scientific knowledge. Myth I One of our oldest myths about child rearing revolves around infant feeding method and its supposed effect on infant and child personality development. The belief (myth?) is held that breast-feeding is the superior infant feeding method as it relates to personality development, both custom and psychoanalytic theory holding that a feeding-sucking experience during early life is preferable, probably essential, for "normal " psychosexual and personaUty development. The emphasis is on a feeding experience incorporating sucking, bottle-feeding being acceptable , if secondary in desirabiUty. Please note that the issue here is not provision of early immunity or other recognized positive factors in breast-feeding. Rather, personaUty development as related to certain theories or myths is the specific focus. There are at least four possible feeding methods for normal newborn infants: breast-feeding, bottle-feeding, cup-feeding, or some combination or mixture of these three. It is felt or speculated by many that "satisfying" the sucking reflex is an early essential factor in infancy to which much psychological importance is attached, a satisfactorily combined sucking-feeding experience being a prerequisite for successful initial personality development. This was written impUcitly, if not expUcitly , in Freud's Three Contributions to the Theory ofSex [2]. Only one of these four feeding methods does not require sucking for feeding, namely, cup-feeding. Since cup-feeding was observed to be an adequate means of providing nutrition for prematurely born infants, a Kansas City pediatrician started using that method for full-term normal infants in the 1940s in order to entice mothers to hold their children, since a bottle could be propped but a cup could not be. His stated (but unpublished) belief was that holding (tactile stimulation, etc.) was even more important than sucking. However, when...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 198-204
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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