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Reviewed by:
  • Soul Machine: The Invention of the Modern Mind by George Makari
  • Mary Bergstein (bio)
Soul Machine: The Invention of the Modern Mind. George Makari. New York: W.W. Norton, 2015. 656 pp.

In 2008, George Makari published Revolution in Mind: The Creation of Psychoanalysis. Bruce Rudisch praised the book in American Imago as "an eye-opening paradigm shift in the telling of psychoanalytic history" (2009, p. 293). In that book Makari de-centered and de-mystified Freud as he mapped out the history of psychoanalysis from about 1870 through the end of the Second World War. When Revolution in Mind was first published, the eminent novelist Paul Auster declared on the cover, "George Makari [had] written nothing less than a history of the modern mind." Now with Soul Machine: The Invention of the Modern Mind, Makari, a renowned psychoanalyst, psychiatrist, and historian, turns more exactly to that, continuing his endeavor in a history of the philosophy of mind in European thought. His topic is "the invention of the modern mind" in European history. Ending where Revolution in Mind began, Makari now takes his research from Plato and Aristotle through the medieval "Age of Faith" and the Counter Reformation into the "Age of Reason" and further into modernity to investigate the history of the mind-body problem. To give an idea of the historical time-period covered, I ought to note that the first mention of Sigmund Freud occurs on page 509 of this volume, and even then, in passing.

Nothing seems more compelling these days than the mind-body problem. What is consciousness and where does it reside? Where is the ghost in the proverbial machine? Can contemporary brain science account biologically for every aspect of sentience in a purely reductive manner? Do spirit and organic matter combine to make humans think, or is the concept of spirit merely one of the many fictions that emanate from the biological mechanics of the brain? If we are trapped in the network of our own subjectivity then how are we to study subjectivity itself? Or perhaps words like consciousness and subjectivity are already outmoded in the second decade of the twenty-first century.

To date (see George Johnson, New York Times, 2016, July 5) human beings cannot explain how the central nervous system [End Page 226] produces thought. Even less are we able to grasp the reverse, namely how our mind, spirit, or God catalyzes the bodily brain. Descartes's famous cogito ergo sum, which presupposes a mind-body dualism, is questioned by modern scientists and yet in Makari's book it remains at the heart of the question as a paradigmatic issue that is historically pertinent even in our own day. Soul Machine, you see, does not deal directly with the "hard problem," as explicated by David Chalmers in his writings (and videos made for the general public). This book is not an argument for or against the possible existence of any non-physical or spiritual entity. Rather, it is a sweeping history of the ideas concerning the seemingly intractable problem of mind-body dualism. As such it is scrupulously researched, almost encyclopedic, and very clearly written.

Throughout the book, we see theological ideas clash with secular thought in historical questions about the body and mind or soul. Can inanimate forms such as natural or human-made objects possess consciousness? According to the precepts of contemporary Panpsychism, consciousness may exist ab initio as a plasma of unbound particles, a common stuff of the universe, as plastic as time and space, from which everything else is composed. But even Panpsychism can allow for the possibility of a deity, and this alone makes consciousness an anomaly to the world of objective science.

Throughout Makari's book, I was constantly reminded that appending an innate morality, spirit, or mentis to our physical selves is, in fact, constitutive of our established ways of thinking. Indeed it is so bound to the common-sense vision of ourselves that we can hardly escape from it. Makari encounters this problem as he brings us through history chronologically, parading and contrasting the arguments of pertinent philosophers, churchmen, chemists, physicists, and physicians. Although he begins in Classical antiquity...


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pp. 226-234
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