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P. Webster "Phil W." (Lancashire)
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Why Freud Was Wrong: Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis
Why Freud Was Wrong: Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis
by Richard Webster
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Freudian Pseudoscience, 5 Sept. 2015
In this book, Richard Webster (no relation) does a great job of totally destroying Freud’s ideas. Some people claim that although Freud got a lot wrong we should not “throw out the baby with the bathwater” by rejecting Freud’s ideas entirely. But Webster shows that once we have thrown out the Freudian dirty bathwater, we can see that there was actually no baby in there at all.

Most of Freud’s ideas are so ridiculous that you can’t help laughing at them. For example, Webster points out that Freud claimed that in dreams staircases were “unquestionably symbols of copulation”, and that women’s hats “can very often be interpreted with certainty as a genital organ (usually a man’s)...”

But it is not funny that Freud’s ideas have led so many people astray, often with tragic consequences. For example, Stephen Jay Gould (in his essay on “Male Nipples and Clitoral Ripples”) showed that millions of women suffered frustration and misery because they were persuaded to accept Freud’s claim that their sexuality was dysfunctional if they did not achieve a “vaginal orgasm” as opposed to a supposedly “infantile” clitoral orgasm.

Underlying all the specific things wrong with Freudianism is the fundamental problem that it is totally unscientific. Darwinism is a scientific theory because it can be tested against the real world. There is evidence to support it. This does not apply to Freud’s ideas, which are basically untestable assertions – sometimes plausible but more often bizarre.

Freud was an expert at imposing his own preconceived ideas onto vulnerable, suggestible and gullible patients, and thousands of psychotherapists (whether well-intentioned or downright fraudulent) have followed in his footsteps.

Where I disagree with Richard Webster is when he says that Marxism is as unscientific as Freudianism. In fact, Marxist theories can be tested against the real world, and there is enough evidence around us to show that Marx gave us the foundations for understanding society, just as Darwin gave us the foundations for understanding nature. (I am talking here about genuine Marxism, not the Stalinism of the bureaucratic state capitalist tyrannies which have tainted the words “communism” and “Marxism”.)

We live in a capitalist society which screws up people’s minds as well as their lives. But Freudian (or post-Freudian) pseudoscience does not help us to understand this process.

Phil Webster.


Why Freud Was Wrong: Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis
Why Freud Was Wrong: Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis
by Richard Webster
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Freudian Pseudoscience, 5 Sept. 2015
In this book, Richard Webster (no relation) does a great job of totally destroying Freud’s ideas. Some people claim that although Freud got a lot wrong we should not “throw out the baby with the bathwater” by rejecting Freud’s ideas entirely. But Webster shows that once we have thrown out the Freudian dirty bathwater, we can see that there was actually no baby in there at all.

Most of Freud’s ideas are so ridiculous that you can’t help laughing at them. For example, Webster points out that Freud claimed that in dreams staircases were “unquestionably symbols of copulation”, and that women’s hats “can very often be interpreted with certainty as a genital organ (usually a man’s)...”

But it is not funny that Freud’s ideas have led so many people astray, often with tragic consequences. For example, Stephen Jay Gould (in his essay on “Male Nipples and Clitoral Ripples”) showed that millions of women suffered frustration and misery because they were persuaded to accept Freud’s claim that their sexuality was dysfunctional if they did not achieve a “vaginal orgasm” as opposed to a supposedly “infantile” clitoral orgasm.

Underlying all the specific things wrong with Freudianism is the fundamental problem that it is totally unscientific. Darwinism is a scientific theory because it can be tested against the real world. There is evidence to support it. This does not apply to Freud’s ideas, which are basically untestable assertions – sometimes plausible but more often bizarre.

Freud was an expert at imposing his own preconceived ideas onto vulnerable, suggestible and gullible patients, and thousands of psychotherapists (whether well-intentioned or downright fraudulent) have followed in his footsteps.

Where I disagree with Richard Webster is when he says that Marxism is as unscientific as Freudianism. In fact, Marxist theories can be tested against the real world, and there is enough evidence around us to show that Marx gave us the foundations for understanding society, just as Darwin gave us the foundations for understanding nature. (I am talking here about genuine Marxism, not the Stalinism of the bureaucratic state capitalist tyrannies which have tainted the words “communism” and “Marxism”.)

We live in a capitalist society which screws up people’s minds as well as their lives. But Freudian (or post-Freudian) pseudoscience does not help us to understand this process.

Phil Webster.


Why Freud Was Wrong: Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis
Why Freud Was Wrong: Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis
by Richard Webster
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.95

4.0 out of 5 stars Freudian Pseudoscience, 5 Sept. 2015
In this book, Richard Webster (no relation) does a great job of totally destroying Freud’s ideas. Some people claim that although Freud got a lot wrong we should not “throw out the baby with the bathwater” by rejecting Freud’s ideas entirely. But Webster shows that once we have thrown out the Freudian dirty bathwater, we can see that there was actually no baby in there at all.

Most of Freud’s ideas are so ridiculous that you can’t help laughing at them. For example, Webster points out that Freud claimed that in dreams staircases were “unquestionably symbols of copulation”, and that women’s hats “can very often be interpreted with certainty as a genital organ (usually a man’s)...”

But it is not funny that Freud’s ideas have led so many people astray, often with tragic consequences. For example, Stephen Jay Gould (in his essay on “Male Nipples and Clitoral Ripples”) showed that millions of women suffered frustration and misery because they were persuaded to accept Freud’s claim that their sexuality was dysfunctional if they did not achieve a “vaginal orgasm” as opposed to a supposedly “infantile” clitoral orgasm.

Underlying all the specific things wrong with Freudianism is the fundamental problem that it is totally unscientific. Darwinism is a scientific theory because it can be tested against the real world. There is evidence to support it. This does not apply to Freud’s ideas, which are basically untestable assertions – sometimes plausible but more often bizarre.

Freud was an expert at imposing his own preconceived ideas onto vulnerable, suggestible and gullible patients, and thousands of psychotherapists (whether well-intentioned or downright fraudulent) have followed in his footsteps.

Where I disagree with Richard Webster is when he says that Marxism is as unscientific as Freudianism. In fact, Marxist theories can be tested against the real world, and there is enough evidence around us to show that Marx gave us the foundations for understanding society, just as Darwin gave us the foundations for understanding nature. (I am talking here about genuine Marxism, not the Stalinism of the bureaucratic state capitalist tyrannies which have tainted the words “communism” and “Marxism”.)

We live in a capitalist society which screws up people’s minds as well as their lives. But Freudian (or post-Freudian) pseudoscience does not help us to understand this process.

Phil Webster.


Secrets of The National Archives: The stories behind the letters and documents of our past
Secrets of The National Archives: The stories behind the letters and documents of our past
by Dr Richard Taylor
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.75

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars From the Domesday Book to the Dagenham Equal Pay Strike, 14 Jun. 2015
This interesting book examines a selection from the vast number of documents kept in the National Archives. It is beautifully illustrated and there is a very competent commentary on each document by Richard Taylor. (I am referring to the print edition; I cannot comment on the Kindle version.)

The book covers about 80 documents and almost 1000 years of history. I’ll just mention a few examples which I found particularly interesting.

The first document examined is the Domesday Book, which Taylor describes as “an expression of power” and of “remorseless control” which acted as a “gigantic tax return.” It reveals how “the Conqueror had almost completely filled the landowning classes with his fellow Normans.”

Another interesting section relates to Karl Marx’s application for British citizenship. Marx spent the second half of his life in England as what today would be referred to as an “asylum seeker”. But when he applied for actual citizenship in 1874 he was refused, based on a Metropolitan Police report (reproduced here) in which a certain Sergeant Reinners described Marx as follows: “He is the notorious German agitator, the head of the International Society, and an advocate of Communistic principles.”

Incidentally, Taylor points out that in the nineteenth century, when Marx came to London, “Britain’s open borders were a source of national pride.” Refugees certainly seem to have received a warmer welcome in Britain then than they do today, when they are likely to face xenophobic hostility from the media and harsh treatment from the state.

An anonymous letter from the workers of the parish of Ashill in Norfolk, sent in 1816 to the local gentry, is another interesting item. The letter-writers say to the gentry, referring to the enclosure of common land: “You do as you like, you rob the poor of their Commons right...” They point out: “There is 5 or 6 of you have gotten all the whole of the Land in this parish in your own hands and you would wish to be rich and starve all the other part of the poor of the parish.”

I also enjoyed reading:
• Richard III’s rant (written in his own handwriting) against his former ally the Duke of Buckingham, “the most untrue creature living”;
• the Special Branch file on George Orwell (in a section entitled “Big Brother WAS watching him”);
• the 1968 letter to Prime Minister Harold Wilson from the women workers at the Ford factory in Dagenham who were on strike in their “great fight for equal pay for women”.

Overall, this a great book for dipping into. I recommend it.

Phil Webster.


The Deeper Genome: Why there is more to the human genome than meets the eye
The Deeper Genome: Why there is more to the human genome than meets the eye
by John Parrington
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.90

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "...the complex interacting role of biology and environment in shaping our lives...", 9 Jun. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This important book takes us through the history of the development of scientific understanding of the human genome, and also outlines the key debates that are taking place in this field today.

It covers topics such as: the complexity of the genome; the importance of regulatory genes; epigenetics; the arguments about whether or not "junk DNA" is really junk; and the question of what distinguishes humans from other species.

Parrington also shows that we cannot understand human behaviour simply by saying that there is a gene for this behaviour and a gene for that. The genome itself is much more complex than that, and then there are the environmental and social influences on human behaviour.

So Parrington sums up his survey of the debates about mental disorders as follows. "A sensible viewpoint would, therefore, seem to be that social factors play an important role in the development of mental disorders, but susceptibility to conditions such as schizophrenia, which probably encompasses a range of different disorders, is affected by real biological differences between individuals."

Another positive aspect of the book is the scattering of interesting anecdotes about the individuals who have contributed to the scientific understanding of evolution and the genome. For example, there is a short but balanced and fair assessment of the relative contributions of Darwin and Wallace. We also learn that Jacques Monod spent the Second World War in Paris, not just working on his science, but also as one of the leaders of the French Resistance.

However, despite these positive comments, I am giving the book four stars rather than five for the following reasons. Firstly, although much of the book is understandable for an interested layperson like myself, there are quite a few parts which, quite frankly, I found very difficult to follow. I presume that the author has aimed his book at general readers as well as at his fellow professional scientists, but I fear that many general readers will find it heavy going in places.

Secondly, it seems to me that when he rightly argues that the "reductionism" of much of modern genetic theory has weaknesses and limitations as well as strengths, and when he correctly points to "the complex interacting role of biology and environment in shaping our lives", Parrington is adopting what the evolutionary biologist, geneticist and Marxist, Richard Lewontin, calls a dialectical approach to scientific understanding. But, disappointingly, Parrington makes no reference to dialectics in this book. Parrington also seems to be rather less critical of mainstream genetics than Lewontin is.

Finally, although I am not qualified to comment on the more technical content of the book, there is one specific point that Parrington makes about human evolution that I must criticise. This is where he uncritically repeats the discredited view that the "development of sophisticated technologies, art, and culture, which are assumed to have required a new kind of self-conscious awareness, only seem to have taken off as recently as 50,000 years ago, this event itself only occurring 100,000 years after the appearance of modern humans on the planet."

In fact this theory of a supposed creative explosion 40,000 - 50,000 years ago, which has been called the "Big Bang", the "Human Revolution", or the "Great Leap Forward", has been shot down in recent years.

The first thing wrong with this theory is that it assumes that behavioural change must be determined by biological change. But why does cultural change have to imply a change to the brain? It is more likely that the brain had become "modern" when Homo sapiens first evolved in Africa 150,000 or more years ago, and that any later cultural change took place for non-biological reasons. After all, the development of farming 12,000 years ago, of cities and writing 5,000 years ago and of industry 200 years ago were also "Great Leaps Forward", but no one believes that these were the result of genetic changes to the human brain.

Secondly, evidence of art and sophisticated tools has now been found which dates from much earlier than the time that the "Great Leap Forward" is supposed to have happened. For example, engraved pieces of ochre have been found in Africa dating from 75,000 years ago, and decorative beads have been found, again in Africa, dating back 100,000 years. As Stephen Oppenheimer has argued: "...humans came out of Africa already painting."

To sum up, I certainly recommend the book, but if you are not a scientist you will need to be prepared to work hard at it.

Phil Webster.


Game of Mirrors (Inspector Montalbano Mysteries)
Game of Mirrors (Inspector Montalbano Mysteries)
by Andrea Camilleri
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.79

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not the best, but still worth reading, 10 May 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The best of Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano stories are brilliant: they are amongst my favourites when it comes to crime fiction.

There has been an enjoyable formula for these books: Montalbano’s quirky personality; the interplay between him and his team; lots of humour; and the occasional critical social comment from Camilleri’s left-leaning perspective. (In the TV version we also get the beautiful Sicilian scenery.)

But the recent Montalbano books have been rather hit and miss. “The Potter’s Field” and “The Dance of the Seagull” were excellent. But, on the other hand, the mood of “The Age of Doubt” was dismal; “The Treasure Hunt” was spoiled by a distastefully grim scene; and “Angelica’s Smile” was disappointingly average.

This latest offering is not up to the standard of Camilleri at his best, but it is better than the weaker books in the series.

On the down side, we have Camilleri yet again bringing in a femme fatale figure: he has rather overused this theme recently. It was also obvious what was going on in the strange first few pages, partly because Camilleri has started off several other stories in a similar way. (I won’t say more in case I spoil it for anyone.) The plot is rather over-complex in places, and there are two of the sadistic murders that Camilleri seems to be increasingly bringing in to his stories.

On the positive side, after a rather stodgy start, the pace picks up nicely in the second half of the book. Montalbano is also on top form himself in imaginatively outwitting his opponents. There is plenty of the usual amusing banter between Montalbano and his colleagues, especially Dr Pasquano. And finally I’m glad to say that there are none of the irritating paranormal episodes that Camilleri has brought into some of the books.

So, overall, this might not be the best of Camilleri, but there are enough positive aspects to show that there’s life in the old dog yet.

Phil Webster.


Infinite Tropics: An Alfred Russell Wallace Anthology: Written by Alfred Russel Wallace, 2002 Edition, (First Edition) Publisher: Verso Books [Hardcover]
Infinite Tropics: An Alfred Russell Wallace Anthology: Written by Alfred Russel Wallace, 2002 Edition, (First Edition) Publisher: Verso Books [Hardcover]
by Alfred Russel Wallace
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Wallace's Writings, 18 Mar. 2015
Andrew Berry has brought together an excellent collection of the writings of Alfred Russel Wallace. The selection covers Wallace's career as a widely-travelling professional collector of plants and animals, as a naturalist, and as a scientific theorist. It also covers his political views and his later belief in spiritualism.

Wallace is best known for coming up with the theory of evolution by natural selection independently from Darwin. He certainly deserves credit for this, but nobody should take seriously the ridiculous conspiracy theory which claims that Darwin stole the theory of natural selection from Wallace.

Wallace himself was always happy to play second fiddle to Darwin. For example, in 1908 Wallace made a speech to the Linnaean Society in which he explicitly defended Darwin's priority, pointing out that "...the idea occurred to Darwin in October 1838, nearly twenty years earlier than to myself (in February 1858); and that during the whole of that twenty years he had been laboriously collecting evidence..."

Darwin's notebooks from the 1830s and his essays of 1842 and 1844 show that Darwin had developed his theory long before he published "On the Origin of Species" and long before Wallace had his brainwave.

Wallace was an admirable character. He did not have the advantages of wealth that Darwin had; he was a socialist (of sorts) who had progressive views on many issues; and his attitude towards native peoples was unusually enlightened for an era when racism was rife.

Wallace also disagreed (later in his life, at least) with Darwin's mistaken decision to allow into his evolutionary theory a subsidiary role for the Lamarckian idea of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. In this, Wallace has been said to be more Darwinian than Darwin himself.

Unfortunately, on the negative side, Wallace also ended up believing in spiritualism and arguing that the human brain/mind could not have evolved. Darwin and Wallace had become good friends, but Darwin was disappointed with Wallace over this issue. Darwin and Wallace also differed over the relative importance of natural selection and sexual selection. But these differences of opinion did not stop Darwin successfully campaigning to get a state pension for Wallace.

Phil Webster.


Infinite Tropics: An Alfred Russel Wallace Collection
Infinite Tropics: An Alfred Russel Wallace Collection
by Stephen Jay Gould
Edition: Paperback
Price: £25.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Wallace's Writings, 18 Mar. 2015
Andrew Berry has brought together an excellent collection of the writings of Alfred Russel Wallace. The selection covers Wallace's career as a widely-travelling professional collector of plants and animals, as a naturalist, and as a scientific theorist. It also covers his political views and his later belief in spiritualism.

Wallace is best known for coming up with the theory of evolution by natural selection independently from Darwin. He certainly deserves credit for this, but nobody should take seriously the ridiculous conspiracy theory which claims that Darwin stole the theory of natural selection from Wallace.

Wallace himself was always happy to play second fiddle to Darwin. For example, in 1908 Wallace made a speech to the Linnaean Society in which he explicitly defended Darwin's priority, pointing out that "...the idea occurred to Darwin in October 1838, nearly twenty years earlier than to myself (in February 1858); and that during the whole of that twenty years he had been laboriously collecting evidence..."

Darwin's notebooks from the 1830s and his essays of 1842 and 1844 show that Darwin had developed his theory long before he published "On the Origin of Species" and long before Wallace had his brainwave.

Wallace was an admirable character. He did not have the advantages of wealth that Darwin had; he was a socialist (of sorts) who had progressive views on many issues; and his attitude towards native peoples was unusually enlightened for an era when racism was rife.

Wallace also disagreed (later in his life, at least) with Darwin's mistaken decision to allow into his evolutionary theory a subsidiary role for the Lamarckian idea of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. In this, Wallace has been said to be more Darwinian than Darwin himself.

Unfortunately, on the negative side, Wallace also ended up believing in spiritualism and arguing that the human brain/mind could not have evolved. Darwin and Wallace had become good friends, but Darwin was disappointed with Wallace over this issue. Darwin and Wallace also differed over the relative importance of natural selection and sexual selection. But these differences of opinion did not stop Darwin successfully campaigning to get a state pension for Wallace.

Phil Webster.


Alfred Russell Wallace
Alfred Russell Wallace
by Peter Raby
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Wallace's Contribution, 18 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Alfred Russell Wallace (Hardcover)
Peter Raby has produced an excellent biography of Alfred Russel Wallace. It outlines Wallace's career as a widely-travelling professional collector of plants and animals, as a naturalist, and as a theorist. It also covers his political views and his later belief in spiritualism.

Wallace is best known for coming up with the theory of evolution by natural selection independently from Darwin. He certainly deserves credit for this, but nobody should take seriously the ridiculous conspiracy theory which claims that Darwin stole the theory of natural selection from Wallace.

Wallace himself was always happy to play second fiddle to Darwin. For example, in 1908 Wallace made a speech to the Linnaean Society in which he explicitly defended Darwin's priority, pointing out that "...the idea occurred to Darwin in October 1838, nearly twenty years earlier than to myself (in February 1858); and that during the whole of that twenty years he had been laboriously collecting evidence..."

Darwin's notebooks from the 1830s and his essays of 1842 and 1844 show that Darwin had developed his theory long before he published "On the Origin of Species" and long before Wallace had his brainwave.

Wallace was an admirable character. He did not have the advantages of wealth that Darwin had; he was a socialist (of sorts) who had progressive views on many issues; and his attitude towards native peoples was unusually enlightened for an era when racism was rife.

Wallace also disagreed (later in his life, at least) with Darwin's mistaken decision to allow into his evolutionary theory a subsidiary role for the Lamarckian idea of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. In this, Wallace has been said to be more Darwinian than Darwin himself.

Unfortunately, on the negative side, Wallace also ended up believing in spiritualism and arguing that the human brain/mind could not have evolved. Darwin and Wallace had become good friends, but Darwin was disappointed with Wallace over this issue. Darwin and Wallace also differed over the relative importance of natural selection and sexual selection. But these differences of opinion did not stop Darwin successfully campaigning to get a state pension for Wallace.

Phil Webster.


Alfred Russel Wallace
Alfred Russel Wallace
by Peter Raby
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wallace's Contribution, 18 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Alfred Russel Wallace (Paperback)
Peter Raby has produced an excellent biography of Alfred Russel Wallace. It outlines Wallace's career as a widely-travelling professional collector of plants and animals, as a naturalist, and as a theorist. It also covers his political views and his later belief in spiritualism.

Wallace is best known for coming up with the theory of evolution by natural selection independently from Darwin. He certainly deserves credit for this, but nobody should take seriously the ridiculous conspiracy theory which claims that Darwin stole the theory of natural selection from Wallace.

Wallace himself was always happy to play second fiddle to Darwin. For example, in 1908 Wallace made a speech to the Linnaean Society in which he explicitly defended Darwin's priority, pointing out that "...the idea occurred to Darwin in October 1838, nearly twenty years earlier than to myself (in February 1858); and that during the whole of that twenty years he had been laboriously collecting evidence..."

Darwin's notebooks from the 1830s and his essays of 1842 and 1844 show that Darwin had developed his theory long before he published "On the Origin of Species" and long before Wallace had his brainwave.

Wallace was an admirable character. He did not have the advantages of wealth that Darwin had; he was a socialist (of sorts) who had progressive views on many issues; and his attitude towards native peoples was unusually enlightened for an era when racism was rife.

Wallace also disagreed (later in his life, at least) with Darwin's mistaken decision to allow into his evolutionary theory a subsidiary role for the Lamarckian idea of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. In this, Wallace has been said to be more Darwinian than Darwin himself.

Unfortunately, on the negative side, Wallace also ended up believing in spiritualism and arguing that the human brain/mind could not have evolved. Darwin and Wallace had become good friends, but Darwin was disappointed with Wallace over this issue. Darwin and Wallace also differed over the relative importance of natural selection and sexual selection. But these differences of opinion did not stop Darwin successfully campaigning to get a state pension for Wallace.

Phil Webster.


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