6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Helping To Demystify The Mind,
This review is from: Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century (Paperback)
At first sight I was not won over by the subtitle of this book. 'Great Psychological Experiments Of The Twetieth Century' conjures up images of lab monkeys with electrodes attched to shaven heads and all matter of convulsive therapies - definitely not the light reading I was in need of. And yet Lauren Slater has performed the near miraculous feat of turning research into some of the more lugubrious and disarming of human traits and disorders into a thoroughly readable, understandable and entertaining, yes entertaining, book.That she has written this with a human and personal voice throughout makes it even more approachable; her own experiences as a psychologist, a wife and a mother make this an emotive and therapeutic read, helping to dispel the phantoms of Stanley Milgram's studies in obedience, Harry Harlow's somewhat misguided experiments with primates and surrogate mothers and, most disturbingly, Eric Kandel's attempts to develop a medication which will enable us to improve memory retention and recall.
In all eleven of the last century's most prominent and/or notorious scientists are dissected by the scalpel like sharpness of Slater's words and in most cases her conclusions are that the progress that has been made in the fields of psychiatry, psychology and psychosurgery as a result of the work generated by these eleven far outweigh our moral outrage and attempts to brand them Orwellian, Frankenstein esque or followers of a Huxley type miopeia. On the question of the ethical legacy of the last century's mind experimenters Slater is reassuring when she says that it is unlikely that we will see another Milgram today. Unfortunately political torture is not a fiction and, we can be very certain of this, there are still countries who can and do use the findings of Milgram et al to subjugate and punish their prisoners/citizens. Perhaps the main lesson to be learned from this excellently argued book is to ensure that Skinner, whose ultimate vision was of a government of behavioral psychologists with the means to train its citizens into ultra obedient robots, and his modern day equivalents never receive the encouragement or the research grants to turn vision into harsh reality.