The Four Assumptive Worlds of Psychopathology IIIA: The World of Inappropriate or Blocked Distribution of Bodily Energy, Fluids or Functions
Western World: The “Medical”/Physiological Alternative to Spiritual
The thought leaders of Ancient Greece tended to be profoundly interdisciplinary in their approach to assessing the human condition. They offered a mixture of philosophy, psychology, and medicine in seeking to explain why people operate as they do—especially when they operate in a manner that is in some way different from the way that is deemed most uniquely human: namely being rational and moral (the ideal citizen). We can point to the writings of such giants of Greek culture as Hippocrates, Plato, Aristotle, and the Scholars of Alexandra
The work of Hippocrates is particularly noteworthy. As the author of the medical code of ethics names after him (the Hippocratic Oath), this early medical analyst conducted some of the first studies of epilepsy, mania, melancholia, and paranoia. He identified these as the four major forms of psychopathy. We find Plato offering a similar classification of psychopathologies. Most importantly, both of these proto scientists (and many other analysts) proposed that morbid humors in the human body reach the irrational soul producing sadness, chagrin, audacity, cowardice, defect of memory, and stupidity.
Let me unpack this very rich proposal, using more contemporary terms. First, there was an assumption that the human body is regulated by a set of fluids that flow through and energize behavior. When in balance, these fluids keep the human body – and human mind and soul—in fine operating shape (meaning primarily that a person is being rational and not too emotional, which was the Greek ideal). But something has happened. The fluids are blocked in their flow through the body or one of the fluids becomes too prevalent (in volume or power). With this disturbance comes the empowering of one element of the soul that is irrational. When this element is empowered, the person begins to exhibit the psychopathic conditions listed above.
There is one other important assessment being made during these years of highly productive and influential speculation about psychopathy. This assessment was directed at a particularly mysterious form of psychopathy that was found primarily in women. This psychopathological form was called “hysteria” and concerned the manifestation of physical illness and dysfunction among women (for example, numbness of one’s fingers or frequent fainting spells); yet, there were no obvious sources of this illness or dysfunction.
Were these women simply “making up” their illness; was their dysfunction nothing more than a search for attention? These obvious explanations did not hold up. Instead, the etiology was traced to a “wandering of the womb” in the woman’s body (the word “hysteria” comes from the Greek word for womb). While this assessment of hysteria is quite bizarre and anatomically invalid, it held force for many centuries and was only dispelled in the late 19th Century (in part as a result of work being done by four prominent psychiatrists: Charcot, Janet, Breuer and Freud).