Edwin Smith the Egyptologist purchased a piece of papyrus in 1862 from what we can only presume was a grave robber. But without that act of larceny coupled with some pecuniary archaeology we may never have found the most ancient treatise on medicine ever known. The eponymously named Edwin Smith Papyrus is a near five metre long manual for medicine, and amongst the many medical procedures and practices contained therein is the first mention of the word Brain. Never before this text was mention of the organ from which all of our thoughts, behaviours and actions spring from. It is understood that the document although penned around 1500BC was actually a copy of much older documents dating as far back as 3000BC. For those of you who are conversant in Ancient Egyptian you can read the original here: https://ceb.nlm.nih.gov/
The Egyptians were hailed as the greatest medical practitioners of the ancient world and the evidence of this is from ancient Greek philosophers such as Pliny the Elder, Herodotus and the famed poet Homer, who is quoted in the Odyssey as saying that “In Egypt the men were more skilled in medicine than any of human kind”. Even the great Hippocrates the so-called ‘Father of Medicine’ studied medical practice at the temple of Amenhotep and was known to praise Egyptian medicine. It could even be claimed that Imhotep should claim the title as the Father of Medicine as the Edwin Smith Papyrus clearly demonstrates the Egyptians as being highly advanced medical practitioners.
Not to take away from the contributions of Hippocrates to the fields of medicine and in particular to this article: the creation of the four humours system of personality. The words Sanguine, Melancholic, Phlegmatic and Choleric are still in use today as with the demeanours associated with each, in order, Sanguine – Happy and joyous, Melancholic – Sad or depressed, Phlegmatic – Calm even lazy, Choleric – Angry and aggressive.
Approaches in Psychology: Origins of Psychology
Here is the first systemised approach to describing the varying personality types that humans exhibit. Nowhere else in any culture was the division of personality types as clearly labelled as with the work of Hippocrates and this system is still being used today in varying guises and forms.
Now we find something interesting in History. In most texts it is Aristotle who is often named as the thinker credited with the creation of psychology as a practice. Given that Aristotle would have no doubt read the texts of Hippocrates and used Hippocrates theoretical model to inform his eloquent Theory of Forms and presage the Aristotelian usage of the word Psyche. It is this word Psyche, which Aristotle used as an encompassing term for mind and soul, which the entire field of Psychology springs from.
Ancient Greats is the Seed of Psychology
If the work of these ancient greats is the seed of Psychology, then the tree has now grown a multitude of branches and versions of psychology that apply to any and every aspect of human endeavour. Although it must be said that the field of psychology lay largely unregarded until much more modern times.
As critical thought gave way to mysticism and medicine declined with the Roman Empire, so too psychology, a nascent philosophy even then, was largely forgotten. It was not until the renaissance that people began thinking past bare survival in the main and were able to devote time and resources to higher learning.
Dr C. George Boeree says in his book The History Of Psychology Part Two: Rebirth, of Rene Descartes that:
“His major contribution, for which he will forever be known as the father of modern philosophy, is the method of doubt. In his book Meditations, he decided to start philosophy from scratch by doubting everything he could – things, God, self, the church, Aristotle… – until he found something he could not doubt and from which he could build a new philosophy.”
And the new philosophy contained much of what we may call psychological thought as written in Descartes Meditations. Yet still psychology was not it’s own branch of science. That would have to wait another few hundred years until the 1870’s when Wilhelm Wundt a German physician opened the very first psychology Lab in Leipzig in the year 1879. This began the flourishing of the science of psychology and Wilhelm Wundt is rightly attributed the title as the Father of Modern Psychology.
Father of Modern Psychology.
By the 1930’s the field of psychology had grown so much that entire departments in notable universities were devoted to the new fields of psychoanalysis primarily thanks to the famous Sigmund Freud.
Sigmund Freud: Id, Ego, Superego- Psychodynamic theory- Unconscious, Preconscious, Conscious
Freud, with many of his colleagues, fled persecution in the homeland of Germany under the Nazi’s and escaped to Britain or the United States. There continuing the development of the psychological field.
That field has continued to develop in leaps and bounds until the modern day. Theories of human behaviours abound and new psychological domains and disciplines are proffered in universities as far ranging as Sports Psychology through to Forensic psychology. The field of Psychology abuts many modern scientific fields and in some ways we come full circle in the study of Neuroplasticity, which could in ancient times be defined as ‘Mens sana in corpore sano’ or ‘A healthy mind in a healthy body’.