Friday, 10 December 2010

Science Museum and Freud

Sunday morning we had heat and hot water again. Sunday afternoon we escaped from our small cottage for the Science Museum in Kensington.
This is the outdoor skating rink by the Museum of Natural History, which is next to the Science Museum. The recent cold spell helped open several outdoor rinks around London earlier than usual.

This is the fourth visit to the Science Museum for Benedict and me, the second for Erika. We started with the special exhibit on Psychoanalysis: The Unconscious in Everyday Life. There were books, art works, and objects from Sigmund Freud's collection of small antiquarian statues. Though interesting, I wondered whether such an exhibit belonged in a science museum given psychoanalysis' tenuous--some would say non-existent--relationship with the scientific method. Whatever loose criteria the museum poo-bahs established that allowed psychoanalysis to squeak in as a science, would the same criteria permit an exhibit on Marxism? After all, Marx and his followers believed his work was scientific, at least in the sociological and economic sense. But hardly anyone agrees with that point of view anymore.

We next decided to start at the top of the museum, on the 5th floor and then the 4th floor. These floors were tiny compared to the floors in the rest of the museum, but they both contained a wealth of materials related to medicine. The exhibit on the 5th floor explores the history of medicine, especially its art and science. The exhibit begins 4000 years ago in the period of Ur and written cuneiform tablets. It covers the Egyptian period with large casts of Egyptian wall friezes illustrating the medicinal practices of the ancient Egyptians. There was even an Egyptian toilet seat. Perfumes and oils used by the Egyptians for health purposes were also shown. This brought to my mind the book I bought in Edinburgh about the herbs and spices used by the Egyptians for relieving health ailments. The exhibit proceeds through the Greek, Roman, and medieval periods, and in the 16th century shows books called 'herbals' that describe and explain the various uses of herbs as medicinal remedies. In one of the cases there is a basket woven of clove, which was thought to ward off the plague. That reminded me of the story of the thieves who wandered through Marseilles in France during the plague and robbed the dead without contacting the disease because they rubbed essential oils on themselves, thus protecting them. (Product Placement Alert!) Young Living's blend of essential oils called Thieves is based on this story and others like it.

We also discovered that electrotherapy for mental illness was first tried in 1740 using static electricity. There are also presentations of medicine in other traditions, such as Chinese, African, Aryuvedic, and other non-Western approaches.

The 4th floor gave us Glimpses of Medical History consisting of dioramas illustrating various medical procedures through the centuries such as cataract surgery in Persia in the 11th century (often, though not always, successful), ship board surgery on an English war ship in the 18th century, various stages of dental care and surgery, and childbirth in a Victorian home. There is a reconstruction from the original materials of an early 20th century apothecary shop--what we call these days a pharmacy.

On the same floor is a small psychology exhibit.

On the third floor, taking up only a relatively small patch of space, is the Launch Pad. The Science Museum devotes part of the third floor to allow kids (and adults) to play around with about 50 exhibits involving electricity, magnets, water, weights, mirrors. and more. We spent the most time here and it was the most fun.

Also on the 3rd floor is the King George III Collection of 18th Century scientific instruments. We Americans tend to regard him unfavorably because he was king of England during the American War for Independence. But his collection of books serves as one of the foundations of the British Library, and his collection of instruments is significant. Painted on the wall in the rear of the gallery is a copy of a portion of a painting hanging in the National Gallery, Derby's An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump.

After a visit to the Science Museum's gift shop, we walked the few blocks to Knightsbridge and Harrods. We wanted to see the windows of the store. This Christmas the theme in the windows revolves around the story of Peter Pan. Apparently a new movie about the boy who never grows old will soon be released.
As far as the window displays are concerned, I can't decide whether they are poshly decadent or decadently posh.

A few blocks farther down Knightsbridge is one of Harrods' main rivals, Harvey Nichols. Their window displays, I'm afraid, are beyond my understanding. Do aliens celebrate Christmas?

It's been a quiet week for me. Erika and Suzie spent a few hours shopping and hanging out at Brick Lane in East London on Tuesday.

On Thursday Erika and I went to Hampstead in North London to have breakfast with Janine, CAPA's theatre instructor. After a delightful conversation and eats Erika and I looked for the Freud Museum. The day was a little warmer than earlier in the week with temperatures soaring to above zero. 
The area looks very prosperous with many detached homes and what once were detached homes are today subdivided into flats.
A lovely stature of a ballerina in front of one of the homes in Hampstead.

We found the museum and explored the house in which Sigmund Freud spent the last year of his life before his death in 1939 after being essentially run out of Vienna by the Nazis. Several of his siblings were not so fortunate; they died in concentration camps. After his death his daughter Anna continued to live in the house until her death in 1982. She was also a major theoretician of psychoanalysis, particularly with regards to children, and accepted patients in her second floor study. Sigmund Freud's study on the first floor remains as it was at his death. He managed to take most of his large library, furniture, and huge collection of artifacts from ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome to England with him. The Science Museum borrowed some ancient antiquaries, and their absence made no dent in the collection. Following only psychoanalysis and tobacco, his greatest interest was archeology, which he compared with psychoanalysis in the sense that archeology strips away historical and cultural mysteries while psychoanalysis peels away unconscious mysteries. Also in his study is his desk and, most famously, his couch. He still accepted patients in the last year of his life.
I went home to be there in time for Benedict to arrive from school. Erika stayed to explore the shops in Hampstead and Camden.

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