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Subject: ‘Psychology’

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A criminal Edinburgh councillor inspired Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde

Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, History, Psychology, Scotland on Thursday, 26 September 2013

This edited article about English literature originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 410 published on 22 November 1969.

Deacon Brodie and his gang, picture, image, illustration
Robert Louis Stevenson based his famous story on William Brodie, who became a legend in Edinburgh – a man who as Deacon Brodie was a city councillor by day and a burglar by night

As a schoolboy growing up in 19th century Edinburgh, Robert Louis Stevenson was fascinated by a bookcase and a chest of drawers which were in his bedroom. They had been made some ninety years earlier by the infamous Deacon Brodie – the master carpenter who was a respectable citizen by day, and the leader of a gang of burglars by night. In his walks through the old quarter of Edinburgh, Stevenson begged his parents to show him Deacon Brodie’s house, and the inns and courtyards where the criminal met with his desperate accomplices.

Brodie’s daring double life made a deep impression on the young Stevenson. And years later, when his Treasure Island had made him one of the world’s most beloved authors, he found his thoughts turning again and again to the man who wore a suit of white by daylight, and black clothes after dark. This split in Brodie’s character epitomised to Stevenson the good and the bad side of man. He felt compelled to write a novel on the subject, and for some time he wrestled with his “Brownies,” as he called the ideas which came to him in his sleep.

The author, who was always fragile in health, was then living in Bournemouth with his American wife, Fanny. She realized the mental torment he was going through, and one night his struggle with the “Brownies” woke her up and thoroughly frightened her. “My husband’s cries of horror caused me to rouse him,” she said, “much to his indignation. ‘I was dreaming a fine bogey tale,’ he said reproachfully.”

The next morning Stevenson worked feverishly on the new book, which was inspired, of course, by the career of Deacon Brodie. He completed the first draft of 30,000 words in three days. But when Fanny read the manuscript, she told him he had not done the story justice. The novelist then destroyed the draft, and rewrote it from a different point of view.

When the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was published in 1886 it caused a sensation. Its story of a decent London doctor who, by the use of a powerful drug, is able to turn himself into another and totally different person, caught the imagination of the reading public. As Jekyll continues with his experiment, the tension rises to an almost unbearable pitch. After a while the evil Hyde is able to appear whenever he wants to, and Jeykll has to decide whether or not to destroy his depraved other self. The finale of the book mounts to a crescendo of terrifying action which has seldom been equalled in a story of this nature.

William Brodie’s double-life inspired Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Posted in English Literature, Famous crimes, Historical articles, History, Literature, Psychology, Scotland on Monday, 30 April 2012

This edited article about William Brodie originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 697 published on 24 May 1975.

William Brodie, picture, image, illustration

William Brodie, the real-life Jekyll and Hyde

The young ladies in the drawing-room could not stop talking about the handsome and prosperous bachelor who was coming to tea.

“What a wonderful husband he would make,” they said to each other. “He’s bound to marry soon. I wonder which one of us it will be?”

“Quiet!” said the girl keeping lookout at the window. “He’s knocking at the front door now. He’s dressed all in white – just like a saint.”

And saintly was just how William Brodie appeared to the wealthy merchants he mixed with in Edinburgh society. A bachelor of temperate habits, a city councillor, a skilful cabinet-maker and carpenter, he seemed faultless. The only thing held against him was his shyness and modesty that made him a difficult person to really know.

“He’s certainly polite and charming,” the girls of Edinburgh would say to their mothers. “But he seems a little too perfect. It is as if he is trying to hide something from us.”

They little guessed then that William Brodie was hiding plenty from them. Just what it was emerged in 1788 when Brodie – then forty-eight and still unmarried – was tried and executed at Tolbooth Prison as the leader of a gang of vicious underworld burglars who had long terrorized the city.

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Matters of taste are influenced by culinary aesthetics

Posted in Biology, Psychology, Science on Thursday, 19 April 2012

This edited article about the sense of taste originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 691 published on 12 April 1975.

Candy Floss seller, picture, image, illustration

The candy floss seller at the fairground

Since the earliest times, people have pandered to their sense of taste. Taste is one of the five senses – the others are sight, touch, smell and hearing.

Yet in spite of the thousands of differently flavoured dishes prepared by cooks and chefs, our organ of taste, the tongue, can detect only four kinds of taste!

These are the four tastes we call salty, sour, sweet and bitter. All other so-called tastes are just flavours made by combining two or more of the real tastes.

Scattered over the top surface of your tongue are more than 15,000 tiny taste buds or cells, which are connected to the brain by nerves. When your tongue comes into contact with anything you eat, the food has a chemical action on the buds and causes them to send “taste messages” to the brain.

There are four kinds of taste buds: one kind for salty flavours, one for sour flavours, one for sweetness and one for bitterness.

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Baboon families enjoy socialising and community life

Posted in Animals, Nature, Psychology, Wildlife on Tuesday, 10 April 2012

This edited article about baboons originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 687 published on 15 March 1975.

Baboons, picture, image, illustration

Baboons

Like most members of the monkey and ape families, baboons are very sociable, and are, incidentally, among the closest of man’s relations. Individual baboons belong to a family and each family is a member of a larger tribe or troop. The average troop has about eighty animals living closely together, usually in rocky country or grassland with tall clumps of trees. They forage during the day for seeds, bulbs, berries, grass etc., but if food is short, they will eat insects or make organised raids near villages to steal fruit, grain and eggs.

Each family consists of an adult male who is the undisputed chief, his harem of four or five females, two or three younger males and the baboon babies. One of the oldest dominant males will also take command of the tribe when danger threatens or when they move to a new territory.

Baboon societies have a definite order of rank which affects most of their activities and which results in a well-organised community, where everyone knows his place.

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The unanswered question – what is life?

Posted in Biology, Mystery, Philosophy, Psychology, Religion, Science on Tuesday, 10 April 2012

This edited article about life originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 686 published on 8 March 1975.

Robot, picture, image, illustration

A robot helps to save life by Wilf Hardy

What is life? Most scientists today admit that they do not know the answer to this question, although they know a great deal about the way in which plants, animals and human beings behave.

If a drop of pond water is examined through a microscope, we see things which move around and things which do not move at all. Many of us might assume that the moving things we can see are alive.

For a very long time, the words animate and inanimate were used to distinguish things that were alive from the things that were not. These words come from the Latin verb animare which means “to set into motion” or accelerate. In fact, the word animal has similar origins. Even in the times of the Romans, there was quite a natural association between life and motion.

Yet few of us today would say that things which move must be alive. Things which seem to move of their own accord, like the modern electronic robots which can fly a plane, or the guided missiles which can “home” on to their target, are not alive.

For anything to be alive, it obviously must have other properties beyond the ability to move around.

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Vincent Van Gogh has become the archetypal tormented genius

Posted in Art, Artist, Famous artists, Psychology on Friday, 16 March 2012

This edited article about Van Gogh originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 668 published on 2 November 1974.

Vincent Van Gogh, picture, image, illustration

Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh was one of the greatest and most revolutionary artists in the world. He was born on March 30, 1853, the eldest of six children, at Groot Zunder in Holland.

Van Gogh began work in a firm of art dealers and at the age of 24 he decided to devote his life to religion. After becoming a volunteer preacher among the miners of Belgium he soon realised that he was not suited to the life and it was at this time that he turned to painting.

Between the years 1884 and 1890 he produced about 700 drawings and 800 oil paintings, only one of which was sold in his own lifetime. Van Gogh was always desperately poor, but his faith in the urgency of what he was doing, and the encouragement he received from his younger brother, Theo, kept him going.

The letters which Vincent wrote to Theo give a brilliant insight in to the painter’s aims and beliefs. His Collected Correspondence is not only a great autobiographical record, but is also recognised as great literature.

Van Gogh painted three types of subject: still life, landscape, and figure, all of them interrelated by Van Gogh’s interest in the peasants’ daily life, the hardships they endured, and the countryside they worked on.

In 1888 Van Gogh rented a house in Arles where, for two months, he worked with another famous artist, Gaugin. Relations between the two soon deteriorated and on Christmas Eve that year, Van Gogh cut off part of his left ear, having broken under the strain of his nerves. At the end of April, 1889, he asked to be ‘temporarily shut up’ in the asylum at St Remy de Provence so that he could work under supervision.

Feelings of guilt at his dependence on his brother, despair of ever overcoming his loneliness or of being cured of his mental depressions drove Van Gogh in deep despair to commit suicide in July 1890.

Virtually unknown at the time of his death, the name of Van Gogh is now famous throughout the world. His reputation has never ceased to grow and the influence he exerted on the development of modern painting, on artists like Picasso and Matisse cannot be overestimated.

The self-doubt of Sergei Rachmaninoff

Posted in Historical articles, History, Music, Psychology on Thursday, 18 August 2011

This edited article about Sergei Rachmaninoff originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 1027 published on 14 November 1981.

Rachmaninoff, picture, image, illustration

Sergei Rachmaninoff playing the piano, by Andrew Howat

Some of the great composers have been the sons of musicians and from their earliest years there was little doubt about what profession they themselves were going to follow. Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms were all children of musicians. It is not surprising therefore that they followed in their fathers’ footsteps.

Sergei Rachmaninoff was different. His father had been an army officer and his mother was the daughter of a general, so that if he had followed family tradition young Sergei would have gone into the army.

But it was not to be, for his father was not very good at handling money and wasted a great deal of his capital on gambling and risky investments. So the family lost most of the land which it had once owned.

Fortunately, young Sergei showed early evidence of musical talent and this was spotted by his cousin, who was himself a pianist and conductor of some note. If his family background did little to help him musically, his music teacher certainly did, for he was extremely strict.

As anyone who has studied the piano knows, it is an instrument which requires constant practice especially of rather repetitive things such as scales and exercises. The young Sergei Rachmaninoff was usually at the piano at six in the morning to begin his practice.

But all this hard work had good results, for he managed to acquire a skill at the keyboard which was to last through his adult years. In his lifetime he was rather better known as a performer than as a composer.

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Guide dogs for the blind

Posted in Animals, Psychology on Tuesday, 26 July 2011

This edited article about guide dogs for the blind originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 995 published on 4 April 1981.

guide dog, picture, image, illustration

A guide dog becomes friend and guide to the sight-impaired

As he hurried through the hospital grounds, the German doctor was concerned. The year was 1916 and the First World War was at its height. Many soldiers had returned from the battle zones badly wounded.

Among them were a number who had lost their sight, and the doctor had been walking in the grounds with one of them together with the doctor’s Alsatian dog. The trio had been strolling together when the doctor had been summoned to the wards. He warned the soldier that he would not be long, and left him. Now he was wondering whether the soldier had avoided bumping into any obstacles in the grounds.

Once he came in sight of the man, the doctor saw that he need not have worried. The man, holding firmly on to the animal’s lead, was being led quite naturally around obstacles.

The sight of the pair cooperating successfully in this way made the doctor wonder to what extent a dog could be trained to lead a blind person to his destination. Blind people usually relied upon another human to take them safely through the busy streets and on trains and buses. How useful it would be if dogs could be trained to do this, he thought.

Inspired by this idea, the doctor began training dogs for this purpose, and his efforts were very successful. In 1923, an organisation was set up in the German city of Potsdam to take over this work.

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Animal behaviour – instinct or learned?

Posted in Animals, Biology, Psychology on Friday, 22 July 2011

This edited article about animal behaviour originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 992 published on 14 March 1981.

Swan, picture, image, illustration

Cygnets learn through imprintings, which is by imitating movement as they follow the mother swan. Picture by J Chalkley

It was a great achievement when, probably in your second year, you stood upright and hesitantly took your first few steps. You had been trying to walk for several months. You learned how to crawl and use your complicated system of muscles. Finally came the most difficult lesson of all, standing on two feet and walking.

However, walking comes more quickly to members of the animal kingdom. A few minutes after a foal is born, the frail little creature makes a few jerky movements, staggers up on its four spindly legs and then walks almost perfectly. The foal has not been taught to walk, but has done so by instinct.

Biologists are not certain how animal instincts – or built-in skills – are acquired. Experiments have proved that complicated actions can be learnt by animals in a comparatively short time. Trained animals performing tricks in circuses are familiar sights. Your own dog will learn to obey orders and a trained dog can become an invaluable guide and companion for a blind person.

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Wasps have good manners

Posted in Animals, Biology, Insects, Nature, Psychology, Wildlife on Monday, 20 June 2011

This edited article about animal behaviour originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 971 published on 18 October 1980.

wasps, picture, image, illustration

Wasps have manners

“Where are your manners?” How many times has each child heard that question in his or her life? We are made to think that if we did not religiously say the magic words “Please” and “Thank you” every time we speak, the earth would mysteriously open up and engulf us. Yet there is a reason for good manners.

If we lived alone on a desert island, there would be no one to open doors for, no one to give up your seat for, and no one to smile at. But we do not live in isolation. Our species, the human species, flocks together, and we therefore have to invent ways of getting on with each other. Manners are the rules by which we live – the normal, everyday pattern of behaviour. Good manners are the icing on top.

Humans are not alone in this kind of social behaviour. Throughout the animal kingdom there are examples of highly organised patterns of behaviour. Ants are a superb example: each ant has its own part to play – one may contribute towards the cultivation of food for the rest of the colony, while another will stand guard, ready to defend the hill from attack.

Every now and then an animal, bird or even an almost brainless insect behaves in an extraordinary manner: it seems to go out of its way to please another. This can only be described as good manners.

Wasps, surprisingly enough, have been regularly seen to act with perfect politeness to each other. In one experiment, a box was assembled around an existing nest. One side of the box was made of glass, to enable the wasps to be watched. It soon became clear that the wasps had one unbreakable rule – KEEP TO THE LEFT. This prevented any confusion and bustle leading to and from the nest. All incoming wasps went to one side, those on the way out kept to the other.

The zoologist who was observing them speculated that, as the passage leading to the nest was only just wide enough for two unladen wasps to enter and pass each other, collisions would almost certainly occur. To his amazement, they did not: the returning wasps, loaded up with carcases of flies or pellets of wood pulp, took up most of the passageway. The outgoing wasps would give way to them, walking up the vertical wall of the tunnel and thus providing ample room for their loaded colleagues.

The wasps’ good manners were impeccable. Apart from having good regard for traffic routes and congestion, they never showed any signs of irritation or aggression towards the others in their overcrowded nest.

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