Praeludia Microcosmica – there’s a new blog on the block

There’s a new blog out in the esotericisim/hist-sci neighbourhood. Praeludia Microcosmica brings microcosmic preludes from the PhD research of Mike Zuber (University of Amsterdam). In particular, we should look forward to “occasional notes on chymistry, theosophy and religious dissent in the early modern period”. The blog is named after a curious book, the  Microcosmische Vorspiele Des Neuen Himmels und der Neuen Erde – the contested authorship of which you can read a bit about in the blog’s opening post.

Johann Konrad Dippel

Johann Conrad Dippel

It starts good, with a follow up post on Johann Conrad Dippel (1673-1734) – who has not only been falsely held as the author of the Microcosmische Vorspiele, but also possesses a questionable reputation as an alchemical counterfeit gravedigger snake-oil & horoscope salesman with a connection to the castle Frankenstein near Darmstad, which have made him a  candidate for the “real” Victor Frankenstein, the model of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin’s  hubristic doctor.

But Dippel’s “Real Frankenstein Potential” is not so obvious when exposed to historical methods. For starters, the most questionable thing about reputations like that of Dippel is, usually, their provenance. Mike (who is trained as a historian of science and now doing the PhD at the History of Hermetic Philosophy centre in Amsterdam) shows that most of the rumours surrounding Dippel – and especially those involving grave-digging – are highly dubious. What’s left is a radical pietist convert doing work in chymistry and medicine, who may been born near to the Frankenstein castle.

Personally I look much forward to the promising second installment on Dippel:

“I hope to explore more of it in the near future—including Dippel’s shifting fortunes as an alchemist, a reading list he partially shared with Victor Frankenstein, his reputedly all-curing animal oil, his attempt to gain possession of Castle Frankenstein in exchange for an alchemical arcanum late in life, and his mistaken prophecy that he would live until 1806. So stay tuned and watch this space!”

Do it!

Scientific delusions, or delusions about science? (Part four: on natural laws and resonating habits)


Laws as a bad metaphor: Who’s enforcing what on whom?

It has been a while since my last post on Rupert Sheldrake’s Science Delusion, or, as it is called in the United States version (published by none other than Deepak Chopra Books – no doubt a token of proper peer-reviewed science), Science Set Free. For new readers as well as for old ones who need to refresh their memories, previous installations in the series are found here, here, and here. Without further ado, let me get started on an evaluation of the fourth dogma ascribed to science: “The laws of nature are fixed”. As in previous posts, evaluating this dogma (and whether it is one to begin with) will occasion a few short excursions in the philosophy and history of science. But this time we are also led, finally, to confront Sheldrake’s own key thesis, namely his theory of “morphic resonance”. Read on if you’re still curious.


Scientific delusions, or delusions about science? (Part three: muddled conservations)

In the previous post on Sheldrake’s Science Delusion I discussed the first two dogma, concerning the “mechanical philosophy” and its challenges, and the question of whether matter is conscious. As we saw there, Sheldrake comes out as a sort of modern-day vitalist (even though he claims to be an organicist I think his anti-materialism is actually more radical, placing him in the vitalist camp), and a mild supporter of panpsychism. In the present installment we shall look at the third dogma, where Sheldrake takes on a central conceptions of physics: that the matter and energy of the universe is constant, and subjected to laws of conservation and conversion.


Scientific delusions, or delusions about science? (part two: Mechanism, life, and consciousness)


Do you know the meaning of dogmatic?

In the previous post on Rupert Sheldrake’s Science Delusion, I noted that the overall argument is based on a number of misrepresentations and stereotypes of what “science” is up to. The reader gets the impression of a monolithic structure, big-S-“Science”, now dominated by Ten Dogmas, like commandments cut in stone tablets. The history of science has, of course, been rather more complicated. Several of the dogmas do not even correspond well with the actual theories that are pursued today: at best they represent a pointed caricature,  at worst, they build on stereotypes crafted about a century or longer ago, that hardly have any relevance for contemporary scientific practice. Even to the extent that some of the “dogmas” refer to presently widespread theoretical or methodological conventions, holding these to be fixed dogmas obscures the fact that they are the outcome of long and sometimes complicated historical developments, both internal and external to science. In short: that is a widely held belief does not make a “dogma”; that is a commonly recommended way of pursuing a task does not make a dogmatic procedure.

As promised in the previous post, I will go through the ten dogmas one by one to demonstrate some of these points. In the present one we shall focus on the first two, which have to do with questions about mechanism, vitalism, scientific method, materialism, and the problems of defining “consciousness”. We will visit some historical backgrounds and parallels to Sheldrake’s criticism of science, and test his claim that science has closed certain questions “dogmatically”, by holding them up against the actual historical developments of some of the special sciences. Without further ado, here goes dogma #1:


INASWE launched with lecture on Jung and Eranos

The European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE) is expanding. The society was established in 2005. Since then it has encouraged the establishment of regional subgroups, to promote research and teaching about esotericism on the local level and on independent initiatives. In 2007 the first such local initiative  was established in the Scandinavian countries (SNASWE). Since last year scholars at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, largely on the initiative of  Professor Boaz Huss, have worked to establish an Israeli Network for the Study of Western Esotericism (INASWE).


Blind Spots of Disenchantment (3/3)

The third and last part of my paper on the “Blind Spots of Disenchantment” focuses on the somewhat neglected concept of Weber’s 1918 “Wissenschaft als Beruf” paper: “the intellectual sacrifice”. It looks particularly at the Scottish Gifford Lectures’ attempt to promote a new “natural theology”, and suggests that this whole attempt defies Weber’s emphasis that science and religion are being/ought to be kept apart in a disenchanted modern world. It also includes the complete bibliography for all three parts.


Physics, Psychology, and a 20th Century Esoteric Concept

Carl Gustav Jung

Last week in the MA course we are currently running on “Esotericism and modern science” (I’ve written about previous classes here, here, here, here and here) we talked about the encounter between two influential thinkers of very different impact: psychologist Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) and theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1958). Two men who led at the surface very different careers; one a disciple of Freud and crown-prince of psychoanalysis, the other a student of Bohr and a co-creator of quantum mechanics. While Pauli gave name to the exclusion principle, Jung developed concepts of psychological archetypes and the collective unconscious, established his own school of “analytic psychology”, and arguably founded a charismatic cult of personality which still greatly influences new age religion, pagan spirituality and other occultural belief systems.