Blind Spots of Disenchantment (2/3)

Following up the previous post about Weber’s notion of disenchantment, and its normative implications, this second part of the installment provides some snapshots of episodes in the early 20th century – that is, of Weber’s contemporaries – which all seem to be in conflict with the disenchanted perspective of science. We start by considering some episodes in physics, then move on to the life sciences, before ending with some remarks on the controversial borderland which is psychical research.

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Giants’ Shoulders #29: Esoteric Science Special

Athanasius Kircher's museum

Heterodoxology is proud to present the twenty-ninth installment of your favourite History of Science Blog Carnival: The Giant’s Shoulders. This time featuring an Esoteric Science Special, dedicated to all those esoteric pursuits of superior knowledge; a celebration of all strange, alien, and counterintuitive methods that have been attempted to dissect, read, or tame nature’s secrets, from renaissance natural philosophy to present-day Grand Unified Theories – from the cleverly inventive, through the hopelessly megalomaniac, to the simply misguided.

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“Emic historiography of science” – a possibly useful term

It’s been silent here for a while. My excuse is a lot of traveling and lecturing over the past month. In trying to get back to blogging, I’ll give some thoughts on a concept I’ve been thinking about in connection with one of the lectures in Trondheim a few weeks ago: “emic historiography of science”.

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Esotericism, Religion and Science in Toronto – report on the IAHR (part 1)

As shamelessly advertised on this blog before, there were several esotericism-and-science-related things happening at this years quinquennial world congress of the International Association of the History of Religion (IAHR) in Toronto. There was a three-session panel on esotericism, organized by my colleague Marco Pasi, and a two-session panel on science, religion and the arts in the early 20th century (under the title Seduced by Science), organised by my colleague Tessel Bauduin and myself. Having had more than a week now to overcome what was only a minor jet lag after all, it is time for a short report on events.

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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.

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Naturalistic Spiritualisms

Spiritualism was a symptomatic cultural trend of the Victorian period. For decades mediums captivated the worker, the bourgeois, the nobleman, the socialist utopian, the Christian apostate, and people from virtually any and all professions, with their table rappings, levitating furniture, full-form materializations, and messages from beyond the grave. When a message was coming through, whether from the ghost of Benjamin Franklin, the archangel Gabriel, or the sitter’s aunt Nelly, the spirit medium provided the goods. But despite this caricature, which no doubt does full justice to much of the movement, spiritualism also became a heated battleground for deeply natural-philosophic questions: what is Nature, how does she operate, and what can we know about her? Where are the boundaries of the natural to be drawn?

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