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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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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Occult Trajectories towards Science: the conclusion of a course

Last semester I taught an MA course on the troubled relationship between science and esotericism in the post-Enlightenment era. I blogged about some of the classes earlier, particularly on mesmerism (here and here), spiritualism, the interactions with the ideological superstructures of naturalism and positivism (here and here), Frederic Myers, William James and psychical research, and the encounter between Jung and Pauli. It’s a diverse subject, which can go in very different directions. To show a bit of the diversity, I will briefly present some of the papers that were submitted. (more…)

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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William McDougall and the Professionalization of Parapsychology

William McDougall (1871-1938): British psychologist, eugenical agitator, and professionalizer of parapsychology.

It is admittedly with some pride I notice that my very first history of science article has now been published. Since I am essentially an autodidact when it comes to history of science/science studies it was important for me to get through the peer review process of the Journal for the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Additionally, a scholarly discourse on psychical research and parapsychology has been developing on the pages of JHBS over the last few years, especially with articles by Heather Wolffram, Courtenay Grean Raia, and Sofie Lachapelle. I hope to make a modestly contribute to this developing discourse with “A nice arrangement of heterodoxies: William McDougall and the professionalization of psychical research”.

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Eugenics and Progressive Social Policies in Norway

Jon Alfred Mjøen explaining Mendel's law in Oslo, ca. 1920. (American Philosophical Society, Eugenic Archives)

While I was researching something completely different I came across a note in Science from 1917 that caught my attention. It informed readers about the launching of a state sponsored race hygiene program in Norway, under the leadership of biologist Jon Alfred Mjøen (1860-1939). After reading up a little I started wondering about the relation between Mjøen’s politically quite active laboratory, Vindern Biologisk Laboratorium (VBL; established 1906), and the heritage of Norway’s progressive legislation in areas such as healthcare, public loans, targeted taxation policies, etc, which are still deeply felt today. Could there be a discernible eugenic motivation behind them?

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Frederic W. F. Myers and Gothic Psychology

F. W. H. Myers

“Frederic Myers will always be remembered in psychology as the pioneer who staked out a vast tract of mental wilderness and planted the flag of genuine science upon it.” With these words the far more famous American psychologist and philosopher, William James, concluded his 1901 obituary of British classicist, amateur psychologist and founding member of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), Frederic W. F. Myers (1843-1901). According to James, Myers’ work would set a new standard for the psychological sciences of the 20th century. More than a decade into the 21st, the name is mostly remembered by parapsychologists and historians with an interest  in the quirkier twists that psychology could have taken.

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Writing Mesmeria – comments on psycho-centrism

I’m not all done with Mesmerism yet. Besides providing a series of historical episodes that are interesting in their own right, Mesmerism also provokes some difficulties of interpretation for scholars who write about it. I’d like to draw attention to a methodological problem which arise in parts of the secondary literature.

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The Divided Lands of Mesmeria

As part of a course I am teaching together with Dr. Marco Pasi we have spent the last three weeks discussing the significance of Mesmerism and animal magnetism in the overlapping contexts of Enlightenment science and esotericism. It is an interesting topic in many respects. For starters, the status of Mesmerism is not uncontroversial in esotericism studies. Why?

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