Are you Afraid of the Dark?

EJPCLast year I was approached by psychotherapist Nick Totton to contribute an article to a special issue on the ‘occult’, which Totton was about to edit for the European Journal of Psychotherapy & Counselling. As far as I can tell, my essay will be the only one written by a historian, while all other contributions appear to come from clinicians. The review process is now completed, and I’m pleased to say that the article has been accepted for publication and is likely to see the light of day later this year.

The article is dedicated to the memory of John Forrester, the recently deceased Head of the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge. John has been among my most generous supporters since he served as an examiner at my Ph.D. viva, and it was him who had suggested Totton to approach me about a possible essay for the special issue.

I hope to be able to post a link to the full article once it’s published. Meanwhile, here is the abstract.

Are you afraid of the dark? Notes on the psychology of belief in histories of science and the occult

Abstract: The popular view of the inherent conflict between science and the occult has been rendered obsolete by recent advances in the history of science. Yet, these historiographical revisions have gone unnoticed in the public understanding of science and public education at large. Particularly reconstructions of the formation of modern psychology and its links to psychical research can show that the standard view of the latter as motivated by metaphysical bias fails to stand up to scrutiny. After highlighting certain basic methodological maxims shared by psychotherapists and historians, I will try to counterbalance simplistic claims of a ‘need to believe’ as a precondition of scientific open-mindedness regarding the occurrence of parapsychological phenomena by discussing instances revealing a presumably widespread ‘will to disbelieve’ in the occult. I shall argue that generalized psychological explanations are only helpful in our understanding of history if we apply them in a symmetrical manner.

Keywords: historiography, history of science, parapsychology, psychical research, pragmatism, psychology of belief

© Andreas Sommer


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