William James and the American Society for Psychical Research, 1884-9

Thanks to a travel grant from the British Society for the History of Science (BSHS) I was able to present a paper at this year’s British-North American Joint Meeting of the BSHS, CSHPS, and HSS in Canada. The presentation distilled a small part of a chapter in my forthcoming study on the formation of modern … Read more

Can Psychotherapists Benefit from History of Science Scholarship? Open Access to my Article on the Psychology of Belief in Histories of Science and the Occult

Historians rarely have the opportunity to say something that might be of practical relevance to clinicians or workers in other fields of applied scientific knowledge. As mentioned previously, I was therefore particularly chuffed when psychotherapist Nick Totton invited me last year to contribute an article to an envisaged special issue of the European Journal of … Read more

Reincarnation Research and Myths of Scientific Practice

Between you and me, I’m so not into the idea that karma will eventually get me and drag my poor soul back into a new body after I die. At the risk of appearing a gloomy Gus, to me one life seems just about enough. The very idea of reincarnation, of course, has a long … Read more

One Year of ‘Forbidden Histories’

It was precisely a year ago that I entered the world of history of science blogging by launching ‘Forbidden Histories’. (Incidentally, my first title choice – ‘Hidden Histories’– was already taken, and somewhat reluctantly I decided to go with the more melodramatic-sounding name.) One year later, I’m still not sufficiently blogosphere-savvy to understand what exactly … Read more

William James: “Telepathy” in Johnson’s Universal Cyclopædia (1899)

Though William James is now mostly remembered as a philosopher, he was one of two ‘founding fathers’ of modern professionalized psychology. While his German counterpart, Wilhelm Wundt in Leipzig, dismissed empirical approaches to reported psychic phenomena and spiritualism, James on the contrary sought to make the study of unorthodox phenomena a legitimate part of nascent … Read more

Amateurs, Empiricism, and the Tedium of Psychical Research. Guest Post by Alicia Puglionesi

Alicia Puglionesi is completing her doctoral dissertation in the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology at Johns Hopkins University. Her project, ‘The Astonishment of Experience: Americans and Psychical Research, 1885-1935,’ deals with the emerging boundaries between professionals and amateurs engaged in the study of the mind around the turn of the twentieth century. Email: apuglio1@jhmi.edu … Read more

William James on Exceptional Mental States

Eugene Taylor, whose death in January 2013 was a heavy blow to history of psychology and William James scholarship, was one of the few modern historians to fully acknowledge and try to make sense of James’s by no means casual occupation with spiritualism, telepathy and other unorthodox areas of inquiry. The main fruits of Taylor’s … Read more

The Naturalisation of the ‘Poltergeist’

An example of the historical continuity of scientific interest in unorthodox questions concerns ‘poltergeist’ phenomena, i.e. the very epitome of ‘things that go bump in the night’. Probably coined by Martin Luther (a professed poltergeist victim) in sixteenth-century Germany, ‘Poltergeist’ means ‘rumbling spirit’. There is a vast number of historical records of dramatic poltergeist outbreaks … Read more

Welcome

If you grew up in a western industrialised society, you probably know that you really shouldn’t believe in the occurrence of events commonly referred to as ‘miraculous’ or ‘supernatural’ if you expect to be viewed as a ‘rational’ and ‘scientific’ person. If there was something to that sort of thing, surely the greats of science … Read more

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