Science and the Occult

Authored by: Egil Asprem

The Occult World

Print publication date:  December  2014
Online publication date:  December  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415695961
eBook ISBN: 9781315745916
Adobe ISBN: 9781317596769


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Writing about ‘science and the occult’ is made difficult by the significant ambiguity both these terms represent. ‘Science’ may variably be defined in a sociological sense as a set of institutions, in a substantial sense as a certain body of facts, hypotheses, theories, and models, in an epistemological sense as a certain set of methods for building secure knowledge, or, indeed, in any combination of these three. Similarly, ‘the occult’, has been described variously as a certain set of doctrines, worldviews, or phenomena, as a certain ‘mentality’, way of thinking, or mental habit, or as a socially defined ‘deviant’ subculture. To discuss science and the occult it is therefore paramount to reflect on definitions and meanings of terms: results will vary depending on what one takes each to mean. For example, physical phenomena that have at some point in history been labeled ‘occult’, such as magnetism or gravity, have been important subjects for scientific inquiry and theorizing, but ‘occult thought’ defined as a cognitive habit of analogical thinking and associative linking has more typically been the enemy of ‘scientific method’ considered in a philosophical sense. On the social level things get even more complicated: on the one hand ‘the occult’ has been construed as ‘rejected knowledge’, the wastebasket of modern science and philosophy, and scientific professionals have relied on this notion for constructing their identity vis-à-vis ‘pseudoscientific’ and ‘occult’ Others; on the other, the ‘occult worlds’ of theosophical societies, esoteric orders, spiritualist séances and parapsychological experiments have been well visited and inhabited by people with at least one foot inside of the scientific establishment.

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