Historian of the human sciences Andreas Sommer (right), a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge, has recently begun a blog Forbidden Histories. Sommer’s historical work explores the empirical study of the occult and the emergence of scientific psychology at the end of the nineteenth century. On Forbidden Histories he discusses his ongoing scholarship in this field in relation to our understanding of the nature of rationality. As he describes on the blog’s Welcome page:
…‘Forbidden Histories’ implicates the existence of a taboo, and of motivations and sensibilities that have kept it alive. This blog is thus primarily concerned with the functions of popular science and disciplinary history as knowledge management and tries to identify a variety of epistemologies and concerns (many of which, interestingly, have been mutually antagonistic), that have prevented mainstream historical information from entering common knowledge.
Obviously, as a historian of science I am neither interested nor competent to decide whether or not some ‘miraculous’ phenomena do in fact occur, and how to interpret them if they do. Rather, the purpose of this blog is to test questions and ideas concerning the historicity of certain standards of rationality – particularly those we are not accustomed let alone encouraged to critically reflect upon, even though they have powerfully shaped western individual and collective identities.
To be sure, my blog does not aim to provide easy answers but merely rehearses some of my personal reflections on what it means to be ‘rational’. Well aware that it thoroughly goes against the grain of many established ideologies and epistemological standard positions, all I can do is assure you that it strives to employ those principles that most would agree make good science as well as good history: contextualised evidence and differentiated analysis.