“The Politics of Ontology: Why Philosophy Should Care about the Paranormal”
Kimberly Engels, Dept. of Philosophy, Molloy University
— In a recent conference at Rice University called “Archives of the Impossible,” when speaking about the new research archives on paranormal phenomena at Rice, Jeffrey Kripal stated, “Such a project is based on the wager that new theory lies hidden in the anomalous, that the paranormal appears in order to mock and shock us out of our present normal thinking. Seen in this way, psychical and paranormal phenomena become the still unacknowledged, unassimilated Other of modern thought, the still unrealized future of theory, the fleeing signs of a consciousness not yet become culture.” Paranormal phenomena, such as UFO sightings, close encounters, telepathic communication, apparitions, etc., have long been seen as unrespectable topics of academic discourse. In this paper I argue this is due to what Harvard psychiatrist John E. Mack called “the politics of ontology” – in which a concentrated elite group establish what kind of things can and cannot happen in society, and what phenomena or experiences can be considered real. In the context of the Western academy, we have established that extraterrestrial encounters are things that simply do not occur, that interdimensional cryptids do not exist, that parapsychology is a “pseudoscience”, that apparitions of loved ones or revered figures must be hallucinations or mistakes/coincidences, and that UFOs are either nothing at all, or nothing special. I argue that not only are paranormal experiences worthy of being taken seriously, but that philosophy as a discipline should be leading the charge. Specifically, I show how the existential and phenomenological tradition is especially well suited for examining paranormal phenomena and experiences, as those with paranormal experiences find themselves face to face with an Other who is unaccounted for and believed by mainstream society not to exist.
Open to the public
UNLV Department of Philosophy