Jacob W. Glazier - The Ethical Implications Animism Has for Parapsychology

Published by View Parapsychological Association's profile Parapsychological Association on Saturday, April 10, 2021

Jacob W. Glazier, PhD, LPC, NCC has a doctorate degree in Psychology: Consciousness and Society from the University of West Georgia. With specific regard to parapsychology, his main areas of research interest include ecology and the paranormal, animism, paranthropology, the philosophy of parapsychology, psychoanalysis and parapsychology, and trickster theory. Building on recent research in science studies, he argues that the worldview of animism offers parapsychology a viable alternative to physicalism entailing ethical implications for its methods and practices.

Recent trends in science studies, anthropology, and aesthetics have returned to an understanding of the world that is grounded in the messy entwinement that interconnects beings of all kinds (cf. Stengers, 2010, 2011; Maccormack & Gardner, 2018). This has been traditionally known as animism. Yet, what this ‘new animism’ postulates goes far beyond seeing the world through the lens of tribalism or indigeneity – perhaps a naïve anthropological understanding of how, let’s say, the material world overlaps with the spirit world. This neoanimism, rather, brings into the fold of the world beings and phenomena that include the technological, the immaterial, and objects of analysis in the laboratory. My most recent book Arts of Subjectivity (Glazier, 2020) has applied this cosmology more globally. However, the specific bearing this new animism has on parapsychology is profoundly auspicious in that occurrences that have been typically labeled as paranormal are no longer not admissible a priori but instead are given the same substantive status, perhaps even more, than what physicalism has permitted.

There are three main lines of argumentation to be made regarding the implications this neoanimism has for parapsychology: (1) facts derived from the laboratory are created through a complex network of interactions that are then often not recognized by those doing the research, (2) this complex network is built on a heritage that is grounded in specific subjugating effects, and (3) moving away from privileging the laboratory can create a space for other methods at discovering truth that may be more ethical with regard, specifically, to ecology and subjectivity.

Take for example what Bruno Latour (2011) calls the experimental factish. While recognizing a sort of objectivity held by facts, those coming out of legendary science for example, Latour nonetheless argues that when compared to fetishes that contain so-called mystical powers, the modern scientist remains blind to the way the laboratory factish is also fabricated – blind in the sense of failing to see the sociological and anthropological influencing effects contained therein. By following Latour on this lead, parapsychologists could open-up a line of inquiry that would not only be critical of the way science has traditionally ostracized the discipline, on principled and theoretical grounds, but also more methodologically develop a new space for investigating the very ‘paranormality’ of psi itself; that is, why is psi considered paranormal in the first place, largely due, one could argue, to it challenging the way normal science operates. Michel Foucault (2018) likewise develops a more historically grounded critique in the way that institutional power, found in places like the laboratory, university, and other academic organs, has privileged a specific understanding of objectivity and truth. In this regard, the paradigm taken most for granted by mainstream scientists, to borrow a term used by Thomas Kuhn (1970), necessarily renders anomalous a phenomenon that parapsychologists have been calling psi.

Why, then, is parapsychology still trying to replicate the apparatuses and methodologies of physicalism and experimentation? Presumably to establish the reality of psi (Cardeña, 2018), even though this ‘reality’ is continually challenged by skeptics and other scientists (Reber & Alcock, 2019). Invoking an alternative endeavor, perhaps, parapsychology might better be able to make sense out of paranormality through an animistic frame. This kind of animism is captured nicely by Donna Haraway (2016) when she denotes a new epoch in which to understand our world called the chthulucene. In contrast to the anthropocene, which has denoted the Earth changing effects that humanity has had on the planet, Haraway envisions a world where we must decenter the human as the arbiter of change and knowledge and pay close scholarly attention to figures and creatures that come out of myth, subaltern cultures, and minor narratives. This is a different kind of scientific ethic that establishes a relationship between the researcher and an object of inquiry that embrangles them both in creating knowledge, truth, and objectivity. Such a shift could conceivably admit psi into its fold of worldhood thereby calling on parapsychologists to develop new tools and methodologies for exploring this uncharted terrain.


Cardeña, E. (2018). The experimental evidence for parapsychological phenomena: A review. American Psychologist, 73,663–677. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000236
Kuhn, T. S. (1970). The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Foucault, M. (2018). The order of things: An archaeology of the human sciences. London: Routledge.
Glazier, J. W. (2020). Arts of subjectivity: A new animism for the post-media era. London: Bloomsbury Academic.
Haraway, D. J. (2016). Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Latour, B. (2011). On the modern cult of the factish gods. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Maccormack, P. & Gardner, C. (Ed.) (2018). Ecosophical aesthetics: Arts, ethics and ecology with Guattari. London: Bloomsbury Academic.
Reber, A. S., & Alcock, J. E. (2019). Searching for the impossible: Parapsychology’s elusive quest. American Psychologist. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000486
Stengers, I. (2010). Cosmopolitics I (R. Bononno, trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Stengers, I. (2011). Cosmopolitics II (R. Bononno, trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

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