Mind and the Other

An Interdisciplinary Study on the Interactions of Multiple Realities

A vast array of research underlines the human tendency to believe in, and experience interaction with “otherworldly”, or uncanny[1] agents, largely defined as supernatural in the contemporary West. Theoretically, experiences of these agents challenge the boundaries between mind and the world, emotions and rationality, the self and the other and between life and death, which all make visible some central issues important in the understanding of the human mind, its acts and modalities. However, according to philosophical, historical and cross-cultural research, various cultures maintain very diverse theories about the human mind. This diversity and the phenomena of the supernatural agents has been largely under-theorized or excluded from modern sciences and the philosophy of mind. This has consequences which make our study important. The theoretical assumptions of the human mind are made on a basis that has not been tested with boundary cases. We argue that the scientific exclusion is not a coincidence but a characteristic of the social system. The creation of order produces exclusion and outskirt which, according to Mary Douglas, is not removed but returning. In this interdisciplinary study, we focus precisely on “the returning” and subjugated knowledge, which according to Michel Foucault is knowledge from below and written out of history, in our case knowledge from a multiplicity of social margins.

The aim of this interdisciplinary project is to study, without making truth claims, the modes in which supernatural powers appear to the mind. We ask how their agency and actions, as well as the interaction with them, are perceived, experienced and made meaningful. Our research design allows us to contribute to the understanding of the human mind concerning the social and cultural interaction and relationship with these phenomena from pre-modern times to the present. This knowledge does matter. Our expected results are important for the study of the human mind because they contribute at a theoretical level to the mind-body assumptions. At a methodological level we contribute to an interdisciplinary multi-method approach. Our study enables cross-validation of the methods and the testing of the cultural analyses against neurophysiological research of the mind.

Mind and the Other -project is funded by the Academy of Finland’s Research Program Human Mind, 266573.

[1] In this project, we use the Finnish term ’kumma’ (see Koski and Honkasalo 2015 in Elore 1:2015).