Essays in Psychical Research

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Harvard University Press, 1986 - Body, Mind & Spirit - 684 pages

The more than fifty articles, essays, and reviews in this volume, collected here for the first time, were published by William James over a span of some twenty-five years. The record of a sustained interest in phenomena of a highly controversial nature, they make it amply clear that James's work in psychical research was not an eccentric hobby but a serious and sympathetic concern. James was broad-minded in his approach but tough-minded in his demand that investigations be conducted in rigorous scientific terms. He hoped his study of psychic phenomena would strengthen the philosophy of an open-ended, pluralistic universe that he was formulating during the same period, and he looked forward to the new horizons for human experience that a successful outcome of his research would create.

Robert A. McDermott, in his Introduction, discusses the relation of these essays to James's other work in philosophy, psychology, and religion.

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Contents

Review of Planchette by Epes Sargent 1869
1
Report of the Committee on Mediumistic
14
Journal 1886 1890
22
Copyright

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About the author (1986)

William James, oldest of five children (including Henry James and Alice James) in the extraordinary James family, was born in New York City on January 11, 1842. He has had a far-reaching influence on writers and thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Broadly educated by private tutors and through European travel, James initially studied painting. During the Civil War, however, he turned to medicine and physiology, attended Harvard medical school, and became interested in the workings of the mind. His text, The Principles of Psychology (1890), presents psychology as a science rather than a philosophy and emphasizes the connection between the mind and the body. James believed in free will and the power of the mind to affect events and determine the future. In The Will to Believe (1897) and The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), he explores metaphysical concepts and mystical experiences. He saw truth not as absolute but as relative, depending on the given situation and the forces at work in it. He believed that the universe was not static and orderly but ever-changing and chaotic. His most important work, Pragmatism (1907), examines the practical consequences of behavior and rejects the idealist philosophy of the transcendentalists. This philosophy seems to reinforce the tenets of social Darwinism and the idea of financial success as the justification of the means in a materialistic society; nevertheless, James strove to demonstrate the practical value of ethical behavior. Overall, James's lifelong concern with what he called the "stream of thought" or "stream of consciousness" changed the way writers conceptualize characters and present the relationship between humans, society, and the natural world. He died due to heart failure on August 26, 1910.

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