William James on the paranormal and skepticism

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From a new synthesized interview with famous early psychologist and psychical researcher William James, accomplished by using various excerpts from his writings. By Michael Tymn, at http://whitecrowbooks.com/michaeltymn/en...liam_james. James' thoughts still have powerful relevancy today.

Quote:"I have friends who claim they have no fears of extinction and have no problem enjoying themselves in the present. What do you make of this?

“It all depends on how sensitive the soul may become to discords….A little cooling down of animal excitability and instinct, a little loss of animal toughness, a little irritable weakness and descent of the pain threshold, will bring the worm at the core of all our usual springs of delight into full view, and turn us into melancholy metaphysicians.  The pride of life and glory of the world will shrivel.  It is after all but the standing quarrel of hot youth and hoary eld.  Old age has the last word: the purely naturalistic look at life, however enthusiastically it may begin, is sure to end in sadness.  This sadness lies at the heart of every merely positivistic, agnostic, or naturalistic scheme of philosophy.  Let sanguine healthy-mindedness do its best with its strange power of living in the moment and ignoring and forgetting, still the evil background is really there to be thought of, and the skull will grin in at the banquet…The old man, sick with insidious internal disease, may laugh and quaff his wine at first as well as ever, but he knows his fate now, for the doctors have revealed it; and this knowledge knocks the satisfaction out of all these functions.  They are partners of death and the worm is their brother, and then they turn to a mere flatness.”

Would you mind summarizing your primary belief?

“The whole drift of my education goes to persuade me that the world of our present consciousness is only one out of many worlds of consciousness that exist, and that those other worlds must contain experiences which have a meaning for our life also; and that although in the main their experiences and those of this world keep discrete, yet the two become continuous as certain points, and higher energies filter in.  By being faithful in my poor measure of this over-belief, I seem to myself to keep more sane and true.”

Do you see faith as a necessity in your belief system?

“Faith means belief in something concerning which doubt is still theoretically possible; and as the test of belief is willingness to act, one may say that faith is the readiness to act in a cause the prosperous issue of which is not certified to us in advance…The only escape from faith is mental nullity…We cannot live or think at all without some degree of faith.  Faith is synonymous with working hypothesis. The only difference is that while some hypotheses can be refuted in five minutes, others may defy ages.”

Where does religion fit into all of this?

“It does not follow, because our ancestors made so many errors of fact and mixed them with their religion, that we should therefore leave off being religious at all. By being religious we establish ourselves in possession of ultimate reality at the only points at which reality is given us to guard.  Our responsible concern is with our private destiny, after all.”

In spite of your outward reluctance to fully accept the spirit hypothesis, it often seems that you want to but are held back by academic and professional considerations. Am I misinterpreting your position?

“[Let me just say this:] One who takes part in a good sitting has usually a far livelier sense, both of the reality and of the importance of the communication, than one who merely reads the records. I am able, while still holding to all the lower principles of interpretation, to imagine the process as more complex, and to share the feelings with which [Richard] Hodgson came at last to regard it after his many years of familiarity, the feeling which Professor [James] Hyslop shares, and which most of those who have good sittings are promptly inspired with [i.e., the spirit hypothesis].”
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Excellent, I've long had a soft spot for James and this has deepened it.

I especially am sympathetic to the idea of other worlds that might have more clear evidence of consciousness being irreducible and woven into the fabric of the so called "physical".

What we might mis-perceive as a Gnostic prison with reality working against us may simply be the misfortune of incarnating in a particular reality that exists on a spectrum.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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