Ghost Hunters

Ghost Hunters

William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death

Book - 2006
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Penguin Putnam
What if a world-renowned professor of psychology at Harvard University, a doctor and scientist acclaimed as one of the leading intellects of the time, suddenly announced that he believed in ghosts? At the close of the nineteenth century, to great public and professional astonishment, William James-the great philosopher, a founder of the American Psychological Association and brother of Henry James-did just that and embarked on a determined, lifelong pursuit of scientific evidence to prove it.

James came together with two other brilliant and charismatic thinkers of the day-Richard Hodgson, a converted skeptic, and James Hyslop, a natural grandstander who would often visit mediums unannounced, a hooded mask covering his face-to form the core of the American Society for Psychical Research. They eventually merged with the British Society for Psychical Research, adding to the group the Cambridge philosopher Henry Sidgwick and his tiny, ferociously smart wife Eleanor, as well as the mythically handsome Edmund Gurney and others. While studies of ESP and ghostly visitations have occurred since the days of the society, at no other time have scientists of the caliber of James and his colleagues devoted themselves in such an ambitious and driven way for evidence of a life beyond. James and his band of brothers staked their reputations, their careers, even their sanity, on one of the most extraordinary (and entertaining) psychological quests ever undertaken, a quest that brought its followers right up against the limits of science.

This riveting book is about the investigation of the ghost stories-the instances of supernatural phenomena that could not be explained away-and it is about the courage and conviction of William James and his colleagues to study science with an open mind. At the heart of the story is the ongoing tension between empiricism and spiritualism-between a way of explaining the world that is grounded in the purely tangible and a way that is grounded in a mixture of the evident and the hidden. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Deborah Blum uses her extraordinary storytelling skills and scientific insight to explore nothing less than the nexus of science and religion. It is a territory as fascinating to us now as it was to William James and his colleagues then.

Baker & Taylor
Traces how the respected psychologist brother of Henry James announced his belief in the paranormal at the end of the nineteenth century and set out to gather scientific data proving the existence of ghosts, an endeavor for which he formed the American Society for Psychical Research along with contemporaries Richard Hodgson and James Hyslop. 40,000 first printing.

& Taylor

Traces how the respected psychologist brother of Henry James set out to gather scientific data proving the existence of ghosts at the end of the nineteenth century, forming the American Society for Psychical Research.

Publisher: New York : Penguin Press, 2006
ISBN: 9781594200908
Branch Call Number: 133.90903 BLU
Characteristics: 370 p. ;,24 cm.


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LDuke2012 Feb 20, 2013

Read from October 16, 2012 to February 10, 2013

Ok, it took me forever to read this book because it was so chocked full of information. I recommend this to anyone who wants to think deeply. Alot of head nodding & head scratching went on whilst reading. Paranormal concepts I got, but famous people & what they did triggered faint memories of science class tests. I'm in awe of the dedication of these super smart people of the (I think) Gilded Age who managed to endorse, fund, & study several causes &/or ideas simultaneously.

If you look at my read list you will find mostly romances & mysteries. Many of the authors I read include paranormal elements, or the "woo-woo" factor if you will, since that is the current fashion. William James & his colleagues would be appalled at how all their painstaking, reputation breaking work has become fodder for the mass market entertainment around the world.

This book explains so much about the very real war between religious thought, scientific process, and those of us; who in the famous words of Rodney King ask plainitively, "Can't we all just get along?".

Some fav quotes: (pg213) William James in an 1896 address to the Philosophical Club of Yale & Brown Unis, "we are doing the universe the deepest service we can" when we keep our minds open to what we do not know for sure, to what we have no idea how to prove.

Same page: from the collection "The will to believe"; "Science says things are; morality says some things are better than other things", & religion says that the best things are eternal, "an affirmation which obviously cannot yet be verified scientifically at all." James suspected that many scientists dealt with the challenge by denying religious precepts entirely without asking themselves which intellectual pitfall was the greater evil: Better risk loss of truth than chance of error. James argued that the pursuit of truth, even when it might seem illogical by the rules of science, was always worth the risk.

Another great quote (pg 264) by W James: "Nature is everywhere gothic, not classic. She forms a real jungle, where all things are provisional, half-fitted to each other & untidy." Speaking about Mr. Myers acceptance of the complexity of the cosmic environment, "although we may be mistaken in much of the detail, in a general way, at least we become plausible."

One more, (pg 258) from the author,
William James had no such hopes, nor any fondness for this rational future that so many of his academic peers eagerly anticipated.The survival theory, he wrote, ignored the fact that civilizations come & gone had also been arrogantly sure that they possessed the one TRUTH above truths. He thought it a mistake to dismiss ideas of history simply because they didn't fit current scientific methodolgy.

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