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Ghosthunter - William James

Robert Baird

Paranormal Maven
Ghosthunter - William James

You may have heard about the media coverage of the Wright Brother's flight and how it took three years before Scientific American stopped trying to debunk it. You may already know about the early 20th Century Patent Office Official who declared 'everything that could be discovered was discovered'. You may even know about the Paris Academy of Sciences official who throttled the presenter of the phonograph claiming he was a ventriloquist. These things are funny in a way, but they are not unusual. Unfortunately you are going to have to think if you read this book. You will have to ask yourself how stupid we have been to allow a lot of lies to pass for truth.

If I told you how much all science is indebted to this one pragmatist who dared to challenge science in his day (His thought still stands foursquare against paradigm empiricism which denies soul.) you would say I am a fool. Yes, a fool, I am. The fool knowing he is a fool is better than a wise man who thinks he is wise. A 'twist' on a saying which is my epithet - I hope.

Groping for Phantasms

August 9, 2006
URL: Groping for Phantasms - The New York Sun

"To no one type of mind is it given to discern the totality of truth. Something escapes the best of us — not accidentally, but systematically, and because we have a twist." This trenchant comment, masterfully sculpted by that final perfect "twist," was penned by the philosopher and psychologist William James. It comes from an article he defiantly published in the journal Science — defiantly, because James used the piece to argue against what he saw as the pigheaded prejudices of the typical scientific mind, unwilling to cope with, and so given to deny, what James dubbed "wild facts." "If there is anything which human history demonstrates, it is the extreme slowness with which the ordinary academic and critical mind acknowledges facts to exist which present themselves as ‘wild facts,' with no stall or pigeonhole, or as facts which threaten to break up the accepted system," he wrote.

The subtle and sober insights into the history, philosophy, and psychology of science packed into James's article are all the more remarkable given the title of the composition, "What Psychical Research Has Accomplished." Yes, "psychical," as in communications with the dead. These are the sort of "wild facts" James was pushing on his pigheadedly scientific readers.

William James, whose novelist brother Henry James had an affinity for the gracefully ambiguous ghost story, was actively involved in the investigation of, yes, ghosts. James wasn't the only serious mind of his day given to such pursuits. He was a founding member of the American branch of the (extant) Society for Psychical Research, which had been initiated in Britain by a handful of scholars — philosophers, scientists, and a couple of classicists. The members of this elite group form the subject of Deborah Blum's engaging "Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death" (Penguin Press, 370 pages, $25.95).

This is rich material, set against the background of the Victorian past, a foreign land that seems creakily remote, even if some of the very same issues that beset it — most notably the uneasy relation between science and religion — live on in our day. Ms. Blum begins her book by placing the Victorian fascination with spiritualism in the context of the 19th century's struggles to reconcile the spirits of religion and science, an instability between competing values that, she writes, induced "moral uncertainty." This is all interesting, though Ms. Blum doesn't want to claim it is too interesting. She doesn't mean to suggest that her analysis explains how minds of a Jamesian caliber could be deluded into believing in the supernatural, because she is not prepared to say they were deluded.

Otherworldly contact was such a vogue in James's day that the fashionable hostess often provided a séance as a postprandial entertainment.

Though most scientists took a dim view of these spiritualist shenanigans, believing them to be the sort of vestigial superstition that science, especially newly fortified by Darwinism, would eventually stamp out, James believed otherwise. Science, he argued, is a methodology rather than a set of ontological conclusions. For that reason science ought to be rigorously noncommittal, probing and palpating all experience to see what it will yield. The spirit of science must be open to evidence for spirits.

And open to spirits James and his fellow researchers were, assiduously attending séances, conscientiously attempting to separate out the obviously disingenuous from the not so obviously disingenuous and from the possibly even genuine. It was remarkably dull work. "Few species of literature are more truly dull than reports of phantasms," James complained in "What Psychical Research Has Accomplished." "Taken simply by themselves, as separate facts to stare at, they appear so devoid of meaning and sweep, that even were they certainly true, one would be tempted to leave them out of one's universe for being so idiotic."

Not only dull, but decidedly tawdry. Most professional mediums were shady performance artists, resorting to such helpful aids to "materializations" as trap doors, wired shoes, and muslin dipped in glow-in-the-dark phosphorus. The psychical researchers had the unpleasant task of probing and palpating not just experience, but the body of the medium, of keeping a firm grip on hands and legs to keep them from levitating tables and messing with the curtains.

And then there was the content of the messages from the dead, which often proved dispiritingly nonexalted. While one might have hoped for insights into the great metaphysical dilemmas that wrack the brains of philosophers, the departed delivered messages that often trailed off into the most inconsequential sort of twaddle. But then sometimes — and this sometimes is what kept the ghost hunters hunting — the mediums were privy to knowledge, no matter how mundane, that they couldn't possibly have attained through natural means. Was it chicanery, mind reading, or genuine dispatches from the discarnate? This little band of stalwart thinkers waded through the flimflam and the twaddle, trying to get their hands round the slippery answer, which always eluded them, though each did come to believe that there was something or other inexplicable lurking beyond grasp.

James himself was a thinker who thought with such category-smashing, system-eluding exuberance, that category-smashing and system-eluding became part of the very essence of his thought.

There is no complete generalization, no total point of view, no all-pervasive unity, but everywhere some residual resistance to verbalization, formulation, discursification, some genius of reality that escapes from the pressure of the logical finger, that says ‘hands off,' and claims its privacy, and means to be left to its own life.

This he wrote in "A Pluralistic Mystic, "one of the last articles of his life, from which Ms. Blum does not quote. This is part of the problem: She quotes too sparingly from James, and when she does quote him, she often just misses his intended meaning. His ironic subtlety sometimes eludes her. For example, Ms. Blum writes: "James admired the efficiency of the ‘scientific' approach. ‘It is far better tactics, if you wish to get rid of mystery, to brand the narratives themselves as unworthy of trust,' James wrote. "However, James didn't write those words admiringly but rather reproachfully. From his perspective, the urge to rid one's view of mystery results in a lie about reality. The distinctive twist of the man she misses.

Ms. Blum is a Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist, so her choice of subject matter here is itself notable. James and his coterie believed themselves to be engaged in science in empirically investigating claims of the occult, and Ms. Blum gives no indication he views them otherwise. But this doesn't mean that she is in agreement, either. The book is scrupulous in avoiding a point of view on the subject, and this the reader rather misses. After all, this isn't just any old science reporting. She reports with such objectivity that one wonders what she herself believes the nature of her story to be. Is this a tale of a handful of eccentrics, of folly among the highminded? Or is it, more widely, a picture of an age that was so entangled in the conflict between religion and science that it was susceptible to a metaphysics equally offensive to both sides?

My best guess is that Ms. Blum is telling her story simply as a science journalist, reporting on the empirical results of this particular band of researchers. But given the nature of this story, the usual standards for scientific reporting don't seem quite right. If Ms. Blum is considering the work of these scholars in the light of evidence for the afterlife, then doesn't it behoove her to ask, at the very least, why James's age saw so much more supernatural activity than ours does? Where have all the phantoms gone? Are they still jabbering away, only we are too distracted to give them our ear? Or have they, deciding that we the living are just as idiotic as James had pronounced them, gone off to find better ways of spending their eternity? Despite the rich material that Ms. Blum has gathered, the whole never quite takes shape, something like those intriguing phantoms that sent James and his friends hunting.

Ms. Goldstein is a philosopher and novelist. Her latest book, "Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity," is available from Schocken/Nextbook."

Robert Baird

Paranormal Maven
Walt Whitman may be the most cosmically conscious of all American authors according to his friend R. M. Bucke who worked with Whitman in getting a psychiatric hospital working to help people. Rather than throwing victims in cages on top of each other and other torture, they tried to actually help people. I love watching the movie Beautiful Dreamers which covers part of their relationship and efforts. Bucke did many other things of a scientific nature including working with a person who de-materialized in front of skeptics many times.

William James is in the same class as they are but there are many shamans and Mediwiwin who surpass them all. Still it is totally OK to laud each and every one of them and James wrote better than most to be sure. I consider him to be the mentor or compatriot of Emerson and Alfred North Whitehead.

" As a professor of psychology and of philosophy at Harvard University, he became the most famous living American psychologist and later the most famous living American philosopher of his time. Avoiding the logically tight systems typical of European rationalists, such as the German idealists, he cobbled together a psychology rich in philosophical implications and a philosophy enriched by his psychological expertise. More specifically, his theory of the self and his view of human belief as oriented towards conscious action raised issues that required him to turn to philosophy. There he developed his pragmatic epistemology, which considers the meaning of ideas and the truth of beliefs not abstractly, but in terms of the practical difference they can make in people’s lives. He explored the implications of this theory in areas of religious belief, metaphysics, human freedom and moral values, and social philosophy. His contributions in these areas included critiques of long-standing philosophical positions on such issues as freedom vs. determinism, correspondence vs. coherence, and dualism vs. materialism, as well as a thorough analysis of a phenomenological understanding of the self and consciousness, a “forward-looking” conception of truth (based on validation and revisable experience), a thorough-going metaphysical pluralism, and a commitment to a full view of agency in connection with communal and social concerns. Thus he created one of the last great philosophical systems in Western thought, even if he did not live quite long enough to complete every aspect of it. The combination of his provocative ideas and his engaging writing style has contributed to the enduring impact of his work."


I include a review of Bucke's great book which could have been written by myself a few years before this person wrote it.

"Dr. Bucke's Magnum Opus
By A Customer on July 27 1997
Format: Paperback
I have been, from about the age of ten, a voracious reader of man's highest aspirations for self-development. Considered precocious by teachers and peers alike, I was always searching for Truth outside the standard doctrines of religious and philosophical orthodoxy: if for no other reason that it appeared to me intuitive that the real answers to life's ultimate and most pressing questions could only be known by direct experience and not through external data...

Dr. Bucke's magnum opus, COSMIC CONSCIOUSNESS, first came to my attention when I was 17 (1973). Immediately, I became aware that this was no ordinary work. First published in 1901, the beginning of the current century, it still stands today as one of the monumental achievements in the history of written thought. Not only were Bucke's theories original, the most poignant being that there is a scientific basis for an advanced state of consciousness in man -- a state wherein the new cosmically consciousness individual is as far above the average self-conscious homo sapien (you and I) as we are above lower animal life, but he magically tied together over two thousand years of religious, philosophical, and psychological thought in a massive intellectual suture of such compelling force that to this day there is no equal.

Even the great psychologist, Williams James, was so impressed by Cosmic Consciousness, that he devoted an entire chapter in his own great work, THE VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE, written some four years later, to examining Bucke's incredible findings."

On a lighter note, if you watch the movie Notting Hill with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts you will see her character working on a movie bringing Henry James to the silver screen as Hugh Grant's character had once highly praised him to her. It is a moment which makes my heart jump each time I watch the movie.

Robert Baird

Paranormal Maven
As you read about great adepts who de-materialize or ascend are you learning about ghosts or a way energy acts through the influence of soul and mind? I think so - but it takes a long time to discuss these things with those who debunk ghosts (which I have done satisfactorily).

Vedanta's God is within all or as Jung said about William James's "nichts als" - 'nothing but' - the universal mind and union, James impressed Carl Jung. That is a loose interpretation that takes us to Yoga and an ecumenical society Vivekananda, Krishnamurti, Joseph Campbell, Mircae Eliade and Carl Jung had in their extended family. James is the father of the Pragmatic philosophical school of thought which seeks for what works rather than trying to prove things through direct inference and forcing ideas upon events which get in the way of real observation.

I see the influence of the likes of Yogananda, William James and other members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which is connected to the Illuminati of Goethe to Carlyle and Emerson. Clearly Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell were charmed by the thought of James who preceded them at Harvard. Some people see it as a close relationship with God, I see it as a close relationship with 'all that is' within the universe. That includes every individual who is part of a design that harmonizes and creates. They crossed paths with Chardin, and the Charmed Circle of Gertrude Stein, which brought intellectual emancipation and insight galore to Paris where art and ideas ran amuk existentially and beyond. When Gertrude first met Whitehead a bell rang in her head telling her he was a genius, the only other time this happened was when she met Picasso. Maybe it is only how they influenced me but let me put some articles and links here which include many other luminaries.

"Annie Besant, a British Theosophist and a conference delegate, described Vivekananda's impact, writing that he was "a striking figure, clad in yellow and orange, shining like the sun of India in the midst of the heavy atmosphere of Chicago…a lion head, piercing eyes, mobile lips, movements swift and abrupt." The Parliament, she said, was "enraptured; the huge multitude hung upon his words." When he was done, the convocation rose again and cheered him even more thunderously. Another delegate described "scores of women walking over the benches to get near to him," prompting one wag to crack wise that if the 30-year-old Vivekananda "can resist that onslaught, [he is] indeed a god."

"No doubt the vast majority of those present hardly knew why they had been so powerfully moved," Christopher Isherwood wrote a half century later, surmising that a "strange kind of subconscious telepathy" had infected the hall, beginning with Vivekananda's first words, which have resonated, for some, long after. Asked about the origins of "My Sweet Lord," George Harrison replied that "the song really came from Swami Vivekananda, who said, 'If there is a God, we must see him. And if there is a soul, we must perceive it.' "

The teachings of Vedanta are rooted in the Vedas, ancient scriptures going back several thousand years that also inform Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. The Vedic texts of the Upanishads enshrine a core belief that God is within and without—that the divine is everywhere. The Bhagavad Gita (Song of God) is another sacred text or gospel, whereas Hinduism is actually a coinage popularized by Vivekananda to describe a faith of diverse and myriad beliefs."


Annie Besant; is one of a very few women who was a Mason, brought Krishnamurti to this same height of reverence. The Masonic Society of Chicago soon after this event which brought Vivekananda to the apex of religious thought; if you think of religion as spiritual and more than mere dogma; published a set of small books by Yogi Ramacharaka. One of those books is The Upanishads in his interpretation. I learned much more reading these excellent little books or pamphlets than I did reading the Hindu, Buddhist and Lamaistic texts even when they were faithfully translated. I continue to quote this one article by the Wall Street Journal, so you will see Bucke's great friend Walt Whitman was indeed what Bucke said he was in his book Cosmic Consciousness which we have already addressed made a huge impact on me. For many decades people called me The Cosmic Kid until I was no longer a kid.

"Vivekananda's genius was to simplify Vedantic thought to a few accessible teachings that Westerners found irresistible. God was not the capricious tyrant in the heavens avowed by Bible-thumpers, but rather a power that resided in the human heart. "Each soul is potentially divine," he promised. "The goal is to manifest that divinity within by controlling nature, external and internal." And to close the deal for the fence-sitters, he punched up Vedanta's embrace of other faiths and their prophets. Christ and Buddha were incarnations of the divine, he said, no less than Krishna and his own teacher, Ramakrishna.

‘'He is the most brilliant wise man,' Leo Tolstoy waxed. 'It is doubtful another man has ever risen above this selfless, spiritual meditation.'’

Although Vivekananda was a Western-educated intellectual of encyclopedic erudition, "the descendant of 50 generations of lawyers," as he would say, Ramakrishna was for all intents and purposes illiterate. Born Gadadhar Chattopadhyay, Ramakrishna had not an iota of interest in schooling beyond the study of scripture and prayer. Fortunately, that amply met the job requirements of his post as a priest at the Dakshineswar Kali Temple. According to numerous firsthand, contemporaneous accounts, Ramakrishna—who is revered as a saint in much of India and as an avatar by many—spent a good deal of his short life in samadhi, or an ecstatic state. On a daily basis, sitting or standing, he was often observed slipping into a transported state that he described as "God consciousness," existing with neither food nor sleep. He died in 1886 at age 50.

Though Ramakrishna spoke in a village idiom, invoking homespun local parables, word about the "Bengali saint" spread through the chattering classes of India in the 1870s like a monsoon. Many who flocked to him—and declared him a divine incarnation—were educated as lawyers, doctors and engineers and were often the graduates of British-run Christian schools. His closest and most influential disciple, however, was Vivekananda (born Narendranath Datta in 1863 to an affluent family), whom he charged with carrying the message of Vedanta to the world.

Certainly, a smattering of Eastern thought had already traveled to the West before Vivekananda's arrival in the U.S. In the 1820s, Ralph Waldo Emerson had snared a copy of the Bhagavad Gita and found himself enchanted. "I owed a magnificent day to the Bhagavad Gita," Emerson wrote in his journal in 1831. The Gita would inform his Transcendentalist essays, in which he wrote of the "Over-Soul," that part of the individual that is one with the universe—invoking the Vedantic precepts of the Atman and Brahman. (In a tidy historical twist, one of Emerson's relatives, Ellen Waldo, became a devotee of Vivekananda, and faithfully transcribed the dictated text of his first book, "Raja Yoga," in 1895.)

Emerson's student and fellow Transcendentalist, Henry David Thoreau, would study Indian thought even more avidly and crafted his own practice—living as a secular monk, as it were, by Walden Pond. In 1875, Walt Whitman was given a copy of the Gita as a Christmas gift, and it is heard unmistakably in "Leaves of Grass" in lines such as "I pass death with the dying and birth with the new-wash'd babe, and am not contained between my hat and my boots." Though the two never met, Vivekananda hailed Whitman as "the Sannyasin of America.""

Robert Baird

Paranormal Maven
There are many research projects at Harvard over the past three decades which I have used to support my writings and thoughts regarding psychic phenomena. Testing family members separated at birth was almost as good as the Minnesota Twins study. A community of old people immersed in the music and culture they were brought up in went back in time - physically. Their health then returned to normal as they were no longer immersed. The advent of brain scanning has taken it a long ways further.

"In her new book The ESP Enigma: The Scientific Case for Psychic Phenomena, former Harvard professor Diane Hennacy Powell combines philosophy, physics, and empirical data to examine supernatural traits like telepathy (the ability to access someone else's consciousness), psychokinesis (the ability to use one's consciousness to affect external objects), clairvoyance (the ability to broaden one's consciousness to remote time and space) and precognition (the ability to see into the future). She spoke to TIME about Abraham Lincoln's eerie dreams, Einstein's theories of time-travel and the idea that anybody can be a psychic.

"In your book you write about the psychologist William James and his comparison of the brain to a prism. How does this relate to psychic phenomena?

He believed consciousness is not just what's happening to the neurons in the brain. The brain is our instrument in focusing and organizing our consciousness. Just like a prism will take a white light with all these different frequencies and separate it so you can see the different colors of the spectrum. Rather than us experiencing everything that's happening all at once, our brain focuses us on the here and the now. It uses our sensory organs as guides as to what we should be focusing on. Experiments have shown that most psychic experiences occur when are sensory organs are muted, like when we're dreaming or having a near-death experience.

In your book you mention Abraham Lincoln as one of the more famous examples of precognitive dreaming.

Lincoln had a very vivid dream of walking around the White House and hearing all these people mourning and asking, "What's going on?" and then having someone tell him, "The president's dead." Then he saw his own corpse. He had this dream literally ten days before he was assassinated. He didn't tell anybody about it at first, but a few days before [his assassination], he told his wife and some friends. Of course, that's not true of all dreams. Some dreams actually are tapping into some other time and place, and there's real information in them. Others are just imagination. I think that's one of the reasons why psychics don't have 100% accuracy, sometimes it's just their imagination. What I'm interesting in is trying to discern what it is that makes those experiences so different. {Rasputin was even more impressive, Lincoln was a Merovingian.}

Tell me about the stigma associated with scientists who study psychic phenomena.

There are theories about how the brain works, and what people do is design experiments to generate data that fits with that theory. If they run into data that doesn't fit into their theory, they just ignore it. But a true scientist will throw out the existing theory if they have a lot of data that cannot be explained. Theories are man-made, and therefore fallible. Data is what's most important. That's why we have penicillin. The scientist who grew this bacteria didn't just throw it out. He looked at it and asked, why aren't bacteria growing in this plate, and he noticed there was mold in it. If he had thrown out that plate, we wouldn't have penicillin. {Archaeology recently proved anti-septics and anti-biotics long before recent so-called discoveries existed in Druidic times.}

You write that it's likely everybody possesses psychic abilities, but some people are simply more successful at it? Why is that?

Genetics are likely behind it. One of the things we know is that it runs in families. If you talk to psychics, they'll tell you there's a family history of it. Though we haven't found it, there's likely a gene for it. There are also cases where people haven't had any psychic abilities until they've suffered head traumas. What's common is that these people who've had this head trauma, the structure and function of their brain has been changed. They're often not able to function very well in the real world because they don't know how to use the analytical side of their brain. Similarly, people with synesthesia [a condition in which the senses are connected, i.e. the sound of an orchestra will cause flashes of color or the taste of chicken] have less activity in their cortex. People with autism also have a higher probability of psychic abilities.

How do quantum physics and Albert Einstein's theories relate to precognition?

If you stop thinking of time the way those in the Newtonian age thought of time as an arrow, and you start thinking of time as the way that Einstein thought of it as a space-time continuum, the future already exists. Just like the entire globe of the earth is all there even though I'm not currently seeing it all here in Southern Oregon. Our brain only allows us to experience time as a series of recurrent moments. What Einstein's saying is that when we're talking about time we're really talking about a psychological construct. Time is like any other dimension in that it isn't limited. Like space, we have up and down, east and west, they go bidirectionally. Why would time be something different than that? If we didn't have the constraints of our brain and our psychology that limit our experiences, we would be able to see that."


Robert Baird

Paranormal Maven
This is a mostly personal story detailing why I turned down a national Radio call-in show which would have been a first such show - before Art Bell. More importantly it covers the Psychical Research Foundation and some important people I met there.

The Psychical Research Foundation

Robert Baird

Paranormal Maven
Thanks Constance.

I was hoping you would read it. I also noticed you set out a little cheese for me in another thread - which this is partly a response to. And it is all about to be made moot due to the abuse of a lot of technology - unless people wake up and a plan is forthcoming. Still even if the de-pop fallback is brought to fruition and not because of some Apocalyptic crap - there is hope for life on Earth to begin again and start in a far better place than ever.


Paranormal Adept
Thanks Constance.

I was hoping you would read it. I also noticed you set out a little cheese for me in another thread - which this is partly a response to. And it is all about to be made moot due to the abuse of a lot of technology - unless people wake up and a plan is forthcoming. Still even if the de-pop fallback is brought to fruition and not because of some Apocalyptic crap - there is hope for life on Earth to begin again and start in a far better place than ever.
You're welcome. I learned a lot in the whole thread of yours you linked to and in several other sources you linked. I'm wondering what I posted in another thread here to which you were in part responding. Can you link me to it? And also, would you expand on what you refer to as the 'abuse of technology'? That topic is extremely important I think.

Robert Baird

Paranormal Maven
This is the thread I thought was up my alley after I made comments on your Consciousness thread.

Unknown Unknowns: Psi, Association & the Physics of Information | The Paracast Community Forums

You asked initially if I was referring to a World Soul. I am referring to the World Mind and technology shown in Futurescape - which some partners of mine had a role in developing. I created a couple of threads addressing these technologies including The World Mind.

The World Mind | The Paracast Community Forums

Robert Baird

Paranormal Maven
And Stalker started a thread quoting me. I think he is busy for a couple of days and we will continue discussing Transhumanism, Kurzweil and so forth. One really must see the first Futurescape show and see much more than the technical discussions they have on the web. They show people ina Matrix type hook up lying down in a bed.

Black Ops Weapons include Fear & Paranoia Beams & UFO Blk-Triangles | The Paracast Community Forums

And then there is this which has many things in other threads I have put here - but it is focused on Transhumanism.

Are you ready for posthumanity
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