William James Essay, Research Paper
An admitted ?Moral Psychologist?, James?s philosophies coincide with today?s
fields of Humanistic Psychology, Behavioral Psychology, and Transpersonal Psychology.
He, like Jung, dared to look outside the ?normal? experiences of the mind and expand the
concepts of consciousness. More particularly, William James attempted to describe the
processes of the conscious rather than the definition of the conscious. He was the first to
introduce our nation to psychology as a standard educational course and the founder of
pragmatism which emphasizes the elimination of unnecessary thinking and finding truth
only if it is practically applicable. Practicality, James defines, as those ideas that can be
verified, collaborated, validated, and assimilated.
He believed consciousness to be exclusive, personal, and selective, a constant
?decision maker? subject to a sea of information and perceptions specific to each
individual. Every decision or choice is unique in that James believes that the process of
thinking is linear. Each thought, according to James, proceeds and influences the next
which he called the stream of consciousness. Because of the infinite number of ?streams?
it is inevitable that each choice is totally original in it?s creation.
Within the process of selection lies the influences of the fringe, or the context that
gives meaning to the content (it is vague), and the nucleus (it is definite). Additionally,
James explains that without attention to a matter a decision can not be made, and that
habits are seemingly automatic responses to our experiences that often dictate our
decisions. Both must incorporate will which is described by James as the process that
holds one choice among the alternatives long enough to allow that choice to occur. The
rationale of choice involves two levels of knowing – knowledge of acquaintance (an
intuitive, sensory knowing) and knowledge about (intellectual, evaluative and factual
James was particularly interested in the habits of learning. He believed strongly
that successful education was dependent upon the establishment of healthy habits. Stages
involved in establishing good personal habits include: 1) a need or desire 2) information 3)
repetition. Of course will is essential in establishing good habits (or breaking bad habits)
so the training and strengthening of will were of major concern for James. He proposed
that individuals accomplish this by practicing a useless task daily in order to train and
proof themselves capable of willing themselves into any activity. Desired habits can be
established with repetition. He does however recognize the occasional need to surrender
the will and allow events to occur naturally. This, he believes, may induce a state of
complete unification, or total oneness of self, and may require or lead to a transcendent
state of mind.
?Self? is defined by James as the place from which all our mental processes
originate and through which all our experiences are perceived. The layers of self include
the Material Self (the part of us that defines and identifies ourselves via material goods
and relationships), the Social Self (similar to Jung?s persona, is the self we play in social
encounters) and the Spiritual Self (the feeling, sensing, and subjective layer).
His theory of emotions is fascinating and has lead to further research. Emotions
in James?s mind are dependent upon feedback from ones body and are a result of physical
manifestations (rather than the common believe the emotions cause physical
manifestations). This is the basis for his belief in nonattachment to emotional feelings and
the open release of emotions as they are irrelevant in that they are only indicators of your
physical state. He believed that unexpressed emotions may lead to physical and mental
illness. He also advocated that one should maintain healthy-mindedness by choosing to
act positive and believe in a sense of wellness.
Supporting his believe in the physical effects of our emotions and his conclusions
of conscious processes are studies in: Biofeedback (a means of monitoring a biological
feedback used to train the participant to control their own ?automatic? nervous system
through thought), Psychedelic Research (used to decipher the personal perception of self
in an altered state), Meditation (which is proving physiologically effective), Hypnosis
(being used as a tool to measure altered states and ultimately consciousness), and Multiple
Personality Disorders (how the ?mind? splits creating entirely different personalities).
William James, lost among many prominent psychologists, has unfortunately
remained an often unappreciated theorist. However, those that are introduced to James
can not deny his significant educational and psychological contributions. Much of modern
psychology owes gratitude and respect to William James.
I got most of the information from books and information from notebooks in college.