Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Baby and Candle











One of my favorite books is William James' massive Principles of Psychology. It is facking crazy to think that the book was published in 1890 - even with all the advances of the last century in neurobiology, genetics etc., the book remains an essential text for students of the brain. The book contains some fascinating relics from 19th century science, complete with a chapter in phrenology* (James dismisses it), and yet remains remarkably "contemporary" throughout in regards to its concern for the infinitely subtle spun web of consciousness, its full acceptance of the evolutionary history of the brain, etc.
The chapters can be read apart from each other, and some of them are masterpieces in themselves. See, for example, the famous "Streams of Thought" (where high school English teachers get "streams of consciousness"), "The Consciousness of Self," "The Perception of Time" and "Memory."
If you are like me, a lover of G-2 low-calorie cherry Gatorade and turkey sandwiches, you often read books of philosophy, science, psychology etc. as literature; James, a master stylist, can be read here as a profound thinker on science and philosophy, or a proto-modernist whose rock ripples in the ponds of Proust and Woolf's To the Lighthouse.

There are also some awesomely late-19th-century illustrations. Here is my favorite (it would make a awesome band t-shirt):














*
 Friday: Are you sure this is the woman you saw in the post office?
Burns: Absolutely! Who could forget such a monstrous visage? She
has the sloping brow and cranial bumpage of the career
criminal.
Smithers: Uh, Sir? Phrenology was dismissed as quackery 160 years ago.
Burns: Of course you'd say that...you have the brainpan of a
stagecoach tilter!

2 Comments:

Blogger Troy said...

Funny - just got back from a book store binge on the William James section and now I see your post. Was thinking of buying "The Varieties of Religious Experience." Have you read it?

Love the Simpsons quote.

And nothing better than the "maximized fluid osmolality" of Gatorade to keep one hydrated during those long bouts of exhaustive pragmatism sure to follow a James binge.

2:01 PM  
Blogger PWS said...

Yes! Read "Varieties" whenever possible, you won't be let-down. I wish I still had my James bio lying around, as it detailed the relationship between him and Bergson (which would interest you).

What did ya get?

4:25 PM  

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