William James An admitted Moral Psychologist, Jamess philosophies coincide with todays 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 its 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 knowing). 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 Jungs 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 Jamess 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.