The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook…

nightvisions

He wrote a lot about the psychology of pragmatism.

He argued that a person’s beliefs were true if they were useful to that person and he said, “Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.”


He also wrote, “Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds.

A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.”

William James

It’s the birthday of the man who coined the term “stream of consciousness” and who said that “the art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook” — psychologist and philosopher William James (books by this author) (1842), born in New York City to one of the most prominent intellectual families in the history of America. His brother was writer Henry James, his sister was diarist Alice James, his dad was a famous theologian, and his godfather was Ralph Waldo Emerson.
He was tone-deaf, got motion sickness easily, suffered from depression and was suicidal for long intervals, had chronic back pain, recurring digestive ailments, and problems with vision. He told people he had “soul-sickness.”
He got an M.D. at Harvard but never practiced medicine; instead, he spent his life in academia at Harvard. There he taught physiology, then anatomy, and then, for many years, psychology and philosophy. Over the years he lectured to many future famous Americans, including Teddy Roosevelt, W.E.B. DuBois, and Gertrude Stein, a favorite of his. On an in-class exam he gave, Gertrude wrote, “Dear Professor James, I am so sorry but I do not feel a bit like writing an examination paper on philosophy today.” He wrote back, “Dear Miss Stein, I understand perfectly. I often feel like that myself.”
He was an enormously prolific writer. Scholar John McDermott put together a bibliography of William James’ writings that was 47 pages long. His most well-known work is probably the 1,200-page Principles of Psychology, published in 1890 after more than a decade of research and writing. While working on the book he did first-person research on the psychology of mystical experience, and to aid in this he sometimes used narcotics. He said that he could only really understand the German idealist philosopher Hegel when he was under the influence of laughing gas.
He wrote a lot about the psychology of pragmatism. He argued that a person’s beliefs were true if they were useful to that person and he said, “Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.”
He also wrote, “Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.”
He hung out with Freud, Jung, Helen Keller, Mark Twain, Bertrand Russell, and many other intellectuals. He once said, “Wherever you are, it is your own friends who make your world” and he said, “Properly speaking, a man has as many social selves as there are individuals who recognize him.”

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