William James

William
James
1842
1910

American Philosopher, Psychologist, Physician and Teacher

Author Quotes

Attention ? is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought, localization, concentration, of consciousness are of its essence. It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others, and is a condition which has a real opposite in the confused, dazed, scatter brained state which in French is calledÿdistraction, andÿZerstreutheitÿin German.

Millions of items of the outward order are present to my senses which never properly enter into my experience. Why? Because they have noÿinterestÿfor me.ÿMy experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which Iÿnoticeÿshape my mind without selective interest, experience is an utter chaos. Interest alone gives accent and emphasis, light and shade, background and foreground intelligible perspective, in a word. It varies in every creature, but without it the consciousness of every creature would be a gray chaotic indiscriminateness, impossible for us even to conceive.

Most people probably fall several times a day into a fit of something like this: The eyes are fixed on vacancy, the sounds of the world melt into confused unity, the attention is dispersed so that the whole body is felt, as it were, at once, and the foreground of consciousness is filled, if by anything, by a sort of solemn sense of surrender to the empty passing of time. In the dim background of our mind we know meanwhile what we ought to be doing: getting up, dressing ourselves, answering the person who has spoken to us, trying to make the next step in our reasoning? Every moment we expect the spell to break, for we know no reason why it should continue. But it does continue, pulse after pulse, and we float with it, until also without reason that we can discover an energy is given, something we know not what enables us to gather ourselves together, we wink our eyes, we shake our heads, the background-ideas become effective, and the wheels of life go round again? The abolition of this condition is what we call the awakening of the attention.

Not easily more than one, unless the processes are very habitual; but then two, or even three, without very much oscillation of the attention. Where, however, the processes are less automatic ? there must be a rapid oscillation of the mind from one to the next, and no consequent gain of time.

Sustained attention is the easier, the richer in acquisitions and the fresher and more original the mind. In such minds, subjects bud and sprout and grow. At every moment, they please by a new consequence and rivet the attention afresh. But an intellect unfurnished with materials, stagnant, unoriginal, will hardly be likely to consider any subject long. A glance exhausts its possibilities of interest. Geniuses are commonly believed to excel other men in their power of sustained attention? Their ideas coruscate, every subject branches infinitely before their fertile minds, and so for hours they may be rapt.

When expectant attention is concentrated upon one of two sensations, that the other one is apt to be displaced from consciousness for a moment and to appear subsequent; although in reality the two may have been contemporaneous events.

When we come down to the root of the matter, we see that [geniuses] differ from ordinary men less in the character of their attention than in the nature of the objects upon which it is successively bestowed.

The deadliest enemies of nations are not their foreign foes; they always dwell within their borders. And from these internal enemies civilization is always in need of being saved. The nation blest above all nations is she in whom the civic genius of the people does the saving day by day, by acts without external picturesqueness; by speaking, writing, voting reasonably; by smiting corruption swiftly; by good temper between parties; by the people knowing true men when they see them, and preferring them as leaders to rabid partisans or empty quacks.

The gods we stand by are the gods we need and can use, the gods whose demands on us are reinforcements of our demands on ourselves and on one another. What I then propose to do is, briefly stated, to test saintliness by common sense, to use human standards to help us decide how far the religious life commends itself as an ideal kind of human activity... It is but the elimination of the humanly unfit, and the survival of the humanly fittest, applied to religious beliefs; and if we look at history candidly and without prejudice, we have to admit that no religion has ever in the long run established or proved itself in any other way. Religions have approved themselves; they have ministered to sundry vital needs which they found reigning. When they violated other needs too strongly, or when other faiths came which served the same needs better, the first religions were supplanted.

The man who lives in his religious center of personal energy, and is actuated by spiritual enthusiasms, differs from his previous carnal self in perfectly definite ways.

The opposition between the men who have and the men who are is immemorial.

The stream of thought flows on; but most of its segments fall into the bottomless abyss of oblivion. Of some, no memory survives the instant of their passage. Of others, it is confined to a few moments, hours or days. Others, again, leave vestiges which are indestructible, and by means of which they may be recalled as long as life endures.

The war against war is going to be no holiday excursion or camping party. The military feelings are too deeply grounded to abdicate their place among our ideals until better substitutes are offered than the glory and shame that come to nations as well as individuals from the ups and downs of politics and the vicissitudes of trade.

There is no being capable of a spiritual life who does not have within him a jungle. Where the wolf constantly HOWLS and the OBSCENE bird of night chatters endlessly.

Thus, when a superior intellect and a psychopathic temperament coalesce...in the same individual, we have the best possible conditions for the kind of effective genius that gets into the biographical dictionaries. Such men do not remain mere critics and understanders with their intellect. Their ideas possess them, they inflict them, for better or worse, upon their companions or their age.

True ideas are those that we can assimilate, validate, corroborate, and verify. False ideas are those that we cannot.

We forget that every good that is worth possessing must be paid for in strokes of daily effort. We postpone and postpone until those smiling possibilities are dead... By neglecting the necessary concrete labor, by sparing ourselves the little daily tax, we are positively digging the graves of our higher possibilities.

What do believers in the Absolute mean by saving that their belief affords them comfort? They mean that since in the Absolute finite evil is ‘overruled’ already, we may, therefore, whenever we wish, treat the temporal as if it were potentially the eternal, be sure that we can trust its outcome, and, without sin, dismiss our fear and drop the worry of our finite responsibility. In short, they mean that we have a right ever and anon to take a moral holiday, to let the world wag in its own way, feeling that its issues are in better hands than ours and are none of our business.

Whenever you're in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.

You have enormous untapped power you'll probably never tap, because most people never run far enough on their first wind to ever find they have a second.

The difference between a good man and a bad man is the choice of cause.

The great thing, then, in all education, is to make our nervous system our ally instead of our enemy.

The man whose acquisitions stick is the man who is always achieving and advancing whilst his neighbors, spending most of their time in relearning what they once knew but have forgotten, simply hold their own.

The path to cheerfulness is to sit cheerfully and to act and speak as if cheerfulness were already there.

The strenuous life tastes better.

Author Picture
First Name
William
Last Name
James
Birth Date
1842
Death Date
1910
Bio

American Philosopher, Psychologist, Physician and Teacher