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James, William - The Confidences of a Psychical Researcher - Ego and Personality



Type of Spiritual Experience


Individuality = Higher spirit

A description of the experience

William James, The Confidences of a Psychical Researcher, in The American Magazine, October 1909).

Out of my experience, such as it is (and it is limited enough) one fixed conclusion dogmatically emerges, and that is this, that we with our lives are like islands in the sea, or like trees in the forest.

The maple and the pine may whisper to each other with their leaves, and Conanicut and Newport hear each other's foghorns. But the trees also commingle their roots in the darkness underground, and the islands also hang together through the ocean's bottom. Just so there is a continuum of cosmic consciousness, against which our Individuality builds but accidental fences, and into which our several minds plunge as into a mother-sea or reservoir.

Our "normal" consciousness' (the personality as we distinguish it from the Ego or individuality) 'is circumscribed for adaptation to our external earthly environment, but the fence is weak in spots, and fitful influences from beyond break in, showing the otherwise unverifiable common connexion. Not only psychic research, but metaphysical philosophy and speculative biology are led in their own ways to look with favour on some such "pan-psychic" view of the universe as this.'

The source of the experience

James, William

Concepts, symbols and science items

Science Items

Activities and commonsteps