Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Posts Tagged ‘William James

Magic and the art of will

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We know that the conscious will is connected to the narrow, conscious part of the personality. One of the paradoxes observed by [Pierre] Janet is that as the hysteric becomes increasingly obsessed with anxiety—and the need to exert his will—he also becomes increasingly ineffective. The narrower and more obsessive the consciousness, the weaker the will. Every one of us is familiar with the phenomenon. The more we become racked with anxiety to do something well, the more we are likely to botch it. It is [Viktor] Frankl’s “law of reversed effort.” If you want to do something really well, you have to get into the “right mood.” And the right mood involves a sense of relaxation, of feeling “wide open” instead of narrow and enclosed…

As William James remarked, we all have a lifelong habit of “inferiority to our full self.” We are all hysterics; it is the endemic disease of the human race, which clearly implies that, outside our “everyday personality,” there is a wider “self” that possesses greater powers than the everyday self. And this is not the Freudian subconscious. Like the “wider self” of Janet’s patients, it is as conscious as the “contracted self.” We are, in fact, partially aware of this “other self.” When a man “unwinds” by pouring himself a drink and kicking off his shoes, he is adopting an elementary method of relaxing into the other self. When an overworked housewife decides to buy herself a new hat, she is doing the same thing. But we seldom relax far enough; habit—and anxiety—are too strong…Magic is the art and science of using the will. Not the ordinary will of the contracted ego but the “true will” that seems to spring from some deeper area of the being.

Colin Wilson, Mysteries

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June 2, 2018 at 7:30 am

Quote of the Day

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In the world at large, practically considered, optimism is just as true as pessimism…Common sense contents itself with the unreconciled contradiction, laughs when it can, and weeps when it must, and makes, in short, a practical compromise, without trying a theoretical solution. This attitude is of course respectable. But if one must needs have an ultimate theoretical solution, nothing is more certain than this, that no one need assent to that of pessimism unless he freely prefer to do so.

William James, Essays, Comments, and Reviews

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January 10, 2018 at 7:30 am

Quote of the Day

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You can be an artist without visual images, a reader without eyes, a mass of erudition with a bad elementary memory. In almost any subject your passion for the subject will save you. If you only care enough for a result, you will almost certainly attain it. If you wish to be rich, you will be rich; if you wish to be learned, you will be learned; if you wish to be good, you will be good. Only you must, then, really wish these things, and wish them with exclusiveness, and not wish at the same time a hundred other incompatible things just as strongly.

William James, “Memory”

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August 17, 2017 at 7:30 am

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Quote of the Day

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Michael Lewis

When B.F. Skinner discovered as a young man that he would never write the great American novel, he felt a despair that he claimed nearly drove him into psychotherapy. The legendary psychologist George Miller claimed that he gave up his literary ambition for psychology because he had nothing to write about. Who knows what mixed feelings William James experienced when he read his brother Henry’s first novel? “It would be interesting to ask how many psychologists come up short next to great writers who happen to be near them,” one prominent American psychologist has said. “It may be the fundamental driver.”

Michael Lewis, The Undoing Project

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January 9, 2017 at 7:30 am

The logic of the ouija board

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Ouija board

The fact that ouija board automatism is more likely with groups than with individuals is significant in itself. Even if we assume that some proportion of the people in groups are actually cheating, there still seems to be a much greater likelihood of successful automatism in these social settings. [William James] observed that in the case of automatic writing, “two persons can often make a planchette or bare pencils write automatically when neither can succeed alone.” This is, of course, a usual feature of the experience of table turning and tilting as well…

When people work the ouija planchette together, for instance, or sit at a table to make the table turn, they may find that their slight movements combine with the other person’s movements, sometimes producing stillness but other times yielding new misdirected movements or amplifications as well. This is compounded when, as the co-actors make these minute and unconscious adjustments for each other, they don’t know just what part of the action they personally have created. With this obscured monitoring, the group performs a mystery dance, a collective automatism that occurs when no one has conscious and specific knowledge of what self or others are doing.

Daniel M. Wegner, The Illusion of Conscious Will

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December 3, 2016 at 7:30 am

Quote of the Day

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William James

After exercising our muscles or our brain in a new way…we can do so no longer at that time; but after a day or two of rest, when we resume the discipline, our increase in skill not seldom surprises us. I have often noticed this in learning a tune; and it has led a German author to say that we learn to swim during the winter and to skate during the summer.

William James, The Principles of Psychology

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August 1, 2016 at 7:30 am

The act of combination

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Twyla Tharp

In the empty room you’re trying to connect the dots, linking A to B to C to maybe come up with H. Scratching is a means to identifying A, and if you can get to A, you’ve got a grip on a slippery rock wall. You’ve got purchase. You can move on to B, which is mandatory. You cannot stop with one idea. You don’t really have a workable idea until you combine two ideas.

Twyla Tharp

I have coined the term “bisociation” in order to make a distinction between the routine skills of thinking in a single “plane,” as it were, and the creative act, which, as I shall try to show, always operates on more than one plane.

Arthur Koestler

If there is any novelty in the suggestion I am about to make—and I must confess I fear there is—it lies only in the juxtaposition of ideas.

Charles Sanders Peirce

Henri Poincaré

Every day I seated myself at my work table, stayed an hour or two, tried a great number of combinations, and reached no results. One evening, contrary to my custom, I drank black coffee and could not sleep. Ideas rose in crowds; I felt them collide until pairs interlocked, so to speak, making a stable combination.

Henri Poincaré

Scientists who have made important original contributions have often had wide interests or have taken up the study of a subject different from the one in which they were originally trained. Originality often consists in finding connections or analogies between two or more objects or ideas not previously shown to have any bearing on each other.

W.I.B. Beveridge

It is obvious that invention or discovery, be it in mathematics or anywhere else, takes place by combining ideas.

Jacques Hadamard

Jacques Derrida

The philosopher must form a new combination of ideas concerning the combination of ideas.

Jacques Derrida

The essential possibility of [metaphor] lies in the broad ontological fact that new qualities and new meanings can emerge, simply come into being, out of some hitherto ungrouped combination of elements.

Philip Wheelwright

Instead of thoughts of concrete things patiently following one another in a beaten track of habitual suggestion, we have the most abrupt cross-cuts and transitions from one idea to another, the most rarefied abstractions and discriminations, the most unheard of combination of elements, the subtlest associations of analogy; in a word, we seem suddenly introduced into a seething cauldron of ideas, where everything is fizzling and bobbling about in a state of bewildering activity, where partnerships can be joined or loosened in an instant, treadmill routine is unknown, and the unexpected seems only law.

William James

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