Monday, October 01, 2012

Walking with William James in the afterlife

{Photo by rocketlass.}

Who better to lead us into October than William James, wishful skeptic?

Late in The Master, Colm Toibin's novel of William's brother Henry, William and his wife are in London to see some specialists in cardiology, as William's heart seems to be weakening rapidly. Tiring of the overly cautious solicitude of his wife and Henry, William tells them that he will "expire on them immediately" should they show one more sign of pity or worry. He goes on to make the most delicious threat of afterlife activity:
And I should warn you both that the hauntings will not be ordinary. No mediums will be required. I will pounce directly.
Threats aside, a William James haunting would I suspect be remarkable less for its horrors than for its persistence: if he failed to get your attention with, for example, table tapping, he would surely turn to furniture moving, then to attic thumping, and so on and so on. It would be merely one more field to which he could turn his indefatigably curious mind.

And as far as that goes, is there anyone you'd rather have at your side in the presence of a ghost than William James?

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