Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation
I recently participated, via Skype, in Alexandre Sech Junior’s doctoral defence of a thesis about William James and psychic phenomena. I was delighted by the quality of the thesis and the responses Alexandre gave to my questions. The degree was granted by the Health Program of the School of Medicine of the Federal University of Juiz de For a (Minas Gerais, Brazil).

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Dr. Alexandre Sech Junior

Alexandre, who I met in Brazil some years back, and with whom I have corresponded, has a masters degree in philosophy from the Pontifical Catholic University of Parana. He is a member of the Nucleo de Pesquisa em Espiritualidade e Saude (Group of Research in Spirituality and Health), which is part of the Federal University of Juiz de For a. Alexandre is the main author of an article about James that I mentioned before in this blog (click here), and has been active in other ways.

Here is the summary of his thesis, which is in Portuguese.

The Occult in the Works of William James and its Influence in the Conception and Development of the Concept of Stream of Consciousness

“This study deals with the occult expressed through exceptional mental phenomena – mediumistic trances, mystical experiences, automatisms and anomalous experiences of healing – and their relations to the works of psychologist and philosopher William James (1842-1910). Therefore, it is limited to the English and American context of science in the Victorian and Edwardian periods. In its first phase, the research gave priority to the exegesis of primary sources, such as: The Principles of Psychology, Psychology: Briefer Course, The Varieties of Religious Experience and A Pluralistic Universe. I also analyzed articles from works of the collection The Works of William James such as Essays in Psychology, Essays in Psychical Research, Essays in Radical Empiricism and Essays, Comments, Reviews.”

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William James

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“Furthermore, this study deals with secondary sources related to the life and thought of William James and of medium Leonora Piper (1857-1950), as well as other scholars that somehow were associated to his work. The second phase consisted of searching for new archival evidence from the William James Papers kept at Houghton Library at Harvard University in Cambridge, USA, and also from the Society for Psychical Research Papers preserved at Wren Library and at Cambridge University Library in Cambridge, England. Letters, journals, notebooks, private notes, lecture notes, marginalia, manuscripts and rough drafts of scientific observations and reports of William James and research associates who might have been present at the séances arranged by him have been photographed, categorized and analyzed, totaling almost 2,000 documents. I present this thesis in a threefold manner and although it is not a biographical study, this research adopted a chronological approach to present William James’s writings. The first part presents various concepts of the occult through history up to their relation to the exceptional mental phenomena within the context of this inquiry. The second part establishes the importance of the occult in the life and works of William James arguing the relevance of their phenomena for the definition and scope of a radical science of mind envisioned by him. The third and last part presents indications and evidence, which indicates that James might have put his project into practice. New and not yet published documents indicate the possibility of a direct influence of the occult in the conception and development of James’s important concept called Stream of Consciousness, leading this thesis to the conclusion that Jamesian tradition in psychology owes more to the occult than history currently admits. My main conclusions are that James’s interest in the occult was more than mere eccentricity; his many years of interest and dedication to occult phenomena had an important role in the development of his project of psychology. This means that in order to understand the works of William James in a thorough manner, one must consider the interface between his psychology and the occult; and finally, that phenomena deemed as paranormal which involve exceptional aspects of mental life may represent a legitimate way to understand human nature to its fullest extension.”

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Leonora E. Piper

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Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 1909, 23, 2–121.

I hope we will see soon publications based on this fascinating study.

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