The Ghost Hunters: William James and the Hunt for Scientific Proof of Life after Death

The Ghost Hunters: William James and the Hunt for Scientific Proof of Life after Death

by Deborah Blum


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The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Poision Squad and The Poisoner's Handbook tells the amazing story of William James's quest for empirical evidence of the spirit world

What if a world -renowned philosopher and professor of psychiatry at Harvard suddenly announced he believed in ghosts? At the close of the nineteenth century, the illustrious William James led a determined scientific investigation into ?unexplainable? incidences of clairvoyance and ghostly visitations. James and a small group of eminent scientists staked their reputations, their careers, even their sanity on one of the most extraordinary quests ever undertaken: to empirically prove the existence of ghosts, spirits, and psychic phenomena. What they pursued? and what they found?raises questions as fascinating today as they were then.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143038955
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/29/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 451,692
Product dimensions: 5.54(w) x 8.43(h) x 0.82(d)
Age Range: 18 - 17 Years

About the Author

Pulitzer Prize winner Deborah Blum is a professor of science journalism at the University of Wisconsin. She worked as a newspaper science writer for twenty years, winning the Pulitzer in 1992 for her writing about primate research, which she turned into a book, The Monkey Wars (Oxford, 1994). Her other books include Sex on the Brain (Viking, 1997) and Love at Goon Park (Perseus, 2002). She has written about scientific research for The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Discover, Health, Psychology Today, and Mother Jones. She is a past president of the National Association of Science Writers and now serves on an advisory board to the World Federation of Science Journalists and the National Academy of Sciences.

Table of Contents

Ghost HuntersPrelude
1. The Night Side
2. A Spirit of Unbelief
3. Lights and Shadows
4. Metaphysics and Metatrousers
5. Infinite Rationality
6. All Ye Who Enter Here
7. The Principles of Psychology
8. The Invention of Ectoplasm
9. The Unearthly Archive
10. A Prophecy of Death
11. A Force Not Generally Recognized
12. A Ghost Story

Notes and Sources

What People are Saying About This

James Shreve

A fascinating reminder that reason and revelation are not opposites. (James Shreve, author of The Genome War)

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The Ghost Hunters: William James and the Hunt for Scientific Proof of Life after Death 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Excellent. Well written and highly readable. At the turn of the century these maverick early psycologists, and scientists do everything they can to debunk the spiritualist movement and mediums in particular, but in the end are more convinced than ever of life after death.
drneutron on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
William James spent his life investigating the mind, the soul and the nature of reality. This study led to major contributions to the establishment of the field of psychology and the development of pragmatism as philosophical thought, and also to a fascination with life after death and communication with the dead. His timing was impeccable - his professional life coincided with the rise of spiritualism in the US and Europe. Ghost Hunters is the story of William James' work with mediums and those with strange abilities now called parapsychological such as telepathy and telekinesis. It's also the story of the rise and fall of the British and American Societies for Psychical Research, along with the small group of scientists and investigators who spent much of their professional lives searching for proof of their belief that there is more to reality than what strictly materialistic science can know. Their dream was to provide clear evidence that would bring this work into the realm of "respectable" science.Blum's book was outstanding. She's sympathetic with James and his coworkers, and gives a great protrait of some very interesting people and times.
allthesedarnbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This excellent nonfiction books chronicles the efforts of William James and fellow researchers of the American and British Societies for Psychical Research to explore supernatural phenomenon scientifically. Blum is a great writer; she uses a vast amount of research to recreate the experiments, but, more importantly, to bring to life the character of a fascinating group of men and women (or rather, one woman, the math genius, Cambridge administrator, and psychical research Nora Sidgwick, who worked alongside her husband Henry and continued the work after his death).There are no easy answers in this book. If you're looking for solid proof one way or the other, that there is or isn't life after death, you won't find it here. What you will find is, in my honest opinion, just as good if not better: descriptions of research and experiments, mediums and charlatans, and most importantly, the discussion of great ideas. What roles do science and religion play in modern society? Is it possible to believe in both? For those, like me, who are as interested in the quest as the conclusion, this book will be a tasty, thought-provoking treat. It made me want to read more about the subject of the paranormal, but also about philosophy, psychology, and religion. It made me want to pick up the work of William and Henry James. If that's the mark of a great nonfiction book, to incite further interest in the reader, than this book was certainly a success for me. Highly recommended. Five stars.
PirateJenny on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
No, this has nothing to do with the SciFi show. The subtitle is William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death. Quite fascinating. There's a lot included about the founding of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in England and the American Society for Psychial Research (ASPR) and how closed-minded a lot of scientists were to the idea of an afterlife even then. Granted, a lot of mediums were frauds, but every so often, someone that could not be explained would show up. All James wanted was for science to be open enough to allow for testing in an objective manner, not testing from a preconceived conclusion. I mean, every so often, something inexplicable DOES happen. Why, James wondered, do we need to fear that. Part of the problem is that these experiences do not adhere to the rules of traditional scientific testing--results cannot be replicated in a lab, for one. But is that truly enough of a reason to rule out any and all scientific testing? James thought not. I tend to agree.
tymfos on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I thought this was a fascinating study of the history of psychical research. I found myself sharing the early investigators' frustration with obvioud frauds on the one hand and so-called "objective" science on the other hand which refused to acknowledge even the possiblity that inexplicable (by science's rules) phenomena could exist.
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