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Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search…

Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life…

by Deborah Blum

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Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Did a review for the Journal of Scientific Exploration ( )
  schmicker | Apr 19, 2014 |
I didn't love this one as much as The Poisoner's Handbook but I still thought it was a very solid and fascinating study of spiritualism in the late 19th century and the attempt by scientists and philosophers to investigate its practitioners. Because I read so many novels that feature spiritualism (especially ones that are set in Victorian times), this was a perfect companion to those books. As for my own personal views on the subject, like Blum I am a scientist and a skeptic but, when confronted with quality evidence, I can't help but wonder if there's some truth there, some unexplained force in the ether.

http://webereading.com/2012/10/rip-vii-read-15-ghost-hunters.html ( )
1 vote klpm | Nov 1, 2012 |
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 characters of a fascinating group of men and women (or rather, one woman, the math genius, Cambridge administrator, and psychical researcher 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. ( )
5 vote allthesedarnbooks | Jan 27, 2010 |
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. ( )
12 vote drneutron | Jan 2, 2010 |
At the turn of the 20th century, a group of scientists, psychologists, and other interested individuals, in both Great Britain and the United States, set out to investigate psychic phenomena and the mediums who showed psychic gifts. Some were skeptics, others were inclined to believe, but all claimed to want the truth. In Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death, Deborah Blum writes of their investigations and their findings.

The stories Blum tells are fascinating. There are incidents of people having visions of loved ones right at the time of their death. There are stories of sittings with mediums with varying degrees of honesty and apparent psychic talent. And Blum just shares the stories. Never does she imply that of course they were all frauds and that the investigators were too dumb to see it. But neither does she declare that these phenomena must be real. Blum seems to be attempting to report, not to convince. Both skeptics and believers (or folks like me who are a bit of both) will find much here to support or to challenge their views.

Another point of interest is how Blum incorporates the transition to a modern, scientific society. Science was making huge, new leaps at the time. One of the investigators, in fact, was Alfred Russel Wallace, who developed a theory of evolution similar to Darwin’s, but independently of Darwin. Despite Wallace’s scientific credibility and William James’s credibility as a founder of modern psychology, the scientific establishment wanted nothing to do with their scientific research into psychic phenomena. The men who pursed such research were perceived with suspicion, no matter how rigorous their methodology. Blum, to her credit, does not priviledge one side of this debate over the other; she presents their arguments in a way that causes thoughtful readers (or listeners) to consider how we do arrive at truth, particularly truth about spiritual matters.

It’s possible that some who are more knowledgeable than I could perceive ways in which Blum stacks the deck by leaving out certain facts or emphasizing others. However, as a reader new to the topic, I found Blum to be remarkably even-handed, and I appreciated her efforts to put readers into the minds of the people of the time, rather than to impose our more modern, more “enlightened” views.

See my complete review at my blog. ( )
1 vote teresakayep | Dec 10, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0143038958, Paperback)

A Pulitzer Prize?winning author 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:31 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Traces how the respected psychologist brother of Henry James set out to gather scientific data proving the existence of ghosts at the end of the nineteenth century, forming the American Society for Psychical Research.

» see all 3 descriptions

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