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Below is the attachment of the powerpoint that MissArcher2 and I presented to the class for our final performance.

We also put a song together to the tune of "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" which talked about the lives of each of the James siblings. In addition to this we discussed the possible effects that Henry James, Sr. had on each of his children and how this may have effected their work and their lives. 

james.ppt2.58 MB


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What have I done?

 As I was finishing my final project, I noticed I had done something rather odd. It seemed that I somehow found common ground between the three James siblings. It may be that the common ground was that I was writing for them, but I did base all of my own text off of their own. I think that even if the siblings did not get along, or always agree, they shared common thoughts and ideals, possibly because of the influence of their father or just because they were raised together. But it made me think of the dynamics in a different way. I think that we got so caught up in William's disapproval in Alice's life that we never stopped to look and see if there was a common thread through all of their writing. 

In The Portrait of a Lady, there are quotes that seem as if Henry were speaking of his sister. Fore example he writes, "The real offense, as she ultimately perceived, was her having a mind of her own at all. "Don't mind anything any one tell you about any one else. Judge everyone and everything for yourself."" It seems to me that much of Isabel's character is based off of Alice herself, living outside society's rules and following her own passions and desires, are things both women did. I found that connection interesting and even more odd that I was not aware of that while reading the book. Maybe it take me longer than normal to process these things.

This was just one of the similarities I found between the siblings writing, and of course the more shocking ones are the connection between Alice and William, but my project has more on that. It just reminded me of what MissArcher2 and I looked into in our final performance. How much does a parent shape their child's mind, and really, how much do we shape our peers mind? An interesting thought for other times. 

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   In William's essay, “Hegel and His Method", he writes, "The absolute is defined as the ideally perfect whole, yet most of its parts, if not all, are admittedly imperfect.” I very much like the idea that the whole can still be perfect even if it is made up of imperfect parts. I am not sure I understand the logic or reasoning that is behind this idea, but I think that I can give a concrete example. If you take orange juice (random I know) it can taste perfect while being made from imperfect oranges, oranges that individually may have been bruised or sour, but together they create the perfect orange juice. 

I think that this could correspond to William's idea of a higher being being perfect. He states in another essay that you cannot teach the 'absolute' anything for it knows all and that it is always ahead of us knowing what we are going to do next. I think that if you combine these two ideas, the absolute, which is perfect, could be made up of individuals, like ourselves, who are not perfect at all. If we consider the absolute to be the universe, or the controlling power over the universe, this stands true. Even if we are flawed on our own, together we create something perfect. 


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Response to class

 I found myself very interested in the idea that we spoke about at the end of the class today: Alice James' reaction to Bryn Mawr. I don't think I agree with xsoloadsolem and aseidman that seeing Bryn Mawr, a school full of women like herself who were allowed to go after an intellectual education which she herself was not allowed to, would pain her. I can understand where the idea comes from, that she was so weak and frail and that the sight of a dream that was taken away from her might be too much to bear, but I think that Alice was stronger than that. I think that, like jrlewis said, she would have been overjoyed to visit Bryn Mawr, finding a place that she would have been allowed to live her life on her terms. I do not think she was bedridden because she didn't feel that the world could not hold a place for her, but because she had been kept away from that world by her family. 

I also found it very interesting that Peggy was so much like her aunt, and it spurred a thought in me. What would William's reaction have been if he were aware of the similarities? Was he aware? I find it interesting that while he did not like his sister he raised a woman much like her, the difference being that Peggy was allowed to live in such a world. Was part of William's disgust possibly towards his father, for was it for Alice not standing up to her father and showing him that there was a place in the world for smart women? 

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The Making of the Bryn Mawr Woman

 After reading William James' speech "The Gospel of Relaxation" I must admit I feel very sorry for him. It certainly did not take at Bryn Mawr, no matter how ernest his wish may have been. It is very nice for him to have spoken to the women about not caring about intelligence for only then it can be achieved, but it is a whole other story for the woman to take that to heart. Possibly if they had we wouldn't be quite the studious students we are today. James went to the source of all he was speaking about. We are the women who stay up all night studying before the big test. We are the women who worry too much about how we can meet the world's expectations of us. James was right, we need to relax, but how? If only it could be as simple as he thought to change our habits, but our state of mind is more than simply a habit. It embodies who we are. Like James said, we have been born and raised to be overachievers, that is probably why most us find ourselves here. And I don't think that the institution does much to help us change this pattern. Of course James wouldn't have believed this institution could be the spark that changed its students. I think he truly believed that the women here were the ones who had to change in order for the world to catch on and change itself. I wonder what he would have said about the students here today. We certainly have meet his expectations in the sense that we are not sipping liquid food out of a tin can and only have minds, and we certainly are the American women who feel free to feel and show emotion along with our opinions, but is that woman, as assertive as she may be, but still stuck in the prepared mentality, really what James would have wanted us to be, or would he be disappointed that I prepared for tomorrow's class by writing this post?

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  Notes from class on


Notes from class on 4/21


Anne: Topics for papers due on Friday.

Ariel: Gertrude Stein’s play…going to be writing out stage directions and the characters, etc. It’s a subjective reality idea.

Alex: Want to have the reader engage in conversation with William James. There will be several different answers to questions and depending on what you choose, you’ll go off in different directions. It’s a way to tie in different sorts of philosophies that I am still grappling with.

Julia: I want to see how William James’ philosophy is a recipe for how to live your life. It is non-deterministic. Like guidelines for experiences. He is so open ended that you can’t be a follower; he wants you to figure it out on your own, like a chef knows you will do with a cake recipe. Your life is a function of your own creation. Maybe write it as a recipe.

Katelyn: A combination of both Julia’s and Alex’s. Put William James’ writings in terms that are relevant to our lives and do not seem like orders but suggestions. 

Isabel: At the beginning of William James we talked about habit. I had this thing with Pringles. Well, I stopped eating them and kept a blog about it. I tried to relate it back to James. Feels like a little bit cheating to use a blog that I’ve already written, but with an added part.

Katherine: I’m going to draw comic strips, some of which will take direct quotes from William James’ works. Looking at James in a totally different genre that has a more humorous mentality.

Anne: So it is another attempt to translate it for our audience.

Jessica: I Think I’ll use Gertrude Stein and expand on the exercise of glossing passages and then make a map of it.

Marina: In my cultural phsyc class William James came up in a mental disorder where your brain becomes so stimulated that becomes tired. They called it Americanitis. I’m going to look at in college students who are in a cultural pit of insecurities.

Weezy: I thought about the images of the fish bowl and the shrunken heads. I’m going to go through the readings from William James and do a photo essay of his metaphors. The critical question is to discuss the images and talk about one versus the other and how it changes the metaphor. I’m going to deconstruct why I think the images are helpful and give alternative metaphors.

Anne: I like the photo essay. I’m really liking the multiple meanings of words like in Gertrude Stein. We need to not assume a word has only one meaning or image. You might be able to turn this into a final project.

Weezy: I could add in the places Henry James writes and about his protagonists.

Anne: My hope is to post responses over the weekend and them have a conference about the final project. I will not take it until we have talked about it one Monday. We will also talk about the final portfolio. Come ready to let me know about your performances. Readings might be an inspiration for performances. Look at them comparison with the modern commencement speeches. They are like 20th century versions of the earlier talks. This class has also been about reader response theory where you try to highlight multiple irreducible subjectivity. James does not trivialize or write a script, but asks us to start where we are and use what we have. I framed the class with a bio of the James family. Paul Jefferson thought our understanding should be framed in a larger cultural position…hence The Metaphysical Club. He was a cultural historian. A lot of what he writes is very William Jamesian.

Jessica: It was surprisingly funny.

Anne: He makes a contextual history funny and interesting. The argument and literally the idea is that there is no one-way to live in the world. He rejected absolutes. I had you read the passages that focused on William James. They were useful because it has a larger expanse. Starts with Oliver Wendell Holmes who decided that no abstraction was worth the cost of that kind of violence…after he fought in the Civil War. He felt that having an abstract idea leads to violence so he turned to pragmatism. So we are going to gloss the reading like we did last class.

Weezy: pg 89 top paragraph – Essentially encapsulates the fact that pragmatism effects the ability to question things that exist socially. Gives us the ability to question what we think necessary. An undercurrent of skepticism. It doesn’t necessarily run deeper than that until you have a theory. It completely undermines society and the idea that the human is independent of the animal world. A really complex, concise, encapsulation of pragmatism and the way it lead to enabling James and thinking about further.

Marina: pg 91 “Psychics…”I like it because it ties back to the stream of consciousness. How some people can penetrate into other people’s streams.

Anne: A psychic can access another’s stream and a realm beyond the material. Like when William stays after Henry’s and tried to communicate with his brother after his death. Very different dimensions that we are interested in. Incredible breadth that James was interested in.

Jessica: pg. 361 “They just use a hand…” It pokes a little fun at the importance we place on little things. Not so much why we have the idea, but what we do with them.

Anne: Cash value of them.

Katheirne: p. 86 bottom “This confirmed…” I felt sad for Alice. All of us are going to be pissed. This must be why Alice killed herself.

Ariel: I think it is interesting that all those things require strength and stamina but yet woman are weak.

Anne: It gives you a very particular motivation for Alice’s hysteria.

Weezy: I’ve been waiting for someone to shed light on her life and the nature of her disease and mental aversion to society. 

Isabel: There is another good line about how it affected their lives and thinking about them, but it wouldn’t have changed for her. Pg. 75 “His solution” I thought it was nice context for saying he couldn’t make up his mind in practices and theories. It makes sense that he couldn’t make up his mind in his own life.

Anne: In the book, it says that William James hated Hegel. (pg. 358) Did he really?

Katherine: No, he barely even knew who he was.

Anne; That passage was just a flag that you can’t trust any storyteller. He didn’t hate him…he decided what ideas to hold onto and to discard. It was a little bit of overwriting.

Julia: Pg. 351 1st full paragraph I like the emphasis on uncertainty and the process of decision making.

Anne: Is there a difference between the decisions? Does the category affect the hardness of making the decision? I think his philosophy comes from a character trait: the inability to make decisions.

Alex: pg. 76 He was just so indecisive. What kind of effect would that have on you psychologically?

Wezzy: He was replicating the way he was raised.

Anne: He differed from his father in many ways, but it is an interesting echo.

Isabel: I think he felt left out of the defining experience of his generation of going to war. It would have been redefining.

Anne: He seemed to be relieved but felt guilty.

Ariel: pg 121 last paragraph Genre and generalizations of genres. If it is important to make generalizations, how can anything be subjective? I’m confused. 

Jessica: In our conversation with Vallbah we said it was not how we divide things into groups but what they have in common.

Isabel: We have to accept the problem. Sometimes generalizations are inaccurate but you have to make them.

Anne: Make them with the awareness that they are inaccurate. One of the primary themes is that the value of pragmatism is tolerance. Pragmatism made it hard to go to violence based on your beliefs.

Katherine: Menard has the civil war as being this huge event in their lives, but we never looked at it in class so I didn’t see its relevance or connection.

Weezy: It was in the Holmes intro, but they didn’t have to say what they were talking about because it was the current context. But we needed to hear it. It was the elephant in the room for us, but everyone else had already met it.

Anne: Should we have read this first?

Jessica: I think that I needed to struggle through the readings, but this makes it clearer and makes me like James.  

Weezy: It was like a treat we had to earn. We needed to explore our own theories.

Alex: It could’ve come first because I had so much trouble understanding I almost felt like giving up. This might have helped me.

Ariel: But it makes us like him as a character which would have helped some of us who just hated him.

Weezy: It was a good background.

Anne: pg. 441 “Martin King was not…” At the end he pulls the rug out from under pragmatism. The civil rights movement, the civil war wouldn’t have happened.

Wezzy: But pragmatists have to have structures to exist in order to be conversed. It needs to be an antithesis.

Isabel: It ignores human nature. The last line…overwhelming human emotions that you are going to fight to the death for it. It is very motivating and important. It’s great for when things are fine.

Anne: It wouldn’t let you believe so intensely that you would be willing to for a belief.

Isabel: It is explained by human nature which pragmatism cannot trump.

Anne: It highlights our rationality by not acknowledging passionate sources. Is there an idea that anyone would be willing to die for?

Isabel: Not yet, but I hope there will be.


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Class Notes - March 30th

Pictures of field trip online


Anne: image of going to cemetery, is talking to dead friends…like reading…a kind of time travel. Company keeping with people who have been in the world and still have something to say.


PhD Octopus

How is the college characterized?

Isabel: the college made people jump through hoops because Harvard had all the big name profs so BM had to create ridiculous standards to make our profs worthwhile. I was very upset with him. It overlooks any value that might come from studying for a PhD. Basically says we should just present them to anyone who takes the time to complete the course work. The point for me is that it is different. I thought he was blowing over all of that and says that it suppresses creativity and individuality. I see his point, but I don’t think it was completely ridiculous. We might have handled it incorrectly…but what is the problem with that.

Anne: He took a particular incident and then enlarged it. What is the larger incident?

Julia: Concerned with the titled and not the learning or the capabilities of the teaching are.

Anne: We mistake the certification for the worth of the person themselves.

Weezy: Drawing on the James family view towards education, unsurprising that education would be criticized. Main issue was that the development of the individual through the work they do, both needs to be standardized and a lack of degree implies a lack if intelligence or dedication to the subject.

Anne: James children did not have an academic education like we have. They never had the kind of institutionalized experience we have had. James came to Harvard through the back door. He was the cheerleader for Individuality and spontaneity. Colleges had simply become title-giving machines.

Weezy: The value of spontaneity is clear with all the James. They’ve all been risk takers and tried new things. Took paths that had not been followed before. Actions lead to other actions. Spontaneity was valued. Abundantly clear that the ability to change ones intellectual course is incredibly difficult and ultimately damaging.

Anne: We will do a little Stein in a few weeks. The Dr. monopoly is a sham, a bobble, a dodge, etc. How did you respond?

Isabel: Political correctness? Seems so the need to include people who cant meet the standards.

Weezy: Statement about institutions that is true: There is an expected amount time and process, which everyone is expected to follow. There are ways to navigate the system, but ultimately the institution and the professors that oversee your work determine your level of success. Any deviation that interrupts the process is generally different to navigate and frowned upon by departments or professors. Individuality is seen as deviant and inconvenient.

Anne: Spontaneity and creativity and individuality has is been enhanced or squelched?

Katherine: Squelched. We have made this commitment to study and we don’t choose our curriculum or how we want to study about it. It is chosen for us. We loose time.

Ariel: In Anne’s other class, we tried to create our own curriculum. The response was chaotic. Anything I could have been learning or contributing, was blah…there were no standards, goals, or structure. You come to school to learn the skills required. You will learn other things, they will say to do it this way, u don’t have to forever, just while you are at school. Structure is important

Weezy: When you have to do that I find it is more and more difficult once those standards no longer apply. The impending ability to be an individual it is hard to break the habits.

Alex: Divisional requirements: I end of taking a lot of new classes. I found I would like to change my major. But some classes I would rather read something else rather than the forced. Both sides.

Julia: As a double major. Each department is a filter that selects out various things that don’t fill in the mold. Have a plan and now I don’t fit in it because I did my own thing. But the English department has no claim and yet I find myself thinking only about literature.

Weezy: Finished a major without ever declaring one. Issues with things needing to be proved, discussed, approved, planned. There is a standardized method of approval. The only way I could complete the course of study I wanted was by virtue of individual professors that allow me to do what I want. If your interested, do it anyway, but it is a case by case situation. I realize it is difficult/impossible for there to be an institution that does that.

Anne: Every institution betrays the beliefs they are founded on. We have had a varsity of experiences. It may not encourage spontaneity, but there is space for it.

Ariel: larger issue as one of pragmatism Thoughts should have a purpose. There values are based on the goal value. I am here because I would like to fit in a mold in the real world if I would like to function in it.

Weezy: Why not create a new mold?

Ariel: It is a lot harder than we think.

Weezy: I would like to do that

Isabel: Standards are necessary for individuality and creativity. A degree is a signifier for the outside world for what we learned. It might not be possible to grant degrees that aren’t standardized because that is what a degree is.

Anne: James is issuing a challenge to that identity. It’s a different definition.

I like Ariel’s reminder that he is a pragmatist. If the worth or value of an idea is based on its consequences and actions, is it worth going through the competition. Should we think about ways to push back?

Katherine: No, because pragmatically if you want to do ok you must do your coursework. You have to sacrifice your spontaneity. You have a very small space to push back in and by that time you are just exhausted.

Marina: I think I‘ve been squelched. They all have specific paths. They are all taking the same path and at the end of it they are all the same.

Alex: But what about electives?

Marina: But it is such a small college that it doesn’t work like that, only a certain number of classes.

Isabel: Why is that bad? We are all getting the same degree?

Marina: I wan to be an individual.

Julia: We all need that foundation to do anything new with it.

Anne: You need to take tennis lesions to be a good player. You need a base.

Ariel: In order to be a good writer you need to read a lit. You have to have the skill and the experience

Weezy: You also need to know what has been done to do something new.

Julia: But the option is choose the things You need/want to know is a good thing.

Weezy: I may not know what every history major may know, but I know much more about others on specific topics.

Anne: It is a message about the certification thing. Small places are particularly susceptible to wanting a validation of their certification. Should we be weary of what certification signifies? Like the stories of Henry James. We can’t always know what is happening. They don’t always mean what we take them to say. That’s the claim, we don’t have to buy it.

Katerine: They ask what your major is, you say History, they say what are you going to do with that. What??!! We have to do something, so here I am choosing something. I’m not going to sit in a carrel my whole life.

Weezy That’s not what I’m going to do.

Anne: 7% of BM students go one to PhD. There is a misunderstanding that we are training the new professorial team. If I were rewriting it now then I would write about that gap.  Summer before you came to college you were offered an advisor from an alumni. You could pick based on specific identifiers and then have a conversation with them about the relation between education and life. Most of us are not able to advise about careers other than professor because that is what I known what you need to do.

Isabel: It would be amazing but, there is a different in coming to BM and majoring in English than those that go to a state school and major in hotel management.

Anne: But the point is that 95% of you are not on the PhD track, but that is what you are being prepared for.


Varieties of religious experience

Anne: My question was: These two essays were written about the same time…what overlaps did u see about them? William James is a man who is suspicious of institutions and what they do to individuals. He doesn’t talk about religion the way we think about religion as an institutionalized structure. For him, it is not about institutional structures but about individual experiences.

Jessica: Not so much about belief but about structure. Once you subscribed to it you were a pigeon.

Katherine: Mainly I liked specific lines. 761: Knowledge of the thing is not the thing itself. It wrapped it all around to the Portrait of a lady. Our whole discussion about how it is a portrait, but not the lady. We are not actually Isabele. I was thinking of religion and also God. You can have all these different interpretations and sciences of religions, but they are never actually the living experience.

Anne: So the thing itself is religious experience, the feeling of oneness with the world. Philosophy is studying the thing itself.

Marina: pg 504. It kind of implied that even though the religions are so different, in the end they are the same and there is not much individuality when you come down to it. I thought that was interesting. That such different religions couldn’t be indistinguishable in our lives.

Anne: opposed to religious wars. Wars that had been fought over religious differences were wrong. Would like to minimize the difference between the religions so they do not fight. It is filled with occult experiences. He spent his whole life trying to see if religious experiences were actually real. Always searching for evidence that those varieties of experience had happened. His insistence that science can attend to the un-seeable. Reality lies in the individual itself.

Julia: 769- Interesting way to talk for a scientist. An interesting way to talk about subjective experience.

Anne: Attention to the egotistical and the subjection. Insisting on all the time that it obliterated individual experience. The claim is that the material world we see is part of a much larger world that we cannot see.

Katherine: So much of it happen at a microscopic level that we cannot see.

Anne: What is real is what we experience internally. What about this notion that this larger world that we mostly don’t pay attention to is friendly to us? If you have a religious worldview you are gong to be happier. Has he given us any idea to believe this? The universe is friendly to us. I think it begins by saying there is a larger world that is invisible to us. The world that we need to study is invisible to us. But by the end he says that the larger world is friendly to us. Do you think it is?

Jessica: Its not necessarily unfriendly. It is sort of there and we create our own relationship to it. It is ambivalent in its power. It’s not going to actively kick you when you are down.

Anne God is a wholesale, not retail business. What does that mean?

Weezy: I have this image of Sam’s Club, where everything is in bulk. I’m chewing on it.

Anne: What is in bulk?

Julia: he plants a forest not a tree. He is responsible for the bigger things, but not the smaller day-to-day things. Hurricanes, not traffic lights, are more of his line of work.

Weezy If you are asking for a good grade on a paper that may not come, but in the end of the your life it will even out.

Ariel: It’s Passover. He tortured the salves and they weren’t in their lifetime flourishes, but overall in time he makes it up to you.

Anne: Overall it is flourishing, but not in individual time. It says let us think as scientists, but not let us limit the sphere that science allows us to think about.

Julia: I felt like that conflicts with what he says later in the essay. Parts of it sound retail.

Jessica: The god of wholesale is the god of science, but is that the god that James identifies with?

Anne: I think that there are some inconsistencies in this essay. And He would say that consistency is not an ideal of his. He does argue that if you believe in God there are points in your life that will be better. That seems retail to me. Last Paragraph:

Katherine: James is saying if you think that maybe you will go to heaven when you die, and then you are thinking when I die I am dead in the ground. The end game is worm food. So resignation is that at then end you will be dead, vs that in the end you will continue on. That is hopeful.

Isabel: Grey’s Anatomy: Terminal diagnosis: assisted suicide, one doctor who was in Iraq and let his best friend die because he was in pain and then the copter came to save them. The insistence of chance makes all the different between he is resigned to the fact that his wife is going to commit suicide or maybe she can be treated.

Anne: The fact that you don’t know that when you get out you are going to make it to your dorm. The unpredictability of the future should actually make us feel hopeful.

Isabel Disappointment does not exist in the existence of the hopefulness.

Ariel: It goes both ways.

Julia: Why is he convinced that it is good to be immortal? Isn’t it better to just think that you are gone than just be in hell?

Katherine: Theoretically there is a god that exists for each man and his ideals.

Anne: The argument is his instance that we cannot know all there is to know and that the world is chancy and unpredictable. The addition today is that that is a cheerful way to look at the world. The unpredictability is the keep to the hopefulness of the outcome. Not knowing what the outcome will be as a source of hope.

Ariel: It’s a really hard claim. It depends on the past experience, how you look at the world. Hope is a tricky concept. I would rather know for certain what will happen?

Katherine: What’s the point? Why would you bother living it?

Isabele: Flash-forward…everybody knows their futures and they go around trying to prove that it doesn’t have to happen that way.

Katherine: They have to make choices and they learn that their choices sometimes lead to the outcome when they expect that it will change it.

Isabel: Is a question of whether you believe in fate?

Anne: We should celebrate that we don’t know what will happen. It should make us hopeful that we will be surprised.

Julia: I like surprises. I find surprises all the time when I buy my horses.

Anne: James’ philosophy does not expect it to be a good surprise. We should be hopeful and optimistic that the world is unpredictable.

Katherine: We can dread the predictability of the people.

Weezy: But we can’t trust that people are predictable. That’s what makes good news.

I feel like it is more difficult to squelch optimism than pessimistic. It is better to be surprisingly disappointed because at one time you were positive.


Redefinition of our definition of religion. Take religion seriously, but he is redefining religion that has to do with the open endlessness of the world.


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Science vs. God

 William James, "Dimensions of radical Empiricism, Conclusions" 

"The scientist, so-called, is, during his scientific hours at least, so materialistic that one may well say that on the whole the influence of science goes against the notion that religion should be recognized at all." 762


I felt that I had to write on this quote, though a bit random. It does not speak to me, and does not seem representative of the entire piece, but it coincides so perfectly with something I read today. I received an e-mail (I know not the most reliable source) that was almost in complete opposition to this statement, and it made me start to think. The e-mail, supposably a conversations Albert Einstein had in one of his college philosophy classes, makes the statement, in opposition to his professor's point, that science is based on theories, most of which, "according to the established rules of the emprirical, stable, demonstrable protocol," cannot exist. So, Einstein states, science, like the belief in God is based on faith. Faith that, though we cannot prove through our senses that there is evolution, all we know shows that there is evolution. 

Though this is a bit different from what James is saying, it seems to connect. If science is based on faith, as religion is, then science can in no way prove that there is no religion, and so science must recognize it. Now as this is a theory not of my own, I cannot explain how this conclusion is got at, but I will include the argument found in the e-mail at the end of my post. But, the fact that science is based on faith and belief and so cannot only disprove religion, but in a sense proves it by being unable to disprove it, seems like something that did not occur to James. It does however bring us back to James' "The Will to Believe," in which James says "I have brought with me to-night something like a sermon on justification by faith ... a defence of our right to adopt a believing attitude in religious matters..." And so I find James coming to the same conclusion that Einstein comes to. "Objective evidence and certitude are doubtless very fine ideals to play with, but where on this moonlit and dream-visited planet are they found?"  Although I must say, I am not sure what this means or proves, or really what my conclusion to this post is. Except that, though both men were scientists, they both found religion to be a 'truth,' something based on faith and belief which cannot be proved, but is proved to do good in our lives and the lives of those who believe. 

Now that I am not sure I have said anything original, here is the copy of the e-mail which spurred this line of thought. 


'Let me explain the problem science has with religion.' 
The atheist professor of philosophy pauses before his class and then asks one of his new students to stand. 

'You're a Christian, aren't you, son?' 

'Yes sir,' the student says.

'So you believe in God?' 

'Absolutely.. ' 

'Is God good?' 

'Sure! God's good.' 

'Is God all-powerful? Can God do anything?' 

'Are you good or evil?' 

'The Bible says I'm evil.' 

The professor grins knowingly. 'Aha! The Bible! He considers for a moment. 'Here's one for you. Let's say there's a sick person over here and you can cure him. You can do it. Would you help him? Would you try?' 

'Yes sir, I would.'
'So you're good...!' 

'I wouldn't say that.'

'But why not say that? You'd help a sick and maimed person if you could. Most of us would if we could. But God doesn't.' 

The student does not answer, so the professor continues. 
'He doesn't, does he? My brother was a Christian who died of cancer, even though he prayed to Jesus to heal him. How is this Jesus good? Can you answer that one?' 

The student remains silent. 

'No, you can't, can you?' the professor says. He takes a sip of water from a glass on his desk to give the student time to relax. 'Let's start again, young fella. Is God good?' 

'Er..yes,' the student says.
'Is Satan good?' 

The student doesn't hesitate on this one. 'No.'

'Then where does Satan come from?' 

The student falters. 'From God' 

'That's right. God made Satan, didn't he? Tell me, son. Is there evil in this world?' 

'Yes, sir.'
'Evil's everywhere, isn't it? And God did make everything, correct?' 


'So who created evil?' The professor continued, 'If God created everything, then God created evil, since evil exists, and according to the principle that our works define who we are, then God is evil.' 

Again, the student has no answer. 

'Is there sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things, do they exist in this world?' 

The student squirms on his feet. 


'So who created them?' 

The student does not answer again, so the professor repeats his question. 'Who created them?' There is still no answer. Suddenly the lecturer breaks away to pace in front of the classroom. The class is mesmerized. 'Tell me,' he continues onto another student. 'Do you believe in Jesus Christ, son?' 
The student's voice betrays him and cracks. 
'Yes, professor, I do.' 

The old man stops pacing. 'Science says you have five senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Have you ever seen Jesus?' 

'No sir.. I've never seen Him.' 

'Then tell us if you've ever heard your Jesus?' 

'No, sir, I have not.' 

'Have you ever felt your Jesus, tasted your Jesus or smelt your Jesus? Have you ever had any sensory perception of Jesus Christ, or God for that matter?' 

'No, sir, I'm afraid I haven't.' 

'Yet you still believe in him?' 


'According to the rules of empirical, testable, demonstrable protocol, science says your God doesn't exist. What do you say to that, son?' 

'Nothing,' the student replies. 'I only have my faith.'

'Yes, faith,' the professor repeats. 'And that is the problem science has with God. There is no evidence, only faith.' 

The student stands quietly for a moment, before asking a question of His own. 

'Professor, is there such thing as heat?' 

' Yes. 

'And is there such a thing as cold?'
'Yes, son, there's cold too.' 
'No sir, there isn't.' 
The professor turns to face the student, obviously interested.  The room suddenly becomes very quiet. 
The student begins to explain. 
'You can have lots of heat, even more heat, super-heat, mega-heat, unlimited heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat, but we don't have anything called 'cold'. We can hit down to 458 degrees below zero, which is no heat, but we can't go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold; otherwise we would be able to go colder than the lowest -458 degrees. Every body or object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy. Absolute zero (-458 F) is the total absence of heat. 
You see, sir, cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat.  We cannot measure cold. Heat we can measure in thermal units because heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it.' 

Silence across the room. A pen drops somewhere in the classroom, sounding like a hammer. 

'What about darkness, professor. Is there such a thing as darkness?'
'Yes,' the professor replies without hesitation. 'What is night if it isn't darkness?' 
'You're wrong again, sir. Darkness is not something; it is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light, but if you have no light constantly you have nothing and it's called darkness, isn't it? That's the meaning we use to define the word. In reality, darkness isn't. If it were, you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn't you?' 
The professor begins to smile at the student in front of him. This will be a good semester. 
'So what point are you making, young man?' 

'Yes, professor. My point is, your philosophical premise is flawed to start with, and so your conclusion must also be flawed.' 

The professor's face cannot hide his surprise this time. 'Flawed? 
Can you explain how?' 

'You are working on the premise of duality,' the student explains.. 'You argue that there is life and then there's death; a good God and a bad God. You are viewing the concept of God as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, science can't even explain a thought.' 'It uses electricity and magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood either one. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing. Death is not the opposite of life, just the absence of it.' 'Now tell me, professor. Do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?'

'If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, young man, yes, of course I do.' 

'Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?'

The professor begins to shake his head, still smiling, as he realizes where the argument is going. A very good semester, indeed. 

'Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor, are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you now not a scientist, but a preacher?'

The class is in uproar. The student remains silent until the commotion has subsided. 

'To continue the point you were making earlier to the other student, let me give you an example of what I mean.' The student looks around the room. 'Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the professor's brain?' The class breaks out into laughter. 'Is there anyone here who has ever heard the professor's brain, felt the professor's brain, touched or smelt the professor's brain? No one appears to have done so. So, according to the established rules of empirical, stable, demonstrable protocol, science says that you have no brain, with all due respect, sir.' 'So if science says you have no brain, how can we trust your lectures, sir?' 
Now the room is silent. The professor just stares at the student, his face unreadable. Finally, after what seems an eternity, the old man answers. 'I Guess you'll have to take them on faith.' 

'Now, you accept that there is faith, and, in fact, faith exists with life,' the student continues. 'Now, sir, is there such a thing as evil?'
Now uncertain, the professor responds, 'Of course, there is. We see it Everyday. It is in the daily example of man's inhumanity to man.. It is in The multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil.' 
To this the student replied, 'Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God's love present in his heart. It's like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light.' 
The professor sat down. 


kkazan's picture

Mid-Semester Review

 I am not sure that I have many comments on the class other than that I am enjoying the conversation greatly and find that I learn so much from everyone else in the class. I did have a hard time keeping up with some of the readings, and I find I don't always understand what I am reading until I get to class and we discuss it. I think that I have finally gotten a hang of Serendip (thanks to a lot of help) and so I hope that I can be better about postings this next half of the semester. I have to say, as we move on to William James, I am slightly disappointed that we are not spending more time on Henry James as I found his writing so interesting (both while reading and in discussions). I can only hope that I enjoy William as much. I have enjoyed writing both assignments, after the initial disturbance at such an open ended assignment which I am not accustomed to. I think that the notes that Anne puts up in class that are then online to later refer back to are very helpful, especially if I miss a class (students' notes are also helpful in that way, but not so essential to me). I am getting used to the way things work in one of Anne's classes and find that more used to the style I become, the more I enjoy them. 

Thank you for a great class so far!!

kkazan's picture

The inadequacy of words

William James' "The Stream of Thought"

"One may admit that a good third of our psychic life consists in these rapid premonitory perspective views of schemes of thoughts no yet articulate. How comes it about that a man reading aloud for the first time is able immediately to emphasize all his words aright, unless from the very first he have a sense of at least the form of the sentence yet to come, which sense is fused with his consciousness of the present word, and modifies its emphasis in his mind so as to make him give it the proper accent as he utters it." pg.44

This quote, more than any other, brought to light the constant struggle that James is having with the English language. He expresses the shortcomings of the language he writes in almost as often as he expresses a new idea. At one point he suggests that Latin might serve his purposes better, but I wonder? Isn't this always the case when expressing something for the first time? Just as when thinking it for the first time. Language has not quite caught up to where James' mind is leading from. But this is the case with everything, and it is almost, as if by pointing out the lack of appropriate words he has to work with, showing you the lack of reference your brain has to work with at the conception of a new idea. Is James really annoyed with the English language, or is he using it as an example to show the reader what the consciousness must do at the conception of a new 'stream' of thought or reference point? It's one in same...isn't it. A lack of precedence or familiarity with the new subject, in James' case.

Maybe I have misunderstood his meaning in and among all of his outbursts of inadequacy, but this I have gotten: William James is expressing something which has never been expressed before in the terms of the old. It seems the first thing he ought to do is define specific terms which will aid in his unfolding of ideas.

Can the new be expressed in the same terms of the old?

kkazan's picture

The Mind: Alice in Bed



"Alice: I have these grand thoughts, moments when my mind is flooded by a luminous wave that fills me with the sense of potency of vitality of understanding, and I feel I've pierced the mystery of the universe...." (36)


I love the idea of your mind being flooded with waves. I never thought about my mind as liquid and fluid, but now I cannot think of another way to describe it. The way that thoughts wash in and out of my mind, some making bigger splashes than others, some coming in farther than others as if the tide is coming in or out. 

I also liked this thought of Margaret's: "Unhappiness may only be a mistake. A mental mistake that you could still undo." (54) I like how this quote is based on the idea that we are meant to be happy rather than unhappy; that we are in control of our minds and are the sole leader of its thoughts. It is also interesting that mistakes can be undone and are not permanent, as is sometimes proposed. If our mind is flooded by waves, then it is only reasonable to think that the waves could be smooth over the mistake of unhappiness like the waves smooth over the sand a wave at a time. 

If forced to original, I suppose my mind is like a spider's web. The center is the original thought which, as the web grows, is added to by connecting other layers to the original thought. The center may be completely unattached to the outer part of the web, but the path that took the spider there can easily be tracked and ultimately understood.



kkazan's picture

Written Portraits

  The idea of a written portrait is slightly hard for me to grasp. A portrait is generally a piece of art, yet who is to say that writing is not art? Henry James seems rather intent on playing with our usual idea of a portrait. Generally, we see portraits like that of Rembrant or Renoir; the classical ideal of a painted portrait. 



We, as spectators, know what to do with these portraits. There is little room for interpretation, and, as the genre tells us, these are what the sitter looked like. We gain a clear visual idea of what these individuals look like.

Unlike painted portraits, written portraits leave much room for interpretation, and cannot be fully trusted. The reader cannot be sure the author is 'painting' with words is the true image of the subject. Not only can we not be sure the subject is accurately portrayed, we cannot be sure the image it creates in our minds is the image the author was seeing. Words leave much up to interpretation, paint, generally does not. 


kkazan's picture

The Real Thing is Not Always the Best Thing

When I saw this image I thought of Henry James's "Real Thing". 


In this case, the real thing, the pear, is not the most aesthetically pleasing, just as the Monarchs. It is true, that at first, the real thing my seem to be the best. Like the pear, the Monarchs were the real thing. They had not only the appearance of upper society, but were of the class those depicted were of. But why did they not work? Why is that an imitation can be better than the thing it is imitating?

"She was the real thing, but always the same thing?"

Like the pear which is always green, Mrs. Monarch was always a lady. She couldn't be dressed up to be anything else; she was static. It seems, that in our lives, as well as the need of the artists, we like variation, real or not. There is something that comes with variation, an element of surprise, that keeps things interesting or entertaining. The same old thing, time after time, is boring, and after a while, no matter how fond of it we have grown, it must be replaced with either something newer or better.

In this case, the real thing could not substitute the illusions that come with a fake. If it is real, there is no room to imagine, no room for artistic license. And what fun is that?


kkazan's picture

Make-up for Class: Alice in Bed and The Diary of Alice James

When reading The Diary of Alice James, I found myself thinking of Sontag's version of Alice. From Sontag, I grew to feel that Alice was pre-occupied with death and thought of almost nothing else. I saw her as childlike and weak, as one who spends her days feeling sorry for herself. But that is not at all the type of Alice that I take away from reading her diary. I find she presents herself as strong and intelligent, not liking to think about why she is in bed, but rather focusing her mind on the world around her (her visitors, friends, and the news of the day). To say Alice were upbeat is a grave over exaggeration, but she certainly does not seem to spend her day wallowing in self pity.

In terms of the two different forms of writing, one a play, the other a diary, they differ greatly. A play gives setting, different viewpoints from different characters, and is solely made up of dialogue. A diary only allows for one viewpoint, for even when we hear of what others say or do it is filtered through Alice James' mind. The diary allows the reader to understand how Alice's mind works. We learn what is important to her, what preoccupies her thoughts, and how she spends her days. The diary gives us the true version of Alice, which the play cannot. Also, the play has a way of making you feel sorry for Alice's condition and life, whereas the diary depicts her as strong and intelligent and has no hint of pity in it. 

Because we read her diary, we are bound to take all that is written as fact, whereas we are forced to take the play as complete fiction. We read the diary as personal, as internal thoughts unhindered by bias. Reading a play forces us to read it as dialogue and so we lose the personal touch of thought. 


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