Steve Stewart-Williams Ph.D.

The Nature-Nurture-Nietzsche Blog

Quote of the Day: William James on Consciousness

A depressed genius muses on the mysteries of the mind

Posted Oct 31, 2013

William James

"The point which as evolutionists we are bound to hold fast to is that all the new forms of being that make their appearance are really nothing more than results of the redistribution of the original and unchanging materials. The self-same atoms which, chaotically dispersed, made the nebula, now, jammed and temporarily caught in peculiar positions, form our brains; and the 'evolution' of the brains, if understood, would be simply the account of how the atoms came to be so caught and jammed. In this story no new natures, no factors not present at the beginning, are introduced at any later stage. But with the dawn of consciousness an entirely new nature seems to slip in, something whereof the potency was not given in the mere outward atoms of the original chaos."

It sure seems strange! For an attempt to explain how consciousness fits into the evolutionist's picture of the world, a good starting place is this lecture by the philosopher Dan Dennett. For more of James, check out his masterpiece, The Principles of Psychology.

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