William James, oldest of five children (including Henry James and Alice James) in the extraordinary James family, was born in New York City on January 11, 1842. He has had a far-reaching influence on writers and thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Broadly educated by private tutors and through European travel, James initially studied painting. During the Civil War, however, he turned to medicine and physiology, attended Harvard medical school, and became interested in the workings of the mind. His text, The Principles of Psychology (1890), presents psychology as a science rather than a philosophy and emphasizes the connection between the mind and the body. James believed in free will and the power of the mind to affect events and determine the future. In The Will to Believe (1897) and The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), he explores metaphysical concepts and mystical experiences. He saw truth not as absolute but as relative, depending on the given situation and the forces at work in it. He believed that the universe was not static and orderly but ever-changing and chaotic. His most important work, Pragmatism (1907), examines the practical consequences of behavior and rejects the idealist philosophy of the transcendentalists. This philosophy seems to reinforce the tenets of social Darwinism and the idea of financial success as the justification of the means in a materialistic society; nevertheless, James strove to demonstrate the practical value of ethical behavior. Overall, James's lifelong concern with what he called the "stream of thought" or "stream of consciousness" changed the way writers conceptualize characters and present the relationship between humans, society, and the natural world. He died due to heart failure on August 26, 1910.
Philosophy professor and dance enthusiast Gerald E. Myers was born in Central City, Nebraska in 1923. He received a bachelor's degree from Haverford College and a doctorate from Brown University. He taught philosophy at numerous colleges and universities including Smith College, Long Island University, Queens College, and the City University of New York. He wrote Self: An Introduction to Philosophical Psychology (1969) and William James: His Life and Thought (1987) as well as edited the Library of America edition of James's writings. He became a dance enthusiast after meeting his wife Martha Coleman, who was a dancer. He organized educational programs for the American Dance Festival, wrote books like Who's Not Afraid of Martha Graham? (2008), and edited numerous essay collections including The Aesthetic and Cultural Significance of Modern Dance (1984), The Black Tradition in American Modern Dance (1988) and African American Genius in Modern Dance (1993). He died of multiple myeloma on February 11, 2009 at the age of 85.