All of this can be explained perfectly well by science, of course. Or perhaps not.
The Year's Awakening
How do you know that the pilgrim track
Along the belting zodiac
Swept by the sun in his seeming rounds
Is traced by now to the Fishes' bounds
And into the Ram, when weeks of cloud
Have wrapt the sky in a clammy shroud,
And never as yet a tinct of spring
Has shown in the Earth's apparelling;
O vespering bird, how do you know,
How do you know?
How do you know, deep underground,
Hid in your bed from sight and sound,
Without a turn in temperature,
With weather life can scarce endure,
That light has won a fraction's strength,
And day put on some moments' length,
Whereof in merest rote will come,
Weeks hence, mild airs that do not numb;
O crocus root, how do you know,
How do you know?
Thomas Hardy, Satires of Circumstance, Lyrics and Reveries, with Miscellaneous Pieces (Macmillan 1914).
In The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James is coy. One senses that he has a certain sympathy with mysticism (which, for me, is the heart of the book), but he generally remains circumspect with respect to his own feelings until he reaches his "Conclusions." Then, in the final paragraph, he writes:
"The whole drift of my education goes to persuade me that the world of our present consciousness is only one out of many worlds of consciousness that exist, and that those other worlds must contain experiences which have a meaning for our life also; and that although in the main their experiences and those of this world keep discrete, yet the two become continuous at certain points, and higher energies filter in. By being faithful in my poor measure to this over-belief, I seem to myself to keep more sane and true."
William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (Longmans, Green, and Co. 1902), page 519.
There are those who will think that James does not go far enough. Others will think that he goes too far. I am simply grateful for this thoughtful articulation of a reasonable way to look at, and live in, the World. I might quibble with "consciousness" as being too intellectual, abstract, or psychological. On the other hand, James' philosophy and writings are grounded in psychology (or so it seems to me), so I can understand why he would use the word. I would lean more toward the presence of "other worlds" of "existence" or "being," rather than "consciousness." Using either of those words brings immanence into consideration. But I am far out of my depth at this point. To wit: please don't ask me what "existence," "being," or "immanence" mean. I will have no answer. I have only inarticulable inklings about these things.
Edward Salter (1835-1934), "Dolerw House and Gardens" (1876)
There is one fine phrase of James' that I have no quibble with whatsoever: "higher energies filter in." As a Wordsworthian pantheist, I find this thought to be wholly congenial, and true. For instance: spring is here, regardless of the date on the calendar. Higher energies filter in, bearing messages. We only need to step out the door to receive them.
A Contemplation upon Flowers
Brave flowers -- that I could gallant it like you,
And be as little vain!
You come abroad, and make a harmless shew,
And to your beds of earth again.
You are not proud: you know your birth:
For your embroidered garments are from earth.
You do obey your months and times, but I
Would have it ever spring:
My fate would know no winter, never die,
Nor think of such a thing.
Oh, that I could my bed of earth but view
And smile, and look as cheerfully as you!
Oh, teach me to see death and not to fear,
But rather to take truce!
How often have I seen you at a bier,
And there look fresh and spruce!
You fragrant flowers, then teach me, that my breath
Like yours may sweeten and perfume my death.
Henry King (1592-1669), in Norman Ault (editor), Seventeenth Century Lyrics from the Original Texts (William Sloane 1950).
William James continues the paragraph quoted above as follows:
"I can, of course, put myself into the sectarian scientist's attitude, and imagine vividly that the world of sensations and of scientific laws and objects may be all. But whenever I do this, I hear that inward monitor of which W. K. Clifford once wrote, whispering the word 'bosh!' Humbug is humbug, even though it bear the scientific name, and the total expression of human experience, as I view it objectively, invincibly urges me beyond the narrow 'scientific' bounds. Assuredly, the real world is of a different temperament, -- more intricately built than physical science allows."
William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature, page 519 (italics in original text).
John Knight (1842-1908), "English Landscape"
James ends the final paragraph of his "Conclusions" with these words (which immediately follow the quotation above):
"So my objective and my subjective conscience both hold me to the over-belief which I express. Who knows whether the faithfulness of individuals here below to their own poor over-beliefs may not actually help God in turn to be more effectively faithful to his own greater tasks?"
William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature, p. 519.
The last sentence is absolutely wonderful. It is revealing (and moving) to see James speak of "faithfulness" in the context of the intellectually distancing term "over-belief." And the sudden appearance of "God" is startling. The sentence is beautiful, extraordinary.
In the Fields
Lord, when I look at lovely things which pass,
Under old trees the shadows of young leaves
Dancing to please the wind along the grass,
Or the gold stillness of the August sun on the August sheaves,
Can I believe there is a heavenlier world than this?
And if there is
Will the strange heart of any everlasting thing
Bring me these dreams that take my breath away?
They come at evening with the home-flying rooks and the scent of hay,
Over the fields. They come in Spring.
Charlotte Mew, Complete Poems (edited by John Newton) (Penguin 2000).
Alfred East (1844-1913), "A Bend in the River"