William James, more than anyone else, was responsible for introducing the wide range of topics that now comprise the broad field of psychology.

In his magnificent text, The Principles of Psychology, he explored and expanded what was then known about neuroscience, cognition, emotion, perception, and behavior and left a legacy of inquiry into the workings of human experience that still fuels this social science.

This film presents some of James’s most important formulations, including his discussions of habit, consciousness, will, and religious experience with current live-action illustrations. Dr. McDermott’s commentary reminds viewers that James’s work also prods us to lead our own individual lives with courage, openness to possibilities and awareness to what James referred to as the “fringe” of experience. This fringe includes the hunches, inexpressible feelings, and haunting memories that influence our thoughts and actions.

An interview with a young recovering alcoholic and an account of James’s own struggle with suicidal depression make this film an emotionally moving experience as well as an instructional one for students.