William James and the Golden Age of Consciousness Science

Bernard J. Baars

Almost every fact we know about consciousness today can be found in William
James' Principles of Psychology (1890). James summarized a century of
extraordinary discoveries, starting with hypnosis, sensory consciousness,
psychosomatic illness, emotional conflict, self-deception, the visible
anatomy of the brain, and much, much more. The 1,400 pages of the Principles
are filled with empirical findings, debates, and theory. Most of his facts
have been verified over and over again.  A few years later James published
his Briefer Psychology (1892), which became the main introductory text in
American colleges for the next thirty years.

Yet within two years of James' death in 1910 John B. Watson issued his
behaviorist manifesto, which denounced consciousness as "nothing but the
soul of theology." By 1925 the entire vocabulary of conscious experience ---
mental imagery, thought, inner speech, meaning, feeling, even memory --- was
purged from academic psychology. After John Watson, B.F. Skinner became the
voice of radical behaviorism, the view that subjective experience must be
expunged from science. Behaviorists controlled American, British, and
Soviet-sphere academic psychology. In philosophy, the great purge was cheered on by Bertrand Russell and the analytic school.

Today, when some 5,000 scientific articles refer to consciousness each year,
it is time to ask, why was the Golden Age purged? Was it basically wrong? Or
was the purge itself a dead end in science?