We Must Be Willing To Change Our Belief System, Let the Past Slip Away, Expand Our Sense of Now, and Dissolve the Fear in Our Minds

William James? Gerald G. Jampolsky? Judy J. Johnson? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, I came across a quotation attributed to the famous philosopher and psychologist William James about the difficult task of changing one’s belief system. He stated that one must let the past slip away, and one must dissolve fears. I do not recall where I read this statement, and now I am not sure it was really from James. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that William James authored a matching quotation, and QI conjectures that the common misattribution is due to an error in a 2009 book. Details are given further below.

In 1979 psychiatrist and bestselling author Gerald G. Jampolsky published “Love Is Letting Go of Fear” which included the following passage. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

The world we see that seems so insane is the result of a belief system that is not working. To perceive the world differently, we must be willing to change our belief system, let the past slip away, expand our sense of now, and dissolve the fear in our minds. This changed perception leads to the recognition that we are not separate, but have always been joined.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

The words of Jampolsky were recalled in the 1993 book “Talk To Me: Opening Up Your Silent Man” by Kris Rosenberg. The following appeared as a chapter epigraph: 2

To perceive the world differently, we must be willing to change our belief system, let the past slip away, expand our sense of now, and dissolve the fear in our minds.
Gerald Jampolsky, Love Is Letting Go of Fear

In 2009 psychology professor Judy J. Johnson published “What’s So Wrong with Being Absolutely Right: The Dangerous Nature of Dogmatic Belief”. Johnson ascribed the quotation to William James, but remarkably the accompanying footnote cited the book by Jampolsky: 3

In the words of William James, “To perceive the world differently, we must be willing to change our belief system, let the past slip away, expand our sense of now, and dissolve the fear in our minds.” 56

56. G. G. Jampolsky, Love Is Letting Go of Fear (Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts, 1979), p. 19.

QI hypothesizes that the names “James” and “Jampolsky” were somehow swapped in the notes that Johnson employed while writing her book. The two names would probably have been adjacent in an alphabetical listing, and that may have facilitated the confusion.

In 2009 the quotation with an ascription to William James was posted to the popular Goodreads website where it subsequently garnered more than one hundred “likes”: 4

“To perceive the world differently, we must be willing to change our belief system, let the past slip away, expand our sense of now, and dissolve the fear in our minds,”
― William James

In conclusion, Gerald G. Jampolsky should receive credit for the words he wrote in 1979. The ascription to William James appears to be spurious.

Image Notes: Illustration of person meditating from Activedia at Pixabay. Image has been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to Melanie Beep whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1981 (1979 Copyright), Love Is Letting Go of Fear by Gerald G. Jampolsky M.D., Chapter: Introduction, Quote Page 13, (Same text as 1979 Celestial Arts edition), Bantam Books, Toronto and New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1995 (1993 Copyright), Talk To Me: Opening Up Your Silent Man by Kris Rosenberg, Chapter 8: The Freedom of Forgiveness: Changing the Past to Create the Future, Quote Page 154, Avon Books, New York. (Verified with scans)
  3. 2009, What’s So Wrong with Being Absolutely Right: The Dangerous Nature of Dogmatic Belief by Judy J. Johnson, Chapter 1: The “Absolute Truth” about Dogmatism: Historical Background, Quote Page 51, (Footnote number 56 is on Page 59), Prometheus Books, Amherst, New York. (Google Books Preview)
  4. Website: Goodreads, Webpage title: William James > Quotes > Quotable Quote, Date on website of first “like”: Jan 31, 2009, Website description: “the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations”. (Accessed goodreads.com on January 14, 2019) link