Mysterious Misattributions of the Quoting kind

This is a guest post by Reference & Research Services student assistants Jacqueline Cao and Andrew Gonzales.

William James vs. Gerald G. Jampolsky

“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.”

It all started out with the reference question, “What is the source of this William James quote?” The stumper circled around library staff and was passed onto the student assistants as an exercise. We both took a shot at the question and now present our separate paths and findings on what began as a normal task but turned into a tedious mission. 


First I searched the library catalog, Ignacio, but found no results.

I then typed the quote with William James’ name into Google to see what it would lead to. That led to a citation that attributed the quote to James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience. Since this title is available as an ebook through the library’s subscriptions, I could search for the quote inside of it. However, there was no trace of the quote… I also looked up most of his other works and searched for the quote in Google Books. No luck.

I decided to take a different route of searching. The quote was also linked to Gerald G. Jampolsky so I looked in various sources to find the origin including Ignacio, Google, and Google Books. After many pages of Google results, I found a page that cited a Jampolsky article entitled, “Love Is Letting Go of Fear: A Guide to Peace for 1982 and on,” which was published in a magazine called New Realities. I searched for New Realities in Ignacio, discovered Gleeson Library owns it, retrieved the proper volume (#4, 1981) from the Periodicals stacks (2nd floor of Gleeson), and located the exact quote on page 18.

I had a discussion with the librarian that was originally asked the question, and we concluded that it was misattributed to William James quite a while ago through a chain of incorrect citations. It is probable that James said something similar, which is how the quote became modified/referenced to him.

Preview of “jamplosky-james quote.pdf”

jamplosky quote



Or was it William James?!

Late on an afternoon evening, one of the librarians received an IM from a faculty member asking for the details of the above quote. What was the exact source? Did it come from a James book or was it an oral quote? Hot on the case, I pursued the quote!

My initial assumption was that the quote was James’ and went about searching for the book that it came from. Yet my various searches in our databases kept leading me in circles or just simply coming up with nothing. The trail has gone cold.

I leaned on an old contact, Google. I asked Google as well as a undependable ally, an online “quote finder.” Showing the site the quote, my ally came through with a name. A different one than before! This brought up the first inconsistency! Now there were multiple authors being brought up in conjunction to the quote. A certain Gerald G. Jampolsky was framed as the origin of the quote. Yet I still couldn’t pull up anything more direct for the publication source.

It seems as if the source would be lost to the mists of ambiguity yet again. Clutching onto the thinnest of threads, I returned to Google, and waved the new supposed author and quote in front of him. He quickly snatched it, ran it through his system, and brusquely forwarded me to his his nemesis, the well-loved agent called Goodreads. Goodreads, through her network of underground spies (also called “book lovers” or “avid readers”), pointed me to a book called Love is Letting Go of Fear. Begrudgingly, Google’s associate arm, Google Books, lent me an electronic copy. Scanning the pages and finally reading to the bottom of one page, I zeroed in on the very first clause of the quote! The case was closing! The answer was to be ascertained at last! But alas, Google Books had ripped out the next page, telling me that I would have to pay if I wanted to see it.

Downtrodden, I stormed out of his office. Frustrated at being so close to answering the mystery, I wandered back to work, and I hopelessly went to see if we had a copy of this obscure book. My pulse quicken when the title came up in the library’s catalog. I hastily jotted down the call number and ran to the basement. Yes! There it was! A dusty copy of Love is Letting Go of Fear! I fluttered through the pages to where the quote was (pages 77-78), and it glimmered in whole, though dissected and strewn across a few paragraphs. I set the book down with a contented smile, and laid the case to rest.

Scanned from GL1AD(6)


We still do not know how the quote got separated from Jampolsky, paraphrased, and then attributed to William James, but least we all can rest better now knowing its true origins.


One thought on “Mysterious Misattributions of the Quoting kind”

  1. Great detective work! The world may never know whether Williams James was misquoted, or if it was misappropriated by Mrs. James. How would Jampolsky feel about this? Alas, our great reference students are amazing!

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