James Hyslop

Prof. James Hyslop

The Borderland of Psychical Research
Publisher: G. B. Putnam's Sons
Published: 1906
Pages: 425

Chapter 10: Mind and Body

 - James Hyslop -

Contents > Previous > Next

          THERE ARE two more or less distinct problems in the question regarding the relation between mind and body. They are the speculative and the practical problem. The speculative problem is philosophical and religious and the practical is therapeutic and ethical. The speculative problem grew out of the original controversy of Spiritualism with Materialism. The second is a modern question, probably initiated by idealism and taken up seriously by various schools of believers in the efficiency of consciousness in healing diseases. I shall discuss the two problems separately.

The controversy between Spiritualism, using this term in its old philosophic and respectable sense, and Materialism was whether man had any soul or not, and whether it survived death. Those who believed that there was a soul conceived it as a tenant of the body, and so described it, so that death was but a transition from this habitation to another life. This other life was conceived either as a reincarnation or as the carrying with our consciousness the ethereal organism which we already possessed in the physical life. Plato adopted reincarnation as his expression of the doctrine, Christianity adopted the latter, except as it came to believe in a physical resurrection. But both types of thinkers thought of the soul as an inhabitant of the body and removable from it. The materialist conceived the problem in two ways. He originally admitted, as among the Epicureans, that the soul was a fine material or ethereal organism, matter of fine type and ether not being distinguishable. But he claimed that this ethereal organism perished at death. The later materialist did not speak of a soul at all, except as a synonym of consciousness, and treated consciousness as a function of the physical organism. It followed as a necessity from this conception that it vanished at death as other physical functions of the same organism. The older form of materialism was adjustable to the conceptions of Christianity, as the idea of the spiritual resurrection probably came from it. This view was quite identical, as intimated above, with the notion of tenancy in the body. The one conception which thus became irreconcilably opposed to survival after death was that of modern materialism, which conceived consciousness as a function of the physical body, and there Was in this no need for thinking or speaking of a "soul" as a substance, if the term was to be used at all. Hence it came to denote the phenomena of consciousness as distinct from physical phenomena. The consequence was that the problem of the relation between "soul and body" came to be one affecting the question of its real existence and survival after death. If this relation were conceived as that of a tenant or substance coexisting with and as at least in some respects influencing bodily actions, there was at least a presumption that it did not disappear with the dissolution of the body, this last being an unquestioned fact. The appeal could be made to the admitted indestructibility of substance, as in the case of the atoms or of all substance. If it were not conceived as a tenant or substance, but as a phenomenal function, like digestion or circulation, it presumably or probably perished as do these similar functions. The controversy, therefore, became one to determine whether personality survived death or not, with one school affirming and the other denying it. But both admitted, hypothetically, the position of the other on the condition that the assumptions were correct about the nature of the soul. The materialist admitted readily enough that the soul would be imperishable, if it were an indivisible substance, but he held that it was not a substance at all, but a phenomenon, a function of the organism. The spiritualist admitted as readily that the "soul" or consciousness perished, if it was a phenomenon, but he held that it was a substance and came under the laws of substance. Consequently the whole interest of the question came to he concentrated in the issue whether personality survived or not.

Two schools in Greek thought maintained that "soul" was substance, and these two schools constituted the whole reflective spirit of Greece. They were the Platonic, or the Idealists, and the Epicurean, or the Materialists. Plato and his followers held that it was a "universal" substance, which constituted the permanent elements in the forms of life about us, and so was reimbodied in different generations and types of organic life. It was thus imperishable, but lost its individuality or personality. The transitions or reincarnations did not carry with them the individual characteristics of any previous embodiment, but only the effects of previous experience. The Epicureans gave some individuality to the soul, but it was the individuality of a complex organism which perished at death, according to their assumptions of what must characterize complex organisms. But as they held to the imperishable nature of substance in its elements they opened the way to two replies to their view. First, they had no sensible evidence that the fine ethereal organism perished with the body. In fact they had no sensible evidence that it existed coincidentally with the body as a tenant of it, and so their view that it perished with it was a pure assumption unsubstantiated by any evidence whatever. Secondly, their opponents had only to maintain that the soul was an indivisible element to bring it under the assumption regarding the indestructibility of substance to guarantee its permanence. This Tertullian did, and tried to establish the Christian belief in immortality upon a basis which the materialist could not dispute, unless he turned away from his method of speculation to the scientific one of evidence.

But before Tertullian advanced his position the Christian had started with the evidential method in his assertion of the resurrection against the claims of the materialist, and in doing so he assumed the materialist's doctrine of a fine ethereal organism, or spiritual body. It was not the materialist, but the anti-materialist that first appealed to evidence, and it may conduce to clearness in the understanding of the historical movement on this issue to briefly outline the development of it.

The materialists, as I have said, believed in an organism associated with the body, and which they agreed to consider the "soul." But as they believed that all complex organisms perished, they held that the soul perished also. The first attack on their system was the one mentioned above. It was that there was no sensible evidence of this disappearance in the nature of things. This attack was not made in so many words, but was the assumption lying at the base of the doctrine of the resurrection, whether we regard it as physical or spiritual. To controvert that doctrine, all that was necessary was to show cases of actual "rising from the dead." The Greek theory of gravitation was not like ours, but maintained that matter rose and fell of its own nature. Heavy matter went downward, light matter rose upward, the one toward the earth and the other heavenward. Now as the soul was supposed to be a fine ethereal matter, it would naturally rise when released from its attachment to the grosser body. Thus a theory of the resurrection could be established, at least a priori on the basis of materialism itself. And that such a view did exist before it was asserted of any particular individual can be seen in the recorded controversy between the Sadducees and Pharisees, the one affirming and the other denying the "resurrection." All, therefore, that was necessary was to appeal to the phenomena of apparitions in order to satisfy the terms of the materialist himself. It would be necessary, of course, to guarantee that the apparition had some other meaning than an illusion or an hallucination, but in the early period of reflection this issue had not been worked out scientifically, and we know from history that the belief in apparitions exercised a powerful influence upon belief in the "supernatural," and it is not necessary to assume that the phenomena were real in order to admit their influence on speculation. The belief in their occurrence was sufficient to start a philosophic controversy, and in the controversies of the time there is evidence that the phenomena of apparitions had their influence in shaping conviction on a future life, whether we choose to credit or discredit their nature. If then any particular individual should be represented in an apparition, the fact would naturally give rise to a contradiction of the materialist's position. It would suggest, or be taken to prove, the resurrection.

Now suppose some one or more persons should have had an apparition of Christ after his death, it is easy to see what use could be made of the fact. It would not be necessary for us in this discussion to maintain that such an apparition was real. We might admit with Renan that it was an hallucination due to excitement. All that is necessary is to suppose that some experience occurred which could be taken, rightly or wrongly, for an apparition of reality. That such stories did rise concerning Christ is apparent in the experience of St. Paul, of Christ walking on the water, and of his appearance to the disciples in the closed room, and possibly as "the consciousness of a presence" to his disciples on the way to Emmaus. A similar phenomenon is reported in the appearance of Moses and Elias to Christ himself. Suppose this to be mythical, as we might well do, and suppose that the others were incidents due to excited imaginations, the case would not be in the least altered regarding the use which could be made of them against the materialistic theory by those who actually believed in the reality of the phenomena. And we have the evidence that they were so used triumphantly to dispute materialism. The appeal was to facts, not to speculative assumptions, and it matters not for the efficiency of the facts whether they were actually what they were taken to be or not. They were believed to be real as they were experienced, and were used on that assumption of their character.

But various intellectual influences conspired to give the belief at the time the form of a physical resurrection, and this the resurrection of the grosser body. I do not require to enter into the question whether they were valid influences or not. They probably arose out of the accepted theory that the fine ethereal organism of the materialists was "matter." With antiquity "spirit" was not distinct in kind from "matter." It was a fine "matter," and so could be denominated as physical, and though there were influences to cultivate the idea that spirit was immaterial, the materialistic position could be used, especially in the light of apparitions, to favor the idea that the resurrection was "physical," because it was of the fine ethereal organism, and a dispute might arise as to whether it was "physical" or "spiritual" on the basis of the rising distinction between matter and spirit. The common mind which was not familiar with the philosophic conceptions would tend to the doctrine of the grosser physical resurrection, as reflected in the allegation of it. The philosophic mind would tend toward the other view, as we find in St. Paul, who distinguished between the "natural" body which perished and the "spiritual" body which arose from the dead. Then, when spirit was supposed to be wholly material, as it was to be so conceived, any form of "physical" or "bodily" resurrection would come to mean the grosser physical body, the other conception of it as fine "matter" having been exchanged for "spirit" or immaterial substance.

Now as the materialists had to drop their conception of a fine material or ethereal organism in order to save their denial of immortality, the interest of Christianity was not particularly served by further appeal to facts; and as on the other hand the doctrine of the physical resurrection prevailed in human belief, the philosophic controversy was between a philosophy which defended the physical resurrection of the grosser type and the philosophy which had abandoned the view of an ethereal organism and asserted the phenomenal nature of consciousness. That is to say, in abandoning the ethereal organism, materialism accepted the view that consciousness was a function of the organism. Instead, therefore, of insisting upon the appeal to facts of experience in its defence, Christian philosophy virtually admitted that consciousness was a function of the bodily organism, and resorted to the physical resurrection to support its belief in a future life. This of course was the position of the common mind. Other philosophers slightly altered this view, and maintained that the soul was a substance different in kind from matter and inhabiting the body as more or less necessary for its activity, and having to succumb to the authority of the Church, accepted the resurrection there held, and so supposed that the soul would again inhabit its original organism. The whole conception of the "spiritual" resurrection and the appeal to facts was thus lost and speculative philosophy assumed to direct human thought in other directions, namely, in those of an immaterial substance and the idea of a physical resurrection. This view ruled history for many centuries, in fact, down to the present time, with occasional differences among small groups of thinkers. At no time did it work itself out into perfect clearness. It was always compromising with the idea of a physical resurrection, which was a dogma of the Church. Hence philosophy, which had always to be ancillary to theology, as a condition of its existence, had to admit or assume the physical resurrection, whatever view it took of the soul, and as the physical resurrection gave so much trouble to rational thought, the most clearly defined controversy was between materialism, which denied the existence of spiritual substance, and the opposing philosophy, which affirmed it, with the latter fluctuating between an idealistic interpretation of the soul and what was no better than a materialistic view of it, in so far as its conception of the dependence of consciousness on the organism was concerned. Let me summarize the case.

Materialism (1) abandoned the idea of an ethereal organism as too much of a concession to spiritualism, and (2) set up the phenomenal or functional nature of consciousness, making it an activity of the grosser instead of the finer organism. The atomic doctrine and the laws of chemistry helped this view to become clear. Spiritualism (1) set up an antithesis or opposition in kind between matter and spirit or mind, tending to create the idea that spirit was spaceless, and so excluding the "spiritual body" doctrine, (2) accepted the functional nature of consciousness though making it a phenomenon of spirit, and (3) handicapped its own position by concession to the theological dogma of the bodily resurrection. Thus the first feature of its position was inconceivable to the common mind and the third was inconceivable to the intelligent and philosophic mind, while the second partly agreed with the materialist, namely, that consciousness was functional in its nature. The difference was that materialism was clear in its conception of the relation between consciousness and the organism, while spiritualism was not sure of any other subject for it. Consequently, after the abandonment of the Pauline idea of the spiritual body, the controversy was between philosophy or science and superstition, on the one hand, and between the two functional views of consciousness, on the other; one making it a phenomenon of the organism and the other of some other subject or substance which it did not define in spatial terms. In both forms of the dispute, however, the issue was whether the organism was or was not the subject of consciousness, the materialist affirming and the spiritualist denying that it was.

As long as the philosophic mind maintained the created and phenomenal nature of matter, which it did for many centuries because the Church was able to suppress materialistic beliefs, materialism could not make any progress. Philosophy had held that both the sensible and the supersensible material world were created, and so had to set up "spirit" as the creator. That is, it maintained that the world as seen by the senses and the world beyond the senses, namely, the atomic world, were ephemeral and subject to the will of God, or the immaterial and spiritual background of things. As long as this view could be sustained, materialism had but little chance to survive. But the discovery of the indestructibility of matter and the conservation of energy changed all this. They again restored the idea that matter was permanent and not phenomenal, and materialism, lacking evidence that consciousness was independent of organism, made it a phenomenon of matter, so that the existence of God and the immortality of the soul were directly attacked by one blow. Materialism strengthened its fortress, and the relation between mind and body was conceived as that of a function to a dissolvable subject. It took up both a philosophic and a scientific position. Its philosophic position was based upon the doctrine of the conservation of energy and its scientific position upon evidential phenomena. Both the philosophic and the scientific view assumed a causal relation between mind and body, or mental and physical phenomena, and subordinated the former to the latter in such a manner as to imply the transient and phenomenal nature of consciousness.

The philosophic view of materialism interpreted this causal relation after the conservation of energy, and so tacitly or explicitly denied the existence of really spiritual phenomena of any kind. It had logically to reduce consciousness to a mode of motion, and as this had been denied by the spiritualists, the conclusion most natural was that consciousness perished at death, as did other functions of a motional sort in the organism. The conservation of energy had interpreted consciousness as one of the mechanical series and implied that it had the same destiny.

The scientific view, while it also assumed a causal nexus between the physical and mental series, did not require to apply the conception lying at the basis of the conservation of energy, but remained content with the view that consciousness depended upon the physical for its existence. To prove this it pointed to the variations in the integrity of consciousness according to the condition of the physical organism. An accident or blow, a disease, lesion, or other disturbance in the organism sufficed to suspend consciousness as they suspended circulation, temperature, digestion, or other functions of the body, making consciousness depend, not on a spiritual subject, but upon the material organism. Then it had the fact that consciousness is known only in connection with the physical organism and is not known apart from it, discarding all reference or consideration of the phenomena examined in psychical research, and hence it concluded that consciousness is a function of the organism, just as we should and do explain the rain by the clouds. That is, rain is always associated with the clouds, and when the clouds are not present it does not rain. We infer that clouds are the condition of rainfall. So if consciousness is associated with a physical organism and we do not find it present or existing when the organism is not present, we naturally infer that it is a function of the organism with which its known existence is connected.

The philosophic materialist, in his application of the doctrine of the conservation of energy, did not see that it might recoil upon himself. The spiritualist had maintained a theory of creation and so could believe in the introduction of new forces into the universe. But the conservation of energy at least apparently denied this, and so seemed to establish the materialist's position. And then again, the conservation of energy applied the principle of causality between phenomena in a way to maintain that all changes of matter and motion were made without gain or loss in the total amount of them. Neither increase nor decrease of energy was possible, according to its doctrine. Hence when it came to apply its conception to the relation between physical and mental phenomena it had either to regard consciousness as a part of the effect initiated by the cause or regard it as an inexplicable "epi-phenomenon." The latter alternative was to give up materialism: the former was to interpret consciousness as a mode of motion. Traditional conceptions had maintained that, if this be the case, it was perishable. But the materialist here forgot that, in that conception of the conservation of energy which makes cause and effect the same in kind, in order to preserve the identity of quantity in energy with change, he logically had to retain consciousness in the world as well As motion, and that we could as well eliminate motion as mental facts. As far as he assumed any identity between antecedent and consequent as a condition of measuring their quantitative identity in phenomenal changes, he retained consciousness as well as motion in the series of phenomena with which he dealt. Hence as long as he assumed qualitative identity between cause and effect, and apparently he had to do this in order to maintain the conservation of energy, he could not sustain the transient and phenomenal nature of consciousness.

The philosophical spiritualist, however, instead of applying the doctrine of the conservation of energy, in so far as it is conceived as implying an identity between cause and effect, as an ad hominem argument against materialism, resorted to a denial of the causal nexus between the physical and mental. He virtually admitted that, if the causal connection, assumed in at least one interpretation of the conservation of energy, be rightly conceived, the materialistic theory would be supported. But instead of showing a reductio ad absurdum of the materialist at this point, that is, a conclusion the opposite of what the materialist intended, the philosophic spiritualist thought to redeem his position by denying that conception of their causal relation, and set up the doctrine of Parallelism, which means that physical phenomena cannot be transformed into mental, that one cannot produce the other causally, as mechanical causation is conceived. He thought by this device to save the soul. He thought that, if consciousness were not conceived as transformed or transmitted motion, it must have another subject or basis than the physical organism. But I must contend that this is a vain hope. I see no reason to assume that only one kind of function can characterize a subject. I do not see why any number of functions not convertible into each other might not subsist side by side in the same organism and perish with it. Hence it seems to me that the resort to parallelism only lands us in a cul-e-sac, a blind alley. Like all philosophic arguments, it depends on assumptions which facts have not yet been proved.

If the parallelist expects to prove the existence of a soul or something other than the bodily organism to explain consciousness by denying the application of the conservation of energy to the relation between physical and mental phenomena, he does so on the assumption that all physical phenomena are reducible to modes of motion and that consciousness is not a mode of motion. But this position will not help him any in the one fundamental question of evidence. For, though consciousness may not be a mode of motion, the fact that we observe constantly in our experience that attributes and functions, not convertible into each other, inhere in the same subject, is proof that, in spite of their inconvertibility, they are related to their subject in the same way and have their destiny conditioned by this fact. Hence the only conclusive proof that another subject for consciousness than the organism is necessary will be the actual separation of the soul and its individual consciousness from the body. If this can be effected and communication with it established, we can have reasons to believe that consciousness is not a function of the body, but a function of some other subject or reality, whatever we may choose to call it. It may be true that consciousness and motion, or mental and physical phenomena, are not interconvertible. Whether they are or are not I do not care, as I think an interpretation of the conservation of energy is possible, which will make it either irrelevant to the problem or perfectly consistent with survival after death. The doctrine is not yet so clear in its philosophic conceptions as is necessary to make it pertinent to the issue, and hence certain assumptions about it have to be made in order to secure even the appearance of relevancy. The main assumption made is that cause and effect are identical in kind, which may not always or ever be the fact at all. The truer conception of the relation between them, and so between the members in a series of physical phenomena, is that they are identical in quantity, not necessarily qualitatively identical. That is all that physics claims when it is careful of its statements, though one would like to know what we mean by quantitative sameness without some qualitative sameness. How can we measure quantity without some qualitative identity for the standard?

I shall not thresh out this question, as it is not necessary: for I think that there is a great deal of illusion about the conservation of energy. In the one sense in which it defines the facts of physical science and mechanics it is wholly irrelevant to the problem before us, as the problems of science and philosophy are not all of them reducible to the idea of equivalents mechanical or otherwise. The confusion is caused by the equivocal import of the conception that cause and effect are equal. Equality implies some sort of identity in kind, though it may not be essential, as in mathematical concepts. For instance, I can measure a certain equivalence between potatoes and books, say in pounds or in money value. But I cannot do this in terms of inches. It is the same in the relation between cause and effect. They are not always or in all characteristics identical in kind. Hence the conservation of energy is irrelevant to the issue affecting the existence of a subject other than the brain to account for consciousness, and it is only the illusion created by the manner of expressing its character that produces the appearance of a relation to the problem.

The whole confusion is due to three totally different uses of the term cause. (1) It is used to denote the action of one thing on another without regard to the question whether there is transmission of motion or energy in the act. (2) It is used to explain the identity of the quantity of energy transmitted in mechanical operations, where the effect concerned is some mode of motion. (3) It is used to denote the acts of a subject exercising its own functions or activities. In this last conception there is no implication of conservation whatever, and yet it is one of the most widely applied ideas of causality. The conservation of energy can be applied only in the second conception of the term, and it can be applied there only under limitations which do not exclude the operation of other uses of it to the associated phenomena in the same connection.

We should also note another fact of interest. No one cares a penny for the proved inconvertibility of physical and mental phenomena, unless the fact should justify the belief that consciousness survived the body. We do not care the least whether there be a soul or not, unless this consequence is guaranteed by it. It would completely satisfy our scientific and philosophic curiosity if we should prove that the brain was the subject or cause of consciousness; and if we should prove that there was a soul inhabiting the organism we should not care particularly for this fact unless it implied its survival after death. The whole point of the controversy through the ages has been this one interest. It may be a wrong interest. With that I am not concerned at present. All that I wish to enforce is that this is the issue and that it is not to be evaded, whether we regard it as a legitimate issue or not. We should say either that we do not care anything about survival and that this is not involved in the problem, or that we intend to face this issue and solve it affirmatively or negatively, if the facts enable us to do so. In all history that has been the issue, and there is no excuse for the pretence of another subject than the brain to explain consciousness, unless we mean to attempt the solution of that question by our method.

But when it comes to this issue, rightly conceived it can be determined only by science and the investigation of those facts which purport to represent the isolation of the soul from the bodily organism. Discussions about the conservation of energy and parallelism will never decide it, because they do not involve the facts which are necessary for proof of an assured kind. They may be very good dialectics and useful for clearing up our ideas on various matters, but they are not at all crucial in the settlement of fundamental issues. The materialistic position is invulnerable as long as we ignore the facts which purport to isolate the individual soul and consciousness and rely for investigation upon those phenomena which involve the coincidence between consciousness and a living organism. The latter facts are wholly in favor of the association of mind and body, and no facts can disturb that conviction except they prove the possible isolation of personality. The whole interest of the question regarding the relation between mind and body, in philosophy and religion, of course, is whether the soul is anything but a function of the body, and if it is not this, its survival falls under the law of substance. But the proof of this must be those facts which prove its continuity, and no others will do this but such as are conceived to represent it in psychic research. It is not my purpose to take up the consideration of the issue on its merits. I am concerned in this statement only with the method for its solution, not the application of it. All that I am here indicating is the nature of the problem and the way it has to be solved, as well as the futility of some arguments claiming to deal with it effectively. In parallelism and discussions of the conservation of energy we conceal the issue by supposing that the historical problem was the relation between physical and mental phenomena within the organism, namely, whether they were convertible or not. But the fact is that the whole question of the causal relation between the physical and mental originated in the conception that is represented in the third meaning of causality above indicated, and was whether the organism was the sole basis for consciousness. It was only a shifting and evasion of the issue to raise the question whether the physical and mental series in the organism were interpretable in terms of the conservation of energy. That might or might not be true without affecting the issue with which philosophy and religion had all along been concerned.

We come next to the practical problem suggested by the phrase "Mind and Body." This, too, concerns the causal relation between mental and physical phenomena, but not with reference to the solution of philosophical and religious issues. It concerns the question whether the mind can influence physical conditions to the extent of healing disease and regulating the nature and habits of organic actions within the organism.

In the great philosophic controversy the question of their causal relation was construed so as to consider but one side of it, namely, that of the dependence of mental phenomena upon the action of the body, making the body the prior or first condition of the existence of mental phenomena. The materialistic theory started with the view that matter is the first fact in existence, even an eternal fact, and so it conceived consciousness as secondary, and in the experience of human life the body seemed to so condition the occurrence of consciousness that no other subject of it appeared necessary. The settlement of this problem did not require either party to discuss the question whether consciousness was the first fact in the world and matter afterward. That was the problem of theism, and even when this was proved there still remained the question whether human consciousness was prior to the human organism, and if it were not, nothing but faith in the character of divine intelligence and justice would guarantee a belief in survival. And even in the theistic position the dependence of consciousness upon the body was so apparent, at least in respect of its manifestations, that no determination of the problem of a future life would rest on assuming a causal influence of the mind on the body. Hence the philosophic discussion turned about the relation only in one direction. The practical problem assumes the issue to be regarding the causal agency of the mind on the body rather than the causal agency of the body on the mind, this latter being admitted.

In taking up the practical question whether the mind can affect the body and its functions I do not assume any conception of causality but the most general one. This is the simple broad conception of one thing or event determining the action of another object or the occurrence of another event. It does not matter whether one event or phenomenon is transformed into another. The point in this general conception is only whether one object or event can in any way affect another and determine its behavior. This we take for granted in physical phenomena, and now the question is whether the mind can influence bodily action in any such way as one physical fact influences another, and if so, what the limits of such action are.

Neither the affirmation nor the denial of such a causal nexus affects the materialistic theory. The simple reason for this exclusion of metaphysical problems from the issue is the fact that in physical science the series of phenomena, all physical, is composed of phenomena that are alternately cause and effect, according to the relation in which they are seen. Thus if I strike a billiard-ball, I impart a certain amount of motion to it. The cause in this case may be the instrument with which I strike it. This imparted motion is again transmitted to the next ball struck by the first one, and so on through any number in the series. The motion of the first ball is the effect of the impact with the cue and the cause of the motion in the second ball, and so on with succeeding balls. In general, what is an effect in the first ball becomes a cause in relation to the second, and what is an effect in the second becomes a cause in relation to the third. Cause and effect, therefore, are relative terms in dealing with a series of connected phenomena.

If then we assume that bodily action can give rise to consciousness and consciousness is followed by certain physical phenomena, it will only be a question of evidence and of uniformity to prove to us that consciousness can be a cause as well as an effect. The materialist may, therefore, admit that consciousness may act as a cause without supposing that it is the first cause in the occurrence of bodily phenomena. We find thus that no metaphysical issue is involved in this form of conceiving the problem. It is merely whether consciousness can be treated as a cause. The doctrine of parallelism denies that it can. But then this doctrine is concerned with the theory of "mechanical" causation, which treats it from the point of view of convertibility of cause and effect, or the transmission of energy from subject to subject. But we are not here dealing with that conception of causality. If we may indulge the use of a technical term, it is efficient causality that we are here conceiving, and this means merely the power to induce the occurrence of a fact other in kind than the antecedent one with which we start. So we might affirm the existence of an efficient causal nexus between mind and body without admitting transmissive causes. Hence the parallelistic position is irrelevant to the matter here considered. Consequently the present problem is not whether consciousness can be converted into physical phenomena, but whether it can in any way affect their course and modify the "natural" movement of physical agencies.

With this view of causal relation I think the question is capable of very easy solution. The evidence that mind can affect body, that consciousness can produce physical effects in or out of the body, is so clear that the denial of it in this broad sense is equivalent to ignorance. The first determinative evidence of such an influence is the act of will or volition. We can deliberately move our limbs in any way we please. It matters not if consciousness was first the result of cerebral and therefore of physical action. You may take any view of that which you please. The point here is that this state of mind, involving the idea of an end and an emotional impulse to attain it, in its order produces certain physical phenomena, and these of a vast variety, though they may all be of one type. Indirectly it may give rise to external physical events which would not have occurred but for the interposition of the will in the series of events.

Again, a sensation or a pain in any part of the organism is known to produce an effect on the arteries and the circulation of the blood to that particular region. The arteries will enlarge and admit a more copious flow of blood to the specific locality affected. We know what effect fright may have on the action of the heart, or often upon the muscles, causing trembling or rigidity as the case may be. Sometimes fright may cause a very large suspense of the normal physiological conditions and induce catalepsy or other physical disturbances. Strong emotions may affect the digestion, the action of the liver, or the kidneys, and other functional organs. Excitement may increase the flow of blood to the brain. In a thousand ways consciousness influences bodily conditions, and the only question is what its limits are.

I may refer to the work of Dr. Hack Tuke on this specific subject, a work whose importance will not be questioned by any in the medical profession. It is composed of instances and reflections on the influence of the mind on the body, and was written and published in 1872. It is far enough away from the interests and prejudices of this age on similar phenomena to be free from suspicion of personal passion, and is a good inductive collection of facts bearing upon the matter under consideration. Some of the incidents probably needed more careful investigation as to their nature or credibility, but most of them have such authorities in their support as to make the fact of mental influence on the bodily organism certain, while less accredited facts will appear as possible whether proved or not. Many of Dr. Tuke's instances represent morbid conditions, but this will not make any difference to the general fact of mental influence on the body, though for certain purposes we have to keep the two types of influence distinct from each other. I have referred above to what must be universally recognized as representing the claim of causal action of mind on the body, as a fact which has to be admitted on any theory of the relation between the two.

The following incident is taken from Tuke's collection. 

"Dr. Kellog records, in the American Journal of Insanity, the case of a friend of his who informed him that he had frequently sailed when young in a steamboat across an arm of the sea which was rough, and in consequence often suffered from seasickness. Upon this boat was an old blind fiddler, who did his best to alleviate the sufferings of the passengers with his violin. The result was that this instrument became associated in his mind with seasickness, and for years he could never hear it without experiencing sensations of nausea or a sort of mal de mer."

I might interrupt instances from Dr. Tuke by an experience of my own when a child. Some occasion arose when it was necessary to give me an emetic, and I was told that I must take it. I showed the natural resistance of a child against taking medicine, and feared that it would be very nasty and disagreeable. I took it, however, and was surprised to find it sweet and agreeable. I remarked that I could drink that kind of medicine. But after its effect had been once produced, for years I could not think of it even without intense nausea. It is a common experience to feel repugnance to some food or other objects to be taken into the system and to be affected by the thought of them when we think of them, but not to feel any effects when they are taken without knowledge.

"Gratiolet relates of himself that when a child his sight became affected, and he was obliged to wear spectacles. The pressure which their weight exerted upon the nose was so insupportable that he was obliged to discontinue their use. Writing twenty years after, he says that he never sees any one wearing spectacles, without instantly experiencing very disagreeably the sensation which had so much disturbed him as a boy."

The famous story of the incident in Parliament during the reign of Charles I is worth retelling. A report was made to the House of Commons of a plot to blow up the members. 

"During its reading, some stood up alarmed, including 'two very corpulent members,' whose weight broke a board in the gallery, which gave so great a crack, that some thought there was a plot indeed, and Sir John Ray cried out that he smelt gunpowder. The result was a panic in the House and throughout London, followed by an armed band marching to Westminster to defend the House from this imaginary gunpowder plot."

Dr. Tuke narrates an incident of the war between France and Prussia in 1870. 

"A lady informs me," he says, "that at Tours many lost their health, and some died from fright. A young lady was standing with her father at the window when the Prussian soldiers came down the tranchee, and was seized with shivering; her father, who could feel her trembling, said - 'You need not be frightened, they will not hurt you;' but she received a shock from which she became quite blanched, and lost her sleep and flesh. She has not yet fully recovered her strength, and remarks that she has never been able to keep her feet warm since that day."

Quoting another physician the same author adds:

"A captain of a British ship of war, says Dr. Rush, who had been confined for several weeks to his cabin by a severe fit of gout in his feet, was suddenly cured by hearing the cry of 'Fire!' on board his ship. This fact was communicated to me (Dr. Rush) by the gentleman who was witness of it."

Braid reports an, interesting case which has its humorous features as well as its scientific. 

"Two captains of merchant vessels arrived in port at the same time, and both went to take up their quarters in their usual lodgings. They were informed by the landlady of the house, however, that she was very sorry that she could not accommodate them on that occasion, as the only bedroom which she could have appropriated for their use was occupied by the corpse of a, gentleman just deceased. Being most anxious to remain in, their accustomed lodgings, almost on any terms, rather than go elsewhere, they offered to sleep in the room wherein the dead body was laid out. To his the landlady readily gave her assent, considering it better, so far as she was concerned, to have three such customers in her room than only one, and he a dead one. Having repaired to bed, one of the gentlemen, who was a very great wag, began a conversation with the other by asking him whether he had ever before slept in a room with a corpse in it, to which he replied, 'No.' 'Then,' said the other, 'are you aware of the remarkable circumstance that always, in such cases, after midnight, the room gets filled with canaries which fly about and sing in the most beautiful, manner?' His companion expressed his surprise at this. But no sooner said than realized; for, the candle having been put out, presently there was a burst of music, as if the room really was full of canaries, which were not only heard, but at length the horrified novice in the chamber of death avowed that he both saw and felt the birds flying in all directions and plunging against him. In a short time he became so excited, that, without taking time to do his toilet, he rushed down-stairs in his night-dress, assuring the astonished household of the fact and insisting that the room really was quite full of birds, as he could testify from the evidence of his senses, for he had not only heard them, but also seen and felt them flapping their wings against him. The captain had some excuse for saying he heard them, although not for seeing or feeling them, for his companion had really imitated the note of the canary by blowing through a reed dipped in water."

A practical joke was here the initial suggestion, and it distributed its influence to other, the tactual and visual brain-centres, and emerged as actual sensations. "When potassium was discovered by Davy, Dr. Pearson, taking up a globule, estimated its weight on his finger, and exclaimed, 'Bless me, how heavy it is!' simply from expecting a metal to be so, whereas the reverse was the real truth," potassium having a specific gravity less than water, and therefore capable of floating in it.

These few illustrations suffice to indicate a causal influence of mental upon bodily states, and if any issue against materialism were involved they would be sufficient, with such frequent instances as psychiatry has recorded, to disprove that theory. But, as I have already remarked, materialistic theories need not deny the causal nexus between, mental and physical phenomena. What the primary cause of mental states is may be one question, but the question whether the mental, once existent as effects, may not in turn act as causes is another question. Hence no metaphysical issues are involved in the matter. But the practical question is involved. If the mind can influence the body we may suspect that the possibility might be utilized to effect certain desirable results, and whether these could be effected or not will be purely a matter of observation and experiment. But any claim that such practical results are possible will depend for its acceptance upon the assumed or established fact that there is a causal nexus of the kind under consideration.

The materialistic theory, although it was consistent with the admission of this causal nexus, so emphasized the dependence of consciousness upon physical conditions and causes that it tended to lose sight of the obverse causal fact, and the assertion of the influence of mind on body was skeptically received at first. But this was probably because of the extensive character claimed for that influence rather than the fact of it. No doubt the proof of it would consist in certain striking facts, and these would be subject to skeptical scrutiny in proportion to the extent of the claims asserted for the influence of the mind. Hence in here asserting that the influence exists as a fact I have appealed first to the most general normal facts and chosen some more or less crucial instances in the abnormal. They establish the general fact of causal agency in consciousness or subconscious states upon the organism, and it remains to determine how much this causal agency can do and what it cannot do.

I shall not enter into any discussion of the limitations of this causal influence, as it would require a volume to do this apart from mere assertion. My chief object here has been to show that the influence has to be admitted as a fact in order that we may be just to the many claims made for its presence in certain more remarkable instances. Suggestive therapeutics and "Christian Science," as well as "metaphysical healing" and "faith cures," all rely upon the assumption of such an agency, and the easiest way to refute their claims would be to wholly deny the causal action of the mind on the body. But this cannot be done in any absolute manner. It only injures one's power to limit the claims of these more striking phenomena to take the radically opposite position. We shall have to learn to determine the limitations of mental action on the body rather than to deny it, and it is well to come to the study of the facts with some conception of the concealed truth lying at the basis of the apparently more miraculous phenomena.

The whole subject needs to be put under thorough scientific investigation. Dr. Tuke's work was pioneer, and, as I have hinted already, many of the incidents upon which he relies to illustrate or prove the influence of mind on body needed more careful examination for determining exactly what the facts were. The evidential aspect of the phenomena seems not to have been as carefully examined as we might insist upon to-day. Hence in his work we have to discriminate instances whose value comes from the authorities capable of reporting them justly and instances which belong to ages and people whose judgment regarding the facts may not be so good as is desirable. To ascertain exactly the limits of this influence will require a most patient and exacting investigation. That it exists may easily be determined, but its nature and extent are another matter. The use to which it can be put when determined scientifically may be important, but cannot be known rightly until its limitations are known.

In, physiology a long history of experiment and observation has shown us certain very definite relations between physical and mental conditions. For instance, in the most general fact of experience, take sensation. Here the sensation is the uniform effect of a stimulus of a determinate character, light producing color, vibrations of a certain type producing sound, etc. In the abnormal, the presence of certain bacteria produce typhoid fever, of certain other bacteria scarlet fever, of still others tuberculosis. The presence of congestion in the brain produces certain mental aberrations, a lesion at some point brings about aphasia, another type of lesion produces epilepsy, etc. We have learned in these and in all diseases to determine their presence by the presence of certain uniform physical symptoms, and when they are found the diagnosis is tolerably certain. The criteria of disease have thus become quite definite and clearly known. But the causal influence of the mental on the physical has not been so clearly and definitely formulated into laws. The whole subject is in its infancy. It may be that we can never so definitely determine what specific physical effect may accompany a given antecedent mental fact. But if it is determinable at all, it can be so only after the most painstaking and prolonged investigation that we can imagine. Physiology has been long in coming to its present definite knowledge, and it may take psychological investigation much longer to obtain half the definiteness of the knowledge regarding the physical agencies acting on the mind. But the fact that mental states do actually affect the body, and the fact that certain of them affect it in a certain way or certain parts of the organism, suggest that time may enable us to organize our knowledge of the phenomena in a way to use the results for diagnosis quite as effectively, though not any more infallibly, than we can now use physiological knowledge. The practical field in which such knowledge could be applied would be suggestive therapeutics. This comes up for consideration in the next chapter, and is mentioned here only to indicate the relation of general principles herein involved to hypnotic and normal suggestion. But the efficiency of our knowledge will depend upon the extent of it in regard to the causal influence of mental on bodily states.

There is one other field of interest closely allied to the one just discussed. It is the causal action of one mental state on another. Whether this is a fact remains to be determined. There are some indications of its existence, but I shall not assert it as unequivocally true. If it be true, it is a most important fact. We have the admitted truth of the influence of the physical on the mental, of the physical on the physical, and of the mental on the physical in our nature. It remains to complete this knowledge by that of the mental on the mental, if it be a fact. The problem is not the subject of this chapter, but it is associated with the issues we have been discussing and will appear more prominently in the discussion of suggestive therapeutics.

Contents > Previous > Next



Contents | Preface | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13

Home | Intro | News | Investigators | Articles | Experiments | Photographs | Theory | Library | Info | Books | Contact | Campaigns | Glossary


Some parts The International Survivalist Society 2003