"For nothing is that errs from law."
IT is sometimes thought that memory is located in the brain; and
undoubtedly there must be some physiological process at work in the brain when any incident of memory is recalled and either
uttered or written. But it does not at all follow that memory itself is located in the brain; though there must be some easier channel, or
some already prepared path, which enables an idea to be translated from the general mental reservoir into consciousness,
with clarity and power sufficient to stimulate the necessary nerves and muscles into a condition adequate for reproduction.
Sometimes in order to remember a thing, one writes it in a note-book; and the memory In- ay be said to be in the note-book about
as accurately as it may be said to be in the brain. A physical process has put it in the notebook; there is a physical
configuration persisting there; and when a sort of reverse physical process is repeated, it can be got back into consciousness by
simply what we call 'looking' at the book and reading. But surely the real memory is in the
mind all the time, and the deposit in the note-book is a mere detent for calling it out or for making it easy of
recovery. In order to communicate any information we must focus attention on it; and whether we focus attention on a part of the
brain or on a page of a note-book matters very little; the attention itself is a mental process, not a physiological one, though it has a
This is an important matter, the keystone in fact of our
problem about the connexion between mind and matter, and I propose to amplify its treatment further; for this is an unavoidably
controversial portion of the book,
I am familiar with all the usual analogies drawn between
organic habit and memory on the one hand, and the more ready repetition of physical processes by inorganic material on the
other. Imperfectly elastic springs, for instance, which show reminiscences of previous bendings or twistings by their
subsequent unwindings; and cogs which wear into smooth running by repetition; are examples of this kind. A violin which by
long practice becomes more musical in tone, is another; or a path which by being often traversed becomes easier to the feet. A
flower-bed recently altered in shape, by being partly grassed over, is liable to exhibit its former outline by aid of bulbs and other half-forgotten growths which come up through the grass in the old
This last is a striking example of apparent memory, not indeed
in the inorganic but in the unconscious world; where indeed it is prevalent, for every one must recognise the memory of animals-
there can be no doubt of that. And it would seem that a kind of race-memory must be invoked to account for many surprising
cases of instinct; of which the building of specific birds' nests, and the accurate pecking of a newly-hatched chicken, are among
the stock instances. No experience can be lodged in the brain of the newly-hatched!
That some sort of stored facility should exist in the adult brain,
is in no way surprising; and that there is some physical or physiological concomitant of actual remembrance is plain; but that
is a very different thing from asserting that memory itself, or any kind of consciousness, is located in the brain; though truly
without the aid of the brain it is, as far as this planet is concerned, latent and inaccessible.
Plotinus puts the matter in an interesting but perhaps rather
too extreme form:
"As to memory, the body is an impediment . . . the unstable
and fluctuating nature of the body makes for oblivion not for memory. Body is a veritable River of Lethe. Memory belongs to
the soul" (Enn.. IV. iii. 26).
The actual reproduction or remembrance of a
fact the demonstration or realisation of memory-undoubtedly depends on brain and muscle mechanism; but memory itself turns
out to be essentially mental, and is found to exist apart from the bodily mechanism which helped originally to receive and store the
impression. And though without that same or some equivalent mechanism we cannot get at it, so that it cannot be displayed to
others, yet in my experience it turns out not to be absolutely necessary to use actually the same instrument for its reproduction
as was responsible for its deposition: though undoubtedly to use the same is easier and helpful. In the early Edison phonographs
the same instrument had to be used for both reception and reproduction; but now a record can readily be transferred from one
instrument to another. This may be regarded as a rough mechanical analogy to the telepathic or telergic process whereby a
psychic reservoir of memory can be partially tapped through another organism.
But, apart from any consideration of what may be regarded as
doubtful or uncertain, there are some facts about the relation of brain to consciousness, which, though universally admitted, are
frequently misinterpreted. Injure the brain, and consciousness is lost. 'Lost' is the right word-not 'destroyed.' Repair the lesion, and
consciousness may be restored, ie. normal manifestation of consciousness can once more occur. It-., is the
display of consciousness, in all such cases, that we mean when we speak of
the effect of brain injury; the utilisation of bodily organs is necessary for its exhibition. If the bodily organs do not exist, or are
too damaged no normal manifestation is possible. That is the fact which may be misinterpreted.
In general we may say, with fair security, that no receptivity to
physical phenomena exists save through sense-organ, nerve, and brain; nor any initiation of physical phenomena, save through
brain, nerve, and muscle. Apart from physical phenomena consciousness is isolated and inaccessible: we have no right to
say that it is non-existent. In ordinary usage it is not customary or necessary to be always harping on this completer aspect of
things: it is only necessary when misunderstanding has arisen from uniformly inaccurate, or rather unguarded, modes of
In an excellent lecture by Dr. Mott on "The Effects of High
Explosives upon the Central Nervous System," I find this sentence:
"It is known that a continuous supply of oxygen is essential
What is intended is clear enough but analysed strictly this
assertion goes far beyond what is known. We do not really know that oxygen, or any form of matter, has anything to do
with consciousness: all that we know, and all that Dr. Mott really means to say, I presume, is that without a supply of
oxygen consciousness gives no physical sign.
Partial interruptions of physical manifestations of
consciousness well illustrate this: as, for instance, when speech centres of the brain alone are affected. If in such case we had to
depend on mouth-muscle alone we should say that consciousness had departed, and might even think that it was non-existent; but
the arm-muscle may remain under brain control, and by intelligent writing can show that consciousness is there all tile time, and that
it is only inhibited from one of the specially easy modes of manifestation, In some cases the inhibition may be
complete,- from such cases we do not learn much; but when it is only partial we learn a good deal.
I quote again from Dr. Mott, omitting for brevity the detailed
description of certain surgical war-cases, under his care, which precedes the following explanatory interjection and summary:
"Why should these men, whose silent thoughts are perfect,
be unable to speak? They comprebend all that is said to them unless they are deaf; but it is quite clear that [even] in
these cases their internal language is un-affected, for they are able to express their thoughts and judgments perfectly well by
writing, even if they are deaf.
The mutism is therefore not due to an intellectual defect, nor is it
due to volitional inhibition of language in silent thought. Hearing, the primary incitation to vocalisation and speech, is usually
unaffected, yet they are unable to speak; they cannot even whisper, cough, whistle, or laugh aloud . Many who are unable to
speak voluntarily yet call out in their dream expressions they have used in trench warrfare and battle. Sometimes this is followed by return
of speech, but more often not. One man continually shouted out in his sleep, but he did not recover voluntary. speech or power of phonation
till eight months after admission to the hospital for shell-shock."
Very well, all this interesting experience serves among other
things to illustrate our simple but occasionally overlooked thesis. For it is through physical phenomena that normally we apprehend,
here and now; and it is by aid of physical phenomena that we convey to others our wishes, our impressions, our ideas, and our
memories. Dislocate the physical from the psychical, and communication ceases. Restore the connexion, in however
imperfect a form. and once more incipient communication may become possible again.
That is the rationale of the process of human
intercourse. Do we understand it? No. Do we understand even how our own mind operates on our own body? No. We know for a fact that it does.
Do we understand how a mind can with difficulty and
imperfectly operate another body submitted to its temporary guidance and control? No. Do we know for a fact that it does?
Aye, that is the question - a question of evidence. I myself answer the question affirmatively; not on theoretical grounds-far from
that - but on a basis of straightforward experience. Others, if they allow themselves to take the trouble to get the experience, will come to
the same conclusion.
Will they do so best by allowing their own bodies or brains to
be utilised? No, that seems not even the best, and certainly not the only way. It may not, for the majority of people, be a possible way.
The sensitive or medium who serves us, by putting his or her bodily mechanism at our disposal , is not likely to be best informed
concerning the nature of the process. Mediums have perhaps but little conscious information to give us concerning their powers; we
must learn from what they do, not from what they say. The outside observer, the experimenter, whose senses are alert all the time and
who continues fully conscious without special receptivity or any peculiar power of his own, is in a better position to note and judge
what is happening,- at least from the normal and scientific point of view. Let us be as cautious
and critical, aye and as sceptical as we like, but let us also be patient and persevering and fair; do not let us start with a
preconceived notion of what is possible and what is impossible in this almost unexplored universe; let us only be willing to learn and
be guided by facts, not by dogmas; and gradually the truth will permeate our understanding and make for itself a place in our
minds as secure as in any other branch of observational science.