Book: "Raymond or Life and Death"

Author: Sir Oliver Lodge FRS

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- (Part 3) - Chapter 8 - Life and Death -

Mind and Brain


"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 physiological concomitant.

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 pattern.

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 expression.

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 for consciousness."

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.



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