« PreviousContinue »
Volumes have been written about our consciousness, but our practical scientist assumes what every one realizes, and searches out its phenomena rather than the whys and wherefores of its existence. Far better than attempting to explain creation, is to try and learn about it. Our consciousness extends to things past which we call memory: to things present which we regard as experience; and to things not present, or in the future, of which imagination is the sponsor. In all, vagaries as well as regularity of working have to be examined. So one simple incident may possibly excite consciousness in several directions at the same time. In our powers of memory there is much mystery, i.e., in the power of the mind to record experiences. These seem mostly recalled by association of ideas. With stirring incidents this association is the strongest, and therefore is more likely to recur and bring to present consciousness memories of happenings thus stored up. The memory is not very unlike a file of undeveloped films. Their very existence may have been forgotten for years, and then some chance and one is again as vivid as if of yesterday. And things apparently unnoticed at the time may be thus recorded. Many a criminal has been identified by people who have seen him without particular notice, but whose attention has been recalled to him by a photograph or description of him in the papers. And thus, when otherwise occupied, words may be said in our hearing which we are not actively conscious of noting, but which circumstances may recall in freshness and vigour. Hence the mournful note of the preacher that though his people cannot tell a word of his sermon, yet let him give it again and half his congregation will hint at the fact. And similar phenomena are equally incident to us in sleep. Sleep is very far from unconsciousness. It is far different from a swoon or coma or collapse. In sleep tired nerves are but resting awhile, and consciousness is all ready to respond to the slightest incident which it means to observe. A thundering steam engine may not cause a sleeping mother to so much as wink an eye, when the slightest whimper of her little one will have her on her feet in a moment. Slumber-suspension of certain phases alone-leaves us prepared to resume a more active consciousness exactly as we expected to do when falling asleep. So it may be for hours or may be for an instant only, but we know no measure of the time elapsed : e.g. who on a walk even has not experienced such sleep between one step and another, when years might have passed in that brief interval. And it would seem to these stored up memories we owe those complexes—to use the psychological term now in vogue-which go to make us what we are. Whether we are born with complexes or more than born with a tendency to certain complexes is not yet determined. Some regard the mind as soil more or less fertile, in which seed when sown by external agencies will more or less thrive, whilst others incline to the view that the mind comes into existence with seed already sown. At present neither school is inclined to dogmatize, the facts not having been sufficiently ascertained. At the same time there is more unanimity as to race characteristics being due either to seed thus existent, or to the mind itself having through continued birth and rebirth of the species, become highly disposed and adapted to accepting certain seeds or impressions, and to rejecting others, foreign to what we may term the genius of the race. Thus, whichever hypothesis be adopted, in the result both approximate to the same conclusion. Take a musical child. Whether born with music innate, or highly predisposed to music, the fact is it will absorb music, whatever its condition of life. So with the art child. Eyes and no-eyes dominate every class of life. And these seeds, innate or sown, developed into full crops, become those complexes of which we have spoken. The man of to-day is the child of his past. His present notions, his present complexes, are but such original complexes adapted, developed, and modified as years have passed. A man starts with notions, with convictions, with complexes which with changing conditions he may change, but no man sets out to provide himself with a new and complete set quite independent of all that has gone before. And here is the most important result. A man, from the first equipped with complexes, as he grows in years rather seeks to rationalize them than question their reasonableness or truth. It was not reason first that selected the complexes, but reason that was called in afterwards to justify them already in existence. And this above all tends to the persistence of race notions. Facts which fortify a conviction, which are in accord with what we already hold, we at once seize upon and accept with little further examination. Facts counter to our preconceived views we put lightly on one side. Of this we have example in our own race. Our history for nearly a thousand years is that of a strong, unconquered people. We have suffered disasters from time to time, but never a debacle. And it moulds our whole temperament. Our very love of truth is born of our consciousness of strength; we are no slave race to have to weigh our words; lying is the resource of the coward and weakling. Our tendency is to be unnecessarily brutal in our expression of it. We rather pride ourselves on being outspoken : “a plain man” is no insult to an Englishman, though his plainness often takes the form of disregard for other people's feelings. But we are rather inclined to think that people ought not to have feelings— feelings to be ruffled by mere words. If fact is behind them, it is the fact that hurts, and that is another matter. Probably many a national complex could be traced directly to our climate. As once observed, “A man who can stand our climate can stand anything." Certainly we face it, and do not coddle ourselves or run from it. And thus our attitude in things political. Our danger may be over-confidence, but we decline to be suspicious. We decline to be rattled. We will not act in a panic. As a race we are not going under. Germany had her try-Germany will try again—Germany would gladly cut our throat to-morrow if she could. We are perfectly aware of it. It is one factor in the situation never to be ignored, but it is not the only factor. And we calmly ask, not like a child in a fright, but like a strong man in his strength, What is best to be done? We deeply sympathize with France. We have no words in which to tell the wickedness of Germany, but-here is another fact—all the world is one, and no part can be sick without all suffering. But, as usual, general principles help but little. It is the application of them which is of infinite difficulty.
Again in the psychology of the subject a commencement is being made. We may not understand the why or wherefore of nervous muscular control, and still less how such muscular control is under direction of the mind, but our scientists are collecting and collating innumerable facts relating to it. And we see the mind in both conscious and-as termed-subconscious activity. Half the functions of life are carried on without our being particularly aware of the fact. But that the mind is the dominating rule seems equally undoubted in both cases. Cessation of power may be due to defective nervous control, and this itself be directly due to a definite mental state. A man thinks that he is paralysed in a limb. The limb is perfect, the muscles sound, the nerves in order; what alone stops function is the mind. Thus as to conscious action of the mind. But equally, let a man believe he cannot digest his dinner-we are happiest when unconscious of any action going on—and digestion will cease. But really of this power of the mind even in its ordinary functions and in health we know very little. Returning to our example of a paralysed limb. Defect may be due to muscular ingury, nervous breakdown, or mental failure. Above all it has been the war that has taught us to seek the cause as much in the last as in either of the preceding alternatives. Even now we know it only under the term neurasthenia, as if mind and nerve connoted synonymous ideas. As indicated by that most marvellous of men, Francis Bacon, there is still a great future in medicine in determining how much health failure is due to the mind and what is the proper treatment of it. One example. Sleeplessness may be due to actual inflammation of brain cells, or an excited state of nerve control—as is so often the case with excessive alcoholism-and as such may need treatment; but when we have muscle and nerve in perfect health the evil must be due to the mind itself. As in the case instanced of digestion, the mind is determined sleep is impossible, and therefore impossible it is. Again, infinitely easy to diagnose, but infinitely hard to alleviate. But we seem undoubtedly on the right road. In curative hypnotism is found the solution. Hypnotism is not exactly a happy word of definition, but we pretty well agree what we intend by it. A more felicitous term is “imagination," as used by Bacon. Many of the phenomena connected with the imagination or hypnotism are as purely of physical origin as any other function of the mind in relation to the body. In many respects the hypnotic state is as much a physical state, subject to physical laws and susceptible of scientific examination, as the laws of motion or the velocity of light. Its foundation seems to be subject to further inquiry—that everything is to a man exactly as he believes it to be. Hypnotism seems to be entirely subjective. It is entirely a state of one's own belief, i.e. of one's own mind. It would seem that this belief is under control of no outside agency whatever. Any power an outside agency has over us is solely due to our belief it has such power, and is severely limited by the bounds of our belief. It is here where the modern hypnotic practitioner rather plays with quackery. He knows that he has no power, and yet, to effect his cure, he must give the impression that he has. Would one hypnotize a friend who is ignorant of the theory, e.g. send him to sleep, it is far from difficult if one is prepared to play upon his fancy. But to be frank, to own that one has no such influence, to tell him that it will be his own mind which alone will cause his somnolence, is to leave him as wide awake as oneself.