Excerpts from

A Common-Sense View
of the Mind Cure
Laura M. Westall

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THE Western world has been slow to recognize the power of the mind over the body by reason of the fact that our philosophers from very early times regarded the mind as an independent entity—a something to be considered quite apart from the body.

"Mind cannot move matter," they contended, because an impassable gulf exists between the two; and therefore a mental fact can not possibly be represented by a corresponding physical fact. The body, in their thought, was simply the chosen tenement of the soul, and operated independently of it. And this view in a modified form is maintained even to the present day by the adherents of the old psychology or metaphysical school.

But with the striking of the shackles from the insane by Dr. Pinel in France, with the work of Dr. Tuke in England and Dr. Rush in America, toward the latter half of the eighteenth century there sprang into being a new psychology, based upon the study of nerve-tissue and brain-action. The old psychology was speculative; the new is scientific. It has exchanged theory for the microscope.

By this method it was soon demonstrated that the brain is the organ of mind, and that the nervous system is the channel of communication between the mind and the external world, or the means by which man is put into relation with his environment.

The early phrenologists, in their attempts to localize brain function, popularized the former idea, while the brain-physiologists proved conclusively the indissoluble connection between the mind and the nervous system. Meanwhile the histologists, by their discovery of the nerve-cell and its processes, discovered the physical basis of association of ideas and memory.

Toward the middle of the nineteenth century German scientists took up the problem; and Weber, with his law of variation, Fechner, with his psychophysical law, and Wundt, by his researches in physiological psychology, demonstrated the physical basis of mind. Henceforth psychology was to be reckoned among the natural sciences.

As was to be expected, the charge of materialism has been flung at the new by the adherents of the old school. With them, to deny the independent existence of the soul was to "rule God out of the universe." To affirm that mind and body are a unit is to negative the doctrine of immortality.

While admitting the justice of the criticism of those extremists who assert that "thought is a function of the brain" or that "the brain secretes thought as the liver secretes bile," it is unjust to that large body of monists who hold that, the mind and body must be regarded as a unit, the soul-principle is the real ego or being, and the physical organism the vehicle of its expression or embodiment. As Dr. Carus puts it, "Modern psychology does not destroy the soul, but merely a false view of the ego."

Accepting the position that the brain is the immediate organ of mind, and that by means of his nervous system man gets into relation with his environment, our inquiry as to the influence which mind may exert upon matter may be conducted upon both rational and scientific lines.

Chapter 1


WE feel before we think; but this is merely another way of saying that mind is developed by means of sensations.

Each one of us is possessed of five senses—sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell; and if it were not for these we could acquire no knowledge. But by their operation we not only become self-conscious beings, but come into conscious relation with the world outside ourselves.

A moment's reflection will show this to be true. If, for instance, you could neither see nor hear nor touch your friend, could you form any idea of his character or personality? Would you even know that you had a friend? Or if you could neither see nor smell nor touch a rose, would not a thistle be just as acceptable?

It is unnecessary to multiply examples. The simple fact is that if it were not for the activity of the senses, each one of us would live in a world of darkness and ignorance. We would have no fuller measure of life than a jellyfish.

This is essentially the modern view. It was formerly held that each member of the human species entered upon life endowed with certain ideas—innate ideas, so-called—and hence the purpose of education, as the word implies, was to "draw out" of the mind what was already in it.

But since modern science has studied the human brain with the microscope, we have learned that this was a wrong conception, and that the mind is really a growth or development from small and poor beginnings.

The brain of the infant at birth, according to some authorities, contains all the brain cells, but they are not fully developed. No actually new cells are afterward produced. These cells by constant sense impressions are rapidly developed in the growing child.

The new-born infant cannot think if he would; he is blind, deaf, and dumb—"his only language but a cry." But he can feel, and because of this, his mind begins to develop.

Thus, waves of light strike upon the retina of his eye, pass along the optic nerve to the brain, and a sight-impression is registered upon the brain; waves of sound strike upon the auditory nerve, are passed up to the brain, and in the same way a sound impression is made. And so with impressions of touch, taste, and smell.

Yet sight, hearing, etc., do not take place upon the first impact; many, many such impressions must be made before the infant consciously sees, hears, etc. For the first three months of life—what our German cousins call the dumm viertel—the brain is busy taking care of these sense-stimuli, as they are called. But just as soon as a sufficient number have been recorded, then one of nature's greatest miracles takes place: the infant looks up into his mother's face and smiles; he "crows" with delight at the sound of her voice.

Very beautiful! and quite as mysterious; for just how these sense-impressions become transmuted into consciousness we no more understand than we do chemical affinity or magnetism or gravitation. Neither science nor philosophy can solve the riddle. We merely know that all the sight-impressions are sent to one place in the brain, and those of sound to another, and smell to another, and so on; and that all these various impressions that beat upon the brain through the senses become at last elements of consciousness or mind. But this is merely the alphabet of mind-growth. Our infant must put the letters together to form words; and this is the way he does it:

When his mother holds up before him a round, bright object and says "ball," it means nothing to him—he does not understand—but if she continues to do this daily for some time, he will finally learn to "associate" the object "ball" with the word "ball," so that he will think ball when he hears the word, or sees the object. And in the same way—that is, by "association "—he learns the use to which it is put.

Now if you should put into the hands of an Eskimo an orange, and he had never before seen one, like the infant he would not know what it was or what to do with it. But your child and mine have learned by experience that an orange tastes sweet and is good to eat.

And just so, by experience—that is, knowledge gained through sensations—ideas spring up in the infant mind; and each idea associated by experience with other ideas gives rise to still others, and so on. Naturally, the broader the sense-experience the greater the stock of ideas.

It may be conjectured that the greater the stock of ideas the greater the mental confusion. But no; nature has provided for that. Just as a business man files away the letters he receives daily; just as a great manufacturer systematizes his business, dividing it into departments; just as a general organizes his army, so the mind files and systematizes and organizes its ideas; so that the adult mind has groups or clusters of ideas about art, science, politics, and so on. And what is quite to the point is the fact that these idea-clusters can get into communication with one another.

The nation is divided into cities, towns, villages, and hamlets, each distinct from the others; but a business man in Boston or New York can quickly get into communication with an associate in San Francisco or elsewhere, by mail or telegraph. And in much the same way, by what is known as "association of ideas" and memory, one idea-cluster gets into vital touch with another.

Many people think that the present moment of consciousness is the mind. But this is merely a transitory phase of mind—"the stream of consciousness"—which is as evanescent as the dissolving cloud. It is necessary to mind-action and mind-growth, but the real mind is made up of the facts that we have learned by experience; and these facts are marshaled and organized into a great army of ideas, which are grouped into clusters, as we have just seen.

And this brings us face to face with a most important fact: The human mind is not a fixed, unchanging entity, but a virile, active force. How can this be proved?

One of your ideas or convictions may be that "the truth should be spoken at all times"; but I by many arguments may induce you to modify that view or "change your mind." Every day of our lives we are likely to hear someone say: "I can't believe that," or "I refuse to believe it"; yet sometimes we come to believe in spite of ourselves and thus "change our mind." And if one can thus at any time change his mind, then the ideas which constitute the mind can not be unchanging or fixed.

Now that which is permanent or fixed is in a state of rest; but that which is impermanent or changeable must be in a state of motion. Therefore the mind must be an active force, since there can be no motion without force.

Again, mind is a growth, and growth involves change, and change involves motion, and motion, force.

It is an axiom of science that "no force is ever lost," so we may well ask, what becomes of the force which we call mind?

The brain is commonly spoken of as the organ of mind; in reality, the entire body is the organ of mind, but it is upon the brain that the mind-force, or ideas in a state of activity, immediately acts. Just as the wind ruffles the surface of the water, breaking it up into waves, so the mind-force plays upon the brain and sets up waves in the sensitive tissue. In other words, the brain reacts upon the mind-force.

If you should strike your fist against the solid rock, you would feel pain. Why? Because the rock is harder than your fist and presents resistance—strikes back at you; and this striking back, as you know, is called a reaction. And so just as the water reacts upon the wind, the brain reacts upon the mind-force blowing upon it. Changes are thus made in the brain-substance. Movements of the minute particles or molecules take place, and in consequence there is a rearrangement or "reposition" of the molecules; hence it is a molecular change, and it is accompanied by a chemical change.

As a result, a new force comes into being, unlike anything else in nature. Some call it vital force, others nervous energy, or nervous fluid; but it might just as well be called mental energy, because it comes into being wholly as the result of mind or ideas acting upon the brain. And, moreover, the character or quality of those ideas tempers, colors, weakens or strengthens—in fact, varies in a hundred ways—this new energy. Indeed, it must be insisted upon that this energy exactly reflects or repeats the idea-force which gave rise to it.

But we have said "no force is ever lost," and since mind in action is seen to be transmuted into a new force by the subtle Chemistry of life, the same problem confronts us. What becomes of it?

Part of it is stored up in the brain to meet the emergencies of life; we call it reserve energy.

Another part supplies power to the muscles. A moment's reflection will show you that you must think before you act. The desire and the will to act draw from the brain the energy or power to act. Hence every movement that you make is mind in action.

The remainder of the mental energy is communicated to all parts of the body, with what effect we shall now see.

If you desire to lift a heavy weight or drive a nail, the energy to do so is provided by the joint action of the mind and brain. First there was the desire in the mind accompanied by will; and this acting on the brain caused a change in its substance and set free the energy to do just what you wanted to do. Now if you should make it your life-work to lift weights or drive nails, those muscles which you put into daily operation would develop and grow strong; that is, certain muscles and parts, being more often brought into action, would develop out of proportion to other muscles and parts, would they not? And so we come logically to another of Nature's mysteries—the law of correspondence. This being translated means that the habit of thought, desire, and will writes itself upon the physical body, because it forms the habit of life; that is, action. The mental energy communicated to certain muscles and parts gives to them a greater development. Consequently, we come finally to look and be as we think and do. There takes place what Herbert Spencer calls "a mental and physical correspondence," or "coordination of mind and body."

It is a common fact of observation. No one mistakes a clergyman for a jockey, or a college professor for a dancing-master. The avaricious man proclaims his ruling passion in his face, voice, manner, and gait; the vain or envious woman's face is set by muscular contractions plain enough to the discerning eye.

So well is this principle of correspondence understood that phrenologists, palmists, graphologists, and muscle-readers interpret the inner life and character by its aid.

But the operation of the law, as already shown, is dependent upon the reaction of the brain upon the mind-force; upon the quality and quantity of the mental energy set free by the brain; therefore, it will be worth our while to study more minutely the structure of the brain and its mode of action.

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