The Supremacy of Mind
Body, Psychical, Naturalism, Master, Mental, Life
From the standpoint we have now reached we can look back once more on those troublesome naturalistic insinuations as to the dependence of the mind upon the body, which we have already considered. It is evident to us all that our mental development and the fate of our inner life are closely bound up with the states and changes of the body. And it did not need the attacks and insinuations of naturalism to point this out. But the reasons brought forward by naturalism are not convincing, and all the weighty facts it adduces could be balanced by facts equally weighty on the other side. We have already shown that the apparently dangerous doctrine of localisation is far from being seriously prejudicial. But if the dependence of the mind upon the body be great, that of the body upon the mind is greater still. Even Kant wrote tersely and drily about “the power of our mind through mere will to be master over our morbid feelings.” And every one who has a will knows how much strict self-discipline and firm willing can achieve even with a frail and wretched body, and handicapped by exhaustion and weakness. Joy heals, care wastes away, and both may kill. The influence which “blood” and “bile” or any other predisposition may have upon temperament and character can be obviated or modified through education, or transformed and guided into new channels through strong psychical impressions and experiences, most of all by great experiences in the domain of morals and religion. No one doubts the reality of those great internal revolutions of which religion is well aware, which arise purely from the mind, and are able to rid us of all natural bonds and burdens. This mysterious region of the influence of the mind in modifying bodily states or producing new ones is in these days being more and more opened up. That grief can turn the hair grey and disgust bring out eruptions on the skin has long been known. But new and often marvellous facts are being continually added to our knowledge through curious experiments with suggestion, hypnosis, and auto-suggestion. And we are no longer far from believing that through exaltations, forced states of mind associated with auto-suggestion, many phenomena, such as “stigmata,” for instance, which have hitherto been over hastily relegated to the domain of pious legend, may possibly have a “scientific” background.
But one has a repugnance to descending into this strange region. And religion, with its clear and lofty mood, can never have either taste for or relationship with considerations which so easily take an “occult” turn. Nor is its mysticism concerned with physiologies. But it is instructive and noteworthy that the old idealistic faith, “It is the mind that builds up the body for itself,” is becoming stronger again in all kinds of philosophies and physiologies of “the unconscious,” as a reaction from the onesidedness of the mechanistic theories, and that it draws its chief support from the dependence of nervous and other bodily processes upon the psychical, which is being continually brought into greater and greater prominence. The moderate and luminous views of the younger Fichte, who probably also first introduced the now current term “the unconscious,” must be at least briefly mentioned. According to him, the impulse towards the development of form which is inherent in everything living, and which builds up the organism from the germ to the complete whole, by forcing the chemical and physical processes into particular paths, is identical with the psychical itself. In instincts, the unconscious purposive actions of the lower animals in particular, he sees only a special mode of this at first unconscious psychical nature, which, building up organ after organ, makes use in doing so of all the physical laws and energies, and is at first wholly immersed in purely physiological processes. It is only after the body has been developed, and presents a relatively independent system capable of performing the necessary functions of daily life, that it rises beyond itself and gradually unfolds to conscious psychical life in increasing self-realisation. Edward von Hartmann has attempted to apply this principle of the unconscious as a principle of all cosmic existence. And wherever, among the younger generation of biologists, one has broken away from the fascinations of the mechanistic theory, he has usually turned to “psychical” co-operating factors.
Is there Ageing of the Mind?
Naturalism is also only apparently right in asserting that the mind ages with the body. To learn the answer which all idealism gives to this comfortless theory, it is well to read Schleiermacher's “Monologues,” and especially the chapter “Youth and Age.” The arguments put forward by naturalism, the blunting of the senses, the failing of the memory, are well known. But here again there are luminous facts on the other side which are much more true. It is no wonder that a mind ages if it has never taken life seriously, never consolidated itself to individual and definite being through education and self-culture, through a deepening of morality, and has gained for itself no content of lasting worth. How could he do otherwise than become poor, dull and lifeless, as the excitability of his organ diminishes and its susceptibility to external impressions disappears? But did Goethe become old? Did not Schleiermacher, frail and ailing as he was by nature, prove the truth of what he wrote in his youth, that there is no ageing of the mind?
The whole problem, in its highest aspects, is a question of will and faith. If I know mind and the nature of mind, and believe in it, I believe with Schleiermacher in eternal youth. If I do not believe in it, then I have given away the best of all means for warding off old age. For the mind can only hold itself erect while trusting in itself. And this is the best argument in the whole business.
But even against the concrete special facts and the observable processes of diminution of psychical powers, and of the disappearance of the whole mental content, we could range other concrete and observable facts, which present the whole problem in quite a different light from that in which naturalism attempts to show it. They indicate that the matter is rather one of the rusting of the instrument to which the mind is bound than an actual decay of the mind itself, and that it is a withdrawing of the mind within itself, comparable rather to sleep than to decay. The remarkable power of calling up forgotten memories in hypnosis, the suddenly re-awakening memory a few minutes before death, in which sometimes the whole past life is unrolled with surprising clearness and detail, the flaming up anew of a rusty mind in moments of great excitement, the great clearing up of the mind before its departure, and many other facts of the same nature, are rather to be regarded as signs that in reality the mind never loses anything of what it has once experienced or possessed. It has only become buried under the surface. It has been withdrawn from the stage, but is stored up in safe treasure-chambers. And the whole stage may suddenly become filled with it again.
The simile of an instrument and the master who plays upon it, which is often used of the relation between body and mind, is in many respects a very imperfect one; for the master does not develop with and in his instrument. But in regard to the most oppressive arguments of naturalism, the influence of disease, of old age, of mental disturbances due to brain changes, the comparison serves our turn well enough, for undoubtedly the master is dependent upon his instrument; upon an organ which is going more and more out of tune, rusting, losing its pipes, his harmonies will become poorer, more imperfect. And if we think of the association between the two as further obstructed, the master becoming deaf, the stops confused, the relation between the notes and pipes altered, then what may still live within him in perfect and unclouded purity, and in undiminished richness, may present itself outwardly as confused and unintelligible, may even find only disconnected expression, and finally cease altogether; so that no conclusion would be possible except that the master himself had become different or poorer. The melancholy field of mental diseases perhaps yields proofs against naturalism to an even greater degree than for it. It is by no means the case that all mental diseases are invariably diseases of the brain, for even more frequently they are real sicknesses of the mind, which yield not to physical but to psychical remedies. And the fact that the mind can be ill, is a sad but emphatic proof that it goes its own way.
|Written By Dr. Rudolf Otto|
|Prev | Next|