The Edinburgh Lectures on Mental Science

Chapter 14. The Body

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SOME students find it difficult to realize that mental action can produce any real effect upon material substance; but if this is not possible there is no such thing as Mental Science, the purpose of which is to produce improved conditions both of body and environment, so that the ultimate manifestation aimed at is always one of demonstration upon the plane of the visible and concrete. Therefore to afford conviction of an actual connection between the visible and the invisible, between the inner and the outer, is one of the most important points in the course of our studies.

That such a connection must exist is proved by metaphysical argument in answer to the question, "How did anything ever come into existence at all?" And the whole creation, ourselves included, stands as evidence to this great truth. But to many minds merely abstract argument is not completely convincing, or at any rate it becomes more convincing if it is supported by something of a more concrete nature; and for such readers I would give a few hints as to the correspondence between the physical and the mental. The subject covers a very wide area, and the limited space at my disposal will only allow me to touch on a few suggestive points, still these may be sufficient to show that the abstract argument has some corresponding facts at the back of it.

One of the most convincing proofs I have seen is that afforded by the "biometre," a little instrument invented by an eminent French scientist, the late Dr. Hippolyte Baraduc, which shows the action of what he calls the "vital current." His theory is that this force, whatever its actual nature may be, is universally present, and operates as a current of physical vitality perpetually, flowing with more or less energy through every physical organism, and which can, at any rate to some extent, be controlled by the power of the human will. The theory in all its minutiae is exceedingly elaborate, and has been described in detail in Dr. Baraduc's published works. In a conversation I had with him about a year ago, he told me he was writing another book which would throw further light on the subject, but a few months later he passed over before it was presented to the world. The fact, however, which I wish to put before the reader, is the ocular demonstration of the connection between mind and matter, which an experiment with the biometre affords.

The instrument consists of a bell glass, from the inside of which is suspended a copper needle by a fine silken thread. The glass stands on a wooden support, below which is a coil of copper wire, which, however, is not connected with any battery or other apparatus, and merely serves to condense the current. Below the needle, inside the glass, there is a circular card divided into degrees to mark the action of the needle. Two of these instruments are placed side by side, but in no way connected, and the experimenter then holds out the fingers of both hands to within about an inch of the glasses. According to the theory, the current enters at the left hand, circulates through the body, and passes out at the right hand, that is to say, there is an indrawing at the left and a giving-out at the right, thus agreeing with Reichenbach's experiments on the polarity of the human body.

I must confess that, although I had read Dr. Baraduc's book, "Les Vibrations Humaines," I approached the instrument in a very sceptical frame of mind; but I was soon convinced of my error. At first, holding a mental attitude of entire relaxation, I found that the left-hand needle was attracted through twenty degrees, while the right-hand needle, the one affected by the out-going current, was repelled through ten degrees. After allowing the instrument to return to its normal equilibrium I again approached it with the purpose of seeing whether a change of mental attitude would in the least modify the flow of current. This time I assumed the strongest mental attitude I could with the intention of sending out a flow through the right hand, and the result as compared with the previous one was remarkable. The left-hand needle was now attracted only through ten degrees, while the right-hand one was deflected through something over thirty, thus clearly indicating the influence of the mental faculties in modifying the action of the current. I may mention that the experiment was made in the presence of two medical men who noted the movement of the needles.

I will not here stop to discuss the question of what the actual constitution of this current of vital energy may be -- it is sufficient for our present purpose that it is there, and the experiment I have described brings us face to face with the fact of a correspondence between our own mental attitude and the invisible forces of nature. Even if we say that this current is some form of electricity, and that the variation of its action is determined by changes in the polarization of the atoms of the body, then this change of polarity is the result of mental action; so that the quickening or retarding of the cosmic current is equally the result of the mental attitude whether we suppose our mental force to act directly upon the current itself or indirectly by inducing changes in the molecular structure of the body. Whichever hypothesis we adopt the conclusion is the same, namely, that the mind has power to open or close the door to invisible forces in such a way that the result of the mental action becomes apparent on the material plane.

Now, investigation shows that the physical body is a mechanism specially adapted for the transmutation of the inner or mental power into modes of external activity. We know from medical science that the whole body is traversed by a network of nerves which serve as the channels of communication between the indwelling spiritual ego, which we call mind, and the functions of the external organism. This nervous system is dual. One system, known as the Sympathetic, is the channel for all those activities which are not consciously directed by our volition, such as the operation of the digestive organs, the repair of the daily wear and tear of the tissues, and the like. The other system, known as the Voluntary or Cerebro-spinal system, is the channel through which we receive conscious perception from the physical senses and exercise control over the movements of the body. This system has its centre in the brain, while the other has its centre in a ganglionic mass at the back of the stomach known as the solar plexus, and sometimes spoken of as the abdominal brain. The cerebro-spinal system is the channel of our volitional or conscious mental action, and the sympathetic system is the channel of that mental action which unconsciously supports the vital functions of the body. Thus the cerebro-spinal system is the organ of conscious mind and the sympathetic is that of sub-conscious mind.

But the interaction of conscious and subconscious mind requires a similar interaction between the corresponding systems of nerves, and one conspicuous connection by which this is provided is the "vagus" nerve. This nerve passes out of the cerebral region as a portion of the voluntary system, and through it we control the vocal organs; then it passes onwards to the thorax sending out branches to the heart and lungs; and finally, passing through the diaphragm, it loses the outer coating which distinguishes the nerves of the voluntary system and becomes identified with those of the sympathetic system, so forming a connecting link between the two and making the man physically a single entity.

Similarly different areas of the brain indicate their connection with the objective and subjective activities of the mind respectively, and speaking in a general way we may assign the frontal portion of the brain to the former and the posterior portion to the latter, while the intermediate portion partakes of the character of both.

The intuitional faculty has its correspondence in this upper area of the brain situated between the frontal and posterior portions, and physiologically speaking, it is here that intuitive ideas find entrance. These at first are more or less unformed and generalized in character, but are nevertheless perceived by the conscious mind, otherwise we should not be aware of them at all. Then the effort of nature is to bring these ideas into more definite and usable shape, so the conscious mind lays hold of them and induces a corresponding vibratory current in the voluntary system of nerves, and this in turn induces a similar current in the involuntary system, thus handing the idea over to the subjective mind. The vibratory current which had first descended from the apex of the brain to the frontal brain and thus through the voluntary system to the solar plexus is now reversed and ascends from the solar plexus through the sympathetic system to the posterior brain, this return current indicating the action of the subjective mind.

If we were to remove the surface portion of the apex of the brain we should find immediately below it the shining belt of brain substance called the "corpus callosum." This is the point of union between the subjective and objective, and as the current returns from the solar plexus to this point it is restored to the objective portion of the brain in a fresh form which it has acquired by the silent alchemy of the subjective mind. Thus the conception which was at first only vaguely recognized is restored to the objective mind in a definite and workable form, and then the objective mind, acting through the frontal brain -- the area of comparison and analysis -- proceeds to work upon a clearly perceived idea and to bring out the potentialities that are latent in it.

It must of course be borne in mind that I am here speaking of the mental ego in that mode of its existence with which we are most familiar, that is as clothed in flesh, though there may be much to say as to other modes of its activity. But for our daily life we have to consider ourselves as we are in that aspect of life, and from this point of view the physiological correspondence of the body to the action of the mind is an important item; and therefore, although we must always remember that the origin of ideas is purely mental, we must not forget that on the physical plane every mental action implies a corresponding molecular action in the brain and in the two-fold nervous system.

If, as the old Elizabethan poet says, "the soul is form, and doth the body make," then it is clear that the physical organism must be a mechanical arrangement as specially adapted for the use of the soul's powers as a steam-engine is for the power of steam; and it is the recognition of this reciprocity between the two that is the basis of all spiritual or mental healing, and therefore the study of this mechanical adaptation is an important branch of Mental Science. Only we must not forget that it is the effect and not the cause.

At the same time it is important to remember that such a thing as reversal of the relation between cause and effect is possible, just as the same apparatus may be made to generate mechanical power by the application of electricity, or to generate electricity by the application of mechanical power. And the importance of this principle consists in this. There is always a tendency for actions which were at first voluntary to become automatic, that is, to pass from the region of conscious mind into that of subconscious mind, and to acquire a permanent domicile there. Professor Elmer Gates, of Washington, has demonstrated this physiologically in his studies of brain formation. He tells us that every thought produces a slight molecular change in the substance of the brain, and the repetition of the same sort of thought causes a repetition of the same molecular action until at last a veritable channel is formed in the brain substance, which can only be eradicated by a reverse process of thought. In this way "grooves of thought" are very literal things, and when once established the vibrations of the cosmic currents flow automatically through them and thus react upon the mind by a process the reverse of that by which our voluntary and intentional indrawing from the invisible is affected. In this way are formed what we call "habits," and hence the importance of controlling our thinking and guarding it against undesirable ideas.

But on the other hand this reactionary process may be used to confirm good and life-giving modes of thought, so that by a knowledge of its laws we may enlist even the physical body itself in the building up of that perfectly whole personality, the attainment of which is the aim and object of our studies.

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"The Edinburgh Lectures in Mental Science" (c) 1909 Thomas Troward, used as public-domain material.