MY subject being the mechanism of the will, it might be asked, "What has a surgeon to do with psychology?" To which I would answer, "Everything." For, without sheltering myself behind Mr. Jonathan Hutchinson's trite saying that "a surgeon should be a physician who knows how to use his hands," I would remind you that pure science has proved so good a foster-mother to surgery, that diseases of the brain which were formerly considered to be hopeless, are now brought within a measurable distance of the knife, and therefore a step nearer toward cure. Again, I would remind you that surgeons rather than physicians see the experiments which so-called Nature is always providing for us—experiments which, though horribly clumsy, do on rare occasions, as I shall presently show you to-night, lend us powerful aid in attempting to solve the most obscure problems ever presented to the scientist.
The title I have chosen may possibly be objected to as too comprehensive; but until we are ready to admit a new terminology, we must employ the old in order to convey our meaning intelligibly, although there may be coupled therewith the risk of expressing more than we desire. Thus, when I speak of the mechanism of the will and the motor centers of the brain, I do not intend (as indeed must be obvious) to discuss the existence of the so-called freedom of the will, or the source of our consciousness of voluntary power.
I shall rather describe to you first the general plan of the mechanism which conveys information to our brain, the thinking organ; next the arrangement of those parts in it which are concerned with voluntary phenomena; and, finally, I shall seek to show by means of experiment that the consciousness of our existing as single beings, the consciousness of our possessing but one will, as people say, while at the same time we know that we possess a double nervous system, is due to the fact that pure volition is dependent entirely on the exercise of the attention which connotes the idea of singleness; consequently, that it is impossible to carry out two totally distinct ideas at one and the same moment of time, when the attention must, of course, be fully engaged upon each.
I fear that, in making my argument consecutive, I shall have to pass over very well-beaten paths, and so I must ask your patience for a few moments while I make good my premises. The nervous system, which in man is composed of brain, spinal cord, nerves, and nerve-endings, is arranged upon the simplest plan, although the details of
- Lecture delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain.