A NUMBER of years ago the eminent anatomist, Dr. Joseph Leidy, told me that a modern Maecenas had offered to pay for the finest microscopes if he would undertake a search in brains for ideas.
The professor, who never pretended to be either a psychologist or a philosopher, rejected the proposal on the ground that the investigation must be a profitless one. His common sense and common experience of mind and body led him to believe that mental phenomena are not things to be captured as the result of such a method of attack.
But what induced him to take this stand? Common sense and common experience, in some sense of the terms, men have always had—at any rate, they have had what may be called by these names from a very early period. And yet there was a time, and a very long time, during which such an investigation would not have impressed men of acuteness and learning as necessarily an absurd one.
There was a time during which, that is to say, men regarded minds as something frankly and unequivocally material. Something elusive, if you please; something too fine and subtle to be directly apparent to the senses; but, nevertheless, something just as material as wood or stone or flesh or bone, and just as really in this or that portion of space.
Almost at the dawn of reflective thought we find men identifying the mind with the breath which we inhale and exhale; and when, later, the time was ripe for the birth of an atomic theory, a crude and hasty one, it is true, but the forerunner of the one which was to appear later, we find them describing it as composed of atoms, which enter and leave the body as do other kinds of matter.
About four hundred years before Christ, Democritus, who was a man of scientific temper, even if of unavoidably limited scientific attainment, placed before the world his atomistic doctrine. A hundred years later that easy-going philosopher, Epicurus, adopted his theory, and founded a long-lived school. In the first century, B. C., the Roman poet, Lucretius, wrote his magnificent poem 'On Nature' and set forth in noble verse the Epicurean doctrine touching the universe of things physical and mental.
The nature of the mind and soul, says Lucretius, is bodily; for when it is seen to push the limbs, rouse the body from sleep, and alter the countenance