Popular Science Monthly/Volume 4/November 1873/Editor's Table

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search


THE question of the relation of the mental and the corporeal powers has always had a deep speculative interest; but, as science is gradually working it out, it is found to have also a profound practical interest. It is strange that a subject of such fascination, and concerning which so much has been said in all ages, should be so late in its rational elucidation. But, besides the difficulties which spring from its extreme complexity, the inquiry has been perpetually hindered by prejudice and passion. Singular as it may appear, the acquisition of the most important of all knowledge, that of the human constitution by dissection, has been held as a crime until the present generation. The prejudice that led to this result led also to the further result that the most important part of the human system, that which is specially devoted to psychical ends, has been considered last. The early anatomists refrained from dissecting the head for fear of committing impiety, and there remained, long after, a kindred feeling against the analysis and study of the brain. Even when it had been demonstrated, and was admitted by all physiologists, that the brain was the organ of the mind, there still lingered with many a belief that it was a sort of unaccountable, half-superfluous appendage to the body, with no such reason for its existence as was obvious in the case of other anatomical parts. Physiologists might show that it had special relations with the mind, but the students of mental philosophy denied that it was of any importance to them, and proceeded with their inquiries as if it had no existence at all. Buffon described the brain as consisting of a kind of "ignorant mucilage," and the Rev. F. W. Robertson expressed the general metaphysical and theological contempt for it by ridiculing the idea of accounting for mental effects "by a few ounces more or less of the hasty pudding contained within the skull." We are indebted to the phrenological school for having made a vigorous fight in behalf of the claims of the head upon the students of mind, and, whatever may be the imperfections of their scheme, they have certainly cleared away a vast amount of prejudice in the popular mind, and prepared for the consideration of the material apparatus in connection with mental phenomena.

It is now well established that, in the study of mind and character, the physiological organism is not only to be taken into account, but is to be made the basis of investigation. Metaphysical treatises open with a description of the nervous system, even if it plays no part in the subsequent exposition. But, wherever mind is studied with a view to practical ends, it is found necessary not only to admit in a general way the intimate dependence and close interaction of the mental and corporeal systems, but the relations have to be worked out with the utmost detail on both sides. In dealing with abnormal mental manifestations, as in the numerous forms of insanity and the various grades of feeble-mindedness, or with the psychological effects of stimulants and narcotics, or with the development and decline of the mental powers, or with the effects of mental overwork and exhaustion, it is now admitted to be indispensable to start from the nervous system, and to regard mental manifestations as conditioned by its properties and laws. Thus far it is only physicians, compelled by the exigencies of practice, and prepared with the requisite physiological knowledge, who thoroughly accept this point of view, but it is the point of view that must yet be taken by all who deal with the phenomena of human nature on the basis of real and applicable knowledge. Especially in that profession which aims to direct the development of the mind and character of the young, must the corporeal side of their nature be thoroughly and systematically studied. We lately heard of a professor, high in honor and reputation as a teacher of teachers, whose text-books of mind are the metaphysical treatises of Stewart and Hamilton, and who strenuously denies that corporeal considerations have any right to be imported into the question: happily, the class to which he belongs is fast passing away. He who aspires to the noble work of developing a human being must take the whole nature of that being into account. He has no right to cleave it asunder and throw away one part of it, especially that part which is the organism of life, and brings the individual into relation with the universe. The teacher who has only attained an intellectual comprehension of certain branches in which he is to give instruction, has hardly entered upon his preparation. As we have elsewhere written: "Education is an affair of the laws of our being, involving a wide range of considerations—an affair of the air respired, its moisture, temperature, density, purity, and electrical state in their physiological effects; an affair of food, digestion, and nutrition; of the quantity, quality, and speed of the blood sent to the brain; of clothing and exercise, fatigue and repose; health and disease, or variable volition and automatic nerve-action; of fluctuating feeling, redundancy and exhaustion of nerve-power, sensuous impressibility, temperament, family history, constitutional predisposition, and unconscious influence; of material surroundings, and a host of agencies which stamp themselves upon the plastic organism and reappear in character."

The latest contribution to the literature of this subject is a little book entitled "Mind and Body: the Theories of their Relation,"[1] by Prof. Alexander Bain, author of "The Senses and the Intellect," and "The Emotions and the Will." The volume that now appears represents the leading facts of the question, and their latest theoretical interpretations, and closes with an interesting review of the course of past speculation upon the subject.

It being now established that the brain is the material instrument of the mind, the questions are inevitable, What do we actually know, and how much is it possible to know, of the conditions of this union? It is not enough to recognize that when the circulation of the blood in the brain is arrested, as in fainting, consciousness ceases, nor that alcohol in its influence upon the nervous system modifies mental action in one way, and opium and hashish in other ways; that which we require to understand is, in what manner the mechanism and action of the brain are specially related to the mechanism and action of the mind. Nor is the question as to the ultimate nature of mind and matter, or how they can exist together, for this is beyond the province of science to determine. What are the essence of mind and the essence of matter, and whether they are at bottom two things or one thing, are beyond ascertainment, and will probably ever remain so. The nature of the union is a mystery, just as the nature of the union between gravity and matter is a mystery; in both cases we investigate only the laws of the phenomena. As the problem is one of the connection between two systems of action, the first step toward its solution must be to resolve these two systems into their simplest elements. The structural elements of the nervous system are marvelously simple; they consist of microscopic cells and fibres, the former being seats or centres of force, and the latter being the means of transmitting it.

Cells and fibres are the instruments of mental action, and, exactly as we rise in the scale of intelligence in animated creatures, there is an increase in the mass of the nervous centres—that is, a multiplication of the nerves and fibres which constitute them. In man, the most intelligent of the animal series, the organ of intelligence is relatively very large, and attains the highest degree of complexity.

Prof. Bain represents the nervous elements of the human brain as follows: "The thin cake of gray substance surrounding the hemispheres of the brain, and extended into many doublings by the furrowed or convoluted structure, is somewhat difficult to measure. It has been estimated at upward of 300 square inches, or as nearly equal to a square surface of 18 inches in the side. Its thickness is variable, but, on an average, it may be stated at one-tenth of an inch. It is the largest accumulation of gray matter in the body. It is made up of several layers of gray substance divided by layers of white substance. The gray substance is a nearly compact mass of corpuscles of variable size. The large caudate nerve-cells are mingled with very small corpuscles less than the thousandth of an inch in diameter. Allowing for intervals, we may suppose that a linear row of 500 cells occupies an inch, thus giving 250,000 to the square inch for 300 inches. If one-half of the thickness of the layer is made up of fibres, the corpuscles or cells, taken by themselves, would be a mass one-twentieth of an inch thick, say 16 cells in the depth. Multiplying these numbers together, we should reach a total of 1,200,000,000 cells in the gray covering of the hemispheres. As every cell is united with at least two fibres, often many more, we may multiply this number by four for the number of connecting fibres attached to the mass, which gives 4,800,000,000 fibres."

Now, in saying that such a wonderful organism as this is the seat and embodiment of the mind, we require to give distinctness to our conceptions, and are compelled to regard the connected cells and fibres as the simple instruments of simple mental processes as the whole fabric is the organ and measure of the whole mind. The corporeal elements are cells and fibres—what are the psychical elements in their lowest analysis? The old division of of the mind into faculties—as reason, judgment, memory, and imagination—is insufficient, for these are far from being ultimate elementary processes, but are rather the most complex actions of the collective forces of the intelligence in different modes of exercise. The later psychology resolves all these so-called faculties into a few constituents which form, if we may so speak, the contexture of the intellect. As Prof. Bain remarks: "We have no power of memory in radical separation from the power of reason or the power of imagination. The classification is tainted with the fault called in logic 'cross-division.' The really fundamental separation of the powers of the intellect is into three facts, called: 1. Discrimination, the sense, feeling, or consciousness, of difference; 2. Similarity, the sense, feeling, or consciousness, of agreement; and, 3. Retentiveness, or the power of memory or acquisition. These three functions, however much they are mingled in our mental operations, are yet totally distinct properties, and each the groundwork of a different superstructure. As an ultimate analysis of the mental powers, their number cannot be increased or diminished; fewer would not explain the facts, more are unnecessary. They are the intellect, the whole intellect, and nothing but the intellect."

This resolution of the intellect into ultimate discriminations of likenesses and differences among things recognized, remembered, and thought about, and, as a consequence, the growth or development of the intellect as a successive combination and recompounding of these relations of discrimination, is an immense step forward in the progress of scientific psychology, because it first brings into close correspondence the two orders of activity. Instead of merely wondering at the brain as an inexplicable mass of mucilage, we now regard it as an organism built up with exquisite delicacy out of thousands of millions of cells and fibres, with myriads of intimate connections, all guarded most securely and put into multiplied and marvelous relations with the external universe. It is impossible here to go into the details of the subject, and we have aimed only to state the present attitude and tendency of psychological inquiry, which is briefly this: Our feelings and volitions, aptitudes and acquisitions, are elements of mind having their corporeal side which it is both indispensable and possible to understand—great progress having been recently made in the investigation. Much in the relations of the cerebral structures to mental action is still profoundly obscure, but much is also already known which is of the highest service for useful guidance. Metaphysics has been hitherto proverbially barren, because it has insisted upon considering mind as an isolated abstraction; while modern psychology, by regarding the whole nature as a unity, promises, on the other hand, to be eminently productive of practical results.



The British Association for the Advancement of Science commenced its forty-third session September 17th, in the town of Bradford. Dr. Carpenter resigned the presidency, and, as the health of Dr. J. P. Joule, his successor-elect, did not allow him to assume the duties of the chair, it was taken by Prof. Williamson, the eminent English chemist, who devoted his inaugural address to the discussion of his own department of science. After a handsome tribute to the memory of Liebig, Prof. Williamson entered into an exposition of the present conditions of chemical science, the directions of its greatest activity, the present state of chemical theory, and the general relations of scientific education to the advancement of knowledge. The whole paper is able, but it did not arrive in time for publication in the present number of the Monthly.

The chairman of the biological section was Prof. Allman, the distinguished zoologist of the Edinburgh University, and his address, upon taking the chair, seems to us a very able and instructive scientific discussion. But what is the British Association for the Advancement of Science about, in putting at the head of its biological branch a man who favors Darwinian notions, and is consequently a sham scientist? Do they not know that from the Yankee Vatican has gone forth a bull which excommunicates them and their seed to the end of time? In his lively address before the Free Religious Association, in Boston, last May, Colonel Higginson apologized for the extent of theological disagreement by pointing out the diversities of scientific opinion, and remarked: "I heard one of the greatest scientific men in America reply, when somebody said, 'You must at least admit that there is a division of opinion among scientific men in regard to the doctrines of Darwin,' 'No, there is no difference of opinion among scientific men.' 'Why not?' 'Because,' said he, 'no man who supports the doctrines of Darwin is entitled to be called a scientific man.'" As to who the great man was who made this destructive remark, nobody will need to guess twice; but it squelches Prof. Allman, and turns the British Association out-of-doors as a lot of mere scientific pretenders, for their representative biologist aired his vagaries as follows: "I have thus dwelt at some length on the doctrine of evolution, because it has given a new direction to biological study, and must powerfully influence all future researches."

Prof. Allman regards the doctrine of evolution as a great and actual truth of Nature, still obscured and embarrassed by many difficulties, and in this he is at one with its oldest and strongest adherents; but he insists that it harmonizes and explains so extensive a range of facts, which are without explanation on any other view, as to become invaluable as an instrument of scientific research. On this point he says:

"The hypothesis of evolution may not, it is true, be yet established on so sure a basis as to command instantaneous acceptance, and for a generalization of such wide significance no one can be blamed for demanding for it a broad and indisputable foundation of facts. Whether, however, we do or do not accept it as firmly established, it is, at all events, certain that it embraces a greater number of phenomena, and suggests a more satisfactory explanation of them, than any other hypothesis which has yet been proposed.... Or, finally, is the doctrine of evolution only a working hypothesis which, like an algebraic fiction, may yet be of inestimable value as an instrument of research? For, as the higher calculus becomes to the physical inquirer a power by which he unfolds the laws of the inorganic world, so may the hypothesis of evolution, though only an hypothesis, furnish the biologist with a key to the order and hidden forces of the world of life. And what Leibnitz and Newton and Hamilton have been to the physicist, is it not that which Darwin has been to the biologist?" Only to think of it! Would it not have been well if those British scientists had got some American to teach them what science is, and how to preserve it from perversion and degradation?



Our readers will recall an important lecture on "Hypnotism in Animals," a translation of which, by Miss Hammond, appeared in The Popular Science Monthly for September. It gave some of the results of a very interesting research in comparative psychology; and, in a second lecture upon the same subject, in the present number, the results of the investigation are continued, with some strictures on the so-called experimental investigations of "spiritualism." The originality of this inquiry, and the practical lesson that is drawn from it, will be sufficient to secure a careful perusal of these discourses, but the reader's interest in them will be increased by the painful announcement of the recent death of their distinguished author, which occurred September 15th. Prof. Czermak was the head, and in fact the proprietor, of the famous Physiological Laboratory in Leipsic, where he lived. He was the inventor of the laryngoscope, and his treatise upon it was translated and published by the English Sydenham Society. He was a man of large wealth, which he liberally devoted to the work of science by maintaining his physiological school; and, besides being a skillful and able investigator, he was a man of enlarged culture and earnestly sympathetic with all measures and movements for the diffusion of valuable knowledge among the people. He was warmly interested in carrying out the project of the "International Scientific Series," being a member of the German committee to decide upon the contributions from that country; and, had he lived, he would have prepared a volume for the series himself. He wrote and spoke the English language with ease and elegance, and his wife conversed in it so fluently and perfectly that the writer felt sure she must be an American lady, if not English, until he learned that she had never been out of Germany. Prof. Czermak died of a lingering disease from which he had long suffered.



mr. richard a. proctor, the eminent English astronomer, is to lecture in this country during the ensuing season. We need hardly say that he is a first-class man, and stands among the ablest in his chosen department of science. Nor is he a mere recipient and reporter of other men's ideas; he has views of his own, and has made his independent contributions to the extension of astronomical science. But it is as a lucid and attractive writer on astronomical themes that Mr. Proctor is chiefly known. He has written an elaborate work on "The Sun," and has just published a corresponding volume on "The Moon;" these, with "Other Worlds than Ours," and his numerous and excellent papers in the reviews on stellar astronomy, show his thorough familiarity with the whole field of celestial phenomena. Mr. Proctor is said to be a clear, rapid, and forcible speaker, which, with his illustrations, will make his lectures the leading scientific entertainment of the season.


  1. This is number IV. of "The International Scientific Series." In arranging the works of this series, which aims to represent the latest result of thought, it was deemed important that the new psychology should be fully treated, and by the most competent men. Prof. Bain was accordingly engaged to deal with the more general and philosophical aspects of the subject, while the volume of Dr. William B. Carpenter, in the same series, will be a regular practical text-book of mental philosophy from the physiological point of view. It Mill be issued in January, under the title of "The Principles of Mental Physiology: with their Applications to the Training and Discipline of the Mind, and the Study of its Morbid Conditions."