Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 3.djvu/635

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.

In the want of discernment in which such an observer is placed, when investigating Nature, he regards the temporary coincidences and consequences of certain real events as in themselves real. He accepts these circumstances at once, and without thorough investigation, as having an intimate and direct relation with real events. He, therefore, forms a conception of something which is not real, and he reports as an actual occurrence that which, in the way he means, never in fact took place. Such a circumstance constitutes an event not thoroughly tested, or an incident unequally investigated, and, I believe, we are not merely logically justified, but morally forced, to distinguish, among events in the perception of Nature, a new and especial category, that of events viewed unequally. In this category are embraced circumstances which play a most extensive rôle in the history of the development of the human mind. Without the conception of this class of supposed incidents, we would never be capable of understanding and explaining certain obscure appearances and tendencies of the human mind, and the persistency with which they rise and maintain themselves as often as they are overthrown, and when they have scarcely even had time to disappear.

Nothing strengthens the mind like a habit of investigating natural events with thoroughness and strictness. Without this habit, credulity and superstition can neither be broken nor restrained.

We children of the nineteenth century are not a little proud of our civilization, culture, and enlightenment. And yet, if a comparison were made between the ruling mind of the middle ages and that which now reigns, no great progress would be perceived. In fact, we have no right to plume ourselves on the material development of our era, so long as certain tendencies of the mind remain as they were ages ago, and while we are no more capable, than we were then, of investigating natural events, so as to deduce the truth from them.

It would carry me too far from my subject if I were to give even a hasty glance at all those tendencies and false appearances which, so to say, calumniate our enlightened and cultivated life. It will suffice merely to mention the manias of table-turning, spirit-rapping, spiritual apparitions, animal magnetism, and clairvoyance. To-morrow, at the conclusion of the second lecture, I will give a more detailed account of these subjects, as they appear in the light of facts. In what I have said this morning, I wished principally to prepare your minds for the facts I am about to state, and for the proper consideration of certain apparently wonderful physical phenomena which, though partially known for some time, have received no scientific investigation, and which, therefore, have not been awarded their proper place in the domain of nervous physiology.

During the autumn of the past year, while sojourning in Bohemia, I made the acquaintance of a gentleman who, in the course of one of our scientific discussions, communicated to me the striking information