Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 30.djvu/685

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GENIUS AND MENTAL DISEASE.

geologist as Mr. Haast has been at fault in regard to the antiquity of the moa, may not other able geologists, who have supposed that the mammoth, the cave-bear, and other extinct animals—the contemporaries of the Cro-Magnon artists who depicted them with such life-like exactness—died out at a period long prior to the historic era, be equally mistaken? There seems no more reason for doubting that the last surviving Elephas primigenius may have been killed by some bold hunters of the Cro-Magnon race, in the time of one of the early Pharaohs, than there is for questioning the fact that the last Dinornis was killed by the Maori hunters in the reign of George III.

 

GENIUS AND MENTAL DISEASE.
By WILLIAM G. STEVENSON, M. D.

IT were comparatively an easy task to explain psychological phenomena by asserting, as did the metaphysicians of the past, and as some do even at the present, that the human brain—the physical sanctuary of thought—is merely an instrument through which various spiritual beings operate, producing at one time the prophetic utterances of the seer, at another time the gifted words of genius, and yet again the extravagant and discordant expressions of madness. This was the "working hypothesis" of Pagan antiquity in its efforts to explain the utterances of its oracles, and also of the Christian fathers in their attempts to explain the inspiration of the prophets and of the apostles.

Greek supernaturalism and the Christian doctrine of inspiration here found a common point of agreement, for both implied a "divine intoxication"—an "overflowing of the mind"—because of its entire possession by a divine influence, which, according as it was good or evil, excited a "poetic furor" indicative of genius, or caused a wild frenzy which was known as madness.

Genius, therefore, was simply a reflection, through the human brain, of an outside divinity of good; while insanity was merely an expression of satanic possession—an inspiration of an evil spirit—and in nature was closely allied to genius.

This belief, although somewhat modified by filtering through ages of changing thought, has been superseded only in very recent times by the conceptions which reflect the broader generalizations of inductive science. From the data thus furnished comes the conviction that mental phenomena "are dependent upon the properties and molecular activities of nerve-tissue," and that there is a "bond of union" between psychical expressions and a nervous mechanism, although the nature of this union is unknown. The facts of consciousness are marshaled before us with all the force of attested verities, but are yet veiled with all the mystery of a passing dream.