Thought-Culture or Practical Mental Training

CHAPTER II.

THE NATURE OF THOUGHT

It was formerly considered necessary for all books on the subject of thought to begin by a recital of the metaphysical conceptions regarding the nature and “thingness” of Mind. The student was led through many pages and endless speculation regarding the metaphysical theories regarding the origin and inner nature of Mind which, so far from establishing a fixed and definite explanation in his mind, rather tended toward confusing him and giving him the idea that psychology was of necessity a speculative science lacking the firm practical basis possessed by other branches of science. In the end, in the words of old Omar, he “came out the door through which he went.”

But this tendency has been overcome of late years, and writers on the subject pass by all metaphysical conceptions regarding the nature of Mind, and usually begin by plunging at once into the real business of psychology–the business of the practical study of the mechanism and activities of the mind itself. As some writer has said, psychology has no more concern with the solution of the eternal riddle of “What is Mind?” than physics with the twin-riddle of “What is Matter?” Both riddles, and their answers, belong to entirely different branches and fields of thought than those concerned with their laws of operation and principles of activity. As Halleck says: “Psychology studies the phenomena of mind, just as physics investigates those of matter.” And, likewise, just as the science of physics holds true in spite of the varying and changing conceptions regarding the nature of matter, so does the science of psychology hold true in spite of the varying and changing conceptions regarding the nature of Mind.

Halleck has well said: “If a materialist should hold that the mind was nothing but the brain, and that the brain was a vast aggregation of molecular sheep herding together in various ways, his hypothesis would not change the fact that sensation must precede perception, memory and thought; nor would the laws of the association of ideas be changed, nor would the fact that interest and repetition aid memory cease to hold good. The man who thought his mind was a collection of little cells would dream, imagine, think and feel; so also would he who believed his mind to be immaterial. It is very fortunate that the same mental phenomena occur, no matter what theory is adopted. Those who like to study the puzzles as to what mind and matter really are must go to metaphysics. Should we ever find that salt, arsenic and all things else are the same substance with a different molecular arrangement, we should still not use them interchangeably.”

For the purposes of the study of practical psychology, we may as well lay aside, if even for the moment, our pet metaphysical conceptions and act as if we knew nothing of the essential nature of Mind (and indeed Science in truth does _not_ know), and confine ourselves to the phenomena and manifestations of Mind which, after all, is the only way in which and by which we can know anything at all about it. As Brooks says: “The mind can be defined only by its activities and manifestations. In order to obtain a definition of the mind, therefore, we must observe and determine its various forms of activity. These activities, classified under a few general heads and predicated of the unseen something which manifests them, will give us a definition of mind.”

The act of consciousness determines the existence of Mind in the person experiencing it. No one can be conscious of thought and, at the same time, deny the existence of mind within himself. For the very act of denial, in itself, is a manifestation of thought and consequently an assertion of the existence of mind. One may assert the axiom: “I think, therefore, I have a mind;” but he is denied the privilege of arguing: “I think, therefore, I have no mind.” The mind has an ultimate and final knowledge of its own existence.

The older view of Mind is that it is a something higher than matter which it uses for its manifestation. It was held to be unknowable in itself and to be studied only through its manifestations. It was supposed to involve itself, to become involved, in some way in matter and to there manifest itself in an infinitude of forms, degrees, and variations. The materialistic view, which arose into prominence in the middle of the Nineteenth Century, held, on the contrary, that Mind was merely an activity or property of Matter–a function of matter akin to extension and motion. Huxley, voicing this conception said: “We have no knowledge of any thinking substance apart from an extended substance…. We shall, sooner or later, arrive at a mechanical equivalent of consciousness, just as we have arrived at a mechanical equivalent of heat.” But, Huxley, himself, was afterwards constrained to acknowledge that: “How it is that anything so remarkable as a state of consciousness comes about by the result of irritating nervous tissue, is just as unaccountable as the appearance of the _jinnee_ when Aladdin rubbed his lamp.”