Thought-Culture or Practical Mental Training



Thought-Culture is based upon two general scientific facts which may be stated as follows:

I. The brain centres of thought may be developed by exercise. While we do not assert that the brain and the mind are identical, it is nevertheless a scientific truth that “the brain is the organ of the mind” and that one of the first requisites for a good mind is a good brain. It has been proven by experiment that the brain-cells concerned in special mental activities multiply in proportion to the active use of the special faculties employed in the mental operation. It has also been ascertained that disuse of special faculties of the mind tends to cause a process akin to atrophy in the brain-cells concerned in the particular activity, so that it becomes difficult to think clearly along those particular lines after a long period of disuse. Moreover, it is known that the education and mental culture of a child is accompanied by an increase and development of the brain-cells connected with the particular fields of thought in which the child is exercised.

There is a close analogy between the exercise of the brain-cells and the exercise of the muscles of the body. Both respond to reasonable exercise; both are injured by overwork; both degenerate by disuse. As Brooks says: “The mind grows by its own inherent energies. Mental exercise is thus the law of mental development. As a muscle grows strong by use, so any faculty of the mind is developed by its proper use and exercise. An inactive mind, like an unused muscle, becomes weak and unskilful. Hang the arm in a sling and the muscle becomes flabby and loses its vigor and skill; let the mind remain inactive and it acquires a mental flabbiness that unfits it for any severe or prolonged activity. An idle mind loses its tone and strength like an unused muscle; the mental powers go to rust through idleness and inaction. To develop the faculties of the mind and secure their highest activity and efficiency, there must be a constant and judicious exercise of these faculties. The object of culture is to stimulate and direct the activity of the mind.”

Experiments conducted by scientists upon dogs have shown that in the case of dogs specially trained to unusual mental activity, there has been a corresponding increase of the number of active brain-cells in the particular parts of the brain concerned with those mental activities. Microscopic examination of the brain tissues showed the greatest difference between the brain structure of the trained dogs and untrained ones of the same brood. So carefully were the experiments conducted that it was possible to distinguish between the dogs trained in one set of activities from those trained in another. Biologists have demonstrated the correctness of the brain-cell development theory beyond reasonable doubt, and ordinary human experience also adds its testimony in its favor.

In view of the above, it will be seen that by intelligent exercise and use any and all faculties of the mind may be developed and cultivated, just as may any special muscle of the body. And this exercise can come only from actual use of the faculties themselves. Development must come from within and not from without. No system of outward stimulation will develop the faculties of the mind–they may be cultivated only by an exercise in their own particular field of work. The only way to exercise any particular faculty of thought is to _think_ through that faculty.

II. Not only are the brain-cells developed by exercise, but it also appears to be a fact that the mind appears actually to be _nourished_ by knowledge of the outside world of things. The raw material of thought is taken into the mind and there is digested by the thought-processes, and is afterward actually _assimilated_ by the mind in a manner strikingly similar to the processes of the physical organs of nutrition. A mind to be at its best must be supplied with a normal amount of mental nourishment. Lacking this, it tends to become weak and inefficient. And, likewise, if its owner is a mental glutton and furnishes too much nourishment, particularly of a rich kind, there is a tendency toward “mental dyspepsia” and indigestion–the mind, unable to assimilate the mental food furnished it, is inclined to rebel. Moreover, if the mind be supplied with mental food of only one kind–if the mind is confined to one narrow field of thought–it weakens and the mental processes become impaired. In many ways is this curious analogy apparent.

Not only does the mind need development, but it also needs intelligent cultivation. For it may be _developed_ by improper objects of thought just as well as by the proper ones. A rich field will grow tares and weeds as well as good grain or fruit. Thought-culture should not be confined to the _development of a strong and active mind_, but should be also extended to the _cultivation of a wise and intelligent mind_. Strength and Wisdom should be combined. Moreover there should be sought a harmonious and normal development. A one-sided, mental development is apt to produce a “crank,” while a development in unhealthy mental fields will produce an abnormal thinker tending dangerously near to the line of insanity. Some “one-idea” men have great mental power and development, but are nevertheless unbalanced and impractical. And insane persons often have strongly developed minds–developed abnormally.