Phineas Parkhurst Quimby

 

Lecture Notes 1843–1847

 

ORIGIN OF KNOWLEDGE

 

The daily observation of every individual will result in the belief of different states of the mind. We often speak of the natural operations of the mind; its natural state, etc., which is only that condition or standard nearest which a great majority of minds have resemblance. We also speak of the excited condition; the excited and deranged state. It is said with much truth that every man is blessed with some peculiarities entirely his own; that no two men are precisely alike in all respects.

Now as we deviate from the great standard (or natural state), mind becomes excited, or morbid and insane. And all these different states or different temperatures of the mind are produced from strong impressions, made under peculiar circumstances. We are susceptible of sensations; governed and controlled by them, under all circumstances. These direct all our conduct throughout the whole life.

The life of man is a succession of sensations or impressions, which induce him to act in one capacity or another. His capabilities are enlarged, as these impressions are numerous and powerful; or limited, as they are rare and light. All great minds are susceptible to the highest degree. His mind is most powerful and gigantic whose impressions are stamped upon the intellect with an indelible mark. This fact resolves the mystery of memory and explains the system of reasoning. We are the receptacles of successive impressions. Every step the mind takes in its progress of thought is marked with a new impression. Every beginning, every progress and every conclusion results in a new impression.

It is a very natural question among students to enquire how the mind acquires knowledge from external objects. We will illustrate the process in this manner. An object is presented through the senses, and the mind perceives, then is immediately impressed with the idea of that object, or receives the impression which the presentation of the object makes. This is the starting point, and the mind immediately desires to possess or reject the same, according to the character of the impression, or at least to know what constitutes the object.

Now as the mind, in this case, is dependent upon the senses to convey a knowledge of the object to itself, or rather to place itself in immediate communication with the object; its attention and action is solely directed by the impression received. To an untaught or unlearned mind, the presentation of an object would leave an impression, but it is possible that action would here cease, unless it should receive other impressions than that merely of the object. But present the same object to a well-trained mind, and it gives an impression, which is immediately followed by a successive train of impressions and ideas; giving rise to innumerable subjects of thought and contemplation. But to the untaught mind, present a second object, and a second impression is communicated, which is immediately followed by the first. Then comes a comparison or an impression of the difference of the two. And so a succession of objects presented multiplies the number of impressions which follow, in a ten-fold ratio. The principle of association, which is a successive train of impressions, is set in operation and keeps the mind ever on the stretch. Thus the mind goes on its voyage of successive thoughts, arising from the presentation of one object, or from some strong impression produced in some manner through the organs of sense.

Language is the expression of ideas or impressions, and this is, perhaps, the great source by which mind communicates with mind, through the sense of hearing. The conversation among our friends is the method, by language, of expressing ideas or impressions, which produce similar ideas and impressions upon those to whom the conversation is directed. If you describe a scene you have witnessed in some distant country, giving different lights and shades, as the impressions follow each other on your mind, bringing before another individual one grand view of the whole transaction, you give rise to impressions in the mind of your listener; which upon the principle of association, carries him back to a hundred different scenes of a similar character, each of which are associated with ten-thousand impressions, which are similar to those communicated at the place of transaction.

Two men pass an old castle. Each receives an impression from the presentation of the object. It will remind one of some old ruins of a castle which he saw a thousand miles distant and whatever transpired, or what he witnessed at the time he saw it. The other, perhaps, will be reminded of some legend or old story which he read in his boyish days, where lords and knights and ladies were made its inhabitants and visitors, about which are associated the days of chivalry and love.

How differently are these two individuals affected by the appearance of the old castle! Each mind receives the starting point from the same source, and then arise all these impressions; entirely different in their course, yet equally rapid in their succession. A succession of ideas arises according to the previous acquisitions of each mind, and these diverging trains are pursued, until another subject presents itself, which breaks up this course of thought. Then mind takes a different route and receives its new train of ideas or impressions. Here, too, it pursues its course; nor does it cease its wanderings, until it receives a stronger impression from some other external object. It then sets off again in another direction and passes rapidly over a numerous train of ideas, succeeding each other on the principle of association.

I will illustrate the manner of acquiring the first impression, by presenting an apple. It appears to the mind, or rather the mind perceives it to be, a substance; then of spherical dimensions. Here are two impressions given. If I exercise the sense of touch, I shall learn the same facts. It feels round, like itself. I convey another impression by the sense of smell. I taste of it, and here is a fourth impression. As the sight, feeling, smell and taste of the object affects me, pleasantly or unpleasantly, I am impressed to take or reject the fruit.

These are the means by which we acquire knowledge. Not in so rapid a succession as I have described, because before we can pronounce the character of any object, we must have learned a language and the different modes of expressing its appearance to those who understand the language we employ. Thus it is by testimony that we receive much of our information. At first, it is difficult to believe what we are not accustomed to witness, ourselves. Yet as the mind becomes enlightened and understands the principle upon which it is received, it yields its confidence and adopts this method of obtaining knowledge.

An individual who should be told that, upon some parts of our globe constant night prevails for a certain number of months, and upon some other parts of the same globe, constant day reigns for the same length of time, would not be very likely to believe it; unless such an anomaly could be explained upon principles which would carry conviction, by a comparison of all the knowledge he possesses upon the subject. Thus it is that mind is set in motion by the presentation of external objects. Before it is thus moved, it is a mere blank; possessing certain inherent powers which will only exhibit themselves by the exercise of some moving power.

"The mind," says Professor Upham, in his work on Mental Philosophy,

"appears at its creation to be merely an existence, involving certain principles and endowed with certain powers, but dependent for the first and original development of those principles and the exercise of those powers on the condition of an outward impression. But after it has been once brought into action, it finds new sources of thought and feeling in itself."

Having, therefore, all these inherent powers to acquire its knowledge, its knowledge is in proportion to the impressions it has received from external objects and internal operations. If you present a subject of conversation to a well-trained mind, stored with impressions or knowledge, you have started a point which sets in motion the whole ocean of mind, educated from the past, and leads to endless discussions. But should you present the same topic to an untaught or partially-disciplined mind, you would start the current of thought, it is true; but that current would soon cease, or rather could not be very extended, because the subjects of thought, or the whole amount of knowledge possessed by the individual, is limited.

I have spoken of the natural mind and the way of acquiring knowledge through the bodily senses, only. But there are other means of communication by which impressions are conveyed to the mind. If the spiritual being be independent of matter, why cannot we communicate with it, without the aid of the bodily senses? It is to this subject, I would now call your attention.

The mind, itself, obeys the laws which its Creator first laid down; and we are not to suppose any strange anomaly in its outward exhibitions is contrary to the original design. The Great Law-giver possesses all wisdom and is the fountain-head of all perfection. The mind is not a creative experiment of his; himself being ignorant of what results will follow. If these strange phenomena of the mind, which are exhibited in the different states of excitement, are exceptions to the common rule, we must attribute to the Great Mind imperfection and humanity; or a direct interposition to stay the great laws which were first given to suppress and bewilder ignorant and dependent man. But to my mind, it does not appear consistent with the wisdom of God that so extended an interference would be personally made to counteract first principles, which are displayed in this age of mesmeric light. It must be that all these strange appearances are reconcilable with eternal laws. And we are to look to these, alone, for a probable and clear solution.

The same laws govern the mind when in its natural state and susceptible of impressions through the five senses, as when in its excited and unnatural condition; or under the influence of Nervauric, Phrenomagnetic, Mesmeric or Somnambulistic influence. The only difference is this; in the method of conveying impressions to the mind. Give the impression, whether through the senses or otherwise, and the same correspondent results follow. If I make an impression upon the mind of a beautiful landscape, by pointing it out to the natural eye, it is the same as though I made the same impression upon that mind while in an excited or mesmeric state. The view is as real and pleasing in one case as in the other, to the mind that beholds it. It is as much an existence before the mind when the impression without the material object is made as when the impression with a presentation of the real landscape to the natural eye is given.

We shall here give a brief outline of what appears to be the condition of mind when in an excited or mesmeric state. Susceptibility is in its highest state of action, and the operator seems to control the direction of thought, if he chooses; or can so impress the mind with influences as to govern its action, in a measure. This point is, no doubt, gained by some powerful impression produced by the operator upon the mind of the subject. This condition can be produced by other influences than an individual mind. A fright by suddenly coming upon some external object will often produce a similar state of mind. Intense thought and excruciating pains produce this excited state and sometimes sets the mind in action; when it is enabled to exhibit the same phenomena as when induced by an individual operator.

We shall have occasion in the progress of our work to refer to cases which arise from unknown impressions upon the mind; producing hallucination, insanity, dreaming, somnambulism, spectral illusions, etc. This excited state of the mind, called by some the magnetic, mesmeric and congestive, is no doubt produced by a powerful impression of the operator upon the mind of the subject, concentrating or drawing the whole attention to one influence. No set rules can be given by which this influence can be exercised, because the same efforts will produce different results upon different minds; yet no doubt every mind has its portal of access, and could we know where that is or the way and manner of approaching it, we could produce impressions so powerful upon every mind as to subdue the action of the bodily senses and communicate directly with it.

The doctrine, therefore, of powerful magnetizers (as they call themselves); that only a more powerful capacity or higher order of intellectual vigor can subdue a weaker mind and produce the excited or mesmeric state, is idle as the wind. These higher orders of intellects with strong sensibilities are more capable of being brought to the contemplation of one individual subject and of receiving the most powerful impressions, if you can discover the accessible road to their sensibilities. If you can produce an impression upon such a mind as will overcome all his prejudices towards you or your science, and acquire his undivided confidence, you will then excite the mind into this spiritual state of action, and he will readily read your own thoughts. Indeed, I have been led to the conclusion that the highest powers of genius have been the results of excited minds, upon the principles I have laid down; and that they are but the inspiration of this spiritual action.

What is it that contributes so much to distinguish Homer and Demosthenes, Virgil and Cicero, Milton, Tasso, Shakespeare and the whole host of great men who lived in ancient and modern times? It must have been this excited state, during which poetry and eloquence and the highest achievements of mind were left as lights of their genius, to live through all coming time. Eloquence, which holds the multitude in breathless silence or sways them hither and thither, produces the controlling impression upon each mind, which in its turn, impresses and influences the other; exciting a low degree of the mesmeric state. It is, in fact, a principle by which we are all more or less governed in all our pursuits.

The high degree of excitement, called clairvoyant, gives the mind freedom of action, placing it in close contact with everything. There is nothing remote or distant, past or future; everything is present and discoverable. It only requires direction, and the subject is before it. It is enabled to discover and describe countries and cities, mountains and plains, rivers and oceans, inhabitants and animals on distant parts of the globe. The mind will pass into the depths of the earth; or rather looks through all matter, all space and all time, giving its character, its condition and its result. Call its attention to any subject, however remote, and it is present to the mind.

These ideas that I have thrown out in relation to mind in its highest state of excitement are not the result of a vivid imagination or the productions of a speculating mind, but the effect of experiments, repeated at different times and on various occasions. They are facts, which stand out beyond all contradiction; all cavil! And we are not to pass them as a freak of nature or as the result of contradictory laws. It must be the highest state of action to which the mind has arrived; giving testimony of the great powers with which it is created, yet controlled by its natural laws. We must not, therefore, account for this wonderful development upon the supposition of exceptions to general rules, but upon the continuation of great and undeviating principles.

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