Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/191

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SCIENTIFIC STUDY OF HUMAN TESTIMONY.

not only in insanity, but in far more frequent and less severe nervous disorders, as in trance, hysteria, and simple nervous exhaustion.

 

The Involuntary Life.—The unconscious and involuntary character of much of mental action is now so far allowed that it may be assumed as a basis for argument in discussions relating to the brain. Many psychologists and some physiologists agree in this, that many of our thoughts are practically unconscious, and all agree that mental action is largely involuntary. This truth, as applied to the higher phases of activity, has long been noted; in the words of Lynch, "when our views are most earnest, most solemn, and most beautiful, we are often conscious of being in a state rather than of making an effort." Says Goethe: "No productiveness of the highest kind, no remarkable discovery, no great thought which bears fruit, and has its results, is in the power of any one. All men, who closely watch their inner life, become conscious of these high truths, at least as that life develops. The sign of growth in the soul is, that it gradually loses confidence in its volitional reasonings about best and highest things, and reposes trust rather in what it feels to be given." We work best when we are not working. In the lower realms of activity, through various gradations, what we call volition has oftentimes but a subordinate influence; much is done automatically, and in spite of or against our wills. The noisy rabble of passions and emotions throw the captain overboard, and the mind either drifts or sails furiously and recklessly before the storm; the very attempt of the will to assert its power is the signal for mutiny: it is most influential when it lies low, and gently guides the helm.

 

The involuntary life—or that side of mental activity that is independent of volition constitutes even in health the larger part of life, and in certain states of disease man becomes an absolute automaton. The very effort of attention is liable to destroy the scientific value of our observation of the object to which our attention is directed, since it subtracts and draws off the cerebral force from those faculties that are needed in careful and thorough attention; only when one has reached the stage where he can observe without severe, conscious effort, can he be said to be a good observer. An extreme illustration of automatism is the state of trance, a morbid condition of the brain in which, as I have elsewhere sought to prove, the activity is concentrated in some one faculty or group of faculties, the activity of other portions of the brain being for the time suspended. A person in this state may do the very things he especially wills not to do: what he wishes and tries to do he cannot; the will is no longer the master, but the servant. For a person in this state to attempt to observe, is as useless as for a steam engine to attempt to reason; he is an automaton, a machine, a bundle of reflex actions, like a plant or polypus. He sees, hears, smells, tastes, and feels, whatever may be suggested to his emotions either by individ-