Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 51.djvu/765

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THE PSYCHOLOGY OF BELIEF.

high potential and low amperage charge of the air to a current of less potential and greater amperage. This can be put to work and the long-delayed realization of Franklin's plan of harnessing the electricity of the air be consummated. It may not be a profitable investment from the commercial standpoint, but no one can say what this tapping of the aërial reservoir may lead to. Determining the nature and origin of the aurora will be as great a scientific achievement as utilizing the energy of Niagara Falls.

 

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF BELIEF.
By W. B. PARKER.

IN considering the psychology of belief we find ourselves face to face at the very outset with the questions: (1) What is the nature of belief? (3) What are the conditions under which it arises? and (3) What are the causes for its appearance? In trying to answer these questions we have to say frankly, before crossing the threshold of the topic: We have no key to secret chambers; we propose no revelations, but only another look over what may be very familiar premises.

To the question, What is the nature of belief? many answers have been given. Hume declared, "Belief is nothing but a more vivid, lively, forcible, firm, steady conception of an object than the imagination alone is ever able to attain." Prof. Bain said, "Belief in its essential character is a phase of our active nature." The answer we shall give to the question shall not necessarily conflict with either of the answers given above. It is best given by defining our point of view.

We look at man as a physical organism of rare sensitiveness, played upon by the forces of the world. Light and sound, the blowing wind and the solid ground, all make their varying sorts of contact with the delicate, susceptible organism. But not all of the myriad voices are heeded, not all the thousandfold seductions entice, not all the sweet odors or the pleasant touches of the great world call forth response. In fact, this human organism is not unlike that lowlier organism, the sponge, through whose length and breadth streams from the great ocean flow. There is no current in the Atlantic, no distant sea, however narrow, but may send its contribution of richly laden sea water to the sponge's mouth. But not all the nitrogen, carbon, iron, that the tide bears is taken up by the sponge. It extracts only what it needs, what it can assimilate, and to most that passes remains, perhaps, insensible. So with our more complex organism—man. He, too, is set in the midst of oceans of sensation. Sounds, sights, odors,