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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/479

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thought; for the problem of the occult and the temptations to belief which it holds out are such as can be met only by a vigorous and critical application of a scientific logic. As logical acumen predominates over superficial plausibility, as belief comes to be formed and evidence estimated according to its intrinsic value rather than according to its emotional acceptability, the propagandum of the occult will meet with greater resistance and aversion.

The fixation of belief proceeds under the influence of both general and special forces; the formation of a belief is at once a personal and a social reaction—a reaction to the evidence which recorded and personal experience presents and to the beliefs current in our environment, and this reaction is further modified by the temperament of the reagent. And although individual beliefs, however complex, are neither matters of chance nor are their causes altogether past finding out, yet some of their contributing factors are so vague and so inaccessible that they are most profitably considered as particular results of more or less clearly discerned general principles; and in many respects there is more valid interest in the general principles than in the particular results. It is interesting and it may be profitable to investigate why this area is wooded with oak and that with maple, but it is somewhat idle to speculate why this particular tree happens to be a maple rather than an oak, even if it chances to stand on our property, and to have an interest to us beyond all other trees. It is this false concentration of the attention to the personal and individual result that is responsible for much unwarranted belief in the occult. It is likely that no single influence is more potent in this direction than this unfortunate over-interest in one's own personality and the consequent demand for a precise explanation of one's individual experiences. This habit seems to me a positive vice, and I am glad to find support in Professor James: "The chronic belief of mankind that events may happen for the sake of their personal significance is an abomination." Carried over to the field of subjective experiences, this habit sees in coincidences peculiarly significant omens and portents, not definitely and superstitiously, it may be, but sufficiently to obscure the consideration of the experience in any other than a personal light. The victim of this habit will remain logically unfit to survive the struggle against the occult. Only when the general problem is recognized as more significant for the guidance of belief than the attempted explicit personal explanations will these problems stand out in their true relations. It is interesting to note that the partaking of mince-pie at evening may induce bad dreams, but it is hardly profitable to speculate deeply why my dream took the form of a leering demon with the impolite habit of squatting on my chest. The stuff that dreams are made of is not susceptible of that type of analysis. The most generous allowance must be made for coincidences and irrele-