Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/618

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
There develops an insidious tendency to substitute for an efficient way of meeting difficulties a superficial moralizing and self-deception, and an uncanny drift into so many varieties of shallow mysticism and metaphysical ponderings, or into fantastic ideas which can not possibly be put to the test of action. All this is at the expense of really fruitful activity, which tends to appear insignificant to the patient in comparison with what he regards as far loftier achievements. Thus there develops an ever-widening cleavage between mere thought life and the life of actual application such as would bring with it the corrections found in concrete experience. Then under some strain which a normal person would be prepared for, a sufficiently weakened and sensitive individual will react with manifestations which constitute the disorders of the so-called "deterioration process," or dementia præcox. Unfinished or chronically sub-efficient action, a life apart from the wholesome influence of companionship and concrete test, and finally a progressive incongruity in meeting the inevitably complex demands of the higher instincts—this is practically the formula for the deterioration process.[1]

The following is Dr. Meyer's clinical description of a typical case:

She began school at seven years, was smart, and applied herself well, but at the age of eleven she seemed to be failing and was thought to be studying too hard. She grew thin, seemed nervous, and complained of headaches. At twelve she was in poor health. . . . [later] She was disappointed at home, for some time dreamt of becoming a teacher, but soon sank into hypochondriacal ruminations, and finally, at twenty-one, after useless operations, passed into a confused religious excitement, followed by stupor, in which she sits inactive and irresponsive, with the top-heavy and yet empty notion of being good, of saving the world, etc.

The next few decades may witness the complete demonstration that such cases can usually be saved by being taken early in hand and trained to more complete activity and appropriate self-objectification.

But, as already indicated, the importance of this principle of the sanifying influence of wholesome activity does not lie merely or chiefly in the insurance it offers against outright insanity. Sanity, be it remembered, is a relative term, and therefore the importance of manual training in this connection goes far beyond its prophylactic value as an insurance against admission to an insane hospital. In a sense no one is perfectly sane. A noted American psychologist, after making a careful inventory of his absurd crotchets, phobias and other mental extravagances, pronounces himself insane on at least seventeen different counts! It is doubtful whether many of us, if truly honest with ourselves, could make any better claim to perfect sanity. Just as there are millions of physically inefficient persons who are in no immediate danger of death, and relatively few who are perfect of body, so there are no end of people who are in no danger of trial for lunacy, but who nevertheless are decidedly below their own best level of mental balance. Dementia præcox has been mentioned at length only because it reveals, writ large, what to a less degree is true of most of us. The causes which

  1. Adolph Meyer, in the Psychological Clinic, 1908, pp. 96-97.