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mere descriptive level.
Systems of medicine, however large and modern, display the same character as the physiologies. A rather old book, Pereira's “Materia Medica,” devotes three pages out of 2,360 to psychic therapeutics.” Dr. Shoemaker, of Philadelphia, in his “ System of Medicine,” spares one page out of about 1,200; but most of the others, including far larger works, devote none. Every possible, and even impossible, aid to therapeutics is gravely discussed at length while not one line is devoted to the value of the mentai factor in general therapeutics."
And the doctors were only acting as men of their generation; they were true to the atmosphere in which we were all educated. Whatever we may have fancied, or guessed, or hoped, we were all brought up to think of man's body as apart from the control of his soul. Materialism was a scientific certainty: spiritualism (to use the word in its proper sense) was a metaphysical perhaps. Which of us, to take an extreme example, was not brought up in the atmosphere that made him regard the stigmata of St. Francis as an instance of the picturesque mendacity of the Middle Ages ? Even a Frenchman, living in a country where such things were part of the popular religion, might well quail before the dilemma -- ou supercherie ou miracle. I well remember myself reading twenty years ago with astonished incredulity the statement in Mrs. Oliphant's life of St. Francis that his stigmatisation was one of the best attested things in history. So much the worse for history, one thought. Well! but if the conscious mind is in connection with the vaso-motor system, there is nothing improbable in the fact that a man by thinking intensely about the wounds of Christ should come to have a physical representation of those wounds upon his body.
1 The Force of Mind, 1902, pp. 12–13.
And the fact is now become a commonplace of Nancy and La Salpétrière. It is no longer a matter of historical evidence, but a demonstrated fact of scientific investigation. For the phenomenon of stigmatisation has not ceased, and modern cases have been recorded and carefully observed. Some of these have been examined under glazed shields in the hospitals; others have been produced by suggestion. Dr. Biggs, of Lima, for instance, in 1885, caused a cross to appear on a previously hypnotised subject every Friday for four months. Delbauf, after seeing a burn on the skin produced purely by suggestion, experimented himself and found that he could reverse the process and cauterise the skin without producing a burn, because he had given the suggestion of painlessness -- thereby showing that besides the idea of pain producing inflammation, the abolition of the idea can entail the absence of inflammation.2
Here then we have many incredible things proved scientific, many
“wild” notions justified. If thought can not only inhibit pain, but can also prevent fire from burning, can forbid a blister and refuse its imprimatur to a scar, we are confronted with a very practical matter indeed which will have
1 Proceedings of Society for Psychical Research, Vol. III, P. 100.
For the first three months Dr. Biggs was 2,000 miles away from the patient.
2 For the details see William James, Psychology, 1901, II, p. 612. Dr. Delbouf cauterised two symmetrical places, and on that as to which he had made no counter-suggestion all the ordinary symptoms of a burn appeared —— both suppurating blister and subsequent scar.
far-reaching results. And we have the explanation of many ancient stories which formerly excited our scorn. Commenting on these experiments, Professor James says —
“As so often happens, a fact is denied until a welcome interpretation comes with it. Then it is admitted readily enough; and evidence judged quite insufficient to back a claim, so long as the church had an interest in making it, proves to be quite sufficient for modern scientific enlightenment, the moment it appears that a reputed saint can thereby be classed as "a case of hystero-epilepsy.” 1 The tendency, here gently pointed out, to seek the lowest explanation for everything, is one from which no doubt we shall emerge during the present century. St. Francis, himself one of the greatest recorded examples of the human race, can hardly be satisfactorily explained on the basis of hysteria. But let us put that on one side, and, using a noncommittal phrase, let us attribute the remarkable physical manifestation of the stigmata to intensity of thought. Charcot and his followers at the Salpétrière got in the way of attributing everything to hysteria, and even thought that only hysterical patients could be hypnotised — an assumption which the school of Nancy has completely destroyed. We will not discuss the quality of St. Francis' mind which had a greatness that can be judged by its ef
1 William James, Psychology, 1901, II, PP. 612–13.
2 As I write, a typical example of this tendency comes under my notice in an article on La Pathologie nerveuse chez les anciens Hébreux.” (Revue de l'Hypnotisme, Avril, 1908), in which the writer says of the Old Testament Prophets that “Comme beaucoup de dégénérés, les prophetes juifs sont des individus tristes et malveillants.” They were also, we are told, “foux," débiles," and the victims of “orgueil” and “égoisme"]
fects - it will suffice for us to note that its intensity produced these physical results.
Let us note this well. A common act of thought produces the familiar physical result of blushing; but a special, intense act may produce results as strange and abnormal as stigmatisation, causing a blister, a bruise, or a wound to appear in the skin, We regard it as strange because it is uncommon; but it is only uncommon because such concentration of thought is uncommon. Increase the force of the mental agent and you will have increased physical results. Does not the key of the whole matter lie here?
Now it is true that such concentration of thought may be due to mental disease, such as hysteria; but this does not in the least prove that it is a morbid condition - courage similarly, or eloquence, may be produced by drunkenness or other morbid conditions. Thought-concentration may be produced by the receptiveness of faith, which can put aside all other thoughts but one: something similar may be produced by the complete subconscious faith that can be evoked in a normal and healthy subject by hypnotic suggestion - of which we shall have more to say.1 Mental intensity, then, may be produced in a variety of ways; like genius, it may be normal or abnormal; like courage, it may be due to the highest moral qualities or to the mere inhibition by an unhealthy condition of mind, or by mere stolidity of temperament, or by the excitement of battle. However produced, it remains a remarkable force that is capable of exerting remarkable physical results.
1 See pp. 96, 133.
It is not really the uncommon results that are wonderful but the common ones. If we desire to marvel at anything in the mystery of life, let us marvel, not at the stigmata of St. Francis, but at the blush of a maiden. For it is the same process in both, the same action of thought upon the bloodvessels, only in the “miraculous” case the action is pushed a little further. When a person blushes, the small arteries are relaxed and dilate, the amount of blood in them is increased, and this hot, red fluid flows in such quantities through the capillaries of the skin that the skin itself becomes hot and red. By a reverse process, fear may cause the skin to become pale and cold. It is strange that the thought, “ He says I am a pretty girl," should cause the small arteries to behave in this way; but the physiological explanation is simple enough — these arteries are supplied with muscles which regulate them, and all muscles are worked by nerves. The thought in the higher conscious centres has somehow seen fit to hitch itself on to the arterial muscles, just as when we telephone to a friend in the city the exchange connects us on to his office.
Now, supposing it to be possible to cure a man, say of indigestion, by thought, the process would be the same. The thought would be passed on through the sympathetic to those organs which are manufacturing the wrong digestive chemicals. Whether such cure be possible or not, there is nothing the least impossible about the process, which is common enough. If we were convinced