Mental Samersault

— Who can throw a little light upon that common trouble with most of us, getting turned round ? Who will make clear what mental somersault is, psychological topsy-turvy ?— call it what you please ; you all know what I mean.

Do we share this trouble with animals generally ? May we ever acquire, what is a marked characteristic with many of the lower animals, that homing instinct, for the lack of which our Homers and Shakespeares lose their bearings sometimes, and cannot tell “ where they are at ” ? Is there any cure for general debility in sense of direction ? What has happened to our inner consciousness, our basic convictions, when the foundations of the compass arc removed and set up where they do not belong, and when they persist in remaining there in spite of everything? Who has not gone far astray because of mental somersault? Who has not had a delightful journey strangely bewildered, if not made actually disagreeable, by the struggle entailed in keeping up a pretense of belief that he was going in exactly the opposite direction to that in which he believed himself to face ? “ How could I be happy in San Francisco ? ” writes a sufferer. “ The West lay between me and Chicago, and the Pacific was the eastern boundary of the continent.” “ All my life long,” writes another, “ whenever I have turned off from an avenue running east and west, into my side-street, which runs north and south, my street at once swings round and runs eastward, as did the avenue. In my mind, my home, which actually faces the east, has always faced the north. Just across my garden, to the south, everything swings back again for me. There is that disordered section of my brain which years and discipline have failed to regulate. My home will face the north, to me, as long as I live, — will stand on a line with the avenue. ‘ Not he is great,’ says Emerson, ‘ who can alter matter, but he who can alter my state of mind.’ ”

This is no uncommon experience. Few are the mental maps whose every section stands square with the compass. Certain rooms in our houses, cupboards, or staircases have a trick of swinging away from their true relations to the compass, and forever staying where they once swung. Can our sense of direction, our homing instinct, ever be cultivated to that degree that we may rely upon it in a great hotel, for instance, in finding our room, as does the stormy petrel, far out to sea, trust to its infallible guide in reaching its nest, hundreds of miles away ?

Now I have always believed that if, with the sluggard, we went to the ant for wisdom, we might learn something suggestive for regulating the sense of direction. Not so, if we take Lubbock for an authority. He says that the ant gets hopelessly turned round,— that it does not seem to possess any sense of direction. How, then, does it find its way through the labyrinthine jungles of grasses, the Yosemites of gravel, and the chaos of everything besetting its path ? Ants, like many other insects and animals, says Lubbock, have nerve centres which indicate a possession of some sense which we have not. Lubbock experimented upon ants by taking a number of them fifty yards or more from their hills, leaving them to get home as they could. He found that they wandered about aimlessly, having evidently not the slightest idea of their bearings. Fabre studied the subject with bees. He put them into a bag, and carried them only a quarter of a mile from their hive, and whirled them round and round before giving them their liberty. Only three out of ten found their way home. So much for the bees when completely turned round.

Naturalists tell us that the homing instinct of the pigeon is due, not to a sense of direction, but to a development of its memory and observation by long stages of flight. The most of us know that if we put a cat into a bag, when we would dispense with its company effectually, and send it far away, the chances are that pussy will be mewiug at our door the next morning ; and yet there is a chance of her losing her bearings. What is that chance ? How did three out of ten bees find the hive again ? Did the rest become victims to the lunacy which L. H. Morgan says is known to occur among animals when they are depressed or lost ? He cites Dr. Kane’s dogs, which became lunatics from absence of light during a long arctic winter. Some of us incline to think those dogs were hopelessly turned round; that what is to animals as the points of the compass had shifted with the icebergs. What do we know of the extent of observation of nature in animals, their dependence for guidance upon familiar landmarks and phenomena ? The beaver notes the current of a stream, and builds accordingly, cutting his timber in the precise locality where it can be floated down to his lodge or dam. If a tree leans to the south, he gnaws deepest on the north side of that tree. He measures distance, and cuts the wood he is to carry accordingly. He knows his way in the dark, and under water and under ground. How does the salmon find his way back every year to the very stream where he was hatched ? Why is it that pigeons cannot travel in dark or fog, while geese will fly due north or south in the night ? Why is it that some of us cannot cross the town without getting turned round, while others never lose the points of the compass? — at least they say they do not.

One word about mental maps. Whenever we think of a place, — England, for illustration, — do we not see it on our mental map at once, and is it not definitely located as lying off in a direction to which we can point? Now, England, in my case, on my mental map, lies just opposite to where it really is, and Europe, Asia, and Africa are off to the southwest of western New York ; for me, the Nile must flow forever to the south, and the children of Israel journey to the west ; and only when I hang my mental map on a north wall, and look fixedly at it for some time, will things swing back where they belong. The secret for bringing about this swing of correction I learned of a practical educator. “ Your first lessons in geography,” said she, " were learned with maps which hung on a south wall.” She was right, and I must suffer from the blunder the rest of my life.

Might it not be a good thing to organize an Anti-Mental Somersault Society ? Its field of usefulness would be wide: it would see that maps were hung on north walls, that railroad stations were never allowed to dispatch all their trains from one end of the building, and that arrows were conspicuous in pointing out the way the train was going. That old-time station at Buffalo, sending all its trains out of the remote end, and receiving them at the same, — what a vast amount of psychological topsy-turvy it was responsible for ! The sign names of streets in all our cities might be supplemented by arrows telling in what direction they run ; public buildings could be erected square to the compass, when possible, etc. Is it not in those cities where Indian trails and cow-paths were followed, in the early thoroughfares, that the subjective maps of the citizens are as a rule greatly at fault ? A compilation of rules for the prevention and cure of somersault, with interesting experiences and other matter relating to the subject, would of course be found in the first publication of this society.

One woman tells me that she always looks for the sun, when starting out in a strange place, and then makes her shadow her guide. But if there be no sun, no shadow ? Another says that whenever she arrives anywhere, and finds herself at a loss, she at once asks which direction is west. Her home faces the west. In fancy she sits down at once in her own room, and sits there until she has somehow worked that home room into her new surroundings. She looks out of her own window in fancy. Whatever is opposite, mountain, park, or Great Desert, she skillfully plumps it down upon the grounds of her neighbor “across the way ” at home, and by and by the foundations of the earth are all right for her again. “ I was so turned round in Cairo,” she wrote, “ I was simply wretched. After a while I succeeded in making the Nile into the Genesee, and the Mediterranean into Lake Ontario, and the pyramids into those two great red barns on the borders of Scottsville. Then I was all right again, and happy.”

The author of The Household of Sir Thomas More makes Erasmus say of Plato : “ He had clomb a Hill in the Darke, and stood calling to His Companions below, Come on, Come on, this way lies the East. I am advised we shall see the sun rise anon.”

Think of it, fellow-sufferers from mental topsy-turvy, — climbing an unknown hill in the dark, and knowing for a certainty just where lay the east ! Surely Plato was one who was never turned round, subjectively or objectively.