Psychology and Mysticism
MYSTICISM — that is, the belief in supernatural connections in the physical and psychical worlds — has always been an interesting object of observation for the psychologist. When the human mind believes that it has reached the realm unseen, psychology can analyze its inner experiences and follow up the devious paths from empirical knowledge to the knowing of the mysterious Unknowable. From this point of view, psychology finds a wonderful field of work in the mystical systems from the earliest Hindoo speculation to the spiritualistic doctrines of to-day ; and its interest in mysticism is the deeper and more spontaneous, the more complicated the motives which push the soul beyond the limits of natural insight. Religious emotion and hysterical rapture, mysterious fears and superstitious habits, pathological disturbances and surprising experiences, abnormal credulity and dissatisfaction with science, and very many other true and half true impulses come in question. Even the pseudo-mystic, who deceives the world because he knows that the world wishes to be deceived, becomes an attractive object for psychological analysis; fanaticism regarding the church and greed for bread and butter, hysterical pleasure in irritating tricks and sensuous pleasure in power over others, are here among the most characteristic features. What a difference between the neoplatonistic philosopher, who sinks into the Absolute and finds the supernatural reality by his feeling of unity with God, and the modern member of a Society for Psychical Research, who discovers the supernatural world by his mathematical calculations on the probable error in telepathic answers about playingcards! What a difference between the mediæval monk, who becomes convinced of the mystical sphere because the Virgin appears to him in the clouds, and the modern scholar, who is converted because a pathological woman is able to chat about his personal secrets at the rate of twenty francs a sitting ! Yet psychology recognizes the common features and understands the mental laws which make mysticism a never failing element of the social consciousness ; the wilder its eccentricities, the more interesting the psychological material.
But the claims of mysticism suggest to the psychologist another attitude less peaceable than that of the observer, the attitude of a rival. If mystics believed only that heavy chairs sometimes fly through the air, that invisible bells ring, and that objects disappear into the fourth dimension, they would have to fight it out with the physicists, but psychology would not interfere. If, inspired by occult advisers, they proposed a new metaphysical theory of the ultimate substratum of the physical universe, the philosophers might stand up as indignant competitors, but the psychologists, again, would have nothing to do with it. The physicians may dispute with the mystics whether the waters of Lourdes are helpful, whether the comets are causes of pestilence, and whether men die on account of being thirteenth at table. There is, perhaps, not a single science, from geometry to theology, which has not its private conflicts with the mystical doctrines ; but psychology has no reason to enter the quarrel so long as the mystic does not undertake to answer psychological questions. In this field, however, mysticism has never shown too much modesty. It has at all times, by preference, rioted in the proclamation of mental facts which did not fit into the descriptions and explanations of a sober empirical psychology. If mysticism is right with its old claims, psychology, even with its newest discoveries, is wrong; and thus arises the question, What has the psychologist to say of the claims of mysticism concerning mental processes and the laws of mental action ?
These claims have been different at different periods and in different nations, and are still so divergent that no scientist can contend more sharply with the mystical creeds than they contend with one another in the different sets to-day. The telepathists annihilate the theosophists, and the spiritualists belittle the telepathists ; and when the Christian scientists and metaphysical healers on the one side, the mind curers and faith curers on the other side, have spoken of each other, there remain few abusive words at the disposal of us outsiders. The average mystic of to-day is a man of high logical ambitions. He looks with contempt on the gypsy who reads your character from the grounds in a coffeecup, and smiles over the astrological belief that the position of the stars in the hour of your birth has decided your success in love. The medical remedies which have to be cooked at midnight at the churchyard gate are in discredit ; and as we live in an enlightened age, it even appears doubtful whether the witches of early time were really under Satanic influences, as their witchcraft can now be “ explained ” by the telepathic action of mediums, by malicious spirits and materializations. The requirements of mysticism thus shrink to the following main demands. First, the human mind must sometimes be able to perceive in an incomprehensible way the ideas and thoughts of others. By gradual approaches, this telepathic talent seems also connected with the power to have knowledge of distant physical occurrences ; and if our concessions have reached this point, we ought not to strain at the little addendum, the vision of the future. In all cases of this kind the exceptional talents of the soul are receptive and passive. A second group of mystical powers may be formed by the corresponding active influences. In an inconceivable way, it is assumed, the human mind can control the thoughts and actions of others ; and here, again, small steps lead soon to greater and greater mysteries. The mental influence may reach not only the soul, but also the body of the other person, and may restore his disturbed health; even a child may produce such metaphysical healing of consumption and heart trouble, cancer and broken legs. The mind which by “ love ” brings together the fragments of a neighbor’s broken bones ought surely to have no serious difficulties with the movements of inorganic bodies : at the bidding of such a mind, tables fly to the ceiling, and a little stick in the hands of a weak woman cannot be moved by the strongest man. A third group refers to the functions of a deeper self, which is usually hidden under our regular personality. In the most different trance states, in crystal vision and automatic writing, this mysterious self appears, and remembers all that we have forgotten, knows many things which we never knew, writes and acts without our control, and shows connections which go far beyond our powers, and mostly even beyond our tastes. Nearly related to these facts is a fourth circle of mystical doctrines, which deal with the psychical deeds of the human spirit after the earthly death. According to these doctrines, the spirits are ready to enter into communication with living men by the help of mediums, with or without materialization, by noises or by table tilting, by slate drawing, and recently even by typewriting. This creed becomes, of course, the starting point for many denominational divergences.
The most natural question is, How far can the regular empirical psychology acknowledge the claimed phenomena? Where is the exact limit which the scientific psychologist is unwilling to pass? He does not discredit perception of voices from far distances if a telephone is included, and he does not doubt that one person may have influence over another in a hundred ways. We must carefully consider where the mystery begins. The attitude of common sense, however, must not be allowed to dictate this line of demarcation ; otherwise the psychologist would be bound to denounce all facts which are rare and surprising to the naïve consciousness, or incapable of explanation to the dilettante. Let us remember that, it counts for little whether a fact occurs once a day or once in a century, and that many facts of physiological and pathological psychology must appear to the naïve mind much more surprising and alarming than do the pretensions of the spiritualist. It seems much simpler and more natural to grant that a little word or figure may wander by mere thought transference from one’s mind into the mind of a bystander, than to believe in the startling features of the more complicated cases of hypnotism and somnambulism, hysteria and insanity, all of which find legitimate place in the system of modern psychology.
If we begin with the first two groups of the claims of mystics, — the passive reception of outer psychical and physical events, and the active influence upon other souls and organisms, — we can easily state the general principle which here controls the psychological attitude, though it may often be far from easy to follow up the principle in specific cases. The psychologist insists that every perception of occurrences outside of one’s own body and every influence beyond one’s own organism must be intermediated by an uninterrupted chain of physical processes. The justice of this apparently arbitrary decision may be examined later ; at first we ask only for its precise meaning and its consequences. With regard to perception, the limit is certainly sharply drawn, and yet it may be often difficult to recognize it. We perceive only objects which directly or indirectly stimulate our physical sense organs, and which stimulate them by physical means. The perception of a man’s body is therefore the primary process; the perception of his thoughts and feelings is secondary, as they must be somehow physically expressed in order to act as stimuli for the sense organs.
In two directions the case may become abnormal: the transmitter or the receiver may differ from the usual type of communicating persons. The transmitter himself, for instance, may not be conscious that he expresses his ideas, or, better, that his ideas discharge themselves in perceptible physical processes. He may blush without knowing it, and thus betray his inner shame; or he may contract the muscles which turn his body toward the outer point he is thinking of ; or his breathing or pulse may change through his excitement over a question ; and the receiver may be in a situation to become aware of these unintended signals of inner states. Here belongs the wellknown stage piece of muscle reading, which is often carelessly confused with real telepathy. It certainly is one of the easily explicable forms of psychophysical communication. Here belong as well all the slight hints by which nervous persons make it possible again and again for confessed impostors to play the rôles of successful mind readers. The pseudo-mediums need only to seek for information in desultory chatting, which, under the high tension of expectancy, suffices to bring about all kinds of unintended expressions which show the clever juggler the way.
The receiver of the physical impressions, also, may differ from the average. We think primarily of the possibility that the receiving instruments — that is, the sense organs or the sensory brain parts and nerve paths — may have become abnormally sensitive, by training or by pathological variations. Through the touch sensation of his face the blind man perceives distant obstacles in his way, to which our untrained central sense apparatus is unresponsive ; but that does not conflict with the propositions of psychology, and is not mystical. We know that the threshold for just perceptible sensations is often surprisingly lowered for hypnotic and hysterical subjects, who can thus perceive faint impressions and signals which must escape the normal consciousness. Even if a man were so gifted as to discriminate smells like a dog, or to see the ultra-violet rays, or to perceive solids by the Roentgen rays, or if he had a sense organ for electric currents more sensitive than the finest galvanometer, the psychologist would have no reason for skepticism so long as the physical nature of the transmission from the outer object to the brain is admitted. Other variations in the receiver may be determined by his state of attention. An outer stimulus may reach his brain by the door of his senses without producing an apperceived idea at the moment, but not without influence on his later feelings and actions ; a molecular alteration of the brain disposition may last and work as after effect of the stimulation without having attracted the attention at all. This occurrence, also, which in narrow limits is familiar and usual enough, may be pathologically exaggerated, and may then, as for instance in hysterical cases, produce surprising results, if the subject shows undoubted knowledge of facts which he could never have acquired consciously ; but this, likewise, nowhere transcends the psychological probabilities.
Still more complicated, perhaps, are the variations in the active power of the mind, within the limits which psychologists willingly acknowledge, or at least ought to acknowledge. Our thoughts and volitions certainly have influence on other minds ; we should not speak a word nor write a line if we did not believe that. But again we consider the psychical effects which we produce in others as intermediated by physical processes. We stimulate the optic and acoustic and tactual nerves of others with the purpose of reaching their central nervous system, and of producing there the ideas with which we started. These ideas must then work for themselves ; they stir up their associations and awaken their inhibitions, but the outsider cannot add anything further. He can only communicate the ideas, and let them work in the receiver from a psychological point of view; that is all the influence we have on our fellow men.
There is one complication of this trivial process of communication which seems to touch the borderland of mysticism, — hypnotic suggestion. The hypnotized subject must do whatever the hypnotizer suggests to him. Here the will of one mind seems to have an incomprehensible influence over the other, and as if it were only a short way from the hypnotic rapport to the influences of mystical character ; that is, of a kind which excludes the possibility of physical intermediation. The resemblance is deceptive, however ; even the most complicated case of hypnotic influence is based only on elementary actions which occur every moment in our normal mental life. If we want some one to do a thing, we communicate our wish to him, trusting that the idea proposed will discharge itself in the desired motor action. That corresponds fully to our general knowledge that every sensory mental state is at the same time the starting point of motor impulses. If we say to our neighbor, “ Please pass me the cream,” we take for granted that the communicated idea will discharge itself in the little action. But if we say, “ Please jump out of the window,” the result will not be the same. The communicated idea by itself alone would have the effect of producing the action demanded, but it awakens by the regular associative mechanism a set of ideas on the folly of the demand and the danger of the undertaking, and all these associations are starting points for antagonistic impulses which are finally reinforced by the whole personality: the proposed action is thus inhibited, and the man does not jump. He would jump if the antagonistic idea could be kept down ; and in this case the foolish action would be just as necessarily determined by the conditions and just as natural as the reasonable one. But we all know that this power of ideas to overcome antagonistic associations is quite a normal thing, active in the most varying measure everywhere in our normal mental life.
We call an idea which thus checks the antagonistic one a suggestion, and we may be sure that no education or art, no politics or church life, would be possible without such suggestions. The idea may become a suggestion by the way in which it is presented, but it may also acquire this character by the disposition of the receiver. We know there are stubborn men who contradict every proposition, and there are others who are open to every new idea without inner resistance, and ready to believe everything they hear, or even everything they see in print. They are thus more at the mercy of suggestions ; we say they show greater suggestibility. On the other hand, every man’s suggestibility is variable ; it is increased by fear and other emotions, by alcohol and other nervines, and under special conditions it may reach a pathological intensity. This abnormal degree of suggestibility, in which the antagonistic associations of the suggested ideas are more or less completely inhibited, is the mental state we call hypnotism. If this state of increased suggestibility is reached, the outer action which fulfills the proposed suggestion becomes, through the regular psychophysical mechanism, unavoidable. The final results, to be sure, may appear surprisingly different from the normal actions of the personality, but even the most absurd hypnotic action is based on these simple psychological principles. As, theoretically, everybody can hypnotize everybody, it is obvious that no special mystical power need be invoked at this point; and even if we induce the hypnotized subject to do a criminal action, it is no mysterious power with which we overcome his honesty, but a combination of processes which are neither clearer nor more obscure than normal attention and association. There is not the slightest reason to consider hypnotism, with all its ramifications, as in any degree mystical because of its weird and alarming results. We may not understand every detail as yet, but nothing need suggest any doubt that other principles are involved than those in daily mental activity. Hypnotism is free from responsibility for mystical theories. Mysticism, on the other hand, cannot hope to pass through the entrance door of science on account of its superficial similarity to some hypnotic cases.
Practically, the two may be mixed till they are indistinguishable. In spiritualistic séances the plain hypnotic phenomena are not seldom used to smooth the way for telepathic mysticism, as criticism of the latter will be less sharp if the first part of the performance is undoubtedly reliable. If there is no physical intermediation between the transmitter and the receiver, thought transference remains mystical, and whether the receiver is hypnotized or not has nothing to do with the case. No change is involved by the belief of the subject, no matter how sincere, that he is under such mystical influence from far distances. Only a short time ago I had such a case under my observation. There came to me, late at night, a stranger, in wildest despair, resolved to commit suicide that night if I could not help him. He had been a physician, but had given up his practice because his brother, on the other side of the ocean, hated him and had him under his telepathic influence, troubling him from over the sea with voices which mocked him and with impulses to foolish actions. He had not slept nor had he eaten anything for several days, and the only chance for life he saw was that a new hypnotic influence might overpower the mystical hypnotic forces. I soon found the source of his trouble. In treating himself for a wound he had misused cocaine in an absurd way, and the hallucination of voices was the chief symptom of his cocainism. These products of his poisoned brain had sometimes reference to his brother in Europe, and thus the telepathic idea grew in him and permeated his whole life. I hypnotized him, and suggested to him with success to have sleep and food and a smaller dose of cocaine. Then I hypnotized him daily for six weeks. After ten days he gave up cocaine entirely, after three weeks the voices disappeared, and after that the other symptoms faded away. It was not, however, until the end that the telepathic theory was exploded. Even when the voices had gone, he felt for a while that his movements were controlled from over the ocean ; and after six weeks, when I had made him quite well again, he laughed over his telepathic absurdities, but assured me that if these sensations came again he should be unable, even in full health, to resist the mystical interpretation, so vividly had he felt the distant influences.
This case may bring us to another main group of personal influences, the therapeutical ones. The man of common sense is more suspicious of fraud in this field than anywhere else, and yet the psychologist must here concede as possible a greater part of the claimed facts than in the other domains of mysticism. He will reject a good deal, it is true, and in acknowledging the rest of the facts he will not think of committing himself to the theories; yet he must feel sorry that truth demands from him the acknowledgment of anything, not because he thinks himself bound to advertise the regular practicing physician, but because he knows how these facts carry with them a flock of contagious confusing ideas. Seen from the standpoint of the psychologist, the line between the possible and the mysterious healing influences of personality is fairly though not absolutely sharp. We have seen that every normal psychophysical state has the tendency to go over into peripheral bodily processes. We have so far noticed only the processes in the voluntary muscles, the socalled actions, and we have found that there is no special power involved and that no mystery need be invoked, but that every idea discharges itself in an action provided the antagonistic ideas are checked. But the motor nerves and muscular apparatus represent only a part of the central and centrifugal system which can be stimulated by sensory processes. The researches of physiology have fully proved that our involuntary muscles and our blood-vessels, our glands and our internal organs, are under the influence of our central system. Our whole body in every instant resounds in every part to the variations of our brain activity, and the normal functioning of our organism depends in a large degree on the right work of these central stimulations. Are they absent or inhibited, something must go wrong; and if the central stimulus can be enforced, if the antagonistic inhibition can be checked, the right tension and the normal functioning must return as necessarily and as naturally as the suggested action must occur when the contradicting ideas are removed. We have seen that hypnotism is nothing but a psychophysical state of increased suggestibility ; that is, a state in which the suggested ideas find less resistance than in normal life. If the hypnotized patient receives suggestions which refer to those physiological functions which are dependent upon the central nervous system, the change and the readjustment of the organic functions by the removal of false inhibitions and by the reinforcement of useful central stimulations are certainly no more obscure than the action of antipyrine and phenacetine. Even that which may be still obscure in the action of the suggestions can be only a matter of details, not of principles.
There are two methods of suggestion open : a more active and talkative way, which turns the subject’s attention to the desired point by direct suggestions, and a more passive and silent way, which attempts a general quieting of the mind, in which a new balance of impulses may be inaugurated, and the desire for normal functions may work itself up to increased influence. Every good physician makes use of these two means to increase the effectiveness of his remedies. At the right time, they are almost a substitute for all other aid, and in the mystical therapy of all periods through four thousand years they have developed a high technique. To-day, the passive method of indirect suggestion is the vehicle of the Christian scientists and metaphysical healers; the active way of more direct suggestion belongs to the mind curers and mental healers.
Much of the success of both methods depends, of course, upon the ability of the transmitter to make the suggestions effective. His personal appearance and way of talking, his voice and temperament, must be persuasive, and his reputation and authority must reinforce the expectancy which prepares the inhibitions. Teachers and lawyers and ministers strengthen their influence by these silent servants of a dominant mind. Many of these personal qualities can be replaced, to be sure, by merely mechanical tricks which can be imitated and taught. Our mystical schools bring this technique to external virtuosity. But still more important are the antecedent conditions in the mind of the patient. Whoever has seen the patients in the clinic of a famous hypnotist (half hypnotized as soon as they pass the door of the hospital) knows how the fascination of the attention by belief — by any belief — works favorably for the increase of suggestibility; so that the smallest additional intruder, perhaps the sensation of half-darkened light, of soft touch, of muscle strain in the eyes, is sufficient to bring about the new equilibrium of psychophysical impulses. The most vulgar and trivial belief will answer ; the most absurd superstition can bring success, as everything depends upon the intensity of the subject’s submission ; and the more pitiable the intellectual powers of a creature, the greater may be his chance of a cure by idiotic manipulations. To deny this in the interest of science would be unscientific.
The most deep-seated form of belief is religious faith, and there cannot be the slightest doubt that religious emotion, from the lowest fetichism to the highest protestantism, has always been fertile soil for therapeutical suggestions. What we have called the active method appeals to the subjective faith with direct words ; the passive method awakens the same fascination indirectly, lulling to sleep the antagonistic impulses by a feeling that the mind of the transmitter has reached by prayer and love a supernatural unity with the mind of the patient. We must not forget that it is not the solemn value of the religious revelation, nor the ethical and metaphysical bearing of its objects, which brings success, but solely the depth of the emotion. To murmur the Greek alphabet with the touching intonation and gesture of supplication is just as strengthening for the health as the sublimest prayer; and for the man who believes in the metaphysical cure, it may be quite unimportant whether the love curer at his bedside thinks of the psychical Absolute or of the spring hat she will buy with the fee for her metaphysical healing. From the psychological point of view, the direct method of healing by faith and the indirect method of healing by love are thus almost identical; both are confined to the narrow limits within which the nervous system influences the pathological processes ; but in these limits both have some chances of a transitory success, and both are liable to the same illusions on the part of sincere healers and to the same humbug on the part of impostors.
Our review has sought to examine the two large groups of facts which refer to the influence of mind on mind, and to separate in both, in those of active influence and in those of passive reception, the psychological possibilities from those claims which the psychologist at first rejects. There are two groups more which we must sift, — the facts which lead to the theory of double consciousness, and the spiritualistic facts which refer to the communication of the living with the souls of the dead. In the former group there is little fault to be found with the facts; only the theory is misleading. In the latter group, on the other hand, it may be difficult to decide whether the claims for the facts or the attempts at theories are the more objectionable. The phenomena which suggest that a deeper personality lies hidden under the experiences of our surface personality are to-day generally familiar and scientifically well studied. Typical of these phenomena are the interesting facts of automatic writing, apart from the attempts to give them a spiritualistic interpretation. Our hands may be brought to write truths of which we are not conscious, and to answer questions which we do not perceive ; and these writings which we do not control may clearly belong to a special personality, with its own memory and its own wit and temper. Many similar facts which do not necessarily point in the same direction presuppose hysterical disturbances. It is true that the idea of a separated subject of consciousness offers itself to a superficial view as the simplest hypothesis, and the acceptance of this hypothesis gives a foothold fur the most complicated mystical theories. But there are two groups of facts which we must keep in mind. First, we know that all our complicated useful actions which are acquired under the control of the intellectual attention, as walking and eating, speaking and reading and writing, become slowly automatic, yet nobody thinks of putting them under the care of a deeper personality; we make the right movement in speaking without consciously intending the special tongue and lip movements, because the lower nerve centres steadily unburden the higher ones, and more and more easily transform the stimulus into the useful motor discharge. Even in the most complicated cases, therefore, the unconscious production of apparently chosen and adapted actions is no proof whatever that the whole process was not a merely physiological one. Secondly, a manifoldness of psychological personalities is in no way identical with a plurality of subjects of consciousness. Every one of us finds in his consciousness a bundle of social personalities. We are different men in the office and in the family circle, in the political meeting and in the theatre; one does not care for the others, and may even ignore them ; each has his own memory connection and his own impulses. But they do not represent different subjects of consciousness, different groups of objects alternating in the same subject. Of course these various empirical personalities have always some elements in common, by which we can easily bridge over from one to the other, and remember our office anger in front of the stage of the theatre. No change in principle occurs when, by an abnormal brain process, these paths of association and connection are blocked, and one personality remains without relations with the other. In such a case several personalities alternate, each consisting of a set of associations and impulses without remembrance of the others. The student of hypnotism and hysteria is familiar with such phenomena. These personalities alternate in consciousness in the same way that groups of ideas succeed one another ; but the subject which is the bearer of all these personalities remains always the same, and the hypothesis that this subject itself changes when the content of the social personality changes is thus without support in the psychological interpretations of the normal idea of personality. The real source of these theories as to a deeper self and a double consciousness lies, indeed, not in the psychological facts, but in motives of a very different character. We shall turn presently to these more hidden impulses, as they will show us the real springs of mysticism ; but we must first glance at our fourth and last group of claims, — the wonders of spiritualism.
So long as we consider spiritualism only from the point of view of its agreement with the system of scientific psychology, the discussion may be extremely short, for one sweeping word is sufficient. There are no subtle discriminations necessary, as in the other fields : the psychologist rejects everything without exception. We have here not the slightest relation to philosophical spiritualism, either to that of the Berkeleyan type or to that of Fichte. We are not on the height of philosophical thinking, but on the low ground of observation and explanation of empirical facts. The question is not whether the substance of the real world is spiritual: it is only whether the departed spirits enter into communication with living men by mediums and by incarnation. The scientist does not admit a compromise : with regard to this he flatly denies the possibility. Of course he does not say that all the claims are founded on fraud. He does not deny that sincere persons have frequently believed, through hallucinations, and still oftener through illusions, that they saw the apparitions of departed friends and heard their voices. The psychologist has no dearth of explanations for this product of the psychophysical mechanism. In the same way, he need not doubt that many of the mediums really believe themselves to be under the control of departed souls; for this also exactly fits many well-known facts of nervous disturbance. But the facts as they are claimed do not exist, and never will exist, and no debate makes the situation better.
Our short survey of the wide domain of mysticism is finished. We have seen what part of its claims can be acknowledged by psychology, and what must be rejected. We have seen that many of those occurrences which appear mysterious and uncanny to the naïve mind are easily understood from a scientific point of view, and are often separated by an impassable chasm from happenings which on the surface look quite similar. We have seen especially that hypnotism and hysteria, muscle reading and hyperæsthesia, alternation of personality and the therapeutic influence of psychophysical inhibitions, hallucinations and illusions, and other mental states which psychology understands just as well as it does the normal associations and feelings, explain many of the observed events, and bring them from the domain of mysticism into the sphere of causally necessary processes. And yet all this is only a preamble for our real discussion. We have given decisions, but not arguments ; we have shown that psychology is able to explain many of the facts, but we have not shown as yet why we have the right to reject other so-called facts and to deny their possibility ; and everything must at last depend upon this right alone.
The modern mystic, if he is ready to follow us thus far, would not find the slightest argument against his position in any of our preceding points. He would say : “ I accept your psychophysical explanations for the facts which you acknowledge ; with regard to the others, I see only that you are unable to understand them, but that gives you no right to deny them. There are many facts which are still puzzles for science. History must make us modest, showing that again and again the truth was at first ridiculed and the deeper insight derided. These very phenomena of hypnotism and automatism and hysteria were denied in their reality only a few generations ago. Science must give everything fair play, and a refusal even to examine the facts is unworthy of real science. It is narrowness and stubbornness to reject a fact because it does not fit into the scientific system of to-day, instead of striving toward the better system of to - morrow, which will have room for all the phenomena ; and this the more if these facts are of vast importance, involving the immortality and the absolute unity of all minds, the spiritual harmony of the universe, and the very deepest powers of man.”
This is the old text, indeed, preached from so often, and sometimes in so brilliant and fascinating a style that even the best men lowered the sword. Yet it is wrong and dangerous from beginning to end, and has endlessly more harm in it than a superficial view reveals, as it is in its last consequences not only the death of real science, but worse,—the death of real idealism.
First a word about the so-called facts. Our newspapers, magazines, and books are full to overflowing of the reports of happenings which no science can explain, and which may overwhelm the uncritical mind by their sheer bulk. But whoever stops to think for a moment how the psychological conditions favor and almost enforce the weedlike growth of mysterious stories will at least agree that a live criticism must sift the tales, even if they are backed by the authority of a most trustworthy sailor or a most excellent servant girl. If the glaring light of criticism is thrown on this twilight literature, the effect is often surprising. Some of the “ facts ” prove to be simply untrue, having grown up through gossip and desire for excitement, through fear and curiosity, through misunderstandings and imagination. Another set of the “ facts ” turns out to be true, but not mysterious ; being merely a checkered field of abnormal mental phenomena, such as hypnotism, somnambulism, hysteria, insanity, hyperæsthesia, automatic action, and so forth. Another large group is based on conscious or unconscious fraud, from the mildest form down through a long scale to the boldest spiritualistic forgery. If we take away these three large groups, there is a remainder which may deserve discussion as to its interpretation. Here belong the chance occurrences which appear alarmingly surprising if taken in isolation, but quite natural if considered as members of a long series, giving account of all the cases in which the surprising coincidences did not occur. The recent statistics of apparitions and hallucinations show clearly the difficulty of finding always the right basis for such calculation of mathematical probabilities. Here belong, further, the illusions of memory, by which present experiences are projected into the past, or past experiences are transformed by present sensations ; the surprising coincidences illustrated by recent experiments, which are produced by the concordance of associations and other similarities of mental dispositions; and the illusions of perception which allow us to hear and see whatever we expect or whatever is suggested to us.
If we are ready to make full use of every means of possible explanation, there remains hardly an instance where it is impossible to tear aside the veil of mystery, and to explain psychologically either the occurrences of the facts themselves, or the development of the erroneous report about them. Even when long series of careful experiments on thought transference and similar problems were made, the cautious papers discreetly reported in most cases, not that a proof was furnished, but only that the evidence seemed to point in a certain direction. And even the most ardent believer in telepathy, Mr. Podmore, concedes that “ each particular case is susceptible of more or less adequate explanation by some well-known cause.” Mr. Podmore considers it absurd to accumulate the strained and complicated explanations which thus become necessary, instead of accepting the simple wholesale interpretation that telepathy took place. But with the same right we might say that in an endless number of instances the lowest animals and plants rise from inorganic substances ; each case taken separately could be explained by biologists from procreation, but since such explanation would involve an accumulation of complicated theories about the conditions of life for the lowest animals, it would be much simpler to believe in generatio equivoca.
Our presupposition was that a large proportion of the claims are false. Even the champions of mysticism are to-day ready to admit that the temptations and chances for deception are discouragingly numerous. Not only is there an abundance of money-making schemes which fit well the natural credulity and suggestibility of the public at large. Some lie and cheat merely for art’s sake, getting pleasure from the fact that their fiction becomes real through the belief that it awakes, and some do the same merely in boyish trickery. Some elaborate their inventions to make themselves interesting, and some feast in the power they thus gain over men. Some begin by consciously embellishing the slender facts, and end with a sincere belief in their own superstructure; and others, through hysterical excitement, are unaware of their own cheating. Add to these causes the incorrectness with which most men observe and report on matters in which their feelings are interested, and the miserable lack of the feeling of responsibility with which average men and average papers put forth their wild tales. Consider how again and again the honored leaders of mystical movements have been unmasked as cheap impostors and their admired wonders recognized as vulgar tricks, how telepathic performances have been reduced to a simple signaling by breathing or noises, and how seldom disbelievers have interrupted a materialization séance without putting their hands on a provision of beards and draperies. Think of all this, and the supposed facts dwindle more and more.
At this point of the discussion the friends of mysticism like to go over to a more personal attack. They say, “ How do you dare to presuppose credulity and suggestibility in the observer, and intended or unintended tricks and dishonesty in the performer, when you have never taken part in such experiments, and when some brilliant scholars have examined them and found no fraud ? ” To such personal reproach I answer with personal facts. It is true, I have never taken part in a telepathic experiment or in a spiritualistic séance. It is not a nervous dislike of abnormalities which has kept me away, as I have devoted much time to the study of hypnotism and insanity. The experiences of some of my friends, however, made me cautious from the beginning; they had spent much energy and time and money on such mysteries, and had come to the conviction that all was humbug. Once, I confess, I wavered in my decision. I received a telegram from two famous telepathists in Europe, asking me to come immediately to a small town where they had discovered a medium of extraordinary powers. It required fifteen hours’ traveling, and I hesitated ; but the report was so inspiring that I finally packed my trunks. Just then came a second message with the laconic words, “ All fraud.” Since that time I do not take the trouble to pack. I wait quietly for the second message.
Why do I avoid these séances ? It is not because I am afraid that they would shake my theoretical views and convince me of mysticism, but because I consider it undignified to visit such performances, as one attends a variety show, for amusement only, without attempting to explain them, and because I know that I should be the last man to see through the scheme and discover the trick. I should certainly have been deceived by Madame Blavatsky, the theosophist, and by Miss Paladino, the medium. I am only a psychologist, not a detective. More than that, by my whole training I am absolutely spoiled for the business of the detective. The names of great scientists, like Zoellner, Richet, Crookes, and many others, do not impose on me in the least; for their daily work in scientific laboratories was a continuous training of an instinctive confidence in the honesty of their coöperators. I do not know another profession in which the suspicion of constant fraud becomes so systematically inhibited as it does in that of the scientist. He ought to be at once dismissed from the jury, and a prestidigitator substituted. Whether I personally take part in such meetings or not is, therefore, without any consequences ; I take it for granted from the start that wherever there was fraud in the play, I should have been cheated like my brethren. The only thing that the other side can reasonably demand from us is that we be fully acquainted with their claims and with the evidence they furnish in their writings. I confess I have not had quite a good conscience in this respect ; I had not really studied all the recorded Phantasms of the Living and all the Proceedings of the Societies for Psychical Research, and I am afraid I had forgotten to cut the leaves of some of the occult magazines on mv own shelves. Now, however, my conscience is fully disburdened. I used — or ought I to say, misused ? — my last summer vacation in working through more than a hundred volumes of the so-called evidence. I passed through a whole series of feelings. Indeed, I had at first a feeling of mysterious excitement from all those uncanny stories, but that changed into a deep æsthetical and ethical disgust, which flattened finally into the feeling that there was about me an endless desert of absolute stupidity. I, for one, am to-day far more skeptical than before I was driven to examine the evidence; I have studied the proofs, and now feel sure of what before I only suspected, — that they do not prove anything ; and if we condemn science on such testimony, we do worse than those who condemned the witches and vampires.
In short, I believe that the facts, if they are examined critically, are never incapable of a scientific explanation; and yet even this is not the central point of the question. I must deny that the battle is waged over the facts which science understands and those which it does not understand. No scientist in the world feels uncomfortable over the confession that there are many — endlessly many — things in the world which we do not know ; no sane man dreams that the last day of scientific progress has yet come, and that every problem has been solved. On the contrary, the springs of scientific enthusiasm lie in the conviction that we stand only at the beginning of knowledge, and that every day may unveil new elements of the universe. Even physiological psychology, which seems so conceited in the face of mysticism, admits how meagre is the knowledge it has so far gleaned. Almost every important question of our science is still unsettled, and yet that has never discouraged us in our work. The physicist and the astronomer, the chemist and the botanist, the physiologist and the psychologist, work steadily, with the conviction that there are many facts which they do not know, like the Roentgen rays ten years ago, and that many facts are not fully understood, like the Roentgen rays at present. If the mystical facts were merely processes which we do not understand to-day, but which we may understand to-morrow, there would not be the slightest occasion for a serious dispute. But the situation is very different. The antithesis is not between the facts we can explain and the facts we cannot explain, and for which we seek an explanation of the same order. No ; it is between the facts which are now explicable by causal laws, or may be so in any possible future, and those facts which are acknowledged as in principle outside of the necessary causal connections, and bound together by their values for our personal feelings instead of by mechanical laws. As Professor James puts it excellently : It is the difference between the personal emotional and the impersonal mechanical thinking, between the romantic and the rationalistic views of the world. Here lies the root of the problem, and here centres our whole interest. Indeed, all that is claimed by the mystic as such means, not that the causal connections of the world found so far are still incomplete and must be supplemented by others, but that the blanks in the causal connections allow us glimpses of another world behind, — an uncausal emotional world which shines through the vulgar world of mechanics.
If the astronomer calculated the movement of a star from the causally working forces, he might come to the hypothesis that there are centres of attraction existing which we have not yet discovered : it was thus Leverrier discovered Neptune. But his boldest theories operate only with quantities of the same order, with substances and forces which come under the categories of the mechanical world. If, on the other hand, he accepted some emotional view, perhaps the æsthetical one, that the star followed this curve because it is more beautiful, as indeed an older astronomy did; or the ethical one, that this movement of the star occurred because it served to make the moral progress of men possible, while the causal movement would have thrown the earth into the sun ; or the religious one, that the angels chose to pull the star this way rather than that; or the poetical one, that the star was obliged to move just so in order to delight the heart on a clear evening by its sparkling, — in none of these cases would he be doubtful whether his hypothesis were good or bad ; he would be sure that it was not an astronomical hypothesis at all. He would not search with the telescope to find out whether or not his theory was confirmed by new facts. No; he would see that his thought denied the possibility of astronomy, and was a silly profanation of ethics and religion at the same time.
The naturalist knows, if he understands the philosophical basis of his work, and is not merely a technical craftsman, that natural science means, not a simple cast and copy of the reality, but a special transformation of reality, a conceptual construction of unreal character in the service of special logical purposes. The naturalist does not think that bodies are in reality made from atoms, and that the movements of the stars are really the products of all the elementary impulses into which his calculation disintegrates the causes. He knows that all his elements, the elementary substances and the elementary forces, are merely conceptions worked out for the purpose of representing the world as a causally connected mechanism. The real world is no mechanism, but a world of means and aims, objects of our will and of our personal purposes. But one of these purposes is to conceive the world as a mechanism, and so long as we work in the service of this purpose we presuppose that the world is a mechanism. In the effort to represent the world as a causal one—that is, in our character as naturalists — we know only a causal world, and no other. We may know little about that postulated causal world, but we are sure beforehand that whatever the future may discover about it must belong to the causal system, or it is wrong. We are free to choose the point of view, but when we have chosen it we are bound by its presuppositions. A naturalist who begins to doubt whether the world is everywhere causal misunderstands his own aim and gives up his only end.
These simple facts from the methodology of science repeat themselves exactly, though in a more complicated form, for psychology. Psychology, also, is never a mere copy of the reality, but always a transformation in the service of a special logical purpose. Our real inner life is not a complex of elementary sensations as psychology may see it : it is a system of attitudes of will, which we do not perceive as contents of consciousness, but which we live through, and objects of will which are our means and ends and values. It becomes a special interest of the logical attitude of the will to transform this real will system in conceptual form into a causal system, too, and, in the service of this end, to put in the place of the teleological reality a mechanical artificial construction. This construction is psychology, and it is thus clear that in the psychological system itself every view which is not causal is contradictory to the presuppositions, and therefore scientifically untrue. Between the mental facts, in so far as they are considered as psychological phenomena, there exists no other possible connection than the causal one, though, to be sure, this causal view has not the slightest meaning for the inner reality, which never consists of psychological phenomena. This is the point which even philosophers so easily overlook : as soon as we speak of psychical objects, of ideas and feelings and volitions, as contents of consciousness, we speak of an artificial transformation to which the categories of real life no longer apply, — a transformation which lies in the direction of causal connection, and which has, therefore, a right to existence only if the right to extend the causal aspect of nature to the inner life is acknowledged. The personal, the emotional, the romantic, in short the will view controls our real life, but from that standpoint mental life is never a psychical fact.
It is one of the greatest dangers of our time that the naturalistic point of view, which decomposes the world into elements for the purpose of causal connection, interferes with the volitional point of view of the real life, which can deal only with values, and not with elements. I have sought again and again to point out this unfortunate situation, and to show that history and practical life, education and art, morality and religion, have nothing to do with these psychological constructions, and that the categories of psychology must not intrude into their teleological realms. But that does not blind me to the fact that exactly the opposite transgression of boundaries is going on all the time, too. If the world of values is intruded into the causal world, if the categories which belong to reality are forced on the system of transformation which was framed in the service of causality, we get a cheap mixture which satisfies neither the one aim nor the other. Just this is the effort of mysticism. It is the personal, emotional view applied, not to the world of reality, where it fits, but to the physical and psychical worlds, both of which are constructed by the human logical will for the purpose of an impersonal, unemotional causal system. But to mix values with laws destroys not only the causal links, but also the values. The ideals of ethics and religion, instead of growing in the world of volitional relations, are now projected into the atomistic structure, and thus become dependent upon its nature. Intended to fill there the blanks in the causal system, they find their right of existence only where ignorance of nature leaves such blanks, and must tremble at every step of progress science makes. It is bad enough when the psychological categories are wrongly pushed into ethics by the overextension of psychology, but it is still more absurd when ethics leaves its home in the real world and creeps over to the field of psychology, satisfied with the few places to which science has not yet acquired a clear title. Our ethics and religion may thus be shaken to-morrow by any new result of laboratory research, and must be supported to-day by the telepathic performances of hysteric women. Our belief in immortality must rest on the gossip which departed spirits utter in dark rooms through the mouths of hypnotized business mediums, and our deepest personality comes to light when we scribble disconnected phrases in automatic writing. Is life then really still worth living ?
We must here throw more light on some details which may be difficult to understand. We have said that the claims of mysticism impose the emotional teleological categories upon the psychological facts ; that is, upon constructions which are formed for the purpose of the mechanical categories only. It may not be at once evident how this is true for special propositions of a mystical nature. Of course we cannot develop here the presuppositions of psychology ; a few words to show the nature of the problems must be sufficient. Psychology tries to consider the mental life as a system of perceivable objects which are necessarily determined ; every transformation which is serviceable for this purpose is psychologically true. If the mental facts are thought as determining one another, we must presuppose that they have characteristics to which this effective influence attaches. These characteristics are called their elements, and therefore, for psychologists, the mental life consists of elements. The psychical material is different from the physical by the presupposition that it exists for one subject only. It is therefore not communicable ; since incommunicable, it is not determinable by communicable units, and hence is not measurable, — not quantitative, but only qualitative. Consequently, it is incapable of entering into a mathematical equation, and is unfit to play the rôle of determinable causes and effects. Before psychical elements can be transformed into a system of causes and effects a further transformation must be made ; they must be thought as amalgamated with physical processes which exist for many, and which are measurable, and therefore capable of forming a necessary causal system. The psychical facts are thus thought as accompaniments of physical processes, and in their appearance and disappearance fully determined by the physical events. There is no materialistic harm in this doctrine, as it aims at no reference to reality, but is merely a construction for a special purpose ; within its sphere, however, there cannot be any exception. If the psychical facts are thought as accompaniments of the physical processes, they must be projected into the physical world, and must accept its forms of existence, space and time. The real inner life in its teleological reality is spaceless and timeless, — it knows space and time only as forms of its objects; the psychological phenomena themselves enter into space and time as soon as they are connected with the physical phenomena. They are now psychophysical elements which can determine one another only by the causal relations of the physical substratum. The working hypothesis of modern psychology — that every mental state is a complex of psychical elements, of which each is the accompaniment of a physical process in time and space, and influences others or is influenced by others merely through the medium of physical processes — is then not an arbitrary theory. It is the necessary outcome of the presuppositions which the human will has freely chosen for its logical purposes, and to which it is bound by its own decision.
From this point a full light of explanation falls upon all our earlier decisions. We rejected every claimed fact in which the psychological facts were without a physical substratum, as in the case of departed spirits and those in which psychical facts influenced one another without physical intermediation, as in telepathy. If mental life is taken in its reality, it must not be considered as composed of elements, ideas, and feelings, but must be taken as a whole; then it is not in bodily personalities, not in space and not in time, — in short, is not a psychological fact at all. But if we take it as psychological fact in human bodies and in time, it must be thought in accordance with the psychological presuppositions, as bound to the physical events, communicated by their intermediation and disappearing at their destruction. Where these conditions are in part wanting, psychology declines to accept the propositions as truths, and demands a further transformation of the facts till the demands of psychology are satisfied. Mysticism, however, prefers an easier way. Wherever the conditions of psychological truth are absent, and, owing to the lack of physical substrata or of physical mediation, the psychical facts are disconnected or unexplained in their existence, there mysticism imports the teleological links of the prepsychological real world, and gives the illusion that the psychical facts have been thus explained and connected.
Perhaps most instructive in this respect are those claims of mysticism which refer to the healing influences of men, because here it appears most clearly that it is not the facts, but only the points of view, which constitute the mysticism. The facts from which these claims arise the psychologist does not deny at all ; as we have seen, he takes them for granted. But he explains them by suggestion and other familiar laws of mental action, and thus links the psychical phenomena by an uninterrupted chain of physical processes. The mystic, on the other hand, brings the same facts under the categories which belong to the world of values : prayer has now a healing influence, not because it is perceived by the senses of the patient, and works through association some inhibitory changes in his brain, but because prayer is ethically and religiously valuable. Not its physiological accompaniments which produce psychophysical effects, but its goodness and piety secure success, and, conversely, the illness which is cured by the prayer must be a symptom of moral and religious obliquity. The causal conception of a disturbance of physiological functions is thus transmuted into the ethical conception of sin. Exactly the same psychophysical facts, the prayer of the transmitter and the feeling of improvement in the receiver, are in this case, then, connected by the mystic and the scientist in different ways, without any need on either side of a further transformation of the facts. For the one, it is the causal process that a suggestion psychophysically overpowers nervous inhibition ; for the other, it is the victory of sainthood over sin, by its religious values. If the scientist maintains that only the first is an explanatory connection, the second not, does he mean by this that goodness has no power over evil ? Certainly not; he means something very different. Goodness and evil, he thinks, are relations and attitudes of will, which have their reality in being willed and lived through. They are not psychophysical facts, to be perceived as taking time, and going on in space in a special brain and nervous system. They belong to the world of willing subjects, not to the world of atomistic objects ; they are primary, while suggestions and inhibitions and all the other psychophysical objects are unreal derived constructions. If prayer and sin are taken in their reality as we live through them, then of course their meaning and their value alone are in question, and it would be absurd to apply to them the relations of causal connection. As realities, they are not brain processes ; as such, they do not come in question as processes in time and space; as such, they are not transmuted into mere objects. If we take them in their reality as will attitudes, they have no relation to causality. If we take them as psychological processes which go on in time in physical personalities, then we have transformed them in the service of causality, and have pledged ourselves to the causal system. An ethical connection of psychophysical facts is a direct inner contradiction ; it means applying the categories of will to objects which we have taken away from the will for the single purpose of putting them into a system of will-less categories. We might just as well demand that the figures of a painting should talk and move about.
Another case in which scientists and mystics agree in regard to the facts is that of double personality. The difference here, also, is only one of interpretation. We have seen that the psychologist understands this class of facts as various degrees of disaggregation of psychophysical elements, whereas the mystic introduces the ethical categories of different responsibility and dignity. It is otherwise with the telepathic or spiritualistic claims : here there is no agreement about the facts, and yet the principle is the same as in the other cases. The mystic applies the emotional personal links in this case, also, not to the reality, but to psychological facts in a stage of transformation which the psychologist does not accept because they do not allow causal connection. The psychologist calls the claimed facts untrue, because the transformation of reality is psychologically or physically true only when it has reached that form in which it fits into the causal system. It is the aim of science to find the true facts, — that is, to transform reality till the ends of causal ordering are attained ; and if they are not attained, the objects have not become a part of the existing psychological or physical world. An infinite number of facts appear to us in disconnected form, but we ignore them ; they remain only propositions ; they have not existence, because they do not fulfill the conditions upon which, according to the decision of the will which produces science, psychical or physical existence depends. That a fact is true in the world of psychical facts means that it is selected as fit for a special logical purpose ; and if the telepathic facts, for instance, are not suited to that purpose, they are not true according to the only consistent standard of truth. They must become somehow otherwise; that is, they must be transformed until they can be accepted as existing. The history of science constantly demonstrates this necessity. It is absurd for the mystics to claim the backing of history, because it shows that many things are acknowledged as true to-day which were not believed in earlier times. The teaching of history, on the contrary, annihilates almost cruelly every claim of mysticism, as, far from a later approval of mystical wisdom, history has in every case remoulded the facts till they have become causal ones. If the scientists of earlier times disbelieved in phenomena as products of witchcraft, and believe to-day in the same phenomena as products of hypnotic suggestion and hysteria, the mystics are not victorious, but defeated. As long as the ethical category of Satanic influence was applied to the appearances they were not true ; as soon as they were brought under the causal categories they were accepted as true, but they were then no longer mystical, — it was not witchcraft any more.
This process of transformation goes on steadily ; millions of propositions which life suggests remain untrue till they are adjusted. Just this would be the fate of the telepathic propositions: they would remain below the threshold of the world of empirical facts, if a mistaken emotional attitude did not awaken the illusion that there exists here a connection capable of satisfying the demand for explanation. The personal importance then links what ought to be linked by impersonal causality. A feeling of depression in the psychophysical organism and the death of a friend a thousand miles distant have for us no causal connection, but an emotional one. The two events have no relation in the sphere of objects ; they are connected only in the sphere of will acts ; and the link is not the goodness, as in the case of healing by prayer, but the emotional importance of the death for the friend’s feeling attitude. By this will connection the two phenomena are selected and linked together, and offer themselves as one fact, while without that emotional unity they would remain disconnected, and therefore in this combination they would not be accepted in the sphere of empirical facts.
Does the scientist maintain, in his opposition to telepathy, that in reality mental communication between subjects is possible only by physical intermediation ? Decidedly not. If I talk with others whom I wish to convince, there is no physical process in question; mind reaches mind, thought reaches thought; but in this aspect thoughts are not psychophysical phenomena in space and time, but attitudes and propositions in the sphere of the will. If we take our mental life in its felt reality, then the emotional conviction that no physical wall intervenes between mind and mind is the only correct one; it would be even meaningless to look for physical connection. But if we transform the reality into psychological objects in time and in bodies, then we are bound by the aim of the transformation, and we can acknowledge their connection as true only if it is a mechanical one.
Finally, the ethical demand for immortality, when applied to the artificial construction of psychology instead of to the real life, brings out the most repulsive claim of mysticism, — spiritualism. The ethical belief in immortality means that we as subjects of will are immortal ; that is, that we are not reached by death. For the philosophical mind which sees the difference between reality and psychological transformation, immortality is certain ; for him, the denial of immortality would be even quite meaningless. Death is a biological phenomenon in the world of objects in time ; how then can death reach a reality which is not an object, but an attitude, and therefore neither in time nor in space ? Our real inner subjective life has its felt validity, not in time, but beyond time ; it is eternal. We have seen why the purpose of psychology demands that this non-local and non-temporal subjectivity shall be transformed into a psychical object, and as such projected into the space and time filling organism. By that demand the mental life itself becomes a process in time ; and if the ethical demand for immortality is now transplanted into this circle of constructed phenomena, there must result a clash between psychology and human emotion. Conceiving mental life as a process in time was done merely for the purpose of representing it as the accompaniment of physical phenomena, and now to demand that it should go on in time after the destruction of this physical substratum is absurd. In so far as we think mental life as an artificial psychological process in time, in so far we can think it only as part of a psychophysical phenomenon, and thus never without a body, disappearing when the body ceases to function. To the ethical idealist this impossibility of the psychological immortality is a revelation; for such pseudo-immortality could satisfy only the low and vulgar instincts of man, and not his ethical feelings. Only to a cheap curiosity can it appear desirable that the inner life viewed as a series of psychological facts shall go on and on, that we may be able to see what is to happen in a thousand or in a million years. Life seen from a psychological point of view as a mere chain of psychological phenomena is utterly worthless. It would be intolerable for seventy years ; who would desire it for seventy million years ? Multiplication by zero always leads back to naught. And even if we perceive all the facts of the universe for all time to come, is that of any value? We should shiver at the thought of knowing all that is printed in one year, or all that men of a single town feel passing through their minds ; how intolerable the thought of knowing even all that is and that will be ! It is like the thought of endlessness in space : if we were to grow endlessly tall, so that we became large like the universe, reaching with our arms to the stars, physically almighty, would our life be more worth living, would it be better or nobler or more beautiful ? No ; extension in space and time has not the slightest ethical value, for it necessarily refers only to those objects which exist in space or time, and all our real values lie beyond it. The mortality of the psychological phenomena and the immortality of our real inner life belong necessarily together, and the claim that the deceased spirits go on with psychological existence is therefore not only a denial of the purposes for which the idea of psychological existence is constructed, but also a violation of the ethical belief in immortality.
Here, then, as everywhere, mysticism means nothing else than the attempt to force the emotional categories on an unreal construction, whose only presupposition was that it had to be constructed as an unemotional objective mechanism. The result is a miserable changeling, which satisfies neither the one side nor the other. If mysticism is not contented with the childish or hysteric pleasure of throwing obstacles in the way of advancing science, it can have, indeed, little satisfaction from its own crippled products. Thousands and thousands of spirits have appeared ; the ghosts of the greatest men have said their say, and yet the substance of it has been always the absurdest silliness. Not one inspiring thought has yet been transmitted by this mystical way ; only the most vulgar trivialities. It has never helped to find the truth; it has never brought forth anything but nervous fear and superstition.
We have the truth of life. Its realities are subjective acts, linked together by the categories of personality, giving us values and ideals, harmony and unity and immortality. But we have, as one of the duties of life, the search for the truth of science which transforms reality in order to construct an impersonal system, and gives us causal explanation and order. If we force the system of science upon the real life, claiming that our life is really a psychophysical phenomenon, we are under the illusion of psychologism. If, on the other hand, we force the views of the real life, the personal categories, upon the scientific psychophysical phenomena, we are under the illusion of mysticism. The result in both cases is the same. We lose the truth of life and the truth of science. The real world loses its values, and the scientific world loses its order ; they flow together in a new world controlled by inanity and trickery, unworthy of our scientific interests and unfit for our ethical ideals.