SPIRITUALISM AND THE NEW PSYCHOLOGY
by Millais Culpin
From the moment of waking till we fall asleep again our thoughts are busy, one thought following another all day long without a break and each being in some way related to the preceding one. Memories come up into the stream, the outer world is constantly affecting it through our senses, and we tend to think that all our mind-work is done in this ‘stream of consciousness’.
But beneath our stream of consciousness lies a deep sea of memories, feelings, and directive influences. All our previous experience is buried there, and no man knows how much he knows. Every one has experienced the sudden recollections which come up unsought when a sight, a sound, or a scent makes association with something long past and apparently forgotten; and not only our memories of things, places, and people, but our past mental processes themselves lie in this deep sea of the _unconscious_, to help or hinder us in the present or future.
I speak of the unconscious, though there are objections to the use of the word, which may lead to such a contradiction of terms as ‘unconscious knowledge’. It is much more than a storehouse of memories: it is the seat of mental processes which take place unknown to us and are revealed at times in strange and unexpected ways. It comes into contact with the stream of consciousness, and, as we so often find in attempting to classify natural phenomena, there are no well-marked lines of demarcation between one and the other, though the extremes are definite enough.
The unconscious is not always a willing servant and often refuses to obey the wishes of its owner. Every one has at some time vainly tried to recall a name which is ‘on the tip of the tongue’, and one name after another is tried till perhaps the right one comes up and leaves us wondering where the difficulty was. There is, according to the teaching of some psychologists, always a reason for this failure to remember, though even an apparently ordinary example may need a skilful analysis to show how the failure arose and why the other names presented themselves. Slips of the tongue are likewise dependent upon unconscious influences, and, although I was once sceptical, a few examinations of my own slips have convinced me of the truth of this little theory. Here is an example of one of them, such as occurs often enough and would ordinarily be passed over without further examination:–
Sitting one evening with friends who were interested in this subject, I read aloud a paragraph from the book I was reading, and was asked the name of the author. My answer, after a slight pause, was ‘Robert Brown’; it was immediately corrected by one of my friends, who pointed out that the author was Robert Smith (the names are fictitious), and called upon me for an explanation of the mistake. The first question was, ‘Who is Brown?’ and the only Brown I knew was a man concerning whom I had a few days before received a letter with information about him which led me to regard him with strong dislike. The next point was that we had been recently discussing the private life of Robert Smith, and I had manifested dislike towards his actions. Then I remembered that when I was asked the name of the author there had flashed into my consciousness the feeling that he was not precisely the sort of man I liked. Although the rest of the chain of thought was unknown to me at the time, yet it became plain, under my friends’ cross-examination, that this feeling of dislike had called up the name of the other victim of my displeasure, though questions from my friends were necessary before I could remember to whom the other name referred.
The last point is quite characteristic, for there seems to be a definite resistance in the mind of the perpetrator of the slip against piecing together his thought processes, and the aid of some one else is necessary to enable, or force him, to do it; then he feels compelled to acknowledge the hidden thoughts. The difficulty in recognising and admitting the cause of such slips is due to their being so often the expression of feelings which the owner does not like to publish to the world or perhaps even acknowledge to himself.
But the unconscious is not always, or even often, such a useless intruder upon our everyday life. It economises our energies, and often takes us by short cuts to ends which would otherwise need continued reasoning. ‘Intuition’ is the product of previous experience, and rises into the consciousness as a finished judgement without the owner of the gift being aware of the factors concerned in its formation. One kind of intuition is improperly called in my profession ‘clinical instinct’, but, unlike instinct, it is a result of training and experience, and is never seen without them. Here is an example which came under my notice: An ophthalmic house-surgeon, busy with new patients, sees a man aged about thirty-five, who complains of failing sight, and without further investigation he writes on the man’s book, ‘Tobacco amblyopia?’ and sends him in to his chief. Later on his chief asks him, ‘How did you spot this case?’ and the house-surgeon answers, ‘I don’t know, but he looked like it’. The chief agrees that there is something which can be seen but not described in the looks of a sufferer from this complaint. Now this house-surgeon, though keen on his work, had seen only a few cases of that disease, and I do not now accept his explanation of how he ‘spotted’ it. A man of thirty-five may find his sight failing from various causes, but the common ones are not many. If the cause had been ‘long-sight’, he would have complained that he could not see to read; certain general diseases causing loss of sight at that age would perhaps have visible symptoms; the man was too young for cataract, and his eyes looked healthy. In short, tobacco amblyopia was a reasonable guess, and, when we remember that the disease is caused by smoking strong pipe tobacco, and that the man who smokes that tobacco generally smells of it, it is fair to suppose that it was not the evidence of his eyes alone that guided the house-surgeon in his guess, though he was not conscious of any train of reasoning nor was he aware of the smell of stale tobacco.