WHAT ARE WE HUMAN BEINGS, YOU AND I??
No one knows. A great deal is known about man, but his fundamental nature------ what makes him behave as he does—is still a profound mystery. Science cannot yet explain what the human mind really is and how it works with the brain. No one even pretends to know how consciousness is produced. What kind of a natural phenomenon is thought? There isn’t even a “theory.”
Such ignorance about the very knower himself is scarcely credible! Science has pushed forward our frontiers successfully in a great many directions. It has explored the poles and depths and heights of the earth and all the elements of matter; it has revealed the composition of the far distant stars and released the pent-up violence of the atom; it is probing the fine structure of the germ plasm and the subtle nature of once dread diseases. How can it have left almost untouched the central question: Where does human personality belong in the scheme of things?
It will surely be a source of amazement to historians in the twenty-first century that man so long delayed to attack with concentrated research the problem of what be is himself.
Instead of knowledge of what we are, we have beliefs.
When we were very young most of us acquired our first belief about man—that he consisted of two parts, a material body and a nonphysical mind or soul. The soul was the ruling part and the body was a house and an instrument of the soul. It was, of course, only on Sunday that we spoke of the soul, unless there was a funeral. But on weekdays the word “mind” was used to mean much the same thing; the fine points of difference did not concern us.
Whether in church or on the street we all encountered and absorbed essentially the same concept of human beings. The prevailing view was that the mind really controlled the individual and his behavior. It was, of course, the mind of the in- dividual around which our culture and institutions grew up. Not only our social agencies such as the schools, but indeed all our ways of life, our manners, morals, enjoyments, aspirations, and values, have been founded on the doctrine we acquire in childhood, namely that man is a dual being, with his mind the true center of his personality.
This traditional belief usually continues in the individual until late adolescence. After that it tends to persist with those who do not advance far in higher education or in reflective thinking. Even among young people who do go on to advanced study, there are some who cling devotedly to their early concepts right on through the collegiate period and to some extent through life.
The general drift, however, is away from the old two-part or “spiritual” view of man. As the student encounters the sciences that deal with the human species, its origin and evolution; as he learns about the close connection found between behavior and the brain; and as he sees how far the glands regulate personality by chemical means, his beliefs begin to shift. He finds out that the child mind matures only as the brain develops, that certain mental functions are linked with specific areas in the brain, and that if the brain is injured these psychical functions are lost. So closely do thought and brain action appear to parallel each other that the young inquirer naturally comes to think of the brain as the true center of control over behavior. This is the second belief about man.
The brain, of course, lends itself to study by physical methods. The nerve cells of which it is composed are part of the universe of matter and energy. The mind, on the other hand, is intangible. Of what “stuff” could it be composed? What would it be if it were not physical? It seems to be merely a function of the brain—an aspect of the brain in action. Thus we come to think of man as entirely physical in nature, and of the mind as a mere epiphenomenon or after-glow of brain activity. Such an explanation helps to organize our knowledge of things into one system instead of two.
So the student of the sciences finishes his education with little left of his earlier belief about man. He may have made the change gradually and without any open argument or even conscious decision. In fact, this transition from one belief to the other is, in most instances, a subtle drift of attitude in response to the viewpoint of teachers and books; it can be as much a result of pure suggestion as was the childhood acceptance of the older concept of man
The fact is that we hear very little about the problem of what we are.
There is an unfortunate taboo, both in school and out of it, against discussion of the beliefs concerning man’s ultimate nature. As a result, even on the most liberal university campus, the question of mind and man seldom comes out in the open. Certain departments naturally assume the traditional view, the foremost being the divinity school where the assumption of a spiritual or nonphysical factor in man seems essential. But while that school is busily training young preachers in the confident faith that some kind of transcendent mind or soul regulates the individual’s life, the medical school, perhaps only a stone’s throw away in space, is just as confidently ignoring anything but the objective bodily processes in its training of young healers. Even the young psychiatrist in training is led increasingly to depend on his syringe, his scalpel, and his electrical apparatus, to work on the brain instead of the mind
Psychology, of course, is the field in which this problem belongs. The nature of the mind, or psyche, is by definition psychology’s subject of study, though the “science of the soul” has long since lost interest in souls. Even the word “mind” as used by the layman, meaning something different from the brain, is no longer in good standing. The student, therefore, finds nothing about the soul in modern psychology textbooks and lectures, and very little on the mind as a distinct reality. Instead he studies about “behavior” and its relation to brain fields and pathways. The relation of mind to body is an out-moded topic and the dualistic view that the mind is something of itself that interacts with the brain and to some degree governs its activity, is a dead issue in psychology.
Among the psychologists (and psychologist-philosophers) The old defenders of the dual nature of man—William James, “William James, William McDougall, . Henri Bergson, arid Hans Driesch are now long gone from the scene, and there are no comparable successors. The soul theory of personality has passed into psychological history.
Yet oddly enough, no one even claims to have proved that the mind is physical. There is no physical theory of conscious mental process on record. It is astonishing that a branch of science gives acceptance to a view of the mind not only without positive proof but without even so much as an untested hypothesis to account for it. Such a reaction can only be characterized as one of pure belief, as an act of “faith.” Yet it has become almost as typical of scientific circles and classrooms as belief in the soul has been of the schools of theology.
Nothing, however, is ever permanently settled in any field by unverified faith.
In the days of Copernicus and Galileo thinking men had to decide between the view of an earth-centered (geocentric) world and a sun-centered (heliocentric) one. The classic dispute was settled, not by authority, but by research. Reflective men today must, in a similar way, decide which is the control center of the individual’s personal world—his subjective, experiencing mind, or his objective, organic brain. But only by research can it be determined which is correct, the mind-centered or psychocentric view of man, or the brain-centered or cerebrocentric conception. It cannot be settled by authority of any kind. Mere beliefs, of whatever type, are no longer sufficient for the guidance of humanity.
Unlike the old question of the earth versus the sun, this problem of man is an urgent one! As urgent as human happiness, human welfare, human life. Our floundering human relations today are clearly the result of one basic cause: “We simply do not know how to treat people—on what principle, what philosophy of man, what assumptions about his nature. We do not know enough about him. We have only conflicting ideas and beliefs.
Consider but a handful of the pressing issues before us today: What should be our attitude toward conquered peoples? Displaced persons? Racial minorities? Former allies? Our competitors in world trade or local business? Employees? Management? The convicted criminal? The unemployed? Our hungry and needy neighbors at home and abroad? Nobody knows a sure answer. The way we treat these people obviously depends on our beliefs about what they are. But those beliefs are in fundamental conflict and confusion.
What physician could safely treat a patient without knowing his disease? What engineer works without knowing the character of his materials? How can we hope to train and engineer people effectively, either individually or in groups, while we are still ignorant of what the simplest kind of a man really is? We cannot any longer agree even on what to believe!
Our social institutions are founded on the mind-centered or psychocentric view of man. Present-day psychology on the other hand is largely cerebrocentric, with its focus on the dynamics of the brain. And the schism between these two concepts is deep and radical. Our culture assumes, for instance, that the mind is sufficiently different from the physical body to allow for “free will.” Such volitional freedom means that the mind has laws of its own, and that therefore the laws of the body and environment do not govern it, at least not entirely. They leave it some freedom from physical determination, some independence of action. The physicalistic view of personality, on the other hand, makes every act subject to physical law and leaves no room at all for freedom. One system of causation, one type of law, is supreme in both the mental and bodily realms.
Hence it is crucial for us, and for society in general, to know whether or not the mind is just a physical brain function. For without freedom of choice our social philosophies would collapse. Without free volition there can be no morality, no real democracy, not even any science itself as a free inquiry. If mental life is wholly a product of cerebral physics there would appear to be no escape from physical law anywhere in the course of human conduct. Freedom is then only a fancy, and ethics, under physical law, entirely a fiction.
Human relations have now come to the pass where inconceivable misery and devastation must follow upon failure to discover a better chart for the understanding and guidance of humanity. Older beliefs have lost much of their guiding force without new ones of tested value taking their place. It is a time for action.
The first thing to do is to see the question of man’s nature in perspective.
The problem, of course, is not a new one. I have presented it here as the individual student is likely to meet it in college; but the issue has also come up for the entire race on reaching “intellectual maturity.” The parallel is a fairly close one. Back in what might be called the intellectual childhood and adolescence of the race there was the same universal belief that man is a dual creature, a body with a governing soul or mind of immaterial character. Then as cultural development reached the point of critical, rational, scientific thinking, as it has done in the last few centuries, very much the same happened to the thinking world at large as happens to thinking student in his science courses in college. Rational man lost his belief in his own spiritual nature. Revolutionary discoveries in the sciences, especially in nineteenth century biology, broke down the traditional picture of man and his place in the natural order. In the reconstruction of the findings of the sciences into a sing\e universal scheme, the mind as a distinctive order of reality was left out. It had no place in the new mechanistic picture of the world.
“Wherever science came in, the traditional belief in man’s spiritual nature went out. Psychology became increasingly saturated with physical concepts. The physicalistic doctrine of man did progress from a crude materialism to theories patterned after after those of modern physics; but the dominance physical analogy still remains. There is no tolerance left in the sciences for anything like the nonphysical, or exclusively psychical, reality which men once labeled the soul. This development has gone so far that today the few remaining scientists who publicly express belief in the soul are likely to bring embarrassment to their colleagues.
Yet something about this nineteenth century picture is wrong! Some exceptional phenomena of human nature were overlooked when this scientific concept of man was being framed; omitted, as usual, because they did not fit. In fact, their inclusion would have altered the whole design. These phenomena are the beginning of the story of this book. Because they were rare and exceptional and difficult verify, they were easily ignored by orthodox science. Nevertheless a few bold scientific inquirers did accept the challenge to investigate the claims that were made for these manifestations. And, as will be seen, the outcome has been revolutionary The phenomena in question were those called “psychic,” and their study became known as “psychical research.” In university circles it is now called “parapsychology,” the science of those mental manifestations that appear to transcend recognized principles. Non-academic societies were formed in different countries for the purpose of promoting such research; earliest among them were the Society for Psychical Research (S.P.R.), founded in England in 1882. At first, and indeed for r many years, such research had to be conducted outside the university laboratories and depended almost entirely on the sponsorship of these societies. It was their pioneering work that first drew attention to the possibility of a scientific approach to the question of the basic nature of man.
The story before us here is an account of this heretical, controversial, pioneering branch of research that is still clamoring for due recognition at the gates of conservative, official, circumspect science. The account deals with a few scattered but devoted explorers working here and abroad during the last seven decades and with what they have discovered about human beings that will help us to see what men really are in the scheme of things. It tells of the experiments conducted and the evidence accrued, of the ups and downs of the inquiry, the difficulties and the eventual conquests, the meaning of the results and the problems left unanswered. Final judgment must of course be left to the reader, but there is now a great accumulation of findings to draw upon.
We shall have to be concerned with many mysteries in the chapters ahead. But for that I make no apology; an alert science makes capital of mysteries. The scientific worker seizes upon the inexplicable phenomenon as he would upon a suddenly discovered treasure. The more unexplainable and mysterious it is, the more insight it will yield when eventually explained. The special promise of the mysteries with which we have dealings here is that they may lead us on to the discovery of a farther and wider reach of the human mind into the realm of space and time and matter we call the universe.
THE REACH OF THE MIND
by: Dr. J. B. RHINE, DUKE UNIVERSITY
Copyright@ 1947, by J. B. Rhine
Chapter One., pags.3-12)
(Mfg. In United States of America by H. Wolff Book Mfg. Co.)
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