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HOME > Short Stories > Spiritual Energies In Daily Life > CHAPTER X PSYCHOLOGY AND THE SPIRITUAL LIFE
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Twenty years ago in A Dynamic Faith, after reviewing the new questions which the great sciences had raised for religion, I said: “There are still harder problems than any of these. Psychology has opened a series of questions which make the boldest tremble for his faith in an endless life or in any spiritual reality.” The twenty years that have intervened have made my point much more clear. It is now pretty generally recognized that the deepest issues of the faith are to be settled in this field. The problem of the real nature of the human soul is at the present moment probably the most important religious question before us, for upon the answer to it all our vital spiritual interests depend. If man has no unique interior domain, if he is only a tiny bit of that vast system of naturalism in which every curve of process and development is rigidly determined by antecedent causes, then “spiritual”[161] is only a high-sounding word with a metaphorical significance, but with no basis of reality in the nature of things. There is certainly no “place” in the external world of space where we can expect to find spiritual realities. They are not to be found by going “somewhere.” Olympus has been climbed, and it was as naturalistic as any other mountain peak. Eden is only a defined area of Mesopotamia, and that blessed word can work no miracles for us now. The dome of the sky is only an optical illusion. It is no supersensuous realm on which we can build our hopes. The beyond as a spiritual reality is within, or it is nowhere. Psychology, however, has not been very encouraging in promises of hope. It has gone the way of the other sciences and has taken an ever increasing slant toward naturalism. The result is that most so-called “psychologies of religion” reduce religion either to a naturalistic or to a subjective basis, which means in either case that religion as a way to some objective spiritual reality has eluded us and has disappeared as a constructive power. Many a modern psychologist can say with Browning’s Cleon:
“And I have written three books on the soul,
Proving absurd all written hitherto,
And putting us to ignorance again.”
Two of the main tendencies in what is usually called scientific psychology are (1) the “behaviorist” tendency and (2) the tendency to reduce the inner life to a series of “mind states.” Let us consider behaviorism first. This turns psychology into “a purely objective experimental branch of natural science.”[9] It aims at “the prediction and control of behavior.” “Introspection forms no essential part of its method.” One is not concerned with “interpretation in terms of consciousness,” one is interested only in reactions, responses—in short, in behavior in the presence of stimuli which produce movements. The body is a complicated organ and “mind” is merely a convenient term to express its “activities.”[10] The behaviorist “recognizes no dividing line between man and brute.” Psychology becomes “the science of behavior,”[11] the study of “the activity of man or animal as it can be observed from the outside, either with or without attempting to determine the mental states by inference from these acts.” Emotions become reduced forthwith to “the bodily resonance” set up in the muscular and visceral systems by instinctive movements in[163] the presence of objects, these curious movements being due entirely to the inheritance of physiological structure adapted at least in the early stages to aid survival. There is no way by which behaviorist psychology can give any standing to religion or to any type of spiritual values. “?sthetics is the study of the useless,” as William James baldly states the case. Conscience disappears or becomes another name for the inheritance or acquisition of certain types of social behavior. Everything which we call ethics or morality changes into well-defined and rigidly determined behavior. There is nothing more “spiritual” about it than there is in the fall of a raindrop or in the luminous trail of a meteor, or in any form of what has happily been called “cosmic weather.”
This reduction of personality to a center of activity is a reaction from the dualistic sundering of mind and body inherited from Descartes. The theory of psycho-physical parallelism is utterly bankrupt. Idealism, which is an attempt to get round the impasse of dualism by treating mind as the only reality, is abhorrent to scientists and unpopular with young philosophers, especially in America. Some other solution is therefore urgent. The easiest one at hand, though it is obviously temporary and superficial, is to cut across[164] the mind loop, ignore its unique, originative, creative capacity and its interior depth, to deal only with body plus body’s activities, and to call that “psychology.”
The “mind-state” psychology takes us little farther on. It also is a form of naturalism. “Mind-state” psychology makes more of introspection than behaviorist psychology does, and it works more than the latter does in terms of consciousness, which for the behaviorist can be almost ignored or questioned as an existing reality. According to this view, mind or consciousness is composed of a vast number of “elemental units,” and the business of psychology is to analyze and describe these units or states and to discover the laws of their arrangement or succession. Mind, on this theory, is an aggregate or sum total of “states.” Professor James, who gives great place to “mind states,” will, however, not admit that they are permanent and repeatable “units,” passing and returning unaltered. In his usual vivid way he says that “a permanently existing ‘idea’ [i.e., mental unit] which makes its appearance before the footlights of consciousness at periodical intervals is as mythological an entity as the Jack of Spades.”[12] And yet he continues[165] to deal with mind as a vast series of more or less describable states. Some states are “substantive,” such as our “perceptions,” our “memories,” or our definite “images,” when the mind perches and rests upon some clear and describable thought, and on the other hand there are “transitive states” which are vague, hard to catch or hold or express, and which reveal the mind in flight, in passage, on the way from one substantive state to another.
When we ask the “mind-state” psychologist to tell us about the soul or to supply us with a working substitute for it, he relegates it to the scrap heap where lie the collected rubbish and the antiquated mental furniture of the medieval centuries. We have no need of it. It is only a word anyhow. It has always been an expensive luxury and a continual bother. We are better off with it gone. When we look about for a “self as knower,” or for a guardian of our identity, we find all that we need in these same “passing states of consciousness.” They not only know things and facts, but they also know themselves, and successively inherit and adapt all the preceding “states” have gained and acquired. The state of the present moment owns the thoughts and experiences which preceded it, for “what possesses[166] the possessor possesses the possessed.” “In our waking hours,” Professor James says, “though each pulse of consciousness dies away and is replaced by another, yet that other, among the things it knows, knows its own predecessor and finding it ‘warm,’ greets it saying, ‘Thou art mine and part of the same self with me.’” It seems, then, this famous writer concludes, that “states of consciousness are all that psychology needs to do her work with. Metaphysics or theology may prove the soul to exist; but for psychology the hypothesis of such a substantial principle of unity is superfluous.”[13] We are certainly hard up if we must depend on proofs which theology can give us!
We are thus once more reduced to a condition of sheer naturalism. Our stream of consciousness is only a rapid succession of passing states, each “state” causally attached to a molecular process in the brain. “Every psychosis is the result of a neurosis.” There is no soul, there is no creative spiritual pilot of the stream, there is no freedom, there are no moral values, there is nothing but passing “cosmic weather,” sometimes peeps of sunshine, sometimes moonshine, sometimes drizzle or blizzard, and sometimes cyclone[167] or waterspout! To meet the appalling thinness of this “cinema” of mind states, we are given the comfort of believing that there is an under-threshold world within, possibly more real and surely more important than this little rivulet of states which make up our conscious life. There is a “fringe” to consciousness more wonderful than that which adorned the robe of the high priest. This “fringe” defies description and baffles all analysis. It is a halo or penumbra which surrounds every “state” and holds all the states vitally together, so that “states” turn out to be unsundered in some deeper mysterious currents of being. Others would call this same underlying, mysterious part of us the subliminal “self,” i.e., under-threshold “self.” It is a kind of semi-spiritual matrix where the states of consciousness are formed and gestated. It is the source to which we may trace everything that can not be explained by the avenues of the senses. Demons and divinities knock at its doors and visitants from superterrestrial shores peep in at its windows. It is often treated, especially of course by Frederic Myers, as a deeper “self,” more or less discontinuous with our conscious upper self, the self of mind states. All work of genius is due to “subliminal uprushes,” “an emergence[168] into the current of ideas which the man is consciously manipulating of other ideas which he has not consciously originated, but which have shaped themselves beyond his will in profounder regions of his being.” As is well known, Professor James resorts to these “subliminal uprushes” for his explanation of all the deeper religious experiences and he has done much to give credit to these “profounder regions of our being” and to make the subliminal theory popular. He does not, however, as Myers does, treat it as another “self,” an intermediary between earth and heaven, a messenger and a mediator of all those higher and diviner aspects of life which transcend the sphere of sense and of the empirical world.
No theory certainly is sound which begins by cutting the subconscious and the conscious life apart into two more or less dissociated selves. There is every indication and evidence of continuity and correlation between what is above and what is below the threshold which in any case is as relative and artificial a line as is the horizon. The so-called “uprushes” of the genius are finely correlated with his normal experience into which[169] they “uprush.” The “uprushes” which convey truth to Socrates beautifully fit, first, the character of the man and, secondly, the demands of the temporal environment. Dante’s “uprushes” correspond to the psychological climate of the medieval world, and Shakespeare’s “uprushes” are well suited to the later period of the Renaissance. All subliminal communications are congruent and consonant with the experience of the person who receives them. The visions of apocalyptic seers are all couched in the imagery of the apocalyptic schools, and so, too, the reports of mediums are all in terms of spiritualistic beliefs. We shall never find the solution of our religious problems by dividing the inner life of man into two unrelated selves, by whatever name we call them, for any religion that is to be real must go all the way through us, must unify all our powers, and must furnish a spring and power by which we live here and now in the sphere of our consciousness, our character, and our will.
It proves to be just as impossible to cut consciousness up into the fragmentary bits or units called mind states, or to sunder it into a so-called “self as knowe............
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