The Philosophy of P. P. Quimby


IT was Dr. Quimby's chief aim to establish a science of life and happiness, which all could learn, and which should relieve humanity of sickness and misery. He had penetrated far enough into the meaning and mystery of life to grasp certain great laws and principles with mathematical clearness. He saw that these laws were universal, that they did not depend on the opinions and learning of men for their support, but that, deep within every human soul, there was a source of guidance and inspiration which all could learn to know, even the simplest and least educated ; for it was common to all. He believed that goodness was a science, and could be taught scientifically ; and by the word " science" he always meant, not what is commonly understood by that word, but something spiritual,- the higher nature or wisdom of man, which accounts for all that is mysterious to the natural man or every-day man of the world.

Therefore, he sought to make clear the distinction between the ever-changing opinions of the world, the beliefs and inherited ideas of the natural man, and the unvarying wisdom of the inner or truly scientific man. He often spoke of these two elements of knowledge as two kingdoms, one of this world, or opinions, errors, and beliefs, and he other not of this world, but an unchanging calm of truth, goodness, and eternal life. All hat he wrote was permeated with this thought, his distinction between the two worlds, which he called science and ignorance, wisdom and opinions, the real man and the natural man, Jesus and Christ ; for he always distinguished between the merely personal self and that Christ or Wisdom in man which, so far as he possesses it, makes man a part of God.

His long-continued study of the human mind led him to emphasize the truth that man possesses dual nature. Man himself is often a mere tool in the hands of others, to be moved here and there at the mercy of minds stronger than his own. But every man is also an inlet to this higher Wisdom; and, consciously or unconsciously, every one partakes of these two kingdoms of science and ignorance, and his happiness or misery depends on which one is uppermost. Therefore, it is of the highest importance that man should understand himself, should know his real relations to society, how he is influenced and how to overcome the subtle influences by which he is surrounded; and to possess this knowledge is to know this science or wisdom which separates truth from error. To know the one self or kingdom from the other, to obey and develop the real or spiritual self, and destroy the self or man of opinions, is not only to possess, but to live the science of life and happiness. Health and happiness will come in proportion as this truth is made vital in daily life.

But to know one's self in terms of Dr. Quimby's philosophy is no slight task. With him this one word, "science," embraced the fruits of twenty years' experience and much that was incommunicable to those who had not experienced it. It is difficult to make clear and to do justice to a line of thought which depended so much on the originality and unusual penetration of its author; and we shall have to limit the discussion by asking with Dr. Quimby, What is man? and by approaching his answer somewhat systematically.

1. Dr. Quimby's first discovery was in regard to the influence of opinions and beliefs. He found his patients in a position similar to that in which human beings were placed at the very dawn of civilization, when natural phenomena, which now receive a scientific interpretation, were attributed to beings and shapes each of which had a separate office to perform. That is, they were suffering from a wrong, a superstitious and harmful interpretation of what actually existed, but misunderstood. They were allured by false theories, false and exciting stories, and false leaders. They had been deceived, they had felt some slight pain, and in their fear had consulted a doctor, who had made a diagnosis which was of no value, described the symptoms, and named the sensation; or they had become wrought up over some religious belief, and in their despair had become a prey to their own fancies and fears. It was his task to undeceive them, to explain the phenomena and the sensations correctly, to show the absurdity of their superstitious beliefs, and to explain how, with the doctor's help, they had created their own disease out of some slight disturbance which in itself amounted to nothing.

Dr. Quimby did not, therefore, make his explanations by denying the reality of the patient's trouble or attributing it to the imagination. He made no such denials, but frankly admitted the existence of certain conditions which, to the sick person, were as real as life itself. But just as he sought the Wisdom above the world of opinion, and the Substance or Life beneath the realm of matter, so he looked for the cause of disease and suffering of all kinds in the mind which knew it. This he found, like the superstitious beliefs of prehistoric man displaced by modern science, in a wrong interpretation of what was in itself an actual existence. His own effort in every case, then, was to understand the actual situation, and to separate and free the senses from the fears, wrong beliefs and feelings which had held the sufferer in bondage.

In one of his articles written to show the effect of these false interpretations and beliefs, Dr. Quimby uses the following illustration : -

" When sitting by a sick person who had a pain in the left side, which I felt and described, I said, 'You think you have consumption.' The patient acknowledged it, saying that her physician had examined her lungs, and found the left one very much affected. This she believed; and, when I told her that her disease was in her mind, it was as much as to say that she imagined what was not the case. I told her she did not understand what I meant by the mind.

"Then, taking up a glass of water, I said: 'Suppose you should be told that this water contained a poisonous substance that works in the system and sometimes produces consumption. If you really believe it, every time you drink the idea of poison enters your mind. Presently you begin to hack and cough a little.  Would your fears then grow less that the water was poison? I think not.

"'Finally, you are given over by your doctor and friends, and call on me. I sit down by you, and tell you that you are nervous, and have been deceived by your doctor and friends. You ask, How? You have been told what is false; that the water you drink contains a slow poison, and now your cure hangs on the testimony in the case. If I show that there is no poison in the water, then the water did not poison you. What did?  It was the doctor's opinion put in the water by your mind. As the mind is matter, or something that can receive an impression, it can be changed. This change was wrought by the doctor's opinion. So calling mind something, it is easy to show that it can be changed by a wisdom superior to an opinion.'" . . .

Many of the articles on this subject, written to expose the fallacy of the prevailing ideas about disease, read like trials in court. Dr. Quimby himself appears as the judge, pleading the cause of the sick and showing the absurdity of the arguments whereby his patients were condemned to a life of suffering. He introduces both the minister and doctor, oftentimes the mother or some friend, allowing each one to speak freely in regard to the sufferer; and the case is often argued at great length.

Dr. Quimby is always fair in conducting such a case. His facts were drawn directly from the lives of the sick,-what the doctors and friends had said about the case,-and were often written out immediately after performing the cure which the article described. But he exposes the fallacies of the Church and of so-called medical science with an unsparing hand. He does not hesitate to call the minister and doctor blind guides leading the blind; and, while he has no personal feeling against them, he combats the errors and opinions by which they have held the sick in bondage with a determination to destroy every vestige of their false teachings. He is most eloquent at times as he shows how the sick have been held in disease and superstition, when a simple explanation would have turned their thoughts and feelings into another channel and set them free. It is safe to say that never before or since has the cause of the sick been pleaded with such vigor, such power of conviction, and such truth as in these writings of Dr. Quimby.

He placed no intelligence nor strength in matter, and never looked upon the bodily condition as the disease. "The world," he says, "puts disease in the phenomenon, and guesses at the cause. "The doctor's opinion is put together from observation and questioning; therefore, "he is a doctor only in name."  But "to cure an error intelligently is to know how to produce it, to know the real cause ; and this embraces all man's ideas and wisdom."

This knowledge of the real cause Dr. Quimby possessed, and he found it, not alone in the conscious mind and the opinions and beliefs about disease, but in the mental influences and thoughts by which every person is surrounded, and in the unconscious or subconscious mind; and he could tell an idea or cause from the sensation produced by it, "just as a person knows an orange by the odor."

2. But how, the reader will ask, can fears, unconscious mental influences, doctors' opinions, and false interpretations of sensation be so influential in the creation of disease?

We have seen that Dr. Quimby placed the disease, not in the body, but in the mind that can feel it and the opinion about some painful sensation. The disease is therefore primarily a wrong direction or attitude of mind, strong enough and persistent enough to carry the senses or consciousness with it.

" Man, in his natural state, was no more liable to disease than the beast, but as soon as he began to reason he became diseased ; for his disease was in his reason."

This mind that can be affected by false reasoning Dr. Quimby called spiritual matter; and this was his second important discovery concerning the nature of man. He attributed no intelligence to the mind, used in this sense, but often compared it to the soil into which errors and opinions are sown like seed, where they germinate and come forth in the form of disease and all kinds of misery.

Therefore, a person who, feeling some painful sensation, consults a doctor, and hears a description of the symptoms he is likely to suffer, is all the time entering into the description given by the doctor. The person has been born with the belief that disease is an entity independent of man, which can seize him regardless of his belief. He has been taught that he must not eat this nor do that, must not go here or go there, lest he catch some disease, and has lived all his life -unconsciously to himself-subject to these erroneous beliefs. The entire medical practice is ready to help the matter on; and the physician, instead of wisely turning the person's thought into another and healthier direction,-away from all thought of disease,-makes a physical diagnosis, says he thinks the person has this or that trouble, tells how people feel with that disease, and what the result is likely to be, and proceeds to doctor the effect, ignoring the real cause or disease completely.

Those who know much about the medical practice of to-day know that the same thing is going on now, the only difference being that the fashions, names, and theories have changed; and we now hear more about germs and bacteria, to which the same harmful opinions are attached. With all the advance in medical science since Dr. Quimby's time-and even he would not have denied that there are many good doctors-the physicians will give one opinion about a case one day, and another the next, while another doctor would express an opinion differing from both.

All this Dr. Quimby understood, and he could hardly restrain himself when he thought of the misery that was brought upon enslaved humanity by such false methods ; for his investigations taught him that these descriptions and opinions, if accepted as true, acted like poison on the sufferer's mind.

The mind, or spiritual matter, is a subtle, ethereal substance, wonderfully impressionable or responsive, on which these opinions, together with the person's fears and beliefs in disease, are impressed or daguerreotyped, where they take form, become more and more deeply rooted, until finally they become all-absorbing and controlling. Thus "whatever we believe, that we create"; for man is controlled primarily, not by physical states, but by his directions of mind.

Every idea or thought, then, according to Dr. Quimby, was also spiritual matter, but of a different combination from the mind in which it was sown like a seed. "Every idea," he says, "is the embodiment of an opinion resolved into an idea. This idea has life, or a chemical change; for it is the offspring of man's wisdom condensed into an idea, and our senses are attached to it." Its power over us depends on the reliance we place upon it; and, if it comes from one whose word we trust, it is likely to master us, and finally to assume a character which makes it as real as life itself. And the reason is found in the existence of this ever-changing mind or spiritual earth in which ideas germinate or take form.

Dr. Quimby understood the law so clearly, that man's happiness and misery depend on his belief, that he could penetrate to the very centre of a patient's trouble without fear. He described man as " a compound of opinions, belief, wisdom, science, and ignorance." Knowing that mind was matter and could be changed, and also knowing that he possessed a wisdom which could not change, he was master of the situation, and could clearly separate all that was eternal in man from the changing beliefs of fear and ignorance.

Without asking any questions of the patient, he would discover intuitively how the person had been deceived, and by giving the true explanation would produce a change in the spiritual matter, or mind. He described the sick person as one in prison, and held in ignorance or darkness, like the rosebud trying to come forth to the light ; and it was his task to enter these dark prisons of ignorance and superstition, quicken the intelligence of his patient, and set the prisoner free.

"The mind," he says in one of his articles, "is under the direction of a power independent of itself; and, when the mind or thought is formed into an idea, the idea throws off an odor: this contains the cause and effect."  This mental atmosphere, or odor emanating from the spiritual matter, was sufficient to tell Dr. Quimby all he wished to know about the patient's trouble; and, when he had discovered the hidden cause, a short audible explanation was often all that was necessary to produce a marked effect.

For instance, he told one young man, who was a very strong Calvinist Baptist, that his religion was killing him; for he saw that the young man was so intense in his narrowing belief that he was shutting all his energies into one channel, and cramping his whole life in his too eager effort to realize his spiritual ideal.

3. But, if this changing mind, or spiritual matter, contains no intelligence, and can be moulded by the opinions and fears which cause man's misery, like clay in the hands of the potter, there must be some abiding principle in man which gives him a permanent identity. This abiding self Dr. Quimby called the real man, or the senses, seldom using the word "soul."

Here, too, Dr. Quimby's theory was wholly original; and this was his most suggestive discovery.

His ability to detect the mental atmosphere or odor emanating from a patient was not limited by space; for he very early discovered that he could detect such atmospheres, thoughts, mental odors, and feelings at a distance of many miles from his patients, and that he could heal them at a distance. This led to the discovery that the senses could act independent of the body, and that the five natural senses, or the occasional medium of the spiritual senses, embraced but a small part of man's perceptions: in short, that the senses are, like light, a universal substance, an attribute of God, which we use, just as in displaying genuine wisdom we partake of the very nature of that Wisdom which transcends all definition.

Man, then, possesses a soul, a consciousness, or knowledge of himself or identity, independent of matter, and is capable of hearing, seeing, smelling, and communicating thoughts and feelings without the aid of matter. In fact, man could exist with all his faculties, even if the body were laid aside; and "his happiness is in knowing that he is no part of what is seen by the eye of opinion." Life, or the invisible reality, is the substance; and man's life embraces all his faculties. Many of our perceptions and experiences really take place through the activity of this spiritual self, acting side by side with the natural; for, in the last analysis, " the senses are all there is of a man."

It is interesting to note that at the present time many students of psychic science are reaching this same conclusion, in part, which Dr. Quimby reached so long ago ; namely, that the facts of clairaudience, clairvoyance, telepathy, and the ability to heal mentally at a distance prove the existence of an identity which can live and act independent of matter.

This spiritual identity was to Dr. Quimby the real man or life, who dwelt in the real or scientific world, in contrast to the natural identity or man of opinions which Wisdom could destroy. "All the senses are life," he said, "not death, and their existence does not depend on a body for their identity. . . . We cannot teach any one to see or taste, smell or know ; but all these faculties are independent of matter, and matter is the medium for these faculties to act upon."

He therefore affirmed that "there is no matter independent of mind or life." While, then, he never denied the existence of matter, he always spoke of it as an idea, which, like language, is used to convey some meaning to another. A sensation coming from matter contains no intelligence, in his view, but the intelligence is in us ; and, if we put a false construction on it, then we suffer the consequences. Whereas, if we possess the true science of life, our interpretation is scientific, and our happiness is in our wisdom.

He looked upon matter as the condensation or embodiment of some idea, on the one hand, giving expression to the purpose of the invisible Wisdom, or God, and on the other revealing some state in the mind of man. He often spoke of man as matter, meaning, of course, the mind that can be changed. But, whenever he considered man from the point of view of intelligence, he referred to the senses, or the real man, of which matter is merely a medium.

The real man, or the senses, may either be enslaved by the world's opinions, as in the case of disease and false ideas about religion,- in which case Dr. Quimby sought to free the senses from their bondage to matter,- or his senses may be attached to the Wisdom which is superior to matter and opinion. In any case, wherever the thought or consciousness is concentrated, there the senses are attached ; and, if they are free from all slavery to opinion, the man is ready to realize the science of life and happiness, to separate the truth from the error, and to destroy superstition wherever he finds it.

4. Man, to know himself then, according to Dr. Quimby, must push his analysis further than the mere discovery that he leads a life of mind ; and, unless one stops to consider what Dr. Quimby meant by the word °' mind," one is not likely to understand his theory of disease. He did not refer to the conscious thought alone; and therefore, when people say, as if in refutation of this doctrine, that they never thought of the disease before they took it, there is no refutation or argument at all.

Dr. Quimby brought to light the hidden influences which cause man's trouble; and usually the household atmospheres, the power of language, the effect of poisonous theories, of religious creeds and dogmas, of inherited beliefs and education, are so subtle that only the keenest scrutiny can detect these influences. We do not know that we are causing our own trouble. We do not know that we are constantly affected by the opinions and preconceptions which we put into a thing; for all this is second nature to us. We do not know that we really lead a life of mind. All these facts are hidden in the hurry of our daily thought. And we never know when we are subject to another mind or to some opinion; for, if we did, we would rise in our strength, and overcome this bondage.

Nevertheless, all this affects us; and the changes in the wonderfully responsive mind, or spiritual matter, quickly reflect our conscious states, as well as all the above and many other unconscious influences. Whatever we believe in, we not only create, but attach our senses or our life to; and all this must be borne in mind in endeavoring to grasp Dr. Quimby's theory.

But deeper than all this that can change is the unchanging Wisdom, the one true and living God, of whose nature we partake, and who awaits our recognition.

Dr. Quimby had little fellowship with the God of man's belief. He found that this God differed just as man's opinions differ; in short, that he was simply " the embodiment of man's belief," and inspired fear, hatred, and anger, and was the source of much of the superstition which he had to combat in effecting a cure.

Penetrating deeper, into the very heart of the universe, this truly devoted and spiritual man identified God with the very attributes of love, wisdom, and peace which lift man from the depths of superstition and make him more than human. He wrote of God as the first cause, and as an omnipresent Spirit, but more especially as the immanent life of man, the power behind the senses, the love that stirs in the hearts of the people, and is ever ready to help those who are in need.

He therefore took no credit to himself for any unusual power. He was a most unassuming man. The element of self and self-esteem is wholly lacking in his writings, as it was in his life and his practice. Instead, there is this larger self, this Wisdom which belongs to all, as it was most surely a vital factor in all that he wrote and did. He stood for certain great principles, and sought the truth without regard to any personal inclinations, letting it shine through him and through his words,-an everlasting evidence alike of its power and of its high origin.

So convinced was he that the same power which he used with such effect was latent in the minds of all that he believed every man could become his own physican, and apply the science of life in the cure of disease. He prophesied that the time would come "when men and women should heal all manner of diseases by the word of their mouth." He thoroughly believed that all disease could be overcome, since "it was the product of ignorance and superstition, and never had any foundation except in opinion."

He testified of himself that he "had passed from death unto life," for he spoke of his science as eternal life, comparing it to the truth taught by Jesus. He declared that the fear of death was also an enemy or opinion which held man in bondage. Not only believing, but understanding, that man had an identity independent of matter which made him apart of the eternal life, he looked upon human life as continuous. He said he could conceive of no beginning and no ending, and looked upon death as a change only which did not affect the real man, or the soul.

5. Dr. Quimby's most marked characteristic, then, was his wonderful spiritual perception. He made almost no use of books, saying that they were full of unproved assertions, and developed his philosophy wholly alone, without any aid but his own keen penetration and desire for practical, mathematical truth.

His perception reached to the very pith of every argument, the very centre of life, so that he possessed the thing itself, and put it into his works and his words instead of simply talking about it. His writings are therefore confined almost entirely to his own experiences, and many of his illustrations are drawn from the Civil War and the United States government.

He often changed his subject when half-way through an article, with some reference to the war or some prophecy concerning it. Then, too, he uses words interchangeably and in a sense peculiar to himself, as, for example, the words "mind," " senses," and "science," already referred to. These peculiar usages should be borne in mind in reading the succeeding chapter.

But his articles abound throughout in graphic pictures and telling parables, and, while not always adapted to the general reader, are, as a whole, unusually convincing and suggestive.

He is concerned throughout with the actual course of events in human life, the dual nature of man, and the directions of mind which resistlessly bring happiness or misery, according to the nature of man's belief. He emphasizes the truth again and again that action and reaction are equal, and that man is therefore responsible for his happiness and misery. He therefore believes that everything in life is law-governed.

First in importance is the law of progress.

"Man is a progressive being."  Into his life has entered a higher element or power, which Dr. Quimby often speaks of as the woman or spiritual perception, while man is of the earth, earthy. The two are in conflict, the two are present in every man. And, since man begins life an epitome of creation, "with all the elements of the material world," "it is not strange that phenomena should appear, while man is so ignorant of what he is composed of, which can be traced to the animal kingdom with which they are most identified." These conflicts or diseases Dr. Quimby called "progressive action"; and, if man understood that his life was a progressive process, or evolution, he would be free from or superior to these conflicts through his science or wisdom.

Conduct, then, following the example and teaching of Dr. Quimby, should be wise adjustment to the conditions of progress, so that they shall not bring friction, and a recognition of this higher element which is trying to come forth.

Throughout his writings there is a sense of repose, based on firm conviction, which shows how strong in him was his ideal of health and happiness, and how clear his understanding of life's actual conditions.

There is an entire lack of that enthusiasm and excitement which characterizes many of those who are interested in mental healing today. With him there was no straining after ideals, no overdrawn affirmations and assertions. He was eminently practical, and devoted to the needs of the eternal now.

His philosophy teaches one to recognize what actually exists here and now, since God is not somewhere afar off, but immanent in his world of manifestation and in the soul. It is theory and practice, philosophy and life, religion and life combined, and, although especially applied by him to the healing of the sick and the instruction of those who cared to converse with him about his ideas, is sufficiently comprehensive to be a guiding factor in every moment of life.

It is a life rather than a mere philosophy. No single article, nor all that Dr. Quimby wrote, nor any exposition, does it full justice ; for to those who knew him, and who received the direct benefit of his work, his own life was far larger and nobler than anything he wrote. Therefore, one who knows this deeper and more personal element instinctively turns from the written page to the large, unselfish, and deeply original nature behind it, as to one whose privilege it was to be of unusual benefit to humanity, and to utter words of wisdom and perform acts of love rare in the history of man.