Lecture Notes—Booklet I

Primary Truths

What are primary truths? According to Mr. [Dugald] Stewart, “They are such and such only, as can neither be proved nor refuted by other propositions of greater perspicuity. They are self-evident—not borrowing the powers of reasoning to shed light upon themselves.”

We are naturally inclined to consider the reality of our personal existence. That we exist is the great basis upon which we build everything. It is the foundation of all knowledge. Without self-existence nothing could result in the progress of the understanding. If any man questions the fact of his own existence, that very process, by which he doubts, proves to a demonstration, that an existing, doubting power must have been precedent, must have had a creation. The first internal thought is immediately followed with an undoubting conviction of personal self-existence. It is a primary truth in nature, and requires no further explanation.

Personal Identity

Another primary truth is personal identity. This is the knowledge of ourselves. The identifying of ourselves with our self-existence. We know that we exist, and in that existence we recognize our personality. Man is composed of matter and mind, by some mysterious combination united; and we may divide our identity into mental and bodily.

Mental identity is the continuance and oneness of the thinking and reasoning principle. It is not divisible in length, breadth and dimensions composed of particles etc. like matter, nor does it change or cease to exist. It remains as it was originally with all its eternal powers—its eternal principles.

Bodily identity is the sameness of the bodily organization—the man in figure, as we behold him with our natural eyes. The particles of matter of which the body is composed may change; but its shape and structure and its physical creation are the same.

Professor Upham, in his work on Intellectual Philosophy in reference to this subject, uses the following language. “It was a saying of Seneca, that no man bathes twice in the same river; and still we call it the same, although the water within its banks is constantly passing away. And in like manner we identify the human body, although it constantly changes.”

Personal identity, then, comprehends the man as we behold him, in his bodily and mental nature, mysteriously and wonderfully made!

The old soldier, who has fought the battles of his country in the days of the American Revolution, will recount his deeds of valor and his heroic sufferings to his youthful listeners, not doubting, that he is really the same old soldier, who was in his country's service some sixty years since. The early settlers of our country, as they look abroad over the cultivated plain, never doubt, that they are really the same individuals, who some forty years felled the trees of the forest and turned the wilderness into a fruitful garden!

So is man constituted, that his own identity is one of the first primary truths.

We are so constituted that we believe, or rather there seems to be an authoritative principle within us of giving confidence or credence to certain propositions and truths, which are presented to our minds. Among the first things which the mind admits is that there is no beginning or change without a cause, that nothing could not create something. When any new principle is discovered, man immediately seeks out the cause, looks for some moving power, as though it could not be self-creative and self-acting.

In contemplating the material universe, in beholding the beautiful planetary system, the sun, the moon and the stars regulated and controlled by undeviating laws, who does not say, these are the results of some mighty creative intelligence! That the power of their existences and harmonious motions was originated beyond themselves.

Thus it is that we attribute to every effect a cause—to every result a motive power.

Matter and mind have uniform, undeviating and fixed laws. And they are always subject to and controlled by them. We are not to suppose otherwise, unless we give up our belief that any object is governed or directed. Yet we are not to suppose that the same laws apply both to matter and mind. Each has its peculiar governing principle, and in as much as mind, in its nature, deviates from matter, so may its laws deviate.

We all believe that the earth will continue to revolve on its axis and perform its annual orbit around the sun, that summer and winter, seed-time and harvest will continue to succeed each other, “that the decaying plants of autumn will revive again in spring.”

This belief does not arise in the mind at once; but has its origin now in one instance and then in another, until it becomes universal.

Immateriality of the Soul.

It is a conceded principle, that mind does not possess, or rather, we fail to detect the same qualities in mind as in matter. No sect of philosophers, I believe, have ever pretended that mind is distinguished by extension, divisibility, impenetrability, color etc., and therefore most have agreed to use immateriality as applied to the soul, in distinction from materiality as applied to the body, that the soul is destitute of those qualities which appear in matter, having its own peculiar attributes, such as thought, feeling, remembrance and passion.

The mind as it exists in man and develops itself through the bodily organs, no doubt, has a close connection with matter, the physical system and particularly the brain. Yet we are not to suppose that mind is dependent for its existence upon the organs of the body, nor is it subject to the control of matter, although influenced and impressed by it. Mind rather exercises a direction to matter, producing certain results. If mind was any portion of the materiality of the body, a destruction of any portion of this would destroy a portion of that. But this is not the fact. Individuals, deprived of some of their limbs, do not exhibit any degree of loss of mind. How often has it appeared far more active and energetic, in the last moments of dissolving nature, than when the physical powers were in full health and vigor. Men, upon the battlefield, mutilated and wounded and suffering the intensest pain, have displayed, amid all this disaster of the body, the highest powers of intellectual action. So that, although mind to us appears at first view to have an inseparable connection with the body, yet, for its energies, its full unqualified powers of action does not rely upon bodily health and vigor.

The works of genius, as displayed in the various branches of science, literature and law, bear the character of a higher order of creation than matter. Memory and imagination do not appear to have resulted from ponderous substances. The powers of Judgment and Reasoning must have originated in something higher and nobler than divisible bodies. To what cause can you attribute the origin and perfection of the demonstrations of Euclid? What constituted the authorship of the wise laws of Solon and the political institutions of Lycurgus and those of modern Europe and the greatest concentration of wisdom ever embodied into one human work—I mean the American Constitution? What gave almost intellectual inspiration to the Iliad and Oddessa [Odyssey]. What gave birth to the wonderful productions of Tasso and Spencer and Milton? Where shall we look for the origin of the Philippics of the Ancients, or in more modern days, for the speeches of a Fox and the Orations of a Webster?

Where human genius has wrought its highest triumphs and achieved transcendent greatness, who can say, its creative cause, its fountain light is in powerless and inert matter! To ascribe the qualities of matter to the soul would erase forever the idea of a future and eternal existence. But we have no direct evidence of the soul's dissolution and discontinuance at death. The death of the body is only the removal of the soul's sphere of action from our natural view, and no doubt gives a larger world of Spiritual action in its new destination. And have we not every reason to suppose that the soul will exist after the dissolution of the body? “Death,” in the language of Dr. Stewart, “only lifts the veil, which conceals from our eyes the invisible world. It annihilates the material universe to our senses, and prepares our minds for some new and unknown state of being.”

We have already stated that belief is a simple state of the mind and consequently cannot be made plainer by any process of reasoning.

It is always the same in its nature although it admits of different degrees, which we express in the language of presumption, probability and certainty, etc.

It is on the principle of belief that the mind is operated upon in the various exhibitions of its power. For, without confidence, what can we accomplish? Without a belief in our ability to accomplish, what would be the result? It is a principle which comes into every department of reasoning; and testimony is only so operative upon the mind as it affects our belief.

The Soul.

Those, who style themselves philosophers and have written upon the subject of the mind, have always considered the soul as constituting a nature which is one and indivisible; yet for the purpose of more fully understanding its various stages of action, they have given it three parts or views, in which it may be contemplated expressed in the Intellect, Sensibilities and the Will. [Or the] Intellectual, Sensitive and the voluntary states of the mind.

We find, in different languages, terms expressive of these three states. Different authors, in works not written expressly upon the subject of the mind, have adopted these modes of expressing its action.

The popular author of “Literary Hours” [Nathan Drake, M.D.] has given in one of his works an interesting biographical sketch of Sir Robert Steele. After referring to his repeated seasons of riot and revelry, of his determinations and repentances etc., he thus describes him. “His misfortune, the cause of all his errors, was not to have clearly seen where his deficiencies lay; they were neither of the head nor of the heart, but of the volition. He possessed the wish but not the power of volition to carry his purposes into execution.”

It has been remarked of Burns, that the force of that remarkable poet lay in the power of his understanding and the sensibilities of his heart. Dr. Currie in his life of Burns makes use of the following language. “He knew his own failings and predicted their consequences; these melancholy forebodings were not long absent from his mind; yet his passions carried him down the stream of error and swept him over the precipice he saw directly in his course. The fatal defect of his character lay in the comparative weakness of his volition, which governing the conduct according to the dictates of the understanding entitles it to be denominated rational.”

Professor Upham, in his philosophy informs us of a celebrated writer, who in giving directions to his son as to the manner of conducting with foreign ministers, uses the following language. “If you engage his heart, you have a fair chance of imposing upon his understanding and determining his will.” Shakespeare, the great philosopher of the human understanding, says in the second scene of Hamlet,

“It shows a will most incorrect to heaven,
A heart unfortified,
An understanding simple and unschooled.”

Origin of Knowledge

The daily observation of every individual will result in the belief of different states of the mind. We often speak of the natural operations of the mind, its natural state etc., which is only that condition or standard nearest which a great majority of minds have resemblance. We also speak of the excited condition, the excited and deranged state. It is said with much truth, that every man is blest with some peculiarities entirely his own, that no two men are precisely alike in all respects. Now as we deviate from the great standard or natural state, mind becomes excited or morbid and insane. And all these different states or different temperatures of the mind are produced from strong impressions, made under peculiar circumstances. We are susceptible of sensations, governed and controlled by them under all circumstances. These direct all our conduct throughout the whole life. The life of man is a succession of sensations or impressions which induce him to act in one capacity or another. His capabilities are enlarged, as these impressions are numerous and powerful, or limited, as they are rare and light. All great minds are susceptible to the highest degree. His mind is most powerful and gigantic whose impressions are stamped upon the intellect with an indelible mark. This fact resolves the mystery of memory and explains the system of reasoning. We are the receptacles of successive impressions. Every step the mind takes in its progress of thought is marked with a new impression. Every beginning, every progress and every conclusion results in a new impression.

It is a very natural question among students to enquire, how the mind acquires knowledge from external objects. We will illustrate the process in this manner. An object is presented through the senses and the mind perceives, then is immediately impressed with the idea of that object, or receives the impression which the presentation of the object makes. This is the starting point and the mind immediately desires to possess or reject the same according to the character of the impression, or, at least, to know what constitutes the object. Now as the mind in this case is dependent upon the senses to convey a knowledge of the object to itself, or rather to place itself in immediate communication with the object, its attention and action is solely directed by the impression received. To an untaught or unlearned mind the presentation of an object would leave an impression but it is possible that action would here cease, unless it should receive other impressions than that merely of the object. But present the same object to a well-trained mind, and it gives an impression which is immediately followed by a successive train of impressions and ideas, giving rise to innumerable subjects of thought and contemplation. But, to the untaught mind, present a second object and a second impression is communicated, which is immediately followed by the first. Then comes a comparison or an impression of the difference of the two. And so a succession of objects presented, multiplies the number of impressions which follow, in a tenfold ratio. The principle of association, which is a successive train of impressions, is set in operation and keeps the mind ever on the stretch.

Thus the mind goes on its voyage of successive thoughts, arising from the presentation of one object or from some strong impression produced in some manner, through the organs of sense. Language is the expression of ideas or impressions and this is perhaps the great source by which mind communicates with mind through the sense of hearing. The conversation among our friends is the method, by language, of expressing ideas or impressions which produce similar ideas and impressions upon those to whom the conversation is directed. If you describe a scene you have witnessed in some distant country, giving different lights and shades as the impressions follow each other on your mind, bringing before another individual one grand view of the whole transaction, you give rise to impressions in the mind of your listener, which upon the principle of association, carries him back to a hundred different scenes of a similar character with each of which are associated ten thousand impressions, which are similar to those communicated at the place of transaction. Two men pass an old castle. Each receives an impression from the presentation of the object. It will remind one of some old ruins of a castle which he saw a thousand miles distant, and whatever transpired or what he witnessed at the time he saw it. The other perhaps will be reminded of some legend or old story which he read in his boyish days where lords and knights and ladies were made its inhabitants and visitors, about which are associated the days of chivalry and love. How differently are these two individuals affected by the appearance of the old castle. Each mind receives the starting point from the same source and then arise all these impressions entirely different in their course, yet equally rapid in their succession. A succession of ideas arises according to the previous acquisitions of each mind and these diverging trains are pursued until another subject presents itself which breaks up this course of thought. Then mind takes a different route and receives its new train of ideas or impressions. Here, too, it pursues its course, nor does it cease its wanderings until it receives a stronger impression from some other external object. It then sets off again in another direction and passes rapidly over a numerous train of ideas, succeeding each other on the principle of association.

I will illustrate the manner of acquiring the first impression by presenting an apple. It appears to the mind or rather the mind perceives it to be a substance, then of spherical dimensions. Here are two impressions given. If I exercise the sense of touch I shall learn the same facts. It feels round like itself. I convey another impression by the sense of smell. I taste of it, and here is a third impression. As the sight, feeling, smell and taste of the object affects me pleasantly or unpleasantly, I am impressed to take or reject the fruit. These are the means by which we acquire knowledge. Not in so rapid a succession as I have described, because, before we can pronounce the character of any object, we must have learned a language and the different modes of expressing its appearance to those who understand the language we employ.

Thus it is by testimony we receive much of our information. At first, it is difficult to believe what we are not accustomed to witness ourselves. Yet as the mind becomes enlightened and understands the principle upon which it is received, it yields its confidence and adopts this method of obtaining knowledge. An individual, who should be told that upon some parts of our globe constant night prevails for a certain number of months, and upon some other parts of the same globe constant day reigns for the same length of time, would not be very likely to believe it, unless such an anomaly could be explained upon principles which would carry conviction, by a comparison of all the knowledge he possesses upon the subject. Thus it is that mind is set in motion by the presentation of external objects. Before it is thus moved, it is a mere blank, possessing certain inherent powers which will only exhibit themselves by the exercise of some moving power. “The mind,” says Professor Upham, in his work on Mental Philosophy, “appears at its creation to be merely an existence, involving certain principles and endowed with certain powers, but dependent for the first and original development of those principles and the exercise of those powers on the condition of an outward impression. But after it has been once brought into action, it finds new sources of thought and feeling in itself.”

Having, therefore, all these inherent powers to acquire its knowledge is in proportion to the impressions it has received from external objects and internal operations. If you present a subject of conversation to a well trained mind, stored with impressions or knowledge, you have started a point which sets in motion the whole ocean of mind, educated from the past, and leads to endless discussions. But should you present the same topic to an untaught or partially-disciplined mind, you would start the current of thought, it is true, but that current would soon cease, or rather could not be very extended because the subjects of thought or the whole amount of knowledge possessed by the individual is limited.

I have spoken of the natural mind and the way of acquiring knowledge through the bodily senses only. But there are other means of communication by which impressions are conveyed to the mind.

If the spiritual being be independent of matter, why cannot we communicate with it without the aid of the bodily senses? It is to this subject I would now call your attention. The mind itself obeys the laws which its Creator first laid down, and we are not to suppose any strange anomaly in its outward exhibitions is contrary to the original design. The great Law-giver possesses all wisdom and is the fountain-head of all perfection. The mind is not a creative experiment of his, himself being ignorant of what results will follow. If these strange phenomena of the mind, which are exhibited in the different states of excitement, are exceptions to the common rule, we must attribute to the Great Mind imperfection and humanity or a direct interposition to stay the great laws which were first given to suppress and bewilder ignorant and dependent man. But to my mind, it does not appear consistent with the wisdom of God that so extended an interference would be personally made to counteract first principles which are displayed in this age of mesmeric light. It must be that all these strange appearances are reconcilable with eternal laws. And we are to look to these alone for a probable and clear solution. The same laws govern the mind, when in its natural state and susceptible of impressions through the five senses as when in its excited and unnatural condition or under the influence of Nervauric, Phrenomagnetic, Mesmeric or Somnambulic influence. The only difference is this, in the method of conveying impressions to the mind. Give the impression, whether through the senses or otherwise, and the same correspondent results follow. If I make an impression upon the mind of a beautiful landscape by pointing it out to the natural eye, it is the same as though I made the same impression upon that mind while in an excited or mesmeric state. The view is real and pleasing in one case as in the other, to the mind that beholds it. It is as much an existence before the mind, when the impression without the material object is made, as when the impression with a presentation of the real landscape to the natural eye is given.

We shall here give a brief outline of what appears to be the condition of mind when in an excited or mesmeric state. Susceptibility is in its highest state of action and the operator seems to control the direction of thought if he chooses or can so impress the mind with influences as to govern its action in a measure. This point is no doubt gained by some powerful impression produced by the operator upon the mind of the subject. This condition can be produced by other influences than an individual mind. A fright by suddenly coming upon some external object will often produce a similar state of mind. Intense thought and excruciating pains produce this excited state and sometimes sets the mind in action, when it is enabled to exhibit the same phenomena as when induced by an individual operator. We shall have occasion in the progress of our work to refer to cases which arise from unknown impressions upon the mind, producing hallucination, insanity, dreaming, somnambulism, spectral illusions etc.

This excited state of the mind, called by some, the magnetic, mesmeric and congestive is no doubt produced by a powerful impression of the operator upon the mind of the subject, concentrating or drawing the whole attention to one influence. No set rules can be given by which this influence can be exercised because the same efforts will produce different results upon different minds; yet no doubt every mind has its portal of access and could we know where that is, or the way and manner of approaching it, we could produce impressions so powerful upon every mind as to subdue the action of the bodily senses and communicate directly with it. The doctrine, therefore, of “powerful magnetizers” (as they call themselves) that only a more powerful capacity or higher order of intellectual vigor can subdue a weaker mind and produce the excited or mesmeric state is idle as the wind. These higher orders of intellects with strong sensibilities are more capable of being brought to the contemplation of one individual subject and receiving the most powerful impressions, if you can discover the accessible road to their sensibilities. If you can produce an impression upon such a mind as will overcome all his prejudices towards you or your science and acquire his undivided confidence, you will then excite the mind into this spiritual state of action and he will readily read your own thoughts. Indeed I have been led to the conclusion that the highest powers of genius have been the results of excited minds, upon the principles I have laid down, and that they are but the inspiration of this spiritual action. What is it that contributes so much to distinguish Homer and Demosthenes, Virgil and Cicero, Milton, Tasso, Shakespeare and the whole host of great men who lived in ancient and modern times! It must have been this excited state during which poetry and eloquence and the highest achievements of mind were left, as lights of their genius, to live through all coming time. Eloquence, which holds the multitude in breathless silence or sways them hither and thither, produces the controlling impression upon each mind which in its turn impresses and influences the other exciting a low degree of the mesmeric state. It is, in fact, a principle by which we are all more or less governed in all our pursuits.

The high degree of excitement, called clairvoyant, gives the mind freedom of action, placing it in close contact with everything. There is nothing remote or distant, past or future; everything is present and discoverable. It only requires direction, and the subject is before it.

It is enabled to discover and describe countries and cities, mountains and plains, rivers and oceans, inhabitants and animals on distant parts of the globe. The mind will pass into the depths of the earth or rather looks through all matter, all space and all time, giving its character, its condition and its result. Call its attention to any subject however remote and it is present to the mind. These ideas, I have thrown out in relation to mind in its highest state of excitement, are not the result of a vivid imagination or the productions of a speculating mind, but the effect of experiments, repeated at different times and on various occasions. They are facts, which stand out beyond all contradiction—all cavil! And we are not to pass them as a freak of nature or as the result of contradictory laws. It must be the highest state of action to which the mind has arrived, giving testimony of the great powers with which it is created, yet controlled by its natural laws. We must not, therefore, account for this wonderful development upon the supposition of exceptions to general rules, but upon the continuation of great and undeviating principles.