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Phineas Parkhurst Quimby: His Complete Writings and Beyond

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Lecture Notes—Booklet II

The different degrees of excitement of mind—taken up in their order and discussed.

1st. Dreams and their Causes.

The peculiar state of the mind usually called dreaming is explainable upon the principles laid down in our premises, namely, that impressions are conveyed to the mind by some other process than through our bodily senses. We may fall to sleep under a deep impression of some transaction which has actually occurred, and the mind, having long been under the most powerful action of thought in connection with the transaction, will yield up the access through its natural body and receive its impressions directly upon itself. In other words, the mind becomes in a degree mesmerized and is then capable of producing all the phenomena for both in dreaming, which it would, if it were actually thrown into that state by an individual second power. The principle of association or impression succeeding impression by which the mind is controlled, both in its natural and excited state, is the law, which always governs. The mind always acts from impressions received when it acts at all; and, when in this state, is not regulated exclusively by surrounding objects because it is as susceptible of impressions from objects at a vast distance as those immediately around it. For time, space, distance and matter are no impediments to its action. Give it direction towards any subject, and everything connected with it is present. The dreaming state does not differ from the mesmeric, only as it is produced by another method than what is commonly called magnetic.

We submit, therefore, the following accounts of individuals of what actually passed in their minds, taken from different authors, together with the usual explanations, and shall endeavor to account for them upon such principles as we believe to govern mind.

Dr. Abercrombie, who has philosophized much upon mind relates to us many interesting anecdotes which he had accumulated from observation and by the assistance of his friends.

An instance is mentioned of a gentleman and his wife, who were actually dreaming upon the same subject at the same time, in the following language. “It happened at the period, when there was an alarm of French invasion, and almost every man in Edinburgh was a soldier. All things had been arranged upon the expectation of the landing of the enemy, the first notice of which was to be given by a gun from the castle, and this was to be followed by a chain of signals calculated to alarm the country in all directions. Further, there had been recently in Edinburgh a splendid military spectacle in which five thousand men had been drawn up in Prince's Street, fronting the castle. The gentleman, to whom the dream occurred and who had been a zealous volunteer, was in bed between two and three o'clock in the morning when he dreamed of hearing the signal gun. He was immediately at the castle, witnessed the proceedings for displaying the signals and saw and heard a great bustle over the town from troops and artillery assembling in Prince's Street. At this time he was roused by his wife, who awoke in a fright in consequence of a similar dream connected with much noise and the landing of the enemy and concluding with the death of a particular friend of her husband's, who had served with him as a volunteer during the war.”

The Dr. attributed all this remarkable occurrence to a noise produced in the room above by the fall of a pair of tongs which had been left in an awkward position etc. But how it should happen, that the tongs should have produced similar trains of thought in two different individuals by the noise of a fall is more than I can understand.

One would suppose that the noise would have been conveyed to the mind by the bodily senses, giving a true impression of its origin or at least would not have resulted in impressions so foreign to the real cause. The true explanation seems to be this. Both minds, no doubt, passed into the sleeping state, partially excited upon the alarm of the French invasion etc. and were in the mesmeric sleep and in communication with each other, capable of giving and receiving impressions. The fall of the tongs might have affected the mind of one or both. It would not be necessary to affect more than one. The train of association is started in this highly excited state by an impression which could not have been given through the bodily senses. The impression received is immediately followed by other impressions connected with the subject upon which the mind was most intent during the waking state. And being in communication with the other, conveyed similar impressions. Thus both minds were led along in mutual connection, receiving real impressions but arising from (as we would say in the waking state) false causes.

Another instance is mentioned in which dreams are produced by whispering in their ears. The particulars of one case are given in the papers of Dr. Gregory and were related to him by a gentleman who witnessed them. The subject was an officer in the expedition to Louisburg in 1758 and while in this state was a great source of amusement to his associates and friends. “They could produce in him any kind of a dream by whispering in his ear, especially if this was done by a friend with whose voice he was familiar. At one time they conducted him through the whole progress of a quarrel which ended in a duel; and when the parties were supposed to be met, a pistol was placed in his hand, which he fired and was awakened by the report. On another occasion they found him asleep on the top of a locker or bunker in the cabin where they made him believe he had fallen overboard and exhorted him to save himself by swimming. He immediately imitated all the motions of swimming. They then told him that a shark was pursuing him and entreated him to dive for his life. He instantly did so, with so much force, as to throw himself entirely from the lockers upon the cabin floor, by which he was much bruised and awakened of course. After the landing of the army at Louisburg, his friends found him one day asleep in his tent, evidently much annoyed by the cannonading. They then made him believe that he was engaged when he expressed much fear and showed an evident disposition to run away. Against this they remonstrated, but at the same time increased his fears by imitating the groans of the wounded and dying; when he asked, as he often did, who was down, they named his particular friends. At last they told him that the man next himself in the line had fallen, when he instantly sprang from his bed, rushed out of the tent and was roused from his danger and his dream together by falling over the tent ropes.”

[“]Upon being aroused, he could not recollect anything which had transpired and had only a confused feeling of fatigue.”

We can account for these experiments only upon the excited state of the mind being capable of receiving impressions from another source than through the senses. The whispering in the ear was only whispering to the mind, the sense of hearing being, no doubt, inactive, and all the impressions of the quarrel were actually produced upon his mind and not through the sense of hearing by the direction of those around him. In the case of swimming, a strong impression of a shark was made upon his mind and in the excited state it appeared real—was actually seen as much as though every circumstance had transpired as it appeared in the natural state; and all these impressions were the result of mind acting upon mind—impressions conveyed by the minds of those around him, directly to his mind, making precisely the same result, as though he had in his waking state fallen overboard and was pursued by a shark.

In this excited state of the mind, called by philosophical writers the dreaming, every act of the past may be called up by some directing power or by successive impressions. Dr. Abercrombie has related some incidents among his acquaintances which will illustrate this principle. “The gentleman who was the subject was at the time connected with one of the principal banks in Glasgow and was at his place at the teller's table, where money is paid, when a person entered demanding payment of a sum of six pounds. There were several people waiting, who were, in turn, entitled to be attended before him; but, he was extremely impatient and rather noisy; and, being besides a remarkable stammerer, he became so annoying that another gentleman requested my friend to pay him his money and get rid of him. He did so, accordingly, but with an expression of impatience at being obliged to attend to him before his turn, and thought no more of the transaction. At the end of the year, which was eight or nine months after, the books of the Bank could not be made to balance, the deficiency being exactly six pounds. Several days and nights were spent in endeavoring to discover the error but without success, when at last my friend returned home much fatigued and went to bed. He dreamed of being at his place in the bank, and the whole transaction with the stammerer, as now detailed, passed before him in all its particulars. He awoke under a full impression that the dream was to lead him to a discovery of what he was anxiously in search of and soon discovered, that the sum paid to this person in the manner now mentioned had been neglected to be inserted in the book of interests, and that it exactly accounted for the error in the balance.” The Dr. acknowledges this to be a very remarkable case and not to be explained upon any principles with which he is acquainted. All the rules by which philosophers have accounted for experiments as wonderful as this, here fail him. Had he witnessed the experiments which have been given by subjects under the excited or mesmeric state, he could have accounted for the mystery. In this state, the mind may be said to be before a map on which is written the past, present and the future—only needs direction to some definite point to disclose every act of our lives. The error in the books had been a constant cause of excitement and his mind had been so highly wrought up as to pass into the mesmeric state and under the impression of discovering the error. All the transactions during the past year were before him with the books and he was thus enabled to detect the error. This no doubt was a species of the clairvoyant state of mind.

The author of Waverly [Sir Walter Scott] has given an interesting anecdote, considered by him authentic. “Mr. R. of Bowland, a gentleman of landed property in the Vale of Gala, was prosecuted for a considerable sum, the accumulated arrears of teind (or tithe) for which he was said to be indebted to a noble family, the titulars (lay impropriators of the tithes). Mr. R. was strongly impressed with the belief that his father had, by a form of process peculiar to the laws of Scotland, purchased these lands from the titular, and therefore, that the present prosecution was groundless. But, after an industrious investigation of the public records and a careful enquiry among all persons who had transacted law business for his father, no evidence could be recovered to support his defense. The period was now near at hand when he conceived the loss of his lawsuit to be inevitable, and he had formed his determination to ride to Edinburgh the next day and make the best bargain he could in the way of compromise. He went to bed with this resolution and, with all the circumstances of the case floating in his mind, had a dream to the following purpose;—His father who had been dead many years appeared to him, he thought, and asked him, why he was disturbed in his mind. In dreams men are not surprised at such apparitions. Mr. R. thought that he informed his father of the cause of his distress, adding that the payment of a considerable sum of money was the more unpleasant to him because he had a strong consciousness that it was not due, though he was unable to recover any evidence in support of his belief. ‘You are right my son,’ replied the paternal shade. ‘I did acquire right in these teinds, for payment of which you are now prosecuted. The papers relating to the transaction are in the hands of Mr. _______, a writer (or attorney), who is now retired from professional business and resides at Inveresk, near Edinburgh. He was a person whom I employed on that occasion for a particular reason, but who never on any other occasion transacted business on my account. It is very possible,’ pursued the vision, ‘that Mr. _______ may have forgotten a matter which is now of a very old date; but you may call it to his recollection by this token, that when I came to pay his account, there was difficulty in getting change for a Portugal piece of gold and that we were forced to drink out the balance at a tavern!’ Mr. R. awoke in the morning, with all the words of his vision imprinted on his mind, and thought it worthwhile to ride across the country to Inveresk, instead of going straight to Edinburgh. When he came there, he waited upon the gentleman mentioned in the dream, a very old man; without saying anything of the vision, he enquired whether he remembered having conducted such a matter for his deceased father. The old gentleman could not at first bring the circumstance to recollection; but on mention of the Portugal piece of gold, the whole returned upon his memory; he made an immediate search for the papers and recovered them—so that Mr. R. carried to Edinburgh the documents necessary to gain the cause, which he was on the verge of losing.”

This incident was explained by Dr. Abercrombie that the son, no doubt, had heard his father relate all these circumstances at some prior time and that he had entirely forgotten them, but that the anxiety of mind upon the subject produced in the dreaming state, some circumstance, which led to discovery of what his father had previously told him. This may be a satisfactory explanation to those who believe it, yet I apprehend all would not be fully satisfied. This we believe might have occurred in this manner. The mind had become extremely excited, in the waking or natural state, upon the subject of the lawsuit and as sleep insensibly came upon him, the mind immediately passed into the excited or mesmeric state, when it would be enabled to recall the past and ascertain all about the facts from communication with the mind of the Attorney at Inveresk or from actually beholding the papers etc. Even this explanation, to me, is not satisfactory, although I have no doubt of the capabilities of the mind to have discovered it upon the principle above; yet why should we not admit the real appearance of his father's spirit and that a communication of “mind with mind” developed the facts as related. I will simply remark here that there is no question of the fact that individuals under this highly excited state of mind may communicate with the spirits of their deceased friends. We shall relate some experiments which have transpired, proving conclusively this spiritual communication in another part of this work.

We find recorded in some work on mental philosophy, the following anecdotes. “A gentleman of the law in Edinburgh had mislaid an important paper relating to some affairs on which a public meeting was soon to be held. He had been making a most anxious search for it for many days; but the evening of the day preceding that on which the meeting was to be held had arrived, without his being able to discover it. He went to bed under great anxiety and disappointment and dreamed that the paper was in a box, appropriated to the papers of a particular family with which it was in no way connected; it was accordingly found there the next morning. Another individual, connected with a public office, had mislaid a paper of such importance that he was threatened with the loss of his situation if he did not produce it. After along and unsuccessful search, under intense anxiety, he also dreamed of discovering the paper in a particular place, and found it there accordingly.”

The minds of these two individuals no doubt passed into the clairvoyant state, when they were able to behold with the mind's eye, the condition and position of the various papers—And so intent was their mind upon the discovery, or the joy which followed the discovery in the mind produced so strong an impression, as to be recollected after the mind was aroused from the dreaming state, which is not uncommon under certain circumstances.

We will remark here, that no doubt the mind is in active operation during our sleeping hours and passes rapidly along the highway of thought, yet is not conscious of it by us in our waking state. Nor is this position contradicted by the fact that we do occasionally recollect our dreams. We seldom have any recollection of our dreams unless some very striking impression which causes pleasing emotions or startling fear or excessive sorrow is left upon the mind. And however much the mind might think while the bodily senses are wrapped in slumber, we should have no cognizance of such thoughts unless something peculiar and effective should occur. In our waking moments, as we pass along our streets, we seldom notice objects which are common and in their place; but if anything new is introduced and strikes us with emotions of pleasure or pain, we notice and recall it at some future time. In passing familiar objects, the mind, no doubt, recognizes them; but the impressions are slight and other immediate objects occupy our attention, and we are not aware that we have passed them, yet we could not argue that we have not passed them because they did not make strong impressions, so as to be recollected; nor can we reject the doctrine that the mind is ever watchful and never slumbers; but even when our bodily senses are at rest, it goes on in thought recollecting only what is most striking and peculiar in its progress. But we pause upon the ceaseless and constant action of the mind, when the bodily senses are at rest, by the excited or mesmerized condition which is (if you please) the dreaming state. The subject seldom recollects what has transpired during his sleeping state, unless you produce a very powerful impression which is followed by the emotion of pleasure or pain to a very high degree. Then it is enabled to recall what was intimately connected with those emotions, and those only. I have no doubt, that the two cases of dreaming and mesmerizing are controlled by similar laws and that they are alike in constantly occupying the mind, although we recollect only those ideas which are most powerfully presented and which appear to be connected with some strong emotion.

We have witnessed a great number of experiments upon subjects in the excited or mesmeric state which demonstrate what I have advanced in regard to impressions. Every subject can be so powerfully impressed as to recall the thought in his waking moments while of ordinary transactions no idea is retained. These experiments prove both the similarity of states of mind in the dreaming and mesmeric; and also, that our powers of mind are never at rest.

Mr. Combe mentions a singular dream of an individual, that he had committed murder, and that the murder was actually committed two years after. Another case of a clergyman who visited Edinburgh, residing not far from that city, and while sleeping at an inn, dreamed that he saw his own dwelling on fire and his child in the midst of it. He awoke with the full belief of his dream and immediately setting out for his residence arrived in time to witness the burning of his house and to save his child from the flames.

These are published in works of philosophy as singular and wonderful coincidence. It is said that they demonstrate a strong propensity of character and mental emotion combined in a dream, and by some natural cause, one speedily fulfilled. Dr. Abercrombie has very ingeniously accounted for the last example by the supposition, that “the gentleman left a servant, who had shown great carelessness in regard to fire and had often given rise in his mind to a strong apprehension that he might set fire to his house—that his anxiety might have been increased by being from home and the same circumstance might make the servant more careless.” A further supposition is made, “that the gentleman before going to bed had, in addition to this anxiety, suddenly recollected that there was on that day in the neighborhood of his house, some fair or periodical merry-making, from which the servant was very likely to return home intoxicated.” And at last it is supposed that these incidents “might have been embodied into a dream of his house being on fire, and that the same circumstances might have led to the fulfillment of the dream.”

This explanation does not reasonably account for the murder which took place two years after the dream, if it should prove satisfactory in regard to the fire; and therefore we take the liberty to explain them both upon such principles as we have endeavored to lay down, as governing the mind under such circumstances. We believe that experiments have proved that to a mind in its excited or dreaming state, when its bodily senses are dormant or inactive, and impressions are conveyed to it by direct influences upon itself, all space, time, distance and matter are no obstacles to its action. In the cases above named, let us assume the fact that there is no such thing as time with the mind, that the past, present and future are all present and displayed before it as upon a map and which are all visible, and the explanation of the dreams which occurred previous to the actual occurrence are simple and readily understood.

The mind in this state looks forward and beholds occurrences, which have not yet transpired, but are reserved for a future event; yet it is not able to distinguish at what hour of time it will transpire. It, in fact, appears to the mind precisely like all other events, whether past or present and probably would not be remembered unless connected with some powerful emotion. The committal of murder in one case produced a most powerful impression upon the mind of the actor and was therefore recollected in his waking moments. The burning of the house, in which were those most dear to the clergyman and the imminent danger of his child, no doubt summoned up all the emotions of the heart and left an impression, which confirmed his belief, that the scene of the dream was actually taking place. Similar experiments have been witnessed in the declarations of mesmeric subjects, and scenes which transpired weeks and months and years after were beheld with all the vividness and reality as though they were the events of yesterday.

We have collected a few more facts [from Abercrombie], illustrative of the power of the mind under excitement, dreaming and mesmerism.

[“]A gentleman in Scotland was affected with aneurism of the politeal artery and was under the care of two eminent surgeons and the day was fixed for operation. About two days previous to the time set by the surgeons, his wife dreamed that a change had taken place in the disease, in consequence of which the operation would not be required. Upon examination of the tumor, the next morning it was found that the pulsation had nearly ceased and it finally recovered itself. A lady dreamed that an aged female friend of hers had been murdered by a dark servant and the dream occurred more than once. The impression was so strange that she actually went to the house of the lady, to whom it related and prevailed upon a gentleman to watch in the adjoining room the following night. About 3 o'clock in the morning footsteps were heard on the stairs and the gentleman left his place of concealment and met the servant carrying up a basket of coal in which a strong knife was found concealed. Being questioned as to where he was going with his coal he replied in a confused manner, to mend his mistress' fire, which was not very probable in the month of July and at three o'clock in the morning.

[“]Another lady dreamed that her nephew was drowned with some young companions with whom he had engaged to sail the following day, and the impression was so strong that she prevailed upon him not to join his companions, who went on the excursion and were all drowned. A lady, who had sent her watch to be repaired and a long time having elapsed without its return, she dreamed that the watchmaker's boy had dropped it on his way to the shop and it was injured so much as not to be repaired. Upon enquiry, this was ascertained to be a fact.[”]

These experiments are acknowledged to be of an order not satisfactorily explainable upon such principles as are laid down by philosophers. The ground we have taken, we believe, fully explains these coincidents. And we shall give a few experiments upon mesmeric subjects showing that the same results may follow.

Another very singular instance of coincident dreams is related by Mr. Taylor and is given by him as a undoubted fact. [“]A young man who was at an academy a hundred miles from home, dreamed that he went to his father's house in the night, tried the front door but found it locked, got in by a back door and finding nobody out of bed went directly to the bedroom of his parents. He then said to his mother whom he found awake, ‘Mother, I am going a long journey and am come to bid you good-by.’ This she answered under much agitation, ‘Oh, dear son, thou art dead.’ He instantly awoke and thought no more of his dream until a few days after he received a letter from his father enquiring very anxiously after his health, in consequence of a frightful dream which his mother had on the same night in which the dream now mentioned occurred to him. She dreamed that she heard someone attempt to open the front door, then go to the back door and at last come into her bedroom. She then saw it was her son who came to the side of her bed and said, ‘Mother, I am going a long journey and am come to bid you good-bye’ on which she exclaimed, ‘Oh, dear son, thou art dead.’ But nothing unusual happened to any of the parties.[”] Dr. Abercrombie supposes these two dreams must have arisen from some strong mental impression arising in both minds about the same time, which produced a similarity of dreaming. A circumstance very extraordinary and is quite as likely to occur from chance as that everything is governed at haphazard without undeviating laws. The true explanation is simple. These two minds were in a dreaming, excited or mesmeric state. The bodily senses cease to act—impressions are now conveyed directly to the mind. All space and time, in this state, are annihilated. Here, then, the mind of the son is in communication with his mother. He makes precisely the same impressions upon her mind as are made upon his; and both minds being in the excited state readily receive impressions from false causes. But we do not design here to say how this train of thought originated but probably from strong mental excitement in his waking moments, leading to the train which occurred in his dream. There can be no question but that one mind here was governed by the other and therefore both dreams would occur at the same time and upon the same subject.

The stories of second sight are also explainable upon the same principle laid down in our preceding work. Anxiety and constant thought upon subjects connected with our interests will sometimes lull us into a mesmeric or dreaming state in which we can behold many scenes, sometimes real and sometimes fictitious.

The mind is excited into the clairvoyant state and is then enabled to perceive objects without the bodily senses. The principle of sight is in the mind, and in our natural state, that principle develops itself through the eye. In the excited state it is developed independent of the eye, acting directly upon the object.

A gentleman sitting by the fire during a stormy night, while his domestics are upon the lake and exposed to the ravages of the storm, falls to sleep (in mesmeric sleep) under the excitement of their absence. The mind is immediately present with the boat and discovers every transaction which befalls the company. If the boat is capsized, he sees it; if it is to return safe, he beholds it. But we are told that under such circumstances, we should expect a disaster and that the mind, falling to sleep with all the picture of their danger before it conjured up by its imagination, would naturally dream their loss. And if the boat returns, nothing more is thought of the dream; if she is lost, these revive all the circumstances as they transpired in the sleeping moments! I grant that such might occur or rather happen but presume the instances of chance would not be numerous enough to account for all the stories of second sight. If the mind is regulated at all by laws, we do not see the reasons of so many exceptions, especially as I contend, all these dreaming phenomena cannot be satisfactorily explained upon other principles than what we have laid down. There is, however, a question which would naturally suggest itself in relation to the impressions we receive while in this excited, dreaming state. What we dream will not always come to pass. This does not militate against that doctrine we have laid down, but will only confirm what we have before declared in relation to the power of impressions to regulate our thoughts. We will illustrate our subject in this manner. Suppose an individual, whose mind has been long upon one subject in which he finds himself deeply interested. While having his mind intently fixed under ordinary excitement with all his external faculties in action, he arrives at certain conclusions which he believes to be correct and a strong impression is made governing the further action of the mind in relation to the subject. Now this conclusion may not be correct, yet the individual would be firm in his position. A wrong impression, arising somewhere in the process of reasoning, has led to a wrong conclusion. Now if the individual could detect the first false step, he would correct the conclusion and vindicate truth. This is the natural operation of mind under ordinary excitement. Now place a subject in the dreaming or mesmeric state, and it becomes far more susceptible of impressions than before. It is, therefore, even more liable to receive a wrong impression from some external cause or internal emotion than in its natural state, and therefore, all of these false dreams may be accounted for on this principle. An individual passing into this excited state may have, in his waking moments, impressed upon his mind something as having actually taken place which had not and did not transpire, with such power, as that the impression would control the mind and be led to an endless number of false conclusions which the facts in the case did not warrant. This is when the mind is led astray and does not receive impressions from facts but from preceding impressions. And that mind cannot distinguish the false from the true cause, unless in the course of its progress, it is led to reconsider or review the whole scene with the idea of getting the facts and giving a true statement. The mind can act from facts or rather receive its impressions from facts, and when this is the case, will always develop true results.

We shall mention only a few cases of what is usually called dreams and pass to another division of our subject. The following incident is related by Dr. Abercrombie who was acquainted with all the particulars and fully vouches for their accuracy.

“Two ladies, sisters, had been for several days in attendance upon their brother who was ill of a common sore throat, severe and protracted, but not considered as attended with danger. At the same time one of them had borrowed a watch of a female friend, in consequence of her own being under repair; this watch was one to which particular value was attached on account of some family associations, and some anxiety was expressed that it might not meet with any injury. The sisters were sleeping together in a room communicating with that of their brother, when the elder of them awoke in great agitation, and having roused the other, told her that she had had a frightful dream. ‘I dreamed,’ she said, ‘that Mary's watch stopped and that when I told you of the circumstances, you replied, much worse than that has happened, for __________'s breath has stopped also,’—naming their brother who was ill. To quiet her agitation the younger sister immediately got up and found the brother sleeping quietly, and the watch, which had been carefully put by in a drawer, going correctly. The following night the very same dream occurred, followed by similar agitation, which was again composed in the same manner, the brother being again found in quiet sleep, and the watch going well. On the following morning soon after the family had breakfasted, one of the sisters was sitting by her brother while the other was writing a note in an adjoining room. When her note was ready for being sealed, she was proceeding to take out for this purpose, the watch alluded to, which had been put by in her writing desk; she was astonished to find it stopped. At the same instant she heard a scream of intense distress from her sister in the other room,—their brother, who had still been considered as going on favourably, had been seized with a sudden fit of suffocation, and had just breathed his last.”

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