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Vibratory Theory - Mind As Well As Matter

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Effects causing rhythm and proportion, which are consciously measured by the mind, and those causing harmony of sound and color, which are not consciously measured,—these effects having been discovered by science to be the same in principle, it is argued that all aesthetic effects are the same in principle. Moreover, it has been discovered that not only do the nerves of the eye and ear vibrate as affected by sound and sight, and communicate to the brain intelligence of particular degrees of pitch and hue as determined by the rates and sizes of the vibratory waves, but it has been proved beyond a doubt that the nerves constituting the substance of the brain vibrate also, and thus give rise to thoughts and feelings; and, not only so, but that the vibrations of the nerves in particular parts of the brain give rise to thoughts and feelings of a particular character; such, for instance, as those connected with particular exercises of memory in recalling general events or specific terms. This fact has been ascertained through various observations and experiments in connection with the loss or removal of certain parts of the brains of men or animals, or with the application of electricity to certain systems of nerves accidentally or artificially exposed or else naturally accessible. Of course, such discoveries tend to the inference that all conscious mental experience whatsoever, precisely as in the case of sensations excited in the organs of the eye and ear, are effects of vibrations produced in the nerves of the brain. If this inference be justified, the line of thought that we have been pursuing apparently justifies the additional inference that all conscious mental experiences of the beautiful are effects of harmonious vibrations produced in the nerves of the brain. . . . There are many facts that warrant us in holding it. In holding it, however, let us not neglect noticing, as do many of its advocates, certain other facts. Through the experiments of mesmerism and hypnotism, it has come to be acknowledged that the outer senses can be completely deadened and yet the inward processes of intelligence kept in a state of activity; and not only so, but that sometimes, merely at the mental suggestion of an operator, irrespective of any appeal to the eye or ear, irrespective therefore of any possible vibrations in the ether or air to account for vibratory effects upon the physical organs of the senses, the one operated upon is made to see pictures and to hear music. In fact, do we not all have experiences of a realization of the same conditions in our dreams? Now, in such cases, either actual physical vibrations take place in these organs, or else they do not take place for the simple reason that they are not necessary to the result; and whichever of these theories we adopt, we are forced to the conclusion that the effects of beauty are dependent upon influences operating in what we understand to be the sphere of the mind. They are awakened there by the mesmerizer irrespective of any appeal through the outer senses, and, when awakened, they operate so power-fully that they produce either actual vibrations in the senses, or if not, at least results identical with those caused by actual vibrations. Assuming now what it does not seem possible to doubt—namely, that the existence of these vibrations constitutes the substance of that of which we are conscious in aesthetic effects; that these vibrations are, so to speak, indispensable to the operation of the battery of the brain, which without them cannot communicate their peculiar influence to intelligence,—what are we to infer, when we find that they can be set in motion not only from the physical side, but—as in cases of hypnotism, telepathy, dreams about music and painting, etc.—from the non-physical side?—what but that on this latter side also the same vibrations exist, or, if not so, a force capable of causing the same; and that the sphere in which we are mentally conscious of the vibrations, or the sphere of personal consciousness, as we may call it, occupies a region between the material and what we may term—because we cannot conceive of it as otherwise—the immaterial? Add to this another fact universally admitted, which is that vibrations harmonious in the sense that has been explained are particularly agreeable, whereas inharmonious vibrations are particularly disagreeable; and why have we not, from modem science, a suggestion of the possibility of there being exact truth in the theory of Pythagoras and the earlier Greeks, who held that the mode of life, so far as it is normal, true, divine, blissful, is not only physically but spiritually a mode of harmony, a mode fitted to produce a literal "music of the spheres"? As has been said, our minds are conscious of experiencing from a world which we can see and hear harmonious effects which are identical with effects coming from a world of which we can only think and feel. Now if by scientific analysis we can ascertain the method through which they come from the one, why have we not a right to argue that it is through the same method that they come from the other? Nor does it necessarily lessen the force of this argument to point out —if indeed this can be satisfactorily done-that the sensations of music cannot be communicated from the immaterial side to those who have been born deaf, nor the sensations of color to those who have been born blind. These facts prove simply an absence of the needed conditions, an absence, that is, of a nerve-battery sufficiently developed to be able to record vibrations physically re-cognizable only through the eye or ear, without which battery the mind as limited by its present physical surroundings can, perhaps, be made distinctly conscious of nothing.—Idem, XII.

These questions, however, concerning the possibility of exciting to mental processes in other ways than through the senses, pertain to psychology rather than to aesthetics. Whether or not, as some think, this possibility implies the existence of a spirit capable of acting independently of the body though now temporarily connected with it, there is no doubt that, in view of the influence which the vibrations of the nerves undoubtedly have upon mental processes, as well as the mental processes upon the nerves, the supposition is rational that the mental processes themselves, together with whatever may be their organic sources, are in some way subject—just as are heat, magnetism, and electricity, which certainly approach them in subtlety-to the same laws of vibration, the harmony of the effects of which produces the sensation of beauty in the senses. So rational, too, is the supposition, that no system of aesthetics can afford to ignore it. This would be just as injudicious, to use no stronger term, as to treat it, in our present state of uncertainty with reference to it, as the sole determining consideration. In this system nothing will be found inconsistent with the universal applicability of the vibratory theory, though its spiritual aspects will be recognized as resting upon no more infallible foundation than an argument from analogy.-Idem, XII.


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