Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Physical Philosophy
By John Arbuthnot (1667–1735)
From Memoirs of Scriblerus

IN this design of Martin to investigate the diseases of the mind, he thought nothing so necessary as an inquiry after the seat of the soul; in which, at first, he laboured under great uncertainties. Sometimes he was of opinion that it lodged in the brain, sometimes in the stomach, and sometimes in the heart. Afterwards he thought it absurd to confine that sovereign lady to one apartment, which made him infer that she shifted it according to the several functions of life: the brain was her study, the heart her state-room, and the stomach her kitchen. But as he saw several offices of life went on at the same time, he was forced to give up this hypothesis also. He now conjectured it was more for the dignity of the soul to perform several operations by her little ministers, the animal spirits, from whence it was natural to conclude, that she resides in different parts, according to different inclinations, sexes, ages, and professions. Thus, in epicures, he seated her in the mouth of the stomach, philosophers have her in the brain, soldiers in the heart, women in their tongues, fiddlers in their fingers, and rope-dancers in their toes. At length he grew fond of the Glandula pinealis, dissecting many subjects to find out the different figure of this gland, from whence he might discover the cause of the different tempers in mankind. He supposed that in factious and restless-spirited people, he should find it sharp and pointed, allowing no room for the soul to repose herself; that in quiet tempers it was flat, smooth, and soft, affording to the soul, as it were, an easy cushion. He was confirmed in this by observing that calves and philosophers, tigers, and statesmen, foxes and sharpers, peacocks and fops, cock-sparrows and coquettes, monkeys and players, courtiers and spaniels, moles and misers, exactly resemble one another in the conformation of the pineal gland. He did not doubt likewise to find the same resemblance in highwaymen and conquerors: in order to satisfy himself in which it was that he purchased the body of one of the first species (as hath been before related) at Tyburn, hoping in time to have the happiness of one of the latter too under his anatomical knife.
  We must not omit taking notice here, that these inquiries into the seat of the soul gave occasion to his first correspondence with the Society of Free-thinkers, who were then in their infancy in England, and so much taken with the promising endowments of Martin, that they ordered their secretary to write him the following letter:—  2
To The Learned Inquisitor into Nature, Martinus Scriblerus;
The Society Of Freethinkers, Greeting
IT is with unspeakable joy we have heard of your inquisitive genius, and we think it great pity that it should not be better employed than in looking after that theological nonentity commonly called the soul; since after all your inquiries, it will appear you have lost your labour in seeking the residence of such a chimera, that never had being but in the brains of some dreaming philosophers. Is it not demonstration to a person of your sense, that since you cannot find it, there is no such thing? In order to set so hopeful a genius right in this matter, we have sent you an answer to the ill-grounded sophisms of those crack-brained fellows, and likewise an easy mechanical explication of perception or thinking.
  One of their chief arguments is, that self-consciousness cannot inhere in any system of matter, because all matter is made up of several distinct beings, which never can make up one individual thinking being.  4
  This is easily answered by a familiar instance. In every jack there is a meat-roasting quality, which neither resides in the fly, nor in the weight, nor in any particular wheel of the jack, but is the result of the whole composition; so in an animal the self-consciousness is not a real quality inherent in one being (any more than meat-roasting in a jack), but the result of several modes or qualities in the same subject. As the fly, the wheels, the chain, the weight, the cords, etc., make one jack, so the several parts of the body make one animal. As the perception or consciousness is said to be inherent in this animal, so is the meat-roasting said to be inherent in the jack. As the sensation, reasoning, volition, memory, etc., are the several modes of thinking; so roasting of beef, roasting of mutton, roasting of pullets, geese, turkeys, etc., are the several modes of meat-roasting. And as the general quality of meat-roasting, with its several modifications as to beef, mutton, pullets, etc., does not inhere in any one part of the jack; so neither does consciousness with its several modes of sensation, intellection, volition, etc., inhere in any one, but is the result from the mechanical composition of the whole animal.  5
  Just so, the quality or disposition in a fiddle to play tunes, with the several modifications of this tune-playing quality in playing preludes, sarabands, jigs, and gavots, are as much real qualities in the instrument, as the thought or the imagination is in the mind of the person that composes them.  6
  The parts (they say) of an animal body are perpetually changed, and the fluids which seem to be the subject of consciousness are in a perpetual circulation; so that the same individual particles do not remain in the brain; from whence it will follow, that the idea of individual consciousness must be constantly translated from one particle of matter to another, whereby the particle A, for example, must not only be conscious, but conscious that it is the same being with the particle B that went before.  7
  We answer, this is only a fallacy of the imagination, and is to be understood in no other sense than that maxim of the English law, that the king never dies. This power of thinking, self-moving, and governing the whole machine, is communicated from every particle to its immediate successor; who, as soon as he is gone, immediately takes upon him the government, which still preserves the unity of the whole system.  8
  They make a great noise about this individuality; how a man is conscious to himself that he is the same individual he was twenty years ago; notwithstanding the flux state of the particles of matter that compose his body. We think this is capable of a very plain answer, and may be easily illustrated by a familiar example.  9
  Sir John Cutler had a pair of black worsted stockings, which his maid darned so often with silk, that they became at last a pair of silk stockings. Now supposing those stockings of Sir John’s endued with some degree of consciousness at every particular darning, they would have been sensible that they were the same individual pair of stockings both before and after the darning; and this sensation would have continued in them through all the succession of darnings; and yet, after the last of all, there was not perhaps one thread left of the first pair of stockings, but they were grown to be silk stockings, as was said before.  10
  And whereas it is affirmed, that every animal is conscious of some individual self-moving, self-determining principle; it is answered, that, as in a House of Commons all things are determined by a majority, so it is in every animal system. As that which determines the House is said to be the reason of the whole Assembly; it is no otherwise with thinking beings, who are determined by the greater force of several particles; which, like so many unthinking members, compose one thinking system.  11
  And whereas it is likewise objected, that punishments cannot be just that are not inflicted upon the same individual, which cannot subsist without the notion of a spiritual substance; we reply, that this is no greater difficulty to conceive, than that a corporation, which is likewise a flux body, may be punished for the faults, and liable to the debts, of their predecessors.  12
  We proceed now to explain, by the structure of the brain, the several modes of thinking. It is well known to anatomists that the brain is a congeries of glands, that separate the finer parts of the blood, called animal spirits; that a gland is nothing, a canal of a great length, variously intorted and wound up together. From the arietation and motion of the spirits in those canals, proceed all the different sorts of thoughts. Simple ideas are produced by the motion of the spirits in one simple canal; when two of these canals disembogue themselves into one they make what we call a proposition; and when two of these prepositional channels empty themselves into a third, they form a syllogism, or a ratiocination. Memory is performed in a distinct apartment of the brain, made up of vessels similar and like situated to the ideal, propositional, and syllogistical vessels, in the primary parts of the brain. After the same manner it is easy to explain the other modes of thinking; as also why some people think so wrong and perversely, which proceeds from the bad configuration of those glands. Some, for example, are born without the proportional or syllogistical canals; in others, that reason ill, they are of unequal capacities; in dull fellows, of too great a length, whereby the motion of the spirits is retarded; in trifling geniuses, weak and small; in the over-refining spirits, too much intorted and winding; and so of the rest.  13
  We are so much persuaded of the truth of this our hypothesis, that we have employed one of our members, a great virtuoso at Nuremburg, to make a sort of an hydraulic engine, in which a chemical liquor resembling blood is driven through elastic channels resembling arteries and veins, by the force of an embolus like the heart, and wrought by a pneumatic machine of the nature of the lungs, with ropes and pullies, like the nerves, tendons, and muscles; and we are persuaded that this our artificial man will not only walk, and speak, and perform most of the outward actions of the animal life, but (being wound up once a week), will perhaps reason as well as most of your country parsons.  14
  We wait with the utmost impatience for the honour of having you a member of our society, and beg leave to assure you that we are, etc.  15
Click here to shop the Bartleby Bookstore.

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2014 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors