[WilliamJames] Rest of Lectures 6-7

Max Shron max at shron.net
Tue Mar 11 14:22:53 CDT 2014

I have turned out to not have the time. I selfishly hope conversation
continues so I can keep watching it happen, but I'm not going to do much in
the way in contribution.

Max Shron | Data Strategy

On Tue, Mar 11, 2014 at 2:36 PM, Jesse Raber <jesse.raber at gmail.com> wrote:

> Anyone else? I'm ready to start up with the thinksheets again, but I'd
> like to confirm that we have a critical mass.
> On Tue, Mar 11, 2014 at 10:08 AM, Mary Haake <maryhaakephd at gmail.com>wrote:
>> I'm still reading, but not caught up!
>> Mary Haake
>> On Mar 10, 2014, at 11:07 PM, Eric Purdy <epurdy at uchicago.edu> wrote:
>> With this, we're caught up! How many people are still reading?
>> To a mind attentive to this state of things and rightly subject to the
>> joy-destroying chill which such a contemplation engenders, the only relief
>> that healthy-mindedness can give is by saying: 'Stuff and nonsense, get out
>> into the open air!' or 'Cheer up, old fellow, you'll be all right
>> erelong, if you will only drop your morbidness!' But in all seriousness,
>> can such bald animal talk as that be treated as a rational answer? To
>> ascribe religious value to mere happy-go-lucky contentment with one's brief
>> chance at natural good is but the very consecration of forgetfulness and
>> superficiality. Our troubles lie indeed too deep for *that* cure. The
>> fact that we *can* die, that we *can* be ill at all, is what perplexes
>> us; the fact that we now for a moment live and are well is irrelevant to
>> that perplexity. We need a life not correlated with death, a health not
>> liable to illness, a kind of good that will not perish, a good in fact that
>> flies beyond the Goods of nature.
>> It all depends on how sensitive the soul may become to discords. "The
>> trouble with me is that I believe too much in common happiness and
>> goodness," said a friend of mine whose consciousness was of this sort, "and
>> nothing can console me for their transiency. I am appalled and disconcerted
>> at its being possible." And so with most of us: a little cooling down of
>> animal excitability and instinct, a little loss of animal toughness, a
>> little irritable weakness and descent of the pain-threshold, will bring the
>> worm at the core of all our usual springs of delight into full view, and
>> turn us into melancholy metaphysicians. The pride of life and glory of the
>> world will shrivel. It is after all but the standing quarrel of hot youth
>> and hoary eld. Old age has the last word: the purely naturalistic look at
>> life, however enthusiastically it may begin, is sure to end in sadness.
>> This sadness lies at the heart of every merely positivistic, agnostic, or
>> naturalistic scheme of philosophy. Let sanguine healthy-mindedness do its
>> best with its strange power of living in the moment and ignoring and
>> forgetting, still the evil background is really there to be thought of,
>> and the skull will grin in at the banquet. In the practical life of the
>> individual, we know how his whole gloom or glee about any present fact
>> depends on the remoter schemes and hopes with which it stands related. Its
>> significance and framing give it the chief part of its value. Let it be
>> known to lead nowhere, and however agreeable it may be in its immediacy,
>> its glow and gilding vanish. The old man, sick with an insidious internal
>> disease, may laugh and quaff his wine at first as well as ever, but he
>> knows his fate now, for the doctors have revealed it; and the knowledge
>> knocks the satisfaction out of all these functions. They are partners of
>> death and the worm is their brother, and they turn to a mere flatness.
>> The lustre of the present hour is always borrowed from the background of
>> possibilities it goes with. Let our common experiences be enveloped in an
>> eternal moral order; let our suffering have an immortal significance; let
>> Heaven smile upon the earth, and deities pay their visits; let faith and
>> hope be the atmosphere which man breathes in;--and his days pass by with
>> zest; they stir with prospects, they thrill with remoter values. Place
>> around them on the contrary the curdling cold and gloom and absence of all
>> permanent meaning which for pure naturalism and the popular science
>> evolutionism of our time are all that is visible ultimately, and the thrill
>> stops short, or turns rather to an anxious trembling.
>> For naturalism, fed on recent cosmological speculations, mankind is in a
>> position similar to that of a set of people living on a frozen lake,
>> surrounded by cliffs over which there is no escape, yet knowing that little
>> by little the ice is melting, and the inevitable day drawing near when the
>> last film of it will disappear, and to be drowned ignominiously will be the
>> human creature's portion. The merrier the skating, the warmer and more
>> sparkling the sun by day, and the ruddier the bonfires at night, the more
>> poignant the sadness with which one must take in the meaning of the total
>> situation.
>> The early Greeks are continually held up to us in literary works as
>> models of the healthy-minded joyousness which the religion of nature may
>> engender. There was indeed much joyousness among the Greeks--Homer's flow of
>> enthusiasm for most things that the sun shines upon is steady. But even in
>> Homer the reflective passages are cheerless,[8]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-8>and the moment the Greeks grew systematically pensive and thought of
>> ultimates, they became unmitigated pessimists.[9]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-9>The jealousy of the gods, the nemesis that follows too much happiness, the
>> all-encompassing death, fate's dark opacity, the ultimate and
>> unintelligible cruelty, were the fixed background of their imagination.
>> The beautiful joyousness of their polytheism is only a poetic modern
>> fiction. They knew no joys comparable in quality of preciousness to those
>> which we shall erelong see that Brahmans, Buddhists, Christians,
>> Mohammedans, twice-born people whose religion is non-naturalistic, get from
>> their several creeds of mysticism and renunciation.
>> Stoic insensibility and Epicurean resignation were the farthest advance
>> which the Greek mind made in that direction. The Epicurean said: "Seek not
>> to be happy, but rather to escape unhappiness; strong happiness is always
>> linked with pain; therefore hug the safe shore, and do not tempt the deeper
>> raptures. Avoid disappointment by expecting little, and by aiming low; and
>> above all do not fret." The Stoic said: "The only genuine good that life
>> can yield a man is the free possession of his own soul; all other goods are
>> lies." Each of these philosophies is in its degree a philosophy of despair
>> in nature's boons. Trustful self-abandonment to the joys that freely offer
>> has entirely departed from both Epicurean and Stoic; and what each proposes
>> is a way of rescue from the resultant dust-and-ashes state of mind. The
>> Epicurean still awaits results from economy of indulgence and damping of
>> desire. The Stoic hopes for no results, and gives up natural good
>> altogether. There is dignity in both these forms of resignation. They
>> represent distinct stages in the sobering process which man's primitive
>> intoxication with sense-happiness is sure to undergo. In the one the hot
>> blood has grown cool, in the other it has become quite cold; and although I
>> have spoken of them in the past tense, as if they were merely historic, yet
>> Stoicism and Epicureanism will probably be to all time typical attitudes,
>> marking a certain definite stage accomplished in the evolution of the world-sick
>> soul.[10]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-10>They mark the conclusion of what we call the once-born period, and
>> represent the highest flights of what twice-born religion would call the
>> purely natural man--Epicureanism, which can only by great courtesy be called
>> a religion, showing his refinement, and Stoicism exhibiting his moral will.
>> They leave the world in the shape of an unreconciled contradiction, and
>> seek no higher unity. Compared with the complex ecstasies which the
>> supernaturally regenerated Christian may enjoy, or the oriental pantheist
>> indulge in, their receipts for equanimity are expedients which seem almost
>> crude in their simplicity.
>> Please observe, however, that I am not yet pretending finally to *judge*any of these attitudes. I am only describing their variety.
>> The securest way to the rapturous sorts of happiness of which the
>> twice-born make report has as an historic matter of fact been through a
>> more radical pessimism than anything that we have yet considered. We have
>> seen how the lustre and enchantment may be rubbed off from the goods of
>> nature. But there is a pitch of unhappiness so great that the goods of
>> nature may be entirely forgotten, and all sentiment of their existence
>> vanish from the mental field. For this extremity of pessimism to be
>> reached, something more is needed than observation of life and
>> reflection upon death. The individual must in his own person become the
>> prey of a pathological melancholy. As the healthy-minded enthusiast
>> succeeds in ignoring evil's very existence, so the subject of melancholy is
>> forced in spite of himself to ignore that of all good whatever: for him it
>> may no longer have the least reality. Such sensitiveness and susceptibility
>> to mental pain is a rare occurrence where the nervous constitution is
>> entirely normal; one seldom finds it in a healthy subject even where he is
>> the victim of the most atrocious cruelties of outward fortune. So we note
>> here the neurotic constitution, of which I said so much in my first
>> lecture, making its active entrance on our scene, and destined to play a
>> part in much that follows. Since these experiences of melancholy are in the
>> first instance absolutely private and individual, I can now help myself out
>> with personal documents. Painful indeed they will be to listen to, and
>> there is almost an indecency in handling them in public. Yet they lie right
>> in the middle of our path; and if we are to touch the psychology of
>> religion at all seriously, we must be willing to forget conventionalities,
>> and dive below the smooth and lying official conversational surface.
>> One can distinguish many kinds of pathological depression. Sometimes it
>> is mere passive joylessness and dreariness, discouragement, dejection, lack
>> of taste and zest and spring. Professor Ribot has proposed the name
>> *anhedonia* to designate this condition.
>> "The state of *anhedonia*, if I may coin a new word to pair off with
>> *analgesia*," he writes, "has been very little studied, but it exists. A
>> young girl was smitten with a liver disease which for some time altered her
>> constitution. She felt no longer any affection for her father and mother.
>> She would have played with her doll, but it was impossible to find the
>> least pleasure in the act. The same things which formerly convulsed her
>> with laughter entirely failed to interest her now. Esquirol observed the
>> case of a very intelligent magistrate who was also a prey to hepatic
>> disease. Every emotion appeared dead within him. He manifested neither
>> perversion nor violence, but complete absence of emotional reaction. If he
>> went to the theatre, which he did out of habit, he could find no pleasure
>> there. The thought of his house, of his home, of his wife, and of his
>> absent children moved him as little, he said, as a theorem of Euclid."
>> [11]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-11>
>> Prolonged seasickness will in most persons produce a temporary condition
>> of anhedonia. Every good, terrestial or celestial, is imagined only to be
>> turned from with disgust. A temporary condition of this sort, connected
>> with the religious evolution of a singularly lofty character, both
>> intellectual and moral, is well described by the Catholic philosopher,
>> Father Gratry, in his autobiographical recollections. In consequence of
>> mental isolation and excessive study at the Polytechnic school, young
>> Gratry fell into a state of nervous exhaustion with symptoms which he thus
>> describes:--
>> "I had such a universal terror that I woke at night with a start,
>> thinking that the Pantheon was tumbling on the Polytechnic school, or that
>> the school was in flames, or that the Seine was pouring into the Catacombs,
>> and that Paris was being swallowed up. And when these impressions were
>> past, all day long without respite I suffered an incurable and intolerable
>> desolation, verging on despair. I thought myself, in fact, rejected by God,
>> lost, damned! I felt something like the suffering of hell. Before that I
>> had never even thought of hell. My mind had never turned in that direction.
>> Neither discourses nor reflections had impressed me in that way. I took no
>> account of hell. Now, and all at once, I suffered in a measure what is
>> suffered there.
>> "But what was perhaps still more dreadful is that every idea of heaven
>> was taken away from me: I could no longer conceive of anything of the
>> sort. Heaven did not seem to me worth going to. It was like a vacuum; a
>> mythological elysium, an abode of shadows less real than the earth. I could
>> conceive no joy, no pleasure in inhabiting it. Happiness, joy, light,
>> affection, love--all these words were now devoid of sense. Without doubt I
>> could still have talked of all these things, but I had become incapable of
>> feeling anything in them, of understanding anything about them, of hoping
>> anything from them, or of believing them to exist. There was my great and
>> inconsolable grief! I neither perceived nor conceived any longer the
>> existence of happiness or perfection. An abstract heaven over a naked rock.
>> Such was my present abode for eternity."[12]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-12>
>> So much for melancholy in the sense of incapacity for joyous feeling. A
>> much worse form of it is positive and active anguish, a sort of psychical
>> neuralgia wholly unknown to healthy life. Such anguish may partake of
>> various characters, having sometimes more the quality of loathing;
>> sometimes that of irritation and exasperation; or again of self-mistrust
>> and self-despair; or of suspicion, anxiety, trepidation, fear. The patient
>> may rebel or submit; may accuse himself, or accuse outside powers; and
>> he may or he may not be tormented by the theoretical mystery of why he
>> should so have to suffer. Most cases are mixed cases, and we should not
>> treat our classifications with too much respect. Moreover, it is only a
>> relatively small proportion of cases that connect themselves with the
>> religious sphere of experience at all. Exasperated cases, for instance, as
>> a rule do not. I quote now literally from the first case of melancholy on
>> which I lay my hand. It is a letter from a patient in a French asylum.
>> "I suffer too much in this hospital, both physically and morally. Besides
>> the burnings and the sleeplessness (for I no longer sleep since I am shut
>> up here, and the little rest I get is broken by bad dreams, and I am waked
>> with a jump by nightmares, dreadful visions, lightning, thunder, and the
>> rest), fear, atrocious fear, presses me down, holds me without respite,
>> never lets me go. Where is the justice in it all! What have I done to
>> deserve this excess of severity? Under what form will this fear crush me?
>> What would I not owe to any one who would rid me of my life! Eat, drink,
>> lie awake all night, suffer without interruption--such is the fine legacy I
>> have received from my mother! What I fail to understand is this abuse of
>> power. There are limits to everything, there is a middle way. But God knows
>> neither middle way nor limits. I say God, but why? All I have known so far
>> has been the devil. After all, I am afraid of God as much as of the devil,
>> so I drift along, thinking of nothing but suicide, but with neither courage
>> nor means here to execute the act. As you read this, it will easily prove
>> to you my insanity. The style and the ideas are incoherent enough--I can see
>> that myself. But I cannot keep myself from being either crazy or an idiot;
>> and, as things are, from whom should I ask pity? I am defenseless against
>> the invisible enemy who is tightening his coils around me. I should be no
>> better armed against him even if I saw him, or had seen him. Oh, if he
>> would but kill me, devil take him! Death, death, once for all! But I
>> stop. I have raved to you long enough. I say raved, for I can write no
>> otherwise, having neither brain nor thoughts left. O God! what a misfortune
>> to be born! Born like a mushroom, doubtless between an evening and a
>> morning; and how true and right I was when in our philosophy-year in
>> college I chewed the cud of bitterness with the pessimists. Yes, indeed,
>> there is more pain in life than gladness--it is one long agony until the
>> grave. Think how gay it makes me to remember that this horrible misery of
>> mine, coupled with this unspeakable fear, may last fifty, one hundred, who
>> knows how many more years!"[13]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-13>
>> This letter shows two things. First, you see how the entire consciousness
>> of the poor man is so choked with the feeling of evil that the sense of
>> there being any good in the world is lost for him altogether. His attention
>> excludes it, cannot admit it: the sun has left his heaven. And secondly you
>> see how the querulous temper of his misery keeps his mind from taking a
>> religious direction. Querulousness of mind tends in fact rather towards
>> irreligion; and it has played, so far as I know, no part whatever in the
>> construction of religious systems.
>> Religious melancholy must be cast in a more melting mood. Tolstoy<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Author:Lev_Nikolayevich_Tolstoy>has left us, in his book called My Confession, a wonderful account of the
>> attack of melancholy which led him to his own religious conclusions. The
>> latter in some respects are peculiar; but the melancholy presents two
>> characters which make it a typical document for our present purpose. First
>> it is a well-marked case of anhedonia, of passive loss of appetite for all
>> life's values; and second, it shows how the altered and estranged aspect
>> which the world assumed in consequence of this stimulated Tolstoy's
>> intellect to a gnawing, carking questioning and effort for philosophic
>> relief. I mean to quote Tolstoy at some length; but before doing so, I
>> will make a general remark on each of these two points.
>> First on our spiritual judgments and the sense of value in general.
>> It is notorious that facts are compatible with opposite emotional
>> comments, since the same fact will inspire entirely different feelings in
>> different persons, and at different times in the same person; and there is
>> no rationally deducible connection between any outer fact and the
>> sentiments it may happen to provoke. These have their source in another
>> sphere of existence altogether, in the animal and spiritual region of the
>> subject's being. Conceive yourself, if possible, suddenly stripped of all
>> the emotion with which your world now inspires you, and try to imagine it *as
>> it exists*, purely by itself, without your favorable or unfavorable,
>> hopeful or apprehensive comment. It will be almost impossible for you to
>> realize such a condition of negativity and deadness. No one portion of the
>> universe would then have importance beyond another; and the whole
>> collection of its things and series of its events would be without
>> significance, character, expression, or perspective. Whatever of value,
>> interest, or meaning our respective worlds may appear endued with are thus
>> pure gifts of the spectator's mind. The passion of love is the most
>> familiar and extreme example of this fact. If it comes, it comes; if it
>> does not come, no process of reasoning can force it. Yet it transforms the
>> value of the creature loved as utterly as the sunrise transforms Mont Blanc
>> from a corpse-like gray to a rosy enchantment; and it sets the whole world
>> to a new tune for the lover and gives a new issue to his life. So with
>> fear, with indignation, jealousy, ambition, worship. If they are there,
>> life changes. And whether they shall be there or not depends almost always
>> upon non-logical, often on organic conditions. And as the excited
>> interest which these passions put into the world is our gift to the world,
>> just so are the passions themselves *gifts*,--gifts to us, from sources
>> sometimes low and sometimes high; but almost always non-logical and beyond
>> our control. How can the moribund old man reason back to himself the
>> romance, the mystery, the imminence of great things with which our old
>> earth tingled for him in the days when he was young and well? Gifts, either
>> of the flesh or of the spirit; and the spirit bloweth where it listeth; and
>> the world's materials lend their surface passively to all the gifts alike,
>> as the stage-setting receives indifferently whatever alternating colored
>> lights may be shed upon it from the optical apparatus in the gallery.
>> Meanwhile the practically real world for each one of us, the effective
>> world of the individual, is the compound world, the physical facts and
>> emotional values in indistinguishable combination. Withdraw or pervert
>> either factor of this complex resultant, and the kind of experience we call
>> pathological ensues.
>> In Tolstoy's case the sense that life had any meaning whatever was for a
>> time wholly withdrawn. The result was a transformation in the whole
>> expression of reality. When we come to study the phenomenon of conversion
>> or religious regeneration, we shall see that a not infrequent consequence
>> of the change operated in the subject is a transfiguration of the face of
>> nature in his eyes. A new heaven seems to shine upon a new earth. In
>> melancholiacs there is usually a similar change, only it is in the reverse
>> direction. The world now looks remote, strange, sinister, uncanny. Its
>> color is gone, its breath is cold, there is no speculation in the eyes it
>> glares with. "It is as if I lived in another century," says one asylum patient.--"I
>> see everything through a cloud," says another, "things are not as they
>> were, and I am changed."--"I see," says a third, "I touch, but the things do
>> not come near me, a thick veil alters the hue and look of
>> everything."--"Persons move like shadows, and sounds seem to come from a
>> distant world."--"There is no longer any past for me; people appear so
>> strange; it is as if I could not see any reality, as if I were in a
>> theatre; as if people were actors, and everything were scenery; I can no
>> longer find myself; I walk, but why? Everything floats before my eyes, but
>> leaves no impression."--"I weep false tears, I have unreal hands: the things
>> I see are not real things."--Such are expressions that naturally rise to the
>> lips of melancholy subjects describing their changed state.[14]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-14>
>> Now there are some subjects whom all this leaves a prey to the
>> profoundest astonishment. The strangeness is wrong. The unreality cannot
>> be. A mystery is concealed, and a metaphysical solution must exist. If the
>> natural world is so double-faced and unhomelike, what world, what thing is
>> real? An urgent wondering and questioning is set up, a poring theoretic
>> activity, and in the desperate effort to get into right relations with the
>> matter, the sufferer is often led to what becomes for him a satisfying
>> religious solution.
>> At about the age of fifty, Tolstoy relates that he began to have moments
>> of perplexity, of what he calls arrest, as if he knew not 'how to live,' or
>> what to do. It is obvious that these were moments in which the excitement
>> and interest which our functions naturally bring had ceased. Life had been
>> enchanting, it was now flat sober, more than sober, dead. Things were
>> meaningless whose meaning had always been self-evident. The questions
>> 'Why?' and 'What next?' began to beset him more and more frequently. At
>> first it seemed as if such questions must be answerable, and as if he could
>> easily find the answers if he would take the time; but as they ever became
>> more urgent, he perceived that it was like those first discomforts of a
>> sick man, to which he pays but little attention till they run into one
>> continuous suffering, and then he realizes that what he took for a passing
>> disorder means the most momentous thing in the world for him, means his
>> death.
>> These questions 'Why?' 'Wherefore?' 'What for?' found no response.
>> "I felt," says Tolstoy, "that something had broken within me on which my
>> life had always rested, that I had nothing left to hold on to, and that
>> morally my life had stopped. An invincible force impelled me to get rid of
>> my existence, in one way or another. It cannot be said exactly that I
>> wished to kill myself, for the force which drew me away from life was
>> fuller, more powerful, more general than any mere desire. It was a force
>> like my old aspiration to live, only it impelled me in the opposite
>> direction. It was an aspiration of my whole being to get out of life.
>> "Behold me then, a man happy and in good health, hiding the rope in order
>> not to hang myself to the rafters of the room where every night I went to
>> sleep alone; behold me no longer going shooting, lest I should yield to the
>> too easy temptation of putting an end to myself with my gun.
>> "I did not know what I wanted. I was afraid of life; I was driven to
>> leave it; and in spite of that I still hoped something from it.
>> "All this took place at a time when so far as all my outer circumstances
>> went, I ought to have been completely happy. I had a good wife who loved me
>> and whom I loved; good children and a large property which was increasing
>> with no pains taken on my part. I was more respected by my kinsfolk and acquaintance
>> than I had ever been; I was loaded with praise by strangers; and without
>> exaggeration I could believe my name already famous. Moreover I was neither
>> insane nor ill. On the contrary, I possessed a physical and mental strength
>> which I have rarely met in persons of my age. I could mow as well as the
>> peasants, I could work with my brain eight hours uninterruptedly and feel
>> no bad effects.
>> "And yet I could give no reasonable meaning to any actions of my life.
>> And I was surprised that I had not understood this from the very beginning.
>> My state of mind was as if some wicked and stupid jest was being played
>> upon me by some one. One can live only so long as one is intoxicated, drunk
>> with life; but when one grows sober one cannot fail to see that it is all a
>> stupid cheat. What is truest about it is that there is nothing even funny
>> or silly in it; it is cruel and stupid, purely and simply.
>> "The oriental fable of the traveler surprised in the desert by a wild
>> beast is very old.
>> "Seeking to save himself from the fierce animal, the traveler jumps into
>> a well with no water in it; but at the bottom of this well he sees a dragon
>> waiting with open mouth to devour him. And the unhappy man, not daring to
>> go out lest he should be the prey of the beast, not daring to jump to the
>> bottom lest he should be devoured by the dragon, clings to the branches of
>> a wild bush which grows out of one of the cracks of the well. His hands
>> weaken, and he feels that he must soon give way to certain fate; but still
>> he clings, and sees two mice, one white, the other black, evenly moving
>> round the bush to which he hangs, and gnawing off its roots.
>> "The traveler sees this and knows that he must inevitably perish; but
>> while thus hanging he looks about him and finds on the leaves of the bush
>> some drops of honey. These he reaches with his tongue and licks them off
>> with rapture.
>> "Thus I hang upon the boughs of life, knowing that the inevitable dragon
>> of death is waiting ready to tear me, and I cannot comprehend why I am thus
>> made a martyr. I try to suck the honey which formerly consoled me; but the
>> honey pleases me no longer, and day and night the white mouse and the
>> black mouse gnaw the branch to which I cling. I can see but one thing: the
>> inevitable dragon and the mice--I cannot turn my gaze away from them.
>> "This is no fable, but the literal incontestable truth which every one
>> may understand. What will be the outcome of what I do to-day? Of what I
>> shall do to-morrow? What will be the outcome of all my life? Why should I
>> live? Why should I do anything? Is there in life any purpose which the
>> inevitable death which awaits me does not undo and destroy?
>> "These questions are the simplest in the world. From the stupid child to
>> the wisest old man, they are in the soul of every human being. Without an
>> answer to them, it is impossible, as I experienced, for life to go on.
>> "'But perhaps,' I often said to myself, 'there may be something I have
>> failed to notice or to comprehend. It is not possible that this condition
>> of despair should be natural to mankind.' And I sought for an explanation
>> in all the branches of knowledge acquired by men. I questioned painfully
>> and protractedly and with no idle curiosity. I sought, not with indolence,
>> but laboriously and obstinately for days and nights together. I sought like
>> a man who is lost and seeks to save himself,--and I found nothing. I became
>> convinced, moreover, that all those who before me had sought for an answer
>> in the sciences have also found nothing. And not only this, but that they
>> have recognized that the very thing which was leading me to despair--the
>> meaningless absurdity of life--is the only incontestable knowledge
>> accessible to man."
>> To prove this point, Tolstoy quotes the Buddha, Solomon, and
>> Schopenhauer. And he finds only four ways in which men of his own class and
>> society are accustomed to meet the situation. Either mere animal blindness,
>> sucking the honey without seeing the dragon or the mice,--"and from such
>> away," he says, "I can learn nothing, after what I now know;" or reflective
>> epicureanism, snatching what it can while the day lasts,--which is only a
>> more deliberate sort of stupefaction like the first; or manly suicide;
>> or seeing the mice and dragon and yet weakly and plaintively clinging to
>> the bush of life.
>> Suicide was naturally the consistent course dictated by the logical
>> intellect.
>> "Yet," says Tolstoy, "whilst my intellect was working, something else in
>> me was working too, and kept me from the deed--a consciousness of life, as I
>> may call it, which was like a force that obliged my mind to fix itself in
>> another direction and draw me out of my situation of despair. ... During the
>> whole course of this year, when I almost unceasingly kept asking myself how
>> to end the business, whether by the rope or by the bullet, during all that
>> time, alongside of all those movements of my ideas and observations, my
>> heart kept languishing with another pining emotion. I can call this by no
>> other name than that of a thirst for God. This craving for God had nothing
>> to do with the movement of my ideas,--in fact, it was the direct contrary of
>> that movement,--but it came from my heart. It was like a feeling of dread
>> that made me seem like an orphan and isolated in the midst of all these
>> things that were so foreign. And this feeling of dread was mitigated by the
>> hope of finding the assistance of some one."[15]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-15>
>> Of the process, intellectual as well as emotional, which, starting from
>> this idea of God, led to Tolstoy's recovery, I will say nothing in this
>> lecture, reserving it for a later hour. The only thing that need interest
>> us now is the phenomenon of his absolute disenchantment with ordinary life,
>> and the fact that the whole range of habitual values may, to a man as
>> powerful and full of faculty as he was, come to appear so ghastly a mockery.
>> When disillusionment has gone as far as this, there is seldom a *restitutio
>> ad integrum*. One has tasted of the fruit of the tree, and the happiness
>> of Eden never comes again. The happiness that comes, when any does come,--and
>> often enough it fails to return in an acute form, though its form is
>> sometimes very acute,--is not the simple ignorance of ill, but something
>> vastly more complex, including natural evil as one of its elements, but
>> finding natural evil no such stumbling-block and terror because it now sees
>> it swallowed up in supernatural good. The process is one of redemption, not
>> of mere reversion to natural health, and the sufferer, when saved, is saved
>> by what seems to him a second birth, a deeper kind of conscious being than
>> he could enjoy before.
>> We find a somewhat different type of religious melancholy enshrined in
>> literature in John Bunyan<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Author:John_Bunyan>'s
>> autobiography. Tolstoy's preoccupations were largely objective, for the
>> purpose and meaning of life in general was what so troubled him; but poor
>> Bunyan's troubles were over the condition of his own personal self. He was
>> a typical case of the psychopathic temperament, sensitive of conscience to
>> a diseased degree, beset by doubts, fears, and insistent ideas, and a
>> victim of verbal automatisms, both motor and sensory. These were usually
>> texts of Scripture which, sometimes damnatory and sometimes favorable,
>> would come in a half-hallucinatory form as if they were voices, and fasten
>> on his mind and buffet it between them like a shuttlecock. Added to this
>> were a fearful melancholy self-contempt and despair.
>> "Nay, thought I, now I grow worse and worse; now I am farther from
>> conversion than ever I was before. If now I should have burned at the
>> stake, I could not believe that Christ had love for me; alas, I could
>> neither hear him, nor see him, nor feel him, nor savor any of his things.
>> Sometimes I would tell my condition to the people of God, which, when they
>> heard, they would pity me, and would tell of the Promises. But they had as
>> good have told me that I must reach the Sun with my finger as have bidden
>> me receive or rely upon the Promise. [Yet] all this while as to the act
>> of sinning, I never was more tender than now; I durst not take a pin or
>> stick, though but so big as a straw, for my conscience now was sore, and
>> would smart at every touch; I could not tell how to speak my words, for
>> fear I should misplace them. Oh, how gingerly did I then go, in all I did
>> or said! I found myself as on a miry bog that shook if I did but stir; and
>> was as there left both by God and Christ, and the spirit, and all good
>> things.
>> "But my original and inward pollution, that was my plague and my
>> affliction. By reason of that, I was more loathsome in my own eyes than was
>> a toad; and I thought I was so in God's eyes too. Sin and corruption, I
>> said, would as naturally bubble out of my heart as water would bubble out
>> of a fountain. I could have changed heart with anybody. I thought none but
>> the Devil himself could equal me for inward wickedness and pollution of
>> mind. Sure, thought I, I am forsaken of God; and thus I continued a long
>> while, even for some years together.
>> "And now I was sorry that God had made me a man. The beasts, birds,
>> fishes, etc., I blessed their condition, for they had not a sinful nature;
>> they were not obnoxious to the wrath of God; they were not to go to
>> hell-fire after death. I could therefore have rejoiced, had my condition
>> been as any of theirs. Now I blessed the condition of the dog and toad,
>> yea, gladly would I have been in the condition of the dog or horse, for I
>> knew they had no soul to perish under the everlasting weight of Hell or
>> Sin, as mine was like to do. Nay, and though I saw this, felt this, and was
>> broken to pieces with it, yet that which added to my sorrow was, that I
>> could not find with all my soul that I did desire deliverance. My heart was
>> at times exceedingly hard. If I would have given a thousand pounds for a
>> tear, I could not shed one; no, nor sometimes scarce desire to shed one.
>> "I was both a burthen and a terror to myself; nor did I ever so know, as
>> now, what it was to be weary of my life, and yet afraid to die. How gladly
>> would I have been anything but myself! Anything but a man! and in any
>> condition but my own."[16]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-16>
>> Poor patient Bunyan, like Tolstoy, saw the light again, but we must also
>> postpone that part of his story to another hour. In a later lecture I will
>> also give the end of the experience of Henry Alline, a devoted evangelist
>> who worked in Nova Scotia a hundred years ago, and who thus vividly
>> describes the high-water mark of the religious melancholy which formed its
>> beginning. The type was not unlike Bunyan's.
>> "Everything I saw seemed to be a burden to me; the earth seemed accursed
>> for my sake: all trees, plants, rocks, hills, and vales seemed to be
>> dressed in mourning and groaning, under the weight of the curse, and
>> everything around me seemed to be conspiring my ruin. My sins seemed to be
>> laid open; so that I thought that every one I saw knew them, and sometimes
>> I was almost ready to acknowledge many things, which I thought they knew:
>> yea sometimes it seemed to me as if every one was pointing me out as the
>> most guilty wretch upon earth. I had now so great a sense of the vanity and
>> emptiness of all things here below, that I knew the whole world could not
>> possibly make me happy, no, nor the whole system of creation. When I waked
>> in the morning, the first thought would be, Oh, my wretched soul, what
>> shall I do, where shall I go? And when I laid down, would say, I shall be
>> perhaps in hell before morning. I would many times look on the beasts with
>> envy, wishing with all my heart I was in their place, that I might have no
>> soul to lose; and when I have seen birds flying over my head, have often
>> thought within myself, Oh, that I could fly away from my danger and
>> distress! Oh, how happy should I be, if I were in their place!"[17]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-17>
>> Envy of the placid beasts seems to be a very widespread affection in this
>> type of sadness.
>> The worst kind of melancholy is that which takes the form of panic fear.
>> Here is an excellent example, for permission to print which I have to thank
>> the sufferer. The original is in French, and though the subject was
>> evidently in a bad nervous condition at the time of which he writes, his
>> case has otherwise the merit of extreme simplicity. I translate freely.
>> "Whilst in this state of philosophic pessimism and general depression of
>> spirits about my prospects, I went one evening into a dressing-room in the
>> twilight to procure some article that was there; when suddenly there fell
>> upon me without any warning, just as if it came out of the darkness, a
>> horrible fear of my own existence. Simultaneously there arose in my mind
>> the image of an epileptic patient whom I had seen in the asylum, a
>> black-haired youth with greenish skin, entirely idiotic, who used to sit
>> all day on one of the benches, or rather shelves against the wall, with his
>> knees drawn up against his chin, and the coarse gray undershirt, which was
>> his only garment, drawn over them inclosing his entire figure. He sat there
>> like a sort of sculptured Egyptian cat or Peruvian mummy, moving nothing
>> but his black eyes and looking absolutely non-human. This image and my fear
>> entered into a species of combination with each other. *That shape am I*,
>> I felt, potentially. Nothing that I possess can defend me against that
>> fate, if the hour for it should strike for me as it struck for him. There
>> was such a horror of him, and such a perception of my own merely momentary
>> discrepancy from him, that it was as if something hitherto solid within my
>> breast gave way entirely, and I became a mass of quivering fear. After this
>> the universe was changed for me altogether. I awoke morning after morning
>> with a horrible dread at the pit of my stomach, and with a sense of the
>> insecurity of life that I never knew before, and that I have never felt
>> since.[18]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-p160-18>It was like a revelation; and although the immediate
>> feelings passed away, the experience has made me sympathetic with the
>> morbid feelings of others ever since. It gradually faded, but for months I
>> was unable to go out into the dark alone.
>> "In general I dreaded to be left alone. I remember wondering how other
>> people could live, how I myself had ever lived, so unconscious of that pit
>> of insecurity beneath the surface of life. My mother in particular, a very
>> cheerful person, seemed to me a perfect paradox in her unconsciousness of
>> danger, which you may well believe I was very careful not to disturb by
>> revelations of my own state of mind. I have always thought that this
>> experience of melancholia of mine had a religious bearing."
>> On asking this correspondent to explain more fully what he meant by these
>> last words, the answer he wrote was this:--
>> "I mean that the fear was so invasive and powerful that if I had not
>> clung to scripture-texts like 'The eternal God is my refuge,' etc., 'Come
>> unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden,' etc., 'I am the
>> resurrection and the life,' etc., I think I should have grown really
>> insane."[19]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-19>
>> There is no need of more examples. The cases we have looked at are
>> enough. One of them gives us the vanity of mortal things; another the sense
>> of sin; and the remaining one describes the fear of the universe;--and in
>> one or other of these three ways it always is that man's original optimism
>> and self-satisfaction get leveled with the dust.
>> In none of these cases was there any intellectual insanity or delusion
>> about matters of fact; but were we disposed to open the chapter of really
>> insane melancholia, with its hallucinations and delusions, it would be a
>> worse story still--desperation absolute and complete, the whole universe
>> coagulating about the sufferer into a material of overwhelming horror,
>> surrounding him without opening or end. Not the conception or intellectual
>> perception of evil, but the grisly blood-freezing heart-palsying sensation
>> of it close upon one, and no other conception or sensation able to live for
>> a moment in its presence. How irrelevantly remote seem all our usual
>> refined optimisms and intellectual and moral consolations in presence of a
>> need of help like this! Here is the real core of the religious problem:
>> Help! help! No prophet can claim to bring a final message unless he says
>> things that will have a sound of reality in the ears of victims such as
>> these. But the deliverance must come in as strong a form as the complaint,
>> if it is to take effect; and that seems a reason why the coarser religions,
>> revivalistic, orgiastic, with blood and miracles and supernatural
>> operations, may possibly never be displaced. Some constitutions need them
>> too much.
>> Arrived at this point, we can see how great an antagonism may naturally
>> arise between the healthy-minded way of viewing life and the way that takes
>> all this experience of evil as something essential. To this latter way, the
>> morbid-minded way, as we might call it, healthy-mindedness pure and simple
>> seems unspeakably blind and shallow. To the healthy-minded way, on the
>> other hand, the way of the sick soul seems unmanly and diseased. With their
>> grubbing in rat-holes instead of living in the light; with their
>> manufacture of fears, and preoccupation with every unwholesome kind of
>> misery, there is something almost obscene about these children of wrath
>> and cravers of a second birth. If religious intolerance and hanging and
>> burning could again become the order of the day, there is little doubt
>> that, however it may have been in the past, the healthy-minded would at
>> present show themselves the less indulgent party of the two.
>> In our own attitude, not yet abandoned, of impartial onlookers, what are
>> we to say of this quarrel? It seems to me that we are bound to say that
>> morbid-mindedness ranges over the wider scale of experience, and that its
>> survey is the one that overlaps. The method of averting one's attention
>> from evil, and living simply in the light of good is splendid as long as it
>> will work. It will work with many persons; it will work far more generally
>> than most of us are ready to suppose; and within the sphere of its
>> successful operation there is nothing to be said against it as a religious
>> solution. But it breaks down impotently as soon as melancholy comes; and
>> even though one be quite free from melancholy one's self, there is no doubt
>> that healthy-mindedness is inadequate as a philosophical doctrine, because
>> the evil facts which it refuses positively to account for are a genuine
>> portion of reality; and they may after all be the best key to life's
>> significance, and possibly the only openers of our eyes to the deepest
>> levels of truth.
>> The normal process of life contains moments as bad as any of those which
>> insane melancholy is filled with, moments in which radical evil gets its
>> innings and takes its solid turn. The lunatic's visions of horror are all
>> drawn from the material of daily fact. Our civilization is founded on the
>> shambles, and every individual existence goes out in a lonely spasm of
>> helpless agony. If you protest, my friend, wait till you arrive there
>> yourself! To believe in the carnivorous reptiles of geologic times is
>> hard for our imagination--they seem too much like mere museum specimens. Yet
>> there is no tooth in any one of those museum-skulls that did not daily
>> through long years of the foretime hold fast to the body struggling in
>> despair of some fated living victim. Forms of horror just as dreadful to
>> their victims, if on a smaller spatial scale, fill the world about us
>> to-day. Here on our very hearths and in our gardens the infernal cat plays
>> with the panting mouse, or holds the hot bird fluttering in her jaws.
>> Crocodiles and rattlesnakes and pythons are at this moment vessels of life
>> as real as we are; their loathsome existence fills every minute of every
>> day that drags its length along; and whenever they or other wild beasts
>> clutch their living prey, the deadly horror which an agitated melancholiac
>> feels is the literally right reaction on the situation.[20]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-20>
>> It may indeed be that no religious reconciliation with the absolute
>> totality of things is possible. Some evils, indeed, are ministerial to
>> higher forms of good; but it may be that there are forms of evil so
>> extreme as to enter into no good system whatsoever, and that, in respect of
>> such evil, dumb submission or neglect to notice is the only practical
>> resource. This question must confront us on a later day. But provisionally,
>> and as a mere matter of program and method, since the evil facts are as
>> genuine parts of nature as the good ones, the philosophic presumption
>> should be that they have some rational significance, and that systematic
>> healthy-mindedness, failing as it does to accord to sorrow, pain, and death
>> any positive and active attention whatever, is formally less complete than
>> systems that try at least to include these elements in their scope.
>> The completest religions would therefore seem to be those in which the
>> pessimistic elements are best developed. Buddhism, of course, and
>> Christianity are the best known to us of these. They are essentially
>> religions of deliverance: the man must die to an unreal life before he can
>> be born into the real life. In my next lecture, I will try to discuss some
>> of the psychological conditions of this second birth. Fortunately from now
>> onward we shall have to deal with more cheerful subjects than those which
>> we have recently been dwelling on.
>> --
>> -Eric
>> _______________________________________________
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>>  Mary Haake, Ph.D.
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