Is Mental Healing Scientific

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Hugh O. Pentecost

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By the above title I mean: Are there facts that can be explained on no hypothesis so well as on the theory that the mind controls the body? Is the dictum that the mind can heal disease and keep the body in health a mere theory to which we have to try to make our facts conform; or is there a sufficient body of facts that can be accounted for in no other way as well as by postulating the dominance of mind over matter, of which postulation mental healing is a corollary? The question thus explained, the answer is that mental healing is thoroughly scientific.

In order to show this, let us adduce facts that cannot be disputed, which prove that—

I. The Mind Dominates the Body.

The body lives only while the mind lives. A materialist might retort that the mind lives only while the body lives; but he could hardly question that while the body lives it is plainly controlled in probably all its movements by the mind. It walks, lies down, arises, sits, leaps, runs, stands still; its limbs and some of its internal organs move in obedience to mind in conscious action. As a general proposition few will dispute that the body is the servant of the mind. No one will claim that the mind habitually obeys the body. It would be absurd to say that the body desires and compels the mind to accomplish its purposes. But there are certain movements of the body that the mind apparently does not control. The action of the heart, for example, is automatic, and that of the lungs is nearly so. The action of the stomach, liver, kidneys, bowels, and bladder is to a greater or less extent automatic.

Probably at one period in the evolution of the body the action of all the internal organs was entirely subject to the will, or mind; and probably their present automatism is the result of habit, as is chiefly the movement of the legs and arms in walking—habit being more fixed in the former than in the latter case. Probably the subconscious mind—acting without conscious volition—controls the internal organs as actually as the conscious mind controls the movements of the trunk and limbs. This probability is strengthened by the fact that in special instances the conscious mind even now is able to control the internal organs at will, or to move certain muscles not usually subject to the will.

Some persons can move certain portions of the skin—the scalp, for example—or the ears, at will. Certain feminine dancers at the World's Fair could move the mammae and abdomen in an unusual manner—a result of training: a clear proof of how the mind can dominate the body. Some persons can throw themselves into a condition in which the lungs, heart, and other organs cease to move, and can remain in that state until such time as they decide or have previously determined to awake.' The English Colonel Townsend is a well-known example. There are authentic cases of persons who can voluntarily cause the bowels to act within half an hour. I, myself, frequently use the will successfully instead of purgative medicines. Bichet, Dr. Noble, and others, cited by Tuke, could vomit at will. Some persons contract or dilate the pupils of their eyes at pleasure. Any person may awake from slumber at any hour determined upon before falling asleep. Many persons, the writer among them, can fall asleep at any time they wish, within a few minutes.

These examples are sufficient to show that the mind dominates the body to a great extent if not entirely, and that, at least in certain cases, it can be trained to such command as it apparently has not. The case could be strengthened by showing how exactly the body responds to the emotions—in expression, gesticulation, and other movements—as in joy, grief, fear, anger, etc.

Whatever may be scientifically uncertain, there can be no doubt that the body is so much dominated by the mind that it might fairly be described as the mind materialized.

II. The Mind Causes Disease.

This is so well known that it is unnecessary to cite cases, multitudes of which are given in books written by medical men. There are cases of deafness, blindness, paralysis, fits, fever, and other diseases, and even death, either sudden or lingering, which are plainly attributable only to grief, fear, anger, or some other mental disturbance. And these cases include not only functional but organic disease.

Probably no physician would deny the power of the mind to affect the body injuriously. I have a friend who says that every time he gives way to anger the fit of passion is followed by a pronounced fever; and in my own experience a fit of passion was followed in less than two hours by a congestive chill, which nearly resulted in death and kept me in bed for weeks. I know of a case in which imbecility, from which the unfortunate still suffers, resulted from a stupid joke involving fright.

These two points are clear enough: (1) The mind does affect the body; and (2) it does, upon occasion, affect it injuriously. So far we are on purely scientific ground; but can we show as positively that—

III. The Mind Is Capable of Healing Disease?

Amour, and Francis Schlatter healed hundreds of persons of both functional and organic diseases, and that many similar cures have been effected at Lourdes and Knock. But it might be claimed that these were accomplished by "supernatural" means; hence, we dismiss them from consideration as not proving, beyond question, the power of ordinary mentality over disease.

Nor shall we cite instances from the practise of mental healers of the various schools, since they are open to objection by skeptical persons on the ground that they have not been "accredited" by the medical profession, or on some other ground. We shall confine ourselves to acknowledged scientific authorities. Only a few cases can be given in so short an article. They might be greatly multiplied; but if there were only one instance known to science that could be explained in no way except on the theory of mental healing, that would be sufficient to prove our case.

Sir Humphry Davy cured genuine paralysis, quite unintentionally, by simply placing a thermometer in the patient's mouth to take his temperature. On the paralytic declaring that he felt better, Davy did nothing more except to repeat the performance daily for two weeks, at the end of which time the patient was dismissed cured. This case is given because it is so well known. It can be explained in no way except that the mind cured the disease. It alone proves our case.

At the siege of Breda, in 1625, the city was almost obliged to capitulate on account of the prevalence of scurvy (which is certainly not a nervous or functional disease) among the soldiers. The Prince of Orange publicly announced that he had for scurvy a sovereign remedy, three or four drops of which would impregnate with healing virtue a gallon of liquor. A their limbs for a month before," says the historian, Dr. Frederic Van der Wye, "were seen walking the streets, sound, upright, and in perfect health." A clear instance of mental healing.

The famous Dr. Rush of Philadelphia relates many stories of purely mental healing of organic diseases, and among them that of a young woman who had dropsy. All other remedies having failed, an operation was decided upon, her fear of which was so great "that it brought on a plentiful discharge of urine, which in a few days perfectly removed her disease."

Dr. Tuke, in his "Influence of the Mind on the Body," which persons interested in the subject of mental healing will do well to read, cites the case of a young woman suffering from a painful affection of the knee. Two doctors diagnosed the case as one of inflammation, and applied the remedies usual in such cases. Many weeks elapsed without improvement, and the doctors anxiously discussed the probability of abscess, destruction of ligaments, absorption of cartilage, and ultimate amputation. One day the patient informed her physician that her sister was to be married, and that, cost what it might, she had made up her mind to attend the wedding. The physician shuddered at the proposal. With all the force of language he could command, he expatiated on the probable consequences of so rash an act without affecting the young woman's determination. He then strapped up the joint with adhesive plaster, and the patient went to the wedding. On the following day the physician visited her. She told him that she had stood throughout the whole ceremony; had joined the party at the breakfast, and had returned home without pain or discomfort in the joint. Within a week her recovery was complete.

It may be said that in this case the trouble was imaginary. Either of the foregoing cases standing alone amounts to a scientific basis for the theory of mental healing, and we need seek no further for such basis; but when it is known that these are only a few of hundreds of similar cases vouched for by scientific men, what more can reasonably be required in the way of proof?

What the intelligent student of mental healing now requires is not proof that it is scientific, but to discover the law in accordance with which it may be accomplished with certainty and reasonable quickness. That mental healing—if a fact, as it is here shown to be—is subject to natural law, will not be denied. What is the law? That is the problem before those interested in the subject; and it is safe to predict that, the fact having been observed, the law that governs it will become known.

  • Hugh O. Pentecost, “Is Mental Healing Scientific,” Mind 4, no. 2 (May 1899): 64-70.