Phineas Parkhurst Quimby

Dr. Phineas P. Quimby


(Lecture Notes)

We now proceed to another state of mind, called by philosophers, "Insanity."

The power of reason - that is the faculty by which we compare facts with each other, and mental expressions with external things - is said to be lost in Insanity. In this state of mind, the subject appears to be under the complete control of some strong and irresistible impression, or train of successive impressions, real to him, and which he cannot repulse with a comparison with external objects.

Like a subject in the dreaming or mesmeric state, he is not able to discover what impressions flow from false causes and distinguish them from those which flow from real causes. The subject himself acts precisely as every man would under the same real impressions.

Then mind is governed and controlled by the same laws in this state as in the natural or dreaming state. It acts from real impressions under a full belief of the real causes of such impressions. This state is, no doubt, induced by some powerful impression upon the mind, which cannot be removed by slight impressions produced upon the mind, from common and every day objects.

If this state is removed at all, it must be done by inducing some counteracting impression, which will lead the mind into a different channel of thought. This state of mind often exhibits in the individual more acuteness and intelligence in almost every subject than when in its natural condition. He will reason correctly, although from unsound data, and return answers justifying his conduct, which would display a thoughtful and premeditating mind.

We have read numerous instances of individuals whose conduct has been most unreasonable, yet could justify their acts by giving inducements to such conduct, based upon reasonable grounds.

Dr. Abercrombie relates the case of a clergyman in Scotland, who having displayed many extravagances of conduct, was brought before a jury to be declared incapable of managing his own affairs, and placed under the care of trustees. Among the extravagant exhibitions of conduct was that he had burnt his library.

When the jury requested him to give an account of this part of his conduct, he replied in the following terms:

"In the early part of my life, I had imbibed a liking for a most unprofitable study, namely controversial divinity. On reviewing my library, I found a great part of it to consist of books of this distinction. I was so anxious that my family should not be led to follow the same pursuit, that I determined to burn the whole."

He gave answers to other charges brought against him, justifying his conduct, and the jury did not find sufficient grounds for guarding him with trustees; but in the course of two weeks, he was in a state of decided mania!

Individuals while in this excited state, when some leading impression has control, have really believed themselves to be some great actor in the world, an emperor or a king, and supposed all the fair fields about them, and all the inhabitants who live within their state or nation, are subject to their control.

Others have descended in the scale of their existence and supposed themselves beasts of burden, or mere things. These are all real to the subject. He feels himself just as he believes. This is sometimes called a "deranged" state of mind.

It is, however, a disease, as much so as any condition of man. For we contend that disease is nothing - only as it conveys impressions to the mind. That if one should cut his finger, and no sensation should be conveyed through the sense of touch to the mind, it would not give pain to the subject. This position we know by experiments upon individuals both in their waking and mesmeric state.

Insanity, Monomania, and Hallucination are all diseases, and remedies may be administered to counteract them. The treatment of the subject, while insane, has much to do with his recovery. For the benefit of this class of individuals, hospitals are erected at the public expense, where the best remedies can be administered.

This disease, among physicians, is not usually attributed to flow from the same sources as what they term those of the body, and therefore they do not resort to the same remedies. Physicians generally call Insanity a disease of the mind, while fever and other similar states are diseases of the body.

I maintain that all diseases are only known to exist as they affect the mind of the patient; that is, there would be no disease which could affect an individual, provided it could not make a sensation upon his mind. If he did not feel sick, he would not probably be sick.

In cases of scrofula, and what is sometimes termed "King's evil" - diseases said to be incurable - the power of the Seventh Son to cure them is an effect upon the mind, being conclusive evidence that some strong impression induced the disease.

And the belief of the patient, and that also of the seventh son, acting in concert to produce a counteracting impression, would destroy the old first cause which brought about this diseased state, and nature then restores herself.

We do not believe that the seventh son has any more virtue to heal patients than any individual; nor do we think the fact of his passing his hand over the diseased portion of the body could affect anything towards counteracting the first impression, only so far as an external motion may assist to more strongly impress the mind.

It is simply the process of mind acting upon - and in correspondence with - mind.

I will introduce an experiment here, which goes to show something in proof of what we are explaining:

An individual fell from his horse and dislocated his elbow. The surgeon set it, and his arm was, when I first saw it, badly swollen and very painful. I commenced operating upon it, and in a short time reduced the swelling so that the bandages were very loose, and all the pain subsided. He was then enabled to lift up a chair without any pain, but before could not lift a pound, nor even use his fingers.

Someone may enquire whether the dislocation of the elbow was a disease of the mind.... We answer, it was - that is, all the pain which was the result of the falling from the horse was in the mind, being the only part of man susceptible of sensation; that the mere blow or contusion would not produce any pain unless there was a mind which could feel the blow, because matter is not supposed to have the power of sensation.

We might bring many facts, as we trust we have in the former part of this work, to show where the disease is to be remedied, and where, of course, it must flow from to affect the person, or when an impression is produced, from which follows all the phenomena of disease, both of body and mind.

But we allude to the subject here to illustrate our ideas upon Insanity. And by the results we have effected upon diseases by operating upon the mind, we think the argument is conclusive that all disease - including Insanity - flow from the impressions upon the mind as their first cause.

The treatment of insane persons therefore should correspond with the great principle of mind acting upon mind and of impressions counteracting impressions.

We give the following experiments illustrating the power of mind over mind in cases of Insanity:

I was called upon, about two years since, to visit an insane man who had been chained to prevent him from extravagant conduct, but who had by some means gotten loose and was raving about his premises, to the danger of his own family and his neighbors. I found him in the wildest state of Insanity.

I approached him in company with another individual. When he saw us coming, he advanced towards us with a ten foot pole. My friend could not proceed, and I was left alone to meet him. I advanced, keeping my eye steadily fixed upon him. He held his pole and advanced until we came within ten feet of each other. He then suddenly stopped and told me not to advance another step.

I continued, however, to walk towards him, and as I came up he threw down his pole, and looking me in the eye, asked what I wanted. I requested him to go into the house. He followed me in, and became as obedient to my commands as a child. I performed several experiments upon him, showing how easily I could control him.

When any of his family came near, he would commence raving, but upon my requesting him to be quiet, he readily complied. I ordered him to dress himself, and upon clothing being handed to him, he complied. He would size up to me and look at my form and enquire how much I weighed. I asked him to guess. He thought two-hundred and fifty pounds. I allowed him to think so, although my real weight was about one-hundred and forty. I was enabled to control him while I was present, without touching him at all.

Another case is of a man who had become ravingly insane and was imprisoned in the county jail. He would allow nothing in his cell, and allow no one to enter. He kept up a constant hollering so as to be heard all over the village. The keeper of the prison decided that something must be done.

My situation was such that I had occasion to see him. I took another man with me, and going to the door of the cell, requested him to remain outside and not allow him to know that he was near. I opened the cell door, holding in my hand a green hide and a rope. He ordered me not to approach him, holding in his hand a stone which he had dug out of some part of his cell.

I stood and looked at him about five minutes. He began to step back, and I entered. I then ordered him to come to me and get down on his knees. He obeyed instantly, and I then thought I would try an experiment. I told him I would not whip or tie him then - but if he ever made any more noise, or destroyed his bedding, or anything which might be handed him - I would certainly kill him, at the same time showing my intention in my countenance.

He seemed to be very much agitated and frightened. I produced so strong an impression upon his mind that he was perfectly quiet and became more rational. In the course of three weeks, he left the prison and returned home perfectly sane. He has been sane ever since.

Thus the power of impressions over the mind to produce or counteract disease must be acknowledged. And the action of mind upon mind must be conceded. It is, in Insanity, as in other diseases, necessary to make an impression more powerful than that which preceded this diseased state, and thus lead or drive the mind into a new channel of thought.

So in diseases of every class, an impression counteracting that which induced the disease must be made, and nature will restore herself. This impression may be made by administering powerful medicine, or it may be done upon some patients by the mind of an operator acting upon the mind of the patient.


In western philosophy, David Hume used the word "impression" as he defines it in "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding




Dr. Phineas Parkhurst Quimby



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