Phineas Parkhurst Quimby
Is Language Always Applied to Science? IIDecember 1862
Does language contain any substance? Language is to convey some idea to an individual. The idea is mind, combined into a form, which holds the substance of the image. For instance, the idea horse is in the mind. This is like a nut (or casket). When a person speaks the word “horse,” it does not follow that he forms the idea, because a child may be taught to speak the word, and to him the idea is merely a shadow so dim that, to his senses, it contains no substance. Now if he speaks the word to another child, it contains an empty sound (or casket), but if it is spoken to a person who can understand, he will create the idea of himself, for the word horse will produce a sensation; for sound is something that can act on the mind, and the person becomes accordingly affected.
Sound is sensation but not an idea. Therefore, it must be attached to something to give it an idea that contains a substance. To one person, certain ideas may be filled with truth or error; for if they are not attached to a true sound, it is an error - and here is where the trouble lies. We all suppose that when we speak anything, the thing is conveyed to the person spoken to. But this is not always the case - for to speak the truth is a science, and every idea contains wisdom; but to speak error is to repeat words, without applying them to the idea that brought out the word.
For example, I say Mr. _______has the rheumatism. The idea I wish to convey is a perfect image of the rheumatism. Suppose that a dozen persons hear me speak. Each is affected, just according to the impression I produce in his mind; and as the word embraces many ideas (or forms), I convey as many ideas as there are persons. One has attached the word to a person, drawn up and in a state in which he cannot move his limbs and another to a pain in the shoulder, and so on - but everyone is affected.
Suppose the word “rheumatism” contained one single idea. Then all will be affected alike, so far as the word goes; but now each person is left to create just such an idea as he thinks proper, and if he tells the story, he conveys the word, accompanied with his own idea. The world is full of these bogus ideas, and they contain a substance that we spiritually eat and by which we are affected. They are as plenty as the locusts of Egypt. This is true of every word that goes to represent disease. Consumption has as many ideas as there are persons who have heard the word, and it is the same with all sorts of fevers and everything which man is liable to embrace.
The sick have associated their senses to these ideas, each of which, as I have said before, is a nut (or casket) that contains the wisdom (or food) of the idea. It is a storehouse to contain the food for the senses. Man lives on this food till it consumes his substance, or gets all the life out of the body to feed the mind; so that the body is destroyed by its own friends (or ideas). My theory is to analyze these ideas that man lives on, which make him sick, and show him their contents; making him see that they are merely errors, started by man, without the slightest foundation in truth. And man has fostered and cultivated them into living ideas and given them names, that they may go forth and prey upon the children of men.
My practice is to apply this great truth to correct the errors of the sick. Therefore, when with them, I take the ideas that affect them, analyze them, showing that they are the effect of superstition; and being matter, we make in the body the very image of our idea. This is the child of our own belief, and though it be ever so much deformed and cause us pain and misery, we foster and feed it with the crumbs of superstition to keep it alive.
Let man know that disease is his own make, as much as a mother knows her child is her own; and although the child is deformed, she cannot part with it, (and he will cease from making such children). The child is an idea of the father and mother; it is a child of circumstance, liable to all the evils of its parents. Correct the world of these evils called “disease,” and you introduce a generation of children composed of elements as much superior to the generation of these times as man is superior to the brute.
How does man show his intellectual superiority to the brutes? All will admit that brutes have a sort of language by which they communicate; and so has man. Then, wherein, is man superior? So far as language goes, it is not there.
A bird sings, each according to his race - but a bird is a bird and is like the first one; he shows that he is not one whit advanced beyond the birds of ages ago. This proves that his language is not to convey any new idea, not before known. He lives and dies a bird. So with a monkey. He can talk, but his language is confined to himself, and he lives and dies a monkey. His language is never applied to any improvement in science.
Take a class of beings, dressed like men and women. See what language has done for them; the same as for the brute - to show off. Such language has never been applied to one single idea above the level of the brute. Then is language good for nothing? No. When applied to some error or some discovery by which man can advance beyond the world - then language is of some value.