VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of www.overcomingfear.ca Informational Site Network Informational
Privacy
   Home - Psychotherapy - Fear - Understanding Crowds - Psychology - How to Succeed - Imagination

Dreads Of Men Of Genius





The insane are particularly prone to suffer from dreads, so that some
people argue from their dreads to the thought of insanity. It is quite
a mistake, however, to think of dreads as necessarily connected with
insanity in any way. They are irrational though they will commonly be
found to be dependent on some special physical condition. This is
usually some exaggeration of attention to a sensation natural enough
in itself but disturbing when dwelt on to such a degree that it
produces a much greater reaction in these individuals than in other
people. These dreads have existed in all sorts of people. It is said
that they are more frequent in the highly intellectual, especially in
the class known as geniuses, and they are often said to represent the
definite evidence of a relationship between genius and insanity. I
have always felt, however, that they are quite as common among
ordinary people who have no genius and no signs of it as among the
so-called geniuses. They are not so much spoken of by ordinary people,
however, because they are rather ashamed of them. Genius, on the
contrary, is quite willing, as a rule, to exploit its peculiarities
for the benefit of the public, or what is even more true, its
peculiarities are remembered and commented on as details of history.

With this in mind the following paragraph from Dr. Dorland's book on
"The Ages of Mental Virility" [Footnote 50] deserves to be
recalled. He has gathered a number of examples that are very
interesting:

[Footnote 50: The Century Co., New York, 1908]

Fear has played an important role in the development of the
antipathies of the great--fear that was often groundless in its
origin and inexplicable in its manifestation. The unaccountable fear
of dogs is not so common as ailurophobia, although it is said that
De Musset cordially detested them, and Goethe despised them,
notwithstanding, forsooth, he kept a tame snake. Much more frequent
is the fear of spiders, centipedes, and other insects. Charles
Kingsley, thorough naturalist though he was, entertained an
unconquerable horror of spiders, even the common house spider;
Turenne became weak when he saw a spider; while the author of the
"Turkish Spy" once asserted that he would far prefer, with sword in
hand, "to face a lion in his desert lair than to have a spider crawl
over him in the dark." Lord Lauderdale, on the contrary, while
declaring that the mewing of a cat was "sweeter to him than any
music," had a most intense dislike for the flute and the bag-pipe;
and Dr. Johnson was so fond of his cats that he would personally buy
oysters for them, his servants being too proud to do so.

There are curious contradictions to be found in these matters.
Montaigne confesses that he did his best writing and was in the best
humor for keeping at his Essays while stroking his favorite cat with
his left hand, his other being occupied with his writing. This would
be seriously disturbing to many people, but apparently occupied
certain distracting sensory tendencies and enabled him to concentrate
his mental energies. To many people the very thought of doing anything
like this would put all ideas for writing out of their mind. Other of
Montaigne's peculiarities are quite as interesting. He always refused
to sit down with thirteen at table, his liking for odd numbers was so
great that he made all sorts of excuses in order not to use even
numbers and his aversion for Friday made the quota of work that he
could do on that day much less than any other day of the week.


OBSESSIONS

There are many curious obsessions that disturb people and that are
often extremely difficult of explanation even by themselves. Dr.
Johnson, one of the most sensible men in many ways in his time in
England, could not, it is said, pass a post on the street without
touching it. At least if he did so he felt that somehow he had omitted
to do something that he ought to have done and it would make him
uncomfortable. There are many people who have some idea that it is
lucky to touch posts as they pass along and the number of people who
do things like this is larger than might be imagined. Many people put
themselves out of the way in order to avoid letting a post come
between the person with whom they are walking and themselves because
it is said to be unlucky. Most of them will laugh at it, but still
they continue the practice in spite of the bother it may occasion
them. Occasionally there is some incident in their past life which
accounts for such obsessions, though the patients themselves are
occasionally not quite conscious of them. Dr. Boris Sidis tells the
story of a man who could not take a car with an odd number.
Psycho-analysis showed that he had once seen a child run down by an
odd-numbered car.

In such cases there has been a long series of suggestions that have
created a dominant state of mind. The only way to overcome this when
it becomes a serious annoyance is to undo the influence of the
suggestions by a continued series of counter-suggestions, and by such
discipline of mind as will prevent the former suggestion from exerting
itself. The cure can be accomplished in this way, though, as a rule,
the patient will need the help of someone else.


FORGOTTEN FRIGHTS AND DREADS

Dreads founded on terrifying or seriously disturbing incidents of the
past, the details of which at times have gone out of the patient's
mind, are not infrequent. It is probable that many of the unreasoning
dreads have some such foundation and occasionally, if patients'
memories are carefully searched, the whole story can be reconstructed.
All that is needed, as a rule, is to get the patients interested in
conjunction with the physician in tracing the origin of their
affliction and not infrequently an interesting story will turn up.
Hypnosis used to be considered of great value for such
reconstructions, but unfortunately patients then become so suggestible
that it is often difficult to decide how much of what is brought out
by questioning is due to the suggestive quality that cannot well be
kept out of questions, and how much to a true redintegration of
memory.

Frights in children may for a time be forgotten and yet the memory of
them may come back, or a dread connected with them develop, that will
make the patient profoundly miserable. One of my patients slipped and
fell on a smooth steel plate at the head of a coal breaker and was
only saved by good fortune from falling a long distance. This happened
when he was a boy of ten. There were times when the memory of
this recurred so vividly as to set him all atremble and he could not
look down from a height without something of the feeling of goneness
coming over him that he felt at the time of the accident. The calling
of his attention to the fact that his memory probably exaggerated the
danger he had been in as a boy led him to go back and have another
look at the conditions in which he had fallen some thirty years
before. He found that they were not so dangerous as he thought and
that while he would have been scratched and his clothes would probably
have been soiled and torn, he would not have been seriously injured.
This has greatly diminished his dread of heights.

Various physical manifestations may be due to dreads which are often
supposed to be the result of some physical process in the nervous
system. Occasional fits of trembling, for instance, are, in sensitive
people, due to more or less forgotten memories of dangers or frights.
Occasionally even slight convulsive seizures may follow such recurrent
dreads. Not a few of the cases of so-called hystero-epilepsy in the
borderland between hysteria and epilepsy but always one or the other,
are due to such mental states rather than to any physical conditions.
Such incomplete memories are sometimes spoken of as subconscious. The
word subconscious has been so much abused, however, that I prefer not
to use it. The reminiscences have been obscured by an accumulation of
other facts but may with an effort of attention and concentration of
mind be recalled. Hypnosis, or the milder form of it spoken of as the
hypnoidal state, may enable the patient to recall them more vividly by
enabling him to concentrate his attention, but there are always risks
that suggestion will vitiate the old story in these cases. With care
all the details can usually be recalled and the patient is thus given
renewed confidence in himself and his own powers and does not learn to
lean on someone else in the process.


TREATMENT

The most important psychotherapeutic factor for the relief of the
discomfort due to dreads is the knowledge that there are so many and
such different varieties of them and that so many people suffer from
them. Many of those afflicted are inclined to think that their cases
are almost unique. To have them know that there are all forms and
phases of these curious aversions is to make them laugh a little at
their own because they laugh so readily at others, and it gives them
new courage for the attempt to conquer them. The aversion cannot be
entirely overcome, but it can be prevented from seriously influencing
sleep or appetite or occupation. This is after all the important
feature of the case from the standpoint of psychotherapy. Besides,
patients are encouraged not only to take up, but, above all, to
continue, the practice of that mental discipline and self-control
which will enable them to lessen their natural aversion, if not to
remove it entirely. I have many cases in which patients' aversions
have been entirely overcome. Curiously enough, there are rather often
relapses when the patients are run down in weight, or are in an
irritable condition from worry or emotional stress, and then something
of the former mental discipline has to be reinstituted to make them
once more free from disturbance.



I have sometimes found that the recommendation to patients suffering
from dreads to read Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's "Frankenstein" has
proved an excellent therapeutic agent. This is particularly true when
the patients are women, for it is likely to bring them close to the
sad lives of the Shelleys. The circumstances in which the book was
written add to the appeal. "Frankenstein" itself is interesting, so
that the mood created by this combination of interests is excellently
therapeutic. It will be recalled that in "Frankenstein" the inventor
seeking to make a man does make an automaton that is able to move and
to talk, but that then haunts its inventor, demanding of him a soul.
It proves a plague to him, but he cannot escape from it. Fly where he
will his creation follows him and bothers the life out of him, killing
a friend, strangling his bride, and making existence intolerable. The
symbol is complete and to the point. The things that bother us in life
are to a great extent of our own invention. The dreads that make so
many people miserable are practically always without any groundwork in
reality, figments of our imagination without the soul of real life,
but capable, as was Frankenstein's monster, of making their creators
intensely miserable and with them, to an even greater degree, their
friends.



CHAPTER IV

HEREDITY


There are so many false and, indeed, from a scientific standpoint,
utterly groundless notions with regard to heredity which, as a result
of the popularization of science, have become widely diffused, that
notions about inheritance are a most copious source of dreads and
discouragement and even produce inhibition of resistive vitality
against disease on the part of many patients. At first it seemed to me
as though the subject should be treated in the chapter on Dreads. It
is so much more important than the other dreads, however, and there
are so many people with so many different notions as to the evil
influence of heredity that it seems advisable to devote a special
chapter to it in which to provide contrary suggestion. Many patients
are constantly suggesting to themselves that, because they are
suffering from certain symptoms due to real or supposed hereditary
conditions, there is little or no hope of their recovery or of any
effective relief. In the old days, when tuberculosis was considered to
be hereditary, it was almost hopeless to try to rouse patients into a
state of vital resistance to their disease because of this overhanging
dread. Such a prepossession of mind must be overcome.

In spite of all that has been said about the power for evil of
heredity, and in this as in every other phase of pseudo-science, the
reason why there are false popular notions is because the medical
profession first cherished them and then they spread popularly, we now
know that it means comparatively little in pathology. The false
notions will continue, however, to be popularly diffused probably for
another generation, at least, and will have to be combated. Their
force must be lessened, for they are a heavy incubus on the patient's
mind, imposing a burden on vitality that inhibits normal, vital
reaction. This can only be done by a frank and complete statement of
our present knowledge of heredity, which is even yet not nearly
so definite as we would like to have it, but which contradicts
entirely most of the older impressions. In the matter of disease what
we know of heredity, instead of being a source of distress and
discouragement for patients, provides rather new incentives for
vigorous reaction, since nature helps rather than hampers the effort
of the individual to throw off disease from generation to generation.


False Impressions and Expression.--Probably the commonest expressions
that the physician hears from his patients, though we hear many
stereotyped phrases in our time when patients so freely discuss their
ills and their physicians' opinions among themselves, are such as: "My
father suffered from rheumatism, and I suppose I must expect to be
bothered by the same ailment." "My mother died of heart disease and I
think I have a weak heart; I suppose that we have weak hearts in the
family." "I have had three relatives die of cancer in the last three
generations, so I presume that cancer is in the family, or at least we
are much more liable to cancer than the generality of people." And,
finally, what used to be the commonest of all, but fortunately we have
changed that at least, though we sometimes hear it still:
"Tuberculosis runs in our family, my mother and an uncle died of it
and one of my brothers is suffering from it, so I suppose I must just
make up my mind that I, too, am sure to get it." Even the rarer
affections, like kidney disease, liver disease, various nervous
troubles, stomach and intestinal disturbances of many kinds,
flatulence, constipation or diarrhea, are all supposed to be
hereditary and patients explain their ill feelings by an appeal to the
supposed principle of heredity and its application to themselves and
their families.

In many chapters in this book the subject of heredity has been
considered with regard to specific affections. We have no evidence at
all, or the evidence is so trivial as to be quite negligible, that
anything acquired by the individual, be it for good or evil, is ever
transmitted to the next generation. That acquired characters are not
transmitted is now almost a universally accepted principle among
biologists. The more a biologist knows of recent biological research
and investigation the more will he be likely to consider this
principle of the non-transmission of acquirements as definitely
settled. According to this, then, no disease is ever transmitted to
the next generation. This is such a complete reversal of former
opinions, such an open contradiction of popular beliefs, that the
subject merits thorough discussion from this newer standpoint for
medical applications. We must not forget that popular medicine, even
when egregiously wrong, is founded on opinions held by the medical
profession aforetime and, indeed, on this subject of heredity many of
the medical profession still cling to the former opinion.

Tuberculosis, which used to furnish the most serious argument in this
matter, has now come to be the best possible explanation that we have
for the fallacy of the transmission of anything acquired. The disease
followed families so constantly that it seemed impossible to explain
it unless the principle of its heredity was conceded. Now that we know
its contagiousness, however, it is comparatively easy to explain its
occurrence in families. When we recall how carelessly people coughed
and even expectorated around the house, while children crept on the
floors and carried the germs of the disease to their mouths on their
hands, the wonder is, not that so many members of the family acquired
the disease seeing the manifold opportunities for contagion, but that
any of them ever escaped. We know now that practically every
adult above the age of thirty either has or has had tuberculosis.
Careful autopsies show us remains of the disease even in the bodies of
those who, without any history of tuberculosis, die from other
diseases. One out of eight of the population dies of tuberculosis, but
the remaining seven are quite capable of resisting the disease and so
we find healed lesions at autopsies in this proportion of cases.


Family History Favorable.--It is certain, then, that tuberculosis is
not hereditary. On the contrary, as we have learned more about the
disease in recent years, it has been recognized by specialists that
patients who have a family history of tuberculosis are notably less
likely to succumb to the disease early than those who have no such
history. An acute case of tuberculosis with considerable loss of
weight has a very unfavorable prognosis unless there is a history of
the disease in the preceding generation, when at once the outlook
becomes more hopeful. This newer view is confirmed by what we have
learned from the ethnological pathology of the disease. Peoples
exposed to the disease for the first time rapidly succumb to it. This
is practically true for all the infectious diseases. Our American
Indians succumbed in large numbers not only to tuberculosis but also
to smallpox and even to measles when each was first introduced among
them. The same thing was true in the South Sea Islands. Where nations
have been exposed to the disease for some time they have acquired not
an immunity, but at least they possess a greater resistive vitality to
its ravages and while they still may be susceptible they are not so
subject to the fatal forms of the disease, and even if they acquire it
they live on for many years.

Many people may insist that this immunity or comparative immunity to
tuberculosis and increased resistive vitality against the disease is
transmitted and illustrates the principle of heredity. The reaction of
the system to the disease increases in each generation and this
increase is an acquired character which passes down with the family
strain. This immunity should be viewed from another standpoint,
however. Certain families possess a resistive vitality to the disease;
others lack it. The resistant families do not succumb to it, and
propagate themselves. The others gradually die out. What caused the
resistant families originally to possess this quality we do not know.
We have no trace of its being acquired. Like so many other characters
by which men differ from one another, we do not know the beginning of
it. Once it comes in as a family trait it is transmitted. In
successive generations we have no evidence that it is stronger, only
the danger is recognized from experience and better precautions are
taken; the consequence is that the original resistive vitality has a
better chance to make itself felt and so the family is preserved. This
is as true with regard to the conquest of the tendency to excess in
the taking of toxic substances, as alcohol and opium, as with regard
to disease. It is not the transmission of an acquired character, but
the descent of a family trait the origin of which we do not know.


Hereditary Syphilis.--Many physicians will protest that, at least, we
have ample evidence for the transmission of syphilis by heredity. We
have for many years talked of hereditary syphilis as if it were
absolutely sure that its transmission by inheritance took place. There
is no doubt, of course, that the disease is conveyed from mother to
child. If a mother is actively syphilitic, then her child will
surely have syphilis when it is born. This, however, is no argument
for the hereditary transmission of syphilis. We know now that if a
mother is tuberculous, in an active stage of that disease, her child
will almost surely have the disease, but this is a question of
contagion not of inheritance. If a mother with active tuberculosis
nurses her child she is likely to give it tuberculosis. Usually the
idea is that the milk is not infective unless there are tuberculous
lesions in the breasts, and in cattle it is well known that such
lesions in the milk apparatus inevitably bring tubercle bacilli into
the milk. The demonstration of tubercle bacilli in the blood of
patients in the active stage of the disease is now much more frequent
than used to be the case and there seems no doubt that the bacillus
can pass through glandular structures into the secretions.

In the same way syphilitic nurses are likely to infect nurslings,
though, of course, in this case there are usually syphilitic sores on
the nipples which directly communicate the disease. It is almost
impossible for a syphilitic woman to nurse a child, if she is in an
active stage of the disease, without the production of such infective
sores on her nipples. When children are born with syphilis it means
only that in the process of feeding the child through the placental
tissues, a mother has infected her child quite as she might infect it
by nursing afterwards, in case she acquired syphilis after the birth.
Lesions corresponding to those on the nipple occur in placental
tissues and can be demonstrated without much difficulty. Congenital
syphilis, however, can always be traced to contagion and the being
born with the disease or having the manifestations of it occur shortly
after birth is no argument for heredity at all. It merely emphasizes
the danger of contagion.


Mothers of Syphilitic Children.--But there are some cases in which
the child who shows symptoms of syphilis after birth is born from a
mother who never had any manifestations of syphilis and therefore it
has been supposed that the infection must have come from the sperm,
and that in these cases, at least, there is a true heredity. It is
perfectly possible, however, that syphilitic infective material may
accompany the spermatozoon and so bring about the occurrence of
syphilis in the offspring. Even this would be infection, however, and
not heredity. Much more frequently it would seem that the disease in
the infant was contracted from the mother while suffering from a
latent form of syphilis, rather than from the paternal contributory
particle to its existence. The mother gives no sign of the disease,
but Colles' Law is that the mother of a syphilitic child may, without
danger to herself, be allowed to nurse her own infant even though she
herself has never had any symptoms. This can only mean that she is
thoroughly protected against the disease. We would not think for a
moment of allowing an ordinarily healthy women to nurse a syphilitic
child. Such immunity in the mother of the syphilitic child can only
come, so far as the present state of our knowledge goes, from her
having had the disease. It has been said that as the result of the
intimate communication with her child in utero she has acquired an
immunity by the passage across the placental membrane which separates
maternal and fetal blood of protective substances of various kinds due
to the reaction against the disease already beginning in the child. As
a matter of fact, however, there is no evidence of any such reactive
substances in the blood of the child which after birth proceeds to
have a series of acute lesions that are, as a rule, indicative
of almost complete lack of resistive vitality. Maternal immunity is
evidently due to the occurrence of the disease in some form within the
maternal tissues which produces the usual protection against the
disease in a briefer time than usual. This certainly seems to be a
more satisfactory explanation than that of a transmission of an
immunity from the child to the mother which the child itself does not
possess. It is easier to understand the transmission of an infection
that does not manifest itself externally than of an immunity which
there has been no time to acquire. Both explanations leave a mystery,
but the mystery in the second case can be explained more in consonance
with what we know about syphilitic transmission and immunity than in
the other case. It does away with the transmission directly from the
father almost completely, of course, leaves practically no ground for
the heredity of syphilis, but it accords much better than older
explanations with biological principles.


Late Lesions and Heredity.--Many physicians will be likely to insist
that the late developments of syphilis in children, in which not only
three or five years afterwards, but even fifteen or twenty years after
birth, there are syphilitic manifestations, are beyond all doubt
examples of heredity. In the last twenty-five years, however, our
ideas with regard to the after-effects of syphilis have been entirely
modified by what we have learned of such diseases as locomotor ataxia,
paresis and the like. These are undoubtedly parasyphilitic diseases in
most cases, yet they not infrequently develop from ten to twenty years
after any manifestation of syphilis and they seem to occur, by
preference almost, in cases where the preliminary symptoms have been
very mild. In not a few cases, indeed, the symptoms of syphilis have
been so transient in these patients that the true significance of them
was missed until the later developments showed their real character.
Krafft-Ebing, at the International Medical Congress at Moscow in 1897,
detailed some experiments that he had made on paretics in Vienna. They
were patients in whom no history of syphilis could be found, yet they
were suffering from typical paresis. As they were in the ultimate
stage of the disease it did not seem unjustifiable to inoculate them
with syphilis, and in most cases it was found that they would not take
the disease, showing that they were probably protected by a previous
attack, though there was no history of it.

The development of the late symptoms of syphilis in the second
generation can then be much more satisfactorily explained on the basis
of a mild infection with very few primary symptoms, almost lacking in
secondary symptoms, yet followed by subsequent symptoms of great
severity consequent upon the deterioration of vitality produced by the
disease. As for the manifestations in the third generation, they are
not directly syphilitic, but are, whenever they occur, due to
conditions consequent upon the degeneration that had been effected in
the preceding generation and which directly weakened the offspring--on
the same principle that weak parents give birth to weak children, and
starving parents cannot have strong, healthy children--but not because
of any direct influence of the disease. It is worth while to discuss
this subject from this standpoint, since it disposes of the only
supposed evidence left for the hereditary transmission of disease that
we now have, though only a few years ago most diseases were supposed
to be hereditary.


Heredity in Cancer.--With regard to other diseases, the evidence for
any inheritance has been founded entirely on coincidence. All the
human race dies and must die some way, and so in families a
certain number will die of the same disease. The argument for heredity
in cancer is extremely weak. When all the relatives of a person
afflicted with cancer as far out as the third generation are taken
into account, only about one in five of them are found to have
suffered from cancer. When we remember, however, that more than one in
thirty of all those who die, die of cancer and that the death-rate of
this disease is greater than that of typhoid fever, smallpox, scarlet
fever, measles, and all other infectious diseases put together, it is
easy to understand how large a role coincidence plays in any such set
of statistics, and how little the significance of the occurrence of
cancer in different members of the same family means, unless possibly
there is an occasional element of contagiousness which must not be
left out of the reckoning.


Heredity in Other Affections.--Other ailments present much less
possibility or probability of any element of heredity. For instance,
over-indulgence in meat or drink may readily bring about various
ailments of the gastro-intestinal tract. These are, of course,
definitely acquired conditions, some of them temporary and some
persistent, that will continue to give trouble so long as the patient
continues to produce irritation of them. They may, of course, lead to
permanent pathological conditions. To say that any of these are likely
to be inherited would be quite as absurd as to say that a corn could
be inherited, or the permanent deformities produced in toes by wearing
badly-fitting shoes could be transmitted to the next generation. We do
not think for a moment that because a man has lost a finger his
children are likely to be born without a finger, and still less if by
some accident or abuse he has been deprived of the use of an arm or
leg, that that is likely to be transmitted to the next generation. Yet
people calmly talk of the heredity of similarly produced conditions
within the body, and even physicians are not entirely free from the
superstition, for such it is, of the influence of heredity in
producing pathological conditions.

Habits of various kinds, physical and mental, are calmly accepted by
many people as influenced by or having their origin in heredity. Under
Alcoholism and Drug Addictions we have discussed this phase of the
subject, but a word or two more may make it clearer. A tendency to
form the same habits may be a family trait and descend from one
generation to another. That a specific habit should be the subject of
heredity or transmission is as much out of the question as that a
facility for doing anything should be transmitted. The son of an
acrobat must practice quite as faithfully as did his father in order
to secure his father's skill. He may inherit from his father that
particular constitution of body, that specific combination of muscle

and sinew and bone that enables him to become an acrobat by practice,
though with a different kind of body it would be impossible, but his
father's acquired facility influences in no way the son's ability. We
often hear of a man being the descendant of a series of generations
each of whom has gone to the university, as if that somehow assured
him a readier and better facility for education, but we know very well
that this is not true and that the boys straight from the soil are
often the best students and far ahead of the scions of long-time
academic families.


Inheritance of Defects.--Acquired characters are not transmitted,
though family traits are the subject of inheritance. Disease is not
hereditary, but defect is. Crossed eyes occur very commonly in
families and are evidently a subject of transmission. Family noses are
often very peculiar and may be traced for many generations. The
Hapsburg lip has been noted in sixty per cent. of the Hapsburgs since
the family came into prominence in the thirteenth century. Features of
all kinds are inherited, as anyone who has ever spent some time in a
family portrait gallery where the ancestors were genuine and the
paintings reasonably true to life, knows very well. Certain features
of European families can be traced for many generations. The tendency
to have six toes or to have an extra finger runs in certain families.
So small a thing as a patch of white hair in a particular part of the
head may be the subject of hereditary transmission. Moles on a
particular part of the body are inherited. All these, however, are
characters with regard to the acquisition of which we know nothing,
but that have somehow found their way into the family strain and have
become subjects of transmission from generation to generation. They
provide no evidence, however, as to the transmission of acquired
characters.


Variation.--What is even more surprising in biology, however, is that
there is another marvelous force at work quite as incomprehensible in
its way, perhaps even more so, than that of heredity. This is
variation. All creatures have a tendency to vary from their parents. A
very small proportion of the offspring resemble parents so closely as
to be quite similar. The great majority of them, however, have
noteworthy, individual, distinctive qualities. Occasionally these
qualities may be traced to the less immediate ancestors and then we
talk about reversion. Occasionally there appears in a child some trait
or anomaly supposed to be remotely ancestral and it is spoken of as
atavism. Whenever there is a tendency of the offspring of exceptional
parents to regress toward the racial average, we talk of regression.
Tall parents often have tall children, some of them may, by a special
tendency of heredity, be taller even than themselves. Most of them
will be shorter, however, and tend to regress toward the racial
average.

Few people understand what a wonderful power among living things is
exerted by this very opposite of heredity--variation. All the
possibility of improvement not only in humanity but among all living
things is dependent on variation. It does not seem difficult to
understand how offspring resemble parents. They are of them, therefore
they are like them. When we analyze the problem of heredity, however,
and find that the connecting link between offspring and parents is
always only a single cell of less than one one-hundredth of an inch in
diameter, the mystery of heredity looms up in all its immensity. This
minute bit of protoplasm, so small that it requires a rather strong
power of the microscope to see it, somehow contains compressed within
itself all the qualities that characterize the parent and are to be
transmitted to the offspring. Among animals, the color of the eyes and
hairy covering, the form and height of the animal, its generic
characteristics, and its individual characters--all are contained
within this minute spherule. The white blaze on the horse's hind leg,
the black blotch on the puppy's face, the white lock on a human head,
are all carried over from one generation to another with all the other
qualities in this small package. That is the mystery of heredity.

To this must be added another mystery quite as great and even more
difficult to understand--variation. This tendency to vary is the
basis for whatever evolution there is in the world. Some living things
vary in such a way as to be better suited to their environment than
they were before and then these outlive others because more favorably
situated, and natural selection brings about a maintenance of the
favorable variation. Instead, then, of patients being impressed with
the unfavorable influence of heredity, they should rather be made to
feel the weight of the idea that whatever evil tendencies the parent
has the child is more likely to have less of them than more, so that
variation tends to make the race better. We have had too much stress
laid on the heredity of unfortunate qualities and entirely too little
made of the variation tendency, which is constantly lifting the race
up. It is, of course, only what happens in everything else,
unfavorable are likely to have more weight than favorable suggestions,
and unless these latter are emphasized their influence becomes
swamped. This has happened with regard to variation. It is quite as
important a biological element as heredity and it makes for the
removal of unfortunate qualities, yet it has never become a popular
idea and is little appreciated even by physicians.

Patients who are worried about their heredity will, after a frank
discussion of our present knowledge of heredity and its co-ordinate
factor of variation, lose most of their dread of this specter of
supposed evil influence which so often proves the source of
discouragement and failure to react properly against pathological
conditions. There is probably no phase of modern biology in which the
so-called popularization of science has done more harm by providing an
abundant source ol unfortunate suggestions. Whatever influence
heredity has in relation to disease is favorable to the human race. It
is true that this is exerted by the elimination of the unfit, yet the
very consequence of this is that the children of parents who have
suffered from a particular disease are likely to have greater average
resistance to it than the generality of mankind, since their parents
passed the age up to reproductive activity without succumbing to it.
For cancer, tuberculosis and syphilis this teaching is of special
value and is probably more effective than any other single means could
be to prevent the ravages of the disease if it should occur, since it
keeps the patient from interfering with his own resistive vitality by
the discouraging conviction that there is no possible hope for him
because his parents also suffered from the disease.



CHAPTER V

PREMONITIONS


A state of mind that disturbs many people seriously, sometimes even
producing physical results, because of the burden of dread that hangs
over them, is that in which attention is paid to premonitions of evil.
There are two of these general conditions to be considered. In the one
there is a definite feeling that some special evil, occasionally very
particularly outlined in the mind, as a railroad accident, fire, or a
street accident of some kind, is to occur. In another mental condition
there is a generic premonition of evil, as if the worst were
sure to happen and the patients must be constantly preparing for it.
Occasionally this takes on some such form as an assurance of early
breakdown in health, or of death at an untimely age, or of some
crippling infirmity. This represents, of course, only one form of lack
of control over the mind, but it is surprising how much physical
suffering it may occasion. Only those who have had much to do with
patients who suffer from this state of mind realize it. Sympathetic
knowledge of the conditions that bring it about and of the real
significance of premonitions will do more to help patients than
anything else.

Every now and then newspapers tell the story of someone who had an
impending sense of danger, perhaps of a particular form of accident or
misfortune, which he could not shake off and which finally came true.
Sometimes it is a fire that was anticipated, though without any reason
except the dread, and precautions that eventually proved life-saving
to the patient were taken, or at least friends were told of it so that
the person seemed actually to have had some warning beforehand of the
danger that was to come. Sometimes it is the story of a railroad
accident, which some particularly fortunate individual escaped,
because of a premonition that made him take another train or make a
happy change of cars. Nothing is said of the times when premonitions
failed, nor of the disappointments of such dreads. Most people laugh
at the stories, but a few individuals become seriously impressed with
the possibility of such warnings and then make themselves miserable by
having frequent premonitions.


Etiology.--As to the origin of these premonitions it is hard to say.
They occur more frequently on dark days than in bright weather and are
complained of much more in spring and fall than during the cold brisk
winter or during the summer time. A succession of very hot days,
however, brings a series of premonitions, especially with regard to
accidents by heat, that is not surprising since the newspapers have
many accounts of sunstrokes and there is every suggestion of the
possibility of danger of this kind. How large a role suggestion plays
in the matter can be realized from the fact that after some
particularly serious railroad accident many people have premonitions
that they may be hurt and occasionally they put themselves to
considerable inconvenience in choosing the car in which they will sit,
if the last serious preceding accident of which they have heard
happens to have brought death mainly in a particular car of a train.
It is always suggestible people who are likely to have premonitions.
The thought comes very simply at first, they dwell on it a little
unwillingly, then they find it impossible to banish it and finally it
may become a positive obsession. The soil and the seed for suggestion
are both needed to produce premonitions.

Royce suggests that many of the supposedly fulfilled premonitions are
really only pseudo-presentiments and represent an instantaneous and
irresistible hallucination of memory, which may give rise to the
impression that there has been a previous dream or other warning
presaging the facts, though no such phenomenon actually took place. In
other words, there would be an auto-suggestion consequent upon the
hearing of other fulfilled presentiments that sometime some such thing
must also occur to us, and then when a happening that reminds us of
something in the previous stories of presentiments comes there
is the sudden responsive feeling "why, this is what I saw or must have
seen in my dream."

Podmore suggests an illusion of memory magnifying or rearranging the
details of a recent dream or premonitory impression, so as to make it
fit into the happenings. Dreams are so vague that unless they have
been written down we are not quite sure of them an hour after they
occurred and a day or two later we have only the merest hint of what
they were. If this can be made to have any connection with a casualty
of any kind that happens subsequently we may very readily recreate the
dream with its details concordant to the event. Certainly no reliance
can be placed on a story of a dream fulfilled unless the dream was
told before the happening.


Premonitions of Death.--Certain premonitions are common and are
frequently brought to the physician's notice. Among old people it is
not unusual to find that a premonition of death will hang over them
for days, seriously disturbing them and their friends, hampering often
a healthy reaction against disease and always lowering resistive
vitality. Many of them have heard stories which make them credit the
belief that such premonitions are likely to come true and therefore
they cannot shake them off. They have heard stories of people who have
become convinced that they were going to die at a particular time on a
particular day and whose conviction has been proven by the event. Like
all the other premonitions, whatever truth there may appear to be in
them, is due entirely to the fact that nearly everybody has
premonitions and occasionally, therefore, one of them must come true.
Those that are fulfilled create such an impression that they are
remembered, while those that fail are forgotten, until, though it is
not realized, it becomes true that fulfilled premonitions represent
exactly that much misunderstood principle that the exception proves
the rule. The rule is that premonitions fail. Exceptionally, however,
a premonition comes true. Instead of proving that premonitions mean
anything, the rarity of their fulfillment proves the rule of their
non-significance and demonstrates that they are merely coincidences.


Persuasion of Short Life.--Much mental suffering occurs in nervous
people as a consequence of a premonition or persuasion which comes to
them in middle life that they are destined not to live very long. This
is a commoner impression than is usually thought and comes to nearly
everyone at some time in life. Especially is it likely to come to
those who have suffered some severe illness and who know how weak they
were during their convalescence and, in spite of their thorough
recovery of strength, cannot quite persuade themselves but that an
ailment which made them so weak must surely have sapped their vitality
so as to make long life for them impossible. It is, of course, one of
the vague dreads that men always seem to be harboring, but there are
times that it becomes so prominent and so influential in the
production of depressive feelings that it is worth while to have the
means at hand to counteract it as far as possible. In the last ten
years I have made it a practice to ask, not only all my patients but
most of my acquaintances above 70 years of age whether they had ever
experienced such a premonition. I have particularly asked what were
their feelings with regard to the hope of long life for them when they
were in their forties and fifties. Without exception I have been told
by all those who had the education and leisure to be at all
introspective, that they had felt sure that they would not have long
life.

Most of the men consulted took out life insurance in such a way as to
benefit their families after their death rather than themselves during
life. Indeed it seems not an unusual thing for men to have some
experience with an ailment between 40 and 55 which makes them realize
their mortality much more than the deaths of their friends around them
had succeeded in doing. Premonitions and impressions, then, of this
kind evidently mean nothing, so far as the prospect of long life is
concerned. Practically everyone has them, and since, of course, the
great majority of men do not live to die of old age, it would seem
that their premonition of comparatively short life was fulfilled.
Occasionally a man will be found at the age of fifty unwilling to take
up further work or develop his business because of the dread that has
come over him that he may not live long enough to make it worth the
while. Where there is serious kidney or heart trouble such an
abstention from business is commendable, but in many cases it leaves a
man without occupation or with insufficient occupation and he becomes
short-circuited on himself with more serious results from worry than
would have come from work.


Publication of Fulfilled Premonitions.--The publication of fulfilled
premonitions has always seemed to me to be an especially fertile
source of premonitions for other people. Every now and then someone
goes to bed in a hotel having communicated to friends the idea that he
fears there may be fire before morning. I do not suppose that one out
of ten people who sleep in a strange hotel fail to have some such
thought, they do not consider it a premonition, however, but only a
suggestion for the taking of proper precautions so as to know where
exits and fire escapes and other means of escape are situated, so that
in the excitement of the fire they may not have to do any thinking,
but may have already made up their minds what they shall do. This sort
of premonition, if we call it by that name, has a definite useful
purpose. Occasionally it seems marvelously provident. The other makes
its possessor toss sleepless a portion of the night, does no good and
much harm. If, however, the premonition has been communicated to
someone else and then a fire should occur, the reporting of the
fulfilled premonition comes to a lot of weak-minded people as a
confirmation of their worst fears. It is, of course, only a question
of coincidence in a succession of events by no means connected in any
causal relation, yet by the unthinking set down as showing the
possibility of such premonitions being supremely significant. If we
had all the stories of unfulfilled premonitions also published then
the true significance of the others would be clear.


An Unfulfilled Premonition.--There is an excellent story of a strong
but unfulfilled premonition told by Carl Schurz in his
"Recollections," which seems to me such a good antidote to the
influence of supposed premonitions, that every physician should know
its details for their psychotherapeutic value with patients prone to
be troubled in this way. The ease with which the depression consequent
upon the premonition was relieved as soon as another forcible
suggestion that the danger was past took possession of him, shows how
such states of mind can be altered with no more real reason for the
alteration than there was for the original depression.



On the morning of the battle of Chancellorsville General Schurz awoke
with the absolute persuasion that at last his time had come and he was
to be killed that day. He had never had such a premonition before. He
had heard of many cases in which such premonitions proved the
forerunner of death. He realized how ridiculous was the idea that he
should know anything about what the future held for him, even vaguely,
and he tried to shake it off. He found it impossible to do so. He
thought that after he took up the routine work of the day the force of
the premonition would be lost. It was not, but, on the contrary,
seemed to increase in power over him. Finally the idea became so
imperative that he sat down and wrote letters of farewell to his wife
and friends, telling them that he had been tempted to do so because of
this premonition of danger. When he went into battle--and it may be
recalled that the Eleventh Corps did some fighting at Chancellorsville
that day--he was sure that now the end was not far off. It did not
take away his courage, however, and though he was well in the zone of
danger, he issued his orders and kept his troops well in hand as we
know from the history of the battle.

Finally his aide-de-camp, riding toward the front of the line beside
him, was killed by a cannon ball. All in an instant the thought came
over him that this was the only danger that was likely to be near him
for the day. The burden of premonition lifted from him as if the fact
that a friend had been killed beside him gave him an assurance that he
himself was not to be taken. There was absolutely no reason for his
thinking so, but his feelings of solicitude with regard to himself and
his fate faded completely and at once. He continued in the thick of
the fight and of danger and was untouched. He himself called attention
to the fact that if his premonition had come true, as well it might in
the midst of the very serious danger which he faced, it would have
seemed a strong confirmation of the impression that premonitions have
a meaning other than that of coincidence. It was, however, a
magnificent example of a failed premonition quite as striking as any
of the stories that are told about premonitions that came true.


Role of Coincidence.--This must be remembered in many of our arguments
in medical and other scientific matters. Most diseases are
self-limited, therefore anything that is given as a remedy for them
just about the time that nature has succeeded in conquering the
virulence of the disease and bringing about the cure of the patient,
seems to be curative. Such cures, often remedies of supposed wonderful
potency, come and go in medicine by the hundred every ten years. Such
curious doctrines as that of the influence of maternal impressions in
producing deformities and defects in the unborn child are founded on
nothing better than these coincidences. They are often very startling,
but the rule by which they must be judged is the number of times in
which in spite of similar conditions no premonition takes place.
Literally thousands of people go to bed every night who are to be
waked by the danger of fire before morning and yet have no premonition
of it. Literally millions of people have gone to bed in recent years
without any premonition of earthquake, yet have been wakened before
morning with their houses tumbling around them. If a few people have
premonitions in these cases it is easy to understand that it is
coincidence and not anything else, for these are exceptions, and this
again is a case of the exception proving the rule.




Premonitions and Superstitions--Thirteen.--Occasionally premonitions
are connected with certain events that are themselves, even though
happening quite accidentally, supposed to be portentous. How many
people, for instance, feel quite uncomfortable if they sit down
thirteen at a table. The very fact of the gathering of thirteen is
supposed to be a spontaneous or automatic premonition that is a
forewarning of evil that has to come to some of them. Unfortunately,
this superstition continues to have a vogue and an influence over
people's minds because stories are told that are supposed to confirm
it. Needless to say, when these stories are true, they are merely
coincidences. Out of any baker's dozen of people who sit down to
dinner it is not surprising if one should die or be killed during the
year. Some of the stories, however, are merely sensational inventions
worked up to be given to the public because a number of people are
interested in this sort of thing. Probably one of the stories that has
gone the rounds most and that has served to confirm many people in
their uneasiness over the number 13 is that which is told as happening
to Matthew Arnold and some friends, supposedly the year the great
English litterateur died.

The story runs that just as Mr. Arnold and his friends were about to
sit down to the table it was discovered that there were thirteen
present. According to the old tradition in the matter it is the one
who first gets up from table under these circumstances that is likely
to be affected by the malignant influence. When the end of the dinner
had arrived, by previous arrangement Mr. Arnold and two very healthy
friends, brothers, arose simultaneously. According to the widely
diffused newspaper account of years afterward, Mr. Arnold himself died
within the year and one of the brothers was lost in the wreck of an
English passenger vessel off the coast of Australia in six months,
while the other brother committed suicide before the end of the year.
Careful investigation of the details has shown, however, that the
story was made out of whole cloth. Mr. Arnold himself, who was
suffering from heart trouble towards the end of his life, was not
likely to take part in any such arrangement because of the constant
danger, well-known to himself, of sudden death in his case. This might
happen at any time and might seem to confirm the superstition. The
dates of the story, moreover, are all wrong. Matthew Arnold's death
and the loss of the English passenger vessel in Australian waters,
referred to, do not occur within five years of each other. The story
has gone round the world. The correction will never reach so far. The
story is startling; the explanation commonplace. Many people will
continue to believe that here, at least, was one striking confirmation
of their superstition.

It is curious how the force of this "13" superstition has continued in
spite of education and enlightenment. Most passenger vessels now built
have no staterooms numbered thirteen. On certain streets in large
cities one finds the number 12-1/2 (until this year it was so on my
own) substituted for thirteen. Sometimes one finds "twelve a" or
something similar. In the large hotels, where they have immense
banquet halls with the tables numbered so that guests may be able to
find their places, I have often noted that there was no table number
thirteen. It is said that in some of the new skyscraper buildings
twenty stories and more in height there has been question of skipping
the thirteenth floor as a designation, because while most people
would be quite undisturbed about it, some do not care to have an
office on the thirteenth floor, giving as an excuse that clients or
patrons do not care to come to the thirteenth floor. In automobile
races men are willing to risk their lives by going a hundred miles an
hour on roads never intended for such performances, but they refuse to
race behind the fell number thirteen. This, after all, can be readily
understood. The slightest thing that takes away a man's complete
confidence in himself may be serious in an automobile going as fast as
these. Men must not think of fear or they lose some of their power and
control over themselves and their machine. They must simply forget
everything except the task before them.

The belief in the thirteen superstition is one form of acceptance of
premonitions. That of itself should be enough to enable sensible
people to throw them off. Above all, it must be remembered that such
supposed malignant influence, when allowed to affect people, impairs
their presence of mind and may thus lead up to the accident or mishap
which it is supposed to foreshadow. This is the serious feature of
such premonitions and dreads. Unless people can be persuaded sensibly
to be rid of them they handicap themselves whenever they are placed in
danger that causes them to recur to the thought of the premonition or
dread. While there is absolutely nothing but coincidence in even the
supposed true stories, and many of the stories are merely sensational
inventions, yet people need to be persuaded to rid themselves of the
incubus that settles over them because of such ideas.


Premonitions and Telepathy.--There are many people who think that
premonitions have something to do with telepathy. Somehow the future
event is supposed to be able to send some message to specially
susceptible minds. Either that, of course, or there is some being in
another world whose interest is sufficient to convey some inkling of
the future. A little consideration of this subject, however, shows the
utter lack of rationality in any such opinion. Future events, having
as yet no existence, cannot in any way influence intelligence. Such
future events, when dependent on human free will, are quite impossible
of being foretold and, as has been said, no being except the Creator
Himself knows anything about them. It would be only from Him, then,
that information might be supposed to come and it would be hard to
think such information would be so vague and indefinite as to leave
room for doubt and, besides, often defeat its purpose of protection by
seriously disturbing patients and lessening their presence of mind.
There is no reasonable explanation by which a human being can be
supposed to obtain knowledge of a future event unless there is a
complete overturning of the ordinary laws of nature and then it would
be reasonably supposed that no doubt of the significance of the event
would be left.

Nearly all of us have premonitions that fail. Only a few especially
introspective people who are constantly afraid of what will happen to
them, and who are sure that the worst is always preparing for them,
have their premonitions come true more than once or twice in life. The
striking fulfillments of a few premonitions could be paralleled by an
endless number of just as striking failures, only that most people
dismiss the idea completely from their minds as too foolish to be
further talked about. It is quite the same with dreams. All the world
dreams and there would be a serious violation of the theory of
probabilities if some dreams did not come true. The great
majority of mankind, especially after the age of thirty, is fearful
lest something ill is going to happen to them and their premonitions
are rather frequent. If some of these did not come true then the
mathematics of coincidences as based on the theory of probabilities
would prove false.





Next: Periodical Depression

Previous: Definite Dreads



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 882