Pathological Significance

Unconscious cerebration is not, then, a trivial matter, and not an

unusual experience. It probably occurs in every individual to a much

greater extent than he thinks, unless he is engaged in analyzing his

mental processes and their ways rather carefully. This constitutes one

of the dangers of the intellectual life, which must also be guarded

against in business life or in any absorbing occupation. When the mind

has become intensely occupied with a subject, it is not easy to

relinquish it. Even when we turn to something else, mental activity in

the old groove continues to some extent, and so will prevent the rest

that is necessary for the repair of tissue. Under these conditions the

re-creation that is so important does not take place quite as well

as it should, and even sleep does not relieve us from the burden of

mental work. Mental exhaustion will result as a consequence of

constant occupation, and so mental relaxation must be secured.

Deliberate means and methods must be employed in order that we may not

deceive ourselves into thinking we are securing mental recreation,

though all the time certain exhausting mental processes continue to be


Dual Mental Occupation.--Many are inclined to think that reading,

especially the reading of newspapers and magazines, which has become

so popular in our time, furnishes an occupation of mind that enables

one, for a time at least, to get away from cares and worries. This is

probably true when the news is of special interest, or there is some

form of excitement, or at the beginning of such reading before one

grows accustomed to the usual formula of the magazine stories;

but as years go on and cares increase, such reading does not afford an

occupation of mind that enables one to throw them off. It helps to

pass the time, but the cares and worries keep insistently presenting

themselves, and the effort to inhibit them, and at the same time pay

some attention to what we are reading, makes a double task. Such

reading, then, far from being restful, rather adds to the burden of

care and to the labor of the mind, for besides the conscious

cerebration, there is the undercurrent of subconscious cerebration

disturbing the rest of cells that should be free from labor. The

constant renewal of effort to keep one train of thought from

interfering with another is itself a waste of nervous energy. This

whole matter of reading is coming to occupy a new place in the minds

of educators, especially of those who are trying to realize the

scientific significance of various phases of education. In his address

as the President of the British Association for the Advancement of

Science, at the Winnipeg meeting in 1909, Prof. J. J. Thompson, the

British physicist, sums up the value of reading as an intellectual

exercise in a way that would not be gratifying to those who, in recent

years, have apparently accepted the doctrine that in much reading

there is much information and, therefore, much education. He says:

It is possible to read books to pass examinations without the higher

qualities of the mind being called into play. Indeed, I doubt if

there is any process in which the mind is more quiescent than in

reading without interest. I might appeal to the widespread habit of

reading in bed as a prevention of insomnia as a proof of this.

Social Duties.--So-called social duties are, in this respect, very

like reading. When we meet new people who are interesting, we get

diversion of mind in their company. When the people with whom we are,

however, already familiar, and perhaps most of them a little tiresome,

then what is presumed to be a social diversion becomes merely a bore,

all the problems of the day obtrude themselves, of real rest there is

none, and re-creation can scarcely be possible. Nearly the same thing

is true of the present-day theater, after we have become used to its

offerings. A serious play, well constructed and with life's problems

touched deeply, may grip us and take us out of ourselves, constituting

a complete and magnificent diversion. For a limited number of people

music accomplishes this purpose. Unfortunately, the number is very

limited, and for those for whom music is the greatest diversion, it

sometimes constitutes in itself a poignant source of mental

exhaustion. Music may be a very trying thing, especially for women,

and for those who have souls extremely sensitive to its manifold


Upon these considerations, the importance of unconscious cerebration

is brought home to the physician. It is impossible for a great many

people to keep their minds inactive, and this is particularly true of

two classes of people: those who have superabundant mental energy and

those who lack self-control. To both of these classes of men and

women, the physician must point out the dangers of unconscious

cerebration--the occupation of mind with some subject, even at times

while they imagine they are occupied with something else, or even

during sleep. Such continuous occupation with a single subject is

dangerous. Physicians must emphasize that many supposed mental

occupations are really so superficial that they allow other more

exhausting processes to continue below them in the sphere of

consciousness. As a consequence, the mind, instead of being relaxed,

is really more tense than before, because occupied with two sets of

thoughts. Very often it would be better for such people to continue

with the more serious problem until its solution came, or until they

realized that they must divert themselves.

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