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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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