Mind and Body; or, Mental States and Physical Conditions

Mind and Body; or, Mental States and Physical Conditions

William Walker Atkinson
William Walker Atkinson

Author: Atkinson, William Walker, 1862-1932
Mental suggestion
Mind and Body; or, Mental States and Physical Conditions


  Foreword 9
I. The Subconscious Mind 15
II. The Sympathetic System 29
III. The Cell-Minds 39
IV. The Mental Basis of Cure 58
V. The History of Psycho-Therapy 84
VI. Faith Cures 115
VII. The Power of the Imagination 135
VIII. Belief and Suggestion 155
IX. Psycho-Therapeutic Methods 173
X. The Reaction of the Physical 196


Mind and Body—Mental States and Physical Conditions! To the mind of those who have contented themselves with merely the superficial aspects of things, these two things—mind and body; and mental states and physical conditions—seem to be as far apart as the two poles; seem to be opposites and contradictories impossible of reconciliation. But to those who have penetrated beneath the surface of things, these two apparent opposites are seen to be so closely related and inter-related—so blended and mingled together in manifestation—that it is practically impossible to scientifically determine where the one leaves off and the other begins. And so constant and close is their mutual action and reaction, that it often becomes impossible to state positively which is the cause and which the effect.

In the first place, Science now informs us that in all living substance, from cell to mammoth, there is and must be Mind. There can be no Life without Mind. Mind, indeed, is held to be the very “livingness” of Life—the greater the degree of manifestation of Mind, the higher the degree of Life. Moreover, the New Psychology informs us that upon the activities of the Subconscious Mind depend all the processes of physical life—that the Subconscious Mind is the essence of what was formerly called the Vital Force—and is embodied in every cell, cell-group or organ of the body. And, that this Subconscious Mind is amenable to suggestion, good and evil, from the conscious mind of its owner, as well as from outside. When the subject of the influence of Mental States upon Physical Conditions is studied, one sees that the Physical Condition is merely the reflection of the Mental State, and the problem seems to be solved, the mystery of Health and Disease solved. But in this, as in everything else, there is seen to be an opposing phase—the other side of the shield. Let us look at the other side of the question:

Just as we find that wherever there is living substance there is Mind, so do we find that we are unable to intelligently consider Mind unless as embodied in living substance. The idea of Mind, independent of its substantial embodiment, becomes a mere abstraction impossible of mental imaging—something like color independent of the colored substance, or light without the illuminated substance. And just as we find that Mental States influence Physical Conditions, so do we find that Physical Conditions influence Mental States. And, so the problem of Life, Health and Disease once more loses its simplicity, and the mystery again deepens. The deeper we dig into the subject, the more do we become impressed with the idea of the universal principle of Action and Reaction so apparent in all phenomena. The Mind acts upon the Body; the Body reacts upon the Mind; cause and effect become confused; the reasoning becomes circular—like a ring it has no beginning, no end; its beginning may be any place we may prefer, its ending likewise.

The only reconciliation is to be found in the fundamental working hypothesis which holds that both Mind and Body—both Mental States and Physical Conditions—are the two aspects of something greater than either—the opposing poles of the same Reality. The radical Materialist asserts that the Body is the only reality, and that Mind is merely its “by-product.” The Mentalist asserts that the Mind is the only reality, and that the Body is merely its grosser form of manifestation. The unprejudiced philosopher is apt to stand aside and say: “You are both right, yet both wrong—each is stating the truth, but only the half-truth.” With the working hypothesis that Mind and Body are but varying aspects of the Truth—that Mind is the inner essence of the Body, and Body the outward manifestation of the Mind—we find ourselves on safe ground.

We mention this fundamental principle here, for in the body of this book we shall not invade the province of metaphysics or philosophy, but shall hold ourselves firmly to our own field, that of psychology. Of course, the very nature of the subject renders it necessary that we consider the influence of psychology upon physiology, but we have remembered that this book belongs to the general subject of the New Psychology, and we have accordingly emphasized the psychological side of the subject. But the same material could have been used by a writer upon physiology, by changing the emphasis from the psychological phase to the physiological.

We have written this book to reach not only those who refuse to see the wonderful influence of the Mental States over the Physical Conditions, but also for our “metaphysical” friends who have become so enamored with the power of the Mind that they practically ignore the existence of the Body, indeed, in some cases, actually denying the existence of the latter. We believe that there is a sane middle-ground in “metaphysical healing,” as there is in the material treatment of disease. In this case, not only does Truth lie between the two extremes, but it is composed of the blending and assimilation of the two opposing ideas and theories. But, even if the reader does not fully agree with us in our general theories and conclusions, he will find within the covers of this book a mass of facts which he may use in building up a new theory of his own. And, after all, what are theories but the threads upon which are strung the beads of facts—if our string does not meet with your approval, break it and string the beads of fact upon a thread of your own. Theories come, and theories go—but facts remain.



In order to understand the nature of the influence of the mind upon the body—the effect of mental states upon physical functions—we must know something of that wonderful field of mental activity which in the New Psychology is known as “The Subconscious Mind,” and which by some writers has been styled the “Subjective Mind;” the “Involuntary Mind;” the “Subliminal Mind;” the “Unconscious Mind,” etc., the difference in names arising because of the comparative newness of the investigation and classification.

Among the various functions of the Subconscious Mind, one of the most important is that of the charge and control of the involuntary activities and functions of the human body through the agency of the sympathetic nervous system, the cells, and cell-groups. As all students of physiology know, the greater part of the activities of the body are involuntary—that is, are independent (or partly so) of the control of the conscious will. As Dr. Schofield says: “The unconscious mind, in addition to the three qualities which it shares in common with the conscious—viz., will, intellect and emotion—has undoubtedly another very important one—nutrition, or the general maintenance of the body.” And as Hudson states: “The subjective mind has absolute control of the functions, conditions and sensations of the body.” Notwithstanding the dispute which is still raging concerning what the Subconscious mind is, the authorities all agree upon the fact that, whatever else it may be, it may be considered as that phase, aspect, part, or field of the mind which has charge and control of the greater part of the physical functioning of the body.

Von Hartmann says: “The explanation that unconscious psychical activity itself appropriately forms and maintains the body has not only nothing to be said against it, but has all possible analogies from the most different departments of physical and animal life in its favor, and appears to be as scientifically certain as is possible in the inferences from effect to cause.” Maudsley says: “The connection of mind and body is such that a given state of mind tends to echo itself at once in the body.” Carpenter says: “If a psychosis or mental state is produced by a neurosis or material nerve state, as pain by a prick, so also is a neurosis produced by a psychosis. That mental antecedents call forth physical consequents is just as certain as that physical antecedents call forth mental consequents.” Tuke says: “Mind, through sensory, motor, vaso-motor and trophic nerves, causes changes in sensation, muscular contraction, nutrition and secretion…. If the brain is an outgrowth from a body corpuscle and is in immediate relation with the structures and tissues that preceded it, then, though these continue to have their own action, the brain must be expected to act upon the muscular tissue, the organic functions and upon the nervous system itself.”

Von Hartmann also says: “In willing any conscious act, the unconscious will is evoked to institute means to bring about the effect. Thus, if I will a stronger salivary secretion, the conscious willing of this effect excites the unconscious will to institute the necessary means. Mothers are said to be able to provide through the will a more copious secretion, if the sight of the child arouses in them the will to suckle. There are people who perspire voluntarily. I now possess the power of instantaneously reducing the severest hiccoughs to silence by my own will, while it was formerly a source of great inconvenience to me…. An irritation to cough, which has no mechanical cause, may be permanently suppressed by the will. I believe we might possess a far greater voluntary power over our bodily functions if we were only accustomed from childhood to institute experiments and to practice ourselves therein…. We have arrived at the conclusion that every action of the mind on the body, without exception, is only possible by means of an unconscious will; that such an unconscious will can be called forth partly by means of a conscious will, partly also through the conscious idea of the effect, without conscions will, and even in opposition to the conscious will.”

Henry Wood says of the Subconscious Mind: “It acts automatically upon the physical organism. It cognizes external facts, conditions, limitations, and even contagions, quite independent of its active counterpart. One may, therefore, ‘take’ a disease and be unaware of any exposure. The subconsciousness has been unwittingly trained to fear, and accept it; and it is this quality, rather than the mere inert matter of the body, that succumbs. Matter is never the actor, but is always acted upon. This silent, mental partner, in operation, seems to be a living, thinking personality, conducting affairs on its own account. It is a compound of almost unimaginable variety, including wisdom and foolishness, logic and nonsense, and yet having a working unitary economy. It is a hidden force to be dealt with and educated, for it is often found insubordinate and unruly. It refuses co-operation with its lesser but more active and wiser counterpart. It is very ‘set’ in its views, and only changes its qualities and opinions by slow degrees. But, like a pair of horses, not until these two mental factors can be trained together can there be harmony and efficiency.”

In order to understand the important part played in the physical economy by the Subconscious Mind, it is only necessary to understand the various processes of the human system which are out of the ordinary field of the voluntary or conscious mind. We then realize that the entire process of nutrition, including digestion, assimilation, etc., the processes of elimination, the processes of circulation, the processes of growth, in fact the entire processes manifested in the work of the cells, cell-groups, ganglia, physical organs, etc., are in charge of and controlled by the Subconscious Mind. Our food is digested and transformed into the nourishing substances of the blood; then carried through the arteries to all parts of the body, where it is absorbed by the cells and used to replace the worn-out material, the latter then being carried back through the veins to the lungs where the waste matter is burned up, and the balance again sent on its journey through the arteries re-charged with the life-giving oxygen. All of these processes, and many others of almost equal importance, are out of the field of the conscious or voluntary mind, and are governed by the Subconscious Mind. As we shall see when we consider the Sympathetic Nervous System, the greater part of the body is dominated by the Subconscious Mind, and that the welfare of the major physical functions depends entirely, or almost so, upon this great area or field of the mind.

The best authorities now generally agree that there is no part of the body which may be considered as devoid of mind. The Subconscious Mind is not confined to the brain, or even the greater plexuses of the nervous system, but extends to all parts of the body, to every nerve, muscle, and even to every cell and cell-group of the body. The functions and processes of the body are no longer considered as purely mechanical, or chemical, but are now seen to be the result of mental action of some kind or degree. Therefore, in considering the Subconscious Mind, one must not think of it as resident in the brain alone, but rather as being distributed over the entire physical body. There is mind in every cell, every organ, every muscle, every nerve—in every part of the body.

The importance of the above statements regarding the power and importance of the Subconscious Mind may be realized when one remembers the dictum of the New Psychology, to wit: The Subconscious Mind is amenable to Suggestion. When it is realized that this great controller of the physical organism is so constituted that it accepts as truth the suggestions from the conscious mind of its owner, as well as those emanating from the conscious minds of other people, it may be understood why Faith, Belief, and Expectant Attention manifest such marked effects upon the physical body and the general health, for good or for evil, as indicated in the preceding chapters. All of the many instances and examples recited in the preceding chapters may be understood when it is realized that the Subconscious Mind, which is in control of the physical functions and vital processes, will accept the suggestions from the conscious mind of its owner, and also suggestions from outside which the conscious mind of its owner allows to pass down to it. If, as Henry Wood has said in the paragraph previously quoted, it “acts automatically upon the physical organism,” and “seems to be a living, thinking personality, conducting affairs on its own account,” and at the same time, accepts and ‘takes on’ suggested conditions, it may be readily understood how the wonderful and almost incredible statements of the authorities mentioned in the preceding chapters have had real and substantial basis in truth.

This understanding of the part played by the Subjective Mind in controlling and affecting physical conditions and activities, together with its suggestible qualities and nature, gives us a key to the whole question of the “Why?” of Mental Healing. Suggestion is the connecting link between Mind and Body, and an understanding of its laws and principles enables one to see the moving cause of the strange phenomena of the Faith Cures, under whatever name they may pass, and under whatever guise they may present themselves. “Suggestion” is the explanation offered by the New Psychology for the almost miraculous phenomena which other schools seek to explain upon some hypothesis based either upon religious beliefs, or upon some metaphysical or philosophical doctrine. The New Psychology holds that it is not necessary to go outside of the realms of psychology and physiology in studying Mental Healing or Psycho-Therapy; and that the theories of the semi-religious and metaphysical cults are merely strange guises or masks which serve to conceal the real operative principle of cure.

The following quotation from Dr. Schofield will serve to call the attention to the important part played by the Subconscious Mind in the physical activities, a fact which is not generally recognized: “It has often been a mystery how the body thrives so well with so little oversight or care on the part of its owner. No machine could be constructed, nor could any combination of solids or liquids in organic compounds, regulate, control, counteract, help, hinder or arrange for the continual succession of differing events, foods, surroundings and conditions which are constantly affecting the body. And yet, in the midst of this ever-changing and varying succession of influences, the body holds on its course of growth, health, nutrition and self-maintenance with the most marvelous constancy. We perceive, of course, clearly, that the best of qualities—regulation, control, etc., etc.—are all mental qualities, and at the same time we are equally clear that by no self-examination can we say we consciously exercise any of these mental powers over the organic processes of our bodies. One would think, then, that the conclusion is sufficiently simple and obvious—that they must be used unconsciously; in other words, it is, and can be nothing else than unconscious mental powers that control, guide and govern the functions and organs of the body.

“Our ordinary text-books on physiology give but little idea of what I may call the intelligence that presides over the various systems of the body, showing itself in the bones, as we have seen, in distributing the available but insufficient amount of lime salts in disease; not equally, but for the protection of the most vital parts, leaving those of lesser value disproportionally deficient. In the muscular system nearly all contractions are involuntary. Even in the voluntary (so-called) muscles, the most we can do is to will results. We do not will the contractions that carry out these results. Muscles, striped and unstriped, are ceaselessly acting without the slightest consciousness in maintaining the balance of the body, the expression of the face, the general attributes corresponding to mental states, the carrying on of digestion and other processes with a purposiveness, and adaptation of means to new ends and new conditions, ceaselessly arising, that are beyond all material mechanism. Consider, for instance, the marvelous increase of smooth muscle in the uterus at term, and also its no less marvelous subsequent involution; observe, too, the compensating muscular increase of a damaged heart until the balance is restored and the necessity for it ceases, as does growth at a fixed period; consider in detail the repair of a broken bone. These actions are not mere properties of matter; they demand, and are the result of, a controlling mind.

“The circulation does not go round as most text-books would lead us to believe, as the result merely of the action of a system of elastic tubes, connected with a self-acting force-pump. It is such views as these that degrade physiology and obscure the marvels of the body. The circulation never flows for two minutes in the same manner. In an instant, miles of capillaries

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