The Rise and Fall of Mesmerism

The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine

The following passage is excerpted from “The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine” by Anne Harringtona recent addition to my recommended reading list.

The End of Medical Exorcism in Europe

Appreciating the interweaving religious, philosophical and political stakes [in 18th century medicine] is important, because it can help us make sense of an episode whose significance we might otherwise misinterpret: the showdown between the German exorcist Father Johann Joseph Gassner and the Viennese physician Anton Mesmer.

Johann Joseph Gassner

Gassner was an exorcist whose ability to cast out devils was legendary. People came from all over to be healed, and in dramatic public performances—witnessed by crowds from all sectors of society—Gassner would oblige. Official records were made; competent witnesses testified to the extraordinary happenings. All agreed on the basic facts. On being presented with a supplicant, Gassner would typically wave a crucifix over his or her body and demand in Latin that, if the disease he was seeing had a “preternatural” source, this fact must be made manifest. The patient would then typically collapse into convulsions, and Gassner would proceed to exorcise the offending spirit.

Sometimes he added flourishes to this basic routine: in one dramatic instance, for example, he ordered the demon inside a woman to increase the poor woman’s heartbeat and then to slow it down. Following the second command, a witnessing physician was invested to examine the patient and declared her dead—he could find no pulse, he exclaimed; her heart had stopped! But Gassner remained calm and demanded that the demon responsible for these acts depart from the body of this woman at once. The command given, the woman stirred and rose to her feet before the crowd, alive and well. No one could exorcise like Gassner.

But the increasingly secular sensibilities of the time combined with the growing hostility of the civic authorities toward the Church to make Gassner’s very successes the cause of his undoing. The medical profession complained; the local authorities complained; and in 1774, by order of Prince Max Joseph of Bavaria, a commission was set up to investigate all these goings-on. One of the experts invited to assist in the investigation was a young physician named Franz Anton Mesmer.

Mesmer was asked to assist because he seemed to have a perspective on Gassner’s performance that would be very useful for the skeptics and others who wanted to rein in Gassner. Today, Mesmer is remembered—if he is remembered at all—as a charlatan, or a showman, or maybe as someone who discovered the existence of psychological processes that he did not himself properly understand. He considered himself, however, to be a child of the dawning enlightened, scientific age. He was interested in the larger implications of Newton’s ideas about physical forces and gravitation; and he was skeptical, both of the old supernatural ideas about the world, and of the old authority structures of the Church.

Mesmer’s Theory of Animal Magnetism

Mesmer was particularly interested in the medical implications of Newton’s theory of gravitation. Newton had suggested that the human body might contain an invisible fluid that responds to planetary gravitation, like the tides of the ocean. Taking up this idea, Mesmer performed an initial series of experiments in which he moved mineral magnets around the bodies of his patients. In response to such treatments, Mesmer’s patients reported experiencing strong sensations of energy moving through their bodies. They also experienced all sorts of involuntary movements, including often violent convulsions. These convulsions left many patients feeling much improved, or even cured of their ailments. Apparently, mineral magnets could have great therapeutic value through their ability to influence human magnetic fields in this fashion.

“It is not enough to cure the sick; you have to cure them with methods accepted by the community.”

But then Mesmer made a further discovery: the mineral magnets were not actually necessary to the effects he could produce! By simply waving his hands over a patient’s body, Mesmer was able to produce precisely the same results as he had before using mineral magnets. From this startling observation, Mesmer concluded that he himself had actually been the source of the invisible magnetic energy or force that had been benefiting his patients all along. He called this force “animal magnetism,” and suggested that it had worked its therapeutic effects by rechanneling or refortifying the weakened animal magnetism in his patients.

More than anything else, it was Mesmer’s new theory of animal magnetism that interested the Commission investigating Gassner’s work, for they could see that it gave Mesmer a new way in which to think about the Christian drama of demonic possession and exorcism.

“Not spirits, but an invisible magnetic force.” It was a conclusion that helped give the authorities the rationale they needed to put a stop to Gassner’s public career. From then on, the priest was forbidden to engage in public exorcisms. He was confined to a small parish and only allowed to perform private exorcisms under supervision.

Gassner’s problem was not that he had failed to help people, but rather that the narrative of exorcism he used to frame his therapeutic work was no longer suited to an increasingly secular, civic-minded age. As historian Henri Ellenberger wryly observed, “it is not enough to cure the sick; you have to cure them with methods accepted by the community.”

Mesmerism Falls Out of Fashion

Franz Anton Mesmer
Franz Anton Mesmer

In the spring of 1784, King Louis XVI authorized two royal commissions made up respectively of members of the Royal Society of Medicine and the Royal Academy of Sciences to carry out the job [of investigating and discrediting Mesmerism]. The work of the first, strictly medical commission was largely forgotten soon after its report. However, the work of the second commission was to prove much more influential. The membership of this Commission reads like a Who’s Who of natural philosophy at the time, including Benjamin Franklin, astronomer Jean Bailly (who had computed the orbit of Haley’s Comet), chemist Antione Lavoisier (who discovered oxygen), and the physician Joesph-Ignace Guillotin (whose main claim to fame, being embodied in his name, hardly requires further mention).

These men oversaw a series of rather clever trials that together served to demonstrate, to their complete satisfaction, that there was no evidence that an animal magnetic fluid was responsible either for the convulsive crises, or the resulting cures of Mesmer’s patients.

For the commissioners, the mere fact that a treatment worked…was not sufficient grounds to take it seriously.

Their conclusions are often taken to represent an early triumph of the scientific method over gullibility, but this fails to do justice to the situation. We are not dealing here simply with a desire to expose fraud, nor we are dealing with skepticism toward a particular explanatory framework that could be replaced by another, better one, as in the case of Gassner.

The commissioners freely conceded that the treatments they had observed had the capacity to produce powerful bodily effects in some people—convulsions, tremors, and more; that they were even open to the possibility that some of these effects might be of a therapeutic nature. But they found that the cause of these effects lay not in the physical but in the mental realm; not in Mesmer’s supposed magnetic “fluids” but rather in the faculty of mind they called the “imagination”. What they were doing was dismissing these effects as unworthy of explanation altogether.

The mesmerist who was the target of the investigation complained that the commissioners made no effort to define the “imagination” to which they attributed the magnetic effects. He had missed the point. For the commissioners, the mere fact that a treatment worked—at least on some level, and some of the time—was not sufficient grounds to take it seriously. In the words of French philosopher Isabelle Stengers, “the suffering body is not a reliable witness” to the validity of a treatment. “It can happen that it will be cured for the ‘wrong reasons’”.

What do you think is the moral of this story?

23 comments on “The Rise and Fall of Mesmerism”

  1. My guess is that you are looking for something like “If I can’t explain it, it is not real or happening” (which I disagree with). So much for Newtonian physics.
    I wonder how Mesmer would explain Reiki, it seem very similar.

    I have written about Mesmer in some of my posts on the controversial subject of no-touch knockouts.
    –Great post, I hope you expand on it.

  2. I’m not looking for any particular answer here, just wanted to share an interesting story and hear other people’s interpretations.

  3. I suppose it’s the same thing as “uke magic” and the placebo effect. Psychology has explained the phenomena in clearer terms (although I’m probably not qualified to explain it, I’ll do my best if you’d like me to).

    I don’t think the committee was wrong in their findings, and I do believe in the principles of the scientific method. A programmer friend of mine once explained to me that “functionality does not mean elegance.” Just because something works doesn’t mean we should simply accept that it does, especially if it’s as inconsistent as animal magnetism or no-touch throws. If we see someone execute a no-touch throw and believe their claim that it will work on anybody, then pay money to learn it with that impression, doesn’t that mean it is false advertising if it doesn’t? On the other hand, I doubt it would sell well if they explained that the techniques would only work in controlled situations in a specific facility on certain people.

    In terms of ki, qi, chi, or spirits, it is right to assume that we do not understand it enough to come to a valid conclusion. However, should scientific study be the same as the justice system, where ideas are innocent until proven guilty? Even if that were the case, you criticize those who do the proving as carrion-feeders.

    Pluralism is preferred for socially-constructed devices like culture, ideals, and inhibitions. However, I believe there is still a point where empiricism must take charge. No matter what kind of dogma you follow or paradigm you’re under, things denser than air still drop, and the sun will still appear to rise the next morning. Does this mean that spiritual concepts don’t exist? No, as this would be akin to trying to disprove the existence of a deity, and is not possible. It does mean, however, that more study, not less, is necessary, and that we should continually try and evaluate our findings, especially as new information becomes available.

  4. …Even if that were the case, you criticize those who do the proving as carrion-feeders…

    I think you are taking my previous comments out of context, and twisting them into an unflattering parody.

    Witchcraft, imagination, and placebo effect all have the same meaning with respect to the story above. They are code-words for “I don’t understand the mechanism behind these effects, and don’t care to understand it (and neither should you).” This is sometimes followed by the claim that “Nobody else understands these mechanisms either”, conveniently forgetting that other people employ them with reproducible results.

    This is not just a story about mind-body medicine. It is also an example of information warfare. And the first casualty in war is truth.

  5. If people didn’t care to understand it, then why would there be study dedicated to it? There are as many people researching to prove these “paranormal” phenomena right as there are are those trying to prove it wrong.

    If some people are getting reproducible results, and other people are not, the logical course of action is to study the differences between the studies. The common factor in mesmerism, no-touch throws, and placebo effects is generally a willing participant, whether they are conscious of being willing or not (which they sometimes are, as later interviews with mesmerism subjects have revealed).

    My main trouble with witchcraft, magick, or qi power is that it’s true: even people that practice them do not understand the mechanism of how they work. I don’t mean mechanisms such as spirits or energy; these are mechanisms that are in question. How does qi work? What is it? Often (in my discussions with people) it boils down to an exotic energy that flows through the universe, a rather vague description at best. The same follows for mesmerism, magick, or other “extraordinary” phenomena. People say they can work miracles by calling down spirits, but fail to explain what those spirits are or how they operate.

    I find that this ambiguity requires more study not less. I did not think I was taking your words out of context, and I apologize for my lack of clarity. But I feel that you settle for something along the lines of “suggestive” evidence (had to do a quick re-read of Truzzi’s paper), where I think something a bit more “compelling” is necessary. Yes, there are effects. Yes, there are reproducible results. Yes, there are even figures that prove beyond a reasonable doubt that things are not as we believed before. However, rather than stopping there, we should be narrowing down the possibilities of outside factors; such is the nature of any reasonable study.

  6. If people didn’t care to understand it, then why would there be study dedicated to it? There are as many people researching to prove these “paranormal” phenomena right as there are are those trying to prove it wrong.

    If this historical summary is accurate, the panel was not hired to study it, they were asked to provide justification for dismissing it. I’ll repeat, “imagination” is not a respectable scientific conclusion.

    As for why this happens, you need only ask yourself who gains power and who loses power as a result.

    Reading this story, and my last post on the contested meaning of martial arts, should provide new insight on Orwell’s observation: “Who controls the past, controls the future; who controls the present, controls the past.”

    If some people are getting reproducible results, and other people are not, the logical course of action is to study the differences between the studies.

    Logical?

    Authority figures work to consolidate power in their hands; people with identity complexes seek to justify them; and the rest of us have mouths to feed. There is no logic here, there is only desire. More precisely, the logic is the rationalization of the desire.

    My main trouble with witchcraft, magick, or qi power is that it’s true: even people that practice them do not understand the mechanism of how they work. I don’t mean mechanisms such as spirits or energy; these are mechanisms that are in question. How does qi work? What is it? Often (in my discussions with people) it boils down to an exotic energy that flows through the universe, a rather vague description at best. The same follows for mesmerism, magick, or other “extraordinary” phenomena. People say they can work miracles by calling down spirits, but fail to explain what those spirits are or how they operate.

    Thus I have heard: those who know don’t talk, those who talk don’t know.

    It makes sense that a skeptical outsider would start their investigation by interviewing showmen (who shall remain unnamed for now) or by watching Youtube videos. But realize that one does not become famous by having the greatest skills or knowledge, one becomes famous by showing off.

    We have previously discussed, briefly, the reasons why someone with the goods would prefer to remain unknown to the public.

    I find that this ambiguity requires more study not less. I did not think I was taking your words out of context, and I apologize for my lack of clarity. But I feel that you settle for something along the lines of “suggestive” evidence (had to do a quick re-read of Truzzi’s paper), where I think something a bit more “compelling” is necessary. Yes, there are effects. Yes, there are reproducible results. Yes, there are even figures that prove beyond a reasonable doubt that things are not as we believed before. However, rather than stopping there, we should be narrowing down the possibilities of outside factors; such is the nature of any reasonable study.

    I do not think that all scientists are bottom-feeders. I object to showmen discrediting other showmen, trampling on inconvenient evidence, acting in bad faith and bad manners while attempting to make a name for themselves…and calling all this “science”. It is an insult to every man engaged in the sincere pursuit of truth.

    Again, you are using the pronoun “we” where it does not necessarily apply. This “we” is the remnant of a religious belief that was absorbed into Western secular culture centuries ago, and has since spread across the world–but it is still not universally accepted or appropriate. You might ask David Verdesi about this topic and its relevance to the issues at hand, as he seems to have studied it in depth.

    I do not intend my blog to serve as a personal diary, or to exhibit the full body of evidence that leads to these conclusions. Thus, it will at times remain “suggestive”.

    I do hope the material on this site strikes a good balance between Drew Hempel and Parade Magazine. I also hope that my reasoning itself is impeccable, and your continued questions, comments and objections are welcome and appreciated.

  7. Yeah this book looks really familiar and I’m pretty sure I read it maybe 6 years ago…..

    So the 100 days means NO loss of the “precious bodily fluids” haha. I would still go with Taoist Yoga: Alchemy and Immortality.

    You practice the small universe a lot — plus simple standing exercises — plus the Taoist Yoga diet — plus lots of mind yoga. Again you can get the $11 level 1 sitting meditation c.d. with the small universe exercise on it from http://springforestqigong.com.

    I was “innocent” in the sense I didn’t realize this stuff would make me a “chic magnet” haha. So I avoided females — just cause I was shy — practiced about 4 hours a day and then increased it to 6 hours a day while fasting. That was while starting full-lotus about half way through. So full-lotus is not necessary but it helps a lot to quickly transform the jing to chi. Remember that your chi will be pulled down to jing and then down into sexual fluid — by the desire of females (and your desire for them) and pervert males (perverts in the sense of either straight or not — just that the pervert male’s shen is focused in their sex chakra). The difference between females and pervert males — for one – is that the female climax goes UP — and does not switch to the stress system at climax. The whole point is to learn how to have female climaxes and once you convert enough jing to chi and finally open it up into shen — then you can shoot the shen-chi into females and they can soak it up while you take in their jing energy. This creates a free energy exchange of mutual climaxes and this in turn opens up the heart chakra. Pervert males, in contrast, will try to pull your chi back down into sex fluid because the goal of the pervert male is to make MORE external sex fluid, thereby activating their stress system and YOUR stress system. As they do this more as an addictive cycle they then need to feed off more sexual energy of others WITHOUT being able to give others any shen-chi energy. Of course you can just shoot shen-chi into the pervert males, thereby not enable them to convert your shen-chi into sexual fluid — but whether they convert your energy back into the stress fluid loss or not — the energy you give them will still be used by THEM as stress fluid energy. Eventually they will learn that their approach is a loss for themselves…. still, I’d prefer to shoot my energy into females. haha.

  8. You make it seem like there’s some kind of massive conspiracy dedicated to keeping mysticism down. I’m fairly certain that the people in power you describe have much better things to do than to just find new ways to quash every chi-bolt thrower out there. You’re right, those who know don’t talk. So then wouldn’t Mesmer himself fall under the talking-without-knowing umbrella?

    To find anyone out there who really knows is impossible, from where I’m standing, as it’s completely unfalsifiable to say whether someone is the real deal. Anyone who fails to live up to proper scrutiny can be written off as being fake, and it is easy to assert that the real deals will never reveal themselves. Is this not the very definition of “unreasonable?”

  9. I try not to attribute to malevolence what is adequately explained by stupidity, or passion, or a selfish and blinding lust for power. This is not a conspiracy; it makes conspiracies look flimsy in comparison!

    That is the metaphysical nature of the problem, which I hesitate to mention on a simple martial arts blog. Moving on to practical considerations…

    Mesmer did not fully understand what he was doing, which is par for the course. So why interfere with his ongoing investigation?

    Suppose he was able to demonstrably cure one in five, or one in ten. By what logic do we decide it is preferable for him to cure none at all?

    “It can happen that it will be cured for the ‘wrong reasons’”. This quote explains it all.

    It is not impossible to find real masters; it is yuanfen. Or maybe it is as easy as turning over the palm of your hand. Have you asked Drew if he knows any?

  10. Have you ever seen “Man on the Moon?” It’s a very good film, with Jim Carrey playing Andy Kaufman. In one of the ending scenes, he goes to a sort of faith healer (to cure his cancer) in what I think is Southeast Asia, and accidentally sees the trick that makes people believe in the healer.

    Now, had he not seen the trick, do you think his cancer would have been healed?

    I suppose that yes, it’s nice to have cures, even if it’s one in ten or “for the wrong reasons,” but doesn’t this ring similar to medieval times, where enough gold could get you out of any trouble and into heaven? People believe, and while they feel better, they are still being swindled.

    Ahh, yuanfen. Another rather impossible thing to reason with, isn’t it?

  11. By “cured”, I do not actually mean swindled, tricked or cheated, I mean cured.

    Yes, I have seen “Man on the Moon”. Have you seen”Thank You For Smoking”?

    Yuanfen is transpersonal cause-and-effect. To deny cause and effect is irrational; some would even say it is insane–but you needn’t let that stop you.

    Please don’t mistake this for a debate, where the cleverest argument wins. The truth can be had for a modest sacrifice, but not quite so modest as a blog comment. 😉

  12. I’m not trying to use clever arguments, analogies are just good tools that I like to use.

    I have seen Thank You for Smoking, but I feel like you miss my point. What can you define as “cured?” Cancer going into remission? Pain being alleviated? Symptoms aren’t the same as the disease, and you seem to attribute “curing” to some kind of metaphysical state.

    Yuanfen is closer to fate, as I recall it, which is hardly the same as interpersonal cause-and-effect. It either happens or it doesn’t, and that makes it something that cannot be reasoned with. Perhaps you have a different idea of its meaning, can you please explain?

    Lastly, we both believe we know the “truth” about the scenario here, which is why we’re having this discussion, is it not? To see where the flaws in our premises lie, up until the point where reason breaks down due to emotional, moral, or value-based arguments. If you have a different purpose, please elaborate.

  13. A word’s definition is a sum of contexts; as I do not wish to descend into sophistry, let it suffice to say that I use “cure” in its standard sense, for which an X-ray or biopsy might serve as evidence.

    Maybe I am missing your point. Please restate it.

  14. My point is that while cures may occur in the standard sense, things can indeed be cured by the wrong reason. Psychology and sociology both have shown the power the human mind has over the body, whether it be curing itself of a disease, heating the body to unheard of temperatures, or even killing itself as a result of a fake execution. Therefore, it is not surprising to believe that because these people think the method will cure them (such as animal magnetism, or fake acupuncture), they will be cured.

    Of course, this also is the basis for “uke magic;” because someone believes the technique will work (the student), it will.

  15. Whereas, one cured for the “right reason” has first subordinated themselves, either to the authority figures directly, or to the structures and principles which keep those figures in power. Their names change, but the game stays the same.

    Public health is thus secondary to “public order”–a particular order, in fact, known as the status quo. Compared to Socrates, or to Wilhelm Reich, Anton Mesmer got off easy!

    Meanwhile, people like Yan Xin enter the White House via the back door.

  16. Again, you talk as if there’s some kind of conspiracy going on, bent on maintaining some sort of dystopian ignorance that pervades the society. In the case of Socrates, yes, he was a victim of political persecution. So was Galileo. However, for Reich and Mesmer, while their seemed unjustly terminated, I highly doubt that they were nearly as dangerous as folks like Martin Luther King Jr., Ghandi, or numerous other activists. What led to the latters’ success over that of Mesmer and Reich? Personally (and this is probably due to a lack of close familiarity with their research), I think it’s because Dr. King, Ghandi, and Galileo actually had cases that stood the test of time, whereas Reich and Mesmer could have been simply wrong. Does this make me a victim of the authority’s hegemony?

    Are you skeptical of the findings of modern psychology? You have yet to reject the claims I made regarding animal magnetism, the placebo effect, and uke magic.

  17. 500 years after Copernicus, 1 in 5 Americans still believe that the sun revolves around the Earth. Somebody told them it was so.

    The remaining 80% believe the Earth revolves around the Sun. Not because they undertook an independent study of planetary movement, but again, because someone told them so.

    I am not alleging any conspiracies here. Investigation is hard, ignorance is easy, and everyone knows it.

    I’ve given you two names thus far; are you investigating them? Or are you rather hoping that luck and fortune find you on the right side of the facts, without any great effort on your part?

    If you would deny that people seek their own interests rather than objective truth, or that this trait shapes “common sense” and social behavior in a fundamental way, then I would question your knowledge of modern psychology.

    I have nothing new to say regarding the placebo effect (right now). As for animal magnetism and uke magic, are you waiting for me to endorse them? Ha ha. Instead, I will answer the question with which I started this discussion.

    When Mesmer subverted the power of the Church, he was celebrated;
    When his own power grew troublesome, Mesmerism was liquidated;
    Don’t be a tool like Franz Anton Mesmer!

  18. I think you’re making some uncalled for accusations and assumptions about me, please separate the argument from the arguer.

    What would you define as investigation or research? Does taking a class in astronomy count as “an independent study of planetary movement?” What if that class was taught by a world-class professor, who was researching black holes and background cosmic radiation at a top-level university? In the end, I suppose it’s still learning something “just because someone told you so.” I’m not sure how you feel about education or learning, but just about ALL knowledge is derived from humans teaching one another. I’m sure you wouldn’t be where you were if you didn’t learn things from people telling you them.

    How could anyone hope to learn anything there is about the world without eventually going to hear it from someone else, whether it’s from a book or from a teacher. There’s that whole Newton bit about standing on the shoulders of giants and all that. I suppose I’m beginning to understand the what Lao Tse meant when he wrote of abandoning the schools and education. If we lived in a world where nobody cared about learning or knowledge, I suppose it could certainly be a peaceful one. Unfortunately, we do not live in such a world, and I’d say it’s human nature to be curious, to learn. And, since we are social creatures, it only makes sense to learn from each other. Of course, there is that risk that the person you learn from will be wrong, which is why I think we have such credibility systems in place.

    Yes, these credibility systems are flawed–after all, they are only human. Yes, humans are after their own selfish interests, you’re right about all that. It seems like you’re more upset about Mesmer being unfairly stopped than you are about his research. This is justified, the power was abused, just as it was against Galileo, Socrates, and Dr. King. However, I don’t think this invalidates the centuries of scientific progress since then.

    While studying sociology (from another person, I admit), we went over the process by which knowledge was created and science was advanced. It is (still) a patriarchal system, marginalizing women, people of color, and non-Western ways of thinking. It has been used to fuel genocide, racism, wars, religious intolerance, and all sorts of horrible things in this world. And yet, even after all that, this does not invalidate the powers of reasoning and thorough investigation and experimentation. After the eugenics movement, the civil rights movement, and others, the search for “objective truth” eventually overturned what was claimed as “truth” by the majority opinion and ruling powers. Is this not proof that their rule is not so absolute? Sure, we still have people that believe in white superiority, but I believe they have regressed to a minority, rather than a majority in our country. And the sheer fact that both a woman and a man of color are running for presidential office speaks of how far we’ve come from a hundred years ago.

    Okay, to sum up. I’m afraid I have a bad habit of being long-winded, and I apologize. hopefully, this will make me more clear.
    – Knowledge cannot be completely generated by oneself, nor should it. “Independent study” would not only limit us from learning anything beyond what we learn as babes, but there would be no way of verifying our own discoveries, since to do so would involve someone telling them so.
    – Knowledge generation in our world is difficult, flawed, and biased. However, despite this, searching for an objective truth is possible, and has overturned the majority ruling party on more than one occasion.

    With these two premises, I argue that while Mesmer was unfairly persecuted by the majority ruling party, the findings of contemporary psychology and sociology would have come to a similar conclusion about his research.

    (I suppose this is a bit backwards for an academic writing, if you would like me to list all my premises and theses before my big block of text, let me know and I’ll be happy to oblige.)

  19. What I define as investigation or research, for the purposes of this discussion, begins in the sensory organs and bypasses the abstract faculties of reason and logic.

    I beg your pardon for being so direct, regarding the scope of your personal investigations; but this is not an incorrect “assumption”, is it? Otherwise, we would not be having this discussion.

    How could anyone hope to learn anything without being told? I find the question backwards–but the standard answer is to sit quietly and wait, to utilize both reason and “formless awareness”. One who does this is not easily fooled.

    Some philosophers find Lao Tse to be elitist, patronizing, and hateful.

    You are right, that I am not very interested in Mesmer’s research. I don’t know if he was really mistreated, or whether he served the role that he had (inadvertently) created for himself. This is precisely the scenario that Kongzi and Zhuangzi warned against–so maybe a degree in philosophy is quite practical after all? 😀

  20. Well, as a learned philosopher, what stops you from going one step further into the realm of Absolute Skepticism? Who is to say that our sensory organs are a reliable source of information? for all you know, I could be a brain in a jar or a ghost in the machine, transmitting data from a secret government base.

    Furthermore, even assuming that our sensory organs are fool-proof, if we restricted ourselves to that, wouldn’t we completely lost all of the scientific and technological development over the course of human history. I don’t know your opinion on the subject, but I personally am quite fond of not living in fear of rampant infant mortality, disease, and other inconveniences.

    Your assumption is incorrect as I see it; I am not relying on fortune or luck to see me through, I’m relying on my reasoning ability. I researched both Socrates and Reich (the former being already quite familiar to me), but in your definition of research, I won’t gain anything of value unless I sit down and have a chat with them myself. If you know a way I can do this, I would love to hear it.

    We are having this discussion, as I understood it, because I am trying to understand your position on knowledge-creation and knowledge-acquisition. From what I’ve read, you believe that knowledge can only be gained from personal investigation using our own senses. The “sit quietly and wait” method is a bit difficult for me to understand as well, for I believe it was Confucius who said that sort of behavior was pretty useless. I lack the enlightenment you speak of, perhaps that is why I don’t understand it?

  21. “All mankind’s troubles are caused by one single thing, which is their inability to sit quietly in a room.” ~ Blaise Pascal

    Reason is incapable of distinguishing between truth and game rules. This can probably be deduced from Godel’s work, but as such a deduction would itself constitute a game rule, why even bother? Just believe whatever pleases you. Further discussion on this subject will not advance my objectives for this martial arts website, and I would prefer to allocate my limited blogging time to topics that interest a larger audience.

    My definition of research has nothing to do with chatting up historical figures. “Sitting quietly” cuts a few levels of abstraction, and hence a few sources of error out of the equation. While sensory input can be inaccurate and imprecise, it cannot be led into the distractions of meaningless symbol manipulation. Hopefully, the significance of this point is clear. If not, you can sit quietly for a few dozen hours to gather the necessary data. None of my propositions here are anti-intellectual or unscientific, nor should they require an enlightened reader. They did not have an enlightened writer, after all.

    If Confucius disagreed with this–do you have a citation?–then Confucius was wrong. Hey, nobody’s perfect.

  22. A fascinating article and equally interesting discussion.

    It makes me think of the placebo effect and how readily we use it to dismiss spontaneous reactions and cures. It always strikes me as odd and counter logical. If even a tiny percentage of individuals are able to affect a cure through nothing other than what appears to be the power of the mind wouldn’t that be a logical direction to take with our research? Or at very least the source of much curiosity? The narrow-mindedness with which we dismiss it always strikes me as a great loss of potential.

    Interesting blog.

Add a Comment