The New Psychology

Modern Woman: Her Intentions
The New Psychology

Intellect, then, is only a part of the life-consciousness. Henri Bergson and William James have both agreed that the other parts deserve our respect, and demand the attention of all practical people. They are Instinctive Consciousness and Torpid Consciousness. Bergson, so well known on the Continent, gives in L’Evolution Créatrice a brilliant outline of the relations of the intellectual, instinctive, and torpid states. Briefly, he pictures vital consciousness as the centre from which the three diverge in different radiations. The intellect which covers an enormous field and can grapple successfully with the superficial appearances we call facts, finds its present culmination in mankind. The instinct which dawns in the consciousness as vision, and deals only with one or two things, but knows them perfectly through and through to their deepest causes, finds its culmination in insects, especially in the elaborate societies of ants and bees. The torpid state which, without external motion, like deep sleep, is most creatively powerful, most enduring, and most in touch with the first beginnings of organic life, finds its culmination in the vegetable kingdom. The psychologists’ idea, then, for the practical future of our race is that it should turn its attention to the cultivation of these two modes of consciousness which have hitherto been lamentably neglected in all schemes of education.

Bergson says that there are many questions the intellect can ask but can never answer, which the instinct could answer, but, unprompted by the intellect, would never ask.

The practical turn psychology has taken lately has a very deep significance for women. For the adolescent girl and the woman with child are the very types of the power of mysterious torpid consciousness which is so little understood by the most learned men. The ancients have believed that a mother’s impressions stamp themselves on the child and determine its type. I mean, for instance, that a woman surrounded by Burne-Jones’s pictures would be likely to have children resembling that type. The whole matter is one of the deepest interest, and one guiding principle stands out from all our uncertainties on the subject, which is, that a woman with child should not use up her vitality in other directions, that she should for the time being live the life of a fruit tree, and nourish herself, and sun herself without care and without intellectual distractions.

It is said that in deep sleep the creations of our imagination are conceived; and that the state of impending motherhood should be one of rest, and the quiet enjoyment of beauty and peace if it is to have a good result.

I am not saying all women should be mothers, nor am I saying that mothers should not have intellectual pleasures, but I do agree that they should not have intellectual tasks, and above all that they should be protected from worry, anxiety, and irritation. If the care of mothers became a national question, I believe the saving in the care of lunatics and unemployables and criminals would be incalculable.

The torpid consciousness is one which women who are to be mothers should respect. I believe it is a state cultivated to a high degree by the Eastern mystics, who have given us glimpses of the psychic powers to which it can give birth. It is intimately connected with a control over the emotional storms which affect most people and govern their conduct. The Eastern sage does not starve his emotional nature, but learns to direct it, while he is in a state of apparent torpor. So I believe the wise mother might, if she gave herself the opportunity, direct the future character of her child in the best sense of the word.

At present the torpid consciousness is hardly understood at all, but the instinctive consciousness has been studied, although it is talked of with a contempt it is far from deserving. I admit that to some extent instinct is the enemy of civilization, but at the same time civilization is the enemy of instinct.

The old matriarchal village community seems to be the ideal state of an instinctive race of people. I do not say it is possible now, but it certainly seems a good way of conducting affairs on a dignified basis without the family unit.

Temperance with an occasional orgy is a prescription ordered for a patient by a modern doctor, and that exactly describes the life of the old matriarchal village. In the first place, it was situated near the equator, and everyone could do without clothes. The village children grew up together under the care of the elder men and women, with no curiosity about the unseen. They worked in the fields and perhaps hunted a little, but they all lived like brothers and sisters. They had a central grove of sacred trees in their village, with a dancing ground; the huts were round the grove, and then the belt of cultivated land was called the “guardian serpent.” Beyond that was the jungle, with paths leading to other villages. In the spring the Saturnalia was celebrated, and the young men left their homes and visited the other villages, scattered in the neighbourhood beyond the jungle-paths, to celebrate the festival with song, wine, and dance. The orgy lasted a few weeks, during the blossom time, when there was no work required at home. It ended in a good deal of love-making, after which the young men returned to their homes sobered, and ready to work in their own villages for another year. Nine months later, when the weather made it well to remain indoors, the children were born, and were called the children of the sacred grove or the tree, and no one talked of fathers. The men of the tribe cheerfully undertook the education of the children, and maintained them on communal principles. It sounds almost as socially elaborate as a hive, and the whole business appears to have been carried out on purely instinctual lines. Perhaps I ought to add that all can read for themselves about these matriarchal customs in a book called The Ruling Races of Prehistoric Times, by J. F. Hewitt, and in Tiele’s Outline of the History of Ancient Religions, also in Risley’s Tribes and Castes of Bengal. The life was perhaps too austerely virtuous for the majority of mankind, but it had its advantages.

Instinct is an animal faculty cultivated by an outdoor life, which we to a great extent have swamped in our all-pervading intellects. It is a power of the consciousness which appears to act without effort, and to increase its power as we decrease our mental struggles. Very often when after fussing over a lost object or forgotten name we cease to trouble ourselves, and employ our clamorous minds in some other direction, the consciousness of the name or place appears like the sky from which the clouds have cleared away. It is in the interplay between intellect and instinct that the practical value of the new school of psychology will be found. Our instincts need to be stimulated by the curiosity of our intellects. We have an extraordinary and inexhaustible power of inventing surprises for our intellect, both in our dreams and in inventive states of meditation. Some people call these things manifestations of the subconsciousness. I prefer to think of them as manifestations of the long-neglected powers of the instinct. We know that many insects who have never met their parents in their lives, yet carry out their destinies as if they had received the most careful personal instruction. The truth about instinct appears to be that it is a race-consciousness—a kind of wireless telegraphy which can be set in motion between sympathetic centres without passing through the mental machinery at all. It almost seems as if our brains, our nervous plexuses, and our glands* each had a manifest consciousness of their own, and it is not until we can set in motion an interplay of the three that we shall gain all we can, either from the intellect, the instinct, or the torpid creative consciousness.

When women come in for their share of control in affairs, there is no doubt we shall make further use of these more feminine aspects of vital consciousness.


* As to the study of the functions of the glands, many interesting discoveries have been mentioned in the medical journals during the last few years.


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