January 2, 2008

"To have the management of the mind is a great art, and it may be attained in a considerable degree by experience and habitual exercise."

Wrote Samuel Johnson, who, John Geirland writes in Smithsonian magazine, laid the groundwork for modern cognitive therapy.


rhhardin said...

James Thurber laid the groundwork for mockery of cognitive therapy with _Let Your Mind Alone! and Other More or Less Inspirational Pieces_

Pogo said...

Cognitive therapy is a godsend for many. It does make me think of rather common sense from grandma, though; wisdom gained from maturity.

One of the most inspiring practitioners of the art was Marcus Aurelius, whose "Meditations" demonstrates the utility of this Stoic method.

"Everyone dreams of the perfect vacation; in the country, by the sea-shores, or in the mountains; and you too long to get away. yet how foolish; for it is in your power whenever you choose to retire into yourself. For nowhere is there more quiet or more freedom from trouble than when one retires than into his own soul, particularly when he has within him such thoughts that by looking into them he is immediately in perfect tranquility; and that ease is nothing else than the good ordering of the mind, neither lavish nor crude. Take this vacation as often as you'd like, and renew yourself. But do not prolong these meditative moments beyond what is sufficient to send you back to work free of anxiety and full of vigor and good cheer.

For with what are you discontented? What makes you anxious? With the wrongs of others, the badness of men? Remember that reasonable men and women exist for one another, and that to endure is a part of justice, and that men do wrong involuntarily. Consider all those who filled their days with anger, suspicion, hatred, and fighting, -and are now dust. Think on them and what has become of their wrongdoing, and and be quiet at last."

George said...

Ruminating on paths not taken is an emotionally corrosive exercise....article on 'regret' in yesterday's Times...

Don't feel bad about not having read it.

Trooper York said...

Samuel Jackson: Enough is enough! I have had it with these motherf**cking snakes on this motherf**cking plane!

Oh wait. Samuel Johnson, nevermind.

Pogo said...

Trooper, Boswell did, I believe, record such an episode, but rather about a pub, where Johnson was completely sauced, lying near-comatose on the floor.

What a card he was.

Sir Archy said...

To Professor Althouse.


As the Ghost of someone dead these 250 years, and who, as a Spirit post mortem, was trapp’d in the Brain of a Lunatick in Bedlam, I may aver the Truth of Dr. Johnson’s Observations.  A Man who cannot manage Himself can hardly manage Others, and, in the worst Cases, cannot manage the ordinary Course of Life.  Thus, ‘twas in my Day that Madmen were of needs confin’d to Bedlam Hospital, here very justly paint’d by Mr. Hogarth.  You may imagine that Dr. Johnson and other Men whose Humours inclin’d them to perhaps odd Behaviour, were in some Anxiety to avoid Appearances that might have them banish’d to this Place.  Indeed, it is not necessary to imagine this about Dr. Johnson, as both he and Mr. Boswell have written very plainly on the Matter.

I have seen many a Lunatick in Bedlam who, to the Incurious, appear’d to be normal for Ilkeston, as they say, but who was fast in the Grip of some Passion or other, that render’d him useless to himself or Others.  Lunaticks often imagine themselves with more & perhaps stranger Powers than they possess or could possess, as you may see in Mr. Hogarth’s sad Portrait.

Many another Sufferer fell into the coils of a Melancholia so deep that all Reason & Argument were of no Avail.  The Author of the excellent Piece you quote, Madam, has neatly explain’d Dr. Johnson’s Management of his own Melancholia, to the Benefit, no doubt, of those many poor Souls thus afflict’d to this Day.

The Cause of distemper’d Brains has long been sought.  To the Ancients, ‘twas said that a Person was possess’d of an Unclean Spirit.  Thus, in the Bible, one of the Powers of Jesus is to cast out such Spirits.  As a Ghost myself, I may say there is no little Truth to this, altho’ the Matter admits of more Complication than may be essay’d in this short Space.

Another Theory, that I confess having favour’d in my Day, is that of an Imbalance of Humours.  Thus, a Melancholick Person may be possess’d of too much Phlegm & Choler, a Person too excitable and optimistick may have an excess of Blood, &cetera.  The Medical Treatment of such Distempers was most uncertain, what with Bleedings & other Methods that were of little Benefit, and that I may tell you need not be describ’d in polite Letters.  You have today far better Physick with which to dose such diseas’d Brains.

All this Begs the Question, Madam, of the Cause of Madness.  Causa latet; res est notissima, as the Poet says.  A distemper’d Brain may be cured by Physick, but what of the Mind that inhabits such a Brain?  Is a diseas’d Spirit to be cured by Physick?  Are we but a Collection of Atoms to be rearranged by Chemistry for our Benefit or even Amusement?  Mr. Hobbes has said that the Heart is but a Spring, but must the Brain be nothing more than an elaborated Calculating Machine, such as that of M. Pascal?

For those troubled by such Questions, the Methods so well explain’d by Dr. Johnson, and elaborated upon by the excellent Author of the Essay quoted, will come as good Advice, and perhaps as great Relief.  The Quotation from Marcus Aurelius given us by Dr. Pogo, is a fine Application that admits of much Reflection as well.  A Man on the edge of Lunacy, but with a Spark of Reason still remaining, may indeed untertake to cure Himself.  That any Person may do so, without resort to strong Physick, is a Mark of the Advancement of Knowledge, but more of our Faculty of Reason, so graciously granted to us by a beneficent Creator.

For those gone completely Mad, there may be no Hope other than strong Physick, which a benign Science springing from the same God-given Reason, has conferr'd upon us. That a Person of Sense may wish to avoid poison'd Physick, admits of no Doubt. That such Physick may be of need for the most difficult Cases cannot be doubted, either.

Meekly begging your Pardon, Madam, if I try your Patience and that of your Readers with an over-long Epistle, while wishing you Prosperity and every Happiness in the New Year, I remain,

Your humble & obt. Servant,

Sir Archy

Ann Althouse said...

Happy New Year, Sir Archy.

Thanks for coming back!