The Roads to Truth Chapter Two

 

II.

A SHORT JAUNT THROUGH HISTORY


History goes out of control almost as often as nature does.
Mason Cooley (b. 1927), U.S. aphorist

 


Before beginning our journey through New Thought, I feel it helpful to lay out some background information and to put into perspective the world to which New Thought was born. What follows is a brief summary of the tumultuous nineteenth century and the first three decades of the twentieth century, mainly as it affects America, as that is when and where New Thought was born.

At the close of New Thought's formative years all of the current states had been admitted to the Union except Alaska and Hawaii. But at the beginning there were only the original thirteen colonies plus Tennessee, Kentucky and Vermont. In fact, at the beginning of the nineteenth century the United States had existed as an entity for only twenty-four years.

The social, political and economic climates of the nineteenth century can be expressed by one word-conflict. The progress made in science, technology and medicine brought tremendous changes to the Western world. Such massive change resulted in increased materialism, poverty, prostitution, and crime. In spite of, or perhaps because of, scientific erosion of long-held religious beliefs, numerous movements and religions formed.

In Europe at the beginning of the century, Robespierre's reign of terror and the ensuing revolution in France had just ended. Napoleon ruled France and most of the German states. Upon his abdication in 1814, the Congress of Vienna divided his kingdom into thirty-nine independent states. England and Ireland united, forming the United Kingdom. The British began populating northern Ireland, leading to life-changing discontent among the Irish.

By the 1820s more than 100,000 Irish had immigrated to the United States. Ireland's potato crop failure in 1845 further stimulated immigration, and by the end of the century 1.5 million had left Ireland. Victoria became Queen of England in 1837 commencing the reign of the Windsors who are still in power today. Mid-century, widespread crop failures and failed revolutions precipitated the immigration of more than one million Germans.

In America the focus turned from revolution to expansion, exploration and industrialization. It was the time of Manifest Destiny and Lewis and Clark's famous trip west to find a route to the Pacific Ocean. With the purchase of the Louisiana Territory and the acquisition of Florida and Texas, adventurous Easterners began migrating south and west. The discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in California and Pikes Peak in Colorado and of silver at Virginia City in Nevada in the 1850s further stimulated migration. 

Small proprietors with their handmade goods were being edged out of the market by businesses with technologically advanced machinery that mass-produced goods, often at a lower price than small proprietors could offer. The vast numbers of workers required by these large factories resulted in a rapid growth of urban cities and decreased rural farm populations.

The capitalism and materialism that rankled the transcendentalists, and later the socialists, escalated and with it the push for private ownership of property, a free market economy, resistence to government interference, and a focus on profit rather than worker safety and satisfaction.

During the first two decades of the century new modes of transportation developed. While the West utilized horse-drawn wagons, stagecoaches and horses, the East relied on horse-drawn carriages and steamboats. Railroads developed in the East during the 1820s, spreading gradually westward. In 1869 when the transatlantic railroad connecting the east coast to the west coast was completed, it became the dominant mode of transportation throughout the remainder of the century. Mid-century, cable cars began running in San Francisco and the first American bicycles were manufactured. The last two decades of the century brought electric trolley lines, elevated railways, subways, and for the affluent, electrically-powered and gasoline-powered cars. 

New and improved means of communication emerged. Lead pencils and fountain and ballpoint pens were manufactured; improvements in the printing press resulted in mass-circulation daily newspapers; Morse code was developed for use with the newly completed telegraph. The second half of the century brought the transatlantic cable, typewriters, Dictaphones, and telephones. The Pony Express began mail delivery in 1860, running between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California.

In the early decades of this century, Phineas Parkhurst Quimby performed his experiments with mesmerism and Transcendentalism moved through New England without benefit of telephones, vehicles or light bulbs. The telegraph was the only means of long-distance communication, railroads were in their infancy, and wagon trains moved adventurous souls out to the "Wild West." New religions formed as the Industrial Revolution radically changed society.

Philosophers switched focus from the rigidly intellectual to the passionately emotional. The rise of the Romantic Movement in Europe put an end to the Enlightenment (also known as the Age of Reason) and to the Cartesian-Newtonian world view, which exulted the harmonious order of nature and the emotional and intellectual uniformity of humanity. The new Romantic Movement no longer viewed the world and its inhabitants as operating like machines. Instead, it stressed emotion, intuition and individual uniqueness over reason, logic and social conformity. A belief in humanity's ability to better itself developed from this shift in thought, producing many efforts at social reform. 

An antislavery society had been formed in New England by the Quakers in the late 1700s, and when Romanticism came to America just as the slavery issue escalated, increasing numbers of people began taking up the abolitionists' position. A political party formed in opposition to slavery, and numerous abolitionist newspapers and speakers spread word of slavery's evils throughout the country. The American Colonization Society formed in order to buy slaves, free them and then send them to a colony on the west coast of Africa named Liberia, from the Latin word for "free," that had been purchased for this purpose. Shipping the former slaves proved costly, but the Society managed to send several thousand before lack of finances forced them to disband. 

Reformers lobbied for improved educational opportunities for African-American children and higher educational opportunities for all women. They insisted that schoolbooks be written in uniform common speech and founded colleges that accepted women. Schools for people with physical disabilities and hospitals for those with mental illnesses were organized. They established local public libraries and state boards of health, and saw that prison conditions were improved.

Because the use of alcohol was linked to crime, poverty and illness, a temperance organization was founded in 1826. Prohibition eventually became the law, though not until 1919 and only until 1933.

As part of the spirit of perfectionism a number of groups founded utopian communities between 1805 and 1864. Ranging from celibate to polygamous and secular to religious, the groups focused on community, shared goods and common ownership of property. Though none of these groups achieved long-term success, their influence is still felt today. The Shakers provide well-crafted furniture. The Oneida community's silver company still produces quality silverware. The Amana colonies continue to manufacture kitchen appliances. And the Mormon communal experiment evolved into one of today's fastest growing churches.

Socialist philosophies advocated by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels became popular, mainly in Europe. In 1848 they wrote the Communist Manifesto from which came socialism and communism. Both systems are similar, as both advocate elimination of private property and collectivization of goods. Theoretically, however, in socialism the government or state controls property and provides programs for collectivization while in communism there is no state or government, and all goods and property are distributed equally among the people. Ironically, the American religious communes mentioned in the previous paragraph operated similarly to that of the atheistic communism proposed by Marx and Engels. 

In the mid-1800s while Quimby formed the ideas about mental healing that later became associated with New Thought, the government fought wars with the Native Americans over the appropriation of their lands and their removal to reservations. Harriet Tubman escaped slavery and began conducting other slaves to freedom with the help of the Underground Railroad. Harriet Beecher Stowe published her antislavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. With the exception of James Polk all of the presidents of the United States-William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and Millard Fillmore-were members of the Whig Party. The Supreme Court held that African-Americans are not citizens. The first American woman received a medical degree and subsequently opened the first hospital staffed solely by women. Industrialization dominated the workforce, and immigrants poured into the country. Samuel Colt invented the revolver. Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution. The Civil War raged. And water closets in private homes moved indoors, though they didn't warrant a separate room until late in the century.

By the time the founders of the earliest New Thought groups-Divine Science and Unity-began writing and teaching in the decades after the Civil War, the Fifteenth Amendment had been added to the Bill of Rights giving all men the right to vote. That right wasn't given to women for another 50 years, though the suffragist movement actively lobbied during the last decades of the century. America and Canada agreed to divide their countries into four time zones. The Indian wars ended with the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek in the Dakota Territory. Clara Barton formed the American Red Cross, Daniel Williams performed the world's first open-heart surgery, and researchers isolated the bacterium responsible for pneumonia. The first mail-order company, Montgomery Ward, began operating, and Thomas Edison, the Wizard of Menlo Park, had patented most of his one thousand inventions. 

During the last few decades of the century inventors developed many products that made life a little easier and more pleasant. Among those products were steel plows (which were new to America but which had been in use in China for three thousand years), vulcanized rubber, sewing machines, passenger elevators, escalators, electric street lights, phonographs, incandescent electric lamps, Kodak's first photographic cameras, sound cameras, and movie projectors. Levi Straus began making sturdy denim clothing for the miners, which eventually made its way to the general public. The first successful computer-a punched-card tabulating machine-was developed toward the end of the century. And let's not forget chewing gum, the safety razor, and saccharine, the first sugar substitute.

Encouraged by Romanticism, brothers Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm collected stories and fairy tales and published them in three volumes in 1812, 1815 and 1822. Other influential artists, writers, and musician/composers of this time period include Claude Monet, Paul Gaugin, Vincent van Gogh, Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, James Fenimore Cooper, John Greenleaf Whittier, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, Henry James, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Louisa May Alcott, Henri Ibsen, Emily Dickinson, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, William Wordsworth, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas Carlyle, Gustav Flaubert, Anton Chekhov, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Stephen Foster, John Philip Sousa, Johannes Brahms, Frederic Chopin, Peter Tchaikovsky, Claude Debussy, Richard Wagner, and Johann Strauss.

The last founder of the major New Thought groups, Ernest Holmes, began writing and teaching at the end of the second decade of the twentieth century. Much had changed in the thirty years since the founding of the first groups. Holmes witnessed the mass production of automobiles, the development of airplanes and rocket motors, taxi service, motorized buses, and the first motorcycle-the Harley-Davidson; and radio, long-distance and overseas telephone and teletype communication. Only the affluent could afford long distance telephone service, for a three-minute call from Denver to New York City cost more than an average worker's weekly wage.

At the beginning of the twentieth century nine out of ten adults could read or write, though only six percent had graduated from high school. The average wage was 22 cents an hour, and the average worker earned $200 to $400 per year. Professionals such as accountants, dentists, veterinarians, and engineers earned between $1,500 and $5,000 per year. Eighteen percent of all households employed at least one full-time servant or domestic.

The average American could expect to live 47 years. Influenza, tuberculosis, pneumonia, diarrhea, heart disease, and stroke were the leading causes of death. Most births took place at home. Ninety percent of all physicians had no college education. Instead, they attended medical schools, many of which were considered to be substandard. Marijuana, heroin and morphine were legal drugs and could be obtained without prescription at drugstores because they were considered helpful for the complexion, the mind, the stomach, and the bowels.

Most urban houses contained electric lights, and indoor plumbing had vastly improved. Fourteen percent of homes had a bathtub, though just eight percent contained a telephone. These conveniences, however, had yet to make it to many rural locales. 

Moving pictures and cartoons appeared along with theaters in which to view them. Eight thousand cars traveled on but 144 miles of paved roads at a posted speed limit, in most cities, of 10 mph.

The Nineteenth Amendment finally gave women the right to vote. Child labor laws, along with compulsory education laws, eliminated the practice of working young children from sunrise to sunset. 

But the areas of advancement that are of most importance to our journey are those in science, philosophy and psychology.

During the nineteenth century the focus of science in America had been on practical applications resulting in thousands of inventions. World War I changed that focus. Between 1910 and 1920 American physicists devoted themselves to attracting students to theoretical physics. In fact, some felt that it was of national security to do so. Their efforts paid off, and by 1930, degrees in physics nearly tripled. The leading physicists, who for the most part were European, began taking positions in American universities, partly because of the rising Nazi/Jew problems. Increases in astronomical capabilities produced proof that the universe is expanding, and the last and furthest planet, Pluto, was discovered.

With the help of Albert Einstein's theories of relativity and Max Planck's work concerning light particles, the laws of nature developed by Isaac Newton in the 1700s during the Scientific Revolution were gradually dismissed. Scientists discovered progressively smaller particles known as subatomic particles existing in an unpredictable and changeable environment. The quantum world revealed itself to be a world in which Newton's laws did not hold. 

The Romanticism that emerged in reaction to the Scientific Revolution changed the view of matter. Humans no longer consisted of dead, mechanical matter. Rather, they contained a vital and purposive substance able to grow and improve with time. This was evolution but a form of evolution very different from that of Darwin's random selection.

Nineteenth century Romanticism provided several concepts important for psychology and for the study of New Thought. The aim of psychology, from its beginnings in the works of Plato to the present time, is epistemological-to discover how the human mind receives and formulates knowledge. Romanticists felt the proper use of the mind's analytic abilities was sentient. Since they viewed the unconscious (the subjective and passionate) as more important than the conscious (the objective and rational), they produced philosophy, art and literature intended to evoke emotional response.

Romanticism influenced three late-eighteenth century theories of psychology important to our study: 1) Jean-Baptiste Lamarck's naturalistic psychology-an evolutionary theory that states that organic and inorganic matter are fundamentally different; that organic, or living, matter possesses an innate drive to perfect itself; and that it strives to adapt itself to its surroundings, changing itself in the process; 2) Franz Anton Mesmer's mesmerism, now called hypnosis, with which he invoked cures of physiological illnesses that resulted from psychological causes; and 3) Jeremy Bentham's utilitarianism, which advocated making conscious choices that maximize personal pleasure or happiness and minimize pain-a psychophilosophy that applied to government as well as individuals. Once we have begun our travels, the significance of these and the following psychological theories will become apparent.

During the first half of the nineteenth century a number of psychological theories developed that are important to our study. Johann Friedrich Herbart viewed psychology as applied metaphysics and proposed a theory of the conscious and the unconscious. The mind Herbart envisioned contained ideas of varying intensity with the strong ones able to cross from unconsciousness into consciousness. John Stuart Mill proposed the theory that matter is not real of itself but is perceived as real by our fallible senses. This is similar to the theory of George Berkeley, an influential seventeenth century empiricist philosopher, except that Berkeley includes God in his theory. Berkeley is very important to the study of New Thought, and his theories are discussed in later chapters. Auguste Comte proposed a positivist psychology, a theory that restricts human knowledge to what is immediately observable. Positivism is discussed in chapter two. 

The latter half of the century brought Gustav Theodore Fechner's experimental psychology. He observed that the content of consciousness could be manipulated by controlling the stimuli to which a person is exposed, thus making possible experiments involving the mind. His psychophysics was, he believed, a response to the mind/body problem that had been a plague to philosophy since the time of the ancient Greeks. He saw the mind and brain as two aspects of the same reality; thus functionally relating physical stimuli to the brain and subjective sensations of the mind.

It also saw the rise of Sigmund Freud, the Viennese physician and psychoanalyst, and his work with hypnosis and hysteria-the phenomenon of physical symptoms being caused by psychological disturbances. Freud also developed the familiar concept of the threefold mind consisting of id, ego and superego. The psychical research of Frederick Myers in the late nineteenth century carried forth Freud's work with hysteria and was an attempt to scientifically prove immortality. He carefully examined Freud's studies and determined that the phenomenon of hysteria demonstrates the power of the mind over the body. Myers's work in some ways parallels that of Quimby's, whose contributions to New Thought are discussed in depth in chapter five. Myers developed a theory of the unconscious that he called the subliminal self. Unlike Freud's unconscious-a mental place beyond our awareness where irrational and often frightening ideas can affect behavior-Myers's subliminal self, though still irrational, is not a place, but is an integral part of the self that is able to communicate with a transcendent spiritual world. Myers believes his theory shows that soul and body are separate and proves spiritual evolution; that is, the romantic notion of the ever progressing and perfecting of the soul. 

William James, the first American psychologist and philosopher, admired Myers and took Myers's work seriously. James is an important figure in the formulation of New Thought philosophy. His contributions are discussed in chapter eight.

Wilhelm Wundt, considered the founder of the science of psychology, held that all mental experiences result from unperceived mental processes. From his studies of individual consciousness he discovered an intimate connection between human will and the mind. All of Wundt's ideas are contained in idealistic philosophy, a philosophy of utmost importance to New Thought.

The early twentieth century brought Ivan Petrovich Pavlov and his work with dogs. His theory of conditioned and unconditioned responses and their stimuli parallels in some ways the New Thought theory of objective and subjective consciousness, in that certain responses (subjective reactions) can be elicited by applying certain stimuli (objective will). This New Thought concept is discussed in chapters eight and thirteen.

These later psychologists influenced directly only the writings of the last New Thought founder, Ernest Holmes, though in many instances pieces of their theories rested in antecedent philosophies and psychologies available to the earlier writers.

The changes in scientific and philosophic thought during the nineteenth century produced the three founding forms of psychology. The psychology of consciousness came out of Wundt's work. From Freud's theories came the psychology of the unconscious. And from Darwinism and the evolutionary psychologies came the psychologies of adaptation and behaviorism. Of these psychologies, the first two play roles in the formulation of New Thought philosophy.


We are now ready to begin our study of New Thought and the roads it followed in developing its philosophy.