Scepsis Scientifica - Chap. XXIV.

Chap. XXIV.

Now to show how rashly we use to conclude things impossible; I'll instance in some reputed impossibilities, which are only strange and difficult performances. And the instances are three: (1.) The power of one man's imagination upon another's. (2.) Momentous conveyance at almost any distance. (3.) Sympathetic cures.

(1 ) That the fancy of one man should bind the thoughts of another, and determine them to their particular objects, will be thought impossible: which yet, if we look deeply into the matter, wants not its probability. By the power of advanced imagination it may very probably be effected; and history abounds with instances. I'll trouble the reader but with one; and the hands from which I had it, make me secure of the truth on't. There was very lately a lad in the University of Oxford, who being of very pregnant and ready parts, and yet wanting the encouragement of preferment; was by his poverty forced to leave his studies there, and to cast himself upon the wide world for a livelihood. Now, his necessities growing daily on him, and wanting the help of friends to relieve him; he was at last forced to join himself to a company of vagabond Gypsies, whom occasionally he met with, and to follow their trade for a maintenance. Among these extravagant people, and by the insinuating subtlety of his carriage, he quickly got so much of their love, and esteem; as that they discovered to him their mystery: in the practice of which, by the pregnancy of his wit and parts he soon grew so good a proficient, as to be able to out-do his instructors.

After he had been a pretty while exercised in the trade; there chanced to ride by a couple of scholars who had formerly been of his acquaintance. The Scholars had quickly spied out their old friend, among the Gypsies; and their amazement to see him among such society, had well-nigh discovered him: but by a sign he prevented their owning him before that Crew: and taking one of them aside privately, desired him with his friend to go to an Inn, not far distant thence, promising there to come to them. They accordingly went thither, and he follows: after their first salutations, his friends enquire how he came to lead so odd a life as that was, and to join himself with such a cheating beggarly company. The Scholar-Gypsy having given them an account of the necessity, which drove him to that kind of life; told them, that the people he went with were not such impostors as they were taken for, but that they had a traditional kind of learning among them, and could do wonders by the power of imagination, and that himself had learnt much of their art, and improved in further than themselves could. And to evince the truth of what he told them, he said, he'd remove into another room, leaving them to discourse together; and upon his return tell them the sum of what they had talked of: which accordingly he performed, giving them a full acount of what had passed between them in his absence. The Scholars being amazed at so unexpected a discovery, ernestly desired him to unriddle the mystery. In which he gave them satisfaction, by telling them, that what he did was by the power of imagination, his fancy binding theirs; and that himself had dictated to them the discourse, they held together, while he was from them: That there were warrantable ways of heightening the imagination to that pitch, as to bind another's; and that when he had compassed the whole secret, some parts of which he said he was yet ignorant of, he intended to give the world an account of what he had learned.

The judicious naturalist my Lord Bacon, speaks not unfavourably of this way of secret influence: and that the spirit of one man hath sometimes a power over that of another, I think is well attested by experience. For some presences daunt and discourage us, when others raise us to a brisk assurance. And I believe there are few but find that some companies benumb and cramp them, so that in them they can neither speak nor do anything that is handsome: whereas among more congruous and suitable tempers they find themselves very lucky and fortunate both in speech and action. Which things seem to me pretty considerable evidence of immaterial intercourses between our spirits. And that this kind of secret influence may be advanced to so strange an operation in the imagination of one upon another, as to fix and determine it.

Now that this strange power of the imagination is no impossibility; the wonderful signatures in the foetus caused by the imagination of the mother, is no contemptible item. The sympathies of laughing and gaping together, are resolved into this principle: and I see not why the fancy of one man may not determine the cogitation of another rightly qualified, as easily as his bodily motion. Nor doth this influence seem more unreasonable, than that of one string of a lute upon another, when a stroke on it causeth a proportionable motion in the sympathizing consort, which is distant from it and not sensibly touched. And if there be truth in this notion; 'twill yield us a good account how angels inject thoughts into our minds, and know our cogitations: and here we may see the source of some kinds of fascination.

Now, though in our inquiry after the reason of this operation, we can receive no assistance from the common philosophy; yet the Platonical hypothesis of a mundane soul will handsomely relieve us. Or if any would rather have a mechanical account; I think it may probably be made out some such way as follows. Imagination is inward sense; to sense is required a motion of certain filaments of the brain; and consequently in imagination there's the like: they only differing in this, that the motion of the one proceeds immediately from external objects; but that of the other hath its immediate rise within ourselves. Now then, when any part of the brain is strongly agitated; that which is next and most capable to receive the motive impress, must in like manner be moved. And we cannot conceive anything more capable of motion, than the fluid matter, that's interspersed among all bodies, and contiguous to them. So then, the agitated pars of the brain begetting a motion in the proxime Ether; it is propagated through the liquid medium; as we see the motion is which is caused by a stone thrown into the water. And when the thus moved matter meets with anything like that, from which it received its primary impress; it will in like manner move it; as it is in musical strings tuned unisons. And thus the motion being conveyed, from the brain of one man to the fancy of another; it is there received from the instrument of conveyance, the subtle matter; and the same kind of strings being moved, and much what after the same manner as in the first imaginant; the soul is awakened to the same apprehensions, as were they that caused them. I pretend not to any exactness or infallibility in this account, foreseeing many scruples that must be removed to make it perfect: 'tis only an hint of the possibility of mechanically solving the phenomenon; though very likely it may require many other circumstances completely to make it out. But 'tis not my business here to follow it: I leave it therefore to receive accomplishment from maturer inventions.

But (2.) To advance another instance. That men should confer at very distant removes by an extemporary intercourse, is another reputed impssibility; but yet there are some hints in natural operations, that give us probability that it is feasible, and may be compast without unwarrantable correspondence with the people of the air. That a couple of needles equally touched by the same magnet, being set in two dials exactly proportioned to each other, and circumscribed by the letters of the alphabet, may effect this magnale, hath considerable authorities to avouch it. The manner of it is thus represented. Let the friends that would communicate, take each a dial: and having appointed a time for their sympathetic conference, let one move his impregnate needle to any letter in the alphabet, and its affected fellow will precisely respect the same. So that would I know what my friend would acquaint me with; 'tis but observing the letters that are pointed at by my needle, and in their order transcribing them from their sympathizing index, as its motion direct's: and I may be assured that my friend described the same with his: and that the words on my paper, are of his indicting. Now though there will be some ill contrivance in a circumstance of this invention, in that the thus impregnate needles will not move to, but avert from each other (as ingenious Dr. Browne in his Pseudodoxia Epidemica hath observed:) yet this cannot prejudice the main design of this way of secret conveyance: since 'tis but reading counter to the magnetic informer; and noting the letter which is most distant in the abecedarian circle from that which the needle turns to, and the case is not altered. Now though this pretty contrivance possibly may not yet answer the expectation of inquisitive experiment; yet 'tis no despicable item, that by some other such way of magnetic efficiency, it may hereafter with success be attempted, when magical history shall be enlarged by riper inspections: and 'tis not unlikely, but that present discoveries might be improved to the performance.

Besides this there is another way of secret conveyance that's whispered about the world, the truth of which I vouch not, but the possibility: it is conference at distance by sympathized hands. For say the relators of this strange secret: the hands of two friends being allied by the transferring of flesh from one into another, and the place of the letters mutually agreed on; the least prick in the hand of one, the other will be sensible of, and that in the same part of his own. And thus the distant friend, by a new kind of chiromancy, may read in his own hand what his correspondent had set down in his. For instance, would I in London acquaint my intimate in Paris, that I am well: I would then prick that part where I had appointed the letter [I] and doing so in another place to signify that word was done, proceed to [A] thence to [M] and so on, till I had finished what I intended to make known.

Now if these seemingly prodigious fancies of secret conveyances prove to be but possible, they will be warrantable presumption of the verity of the former instance: since 'tis as easily conceivable, that there should be communications between the fancies of men, as either the impregnate needles, or sympathized hands.

And there is an instance still behind, which is more credible than either, and gives probability to them all.

(3.) Then there is a magnetic way of curing wounds by anointing the weapon, and that the wound is affected in like manner as is the extravenate blood by the sympathetic medicine, as to matter of fact is with circumstances of good evidence asserted by the noble Sir K. Digby in his ingenious discourse on the subject. The reason of this magnale he attempts by mechanism, and endeavours to make it out by atomical aporrheas, which passing from the cruentate cloth or weapon to the wound, and being incorporated with the particles of the salve carry them in their embraces to the affected part: where the medicinal atoms entering together with the effluviums of the blood, do by their subtle insinuation better effect the cure, than can be done by any grosser application. The particular way of their conveyance, and their regular direction is handsomely explicated by that learned knight, and recommended to the ingenious by most witty and becoming illustrations. It is out of my way here to enquire whether the anima mundi be not a better account, than any mechanical solutions. The former is more desperate; the latter perhaps hath more of ingenuity, than good ground of satisfaction. It is enough for me that de facto there is such an intercourse between the magnetic unguent and the vulnerated body, and I need not be solicitous of the cause. These theories I presume will not be importunate to the ingenious: and therefore I have taken the liberty (which the quality of a essay will well enough allow of) to touch upon them, though seemingly collateral to my scope. And yet I think, they are but seemingly so, since they do pertinently illustrate my design, viz. That what seems impossible to us, may not be so in nature; and therefore the dogmatist wants this to complete his demonstration, that 'tis impossible to be otherwise.

Now I intend not anything here to invalidate the certainty of truths either mathematical or divine. These are superstructed on principles that cannot fail us, except our faculties do constantly abuse us. Our religious foundations are fastened at the pillars of the intellectual world, and the grand articles of our belief as demonstrable as geometry. Nor will ever either the subtle attempts of the resolved atheist, or the passionate hurricanes of the wild enthusiast, any more be able to prevail against the reason our faith is built on, than the blustering winds to blow out the sun. And for mathematical sciences, he that doubts their certainty, hath need of a dose of hellebore. Nor yet can the dogmatist make much of these concessions in favour of his pretended science; for our discourse comes not within the circle of the former: and for the later, the knowledge we have of the mathematics, hath no reason to elate us; since by them we know but numbers, and figures, creatures of our own, and are yet ignorant of our maker's.


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