THE EFFECTS OF IMAGINATION
"The surest way to health, say what they will
Is never to suppose we shall be ill;
Most of the ailments we poor mortals know
From doctors and imagination flow."
"Men may die of imagination,
So depe may impression be take."
"Suggestion is the introduction into the mind of a practical belief that works out its own fulfilment." - Guyau.
Man suffers from no purely imaginary ills, for mental ills are as real as physical ills, and though an individual be ailing simply because he persuades himself he is ailing, his mind so affects his body that he is actually unwell physically, though the cause of his trouble is purely mental.
The suffering of this world is out of all proportion to its actual disease, many people being tortured by fancied ills. Some dread a certain complaint because a relative has died of it.
Others are unwell, but while taking proper treatment they brood gloomily, and get worse instead of better as they should and could do.
Cheap medical and pseudo-medical works are not an unmixed blessing, for many a person who knows, and needs to know, nothing about disease, gets hold [pg 80] of one, and soon has most of the ills known to the faculty and some which are not.
If a patient be an optimist and persuades himself he is improving, he does improve. This is the explanation of "Faith moving mountains", for the curative power of prayer, Christian Science, laying-on of hands, suggestion treatment and patent medicine, depends on man's own faith, not on the supernatural.
A doctor in whom a patient has perfect confidence, will do him far more good with the same medicines, or even with no medicines at all, than one of riper experience in whose skill he has no faith.
Eloquent, though often inaccurate accounts of the benefits derived from patent medicines are persistently advertised until the mind is so influenced by the constant reiteration of miraculous cures, that, either because the healing forces of the body are thereby stimulated, or because the disease is curable by suggestion, the patient is benefited by such medicines.
Thinking of pain makes it worse and vice versa.
The curative effects of auto-suggestion were demonstrated at the Siege of Breda in 1625. The garrison was on the point of surrender when a learned doctor eluded the besiegers, and got in with some minute phials of an extraordinary Eastern Elixir, one drop of which taken after each meal cured all the ills flesh was heir to; two drops were fatal.
The "learned doctor" was a quick-witted soldier, and the elixir was coloured water sold by order of the commander. Its potency was due to the faith of all, who persuaded each other they were getting better, and an epidemic of infectious wellness followed ills due to depressed spirits.
One man after reading a list of symptoms said in great alarm: "Good Heavens. I have got that disease!" and, on turning the page, found it was... pregnancy.
As the great Scotch physiologist, [John] Reid, said seventy years ago:
"Hope and joy promote the surface circulation of the body, and the elimination of waste matter and thus make the body capable of withstanding the causes which lead to disease, and of resisting it when formed. Grief, anguish and despair enfeeble the circulation, diminish or vitiate the secretions, favour the causes which induce disease, and impede the action of the mechanism by which the body may get rid of its maladies. An army when flushed with victory and elated with hope maintains a comparative immunity from disease under physical privations and sufferings which, under the opposite circumstances of defeat and despair, produce the most frightful ravages."
The classic description of the woeful effects of imagination is in [Jerome K.] Jerome's "Three Men in a Boat". Harris, having a little time on his hands, strolls into a public library, picks up a medical work, and discovers he has every affliction therein mentioned, save housemaid's knee. He consults a doctor friend and is given a prescription. After an argument with an irate chemist, he finds he has been ordered to take beefsteak and porter, and not meddle with matters he does not understand. A sounder prescription never was penned.