Is There Ageing Of The Mind?

Naturalism is also only apparently right in asserting that the mind ages

with the body. To learn the answer which all idealism gives to this

comfortless theory, it is well to read Schleiermacher's "Monologues," and

especially the chapter "Youth and Age." The arguments put forward by

naturalism, the blunting of the senses, the failing of the memory, are

well known. But here again there are luminous facts on the other side

> which are much more true. It is no wonder that a mind ages if it has never

taken life seriously, never consolidated itself to individual and definite

being through education and self-culture, through a deepening of morality,

and has gained for itself no content of lasting worth. How could he do

otherwise than become poor, dull and lifeless, as the excitability of his

organ diminishes and its susceptibility to external impressions

disappears? But did Goethe become old? Did not Schleiermacher, frail and

ailing as he was by nature, prove the truth of what he wrote in his youth,

that there is no ageing of the mind?

The whole problem, in its highest aspects, is a question of will and

faith. If I know mind and the nature of mind, and believe in it, I believe

with Schleiermacher in eternal youth. If I do not believe in it, then I

have given away the best of all means for warding off old age. For the

mind can only hold itself erect while trusting in itself. And this is the

best argument in the whole business.

But even against the concrete special facts and the observable processes

of diminution of psychical powers, and of the disappearance of the whole

mental content, we could range other concrete and observable facts, which

present the whole problem in quite a different light from that in which

naturalism attempts to show it. They indicate that the matter is rather

one of the rusting of the instrument to which the mind is bound than an

actual decay of the mind itself, and that it is a withdrawing of the mind

within itself, comparable rather to sleep than to decay. The remarkable

power of calling up forgotten memories in hypnosis, the suddenly

re-awakening memory a few minutes before death, in which sometimes the

whole past life is unrolled with surprising clearness and detail, the

flaming up anew of a rusty mind in moments of great excitement, the great

clearing up of the mind before its departure, and many other facts of the

same nature, are rather to be regarded as signs that in reality the mind

never loses anything of what it has once experienced or possessed. It has

only become buried under the surface. It has been withdrawn from the

stage, but is stored up in safe treasure-chambers. And the whole stage may

suddenly become filled with it again.

The simile of an instrument and the master who plays upon it, which is

often used of the relation between body and mind, is in many respects a

very imperfect one; for the master does not develop with and in his

instrument. But in regard to the most oppressive arguments of naturalism,

the influence of disease, of old age, of mental disturbances due to brain

changes, the comparison serves our turn well enough, for undoubtedly the

master is dependent upon his instrument; upon an organ which is going more

and more out of tune, rusting, losing its pipes, his harmonies will become

poorer, more imperfect. And if we think of the association between the two

as further obstructed, the master becoming deaf, the stops confused, the

relation between the notes and pipes altered, then what may still live

within him in perfect and unclouded purity, and in undiminished richness,

may present itself outwardly as confused and unintelligible, may even find

only disconnected expression, and finally cease altogether; so that no

conclusion would be possible except that the master himself had become

different or poorer. The melancholy field of mental diseases perhaps

yields proofs against naturalism to an even greater degree than for it. It

is by no means the case that all mental diseases are invariably diseases

of the brain, for even more frequently they are real sicknesses of the

mind, which yield not to physical but to psychical remedies. And the fact

that the mind can be ill, is a sad but emphatic proof that it goes its own