No Parallelism

For a long time it seemed as if the theory of parallelism was to gain

general acceptance. One might write a whole history of the gradually

increasing criticisms of, and reactions from the academic theories which

had become almost canonical. But we may here confine ourselves to the most

general of the objections to the parallelistic theory. They apply to the

general idea of parallelism itself, and affect the different standpoints
of the parallelists in different degrees. The theory in no way corresponds

to what we find in ourselves from direct experience. It is only with the

greatest difficulty that we can convince ourselves that our arm moves only

when and not because we will. The consciousness of being, through the

will, the actual cause of our own bodily movements is so energetic and

direct and certain, that it maintains its sway in spite of all objections,

and confuses the argument even of the parallelists themselves. Usually

after they have laid the foundations of a purely parallelistic theory,

they abandon it again as quickly as possible, and revert to the

expressions and images of ordinary thought. Indeed we have no clearer and

more certain example of causality in general than in our own capacity for

controlling changes in our own bodies. Further, a very fatal addition and

burdensome accessory of the parallelistic theory is involved in the two

corollaries it has above and beneath it. On the one hand there is the

necessity for attributing soul to everything. These mythologies of

atom-souls, molecule-souls, this hatred and love which are the inner

aspects even of the simple facts of attraction and repulsion among the

elements, fit better into the nature-philosophy of Empedocles and

Anaxagoras than into ours. The main support, indeed the sole support, of

this position is that this world of the infinitely little cannot be

brought under control as far as its "soul" is concerned. Thus we can

impute "a soul" to it without danger. On the other hand, there is a

difficulty which made itself felt even in regard to Spinoza's system. All

bodily processes must have psychical processes corresponding to them, said

Spinoza. Conversely, all ideas in their turn must have bodily processes.

To the system including all bodily processes corresponds the sum-total of

psychical processes. This sum-total we call the soul. And in its entirety

it is the idea corporis. If "soul" were really nothing more than this,

the theory of parallelism might be right. But it is more than this. It

rises above itself, and becomes also the idea ideae; it is

self-consciousness and the consciousness of the ego; it makes its own

thought and the laws of it, its feelings and their intensity--its

experiences in short--a subject of thought. How does this fit in with

parallelism? Wundt himself, the most notable modern champion of

parallelism, admits and defines these limits of the parallelistic theory

on both sides.

Furthermore, the theory of parallelism, notwithstanding its opposition to

materialism, must presuppose that localisation of psychical processes of

which we have already spoken, and to which all naturalism appeals with so

much emphasis. Because of the fact that particular psychical functions

seem to be limited to a particular and definable area of the brain-cortex,

or to a spot which could be isolated on a particular convolution, it

seemed as if naturalism could prove that "soul" was obviously a function

of this particular organ or part of an organ. According to the theory of

parallelism this does not follow. It would assert: "What in one aspect

appears to be a psychical process, appears in another aspect to be a

definite physiological process of the brain." Yet it is clear that in

order to gain support for the doctrine of mutual correspondence,

parallelism has also the same interest in such localisation. For this is

the only method by which it can empirically control its theory. But this

whole idea of localisation does not hold good to anything like the extent

to which the members of the naturalistic school are wont to assert that it

does. In regard to this point, too, there has been considerable

disillusioning in recent years. Perhaps all that can be said is, that

localisation of psychical processes is a fact analogous to the fact that

sight is associated with the optic nerves and hearing with the auditory

nerves. Progressive investigation leads more and more clearly to the

recognition of a fact which makes localisation comparatively unimportant,

namely, the vicarious functioning of different parts of the brain. In many

cases where this or that "centre" is injured, and rendered incapable of

function, or even extirpated, the corresponding part of the mind is by no

means destroyed along with it. At first the mind may suffer from "the

effect of shock" as the phrase runs, but gradually it may recover and the

same function may be transferred to another part of the brain, and there

be fulfilled sometimes less perfectly, sometimes quite as perfectly as

before. We had to deal with this fact of vicarious function in discussing

the general theory of life. It is one of the greatest difficulties in the

way of the mechanistic and materialistic theories. But it must give some

trouble to the parallelists too.

We need not speak of the wonderful duplication of all existence which

parallelism must establish, though it is difficult to evade the question

how a natura sive deus could have come, so superfluously, to say the

same thing twice over. Superfluously, for since both are alike

self-contained and independent of one another, one can have no need of the


One objection, however, may be urged against both parallelism and

materialism, which makes them both impossible, and that is, automatism.

Both parallelism and materialism maintain that the sequence of physical

processes is complete in itself and can be explained in terms of itself.

All physical processes! Not only the movements of the stars, the changes

in inanimate matter, the origin and evolution of the forms of life, but

also what we call actions, for instance the movements of our arms and our

legs, and the complicated processes affecting the breathing organs and

tongue, which we call "speech." Every plant, every animal, every human

being must be as it is and where it is, must move and act, must perform

its functions, which we explain as due to love or hate, to fear or hope,

even if there were no such thing as sensation, will, idea, neither love

nor hate, fear nor hope. More than this, all that we call history,

building towns and destroying them, carrying on war and concluding peace,

uniting into states and holding national assemblies, going to school and

exercising mouth and tongue, argument, making books and forming letters,

writing Iliads, Bibles, and treatises on the soul or on free will, holding

psychological congresses and talking about parallelism;--all this must have

been done even if there had been no consciousness, no psychical activity

in any brain! This is the necessary consequence to which the theories of

parallelism and materialism lead. If it does not follow, then there was

from the outset no meaning in establishing them. But the monstrosity of

their corollary is fatal to them. It is idle to set up theories in which

it is impossible to believe.

There is another consideration that affects parallelism alone. Since the

theory credits each of the two series with a closed and sufficient causal

sequence, each of which excludes the other, it does away with causality

altogether. That the one line runs parallel with the other excludes the

idea that a unique system of laws prevails, determining the character and

course of each line. One of the two lines must certainly be dependent, and

one must lead. Otherwise there can be no distinctness of laws in either.

Let us recall our illustration of the cloud shadows once more; the

changing forms of the shadows correspond point for point with those of the

clouds only because they are entirely dependent upon them. We may

illustrate it in this way: a parallel may be drawn to an ellipse, it also

forms a closed curved line. But it is by no means again an ellipse, but is

an entirely dependent figure without any formula or law of its own.

Parallelism must make one of its lines the leading one, which is guided

and directed by an actual causal connection within itself. The other line

may then run parallel with this, but its course must certainly be

determined by the other. And as the line of corporeal processes, with its

inviolable nexus of sequences, is not easily broken, parallelism, after

many hard words against materialism, frequently returns to that again or

becomes inconsistent. But if one says that the two aspects of phenomena

are only the forms of one fundamental phenomenon, that means taking away

actual causality from both alike, and leaving only a temporal sequence.

For then the actually real is the hidden something that throws the

cloud-shadows to right and left. But in the sequence of shadows there is

no causal connection, only a series of states succeeding one another in

time, and this points to a causal connection elsewhere.

It is easy enough to find examples to prove that the mental in us

influences the bodily. But the most convincing, deepest and most

trustworthy of these are not the voluntary actions which are expressed in

bodily movements, nor even the passions and emotions, the joy which makes

our blood circulate more quickly, and the shame which brings a flush to

our foreheads, the suggestions which work through the mind towards the

reviving, vitalising or healing of the body, but the cold and simple

course of logical thought itself. Through logical thinking we have the

power to correct the course of our conceptions, to inhibit, modify, or

logically direct the natural course, as it would have been had it been

brought about by our preceding physiological and psychical states, if they

were dominant and uncontrolled. But if so, then we must also have the

power, especially if it be widely true that physiological states

correspond to psychical states, to influence, inhibit, modify the

nerve-processes in our brain, or to liberate entirely new ones, namely,

those that correspond to the corrected conceptions.

The law of the conservation of energy is here applied in as distorted a

sense as we detected before in regard to the general theory of life. And

what we said there holds good here also. That something which is in itself

not energetic should determine processes and directions of energy is

undoubtedly an absolute riddle. But to recognise this is less difficult

than to accept the impossibilities which mechanism and automatism offer us

here, even more pronouncedly than in regard to the theory of life. Perhaps

one of the familiar antinomies of Kant shows us the way, not, indeed, to

find the solution of the riddle, but to recognise, so to speak, its

geometrical position and associations. We have already seen that inquiry

into the causal conditions of processes lands us in contradictions of

thought, which show us that we can never really penetrate into the actual

state of the matter.

Perhaps we have here to do only with the obverse side of the problem dealt

with there. There the chain of conditions could not be finished because it

led on to infinity, where, however, it was required that it should be

complete. Here again the chain is incomplete. In the previous case a

solution is found through the naive proceeding of simply breaking the

empirical connection of conditions and postulating beginnings in time. In

this case, the admission of an influxus physicus transforms

consciousness almost unnoticed into a mechanically operative causality.

The proper attitude in both cases is a critical one. We must admit that we

cannot penetrate into the true state of the case, because the world is

deeper than our knowledge, we must reject parallelism as being, like the

influxus physicus, an unsatisfactory cutting of the critical knot, and

we must frankly recognise the incontrovertible fact, never indeed

seriously called in question, of the controlling power of the mind, even

over the material.