Consciousness Under Nitrous Oxide

Embed Size (px)

Citation preview

  • 7/21/2019 Consciousness Under Nitrous Oxide




    were time it might be shown that it is not alone the consciousness of

    the child and the rustic, but also that which has been rendered scien-

    tific in such ways as a theory of evolution that involves the experience

    for which we have contended. There are few who will to-day hand

    in their assent to a purely determined view of knowledge, either sub-

    jectively or objectively, but the surprising feature of the situation is

    that so few see that the necessary correlate is the admission of the

    mind's power to transcend its crude dualism, its cold Spinozism, and

    seize the causal subject in its essence. Evolution is still the evolution

    of some thing or mind, and of this we have, and can have, no knowl-

    edge, if the reality of that thing or mind is separated from the primary

    as well as the most highly cultivated and complex psychological expe-

    riences in a permanent way. Essentially there is nothing unrelated

    to reason; but we have to get our knowledge by degrees; and this is

    possible only as the mind, possessing reality, is able to explore the

    ocean of being which lies spread out before us, as in some real sense,

    reflective of a life which, far transcending ours, is, nevertheless, iden-

    tical with that which we ourselves experience.

    Phenomenalism, therefore, must not simply deny an unpopular or

    unrecognized truth, but go to work and


    its right to existence.

    Until it has been argued out of existence it is still truth, and will sur-

    vive the shocks of debate. Meanwhile, awaiting the treatment, it will

    continue to provide ground and cause to our higher ethical and aesthet-

    ical experiences, as well as to those more primary questions. Phe-

    nomenalism, with its implicit agnosticism, too, will continue, and mete

    out denial to these claims. I hesitate to classify Dr. Miller among

    this class of thinkers, therefore I can say without the suspicion of

    offense that I regard phenomenalism as the worst of abstractions and

    the veriest cant of current philosophy.




    An English correspondent sends me the following account of his

    subjective experiences during nitrous-oxide intoxication. I place it

    (with his permission) on record in the PSYCHOLOGICAL REVIEW.

    Normal human consciousness is only a narrow extract from a great

    sea of possible human consciousness, of whose limits we know nothing,

    but of the nature of portions of which such documents


    the following

    may help to inform us. It were greatly to be wished that they might

    be multiplied. W. J.

  • 7/21/2019 Consciousness Under Nitrous Oxide



    The note in your book, entitled ' The Will to Believe,' upon the

    above subject, recalls to my mind a strange experience which I had in

    June, 1895, while still an undergraduate at Oxford.

    I had been studying philosophy, and had about as much acquaint-

    ance with it as a man gets in two years, who has a good deal of natural

    interest in abstract speculation, bu t very little natural talent for it.

    The ideas of Hegel, though exercising a tolerable fascination over my

    mind, were only known to me at second or third hand, through Eng-

    lish and Scotch writers and casual conversation.

    One morning in June, 1895, or certainly not later than the end of

    May, I went round to a dentist's opposite Balliol College, to have a

    tooth out. I had never ' taken gas ' before, and never have since. My

    experience was, as accurately as I can remember it at this distance of


    as follows:

    Either of set purpose, or to distract my mind from the intensely

    uncomfortable process of ' going off,' I determined to observe very

    carefully the changes in my conscious states.

    What happened, I found, was that the contents of consciousness,

    the feelings, gradually became reduced, till I came down nearly, though

    not quite, to the bare uncolored fact of consciousness of existence al-

    most divorced from sensation. By this time, of course, I was hardly

    in a position to observe accurately, but when I came afterwardstothink

    the matter over, it seemed that I had spent an absurdly long time in

    this state, and then suddenly, when I was hoping for it, but least ex-

    pecting it, had ' gone out,' like a snuffed candle.

    The next experience I became aware of, who shall rela te my

    God I knew everything A vast inrush of obvious and absolutely

    satisfying solutions to all possible problems overwhelmed my entire

    being, and an all-embracing unification of hitherto contending and ap-

    parently diverse aspects of truth took possession of my soul by force.

    The odd thing, and one that sent a ripple of merriment through my

    consciousness, was that I seemed to have reconciled Hegelianism itself

    with all other schools of philosophy in some higher synthesis. The

    biter bit

    Then, in a flash, this state of intellectual ecstasy was succeeded by

    one that I shall never forget, because it was still m ore novel to me

    than the otherI mean a state of moral ecstasy. I was seized with

    an immense yearning to take back this truth to the feeble, sorrow-

    ing , struggling world in which I had lived. I pictured to myself w ith

    justifiable pride how they could not fail to recognize it as being the

    real truth when they heard it, and I saw that previous prophets had

  • 7/21/2019 Consciousness Under Nitrous Oxide



    been rejected only because the truths they brought were partial and on

    that account not convincing. I had a balm for all hurts, and the pros-

    pect of how entire humanity would crowd around to bless the bringer

    nearly intoxicated me. But I thought I was dying and should not be

    able to tell them. I had never cared much for life, but it was then

    that I prayed and strove to live for the world's sake, as I had never

    prayed and striven before. It seemed in vain, however, that I battled

    for life, and I was just resigning myself to extinction when an im-

    mense sense of relief and of some obstacle having given way broke

    in upon me. This was, of course, succeeded by another fit of philan-

    thropic ecstasy. Five or ten seconds more, and I should be able to

    speak, and the world wouldreally beredeemed, whether I lived on or

    not. It was a moment of the supremest bliss, exceeding those former

    ones. Suddenly I saw standing on a little pink stage a little pink

    man with a kindly face which I seemed to recognize. Who could it

    be ? Then, as the little pink man grew rapidly larger and less pink,

    and I steamed into the position of normal consciousness (for that was

    the sensation) I heard a voice, apparently not that of the little pink

    man, but coming from some one out of my range of vision, say:

    That would have been a tough job without the elevator." These

    words gave me power to speak out, and I shouted aloud: " That

    would have been a tough job without the elevator; I've found out

    some metaphysics " Hardly had I said the words, however, than they

    mocked me. The truth had evaporated, like a forgotten dream, and

    left me with half-formed phrases on my lips and an ashen-gray delight

    in my heart. The dentist asked me whether I wasn't suffering from

    a sluggish liver, and the little pink man, the doctor, recommended

    me to go away for a change of air. Shades of the prison-house have

    since closed about me, and Professor Caird still reigns unchallenged at