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Richet, Charles Robert - Popular Science Monthly Volume 37 August 1890 - Mental Strain



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Popular Science Monthly Volume 37 August 1890  (1890)  - Mental Strain - Charles Robert Richet
Translated for the Popular Science Monthly from the Revue Scientifique

Since the future depends on the present, it is no less than a question of the future of men. This being fixed, the query arises, Is there mental overstrain? A careful examination of the facts gives us occasion to answer affirmatively.

In consequence of the prodigiously artificial conditions of existence which our advanced civilization has imposed upon us, we have greatly modified the habitual and physiological life of our organism. A close study of the habits of contemporary men, such as the author of this book has made, will show that nothing is less in agreement with a healthy vitality than the mode of living of to-day.

From very early years children are shut up in work-rooms for many hours with tiresome books. They have no sufficient distraction from these books, no better prospect of good to be derived from them than the hope of some time passing an examination, complicated, hard, and encyclopedic, of a compass surpassing that of the knowledge of the wisest man that can be imagined.

Then, in youth there are still examinations, still hours of study, still books, with only the scantiest provisions for diversion and recreation, except by resorting to fatiguing dissipations.

Too much civilization, too much mental culture, with too little care for the physical part.

Do we forget that the material structure is the organ of the mind, and that the mind can not maintain itself in an enfeebled body? We ought to realize that sooner or later the body will avenge itself.

We can not break away with impunity from the laws of sound psychological hygiene. The muscle that is not exercised becomes atrophied; the muscle that works too much becomes diseased. The mind that is not exercised decays; the mind that labors too much is distorted, and we reach the sad result of weakening the understanding by the excess of labor to which we subject it, of destroying the instrument we use.

Moderation, the just mean, which, has been so frequently and so foolishly ridiculed, is in this master, as in many others, true and practical wisdom.

Not to force children to excessive work in school, to be able to take rest, to limit our ambition and desires as much as possible, to live for a few hours a day a purely animal existence, are what we ought all to try to do; and we should be recompensed for it very quickly by better moral and physical health.

 The value of that boon cannot be overestimated.

 If we represent the coefficient of happiness by 100, 95 of the marks should go to health, while fortune and fame would only deserve the other 5. The affair is one of habits rather than of regulation, and legislation can have little effect upon it.

Our duty is clear.

The first thing is to reform the education of children and youth. Everybody should be made to understand that mental labour can be good only as it is moderate and accompanied by bodily exercise. Bodily activity should be encouraged, class-hours diminished, and play-hours increased. All this appears simple enough, and easy, for everybody is at bottom agreed upon it. They all preach moderation, and it has a fine sound.

But is it ever easy to be moderate—that is, wise?

If the animal suffers, the angel will be ill. The future is for the races that do not sacrifice their bodies.—

The source of the experience

Richet, Charles Robert

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