KNOWING OUR MACHINE
=Counting on Ourselves.= Knowing our machine makes us better able to handle it. For, after all, each of us is, in many ways, very like a piece of marvelous and complicated machinery. For one thing, our minds, as well as our bodies, are subject to uniform laws upon which we can depend. We are not creatures of chaos; under certain conditions we can count on ourselves. Freedom does not mean freedom from the reign of law. It means that, to a certain extent, we can make use of the laws. Psychic laws are as susceptible to investigation, verification, and use as are any laws in the physical world. Each person is so much the center of his own life that it is very easy for him to fall into the way of thinking that he is different from all the rest of the world. It is a healthful experience for him to realize that every person he meets is made on the same principles, impelled by the same forces, and fighting much the same fight. Since the laws of the mental world are uniform, we can count on them as aids toward understanding other people and understanding ourselves.
="Intelligent Scrutiny versus Morbid Introspection."= It helps wonderfully to be able to look at ourselves in an objective, impersonal way. We are likely to be overcome by emotion, or swept by vague longings which seem to have no meaning and which, just because they are bound up so closely with our own ego, are not looked at but are merely felt. Unknown forces are within us, pulling us this way and that, until sometimes we who should be masters are helpless slaves. One great help toward mastery and one long step toward serenity is a working-knowledge of the causes and an impersonal interest in the phenomena going on within. Introspection is a morbid, emotional fixation on self, until it takes on this quality of objectivity. What Cabot calls the “sin of impersonality” is a grievous sin when directed toward another person, but most of us could stand a good deal of ingrowing impersonality without any harm.
The fact that the human machine can run itself without a hitch in the majority of cases is witness to its inherent tendency toward health. People were living and living well through all the centuries before the science of psychology was formulated. But not with all people do things run so smoothly. There were demoniacs in Bible times and neurotics in the Middle Ages, as there are nervous invalids and half-well people to-day. Psychology has a real contribution to make, and in recent years its lessons have been put into language which the average man can understand.
Psychology is not merely interested in abstract terms with long names. It is no longer absorbed merely in states of consciousness taken separately and analyzed abstractly. The newer functional psychology is increasingly interested in the study of real persons, their purposes and interests, what they feel and value, and how they may learn to realize their highest aspirations. It is about ordinary people, as they think and act, in the kitchen, on the street cars, at the bargain-counter, people in crowds and alone, mothers and their babies, little children at play, young girls with their lovers, and all the rest of human life. It is the science of you, and as such it can hardly help being interesting.