Wednesday, January 18, 2012

[Opinion] On Mental Hygiene

1. We have limited or partial control over our personal belief-formation.

When we see and notice a tree in the yard, it is natural to form the belief in our mind that there is a tree in the yard.

Most people cannot, by an act of the will, force themselves to believe that it is not a tree that they see in the yard.

We have limited control over our belief-formation.

2. We also have limited or partial control over our belief-maintenance.

For example, we can increase the vividness of a belief by recalling the belief periodically from memory into our consciousness.

Reminiscence is a form of belief-maintenance.

3. In A Study in Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes gave some sound advice to Dr. Watson regarding belief-maintenance (Doyle [1887] 1970, 21):

His [i.e. Sherlock Holmes] ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my [i.e. Dr. Watson] quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired in the naivest way into who he might be and what he had done. My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to me to be such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.

"You appear to be astonished," he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. "Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it."

"To forget it!"

"You see," he explained, "I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out useful ones."

"But the Solar System!" I protested.

"What the deuce is it to me?" he interrupted impatiently: "you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work."

4. Our mind is a splendid and complex thing.

I think Sherlock Holmes was onto something regarding mental hygiene.

Since we have partial control over our belief-formation and belief-maintenance, we have some responsibilities regarding these activities.

As a Christian, I find the following two practices useful for mental hygiene:

(a) Clear the conscience each day by confessing our daily sins to God, preferably just before bedtime.

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 HCSB)

(b) Let the Word of God helps in reorganize and structure our mind by reading a
chapter or two from the Bible just before going to bed.

It is well known that our subconscious mind is active during sleep and that part of its task is to reorganize and process the information we encounter during the day.

The Bible is the Word of God.

Why not let our subconscious mind uses the Word of God to help reorganize and structure itself?


Doyle, Arthur Conan. [1887] 1970. A Study in Scarlet. In Vol. 1 of The Complete Sherlock Holmes, 13-86. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc.