A passive aptitude of soul

I’ve just got round to listening to a September edition of ABC Radio National’s The Philosopher’s Zone on Frankenstein, science and philosophy in the Romantic period. Tragically, the mp3 is no longer available, but one of the people on the programme read out a fantastic Benjamin Franklin quote on Mesmerism.

Franklin was charged by the King of France to investigate the scientific basis of Mesmerism. We now think of mesmerism as hypnosis but at the time Franz Anton Mesmer believed that the effects were because he had discovered a way of manipulating a powerful invisible fluid that permeated the universe.

One of the interviewees on the programme read out Franklin’s conclusion to the his 1784 report to Louis XIV on the scientific basis of Mesmerism, and it’s both profound and beautiful:

It is perhaps the history of the errors of mankind, all things considered, that is more valuable and interesting than that of their discoveries. Truth is uniform and narrow; it constantly exists and does not seem to require so much an active energy as a passive aptitude of soul, in order to encounter it.

But error is endlessly diversified. It has no reality but is the pure and simple creation of the mind that invents it. In this field, the soul has room enough to expand herself to display all her boundless faculties and all of her beautiful and interesting extravagances and absurdities.

Obviously this was before the days when it was traditional to finish a scientific report by sitting on the fence and suggesting further research.

Link to Philosopher’s Zone edition, sans mp3, avec transcript.

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