Mind and Motion and Monism Informative Summary.


This book delves into the age-old philosophical question of the relationship between the mind and the body. Romanes argues against both materialism, the view that mental phenomena are reducible to physical processes, and spiritualism, which posits the mind as the primary cause of physical events. He finds both theories logically flawed and proposes a third alternative: monism.

Monism, according to Romanes, posits that mind and motion are not distinct entities but rather two sides of the same coin. He draws an analogy with a violin string, where both the vibration and the sound are ultimately the same event perceived differently. This approach allows him to reconcile the apparent conflict between mind and matter, arguing that both are intrinsically linked in a single stream of causation. He further explores the implications of monism for understanding free will, consciousness, and the nature of the universe, suggesting that the cosmos itself might possess a form of super-consciousness.

Key Findings:

  • Refutation of Materialism: Romanes argues that materialism is fundamentally flawed because it attempts to derive mind from matter, even though our very concept of matter is dependent on mind.
  • Critique of Spiritualism: While finding spiritualism more logically sound than materialism, Romanes argues that it fails to account for the conservation of energy and ultimately relies on supernatural explanations.
  • Endorsement of Monism: He proposes monism as the only theory that adequately addresses the relationship between mind and motion, suggesting they are two aspects of a single underlying reality.
  • Reframing Free Will: Under the monistic framework, free will is not seen as an absolute independence from causation, but rather a freedom to choose within the constraints of internal and external conditions.
  • Psychical Nature of Causation: Romanes suggests that all causation, including physical causation, might be ultimately psychical in nature, expressing the volition of a super-conscious World-Eject.


  • Understanding the mind-body problem: The text provides a clear and concise explanation of the historical and philosophical debate surrounding the relationship between the mind and the body.
  • Critique of materialism and spiritualism: Romanes’ logical refutation of these theories sharpens critical thinking skills and exposes the flaws in simplistic explanations of complex phenomena.
  • Introduction to monism: The book provides a comprehensive introduction to monism, its core principles, and its implications for understanding consciousness, free will, and the nature of reality.
  • Rethinking free will and moral responsibility: Romanes offers a nuanced perspective on free will, arguing for its existence while acknowledging the constraints of internal and external causation. He also defends the concept of moral responsibility under a monistic framework.
  • The possibility of a super-conscious universe: The text explores the intriguing idea that the universe itself might possess a form of mind far exceeding human comprehension, potentially offering a new perspective on the relationship between humanity and the cosmos.

Historical Context:

Written in 1895, “Mind and Motion and Monism” reflects the intellectual climate of the late 19th century. Advancements in science, particularly in physiology and physics, had challenged traditional philosophical and religious views. The theory of evolution, the discovery of the conservation of energy, and growing understanding of the brain fueled the rise of materialism. Romanes attempts to bridge the gap between science and philosophy by offering a theory that embraces scientific findings while preserving a space for mind and meaning in the universe.


  1. All knowledge of the external world is a knowledge of motion. We perceive the world through sensory experiences, which are all ultimately reducible to different forms of motion.
  2. The grey matter of the cerebral hemispheres is the seat of mind. Damage to this area results in loss of mental faculties, even though basic bodily functions may remain intact.
  3. The faculty of speech is localized in a specific area of the brain. Damage to this area leads to loss of language ability, known as aphasia.
  4. Stimulating specific areas of the brain can evoke specific muscle movements. This suggests a direct link between brain activity and voluntary actions.
  5. Molecular movements travel through nerves at a measurable speed. This speed has been experimentally determined in different animals.
  6. Nerve centers take time to process information and generate responses. The complexity of the mental operation influences the processing time.
  7. Sensory nerves translate external stimuli into nerve impulses. The intensity of the stimulus corresponds to the amount of agitation in the nerve.
  8. The brain learns by repeating patterns of activity. Practice strengthens neural pathways, making it easier to perform specific actions or recall information.
  9. Our conscious experiences are correlated with physical processes in the brain. Physiological changes are invariably associated with mental events.
  10. The principle of causality is derived from our internal experience of mental events. Our understanding of cause and effect originates in the mind’s awareness of its own sequences.
  11. Consciousness appears in animals with increasingly complex nervous systems. This suggests that consciousness plays a functional role in navigating complex environments.
  12. Adaptive actions can become unconscious through repetition. This does not negate the role of consciousness in initially developing these actions.
  13. Society exhibits emergent properties that cannot be reduced to individual minds. The “Zeitgeist” or collective psychology reflects a level of organization exceeding individual contributions.
  14. Anthropomorphism shapes early conceptions of Deity. Humans tend to project their own attributes onto their understanding of the divine.
  15. Deanthropomorphism gradually refines theistic conceptions. As abstract thought develops, human-like attributes are progressively removed from the concept of God.
  16. Physical explanations do not negate the possibility of underlying psychical reality. Monism allows for physical causation to be viewed as the outward manifestation of an inward mental process.
  17. Moral and religious feelings may have evolved through natural causes. Their natural origins do not diminish their ultimate truth or value under a monistic framework.
  18. Human volitions are first causes, while still being influenced by external factors. Monism allows for the interplay of free will and determinism, acknowledging both internal spontaneity and external constraints.
  19. Moral responsibility arises from the freedom to choose between different courses of action. It is not negated by the necessity of conforming to natural laws in carrying out those choices.
  20. The ultimate reality of Being is inherently inexplicable. Whether we prioritize mind or causality, we inevitably reach a foundational mystery that defies explanation.


The text focuses on philosophical arguments rather than statistical data. It does mention some specific numbers related to the nervous system, for example:

  • Molecular movements travel through nerves at a speed of about 100 feet per second in frogs and twice as fast in mammals.
  • The time required for a nerve center to process a simple reflex action is about 1/20 of a second.
  • The time required for the brain to process a simple sensation and generate a voluntary response is about 1/12 of a second.
  • The human brain contains an estimated one thousand million nerve cells and five thousand million nerve fibers.


  1. Materialism: The philosophical theory that everything in the universe, including mind, is ultimately reducible to matter and its interactions.
  2. Spiritualism: The theory that mind or spirit is the fundamental reality and the source of all physical phenomena.
  3. Monism: The theory that mind and matter are not distinct entities but rather two aspects of a single underlying reality.
  4. Neurosis: Refers to the activity of the nervous system, particularly in the brain.
  5. Psychosis: Refers to mental processes and states, including thoughts, feelings, and perceptions.
  6. Conscious Automatism: The theory that although we are conscious of our actions, those actions are determined solely by physical processes in the brain, and our conscious will plays no causal role.
  7. Eject: A term coined by Clifford to refer to any inferred consciousness other than one’s own, such as the mind of another person or potentially the universe itself.
  8. Anthropomorphism: The tendency to attribute human-like qualities and motivations to non-human entities, including animals, natural forces, and God.
  9. Deanthropomorphism: The progressive removal of human-like attributes from conceptions of Deity, often associated with the development of more abstract and philosophical theologies.
  10. Predestination: The theological doctrine that all events, including human actions, are predetermined by God.


  1. A hunter shooting a bird: This example is used to illustrate the vast chain of physical consequences that can follow from a seemingly simple act of volition. Romanes argues that spiritualism fails to explain how the mind can intervene in the physical world without violating the conservation of energy.
  2. A violin string vibrating: This analogy illustrates the monistic view that mind and motion are not separate events but rather two aspects of the same underlying reality perceived differently.
  3. An Edison lamp: This example is used to compare the relationship between temperature and light in the lamp to the relationship between brain activity and mind. Romanes suggests that volition is as much a cause of bodily movement as the physical activity of the brain itself.
  4. A dog with one cerebral hemisphere removed: This experiment demonstrates the localization of mental faculties in the brain. The dog retains basic sensory abilities but loses the capacity for mental recognition on the side of the body controlled by the removed hemisphere.
  5. Learning a lesson by repetition: This example highlights the role of neural pathways in learning and memory. Repeated activation of specific neural circuits strengthens those circuits, making it easier to recall information or perform actions.
  6. The social organism: Romanes uses the concept of the “social organism” to argue that complex systems can exhibit emergent properties that resemble subjectivity, even if they do not possess individual consciousness.
  7. The “Zeitgeist”: This concept illustrates the idea of collective psychology, suggesting that society as a whole can generate ideas and trends that transcend individual contributions.
  8. Listening to a Beethoven sonata: Romanes argues that even a complete physical explanation of the process of hearing music fails to capture the ultimate reality of the experience, which involves the communication of mind through a complex chain of physical events.
  9. Conducting a scientific research: This example is used to illustrate the idea that freedom of action does not mean the ability to act without any constraints. Even in a free society, individuals must conform to certain laws and procedures to achieve their goals.
  10. Willing to marry without going through the ceremony: This example highlights the distinction between free will and rationality. While an individual may freely will to marry, the volition becomes irrational if it disregards the necessary social and legal procedures.


“Mind and Motion and Monism” offers a compelling argument for monism as the most satisfactory explanation for the relationship between mind and matter. By challenging both materialism and spiritualism, Romanes attempts to reconcile scientific understanding with the reality of conscious experience. He defends the existence of free will and moral responsibility, while acknowledging the influence of external and internal causation. Ultimately, he suggests that all causation may be fundamentally psychical, pointing towards a universe imbued with mind—a view that leaves open the possibility of a reality far exceeding human comprehension.

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