Mind over matter

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This article is about the phrase. For other uses, see Mind over matter (disambiguation).

Mind over matter is a phrase that has been used in several contexts such as mind-centric spiritual doctrines, parapsychology and philosophy.


Some think that the phrase "mind over matter" first appeared in 1863 in The Geological Evidence of the Antiquity of Man by Sir Charles Lyell (1797–1875) and was first used to refer to the increasing status and evolutionary growth of the minds of animals and man throughout Earth history.[1]

It may be said that, so far from having a materialistic tendency, the supposed introduction into the earth at successive geological periods of life — sensation, instinct, the intelligence of the higher mammalia bordering on reason, and lastly, the improvable reason of Man himself — presents us with a picture of the ever-increasing dominion of mind over matter.

— Sir Charles Lyell, 1863

Another related saying, "the mind drives the mass", was coined almost two millennia earlier in 19 B.C. by the poet Virgil in his work Aeneid, book 6, line 727.[2]


In the field of parapsychology, the phrase has been used to describe paranormal phenomena such as psychokinesis.[3][4]

Mao Zedong[edit]

"Mind over matter" was also Mao Zedong's idea that rural peasants could be "proletarianized" so they could lead the revolution and China could move from feudalism to socialism. It departs from Leninism in that the revolutionaries are peasants, instead of the urban proletariat.[5]

Controlling pain[edit]

The phrase also relates to the ability to control the perception of pain that one may or may not be experiencing.[6]

The hypnotist and therapist Phineas Quimby believed that all illness could be cured by realising that matter was a shadow of opinions or belief. He taught that this was how Jesus cured. This became the basis of Christian Science under the tutelage of Mary Baker Eddy.

Émile Coué later taught that some disease can be cured by positive thinking or auto suggestion. He pointed out that mind over matter is limited however, as it had not been demonstrated that one could regrow a lost limb simply by believing it subconsciously.

Changing negative disease-inducing thoughts to positive healing thoughts is compatible with science and falls within the modern spheres of Psychology and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. See also Faith Healing.


  1. ^ Bartlett, John (2002). Bartlett's Familiar Quotations: A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Proverbs Traced to Their Sources in Ancient and Modern Literature (17. ed.). Boston: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 978-0-316-08460-4. 
  2. ^ Stevenson, Burton (1987). The Macmillan Book of Proverbs, Maxims, and Famous Phrases. New York: Macmillan. ISBN 0-02-614500-6. 
  3. ^ Berger, Arthur S.; Berger, Joyce (1991). The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research (1st ed.). New York: Paragon House. p. 341. ISBN 1-55778-043-9. Psychokinesis (PK). The response of objects such as dice or the environment to a person's wishes is commonly labelled 'mind over matter'. 
  4. ^ Gilovich, Thomas (1993). How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life (1st Free Press paperback ed.). New York: Free Press. pp. 160–175. ISBN 978-0-02-911706-4. A panel commissioned by the United States National Research Council to study paranormal claims concluded that "despite a 130-year record of scientific research on such matters, our committee could find no scientific justification for the existence of phenomena such as extrasensory perception, mental telepathy or ‘mind over matter’ exercises... Evaluation of a large body of the best available evidence simply does not support the contention that these phenomena exist." 
  5. ^ Asian Survey, Volume 4. University of California Press. 1964. p. 1049. 
  6. ^ Wiech, K; Ploner, M; Tracey, I (Aug 2008). "Neurocognitive Aspects of Pain Perception.". Trends in Cognitive Sciences 12 (8): 306–13. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2008.05.005. PMID 18606561.