Here's another interpretation of the story, though probably not one intended by the author himself. The psychologist is referred to in the story as a scientist. Indeed, he is "Professor of Science" at Heidelberg University. He is a man who places reason above "magic" and superstition, the latter represented in the story by Marbado, the magician or hypnotist. We live in an age when irrationality and superstition all too often seem to triumph over reason and science. Take the climate change deniers, for example. Then there are the anti-vaxxers. I could go on. Anyway, the story urges us to look to the truth. When faced with "magic", we must be forever skeptical. Like Professor Herman von Scholtz, we must always be on our guard and say to ourselves and others, when necessary, "This is illusory thinking. This has no place in a normal mind."
So, what are we to do, when we see cobras, Bengal tigers and deep crevasses?
Well, our particular cobras and tigers may take the form of lust, sensuality, and cravings and appetites of various kinds (all silly little "I's" and "me's")—as well as beliefs of all kinds. Simply say, "Who is speaking?" Say it loud and clear, "Who is speaking?" No voice answers back, for hypnotic suggestion in the form of a mental self-image is neither presence nor power. We must release our belief in the supposed independent reality of our mental states, being merely hypnotic suggestions of various kinds brought about by the illusory belief in the supposed separate, independent existence of an "I" and "me", made worse by sensory overload.
[Y]ou go to the end of this cave and out again regardless of what you will see, hear, feel or think, and regardless of what becomes of me.
That takes courage, but we must do likewise. Yes, there will be difficulties and problems, but we must press on nevertheless. And notice those words—"regardless of what becomes of me" [emphasis added]. Yes, the "me"—that false self in us—must go if we are to make any real progress in life.
Now, lest you think I am terribly naive and deluded, I want you to know this. I know this to be true, namely, that pain and suffering are very real to our mortal senses. No religion or philosophy of life that seeks to deny their existence deserves to have any future. That is one, but not the only one, of the reasons why Christian Science is in terminal decline, even though it refuses to admit it. Why? Because Christian Science doesn’t believe that death is real. (Hmm.)
However, even though pain and suffering are very real, we make them so much worse for ourselves by our attitude toward them. It is sometimes said that attitudes are more important than facts (a statement attributed to both Norman Vincent Peale and Karl Menninger). That may or may not be true. In any event, an attitude is also a fact. Can one fact be superior to another? What is true is that, when we change our attitude toward the external facts, the "outer world of circumstance shapes itself to the inner world of thought" (James Allen).
Gran Caverna de Santo Tomás, Valle de Viñales, Cuba.
Note. The author of this post explored this cave,
which is Cuba's largest cave system, in August 2018.
I leave you with this. Early in the story Marbado says to the Professor:
The cave will be lighted by our own personal presence, but if you are in any doubt, or suspect any trickery, take your light with you, though you will find it a hindrance, as it will interfere with your vision.
Each of us must be our own master and our own pupil. We have within us sufficient light (in particular, reason) to guide us throughout our journey in life. We do not need any artificial light. That would only interfere with our vision.
Enjoy the story—and remember to stay mindfully aware at all times. Be not deceived by anything other than reality—not even that. You, too, can conquer illusion and make it safely through, and to the end of, the "cave of life".
1. For those who are interested, here's a link to a longer article I've written on The Psychologist and the Magician. There is also a reading of the story on YouTube; here are the links to Part 1 and Part 2 of the story, read by Carol Conroy.
2. This post was revised with the inclusion of some additional material in March 2019.