Truth in our time appears to be a receding rather than an approaching star. There is no end to the philosophical systems offered for our acceptance. To which, then, should we incline? If we are not to abandon speculation, all thought upon the matter, shrug our shoulders at the tilts and tournaments going on everywhere around us, and end where we began, the only course is to accept, till intellect and imagination amend it, that way of thought which seems to leave the fewest difficulties upon our hands, and to account for the greatest number of our experiences. We do well constantly to remind ourselves that we are learning merely the alphabet of reality, and can only proceed with ‘a kind of hesitating confidence’, as Plato described it, in our reason.
And for the favourite model of the universe, which thinks of it as a single substance, the Absolute, eternally making and remaking itself, a solitary Being, exhibiting now these, now other appearances for no ascertainable reason, we may substitute—I would myself substitute—a scene of action, wherein innumerable entities or selves, real and enduring agents, are at work, to whose interactions, meetings, partings, attractions and repulsions we owe the parti-coloured arena we call the world. Against neither model, for they are no more than adumbrations or fancy sketches, has logic anything final or decisive to say. And for my part I prefer the latter, since it seems in closer correspondence with the state of the universe as known to us in observation and reflection alike. I adhere to the model which is in accord with universal experience and takes account of the intermingled order and disorder, the negations and affirmations everywhere open and patent throughout organic and inorganic nature. This model takes account of time as we must ourselves in daily life take account of it, and accepts existence as a becoming. It contradicts none of the positive findings of science. It rejects the suspicion that the world is in any sense a machine, incapable of expansion, or that we and the other agencies at work within the world are propelled by mechanical motions. It provides for all a certain measure of freedom, and a field of purposes, not wholly illusory. The agents within it are not utterly deceived in supposing themselves agents in a real process. I prefer it to the theory of a machine dead from the first, which has never in any of its parts, or in any true sense, come alive, which could not, indeed, come alive, since it was in effect at an end from the beginning, in which nothing ever happens, for its changes are no more than repetitions of pre-ordained movements. In this notion of the world as a machine, a sort of island, unrelated to time and yet occupying such and such an amount of space, in this notion, which has for long so captivated the human mind, we have, perhaps, its palmary obsession, the most pitiful and beggarly of the concepts with which mankind has approached the interpretation of the great mystery. That men should have supposed a concept derived from their own petty contrivances applicable to the mighty sum of things, to the Cosmos itself, undermines faith in human reason beyond all the arguments adduced to demonstrate its utter pauperdom. To this child-like conception anything is to be preferred. ‘The most irrational theory of all’, as said Plotinus, ‘is that elements without intelligence should produce intelligence.’
What then is to be substituted? For the painful struggle, ‘for the immortal conflict going on’ around us, as ‘if God had let go the helm of the universe’, Plato perceived it necessary to assign a cause. To him it appeared a dramatic contest between good and evil—a notion also too simple for our acceptance to-day. For all goods have their attendant ills, and all ills their attendant goods. Good leads to evil and evil to good. Within our frame of reference, and we cannot go beyond it, good and evil are not found unalloyed or in isolation, but interwrought in a pattern or network, which is the world, and without which no world could be. To account for the irregularities and confusions, the defects and disorders, opposed, as Plato assumed, to the Creator’s will, he found himself wholly at a loss. On such an assumption these discords could only be attributed to a maleficent soul or souls, later personified in Christian theology as Satan, the Adversary of God; an adversary unhappily so powerful, if we are to judge by the murky shadows the world displays, as to challenge the omnipotence of God, its creator. For the illogicalities and accidents of life, its casual encounters, its hazards, mischances, eccentricities and humours, some other explanation is required. And the pluralistic model finds in these no invincible difficulties: since, though the Many seek good and only good, evil as well as good is to be expected in the world of their making, in their diverse designs and conflicting ideals. Were its source a perfect Absolute no room had been left for errors or absurdities; and in the abounding errors and absurdities, in the human comedy—and I would not myself, if I could, banish them as indefensibly disgusting—we have, it seems to me, an irrefutable argument for a multiplicity of entities, at numerous levels and of many kinds. The world, as I see it, is hardly less a comedy than a tragedy, ‘a comedy to the intellect, a tragedy to the heart,’ and certainly includes both, as components of the pattern which arises from the multifarious aims and circumstances among the innumerable agencies there engaged.
If now we prefer this model and accept the world as a process, and a growing or becoming, how shall we describe these agencies to whose activities it owes its confused and complicated character? Manifestly they are, to begin with, of many varieties. There are self-conscious entities like ourselves; there are creatures with organisms not unlike our own, sensitive and intelligent, as are the higher animals. There are others again whose consciousness appears dim, indeed; and others in whom it can hardly, if at all, be discerned. And finally below the plants we reach entities which appear to be actuated entirely by forces external to themselves, to whom it seems altogether absurd to ascribe individual existence in or for themselves in any sense—the elements, and their minute particles or atomic components, as described by the physicists. And these, the inorganic constituents of this planet, not to speak of the universe, are by comparison with its living things so vast in quantity, and in the space they occupy, that life in any or all its forms appears beside them a negligible nothing, the merest shimmer on the surface of a stupendous mass of dead, insensate matter; not so much by comparison, so far as science can report, as a single nautilus afloat on the Pacific Ocean, or a butterfly adrift, if that could be, in stellar space.
To claim, therefore, within the material universe a place for life or mind at all, to think of either as more than a petty accident, a passing shadow in the everlasting procession of physical events, has seemed to many philosophers the merest lunacy. Yet mind does more than matter can, since it includes all things within the survey of its intelligence, seeks after the invisible to be discerned only by its visionary aid, and so takes the whole Cosmos within its ken. Accepting its unparalleled transcendence and priority, can we find any trace of mind’s mysterious powers at the lower levels of sentience, or follow it into the inorganic realm? Impossible, you think. And certainly life and mind vanish utterly from our sight when we reach the lowest levels of that realm, when we study its simplest denizens and attempt to pass beyond them into microscopic lands. We draw, and feel compelled to draw the sharpest distinction between the animate and inanimate fields, and can discern no connecting bridge. Yet the failure may well be in us, in our discernment and imagination; and to dictate to nature is dangerous. She drops, moreover, hints it were best not to overlook. The metals themselves, as dead, we think, as dead can be, none the less display, like living things, fatigue, and can like them be excited or poisoned. They have a primitive mode of being, a hidden life of their own, an unimaginable sensitivity. And the very electrons and protons, to which we are introduced by science as the minutest of nature’s creations, strangely repeat in their simpler attractions and repulsions our own emotional reactions. They, too, are very much alive, though their mode or way of existence differs from that of the plants, from that of the mosses and the lichens, for example, as theirs from ours. And everywhere the presence of energy argues the presence of life, and the presence of life argues the presence of will, and at least nascent intelligence. And ‘this account’, in the words of Plotinus, ‘allows grades of living within the whole, grades to some of which we deny life only because they are not perceptibly self-moved. In truth, all these have a hidden life; the thing whose life is patent to sense is made up of things which do not patently live, but, none the less, confer upon their resultant total wonderful powers towards living.’
One crucial difference there seems, indeed, to be, between the inanimate and animate realms as we are accustomed to conceive them, a distinction which carries us into the heart of a metaphysical problem of the first order, the problem of motion. Does anything in fact ever move at all? A preposterous question, you may think it. Yet it has been debated by some of the acutest minds that ever pondered the great enigmas. It was maintained by Parmenides, a philosopher held in the highest veneration by the Greeks, both as a man and a thinker, that motion and change, beginnings and endings, were all illusions of our mortal minds, mere opinions, a doctrine supported by his disciple Zeno in a series of ingenious puzzles, the most famous riddles of the world, among them the riddles of Achilles and the Tortoise, and the Flying Arrow. Achilles, you remember, could not overtake the tortoise, nor could the arrow fly. Motion was an illusion. There was no such thing. Since the nature of both space and time are here involved, the elucidation of these riddles, even were I equal to it, lies beyond our present scope. Let us be brief, and say that, in common opinion, to living things only belongs the power of movement, of moving and of producing motion, a power denied to material things, which cannot move, we believe, save as the result of a communicated impulse from some other object, already itself in motion, as when one billiard ball strikes another. Impelled, pushed or pulled they may be, but of themselves to initiate or give rise to motions they are incapable.
Can this supposed crucial difference, say between ourselves and the elements, be eliminated or surmounted, and if surmounted will it not lead to the result that we are ourselves as devoid of freedom as they—like lifeless things unable to produce motion, being ourselves also merely parts of a great machine—rather than to the result that lifeless things resemble us in the power of creating movements ab initio? Are we not in their category in this respect, rather than they in ours, like them impelled by external forces, blown as dust is blown by the winds, and our belief that we have power within ourselves to act and change the course of natural events, like so many of our fancies, a curious hallucination? To prove it an hallucination many thinkers have laboured and many arguments have been to that end evolved. Proved, however, it has not been. I wish to write a letter. Who or what is this ‘I’? And how does this unseen entity, this ‘I’ set my hand going? Before these questions the mechanical philosophers recoil in dread. We know, as positively as can be known, if there be in the word knowledge any meaning whatever, that as Lucretius, the supreme, indeed the only poet of note among the materialists, allowed, the beginning of motion comes from the heart or will, and is thence transmitted to the body and the external world. Can this apparent freedom, this spontaneity, this genius be found in the material elements; can they be supposed, in any intelligible sense, alive? Can we, in short, allow nature to be a continuous system, without breaks or barriers, animated in some fashion and degree throughout, a society, as Bruno and Leibniz maintained, of intelligent monads?
Well, let us first ask ourselves, ‘Can there be such a thing as a motiveless movement?’ How can science, or how can we, account for mere random motions or undirected energy? To suppose it, is, of course, to quit the field of reason in despair. There can be no such energy. Matter in motion, whatever matter may be, is active and energetic either as the result of some previous motion, or from some hidden and to us unknown inner impulse. From which then? There can be no doubt, you answer. Since the dawn of physical science all movements throughout the universe, it has been held, are the result of previous movements. To this opinion La Place gave expression in his classic statement that every event in nature flowed by the strictest necessity from previous events, and that a supreme intelligence with a complete knowledge of the universe at any given moment could infallibly foretell all its future states till the end of time. Here are his words—‘A spirit who knew at a given moment all the forces existing in nature, and the relative position of all existing things or elements composing it, would, if he were able to submit all these data to mathematical analysis, be able to comprehend in a single formula the motion of the greatest heavenly body and of the lightest atom: nothing would be uncertain for him, and future as well as past would be open before his eyes.’ You are familiar with the statement of this creed in the poetic version of Omar Khayyám—
With Earth’s first Clay they did the last Man’s knead,
And then of the Last Harvest sowed the Seed;
Yea, the first Morning of Creation wrote
What the Last Dawn of Reckoning shall read.
The universe, in brief, was a clock, wound up once and for all at some unspecified moment in the past, and nothing occurs in the revolutions of its wheels that might not from that moment have been predicted.
That age-long opinion is not, however, the modern doctrine. For it appears that the electrons and protons of which matter is supposed to consist, the centres of electric energy, are entities whose fluctuations cannot be traced to any previous movements; and where prevision ends, science, by her own confession, has reached its terminus. To the embarrassment of the mechanical philosophers, who think of the world as a rigid and lifeless system of springs and levers, science has arrived at a point in its history of momentous significance, perhaps the most momentous since its day began. The ‘Sir Absolutes’, the determinists, no longer appeal to science for support. If you care to assert, however astonishing may seem the declaration, that every particle of matter moves, when it does move, from an inner and free impulse of its own, the new physics is not prepared to contradict you. For some reason, no doubt, the particles move, but you are free to imagine, if you like, that each is an elementary mode of life, and to regard its movement as the evidence of that life, an action as spontaneous as any of your own. ‘How has our physical world picture changed in the last twenty years?’ asks Planck, one of the most brilliant contributors to the new picture. ‘Each of us knows’, he tells us, ‘that the transformation which has occurred is one of the most profound which has ever taken place in the development of science.’ Many of our most ancient and most desperate problems now present a different countenance, among them that most teasing conundrum, our oldest friend, the pivot upon which all others turn, the relation of the body to the mind. A new possibility in respect of their relations has emerged. For it is no longer forbidden us to think of nature as a grand society, a hierarchy, and to say that everywhere mind acts not upon dead matter, but at all times directly upon mind.
Look now a little more closely into this famous affair of causation. What can be simpler? The whole edifice of our knowledge is supported by it. We trace habitually events to their causes. Day and night we think in terms of causation. The idea of cause is the great central pillar not only of scientific thought but of all thought. If it trembles the whole building of our knowledge trembles. Fortunately, we think, it cannot tremble, for it is based upon the eternal granite. Of this you are sure. But listen to this—‘The word cause’, wrote William James, ‘is an altar to an unknown God: an empty pedestal still marking the place of a hoped-for statue.’ Or this saying of Planck—‘The problem of causality, the roots of which have certainly not been reached hitherto’.
What is the meaning of this? Into what wood of error, what dark forest of bewilderment have we strayed? Nearly a hundred years ago a Scotsman, David Hume, threw a bombshell into the camp of the philosophers in his startling analysis of the causality concept. He asserted, which was nothing, but boldly proceeded to prove, that to find anywhere or at any time throughout nature the effect in its supposed cause was impossible. You observed, certainly, that one event was succeeded by another, that, for example, the impact of a moving billiard ball upon a second ball was followed somehow by the movement of the second ball. But no connecting link between the two motions could actually be observed, beyond the fact that the one movement followed the other. Nor could you, save through previous experience, predict by any process of reasoning what exact effect upon the second ball the impact of the first would in fact produce. No logic could tell you what would happen. The result, as far as unaided human thought could say, might have been to bring both balls to a standstill, or the first might have rebounded in a straight line from the second. How then do we know what to expect in nature? Only previous observation can tell us. No one, as Hume pointed out, could have discovered, or could now discover by pure thinking, that the crystal is the result of heat, or ice of cold, without previous experience of these qualities. Throughout nature all events are separate events, and between them no logical or necessary nexus can be discovered. The link or bond is established in our minds by our expectation, by our previous observations of such a conjunction. Though the first million men you examine have their hearts on the left side of their bodies, you are not entitled to conclude that it is invariably so. The next may have it, as occasionally happens, on the right side.
Hume’s reasoning has never been met. So deeply and firmly, none the less, is the idea of causation seated in the human mind that his destructive analysis of the concept made little or no impression either upon plain men or men of science. It appeared a piece of metaphysical jugglery, clever but unimportant. Before Hume causality had all the force of a divine law. It spanned the whole heaven of human thought, since without it the regularity and uniformity of nature could not, it was supposed, be accounted for, and would be endangered. Therein lay the sting of Hume’s analysis. To maintain the idea of physical causation everywhere operative throughout the universe was an imperative necessity if the scheme of things as an iron-bound mechanism were to be preserved from ruin. Not till yesterday did science arrive by a strangely different route at the conclusion Hume had reached. The relation of cause and effect, as Schrödinger recently expressed it, ‘is not something we find in nature but is rather a characteristic of the way in which we regard nature.’
So much for the idea of cause, which it is not our present business to examine. We are concerned only with the findings of modern physics, and their bearing upon our special problem. The law, as it seemed, of nature and of the mind, that every event throughout the physical universe is strictly determined, is now seen to be an assumption, a thing taken for granted, a habit or prejudice of our thought.
Look again at the situation. At the base of all accounts of physical nature lies the atomic theory. All that the universe contains is, on that theory, made up of atoms, and all movements are the movements of atoms. If you carry your analysis further you come to particles of which the atom is composed, and to their movements. What moves these lesser particles? Here yawns the gulf. No one knows; no cause can be ascertained for the motions of the electrons composing the atom. An atom in a radio-active substance disintegrates, but when it will do so, or why it does so science is ignorant. Its waywardness, like human waywardness, is its unique quality. For all that physics can tell, the constituents of the atom, the electrons, may be mental entities, moving on their own initiative when they feel so inclined. But if, you object, there be such freedom in the realm of nature how can we be sure what will happen next, be certain that the sun will rise tomorrow, or water at freezing-point turn to ice, or that the regular routine of events, upon whose uniformity our lives are built, may not at any moment be thrown into utter confusion and disorder? You need not be disturbed, replies our latest physics. For though nature’s movements may not be governed by the law of strict causation, they are controlled by laws equally efficacious. Her order and uniformity are preserved by statistical laws. Just as in a given community the number of births, deaths or marriages can be foretold beforehand, although no single and particular death or marriage can be predicted, so the fluctuations of particles, as, for example, in the Brownian movement, or the emission of energy from radioactive substances, can be quite well accounted for without reference to the supposed law of causation, for which, as a matter of fact, we can find no evidence in our investigations. A high degree of expectation meets all our requirements.
You may, indeed, once more object that the difficulty physics has encountered in discovering the cause of the atomic fluctuations is merely a practical difficulty—the unfortunate limitations of our powers of observation. Were these extended or increased we could find the cause of every movement of every particle, the push or pull that mechanics requires. You may argue that ignorance of the cause is no ground for denying its existence. No, but also, you must allow, no ground for asserting its existence, more especially when not called for by the facts. Quantum mechanics, asserts Heisenberg, ‘definitely proves the invalidity of the causal law.’ According to the Heisenberg ‘principle of Indeterminacy’ the behaviour of the particles, of which the physical world consists, is not causally controlled. Science has reached the unexpected and perplexing conclusion that identical conditions do not necessarily lead to identical results, that the same state of things may give rise to different consequences, and since various events may follow, what will actually take place cannot be foretold. Note, also, that colours, for example, which are similar to the eye, are not in every case similar in respect of their originating causes. For us, that is to say, different causes may produce the same result. Moreover, to predict the movements of particles you must know their initial velocities, and velocity involves units or moments of time, which cannot be correlated with defined positions in space. We have also to bear in mind that the measurement of physical movements involves a smooth continuity of motion on the initial trajectory, a continuity which is by Quantum mechanics expressly denied. So that the motion of particles is not merely unpredictable; it is discontinuous and therefore not uniform.
This is a pretty pass. Say what you please, the indeterminacy in nature cannot be eliminated. The mechanical world, the darling of the materialists, has been shattered beyond repair, and we have to conclude, with Weyl, ‘that in nature itself, as physics constructs it theoretically, the dualism of object and subject, of law and freedom, is already most distinctly predesigned.’
We may sum up in Schrödinger’s words: ‘All chemical transformations, the velocity of chemical reactions, the processes of melting and evaporation, the laws of vapour pressure, everything, in short, with the possible exception of gravitation, is governed by laws of this kind’—statistical laws—‘and all the predictions derived from these laws are of a statistical nature, and are true only within limits.’ Or we may take the words of Sir Arthur Eddington—‘The result of our analysis of physical phenomena up to the present is that we have nowhere found any evidence of the existence of deterministic law.’
From the immovable determinists, like Professor Einstein, distress and vexation with this strange conclusion were to be expected. Even men of science desire nature to conform to their pet conceptions of her ways and structure. They must be left to look after themselves. And yet one may enquire why all this outcry and astonishment, the annoyance which has followed the failure of physics to establish mechanical causation in the atomic realm? Everyone is aware, or should be aware, that the idea of force is derived from ourselves, from our personal experience that we can act in some measure upon the outside world, and produce effects in it when we so desire; from the simple knowledge that a living entity does, in fact, introduce changes in the course of natural events, for we ourselves act in order that such changes may be brought about. How it was possible, Kant confessed, he could not indeed imagine. How his will moved his arm was as incomprehensible to him as the notion that his arm could hold back the moon. Incomprehensible, no doubt. Indeed a natural miracle. We are, however, surrounded with miracles, with God’s language of fundamental facts, which we can neither deny nor understand. And among them, as I believe, is the fact that everything that comes about, all that happens, is the result of will in some shape or form. And as all human history is simply the edifice erected by the aims and desires of mankind, of the individuals born into the world, so the universe itself has taken its present structure, and will take throughout time to come whatever aspects it may assume, from the wills of its innumerable and constituent beings, at once its creatures and the creators of its history. All the energy, will, intelligence, purpose displayed throughout the universe is the energy, will, intelligence, purpose of real individual beings of which in its entirety it consists.
I would ask you to observe that this conclusion does not deny the principle of causation, that events have their causes. It does not abandon nature to the rule of chance, of random happenings. It assigns events to the activity of individual entities, to their unpredictable impulses. In their desiring or willing you must seek the causes of these events. Limited in power as individuals indeed they are, as are we ourselves, to make their wills effective in a world of multiform purposes and designs; yet ultimately it is to will that all events in the universe must be assigned. Just as men create the arts, adding to the flower-garden of the world new species, we may read the story of the universe as a story of creation, it may be without end—for which at least no term or finality can be foretold—ever advancing towards unimaginable diversity.
Consciousness and mind need not then any longer be thought of, after the impossible fashion of an earlier day, as a kind of rootless flower grafted upon an engine, where none could grow, since between them a natural relationship there was none. Rather we may adopt the language of Kant, that if we could know ‘ourselves and other things as they really are, we should see ourselves in a world of spiritual natures, our connection with which did not begin at our birth, and will not cease with the destruction of the body.’
What bearing has all this—the indeterminism of modern physics—upon the problem of human freedom, so hotly debated from century to century by churchmen and philosophers alike? Some will answer ‘the closest’, others that it has ‘none at all’. When Spinoza declared that a stone thrown into the air, if it possessed consciousness would suppose itself to fall to the ground of its own free will, how did he know this? He did not know it. He merely made the assertion. He desired to discredit and deride the notion of human freedom. How does the matter stand to-day? Exactly as it did, save in a single but important particular. If physics cannot account for the activities within the atom, still less can it account for the activities of the organism. If determinism be set aside as unproven in the realm of nature, where evidence for it appeared overwhelming, where is warrant for it to be found in the more difficult region of the soul? If it be discarded in physics, it can hardly in the absence of evidence be adduced to buttress determinism in psychology, where it is in opposition the most flagrant to the universal, never-questioned conviction of the natural man. Denials of human freedom will no longer serve, save to betray the naked prejudice which gave the dogma birth. Something more will now be required of its adherents than pious opinion. The foundations of the doctrine have been undermined. The onus of proof lies with the determinists, for their cherished fancy has, one fears, and in the house of its quondam friends, received its death-wound.
And one may, perhaps, be allowed the hope that we have heard the last of this tiresome and unprofitable controversy, this spider’s web of dialectic, and are permitted a return to common sense. The strictest determinists act as if they possessed the freedom they deny, and cling to it in practice as the pivot of human intercourse. And what is the point of asking men to mend their ways, and live better lives, if you at the same time insist that they are tethered animals, and all they do, or can do has been fore-ordained since the beginning of the world? Or will you issue to them a metaphysical manual which explains that, none the less, for all their actions they are responsible? We must continue to believe that the soul or self is not a piece upon the chessboard of time, moved as a wheel or lever is moved. Our thoughts are our own, mine mine, yours yours, and if our thoughts, then also our acts. The soul stands for itself, and is in its own nature a purposive mover, however limited and conditioned a factor in the origination and passage of events. The individual self, the finite centre of impulse is, as Nietzsche held, both determined and free, limited by the presence of the other individuals, in itself free and creative. It is related of Diogenes that when he heard arguments against motion his manner of refutation was not by means of words. He contented himself by doing what had been declared impossible—moving by walking away. In this workaday world there is at times something to be said for this fashion of refutation.
If now we have found inacceptable the doctrine that individual existences are illusory, mere modes or passing appearances of the One or Absolute, a single subject—a doctrine which Nietzsche also thought unnecessary—and found it inacceptable since that doctrine commits us to ‘the view of Spinoza’, as Leibniz expressed it, ‘and of other similar authors, that there is only one substance, that is to say, God, who thinks, believes and wills one thing in me, and who thinks, believes and wills quite the opposite in some one else’, and since it commits us also to the doctrine of time’s unreality, and denies Becoming, the production, that is to say, of unique, unpredictable events, the emergence, for example, of new species, and of historical events and persons never exactly repeated, the Caesars and Luthers, the pyramids and the Reformations—if we set aside this opinion, we may turn to the other doctrine, which regards individual entities as metaphysical units, as monads, each in some degree a self or soul, and views the world as their scene of interaction.
This world of ours has a history, whose recent chapters, as in astronomy and geology, may in part be read. What may we believe of its earlier and missing chapters, of which we have no record? We may say with confidence that though impenetrable by us, an observer, had he been present, would have found in that history no actual hiatus, no impassable gap or gulf. What went before, we must believe, made possible what now is. A continuity of some kind, could we follow it, runs through the whole creation, and it is without doubt a spiritual continuity. For, and this is indisputable, a certain aspect of our existence, of things as they now are, cannot be explained, or even coherently imagined in any physical terms at all—that aspect which includes consciousness, thought, will, meanings and purposes. These cannot by any gymnastic be reduced to such terms, or conceived as material in origin or nature. Thinking, remembering, believing, feeling, willing are not electro-magnetic or spatial processes. Nerve movements cannot give rise to them, nor can the brain recognise itself as a brain, ask itself how it came to think, or examine its logical prejudices. Brain movements remain brain movements, physical movements not less than those of leaves moving in the wind or ripples on a stream, and to conjure them into thoughts, desires and feelings is a babble of rhetoric. And since the principle, whatever it be, underlying all life certainly contained the possibility of such activities, and permitted of them, reason refuses to accept them, to accept, that is, consciousness, thought and volition as arising out of electromagnetic fields, or as the aggregations of particles, particles of matter which somehow got together, and having got together explained to themselves how the thing was done. It is asking too much of us. For to think of the willing, aspiring and feeling soul as made up of many powers and parts is to invert the truth, that the soul provides the unity and is itself the bearer of its thoughts and feelings, its own unique experiences.
If then in the attempt to account for things as they are I have to choose between atoms and living monads, I have not a moment’s hesitation. I choose the latter. Let us say, then, that the realm of nature may be better understood or comprehended if interpreted in terms of such will and purpose as we actually experience in ourselves, and of which we can form no intelligible conception save as belonging to individual selves or souls of a like nature. They do not belong, the monads, to the corporeal world, and are themselves, indeed, transcendent and unrepresentable as entities, or substances occupying space, in which region they are but partially represented. Their relations to space and time, like that of the electron to space and time, are obscure and unknown to us, but are there, in that region, similarly represented by their activities. We know them to be present where their influence is felt, or in evidence. A single soul or self sums up—since no two are alike, as no two flowers in nature are alike, and since their mode of existence is hidden from us—the whole unfathomed mystery of things. We may conclude, then, that mind is ultimate, and the cosmic system a manifestation of many minds.
But what is here meant by mind? Not the intellect taken by itself, ‘the Euclidean understanding’, but those faculties in us of which the self is the sole possessor. Let us recollect that the intellect is not the deepest thing in us, and the soul does more than think. It feels, desires and wills. The soul or ‘I’ is something for itself, a quintessence of primordial being beyond analysis, deeper sunk in reality than the intelligence or understanding, which within itself it brings to birth. Nor does the mind appear first in man, though it is there we have certain knowledge of it. We have no mirror in which we can view our souls as we do our bodies. We may, however, use the term mind in default of a better, agreeing with Hume, that ‘the cause or causes of order in the universe probably bear some remote analogy to human intelligence’, and agreeing further with Green that ‘will is indistinguishably desire and thought’, and with Coleridge that ‘the will is the synonym of the word “I”, or the intelligence itself. We may use the term mind, where all terms are inadequate, as synoptic, and regard it as the soul’s representative, the ambassador of its volition, feeling and thought at their various levels in nature, as exhibited in living things, and extending to the unsearchable and, as it seems to us, inanimate world, with which living things are so intimately and so inseparably associated and interwoven. As light itself cannot be seen, and is never seen, for we see only the objects illuminated by its unseen ray, so the monads or selves are invisible save in their doings, are revealed to us in the public world of space, the theatre of their action. For even we ourselves know ourselves only as we appear to ourselves—what in reality we are we do not know—just as the scene presented to us in the outside world is also imperfectly and indirectly known as the mesh or network woven by the interactions among other selves. And it is exceedingly probable, if not certain, that all we perceive, either of ourselves or of the things of sense, are the shadows cast by the things behind the veil that truly are; projections upon the spatial screen, a Mercator’s distorted map of the veritable world.
Let us be clear and positive upon this, that the body or organism with which the self is in our experience associated, is not and cannot be identified with the individual, since it is merely that individual’s representative in the material world; Nor are the mental activities and faculties of the true self limited by the body or the brain, but extend, as we have abundant evidence, far beyond the range of the senses. Not only does the self direct and control the organism, but wholly transcends it in respect of its innate powers and capacities. As the pictures on a moving film represent living actors, not to be found in that time or place, and no examination of the film itself will lead to any further knowledge of these actors, exhibit more than a few hours of their lives, or tell you where now they are, or what they are, so we may say their corporeal bodies represent only the activities of the living spirits on the space-time screen during a single episode in their careers, and are no more their true and complete selves than the moving pictures in the theatre are the actual actors. Nor will study the most minute and exhaustive of the body and its parts, any more than of a figure in the moving picture, reveal in his whole nature the agent which produced its motions. For as the plant has a life in its roots below the soil, and a life above it in the sunlight, so also the soul or self. If we perceived in plants not their external shapes, their leaves and flowers but the internal processes and principles at work within them, if we saw their souls, how different they would appear. And how different would our fellow creatures appear if you could shut off your physical senses and, endowed with other eyes, for example, opened them not on your neighbours’ forms and faces, but upon their thoughts and motives, loves and hates. You would then behold things not less real than their shapes and movements, but much more real, their very roots and springs, the forces and the principles at work, as completely hidden from corporeal sight as are the energies in magnetic or electric fields, discoverable only in their issue and effects.
And now consider further the society of selves or monads we have pictured, of which the entire hierarchy consists. It is composed of lesser societies or partnerships, the communities or associations of sympathetic entities. Monads of the same level congregate or draw together. They seek and find, as in the elements, their natural homes, forming throughout the realm of nature, as in minerals, plants and animals, a great variety of groups and federations, such as animate nature displays in flocks and herds, in tribes and races; groups which arise out of the native sympathies of their constituent members, or at the lower levels from their corresponding and simpler attractions. The monads at the lowest levels, constituting the inorganic world, are, we might say, ‘filter passers’, in which the presence of life and intelligence in its most rudimentary forms cannot by our present measures or methods be detected. Yet there, as elsewhere, no monad is attracted to another monad, no soul loves another soul, unless there is already a bond between them. Life takes in them all the myriad forms we see. For what is matter? It is, physics tells us, simply energy. And what is energy? It is the expression of will or Being. It is action, which is just life itself. We can go no further. And whence is our idea of energy which gives rise to action derived? From ourselves, who can produce it by willing. Personality is, in its final analysis, simply will or cause. And since the soul is in our experience a unity which is also a multiplicity, the particles in the inorganic or apparently inanimate world represent in their various aggregations the activity of souls, whose organ is the diffuse system of the group, and whose life is mirrored in its loose association.
A species, as Aristotle divined, might be the body or organism of a single and directing soul. As among bees and ants the whole hive or colony is a close-knit bunch or cluster spatially separated in respect of its individual members, yet animated throughout by a common co-ordinated life, by a strange, inexplicable inner sympathy of aims, the soul of the swarm, so the particles or atoms of the physical or inorganic world in their respective assemblies have a joint or common base, are held together by a guiding principle, of which the entire assembly is the organism or body, the reflection in space and time of its inward life.
And if, as we may well believe, the universe is everywhere and in all its parts alive, the first act in the cosmic drama provided—in the manifestation of these monadic souls, which to us appears as the material world—the earliest and most numerous of its many federations, and became the ground upon which the more closely knit organisms, informed by later or succeeding monads, took their stand; the later life waves flowing through and mounting on the earlier. The laws of nature would then be their consolidated behaviour, their simple, automatic habits. The succeeding organisms, which in cosmic history represent and mirror monads in more complete control of their activities, are less the slaves of custom. They too, however, have a long journey before them, advancing towards intenser life, an awakened consciousness and intelligence, which may, indeed, take strange forms, and under the superintendence of time create worlds to come and natural kingdoms unlike our own. For we must think of souls or selves as continually becoming more than they already are, having within them a principle of growth. Nor can consciousness ever reach a saturation point, since it contains possibilities without end—through gathered experience and its fructifying seeds—of expansion within the Cosmos; through which the soul, its possessor, is alone equipped to travel, and to which, of necessity, it belongs. It appears, the conscious soul, when with time and the process of time conditions are such that it can associate with others and have relations with others.
You recall Wordsworth’s creed:
‘Tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes—
a poetic faith, perhaps not so wide of scientific truth. For nature appears to have at heart, and as end in view, intenser life and universal consciousness throughout her myriad modes of being, in their individual forms. And the organisms we see around us, what are they? They are, we may say, the sounding boards of the souls in action, or instruments in tune with them, as one tuning-fork is with another. The body or organism associated with the individual self, through which its inner life is partially manifested, is, in the common world of all existences, at once its means of communication with other selves and its protection against the bewildering extent and multiplicity of their activities. The body is a kind of sorting place or telephone exchange. No listener could deal with the million messages passing at the same moment through such an exchange, and no finite being could sustain the impact of all the cosmic activities simultaneously discharged upon it. It would be overwhelmed in the cataract. ‘Nature’, as Professor Kemp Smith expressed it, ‘must be adjusted to the dimensions of the animal and human consciousness.’ So we may think of the body as a screen or resistance coil, which diminishes the pressure of these activities, or lowers their tension to the point at which they can be in some degree supported, and in some degree apprehended. The world, that is, by our bodies is scaled down or reduced to the measure of our powers. Within its immensity we can keep our feet, and hold our own. We can select and order our experiences.
And not only is the self thus brought by the body into simpler and working relations with the rest of the universe; it is provided also with a spiritual perspective. As the eye deals only with a certain limited series of wave-lengths, the body measures for the self the relations and intensities with which, gauging their respective values, the self is specially concerned, and has in its own immediate interests to deal. Not all reality but a simplified edition of its fundamental features is open to us. And the world of space and time thus resembles an artist’s picture. There a part of the boundless and unrepresentable landscape of reality is reduced and separated from the whole and framed for our contemplation. All these, it may be said, are dreams. But they are dreams which reflect, as I think, the truth. And not less dreams were the myths of the divine Plato, or the visions of Plotinus, the eagle soaring, as it was said, above that master’s tomb. The practical philosophers no doubt would have us abandon them, and cultivate our gardens.
Return, they cry, ere yet your day
Set and the sky grow stern:
Return, strayed souls, while yet ye may Return.
But heavens above us yearn;
Yea, heights of heaven above the sway
Of stars that eyes discern.
The soul whose wings from shoreward stray
Makes towards her viewless bourne
Though trustless faith and unfaith say, Return.