Mind and Motion and Monism
by George John Romanes
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'You cannot get mind as an ultimate product of matter, for in the very attempt to do so you have already begun with mind. The easiest step of any such inquiry involves categories of thought, and it is in terms of thought that the very problem you are investigating can be so much as stated. You cannot start in your investigations with a bare, self-identical, objective fact, stripped of every ideal element or contribution from thought. The least and lowest part of outward observation is not an independent entity—fact minus mind, and out of which mind may, somewhere or other, be seen to emerge; but it is fact or object as it appears to an observing mind, in the medium of thought, having mind or thought as an inseparable factor of it. Whether there be such a thing as an absolute world outside of thought, whether there be such things as matter and material atoms existing in themselves before any mind begins to perceive or think about them, is not the question before us. If it were possible to conceive of such atoms, at any rate you, before you begin to make anything of them, must think them; and you can never, by thinking about atoms, prove that there is no such thing as thought other than as an ultimate product of atoms. Before you could reach thought or mind as a last result you must needs eliminate from it the data of the problem with which you start, and that you can never do, any more than you can stand on your own shoulders or outstrip your own shadow.... In one word, to constitute the reality of the outward world—to make possible the minimum of knowledge, nay, the very existence for us of molecules and atoms—you must needs presuppose that thought or thinking self, which some would persuade us is to be educed or evolved from them.... To make thought a function of matter is thus, simply, to make thought a function of itself[5].'

From this reasoning there can be no escape; and it is more rational for a man to believe that colour exists as such in a flower than, after having plainly seen that such cannot be the case, forthwith to disregard the teaching of this analogy, and to imagine that any apparent evidence of mind as a result of matter or motion can possibly be entertained as real evidence.

Remembering, then, that from the nature of this particular case it is as impossible for mind to prove its own causation as it is for water to rise above its source, it may still be well, for the sake of further argument, to sink this general consideration, and to regard such spurious evidence of causation as is presented by Materialism, without prejudice arising from its being prima facie inadmissible.

Materialists, as already observed, are fond of saying that the evidence of causation from neurosis to psychosis is as good as such evidence can be proved to be in any other case. Now, quite apart from the general considerations just adduced to show that from the peculiar nature of this case there can here be no such evidence at all—quite apart from this, and treating the problem on the lower ground of the supposed analogy, it may be clearly shown that the statement is untrue. For a little thought will show that in point of fact the only resemblance between this supposed case of causation and all other cases of recognized causation, consists in the invariability of the correlation between cerebral processes and mental processes; in all other points the analogy fails. For in all cases of recognized causation there is a perceived connexion between the cause and the effect; the antecedents are physical, and the consequents are physical. But in the case before us there is no perceived, or even conceivable, connexion between the cause and the effect; for the causes are supposed to be physical and the effects mental. And the antithesis thus posited is alone sufficient to separate toto coelo the case of causation supposed from that of all cases of causation recognized. From the singularly clear and well-balanced statement of this subject given by Professor Allman in his Presidential Address before the British Association, I may here fitly quote the following:—

'If we could see any analogy between thought and any one of the admitted phenomena of matter, we should be justified in the first of these conclusions (i. e. that of Materialism) as the simplest, and as affording a hypothesis most in accordance with the comprehensiveness of natural laws; but between thought and the physical phenomena of matter there is not only no analogy, but no conceivable analogy; and the obvious and continuous path which we have hitherto followed up in our reasonings from the phenomena of lifeless matter through those of living matter here comes suddenly to an end. The chasm between unconscious life and thought is deep and impassable, and no transitional phenomena can be found by which, as by a bridge, we may span it over[6].'

And, not unduly to multiply quotations, I shall only adduce one more from another of the few eminent men of science who have seen their way clearly in this matter, and have expressed what they have seen in language as clear as their vision. Professor Tyndall writes:—

'The passage from the physics of the brain to the corresponding facts of consciousness is unthinkable. Granted that a definite thought and a definite molecular action in the brain occur simultaneously, we do not possess the intellectual organ, nor apparently any rudiment of the organ, which would enable us to pass, by a process of reasoning, from the one phenomenon to the other. They appear together but we do not know why. Were our minds and senses so expanded, strengthened, and illuminated, as to enable us to see and feel the very molecules of the brain; were we capable of following all their motions, all their groupings, all their electrical discharges, if such there be; and were we intimately acquainted with the corresponding states of thought and feeling, we should be as far as ever from the solution of the problem. How are these physical processes connected with the facts of consciousness? The chasm between the two classes of phenomena would still remain intellectually impassable[7].'

Next, in all cases of recognized causation there is a perceived equivalency between cause and effect, such equivalency belonging to the very essence of that in which we conceive causation to consist. But as between matter and motion on the one side, and feeling and thought on the other, there can be no such equivalency conceivable. That no such equivalency is conceivable may be rendered apparent on grounds of Materialism itself. For Materialism is bound to accept the fundamental doctrine of modern physics—that, viz. as to the conservation of energy—and therefore it becomes evident that unless we assimilate thought with energy, there is no possibility of a causal relation, or a relation of equivalency, as obtaining between the one and the other. For however little we may know about brain-dynamics, materialists, at least, must take it for granted that in every process of cerebration the matter and force concerned are indestructible quantities, and therefore that all their possible equations are fully satisfied, could we but follow them out. Howsoever complex we may suppose the flux and reflux of forces to be within the structure of a living brain, it is no more possible for any one of the forces concerned to escape from brain to mind, than it would be for such an escape to occur in a steam-engine or a watch; the doctrine of the conservation of energy forms an insuperable bar to the supposition that any equation in the region of physics can be left unsatisfied, in order to pass over and satisfy some other equation in the region of psychics.

Of course in saying this I am aware that some of the more clear-sighted of the materialists have plainly perceived this difficulty in all its magnitude, and so have felt that unless it can be met, any theory of Materialism must necessarily contain a radical contradiction of principles. Some few materialists have therefore sought to meet the difficulty in the only way it can be met, viz. by boldly asserting the possibility of thought and energy being transmutable. On this view thought becomes a mode of motion, and takes its rank among the forces as identical in nature with heat, light, electricity, and the rest. But this view is also inherently impossible. For suppose, as a matter of argument, that physiologists should discover a mechanical equivalent of thought, so that we might estimate the value of a calculation in thermal units, or the 'labour of love' in foot-pounds: still we should not be out of our difficulties; we should only have to cut a twist of flax to find a lock of iron. For by thus assimilating thought with energy, we should in no wise have explained the fundamental antithesis between subject and object. The fact would remain, if possible, more unaccountable than ever, that mind should present absolutely no point of real analogy with motion. Involved with the essential idea of motion is the idea of extension; suppress the latter and the former must necessarily vanish, for motion only means transition in space of something itself extended. But thought, as far as we can possibly know it, is known and distinguished by the very peculiarity of not having extension. Therefore, even if we were to find a mechanical equivalent of thought, thought would still not be proved a mode of motion. On the contrary, what would be proved would be that, in becoming transformed into thought, energy had ceased to be energy; in passing out of its relation to space it would cease to exist as energy, and if it again passed into that relation it would only be by starting de novo on a new course of history. Therefore the proof that thought has a mechanical equivalent would simply amount to the proof, not that thought is energy, but that thought destroys energy. And if Materialism were to prove this, Materialism would commit suicide. For if once it were proved that the relation of energy to thought is such that thought is able to absorb or temporarily to annihilate energy, the whole argument of Materialism would be inverted, and whatever evidence there is of causation as between mind and matter would become available in all its force on the side of Spiritualism. This seems plain, for if it even were conceivable—which most distinctly it is not—that a motor could ever become a motive, and so pass from the sphere of dynamics into the sphere of consciousness, the fact would go to prove, not that the motor was the cause of the motive, but rather that the motive was the cause of destroying the motor; so that at that point the otherwise unbroken chain of physical sequences was interrupted by the motive striking in upon it, and in virtue of the mysterious power supposed to have been proved by physiology, cancelling the motor, so allowing the nerve-centre to act as determined by the motive.

Of course I wish it to be understood that I believe we are here dealing with what I may call, in perhaps suitably contradictory terms, inconceivable conceptions. But let it be remembered that I am not responsible for this ambiguity; I am only showing what must be the necessary outcome of analysis if we begin by endeavouring phenomenally to unite the most antithetical of elements—mind and motion. Materialism, at least, will not be the gainer should it ever be proved that in the complex operations of the brain a unique exception occurs to the otherwise universal law of the conservation of energy in space.

We may, therefore, quit the suggestion that the difficulty experienced by Materialism of showing an equivalency between neurosis and psychosis can ever be met by assuming that some day mental processes may admit of being expressed in terms of physical. But before leaving this difficulty with regard to equivalency, I may mention one other point that seems to me of importance in connexion with it. I have already said that if we suppose causation to proceed from brain to mind, we must suppose this essential requirement of equivalency between the cerebral causes and the mental effects to be satisfied somewhere.

But where are we to say that it is satisfied? Even if we suppose that thought has a mechanical equivalent, and that causation proceeds in the direction from energy to thought, still, when we have regard to the supposed effects, we find that even yet they bear no kind of equivalency to their supposed causes. The brain of a Shakespeare probably did not, as a system, exhibit so much energy as does the brain of an elephant; and the cerebral operations of a Darwin may not have had a very perceptibly larger mechanical equivalent than those of a banker's clerk. Yet in the world of thought the difference between our estimate of the results, or 'work done,' in these cases is such as to drive all ideas of equivalency to the winds. Doubtless, a materialist will answer that it is not fair to take our estimate of 'work done' in the world of mind as the real equivalent of the energy supposed to have passed over from the world of motion, seeing that our estimate is based, not on the quantitative amount of thought produced, but rather on its qualitative character with reference to the social requirements of the race. But to this it is enough to answer that we have no means of gauging the quantity of thought produced other than by having regard to its effects in the world of mind, and this we cannot do except by having regard to its qualitative character. Many a man, for instance, must have consumed more than a thousand times the brain-substance and brain-energy that Shelley expended over his 'Ode to a Skylark,' and yet as a result have produced an utterly worthless poem. Now, in what way are we to estimate the 'work done' in two such cases, except by looking to the relative effects produced in the only region where they are produced, viz. in the region of mind? Yet, when we do so estimate them, what becomes of the evidence of equivalency between the physical causes and the psychical effects?

Now if thus, whether or not we try to form an estimate, it is impossible to show any semblance of equivalency between the supposed causes and the alleged effects, how can any one be found to say that the evidence of causation is here as valid as it is in any other case? The truth rather is that the alleged effects stand out of every relation to the supposed causes, with the exception only of being associated in time.

There still remains one other enormous difficulty in the way of the theory of Materialism; it necessarily embodies the theory of conscious automatism, and is therefore called upon to explain why consciousness and thought have ever appeared upon the scene of things at all. That this is the necessary position of Materialism is easily proved as follows. We have already seen that Materialism would commit suicide by supposing that energy could be transmuted into thought, for this would amount to nothing short of supposing the destruction of energy as such; and to suppose energy thus destructible would be to open wide the door of spiritualism. Materialism, therefore, is logically bound to argue in this way: We cannot conceive of a conscious idea, or mental change, as in any way affecting the course of a cerebral reflex, or material change; while, on the other hand, our knowledge of the conservation of energy teaches us as an axiom that the cerebral changes must determine each other in their sequence as in a continuous series. Nowhere can we suppose the physical process to be interrupted or diverted by the psychical process; and therefore we must conclude that thought and volition really play no part whatever in determining action. Thoughts and feelings are but indices which show in the mirror of the mind certain changes that are proceeding in the matter of the brain, and are as inefficient in influencing those changes as the shadow of a cloud is powerless to direct the movements of that of which it is the shadow.

But when Materialism reaches, in a clear and articulate manner, this inference as a conclusion necessary from its premises, it becomes opposed at once to common sense and to the requirements of methodical reason. It becomes opposed to common sense because we all feel it is practically impossible to believe that the world would now have been exactly what it is even if consciousness, thought, and volition had never appeared upon the scene—that railway trains would have been running filled with mindless passengers, or that telephones would have been invented by brains that could not think to speak to ears that could not hear. And the conclusion is opposed to the requirements of methodical reason, because reason to be methodical is bound to have an answer to the question that immediately arises from the conclusion. This question simply is, Why have consciousness, thought, and volition ever been called into existence; and why are they related, as they are related, to cerebral action? Materialism, by here undertaking to prove that these things stand uselessly isolated from all other things, is bound to show some reason why they ever came to be, and to be what they are. For observe, it is not merely that these things exist in a supposed unnecessary relation to all other things; the fact to be explained is that they exist in a most intimately woven and invariable connexion with certain highly complex forms of organic structure and certain highly peculiar distributions of physical force. Yet these unique and extraordinary things are supposed by automatism to be always results and never causes; in the theatre of things they are supposed to be always spectators and never actors; in the laboratory of life they are supposed to be always by-products; and therefore in the order of nature they are supposed to have no raison d'etre. Such a state of matters would be accountable enough if the stream of mental changes were but partly, occasionally, and imperfectly associated with the stream of material changes; but as the association is so minute, invariable, and precise, the hypothesis of the association being merely accidental, or not requiring explanation, becomes, at the bar of methodical reasoning, self-convicted of absurdity.

The state of the case, then, simply is that two distinct facts stand to be explained by the theory of conscious automatism—first, why psychosis should ever have been developed as a mysterious appendage to neurosis; and, secondly, why the association between these things should be so intimate and precise. Assuredly, on the principles of evolution, which materialists at least cannot afford to disregard, it would be a wholly anomalous fact that so wide and general a class of phenomena as those of mind should have become developed in constantly ascending degrees throughout the animal kingdom, if they are entirely without use to animals. If psychosis is, as supposed, a function of neurosis, the doctrine of natural selection alone would forbid us to imagine that this function differs from all other functions in being itself functionless. If it would be detrimental to the theory of natural selection that any one isolated structure—such as the tail of a rattlesnake—should be adapted to perform a function useless to the animal possessing it, how utterly destructive of that theory would be the fact that all the phenomena of mind have been elaborated as functions of nerve-tissue without any one of them ever having been of any use either to the individual or to the species. And the difficulty that thus arises is magnified without limit when we remember that the phenomena of mind are invariable in their association with cerebral structure, grade for grade, and process for process.

It is of no argumentative use to point to the fact that many adaptive movements in animals are performed by nerve-centres apart from any association with consciousness or volition, because all the facts on this head go to prove that consciousness and volition come in most suggestively just where adaptive movements begin to grow varied and complex, and then continue to develop with a proportional reference to the growing variety and complexity of these movements. The facts, therefore, irresistibly lead to the conclusion (if we argue here as we should in the case of any other function) that consciousness and volition are functions of nerve-tissue super-added to its previous functions, in order to meet new and more complex demands on its powers of adaptation.

Neither is it of any argumentative use to point to the fact that adaptive actions which originally are performed with conscious volition may by practice come to be performed without conscious volition. For it is certain that no adaptive action of quite a novel kind is ever performed from the first without consciousness of its performance, and therefore, although it is true that by repetition its performance may become mechanical or unconscious, this does not prove that consciousness was without use in producing the adaptive action. It only proves that after a nervous mechanism has been elaborated by the help of consciousness, consciousness may be withdrawn and leave the finished mechanism to work alone; the structure having been completed, the scaffolding necessary to its completion may be removed.

But passing over this difficulty which the theory of conscious automatism seems bound to encounter in its collision with the theory of natural selection, the most insuperable of all its difficulties arises from the bare fact, which it cannot explain, that conscious intelligence exists, and exists in the most intimate relation with one peculiar kind of material structure. For automatists must concede that the evidence of causation in the region of mind is at least as cogent as it is in the region of matter, seeing that the whole science of psychology is only rendered possible as a science by the fundamental fact of observation that mental antecedents determine mental consequents. Therefore, if we call a physical sequence A, B, C, and a mental sequence a, b, c automatists have to explain, not merely why there should be such a thing as a mental sequence at all, but also why the sequence a, b, c should always proceed, link for link, with the sequence A, B, C. It clearly is no answer to say that the sequence A, B, C implies the successive activity of certain definite nerve-centres A', B', C' which have for their subjective effects the sequence a, b, c so that whenever the sequence A, B, C occurs the sequence a, b, c must likewise occur. This is no answer, because it merely restates the hypothesis of automatism, and begs the whole question to be discussed. What methodical reason demands as an answer is simply why the sequence A, B, C even though we freely grant it due to the successive activity of certain definite nerve-centres, should be attended by the sequence a, b, c. Reason perceives clearly enough that the sequence a, b, c belongs to a wholly different category from the sequence A, B, C the one being immediately known as a process taking place in a something which is without extension or physical properties of any kind, and the other taking place in a something which when, translated by the previous something, we recognize as having extension and the other antithetical properties which we class together as physical. There would of course be no difficulty if the sequence A, B, C continued through any amount of complexity in the same conceivable category of being; so that there would be nothing actually inconceivable in cerebral sequence—changes running through D, E, F, &c., to an extent sufficient to cause unconscious automatism of any degree of complexity. But that which does require explanation from automatists is why automatism should have become associated with consciousness, and this so intimately that every change in the sequence A, B, C, &c., is accompanied by a particular and corresponding change in the sequence a, b, c, &c. Thus, to take a definite illustration, if on seeing the sun I think of a paper on solar physics, and from this pass to thinking of Mr. Norman Lockyer, and from this to speculating on the probability of certain supposed elements being really compounds, there is here a definite causal connexion in the sequence of my thoughts. But it is the last extravagance of absurdity to tell me that the accompanying causal sequences going on in my brain happen to have exactly corresponded to the sequences which were taking place in the mind, the two trains of sequences being each definite and coherent in themselves, and yet each proceeding link for link in lines parallel with the other. Without some theory of pre-established harmony—which, of course, it is no part of automatism to entertain—it would, on the doctrine of chances alone, be impossible to suppose that the causal sequences in the brain always happen to be just those which, by running link for link with another set of causal sequences taking place in the mind, enable both the series to be definite and coherent in themselves. Therefore, before reason can allow the theory of automatism to pass, it must be told how this wonderful fact of parallelism is to be explained. There must be some connexion between the intrinsically coherent series A, B, C and the no less intrinsically coherent sequence a, b, c, which may be taken as an explanation why they coincide each to each. What is this connexion? We do not know; but we have now seen that, whatever it is, it cannot be an ordinary causal connexion—first, because the doctrine of the conservation of energy makes it incumbent on us to believe that the procession of physical cause and effect is complete within the region of brain—a closed circle, as it were, from which no energy can, without argumentative suicide, be supposed to escape into the region of mind; and next, because, even were this difficulty disregarded, it is unaccountable that the causative influence (whatever it is supposed to be), which passes over from the region of physics into that of psychics, should be such as to render the psychical series coherent in itself, when on the physical side the series must be determined by purely physical conditions, having no reference whatsoever to psychical requirements.

Thus it is argumentatively impossible for Materialism to elude the necessity of explaining the kind of connexion which it supposes to subsist between neurosis and psychosis; and forasmuch as the above considerations clearly show this connexion cannot be accepted as one of ordinary causality without some answer being given to the questions which reason has to ask, Materialism must be ruled out of court if she fails to respond to the demand. But it is no less clearly impossible that she can respond to the demand, and therefore at the bar of Philosophy Materialism must be pronounced, for this as well as for the reasons previously cited, conspicuously inadequate to account for the facts.


[Footnote 4: Professor Flint, Antitheistic Theories, p. 99.]

[Footnote 5: Philosophy of Religion, pp. 95, 99, and 101.]

[Footnote 6: British Association Report, 1879, p. 28.]

[Footnote 7: British Association Report, 1868. Trans. of Sections, p. 5.]



We have seen, then, that both the alternative theories of Spiritualism and Materialism are found, when carefully examined, to be so beset with difficulties of a necessary and fundamental kind, that it is impossible to entertain either without closing our eyes to certain contradictions which they severally and inherently present. We may, indeed, go even further than this, and affirm that to suppose mind the cause of motion or motion the cause of mind is equally to suppose that which in its very nature as a supposition is neither true nor untrue, but nonsensical. For, as Prof. Clifford has said in his essay on Body and Mind,—

'It may be conceived that, at the same time with every exercise of volition, there is a disturbance of the physical laws; but this disturbance, being perceptible to me, would be a physical fact accompanying the volition, and could not be volition itself, which is not perceptible to me. Whether there is such a disturbance of the physical laws or no is a question of fact to which we have the best of reasons for giving a negative answer; but the assertion that another man's volition, a feeling in his consciousness which I cannot perceive, is part of the train of physical facts which I may perceive,—this is neither true nor untrue, but nonsense; it is a combination of words whose corresponding ideas will not go together[8].'

And seeing that the correlatives are in each case the same, it is similarly 'nonsense' to assert the converse proposition: or, in other words, it is equally nonsense to speak of mental action causing cerebral action, or of cerebral action causing mental action—nonsense of the same kind as it would be to speak of the Pickwick Papers causing a storm at sea, or the eruption of a volcano causing the forty-seventh proposition in the first book of Euclid.

We see, then, that two of the three possible theories of things contain the elements of their own destruction: when carefully analyzed, both these theories are found to present inherent contradictions. On this account the third, or only alternative theory, comes to us with a large antecedent presumption in its favour. For it comes to us, as it were, on a clear field, or with the negative advantage of having no logical rivals to contend with. The other two suggestions having been weighed in the balance and found wanting, we are free to look to the new-comer as quite unopposed. This new-comer must, indeed, be interrogated as carefully as his predecessors, and, like them, must be judged upon his own merits. But as he constitutes our last possible hope of solving the question which he professes himself able to solve, the absolute failure of his predecessors entitles him to a patient hearing. By the method of exclusion his voice is now the only voice that remains to be heard, and unless it can speak to better purpose than the others, we shall have no alternative but to abandon the facts as inexplicable, or to confess that it is necessarily impossible for the human mind ever to arrive at any theory of things.

Before proceeding to state or to examine this third and last of the suggested theories, it is desirable—in order still further to define its status a priori—that I should exhibit the reason why the two other suggestions have necessarily failed. For to my mind it is perfectly obvious that this reason is to be found, and found only, in the fact that they are both dualistic. The inherent, the fatal, and the closely similar difficulties which attach to both the dualistic theories, attach to them merely because they are dualistic. The 'nonsense' of each of them is really identical, and arises only because they both make the same irrational attempt to find more in the effect than they have put into the cause. In other words, both the dualistic theories suppose that the physical chains of causation is complete within itself, and that the mental chain is also complete within itself: yet they both proceed to the contradiction that one of these chains is able to allow some of its causal influence to escape, as it were, in order to constitute the other chain. It makes no difference, in point of logic, whether such an escape is supposed to take place from the physical chain (materialism) or from the mental chain (spiritualism): in either case the fundamental principle of causality is alike impugned—the principle, that is, of there being an equivalency between cause and effect, such that you cannot get more out of your effect than you have put into your cause. Both these dualistic theories, although they take opposite views as to which of the two chains of causation is the cause of the other, nevertheless agree in supposing that there are two chains of causation, and that one of them does act causally upon the other: and it is in this matter of their common consent that they both commit suicide. Every process in the physical sphere must be supposed to have its equations satisfied within that sphere: else the doctrine of the conservation of energy would be contravened, and thus the causation contemplated could no longer be contemplated as physical. Similarly, every process in the mental sphere must be supposed to have its equations satisfied within that sphere: else the causation contemplated could no longer be contemplated as mental: some of the equations must be supposed not to have been satisfied within the mental sphere, but to have been carried over into the physical sphere—thus to have either created or destroyed certain quantities of energy within that sphere, and thus, also, to have introduced elements of endless confusion into the otherwise orderly system of Nature.

From this vice of radical contradiction, to which both the dualistic theories are committed, the monistic theory is free. Moreover, as we shall immediately find, it is free to combine the elements of truth which severally belong to both the other theories. These other theories are each concerned with what they see upon different sides of the same shield. The facts which they severally receive they severally report, and their reports appear to contradict each other. But truth can never be really in contradiction with other truth; and it is reserved for Monism, by taking a simultaneous view of both sides, to reconcile the previously apparent contradictions. For these and other reasons, which will unfold themselves as we proceed, I fully agree with the late Professor Clifford where he says of this theory—'It is not merely a speculation, but is a result to which all the greatest minds that have studied this question (the relation between body and mind) in the right way have gradually been approximating for a long time.' This theory is, as we have already seen, that mental phenomena and physical phenomena, although apparently diverse, are really identical.

If we thus unite in a higher synthesis the elements both of spiritualism and of materialism, we obtain a product which satisfies every fact of feeling on the one hand, and of observation on the other. We have only to suppose that the antithesis between mind and motion—subject and object—is itself phenomenal or apparent: not absolute or real. We have only to suppose that the seeming duality is relative to our modes of apprehension: and, therefore, that any change taking place in the mind, and any corresponding change taking place in the brain, are really not two changes, but one change. When a violin is played upon we hear a musical sound, and at the same time we see a vibration of the strings. Relatively to our consciousness, therefore, we have here two sets of changes, which appear to be very different in kind; yet we know that in an absolute sense they are one and the same: we know that the diversity in consciousness is created only by the difference in our mode of perceiving the same events—whether we see or whether we hear the vibration of the strings. Similarly, we may suppose that a vibration of nerve-strings and a process of thought are really one and the same event, which is dual or diverse only in relation to our modes of perceiving it.

Or, to take another and a better illustration, in an Edison lamp the light which is emitted from the burner may be said indifferently to be caused by the number of vibrations per second going on in the carbon, or by the temperature of the carbon; for this rate of vibration could not take place in the carbon without constituting that degree of temperature which affects our eyes as luminous. Similarly, a train of thought may be said indifferently to be caused by brain-action or by mind-action; for, ex hypothesi, the one could not take place without the other. Now when we contemplate the phenomena of volition by themselves, it is as though we were contemplating the phenomena of light by themselves: volition is produced by mind in brain, just as light is produced by temperature in carbon. And just as we may correctly speak of light as the cause, say, of a photograph, so we may correctly speak of volition as the cause of bodily movement. That particular kind of physical activity which takes place in the carbon could not take place without the light which causes a photograph; and, similarly, that particular kind of physical activity which takes place in the brain could not take place without the volition which causes a bodily movement. So that volition is as truly a cause of bodily movement as is the physical activity of the brain; seeing that, in an absolute sense, the cause is one and the same. But if we once clearly perceive that what in a relative sense we know as volition is, in a similar sense, the cause of bodily movement, we terminate the question touching the freedom of the will. It thus becomes a mere matter of phraseology whether we speak of the will determining, or being determined by, changes going on in the external world; just as it is but a matter of phraseology whether we speak of temperature determining, or being determined by, molecular vibration. All the requirements alike of the free-will and of the bond-will hypotheses are thus satisfied by a synthesis which comprises them both. On the one hand, it would be as impossible for an unconscious automaton to do the work or to perform the adjustments of a conscious agent, as it would be for an Edison lamp to give out light and cause a photograph when not heated by an electric current. On the other hand, it would be as impossible for the will to originate bodily motion without the occurrence of a strictly physical process of cerebration, as it would be for light to shine in an Edison lamp which had been deprived of its carbon-burner.

The great advantage of this theory is, that it supposes only one stream of causation, in which both mind and motion are simultaneously concerned. The theory, therefore, escapes all the difficulties and contradictions with which both spiritualism and materialism are beset. Thus, motion is supposed to be producing nothing but motion; mind-changes nothing but mind-changes—both producing both simultaneously: neither could be what it is without the other, because without the other neither could be the cause which in fact it is. Impossible, therefore, is the supposition of the materialist that consciousness is adventitious, or that in the absence of mind the changes of the brain could be what they are; for it belongs to the very causation of these movements that they should have a mental side. And equally impossible is the supposition of the spiritualist that the cerebral processes are adventitious, or that in the absence of brain the changes of the mind could be what they are; for it belongs to the very causation of these changes that they should have a material side. Furthermore, the use of mind to animals and to men is thus rendered apparent; for intelligent volition is thus shown to be a true cause of adjustive movement, in that the cerebration which it involves could not otherwise be possible: the causation would not otherwise be complete.


[Footnote 8: Lectures and Essays, vol. ii. pp. 56-7.]



In the Introduction to this essay I have sought to show that there are, for the purposes of practical discussion, but three theories of the World of Being. There is, first, the theory of Materialism, which supposes matter in motion to be the ultimate or self-existing Reality, and, therefore, the cause of mind. Next, there is the theory of Spiritualism, which supposes mind to be the ultimate Reality, and, therefore, the cause of matter in motion. Lastly, there is the theory of Monism which supposes matter in motion to be substantially identical with mind, and, therefore, that as between mind and matter in motion there is no causal relation either way. In the foregoing chapters I have considered these three theories, and argued that of them the last-mentioned is the only one which satisfies all the facts of feeling on the one hand, and of observation on the other. The theory of Monism alone is able to explain, without inherent contradiction, the phenomena both of the subjective and objective spheres.

It is my present purpose to extend the considerations already presented. Assuming the theory of Monism, I desire to ascertain the result to which it will lead when applied to the question whether we ought to regard the external world as of a character mental or non-mental. As observed in my Rede Lecture (supra, p. 33), this question has already been considered by the late Professor Clifford, who decided that on the monistic theory the probability pointed towards the external world being of a character non-mental; that, although the whole universe is composed of 'mind-stuff,' the universe as a whole is mindless. This decision I then briefly criticized; it is now my object to contemplate the matter somewhat more in detail.

I will assume, on account of reasons previously given, that when we speak of matter in motion we do not at all know what it is that moves, nor do we know at all what it is that we mean by motion. Therefore if, as unknown quantities, we call matter a and motion b, all we are entitled to affirm is that a + b = z, where z is a known quantity, or mind. Obversely stated, we may say that the known quantity z is capable of being resolved into the unknown a + b. But, inasmuch as both a and b are unknown, we may simplify matters by regarding their sum as a single unknown quantity x, which we take to be substantially identical with its obverse aspect known as z.

Here, then, are our data. The theory of Monism teaches that what we perceive as matter in motion, x, is the obverse of what we know as mind, z. What, then, do we know of z? In the first place, we well know that this is the only entity with which we are acquainted, so to speak, at first hand; all our knowledge of x (which is the only other knowledge we possess) is possible only in so far as we are able to translate it into terms of z. In the next place, we know that z is itself an entity of the most enormous complexity. Standing as a symbol of the whole range of individual subjectivity, it may be said to constitute for each individual the symbol of his own personality—or the sum total of his conscious life. Now each individual knows by direct knowledge that his conscious life is, as I have said, of enormous complexity, and that numberless ingredients of feeling, thought, and volition are therein combined in numberless ways. Therefore the symbol z may be considered as the sum of innumerable constituent parts, grouped inter se in numberless systems of more or less complexity.

From these considerations we arrive at the following conclusions. The theory of Monism teaches that all z is x; but it does not, therefore, necessarily teach that all x is z. Nevertheless, it does teach that if all x is not z, this must be because x is z, plus something more than z, as a little thought will be sufficient to show. Thus, the four annexed diagrams exhaust the logical possibilities of any case, where the question is as to the inclusion or exclusion of one quantity by another. In Fig. 1 the two quantities are coincident; in Fig 2 the one is wholly included by the other; in Fig. 3 it is partially included; and in Fig. 4 wholly excluded. Now in the present case, and upon the data supplied, the logical possibilities are exhausted by Figs. 1 and 2. For, upon these data, Figs. 3 and 4 obviously represent logical impossibilities; no part of Mind can, according to these data, stand outside the limits of Matter and Motion. Therefore, if the Ego is not coincident with the Non-ego (or if all x is not z, as in Fig. 1), this can only be because the Ego is less extensive than the Non-ego (or because x is z plus something more than z, as in Fig. 2).

Of these two logical possibilities Idealism, in its most extreme form, may adopt the first. For Idealism in this form may hold that apart from the Ego there is no external world; that outside of z there is no x; that the only esse is the percipi. But, as very few persons nowadays are prepared to go the length of seriously maintaining that in actual fact there is no external world save in so far as this is perceived by the individual mind, I need not wait to consider this possibility. We are thus practically shut up to a consideration of the possibility marked 2.

The theory of Monism, then, teaches that x is z plus something more than z; and therefore it becomes a matter of great moment to consider the probable nature of the overplus. For it obviously does not follow that because x is greater than z in a logical sense, therefore x must be greater than z in a psychological sense. Save upon the theory of Idealism (with which Monism is not specially concerned) the amount (whatever it may be) wherein x is greater than z, may not present any psychological signification at all. We may find that the surface of our globe is considerably larger than that of the dry land, and yet it may not follow that the mental-life to be met with in the sea is psychologically superior to that which occurs on dry land. If, therefore, we represent by comparative shading degrees of psychological excellence, it is evident that the theory of Monism must entertain the three possibilities indicated diagrammatically in Figs. 5, 6, and 7. It makes no difference what the comparative areas of x and z may be, or whether x be uniformly shaded throughout its extent. All we have so far to notice is that the fact of logical inclusion does not necessarily carry with it the implication of psychological superiority.

Next we must notice that besides our own subjectivities, we have cognizance of being surrounded by many other inferred subjectivities more or less like in kind (i. e. other human minds); and also yet many other inferred subjectivities more or less unlike, but all inferior (i. e. the minds of lower animals, young children, and idiots). Following Clifford, I will call these inferred subjectivities by the name of ejects, and assign to them the symbol y. Thus, in the following discussion, x = the objective world, y = the ejective world, and z = subjective world. Now, the theory of Monism supposes that x, y, and z are all alike in kind, but present no definite teaching as to how far they may differ in degree. We may, however, at once allow that between the psychological value of z and that of y there is a wide difference of degree; and also that, while the value of z is a fixed quantity, that of y varies greatly in the different parts of the area y. Our scheme, therefore, will now adopt this form—

But the important question remains how we ought to shade x. According to Clifford, this ought scarcely to be shaded at all, while according to theologians (and theists generally) it ought to be shaded so much more deeply than either y or z, that the joint representation in one diagram would only be possible by choosing for the shading of x a colour different from that employed for y and z, and assigning to that colour a representative value higher than that assigned to the other in the ratio of one to infinity. It will be my object to estimate the relative probability of these rival estimates of the psychological value of x.

Starting from z as our centre, we know that this is an isolated system of subjectivity, and hence we infer that all y is composed of analogous systems, resembling one another as to their isolation, and differing only in their degrees of psychological value. Now this, translated into terms of x (or into terms of objectivity) means that z is an isolated system of matter in motion, and that the same has to be said of all the constituent parts of y. In other words, both subjectivity and ejectivity are only known under the condition of being isolated from objectivity; which, obversely considered, means that the matter in motion here concerned is temporarily separated off from the rest of the objective world, in such wise that it forms a distinct system of its own. If any part of the objective world rudely forces its way within the machinery of that system, it is at the risk of disarranging the machinery and stopping its work—as is the case when a bullet enters the brain. Such converse as the brain normally holds with the external world, is held through the appointed channels of the senses, whereby appropriate causation is supplied to keep the otherwise isolated system at work. We know, from physiological evidence, that when such external causation is withheld, the isolated system ceases to work; therefore, the isolation, although complete under one point of view, under another point of view is incomplete. It is complete only in the sense in which the isolation of a machine is complete—i. e. it is in itself a working system, yet its working is ultimately dependent upon causation supplied from without in certain appropriate ways. This truth is likewise testified to on the obverse aspect of psychology. For analysis shows that all our mental processes (however complex they may be internally) are ultimately dependent on impressions of the external world gained through the senses. Whether regarded objectively or subjectively, therefore, we find that it is the business of the isolated system to elaborate, by its internal processes, the raw materials which are supplied to it from without. Seeing, then, that the isolation of the system is thus only partial, we may best apply to it the term circumscribed. Such partial isolation or circumscription of matter in motion—so that it shall in itself constitute a little working microcosm—appears to be the first condition to the being of a subjective personality. Why, then, does not the working of a machine present a subjective side?

Our answer to this question is to be found in the following considerations. We are going upon the hypothesis that all mind is matter in motion, and that all matter in motion is mind—or, as Clifford phrased it, that all the external world is composed of mind-stuff. No matter how lightly we may shade x, we are assuming that it must be shaded, and not left perfectly white. Now, both mind and matter in motion admit of degrees: first as to quantity, next as to velocity, and lastly as to complexity. But the degrees of matter in motion are found, in point of observable fact, not to correspond with those of mind, save in the last particular of complexity, where there is unquestionably an evident correspondence. Therefore it is that a machine, although conforming to the prime condition of subjectivity in being a circumscribed system of matter in motion, nevertheless does not attain to subjectivity: the x does not rise to z because the internal processes of x are not sufficiently intricate, or their intricacy is not of the appropriate kind. From which it follows that although, as I have said, all matter in motion is mind, merely as matter in motion (or irrespective of the kinds and degrees of both) it may not necessarily be mind in the elaborated form of consciousness: it may only be the raw material of mind—or, as Clifford called it, mind-stuff. Thus, although all conscious volition is matter in motion, it does not follow that all matter in motion is conscious volition. Which serves to restate the question as to how far it is probable, or improbable, that all matter in motion is conscious volition—i.e. how deeply we ought to shade x.

Well, the first thing to be considered in answering this question is that, according to the theory of Monism, we know that it is within the range of possibility for matter in motion to reach a level of intricacy which shall yield conscious volition, and even self-conscious thought of an extremely high order of development. Therefore, the only question is as to whether it is possible, or in any way probable, that matter in motion as occurring in x resembles, in point of intricacy, matter in motion as occurring in z. Professor Clifford perceived that this is the core of the question, and staked the whole answer to it on an extremely simple issue. He said that unless we can show in the disposition of heavenly bodies some morphological resemblance to the structure of a human brain, we are precluded from rationally entertaining any probability that self-conscious volition belongs to the universe. Obviously, this way of presenting the case is so grossly illogical that even the exigencies of popular exposition cannot be held to justify the presentation. For aught that we can know to the contrary, not merely the highly specialized structure of the human brain, but even that of nervous matter in general, may only be one of a thousand possible ways in which the material and dynamical conditions required for the apparition of self-consciousness can be secured. To imagine that the human brain of necessity exhausts these possibilities is in the last degree absurd. Therefore, we may suggest the following presentation of Clifford's case as one that is less obviously inadequate:—if any resemblance to the material and dynamical conditions of the microcosm can be detected in the macrocosm, we should have good reason to ascribe to the latter those attributes of subjectivity which we know as belonging to the former; but if no such resemblance can be traced, we shall have some reason to suppose that these attributes do not belong to the universe. Even this, however, I should regard as much too wide a statement of the case. To take the particular conditions under which alone subjectivity is known to occur upon a single planet as exhausting the possibilities of its occurrence elsewhere, is too flagrant a use of the method of simple enumeration to admit of a moment's countenance. Even the knowledge that we have of the two great conditions under which terrestrial subjectivities occur—circumscription and complexity—is only empirical. It may well be that elsewhere (or apart from the conditions imposed by nervous tissue) subjectivity is possible irrespective both of circumscription and of complexity. Therefore, properly or logically regarded, the great use of the one exhibition of subjectivity furnished to human experience, is the proof thus furnished that subjectivity is possible under some conditions; and the utmost which on the grounds of such proof human experience is entitled to argue is, that probably, if subjectivity is possible elsewhere, its possibility is given by those conditions of circumscription and complexity in the material and dynamical relations concerned, which we find to be the invariable and quantitative concomitants of subjectivity within experience. But this is a widely different thing from saying that the only kind of such circumscription and complexity—or the only disposition of these relations—which can present a subjective side is that which is found in the structures and functions of a nervous system.

Now, if we fix our attention merely on this matter of complexity, and refuse to be led astray by obviously false analogies of a more special kind, I think there can be no question that the macrocosm does furnish amply sufficient opportunity, as it were, for the presence of subjectivity, even if it be assumed that subjectivity can only be yielded by an order of complexity analogous to that of a nervous system. For, considering the material and dynamical system of the universe as a whole, it is obvious that the complexity presented is greater than that of any of its parts. Not only is it true that all these parts are included in the whole, and that even the visible sidereal system alone presents movements of enormous intricacy[9], but we find, for instance, that even within the limits of this small planet there is presented to actual observation a peculiar form of circumscribed complex, fully comparable with that of the individual brain, and yet external to each individual brain. For the so-called 'social organism,' although composed of innumerable individual personalities, is, with regard to each of its constituent units, a part of the objective world—just as the human brain would be, were each of its constituent cells of a construction sufficiently complex to yield a separate personality.

If to this it be objected that, as a matter of fact, the social organism does not possess a self-conscious personality, I will give a twofold answer. In the first place, Who told the objector that it has not? For aught that any one of its constituent personalities can prove to the contrary, this social organism may possess self-conscious personality of the most vivid character: its constituent human minds may be born into it and die out of it as do the constituent cells of the human body: it may feel the throes of war and famine, rejoice in the comforts of peace and plenty: it may appreciate the growth of civilization as its passage from childhood to maturity. If this at first sight appears a grotesque supposition, we must remember that it would appear equally so to ascribe such possibilities to the individual brain, were it not for the irrelevant accident of this particular form of complex standing in such relation to our own subjectivity that we are able to verify the fact of its ejectivity. Thus, for aught that we can tell to the contrary, Comte may have been even more justified than his followers suppose, in teaching the personification of Humanity.

But, in the next place, if the social organism is not endowed with personality, this may be for either one of two reasons. All the conditions required for attaining so high a level of psychical perfection may not be here present; or else the level of psychical perfection may be higher than that which we know as personality. This latter alternative will be considered in another relation by-and-by, so I will not dwell upon it now. But with reference to all these possible contingencies, I may observe that we are not without clear indications of the great fact that the high order of complexity which has been reached by the social organism _is_ accompanied by evidence of something which we may least dimly define as resembling subjectivity. In numberless ways, which I need not wait to enumerate, we perceive that society exhibits the phenomena both of thought and conduct. And these phenomena cannot always be explained by regarding them as the sum of the thoughts and actions of its constituent individuals—or, at least, they can only be so regarded by conceding that the thoughts and actions of the constituent individuals, when thus _summated_, yield a different product from that which would be obtained by a merely arithmetical computation of the constituent parts: the composite product differs from its component elements, as H_2O differs from 2H + O. The general truth of this remark will, I believe, be appreciated by all historians. Seeing that ideas are often, as it is said, 'in the air' before they are condensed in the mind of individual genius, we habitually speak of the 'Zeit-geist' as the product of a kind of collective psychology, which is something other than the mere sum of all the individual minds of a generation. That is to say, we regard society as an eject, and the more that a man studies the thought and conduct of society, the more does he become convinced that we are right in so regarding it. Of course this eject is manifestly unlike that which we form of another individual mind: it is much more general, vague, and so far unlike the pattern of our own subjectivity that even to ascribe to it the important attribute of personality is felt, as we have just seen, to approach the grotesque. Still, in this vague and general way we do ascribe to society ejective existence: we habitually think of the whole world of human thought and feeling as a psychological complex, which is other than, and more than, a mere shorthand enumeration of all the thoughts and feelings of all individual human beings.

The ejective existence thus ascribed to society serves as a stepping-stone to the yet more vague and general ascription of such existence to the Cosmos. At first, indeed, or during the earliest stages of culture, the ascription of ejective existence to the external world is neither vague nor general: on the contrary, it is most distinct and specific. Beginning in the rudest forms of animism, where every natural process admits of being immediately attributed to the volitional agency of an unseen spirit, anthropomorphism sets out upon its long course of development, which proceeds pari passu with the development of abstract thought. Man, as it has been truly said, universally makes God in his own image; and it is difficult to see how the case could be otherwise. Universally the eject must assume the pattern of the subject, and it is only in the proportion that this pattern presents the features of abstract thinking that the image which it throws becomes less and less man-like. Hence, as Mr. Fiske has shown in detail, so soon as anthropomorphism has assumed its highest state of development, it begins to be replaced by a continuous growth of 'deanthropomorphism,' which, passing through polytheism into monotheism, eventually ends in a progressive 'purification' of theism—by which is meant a progressive metamorphosis of the theistic conception, tending to remove from Deity the attributes of Humanity. The last of these attributes to disappear is that of personality, and when this final ecdysis has been performed, the eject which remains is so unlike its original subject, that, as we shall immediately find, it is extremely difficult to trace any points of resemblance between them.

Now it is with this perfect, or imago condition of the world-eject, that we have to do. Mr. Herbert Spencer, in what I consider the profoundest reaches of his philosophic thought, has well shown, on the one hand, how impossible it is to attribute to Deity any of the specific attributes of mind as known to ourselves subjectively; and, on the other hand, how it is possible to conceive 'symbolically' that the universe may be instinct with a 'quasi-psychical' principle, as greatly transcending personality as personality transcends mechanical motion[10]. Accepting, then, the world-eject in this its highest conceivable stage of evolution, I desire to contemplate it under the light of the monistic theory.

We have seen that, whether we look upon the subjective or objective face of personality, we find that personality arises from limitation—or, as I have previously termed it, circumscription. Now, we have no evidence, nor are we able to conceive, of the external world as limited; consequently we are not able to conceive, of the world-eject as personal. But, inasmuch as personality arises only from limitation, the conclusion that the world-eject is impersonal does not tend to show that it is of lower psychical value than conscious personality: on the contrary, it tends to show that it is probably of higher psychical value. True, we are not able to conceive actually of mind as impersonal; but we can see that this merely arises from our only experience of mind being given under conditions of personality; and, as just observed, it is possible to conceive symbolically that there may be a form of mind as greatly transcending personality as personality transcends mechanical motion.

Now, although we cannot conceive of such a mind actually, we may most probably make the nearest approach to conceiving of it truly, by provisionally ascribing to it the highest attributes of mind as known to ourselves, or the attributes which belong to human personality. Just as a thinking insect would derive a better, or more true, conception of human personality by considering it ejectively than by considering it objectively (or by considering the mind-processes as distinguished from the brain-processes), so, if there is a form of mind immeasurably superior to our own, we may probably gain a more faithful—howsoever still inadequate—conception of it by contemplating its operations ejectively than by doing so objectively. I will, therefore, speak of the world-eject as presenting conscious volition, on the understanding that if x does not present either consciousness or volition, this must be—according to the fundamental assumption of psychism on which we are now proceeding—because x presents attributes at least as much higher than consciousness or volition as these are higher than mechanical motion. For when we consider the utmost that our conscious volition is able to accomplish in the way of contrivance—how limited its knowledge, how short its duration, how restricted its range, and how imperfect its adaptations—we can only conclude that if the ultimate constitution of all things is pyschical, the philosophy of the Cosmos becomes a 'philosophy of the Unconscious' only because it is a philosophy of the Superconscious.

Now, if once we feel ourselves able to transcend the preliminary—and doubtless very considerable—difficulty of symbolically conceiving the world-eject as super-conscious, and (because not limited) also super-personal, I think there can be no question that the world-object furnishes overwhelming proof of psychism. I candidly confess that I am not myself able to overcome the preliminary difficulty in question. By discharging the elements of personality and conscious volition from the world-eject, I appear to be discharging from my conception of mind all that most distinctively belongs to that conception; and thus I seem to be brought back again to the point from which we started: the world-eject appears to have again resolved itself into the unknown quantity x. But here we must distinguish between actual conception and symbolical conception. Although it is unquestionably true that I can form no actual conception of Mind save as an eject of personality and conscious volition, it is a question whether I am not able to form a symbolical conception of Mind as thus extended. For I know that consciousness, implying as it does continual change in serial order of circumscribed mental processes, is not (symbolically considered) the highest conceivable exhibition of Mind; and just as a mathematician is able to deal symbolically with space of n dimensions, while only able really to conceive of space as limited to three dimensions, so I feel that I ought not to limit the abstract possibilities of mental being by what I may term the accidental conditions of my own being.

I need scarcely wait to show why it appears to me that if this position is granted, the world-object furnishes, as I have said, overwhelming proof of psychism; for this proof has been ably presented by many other writers. There is first the antecedent improbability that the human mind should be the highest manifestation of subjectivity in this universe of infinite objectivity. There is next the fact that throughout this universe of infinite objectivity—so far, at least, as human observation can extend—there is unquestionable evidence of some one integrating principle, whereby all its many and complex parts are correlated with one another in such wise that the result is universal order. And if we take any part of the whole system—such as that of organic nature on this planet—to examine in more detail, we find that it appears to be instinct with contrivance. So to speak, wherever we tap organic nature, it seems to flow with purpose; and, as we shall presently see, upon the monistic theory the evidence of purpose is here in no way attenuated by a full acceptance of any of the 'mechanical' explanations furnished by science. Now, these large and important facts of observation unquestionably point, as just observed, to some one integrating principle as pervading the Cosmos; and, if so, we can scarcely be wrong in supposing that among all our conceptions it must hold nearest kinship to that which is our highest conception of an integrating cause—viz., the conception of psychism. Assuredly no human mind could either have devised or maintained the working of even a fragment of Nature; and, therefore, it seems but reasonable to conclude that the integrating principle of the whole—the Spirit, as it were, of the Universe—must be something which, while as I have said holding nearest kinship with our highest conception of disposing power, must yet be immeasurably superior to the psychism of man. The world-eject thus becomes invested with a psychical value as greatly transcending in magnitude that of the human mind, as the material frame of the universe transcends in its magnitude the material frame of the human body. Therefore, without in any way straining the theory of Monism, we may provisionally shade x more deeply than z, and this in some immeasurable degree.

* * * * *

One other matter remains to be considered with reference to this world-eject as sanctioned by Monism. It leaves us free to regard all natural causation as a direct exhibition of psychism. The prejudice against anything approaching a theistic interpretation of the Universe nowadays arises chiefly from the advance of physical science having practically revealed the ubiquity of natural causes. It is felt that when a complete explanation of any given phenomenon has been furnished in terms of these causes, there is no need to go further; the phenomenon has been rendered intelligible on its mechanical side, and therefore it is felt that we have no reason to suppose that it presents a mental side—any supplementary causation of a mental kind being regarded as superfluous. Even writers who expressly repudiate this reasoning prove themselves to be habitually under its influence; for we constantly find that such writers, after conceding the mechanical explanations as far as these have been proved, take their stand upon the more intricate phenomena of Nature where, as yet, the mechanical explanations are not forthcoming. Whether it be at the origin of life, the origin of sentiency, of instinct, of rationality, of morality, or of religion, these writers habitually argue that here, at least, the purely mechanical interpretations fail; and that here, consequently, there is still room left for a psychical interpretation. Of course the pleading for theism thus supplied is seen by others to be of an extremely feeble quality; for while, on the one hand, it rests only upon ignorance of natural causation (as distinguished from any knowledge of super-natural causation), on the other hand, abundant historical analogies are available to show that it is only a question of time when pleading of this kind will become more and more restricted in its subject-matter, till eventually it be altogether silenced. But the pleading which Monism is here able to supply can never be silenced.

For, according to Monism, all matter in motion is mind; and, therefore, matter in motion is merely the objective revelation, to us and for us, of that which in its subjective aspect—or in its ultimate reality—is mind. Just as the operations of my friend's mind can only be revealed to me through the mechanical operations of his body, so it may very well be that the operations of the Supreme Mind (supposing such to exist) can only be revealed to me through the mechanical operations of Nature. The only difference between the two cases is that while I am able, in the case of my friend's mind, to elicit responses of mechanical movement having a definite and intended relation to the operations of my own mind, similarly expressed to him; such is not the case with Nature. With the friend-eject I am able to converse; but not so with the world-eject[11]. This great difference, however, although obviously depriving me of any such direct corroboration of psychism in the world-eject as that which I thus derive of psychism in the friend-eject, ought not to be regarded by me as amounting, in the smallest degree, to disproof of psychism in the world-eject. The fact that I am not able to converse with the world-eject is merely a negative fact, and should not be allowed to tell against any probability (otherwise derived) in favour of psychism as belonging to that eject. There may be a thousand very good reasons why I should be precluded from such converse—some of which, indeed, I can myself very clearly perceive.

The importance of Monism in thus enabling us rationally to contemplate all processes of physical causation as possibly immediate exhibitions of psychism, is difficult to overrate. For it entirely discharges all distinction between the mechanical and the mental; so that if physical science were sufficiently advanced to yield a full natural explanation of all the phenomena within human experience, mankind would be in a position to gain as complete a knowledge as is theoretically possible of the psychological character of the world-eject. Already we are able to perceive the immense significance of being able to regard any sequence of natural causation as the merely phenomenal aspect of the ontological reality—the merely outward manifestation of an inward meaning. Thus, for example, I am listening to a sonata of Beethoven's played by Madame Schumann. Helmholtz tells me all that he knows about the physics and physiology of the process, both beyond and within my brain. But I feel that, even if Helmholtz were able to tell me very much more than he can, so long as he is dealing with these objective explanations, he is at work only upon the outer skin of the whole matter. The great reality is the mind of Beethoven communicating to my mind through the complex intervention of three different brains with their neuro-muscular systems, and an endless variety of aerial vibrations proceeding from a pianoforte. The method of communication has nothing more to do with the reality communicated than have the paper and ink of this essay to do with the ideas which they serve to convey. In each case a vehicle of symbols is necessary in order that one mind should communicate with another; but in both cases this is a vehicle of symbols, and nothing more. Everywhere, therefore, the reality may be psychical, and the physical symbolic; everywhere matter in motion may be the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.

Take again the case of morality and religion. Because science, by its theory of evolution, appears to be in a fair way of explaining the genesis of these things by natural causes, theists are taking alarm; it is felt by them that if morality can be fully explained by utility, and religion by superstition, the reality of both is destroyed. But Monism teaches that such a view is entirely erroneous. For, according to Monism, the natural causation of morality and religion has nothing whatever to do with the ultimate truth of either. The natural causation is merely a record of physical processes, serving to manifest the psychical processes. Nor can it make any difference, as regards the ultimate veracity of the moral and religious feelings, that they have been developed slowly by natural causes; that they were at first grossly selfish on the one hand, and hideously superstitious on the other; that they afterwards went through a long series of changes, none of which therefore can have fully corresponded with external truth; or that even now they may be both extremely far from any such correspondence. All that such considerations go to prove is, that it belongs to the natural method of mental evolution in man that with advancing culture his ejective interpretations of Nature should more and more nearly approximate the truth. The world-eject must necessarily vary with the character of the human subject; but this does not prove that the ejective interpretation has throughout been wrong in method: it only proves that such interpretation has been imperfect—and necessarily imperfect—in application.

Such, then, I conceive to be one of the most important consequences of the monistic theory. Namely, that by regarding physical causation as everywhere but the objective or phenomenal aspect of an ejective or ontological reality, it furnishes a logical basis for a theory of things which is at the same time natural and spiritual. On the objective aspect, the explanations furnished by reason are of necessity physical, while, on the ejective aspect, such explanations are of necessity metaphysical—or rather, let us say, hyper-physical. But these two orders of explanation are different only because their modes of interpreting the same events are different. The objective explanation which was given (as we supposed) by Helmholtz of the effects produced on the human brain by hearing a sonata, was no doubt perfectly sound within its own category; but the ejective explanation of these same effects which is given by a musician is equally sound within its category. And similarly, if instead of the man-object we contemplate the world-object physical causation becomes but the phenomenal aspect of psychical causation; the invariability of its sequence becomes but the expression of intentional order; the iron rigidity of natural law becomes the sensuous manifestation of an unalterable consistency as belonging to the Supreme Volition.

My object in this paper has been to show that the views of the late Professor Clifford concerning the influence of Monism on Theism are unsound. I am in full agreement with him in believing that Monism is destined to become the generally accepted theory of things, seeing that it is the only theory of things which can receive the sanction of science on the one hand and of feeling on the other. But I disagree with him in holding that this theory is fraught with implications of an anti-theistic kind. In my opinion this theory leaves the question of Theism very much where it was before. That is to say, while not furnishing any independent proof of Theism, it likewise fails to furnish any independent disproof. The reason why in Clifford's hands this theory appeared to furnish independent disproof, was because he persisted in regarding the world only as an object: he did not entertain the possibility that the world might also be regarded as an eject. Yet, that the world, under the theory of Monism, is at least as susceptible of an ejective as it is of an objective interpretation, I trust that I have now been able to show. And this is all that I have endeavoured to show. As a matter of methodical reasoning it appears to me that Monism alone can only lead to Agnosticism. That is to say, it leaves a clear field of choice as between Theism and Atheism; and, therefore, to a carefully reasoning Monist, there are three alternatives open. He may remain a Monist, and nothing more; in which case he is an agnostic. He may entertain what appears to him independent evidence in favour of Theism, and thus he may become a theist. Or he may entertain what appears to him independent evidence in favour of Atheism, and thus he may become an atheist. But, in any case, so far as his Monism can carry him, he is left perfectly free either to regard the world as an object alone, or to regard the world as also an eject[12].


[Footnote 9: If we imagine the visible sidereal system compressed within the limits of a human skull, so that all its movements which we now recognize as molar should become molecular, the complexity of such movement would probably be as great as that which takes place in a human brain. Yet to this must be added all the molecular movements which are now going on in the sidereal system, visible and invisible.]

[Footnote 10: Principles of Psychology, vol. i. pp. 159-61; Essays, vol. iii. pp. 246-9; and First Principles, p. 26.]

[Footnote 11: It is, however, the belief of all religious persons that even this distinction does not hold. If they are right in their belief, the distinction would then become one as to the mode of converse. In this case what is called communion with the Supreme Mind must be supposed to be a communion sui generis: the converse of mind with mind is here direct, or does not require to be translated into the language of mechanical signs: it is subjective, not ejective. Still, even here we must believe that the physical aspect accompanies the psychical, although not necessarily observed. An act of prayer, for example, is, on its physical aspect, an act of cerebration: so is the answer (supposing it genuine), in as far as the worshipper is concerned. Thus prayer and its answer (according to Monism) resemble all the other processes of Nature in presenting an objective side of strictly physical causation. Nor is it possible that the case could be otherwise, if all mental processes consist in physical process, and vice versa. It is obvious that this consideration has important bearings on the question as to the physical efficacy of prayer. From a monistic point of view both those who affirm and those who deny such efficacy are equally in the right, and equally in the wrong; they are merely quarrelling upon different sides of the same shield. For, according to Monism, if the theologians are right in supposing that the Supreme Mind is the hearer of prayer in any case, they are also right in supposing that the Mind must necessarily be able to grant what is called physical answers, seeing that in order to grant any answer (even of the most apparently spiritual kind) some physical change must be produced, if it be only in the brain of the petitioner. On the other hand, the scientists are equally right in maintaining that no physical answer to prayer can be of the nature of a miracle, or produced independently of strictly physical causation; for, if so, the physical and the psychical would no longer be coincident. But, until the scientists are able to perform the hopeless task of proving where the possibilities of physical causation end, as a mere matter of abstract speculation and going upon the theory of Monism, it is evident that the theologians may have any latitude they choose to claim, both as regards this matter and that of so-called miracles.]

[Footnote 12: It may be explained that by Agnosticism I understand a theory of things which abstains from either affirming or denying the existence of God. It thus represents, with regard to Theism, a state of suspended judgement; and all it undertakes to affirm is, that, upon existing evidence, the being of God is unknown. But the term Agnosticism is frequently used in a widely different sense, as implying belief that the being of God is not merely now unknown, but must always remain unknowable. It is therefore often represented that Mr. Herbert Spencer, in virtue of his doctrine of the Unknowable, is a kind of apostle of Agnosticism. This, however, I conceive to be a great mistake. The distinctive features of Mr. Spencer's doctrine of the Unknowable are not merely non-agnostic, but anti-agnostic. For the doctrine affirms that we have this much knowledge of God—namely, that if He exists, He must for ever be unknown. Without question, this would be a most important piece of definite knowledge with regard to Deity, negative though it be; and, therefore, any man who holds it has no right to be called an agnostic.

To me it has always seemed that the doctrine of the Unknowable, in so far as it differs from the doctrine of the Unknown, is highly unphilosophical. By what right can it be affirmed that Deity, if He exists, may not reveal the fact of His existence to-morrow—and this to the whole human race without the possibility of doubt? Or, if there be a God, who is to say that there certainly cannot be a future life, in which each individual man may have unquestionable proof of Theism? It is a perfectly philosophical statement for any one to make that, as matters now stand, he can see no evidence of Theism; but to say that he knows the human race never can have such evidence, is a most unphilosophical statement, seeing that it could only be justified by absolute knowledge. And, on this account, I say that the doctrine of the Unknowable, in so far as it differs from the doctrine of the Unknown, is the very reverse of agnostic.

Now, the theory of Monism alone, as observed in the text, appears to be purely agnostic in the sense just explained. If in some parts of the foregoing essay I appear to have been arguing in favour of theistic implications, this has only been in order to show (as against Clifford) that the world does admit of being regarded as an eject. But inasmuch as—religious faith apart—we are not able to verify any such ejective interpretation, we are not able to estimate its value. Monism sanctions the shading of x as deeply as we choose; but the shading which it sanctions is only provisional.]

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