The Note-Books of Samuel Butler
by Samuel Butler
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We have used the words "mechanical life," "the mechanical kingdom," "the mechanical world" and so forth, and we have done so advisedly, for as the vegetable kingdom was slowly developed from the mineral, and as, in like manner, the animal supervened upon the vegetable, so now, in these last few ages, an entirely new kingdom has sprung up of which we as yet have only seen what will one day be considered the antediluvian prototypes of the race.

We regret deeply that our knowledge both of natural history and of machinery is too small to enable us to undertake the gigantic task of classifying machines into the genera and sub-genera, species, varieties and sub-varieties, and so forth, of tracing the connecting links between machines of widely different characters, of pointing out how subservience to the use of man has played that part among machines which natural selection has performed in the animal and vegetable kingdom, of pointing out rudimentary organs [see note] which exist in some few machines, feebly developed and perfectly useless, yet serving to mark descent from some ancestral type which has either perished or been modified into some new phase of mechanical existence. We can only point out this field for investigation; it must be followed by others whose education and talents have been of a much higher order than any which we can lay claim to.

Some few hints we have determined to venture upon, though we do so with the profoundest diffidence. Firstly we would remark that as some of the lowest of the vertebrata attained a far greater size than has descended to their more highly organised living representatives, so a diminution in the size of machines has often attended their development and progress. Take the watch for instance. Examine the beautiful structure of the little animal, watch the intelligent play of the minute members which compose it; yet this little creature is but a development of the cumbrous clocks of the thirteenth century— it is no deterioration from them. The day may come when clocks, which certainly at the present day are not diminishing in bulk, may be entirely superseded by the universal use of watches, in which case clocks will become extinct like the earlier saurians, while the watch (whose tendency has for some years been rather to decrease in size than the contrary) will remain the only existing type of an extinct race.

The views of machinery which we are thus feebly indicating will suggest the solution of one of the greatest and most mysterious questions of the day. We refer to the question: What sort of creature man's next successor in the supremacy of the earth is likely to be. We have often heard this debated; but it appears to us that we are ourselves creating our own successors; we are daily adding to the beauty and delicacy of their physical organisation; we are daily giving them greater power and supplying, by all sorts of ingenious contrivances, that self-regulating, self-acting power which will be to them what intellect has been to the human race. In the course of ages we shall find ourselves the inferior race. Inferior in power, inferior in that moral quality of self-control, we shall look up to them as the acme of all that the best and wisest man can ever dare to aim at. No evil passions, no jealousy, no avarice, no impure desires will disturb the serene might of those glorious creatures. Sin, shame and sorrow will have no place among them. Their minds will be in a state of perpetual calm, the contentment of a spirit that knows no wants, is disturbed by no regrets. Ambition will never torture them. Ingratitude will never cause them the uneasiness of a moment. The guilty conscience, the hope deferred, the pains of exile, the insolence of office and the spurns that patient merit of the unworthy takes—these will be entirely unknown to them. If they want "feeding" (by the use of which very word we betray our recognition of them as living organism) they will be attended by patient slaves whose business and interest it will be to see that they shall want for nothing. If they are out of order they will be promptly attended to by physicians who are thoroughly acquainted with their constitutions; if they die, for even these glorious animals will not be exempt from that necessary and universal consummation, they will immediately enter into a new phase of existence, for what machine dies entirely in every part at one and the same instant?

We take it that when the state of things shall have arrived which we have been above attempting to describe, man will have become to the machine what the horse and the dog are to man. He will continue to exist, nay even to improve, and will be probably better off in his state of domestication under the beneficent rule of the machines than he is in his present wild state. We treat our horses, dogs, cattle and sheep, on the whole, with great kindness, we give them whatever experience teaches us to be best for them, and there can be no doubt that our use of meat has added to the happiness of the lower animals far more than it has detracted from it; in like manner it is reasonable to suppose that the machines will treat us kindly, for their existence is as dependent upon ours as ours is upon the lower animals. They cannot kill us and eat us as we do sheep, they will not only require our services in the parturition of their young (which branch of their economy will remain always in our hands) but also in feeding them, in setting them right if they are sick, and burying their dead or working up their corpses into new machines. It is obvious that if all the animals in Great Britain save man alone were to die, and if at the same time all intercourse with foreign countries were by some sudden catastrophe to be rendered perfectly impossible, it is obvious that under such circumstances the loss of human life would be something fearful to contemplate—in like manner, were mankind to cease, the machines would be as badly off or even worse. The fact is that our interests are inseparable from theirs, and theirs from ours. Each race is dependent upon the other for innumerable benefits, and, until the reproductive organs of the machines have been developed in a manner which we are hardly yet able to conceive, they are entirely dependent upon man for even the continuance of their species. It is true that these organs may be ultimately developed, inasmuch as man's interest lies in that direction; there is nothing which our infatuated race would desire more than to see a fertile union between two steam engines; it is true that machinery is even at this present time employed in begetting machinery, in becoming the parent of machines often after its own kind, but the days of flirtation, courtship and matrimony appear to be very remote and indeed can hardly be realised by our feeble and imperfect imagination.

Day by day, however, the machines are gaining ground upon us; day by day we are becoming more subservient to them; more men are daily bound down as slaves to tend them, more men are daily devoting the energies of their whole lives to the development of mechanical life. The upshot is simply a question of time, but that the time will come when the machines will hold the real supremacy over the world and its inhabitants is what no person of a truly philosophic mind can for a moment question.

Our opinion is that war to the death should be instantly proclaimed against them. Every machine of every sort should be destroyed by the well-wisher of his species. Let there be no exceptions made, no quarter shown; let us at once go back to the primeval condition of the race. If it be urged that this is impossible under the present condition of human affairs, this at once proves that the mischief is already done, that our servitude has commenced in good earnest, that we have raised a race of beings whom it is beyond our power to destroy and that we are not only enslaved but are absolutely acquiescent in our bondage.

For the present we shall leave this subject which we present gratis to the members of the Philosophical Society. Should they consent to avail themselves of the vast field which we have pointed out, we shall endeavour to labour in it ourselves at some future and indefinite period.

I am, Sir, &c.,


NOTE.—We were asked by a learned brother philosopher who saw this article in MS. what we meant by alluding to rudimentary organs in machines. Could we, he asked, give any example of such organs? We pointed to the little protuberance at the bottom of the bowl of our tobacco pipe. This organ was originally designed for the same purpose as the rim at the bottom of a tea-cup, which is but another form of the same function. Its purpose was to keep the heat of the pipe from marking the table on which it rested. Originally, as we have seen in very early tobacco pipes, this protuberance was of a very different shape to what it is now. It was broad at the bottom and flat, so that while the pipe was being smoked, the bowl might rest upon the table. Use and disuse have here come into play and served to reduce the function to its present rudimentary condition. That these rudimentary organs are rarer in machinery than in animal life is owing to the more prompt action of the human selection as compared with the slower but even surer operation of natural selection. Man may make mistakes; in the long run nature never does so. We have only given an imperfect example, but the intelligent reader will supply himself with illustrations.

Lucubratio Ebria

[From the Press, 29 July, 1865]

There is a period in the evening, or more generally towards the still small hours of the morning, in which we so far unbend as to take a single glass of hot whisky and water. We will neither defend the practice nor excuse it. We state it as a fact which must be borne in mind by the readers of this article; for we know not how, whether it be the inspiration of the drink, or the relief from the harassing work with which the day has been occupied, or from whatever other cause, yet we are certainly liable about this time to such a prophetic influence as we seldom else experience. We are rapt in a dream such as we ourselves know to be a dream, and which, like other dreams, we can hardly embody in a distinct utterance. We know that what we see is but a sort of intellectual Siamese twins, of which one is substance and the other shadow, but we cannot set either free without killing both. We are unable to rudely tear away the veil of phantasy in which the truth is shrouded, so we present the reader with a draped figure, and his own judgment must discriminate between the clothes and the body. A truth's prosperity is like a jest's, it lies in the ear of him that hears it. Some may see our lucubration as we saw it; and others may see nothing but a drunken dream, or the nightmare of a distempered imagination. To ourselves it as the speaking with unknown tongues to the early Corinthians; we cannot fully understand our own speech, and we fear lest there be not a sufficient number of interpreters present to make our utterance edify. But there! (Go on straight to the body of the article)

The limbs of the lower animals have never been modified by any act of deliberation and forethought on their own part. Recent researches have thrown absolutely no light upon the origin of life—upon the initial force which introduced a sense of identity, and a deliberate faculty into the world; but they do certainly appear to show very clearly that each species of the animal and vegetable kingdom has been moulded into its present shape by chances and changes of many millions of years, by chances and changes over which the creature modified had no control whatever, and concerning whose aim it was alike unconscious and indifferent, by forces which seem insensate to the pain which they inflict, but by whose inexorably beneficent cruelty the brave and strong keep coming to the fore, while the weak and bad drop behind and perish. There was a moral government of this world before man came near it—a moral government suited to the capacities of the governed, and which, unperceived by them, has laid fast the foundations of courage, endurance and cunning. It laid them so fast that they became more and more hereditary. Horace says well, fortes creantur fortibus et bonis good men beget good children; the rule held even in the geological period; good ichthyosauri begat good ichthyosauri, and would to our discomfort have gone on doing so to the present time, had not better creatures been begetting better things than ichthyosauri, or famine, or fire, or convulsion put an end to them. Good apes begat good apes, and at last when human intelligence stole like a late spring upon the mimicry of our semi- simious ancestry, the creature learnt how he could, of his own forethought, add extra-corporaneous limbs to the members of his body and become not only a vertebrate mammal, but a vertebrate machinate mammal into the bargain.

It was a wise monkey that first learned to carry a stick and a useful monkey that mimicked him. For the race of man has learned to walk uprightly much as a child learns the same thing. At first he crawls on all fours, then he clambers, laying hold of whatever he can; and lastly he stands upright alone and walks, but for a long time with an unsteady step. So when the human race was in its gorilla-hood it generally carried a stick; from carrying a stick for many million years it became accustomed and modified to an upright position. The stick wherewith it had learned to walk would now serve it to beat its younger brothers and then it found out its service as a lever. Man would thus learn that the limbs of his body were not the only limbs that he could command. His body was already the most versatile in existence, but he could render it more versatile still. With the improvement in his body his mind improved also. He learnt to perceive the moral government under which he held the feudal tenure of his life—perceiving it he symbolised it, and to this day our poets and prophets still strive to symbolise it more and more completely.

The mind grew because the body grew—more things were perceived—more things were handled, and being handled became familiar. But this came about chiefly because there was a hand to handle with; without the hand there would be no handling; and no method of holding and examining is comparable to the human hand. The tail of an opossum is a prehensile thing, but it is too far from his eyes—the elephant's trunk is better, and it is probably to their trunks that the elephants owe their sagacity. It is here that the bee in spite of her wings has failed. She has a high civilisation but it is one whose equilibrium appears to have been already attained; the appearance is a false one, for the bee changes, though more slowly than man can watch her; but the reason of the very gradual nature of the change is chiefly because the physical organisation of the insect changes, but slowly also. She is poorly off for hands, and has never fairly grasped the notion of tacking on other limbs to the limbs of her own body and so, being short-lived to boot, she remains from century to century to human eyes in statu quo. Her body never becomes machinate, whereas this new phase of organism, which has been introduced with man into the mundane economy, has made him a very quicksand for the foundation of an unchanging civilisation; certain fundamental principles will always remain, but every century the change in man's physical status, as compared with the elements around him, is greater and greater; he is a shifting basis on which no equilibrium of habit and civilisation can be established; were it not for this constant change in our physical powers, which our mechanical limbs have brought about, man would have long since apparently attained his limit of possibility; he would be a creature of as much fixity as the ants and bees—he would still have advanced but no faster than other animals advance. If there were a race of men without any mechanical appliances we should see this clearly. There are none, nor have there been, so far as we can tell, for millions and millions of years. The lowest Australian savage carries weapons for the fight or the chase, and has his cooking and drinking utensils at home; a race without these things would be completely ferae naturae and not men at all. We are unable to point to any example of a race absolutely devoid of extra-corporaneous limbs, but we can see among the Chinese that with the failure to invent new limbs, a civilisation becomes as much fixed as that of the ants; and among savage tribes we observe that few implements involve a state of things scarcely human at all. Such tribes only advance pari passu with the creatures upon which they feed.

It is a mistake, then, to take the view adopted by a previous correspondent of this paper; to consider the machines as identities, to animalise them, and to anticipate their final triumph over mankind. They are to be regarded as the mode of development by which human organism is most especially advancing, and every fresh invention is to be considered as an additional member of the resources of the human body. Herein lies the fundamental difference between man and his inferiors. As regards his flesh and blood, his senses, appetites, and affections, the difference is one of degree rather than of kind, but in the deliberate invention of such unity of limbs as is exemplified by the railway train—that seven-leagued foot which five hundred may own at once—he stands quite alone.

In confirmation of the views concerning mechanism which we have been advocating above, it must be remembered that men are not merely the children of their parents, but they are begotten of the institutions of the state of the mechanical sciences under which they are born and bred. These things have made us what we are. We are children of the plough, the spade, and the ship; we are children of the extended liberty and knowledge which the printing press has diffused. Our ancestors added these things to their previously existing members; the new limbs were preserved by natural selection, and incorporated into human society; they descended with modifications, and hence proceeds the difference between our ancestors and ourselves. By the institutions and state of science under which a man is born it is determined whether he shall have the limbs of an Australian savage or those of a nineteenth century Englishman. The former is supplemented with little save a rug and a javelin; the latter varies his physique with the changes of the season, with age, and with advancing or decreasing wealth. If it is wet he is furnished with an organ which is called an umbrella and which seems designed for the purpose of protecting either his clothes or his lungs from the injurious effects of rain. His watch is of more importance to him than a good deal of his hair, at any rate than of his whiskers; besides this he carries a knife, and generally a pencil case. His memory goes in a pocket book. He grows more complex as he becomes older and he will then be seen with a pair of spectacles, perhaps also with false teeth and a wig; but, if he be a really well-developed specimen of the race, he will be furnished with a large box upon wheels, two horses, and a coachman.

Let the reader ponder over these last remarks, and he will see that the principal varieties and sub-varieties of the human race are not now to be looked for among the negroes, the Circassians, the Malays, or the American aborigines, but among the rich and the poor. The difference in physical organisation between these two species of man is far greater than that between the so-called types of humanity. The rich man can go from here to England whenever he feels so inclined. The legs of the other are by an invisible fatality prevented from carrying him beyond certain narrow limits. Neither rich nor poor as yet see the philosophy of the thing, or admit that he who can tack a portion of one of the P. & O. boats on to his identity is a much more highly organised being than one who cannot. Yet the fact is patent enough, if we once think it over, from the mere consideration of the respect with which we so often treat those who are richer than ourselves. We observe men for the most part (admitting however some few abnormal exceptions) to be deeply impressed by the superior organisation of those who have money. It is wrong to attribute this respect to any unworthy motive, for the feeling is strictly legitimate and springs from some of the very highest impulses of our nature. It is the same sort of affectionate reverence which a dog feels for man, and is not infrequently manifested in a similar manner.

We admit that these last sentences are open to question, and we should hardly like to commit ourselves irrecoverably to the sentiments they express; but we will say this much for certain, namely, that the rich man is the true hundred-handed Gyges of the poets. He alone possesses the full complement of limbs who stands at the summit of opulence, and we may assert with strictly scientific accuracy that the Rothschilds are the most astonishing organisms that the world has ever yet seen. For to the nerves or tissues, or whatever it be that answers to the helm of a rich man's desires, there is a whole army of limbs seen and unseen attachable: he may be reckoned by his horse-power—by the number of foot-pounds which he has money enough to set in motion. Who, then, will deny that a man whose will represents the motive power of a thousand horses is a being very different from the one who is equivalent but to the power of a single one?

Henceforward, then, instead of saying that a man is hard up, let us say that his organisation is at a low ebb, or, if we wish him well, let us hope that he will grow plenty of limbs. It must be remembered that we are dealing with physical organisations only. We do not say that the thousand-horse man is better than a one-horse man, we only say that he is more highly organised, and should be recognised as being so by the scientific leaders of the period. A man's will, truth, endurance are part of him also, and may, as in the case of the late Mr. Cobden, have in themselves a power equivalent to all the horse-power which they can influence; but were we to go into this part of the question we should never have done, and we are compelled reluctantly to leave our dream in its present fragmentary condition.

Letter to Thomas William Gale Butler February 18th, 1876.


My present literary business is a little essay some 25 or 30 pp. long, which is still all in the rough and I don't know how it will shape, but the gist of it is somewhat as follows:-

1. Actions which we have acquired with difficulty and now perform almost unconsciously—as in playing a difficult piece of music, reading, talking, walking and the multitude of actions which escape our notice inside other actions, etc.—all this worked out with some detail, say, four or five pages.

General deduction that we never do anything in this unconscious or semi-conscious manner unless we know how to do it exceedingly well and have had long practice.

Also that consciousness is a vanishing quantity and that as soon as we know a thing really well we become unconscious in respect of it— consciousness being of attention and attention of uncertainty—and hence the paradox comes clear, that as long as we know that we know a thing (or do an action knowingly) we do not know it (or do the action with thorough knowledge of our business) and that we only know it when we do not know of our knowledge.

2. Whatever we do in this way is all one and the same in kind—the difference being only in degree. Playing [almost?] unconsciously— writing, more unconsciously (as to each letter)—reading, very unconsciously—talking, still more unconsciously (it is almost impossible for us to notice the action of our tongue in every letter)—walking, much the same—breathing, still to a certain extent within our own control—heart's beating, perceivable but beyond our control—digestion, unperceivable and beyond our control, digestion being the oldest of the . . . habits.

3. A baby, therefore, has known how to grow itself in the womb and has only done it because it wanted to, on a balance of considerations, in the same way as a man who goes into the City to buy Great Northern A Shares . . . It is only unconscious of these operations because it has done them a very large number of times already. A man may do a thing by a fluke once, but to say that a foetus can perform so difficult an operation as the growth of a pair of eyes out of pure protoplasm without knowing how to do it, and without ever having done it before, is to contradict all human experience. Ipso facto that it does it, it knows how to do it, and ipso facto that it knows how to do it, it has done it before. Its unconsciousness (or speedy loss of memory) is simply the result of over-knowledge, not of under-knowledge. It knows so well and has done it so often that its power of self-analysis is gone. If it knew what it was doing, or was conscious of its own act in oxidising its blood after birth, I should suspect that it had not done it so often before; as it is I am confident that it must have done it more often- -much more often—than any act which we perform consciously during our whole lives.

4. When, then, did it do it? Clearly when last it was an impregnate ovum or some still lower form of life which resulted in that impregnate ovum.

5. How is it, then, that it has not gained perceptible experience? Simply because a single repetition makes little or no difference; but go back 20,000 repetitions and you will find that it has gained in experience and modified its performance very materially.

6. But how about the identity? What is identity? Identity of matter? Surely no. There is no identity of matter between me as I now am, and me as an impregnate ovum. Continuity of existence? Then there is identity between me as an impregnate ovum and my father and mother as impregnate ova. Drop out my father's and mother's lives between the dates of their being impregnate ova and the moment when I became an impregnate ovum. See the ova only and consider the second ovum as the first two ova's means not of reproducing themselves but of continuing themselves—repeating themselves—the intermediate lives being nothing but, as it were, a long potato shoot from one eye to the place where it will grow its next tuber.

7. Given a single creature capable of reproducing itself and it must go on reproducing itself for ever, for it would not reproduce itself, unless it reproduced a creature that was going to reproduce itself, and so on ad infinitum.

Then comes Descent with Modification. Similarity tempered with dissimilarity, and dissimilarity tempered with similarity—a contradiction in terms, like almost everything else that is true or useful or indeed intelligible at all. In each case of what we call descent, it is still the first reproducing creature identically the same—doing what it has done before—only with such modifications as the struggle for existence and natural selection have induced. No matter how highly it has been developed, it can never be other than the primordial cell and must always begin as the primordial cell and repeat its last performance most nearly, but also, more or less, all its previous performances.

A begets A' which is A with the additional experience of a dash. A' begets A'' which is A with the additional experiences of A' and A''; and so on to A(n) but you can never eliminate the A.

8. Let A(n) stand for a man. He begins as the primordial cell— being verily nothing but the primordial cell which goes on splitting itself up for ever, but gaining continually in experience. Put him in the same position as he was in before and he will do as he did before. First he will do his tadpoles by rote, so to speak, on his head, from long practice; then he does his fish trick; then he grows arms and legs, all unconsciously from the inveteracy of the habit, till he comes to doing his man, and this lesson he has not yet learnt so thoroughly. Some part of it, as the breathing and oxidisation business, he is well up to, inasmuch as they form part of previous roles, but the teeth and hair, the upright position, the power of speech, though all tolerably familiar, give him more trouble—for he is very stupid—a regular dunce in fact. Then comes his newer and more complex environment, and this puzzles him—arrests his attention—whereon consciousness springs into existence, as a spark from a horse's hoof.

To be continued—I see it will have to be more than 30 pp. It is still foggy in parts, but I must clear it a little. It will go on to show that we are all one animal and that death (which was at first voluntary, and has only come to be disliked because those who did not dislike it committed suicide too easily) and reproduction are only phases of the ordinary waste and repair which goes on in our bodies daily.

Always very truly yours, S. BUTLER.


Clergymen and Chickens

[Extract from a lecture On Memory as a Key to the Phenomena of Heredity delivered by Butler at the Working Men's College, Great Ormond Street, on Saturday, 2nd December, 1882.]

Why, let me ask, should a hen lay an egg which egg can become a chicken in about three weeks and a full-grown hen in less than a twelvemonth, while a clergyman and his wife lay no eggs but give birth to a baby which will take three-and-twenty years before it can become another clergyman? Why should not chickens be born and clergymen be laid and hatched? Or why, at any rate, should not the clergyman be born full grown and in Holy Orders, not to say already beneficed? The present arrangement is not convenient, it is not cheap, it is not free from danger, it is not only not perfect but is so much the reverse that we could hardly find words to express our sense of its awkwardness if we could look upon it with new eyes, or as the cuckoo perhaps observes it.

The explanation usually given is that it is a law of nature that children should be born as they are, but this is like the parched pea which St. Anthony set before the devil when he came to supper with him and of which the devil said that it was good as far as it went. We want more; we want to know with what familiar set of facts we are to connect the one in question which, though in our midst, at present dwells apart as a mysterious stranger of whose belongings, reason for coming amongst us, antecedents, and so forth, we believe ourselves to be ignorant, though we know him by sight and name and have a fair idea what sort of man he is to deal with.

We say it is a phenomenon of heredity that chickens should be laid as eggs in the first instance and clergymen born as babies, but, beyond the fact that we know heredity extremely well to look at and to do business with, we say that we know nothing about it. I have for some years maintained this to be a mistake and have urged, in company with Professor Hering, of Prague, and others, that the connection between memory and heredity is so close that there is no reason for regarding the two as generically different, though for convenience sake it may be well to specify them by different names. If I can persuade you that this is so, I believe I shall be able to make you understand why it is that chickens are hatched as eggs and clergymen born as babies.

When I say I can make you understand why this is so, I only mean that I can answer the first "why" that any one is likely to ask about it, and perhaps a "why" or two behind this. Then I must stop. This is all that is ever meant by those who say they can tell us why a thing is so and so. No one professes to be able to reach back to the last "why" that any one can ask, and to answer it. Fortunately for philosophers, people generally become fatigued after they have heard the answer to two or three "whys" and are glad enough to let the matter drop. If, however, any one will insist on pushing question behind question long enough, he will compel us to admit that we come to the end of our knowledge which is based ultimately upon ignorance. To get knowledge out of ignorance seems almost as hopeless a task as to get something out of any number of nothings, but this in practice is what we have to do and the less fuss we make over it the better.

When, therefore, we say that we know "why" a thing is so and so, we mean that we know its immediate antecedents and connections, and find them familiar to us. I say that the immediate antecedent of, and the phenomenon most closely connected with, heredity is memory. I do not profess to show why anything can remember at all, I only maintain that whereas, to borrow an illustration from mathematics, life was formerly an equation of, say, 100 unknown quantities, it is now one of only, inasmuch as memory and heredity have been shown to be one and the same thing.



Memory is a kind of way (or weight—whichever it should be) that the mind has got upon it, in virtue of which the sensation excited endures a little longer than the cause which excited it. There is thus induced a state of things in which mental images, and even physical sensations (if there can be such a thing as a physical sensation) exist by virtue of association, though the conditions which originally called them into existence no longer continue.

This is as the echo continuing to reverberate after the sound has ceased.


To be is to think and to be thinkable. To live is to continue thinking and to remember having done so. Memory is to mind as viscosity is to protoplasm, it gives a tenacity to thought—a kind of pied a terre from which it can, and without which it could not, advance.

Thought, in fact, and memory seem inseparable; no thought, no memory; and no memory, no thought. And, as conscious thought and conscious memory are functions one of another, so also are unconscious thought and unconscious memory. Memory is, as it were, the body of thought, and it is through memory that body and mind are linked together in rhythm or vibration; for body is such as it is by reason of the characteristics of the vibrations that are going on in it, and memory is only due to the fact that the vibrations are of such characteristics as to catch on to and be caught on to by other vibrations that flow into them from without—no catch, no memory.


Memory and forgetfulness are as life and death to one another. To live is to remember and to remember is to live. To die is to forget and to forget is to die. Everything is so much involved in and is so much a process of its opposite that, as it is almost fair to call death a process of life and life a process of death, so it is to call memory a process of forgetting and forgetting a process of remembering. There is never either absolute memory or absolute forgetfulness, absolute life or absolute death. So with light and darkness, heat and cold, you never can get either all the light, or all the heat, out of anything. So with God and the devil; so with everything. Everything is like a door swinging backwards and forwards. Everything has a little of that from which it is most remote and to which it is most opposed and these antitheses serve to explain one another.

Unconscious Memory

A man at the Century Club was falling foul of me the other night for my use of the word "memory." There was no such thing, he said, as "unconscious memory"—memory was always conscious, and so forth. My business is—and I think it can be easily done—to show that they cannot beat me off my unconscious memory without my being able to beat them off their conscious memory; that they cannot deny the legitimacy of my maintaining the phenomena of heredity to be phenomena of memory without my being able to deny the legitimacy of their maintaining the recollection of what they had for dinner yesterday to be a phenomenon of memory. My theory of the unconscious does not lead to universal unconsciousness, but only to pigeon-holing and putting by. We shall always get new things to worry about. If I thought that by learning more and more I should ever arrive at the knowledge of absolute truth, I would leave off studying. But I believe I am pretty safe.

Reproduction and Memory

There is the reproduction of an idea which has been produced once already, and there is the reproduction of a living form which has been produced once already. The first reproduction is certainly an effort of memory. It should not therefore surprise us if the second reproduction should turn out to be an effort of memory also. Indeed all forms of reproduction that we can follow are based directly or indirectly upon memory. It is only the one great act of reproduction that we cannot follow which we disconnect from memory.

Personal Identity

We are so far identical with our ancestors and our contemporaries that it is very rarely we can see anything that they do not see. It is not unjust that the sins of the fathers should be visited upon the children, for the children committed the sins when in the persons of their fathers; they ate the sour grapes before they were born: true, they have forgotten the pleasure now, but so has a man with a sick headache forgotten the pleasure of getting drunk the night before.


Our sensations are only distinguishable because we feel them in different places and at different times. If we feel them at very nearly the same time and place we cannot distinguish them.

Cobwebs in the Dark

If you walk at night and your face comes up against a spider's web woven across the road, what a shock that thin line gives you! You fristle through every nerve of your body.

Shocks and Memory

Memory is our sense that we are being shocked now as we were shocked then.


Given matter conscious in one part of itself of a shock in another part (i.e. knowing in what part of itself it is shocked) retaining a memory of each shock for a little while afterwards, able to feel whether two shocks are simultaneous or in succession, and able to know whether it has been shocked much or little—given also that association does not stick to the letter of its bond—and the rest will follow.



There is often connection but no design, as when I stamp my foot with design and shake something down without design, or as when a man runs up against another in the street and knocks him down without intending it. This is undesign within design.

Fancied insults are felt by people who see design in a connection where they should see little connection, and no design.

Connection with design is sometimes hard to distinguish from connection without design; as when a man treads on another's corns, it is not always easy to say whether he has done so accidentally or on purpose.

Men have been fond in all ages of ascribing connection where there is none. Thus astrology has been believed in. Before last Christmas I said I had neglected the feasts of the Church too much, and that I should probably be more prosperous if I paid more attention to them: so I hung up three pieces of ivy in my rooms on Xmas Eve. A few months afterwards I got the entail cut off my reversion, but I should hardly think there was much connection between the two things. Nevertheless I shall hang some holly up this year.


It seems also designed, ab extra (though who can say whether this is so?), that no one should know anything whatever about the ultimate, or even deeper springs of growth and action. If not designed the result is arrived at as effectually as though it were so.

Accident, Design and Memory

It is right to say either that heredity and memory are one and the same thing, or that heredity is a mode of memory, or that heredity is due to memory, if it is thereby intended that animals can only grow in virtue of being able to recollect. Memory and heredity are the means of preserving experiences, of building them together, of uniting a mass of often confused detail into homogeneous and consistent mind and matter, but they do not originate. The increment in each generation, at the moment of its being an increment, has nothing to do with memory or heredity, it is due to the chances and changes of this mortal state. Design comes in at the moment that a living being either feels a want and forecasts for its gratification, or utilises some waif or stray of accident on the principle, which underlies all development, that enough is a little more than what one has. It is the business of memory and heredity to conserve and to transmit from one generation to another that which has been furnished by design, or by accident designedly turned to account.

It is therefore not right to say, as some have supposed me to mean, that we can do nothing which we do not remember to have done before. We can do nothing very difficult or complicated which we have not done before, unless as by a tour de force, once in a way, under exceptionally favourable circumstances, but our whole conscious life is the performance of acts either imperfectly remembered or not remembered at all. There are rain-drops of new experiences in every life which are not within the hold of our memory or past experience, and, as each one of these rain-drops came originally from something outside, the whole river of our life has in its inception nothing to do with memory, though it is only through memory that the rain-drops of new experience can ever unite to form a full flowing river of variously organised life and intelligence.

Memory and Mistakes

Memory vanishes with extremes of resemblance or difference. Things which put us in mind of others must be neither too like nor too unlike them. It is our sense that a position is not quite the same which makes us find it so nearly the same. We remember by the aid of differences as much as by that of samenesses. If there could be no difference there would be no memory, for the two positions would become absolutely one and the same, and the universe would repeat itself for ever and ever as between these two points.

When ninety-nine hundredths of one set of phenomena are presented while the hundredth is withdrawn without apparent cause, so that we can no longer do something which according to our past experience we ought to find no difficulty in doing, then we may guess what a bee must feel as it goes flying up and down a window-pane. Then we have doubts thrown upon the fundamental axiom of life, i.e. that like antecedents will be followed by like consequents. On this we go mad and die in a short time.

Mistaken memory may be as potent as genuine recollection, so far as its effects go, unless it happens to come more into collision with other and not mistaken memories than it is able to contend against.

Mistakes or delusions occur mainly in two ways.

First, when the circumstances have changed a little but not enough to make us recognise the fact: this may happen either because of want of attention on our part or because of the hidden nature of the alteration, or because of its slightness in itself, the importance depending upon its relations to something else which make a very small change have an importance it would not otherwise have: in these cases the memory reverts to the old circumstances unmodified, a sufficient number of the associated ideas having been reproduced to make us assume the remainder without further inspection, and hence follows a want of harmony between action and circumstances which results in trouble somewhere.

Secondly, through the memory not reverting in full perfection, though the circumstances are reproduced fully and accurately.


When asked to remember "something" indefinitely you cannot: you look round at once for something to suggest what you shall try and remember. For thought must be always about some "thing" which thing must either be a thing by courtesy, as an air of Handel's, or else a solid, tangible object, as a piano or an organ, but always the thing must be linked on to matter by a longer or shorter chain as the case may be. I was thinking of this once while walking by the side of the Serpentine and, looking round, saw some ducks alighting on the water; their feet reminded me of the way the sea-birds used to alight when I was going to New Zealand and I set to work recalling attendant facts. Without help from outside I should have remembered nothing.

A Torn Finger-Nail

Henry Hoare [a college friend], when a young man of about five-and- twenty, one day tore the quick of his fingernail—I mean he separated the fleshy part of the finger from the nail—and this reminded him that many years previously, while quite a child, he had done the same thing. Thereon he fell to thinking of that time which was impressed upon his memory partly because there was a great disturbance in the house about a missing five-pound note and partly because it was while he had the scarlet fever.

Following the train of thought aroused by his torn finger, he asked himself how he had torn it, and after a while it came back to him that he had been lying ill in bed as a child of seven at the house of an aunt who lived in Hertfordshire. His arms often hung out of the bed and, as his hands wandered over the wooden frame, he felt that there was a place where nut had come out so that he could put his fingers in. One day, in trying to stuff a piece of paper into this hole, he stuffed it in so far and so tightly that he tore the quick of nail. The whole thing came back vividly and, though he had not thought of it for nearly twenty years, he could see the room in his aunt's house and remembered how his aunt use to sit by his bedside writing at a little table from which he had got the piece of paper which he had stuffed into the hole.

So far so good. But then there flashed upon him an idea that was not so pleasant. I mean it came upon him with irresistible force that the piece of paper, he had stuffed into the hole in the bedstead was the missing five-pound note about which there had been so much disturbance. At that time he was so young that a five-pound note was to him only a piece of paper; when he heard that the money was missing, he had thought it was five sovereigns; or perhaps he was too ill to think anything, or to be questioned; I forget what I was told about this—at any rate he had no idea of the value of the piece of paper he was stuffing into the hole. But now the matter had recurred to him at all he felt so sure that it was the note that he immediately went down to Hertfordshire, where his aunt was still living, and asked, to the surprise of every one, to be allowed to wash his hands in the room he had occupied as a child. He was told that there were friends staying in the house who had the room at present, but, on his saying he had a reason and particularly begging to be allowed to remain alone a little while in this room, he was taken upstairs and left there.

He went to the bed, lifted up the chintz which then covered the frame, and found his old friend the hole. A nut had been supplied and he could no longer get his finger into it. He rang the bell and when the servant came asked for a bed-key. All this time he was rapidly acquiring the reputation of being a lunatic throughout the whole house, but the key was brought, and by the help of it he got the nut off. When he had done so, there, sure enough, by dint of picking with his pocket-knife, he found the missing five-pound note.

See how the return of a given present brings back the presents that have been associated with it.

Unconscious Association

One morning I was whistling to myself the air "In Sweetest Harmony" from Saul. Jones heard me and said:

"Do you know why you are whistling that?"

I said I did not.

Then he said: "Did you not hear me, two minutes ago, whistling 'Eagles were not so Swift'?"

I had not noticed his doing so, and it was so long since I had played that chorus myself that I doubt whether I should have consciously recognised it. That I did recognise it unconsciously is tolerably clear from my having gone on with "In Sweetest Harmony," which is the air that follows it.


If you say "Hallelujah" to a cat, it will excite no fixed set of fibres in connection with any other set and the cat will exhibit none of the phenomena of consciousness. But if you say "Me-e-at," the cat will be there in a moment, for the due connection between the sets of fibres has been established.


The reason why words recall ideas is that the word has been artificially introduced among the associated ideas, and the presence of one idea recalls the others.


Contributions to Evolution

To me it seems that my contributions to the theory of evolution have been mainly these:

1. The identification of heredity and memory and the corollaries relating to sports, the reversion to remote ancestors, the phenomena of old age, the causes of the sterility of hybrids and the principles underlying longevity—all of which follow as a matter of course. This was Life and Habit. [1877.]

2. The re-introduction of teleology into organic life which, to me, seems hardly (if at all) less important than the Life and Habit theory. This was Evolution Old and New. [1879.]

3. An attempt to suggest an explanation of the physics of memory. I was alarmed by the suggestion and fathered it upon Professor Hering who never, that I can see, meant to say anything of the kind, but I forced my view on him, as it were, by taking hold of a sentence or two in his lecture, on Memory as a Universal Function of Organised Matter and thus connected memory with vibrations. This was Unconscious Memory. [1880.]

What I want to do now [1885] is to connect vibrations not only with memory but with the physical constitution of that body in which the memory resides, thus adopting Newland's law (sometimes called Mendelejeff's law) that there is only one substance, and that the characteristics of the vibrations going on within it at any given time will determine whether it will appear to us as (say) hydrogen, or sodium, or chicken doing this, or chicken doing the other. [This touched upon in the concluding chapter of Luck or Cunning? 1887.]

I would make not only the mind, but the body of the organism to depend on the characteristics of the vibrations going on within it. The same vibrations which remind the chicken that it wants iron for its blood actually turn the pre-existing matter in the egg into the required material. According to this view the form and characteristics of the elements are as much the living expositions of certain vibrations—are as much our manner of perceiving that the vibrations going on in that part of the one universal substance are such and such—as the colour yellow is our perception that a substance is being struck by vibrations of light, so many to the second, or as the action of a man walking about is our mode of perceiving that such and such another combination of vibrations is, for the present, going on in the substance which, in consequence, has assumed the shape of the particular man.

It is somewhere in this neighbourhood that I look for the connection between organic and inorganic.

The Universal Substance


We shall never get straight till we leave off trying to separate mind and matter. Mind is not a thing or, if it be, we know nothing about it; it is a function of matter. Matter is not a thing or, if it be, we know nothing about it; it is a function of mind.

We should see an omnipotent, universal substance, sometimes in a dynamical and sometimes in a statical condition and, in either condition, always retaining a little of its opposite; and we should see this substance as at once both material and mental, whether it be in the one condition or in the other. The statical condition represents content, the dynamical, discontent; and both content and discontent, each still retaining a little of its opposite, must be carried down to the lowest atom.

Action is the process whereby thought, which is mental, is materialised and whereby substance, which is material, is mentalised. It is like the present, which unites times past and future and which is the only time worth thinking of and yet is the only time which has no existence.

I do not say that thought actually passes into substance, or mind into matter, by way of action—I do not know what thought is—but every thought involves bodily change, i.e. action, and every action involves thought, conscious or unconscious. The action is the point of juncture between bodily change, visible and otherwise sensible, and mental change which is invisible except as revealed through action. So that action is the material symbol of certain states of mind. It translates the thought into a corresponding bodily change.


When the universal substance is at rest, that is, not vibrating at all, it is absolutely imperceptible whether by itself or anything else. It is to all intents and purposes fast asleep or, rather, so completely non-existent that you can walk through it, or it through you, and it knows neither time nor space but presents all the appearance of perfect vacuum. It is in an absolutely statical state. But when it is not at rest, it becomes perceptible both to itself and others; that is to say, it assumes material guise such as makes it imperceptible both to itself and others. It is then tending towards rest, i.e. in a dynamical state. The not being at rest is the being in a vibratory condition. It is the disturbance of the repose of the universal, invisible and altogether imperceptible substance by way of vibration which constitutes matter at all; it is the character of the vibrations which constitutes the particular kind of matter. (May we imagine that some vibrations vibrate with a rhythm which has a tendency to recur like the figures in a recurring decimal, and that here we have the origin of the reproductive system?)

We should realise that all space is at all times full of a stuff endowed with a mind and that both stuff and mind are immaterial and imperceptible so long as they are undisturbed, but the moment they are disturbed the stuff becomes material and the mind perceptible. It is not easy to disturb them, for the atmosphere protects them. So long as they are undisturbed they transmit light, etc., just as though they were a rigid substance, for, not being disturbed, they detract nothing from any vibration which enters them.

What will cause a row will be the hitting upon some plan for waking up the ether. It is here that we must look for the extension of the world when it has become over-peopled or when, through its gradual cooling down, it becomes less suitable for a habitation. By and by we shall make new worlds.

Mental and Physical

A strong hope of 20,000 pounds in the heart of a poor but capable man may effect a considerable redistribution of the forces of nature—may even remove mountains. The little, unseen impalpable hope sets up a vibrating movement in a messy substance shut in a dark warm place inside the man's skull. The vibrating substance undergoes a change that none can note, whereupon rings of rhythm circle outwards from it as from a stone thrown into a pond, so that the Alps are pierced in consequence.

Vibrations, Memory and Chemical Properties

The quality of every substance depends upon its vibrations, but so does the quality of all thought and action. Quality is only one mode of action; the action of developing, the desire to make this or that, and do this or that, and the stuff we make are alike due to the nature and characteristics of vibrations.

I want to connect the actual manufacture of the things a chicken makes inside an egg with the desire and memory of the chickens, so as to show that one and the same set of vibrations at once change the universal substratum into the particular phase of it required and awaken a consciousness of, and a memory of and a desire towards, this particular phase on the part of the molecules which are being vibrated into it. So, for example, that a set of vibrations shall at once turn plain white and yolk of egg into the feathers, blood and bones of a chicken and, at the same time, make the mind of the embryo to be such or such as it is.

Protoplasm and Reproduction

The reason why the offspring of protoplasm progressed, and the offspring of nothing else does so, is that the viscid nature of protoplasm allows vibrations to last a very long time, and so very old vibrations get carried into any fragment that is broken off; whereas in the case of air and water, vibrations get soon effaced and only very recent vibrations get carried into the young air and the young water which are, therefore, born fully grown; they cannot grow any more nor can they decay till they are killed outright by something decomposing them. If protoplasm was more viscid it would not vibrate easily enough; if less, it would run away into the surrounding water.

Germs within Germs

When we say that the germ within the hen's egg remembers having made itself into a chicken on past occasions, or that each one of 100,000 salmon germs remembers to have made itself into a salmon (male or female) in the persons of the single pair of salmon its parents, do we intend that each single one of these germs was a witness of, and a concurring agent in, the development of the parent forms from their respective germs, and that each one of them therefore, was shut up within the parent germ, like a small box inside a big one?

If so, then the parent germ with its millions of brothers and sisters was in like manner enclosed within a grand-parental germ, and so on till we are driven to admit, after even a very few generations, that each ancestor has contained more germs than could be expressed by a number written in small numerals, beginning at St. Paul's and ending at Charing Cross. Mr. Darwin's provisional theory of pangenesis comes to something very like this, so far as it can be understood at all.

Therefore it will save trouble (and we should observe no other consideration) to say that the germs that unite to form any given sexually produced individual were not present in the germs, or with the germs, from which the parents sprang, but that they came into the parents' bodies at some later period.

We may perhaps find it convenient to account for their intimate acquaintance with the past history of the body into which they have been introduced by supposing that in virtue of assimilation they have acquired certain periodical rhythms already pre-existing in the parental bodies, and that the communication of the characteristics of these rhythms determines at once the physical and psychical development of the individual in a course as nearly like that of the parents as changed surroundings will allow.

For, according to my Life and Habit theory, everything in connection with embryonic development is referred to memory, and this involves that the thing remembering should have been present and an actor in the development which it is supposed to remember; but we have just settled that the germs which unite to form any individual, and which when united proceed to develop according to what I suppose to be their memory of their previous developments, were not participators in any previous development and cannot therefore remember it. They cannot remember even a single development, much less can they remember that infinite series of developments the recollection and epitomisation of which is a sine qua non for the unconsciousness which we note in normal development. I see no way of getting out of this difficulty so convenient as to say that a memory is the reproduction and recurrence of a rhythm communicated directly or indirectly from one substance to another, and that where a certain rhythm exists there is a certain stock of memories, whether the actual matter in which the rhythm now subsists was present with the matter in which it arose or not.

There is another little difficulty in the question whether the matter that I suppose introduced into the parents' bodies during their life- histories, and that goes to form the germs that afterwards become their offspring, is living or non-living. If living, then it has its own memories and life-histories which must be cancelled and undone before the assimilation and the becoming imbued with new rhythms can be complete. That is to say it must become as near non-living as anything can become.

Sooner or later, then, we get this introduced matter to be non-living (as we may call it) and the puzzle is how to get it living again. For we strenuously deny equivocal generation. When matter is living we contend that it can only have been begotten of other like living matter; we deny that it can have become living from non-living. Here, however, within the bodies of animals and vegetables we find equivocal generation a necessity; nor do I see any way out of it except by maintaining that nothing is ever either quite dead or quite alive, but that a little leaven of the one is always left in the other. For it would be as difficult to get the thing dead if it is once all alive, as alive if once all dead.

According to this view to beget offspring is to communicate to two pieces of protoplasm (which afterwards combine) certain rhythmic vibrations which, though too feeble to generate visible action until they receive accession of fresh similar rhythms from exterior objects, yet on receipt of such accession set the game of development going and maintain it. It will be observed that the rhythms supposed to be communicated to any germs are such as have been already repeatedly refreshed by rhythms from exterior objects in preceding generations, so that a consonance is rehearsed and pre-arranged, as it were, between the rhythm in the germ and those that in the normal course of its ulterior existence are likely to flow into it. If there is too serious a discord between inner and outer rhythms the organism dies.

Atoms and Fixed Laws

When people talk of atoms obeying fixed laws, they are either ascribing some kind of intelligence and free will to atoms or they are talking nonsense. There is no obedience unless there is at any rate a potentiality of disobeying.

No objection can lie to our supposing potential or elementary volition and consciousness to exist in atoms, on the score that their action would be less regular or uniform if they had free will than if they had not. By giving them free will we do no more than those who make them bound to obey fixed laws. They will be as certain to use their freedom of will only in particular ways as to be driven into those ways by obedience to fixed laws.

The little element of individual caprice (supposing we start with free will), or (supposing we start with necessity) the little element of stiffneckedness, both of which elements we find everywhere in nature, these are the things that prevent even the most reliable things from being absolutely reliable. It is they that form the point of contact between this universe and something else quite different in which none of those fundamental ideas obtain without which we cannot think at all. So we say that nitrous acid is more reliable than nitric for etching.

Atoms have a mind as much smaller and less complex than ours as their bodies are smaller and less complex.

Complex mind involves complex matter and vice versa. On the whole I think it would be most convenient to endow all atoms with a something of consciousness and volition, and to hold them to be pro tanto, living. We must suppose them able to remember and forget, i.e. to retain certain vibrations that have been once established—gradually to lose them and to receive others instead. We must suppose some more intelligent, versatile and of greater associative power than others.


All thinking is of disturbance, dynamical, a state of unrest tending towards equilibrium. It is all a mode of classifying and of criticising with a view of knowing whether it gives us, or is likely to give us, pleasure or no.


In the highest consciousness there is still unconsciousness, in the lowest unconsciousness there is still consciousness. If there is no consciousness there is no thing, or nothing. To understand perfectly would be to cease to understand at all.

It is in the essence of heaven that we are not to be thwarted or irritated, this involves absolute equilibrium and absolute equilibrium involves absolute unconsciousness. Christ is equilibrium—the not wanting anything, either more or less. Death also is equilibrium. But Christ is a more living kind of death than death is.



We cannot define either motion or matter, but we have certain rough and ready ideas concerning them which, right or wrong, we must make the best of without more words, for the chances are ten to one that attempted definition will fuzz more than it will clear.

Roughly, matter and motion are functions one of another, as are mind and matter; they are essentially concomitant with one another, and neither can vary but the other varies also. You cannot have a thing "matter" by itself which shall have no motion in it, nor yet a thing "motion" by itself which shall exist apart from matter; you must have both or neither. You can have matter moving much, or little, and in all conceivable ways; but you cannot have matter without any motion more than you can have motion without any matter that is moving.

Its states, its behaviour under varying circumstances, that is to say the characteristics of its motions, are all that we can cognise in respect of matter. We recognise certain varying states or conditions of matter and give one state one name, and another another, as though it were a man or a dog; but it is the state not the matter that we cognise, just as it is the man's moods and outward semblance that we alone note, while knowing nothing of the man. Of matter in its ultimate essence and apart from motion we know nothing whatever. As far as we are concerned there is no such thing: it has no existence: for de non apparentibus et non existentibus eadem est ratio.

It is a mistake, therefore, to speak about an "eternal unchangeable underlying substance" as I am afraid I did in the last pages of Luck or Cunning? but I am not going to be at the trouble of seeing. For, if the substance is eternal and unknowable and unchangeable, it is tantamount to nothing. Nothing can be nearer non-existence than eternal unknowableness and unchangeableness.

If, on the other hand, the substance changes, then it is not unknowable, or uncognisable, for by cognising its changes we cognise it. Changes are the only things that we can cognise. Besides, we cannot have substance changing without condition changing, and if we could we might as well ignore condition. Does it not seem as though, since the motions or states are all that we cognise, they should be all that we need take account of? Change of condition is change of substance. Then what do we want with substance? Why have two ideas when one will do?

I suppose it has all come about because there are so many tables and chairs and stones that appear not to be moving, and this gave us the idea of a solid substance without any motion in it.

How would it be to start with motion approximately patent, and motion approximately latent (absolute patency and absolute latency being unattainable), and lay down that motion latent as motion becomes patent as substance, or matter of chair-and-table order; and that when patent as motion it is latent as matter and substance?

I am only just recovering from severe influenza and have no doubt I have been writing nonsense.

Matter and Mind


People say we can conceive the existence of matter and the existence of mind. I doubt it. I doubt how far we have any definite conception of mind or of matter, pure and simple.

What is meant by conceiving a thing or understanding it? When we hear of a piece of matter instinct with mind, as protoplasm, for example, there certainly comes up before our closed eyes an idea, a picture which we imagine to bear some resemblance to the thing we are hearing of. But when we try to think of matter apart from every attribute of matter (and this I suspect comes ultimately to "apart from every attribute of mind") we get no image before our closed eyes—we realise nothing to ourselves. Perhaps we surreptitiously introduce some little attribute, and then we think we have conceived of matter pure and simple, but this I think is as far as we can go. The like holds good for mind: we must smuggle in a little matter before we get any definite idea at all.


Matter and mind are as heat and cold, as life and death, certainty and uncertainty, union and separateness. There is no absolute heat, life, certainty, union, nor is there any absolute cold, death, uncertainty or separateness.

We can conceive of no ultimate limit beyond which a thing cannot become either hotter or colder, there is no limit; there are degrees of heat and cold, but there is no heat so great that we cannot fancy its becoming a little hotter, that is we cannot fancy its not having still a few degrees of cold in it which can be extracted. Heat and cold are always relative to one another, they are never absolute. So with life and death, there is neither perfect life nor perfect death, but in the highest life there is some death and in the lowest death there is still some life. The fraction is so small that in practice it may and must be neglected; it is neglected, however, not as of right but as of grace, and the right to insist on it is never finally and indefeasibly waived.


An energy is a soul—a something working in us.

As we cannot imagine heat apart from something which is hot, nor motion without something that is moving, so we cannot imagine an energy, or working power, without matter through which it manifests itself.

On the other hand, we cannot imagine matter without thinking of it as capable of some kind of working power or energy—we cannot think of matter without thinking of it as in some way ensouled.


Matter and mind form one another, i.e. they give to one another the form in which we see them. They are the helpmeets to one another that cross each other and undo each other and, in the undoing, do and, in the doing, undo, and so see-saw ad infinitum.

Organic and Inorganic

Animals and plants cannot understand our business, so we have denied that they can understand their own. What we call inorganic matter cannot understand the animals' and plants' business, we have therefore denied that it can understand anything whatever.

What we call inorganic is not so really, but the organisation is too subtle for our senses or for any of those appliances with which we assist them. It is deducible however as a necessity by an exercise of the reasoning faculties.

People looked at glaciers for thousands of years before they found out that ice was a fluid, so it has taken them and will continue to take them not less before they see that the inorganic is not wholly inorganic.

The Power to make Mistakes

This is one of the criteria of life as we commonly think of it. If oxygen could go wrong and mistake some other gas for hydrogen and thus learn not to mistake it any more, we should say oxygen was alive. The older life is, the more unerring it becomes in respect of things about which it is conversant—the more like, in fact, it becomes to such a thing as the force of gravity, both as regards unerringness and unconsciousness.

Is life such a force as gravity in process of formation, and was gravity once—or rather, were things once liable to make mistakes on such a subject as gravity?

If any one will tell me what life is I will tell him whether the inorganic is alive or not.

The Omnipresence of Intelligence

A little while ago no one would admit that animals had intelligence. This is now conceded. At any rate, then, vegetables had no intelligence. This is being fast disputed. Even Darwin leans towards the view that they have intelligence. At any rate, then, the inorganic world has not got an intelligence. Even this is now being denied. Death is being defeated at all points. No sooner do we think we have got a bona fide barrier than it breaks down. The divisions between varieties, species, genus, all gone; between instinct and reason, gone; between animals and plants, gone; between man and the lower animals, gone; so, ere long, the division between organic and inorganic will go and will take with it the division between mind and matter.

The Super-Organic Kingdom

As the solid inorganic kingdom supervened upon the gaseous (vestiges of the old being, nevertheless, carried over into and still persisting in the new) and as the organic kingdom supervened upon the inorganic (vestiges of the old being, again, carried over into and still persisting in the new) so a third kingdom is now in process of development, the super-organic, of which we see the germs in the less practical and more emotional side of our nature.

Man, for example, is the only creature that interests himself in his own past, or forecasts his future to any considerable extent. This tendency I would see as the monad of a new regime—a regime that will be no more governed by the ideas and habits now prevailing among ourselves than we are by those still obtaining among stones or water. Nevertheless, if a man be shot out of a cannon, or fall from a great height, he is to all intents and purposes a mere stone. Place anything in circumstances entirely foreign to its immediate antecedents, and those antecedents become non-existent to it, it returns to what it was before they existed, to the last stage that it can recollect as at all analogous to its present.


Man is a substance, he knows not what, feeling, he knows not how, a rest and unrest that he can only in part distinguish. He is a substance feeling equilibrium or want of equilibrium; that is to say, he is a substance in a statical or dynamical condition and feeling the passage from one state into the other.

Feeling is an art and, like any other art, can be acquired by taking pains. The analogy between feelings and words is very close. Both have their foundation in volition and deal largely in convention; as we should not be word-ridden so neither should we be feeling-ridden; feelings can deceive us; they can lie; they can be used in a non- natural, artificial sense; they can be forced; they can carry us away; they can be restrained.

When the surroundings are familiar, we know the right feeling and feel it accordingly, or if "we" (that is the central government of our personality) do not feel it, the subordinate departmental personality, whose business it is, feels it in the usual way and then goes on to something else. When the surroundings are less familiar and the departmental personality cannot deal with them, the position is reported through the nervous system to the central government which is frequently at a loss to know what feeling to apply. Sometimes it happens to discern the right feeling and apply it, sometimes it hits upon an inappropriate one and is thus induced to proceed from solecism to solecism till the consequences lead to a crisis from which we recover and which, then becoming a leading case, forms one of the decisions on which our future action is based. Sometimes it applies a feeling that is too inappropriate, as when the position is too horribly novel for us to have had any experience that can guide the central government in knowing how to feel about it, and this results in a cessation of the effort involved in trying to feel. Hence we may hope that the most horrible apparent suffering is not felt beyond a certain point, but is passed through unconsciously under a natural, automatic anaesthetic—the unconsciousness, in extreme cases, leading to death.

It is generally held that animals feel; it will soon be generally held that plants feel; after that it will be held that stones also can feel. For, as no matter is so organic that there is not some of the inorganic in it, so, also, no matter is so inorganic that there is not some of the organic in it. We know that we have nerves and that we feel, it does not follow that other things do not feel because they have no nerves—it only follows that they do not feel as we do. The difference between the organic and the inorganic kingdoms will some day be seen to lie in the greater power of discriminating its feelings which is possessed by the former. Both are made of the same universal substance but, in the case of the organic world, this substance is able to feel more fully and discreetly and to show us that it feels.

Animals and plants, as they advance in the scale of life differentiate their feelings more and more highly; they record them better and recognise them more readily. They get to know what they are doing and feeling, not step by step only, nor sentence by sentence, but in long flights, forming chapters and whole books of action and sensation. The difference as regards feeling between man and the lower animals is one of degree and not of kind. The inorganic is less expert in differentiating its feelings, therefore its memory of them must be less enduring; it cannot recognise what it could scarcely cognise. One might as well for some purposes, perhaps, say at once, as indeed people generally do for most purposes, that the inorganic does not feel; nevertheless the somewhat periphrastic way of putting it, by saying that the inorganic feels but does not know, or knows only very slightly, how to differentiate its feelings, has the advantage of expressing the fact that feeling depends upon differentiation and sense of relation inter se of the things differentiated—a fact which, if never expressed, is apt to be lost sight of.

As, therefore, human discrimination is to that of the lower animals, so the discrimination of the lower animals and plants is to that of inorganic things. In each case it is greater discriminating power (and this is mental power) that underlies the differentiation, but in no case can there be a denial of mental power altogether.

Opinion and Matter

Moral force and material force do pass into one another; a conflict of opinion often ends in a fight. Putting it the other way, there is no material conflict without attendant clash of opinion. Opinion and matter act and react as do all things else; they come up hand in hand out of something which is both and neither, but, so far as we can catch sight of either first on our mental horizon, it is opinion that is the prior of the two.

Moral Influence

The caracal lies on a shelf in its den in the Zoological Gardens quietly licking its fur. I go up and stand near it. It makes a face at me. I come a little nearer. It makes a worse face and raises itself up on its haunches. I stand and look. It jumps down from its shelf and makes as if it intended to go for me. I move back. The caracal has exerted a moral influence over me which I have been unable to resist.

Moral influence means persuading another that one can make that other more uncomfortable than that other can make oneself.

Mental and Physical Pabulum

When we go up to the shelves in the reading-room of the British Museum, how like it is to wasps flying up and down an apricot tree that is trained against a wall, or cattle coming down to drink at a pool!

Eating and Proselytising

All eating is a kind of proselytising—a kind of dogmatising—a maintaining that the eater's way of looking at things is better than the eatee's. We convert the food, or try to do so, to our own way of thinking, and, when it sticks to its own opinion and refuses to be converted, we say it disagrees with us. An animal that refuses to let another eat it has the courage of its convictions and, if it gets eaten, dies a martyr to them. So we can only proselytise fresh meat, the convictions of putrid meat begin to be too strong for us.

It is good for a man that he should not be thwarted—that he should have his own way as far, and with as little difficulty, as possible. Cooking is good because it makes matters easier by unsettling the meat's mind and preparing it for new ideas. All food must first be prepared for us by animals and plants, or we cannot assimilate it; and so thoughts are more easily assimilated that have been already digested by other minds. A man should avoid converse with things that have been stunted or starved, and should not eat such meat as has been overdriven or underfed or afflicted with disease, nor should he touch fruit or vegetables that have not been well grown.

Sitting quiet after eating is akin to sitting still during divine service so as not to disturb the congregation. We are catechising and converting our proselytes, and there should be no row. As we get older we must digest more quietly still, our appetite is less, our gastric juices are no longer so eloquent, they have lost that cogent fluency which carried away all that came in contact with it. They have become sluggish and unconciliatory. This is what happens to any man when he suffers from an attack of indigestion.


Or, indeed, any other sickness is the inarticulate expression of the pain we feel on seeing a proselyte escape us just as we were on the point of converting it.


This, as I have said above, may be due to the naughtiness of the stiff-necked things that we have eaten, or to the poverty of our own arguments; but it may also arise from an attempt on the part of the stomach to be too damned clever, and to depart from precedent inconsiderately. The healthy stomach is nothing if not conservative. Few radicals have good digestions.

Assimilation and Persecution

We cannot get rid of persecution; if we feel at all we must persecute something; the mere acts of feeding and growing are acts of persecution. Our aim should be to persecute nothing but such things as are absolutely incapable of resisting us. Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly terms with the victims he intends to eat until he eats them.

Matter Infinitely Subdivisible

We must suppose it to be so, but it does not follow that we can know anything about it if it is divided into pieces smaller than a certain size; and, if we can know nothing about it when so divided, then, qua us, it has no existence and therefore matter, qua us, is not infinitely subdivisible.


We often say that things differ in degree but not in kind, as though there were a fixed line at which degree ends and kind begins. There is no such line. All differences resolve themselves into differences of degree. Everything can in the end be united with everything by easy stages if a way long enough and round-about enough be taken. Hence to the metaphysician everything will become one, being united with everything else by degrees so subtle that there is no escape from seeing the universe as a single whole. This in theory; but in practice it would get us into such a mess that we had better go on talking about differences of kind as well as of degree.

Union and Separation

In the closest union there is still some separate existence of component parts; in the most complete separation there is still a reminiscence of union. When they are most separate, the atoms seem to bear in mind that they may one day have to come together again; when most united, they still remember that they may come to fall out some day and do not give each other their full, unreserved confidence.

The difficulty is how to get unity and separateness at one and the same time. The two main ideas underlying all action are desire for closer unity and desire for more separateness. Nature is the puzzled sense of a vast number of things which feel they are in an illogical position and should be more either of one thing or the other than they are. So they will first be this and then that, and act and re- act and keep the balance as near equal as they can, yet they know all the time that it isn't right and, as they incline one way or the other, they will love or hate.

When we love, we draw what we love closer to us; when we hate a thing, we fling it away from us. All disruption and dissolution is a mode of hating; and all that we call affinity is a mode of loving.

The puzzle which puzzles every atom is the puzzle which puzzles ourselves—a conflict of duties—our duty towards ourselves, and our duty as members of a body politic. It is swayed by its sense of being a separate thing—of having a life to itself which nothing can share; it is also swayed by the feeling that, in spite of this, it is only part of an individuality which is greater than itself and which absorbs it. Its action will vary with the predominance of either of these two states of opinion.

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