Page images
PDF
EPUB

of such impressions we cannot, of course, pronounce with certainty. But, assuming that communication between mind-structures is possible, there is no reason why communication should not take place between embodied and unembodied mind-structures; and some such supposition seems to me a possible explanation of a very puzzling class of so-called spiritual phenomena. I must observe that in speaking of spiritual phenomena I exclude all the supernatural associations of the term, and refer only to certain phenomena of consciousness and volition, which are not the less orderly because they are imperfectly understood.

In spite of the ridicule which has been thrown upon the Society for Psychical Research, I think that, after criticism has done its worst, and cleared away the more doubtful parts of the mass of information collected, there still remains a considerable residue of unexplained matter, the facts of which seem to be conclusively established. Some forms of telepathy are good instances of what I mean, and on the current theories of the character of mind these present a perfectly hopeless problem. If mind be non-material, then every act of perception--say my perception of the inkstand before me-is a non-material interpretation of certain material changes in my brain. And how such a non-material interpretation can be transferred across the Atlantic (or, for the matter of that, across the room), and presented as an object to the consciousness of some one else, is extremely difficult to understand. But half the difficulty disappears if we regard mind as a material structure situated in ap environment of mindstuff and mind-structures. This combination of organic structures and the raw material of which they are composed may be regarded as analogous to the combination of nerves and neuroglia, and may possibly resemble it in some of its properties. Through a mindstuff medium of such a kind as I have suggested mental states might well be transmitted from one consciousness to another. Are we, then, to suppose that space is perpetually traversed by conscious ideas hurrying to and fro ? By no means. The changes or impressions produced on the transmitting medium by the transmitted idea certainly need not be faithful reproductions of that idea as present to the consciousness at either end of the chain of transmission. Telephony supplies us with an excellent analogy. The spoken words produce waves in the air, which produce vibrations in the plate, which by a magnetic contrivance sets up a corresponding electric action in the wire, which in its turn produces vibrations in the hearing plate at the other end of the telephone, which again produce air-waves, which finally render up to the hearer the words originally spoken. Here there are words at each end of the chain, but assuredly none in the middle ; and a like explanation may apply to the transmission of ideas: How this mental chain becomes established is less easy to determine, but the

[ocr errors]

simpler realms of science offer some helpful suggestions. Chemical affinity is fully as mysterious as any of the seeming mental affinities, which are either dismissed with ridicule, or regarded with superstitious awe. Chemical affinity is, in effect, a state of rapport which binds distinct molecules into a unity, but the nature of the combining power is quite beyond our ken. Yet the belief in chemical affinity is not usually regarded as impious or absurd, and there is no valid reasou why a belief in mental affinity-a belief to which some of the phenomena of hypnotism seem to point directly-should be treated worse.

We now have to consider what is the composition of the human soul. The difficulty of this is very great, because, so far as can be judged, we are in the first stage of 'egohood.' We have no past experience por the possibility of past experience to go back upon. We have seen that the ego’ is a mental whole of some sort, but the question is, wherein precisely does its unity consist ? On the one hand, the whole of our mental equipment seems to form part of our present personality. On the other hand, it seems incompatible with any considerable progress in future stages of our existence that the greater part of this equipment should be an essential part of the

ego. This question belongs in a special degree to theology, but theology does not help us much to a solution of the difficulty. By theologians as by most people the soul is identified somehow with our personality. How much then of the individual personality is supposed to go to heaven or to hell ? Does the whole of the mental equipment, good and bad, noble qualities and unholy passions, follow the soul to its bereafter ? Surely not. But if not, and something has to be stripped off, how and where are we to draw the line ? If, on the other hand, the soul is something distinct from all our mental equipment except the sense of self, are we not confronted by the incomprehensible notion of a personality without any attributes ?

Perhaps, however, the difficulties of the question really spring from a misconception of the true nature of these attributes. The components of our mental equipment—appetites, aversions, feelings, tastes, and qualities generally—are not absolute but relative exist

Without going too deeply into the psychology of the matter, I think they may be correctly described as mental states, or capacities for mental states. Hunger and thirst, for instance, are states of consciousness which arise in response to the stimuli of physical necessities. Unless consciousness were capable of responding to such stimuli, hunger and thirst wonld be unknown, and our bodies might perish from inanition. A similar, though, of course, not identical, account must be given of love, anger, selfishness, benevolence, sight, smell, taste, and so forth. All alike either conduce to some present utility to ourselves, or are survivals from some obsolete utility in the past. But all alike are mental states produced in consciousness by the

ences.

stimuli of our environment, and as such are not absolute, but relative; they are not inherent and necessary elements of the soul, but are the joint products of consciousness and environment, and will disappear or become modified by the alteration of either of these.

If this be so, then our present qualities will not cling to us unaltered in any future existence, unless the conditions of such an existence be identical with those which surround us here; and this we ought not to expect. Therefore, the only part of our personality that can survive into the future is the self-conscious mind-structure, denuded of its present positive qualities, but retaining its capacities for response and its structural predispositions to certain kinds of response; and this only is the true soul. From the remote past the development of the mind-structure on its upward path has been a process

of modification by its environment, and if soul-evolution continues at all, similar fashioning influences must take up the task. In a new and higher environment, some of the responsive capacities and predispositions which the human mind-structure now possesses will disappear from disuse, while new ones will be evolved by necessity. And thus the soul will pass onward and upward through purer and nobler stages of existence, till personal perfection be attained, or perhaps personality itself be merged in something which is higher.

These speculations have now carried us from before the cradle to beyond the grave, and I must return within the bounds of my present inquiry to some objections not yet fully dealt with.

I have implicitly touched on some of the chief difficulties which encounter the supposition of a non-material soul in remarking on the facts of heredity, and the concomitant variations of mental power with cerebral growth and complexity. I will here add another. If mind is non-material, it must be independent of space. It cannot matter to an immaterial something whether its locality (if, indeed, local position can be predicated of such an entity) be large or small. Yet, speaking generally, we find not only that the mind shows variations in power with the size and complexity of the brain, but also that any given mind becomes incapable of operating at all, or operating properly, under sufficient pressure upon the cortex. How, then, can the mind be something independent of spatial conditions; in short, how can it be immaterial ? It

may be said-indeed it is said, expressly or implicitly, by what I may call orthodox evolutionism—that the soul may be regarded as a structural product of evolution, educed in the orderly course of natural law, without being regarded as a material product. Mind, it is said, is in matter, bui not of matter. So far as man is concerned, it is indeed limited by material conditions; its operations correspond strictly with material modifications in its physical organ, the brain, and depend on laws which are the counterparts or correlates of the laws of matter. But, nevertheless, it is in itself something distinct

from matter; its unity is a mental, not a physical, cohesion, and as a structure it is neither material nor in any way partaking of matter.

I do not say that this account is impossible, but I do say that it is beyond the possibility of conception, and I say further that appearances are against it. It may be, indeed, that mind is a complex whose nature is beyond the grasp of our intelligence, but I dissent from this view, not because it is inconceivable, but because the weight of evidence is opposed to it. The dependence of mind (of course, I am speaking only of mind as known to us) on material conditions is admitted ; the correspondence of its laws to physical laws is also admitted. Accordingly, when we find ourselves in the presence of a something which requires for its operations space, cohesion of nervetissue, nutriment for and certain chemical conditions of this tissue ; and when we further find that the laws of its operations are linked generally with the laws of matter, then I say that the balance of probability favours the conclusion that this something is itself matter, and not any mysterious analogue of matter. Nor is this conclusion the least affected by the mere fact that we cannot lay our finger upon mind, for the same objection would then extend to such forms of matter as ether, which is quite inaccessible to us, though its materiality is never questioned.

Any theory which makes the soul material has to encounter the repugnance which is felt to any attempted fusion between spirit and matter. Matter is commonly regarded as something mean and degraded. Plotinus described it as a deep darkness, and identified it with evil. The epithet 'material' is often used as a term of reproach ; and a materialist thinker is still considered by many to be a sort of moral pariah.20 This view of matter has no special claims to admiration, and it certainly is not, as some seem to think, a sacred and universal instinct of humanity. The earliest philosophers were hylozoists, i.e., they placed the ultimate source of the universe in some form of life-endowed or spirit-endowed matter. Even the world-ordering intelligence of Anaxagoras was only the finest and purest' form of matter. But this original unity split up later into a dualism, which constantly tended to the exaltation of mind and the degradation of matter, and culminated in the Alexandrine schools, whence it was absorbed by theology.

But, quite apart from the esteem in which matter may be held, the notion of spirit is open to serious objection. Spirit, as ordinarily used, has no intelligible content whatever, and apart from some connection with matter it is absolutely inconceivable. As a name for some of the mental activities manifested in matter, spirit or spirituality may do well enough, but as an independent immaterial existence it is quite unintelligible. I do not say that because we cannot conceive spirit as an independent entity, therefore it cannot possibly so exist; but I do say that it is idle and misleading to treat it in discussion as if it were a known and intelligible existence.

20 Professor Fiske mentions a case of a theologic'.l lecturer on Positivism, who informed his audience that materialists were men who led licentious lives. It would be hard,' he observes, 'to find words strong enough to characterise the villany of such misrepresentations . were they not obviously the product of extreme slovenliness of thinking, joined with culpable carelessness of assertion.' --- Cosmic Philosophy, vol. ii. p. 433.

It seems, then, that in dealing with the soul we have only two courses before us.

We may pronounce the soul to be pure spirit, but then we must remove it forthwith to the realm of the unknowable; or we may retain it within the realm of things knowable, but then we must treat it as something in the nature of matter.

But we are not yet at the end of our difficulties. For it may be said that if such a dualism as that of Matter and Spirit, wherein one factor is known and the other unknowable, be illegitimate, the objection is not really disposed of by introducing spirit under another name, i.e. mindstuff, and calling this material; and that such a monism is purely fictitious and unable to withstand the first touch of analysis. It may further be urged that if unknowableness be a fatal objection to spirit (so far as discussion is concerned), the same objection really extends to matter also. No doubt we know matter phenomenally as a state of our consciousness, but as a state of our consciousness only, and commonplace as it may seem to us, we are yet unable to give any intelligible account of it in itself. Are we to regard it as absolutely solid ? Then motion must be impossible. Is it on the other hand porous ? Then how does it cohere? If to explain cohesion we introduce attraction between the atoms of matter, we have next to explain what this attraction is. If it is material, all the difficulties of matter attach to it. If it is nonmaterial, it is not to be distinguished from spirit. Again, the very notion of atoms is inconceivable: for we cannot imagine anything hard enough to resist compression by infinite force, nor anything so small that it cannot conceivably be divided. Thus it seems that, strive as we may, we cannot get rid of the dualism that is inherent in Nature; and that whether we describe this dualism as Matter and Spirit, Matter and Mind, Matter and Force, makes no difference at all.

This indictment looks formidable, but I think that its strength really depends on a mistaken view of matter. I have already said that the current distinction between matter and force must be taken as provisional only, and I shall attempt to show shortly why it is invalid.

We have seen that we cannot abolish dualism by absorbing force into matter, but it may be found possible to reach the desired unity hy referring matter to force. As I have just pointed out, though matter is apparently a self-evident existence, our notions of it, when analysed, lead only to hopeless contradictions. It may be well, therefore, to unravel our notions to their head, and detect, if we can,

« PreviousContinue »