Sir Oliver Lodge

Sir Oliver Lodge F.R.S.

President of the Radio Society, Physical Society, British Society, Society for Psychical Research and Rontgen Society. Professor of Physics in the University of Liverpool, Principal of the University of Birmingham. Knighted. Sent a radio message one year before Marconi.

What Science Means for Man

Life, Mind and Matter

 - Oliver Lodge -

          THERE ARE three things partly within and partly beyond human reach -Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. All are necessary for completeness, and a Being in whom they all reach perfection would be what we call Divine. But with our limited capacities few of us can do more than aim at one of them; though, if we are able to retain the open mind, we may hope that by faithful effort in one direction something of the two others may be "added unto us."

The Aim of Science

The direct aim of Science is Truth, and the temptation of its devotees is to concentrate too narrowly on this one aim and lose sight of the wealth of existence which gives all the meaning and value to bare fact; thus gaining but a purblind view of the universe, in spite of a large accumulation of knowledge which is accurate as far as it goes, but so incomplete as regards the totality of things as to be liable to mislead.

But such narrow students of science are not Philosophers. They may pose as such occasionally, and be loud in the negation of everything outside their own range, but true philosophy must take a wider view, it must open its eves in every direction, and seek to comprehend the length and breadth and depth and height, and to interpret something of the great Reality which passeth knowledge.

Only so can the man of science escape the narrowness of specialisation; he must keep his mind open to the Universe in every direction, if he is to perceive something of the fullness of existence. But to Truth he must be faithful. That is his peculiar quest, and no slackness in making sure of his facts can be permitted to the scientific man. Narrowness of range is a pity, but it is pardonable; blasphemy against the spirit of Truth can never be forgiven.

The particular aspect of the Universe which most impresses the man of science, at any one epoch, is liable to vary. Existence is so multifarious and bewildering in its scope and variety that not only has humanity to make distinctions and contemplate things seriatim, but investigators must divide themselves into groups, and each group attend specially to its own department.

In this way Science has become split up into a number of sections, and the workers in one section are often ignorant of what the others are doing. A wide philosophy under these circumstances is impossible. It is only by getting out of our groove, from time to time, and attempting a survey, that we can assist the philosophers, who perhaps have never entered a groove at all. They seem to us to be too thinly supplied with facts, whereas we are apt to be overburdened with a lop-sided load of them. Hence Philosophers and Scientific men often fail to understand each other, and sometimes quarrel.

Outlook on the World

Looking round, then, on existence, with eyes clouded a little by special study but as widely open as we can get them, what do we see?

An unbounded universe of space, containing spherical masses of matter, some hot and glowing, some dark and cool, distributed, not at random, but obedient to law and order, with motions that can be formulated and positions that can be more or less predicted. Examining Matter more closely, with the help of instruments of precision, we find it consists of atoms of known size and behaviour, and we find also that these ultimate atoms of matter are not really ultimate but are composed of something else, something that we call electricity. And this electricity also exists in little specks, which appear to imitate the larger masses in their regular motions, and which display a region of beautiful law and order in the very interior of the atom. Then when we come to investigate the intermediate region of apparently empty space we find that it is not empty, but contains a something that welds all the separate fragments of matter into a cosmic whole, and also that it carries vibrations and transmits force from one to another. And all this study of matter and ether, with its extraordinary ramifications, belongs to the science of Physics, or, as it used to be called, Natural Philosophy.

The laws of motion of the particles and masses of matter are so elaborate that they require for their elucidation and study an abstract science of form and number which we call Mathematics. With its aid a vast theoretical structure can be built upon a comparatively small basis of actual experience. The process is a wonderful example of brain-power, but it is risky; mistakes and oversights may readily be made; and accordingly every deduction must be brought to the test of experiment and observation, and rigorously verified. The two fundamental branches of mathematics relate to Number and Form; that is to say, Arithmetic and Geometry. Algebra is an auxiliary art or method of dealing with problems which otherwise would be too difficult.

Further, we can study the grouping of the atoms together, the patterns they make when they combine into molecules, and the complicated properties characteristic of the substances which their groupings form. So men have built up that great branch of Natural Philosophy, which is known as the science of Chemistry.

Certain collocations of these complicated molecules give expression to a new emergence of Reality, for they are able to form the physical basis of living creatures or organisms. These are the seat of chemical and physical processes, but we cannot deal adequately with living creatures, e.g. in their behaviour and development, by means of chemical and physical formulae and concepts alone.

It appears that they are controlled and utilised by something that we call "Life" or else, as some desire or prefer to express it, the complexity of their molecular structure enables them to simulate such a control. Thus arises the science of Biology. Under the influence of life the available energy of the world, which all arrives from the sun, is guided and directed so as to produce structures such as would never be produced by unaided Physics and Chemistry (for instance, sea shells, honeycombs, leaves, and birds' nests), though all that goes on is wholly obedient to the laws of ether and matter. But those laws are supplemented by the activity of something that we call life; and the result is a world of plants and animals, flowers and birds, an extraordinary world of beauty and animation and instinct, and something surely akin to joy.

Evolution of Mind

A further development makes this manifest, for life gradually evolves into mind, and through Mind we know at first hand, and from our own experience, that joy and sorrow, pain and grief, love and hate, aye, and thought and design, will and desire, feeling and aspiration, hope and faith, are realities certainly existent in the totality of things, however they can be accounted for. So comes into being the science of Psychology, and other developments, up to those gropings of the spirit of man that we call, on their practical side, Religion, and in their theoretical aspect, Theology.

These may be regarded as the major sciences, but there are many minor ones having to do with special portions 'of the Universe: like Geology and Geography and Meteorology, all related to the earth; others to do with man, like History and Sociology and Anthropology and Archaeology. And, of course, Biology has many branches, such as Physiology-the mode of working of the animal or vegetable organism and Anatomy, its structure; also Zoology and Botany, dealing with the classification and habits of living things. Then, again, others have to do with practical applications, like Engineering and Medicine and Agriculture. The abstract science of number and form called Mathematics we have already referred to; and the separate branch of physics called Astronomy must be mentioned.

Does, then, Science cover the whole of existence? By no means. There is the region of Art and Literature, and the whole realm of the good and the beautiful, which lie outside its scope. As human beings we have the right of entry; as men of science we must ask permission to enter. If we ignore this entire realm, we suffer, and our philosophy is little better than dry bones - a skeleton which others may clothe with flesh and wake to life. (Readers who desire a more eloquent exposition of the relation between science and the rest of existence should read the Introduction to Science in the Home University Library, by Prof. J. Arthur Thomson.)

The human spirit is more at home in Poetry and Literature and Art than it is in the gropings and cautious investigations of Science. It is able to leap to conclusions by intuition. It likes to disport itself with full and untrammelled imagination. It is privileged to enjoy, and so far as may be to produce, beauty, in music, in painting, in architecture, in poetry. And its achievements in these directions-Sonatas, Parthenons, and Divine Comedies - are of supreme interest to humanity, and rank among the highest creations of man. For in this region it is not discovery that is arrived at, but veritable creation-the production of some work of art that would not otherwise have come into existence, and before which the man of science can only bow his head. Men like Shakespeare, Dante, Michael Angelo, Beethoven, love and perceive the principles of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty, all three; and have thus caught some glimpse of the Unchangeable Reality.

There is no antagonism between poetry and science. There should be no antagonism between religion and science. There are many ways of arriving at Truth, the scientific path is but one.

Beauty and Truth

We have said that the conscientious pursuit of Truth may perhaps lead us to some apprehension of Goodness and Beauty, too. So it may be that the reverent pursuit of Beauty will lead us intuitively into the realm of Truth - as Keats more concisely said And what the earnest following of the Good may do for man has been shown by the achievements and inspiration of the saints; the full meaning of which we are as yet hardly competent to judge. The mind of man is enriched from many diverse channels; the feet of man are guided up the ascent by many diverse paths. The aims are different, the goal may be one. All roads lead to Rome, and all avenues conscientiously explored lead in the direction of the Truth. For the Truth is larger than what any man deems possible, and no one man or group of men has any monopoly over that divine fragrance. Hidden and rare and yet dazzling and splendid, she emerges from her enwrappings, more beautiful than ever we had imagined and grander than anything we had conceived.

Relation Between Life, Mind and Matter

Life, Mind and Will

These things being so, how can we acquiesce in the materialism of science, or justify the scientific man in excluding from his attention so many aspects of the universe and attending to the laws of forces and the motion of matter? The answer is, because that is his proper business, and because the whole of nature is obedient to these fundamental laws, no matter what other laws it may be also obedient to. Exclusion from attention is perfectly legitimate if it assists the business in hand, and has no sort of connection with a materialistic philosophy which affirms some things and denies others. Thus Laplace, when catechised by Napoleon as to the place of God in his mathematical System of the World, was right in replying that he did not need that hypothesis, because he was working out his theory in accordance with the laws of matter and force alone. And a splendid achievement it was! Not complete as a philosophy of existence - certainly not. Nor was Newton's still greater theory, because earlier and more fundamental, complete philosophically; and, indeed, he felt this so strongly that he diverges and ends his book with a reasoned assertion of his profound faith in a Divine Being. Nevertheless, he had reduced the heavens to law and order on purely mathematical lines; and he went further and uttered the pregnant aspiration, which since his time has been so extensively fulfilled, that all the rest of physics-everything depending on the motion of the atoms and of the electrons, and upon all the intricacies of molecular constitution and movement-might be similarly dealt with: "WOULD THAT THE REST OF THE PHENOMENA OF NATURE COULD BE DEDUCED BY A LIKE KIND OF REASONING FROM MECHANICAL PRINCIPLES!" Yet he was a Theist of the most profound conviction. Whether Laplace was, or was not, I do not know; but it does not matter: his achievement was not in philosophy or theology, but in mathematical science. And he made the famous supposition that, given certain data and sufficiently superhuman mathematical skill-so that the path of every atom could be followed, its past orbit ascertained, and its future orbit predicted - all the phenomena of nature past and future could be calculated out and would inevitably follow.

So they would if the universe were solely mechanical, and if there were not the element of life, mind, and will, in addition. The introduction of self-will or freewill shatters the completeness of every purely mechanical scheme. Predictions can only hold good in the absence of a disturbing cause; and the predictions of Laplace's Calculator would be valid only in the region of inanimate matter, and perhaps in the regions animated by the lower forms of life.

How early spontaneous activity occurs, in the ascending grade of existence, is a matter for discussion; but in my view the path of a common fly, as it sports with others round a pendant from the ceiling, is not likely to be deducible from any physical data on purely mechanical principles. And, if that is so, it means that an incalculable element introduces itself very low down in the scale of animal life, even though physical or mechanical principles alone dominate the vegetable kingdom which some may doubt.

Life does not break any of the laws of chemistry and physics. It employs them all. But it supplements them. It directs energy into new channels. It cuts through an isthmus and unites two oceans. It builds a viaduct and unites two countries. It plants a forest, or floods a desert, and alters a climate. It can divert rivers, and tunnel through mountains; it has developed the manifold structure of civilisation. And, lower down in the scale, it collects wax and builds a honeycomb; it consumes corn and produces a feather - a marvellous structure when closely examined; it lives on a cabbage leaf and develops the beauty of a butterfly's wing.

So also, and par excellence, the spirit of man rises superior to bodily and material trammels, and disports itself in the region of intellect and imagination and poesy. Things beyond experience become food for its contemplation, and it feels itself akin to the infinite and the eternal.

Nature of Life

What, then, do we know about this organising principle that we call "life"? Exceedingly little.

The living organism was shown by Pasteur to be responsible for a good many processes which up to his time had been regarded as merely chemical. Chemical they still are, but guided in curious fashion; much as similar chemical changes may be guided and contrived by the skill of a chemist in his laboratory. Unconsciously, through the agency of microscopic forms of life, fermentation and digestive operations are carried on, agriculture is aided or rendered possible, and diseases are both produced and combated.

One must not dogmatise on what has been and probably is a controversial subject, but the possibility that "life" may be a real and basal form of existence, and therefore persistent, is a likelihood to be borne in mind. The idea may at least serve as a clue to investigation, and some day may bear fruit; at present it is no better than a working hypothesis. It is one that on the whole commends itself to me; for I conceive that though we only know of life as a function of terrestrial matter, yet it prestimably has another aspect, too. And I say this because I see it arriving and leaving - animating matter for a time and then quitting it - just as I see dew appearing and disappearing on a plate. Apart from a solid surface, dew cannot exist, as such; and to a savage it might seem to spring into and to go out of existence - to be an exudation from the solid, and dependent wholly upon it. But we happen to know more about dew than that, we know that it has a permanent and continuous existence, in an imperceptible, intangible, supersensual form, though its visible manifestation in the form of mist or dew is temporary and evanescent. Perhaps it is permissible to trace in that elementary phenomenon some superficial analogy to an incarnation.

So, also, when we come to the higher manifestation of life that we call mind and will. These things are not energy, but they utilise energy, and direct it into prearranged channels. They aim and fire, as it were. They discriminate between friend and foe, they attend to things far beyond the scope of material force; they have ulterior motives, and are influenced by anticipation of the future. The blind energy of an explosive is liberated, and neither increased nor diminished; but its manner of application, and therefore the result attained, can be a subject of consideration and can be preordained.

The Essence of Mind

Matter possesses energy, in the form of persistent motion, and it is propelled by force; but neither matter nor energy is endowed with the power of automatic guidance and control. Energy has no directing factor, it has no element or ingredient of direction, it possesses magnitude only. direction, it possesses magnitude only In that respect energy is like matter. It is also conserved like matter; and it is amenable to directing influences, which are applied to it indirectly through the agency of material force. To change the course of a fragment of matter, a force must act upon it. Matter itself has no spontaneity, it is entirely inert. Inorganic matter is impelled solely by pressure from behind; to everything in front it is. perfectly blind; it is not influenced by the future; nor does it follow a preconceived course, nor seek a predetermined end.

An organism animated by mind is in a totally different case. The intangible influences of hunger, of a call, of perception of something ahead, are then the dominant feature. An intelligent animal which is being pushed is in an ignominious position and resents it; when led, or when voluntarily obeying a call, it is in its rightful attitude.

The essence of mind is design and purpose. There are some who deny that there is any design or purpose in the universe at all! But that cannot possibly be maintained when humanity itself possesses these attributes. Is it not more reasonable to say that just as we are conscious of the power of guidance, in ourselves, so guidance and intelligent control must be an element running through the universe, and may be incorporated even in material things?

Matter - the Vehicle of Mind

Matter is the instrument and vehicle of mind; incarnation is the mode by which mind interacts with the present familiar scheme of things; and thereby the element of guidance is supplied. It can, in fact, be embodied in an intelligent arrangement of inert inorganic matter. Even a mountain path is a concrete expression of something human; it is able to guide, and it has direction; it is a manifestation of intelligence, it leads to a destination, though itself inert.

Direction is not a function of energy. The energy of sound from an organ is supplied by the bellows, which may be worked by a mechanical engine; but the melody and harmony, the sequence and coexistence of notes, are determined by the dominating mind of the musician; not necessarily by that of the executant, for the composer's mind may be expressed to some extent even by a pianola. The music may be said to be incarnate in the roll of paper which is ready to be passed through the instrument. So, also can the conception of any artist receive material embodiment in his work, and if a picture or a beautiful building is destroyed it can be made to rise again from its ashes, provided the painter or the architect still lives. In other words, his thought can receive a fresh embodiment; and a perception of beautiful form shall hereafter, in a kindred spirit, arouse similar ideas.

There is thus a truth in materialism, but it is not a truth readily to be apprehended and formulated. Matter may become imbued with life, and full of vital association; something of the personality of a departed owner seems to cling sometimes about an old garmen - its curves and folds can suggest him vividly to our recollection. The tattered colours of a regiment are sometimes thought worthy to be hung in a church. They are a symbol truly, but they may be something more. I have reason to believe that a trace of individuality can cling about terrestrial objects in a vague and almost imperceptible fashion, yet to a degree sufficient to enable those traces to be detected by persons with suitable faculties. There is a deep truth in materialism and it is the foundation of the material parts of worship - sacraments and the like. It is possible to exaggerate their efficacy, but it is also possible to ignore it too completely. The whole universe is metrical, everything is a question of degree. A property like radio-activity or magnetism, discovered conspicuously in one form of matter, turns out to be possessed by matter of many kinds, though to very varying extent.

So it would appear to be with the power possessed by matter to incarnate and display mind.

Grades of Incarnation

There are grades of incarnation: the most thorough kind is that illustrated by our bodies; in them we are incarnate, but probably riot even in that case is the incarnation complete. It is quite credible that our whole and entire personality is never terrestrially manifest. This, indeed, is part of the doctrine of "the subliminal self."

There are grades of incarnation. Some of the personality of an Old Master is locked up in a painting; and whoever willfully destroys a great picture is guilty of something akin to murder, namely, the premature and violent separation of soul and body. Some of the soul of a musician can be occluded in a piece of manuscript, to be deciphered thereafter by a perceptive mind. Matter is the vehicle of mind, but it is dominated and transcended by it. A painting is held together by the cohesive forces among the molecules of its pigments, and if those forces rebelled or turned repulsive the picture would be disintegrated and destroyed; yet those forces did not make the picture. A cathedral is held together by inorganic forces, and it was built in obedience to them, but they do not explain it. It may owe its existence and design to the thought of someone who never touched a stone, or even of someone who was dead before it was begun. In its symbolism represents One who was executed many centuries ago. Death and Time are far from dominant.

Are we so sure that when we truly attribute a sunset, or the moonlight rippling on a lake, to the chemical and physical action of material forces - to the vibrations of matter and ether as we know them - we have exhausted the whole truth of things? Many a thinker, brooding over the phenomena of Nature, has felt that they represent the thoughts of adominating unknown Mind partially incarnate in it all.

Other articles by Oliver Lodge

In Memory of Prof. Frederic W. H. Myers

Psychic Science

The Mode of Future Existence

The Possibility of Survival from a Scientific Point of View

The Mechanism of Survival

Problems Raised by the Idea of Survival

On the Asserted Difficulty of the Spiritualistic Hypothesis from a Scientific Point of View
Do We Survive?

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Some parts 2003