Book: "Raymond or Life and Death"

Author: Sir Oliver Lodge FRS

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- (Part 3) - Chapter 9 - Life and Death -

Life and Consciousness


          THE limitation of scope which eminent Professors of a certain school of modern science have laid down for themselves is forcibly expressed by one of the ablest of their champions thus:

"No sane man has ever pretended, since science became a definite body of doctrine, that we know or ever can hope to know or conceive the possibility of knowing whence the mechanism has come, why it is there, whither it is going, or what may be beyond and beside it which our senses are incapable of appreciating. These things are not 'explained' by science and never can be." - SIR E. RAY LANKESTER.

I should myself hesitate to promulgate such a markedly non-possumus and ignorabimus statement concerning the scope of physical science, even as narrowly and popularly understood; but it illuminates the position taken tip by those savants who are commonly known as Materialists, and explains their expressed though non-personal hostility to other scientific men who seek to exceed the boundaries laid down, and investigate things beyond the immediate range of the senses.

Eliminating the future tense from the statement, however, I can agree with it. The instrument of translation from the mental to the physical, and back from the physical to the mental, is undoubtedly the brain, but as to how the translation is accomplished, I venture to say, we have not the inkling of an idea. Nevertheless, hints which may gradually lead towards a partial understanding of psycho-physical processes may be gained by study of exceptional cases: for such study is often more instructive than continued
scrutiny of the merely normal. The fact of human consciousness, though it raises the problem to a high degree of conspicuousness, by no means exhausts the difficulty; for it is one which faces us in connexion with every form of life. The association of life with matter, and of mind with life, are problems of similar order, and a glimmering of understanding of the one may be expected to throw light upon the other. But until we know more of the method by which the simplest and most familiar psycho-physical interaction occurs until we know enough to see how the gulf between two apparently different Modes of Being is bridgedit is safest to observe and accumulate facts, and to be very chary of making more than the most tentative and cautious of working hypotheses. For to frame even a tentative hypothesis, of any helpful kind, may require some clue which as yet we do not possess.

I have been struck by the position taken by Dr. Chalmers Mitchell in his notable small book Evolution and the War, the early chapters of which, on Germany of the past and present, I would like unreservedly to commend to the reader. Indeed, commendation of a friendly and non-patronising kind may well extend to the whole book, although it must be admitted that here and there mere exposition of Darwinism is suspended, and difficult and debatable questions are touched upon.

On these questions I would not like to be understood as expressing a hasty opinion, either against or for the views of the author. The points at issue between us are more or less fine- drawn, and cannot be dealt with parenthetically; nor do I ever propose to deal with them in a controversial manner. The author, as a biologist of fame, is more than entitled to such expression of his own views as he has cared to give. I quote with admiration, not necessarily with agreement, a few passages from the part dealing with the relation between mind and matter, and especially with the wide and revolutionary difference between man and animal caused by either the evolution or the incoming of free and conscious Choice.

He will not allow, with Bergson and others, that the roots of consciousness, in its lower grades, go deep down into the animal, and even perhaps into the vegetable, kingdom; he has no patience with those who associate elementary consciousness and freedom and indeterminateness not merely with human life but with all life, and who detect rudiments of purpose and intelligence in the protozoa. Nor, on the other hand, does he approve the dogmatic teaching of the 'ultra-scientific' school, which, being obsessed by the idea of man's animal origin, interprets human nature solely in terms of protoplasm. He opposes the possibility of this by saying:

"However fruitful and interesting it may be to remember that we are rooted deep in the natal mud, our possession of consciousness and the sense of freedom is a vital and overmastering distinction."

On the more interesting of the above-mentioned alternatives Dr. Chalmers Mitchell expresses himself thus:-

"The Bergsonian interpretation does nothing to make consciousness and freedom more intelligible; and by extending them from man, in whom we know them to exist, to animals, in which their presence is at best an inference, it not only robs them of definiteness and reality, but it blurs the real distinction between men and animals, and evades the most difficult problem of science and philosophy. The facts are more truly represented by such phraseology as that animals are instinctive, man is intelligent, animals are irresponsible, man is responsible, animals are automata, man is free; or if you like, that God gave animals a beautiful body, man a rational soul.

And soon afterwards he continues:

"Not 'envisaging itself,' not being at once actor, spectator, and critic, 'living in the flashing moment,' not seeing the past and the present and the future separately, this is the highest at which we can put the consciousness of animals, and herein lies the distinction between man and the animals which makes the overwhelming difference.

"Must we then suppose, with Russel Wallace, that somewhere on the upward path from the tropical forests to the groves of Paradise, a soul was interpolated from an outside source into the gorilla-like ancestry of man? I do not think so, although I not only admit but assert that such a view gives a more accurate statement of fact than does either of the fashionable doctrines that I have discussed. I believe with Darwin, that as the body of man has been evolved from the body of animals, so the intellectual, emotional, and moral faculties of man have been evolved from the qualities of animals. I help myself towards the comprehension of the process by reflecting on two phenomena of observation [which he proceeds to cite]. I help myself, and perchance may help others; no more; could I speak dogmatically on what is the central mystery of all science and all philosophy and all thought, my words would roll with the thunder of Sinai."

Let it not be supposed for a moment that this distinguished biologist is in agreement with me on many matters dealt with in the present book. If he were, he would, I believe, achieve a more admirable and eloquent work than is consistent with the technically 'apologetic' tone which, in the present state of the scientific atmosphere, it behoves me to take. To guard against unwelcome misrepresentation of his views, and yet at the same time to indicate their force, I will make one more quotation:-

"Writing as a hard-shell Darwinian evolutionist, a lover of the scalpel and microscope, and of patient, empirical observation, as one who dislikes all forms of supernaturalism, and who does not shrink from the implications even of the phrase that thought is a secretion of the brain as bile is a secretion of the liver, I assert as a biological fact that the moral law is as real and as external to man as the starry vault. It has no secure seat in any single man or in any single nation. It is the work of the blood and tears of long generations of men. It is not, in man, inborn or innate, but is enshrined in his traditions, in his customs, in his literature and his religion. Its creation and sustenance are the crowning glory of man, and his consciousness of it puts him in a high place above the animal world. Men live and die; nations rise and fall, but the struggle of individual lives and of individual nations must be measured not by their immediate needs, but as they tend to the debasement or perfection of man's great achievement."

My own view, which in such matters I only put forth with diffidence and brevity, is more in favour of Continuity. I do not trace so catastrophic a break between man and animals, nor between animal and vegetable, perhaps not even between organised and unorganised forms of matter, as does Dr. Chalmers Mitchell.

I would venture to extend the range of the term 'soul' down to a very large denominator,- to cases in which the magnitude of the fraction becomes excessively minute,- and tentatively admit to the possibility of survival, though not individual survival, every form of life. As to Individuality and Personality - they can only survive where they already exist; when they really exist they persist; but bare survival, as an alternative to improbable extinction, may be widespread.

Matter forms an instrument, a means of manifestation, but it need not be the only one possible. We have utilised matter to build up this beautiful bodily mechanism, but, when that is done with, the constructive ability remains; and it can be expected to exercise its organising powers in other than material environment. If this hypothesis be true at all (and admittedly I am now making hypothesis) it must be true of all forms of life; for what the process of evolution has accomplished here may be accomplished elsewhere, under conditions at present unknown.(1) So I venture to surmise that the surroundings of non-material existence will be far more homely and habitual than people in general have been accustomed to think likely.

(1) I wish to emphasise this paragraph, as perhaps an important one. 

And how do I know that the visible material body of anything is all the body, or all the existence, it possesses?

Why should not things exist also, or have etherial counterparts, in an etherial world? Perhaps everything has already an etherial counterpart, of which our senses tell us the material aspect only. I do not know. Such an idea may be quoted as an absurdity; but if the evidence drives me in that direction, in that direction I will go, without undue resistance. There have been those who do not wait to be driven, but who lead; and the inspired guidance of Plotinus in that direction may secure more attention, and attract more disciples, when the way is illuminated by discoverable facts.

Meanwhile facts await discovery.

Passages from Plotinus, it may be remembered, are eloquently translated by F. W. H . Myers, from the obscure and often ungrammatical Greek, in Human Personality, vol. ii. pp. 289-291; and readers of S.P.R. Proceedings, vol. xxii, PP. 08-172, will remember the development by Mrs. Verall of the KCLI ak& obpa;,& dK61Awy motto prefixed to F. W. H. Myers's post-humously published poem on Tennyson in Fragments of Prose and Poetry.

My reference just above to teachings of Plotinus about the kind of things to be met with in the other world, or the etherial world, or whatever it may be called, is due to information from Professor J. H. Muirhead that, roughly speaking, Plotinus teaches that things there are on the same plan as things here: each thing here having its counterpart or corresponding existence there, though glorified and fuller of reality. Not to misrepresent this doctrine, but to illustrate it as far as can be by a short passage, Professor Muirhead has given me the following translation from the Enneads:

"But again let us speak thus: For since we hold that this universe is framed after the pattern of That, every living thing must needs first be There; and since Its Being is perfect, all must be There. Heaven then must There be a living thing nor void of what are here called stars; indeed such things belong to heaven. Clearly too the earth which is There is not an empty void, but much more full of life, wherein are all creatures that are here called land animals and plants that are rooted in life. And sea is There, and all water in ebb and flow and in abiding life, and all creatures that are in the water. And air is a part of the all that is There, and creatures of the air in accordance with the nature and laws of air. For in the Living how should living things fail? How then can any living thing fail to be There, seeing that as each of the great parts of nature is, so needs must be the living things that therein are? As then Heaven is, and There exists, so are and exist all the creatures that inhabit it; nor can these fail to be, else would those (on earth?) not be."

Enn. vi. vii.

The reason why this strange utterance or speculation is reproduced here is because it seems to some extent to correspond with curious statements recorded in another part of this book; e.g. in Chapter XIV, Part II.

I expect that it would be misleading to suppose that the terms used by Plotinus really signify any difference of locality. It may be nearer the truth to suppose that when freed from our restricting and only matter-revealing senses we become aware of much that was and is 'here' all the time, interfused with the existence which we knew - forming part indeed of the one and only complete existence, of which our present normal knowledge is limited to a single aspect. We might think and speak of many interpenetrating universes, and yet recognise that ultimately they must be all one. It is not likely that the Present differs from what we now call the Future except in our mode of perceiving it.



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