Popular Science Monthly/Volume 13/July 1878/The Radical Fallacy of Materialism
|←The Question of Pain in Hanging||Popular Science Monthly Volume 13 July 1878 (1878)
The Radical Fallacy of Materialism
By Robert Gibson Eccles
|Sketch of Professor Du Bois-Reymond→|
NOT many years ago the manifestations of energy were looked upon as mere conditions of matter. When a moving body came to rest, it was thought that the motion was obliterated from the universe, and, when a body at rest was put in motion, it was supposed to be a creation. The motion was looked upon as a mere state that had arisen and ceased. To-day, in the light of the new doctrine of the correlation and conservation of forces, the old notions are inconceivable, because of the rise of a new element of thought, namely, that force is caused by energy. Motion to us is the effect of a real though immaterial existence, called force or energy, acting upon matter. This energy persists in spite of every effort to destroy it. It is seen to leap from matter to matter as motion, when passing through a row of elastic collision-balls, as each successively gives up its energy to the next. Energy being seen to travel from matter to matter, persisting in one piece after eliminating the other, we are compelled to look upon it as having a real existence of its own. It may change its form many times, but through all the mutations there remains the identical energy. After repeatedly following it through such changes, we conclude that the universe contains a fixed quantity, never had more, and never can have less. While the form of this energy changes, the substance endures forever. In this respect it resembles matter. The forms of both matter and energy are fleeting, but the invisible substance endures. By their interactions they incessantly alter each other. The forms of energy determine the forms of matter, and the forms of matter determine the forms of energy. In this respect their interdependence is mutual. The form of matter determines whether energy shall be moulded into heat, light, sound, magnetism, chemical affinity, cohesion, or molar motion. The mode and amount of energy determine whether matter will be solid, liquid, or gas, opaque or transparent, colored or colorless, etc. As all matter must have some form, so all energy must have some mode.
Whatever form matter may assume, that form is built from the elements of form of which matter can never divest itself. While matter and energy have independent substantive existences, form has no existence apart from the matter with which it is found. One piece of matter cannot give up its form to another, as one collision-ball can give its energy to another. The failure to see this truth has led to serious mistakes among psychologists. The elements of form belonging to one piece of matter may be put together in the same order as found in another piece, so that the identical form may appear to have been transmitted. The elements of form belonging to matter may imitate or mimic each other, but this does not constitute identity. The two words R'O'S'E', ROSE, may look alike, but each has its own form. If we transpose them as entire words, ROSE, R'O'S'E, they have not given up their own forms. If we transpose them letter by letter, as beneath, each still retains its own form, and has not appropriated that of its neighbor:
When transposed as entire words, the entire forms are transposed at once, and, when transposed as letters, the forms are transposed in their elements. At the base of the left thumb of the writer there is a scar, made during boyhood. All the tissue has probably been removed several times, as in the transposition of the letters of our word ROSE; but because the material that supplied the waste has been the same in kind, and because these elements of form have been put up in the original order at every change, a scar is there to-day like the one of years ago. For convenience' sake we call it the same scar, yet it is no more the same than are our two words, when transposed, identical. By one set of the elements of form imitating another an illusion is established that makes it appear as if the identical form was transmitted from one mass of matter to another, just as the identical energy is transmitted. In this way are organized forms maintained during the lapse of years, despite the waste continually going on.
Now that the self-existence of energy has been substantiated, and motion is no longer considered merely a condition or state of matter in the old sense, the creation and annihilation theory is being shifted to consciousness or the ego feeling. This feeling is looked upon as a product of a certain mode of motion brought about by a certain form of matter, or it is said to be one side of energy. But few pause to consider what such expressions imply. If consciousness is a product of organization, then the proper amount, quality, and arrangement, of matter and motion constitute the ego. Let us consider this. If we put inactive matter together in any form we choose, the only thing we can conceive of its having is that form. Add energy to such an arrangement of matter, and the only conceivable result will be some mode of motion which the mode of arrangement directed. Whether we arrange atoms, molecules, or masses, in simple or complex order, the addition of energy will only give a mode of energy. Matter can direct energy, but we cannot conceive of its turning it into something that is not energy. We cannot conceive of a motion being a passion or sensation. No element of kinship can be detected between a kind of motion and love or hate. Conceive of any mode, speed, or direction of motion you choose, and they will never even suggest the possibility of their creating thought, will, hate, avarice, love, ambition, color, sound, taste, odor, or any other sensation. We can perceive that these are all forms of the one ego feeling, but that that could ever arise merely from a mode of motion is absolutely unthinkable. We can conceive of feeling coming in when certain forms of matter and modes of energy are present, but no alternative theory can for a moment be entertained. It must either come in under favorable circumstances or be their product. The law of excluded middle forbids a third possibility. The first of the only two alternatives is conceivable, the second inconceivable. If we here apply Mr. Herbert Spencer's test of truth, "the inconceivability of the opposite," we must admit that consciousness possesses an independent existence of its own. We can conceive of no form of matter and energy being the ego feeling. As it is absolutely impossible to think of any form of motion arising in matter without energy entering from some source, so it is equally as impossible to conceive of consciousness arising in any form of matter or motion without conceiving that a substance of consciousness was infused at some stage. We may, by refusing to think, give an indorsement to the verbal expression, and so deceive ourselves by imagining we believe it. Every proof that can be given of a substance of matter or energy will be equally telling when turned on consciousness. It is just as impossible to conceive of the substance of matter being energy or consciousness, of the substance of energy being matter or consciousness, as of the substance of consciousness being matter and energy. If we demand clear ideas, there is no other alternative than to view the three as distinct but incomprehensible existences. Consciousness reveals itself through matter and energy. Energy reveals itself through matter and consciousness. Matter reveals itself through energy and consciousness. Take away any one of the three and the other would be unknown. How could we know matter but for vibrations? How could we know energy but for matter? How could we know consciousness but for sensations induced by energy? No one of these can be known without the other. Mr. Fiske's world of pure consciousness is as inconceivable as a world of motion where there is nothing to move. We do not and cannot know what the substance of matter is. We only know the sensations it produces in us through its vibrations. The theory that assumes the existence of matter is accepted because no other will explain our experiences. We meet precisely the same difficulties when we assert that matter is the result of the combination of consciousness and energy, or that energy is the result of the combination of consciousness and matter, as when we declare that consciousness is the result of matter and energy. Let any person attempt to conceive of whatever pair he may choose of this trinity producing the third and he will find every effort in vain. Take them pair by pair, and the difficulty will be the same in every pair, thus revealing a common guarantee for the identity of each as distinct from the other. Men talk glibly of the production of consciousness by organization, but the words are mere meaningless jargon. When we see what is meant by such an expression, we shall learn that the idea has equal lucidity with that of a round square. Evolution deals only with the forms of this trinity. Forms evolve, but the substances are eternal. As dissolution follows evolution, the forms of each are resolved into their elements, to be refashioned again into new forms. Matter may form a tree, a crystal, a man, or a world; energy may form heat, light, electricity, or sound; and consciousness may be fashioned into memory, intellect, color, or emotion. These are the transient manifestations of the enduring verities.
Men in prescientific times lost sight of the persistence of matter because they looked upon the form as the reality. When fuel ceased to show a solid, compact form after combustion, they thought it was annihilated. Up to a later date they looked upon the form of energy as the reality, and when that form vanished they were content to declare it as swept from the universe. When motion changed to heat, they thought it was annihilated. The form being destroyed, as that form was mistaken for the reality, they thought the reality had vanished from existence. With broader and more enlightened views this method of reasoning on energy and matter became obsolete, but it still continues to be applied to consciousness. Intellect, memory, or emotion, being put forward for consciousness, how can we refrain from thinking that it goes when these go? As energy determines the form of matter, and matter determines the form of energy, so consciousness determines their form and they determine the form of consciousness. It is well known to the most superficial observer that the body affects the mind, and the mind affects the body. A man with toothache, drunk, or in a fever, in in a bad state to think. When mentally depressed or in great excitement, the body is affected, and disease or even death may be induced by a fright. A blow on the head may destroy memory for all past events or only part of them. How easy for men, who look upon memory as the substance of consciousness, to declare that that blow on the head suspended consciousness, because memory was a blank for some minutes or hours after it! As well might we talk of energy being suspended from the time motion ceases to be seen as such in the magneto-electric machine till it reappears as motion again in the electromagnetic machine. While the body rests in sleep, the forms of consciousness are, to all intents and purposes, still, and we say the sleeper is unconscious. Give the alarm of fire, and see how quickly the so called unconscious man will be aroused. Did he first hear that call and then awake, or did he awake first and then hear the call? If he heard the call before awakening, then consciousness was awake to hear it while the body slumbered. If he awoke before he heard the call, then the call did not awaken him. No matter how deep the slumber of the body, something remains awake to catch the signals from without.
Every form of consciousness being built of that form we call the ego feeling, or feeling of individual identity, that feeling may be expected to persist wherever consciousness persists. As the connections of matter and energy, so far as form is concerned, are perfectly continuous and complete in every form that each assumes, so the connections of mind and body from beginning to end will be found just as perfect and thorough-going throughout. Given the form of matter, and the form of energy can be at once inferred. The forms of matter, motion, and consciousness, have from beginning to end the most intimate relations with each other. Each moulds the other into the form in which it appears, and it would, indeed, be remarkable from this view of the case if our experiences of the power of bodily condition over mind were not as they are. Nerve-waves are not sensations. The nerve-matter is there and the wave and sensation are there, but by no effort of thought can we conceive them as less than three. Whether any one of these can exist independent of the others cannot be known. We know matter as possessing energy, and when the philosophic mind attempts to divest it of all energy it melts into inconceivability. In attempting to separate energy from matter we are foiled. We know consciousness as connected with matter through energy. When we attempt to remove consciousness in thought from this relationship, it slides out of thought completely. In an ultimate analysis each of the three appears with a substantive basis of its own, but the natures of these bases are totally beyond the range of knowledge. Our persisting symbol of matter is extension; of energy, motion; and of consciousness, feeling. We cannot reduce our conception of matter to unextended points of force, nor can we think of either energy or consciousness as latent. The words but cover a vacuity of thought.
Any system of philosophy that denies a substantive basis for the ego feeling, exclusive of the bases of matter and energy, virtually denies the existence of knowledge of every kind, and so stamps itself as false. Our only assurance of the existence of anything outside of ourselves is the effect produced on consciousness. If the perceiving consciousness is not real, how can we assert that the perceived matter is? Action and reaction are equal and opposite. If consciousness has not persistence and permanence of its own, how can it gauge persistence and permanence in matter and energy? But for consciousness we could know of the existence of nothing else. Is it logical to claim that our conclusions are permanent and real, while asserting that our premises are unsubstantial and unreal? Yet this is what every materialist is compelled to do. No theories of "double-faced entities," "results of organization," or "remodeled definitions of matter and energy," can ever be conceived to explain the facts.
One of the strongest proofs of the independent existence of the soul is seen in the fact that at no two consecutive moments of our lives does the ego feeling rest upon the same matter or energy. The systems of waves within my brain will all have radiated away many times before this paragraph is completed. The matter giving out, the energy will pass away as waste, and the arteries bring back a new supply. For days, weeks, months, and years, matter and energy will thus pass while the identical consciousness will persist, and can be traced through every change precisely as energy can be traced from matter to matter. To say that energy is a two-sided entity, one side of which constitutes sensation, is against the facts. The energy my body has to-day is not that of yesterday. Yesterday's energy has all radiated away and carried both its sides with it; but consciousness—the same consciousness—is still here. The closeness of analogy between the conduct of energy toward matter and of consciousness toward energy is remarkable. Let M' M" M'" M"" represent four pieces of elastic matter, and e a quantity of energy. By collision, e will travel from matter to matter thus:
|First||position||Me' M" M"' M""|
|Second||"||M' Me" M'" M""|
|Third||"||M' M" Me"' M""|
|Fourth||"||M' M" M'" Me""|
As e travels from M to M it can be no part of M, so must have a distinct existence of its own. Now let E' E" E" E"" represent the brainwaves of as many consecutive moments and c our conscious identity. As the waves follow each other in the order of time, c will travel from one to the other thus:
|First||moment||Ec’ E’’ E’’’ E’’’’|
|Second||"||E’ Ec’’ E’’’ E’’’’|
|Third||"||E’ E’’ Ec’’’ E’’’’|
|Fourth||"||E’ E’’ E’’’ E'c’’’’|
As c travels from E to E it can be no part of E, and must have a distinct existence of its own. The deportment of matter, energy, and consciousness, toward each other, is much like that of the three letters M, E, C, toward each other in our illustration. Let any person try to make these three letters one, as the ancients did by the entities for which they stand, or but two as the moderns do by them, and precisely the same muddle of inconceivability will arise with the letters as has arisen with the things. The materialist is not satisfied with trying to make himself and others believe that matter and energy produce consciousness, but he must believe that, no matter how often he changes his matter and energy, every new supply will produce the identical consciousness the old one did. If we wish a note of a certain pitch and timbre, we must have matter in a certain form; and, if we wish a sensation of a certain kind and quality, we must have energy of a certain mode. The tuning-fork or violin-string is not the energy of the vibrations, nor is the wave of motion the consciousness of sensation. It is necessary that the brain of to-day be like that of tomorrow if I get the same form of consciousness from it each time, but the brain is not the consciousness. To the form of brain there is not continuation of identity. The brain of to-day mimics that of days ago, because the elements of form are put together in the same order. The consciousness that appears is the identical consciousness, no matter what the form nor how much energy has escaped. If we declare matter and energy to be eternal, then we must declare the same of consciousness. We know matter as atomic, energy as rhythmic, and consciousness as individualized.