Popular Science Monthly/Volume 67/July 1905/Human and Other Forms of Consciousness

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WHEN we are trying to think clearly we are wont to be disturbed if our friends accuse us of wandering from the sure grounds of science and entering the jungle of metaphysics.

Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that, without realizing it, all men do really devote a fair proportion of their thought to problems which, strictly speaking, are of a metaphysical nature: and the question as to the relation of 'mind to body' which has an entrancing interest for so large a body of thoughtful people, is clearly one in reference to which no one can take a definite position without at the same time assuming an attitude in relation to fundamental metaphysical principles.

We turn to the skilled biologist in these days for expert opinion in this matter, only to find him tarred with the same brush; for as a biologist the problem before him has properly no significance. As a biologist he is concerned with forms of 'animal behavior,' to use Lloyd Morgan's happy phrase. If he takes into consideration in any way the consciousness of animals, in that fact he assumes the attitude of the metaphysician. It is clearly because he takes this step into the metaphysical domain, without realizing it, that we find among those psychological biologists who consider the consciousness of animals so wide a divergence of opinion as to the conditions under which such consciousness exists.

But, as I have said, this matter is of great interest to all of us, and is looked upon as deserving our serious consideration. It is quite worth our while then to acknowledge frankly that we are dealing with a metaphysical problem, and at the start to make a rather deep plunge, laying aside for the moment all thought of the consciousness of animals, and asking ourselves what ground we have for our every-day assumption that other men are conscious as we ourselves are.

The ready answer seems to be that they tell us of their conscious states. But evidently this reply does not suffice us, for it becomes very clear upon consideration that no amount of hearsay evidence would serve to convince us of the fact that these other men are conscious did we not note that our activities, which are very like their activities, are accompanied in our experience by modifications in our conscious life. This very speech of others is a type of activity which we interpret by reference to the modifications of consciousness which go with our own similar speech activities. When, for instance, I say 'yes' I hear the sound of my own voice and at the same time experience a modification of consciousness which I describe as the state of assent. When my friend says 'yes' I hear the same sounds which a moment ago proceeded from my own body, and I assume that my friend experiences the same conscious state that I describe as assent. In other words, we introject into other men, as it were, conscious states similar to our own conscious states, when they and we ourselves act in the same way, or are subjected to the same stimulations from the environment.

Even when we come to an agreement that consciousness exists in each of us we depend upon this interpretation—this argument by analogy—for our simplest knowledge of the mental states of other men. You and I agree to call the conscious states accompanying stimulations of the eye, light sensations; but in the fact that stimuli of the same nature reach my eye and your eye I have no evidence that what you call light sensations are what I call light sensations, apart from the fact that I judge by analogy that, as you are very like me, you are to be credited when you say that you have a consciousness very like mine; and that as your eye is very like mine, its stimulation by light must correspond with modifications of your consciousness very similar to the modifications in my consciousness that correspond with the stimulation of my eye under the same light conditions.

That this argument by analogy is the basis of our assumption of the existence of consciousness in other men becomes indeed very clear in the fact that we do not hesitate for a moment to pass beyond humankind and ascribe consciousness to the higher animals other than man, although they are entirely incapable of describing their mental states to us.

I have, of course, no fault to find with this manner of our thought; I wish, however, in the very beginning to emphasize this fact, for in what follows I shall attempt to show that in connection with certain generally accepted modern views we are led to follow out this argument by analogy much farther than it is commonly carried, and to results which are of very great interest.


I. Of Consciousnesses Simpler than Human Consciousness.

As we have noted, the existence of conscious states in connection with animal activities is naturally inferred by each of us. It is also very generally agreed that the mental life of even the highest of animals is simpler than our own. These conclusions were reached long before men had gained any knowledge of the nature of the human nervous system or of the fact that all these bodily activities which are accompanied by modifications of his consciousness seem to be dependent upon modifications of the activities of this nervous system. But coincidently with the advance of knowledge in reference to the structure of the nervous system modern psychologists have quite independently reached the conclusion that human consciousness itself is systemic in its nature. As the nervous system of a given man is looked upon as a closed or definitely bounded physical system; so is his consciousness looked upon as a closed or definitely bounded psychic system.

Furthermore, we have learned that in a general way the consciousness of a given human individual increases in complexity and coordination pari passu with the increase of complexity and coordination in his nervous system, in the course of his development from birth to the life of full intelligence.

It is natural for us then to conclude that wherever we find in an animal a closed nervous system of greater or less complexity we have good ground for the assumption of the existence of some form of consciousness of a corresponding greater or less complexity; and this accords, as we have seen, with the every-day assumption of the common man. It is true, as we have said above, that many of our biologists hesitate to accept this commonly accepted view: but it is also true that they fail altogether to furnish to us any valid reasons for rejecting it, being utterly at a loss to give us any satisfactory mark by which to distinguish between animals which are certainly conscious and those which certainly are not.

Modern students of neurology have discovered a further fact of importance to our consideration, viz., the fact that among all animals subject to our study, excepting possibly the very lowest forms in which nervous systems exist, each nervous system is really a more or lesscomplex system of minor nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system in man, for instance, has a distinct individuality of its own, although it is at the same time a part of the whole broad system: and more or less of such individuality is traceable in connection with many other minor systems within the whole nervous system.

It is interesting then to note that the psychologist also finds himself compelled to look upon human consciousness not only as a psychic system, but as a broad system of minor psychic systems. For instance, our ocular sensations and their resultants are in themselves systematized; and our aural sensations and their resultants are also, although differently, systematized; while at the same time they are both parts of the whole psychic system which we call consciousness. Each group has a measure of individuality, each forms a minor system, within the broader conscious system.

Now some of these minor nervous systems in the higher animals display characteristics which enable us to compare them somewhat accurately with the whole fully developed nervous systems of certain of the lower animals which on the basis of our argument by analogy we must, and in fact usually do, agree to have corresponding with them certain lower than human forms of consciousness.

This being true, it surely follows that if any of these minor nervous systems of ours could be separated from the preeminent part of the nervous system—i. e., the brain—and still live, then these separated minor nervous systems within our bodies would have corresponding with them consciousnesses of low grade, which would be separated from what we may call the preeminent or brain consciousness, but which would nevertheless still be consciousnesses, and within the human body.

We are led then to ask whether thoroughly disconnected living minor nervous systems can under any conditions exist within the human body, and to this question we find that we must give an affirmative reply.

Suppose you were shown a frog with its head covered so that it could not be disturbed by your movements, and fastened with tapes to a board, but with both legs free.

Now if I put a drop of weak acid, say on its right knee, it would promptly rub the acid off with the back of the right foot. But suppose I fastened this right foot down with tapes, or disabled it permanently, and then again touched the right knee with acid; the right leg would struggle in the attempt to rub off the acid as it did before; but being unsuccessful because of the binding tapes or injury, after a moment of quiescence or hesitation, it would rub the acid off with the foot on the other side, i. e., the left foot. The common man would be likely to say, offhand, that the frog displayed a good deal of intelligence in this.

But now suppose I remove the head bandage and show you that the frog's head, and with it its brain, had been entirely removed. Experiments show that the frog will act in exactly the way above described if its brain is extirpated.

Now when you discovered this fact, if you made any remark, you might properly say: 'What a high degree of intelligence is involved with the mere activities of the spinal cord.' The average biologist, to be sure, usually says not this, but, rather, 'unconscious reflexes simulate the actions due to intelligence'; but I submit that he does this solely because of his preconception that the activities of the cortex of the brain are alone concerned with our conscious states.

The very argument by analogy which leads you to say that other men have consciousnesses because they act thus and so, also leads you to hold that the live and healthy frog with its brain intact has a consciousness; and if this argument is worth anything at all it must surely lead you also to say that the frog's spinal cord activities have psychic correspondents. And if this is true of the frog why is it not true of man?

In my normal life these psychic correspondents of the spinal cord activities, if they exist, are minor psychic systems within the whole psychic system that I call consciousness. And these minor systems are usually unable to affect attention, although occasionally some of them do so when we are quiescent. We do not note the heart throb now, but we may as we are falling asleep.

We are clearly led thus to see that if disconnection of minor nervous systems from the broad nervous system as a whole can occur, then we may properly assume the existence of minor consciousnesses within the human body.

This view has been suggested long since, but is rejected, and often with derision, by many of our biologists. But in consideration of the facts above referred to it seems difficult to deny its validity, and in the opinion of the writer its rejection is due merely to an unwarranted hesitation to carry our every-day reasoning to its legitimate conclusion. The preeminent nervous system expresses itself by bodily activities of one kind or another, and notably by certain contractions of the throat and respiratory organs, and movements of the lips which produce speech. The sympathetic system, and other practically, or actually, separated minor nervous systems, express themselves by bodily activities of one kind or another exclusive of these activities of speech. While it is perfectly clear that the consciousness which expresses itself in speech, as well as in various other bodily activities, is the preeminent human consciousness, it seems equally clear that there must exist minor consciousnesses which correspond with the activities of minor nervous systems within our own bodies, provided these are, as is the case at times practically, or in some instances actually, disconnected from the main system of nervous systems.

Such disconnection as is necessary for the separate existence of such minor consciousnesses within our bodies may evidently result from pathological lesion, or may be due to the use of the surgeon's knife. But it seems probable that this disconnection may occur in a quite different way, and that if we appreciate this fact we are led to understand the nature of certain phenomena of consciousness which are usually thought to be most mysterious.

In the physical world we note disconnections between systems of activity due to the incommensurability of their rhythm. It is highly probable then that certain active minor nervous systems may become disconnected from others as the result of what we may also call an incommensurability of rhythm; and we may surmise that the same thing is true of the corresponding psychic minor systems in consciousness which in like manner may be said to be incommensurable.

We have thus a very simple explanation of such facts as the familiar one that the soldier in the wild excitement of battle does not note the painful sensations of the wound in his leg. The brain consciousness is then so intensely active in its relation to the mental states initiated by his sensations of sight and hearing, that these activities are incommensurable with those in the less active minor psychic systems affected by the wound.

But especially does this conception throw light, in cases of socalled 'double personality' upon the failure of recall by the one personality, of the occurrences in the conscious life of the other personality; and also of the failure of recall by the hypnotic patient, in his normal life, of his mental states during his trance. Here we may assume that two diverse great minor psychic systems, which are utterly incommensurable in rhythm, alternately take possession, as it were, of the body of man, and control his expressions. Being thus incommensurable, the two systems are almost exactly as much disconnected as are two individual men, and of course under such circumstances the mental states of one psychic system can not in any way be revived in the conscious life of the other psychic system.


We may now turn to another important point. "We have stepped from the complex fully developed human consciousness to the simpler consciousnesses of the animals. We have further seen that under certain conditions there may be in our own bodies simpler consciousnesses than what we may call, for the sake of brevity, the 'brain consciousness.' But can we not—in fact, ought we not—take a further step, and hold that psychic elements may exist?

Apparently, if we are to be logical, we must take this step. We must assume that if we could isolate a neural element, a psychic element would correspond with its activities. It is true that the neurologist has never been able to discover a disconnected, isolated, living neural element; and it is true also that we can not isolate any psychic element, and even if we could do so, it as an element could not be emphatic in consciousness which is necessarily systemic and not elemental.

But now we may note that if disconnected minor neural systems may exist in our animal body there seems to be no reason why living neural elements may not from time to time become disconnected from, and then again reconnected with, one or another minor nervous system: and correspondingly no reason why psychic elements may not from time to time be disconnected from, and then reconnected with, one or another minor psychic system within consciousness; some being now cut off, some being now added on, to go to make unanalyzable differences from time to time in what we call our personalities.


If we accept this conclusion, we are led to take one further step which has importance in connection with the consideration of the next division of this article.

"We commonly assume that so special a significance is to be given to action within the nervous system in man's organism that it alone can be considered of moment in the relations of correspondence with consciousness. Our modern biologists, however, are coming to see that all protoplasmic substance has powers of interaction—of 'conduction'—similar to those observed in nervous tissue; and that masses of protoplasm may form systems of active life without the existence of anything like nervous systems; nervous matter, indeed, appears to be but a specially differentiated kind of protoplasm which serves as a peculiarly quick and sensitive 'conductor' from part to part of the organism.[1]

It seems possible therefore to hold that while the form of consciousness with which we are familiar is practically correspondent only with transfers of energy within the vastly complex human nervous system; nevertheless it may be true that any transfer of energy in protoplasmic matter may have a coincident psychic effect; and that consciousnesses of a certain grade may exist in living bodies which are systematized and yet without nervous systems.

If such a view be possible, then we must hold that human consciousness is in all probability complicated by the existence of' psychic correspondents of transfers of energy in other protoplasmic masses than those which we designate as the nervous system; although it must of course be granted that the very superior 'conductivity' of the nervous masses makes the part of human consciousness which, under such a view, corresponds with activity of the nervous system vastly more important in the whole of man's consciousness than all the rest of the psychic effects corresponding with transfers of energy in protoplasmic masses other than the nervous tissues.


One more point of a good deal of importance must be noted in this connection.

If we once agree that all transfers of energy in protoplasmic substance have their psychic correspondences, then of course we must allow that there are consciousnesses of a lowly and sluggish nature in connection with the lowly and sluggish life of the plants. This, it will be remembered, was a point defended on other grounds by the great psychologist Fechner, and which has since been upheld by not a few, among whom we may mention a man of as high position as Paulsen.

But this point we must pass over with this mere mention, for we have problems of greater interest to consider.


The final test of any theory lies in the explanation it gives of the mysterious; and it is a very cogent argument in favor of the broad view of the nature of consciousness thus taken that in connection with these conceptions we have a completely satisfactory -answer to the old time puzzle as to the moment of the beginning of the individual soul life.

Perhaps it may be well at this juncture to recall two points made above.

1. That a fully developed human consciousness is a complex system of minor psychic systems—a system of minor, less developed consciousnesses; and that consciousness under the broader conception just reached corresponds with the activities in a fully developed physical system which is a system of minor less developed physical systems, of which the nervous system is of preeminent importance indeed, but not alone of significance.

2. That if any one of these minor physical systems is cut off from the whole physical system a minor consciousness may be held to correspond with the activities in this cut off minor system.

In the human species, to which in this connection we may confine our attention, the unfructified germ cell is a living protoplasmic particle which is cast off from the body of the female; and, under such a view as we have above been led to hold, so long as it is a living particle, it has corresponding with its exceedingly lowly activities, an exceedingly lowly form of psychic existence.

While it was part of the body of the female it had its little part in forming the totality of those systemic physical activities to which corresponded the female's consciousness.

If the germ cell happens to be fructified, and attaches itself to the internal tissues of the body of the female, notwithstanding that this attachment is only of such nature that our biologists call it parasitic; nevertheless, under the view here taken the cell again becomes part of the whole bodily system of the mother, and its activities again play their lowly part in the production of the systemic action of the whole body, which has its correspondent in the whole of the consciousness of the adult female.

This germ cell under these conditions, within the female, and in connection with her body, develops very rapidly into the embryo. It is true that the relation of the embryo to the mother continues to be almost parasitic in its nature during its development up to the time of birth, as it also remains for a considerable time after birth. Nevertheless, it draws its nourishment from, and is in a broad sense systemically related to, her body. For as part of her bodily system no activity in any part of the embryo can be without some direct or indirect effect upon each and every part of the body of the mother; and no activity in any of these parts of the mother can be totally without direct or indirect effect upon it.

The psychic coincidents of the activities in the embryo are thus part and parcel of the mother's consciousness, if this is considered in the broad way presented in the preceding section.

As the embryo grows, within it develops a nervous system of its own, and if our view is correct a minor form of consciousness must exist in connection with the activities of this rudimentary nervous system.

It is true that, so far as we know, the nervous system of the embryo never has a direct connection with the nervous system of the mother: nevertheless as there is a reciprocity of reaction between the physical body of the mother and its embryonic parasite, the relation of the embryonic nervous system to the nervous system of the mother is not very far removed from the relation of the preeminent part of the nervous system of a man to some minor nervous system within his body which is to a marked extent disassociated from the whole neural mass.

Correspondingly then, and within the consciousness of the mother, there develops a new little minor consciousness which, although but lightly integrated with the mass of her consciousness, nevertheless has its part in her consciousness taken as a whole, much as the psychic correspondents of the action of the nerves which govern the secretions of the glands of her body have their part in her consciousness taken as a whole.

It is very much as if the optic ganglia developed fully in themselves, without any closer connection with the rest of the brain than existed at their first appearance. They would form a little complex nervous system almost but not quite apart from the brain system; and it would be difficult to deny them a consciousness of their own; which would indeed form part of the whole consciousness of the individual, but which would be in a measure self-dependent. Should the optic ganglia when fully developed be separated away from the brain; then what was once a minor system within the whole brain system would become a new individual with an optic consciousness all its own. Now something not unlike this happens at birth. Before birth the minor physical system, i. e., the embryo, though lightly attached to, is nevertheless part of the physical system of the mother: and the psychic correspondents of its activities form part of a complex consciousness which is that of the mother and embryo together; the psychic correspondents of the activities of the mother, as exclusive of those of the embryonic parasite, being of course preeminent in such a complex psychic system.

At birth we have a disruption of the less developed, from the more developed, physical system; and corresponding therewith we have a minor consciousness of low development 'split off' from the more highly developed preeminent consciousness of the mother which remains to all intents and purposes intact. The new 'split off' minor consciousness then begins its existence as an individual entity, and as time goes on develops into a full formed human individual consciousness.


II. Of Consciousnesses more Complex than Human Consciousness.

We may now turn to the question whether there are other forms of consciousness still more complex than those forms of human consciousness with which we are familiar in our own life of reflection.

The fact that each human consciousness is a psychic system which is a complex of minor psychic systems, which are themselves highly complex systems of psychic elements, leads us to see that it is by no means impossible that our own complex psychic systems, taken as wholes, i. e., our own consciousnesses, may be joined with other complex psychic systems, i. e., other consciousnesses, in the formation of consciousnesses of still higher grades of complexity.

We are led thus in the first place to consider whether there is any possibility of the formation of such higher systems—of such higher consciousnesses—from the combination of the consciousnesses of human beings aggregated in social masses: whether, in other words, there can be any such thing as a 'social consciousness'; and whether coincidently the aggregates of individuals in social bodies may rightly be looked upon as a 'social organism.'

The first thought which suggests itself to us in this connection seems to argue against such a notion, for we are accustomed to hold that the neural systems with which the consciousnesses of men are correlated are what we call closed systems, and as such are physically disconnected completely from one another; and if such is the case it would seem impossible to imagine the coincident consciousnesses united into a unified system.

Upon second thought, however, we are led to ask wherein consists the bond between the minor neural systems, within the great neural system, in airy individual man; and when we ask this question we find ourselves bound to acknowledge our dense ignorance. It is easy to speak of the 'integration' of these systems; but difficult to explain in what this 'integration' consists. All that we are able to assert is that the minor systems are contiguous, and so connected that together they act as a unit. But evidently this contiguity and connectedness within the neural systems of individual men are of various grades, as the unification of the activity between the several minor systems is of different grades.

We are led to note furthermore that when, for instance, any of us touches the hand of a fellow man, the nerve terminals of his neural system are contiguous with, and active at the same time with, the corresponding nerve terminals of that fellow man; and that his neural system and his neighbor's neural system at such a moment form in a sense one still more complex neural system, in which there are two great minor systems in either of which may occur the inception of changes in grade of activity, but in which this inception of activity must affect both parts of, that is the whole of, what we may call the duplex system. No action in the nervous system of one (A) of the two men (A and B), under such conditions of contact, can be without some effect upon the activity of the nervous system of the other man (B); nor can this action in the one man (A) fail to be influenced by the existing conditions of activity in the nervous system of that other man (B).

Taking one step further we note that the nervous systems of two or more individuals living in the same physical environment may be connected by common stimulations the most important of which are those of ocular, or of aural, nerve terminals—and by those signs and symbols in language, spoken and written, which are substituted for these stimulations—just as well as by the common stimulations of touch nerve terminals of which we have just spoken; and we are thus led to see that after all it is not at all impossible to surmise that the individuals of social groups who are similarly constituted, and who are affected at the same time by the same stimuli from the environment, may be organically interrelated elements of a social body to which must be coincident a social consciousness.

We find then that our consciousnesses may not improbably be minor psychic systems which are parts of a greater social psychic system; that we are warranted in assuming that there may be social consciousnesses of which our individual consciousnesses are elementary parts. But we can not accept such a position without making certain reservations to avoid misunderstanding.[2]

In the first place it seems clear that it is improper to speak of the opinions of aggregates of men, as we comprehend them, as a 'social consciousness' as our extreme sociologists are wont to do. If such a social consciousness exists, our thoughts are elements of it, in very much the same sense that our sensations are elements in our individual consciousnesses. As our individual sensations do not, and as no mere massing of such sensations could, make our consciousnesses what they are; so the mere massing, so to speak, of the thoughts of men can not make a social consciousness. If it exist, it must be something beyond our ken; something that we, as parts of it, can no more expect to grasp than we could expect our sensations to grasp the nature of our consciousness as a whole.

If there be a social consciousness of sufficiently high grade corresponding in general form to our individual consciousness, it may know our thoughts, much as we appreciate the existence of our own sensations and their elementary qualities; and it may have means of expression that are effective for other consciousnesses of its own order; but we as elements of this wider consciousness can surely not be able to grasp even dimly the intimate nature of that higher consciousness which, if it exist, must be determined by the pulse of thought of many interrelated individual consciousnesses. What sociologists are often tempted to speak of as the 'social consciousness' should therefore properly be spoken of merely as the related consciousnesses of the individuals composing social groups.


In all that has preceded this we have given our attention solely to the study of animal and vegetable life, and have left entirely unconsidered the possibility of the existence of anything of a psychic nature in correspondence with inorganic matter.

But, if we allow ourselves to consider such a view as that presented above, we are led further to surmise, as many thinkers have already done, that not merely such transfers of energy as occur in protoplasmic matter may involve correspondent psychic effects, but that all transfers of energy, whether in living or non-living bodies, may involve correspondent psychic effects, even though they be of a nature which we can but little comprehend.

This view which Paulsen[3] refers back to Plato and Aristotle, and traces in the thought of Spinoza and Leibnitz, Schelling and Schopenhauer and Lotze, and which was so clearly stated by Fechner, is in line with the ever-diminishing distinction between organic and nonorganic bodies with which the scientist is making us so familiar. It is a view which has been considered by the large body of conservative thinkers in the past as exceedingly imaginative, and not one to be taken too seriously. In the light of the results of modern investigation, however, it surely appears that this view must be given careful consideration.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of living organisms lies in the fact that they are composed of a unified aggregate of elements, which are so related in a system that no element can be modified without the production of some modification in all the other elements, and in the system as a whole; and so related that the system as a whole can only be modified through the modification of its elements.

Now we have reason to believe that mere physical elements within the universe are so related together that they form systems of various degrees of complexity, and of this very same nature; that is, that elements within the physical universe are bound together in systems of greater or less complexity; in which systems the elements are so related that no one of them can be modified without the production of some measure of modification in all other elements of the system, and in the system as a whole; and so related that the system as a whole can only be modified through the modification in some measure of each of its component elements. It thus appears that systems which by a slight stretch of language we may speak of as quasi organic may exist in aggregates of physical elements winch are usually spoken of as inanimate and inorganic.

If then an organism can be said to exist in any aggregate of physical elements whenever there exists a reciprocity of reaction between the elements of the aggregate; and if there is a thoroughgoing correspondence between psychic forms and transfers of physical energy, then there must be some type of consciousnesses corresponding with the types of inanimate systems above depicted. These consciousnesses must indeed be of forms very different from human consciousness as we know it; and, in most cases likely to be considered, must be of forms which we would be likely to consider as of a very low degree of 'integration' in comparison with human consciousness.

If now we consider the universe as a whole, as inclusive of all of what we usually speak of as organic, and as inorganic; and if we look upon it in a broad way, we perceive that it as a whole must be looked upon as a vast organic system. In it are various parts which are more or less complex systems within systems; and, broadly speaking, all parts of this vast system are in some measure related by a direct or derivative contiguity, and are subject to reciprocity of reaction, so that no element can react without in some measure affecting the activities of all the other parts of the vast organic system, and so that the reaction of any element is affected necessarily by the reactions of each and every one of the other innumerable parts of the whole vast system of the whole universe.

If the suggestions of previous paragraphs are valid, correspondent with this vast organic universe we are compelled to imagine the existence of a universal consciousness in which each psychic element affects every other, and is affected by every other.

As I have said above, this conception, or conceptions closely allied thereto, have been reached by many thinkers who approach the subject from the most diverse standpoints. Let me quote two passages from lately published works by writers of eminence, in which this is exemplified.

In his 'World and the Individual'[4] Professor Josiah Royce tells us that

We have no right whatever to speak of really unconscious nature, but only of uncommunicative nature, or of nature whose mental processes go on at such different time-rates from ours that we can not adjust ourselves to a live appreciation of their inward fluency, although our consciousness does make us aware of their presence. My [Professor Royce's] hypothesis is that, in case of nature in general, as in the case of the particular portions of nature known as our fellowmen, we are dealing with phenomena of a vast conscious process, whose relation to time varies vastly, but whose general characteristics are throughout the same. From this point of view, evolution would be a series of processes suggesting to us various degrees and types of conscious processes. The processes, in case of so-called inorganic matter are very remote, from us; while in the case of the processes which appear to us as the expressive movements of the bodies of our human fellows, they are so near to our own inner processes that we understand what they mean. I suppose then that when you deal with nature you deal with a vast realm of finite consciousness of which your own is at once a part and an example.

And in Dr. Stout's 'Manual of Psychology'[5] we find the following words:

If the doctrine of psyche-physical parallelism is true the reason of the connexion between conscious process and correlated nervous process is not to be found in the nervous and consciousness processes themselves. Both must be regarded as belonging to a more comprehensive system of conditions; . . . In particular the individual's consciousness, as we know it, must be regarded as a fragment of a wider whole, by which its origin and its changes are determined. As the brain forms only a fragmentary portion of the total system of material phenomena, so we must assume the stream of individual consciousness to be in like manner part of an immaterial system. We must further assume that this immaterial system in its totality is related to the material world in its totality as the individual consciousness is related to nervous processes taking place in the cortex of the brain.

If the notions presented in the previous sections are warranted, then it appears clear that there must be in this universe an enormous variety of consciousnesses corresponding with the enormous variety of types of systematization in this universe. These consciousnesses must vary in breadth and complexity; and as certain minor systems within the whole vast physical system must be more closely systematized than others, so certain of these consciousnesses must be more closely systematized—more nearly closed systems—more self-contained—more individual—than others. Human consciousnesses would in this view be special forms of such closely systematized—self-contained—individual—psychic systems.

It appears possible then to conceive that in this universe there are innumerable grades of consciousnesses, other than human consciousnesses. At times human consciousnesses may become inherent parts of such other forms of consciousness: and their existence might affect us by resulting in an alteration of what James might call our 'feel'

We often seem to appreciate that we are swayed by some far-reaching but ill-defined influence of this nature, the effects of which we experience mainly in a negative way when we break away from it.

Lowell has expressed this experience in some beautiful lines in his 'Under the Willows':

My soul was lost,
Gone from me like an ache, and what remained
Became a part of the universal joy.
My soul went forth, and, mingling with the tree,
Danced in the leaves; or, floating in the cloud,
Saw its white double in the stream below;
Or else, sublimed to purer ecstasy,
Dilated in the broad blue over all.
I was the wind that dappled the lush grass,
The tide that crept with coolness to its roots,
The thin-winged swallow skating on the air;
The life that gladdened everything was mine.

But suddenly the sound of human voice
Or footfall, like the drop a chemist pours,
Doth in opacious cloud precipitate
The consciousness that seemed but now dissolved
Into an essence rarer than its own:—
And I am narrowed to myself once more.

If such other forms of consciousness exist in the universe, not only may we at times, as we have just seen, become inherent parts of some of those of higher grade than ours; but it is also possible that at other times such diverse consciousnesses may merely attach themselves to ours, as it were, leaving our own consciousnesses essentially intact; but in such cases the other consciousnesses may serve to produce noticeable modifications in our own consciousnesses, which may point to influences from outside of such human consciousnesses as are familiar to us.

All readers of this article are familiar with the voluminous records of facts made by Hodgson and others in connection with the Society of Psychical Research, and brought into prominence in Frederick Myers's lately published work; facts which are more or less mysterious, and which not a few people think of as corroborative of that most vague of hypotheses, the spiritualistic, or spiritistic, hypothesis as it is now called.

Had these records been made twenty-five years ago they would have been immensely more voluminous, because they would have included accounts of what were then the most convincing pieces of evidence of this hypothesis, but what are now described as phenomena of multiple personality, automatic writing, etc., which if not thoroughly understood, have surely been shown to bear no such interpretation as that involved with the spiritistic hypothesis.

So it seems probable that in twenty-five years from now many more of these recorded facts above spoken of will appear similarly explicable without resort to this spiritistic hypothesis.

Of such of these facts as then remain unexplained, a very small part may be interpreted as fraudulent, but a very large part indeed as due to perfectly honest but false judgments, or to illusions of forgetfulness, and especially to illusions of memory.

The small remnant of these facts which still remain unexplained on well established psychological principles, if they seem tangible enough to point to anything at all, will surely not point to the existence of disembodied human spirits; but rather to the existence of consciousnesses other than human consciousnesses similar to those of which we have just spoken; consciousnesses, as we have said of forms very different from those known to us in our own experience, but which may occasionally attach themselves to ours in such a way as to produce modifications of our consciousnesses which seem to point to influences from outside of such human forms of consciousness as are familiar to us.

If they are found to point to anything, they will surely not point to the existence of disembodied human consciousnesses as I have just said; nor to the existence of disembodied consciousnesses at all: but rather to the existence of consciousnesses so differently embodied that, in Royce's words above quoted, 'we can not adjust ourselves to a live appreciation of their inward fluency, although our consciousnesses do make us aware of their presence.'

I do not hesitate to agree that such influences very probably do affect us, and as evidence in favor of such a view I shall close by quoting the mature convictions of Professor Wm. James, who will be acknowledged to be one of the most acute of introspectionists the world has known.

Referring to certain early experiments of his he says:[6]

One conclusion was forced upon my mind at that time, and my impression of its truth has ever since remained unshaken. It is that our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness; whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded.
  1. Confer Loeb, 'Physiology of the Brain,' p. 60 and elsewhere. Professor Loeb scouts the very idea that this, or any other fact, points to the conclusions which we here suggest; but I judge that this is because 'consciousness' for him means something much narrower than it does for us here.
  2. For a fuller discussion of this subject confer my 'Instinct and Reason,' p. 189 ff.
  3. 'Einleitung in die Philosophic' p. 97.
  4. Vol. II., p. 225 ff.
  5. Ch. III., Sec. 4, p. 51 ff.
  6. 'Varieties of Religious Experience,' p. 388.