20 MAY 1882, Page 11


IT is a pity that the interesting and thoughtful lecture of Sir E. Fry on the Victorian era has been so poorly reported. There was at least one passage in it which we should have liked to have in full, and which contains an argument that has always seemed to us of the greatest possible force against what is called the materialistic view of Creation. " There is, of late," said Mr. Justice Fry, " a tendency towards Materialism in many minds, a tendency to. exalt matter beyond intellect or soul. For himself, the lecturer felt at least as certain, if not more so, from his own consciousness, of the reality of intellect, as of that of matter. Scientific men talked about molecules and atoms—things, by the way, which even to them were, so far, matters of simple faith, that they had never seen an atom, though he (the lecturer) did not deny their existence. But he felt it a striking fact that he, like others, was conscious of the same personality, the same individual consciousness, now, that he had thirty years ago, although, meanwhile, according to the physiologists, the material portion of his being had com- pletely changed every seven years. Hence, there was to be ex- perienced a being within us separate from matter." That sense of personal identity in man has always been insisted, on as one of the great strongholds of the spiritualist's case, and very justly ; but we doubt if anything like as much has ever been made of it, as the strength of the case reallyrequires. Even the greater Germans —like Dr. Weismann, for example, whose valuable and lucid book, " Studies in the Theory of Descent," with a preface by the late Mr. Darwin, has recently been translated into English,— admit freely that the materialistic explanation of the universe only applies to its external forms; that unless you assume the ultimate atom or molecule to have some inner qualities analogous to those which we call mental,—qualities such as the late Pro-

fessor Clifford used to speak of as those of mind-stuff,—there is no explaining how the mental universe is developed out of the physical. And Dr. Weismann himself goes so far as to say that the whole process of evolution, the whole mechanism of the universe, may well be conceived as having an interior and mental aspect, corresponding to its external and self-complete frame- work, which interior aspect is probably nearer to what we mean by " purpose " than to anything else of which we can conceive. Therefore, though he earnestly protests against the insertion of purpose as a modifying link between any of the external changes in the process of evolution, and maintains that the method of physical Creation is wholly explained by strictly phy- sical laws, yet he grants, and even seems to contend, that there is a mental aspect to the whole, as there is a mental aspect to every part,—a mind-stuff for the whole, as there is a mind-staff for the parts,—the interior view of which may correspond, more or less, closely to the general conception of a ruling intellect. But though we quite understand the point of view from which this is granted by evolutionists,—it is the only way, indeed, in which it is possible for physical evolutionists to explain the extraordinary intellectual and moral flowering of so much physical mechanism, —we believe that it suggests a very much less reasonable, and, indeed, very much less scientific, key to the riddle of the universe, than the key on which Mr. Justice Fry lays his finger, when he speaks of the evidence afforded by the consciousness of personal identity that there are some things besides our bodies which are concerned in the administration of the life we live.

The fact to which Mr. Justice Fry appeals,—that in some real sense a man who has lived for thirty years can pronounce himself with absolute certainty to be the same being, who has gone through an infinite number of changes, bodily and mental, of the greater part of which he can recall nothing whatever, though both the many and quite different bodies, and the many and very different states of mind and character, to which he thus lays claim as his own, could be identified as his own by no material test in the world, indeed by no test except the test of his own profound conviction of having passed through them, does seem to be explicable only on a spiritual theory of the origin of Man. The mere assertion of personal identity of any kind is an asser- tion not even expressible at all in terms of material things, nay, so positively inconsistent at first sight with the facts of change and variation which are also implied in this assertion, that it sounds more like a paradox than a truth, though it is a truth so true, that without it as a starting-point, there would be no possibility of paradox. What does it imply ? As we maintain, it implies this,—that the spiritual laws of the universe are far deeper rooted in the universe than they could be, if they were either the mere reflex or the mere evolution of physical laws. Physical objects cannot establish their own identity with the • physical objects of other days, still less with quite different physical objects of other days, and even if they could they certainly would not get their claim at once allowed, and made the ultimate basis and starting-point of a whole world of action. The power of our spirits to achieve this magic feat of memory, and identify ourselves with the children of a generation ago, is a wonderful assertion of the supremacy of mind over matter, but an assertion not by any means of the supremacy of any human mind over matter, but only of that Mind—for only a mind it could be—which so regulates the laws of the universe as to compel us all to make about ourselves this assertion, which we do not half under- stand, which we cannot explain, and which yet is at the root of all our actions, and part and parcel of the structure of every human society. If man's intellect were the highest intellectual phenomenon of our world, it is inconceivable that a truth so startling and so paradoxical could force itself upon us. Paradox is the partial glimpse which a lower mind gains of the truths strictly comprehensible only to a higher mind. The very firmness and absoluteness with which we grasp a paradoxical truth, and make it the light of all our being, is evidence that it is really imposed upon us by a higher Mind, to which it is a truism. We should be unable, by our own unassisted light, quite to believe in our own personal identity, so intrinsically paradoxical is it, were it not pressed down upon our minds by the final authority of the creative laws themselves. Nor can it be pretended that mere material forces could create any sort of belief at all, much less a belief in spiritual things almost contradicted by the evidence of the senses. This marvel of unquestioning faith, which every sane man carries from his childhood to his grave, that he is identical with, though different from, himself at all previous stages of his own career, is utterly inconceivable as a result of physical evolu- tion, or as a result of pre-established harmony, or as a result of anything but spiritual laws far wider and deeper than any which we can comprehend, but which, none the less, so completely con- trol our thoughts, as to hide entirely from the greater number of us the seeming contradictions which lurk beneath the truth, and to impress on us, as irresistible certainty, what the senses alone would declare to be nonsensical and incredible fictions.

Now, let us turn to the hypothesis which represents mind as never interfering in the course of physical events, but at best representing a mere inner aspect of the outward frame of things, a sort of backwater from the stream of physical laws and forces. It is of the very essence of that evolutional explanation of mind which assumes either, with Professor Clifford, that " mind- stuff " is one aspect of all matter, but that the highest mind- stuff in the universe is, so far as we know, the human mind- stuff,—or more reverentially, with Dr. Weismann, that there is a mind-stuff on the great scale, consisting in the whole mechan- ism of the universe, and bearing the same sort of mental fruit which our mind-stuff on its small scale, i.e., the human body, bears in what we call the mental life,—it is of the very essence of this theory of mind, we say, that mind is a phenomenon which varies in exact parallelism with the magnitude and scale of physical organisation, but which does not interfere between one link and another of the physical development, though it corresponds to it. Now, is that, so far as we have the means of judging, in any sense true ? We should say, judging by that portion of the universe which is within our own observation, that it is absolutely untrue. I am conscious, say, of being in a true sense the very person who was at a given school on a given day, translating a particular passage from Homer, thirty years ago. But amongst the occurrences of those thirty years, for how few can I still answer. How little real parallelism is there between the mind-stuff and the mental flower or fruit of it. Of the events of nearly one-third of the time,— the time occupied in sleep,—my memory is probably a total blank ; for a very great proportion of the rest of the time,—of the mechanical acts of walking, dressing, perhaps eating and drinking,—I am as little able to give any personal account as I am of my sleep. Of the few points of bright or intense conscious- ness, indeed, distributed over those thirty years, I can almost always explain the secret. Either a joy, or a sorrow, or a hope, or a fear, or a great effort of resolution, or some exciting cause which fixed attention vividly on the momentary attitude of my own mind, accounts for my personal self being so absolutely identified with that instant of life. But wherever attention was deficient, there memory, and consequently the power of self-identi-

fication, is certain to be deficient too. I can run back, even over my own history, only from point to point of lucid memory, knowing little about the intervals, except that there did live through them, somehow, a being whom I now identify as myself, and who gradually came to think as I think now, and feel as I feel now. But it is as far as possible from being true either that the mind varied precisely with the development of the phy- sical organisation, i.e., the " mind-stuff," or that it never directly interfered in that development. On the contrary, the mind, so far as we can represent it by consciousness at all, was often most vivid when the "mind-stuff" or physical organisation was most exhausted; and again, great changes in the physical organisation or mind-stuff were due, and due entirely, to the direct interfer- ence of the mind. One illness, for instance, was directly caused by an ambitions attempt to do something beyond my powers ; another, by running deliberately a risk of infection ; a third, by overstraining my eye-sight. Well, then, the self-consciousness on which alone we rely for our knowledge of our own identity absolutely assures us, first, that through a great part of our past lives the fullness of the development of our bodies was no index at all of the vividness of our mental life ; next, that very great changes indeed in the development of our bodies, were brought about solely by the direct interference of our minds in the circumstances of our bodily' development. In other words, instead of that perfect correspondence or "pre-established harmony " between physical and mental development which is the only resource of the mere evolutionist who starts from a physical basis, the most critical of all the facts of our spiritual consciousness,—that which insists on connecting together with a thread of personal identity a long series of different bodies always in a state of flux and change,—asserts that it is only through our acts of attention, that is, voluntary states for which we have no physical names at all, that we can recognise ourselves surely as having existed in the past, and, further, that many of these acts were the causes of very great and sudden transformations of the physical conditions of our bodily life, which altered altogether the order and conditions of our physical development. Nothing, then, can be less like the theory of a mind-stuff exhibiting mental phenomena cor- responding exactly to the elaborateness of physical organisa- tion, but which only run parallel with it, and never intervene in the chain of physical causes which mould it, than this. Our minds, we find, have had crises of their own which were certainly not determined solely, or even chiefly, by bodily crises, but rather by the intensity of the feelings and the will; and further, those crises have constantly produced crises in the development of our bodies of the most important kind ; so that neither does the development of the mental life reflect in any way the development of the bodily life, nor is the latter independent of the former, but is very greatly indeed influenced and modified by it. Indeed, it is clearly false to say either that the mental life is a function of the bodily life, or that the bodily life is a function of the mental life, or that there is a preconstituted harmony between the two. Each acts and reacts powerfully on the other, but neither is independent of the other. Instead of showing us any exact parallelism between the physical organi- sation and the mental life, the curious consciousness of personal identity, on which the whole structure of our life is founded, pre- sents us with the story of a few vivid memories linked together by a mysterious conviction of sameness, of which we can give no account without involving ourselves in contradictions. Does not this suggest most powerfully that so far from the Mind, which is in the truest sense the Mind of the universe, being in any sense a reflex of the physical structure of that universe, it controls and overrides it, giving us this strange and fitful in- sight into ourselves which we find it so difficult to reconcile with the facts of our external existence ; lifting us by glimpses of the unseen world into a certain limited command over the seen ; and, in short, maintaining the order of this physical life by flashes from the illumination of a higher and larger life ?