III: IS THERE A "SOUL"?
IF readers have erroneously thought the preceding arguments merely metaphysical, of no personal importance, they may now see that they lead to the most important issue possible for each one of us.
Reverting to Argument II. If thought, will, and feeling are part of the same source from which substance springs, and thus interconnected with substance, time, space, energy, then there is the possibility of consciousness being connected with substance and yet not necessarily dependent for continuity upon the maintenance of the physical form.
If consciousness is inherent in space, time, matter, energy, then there are as many grades of evolution in it as there are in matter. There must be electronic consciousness, atomic consciousness, energic consciousness, etheric consciousness; as well as the varied and comprehensive consciousness of organized beings, which must be compounds of the consciousnesses of all their component elements.
There is an organizing will and force in our involuntary processes; in the birth and growth of our bodies; in our so-called "subconscious mind" which has such powerful influence on our fates. These consciousnesses are part of our man-consciousness and yet partly separable from it, since they act largely without its knowledge.
These conscious organizing factors are not only necessary to maintain life, but organic evolution could not have taken place without them, as Prof. Seba Eldridge has shown. Eldridge shows that they have to be independent of the vital processes in order to regulate them; therefore, they must inhere in other forms of substance than those of which the organs are composed. They must be forms so far evolved that material means can know them only by their effects. And how about the ruling consciousness and will of man, which presides over all the organs, and can modify and direct their action?
The contradictory qualities ascribed to the "ether" indicate clearly the probability that instead of one "ether" as usually thought, science has to deal with a whole series of substances of a non-physical nature, lumped as yet under the one term. So taught the ancients, who approached the problem from the conscious side of things instead of the unconscious, unlike modern science.
If there be such a range of substances, each carrying its own shade or degree of consciousness, there is the possibility of the physical body being merely the visible aspect of a compound organism of vastly greater scope, not all parts of which need go to pieces with the visible part, any more than taking an organ from the body involves necessarily the death of the body.
There is an obvious difference in the quality and capacity of the consciousness of a rock, a plant, an animal, and a man. These differences must have come about by evolution, from the simple to the complex. Does such consciousness lie entirely in the visible substance of each of these forms, which go to pieces for good at death? Hardly, since in each living form the visible substance is drawn from lower forms, even from the mineral. If one claims that increasing complexity of organism creates a fuller consciousness, then a locomotive is more conscious than a rock, and a printing press more conscious than a locomotive.
This is the reductio ad absurdum, to which materialistic reasoning leads. Moreover, to control body and brain, often against their own impulses, involves a power superior to them. The simplest possible solution is the existence of a form or forms of highly evolved substance, interpenetrating and affecting the physical body, though invisible, as the magnetic field interpenetrates and affects iron. That is, a form coherent enough, old enough, to contain and carry past experience, and also able to act as a biological magnet to draw together and hold a new form from time to time through the processes of birth.
Is there any scientific obstacle to the idea of consciousness as existing within the limits of the body, but wedded to invisible forms of substance? Certainly not. Dr. Mathews shows this:
That we have aspirations and strivings for better things, for self-mastery, which are present in some degree in all human beings, is self evident. That is the kernel of the religion of every man in whatever philosophical system he may enshroud it. Do these aspirations spring from our atoms, or from something between them? Do they come from the ether which penetrates us and is, at times at least, gripped by our electrons, as it at other times grips them? Or since that ether flows through our electrons, are they inherent in the very atoms of which our bodies are made? Here is the whole question of the nature of man; the common puzzle for theologian and scientist; the common ground on which science and religion meet.
At the close of his volume he evidently leans toward the hypothesis of the invisible as containing greater possibilities.
... But the greater part of the volume of the body is the present, the uncreated, the immortal. It is part of the great universe; part of "I am."
Which of these two things are we: the gossamer, spider web of mortal; or the dense, unknown, immaterial, immortal ether which forms its background?
But whichever we are, we are part of the One, for the ether, the One, is streaming through our electrons either in time or space. While the distortion of these electrons may be but temporary and they be mortal, that essence of which they are made, the real essence, is the immortal. Perhaps this essence is the "élan vital" of Bergson; the driving force of evolution; the source of the unconquerable soul of man, and of its age and aeon-long struggle for freedom.
If evolution through reincarnation is not implied in this thought when logically carried out, what is?
The mental difference, therefore, between the different orders of life is due to the past nature and scope of the evolution of the respective controlling forms. In the mineral, for instance, such a form is hardly even incipient, its functioning confined solely to cohesion. Nothing but the preservation and transmission of acquired function and intelligence will explain the "ladder of life," with its closely-knit gradations of form and intelligence.
To science at the present date the forces behind evolution -- and we can give quote after quote -- are such an insoluble mystery that many have given up even discussing it. We have set forth above the true "missing link" without which no solution is possible.
The materialistically-inclined refuse to accept it -- as they say openly -- because it "would close the door to further knowledge." There is no logic in this -- the idea ought to be a stimulus instead of a discouragement. If there is a permanent form in man, it has been evolved under natural law and can become as much an object of study as anything else, if the proper means are found.
It happens that the ancients found that means.
COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:
THE "MISSING LINK"
If the doctrine of Metempsychosis(1) had been properly understood in its application to the indestructibility of matter and the immortality of spirit, it would have been perceived that it is a sublime conception. If the Pythagorean metempsychosis should be thoroughly explained and compared with the modern theory of evolution, it would be found to supply every "missing link" in the chain of the latter.
Arguments on Reincarnation
IV: Nature of Memory
ONE (1) FOOTNOTE LISTED BELOW:
COMPILER'S NOTE: I added this footnote; it was not in the article. If it doesn't paint an accurate enough picture, or is incorrect, I hope the Editors of THEOSOPHY magazine will spot it and point it out to me, so that I can make the necessary corrections.
(1) "Metempsychosis" is the progress of the soul from one stage of existence to another.
Back to text.