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Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure

by Edward Carpenter

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"Creation's incessant unrest, exfoliation."

I think it may perhaps be agreed, once for all, that the human mind is incapable of really defining even the smallest fact of nature. The simplest thing, or event, baffles us at the last. It is like trying to look at the front and back of a mirror at the same time. The utmost squinting avails not. The ego and the non-ego dance eluding through creation. To catch them both in any mortal object and pin them there, surpasses our powers. And yet they are there. Montaigne quotes somewhere the words of S. Augustine: Modus quo corporibus adhaerent spiritus ... omnino mirus est, nec comprehendi ab homine potest; et hoc ipse homo est. "The manner whereby spirits adhere to bodies is altogether wonderful, and cannot be conceived of by men; and yet this is man." Man himself contains, or rather is, the reconcilement of this and numberless other contradictions. We actually every day perform and exhibit miracles which the mental part of us is utterly powerless[Pg 182] to grapple with. Yet the solution, the intelligent solution and understanding of them is in us; only it involves a higher order of consciousness than we usually deal with—a consciousness possibly which includes and transcends the ego and the non-ego, and so can envisage both at the same time and equally—a fourth-dimensional consciousness to whose gaze the interiors of solid bodies are exposed like mere surfaces—a consciousness to whose perception some usual antitheses like cause and effect, matter and spirit, past and future, simply do not exist. I say these higher orders of consciousness are in us waiting for their evolution; and, until they evolve, we are powerless really to understand anything of the world around us.

Meanwhile, since we must have formulæ and generalisations to think by, we are fain to accept our local views, and look on the world from this side or from that. Sometimes we are idealists, sometimes we are materialists; sometimes we believe in mechanics, sometimes in human or spiritual forces. The science of the last fifty years has, as pointed out in a preceding paper, looked at things more from the mechanical than the distinctively human side—from the point of view of the non-ego, rather than of the ego. Reacting from an extreme tendency towards a subjective view of phenomena, which characterised the older speculations, and fearing to be swayed by a kind of partiality towards himself, the modern scientist has endeavoured to remove the human and [Pg 183]conscious element from his observations of Nature. And he has done valuable work in this way—but of course has been betrayed into a corresponding narrowness.

In fact the main scientific doctrine of the day, Evolution, is obviously suffering from this treatment, and the following remarks are merely a few notes by way of suggestion of some things which may be said on its more specially human side. For since each man is a part of nature, and in that sense a part also of the evolution-process, his own subjective experience ought at least to throw some light on the conditions under which evolution takes place, and to contribute something towards an understanding of the problem.

If the question is: What is the cause of Variation among animals? some approximation towards an answer ought to be got by each person asking himself, "Why do I vary?" Why—he might say—am I a different person from what I was ten years ago, or when I was a boy? Why have I varied in one direction and my brothers and sisters from the same nest in other directions? Though my individual consciousness only covers the small ground of my own life, and does not extend back to that of my father or forward to that of my son, still the intimate knowledge that I have of the forces acting on me during that short period may help me to an understanding of the forces that bring about the modification of men and animals at large, and the discovery of some[Pg 184] laws of my own growth may reveal to me the laws of race-growth.

In answer to such a question, it would speedily appear that there were two general causes determining direction of change or growth in the individual, which might be conveniently distinguished from each other—an external and an internal. In the first place the supposed person might say, "External conditions forced me along these lines. My father was a town artisan, but he apprenticed me to a farmer. I grew up a farmer's boy, and became an agricultural type as you see. I did not particularly care for farming, sometimes indeed I would have been glad to be out of it; but practically I succumbed to circumstances, and here I am." But in the second place he might answer thus:—"My father was himself a farmer; I was early used to the craft, and should no doubt have grown up in it, had I not hated it like poison. I loved music, broke away from home, joined a band, got on the musical staff of a small theatre, and am now a professional musician. My frame is comparatively slight, and my hands are of the nervous type, as you see. Of course, I have some of the old agricultural stock left in me, but I feel that that is dying out." The one cause would be a change of external conditions, forcing the man to accommodate himself to them; the other would be a change of internal conditions, an inward growth, expressing itself first in the form of an intense desire, and compelling the man to change himself and [Pg 185]probably also his environment in obedience to it. Two such general sets of causes, I say, could be roughly distinguished from each other; and probably indeed are recognised less or more distinctly by everyone as acting to modify his life. Nor can the life of a man at any time be said to be ruled by one of these forces alone. No man is modified by external conditions alone, without any play or reaction of inner needs and desires and growth from within; nor is any man transformed in obedience to an inner expansion without sundry lets and hindrances from without. The two forces are in constant play upon one another; but in some ways that would appear to be the more important which proceeds from the Man (or creature) himself, since this is obviously vital and organic to him, and therefore the most consistent and reliable factor in his modification, while the external force—arising from various and remote causes—must rather be regarded as discontinuous and accidental.

I propose, therefore, in these few pages to consider especially this inner force producing modification in man and animals—to try and find out of what nature it is, what is the law, and what are the limits of its action—premising always, as already suggested, that this distinction between "inner" and "outer," which is convenient and easy to handle on certain planes of thought, may ultimately, and in the last resort, prove very difficult or even impossible to maintain.

It is often said by Biologists that function precedes[Pg 186] organisation—that is, man fights with his fellows before he makes weapons to fight with; the rudimentary animal digests food (as in the case of the amoeba) before it acquires a stomach or organ of digestion; it sees or is sensitive to light before it grows an eye; in society letters are carried by private hands before an organised postal system is created. Such facts properly considered are of vital importance. They show us, as it were by a sign-post, the direction of creation. They show how any new thing or modification of an old thing may come into being. They may be supplemented by a second statement—namely that desire precedes function. That is, man desires to injure his fellow before he actually fights with him; he experiences the wish to communicate with distant friends before ever he thinks of sending such a thing as a letter; the amoeba craves for food first, and circumvents its prey afterwards. Desire, or inward change, comes first, action follows, and organisation or outward structure is the result.

In man this "order of creation," if it may so be called, i.e., from within outwards, is very marked. Whenever a man creates anything new he pursues it; when he builds a house, for instance, or composes a poem or piece of music, or designs an Alpine tunnel, or whatever it may be. The order seems to be: first, a feeling—a dim want or desire; then the feeling becomes conscious of itself, takes shape in thought; the thought becomes more defined and issues in a distinct plan;[Pg 187] the plan is committed to paper, models are made, etc.; and finally the actual work is begun and completed. The process appears as a movement from within outwards—the earliest and most authentic discernible source of the movement being a feeling—(though there may lie something behind that). Even in ordinary action the same order is manifest; for, though of course every action is not preceded by desire—since we know that actions soon become habitual and more or less unconscious—still a vast number of them are immediately so preceded; and in the case of any action that is new, either to the individual or to the race, its inception is generally accompanied by effort so painful that it would not be exerted unless the desire were very strong. The difficulty which a man experiences in learning any new art, and the records of the many failures, struggles, oppositions, persecutions, etc., which have attended every new invention or innovation of any kind in human history, afford plenty of evidence of this last point. Certainly the effort that accompanies a new action is not always faced so much from sheer desire of the new thing itself as from fear perhaps of something else—as it may be contended that monkeys did not take to climbing trees because they loved trees, but because they feared the beasts below, or that the giraffe did not stretch its neck because it particularly desired to feed on leaves, as because it could not get food any other way—but still, even in these cases the desire may be said to exist, though[Pg 188] it is secondary—being founded upon another and more elementary desire—the desire namely of escaping pain or obtaining food. In either case a desire of some kind is a precedent condition of the new action. And so as we know of no case of a new action coming into play without being preceded by desire, we seem to be justified in supposing that all our actions when they were first initiated (in our forefathers, if not in ourselves) were so preceded. If this is so, then, since function is always preceded by desire, and organisation is preceded by function, organisation must necessarily be preceded by desire. And if this is the order of creation in man, should we not reasonably look in this direction for the key to the variation of animals and the order of creation in general?[39]

If a farmer's son is occasionally born who hates farming and loves music, and who ultimately through the force of his desire (driving him into oppositions and difficulties and penurious struggles) transforms himself into a musician, is it not also likely that occasionally an animal is born who hates the customs of his tribe, and at last (also through struggles) transforms himself into something else? Even if he does not succeed (the animal) in entirely transforming himself, he likely transmits the desire in some degree to[Pg 189] his descendants, and the transformation is thus carried on and completed later. For everywhere among the animals there is desire, of some kind or another, obviously acting; and if in man, by our own experience, desire is the precursor and first expression of growth, is there any reason why it should not also be so among animals? Lamarck gives the instance—among others—of a gasteropod; how the need or desire of touching bodies in front of it as it crawled along would result in the formation of tentacles. The gasteropod, he says, would keep making efforts to feel with the front of its head, and the determination of consciousness that way would be accompanied by a supply of nervous and other fluids, which would nourish the part and cause growth there—the form of the growth continuing in the same way to be determined by need—till at last two or more tentacles would appear. True, the inward determinations of consciousness may not be so vivid and varied in animals as they are in men; but they are persistent, and by the very cumulative force of habit which is so strong in animals, must at length penetrate down through function into organisation and external form. Who shall say that the lark, by the mere love of soaring and singing in the face of the sun, has not altered the shape of its wings, or that the forms of the shark or of the gazelle are not the long-stored results of character leaning always in certain directions, as much as the forms of the miser or the libertine are among men?

[Pg 190]

Such modification as this is very different from the "survival of the fittest" of the Darwinian evolution theory. We may fairly suppose that both kinds of modification take place; but the latter is a sort of easy success won by an external accident of birth—a success of the kind that would readily be lost again; while the former is the uphill fight of a nature that has grown inwardly and wins expression for itself in spite of external obstacles—an expression which therefore is likely to be permanent. If the progenitors of man took to going upright on two legs instead of on all fours, merely because a few of them by chance were born with a talent for that position, which enabled them to escape the fanged and pursuing beasts, then when this danger was removed they might have plumped down again into the old attitude; but if the change was part and parcel of a true evolution, the fulfilment of a positive desire for the upright position, a true unfolding of a higher form latent within—an organic growth of the creature itself, then, though the moment of the evolution of this particular faculty might be determined by the fanged beasts, the fact of such evolution could not be determined by them. Besides, are we to suppose that Man, the lord and ruler of the animals, came merely by way of escape from the animals? Do lords and rulers generally come so? Was it fear that made him a man? Were it not likelier that in that case he would have turned into a worm? He would have escaped better perhaps that way. Is it not rather probable[Pg 191] that it was some nobler power that worked transforming—some dim desire and prevision of a more perfect form, the desire itself being the first consciousness of the urge of growth in that direction—that prompted him to push in the one direction rather than the other when he had to hold his own against the tigers? In fact is it not thus to-day, when a man has to meet danger, that the ideal which he has within him determines how he shall meet that danger, and others like it, and so ultimately determines the whole attitude and carriage of his body?

On the whole then, judging from man himself (and it seems most cautious and scientific to derive our main evidence from the being that we are best acquainted with), it certainly seems to me that, though the external conditions are a very important factor in Variation, the central explanation of this phenomenon should be sought in an inner law of Growth—a law of expansion more or less common to all animate nature. Partly because, as said before, the unfolding of the creature from its own needs and inward nature is an organic process, and likely to be persistent, while its modification by external causes must be more or less fortuitous and accidental and sometimes in one direction and sometimes in another; partly also because the movement from within outwards seems to be most like the law of creation in general. Under this view the external conditions would be considered a secondary—though important cause of modification; and regarded rather as[Pg 192] the influences that give form and detail to the great primal impulse of growth from within; while the creature's own ingenuity and good luck would occupy the ground between the two—as the means whereby the external conditions in each individual case would be turned to account to satisfy the inner needs, or the inner life would be accommodated to the external conditions.

If we take the external view of Variation—which is the one most favoured by modern science—modification or race-growth appears as an unconscious or accretive process, similar to the formation of a coral reef. There is no line of growth native in the race itself, but at any moment it is supposed to have an equal tendency to vary in any direction. Surrounding conditions act selectively; and by a process of weeding out certain types survive; small successive modifications are thus accumulated; and gradually and in the lapse of ages a more pliable and differentiated creature, and more adaptable to a variety of conditions, is produced—in whom however mind is incidental, and has played but small part in the creature's evolution. This in the main is the Darwinian-evolution theory.

If we take the internal view, growth is from the first eminently conscious. Every change begins in the mental region—is felt first as a desire gradually taking form into thought, passes down into the bodily region, expresses itself in action (more or less dependent on conditions), and finally solidifies itself in organisation and structure.[Pg 193] The process is not accretive, but exfoliatory—a continual movement from within outwards. When the desire or mental condition, which at first was painfully conscious, has overcome opposition and established itself in altered bodily structure, it has done its work, and becomes unconscious—the bodily function continuing for a long period to act automatically, till finally it is thrown off to make room for some later development. Thus race-growth or Variation is a process by which change begins in the mental region, passes into the bodily region where it becomes organised, and finally is thrown off like a husk. This may be called the theory of Exfoliation.

To illustrate our meaning. Let us take the development of an eye. In the amoeba there is a dim pervasive sensitiveness to light over the whole body, but there is no eye, nothing that we should call vision. Still this vague sensitiveness is of use to the amoeba. The shadow of its prey falling upon the creature and exciting a sensation hardly yet differentiated from touch helps to guide its movements. On this dim sensation it relies to some extent; its attention is directed towards it. Gradually, and in some descendant form, there comes to be a point on the body on which this attention is most specially concentrated. The faculty is localised; and from that moment a change is effected there, a differentiation and a special structure; everything that favours sensitiveness is encouraged at that place, everything that dulls it is removed; and before[Pg 194] long—there is a rudimentary eye. To-day we use our perfected eyes, and are hardly conscious that we are doing so; but every power of vision that we have was thus won for us by some lowlier creature, step by step, with effort and with concentration. Or to take an illustration from society. To-day society is ill at ease; a dim feeling of discontent pervades all ranks and classes. A new sense of justice, of fraternity, has descended among us, which is not satisfied with mere chatter of demand and supply. For a long time this new sentiment or desire remains vague and unformed, but at last it resolves itself into shape; it takes intellectual form, books are written, plans formed; then after a time definite new organisations, for the distinct purpose of expressing these ideas, begin to exist in the body of the old society; and before so very long the whole outer structure of society will have been reorganised by them. After a few centuries the ideas for whose realisation we now fight and struggle with an intense consciousness will have become commonplace, accepted institutions, more or less effete and ready to succumb before fresh mental births taking place from within.

The modern evolution theory would maintain that among many amoebas and descendant forms, one would at last by chance be born having the usual sensitiveness localised in a particular spot, and, surviving by force of this advantage, would transmit this "eye" to its posterity; or that in the progress of society, new economic conditions[Pg 195] having arisen, that people would prosper best which most effectually and rapidly adapted itself to them. But though there is doubtless truth in this view, yet it seems, when all has been said, to be inadequate and even feeble; it omits at least one half of the problem. If we look at ourselves, as already pointed out, we see the two forces—the inner and the outer—acting and re-acting on each other. May it not be so in animals? Lamarck, poorly off, blind, derided, was a true poet. "Animals vary from low and primitive types chiefly by dint of wishing"—and the world laughed and still laughs. But it was his deep sympathy even with the worms and insects (which he studied till he could discern them with his mortal eyes no longer) that led Lamarck to see the human nature and the human laws that moved within them; and as his outward sight grew dim there arose before him the inward vision of the true relationship which binds together all living creatures—which was indeed a vision of divine things, and as different from the mere mechanism-theory of the survival of the fittest as the sight of the starry heavens is different from a governess's lesson on the use of the globes.

On the theory of Exfoliation, which was practically Lamarck's theory, there is a force at work throughout creation, ever urging each type onward into new and newer forms. This force appears first in consciousness in the form of desire. Within each shape of life sleep needs and wants without number, from the lowest and simplest to the most[Pg 196] complex and ideal. As each new desire or ideal is evolved, it brings the creature into conflict with its surroundings, then gaining its satisfaction externalises itself in the structure of the creature, and leaves the way open for the birth of a new ideal. If then we would find a key to the understanding of the expansion and growth of all animate creation, such a key may exist in the nature of desire itself and the comprehension of its real meaning. It is not certain that it can be found here; but it may be.

What then is desire in Man? Here we come back again, as suggested at the outset, to Man himself. Though we see pretty clearly that desire is at work in the animals, and that it is the same in kind as exists in man, still, among the animals it is but dim and inchoate, while in man it is developed and luminous; in ourselves, too, we know it immediately, while in the animals only by inference. For both reasons, therefore, if we want to know the nature of desire—even to know its nature among animals—we should study it in Man. What then is this desire in Man, which seems to be the instigation and origin of all his growth and development? At first it seems a hydra-headed senseless thing without rhyme or reason; but the more one regards it the more clearly one sees that even in its lowest forms it is steadily building up and liberating all the functions of the human being. In its most perfect form—as in what we call Love—it is the sum and solution of human activities, that in which they converge,[Pg 197] for which they all exist, and without which they would be considered useless. The more you look into this matter, the plainer it becomes. The lesser desires—the self-preservation desires—hunger, thirst, the desire of power—exist, but when they are satisfied they empty themselves into this one; they find their interpretation in it. The other desires are nothing by themselves—the most absorbing, avarice, ambition, desire of knowledge, taken alone, stultify themselves—but love perpetuates itself; it is a flame which uses all the rest as its fuel. And this Love, which is the culmination of desire, does it not appear to us as a worship of and desire for the human form? In our bodies a desire for the bodily human form; in our interior selves a perception and worship of an ideal human form, the revelation of a Splendour dwelling in others, which—clouded and dimmed as it inevitably may come to be—remains after all one of the most real, perhaps the most real, of the facts of existence? Desire, therefore—as it exists in man, look at it how you will—as it unfolds and its ultimate aim becomes clearer and clearer to itself, is seen to be the desire and longing for the deliverance and expression of the real human Being. May it not, must it not, be the same thing in animals and all through creation? Beginning in the most elementary and dim shapes, does it not grow through all the stages of organic life clearer and more and more powerful, till at last it attains to self-consciousness in humanity and[Pg 198] becomes avowedly the leading factor in our development?

The desire which runs through creation is one desire. Rudimentary at first and hardly conscious of itself, throwing out a tentacle here, a foot there, developing an eye, a claw, a nostril, a wing, it seeks in innumerable shapes and with ever partial success to realise the image it has dimly conceived. The animal kingdom is the gymnasium, the school, the antechamber, of humanity; to walk through a zoological garden is to see the inchoate types of man, perched on branches, or browsing grass, or boring holes in the ground; it is to witness a grand rehearsal of some stupendous part, whose character we do not even yet fully see or understand. From such half-conscious beginnings the desire grows, its aim becomes clearer, till in the higher animals—the horse, the dog, the elephant, the bird, and many others—it becomes a marked and unmistakable force drawing them close to man, uniting them to him in a kind of acknowledged kinship, and as obviously at work modifying their structure as can be. Finally in man himself it becomes an absorbing power; love becomes a conscious worship of the divine form; generation itself is the means whereby, in time, the supreme object of desire is realised. When at last the perfect Man appears, the key to all nature is found, every creature falls into its place and finds its Interpreter, and the purpose of creation is at last made manifest.

The Theory of Exfoliation then differs from[Pg 199] that very specialised form of Evolution which has been adopted by modern science, in this particular among others: that it fixes the attention on that which appears last in order of Time, as the most important in order of causation, rather than on that which appears first; and recalls to us the fact that often in any succession of phenomena, that which is first in order of precedence and importance is the last to be externalised. Thus in the growth of a plant we find leaf after leaf appearing, petal within petal—a continual exfoliation of husks, sepals, petals, stamens and what-not; but the object of all this movement, and that which in a sense sets it all in motion, namely the seed, is the very last thing of all to be manifested. Or when a volcano breaks out—first of all we have a cracking and upheaval of superficial layers of ground, then of layers below these, then the outflow of lava, and last of all the uprush of the inner fires and forces which set it all agoing. What appears first in time, or in the outer world is—in the case of the building of a house, the making of bricks; in the case of the flower, the outermost bracts; in the case of a volcano, the stirring of the surface of the ground; and in the case of Life on the Earth, the appearance of protoplasms and primordial cells. The bricks are not the cause of the house (if indeed the word "cause" should be used here at all) but rather the house—or the conception of the house—is the cause of the bricks; and the cells are not the origin of Man, but Man is the original[Pg 200] of the cells. The rationale of sea-anemones and mud-fish and flying foxes and elephants has to be looked for in man: he alone underlies them. And man is not a vertebrate because his ancestors were vertebrate; but the animals are vertebrate, because or in so far as they are forerunners and offshoots of Man.

It has been frequently said that great material changes are succeeded by intellectual and finally by moral revolutions—as the conquests of Alexander passed on into the literary expansion of the Alexandrian schools and thence into the establishment of Christianity, or as the mechanical developments of our own time have been followed by immense literary and scientific activities, and are obviously passing over now into a great social regeneration; but a reconsideration of the matter might, I take it, lead us not so much to look on the later changes as caused by the earlier, as to look on the earlier as the indications and first outward and visible signs of the coming of the later. When a man feels in himself the upheaval of a new moral fact, he sees plainly enough that that fact cannot come into the actual world all at once—not without first a destruction of the existing order of society—such a destruction as makes him feel satanic; then an intellectual revolution; and lastly only, a new order embodying the new impulse. When this new impulse has thoroughly materialised itself, then after a time will come another inward birth, and similar changes will be passed through again. So it might be said that the work of each[Pg 201] age is not to build on the past, but to rise out of the past and throw it off; only of course in such matters where all forms of thought are inadequate it is hard to say that one way of looking at the subject is truer than another. As before, we should endeavour to look at the thing from different sides.

We are obliged to use images to think by—e.g. the opening of a flower or the accretive growth of a coral reef—and possibly it would save a good deal of trouble if we did not disguise by long words the truth that all our theories in science and philosophy are simply metaphors of this kind—but the fact still lies behind and below them.

Perhaps, if we are to use the word Cause at all, we should do well to use it in the old sense in which the final cause and the efficient cause are one (the eidos of Aristotle)—to use it not so much to link phenomena or externals to each other as to link each phenomenon in a group to the thought or feeling which underlies that group. The notes in the Dead March in Saul, for instance. We cannot say that one note is the cause of another, but we might say that each note stands in a causal subordination to the feeling which inspired the piece—which is the origin of the piece and the result of its performance—the alpha and omega of it. Similarly, the ground floor in a house is not the cause of the first floor, nor the first floor of the second floor, nor that of the roof; but these actualities and the whole house itself stand in strict relationship to a mental something which is[Pg 202] not in the same plane with them at all, nor an actuality in the same sense.

According to this view the notion that one configuration of atoms or bodies determines the next configuration turns out to be illusive. Both configurations are determined by a third something which does not belong to quite the same order of existence as the said atoms or bodies. Chance "laws" of succession may doubtless be found among physical events, and are valuable for practical purposes, but at any moment—owing to their superficiality—they may fail. Thus, an insect observing the expansion of the petals of a chrysanthemum might frame a law of their order of succession in size and colour, which would be valid for a time, but would fail entirely when the stamens appeared. Or, to take another illustration, physical science acts like a man trying to find direct causal relations between the various leaves of a tree, without first finding the relations of these to the branches and trunk—and so solving the problem indirectly. It deals only with the surface of the world of Man.

In thinking about such matters, Music, as Schopenhauer shows, is wonderfully illustrative, because in creating music man recognises that he is creating a world of his own—apart from and not to be confused with that other world of Nature (in which he does not recognise any of his handiwork). Supposing a non-musical person were to examine and analyse the score of a Beethoven symphony, he would be in the same [Pg 203]position as a man examining and analysing Nature by purely scientific or intellectual methods. He would discover the recurrence of certain groups among the notes, he would establish laws of their sequences, would make all kinds of curious generalisations about them, and point out some remarkable exceptions, would even very likely be able to predict a bar or two over the page; his treatise would be very learned, and from a certain point of view interesting also, but how far would he be from any real understanding of his subject? Let him change his method: let him train his ear, let him hear the symphony performed, over and over, till he understands its meaning and knows it by heart; and then he will know at any rate something of why each note is there, he will see its fitness and feel in himself the "law" of its occurrence, and possibly in some new case will be able to predict several bars over the page! The symphony is not understood by examination and comparison of the notes alone, but by experience of their relation to deepest feelings; and Nature is not explained by laws, but by its becoming—or rather being felt to be—the body of Man; marvellous interpreter and symbol of his inward being.

There is a kind of knowledge or consciousness in us—as of our bodily parts, or affections, or deep-seated mental beliefs—which forms the base of our more obvious and self-conscious thought. This systemic knowledge grows even while the brain sleeps. It is not by any means absolute or [Pg 204]infallible, but it affords, at any moment in man's history, the axiomatic ground on which his thought-structures, scientific and other, are built. Thus the axioms of Euclid are part of our present systemic knowledge, and afford the ground of all our geometry structures. But as the systemic consciousness grows, the ground shifts and the structures reared upon it fall. All our modern science, for instance, is founded on the acceptation of mechanical cause and effect as a basic fact of consciousness; but when that base gives way the entire structure will cave in, and a new edifice will have to be reared. Similarly, when the human form becomes distinctly visible to us in the animals—as an unavoidable part of our consciousness—this consciousness will form a new base or axiom for all our thought on the subject, and the theory of evolution, as hitherto conceived by science, will be entirely transformed.

Thus, although the experimental investigatory coral-reef accretion method of modern science is very valuable within its range, it must not be forgotten that the human mind does not progress more than temporarily by this method—that its progression is a matter of growth from within, and involves a continual breaking away of the bases of all thought-structures; so that, while this latter—i.e., the progression of the systemic consciousness of man—is necessary and continuous, the rise and fall of his thought-systems is accidental, so to speak, and discontinuous.

It is then finally in Man—in our own deepest[Pg 205] and most vital experience—that we have to look for the key and explanation of the changes that we see going on around us in external Nature, as we call it; and our understanding of the latter, and of History, must ever depend from point to point on the exfoliation of new facts in the individual consciousness. Round the ultimate disclosure of the essential Man all creation (hitherto groaning and travailing towards that perfect birth) ranges itself, as it were, like some vast flower, in concentric cycles; rank beyond rank; first all social life and history, then the animal kingdom, then the vegetable and mineral worlds. And if the outer circles have been the first in fact to show themselves, it is by this last disclosure that light is ultimately thrown on the whole plan; and, as in the myth of the Eden-garden, with the appearance of the perfected human form that the work of creation definitely completes itself.


[39] This does not, of course, preclude the action of external conditions, or imply that organisation is determined by desire alone. In fact organisation may be regarded as the expression of desire acting under conditions—as in the cases of the monkey and giraffe above.

[Pg 206]

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