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The Drama of Love and Death Edward Carpenter

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The Drama of Love and Death

by Edward Carpenter

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Consciousness in the Body

In order not to burden this already rather lengthy chapter with matter which may not be needed, I append here some general considerations for those who have not given much attention to the subject of the various grades of consciousness in the body—considerations tending to show that the various parts and passions of the body and mind have a life and intelligence of their own, and that the whole human organism is a hierarchy (not always perfectly harmonious) of psychic entities.

We generally allow of course that our central or dominant selves are alive and conscious (though no doubt we use those epithets with a rather sad vagueness). But having allowed that, the extraordinary phenomena of variable and alternating personality compel us to admit that there may be many such centres within one person, each of which though now buried may in its turn become dominant and take conscious lead, and which must therefore be credited with life and intelligence (even if an alien life and intelligence to “our own”). Even the most ordinary brain-centres are in the habit of carrying on whole departments of the bodily organization with an independent intelligence of their own, and are sometimes liable under the influence of some excitement (like drink, or religion, or some enthusiasm) to take possession of the whole man and transform him into another creature—exhibiting in doing so a strange degree of invasive vitality and alertness. It is quite certain that the myriad microscopic cells of the body are alive, each with its own little particular 108 life; and the more one studies these cells the more difficult it is not to credit them each, in their degree, with a particular consciousness or intelligence. And each body-organ again, composed of a congeries or colony of body-cells, has a life of its own on and beyond that of its component cells, and exhibits curious signs too of intelligence and emotion, which often (especially in sickness) affect the moods and thoughts of the entire man.

The whole of the subconscious world, in fact—that world which only occasionally breaks through into the upper consciousness—must be allowed to be alive, and in its various degrees methodical and calculating. This is well seen in the phenomena of dreams and of hypnotism, in both of which the most acute and diabolical ingenuity is often shown—as of weird imps working in dark chambers of the brain quite unbeknown to their supposed lord and master; or in the extraordinary phenomena of trance and “automatic” speaking and writing; or in telepathy and clairvoyance; or again in the craftiness of utter lunatics; or in the strange evasions and mental dodgery which (as just hinted) are induced by diseases of certain organs; or in the phenomena of mental healing, where an appeal to the subconscious intelligence in any and every corner of the body is often followed by extraordinary response; or in the subtle instinctive knowledge and perception of babes, and of animals, long before self-consciousness has developed; or again, in the sly cunning of ancient dotards; or in the complex bodily reflexes carried on perfectly unknown to ourselves during life; or in the continued functioning of some of the organs after death. In all these cases, and in scores of others not mentioned, it is clear that the majority of the processes of the human system are carried on by minor intelligences. They are indeed carried on by crowds of minor intelligences—to which we accord the 109 epithet “automatic,” and which no doubt we regard as mechanical, as long, that is, as they work smoothly and without friction and opposition. But when they do not do so, when pain, disease and lunacy cut in—when a violent burn sets the epithelial cells screaming, and the scream comes into our consciousness as the vibration of pain; when a diseased liver twists the events of life and the faces of our friends into malignant shape and mien; when lust and hypochondria people the mind with phantoms; and drink makes all the functions mad—then we say we are “possessed with devils,” then we recognize, if only on the dark side, the pervading intelligence or intelligences of the body.

It is like the Head of a Department, as I have said, whose subordinate officials are working under him agreeably and harmoniously. As long as that is the case, he may have in his mind a general outline of the working of the Department. He probably is ignorant of most of the details; he certainly does not know personally many of his subordinates, but he superintends the working of the whole. Presently, however, occurs something of a strike or émeute; whereupon he discovers that vast numbers of his men are intelligently discussing questions or problems of whose existence he was almost ignorant; personalities appear before him whom, before, he knew at most only by name; and they argue their case with an acumen and vitality which surprises him. For the first time, in this revolt of his department, he comes to realize the amount of intelligent activity which is at work within it, beneath the surface. So it is with us in the case of disease. In health we have no trouble, unity prevails. As long as “we” are on top, and the intelligences which carry on the body are working on friendly terms with us, their minds do not intrude into our realm, and we are practically unaware of them. But when through 110 our mismanagement or other cause dissension breaks out, then indeed we realize what kind of forces they are with which we have to deal, and of what a wonderful hierarchy of intelligences the body is composed. [48]

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