Popular Science Monthly/Volume 27/June 1885/The Nervous System and Consciousness III
|THE NERVOUS SYSTEM AND CONSCIOUSNESS.|
PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY AND LOGIC IN THE UNIVERSITY OF CINCINNATI.
WE are beginning to hear lamentations over the realism of our time. Not only are the gods dead, God is dead. Art finds no place for Imagination, save in setting her to devise ways and means for a more complete photographic process. Among the crimes laid to the account of Science, this is not the least; indeed, perhaps this may sum them all, that she has taken away our Lord and will show us nothing in return but the geologic formation of a sepulchre. While this charge is unjust, radically unjust, it must be allowed that the manner of commendation employed by many advocates of science is responsible, in large measure, for our bread-and-butter attitude. The fault lies in the original constitution of certain men—not that they are scientists, but that they are small scientists; men for whom a formula, or a compound, or a root, or a fact whatsoever, is the end. To know the most names of the most classifications is to be saved, to apply chemistry in the manufacture of salable beer is to make "calling and election" sure. The devotion of these little men to science is not only at the expense of all that is highest, but is, as was intimated, largely responsible for the realism over which so many weep. Men of science, that is to say men of science, are not accountable for deadness of soul. The wonder with which those early Greeks looked out upon the face of all things may not for one instant be compared with the wonder that fills the soul to-day before this stupendous universe:
"Die Geisterwelt ist nicht verschlossen:
Dein Sinn ist zu, dein Herz ist todt."
Because we have learned that color is not in sunset or rose, is there therefore no color? Is the marvel anywise diminished by knowing that, upon matter so adjusted and so acting as the brain is adjusted and acts, all color depends? Because there is no sound in bell, or breeze, or ocean, is there therefore no sound? And wherein is the wonder of it diminished when we have learned the construction of the ear, its possible relation to a particular fold in the brain, and the necessity of this for all the harmonies that fill the soul with glory? Are we, the thinking, sorrowing, hoping selves, any the less real because all this thinking, all this sorrowing, and all this hoping depend in strictest sense upon that most highly organized form of matter the human brain?
George Eliot spoke truly when she said, "To advance in knowledge is to outline, more perfectly, our ignorance"; and who does not wonder before the unknown? When man is brought, as, if he is capable of it, science will bring him, face to face with the darkness of mystery, does he boast himself of all that he has learned? We may rest assured that the glory of mystery has not departed from off the face of the heavens or of the deep. I know not where this mystery is greater, or the wonder of it more manifest, than in the relation which obtains between the brain and consciousness, between the brain and the personality that thinks and feels and wills. This relation is a fact. All that we call our soul-life, from the sensations, the "building-stones" of this life, to the most abstract thought and holiest desire, stands dependent upon the activities of nerve-matter. Surely no one will be led to say, so are these things dependent on stomach, lungs, and heart. Such dependence is indirect, mediate, the other direct and immediate. Between consciousness and the brain, between nerve-matter and ourselves, there is a relation close, constant, immediate; we may well strive to reason upon the character of this relation. Here at the outset, this term reason must have clear meaning. I intend to use the word as expressive of the process of inferring, of drawing a conclusion from premises. I have now no concern with those who intuitively perceive truths beyond the territories of sense and inference. Those for whom the immateriality of the soul is a direct deliverance of consciousness may smile at the crawling pace of my induction; still, it is an honest and a needful endeavor to search after those conclusions respecting brain and consciousness which the inductive, inferential process shall necessitate.
In such search, nothing, as I think, is more important than to be assured that, in reasoning from the knowledge given by our senses to conclusions which transcend such knowledge, we must proceed according to discerned resemblance.
Two things agreeing with, which means, for us, resembling, one and the same third thing, agree with, that is resemble, each other; and two things, of which one agrees with, that is, for us, resembles, and the other does not agree with, that is, for us, does not resemble, a third thing, do not resemble each other. If the manifestations of nerve-matter and the manifestations of consciousness disagree, seem unlike after our best examinations, it is unreasonable to give them a common cause*, they can not, by us as rational beings, be brought into such close relation.
Permit me to ask attention to a further consideration. Neither the direct knowledge given by our senses, nor this inferred knowledge, furnishes a solution of the mystery which belongs to the subjects we investigate. It is often said and as often forgotten that all explanation of natural processes consists solely in the resolution of involved combinations of activities into their elements. We make a false demand of the evolutionist when we insist that he shall tell us how the biological is evolved from the a-biological, and he makes a false demand of the spiritualist when he requires to be told how mind acts on brain or brain on mind. There is no such thing as being told the how of what takes place. The starting-points are unknowable in their nature and in the reasons of their operations. If I have not completely misunderstood that vigorous book, "Modern Physical Concepts," the purpose of its writer was to show that the so-called bases of physical science do not represent entities any more than the terms vitality, justice, humanity, law, represent entities, but that the bases of physical science stand for the present highest generalizations of the mind working inductively, that these bases do not exist out yonder among the spaces, but here within the thinker, and that when we affirm matter to be, outside of us, exactly thus and so, force exactly thus and so, we are but repeating the mediæval procedure of declaring that beneath the oak-tree there is an oak nature, beneath human beings a human nature. Judge Stallo, as I think, found the mind at its old trick in modern physical science, the trick of actualizing, and thrusting out yonder into space, its thoughts, its concepts, and of worshiping them as lords of all, explainers forever. Service is rendered here, not for orthodoxy as against heterodoxy, not for spiritualism as against materialism, but for all truth as against all error. We need to keep in mind that the only thing which can be accomplished by science, or by philosophy, as the unification of the sciences, is a detection and expression of resemblance between phenomena and between the modes of their activity. This may give us a law of evolution extending over all manifestations, a law not perched up on matter compelling it to evolve, but a law expressive of our feeling of similarity where we had previously felt diversity.
This resemblance is detected by observation. Now, observation is a process, not a thing. Its character is never determined by the object observed. Observation is not an instrument possessed by the physicist alone. Observation is an intellectual operation, and may be as genuine, as honest, when directed to thoughts, emotions, volitions, as when brought to bear on stars, rocks, or brains. The time has come when the truth shall assert itself that philosophy is an attempt to unify all our experiences, an attempt to be able to say that whereas here and here and here my experiences seemed unlike, separate, they now seem alike and conjoined.
The application of all this to man is plain; indeed, has been for these past years most impressively operative. Formerly, man was supposed to possess an intellectual and moral nature distinct in kind; in him was thought to reside a force peculiar, above and beyond all other forces. Observation has had much to say, as many believe, in contravention of these conclusions; and it is now well known that the doctrine of evolution is brought to bear on all sides of human psychology in a way special and searching. I have not here in mind the work of Spencer or Bain, or their immediate disciples. Within very recent days books have been published which show painstaking research in distinct psychological departments. Ribot has discussed the physiology and pathology of memory; Grant Allen has offered help in the "tangled territory" of æsthetics; Leslie Stephen has written a science of ethics, stating as his purpose, "to lay down an ethical doctrine in harmony with the doctrine of evolution"; G. H. Schneider, author of a work on the animal will, has just published a careful treatise on the human will from the stand-point of the modern development theory; Professor Preyer, at Jena, has set out the results of his observations on the soul of the child—observations made with greatest care three times each day during the first three years of child-life. I might extend my list at length; for this there is no need. We are face to face with the question of the relation between brain and consciousness. I have said that this relation is positive and constant, though few, except physicians, realize the meaning of such a fact. It means, in the first place, that changes of consciousness coincide with molecular changes in the brain. For every alteration in consciousness, however slight and transient, there has been a molecular change in the brain. This relation means, in the second place, that there is a physical basis for memory. Whether we accept or reject localization of functions in the cerebral hemispheres, we must believe that the cell-modifications which coincide with specific sensations remain permanently, thus furnishing a physical, organic requisite for memory. In the third place, this relation means that, in a recollection of any of our experiences, there is presupposed a renewed activity of those very portions of the brain which assisted in the experience. There are no transcendentalists so transcendental that they may transcend this direct relationship between what they are pleased to call gross matter and their sublimest ecstasy. What opinion must we form as to the nature of this relation?
We have choice of two conclusions which are alternatives. We may say the relation of brain-matter and consciousness is one of correlation, conversion—or we may say it is one of instrument to personality. Personality is here, as everywhere, a term chosen to represent a series of manifestations so alike among themselves and so unlike all other manifestations as to necessitate a specific designation. By adopting the term personality, we should affirm our belief in the existence of some form of being, which, for us, is persistently unlike every other form of being with which we come into relation. Here the element of speculation, which is a necessary part of all reasoning, appears. Whether we accept correlation or personality, we accept what can no more be directly known than the mortality of men now living, or the return of the seasons. All reasoning is beyond the facts, and is in this a speculation; but reasoning need be no more an unsafe guide on such subjects as the one before us than on any of the complex affairs where we gladly trust its teachings. Our demand of Reason must be that, though she lead us beyond the facts, she shall never lead us contrary to the facts. Again, I would say, it should be recognized that neither of the conclusions above indicated is a solution of the mystery attendant upon consciousness. The pride of the little scientists induces them all too often to declare that, by the first of these alternatives, they have cleared away the obscurity which they love to call metaphysical and let in the white light of comprehension.
So, in turn, the other party, seizing hold of the fact of personality, forthwith affirm that, by it, man's immateriality, immortality, and divinity, are forever made visible in the light of consciousness. All this is quite aside from that inferential process which, as reasoning beings, we should prescribe for ourselves. Is the relation between brain and consciousness one of correlation; may we, according to the evidence, believe it to be one of correlation? Physiological materialism is an extension of the doctrine of correlation to consciousness. It is needful to know what is meant by correlation. Correlation is a necessary, reciprocal production. "Any force capable of producing another may be produced by it. Each mode of force is capable of producing the others, and none of them can be produced but by some other as an anterior force. The various affections of matter, heat, light, electricity, have a reciprocal dependence; either may produce or be convertible into any of the others." The materialism of physiology extends this doctrine of correlation to consciousness. The well-worn language of Professor Huxley ("Darwin and his Critics") is again in point. "As the electric force, the light-waves and the nerve-vibrations caused by the impact of the light-waves on the retina are all expressions of the molecular changes which are taking place in the elements of the battery, so consciousness is, in the same sense, an expression of the molecular changes which take place in that nervous matter which is the organ of consciousness." A short sentence from Dr. Carpenter to the same effect: "There is just the same evidence of what has been termed correlation between nerve-force and that primary state of mental activity which we call sensation that there is between light and nerve-force." Now, the proposition, fundamental to my paper, is that such a conclusion can not rationally be drawn, unless the characteristics of consciousness, as we know them and are obliged to know them, resemble the characteristics of brain-activity as we know them and are obliged to know them. It will not avail to say there are striking differences between heat, electricity, and light; there are striking resemblances—one positive, constant resemblance—they are all modes of motion. Between the characteristics of consciousness and the characteristics of nerve-matter, as we know them, there are no resemblances whatsoever. If the smaller physiological materialists (for the larger do it fully) would but think it worth their while, and a truly scientific procedure, to fasten their attention upon consciousness, they might be struck by its peculiarities. The distinctive features of consciousness in general have often been indicated. I shall restate them here as they have been compared with nerve-activities, arranging them in pairs for the sake of clearness:
|All are modes of extension and motion.|
|None can be conceived as extended or moving.|
|They may be observed through the senses.|
|They are never known through the senses.|
|They are external to the observer.|
|They are internal to the observer.|
|Each may be directly seen at the same time by many observers.|
|They can be directly known by one person only, viz., he who experiences them.|
|They consist of parts external to each other and are divisible.|
|They have no distinction of parts and are indivisible.|
It may surprise some readers to be told that this contrast is fully recognized by many leading upholders of evolution. Mr. Spencer says, "There lies before us, in the study of consciousness, a class of facts absolutely without any perceptible or conceivable community of nature with the facts that have occupied us in the study of the nervous system."
Dr. Tyndall ("Address on Scientific Materialism," Norwich) says: "The passage from the physics of the brain to the corresponding facts of consciousness is unthinkable. The chasm between the two classes of phenomena is intellectually impassable." Professor Huxley says: "I know nothing whatever, and never expect to know anything, of the steps by which the passage from molecular movement to states of consciousness is effected. I entirely agree with the sense of the passage from Dr. Tyndall."
In view of the dissimilarity, the thorough dissimilarity, between nerve-activities and consciousness-activities, we are not justified in regarding the former as the sole cause of the latter. Chemists, after a somewhat protracted examination of the substances found in nature, announce the discovery of sixty-four different bodies, from which they can not, by any means now at hand, separate simpler substances. This does not intend to say that these sixty-four elements are absolutely simple, but that "they are so as far as our knowledge extends." Now, why are these sixty-four elements maintained to have a real existence? Why is aluminium believed in as a fact distinct from antimony, or arsenic as a fact distinct from bromine, and so on throughout the list? Because, and simply because, the states of consciousness are persistently distinct when dealing with these so-called elements. The chemist is unable to experience resemblance between the actions i. e., the manifestations—of aluminium and antimony. Therefore, and therefore alone, he says, there are here different substances.
This is the kind of reasoning, and no other, that we wish applied to the subject of our examination. If the passage between brain activity and consciousness-activity be unthinkable, intellectually impassable, why is it so? Not from any a priori or "high-priori" inconceivability, but because these activities persistently fail to resemble one another, i. e., to produce in us similar states of consciousness. They can not be rationally called "diverse operations of energy mutually convertible like light, heat, and the other physical forces." Such correlation is opposed through and through to experience. Here is the irrationality of physiological materialism. This materialism makes a break in the physical continuity of Nature's workings; a break found nowhere else; a break, moreover, which is not found here by any examination of which we are capable.
Correlation requires that motion should be transformed into something not motion, and then resume its course as motion. Motion set up at the periphery of the body produces a definite and measurable quantity of motion in the brain; this is well called a mechanical problem out and out. We find no measurable consciousness, yet consciousness is a reality; we find no break in physical processes elsewhere, yet, if correlation be true here, such a break there is. It will, I hope, be clearly seen that this difficulty is nowise related to the old and worthless difficulty thought to be suggested by those who ask the materialist how motion is transformed into consciousness. As to the how of things they have learned most who have learned that they know nothing. The question is not how are brain-motions transformed into consciousness, but the question is exactly this, What ground have we to believe that such transformation exists?
Permit me to repeat the statement that there is no reasoning here along the "high-priori" road of inconceivability. I see no more inconceivability in supposing that a brain-change should be followed by a thought than that it should be followed by an increased secretion. The thing needed is, to know the fact in the case. Are brain-changes transformed into consciousness, or does the soul, on occasion of these changes, respond in its peculiar language?
The brain-changes, as we know them and must know them, consist of attractions, repulsions, motions, and co-ordinations of the brain-particles. These, according to the physiological materialist and the young physician, are transformed into states of consciousness, which states are not material changes, but separated from them by a chasm "intellectually impassable." It has been wisely said that the position which a thorough-going scientific evolution ought to defend is this: thoughts, feelings, volitions, any and all states of consciousness, have no existence for physical science. Indeed, the annoyance caused by consciousness as a useless "surplusage" is nowhere more strikingly illustrated than in the following passage from Professor Huxley's paper "On the Hypothesis that Animals are Automata." The author writes: "Though we may see reason to disagree with Descartes's hypothesis that brutes are unconscious machines, it does not follow that he was wrong in regarding them as automata. We believe, in short, that they are machines, one part of which (the nervous system) not only sets the rest in motion and co-ordinates its movements in relation with changes in surrounding bodies, but is provided with special apparatus, the function of which is the calling into existence of those states of consciousness which are termed sensations, emotions, ideas. It may be assumed, then, that molecular changes in the brain are the causes of all the states of consciousness in brutes. Is there any evidence that these states of consciousness may, conversely, cause those molecular changes which give rise to muscular motion? I see no such evidence. The frog walks, hops, swims, quite as well without consciousness as with it, and if a frog, in his natural state, possesses anything corresponding with what we call volition, there is no reason to think that it is anything but a concomitant of molecular changes in the brain which form part of the series involved in the production of motion. The consciousness of brutes would appear to be related to the mechanism of their body as a collateral product of its working, and to be as completely without any power of modifying that working as the steam-whistle which accompanies the work of a locomotive-engine is without influence upon its machinery. Their volition, if they have any, is an emotion (?) indicative of physical changes, not a cause of such changes. It is quite true that this reasoning holds equally good of men, and therefore that all states of consciousness in us, as in them, are immediately caused by molecular changes of the brain-substance. It seems to me that, in men as in brutes, there is no proof that any state of consciousness is the cause of change in the motion of the matter of the organism. If these positions are well based, it follows that our mental conditions are simply the symbols in consciousness of the changes which take place automatically in the organism, and that, to take an extreme illustration the feeling (?) we call volition is not the cause of a voluntary act, but a symbol of that state of the brain which is the immediate cause of the act. We are conscious automata." (The italics in the above quotation are the present writer's.) This passage, published in 1874, will remain unique as an attempt to "get on" in our examination of man without consciousness. Consciousness is a collateral product of brain change. Whatever may be meant by "collateral," it can not be so one-sided an affair as to save the break in physical continuity previously described. If consciousness be at all the product of brain changes, it appears, and must appear, as a stranger to these changes, destitute of a single one of their features. Further, and with sincere deference, I would say that the reasoning in the passage before us seems to me peculiar. Consciousness is produced by brain-changes; nay more, these are the sole cause of consciousness, and yet there is no ground to believe that consciousness in its turn ever occasions brain changes or muscular movements. Volition is not the cause of a voluntary act, but a token that such an act is taking place. This would be termed in logic a contradiction, both in form and matter.
When we are told that consciousness is completely without the power of modifying the working of our body, we do, indeed, feel that consciousness might as well give up and cease to be; at the same time we know that consciousness, in the shape of volition, is adjusting, directing, and in manifold other ways modifying our organism from day to day. My reason for bringing up this disposition of consciousness was not so much to show its deficiency (which has been well done by Dr. Carpenter and others), as to insist upon the fact that consciousness is not susceptible of scientific treatment by any physical or physiological method. I wished also to show that no half-way recognition of consciousness would meet the demands of investigation. Perhaps the chiefest benefit to come from the physiological psychology of our day will be in this, that it will make unmistakably clear its own inadequacy for a treatment of consciousness as such. I trust I may not be misunderstood in this remark. I yield to no one in the belief that an inestimable advantage has been conferred on psychology by physiology. It is now possible to study the sensations, both general and special, with a thoroughness unknown a few years since. The intimacy of connection between brain-changes and what we term soul-states has been once and for all established and proclaimed. Much may be accomplished toward a localization of functions in the hemispheres; the time may even come when people at large shall know that most of their stupidity, peevishness, and sin, results from unhealthful brain-activity. The relation between digestion, ventilation, sleep, and morals, may attain general acceptance, to the destruction of a huge load of the world's misery. All this and more may come, but physiology will never remove or investigate a state of consciousness; it will never front the inner side of a single sensation. This, if I mistake not, is the annoying thing to many specialists. The resort has, for a long time, been a vigorous pooh-poohing of consciousness, or a ridicule of it as somehow synonymous with metaphysics and nonsense. It is a singular and natural thing—singular in its intensity and narrowness, natural in its origin—this conviction among many of the younger specialists that logical and psychological investigations are but rattle-boxes for babes and fools. The natural origin of this, I say, is plain. The chairs in many of our colleges and universities are occupied by men nobly endowed by nature for their special studies, and cultivated through years of investigation abroad. They have not, however, escaped the working of the association of ideas. All they have ever known about psychology, logic, or ethics, dates back to a few hours' perfunctory stumbling over the pages of Haven's "Mental Philosophy," Day's "Logic," Whately's "Logic," Thompson's "Outlines of the Laws of Thought," Butler's "Analogy," Haven's "Moral Philosophy," or, if specially fortunate, Hamilton's "Metaphysics." These exercises in torture were held during those groping years of college-boy experience. Here were given all the facts ever furnished for coming to an understanding of the processes of thought or the principles of morals. Interest in these matters, an interest natural to all who share human nature, was blasted at the outset of its development. Other pursuits that could and did take on the semblance of reality fastened attention, and led to the years of toil that fitted for life-work. What more natural than that henceforth (must it be said forever?) each approach to the subject of consciousness is, for these minds, an approach to confusion worse confounded? The fact that I occupy a chair in Philosophy will very much weaken the force of what I am about to say; still, the conviction will get itself expressed with whatsoever power it may have. The work of the workers would rise faster, stand firmer, come to more universal recognition, if guided by some living logic, and some appreciation of the processes of thought, emotion, and will. The fact is, that in consciousness and in consciousness alone all things are known. No physicist ever fronted or ever will front a pure fact, a thing as it is, apart from consciousness. What the physicist knows are not substances in themselves, out of consciousness. Force and matter are, in the way in which he uses them and must use them, products of his consciousness. He, the conscious person, is affected so and so, that is, is made to have such and such states of consciousness; to the common or resembling elements in these states, he gives a common name, believing, beyond a doubt, in the existence of a cause for these states, but often failing to realize that such cause is unknown and unknowable, not at all revealed, in its essence and apart from consciousness, by the abstract terms which he has formed to express it. The physiological materialist can never meet the demand which a proof of his belief requires, viz., that he should be able to consider the nervous system apart from consciousness before declaring it the sole cause of consciousness. All that is known of the nervous system is known through consciousness; is there, then, no importance, no necessity, for some examination of consciousness for those who would give an account of their knowledge, be its content what it may? This position, rightly understood, will vindicate my assertion that, for all forms of investigation, the need at present is a critique of knowing, a critique which shall be not simply a "Zurückgehen auf Kant" (profitable as this might prove for an understanding of his relation to materialism), but a critique which shall embody the contributions of recent years from investigators in the territories of the senses, the understanding, and the emotions.
It may be asked, Why should this appeal for consciousness come so late in the present discussion? Ought it not rather to have preceded the statement of the characteristics of consciousness, and so prevented a break in the course of thought? Such a break is, of course, undesirable; still, it is one not to be avoided, as I think, under the circumstances.
There remain for consideration certain special features of consciousness, for whose examination and estimation special entreaty was needed. This solicitation will have more force when placed in direct connection with the features themselves. The writer ventured to hope that those broader, more noticeable characteristics of consciousness which lie, as it were, upon the surface, might be left to awaken attention by their size. Not so with matters now to be brought forward. While there is no purpose to leave, even for an instant, the territory of experience, we enter a portion of that territory which, to many, will be new, and therefore, without effort against prejudice, untrue.
There are certain special facts in consciousness, i. e., certain distinctive features in each person's experience, which prevent, out and out, the acceptance of correlation as a proper account of the relations between brain and consciousness. Few would refuse to admit that sensation is a fact, yet there is danger of studying sensation with the sensation omitted.
Every sensation has four physical antecedents which, though distinct, are not different in kind from one another. This is such a preponderance of the physical that the other element is likely to go unnoticed. The physical requisites for every sensation are: 1. Some outward, exciting cause or excitation—this is physical movement, nothing else; it may be of ponderable matter or of an imponderable instrument, as light. 2. The contact of this physical condition of movement with a sensitive portion of the body. 3. The excitation-condition of the sensitive nerve-fibers. This is produced by the outward irritation, but is a purely physical and inward nervous process, having no other resemblance to its cause than that it is motion, and having no resemblance to the sensation which is conditioned upon it. 4. The transfer of this condition of the nerve-fiber to the central parts of the nervous system, especially to the brain. These are the mechanical antecedents for sensation. They are susceptible of physical treatment. They may, and often do, operate without any sensation arising; more than this, they may operate so as to produce a reflex activity, causing violent motions, still without the faintest appearance of sensation. It is plain, then, that to know anything about sensation we must pass from physiology to personal experience. It seems a just charge against the materialism of physiology, both general and medical, that it takes no account of the element in a sensation-process.
How shall we escape saying that the last step in this process is the sensation itself, which the soul calls forth from itself in consequence of the antecedents described? The sensation is no picture of the outer thing, the retinal image works, in all probability, chemically upon the retina, but that image does not and can not get itself transferred to the cerebral hemispheres. The sensation is an answer to the excitation in the brain-mass, arising from that image, an answer in such peculiar language that it must be called language of the soul—not as thereby explaining it in the sense of resolving its mystery, yet as thereby explaining it in the only way in which explanation is anywhere possible, viz., by resolving the combined activities into their elements.
It is a necessary part of this discussion to note that one of these elements is personality, i. e., a consciousness of the sensation as mine. It seems unfortunate that, in dealing with this experience of personality, the strength and weakness of the development theory are not rightly estimated. The strength of the theory lies in those rudimentary sensations connected with infant life, and with the organic processes where it seems but just to say that only feeling is present, i. e., no true consciousness, no knowledge of the sensation as mine. The weakness of the theory, and it is a fatal one, lies in the failure to recognize the distinction between a matured idea of self which comes only with years, and a consciousness that the sensation is mine, however rudimentary this sensation may be. The most primitive distinctions in consciousness, those of pleasure and pain, can not be experienced without being known. When this is realized, the inadequacy of the attempt to dispense with personality, or to derive it from anything more elementary than itself, must appear; the two factors in every phenomenon, viz., that which manifests itself, and that to which it manifests itself, are at once disclosed.
Memory, which, though lying in the so-called fog-land of consciousness, is yet a reality, has been brought forward as decisive against the application of evolution to the origin of knowledge. Memory is a prerequisite for all psychical development. Unless we can compare the experience of yesterday with the experience of to-day, any advance of ourselves from the brute condition is impossible. Now, such comparison demands that the first experience should have been known as mine. From this demand there is no escape. Complying with it, something, some form of being called personality, must lie at the bottom of the inner side of our nature. Lotze has pertinently said: "We have this unity of consciousness not because we appear to ourselves to have it; we have it because we appear to ourselves to have it."
In each sensation there is consciousness of self in a particular state. Our sensations are varied and successive. We hear the sound of a bell, then of a railway-train, then of the wind; we see cloud, moon, and mountain-top. Here we have the sensation, the succession of sensations, the discrimination of sensations, and discrimination of things by the sensations. Devolve this whole business upon nerve-matter in the cerebral hemispheres. Is such ascription of functions rational? Is it in keeping with our knowledge of brain-structure? If we surmount the difficulty of transformation of motions into non-motions (that is, consciousness), what provision do we anywhere find in the hemispheres for the unification of such sensations as above described, their unification in self?
A further question at once arises. Physiology has arranged for diversity of result. What has it done toward comparing these differences? By comparison, and by that alone, each sensation is known as distinct from every other. All that physiology offers or can offer is the integrity of each nerve-fiber. As has been justly said, this fiber is like every other in construction and action. What provision have we, apart from personality, for detecting difference in sensations?
Personality is the place at which both parties should expend their strength. Mr. Mill and Mr. Bain, understanding this, have sought to obliterate the distinction between feeling and self-consciousness. They have maintained the priority of an impersonal feeling. Here is the starting-point, not in personality, but in feeling. Personality is a development from impersonality by what Mr. Mill calls a "process of reference." This is one of those magical terms, like the newer word "functionate," which serve to obscure the failure of an undertaking. Mr. Bain also starts with a nervous system and feeling, and gives what may be taken as the latest expression of the movement toward unification of soul and body. He says: "The arguments for the two substances—mind and matter—have, we believe, entirely lost their validity; they are no longer compatible with ascertained science and clear thinking. One substance with two sets of attributes, two sides (a physical and a mental), a double-faced unity, would appear to comply with all the exigencies of the case." This assertion of a double-faced unity not only fails to bridge the chasm that is rationally impassable, not only increases the confusion by uniting contradictory attributes in too small a compass, but it is a pure metaphysical or ontological predication, from which reason defend us! As to the existence of any Spinozistic substance holding in itself the irreconcilables thought and extension, how can it any longer be worth while to express an opinion? Perhaps matter is double-faced. This is a speculation which, as it transcends, contradicts experience.
If I mistake not, Mr. Mill and Mr. Bain have themselves refuted their position with regard to the development of personality from impersonal feeling. Mr. Mill ("Examination of Hamilton," page 242) says: "If, therefore, we speak of the mind as a series of feelings, we are obliged to complete the statement by calling it a series which is aware of itself as past and present; and we are reduced to the alternative of believing that the mind or ego is something different from any series of feelings or possibilities of them, or of accepting the paradox that something which, by hypothesis, is but a series of feelings, can be aware of itself as a series." In his edition of "The Analysis of the Human Mind" (i, 230) he further says, "There is no meaning in the word ego, or I, unless the I of to-day is also the I of yesterday." This mast be taken as an admission that personality is an essential for personal identity.
Mr. Bain says: "We may be in a state of pleasure with little or nothing of thought" (personal consciousness) "accompanying. We are still properly said to be conscious or under consciousness. It is thus correct to draw a line between feeling and knowing that we feel, although there is great delicacy in the operation. [Italics are the writer's.] It may be said in one sense that we can not feel without knowing that we feel; but the assertion is verging on error, for a feeling may be accompanied with a minimum of cognitive energy or, as good as, none at all." I am unable to appreciate this passage as other than an abandonment of the development theory applied to personality. The language of Professor Calderwood seems just when he writes, "If in every sensation, every feeling, there is a particle of cognitive energy" (if the sensation be known as mine in any sense) "the development theory as an account of personality fails."
Under the influence of the a priori procedure, both metaphysical and theological, most of us flee with raised hands of horror at sound of the word will. Recollections of "you shall and you shan't, you can and you can't, you will and you won't," crowd round in ever-thickening confusion. Still, it must be said that, apart from all talk about freedom and bondage, volition is a decidedly large fact in human experience. Though Goethe is right in saying, "Ein kleiner Ring begränzt unser Leben," a ring of circumstance, of inheritance, yet within the circle of that ring a measure of action prevails which no word describes save the word willed. The action is determined by personality. It is impossible to find provision for this in the nervous system. Inhibitory nerves there may be, but the experience of ourselves as using within fixed limits this physical organism is an experience too unique to come within nerve-actions and reactions before pleasure and pain.
There is no need to multiply illustrations of the exercise of will in holding muscles still against pain or of those higher manifestations where we endure agony, not from any present suffering, but to avoid future loss.
In conclusion, and for completeness, reference should be made to the moral consciousness, i. e., the knowledge of obligation. This, too, is a fact in human experience, and as such demands to be traced to its ultimates. A significant thing, from the philosophical side, is Mr. Spencer's anticipatory publication of the "Data of Ethics." By this publication Mr. Spencer has recognized, what many of his smaller adherents fail to know, that, in ethics, as an attempt to give a rational account of the consciousness of obligation, all thinking finds its highest and most serious application.
We discover in the nervous system no provision for the consciousness of duty; indeed, put in this bald way, no materialist would look there for any such consciousness. Duty as something to be done for its own sake, apart from creed, or sect, or party, or consequences, is properly considered an evidence of culture in thought and action. It is futile to attempt to resist the application of evolution to ethics by any appeal to the transcendent beauty of the moral ideal. The rose is a transcendent thing in color, fragrance, and outline; still, it develops from that which has none of these.
Development of some kind is a fact. The stress of inquiry in ethics is, I think, here: Can the sense of right and wrong, however rudimentary, be produced by pains and pleasures? In the nervous system we have the physical antecedents for pain and pleasure; though no such sensations are in the nervous system, they are in us. Ethics therefore presents the development theory a further difficulty, viz., the one of passing rationally from pains and pleasures to right and wrong. Even Mr. Spencer's form of the development theory, which would seek to find in the conduct called ethical but a part of conduct in general, and to regard all conduct, both ethical and non-ethical, as adjustments of means to ends; even this form of the theory must be able to make it plain that the transition from conduct non-ethical to conduct ethical is gradual, composed of many steps, and not, as experience seems to teach, sudden, distinct, and sharp.
What belief, then, does reason require in our present state of knowledge as to the relation between nerve-matter and consciousness? We distinguish two series, two kinds of experiences; these stand to one another as outward and inward, physical and spiritual, compound and simple. We do not know the nature of either. The terms matter and soul are our highest generalizations from experience. The materialist errs when he pronounces upon the character of matter, affirming that in itself, as it lies beyond his vision, it is hard, round, inelastic, double-faced. The spiritualist errs when he pronounces upon the nature of spirit, as it lies beyond his ken, naming it, in essence, immortal, divine. Unity there somehow is in this universe. There are no breaks if we could read aright. Perhaps this reading should see the beginning in the end, not the end in the beginning. The charcoal sketch of Angelo would indeed be promise and potency of greater things, and this because in it was more than charcoal. So it may be well, even rational, to interpret all things and all beings.